…and guys should never be seen driving in.
Before I reveal what they are, I want to get a couple of things out there. I love cars, some that get great mileage, some of them are small, and some of them are unusual designs. This comes from a guy who drove a Gremlin and a Pacer which by the way are no longer manufactured. However, a Gremlin X with a 304 and Levi’s interior is a popular collector car since they are difficult to find in good shape. I’ve seen some for sale in the $20,000 range. I know you’re probably thinking, a guy who lives in a glass house….. you will for sure once I get rolling on the list so here goes.
1) The Smart Car
There’s nothing really smart at all about this car. Developed by VW, then later taken over by Daimler and marketed with Swatch. Remember that? I remember reading a book about how when Daimler bought Chrysler (merger of equals…right?) May 7, 1998. It was the first time senior-level managers met from both companies, of course in Germany, and one of the Daimler guys took a shot at Chrysler’s minivan. The Chrysler guy had a great comeback. Well, how about all the Swatch cars that are getting destroyed when they hit a moose on the German roads? Apparently, there are a lot of moose in Germany. Good shot! “I liked driving the Smart so much, I didn’t even care when a little girl pointed and laughed at me”, said Alex Davies in a review for Business Insider. See, it’s not just me. And how could a guy drive a car described as “cute”?
So people buy if for, what? The price? MSRP for a 2014 is $14,840 all the way up to the convertible at $29,050. It gets a combined 36 mpg. On the other hand, a guy could purchase a much larger car such as the Honda Insight: MSRP, $18,725, 42 combined mpg. There are also several hybrids that are priced a bit closer to the high end of the Smart MSRP that get the same or better gas mileage. See I do look for good gas millage. There is one guy who did something really cool with a Smart. He put a 150 hp engine in it from a Suzuki Hayabusa sport bike, like I have. Check it out and make sure you have your volume turned way up!!
2) Nissan Leaf
This has lots of things going against it in my book. It’s electric, the front looks like somebody puckering up after sucking on a lemon has limited range, and is virtually useless in the cold winters here in Wisconsin. Somebody in our neighborhood has one, in addition to their two other gas-powered cars. It’s always in the shop or in the garage. Sure but its carbon footprint is small because it’s electric. Well not so much. The energy it takes to create the batteries more than offsets any savings driving the car. Plus it takes more carbon to charge its batteries. Total U.S. sales of the Leaf through March, according to Green Car Reports, essentially a cheerleader for the car, were just 47,306 units. Have to wonder how many less it has sold had not the current “green happy” administration thrown in a $7,500 incentive. Consumers are saying there isn’t a market for the Leaf. Look, the technology is not there yet. It will be someday. I would so much drive a Volt before this car, or Tesla. Mark did like the Leaf, no accounting for taste, although mentioned it would at best be a city or second car.
3) Volkswagon Beetle
I see women driving these that have the eyelashes on the headlights decorated and all kinds of other foofy stuff. Really, when’s the last time you saw a Corvette done up like that. I went along with Mark on a ride in their GSR model with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four and sporty suspension at Road America this summer. Eh, ok. We were disguised!
There was a time when I had to drive one. I’d tried to play stunt driver with our Jeep Liberty during the winter and it was going to be in for repairs for a while. My wife went to pick up the loaner car and came home with a yellow Beetle. She and my daughter loved the look of shock on my face. One day she took our other car leaving me with the Bug. No big deal, I’m not going anyplace, right? Wrong. Some buddies called me to go flying and when I pulled up at the field you should of seen the looks they gave me. Now I really do like the original and would love to drive it. This one, not so much. Chevy, Ford, and Chrysler got the retro look nailed. I think VW missed the mark. But hey, that’s just me.
4) Kia Soul
A friend of mine has one of these and loves it. Lots of room, lots of options, and with an MSRP of $15,100 and 27 MPG a pretty good deal, I guess. OK, so I picked up this description of the car, probably off the Kia website. “With its funky styling and spunky four-cylinder power, the compact Kia Soul is aimed at mainstream economy-car shoppers who want something different. Indeed, the boxy Kia hatchback is avant-garde (what?) in its approach, boasting a swept-back exterior design with sporty angles and a neat cabin filled with distinctive shapes and vibrant colors. It gives Kia an injection of, well, soul to complement its well-earned reputation for competence and value”. It also gives the marketing guy that came up with that crap a promotion. Mark reviewed a 2014 edition. Be sure to read his headline. I’m sorry though, who would buy one of these from the bunch of rodents that Kia uses in their marketing?
5) Nissan Cube
Every time I see one of these I expect that when it stops a bunch of clowns will jump out of it. Kelly Blue Book loved the Cube naming it one of the coolest cars under $18,000 in 2009 and the following year listed the Nissan Cube as one of its Top 10 Road Trip Cars. But not all the media loved it. Cars.com wrote that when the Cube gets above city speeds and is a dog: It handles like a skateboard, surrenders to highway crosswinds, and has the passing power of a 1990s econobox. Ouch. Millage, not so good, only combined 20 MPG.
At its peak in 2010, the Cube remained firmly a niche vehicle, selling 22,968 units but from there it started dropping like a rock, shaped like a cube, down to 2,965 through eight months of 2014 according to Nissan. The Cube has been dropped for the 2015 model year. Duh.
Cars that men could be seen driving in the same area of MSRP and economy
These are what the five I chose above will never be. Following is a list of classic compacts of the 60’s chosen for innovations. Read on to see what. They are in no special order
Rambler American (1958-1960)
It’s roots go all the way back to 1900’s and built by the Thomas B. Jeffery Company but it was in the late 50’s and 60’s when this brand really shined. While the Big Three were still crunching out their land yachts, in 1958, under the genius of George Romney, American Motors introduced America’s first “compact car,” the Rambler American. Much of the car’s design borrowed from the 1950 Nash and later on modernized for the late 50’s. The Rambler American was most often the lowest priced compact car built in the U.S. It was popular for its economy in ownership, as was proven by numerous economy run championships, one time as high as 51 MPG! Powered by a 195.6 cu in (3.2 L) inline six and built on a 100-inch wheelbase roughly the size of today’s Toyota Matrix. In this entry I’m only covering the car’s beginnings through 1960 since those were all first-generation Americans.
30,640 units were sold during the abbreviated 1958 model year with very little marketing and helped Rambler become the only domestic make to post an increase in sales that year. Priced at $1,789 it allowed AMC to claim the lowest-priced car made in America. In 2014 dollars it would have cost $14,624. From it’s introduction though 1960 AMC sold 242,724 units. The two-door sedan was the best seller of the body styles selling almost 59,000 units. It was built all over the world. Besides Kenosha, WI., it was also assembled in Brampton, Ontario, Canada, Tehran, Iran (Pars Khodro), Mexico City, Mexico (VAM), Pretoria, South Africa, and Port Melbourne, Australia.
This is a car that won’t bust your budget. According to Hemmings Americans of this era are sold at a low of $3,500, average of $5,500, and a high of $25,000. In later years, the Rambler with the highest value is also the fastest. A 1969 SC/Scrambler, Hurst tranny, 315 hp will set you back just over $72,000.
Produced from 1960 through 1970 it was a hit right out of the gate for Ford initially outselling rival compacts from Chrysler and General Motors who introduced compacts at the same time. The Falcon was one of the highest selling new cars in history until the Mustang came out 4½ years later. The Falcon was offered in two-door and four-door sedan, two-door and four-door station wagon, two-door hardtop, convertible, sedan delivery, and Ranchero pickup body configurations. There was room for six passengers in reasonable comfort in the simple interior. Variations were manufactured in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile and Mexico. It is still being produced in Australia although that will end in a couple of years. Great looking and great performance.
The Falcon was introduced with a small, lightweight 90 hp, 144 CID (2.4 L) straight-6 with a single-barrel carburetor giving it about 30 MPG. It was built as a unibody, suspension was fairly standard with coil springs in front and leaf springs in the rear, and drum brakes. A three on-the-tree was standard although customers could opt for the two-speed Ford-O-Matic automatic optional.
The Mustang actually helped lift collector prices for the Falcon. Currently Hemmings shows low at 7 grand, average at 12 grand, and a high of 43 grand. The ones built in a Australia really attract some attention like this 76′ one all juiced up with a 351 Cleveland was selling for $64,900 on Hemmings. I want!
This one of my faves. It was produced by Chevy from 1960–1969, a duh moment for the Big Three as they saw tiny American Motors selling Ramblers as fast as they could make them. Chevy was missing out on sales and needed compacts fast. The Corvair’s claim to fame was that it was the only American designed, mass-produced passenger car to feature a rear-mounted air-cooled engine. It was built as a two-door coupe, convertible, four-door sedan, and four-door station wagon body styles along with truck, as well as truck derivatives.
The rear-engine design was key to this car offering many advantages such as economy, a lower silhouette, and flat passenger compartment floor removing the need for power assists, and offered improvements in ride quality, traction, and braking balance. The first Corvair engine produced 80 hp later on as a Corsa option in 1965–66 a turbocharged 180 hp was offered. What fun. The Corvair’s sales exceeded 200,000 for each of its first six model years. Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed is what eventually killed the Corvair even though Texas A&M University conducted a safety commission report on the Corvair in 1972 for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration finding that the 1960–1963 Corvairs were as good as their competition.
There are some good deals to get your hands on one of these. I found them under 10 thousand, average high teens to lower 20’s, and then this 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa Coupe for $39,500. Sweet ride. Love the styling.
In May 1957, the light bulb went on at Chrysler that this small car thing is here to stay. Automotive legend Virgil Exner designed a car that was smaller and lighter than a full-size car without sacrificing passenger and luggage space. They named it the Valiant. Chrysler got props for it engineering creating an all-new 6-cylinder engine, the famous Slant-6, which had its inline cylinders canted 30° to one side. The cast-iron block Slant-6 gained a reputation for dependability as it was initially engineered as an aluminum block engine with a robust casing. Over 50,000 die-cast aluminum versions of the 225 cu in (3.7 L) engine were produced between late 1961 and early 1963. In the Valiant’s first year it sold 133,487 units. I was only able to find sales units through 1962 which were 696,356. I did not include numbers for the Valiant Barracuda since it was not considered an economy but more of a performance car.
Collectability for the Valiant really didn’t take off until the mid-60’s. I found this ’63 convertible on Cars.com for $22,977. For the earlier model years you’d be looking at around 10 grand for a decent example.
So there you have it. The 5 cars that men shouldn’t be seen driving as chosen by me, 5 alternatives, which are much more practical, and 4 collectible compacts. Sure there are more. I just started with these. I know that right out of the gate the “green people” will not be happy with this entry but hey, that’s how I feel. I’m wide open for comments or cars that I did not mention.
Oh and what do we drive? A 2008 Chrysler Pacifica. We bought this for several reasons, one, I hate minivans and this isn’t one, it has gobs of room, plenty of power and handles good. Well then there’s the deal I get because my dad is a retired AMC/Chrysler employee and there was 0% financing. We love this car and now have just over 115,000 miles on it and no plans to get rid of it since there isn’t anything out there like it. Only downside is 20 MPG. Our other vehicle is a 2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. Green people are not going to like this either. We put the top down, take the doors off, and look for new roads. It gets about the same MPG. It is possible to be green and have fun. My 2008 Hayabusa gets 41 MPG!