Finding a Daily Driver is an Exercise in Frustration
My parents swear that my first word was ‘car’, so it might come as no surprise that I love cars. When I was young, my dad would buy me scale models and later on I had several electric slot car racing sets where I would while away the hours with ease. More recently I have had the privilege of driving or owning several interesting cars, including what I think is the most sublime combination of engine, transmission, and chassis known to man, the 1995-1998 Porsche 911 (the 993).
With my car guy bona-fides out of the way, the search is on for a daily driver. I’m not afraid to put on miles, but I want those miles and the associated wear and tear to be in the pursuit of something meaningful – a fun run in the canyons with friends, an autocross or driver’s education event, or a road trip with my girl (and even to teach her how to drive a manual transmission again). These are worthy miles.
I’m looking for something used, relatively inexpensive, and (somewhat) reliable. It shouldn’t be expensive, but if you’re a car guy like me, you may have additional requirements even if you have another fun, sporty car(s) in the garage. For me, these are: engaging, quick, tossable, interesting, with a modicum of utility, relatively economical to run, easy to park, and without too many miles. Little did I know this combination would be so difficult to find.
I started my search by focusing on cars that are utilitarian and amusing since those were two of my criteria. SUV’s are useful, but lack sportiness; the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, Range Rover Supercharged, et al excepted. I already owned a hatchback, and found that a bit too small. Since I wanted something reasonably economical, I started looking for sporty wagons. Wagons from Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and even Volvo appealed…and some even had the coveted ‘third pedal’ option so I could row it myself. Wouldn’t it be great to have utility, speed, and style?
First, I looked at cars I had read about and coveted years ago: the Audi 200 Turbo Quattro Avant, BMW E30 Wagon, Mercedes 200-series Diesel wagon, Saab 900 5-door. Surely these cars wouldn’t cost too much now. After kicking some tires on a few of these, I started to lose faith that the vehicle I sought could actually be found. Was I being too picky?
I found many cars were stratospherically overpriced, modded most distastefully, needed work, had starship mileage, but usually a combination of all four. One car was even missing a wheel (Note to seller: are you so lazy that you can’t even fit a replacement wheel so you can sell your precious commodity? As an added insult, this seller was ‘firm’ with his high price). In a vacuum, most anyone might have an exaggerated estimate of a car’s value. After all, it’s an asset and nobody wants to sell it for less than it’s worth. But what I don’t understand is that accurate information is readily available in the bluebooks, forums, and auction results. It’s not a guessing game. This wasn’t limited to private sellers either, it was dealers too.
My search was starting to make me feel a bit dispirited. I decided that I could raise my budget a little bit so that I could perhaps buy something a little less ‘used up’. My thinking was that the very-well used ones I had been looking at weren’t so much of a bargain after all, especially since newer counterparts were theoretically just a bit more, would have less mileage, and fewer things to fix or that would soon go wrong. All of these steeds were expensive when new, and just because they had depreciated to just a fraction of their original cost doesn’t mean their parts and maintenance have too.
Well, my hope didn’t come true either. I just found more of the same at a (slightly) higher price. Then a revelation hit me. What used car could I purchase that I’d enjoy driving, wouldn’t depreciate, and has some utility (for it seats four people, albeit very uncomfortably and with a roof rack could carry larger items)? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the answer to my search was there all along. A 993. No, not my 993, rather a ‘beater’ 993 with higher mileage and a few dents and dings courtesy of an unappreciative owner. I think what I’m trying to say was said best in The Wizard of Oz — “Everything you were looking for was right there with you all along.”
OK, that’s silly. And thus, the search continues for a daily driver. A 3-pedal wagon hopefully.