Your Facebook comments last week confirmed something that we already suspected: vague questions make for interesting (and sometimes humorous) answers. What we weren’t prepared for was this: Pintos may take a lot of heat for their fiery reputation (pun intended), but a lot of people love them. And no, we aren’t crossing our fingers.
We asked, “What’s the cheapest car you’ve ever owned?” Some of you were confused. Cheapest new car? Cheapest used car? Cheapest to buy? Cheapest to maintain? Cheapest quality? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Whatever you like.
One thing you definitely like—at least that’s what you wrote—are Pintos. For every disparaging remark about exploding gas tanks, there were five cheers. Some of you (Cleon Chatwin! Morris Berry!) even used exclamation points!!!
Robert Vandermoor was a little more subdued, but we heard him loud and clear. “I owned a ’72 Pinto and it was a great car … reliable, got good mileage, never burned oil, had decent power for average driving, and ran so smoothly that sometimes when I stopped and it was idling I questioned whether or not it was still running.” John Barry bought his wife a new 1979 Pinto Sport with automatic transmission. “She kept it until she got a Camaro in the mid-’80s,” he wrote. “Loved the Pinto, hated the Camaro.”
Justin Hairston wrote, “I had a 1971 Pinto with 2.0-liter engine and automatic transmission. It ran great and was one of the most dependable cars I’ve owned.” Lan Brooks can relate; he also owned a ’71 Pinto and “loved it.” Ken Brown once bought a 1977 model for $125, put another $50 into it, and “drove it for years.” And Papa Nedz praised his 1974 Pinto, testifying that “it faithfully got me back and forth from point A to point B for quite a few years as my second (winter) car.”
We’re pretty sure that Michelle Olivette was happy with her $5,000 purchase of a “brand spanking new” 1977 Pinto wagon for $5,000, but considering she felt the need to call the paint color “burnt orange,” we’re still wondering if there may be a little sarcasm in there somewhere.
Beyond Pintos, many of you shared stories about cars you paid nothing for—nothing up front anyway. Take, for example, the 1976 Chevrolet Nova that Jeff Backus scored. “A guy I worked for had it in his garage. It would start but not drive. I asked how much he wanted for it. He said, ‘Drag it out today and it’s yours.’” After replacing a few parts, Jeff had the Nova up and running again. Mark St Amour experienced similar good fortune when he obtained a 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air sedan for free. “All I had to do was recover it from a field,” he wrote, adding that it only needed tires, battery, and a little gasoline in the carburetor to get it running.
Roy Krause received a 1980s Ford Fairmont as payment for work that he’d done for a neighbor. “You had to put a pillow behind you when you drove it because the vinyl bench seat was stiff and unmovable on long trips. Air leaked through the doors on the bottoms and door handle opening.”
James Langille Jr. still appreciates the $0 price tag on a 1982 Subaru wagon that he received from his future wife’s parents. “For years the Subaru had been sitting in their yard with four flat tires and a dead battery. Her dad told me if I could get it out of their yard I could have it. Never underestimate the ingenuity of a 17 year old. I spent the next two hours using a bicycle pump to put air in the tires, then I borrowed jumper cables from the neighbor, and off we went.” James’ father had a similar story; he bought a 1964 Oldsmobile for $1 (yup, one dollar). The only thing the seller wanted to keep was the radio.
Brothers Steve and Gerry Larrivee exchanged memories of International Scouts they owned. Steve wrote, “I owned a 1964 Scout—red, white, blue, and rust. Barely had brakes from the day my brother sold it to me until the day I sold it. I went to the bank once, opened the driver’s door, and the whole thing just fell off in a crowded parking lot. I laughed my butt off! Picked up the door, threw it in the back, and drove away.” Gerry added, “I had a ’68 Scout for a while. The gas tank was behind the wheel well, in front of the right rear tire. The straps broke, and the tank fell just as I got off the highway. I was blessed that day.”
Plenty more stories caught our eye.
John King: “I bought a new 1971 AMC Gremlin with straight-six engine and three-on-the-floor. Sticker was $1,999. The only option was an interior lighting package with AM radio for an additional $137. A lot of fun!”
Robert Jones: “My first car was bought on the cheap. Boy, was my dad the negotiator! The owner wanted $600 for his ’63 Chevy Nova station wagon. Of course, dear old Dad said, “Too much money!” I believe the guy’s wife wanted it out of the driveway because the price dropped over the course of several months. Finally he knocked on our front door and said, ‘$35 and take it away.’ My brother and I took a test drive, and by the time we got back the price had dropped to $25! Sold!”
Dave Sanders: “In 1972, I bought a ’64 Falcon Futura with a 260-cid engine and three-on-the-tree for $300. It wasn’t a bad car, except when you stepped on the brakes you never knew if it was going to pull left or right. Straight was never an option. Drove it for a year and sold it for $350.”
Dave Demmin: “At 14, I bought my first car—a 1939 Chevy—for $25. It didn’t run, but with the help of my dad and a few others it came back to life. Dad would let me drive it on the backroads. At the ripe age of 15, I sold the ’39 for $70 and bought a ’48 Ford with flathead V-8 for $75. Those were the good old days!”
Tim Geurden: “In 1976, I bought a ’66 Olds Cutlass for $75. The people wanted it out of their driveway because it wouldn’t start. It actually was in decent condition; all it needed was a tune-up and the choke fixed. I ran that bad boy for a while and sold it for $350.”
Larry Higgins: “During the energy crisis I bought a new two-door 1977 Chevrolet Chevette hatchback for $2,800. It was surprisingly zippy and quite versatile ... until the engine went south after a couple of years.”
Ramon Torres: “My first night in the USA, I saw a Cadillac Coupe de Ville, and I thought, ‘This would be a great first car!’ I bought it two or three weeks later for $400. Best car ever!”
Tom Armitage: “I bought a 1969 Opel Kadett—metallic orange, 1.9-liter engine, four-speed, about 30 mpg, could top 110 mph—for $1,950 off the showroom floor.”
Douglas Woodrum: “My cheapest car was a 1939 Dodge business coupe. Cost me $15 and an old bicycle.”
Hal Tiberius Horton: “1964 Ford Ranchero, $10. 1972 Opel Manta Rallye, $50. 1979 Volkswagen Rabbit Diesel, $50. 1971 Ford LTD, $80. 1972 Ford LTD, $90. 1972 Honda CB450, $90. 1984 VW Rabbit Diesel, $100. Yes, they all ran.”
The last word goes to Neelie Neirbo, who purchased a 1973 Subaru for $300 back in the day and wasted a lot of money in an unsuccessful attempt to get it roadworthy. Still, Neelie feels worse for a certain teenage buyer who likely has his own “cheap car” horror story. “To the kid who was working at 7-Eleven somewhere between Ionia and Lansing (Michigan) and paid $50 for my dad’s Ford Fiesta, which had just died in the parking lot, I’m sorry. Even though my dad insisted you call your mother first, I still think the Neirbos owe you a refund.”