COAL: 1986 Chevrolet Sprint Plus – The Least Pretentious Car Ever?


CC 82 063 1200[photos by Paul N.]

Having learned the ugly lesson of depreciation on the Dodge Omni, I was determined not to lose my butt on my next car. What’s the best way to ensure your car doesn’t lose more than $250 in depreciation? By buying a $250 car, of course!

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My friend Ellie owned this car. It was in rough shape, somewhere around 70,000 miles, and she wanted to know if/how she could sell it. I test drove the car, and the summary wasn’t pretty. I told her, “You can put $250 into this car, and maybe sell it for $500. If you prefer, you can just sell it to me for $250.” I’m honest with my friends; it was the best answer I could give her. She sold it to me for $250, and I had wheels again.

Now, some folks would say the the Volkswagen Type I Beetle was the most unpretentious car ever made, but being so unpretentious actually made the Beetle pretentious, in a way that we would nowadays call “hipster”. The Sprint had none of that. The only way to describe this car is, “well, it’s a car.”

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Despite desperately needing brakes, tires, and suspension work, it got me around town reasonably well. Sure it was dog-slow, and (owing to the all-original suspension bits) handling was sloppy at best, but it got me where I was going… eventually. As advertised, it got about a trillion miles per gallon. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but according to the EPA website, the window sticker said 44city/50highway (adjusted to current standards, 37/45). Whatever the numbers, I’m pretty sure I didn’t fill the tank more than 4 times in my 6 months of ownership.

Driving a $250 car of any make or model is emotionally freeing. No need to worry about door dings, or rust, or parts falling off makes for an easygoing life. In some regard, the Sprint was one of the most fun cars I’ve ever owned, because I could beat it like a rented mule and not have the slightest care about what happened to the car.

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Nothing important broke in my 6 months of ownership. One day I just decided I wanted a truck, and I went to the skid row of used-car dealers in town and found an old Ranger that caught my eye. The salesman seemed remorseful when he told me he could only offer me $100 for trade-in on the Sprint, but that was fine by me. What other car can you drive for 6 months and only spend $150?