It’s every gearhead’s fantasy to wake up on December 25 and find the garage stuffed with a dozen new toys.
Here are my first six picks for your 2017 Yuletide surprises.
Best First Sports Car: The Mazda Miata has to be the iconic affordable sports car of the past 30 years. When it was introduced in 1990, the only other RWD convertible sports car available was the wheezy, rev-resistant, long-in-the-tooth, last-generation Alfa Spider.
The Miata offered the feel of an MGB with the reliability of a Toyota Corolla.
Which year you pick doesn’t matter. Just buy one with a clean CarFax and under 50,000 miles. Pay up to $8,000 for a great example. You can’t go wrong.
Best First Ferrari: I’ve always been a fan of the 308 GT4 (1974-1978). The Bertone body continues to age well. The driving position offers a commanding view of the road. The tiny back seats, similar to a 911, provide a relatively commodious cabin. As they are analog cars, nearly any experienced foreign car mechanic can service them without expensive, computer-driven diagnostic equipment. These used to be $30,000 cars; now you’ll pay $50,000 to $60,000 for one.
Most Ridiculous 4-Seat Conveyance: While my heart says Mehari, in truth, the VW Thing is a better choice. Its robust VW mechanicals mean it can be serviced anywhere. Take off the doors and fold-down the windshield, and you’re on your own safari. The US-spec 1974 version is the best choice, as it has an integrated heater instead of the gasoline-fed heater of the ’73 car. A good one, with weather equipment and a sturdy roll cage, is a $15,000 to $20,000 rig.
Best Affordable Pony Car: While I was raised driving a first-gen Mustang (1964-66), the styling of the second-gen cars (1967-68) has aged better. A base 289 with a 4-speed makes a great daily driver. Fastbacks have more eyeball, but they will cost more. Figure $25,000 to $35,000 for a decent driver.
Best Modern Econobox: Anything from Korea. The real competition between new cars centers around how well the center stack and its controls is integrated into the driving experience. All new cars handle, start and stop well enough. Korea is the most wired nation in the world, so the well-optioned Kias and Hyundais with touch screens AND buttons are simply miles ahead of the competition. A hatchback Hyundai Elantra GT has been my satisfying around-town scooter for the past four years. It’s not a sports car, but it handles any mundane transportation challenge you throw at it with aplomb.
Car You Can’t Kill: Mercedes-Benz 240D and 300D (W123). Look for a 4-speed. Best bet is a European 300D, manual gearbox, with no sunroof and manual windows. I’ve owned a few of these. A stepson used one to commute from Portland, OR to Syracuse, NY while he attended the university.
Don’t buy one with needs, as they are expensive to repair. They are spacious, seem big enough to have some structural safety, and can keep up with modern traffic. If you don’t want your child to drive a sports car when they are 16, a 240D or 300D is a very reasonable alternative. You should be able to find a nice one for under $10,000. This is a case where you are better off paying a little more for a very nice one.
Next week – the second installment of the 12 Cars of Christmas