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Here’s Why I Love Crappy Old Economy Cars

While it might be uncharacteristic of a car enthusiast, I have a big soft spot for unassuming, unastounding economy cars from the past. I’m not sure how it started, but my love of disposable econoboxes has only grown as I accumulate more experience with them.

The first crappy economy car that I owned was my 2000 Chevy Metro, which I got back in 2014. That was my only car for about a year. I didn’t buy it because I was broke, I could have afforded a nicer car. I got a Metro because I actually wanted one. My goal was to get really good at driving a manual transmission, and I figured I might as well get 50 miles per gallon while doing it — and that’s exactly what happened.

I wasn’t planning on growing a personal attachment to my Metro, but I did. I think it’s because of the experiences it gave me, not the least of which was teaching me how to drive manual by making it a daily routine. It also put my mechanical chops to the test after a clutch replacement and a top-end rebuild on the itty-bitty 1.0-liter 3-cylinder engine after it blew a head gasket on an off-ramp. A top-end rebuild is normally a pretty big and expensive job, but it’s hilariously cheap and easy on the Suzuki G10 engine that powered my mighty Metro. I had some wrenching experience from my 1982 Suzuki motorcycle, and this job reminded me an awful lot of that old bike. I got it done in an afternoon, I spent less money on it than the cost of a tank of gas, and I came away from the experience a better amateur mechanic than I was before.

The clutch was a different story … that was a miserable job that took a full two days of angry wrenching. The biggest thing I learned from that is what it feels like to get transmission fluid in your eyes. Now I always wear safety glasses when I’m underneath a car.

My next economy car experience was with the 1986 Plymouth Horizon that I drove last summer. When I noticed such a shockingly well-preserved example of an old Chrysler L-body, which was made to be used up and disposed of, it had to be mine. I wanted to know what it was like to drive a regular econobox from the 1980s, and I loved it. I just can’t put my finger on why I loved it so much. Maybe it’s just because I got to learn about what it was like to drive in an era from before I was born. This is the kind of car that would have taken me to school and soccer practice if I was born a decade earlier — and for some reason, that’s something of great interest to me. I even took it to the Iola car show, and it got much more attention than the Chevelle and the Mustang it was parked in between.

Why do I feel this way? What is wrong with me? I didn’t grow up in a crappy economy car, so it’s not a nostalgic attachment. The most prominent Brandt family hauler from my youth was a secondhand 1995 Oldsmobile Aurora, which was actually a pretty nice sedan, especially for a 1990s Oldsmobile. I think I like these old beaters because of the fires they start in young, aspiring car enthusiasts. A lot of car-obsessed people have a story about their mom’s old Ford Escort, or their first car being a hand-me-down Dodge Shadow. It’s cars like these that begin a lot of peoples’ love affairs with cars, which proves a car doesn’t have to be fast, fun or cool-looking to be appreciated.

Economy cars are supposed to give drivers a numb, dull driving experience by serving as appliances that simply get you where you need to go. But they’ve done the exact opposite for me. They’ve evoked more emotion in me than any other kind of car, by giving me experiences that other cars can’t offer. Of course, I’m still a fan of more traditional enthusiast cars like hot hatches and pony cars — but an old economy car is just a different driving experience that I think everyone who loves cars should give a shot.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for me to browse Autotrader for a Renault Alliance. Find a used car for sale

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Eric Brandt
Eric Brandt
Eric Brandt is an author specializing in Oversteer content, new car reviews, and finding the best car, truck, and SUV deals each month. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Eric can often be found exploring the north woods on his 1983 Honda Gold Wing when the weather allows it. Father of four, husband of one, and unapologetic minivan enthusiast. Eric mastered driving stick by having a 3-cylinder Chevy... Read More about Eric Brandt

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  1. I feel the same way about the cheap econo-cars.  My 2nd car was a Ford Escort GT – with only 1 option (cruise control).  It was so basic, yet, I loved it for that.  I liked that there were no fancy electronics to break, manual everything, and – thanks to the Mazda 1.8 – a very solid engine.

  2. I learned to drive stick on a 1993 Ford Escort wagon, which, in full disclosure, was brown.

    A few years later my mom was upgrading to a 1997 Taurus, and she wanted to trade in the Escort. I begged her to trade in my hand-me-down 1988 Pontiac Bonneville, even offering to pony up the difference in trade value. She thought it would be too much hassle and that early 1990s unicorn was gone from my life.

  3. They’re basic, and they do what they’re supposed to do.  No cylinder deactivation, no crappy shifting electronic transmissions, just a basic car that offers results with throttle input. 

  4. One of the most fun cars I’ve driven has been a 2011 base Ford Fiesta with a 5-Speed. You’re on to something!

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