Reader Question: The Sour Spot?

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

Shana asks: You have written about the “sweet spot” for cars being the era that began in the mid-late ’90s through the early 2000s; this being the time when new cars had achieved incredible durability, required little maintenance and were also comfortable, well-equipped and powerful. You have also written about the virtues of the much older stuff, made before the advent of computer controls and “safety” systems. But what about the cars in between these two generations? Should they be avoided? If yes, why?

My reply: Yes, they should be. I refer to the cars made – roughly – from the early ’80s through the early ’90s, up to the widespread use of OBD II systems, circa 1994. Prior to that, cars came with computer controls but they were often specific to the manufacturer and so required manufacturer-specific diagnostic tools to service, which can be a real headache. The other thing is that these cars are now 30-plus years old and antiques. Which means finding antique electronics for them. That is sometimes not just hard but impossible, as the parts have long been out of production and – unlike a bezel for a ’64 GTO – NOS and reproduction electronics can be very hard to find. And expensive when – if – you do.

Many of the cars of this era were also not designed to deal with ethanol-soused fuel. They may have steel tanks and lines that are vulnerable to rusting from the inside out; rubber lines and other parts that dissolve/swell or dry-rot because of exposure to alcohol. It may be necessary to completely update the fuel system to work well – and safely – with modern adulterated “gas.”

It’s too bad, really – because there are many neat cars from this era. Among my favorites, the Pontiac Fiero and the Honda CRX.

This isn’t to say don’t get one. Just be advised that getting one entails more than getting something newer. Or much older.

. . .

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  1. Or adapting the fuel system to handle the ethanol ($$$) and aftermarket solutions for non-existent OEM replacement

    Off topic, but is that why you rarely see classics daily driven?

    • I think it’s because most cars from the mid 80’s-mid 90’s were just plain nothing to be desired. Cheap plastic interiors that fell apart quickly….bodies that rusted; impotent engines that often had major problems, like being prone to head gasket failures, front-wheel-drive transmissions that didn’t last and weren’t worth rebuilding or replacing….. There was just very little to love about them.

      As someone who hauled junk cars in the 90’s, I never felt bad about taking those cars to the shreeder, even if they had pristine bodies- which a lot of them did, as they were often being junked because they needed a major repair, like a head gasket or tranny. By contrast, many of the older cars I’d tried to save from the crusher, because they were simple and easily fixable, and had character- like: Interiors that held up, and nice styling.

      No one wants to drive an ’89 Cutlass Cierra, or 92 Toyota Turdcell. They weren’t worth keeping going even in the 90’s. (And they all had SO many problems. It was a terrible time for cars. I HATE the current new cars…but even I’d rather drive one of those than the mid 80’s-mid 90’s jalopies)

      • Hi Nunz,

        There are some exceptions to the rule – as always! For example, the squarebody Mustang circa ’82-early ’90s. Lots of potential there and now old enough that you can gut the electronics. Same with its rival, the Camaro/Firebird of the period. I’ve always like the looks of the third generation F-cars as well. And they were fairly practical, with the large rear hatch (I once owned an ’89).

        • Explains a lot, though I meant why don’t you see people DD’ing classic muscles and imports from before the 90s.

          Obviously you gotta ensure that everything works, but after that, you’re driving (insert muscle car) when everyone else is driving the same car as everyone else

        • eric, GM had a revision of cars about 88 or so. Beginning then they made countless millions of cars and trucks that would go hundreds of thousands of miles. There were some shitty drivelines but they were the exceptions.

          I can’t wait to get my 93 back on the road. It handled circles around the new trucks and was simple to the nth.

          I must not be the only one that feels that way. I’ve seen used 90’s GM trucks that were selling for well more than they cost new…..and they’re not getting any cheaper.

            • Honestly, I’d rather have the 94 with no air bags and while they’re not as powerful, they get better fuel mileage and they’re the only ones I’ve seen go over half a million miles on the original engine.

              They also don’t have airbags and much more interior room. I no longer pickup race. Oh, a better seats, much better.

        • Hi Ya Eric!

          Awww, I HATE those Square-body/Fox-body Mustangs! They feel so claustrophobic, dinky, and crude(and not in a good way). I could never understand their popularity. Ditto the Camaros/TA’s after 80 (or was it 81?)…no character- just a dark interior with cheesy plastic and vinyl (again, not in a good way). They had no “presence”. The previous muscle cars were substantial and looked the part- they were more than just packaging that could could be optioned with a semi-potent V-8 which only offered a little performance because it’s shoe-horned into a light car….but the same Camaro or Mustang with a 6 or 4 cylinder, was, in the 80’s and 90’s, just an old-lady car. By contrast, my second car years ago, was a 76 Camaro with a straight 6- and even without the V-8 performance, it was still a nice car with substance and presence.


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