$100,000 Fantasy Garage Challenge: Chris Hafner
When Cookie the Dog's Owner proposed the $100K Fantasy Garage challenge, I was immediately intrigued. Who among us has not dreamed about which cars we'd purchase if only we had the funds available? This challenge is a license to mentally catalog our old and new favorites, weigh pros and cons, and show our tastes and brand loyalties through the creation of a carefully curated collection.
The genius in this challenge is the $100K value limit. Without that, we wouldn't have anything to keep us tied to reality. After all, why add a Mazda to your list when you could add a Maybach? Why add a CRX when you could add an FXX? But the $100K limit, combined with the requirement to include one brand new car, is almost perfect. A cool hundred grand sounds like a lot of money, but it doesn't go as far as one might imagine. I could easily concoct a scenario in which two very nice but still fairly ordinary vehicles consume the whole budget, so turning this into a true fantasy garage requires some creativity.
I chose to put my own spin on this challenge by laying out a series of tasks that I want the cars in my garage to fulfill, and then picking the cars I thought would best fill those roles. This required a lot of revision, as I shifted resources from one bucket to the next, and leaves me without some of my all-time favorites (omitting the Porsche 928, E28 BMW M5, and GMC Typhoon was pretty painful). Overall, though, I'm pretty pleased with the results.
Since in some cases I'm linking off to listings on Craigslist and eBay there's a chance that those links will be dead fairly quickly. My apologies for that, but I'll try to capture some of the pertinent details in the text so that the story doesn't suffer too much.
Also considered: Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, Volkswagen Quantum Syncro, Saab 9000 Turbo, Honda CRX, Volkswagen GTI (any generation)
At first I was fixated on fitting a Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf into this slot, preferring to use an electric motor for my slow, stop-and-go commute rather than my current 2002 Audi S6. It offends both my gas budget and my sense of mechanical sympathy to spend more than an hour per day sitting in my slow stop-and-go commute with a four-cam, 32-valve V-8 idling pointlessly a few feet ahead of me. In that scenario, an electric car seems like a better fit. However, I decided to stick with a traditional gasoline-powered car for a few reasons:
- Both the Volt and the Leaf take up an outsize portion of my $100K limit compared to the utility they bring. I can't justify spending such a big percentage of my budget on cars that I'd be buying essentially just because they have fewer moving parts.
- The Volt and Leaf have the potential to shine in terms of running costs, but this contest doesn't reward low running costs.
- I'm also not totally satisfied with either option--the Volt doesn't have a hatchback, and the Leaf doesn't have an auxiliary gas generator
Ultimately I decided on an old favorite, the Dodge Colt Vista, and the more I think about this choice, the more ideal it is for the commuting role. The Colt Vista is cheap to acquire, cheap to operate, thrifty on gas, has three-row seating, and as an Ur-Mazda 5-style mini-minivan can carry a ton of cargo with its seats folded down. It's also available with four-wheel drive, and it's not special or valuable enough to spend much time worrying about damage or theft.
I've been a fan of this economical, motorized Swiss Army Knife for a long time, and $1,995 buys a very nice-looking example. And while I haven't budgeted for this, at some point I could even drop a turbo Mitsubishi engine in and turn my humble commuter into a pocket screamer.
The Workhorse--2002 Audi S6 Avant ($11,300)
Also considered: Cadillac CTS-V Wagon, Dodge Magnum SRT-8
The role of the Workhorse, as I've defined it, is to perform all everyday transportation tasks outside of the drudgery of sitting in commute gridlock. That could include hauling kids to birthday parties, serving as a stylish and comfortable grand tourer on road trips, getting me around in rain and snow, picking up bulky Craigslist purchases, and putting a big smile on my face when the traffic evaporates and I can put the hammer down. Many people designate minivans or small SUVs as their daily workhorses, but as you can see from my list, I prefer V-8 wagons.
That choice goes beyond the Fantasy Garage and into reality, as I've been daily-driving my actual, real-life 2002 S6 Avant for the last 15 months and have been loving it. It's smooth, luxurious, spacious, comfortable, attractive, utilitarian, breaks trail in deep powder, and delivers its 340 horsepower with a nasty snarl and a boot to the chest. It's a no-compromises car, unless you consider its thirst for premium fuel and the maintenance costs, neither of which factor into the Fantasy Garage rules.
Coming into the Challenge, I was going to slot the Cadillac CTS-V Wagon here, as I think it's the ultimate modern expression of everything that I love about the S6 Avant, combined with absolutely gorgeous Cadillac styling and American small-block V-8 chutzpah. Ultimately, though, the Cadillac's nearly $66K MSRP killed its inclusion on my list, as I couldn't justify dedicating nearly two-thirds of my budget when my decade-old Audi provides 90% of the goodness for a sixth of the price.
This $11,300 NADA value seems a little bit too modest for me, but I'll embrace it for the purposes of the Challenge. At least I hope it's low, since I paid significantly more than this for the car just a little more than a year ago.
Wife's Car--2013 Fiat 500 ($16,000)
Also considered: 2003 Honda Accord, Jeep Cherokee, Volvo 240DL
My wife displays so little interest in cars that the list of candidates for this role is necessarily short, and the list above captures every car that my wife has driven regularly and/or complimented publicly. Last year my wife mentioned that she thought the new Fiat 500 was cute, she thought it would be fun to drive, and that she briefly daydreamed about owning one, which is enough to make the Fiat a slam-dunk choice in this category. Plus, as my daughter gets bigger and bigger, her car seat gets smaller and smaller, making the tiny 500 an increasingly realistic possibility.
Without the requirement for a new car in this challenge, I'd be inclined to stick with our 2003 Honda Accord, which is worth roughly $6,400 in Good condition (a generous appraisal given the beatings it has taken as a family car over the years). It's still big, smooth, fast, practical, reliable, and a bit frayed around the edges cosmetically, which makes it a perfect fit here. Plus, my wife likes it, and it would free up nearly $10K for the rest of the budget.
Unlike my wife, my daughter loves cars, and she has particularly fallen in love with my 1986 Audi Coupe GT, which she has named "Elizabeth." She is lobbying hard for my Coupe to become her car when she turns 16, which gives me a great excuse to hold on to it for the next eight years.
I love my Coupe, as it's gorgeous, completely and surprisingly reliable, gets reasonably good mileage, is surprisingly quick, handles really well, and is an absolute sweetheart to drive. It was also a rock-solid daily driver and commuter for me for a couple of years before I purchased the S6 Avant.
It would fill a similar role for my daughter, as it's stylish, quick without being dangerous, and fairly simple to maintain. It could also slot into many of these other roles described in this post, but basically, regardless of which role it fills, there's no way I would build a $100K Fantasy Garage without my Coupe GT.
The $2,200 value listed above is what I paid for the car when I bought it, which is higher than most of the listings I've seen over the years. NADA has a $2,150-$5,000 price estimate range, the higher range of which I think is as ludicrous as most of their other "Classic and Exotic" valuations.
Truck--1976 Jeep Wagoneer ($11,500)
Also considered: Mostly other Jeep Wagoneers--but, technically, Chevy Blazer K5, International Scout
I knew from the beginning that I would need a truck in my Fantasy Garage, and from there it was a given that the truck would be a Jeep Wagoneer. As I've detailed in the past, Wagoneers are a core part of my family identity. Both sets of grandparents, an uncle and my parents have all owned and loved Wagoneers, and I've been keeping my eye out for the right Wagoneer for myself for years. I view the Wagoneer as embodying and combining all the great qualities of my grandfather, classic Jeeps, classic trucks, and The American Way.
Most Wagoneers on the market are the late 1980s and early 1990s wood-slathered Wagoneers, and while those are great, I prefer the simpler, earlier versions. They are less luxurious, they share the same bulletproof go-anywhere capability, and the look is more purposeful and less cluttered.
Values for Wagoneers are all over the map, ranging from ~$1,500 for ragged beaters to nearly $50,000 for the ones lovingly restored by Wagonmaster. I could definitely pay less than $11,500 for a decent Wagoneer (this fetching $3,800 '73 model in Montana was an early contender for this spot), but Wagoneers are so important to me that I wanted to make sure I wound up with a truly lust-worthy example.
I think this one fits the bill. It first caught my eye in a Bring a Trailer posting last year, and it is now for sale again. It's absolutely immaculate inside and out, I love the thin spear of wood on the side, and the strong yellow color is evocative of my family's past Wagoneers. It is just so gorgeous.
The only danger is that this Wagoneer might be too nice to tow or go off-road with, but I think that's a risk I'm willing to take.
Euro Heartthrob--1986 Saab 900 SPG ($4,500)
Also considered: Porsche 928, Fiat X1/9, Lancia Scorpion, BMW M5 (E28)
To quote from my earlier post:
"This car cuts right to the quick of everything I am. It is an inseparable part of my very soul. ... None of the rational stuff matters with this car. At the end of the day, what really matters to me is the fact that while other Car Lusts get my blood running hot, the 900 SPG gets my blood boiling to a degree I can't describe without falling afoul of Amazon.com's decency standards. This car is my sickness. I wanted one when I was 10 years old. I've wanted one every day since then. I'll want one when I'm 80 years old. On some level, I wanted one when neither the Saab 900 nor I had yet been conceived."
A few years ago I had an iffy test drive with an '86 SPG that later proved to have a salvage title, but that experience hasn't soured me on the car in general. Someday I will own one of these in real life, so I may as well own one in this fantasy.
The also-considered list in this case is a murderer's row of some of my favorite cars, none of which eventually made the Fantasy Garage cut. I love these, the Porsche 928 and BMW M5 particularly so. Without the new-car requirement, or without my somewhat artificial premise of having a car for each role, I would have found a way to work them in.
The lovely '86 Saab 900 SPG pictured above belongs to a gentleman named Gordon, who discusses his car's restoration here.
Winter Car--AMC Eagle ($1,500)
Also considered: Volkswagen Quantum Syncro
This was another pretty easy choice. I've always liked the versatile and cheerfully utilitarian Eagle, and as a faithful, traction-rich winter car it just can't be beat. From my previous post on the Eagle:
"One aunt and uncle of mine had an Eagle after previously owning several other AMC products (a Pacer, a Wagoneer, and at least one Renault/AMC Alliance). They and my three cousins were always a dizzying blur of activity, and they just beat on that car relentlessly. Big toothy chrome grin, fake woodgrain siding and all, it took them camping, carried cargo, and hauled more small children at a time than a clown car. In well over a decade of service, I doubt that poor Eagle ever had a day when it wasn't serving as a commuter car, a pickup truck, a minivan, a Bobcat tractor, and a Sherman tank. The Eagle took it in stride and was always ready for more.
"Once, when I was a kid, our families went sledding on a steep hill in the mountains. This was a steep hill, more like a mountain, with at least a foot of loose snow powder on a base of ice. My uncle would sit at the bottom of the hill in the Eagle, idling and drinking his coffee. When we'd successfully sled down to the bottom of the hill, we'd pile in, cold, red, and gasping, and he'd drive us calmly up the hill. Not switchbacking up the hill, mind you--he'd drive straight up the powdery slope to the top of the hill. The Eagle never even stumbled."
The Eagle would be an ideal winter car, taking me where angels fear to tread, and not causing me a lot of guilt for subjecting it to dirt, sand, ice, and salt. This particular Eagle is a rare 1980 two-door coupe; I'd prefer a wagon, but this one would make a neat little winter car as well.
This image was taken by user pierre m on Flickr.
Classic Sports Car--Fiat Spider ($2,600)
Also considered: Triumph TR-6, Fiat X1/9, Triumph Stag, Alfa Romeo Spider
Every fantasy garage needs a traditional sports car, defined by me as a tiny, primitive roadster with skinny tires and underwhelming horsepower, but that still winds up a blast to drive on twisty roads due to the tactile driving experience and exposure to the elements. As a bonus, the traditional sports car driver can wear stringback driving gloves without feeling completely ridiculous.
The Fiat Spider was one of the most technologically advanced of the 1970s sports cars and, to my eyes, the prettiest. Its mini-Ferrari lines were complemented by an eager twin-cam four-cylinder and nimble reflexes, and even a Lilliputian rear seat.
I've come close a few times to buying a Fiat Spider, most recently an Atomic Root Beer-colored version with low miles and a gorgeous interior that was flawed only with a leaky top. Fiat Spiders have remained mysteriously value-priced compared to their (in my mind) inferior competition, but I'm sure at some point those prices will skyrocket. Hopefully I can find my Spider before that happens, and when I do I'm sure it will be like this example--solid, highly entertaining, but likely not a future concours winner.
Muscle Car (1960s-1970s)--1978 Pontiac Firebird T/A Clone 455 ($9,995)
Also considered: Chevy Impala SS427, Dodge Challenger, Mercury Comet Caliente, Chevy II SS327, Mercury Cyclone Cobra Jet, 1970.5 Chevy Camaro Z28, 5% of a Plymouth Superbird
This was a really tough category for me, both because there are so many lustworthy cars to consider, and because there are so few that fit into a reasonable portion of my budget. My original choice in this slot was this 1969 Chevy Impala SS427, which checks all of my boxes--big car, big block, not terribly common, and abolutely gorgeous. However, when I investigated it, it was bidding at $10,500, had plenty of time left to run, and hadn't yet met its reserve. Even now, at the time of writing, it's up to $14,000 and still hasn't met its reserve. Apparently it's just not realistic to find a genuine SS Impala in decent condition for anything like $10,000. And that's with a car that hasn't taken off in the muscle car market like some of the other cars I considered.
Given all that, I felt pretty fortunate to find my fallback choice here, a 1978 Firebird that has been turned into a Trans Am clone, with a 455-cubic-inch V-8 transplanted from a GTO. This particular car isn't as passionate a Car Lust for me as the others in this list, but when the time comes to get stupid behind the wheel, things could be worse than driving a white Bandit wth Pontiac big-block power underhood. The worst part is that I feel like a copycat since Anthony Cagle also chose a white Trans Am.
Muscle Car (1980s-Today)--1990 Chevy Corvette ZR-1 ($16,500)
Also considered: Chevy Corvette C4 L98, Buick Grand National, Chevy Camaro IROC-Z, Dodge Daytona Turbo Z, GMC Syclone/Typhoon, Dodge Challenger SRT-8
This is both the most expensive and the fastest car in my Fantasy Garage, and fills an important role as an unabashed, un-self-conscious supercar that isn't so exotic that I'd be afraid to drive it on the street. Plus, it would let me engage in adolescent-preservation activities, such as doing wicked donuts in abandoned parking lots while cranking Guns 'n Roses on the Delco radio.
Make no mistake, though, this is no garden-variety Corvette. The ZR-1 (note the hyphen) boasted a 32-valve DOHC V-8 tweaked by Lotus that cranked out 375 horsepower and pushed the car to nearly 190 mph--serious stuff in 1990 and still not shabby today. The subtle rear-end treatment made the car less ostentatious than other early-1990s supercars, complementing the C4 Corvette's handsome lines. Handsome, that is, until GM ruined the front-end styling in future years.
This particular listing is for a very nice-looking 52,000-mile example. Its $16,500 price seems on the low end of the market, but it's not out of line with the other ZR-1s I've seen online. The mighty ZR-1 is an incredible performance bargain.
On a related note, while looking for the right ZR-1 I came across this eBay listing for a ZR-1 with only 25 miles on it. Since it has never even been dealer-prepped, still has the original oil in the engine, it has the original tires on the car, still has bags and cardboard in the interior, the radio has never been turned on, and several trim piece have not yet been installed. I don't think it would be wise to ever drive this car, but it's a remarkable time capsule.
Stylish 1970s Import--1973 BMW Bavaria ($6,500)
Also considered: BMW 3.0CS, Saab 99, Alfa Romeo Montreal, Audi 100LS, various Ferraris and Lamborghinis
I really, really, really wanted to purchase a BMW 3.0CS in this slot, since I've been in absolute lust with its classic, gorgeous lines since I was old enough to appreciate it. In my earlier post on this car, I described my infatuation with its looks:
"As significant as the performance was the look--it conveys muscularity without excessive bulk, sports fine detailing without being fussy, and balances aggressiveness with class. The 3.0CS/CSL has perhaps the nicest execution of BMW's traditional forward-leaning double-kidney grille and quad round headlights."
So what went wrong? Turns out I'm not alone in idolizing the E9 BMW coupes, and so really nice E9s can go for $30K and up. Sometimes, way way up. I just couldn't justify taking up nearly a third of my budget or more with one car, even one as completely lust-worthy as this.
I think the E3 Bavaria represented here through Bring a Trailer is a nice compromise, as it's an object of lust in its own right, bringing most of the E9's style and a bit more practicality for a bargain-basement price.
1970s Americana--1973 Ford Gran Torino Wagon ($1,100)
Also considered: AMC Matador X, Plymouth Fury 440, Chevrolet Laguna S-3, 1976 Chevrolet Impala, AMC Gremlin, AMC Pacer, Chevrolet Monza Spyder, Dodge Polara, Various Cadillacs
I was all set to slot in the AMC Matador X here, as it's a gorgeous and unique car that I've long wanted to own, but then a funny thing happened--I couldn't find any. I searched just about every Craigslist that I could, searched eBay, even looked into specialist enthusiast sites, but just couldn't find a coupe that wasn't in a complete state of disrepair. I know nice Matadors exist, but apparently nobody wants to sell them.
Given that, I considered the competition and decided to stick with my '73 Gran Torino Wagon. Why? Well, it's mechanically sorted, runs well and reliably, hauls an amazing amount of cargo, has a completely pristine interior, and nails the 1970s driving experience to a tee, floaty ride, scratchy AM radio, rumbly V-8, and numb steering all included. Plus, it only cost me $1,100.
Passionate Italian--1985 Alfa Romeo GTV-6 ($6,900)
Also considered: Alfa Romeo GTV-6 Calloway Twin-Turbo, Ferrari Testarossa
Every fantasy garage needs a fiery Italian car to stir the owner's passions and stoke his or her frustration. I do already have two Fiats in this garage, but neither can summon the stirring engine scream that these finalists do.
I began my consideration with a surprisingly reasonablly priced Ferrari Testarossa ($36K), but given the price differential I decided to opt for the $6,900 Alfa Romeo GTV-6 pictured here. No, the Alfa doesn't have the Ferrari's cachet, look-at-me styling, or the Testarossa's flat-12 rasp, but it's still gorgeous, is an excellent handler, and has a distinctively Italian V-6 howl of its own. Plus, the Alfa GTV-6 completes my holy trinity of 1980s sports coupes, with the Saab SPG and the Audi Coupe/Quattro, so it really needs a spot in the garage.
If the fantasy garage rules didn't require me to choose one new car, I'd apply the $10K saved by downgrading the Fiat 500 to our old Accord on upgrading the GTV-6 to one of the incredibly rare Calloway Twin Turbo editions, one of which has showed up on Bring a Trailer for $16,500. The Calloway GTV-6 brought rarity and near-1980s supercar performance to the mix.
Trackday Car--Porsche 944 Turbo ($5,900)
Also considered: Ariel Atom
The Ariel Atom would be the perfect track car, offering world-beating acceleration and race-car reflexes for only $65,000. But while it is an incredible bargain when compared to the tiny handful of cars that can offer comparable performance, it would still eat up entirely too much of my budget.
Instead, I'm going to go with the Porsche 944 Turbo, known internally within Porsche as the 951. The base 944 was one of the best-handling cars of the 1980s, with a near-50/50 weight distribution and some of the best steering in all of automobile-dom. The 944T/951 added 217 horsepower to the mix, which then got upped to 250 horsepower in the Turbo S. All of this married sub-6-second 0-60 times with that sweet handling, sleek good looks, and hatchback utility.
The great thing about the 944T is that it'd be fun as a normal driver that occasionally gets a casual track date, or it could be tuned up, stripped down, and caged up if I wanted to get more serious. For the record, I'd probably dabble and leave the car mostly stock.
Nostalgia--1983 Chevy Malibu Wagon ($1,000)
Also considered: None
I still regret selling my beloved 1983 Chevy Malibu Wagon for $1,000, and given the time and resources implied in this Challenge, I would dedicate myself to tracking that car down and reacquiring it. From my paean to the Malibu:
"I love the look. I love the Malibu's clean lines, pleasing grille treatment, and rough-hewn good looks. I like its looks so much that I once did a photo shoot with a talented artist/musician friend of mine that prominently featured the Malibu.
"Before the Malibu, I had very little experience with big, floaty American cars. The Malibu taught me that as much as I love quirky European cars - and I do - that the big American car experience strikes a very primal chord for me.
"So, why don't I still have it? Basically, I made the biggest mistake of my automotive life by lapsing into a short, regrettable period of common sense. ...
"I didn't want the Malibu just to sit, so I put my automotive sentimentality on hold and made a rational decision--a decision I've regretted ever since. I sold the 'Bu to a gentleman who professed to like it as much as I did. Unfortunately--I've tried to block this out ever since--he wanted to paint it bright red and put sport wheels on it."
I chose 15 cars, 11 of which are wagons or hatchbacks, with an average year of manufacture of 1985, and an average value of $6,630. All of that sounds about right for me. I spent $99,540, leaving me $460 as a completely inadequate maintenance fund.
I didn't work all of my dream cars in, and I missed two roles I was hoping to fill--namely, Luxurious Convertible Cruiser and Rally Car. Still, I think I could bring myself to be satisfied with this group.
Car Lust readership, how'd I do?