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I Bought the Cheapest Subaru SVX in the United States

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author photo by Tyler Hoover November 2017

It's been raining interesting Japanese cars at my local auction lately -- and given my horrible self-control, I just can't help myself. Last week, I detailed the purchase of an incredibly cheap (yet troubled) $2,100 Land Cruiser, which I plan to build into an overland expedition rig. My latest purchase is a rare 1994 Subaru SVX, which only cost $500. Turns out, you can buy an interesting sports car for less than the cost a new iPhone -- but should you?

My SVX is a relic from the epic Japanese super-coupe wars of the 1990s, and it's remembered by its distinctive side windows within a window -- a design similar to a Lamborghini Countach or DeLorean -- even though the doors open in a traditional fashion. The styling came from famed designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, who gave the SVX a futuristic look with a jet-fighter cockpit roofline. Of all the 1990s Japanese super-coupes, I find the SVX to be the most interesting to look at.

Another big selling point for the SVX is the large 6-cylinder boxer engine under the hood, which was reported to produce 230 horsepower. That's 30 more horses than a new Subaru BRZ, but the SVX was intended to be more of a luxury contender than a sports car. Unfortunately, the addition of all the extra glass, the all-wheel-drive system and the luxury appointments meant the SVX weighs 800 pounds more than the contemporary BRZ. Worse, Subaru opted not to offer this luxury super-coupe with a manual transmission.

Naturally, the enthusiast crowd dismissed the car, with its slush-box transmission, but that wasn't the only thing that damned the SVX to obscurity. The starting price for a base model was $24,000, while the fully equipped LSI was $28,000. This was around the same price as a BMW 3 Series, which did a much better job of offering sporty driving with luxury appointments (and an upscale brand name).

Even with such low sales numbers, it's relatively easy nowadays to find decent examples of the SVX for $3,000-$5,000, which is about half the going rate for a base-model Mitsubishi 3000GT or Nissan 300ZX -- and a fifth of the price of a nonturbo Mark IV Toyota Supra. I purchased my SVX for only $500, which I'm embarrassed to say is less than what I spent on fancy wheels for my Prius. So why was this rare Subaru so cheap? Turns out it's not any one large issue that made this SVX sell for parts-car money -- rather, it's more like death of a thousand cuts.

I purchased this SVX at auction, where it got zero interest above the $500 opening bid. Mercifully, the drivetrain still feels strong after 180,000 miles, which is a relief, since the automatic transmission does not have a good reputation. In typical Japanese fashion, most of the electronics still work -- including the ice-cold air conditioning. I don't see anything that would stop this car from driving cross-country tomorrow. There's no funny business with the title, either, and it doesn't look like it's ever been in any kind of serious accident.

Things start to go downhill when you get up close and see the weathered paint, the small rust bubbles on a few panels, and the weathered interior. The radio was completely removed, leaving a giant hole behind the faux-wood decorative cover, and neither of the funky front windows responds to the commands from the switch. When in motion, it sounds like a wheel bearing is starting to go, but it could also be the worn tires. Of course, it has the check-engine light glowing and a cracked windshield -- standard features with every true hooptie. Finally, the power-steering pump has failed catastrophically, and it's leaking enough fluid on the exhaust to send white smoke billowing out -- almost like my SVX is trying to signal for a new Pope.

Despite its current condition, the car shows signs of being well-loved at some point. This SVX sports fancy-looking aftermarket wheels and upgraded brakes, along with a beefier aluminum radiator and record of a recent timing-belt change. The exhaust is also straight-piped, giving the car a surprisingly exotic sound. And it appears some attention was paid to the front suspension.

I could easily double my money in the car's current condition, and I could probably do even better if I fixed a few things, but I really don't want to deal with the hassles that come with selling a super cheap car with issues. Given this car isn't worth much -- and my mechanic will probably throw a wrench at my head if I send him another project -- properly restoring this car isn't going to happen, either. So I guess I'll just hoon this thing until it drops. Since it's an all-wheel-drive car, there are plenty of ways to see how much life this SVX has left. Let's just hope the Subaru fan-boys don't form an angry mob when I start my tests.

Tyler Hoover went broke after 10 years in the car business and now sells hamburgers to support his fleet of needy cars. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.

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I Bought the Cheapest Subaru SVX in the United States - Autotrader