What do you do when you find yourself with one week to buy a car so you can commute to your new job?
That’s the situation I found myself in after working from home with my wife. No longer could we rely on one car, and I wasn’t too keen on commuting 45 miles on a motorcycle. My immediate thoughts were, “What car? What car could we afford? What car could we afford with a manual transmission and room for a baby seat?”
So I sat at my laptop and checked out reasonable vehicles with a strong fun quotient, if not older vehicles that had future (if not current) collectible interest. Thanks to some ideas that popped in my head, plus others that came to mind while perusing the Internet (including ClassicCars.com), here’s how I whet my whims:
2002 Audi TT ALMS Commemorative Edition
While I feel German cars are made to be leased, not owned, I was drawn to this special edition of the first-generation Audi TT. Though the original pre-spoiler TT is the beauty of the bunch, the ones with spoilers (added after several high-speed fatalities occurred) don’t suffer too much despite it being a stylistic afterthought. The special ALMS, produced to commemorate winning the American Le Mans Series championship in 2002, was one of a thousand built, with production evenly divided between Misano Pearl Red with Silver Gray Nappa leather, and Avus Silver with Brilliant Red Nappa. All featured upgraded 225-horse turbo-fours, six-speed manual, 18-inch wheels and Quattro all-wheel drive. The one I found was the latter (and superior, IMHO) color combo, but I chickened out when the bids started piling up and the cost of shipping became a concern. In retrospect, the TT was well bought by the winner.
Subaru Forrester XT
Why do manufacturers build cool cars and then kill them? Sounds like General Motors but, in this case, it’s Subaru. The company has a neat turbo-four and 6-speed manual in its toolbox, but it has elected to eschew this combination for the late-model Forester crossover. Yet from 2004-18, the turbo Forester XT was available in the U.S. and then unceremoniously dropped as Subaru reportedly wanted to focus on fuel economy standards. Making the search more difficult was that automatic transmissions were the only choice for several years. Alas, with one week to find a vehicle, luck was not on my side, and this intriguing mix of performance and utility was elusive across online America.
2002 Camaro SS Convertible
It wasn’t too long ago that F-bodies were one of the hottest cars available in North America that didn’t cost you an arm and a leg. Today, these cars come off as quaint throwbacks, being not much faster than a late-model V-6 Camry and requiring contortions for ingress and egress depending on your height. Nonetheless, solid big-block performance from a modern small-block V-8 was welcome after the lean
years. In the case of this Camaro, it checked several boxes: Super Sport with ram air, 6-speed, convertible and the pièce de résistance: Brickyard 400 pace car heritage. But in these days of high gas prices, I wasn’t too keen on a V-8, even though these cars are remarkably efficient when given the chance. The clincher for deep-sixing this Camaro was a combination of being 3,000 miles away and a possible title issue. A 1980s 5.0 Mustang was considered as well, but finding an unmolested example locally required more time.
What the Honda Element lacks in performance, it makes up with an intriguing mix of utility and lifestyle, especially when equipped with a stick. They seem to have a solid following for those drawn to 200k-mile longevity and those interested in an “activity vehicle.” Among trim levels throughout its lifetime, the sporty SC is the one to have, though I would have considered any stick Element provided it was in good condition with a reasonable amount of miles. As it turned out, I found an 2007 EX AWD model with a 5-speed on an online auction site, but I was resisting the idea of traveling a thousand miles to pick up a car. After hemming and hawing about the following vehicle below, I decided to let this Element go. The final auction price didn’t meet reserve and possibly was too rich for its condition.
I get somewhat tired waiting for Subaru to bring out a WRX that looks good. Several times in the past, I’ve visited auto shows with WRX concepts that preview a redesigned production model, only to be disappointed with the styling of the production model. Admittedly, some of them have had a certain charm, but those are from the Impreza days. Although the all-new 2022 WRX suffers less of that fate, have you tried shopping for a new car these days? Hell, even used cars are crazy. Used WRXs are not difficult to find, but finding the right one locally from a private individual (read: no sales tax) would be my only option. Luckily, a 2021 (the last before the redesign) with under 4,000 miles popped up at a price equal to the 2020 I tested with more than ten times as much. And while the ergonomics harken back to 2015, it’s the charming rough edges that I find more interesting than the more “adult” 2022.