Most of the focus on the collector car world comes from televised auctions where six-figure…
5 rad cars for $5 grand or less
The recent glut of ’80s- and ’90s-themed car events—thanks to the popularity of shows like Motor Vice, Radwood, and Superfly—have us dreaming of the most righteous vehicles of this once-derided automotive era. That’s got us scouring Craigslist for an appropriately rare or ironic ride, from which we will of course be blasting the soundtracks to The Breakfast Club and Pretty In Pink.
Being folks of meager means, we don’t have a lot of cash. With that in mind, we offer five cars that will have you rolling in style with prices so good you really ought to go ahead and jump.
1980–93 Volkswagen Rabbit convertible
Go ahead. Make your clichéd jokes about this being a car for sorority sisters. We’ll have the last laugh, because the Rabbit convertible, or Cabriolet as it was known after 1985, is a sweet ride. What’s not to love? Styling by Giorgetto Giugiaro, body by Karmann, and just enough performance to keep things entertaining. No, you’re not gonna go fast, but then that’s not the point of a Cabriolet. This car’s all about fun in the sun. We know you want one. But don’t worry. We won’t tell anyone. Our lips are sealed.
1983–89 Isuzu Impulse
You want something a little more on the wild side? Find yourself a first-gen Isuzu Impulse. Oh sure, the drivetrain features more than a few parts drawn from the Chevrolet Chevette parts bin and people are gonna ask, “Isu-what?” But just look at it. Could that silhouette, inspired by Giugiaro’s Ace of Clubs concept, be any more 80s? It’s quite striking, in a wedgy, sleepy-eyed kind of way. Earlier cars had more show than go, with an anemic four-banger cranking out a whopping 90 horsepower. Later models got a turbo to bump that figure up to 140. Look for one from 1988 or ’89, when Lotus stepped in to sort out the handling. And tell ‘em Joe sent you.
1983–89 Pontiac 6000 STE
Sedans are more your thing? No problem. Find a Pontiac 6000 STE, a car General Motors aimed squarely at the the hot-selling Audi 5000 as Pontiac reclaimed its ‘60s legacy as a performance brand. We hear you chuckling, but the 6000 STE (Special Touring Edition) delivered the goods—Road & Track named it one of its 12 best enthusiast cars of 1984 and it appeared on Car and Driver’s 10-Best list three times. We’d look for one from 1986 or later with the high-output V-6, a Getrag five-speed box, ABS, and some nice amenities. Get one and ride like the wind.
Yeah, yeah, we know. Triumph killed the TR7 in 1981 and the last of them rolled out of showrooms in 1982, so the TR7 only just barely counts as rad material. This is our list, so it stays because we love British sports cars, even bad ones with faults best described as significantly irritating. Oh sure, the electrics are sure to leave you enjoying the still of the night, but he car’s a looker (well, the convertible, anyway), with decent handling that makes them relatively entertaining. It helps that they’re all but free for the asking. Consider us tempted.
Can’t afford the turbocharged AWD Quattro that inspired the utterly insane Pikes Peak-slaying rally car? Neither can we. The GT Coupe is more our speed. It looks the business, even if it lacks the Quattro’s sweet flares, and turbo lovers are out of luck because this one’s normally aspirated. Still, it offers solid handling, decent power and an optional Tron-like LED dashboard display that all but screams ’80s. Finding one that works, though, happens once in a lifetime. Find one and you are definitely the man.