29 November 2011

Winter Beaters: Seven good bets

If you want to get technical, winter really still is just around the corner. But try telling that to the good folks of the Northeast, who've been slogging through snow and power outages for weeks now.

But because no one wants to wait until winter techincally begins on December 22 to search for a winter driver, now is as good a time as any. Though of course the folks with the shovels in their hands will tell you it's too little, too late, Bub.

So, what do you look for in a winter car? Dean Kruse, of Kruse Auctions fame (infamy?), used to say that when the top goes down, the price goes up. But you don't want an expensive car for winter driving. And I'll just make the assumption you'd rather not have to worry about frostbite as you struggle to secure that stylish Haartz top, too.

While trucks and vans and wagons may be the obvious choice, let's consider for a moment cheap coupes and sedans. In fact, why don't you consider it?

We recently posed this very question to our fans on Facebook, and here are the top winter performers, as stated by the people:

Any old VW Beetle. Or VW Van, for that matter. Old V-dubs really are the automotive equivalent of man's best friend. Find a decent '68 coupe for $3,500.

Any 120- or 140-series Volvo. Ah yes, Swedish cars. Native sons of a place where the asphalt is made of snow. $4,100 buys a usable 122 coupe, while a driver 144 is about half that. And you can bring the kids!

Any Corvair. Like the VWs, the engine out back is a huge plus for traction. Also like the VWs, bring lots of blankets, because you won't get much in the way of heat. A '65 Corvair 500 in winter condition will set you back $3,500.

1970 Chevrolet Impala sedan, 350/300 hp 2-speed Powerglide transmission. Several people noted early 1970s Chevys as a car of choice. Certainly enough power to have some parking lot fun if the mood strikes you. But also plenty of weight to keep you grounded as you trudge on down the road. You can find a good driver for less than $5,000.

Any 1980s Audi Quattro — particularly the 4000. Simply unbeatable in any conditions that don't require monster truck ground clearance. And a heated seat! It's the heated seat that puts this one over the top. Sure, there's the quattro all-wheel-drive. But next to the paperclip, heated seats are the greatest invention of the 20th century. You'll find them all day for under $2,000. Once a week you'll find them for under a thousand, and some aren't half bad.

The old-timers up North used to swear by RAMBLERS for winter driving. Sounds like Viking lore to us, which we are inclined to accept as truth. The Vikings know a thing or two about maneuvering in the snow. Rarer than most of the cars noted here, and generally a bit pricier, but you can find them for about $7,000.

1978 Ford Mustang King Cobra — not too fast and not too slow with surprising grip on all fours. We cannot confirm or disconfirm the validity of this statement, but this is the only list on which a 1978 Mustang King Cobra is likely ever to appear. Figure $3,600 for the one you'd want to beat on over a long winter.

What's your preferred classic for the winter months? Tell us in the comments.

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