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New Feature: Cheap Heap of the Week

1988 Toyota MR2 in Delray Beach, FL, $1800.

Here at Totally That Stupid, we continue to lament the death of the cheap, fun car. Why is everything so expensive? Why do these Generation-X’ers – a group we proudly identify with – keep driving up the prices for the cars we either drove or coveted in our youth? Why are you on my lawn and where is my comfy chair?

Then it occurred to us we should probably define what cheap was, what cheap means now, and how that translates into our current automotive environment.

It used to be cheap was $500 or less. Back in the olden days (the early-aughts) I paid $500 each for several BMW E30 3 series – including a convertible – and a handful of Bavaria sedans. I was turning wrenches at the world-famous Bill Arnold BMW Repair at the time, and these cars all came to me in pretty much the same way.

Occasionally a customer would bring in a car needing more work than the owner thought it was worth. After balking at the written estimate, they’d throw up their hands and ask if “anybody here” wanted the car. Sometimes the phone would ring and on the other end was a broken car that needed to go away. Other times a fellow enthusiast would get wind of my admiration of a certain model and ask if I wanted to buy their derelict yard art.

Not even sure this car was actually $500. May have been $300.

Most of the E30s and at least one of the Bavarias were fiddled with, driven for a while, and then sent down the road, usually to a friend who needed some cheap wheels for a short time or another enthusiast (there was a Chamonix 1974 Bavaria that turned out to be a pretty good car). One Bavaria was dissected for parts – I had never removed rear shock towers with a Sawzall before. There were probably others.

Now we live in the world of $7,500 mediocre E30s and $10,000 tired Bavarias. Forget about anything from the 1980s or 1990s with an M badge. A vintage 2002? Rusty, terrible ones are real money. Ten-grand for a Fiat 850 Spider? I’ll give you two crack pipes. Hell, even a cheap NA Miata isn’t.

Looking back, any of the cars that passed through my hands would probably now fetch $5,000, because everything is nuts.

1988 Lincoln Luxury Town Car in Hoffman Estates, IL, $1750.

We’re wondering, however, if you can still find something worth talking about for $2,000. The days of the cheap E30 or Bavaria are probably long gone, but maybe we can find something else. It may need some work. It may not be beautiful. It will likely have Previous Owner Disease (P.O.D.). Being, well, us, we believe that even cheap cars should be interesting, even if only to us.

Where did the $2,000 number come from? Recently I discovered one of my banks greatly increased my daily ATM withdrawal amount. I mean, like, “Really? That much? You guys are dopes.” Between that bank and my other bank, it would take exactly two days to get to $2,000. Can I wait two days to buy the next great heap? Can any of us? With our newfound pandemic, we not certain goofy old cars are flying out of driveways. And while I’ve never been great at planning ahead, who says I haven’t already started pulling daily withdrawals?

Let’s take a second here to mention what we’re not talking about. We’re not suggesting you take your $2,000 – that which you would use to pay the mortgage, the food bill, the insurance, whatever – and buy some heap that is clearly going to need more than that minimum ante. Don’t take your stimulus check(s) and buy some automotive leech that is going to bleed you dry. If Totally That Stupid is ever going to have a disclaimer, this was it.

1988 Mercedes-Benz 300CE in Yorba Linda, CA, $1950.

Anyway, $2,000 is the final dollar limit. We’re going to avoid the trap of, “Well, this is only a little more, so maybe we could negotiate down.” No, two-large is the max, and it obviously doesn’t include trivialities like sales tax, registration, alcohol, tetanus shots, couples therapy, or funeral costs.

Everything else is up for discussion, including brand, specs, and options. It doesn’t even have to be a good car. It just has be interesting, even if it’s only to people like us.

Finally, we’re not going to be judge and jury about how long the car might run and otherwise work after it makes its way home. All we’re saying is it has to be doing its thing at the time of purchase. Ideally, most of the accessories would function, too. Ideally.

To recap: $2,000, interesting, runs/drive/stops.

We’ll try to do this weekly. Ready? Go!

1974 Volvo 164E in Iron River, WI, $1995.

10 thoughts on “New Feature: Cheap Heap of the Week Leave a comment

  1. Oh! Love me some 164E (for Einspritzen!). Had one for a couple years when partner was in grad school, paid $400 for it (1993 dollars). Cleaner than it should have been for a 20yo car, not much rust. Got us through Michigan winters, then gave it away to a friend when we left. Motoring in _style_, forget those crappy 144s. :^) Now I’m worried I don’t even have a picture of that car…

    • The bane of our existence is a perfect candidate with lousy pictures. A crap ad is okay, but we must have good images. A danger when playing in this shallow end of the pool

  2. I’m all for this. And, I have a couple $2k-ers on the docket for project cars this summer, as a matter of fact. Damn Facebook Marketplace for always serving me specifically the cheapies that I want to adopt one in every single configuration.

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