Tom is from the land down under and will be visiting the U.S. He plans on doing a coast-to-coast road trip and doesn’t want a boring rental car. He has a modest budget for a road-trip-ready American machine. What car should he buy?
Here is the scenario:
I am from Australia and am planning a coast to coast road trip across America. Rather than handing fistfuls of cash to a rental car company and being stuck in the same beige box I’d get from them here at home, I’d like to repeat what I did in the UK ten years ago — show up, buy a cheap beater and drive it either til it breaks or til I get to the other side of the continent.
It has to be comfortable on a long drive and easily repaired wherever something may go wrong along the way. I’d also like it to be quintessentially American rather than something I could buy and own in Australia (ie no Toyotas or Hondas). RWD. V8 because your fuel is so cheap. Body on frame. J-turns on gravel parking lots. Front bench seats. That sort of thing.
My budget is $US5,000 ($7,423) – No imports, no FWD, no project cars.
Budget: Up to $US5,000 ($7,423)
Daily Driver: Yes
Wants: RWD, American, preferably a V8
Doesn’t Want: An import or project car.
Expert 1: Tom McParland – Go Full Mad Max (But Not Really)
OK, Tom (why does this feel like I am talking to myself?) you need a classic American road-trip car with a V8 up front and power to the rear wheels. I’m sure my colleagues will come up with more creative answers but I am going with the obvious choice: the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. This car has pretty much everything you are looking for and is very comfortable for long-distance journeys. As you are likely already aware, the Crown Vic is also supremely durable and if you run into trouble there is a good chance that any mechanic can find a fix.
But you don’t want just any Crown Vic, if you are going to cross the vast American landscape you need to do so like the Australian movie icon Mad Max, and get a Police Interceptor model. While you should under no circumstances pretend you are a police officer, it’s not necessarily a bad thing if the slow-pokes in the left lane move to the right when they see a car with push bars.
I don’t know which coast you plan to start with, but logic says you will likely fly into LA or similar. Here is a nice Interceptor in Cali with 128k miles for only $US2500 ($3,712)
Expert 2: Raphael Orlove – I Opened Up Craigslist And…
Hi there Tom! A Crown Vic is definitely the safe, smart, simple, trusty thing to do here. No doubt about that.
It’s what you should do. But is it what you want to do? I’m not so sure.
I instead did what I would do in your situation: open up the local Craigslist and pick something interesting from what’s immediately for sale. I went to Craigslist in LA (I assume you’re crossing the Pacific not going the long way from Perth) and set the parameters of your budget, a V8, and an age range of ‘74-’93 to weed out dull stuff.
And promptly this immaculate 1977 Ford Thunderbird with a 6.6-litre V8 spread its wings before me. This is a much nicer car than I thought I’d find, and the golden paint will gleam in the sun as you cross the Southwest, the Great Plains, and I think it will even carry some sunshine in it as you enter the more confined East Coast. The seller is asking $US6500 ($9,650), but bring cash, hit them with the Craigslist 60 per cent and you’ll be good.
This thing is so nice you might want to ship it home!
Expert 3: David Tracy – You Need A Big Arse Truck
My coworkers are throwing out some great ideas, but I have to say there’s really nothing quintessentially American about sedans or coupes. America is all about big-arse trucks and SUVs, and one of the historically biggest-assed of such vehicles is the Chevrolet Suburban.
I have a strong affinity for the 1990s era GMT 400-series Suburban, with its fuel injected 5.7-litre V8 and timeless good looks. I recently drove its sibling, the GMT 400-series Chevy 2500 pickup, over the Rockies, and fell in love with the machine’s soul. I have no doubt the same will happen with you and a GMT 400 Suburban, especially if you find one with a front bench seat.
You won’t get a five-speed manual like the one in the Silverado I drove, but a column-shift automatic is more American if you think about it. Though if you want the stick, snag the truck; Either way, get something GMT 400-based and, while you’ll be hopping from one gas station to the next, you’ll be doing so reliably, happily, and in one of the most quintessentially American nameplates out there.
Expert 4: Jason Torchinsky – Americans Can Be Weird, Too
Hey, Australian Tom! I think you’ll be right at home in America, because with their vast open spaces and love of V8s, America and Australia have always sort of been widely-separated siblings. Your plan is fantastic, and, if you’re willing to accept a couple of your rules being bent, I think I have a really amazing car for your Transamerican venture: this 1980 Dodge Mirada.
The Mirada is sort of an oddball of American cars—it was a personal luxury coupé, much like that lovely liver-coloured Thunderbird Raph picked up there, but updated a bit for the coming of the 1980s.
I think these have an amazing look—it still has those 1970s classic American colossal two-door proportions, but now with some ‘80s rectilinearity and techno vents and other details. It’s handsome, in its own oddball way.
These never really sold all that well, which is why they’re so rare today—though mechanically this RWD platform shared engines and components with plenty of dirt-common Mopar iron, so you’ll have no trouble keeping it going.
While some had V8s, I think this one is a six, and yeah, it doesn’t really have bench seats up front, though that sand-coloured interior is so American that I bet it gets confused by the metric system.
This thing is in fantastic shape and looks comfortable and fun and will definitely get the attention of any gearheads you’re likely to meet on the way—and isn’t that half the fun of exploring a new country? Dealing with all the local gearheads and hearing their funny accents?
Of course it is. Oh, you’ll have to find someone from Wisconsin to go with you to get it because it says something about only selling to local Wisconsin buyers, but at only $US4,650 ($6,904) for the car,I think that’ll be easy enough and worth it.
It’ll be fun!