The $1K Challenge (Or I Might Be Crazy)

This is burning a hole in my pocket:


After coming to Denver, Colorado on an unexpected last minute trip, I’ve got to find a way to get back to Des Moines, Iowa. As any math major can tell you, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and the easy way to get home would be to buy a plane ticket, ($248 on United Airlines, according to but that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as my plan.


Instead of taking the easy way out and buying the plane ticket, I’ve got another idea. I’m going to buy a car to drive back to Des Moines. If you’ve got plenty of cash, it’s pretty easy to buy a car that’ll haul you across three states (including the desolate wilderness of Nebraska), but what if you’re not loaded?


Sure, five thousand, even two thousand dollars will easily net you a reliable ride to roll you down Interstate 80 in style, but what happens when you slash that budget in half?


Giving myself a budget of $1000, I’m going to buy a car, make any necessary repairs, and count on the sucker to haul me all the way home. I’ll account for every penny spent on the car, including gas, oil, and any other miscellaneous expenses that come up. To make things even more interesting I’ll set a few rules for myself.


1.     The $1000 amount must include everything: i.e. food, lodging, repairs, the purchase price of the car, as well as the countless fountain sodas I’ll undoubtedly be consuming on the way home.

2.     No interstates. Taking I-76 to I-80 is the easy way. I’m going to hit the highways this time, taking a route that’s nearly all two-lane blacktop across Western Colorado and into Nebraska. (This may cause me to spend enough time traversing Nebraska to consider suicide, but that’s why rule #3 will be my saving grace.)

3.     I won’t pass a Runza without stopping in to eat. For those of you who don’t know, Runza serves delicious loose meat sandwiches filled with gooey melted cheese and allows their customers unlimited access to their slushie machine.  This is good stuff folks, and it’s usually the highlight of my pass-through visits to Nebraska.

4.     The car has to be a fun car, an interesting car, in short, a car guy car. I’ll run it at the local SCAA autocross when I get home, and it should be a car that other guys at least “get”, if they don’t admire it.

5.     I’ll attempt to sell the car when I get home, and assuming I’m able to get back to Des Moines, hit the SCAA autocross, and send it down dirt roads sideways I’ll attempt to recover my investment. If I break even I’m declaring this whole adventure to be a huge success.


So, let’s look at some potentials then shall we? I spent the morning browsing Craigslist (manna from heaven for anyone looking for a cheap, interesting, set of wheels) and I’ve narrowed it down to three distinct possibilities. One German, one Japanese, and one American. (It’s a pity that I don’t have two other friends with an endless supply of time on their hands, because I’ll only be able to purchase one of these beauties.)


But since I can only bring one I’m relying on you dear readers. So vote early, and vote often, and I’ll try to bring the winner home!


The German

In the first corner, hailing all the way from Stuttgart, Germany is a 1979 Porsche 924s. The seller has had it for sale on Craigslist for over a month now, originally listing it for $1400, but recently he’s come down to $1000. While it’s rust free, a five speed, and the desirable “S” model, it does need a little help. The seller claims that the fuel pump is out of the car right now, but tossing a little gas down the carburetor lets it fire right up. Over the phone the seller told me he’s willing to deal, and offered me the car sight unseen for $800. I’m confident he’s willing to take less.


Pros: It’s a Porsche, duh! High potential resale value, rust free, interior and exterior look like they’re in good shape, but everything could use a good cleaning.


Cons: In direct violation of my Mother’s “if you can’t drive it around the block, don’t buy it rule”, no idea how long it’s been sitting, parts are expensive and somewhat difficult to find.


The Rising Sun

On the other side of the world is our next contender, a 1986 Subaru GL Wagon, equipped with 4×4 and a manual transmission. Also rust free and clean, the Scoob has been for sale for about a month on Craigslist with no takers. Currently the owner has lowered the price from $850 to $750, perhaps in hopes of enticing a cheapskate like me to call in. While the boxer engine and the rugged durability hasn’t changed, these older Subaru models are a lot different than the 02 WRX wagon I took on the ALCAN Rally last year. They’re true 4×4’s, not AWD, and in the early 80’s they still featured lots of unusual quirks that Subaru was famous for. (For example, the spare tire is mounted over the engine in these cars, made possible by the low height of Subaru’s famous boxer engines.) It’s also unusual to see such a clean example of the model, most were prone to rust, got used hard, and put away wet.


Pros: Easily the cleanest GL wagon I’ve seen for sale in years. Famous Subaru reliability and good resale potential means that making it home would be a no-brainer.


Cons: Not nearly as exciting as the Porsche, most girls who like Subarus played softball in college (if you catch my drift).


The Red, White, and Blue

Last, but never least, is the American contender. The 1987 Dodge Diplomat is a model that most Americans have likely forgotten. Prior to the return of the Chrysler 300 and the Dodge Charger, it was the last rear wheel drive sedan that Mopar built. This example happens to be the police version, which is its saving grace. Equipped with a 318-wedge motor, a Rochester four-barrel carburetor, headers, and duel exhaust, this is the perfect machine to live out those Blues Brothers fantasies. (You’re saying the lines right now aren’t you?) This particular example was a Nashville; TN police car that’s somehow found it’s way to Denver. Along the way vandals broke the driver’s side window, and the state of Colorado labeled it as a gross polluter, which means it’ll have to be titled out of state. (Not a problem for a guy holding a pair of Iowa license plates, just begging for a new home.) At just $700, it’s calling my name just like a Springsteen song.


Pros: It’s a V8, it’s made to slide around on gravel roads, I can repeat Blues Brothers movie dialog all the way home. The major hard parts are usually indestructible.


Cons: Gas mileage, gas mileage, gas mileage.  Oh, and I’d need to find a new window somewhere.


Tune in tomorrow after some car shopping, and hopefully I’ll have a new update, with pictures!

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