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!
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.”
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.
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?
Nice score. Despite the flack they get, they were actually decent penalty boxes.
SIL had one of these. Turns out it’s very favorite place was on my 16′ tandem trailer behind my 77 Impala wagon. Then he would borrow one of mine for his commute and fix it. I think he finally got tired of fixing it and I sure got tired of hauling it. Wish he had the reliability record of yours. Possibly he did before I met him.
Don’t know what he did with it but do know the mileage was as you describe. Good idea done poorly?
Nice article and I have yet to see one of these in Oregon. Spectrums are here and there though.
Any chance there’s a blue sport hatchback? If so, I’d like a picture for nostalgia’s sake. First (and to date, only) new car I owned.
Me too Gary! So far only new car I have owned.
From your last COAL, it looks like the car was only 6 or 7 years old at the time you bought it. I don’t think you can get a 6 or 7 (2009-2010 model) year old car nowadays for $250
That’s about right, but those cheap economy cars of the 80s were often used up by 70,000 miles. Okay… actually what happened is that folks bought these $6-7k cars, did nothing but oil changes, and then flipped out when 70,000 miles rolled around and their car needed $1000 (retail) worth of work to keep going.
Makes sense. Whereas nowadays, the modern equivalent of that $7k Sprint would be a $13k Mirage. At 70k miles it still has 30k of warranty left! Plus the leaps and bounds by which small car reliability has increased in the past 30 years…so even accounting for inflation, nope, nothing from ’09 can be had for $450 (the modern value of $250 in the early 90’s).
In general though I’ve never had “the knack” for finding these uber-beaters. The least I’ve ever paid for a car was $800, and that was for a 20 year old ’82 Malibu with bad paint/surface rust and inoperative A/C and radio. (In its favor, the interior was mint and it had less than 90k miles.)
When I was stationed in Bermuda in the mid 80s, a co-worker had a Turbo Sprint.
At the time, Bermuda had laws restricting car’s width and engine displacement. The Sprint was one of the few GM branded cars allowed on the island. Cavaliers were considered to be too big. The biggest Fords at that time were the RWD Escorts and Australian-built Lasers. Strangely, I don’t remember seeing any Fiestas there.
Someone I know owned three, count ’em, three, Turbo Sprints. There’s a car for everybody, I suppose.
I don’t know…they kind of look like fun! 🙂
Lemme guess… at Rose-Hulman?
Or: there’s an owner for every car.
I had a neighbor with an elderly 3 door Sprint, which was his beater car for commuting and errands. He also had a beautiful 1970 Z28 with a turbocharged 350, but he mostly drove the Sprint. A smart, engaging handsome guy with a good heart, the Sprint didn’t seem to adversely affect his ability to captivate attractive women at all. It’s just a car.
I would’ve thought that a base two-seat 1976 Chevy Chevette Scooter or a Y9go would be contenders
Man, those Chevettes and Yugos must have had the lifespan of a flashbulb. The little Sprint seemed much more common around here.
I haven’t seen a Chevette or Yugo on the street in years, in fact, but I still occasionally see a Sprint.
Believe it or not, yesterday on the junkyard, in salt city Syracuse in central NY snow country, I saw a 1980 chevette. I should have taken pictures because I thought these all disappeared decades ago.
“… 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…”
Evan, Nicely put. You have a way of describing things that many of us have felt or suspected, but may not have clearly defined.
So, were hippies bottom up preludes to top down hipsters?
When I first saw these, I thought that they lacked something in the personality department. But when they were upgraded to the Geo Metro, I declared that they would one day be the successor to the Type 1 as the favorite vehicle of the disaffected youth. But somehow they never were advertised that way, VW having the best ad campaigns for the Beetle and GM having, well, nothing. “Get to know GEO?” Although they did have an ad in 1988 with Harlan Ellison in it, featuring a Type 1 in the far right corner of the establishing shot.
The least pretentious car ever ? That’s hard to tell, since there’s a sheer endless number of unpretentious cars. Then and now. I give you this fine modern-era specimen.
Is this a Dacia Logan which became a surprise “hit” in the former Warsaw Pact and grew to eat sales from established marques in the NATO zone?
From what I read, its very basic, pretty sturdy, and became the first “modern” car for many families to own.
Perfect description. My school teacher neighbor bought the current version and could not stop singing its praises, using it for trips from Vienna to North Germany on visits to see his and his wife’s parents. Dacia is an example of how to create a low level marque – no question Renault got it right on this one.
The Dacia Logan above was the first Dacia available in the NATO zone.
Initially the Dacias had older Renault powertrains, like the naturally aspirated 1.6 liter engine, but now they come with today’s Renault technology.
A colleague bought a Dacia Sandero Stepway (see below), a compact CUV. Powered by the same engine as Renault’s own compact CUV, the Captur.
Another modern unpretentious car is this Skoda Fabia. There’s still plenty of choice in the A- and B-segment.
Renault itself may have been struck by the success of the car itself aswell. In Russia and India Dacia’s are sold under the Renault brand. And I’d say that the Fabia is still a little more ‘upmarket’ than Dacia’s.
My wife had a 98 Pontiac firefly. Not sure if they were sold in the USA but the doorplate suggested it was made in Ontario. With its 1 litre 3 cylinder engine it got excellent fuel economy but made for some white knuckle passing on 2 lane highways. Finally had to retire it after it overheated one summer with a little over 120 000 kms on the odometer. Which was annoying to me as I had followed the maintenance schedule to a tee. It was replaced by a 92 Jetta turbo diesel which had more power and got similar fuel economy. It was still chugging away with 350 000 kms when I sold it a few years back. This experience has soured me towards small GM/Suzuki cars to this day. The fleet now is comprised of Nissan and Toyota vehicles which burn more fuel but have been pretty reliable.
The Firefly was only sold in Canada, but to the best of my knowledge it’s a carbon copy of the Geo Metro.
We purchased a very base model black ’96 Metro, and since my brother worked in a GM dealer’s parts department, for fun we ordered some Firefly badges and put them on our Metro. When my wife took it in for its next oil change, the mechanic called because “Firefly” was not listed in his book when looking for the oil filter number…my wife told him it was actually a Metro. We all got a chuckle from that!
Yes, you are right. The Pontiac twin called Firefly was a Canadian-only variant. It was sold at Canadian Pontiac-Buick dealerships, and had almost no differences from the Chevy Sprint/Metro. Lucky us!
One of the very few cars I never got to own from that era. I had the chance to buy a non-turbo two door version for $500. But it wasn’t running and I figured that there was a reason why the film of dirt on it was thicker than a bottle cap.
These cars had fascinating histories to them. They were more or less Suzukis in drag and for some reason the Suzuki versions had seats that were 310% than their econo-siblings at GM. The General should have been shot for the foamy trash they used as seats for their entry level cars.
I never would have guessed that there wasn’t anything other than cosmetic differences to tell the Geo Metro from the Suzuki Swift, almost exactly the same as how all the Plymouth models of the final years were nearly identical to any other Chrysler products using the same platform. Except, of course, for the Prowler, which was a desperate attempt to, somehow, rekindle the Plymouth spark. Didn’t work.
Dodge Shadow or Plymouth Sundance America. Cheapest new American car brand new, and they’re even extinct from most automotive recyclers now.
biggest difference between the sprint and swift was that the swift had an extra hamster under the hood vs Larry, Darryl and Darryl running their little hearts out for the chevy/geo.
Very popular car in Israel of the 80s and 90s (as a Suzuki), they were in fact known for their reliability. You can still see the odd one here and there but most have been lost in the cash for scrappers program they had a few years back. They are starting to be picked up by few old car fans in the same way Ladas and Trabants are picked up in ex-Commy states…
I had a 1995 Pontiac Firefly (Canada only) it had the 1.3 liter engine with the 3 speed automatic. The only way to get the 4 cylinder version that model year. I had it from brand new until 2008 with around 290,000 km on it when I got rid of it. It was very reliable, got good gas mileage. But in the end it was time to let it go. It was leaking & burning oil and needed a new radiator (still the original at this point) and CV joints. It just was not worth it to put that kind of money into a 13 year old car. When I traded it in they had some special program where I got $ 1,000.00 – Car Heaven. Which was government program to get older vehicles off the road. Helped the environment and car dealers. lol I was fairly pleased with the car – $ 12,000 to buy and pretty much regular maintenance for the 1st 10 years.
‘Unpretentious’ would seem to be a good way to describe Suzuki-built automotive products, particularly those that were dueled under the GM banner. Unlike similar Daewoo cars, Suzuki-built vehicles actually last for much longer than their bargain-basement prices would normally warrant, and have deservedly earned the ‘cockroach of the road’ (COTR) moniker. Geo Metros are particularly hard to kill, which makes sense, given the numbers in which they were produced.
Sold here as either Suzukis or Holdens, I still see some around cheap to buy cheap to run and they dont break down often.
I’ve certainly posted this fact here; I owned the two door Sprint Metro version of this. I loved it and it accelerated very well with just me. When I took a hefty front seat passenger I could feel the “pull” to that side. I never considered, until just now, that one might buy a four-door version of this and place four actual people in it in the sense of four human beings (three and a driver) and then possibly attempt to accelerate, God willing onto a highway someplace. Hells-to-the-Bells, as it were.
There was a turbocharged version of the Sprint later 80’s-had kinda a cool air intake in the grill
Indeed- I posted pics at the Cohort.
Same beast as my ’84 Suzuki Swift.
I got mine from an elderly aunt when she stopped driving – 21 years old with only 19,000 km on it. My daughter learnt to drive in it, and used it until she saved up enough to buy her Honda Jazz. It had done about 75,000 km by then.
My brother in law saw it sitting unused in our driveway about five years back and gave me $500 for it. They live interstate on a farm about 10 miles out of the nearest town, and it’s perfect for running errands (much more economical than their Nissan Patrol!) and teaching the grandkids to drive. I saw it when I was there a few weeks ago, still running strong. His wife says it’s as reliable as a good work boot.
Naming these things Sprint and Swift was pretty pretentious.
Remarkable acceleration on the Sprint Metro model, at least. Only an L3 and 1.0 liter but a truly tiny car.
The best car ever, best gas mileage and lasted forever past the 70,000 never a problem. Such fun great memories. ’86’