Reader Question: Daily Driver “Classic” Recommends?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Sean asks: Earlier this year you answered a question from me about a manual transmission car for my son to learn on (he gets his learner’s after his 15th birthday in August). Because one of the criteria was AWD (although I’ve been looking at FWD and RWD options too) you suggested a non-turbo Impreza. This week I read the piece about classic cars being (quasi-)investments and expanded my searches to include some near-classic cars (i.e., those not yet 25 years old but that we could hope to drive, daily, until they become them). Since I was a teenager in the ’90s, cars from that era, and the early naughties, are more appealing to me. Knowing about the reliability and reparability of  from that cars then is beyond my experience (and I’ve not done well with finding good info online either).

So, generally, what fun/interesting manual transmission cars would you recommend from the ’90s and the start of the millennium? And also, since I found one locally in good condition, specifically how do you think a 2001 Audi A4 2.8 Avant quattro meets the criteria of fun and interesting and reliable and repairable?

My reply: Steer clear of that Audi! It is much too complicated – and much too old – to gamble on. Odds are high it will cost you a fortune – not to buy it, probably. But to repair it.

But, I have good news!

Your criteria immediately conjured the image of a Five-Oh Mustang from the early ’90s – or better yet, mid-late 1980s. I mean the ones with the 5.0 liter (302) V8 and five-speed OD manual transmission. 

These are fantastic cars; fully “modern” in every meaningful way (e.g., fuel-injected, with overdrive transmissions; start/run/drive like a new car) but without all the crap that has ruined new cars. No direct-injection. No ASS. Very easy to work on, even for a relative novice. Elaborate tools – and expensive equipment – not required. Parts cheap and abundant.

The RWD layout is much simpler and far more durable than FWD/AWD.

Most of all, these cars fun!

I’d also consider a GM F-car (Camaro/Firebird) from the same era, for the same general reasons. Another possible – and a fun sleeper – would be the Shamu-the-Whale Caprice from that era; these share all the same virtues. Late ’90s versions were available in SS trim – with the Corvette’s 5.7 liter V8. I remember driving one, new – a press car. 

And will never forget it!

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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6 COMMENTS

  1. E36 is a bit expensive but’ll last. Just replace the radiator and stuff with quality aftermarket parts, keep up on maintenance and it’ll run for a good long time!

    325/328/M3 were basically all the same car in America, just obviously more goodies with the higher up trims (LSD and stuff in the M3), but they can be built to 1000hp if you desire and it’s not unheard of that someone takes a ’25/28 and turns it into a M

    Also plenty of classic Japs, though good luck finding them clean AND stock

  2. Those old 5.0L Fox body Mustangs with a 5 spd turn 1,500-2,000 rpm at highway speed. I took a road trip with my buddy in his, and he could do 70-80 at that speed. The engine was BARELY above idle…

      • Oh, I KNOW they’ll fly! I remember one night in Lakewood, NJ. I was riding my Yamaha Seca 750. It wasn’t a sportbike, but it was pretty quick. I was cruising down Rt 9 when I saw a Fox body Mustang GT. The we pulled away from the light. As I was accelerating, I decided to open it up and blow by the GT. I heard him stomp on the gas; his pipes opened up; and he stomped me! I never forgot that. Yeah, they’re QUICK, all right…

      • One of the ULTIMATE sleeper cars was the old Fox body Mustang LX with the 302. It had the same engine as a GT, but it it looked like a normal car.

        • Yeah i have one. used to be a florida police car no joke. unfortunately quite hot rodded which it didnt really need to be. Has the cool four square eyes headlight look – 1986. Its a cool car but a maintenance headache. Maybe I’ll restomod it or something.

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