Living the Life for 5 Grand – A Recipe for Success or Disaster? (With Poll)

21 10 2012

Because of a few greedy scumbags, the world is currently going through one hell of a financial crisis. For car people like you and me this is bad news, because the extra cash we keep coughing up to, you know, not starve to death means that we can’t indulge ourselves with those sweet, sweet rides which keep popping up on Craigslist, Ebay Motors and such places. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still folks with rivers of disposable income out there…times of economical (let’s call it) distress always widen the gap between social standings. The hugely expensive rides like Bentleys and Ferraris will keep on selling like a buck a dozen, gold sprinkled, diamond encrusted hotcakes (let’s remember that while something like 90% are losing money, 10% are bringing in record profits).

Now you may say: “no, this is wrong and you’re an idiot! What about all those abandoned super cars getting sandblasted in Dubai and other such catastrophes? Well, that is true and there are some, but not because all the super rich have taken a nose dive in the recession. Cases like the famous dusty Enzo are punctual and often misrepresented; that particular car was part of a criminal investigation, so it had to be impounded. There are some nice rides which have been semi-abandoned yes, but only because within the United Arab Emirates bailing on debt is a serious offense, you can’t just burn your business to the ground with a particularly passionate blackjack and hookers addiction and then just get a little slap on the wrist like in some places…there, either you tuck your tail nicely and run for it or you’re screwed. So they do (run) but again, doesn’t mean that everyone is in trouble. All the big companies are making record profits and laughing all the way to their banks in the Caymans (yes, they’ll be getting there in mega yachts).

But what does this recession mean for you and me, the average Joes – whatever that is – in terms of opportunity? Well we certainly won’t be spending a lot of time in fancy showrooms but that doesn’t mean we can’t fall in love with something nice, damn it! Depreciation is truly the equivalent of a female dog, nothing anyone can do about it and the funny little phenomenon tends to hit some cars like a sledgehammer swung by the god of thunder himself. A few (previously) top of the range cars with, let’s say, 10 or 12 years can now be yours at bargain price, huzzah! But wait, this begs the question: are any of them actually worth buying? What will you be getting yourself into???

There’s layers to that question, but bottom line, just because you’re not swimming in dough it doesn’t mean you have to ride around in something depressing…so let’s see the best stuff we can find within an acceptable budget…say, 5 grand? $5.000 for you to cruise in style, doesn’t seem that much does it? Fine it does, but in this day and age, what amount of money seems truly “small”? I’ll be happy if I find a dollar on the street to be honest.

Before going any further, it does have to be said that if all you need is a reliable as a rock, dirt cheap to run, dirt cheap to maintain daily driver, the options I’m about to lay on the table are not the greatest because they will require some extra TLC and attention. But if you have a soul and are not happy driving a sad looking box every single day, if you need a little spice in life, some excitement (a lot of which may come from being stranded), than these may be worth a shot.

Some of you will agree while others will call this a lemon fest and funny enough, everyone can be right at the same time on this one!

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2001 BMW 740iL    

The E38 7 Series. Personally, I’ve always loved it and I very much hope to get one someday. I still find it kind of mind blowing that you can even get one of these things for 5 grand; maybe it’s the fact I remember them coming to market and be so out of reach for almost everyone that seeing them down to this kind of money is a bit surreal, even fully understanding the how and why of it. Speaking of “why”, why indeed is an 11 year old car that used to set you back well over 80 thousand Uncle Sam dollars (depending on how loaded you wanted it) available for your driving pleasure for 5 grand? Well, like I said before Madam Depreciation is a cruel mistress and she will slap the big, technologically advanced, top of the range cars silly. Seriously though, these things sink like bricks when it comes to value.

There are several reasons why this is pretty much a rule: they spend more fuel, demanded insurance premiums are high and to top it all off, maintenance is a nightmare, it will ruin your life and make a homeless person out of you! Or will it? One can’t argue with the fuel cost, you will spend quite a bit because these are whale-size cars, so laws of physics and all…One can’t fight the insurance either, but the repairs aren’t always the monster they’re made out to be. Depends on how you tackle them. Let’s say you decide to go for one of these sexy sevens and a few months from now, your shiny Autobahn cruiser decides to disagree with and fire a few parts. Say the radiator needs to go for instance; that’s a predicted cost (part and service) of over 700 dollars. A/C compressor died? 800 bucks. Shocks and struts? 1.500 dollars, because of reasons. Before you start hyperventilating, let’s take a step back and really think about this.

First, these 740s were the ride to have and only the big bad V12 750iL was above them on the food chain. What I’m saying is that they’re not exactly put together with sticks and spit. The Germans do usually that that “build quality” deal kinda seriously, so even if you find a cheap 740 with a good stack of miles on it, if maintained with a minimum of decency and common sense over the years it shouldn’t give you a lot of major headaches, at least not for a long while. Second, there’s an enduring myth that just because a car is sophisticated and not American, you can’t fix something that goes wrong yourself, that you have to take it to a specialized shop and get a second mortgage on your home to pay for it. That’s crap. You’d be surprised with the tremendous amount of stuff you can do yourself with some guidance.

For these (the E38 7 series BMWs) there is an amazing site called e38.org in which you can find pretty much everything you’ll ever need to know about repairing and maintaining the car yourself. Detailed explanations, pictures with little arrows on them pointing to the important stuff…no excuse not to do it. True you still have parts cost, but you can always look around online for a good deal on those (reconditioned, some with with warranty I might add) and doing the work yourself won’t only save you a dump truck of cash, but you’ll  also connect with the car and better yet, feel great about yourself. You don’t need anyone else, you make things happen! You’re a damn resourceful go-getter! When problems come you take care of it, that’s the kind of guy/girl you are! Think of the pride you’ll feel every time you look at yourself in the bathroom mirror (you’ll be in the bathroom a lot because you’ll be covered in grease and such).

So, the 740iL: a 4.4L V8 powered, fast, mind blowingly comfortable, gadget loaded  and (in my view at least) gorgeous looking thing that you can ride around in with your head held high. Give it some attention, keep away from the Adaptive Ride Package option and you should have a solid ride for many good long years.

(NOTE: The 740iL in the pictures is currently for sale by the good people of Prestige Auto Service Inc. – Brooklyn, New York but this particular one will set you back quite a bit more than 5.000 dollars)

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2000 (01/02) RANGE ROVER 4.6 HSE

This is gonna be a tough sell….but first things first. It’s tough to find something as well rounded as a Range Rover. You can pick up the kids from school, bring back a trunk full of groceries from the store, cruise along in comfort on the highway from the burbs to the office and back every day…and of course, if you feel like it, you can use it to climb a freaking mountain because this is not your typical soccer mom SUV that runs and hide at the first sight of a moderately jagged pebble. This is a serious off road machine. Range Rovers are usually used wrong; they’re a tough car which happens to have a moderately luxurious interior, but that second part is all people register. That and the brand. Since Range Rovers became cool to own as statement pieces, their purpose was defeated. This makes the Range Rover very unhappy because it only feels truly at home with its fenders deep in mud, crossing rivers, driving on top of huge boulders and generally just cavorting in paths only usually suitable for particularly agile mountain goats.

However, these particular Range Rovers – the P38s – are a topic of savage discussion. Some people love them to death while others want to set every single one of them on fire and dance around the flames. Is the absolutely lousy reputation of the P38s deserved? I mean, there’s stuff in there prone to die prematurely, stuff which isn’t a breeze to fix (or even identify sometimes, gotta figure out just exactly what is broken first) but the truth is that, as with any car, how often it self destructs has a lot to do with the treatment it had so far. It’s very serious challenge to find a well maintained one – with any service history – for this kind of money, but you can keep an eye out for that right opportunity, something which may need some TLC but that won’t drive you insane.

You will be getting A LOT of car for your money but objectively, build quality wasn’t generally up to par with what the car was. Many toys + corner cutting = headaches. But if electric issues and the subsequent hours following complicated diagrams won’t scare you off one, pretty much the only big thing to worry about is the dreaded EAS (Electronic air suspension), but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Even if you’re willing and able to put some work on your P38, one thing remains perfectly true: DO NOT buy one of these from earlier years, EVER. The P38s made prior to the early 00’s are indeed disappointing and an endless pit of trouble. Other than that I believe the reputation for this gentle giant (from 2000 on) is slightly worse than it should be. What you need to know is that you’re gonna spend a bit on gas (15 to 18 mpg), there’s no way around that, and the parts are expensive, there’s no way around that either. But luckily there’s the exact same option available for BMW we just talked about before: sites like rangerovers.net (and dozens of others) tell you every single thing you need to know about fixing up anything that goes wrong on one of these, so if (when) that fateful day arrives, study up, watch the videos, roll up your sleeves and get to it!

Remember this thing would cost you 50.000 plus when new, so it’s not without charm. All leather interiors with wood trim, 10-way adjustable heated front seats with memory preset, automatic climate controls with micro-pollen filtration (fancy!), heated windshield, etc, etc, etc…Plus, the Range Rover has great presence and it looks fantastic! The air suspension makes you feel like you never left your comfy living room couch and a powerful V8 that – usually – lasts a lifetime when decently maintained make this one hell of a bang for your buck.

Again, consider these only from 2000 on and especially check the following: make sure the air suspension is in proper working condition, this is a biggie. Despite the system itself being simpler (in terms of parts) than people make it out to be, you wanna avoid getting a busted semi-busted one. Get under the car and make sure there is no major damage due to off road fun (or rust by the way). Also, check the coolant return for bubbles; it can be a sign of the head gaskets last breath. Test all the gadgets and last but not least, this is true for any used car you buy but here especially, check for leaks (past or present). If past, ask why and how the repair was made and present, run far away.

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1987 JEEP GRAND WAGONEER

How cool are these things? Seriously??? There’s nothing this stylish for this kind of money (you could get a super clean Wrangler which is great, but it doesn’t have this kind of appeal). Wagoneers were built since 63, first under Willys, then AMC, and finally Chrysler. These were always great looking things, but the last ones (87 to 91) are especially good. Why? Because they still maintained that vintage charm that makes me want to sell my liver to get one, but were upgraded in several aspects, both inside (more and better instruments) and outside (greater quality wood siding and aluminum rims).

There isn’t much I can say about these actually. The looks alone more than sell it for me, several times over in fact! It’s just a beautiful looking ride with a simple straightforward carburated V8 that can take you pretty much anywhere you’d like to go. You certainly won’t go rock climb with this beauty, but she won’t often leave you stranded in the wilderness either, it’s still a capable offroader. To be fair I never owned a Jeep, I’ve spend quite a while with a few but I never actually kept one in my own garage and reading more about these in particular (GW) I understood that it’s not a bad idea to be mechanically inclined…

Above anything else, these seem to be quite moody, so how well they run will depend on the day of the week. However the real issue is rust, so if you think about a Grand Wagoneer watch out for that; it’s a cancer that’s pretty much unavoidable but that can be minimized and controlled. Owning one of these is without a doubt also falling in love with it and making it part of the family. Like someone said in a review: “You don’t buy a GW, you adopt one.” (you can read the rest of that hilarious review here)

Image credit

740iL

Range Rover

Grand Wgoneer

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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