My History Of Fun Vehicles

My History Of Fun Vehicles

When this article first published at the end of 2019, I wanted to share ways you can buy inexpensive fun cars by showcasing the ones I bought over the years.  In most cases, those cars needed some work to make them acceptable. Other times, I found there is a way to buy the lower cost trim of a certain model, then personalize it to your liking.

Four years later, I decided to update this article to include all of the fun cars I’ve owned.  That will include some new (or newer) ones that made sense to buy at the time.  Either way, there is a way to have fun in this hobby at any budget level.  My hope is that one of the vehicles shown below may spark an interest in you, and that may open doors to a fun future.

side view of a black Z28 Camaro

1979 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 (5.7L V-8; 4 speed manual)

This was the car that started it all.  I was always a “car guy,” but that really accelerated when I got my driver’s license at age 16.  The year was 1977 and Chevrolet re-introduced the Z28 model into their lineup.  That car called out to me and I became obsessed with it.  It took a couple of years of saving my Burger King money, as well as some heavy selling with my mom, but we bought the 1979 Z28 shown above.

Mom was in the market for a new car and I saw my opening.  I offered to pay for 25% of it with my savings, then we would share the car.  It was no slam dunk, but in April 1979 we bought the Z28.

Related article:  40 Year Obsession: A Z28 Story

The full story can be found in the related article above, but that car left a permanent stain on my vehicle passions.  It meets an interesting bookend with the last car on this list.

1989 Jeep Wrangler just before I sold it

1989 Jeep Wrangler (2.5L 4 cylinder, 5 speed manual)

This was my first true “toy,” meaning this was not a daily driver.  I found this in Ashland City, TN in early 2000. I was living in the Nashville area at the time, and found it in the Truck Trader magazine (this was before vehicles were really advertised online–back in the “dial-up” days).  The Jeep was in decent shape, except for some tailgate damage.

Since this was a “YJ” Wrangler, Jeep purists did not consider it a real Jeep because it had rectangular headlamps vs. the traditional round ones (1987 – 1995 Wranglers came with rectangular headlights).  I never understood that stigma, as this was an extremely capable off-roader. It worked out for me, as I got a great deal on it when the new round-headlamp Wranglers were new in the market. I paid $4,000 for this “oddball” Jeep that had 130,000 miles.

Repairs/Modifications Performed

Since this Jeep never saw a snowy, salty winter road, I did not have to deal with any rust issues.  This means I did not need to do any body work or spend extra hours trying to free up any rusted bolts.  Bonus! I did a lot of maintenance work because the seller was unsure when anything was done (translation:  it needed maintenance!).

I wasn’t planning on replacing the clutch, but on the day I sold this in 2004, the hydraulic line that goes to the throwout bearing fell out on my way to meeting the buyer!  This was extremely bad luck as the repair required the removal of the transmission. I had to cancel the sale as I could not get to the repair for a couple of weeks (this happened in December in Michigan…COLD).  I enlisted the help of two good friends to help me drop the transmission. Since it was out, I replaced the clutch and pressure plate. I relisted it for sale in February and sold it within two days (that new clutch was the kicker!).  I sold it for what I paid for it, which means I enjoyed the Jeep for four years for about $300 in parts.

1984 Chevrolet Corvette (5.7L V-8, Automatic transmission)

Like the Jeep, the “C4” Corvettes (1984-1996 model years) are the red-headed stepchildren of the Corvette world.  I am not entirely sure why that is the case, but I was able to get another inexpensive fun car for little money.

I found this one on eBay in April 2004, and it was located in Jackson, MI (about 1.5 hours away).  I was new to eBay at the time, and took a big chance with this purchase. During the seven day auction, I traded a lot of messages with the seller.  I could tell from the way he talked about this car that he put a lot of his heart into it. My son, Will, was standing behind me as I was placing bids for this car (he was 10 years old at the time).  I was bidding against one other guy (probably the seller’s buddy), and I remember Will yelling “put another hundred on it, Dad!” Luckily, I knew my limit, and was able to buy it for $5,800 for this pretty nice 75,000 mile car.

Why This Car?

If you read the Who’s Your Nanny? article, you learned that I started working at Chevrolet in 1984.  At that time, the C4 Corvette was just launched and it was a huge leap forward in technology and performance from the previous generation Corvette. I had a chance to visit the Bowling Green, KY assembly plant in 1985 for business.  I was so impressed with the car after that visit that I knew I wanted one someday. It took nearly 20 years, but I did it! The fact it was a relatively fast and great handling car was a big plus!

Overall, the car was in really good mechanical condition.  The owner took great care of it and installed a custom exhaust system (he worked for Tenneco, who makes Walker exhaust systems).  The pipes were custom bent and the system sounded good. Most of the work needed was cosmetic, which is my favorite kind of work to do on a car.

There is an interesting story to go with the seat repair I performed.  The car came with a red interior (red carpet and seats). It was overwhelming, so I welcomed a reason to change the seats.  The leather was cracked and worn on the seat bottoms, so I found some black leather replacement covers on eBay for $225.

Thanks to some good instructions found in a Corvette forum, I was able to strip the old material off the seat frame and installed the new material.  They looked great! I took the old seat bottoms and backs and listed them on eBay for $0.99. Someone must have really wanted the seat backs (which were in new condition), because they bought them through the auction for $142.00!  The net cost to change those seats was about $80.

The attention I spent on the interior really paid off–I sold it in 2007, at a nice little profit for those fun three years.





1970 VW Beetle 

OK, now things got interesting.  After the Corvette, I got the itch for an older Beetle to customize.  I found some cool forums online that highlighted the many opportunities to customize a Beetle–including extending the front axle forward to create a hot rod look.

It did not take me long to find the right Beetle.  A guy from GM was selling this 1970 model for $4,000 on a VW enthusiast website (www.theSamba.com).  He already fixed all of the rust and rebuilt the engine.  Sweet deal!

By the way, those pictures above are all of the same car.  It had a few different looks in the 5 years I owned it.  Details below.

Why This Car?

At this point in my automotive journey, I was yearning for a car I could perfect my painting skills.  This car was mechanically sound, but the seller did a half-assed paint job in pale tan. Yeah…PALE tan (as if tan wasn’t already pale enough!).  Anyway, I got the car home and started disassembling it within a week. The trunk (which is in the front of this rear-engined car), engine cover and fenders unbolt easily.  I went through FOUR color changes in the five years I owned this car:

  • Orange and Gray two-tone (orange on top, gray on the bottom) with NO FENDERS!
  • Orange and satin black (the gray was painted black) with no fenders and a lowered front end to give it a real hot rod look)
  • Grabber Blue with the fenders back on
  • Grabber Blue with gray two-tone (this is the combination shown in the top picture)

I did not need to do much else mechanically, but did put a crazy looking exhaust on it.  This was a great looking and running car, and I sold it to a friend from GM in 2012.  He still owns it to this day.

1975 white Corvette sitting by the curb

1975 Chevrolet Corvette (5.7L V-8, 4 speed manual transmission)

OK, back to a Corvette!  As much as I am not really a Corvette guy, there is no mistaking that they are great performance bargains.  It is interesting that a lot of people don’t react well to people who drive Corvettes.

I found this Corvette on Craigslist near Flint, MI (about an hour away) for $6,000 in July 2013.  The seller was an anal retentive engineer, so the car was mechanically excellent (engine, transmisison and axle all rebuilt, along with new suspension components). He wasn’t much on the cosmetics, but that is something I really like to fix.

By the way, when it comes to third generation (C3) Corvettes, the 1975 is least popular because it had the “plastic” bumpers (versus chrome) and an anemic engine.  Half of that deficit was erased by the seller when he rebuilt the engine with the go-fast parts.

Why This Car?

My son, Will, was doing an internship with College Works Painting in 2013 (he was finishing his freshman year at Michigan State).  He had $3,000 saved from this job, so he wanted to buy a fun car. After looking around, all he found was junk. Seeing an opportunity to engage him in the hobby, and give me a new creative outlet, I offered to put $3,000 into the pot so “we” could have a car to work on together.

After we found this Corvette, we started the repairs needed (front and rear bumper covers were made of urethane, which does not age well).  As I began a pretty intensive tear down of the bumpers, Will realized this was going to take some time so disappeared on me! In fairness, he was still working the College Works gig 12+ hours a day.  I bought replacement fiberglass bumpers, painted them and installed them on the car.

Fun Side Story

When I had the rear bumper off, I was able to see the fuel tank.  Why is that a big deal?  During vehicle assembly at the plant, they typically put the build sheet for that car on top of a fuel tank or under the carpet in the back seat.  That build sheet tells you everything about the car as it was built.  For mine, I reached in to the top of the tank and felt paper.  Could it be?  YES!  I found that precious build sheet, which was in pretty good shape for being 40 years old.  I was pretty excited, and rushed into the house to tell my wife.  She rolled her eyes and wondered why this was such a big deal.  Ugh!  I’ll remember that reaction the next time she uncovers some hidden gem.  😉

In addition to the bumpers, I replaced the carpet and steering wheel to give the car a fresh interior.  It looked really good at this point. I also installed a larger front stabilizer bar to improve the handling.

After three years of ownership, I felt it was time to sell it to make room for my next project.  Will agreed, but held firm that this was still a great partnership car. He observed that I liked working on it and he liked driving it, which he classified as ideal.  We sold it in June 2016 through an employee classified website at General Motors.


1972 Chevrolet C-10 Pickup (5.7L V-8, Automatic Transmission)

With Will on his way to bigger and better things, I took my proceeds and bought this pickup.  I bought this truck for $10,000, making it the most I have ever spent for a fun car (at that time). I found it for sale on Craigslist about an hour from my house (hmmm, that seems to be the pattern with me).  It was in really good shape overall (it showed 121,000 miles, but looked like new) and spent most of its life in Oklahoma (no snow or salt), so it was rust free!

The Rationale for the Purchase

Remember in the “Who’s Your Nanny?” article when I told you about my Dad being a truck engineer for GM?  This truck reminded me of the trucks my Dad spent time with, so this was a purchase based on pleasant memories.  This is usually the reason a lot of people buy classics, so it is good to know I am not too far from normal!

Since this truck was in such good shape, repairs needed were minimal.  I ended up making changes to dress it up more than to make it run better.  Here is the list:

  • Carpet in the cab replaced the rubber flooring that originally came with the truck
  • Smaller diameter steering wheel (improved steering response)
  • Power brake booster (it failed while driving in the Woodward Dream Cruise–not cool having manual brakes in stop and go traffic!)
  • Dual exhaust (replaced the single exhaust for better sound)
  • Oil changes and rear axle fluid change
  • New wheels and tires

What I did not change was the seat cover.  It came from the factory with a green/black/white plaid cloth.  It was still in great shape and irreplaceable. Nothing says 1970s like plaid!

Around the summer of 2017, my nephew got the bug to buy a classic car.  He was going to look for a 1969 Camaro, but only had $10,000 to spend. You really can’t get a decent Camaro for that amount, so I offered my truck at that price.  I lost a little on that deal, but it’s family!

1976 GMC pickup posing for its sale picture
interior of 1976 GMC pickup

1976 GMC C-15 Pickup (4.2L inline 6 cylinder, “3 on the tree” manual transmission)

I made it a whole year before buying my next vehicle!  After owning the 1972 C-10, I wanted to move into the next generation of GM pickups.  This GMC fit neatly in the 1973-1987 “Squarebody” GM truck era. I found this one on Facebook Marketplace (FBM), which is my new favorite place to buy and sell vehicles.  It was in Flint, MI (about an hour away).

Like the 1972 C-10, this was a truck I grew up with.  It reminded me of a truck that I learned to drive a manual transmission on, so another “memory truck” for me!  I bought it from a family member of the original owner, and it only had 31,000 miles on the odometer. The interior was like new, but the underside of the body and frame looked like it was sandblasted.  As it turned out, the truck was used on a farm during the summer and put in the barn in the winter. All those dirt roads “sandblasted” the underside.

Repairs/Modifications Performed

I did not have much work to do to this truck.  The six cylinder engine was quiet and smooth, and the clutch felt like new.  I installed a new water pump as the old one was starting to make some noise, a new exhaust system and front brakes (including calipers/rotors and brake lines) That’s it.

I sold the truck in the middle of 2019. I just retired and wanted the cash to do some fun stuff.  This was listed on both Craigslist and FBM, and got some very interesting shoppers. Everyone had a story about how they learned to drive on a truck like this one, but no one had the money to buy it.  Within 3 weeks, a buyer from FBM snatched it up.  That allowed me to get the next one on the list.

side view of MINI Cooper

2016 MINI Cooper S (2.0L Turbo; 6 speed manual)

When I left corporate life in June 2019, I felt it was time for a fun daily driver.  I was driving a 2017 MINI Clubman that I bought new, but wanted something with a stick.  I had a great sales consultant at the local MINI retailer who knew how to match me to the right car.  Another employee had just traded this car in, and it had everything I wanted in the car (including low miles).  After a little negotiation, I trade my Clubman in for this Hardtop.

I had a lot of fun with this car over the next two years.  When the pandemic hit in 2020, the used car market went crazy.  I tested the market by shopping my car around.  I landed on an incredible offer from Carvana, so sold it to them in late 2021.  The full story about the process is in the article below.

Related article:  I Sold My MINI to Carvana

White car in bright room

2023 Chevrolet Camaro (2.0L Turbo; Automatic)

I went two years without a fun car, until the market settled down to the point where I could jsutify spending money on a car.  I looked at used sports cars, with the Pontiac Solstice high on my list.  As I thought things through, I decided it was OK to buy something new.  I considered a Subary BRZ, but felt the pull back to Camaro.  A fitting bookend to my first fun car.

Related article:  Car Shopping: Back To My Roots

Why A New Camaro?

With the Camaro line coming to an end, I felt the time was right to buy one of the last ones.  I test drove the SS model (with the V8 engine), but wasn’t sold.  It is a beast, but a big heavy one.  I loved the power, but that car felt heavy and too unwieldy for a sports car.  I almost went a different path, but decided to drive the 2.0L Turbo model.  It is 400 pounds lighter than the V8, as well as $15,000 cheaper.  I was really impressed with the overall feel of the 2.0L.  Sold!

I actually ordered a Camaro in May 2023, but my order could not be built due to the contraints at the plant.  I was lucky to find one close to my ordered unit at a nearby dealer, so bought it in June 2023.  So far, it has been a blast to drive and it brings back fun memories of that 1979 Z28.

Final Thoughts & Questions

As you can see, I was able to buy and sell a number of vehicles that satisfied my vehicle cravings without breaking the bank.  Overall, I might be at break-even or maybe even a little in the black after all of the purchases and repairs.  I don’t have any other real hobbies (no golf, bowling or gambling!), so I justify these purchases to my wife with that logic.  She is a good sport and knows that my frugal nature will not get me into any trouble. And as my Dad used to say, “it’s cheaper than going to the pool hall.”

Let me know if you have any thoughts or questions.  You can reach me in any of the following ways:

Email: wct.billtaylor@gmail.com

Instagram:  vehicle.nanny

Facebook:  Vehicle Nanny

Want to learn more about me?  Go to this article:   Who’s Your Nanny?

About The Author

2 Comments

  1. Matthew fein

    Hello Mr. Taylor, I enjoyed reading your article. I came across your website while trying to find some guidance for my son who is very interested in finding a vehicle to begin a restoration project. Reviewing your history on the website and experience in restoration I thought you might be the perfect person to ask for some guidance. To give you a little context, my son is currently in his second year at MSU. He has been interested in older technologies since he was very young. He started with an interest in audio equipment from the 70’s and 80’s. He then moved to computers spanning from the late 70s to early 2000’s where he collected and brought many older computers back to a functional state. More recently he began a project for a retro mod of 1964 Honda S90 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljR6f2tVei4) which is now almost complete. He has now come to me with his thoughts for his next project a 1978 Camaro Z28. Although he has a job during the school year, he thinks he can make this work. I would have figured his experience with the Honda s90 and the challenges of locating and cost of parts would have put a damper on these new plans.

    My question to you is whether you have any thoughts on options on the vehicle front that are more reasonable that would allow him to follow this passion for restoring things while not breaking the bank. He has a tendency to get very single minded and relentless in the projects he starts. We are located in Metro Detroit.

    Reply
    • Bill Taylor

      Hi Matthew, thank you for your note. I have a number of ideas and would love to help out. I also live in metro Detroit, so we could meet. I will send you an email so that we can discuss this further.

      Reply

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