I am always looking for interesting things to do with what I perceive to be interesting cars. I enjoy oddball vehicles as well as extracting the most from something that others would rather throw away. Given this, the first annual The Great Beater Challenge looked tailor made for me. The basic premise is this: buy a vehicle and fix it up all for less than $700Cdn, then drive into the Rocky Mountains with a scavenger hunt along the way. So follow along as I start look for my ride.
Here is the route the rally will be taking; roughly a six to seven hour drive each way. The plan is to camp at the end of the first day. This might prove to be a little cool temperature-wise given it will be in the middle of September.
The beater challenge starts on flat prairie but quickly heads into the mountains for the majority of it. The route consists of a mix of single and dual lane highway with a sprinkling of towns in between. I am sure the bends in the road and elevation changes will challenge the mechanical fortitude of our convoy of clunkers.
There is plenty of scenery along the way as well as spots of interest. For example there is an area known as Frank’s Slide where in 1903 the side of Turtle mountain collapsed and partially covered the coal mining town of Frank in Alberta. The already unstable mountain had been mined for coal and in a minute and a half 82 million tonnes rock poured down the mountain in Canada’s most deadly rock slide with 90 people losing their lives. The massive slide is still clearly visible today.
As far as car selection goes the easy button would have been something like a rusty late eighties or early nineties Honda Civic. Or perhaps a GMC pickup with enough body damage to lower the asking price close enough to scrap value. Easy but perhaps lacking in character. If you are going to do a beater challenge it may as well be in a real clunker. As an added bonus in the challenge points are awarded for unlikely and creative vehicles.
Age of vehicle:
+50 for 1980s
+100 for 1970s
+150 for 1960s
+200 for 1950s
+250 for pre-1950
Make of Vehicle:
-50 for Japanese, American, German
+- 0 for Swedish
+50 for Korean
+100 for Italian
+125 for English
+150 for French
+250 for Eastern Block
+100 for a defunct automaker, and +50 for every decade past 1990 the automaker has been out of business
I was hoping to the run something really off the wall like a Vauxhall or a Lada station wagon but given the rally starts in only a couple weeks those options would not be practical. When dealing with an orphan or obscure vehicle lots of lead time on sourcing or adapting parts is required. Maybe I can plan a bit better next year and allocate some more fettle time. For now something more mainstream with a dash of interesting is called for.
I am unsure of why but cheap runner pickings are very slim this summer. In my initial search I went and looked at this Cadillac Fleetwood. With it being a 1985 model I knew up front it had the undesirable HT-4100 engine rather than the still slow but at least more reliable Oldsmobile 307. Checking out the car in person uncovered a few more stumbling blocks. It had been sitting for over two years and off the road for a decade meaning a dead battery and tires that could not hold air to get it loaded onto a trailer. That little aluminum V8 was covered in thick layer dust and grime. On the flip side the body was extremely solid, the interior was serviceable, and the whole car did exude great character. If it had been equipped with a Olds 307 or Chevy 305 I likely would have taken the plunge but not with the HT-4100.
This Chevette based float car would have been a sure fire points winner but I had a few concerns holding me back. First was a lack of a stated asking price on the listing. My experience tells me nine times out of ten when there is no price listed the seller has a massively inflated sense of the item’s worth. Also it was located in Calgary which is a couple hours drive away and I would really need to rent a trailer to retrieve it. Not a huge deal but I would much rather drive my purchase home as my long suffering wife has seen too many vehicles arrive on a trailer. I also a had a niggling doubt that I would be able to drive it 1200+ kms without the police declaring it non-roadworthy at some point along the way.
There was also a Chrysler LeBaron convertible which caught my eye but it would have used up my full budget to purchase. It seemed prudent and reasonable to hold back a little bit for repairs. A remote location stopped me from seeing it right away so it slipped away. Being committed to the rally but without a car I shared my dilemma to an automotive forum I am a member of. Many members shared links to cars for sale but one offered to sell me one out of his collection of Eighties and Nineties cars. It is even labelled as a “Special Edition” so I should get some bonus points for that. To be revealed in the next installment but in the meantime what vehicle would you choose for this adventure? Maybe you can find links to actual cars for sale?
The whole series:
CC Road Trip: The Great Beater Challenge, Part 1 – Vehicle Selection
CC Road Trip: The Great Beater Challenge, Part 2 – 1983 Dodge Aries Purchased
CC Road Trip: The Great Beater Challenge, Part 3 – Vehicle Preparation
The Great Beater Challenge: Day 1, Part 1 – Off To A Slow Start
The Great Beater Challenge: Day 1, Part 2 – Rain, Rain, and a Hotel with Character
The Great Beater Challenge: Day 2, Part 1 – The Big Climb
The Great Beater Challenge: Day 2, Part 2– Finale
This sounds interesting, looking forward to reading more. With such short notice I suppose something non-running would be tough to do, no point in not being able to test it thoroughly and then something not working on the first day…Remember the golden rule of racing – To finish first, first you must finish.
So I hereby nominate this:
Might as well enjoy the top down, red always makes it faster, it fits squarely within the budget and why would you plan on using first or reverse on a road rally? Just keep the speed up and park facing downhill. What could go wrong?
Oddly enough that generation of Capri was never sold in Canada. I see the occasional private import but they are quite the novelty here.
I could never travel in a clunker. I want to actually get to my destination at some point. Alive.
I doubt one could do a challenge like this in Manitoba; cars need to be safetied first before they’re allowed on the roads, and that adds cost.
Agreed. A (former) good friend of mine still has an early 2000’s Olds Alero with about 280K miles on it. He visited me out of state a few years ago and, while helping him locate a parking spot in my urban surrounds, I found it rather amusing to have to reassemble the door handles and a few other parts after entering. I thought “good for him – yeah, drive this sucka til it dies”.
Then 2 years later when relocating to our home state he gave me a ride for about 25 miles down the freeway to return the U-Haul truck but not after requesting $15 for gas first – fair deal. Until I discovered not only is the headliner now flapping in your eyes, all 4 wheels are wobbling and the smell of gas is overwhelming. Supposedly the fuel lines are rusted and leaking and he’s “getting those fixed next week”. So when we got back I commented to his live in bum friend that “We made it” and he goes on to tell me about how that car has a busted/rusted frame joint or something and “that’s what that loud boom sound is”. I mentioned that he has no business flying down the freeway at 75mph in that car much less starting it up. Then his tire went flat so I pulled out my portable inflator to put some air in it so could at least get to the station and noticed that both back tires are so bald that they’re smooth as glass – not kidding. I then told him I should kick his ass for ever even letting me ride in that car.
It still has a faded bumper sticker on the back that you can barely read now but it says: “Bush Is Proof That A Child WAS Left Behind”. He adored Bernie Sanders and was on Facebook 24/7 supporting him while his lawn was 28″ high too and my guess is his life totally spiraled out of control since he bowed out of the race.
I am amazed every time when hearing about the kind of things allowed on the roads of the US and Canada. Here in Austria you would not be driving something like this very far before being stopped by the police and then they’d throw the book at you. I know, I know, automotive freedom is limited in the EU but surely there has to be a middle ground?
In the U.S. that would be considered racist. But if you cry racism for being warned to move your car from the front of the door at the store which is also blocking the handicapped ramp then, not only will they give you the ticket, you’ll also get tickets for expired plates, no insurance, cracked windshield, child not in car seat, weed possession and arrested for outstanding warrants.
280K on an Alero? Good grief, that’s amazing that it’s even still on the road (though it sounds like it shouldn’t be). My wife had a 2000 Alero and we parted ways with it at just about 180K. It had several rather serious issues at that point, like having to top up the oil *and* antifreeze before going anywhere because it was leaking so much of both. I can only imagine what another 100K would have done! It wasn’t rusty though, I’ll give it that. Not in the slightest. If we were in salt country that would have been a different story I suppose…
For whatever reason, he thinks it’s better to keep putting $300-500/month in this heap rather than get a job. Again, I think it’s great some people drive their cars into the ground ground but not at the risk of safety or to prove some point. They also need to be reminded that even though it doesn’t look that great anymore, you still have to clean the steering wheel every 5 years. He was always “sick”.
They have to be safety inspected over a certain age here too … but you have 30 days to do so.
Top of the $750 and under craigslist search and a strong contender.
Kept checking and found this
I do prefer the round headlights but the later model seems like it may be closer to ready to make the trip. The big downfall being that missing window.
Either way I figure the Pinto should get a few bonus points and the Wagon means you can throw down a pad and sleeping blanket and you’ve got a dry place to sleep and if it gets too cold you can always run the engine for a bit and use the heater.
Now that I’ve read the rules that making a camper car out of your entry earns you bonus points then the Pinto Wagon may need to get a high top conversion. Call it the Transinto Connect.
A Pinto would be fantastic. None here in that price range sadly.
(Almost) Any car can be used for camping if you want it bad enough.
While the whole exploding Pinto thing was mostly overblown by cash-hungry trial lawyers, there is something vaguely unnerving about driving a Pinto with a rusty gas tank that “can be patched”
And it is not like there are tons of Pintos in the wrecking yards anymore to get a different tank, which is one of the reasons I’m leaning to the later model as the better option. Even though you’ll have just as big of a problem finding a new window, but I figure I’d rather have a plexiglass window over a gas tank full of patches that may have many other places waiting to spring a leak.
Certainly almost any car could be made into a camping car if you really wanted to, but a wagon starts out with an advantage.
Whatever you choose, make damn sure it has decent tires and brakes. The Salmo-Creston and the Bombi are both steep, curvy mountain passes and mid September is not too early for frost or black ice early in the day. Lots of wildlife too. That said, sounds like an interesting adventure and it’s beautiful scenery from Crowsnest west.
I’ve driven the BC portion of this road in everything from an old Beetle to a brand new Western Star, but the most memorable trip was in a rusty old MGB sometime in the fall of ’81 (?). A recipe for a bad day, but the weather was perfect and the car held together. So if I was doing this, that’s what I’d look for just for old time’s sake. Doubt you’d find one for 700 bucks these days though. Good luck!
Thankfully the tires, brakes, other safety items as well as fluids and filters are exempt from the $700 construction cost limit. So yeah a through brake inspection with any questionable items replaced and a set of tires that haven’t been on the car while it sat out under the tree for the last decade are a must.
The top map shows the way to avoid both passes via Kootenay Lake and Nelson. We came over Salmo-Creston in May, torrential rain on the east side and very thick fog most of the way down the west side. Two days later it was snowing at the top. Meanwhile it was warm and dry in both Salmo and Creston!
Indeed. The car I bought has decent tires and what appears to be brand new brakes.
This sounds great; I can’t wait to hear more. Personally, I would want something 1990 or older, as the trip wouldn’t be as . . . . . interesting in a modern car. The easiest way to trouble free – miles would be to get a Panther body Ford or B-Body GM car; they’re reliable, simple, and just eat the roadtrip miles. I also think a Ford Falcon, Jeep Wagoneer/Cherokee, air- cooled VW, or an old motorhome or conversion van would all be good choices.
That’s awesome! Reminds me of the Top Gear challenge where they had to buy beaters and drive them across desert Botswana. Very excited to hear more!
I really wish I could participate, but just too far away for me to get to the start, not to mention interesting pre 1990’s cars aren’t cheap here in NH. If I could find a suitable slant six Chrysler product or GM B-Body, I’d find a way. Best of luck finding a car to compete, look forward to the upcoming installments.
That being said, something not so mainstream, but more interesting- like an AMC Concord or Eagle could be a worthy candidate as well. Fits the defunct and more durable category well. Anything equipped with an Olds 307, make sure the intake manifold gasket isn’t weeping coolant from the drivers’ side front.
Sounds like a lot of fun. Try to find something that is, (or was) currently registered and running. Looking forward to updates.
I’m in, here’s my entry:
I’m sure a $600 Fiat Spider can be made roadworthy for $100……
This is what Italian dreams are made of—sort of like Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Only a $100 repair in your dreams, and dreams are so much fun.
If you go over the delightfully beautiful, but challenging Kootenay Pass (see image) on the way to Nelson, be certain that your tires and brakes are in order. Sounds like an interesting rally.
I have had something like this in mind as a variation of the tv show The Great Race (or whatever that show is called) and after reading an account of a similar race in the magazine CAR. In car’s article the 3 teams all drove vintage Fords….IIRC it was because the Capri had just gone out of production or the Probe had just been introduced to Europe, or something like that. Of the 3 teams, only 1 made it to the finish line, and readers were invited to take possession of the winning car.
I’ve driven a few clunkers in my 45 years behind the wheel, but have noticed it’s getting more and more difficult to find roadworthy cars (or trucks) under $1,000. As long as it’s in reasonably good condition and not something super obscure, I’d have no trouble driving it 1,000 miles.
My vote is for a mk.1 Fiesta. I’d take a early Rabbit or a Scirocco too.
I curse the rust that destroys my stuff, and some guys add it on purpose. :/
That early Victor wagon would be the one, easy to work on parts still available they were reliable and fairly economical and if you ship the remains to the UK when your finished you should show a nice profit, they dont have many if any left.
Here’s one that would win the year-made points without any problem:
A 1944 Chevy dump truck. Made in a year that doesn’t exist! Can’t beat that.
More realistic: A pair of solid-looking 1962 Ramblers for $750.
No civillian sales doesnt mean they werent building them, they were being shipped all over the world to various military outfits.
1999 Pontiac Grand Am. Terrible cars, but all necessary mechanical parts are still widely available. Plus, I think they look alright, even now.
Sorry to go off-topic but just how bad was the 4100? Like I know they’re all ticking time bombs but for the short time they do work how bad are they? Are they anemic? Are they any better than the 307 or the 305? Was there even a purpose in GM building this engine? I’m a millennial so I didn’t experience the horrors of the malaise and it’s aftermath but it seems like there’s a lot of knowledgeable people on this site to say the least, so what is your guys’ impression of the short-lived 4.1?
Mobes, if you type ‘cadillac 4100’ in the search bar top right, you’ll get a swag of CC articles discussing the 4100. Mebbe start here.
If it was running and driving it gamble on it. But one sitting for 2+ years sounds like a pile of trouble to revive.
They were pretty weak power wise.
As to any purpose, well it was a bit lighter than the other small V8 they had since it had an aluminum block instead of iron like the rest of the options they had at the time. Plus it was a Cadillac engine and used the “latest” technology and some Cadillac buyers wanted to know that their engine was “special” and not available to those people who purchased lesser brands.
If the car was actually running then there is a good chance that it would continue to run because it had been repaired/upgraded somewhere along the line. Back in the mid 90’s I was the 4.1 guy in our area. None of the rest of the shops wanted to touch them so they sent them our way and engine replacements were all that I did. For about 2 years I averaged about 1 per month.
Ye Olde Chevy Cavalier or Lumina from the early 90s. Or find yourself a cockroach Buick Century, just make sure all the gaskets are tight
Shame you get penalised for Japanese; this trip is just screaming out for a Crown or a Cedric. Bonus points for defunct manufacturer? Olds. Looking forward to reading more on this adventure.
How are your welding skills? Around Detroit a lot of cars rot out while they still are decent runners.
This 94 Cherokee is offered for $500 Six and manual trans, 274,000 miles. Runs and shifts, but the unibody is rotted, including a spring mount that has broken free.
I can weld but I’d prefer not to fix structual rust on a beater – yuck!
Here’s a few local cars I like. The first one, ” mechanic says it needs an igniter”. Not sure what that is! And the second one says its “accelerated” really don’t know what that is!
” mechanic says it needs an igniter”.
That would be the part to set it on fire so you can collect the insurance ;^)
A compadre on Facebook bought a Mk III Continental a while back. Seller said all it needed was a new timing gear. Alan started tearing down the engine. After he saw the broken piston and the hole in the block, he stopped worrying about the timing gear.
Ignitor is what many Japanese mfgs called their ignition control module.
I saw one of those Nubria wagons on the road recently, which was a surprise.
So I presume my ’66 F100 would qualify? i only paid $500 for it, back in 1987. Or is the buying price inflation adjusted? I’d take it on that trip without a second thought.
According to Google your $500US is $653.37Cdn so you would qualify. Not sure how older purchases would be interpreted according to the rules but you may have found a loophole.
Safety inspection is mandatory, no fluid leaks, electrical all works, mechanical all works, safety components all work. And work well. As far as reliability good looks and comfort go, your on your own. You wouldn’t want to kill yourself or some one else on the road. Good fun, but safe is paramount. Good read.
Two words… Fairmont wagon.
Here is my pick $550 CDN
This is quite an interesting challenge. Going to take a lot of thought just to play the “at home fantasy” version.
$700 Canadian is about $540US right now. Tags and insurance could take a chunk out of that before you make repairs. Then there is the inspection or smog check. Good luck to all the thrifty and brave participants.
Keep us posted.
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