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Feature Story


by Bob Hagin

October 10, 1997

According to a recent editorial in SPECIAL INTEREST AUTOS, there are four phases of old-auto collectibility, the first of which is for an enthusiast to buy a vehicle because it's fun to own. He or she doesn't see it as a possible source of income or the basis for an investment portfolio but simply because it's a kick to drive something that's unusual. After the drubbing the Nash Metropolitan took in the '50s, who would have thought they'd be venerated today.

All the Duesenbergs, Corvettes, MGs and such are already spoken for but there's several middle-aged machines out there that are relatively cheap, will probably not go any lower in price or value and can provide transportation - albeit not the kind you'd want to use every day. This is my list of still-affordable funky cars that would be fun to cruise in and keep for a long time:

CADILLAC CIMARRON - Most Cadillac fans (as well as most Cadillac dealers) would just as soon forget the Cimarron built from '84 to '86 that was little more than a Chevy Cavalier with a Cadillac logo and leather upholstery. It was Cadillac's answer to the public cry for fuel-efficient autos and a need for the company to offset the fuel gluttony of its big 368 cubic inch Fleetwood V8. The Cimarron was only made for four years and came with a four-banger as well as a V6. As a hobby car, it's great because it's rare (about 65,000 made), it's drivable and it has all the modern amenities such as a/c, an upscale sound system, power steering, etc. Best of all, it has the Cadillac name. Current pricing is between $2000 and $4100. Four-bangers are less.

VOLKSWAGEN RABBIT PICKUP - In the early '80s, the Japanese auto makers were gathering speed with a plethora of mini-pickup trucks. Datsun, Mitsubishi, Toyota and the rest were making it "in" to own a small, fuel-efficient truck. Unfortunately Volkswagen only had its shed- like transporter-based pickup that had been brought into this country from '57 to '71 and it was more "Hippie" than hip. But its Rabbit was popular and was easily adapted to a light-duty pickup configuration. It's popularity was increased by the fact that it was also available with a 1.6 liter diesel and that reliable little unit was good for up to 50 MPG. The Rabbit pickup was only made from '81 to '83 and as a hobby car, one of its attributes is that it can be used to pick up garden supplies too. At $1600 TO $2100, they're cheap fertilizer haulers.

DODGE/PLYMOUTH RAMPAGE/SCRAMP - If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, Chrysler tipped it's corporate hat to Volkswagen when it introduced its Dodge Rampage in '82, just one year after the arrival of the Rabbit pickup. It was a pickup version of its Omni 024 sports coupe and with it's 2.2 liter engine and light weight, it was a sprightly performer. In '82, it had the added attraction of being offered with four-wheel drive which adds about $500 to the going price but makes it more valuable as a garden hauler: it can be used for gardening in the snow. It also appeared as the Plymouth Scamp in '83 which makes it one of the most scarce of the vehicles on my "cheapie" hobby car list. At $2000 to $2500, its more pricey than the VW but faster.

RENAULT FUEGO - Keeping in mind that we're talking Hobby Car here and not depending on the vehicle described for reliable, everyday commuting, I'll bring up the Renault Fuego of '82 to '85. Built on the platform of the lackluster 18i sedan, the Fuego was cursed with a small 1.6 liter engine. Not to be thwarted by such a minor problem, Renault put a high-boost turbocharger in it, coupled it to a five-speed transmission and, presto! - instant performance. A friend owned one for a short time and she went through three clutches before the company came up with one that worked. There's the typically French overuse of plastic inside and out, so it won't be mistaken for a more reliable Japanese sports coupe. Fun to own - especially if you like odd-balls and also like to work on cars. They go for $1100 to $1500 but buy one that runs.

GEO METRO CONVERTIBLE - Who can resist these homely little mutts? Maybe I shouldn't say that since Chevrolet still markets the tiny Suzuki-built, one liter, three-cylinder urban shopper under its bow-tie logo. The Geo name is gone now but the Metro goes on - except for the drop-top version. The Metro convertible was built from '90 to '93 and in not-great numbers. They're super for bopping around town and as long as they're not over-stressed (don't try to cross the Nevada desert flat out in one) and the owner cuts in half the factory recommended mileage between motor oil and filter changes, they last. Oil is cheap and Metro engines are not. Currently they're listed in the Kelly Blue Book between $4100 and $6600 - depending on the year.

YUGO CABRIO - A couple of years ago there was a joke going around that stated that the way to double the worth of a Yugo was to fill the gas tank. The standard hatchback coupe still isn't appearing on Rick Cole's Most Desirable Investment Cars list but the convertible (built only in '90 and '91) is selling for more than double the going price of the sedan. I guess it proves that anything with a cloth top is desirable - especially if it's an orphan. The Yugo is really just a thinly disguised and Yugoslavian-built Italian Fiat so parts aren't totally inaccessible. At $3000 to $3500, it's a fun car but make sure you leave the top down as much as possible. Otherwise it's just another Yugo.

There may be other contemporary Hobby Cars out there but the aforementioned vehicles appeal to me at the first level of collectibility. For the other three levels, you'll have to buy the October issue of SPECIAL INTEREST AUTOS.