Would You Drive This $500 Car 1000 Miles?

You may or may not be aware I have proposed a hare-brained road trip/ cheap car challenge. The gist is to buy an incredibly cheap car and drive it a total of 1000 miles (from the Northern California to the Salten Sea and back). The only established rule is the total cost of the vehicle can be no greater than $500. (Any car is eligible so long as it’s road legal for California Highways). This contest is the driving force compelling me to rifle through garbage car listings in the local classifieds. All the searching has led me to this “prime” 1985 Volkswagen GTI.

The question is, would you embark on a trek across the state of California in this MK2 GTI with little


to no preparation? Mind you the vehicle will be subject to a modest shakedown of roughly 350 miles of holiday freeway traffic, potentially through Los Angeles (and I doubt the AC works). Moreover, a quarter mile drag race is inevitable, as is a 60- 0 MPH stop test, and of course some form of timed handling course, perhaps even measuring G-Forces throughout. Assuming all the participants survive the shakedown. The Coup de Grace of the will almost certainly take place in the BLM (bureau of land management) deserts near the Salten sea. This BLM area is generously interspersed with a variety of desert OHV trails, that are ideally suited to be the ultimate proving ground on this underbucket hoopty test-run, (did I mention it’s a desert?). Just to be thorough, the trip will be capped off by a cooldown run. Again, subjecting our Mecha-warriors to 350 miles of holiday weekend traffic right through the heart of L.A. on the way back to Northern California.

I would absolutely pilot this the second-gen hot-hatch on just such a mission, and here’s why. I have personal experience with a MK2 VW, and it accomplished the above benchmarks with flying colors… on numerous occasions (without measuring G’s of course, I don’t drive around with race telemetry during the course of a normal day). The previous experience I am referring to was also a


$500 MK2 that I expected to last all of six months. However, the unassuming V-Dub, not only had 208,000 miles on the stopped odometer, but was able to run another 85,000 miles plus, with only two oil changes over an 18-month span. Astonishingly the only part that needed replacing was a starter, which was found and replaced at the Pick’n Pull for $30. You are probably thinking, this poor people’s car, is surely destined for a date with


the crusher… well, you would be wrong. The little red sled made it through all the torture I could dish and went on to the next lucky SOB for the same price of admission I had paid a year and half earlier, $500… and it kept on chugging. (I know this because the new owner failed to register the vehicle, and I was sent the San Francisco Muni violation photo of ole red blowing past the booths of the Golden Gate Bridge).


The proverbial gauntlet has been thrown, and as of right now, one taker has metaphorically picked it up ( @K_Rich35 ). I suppose, to make things interesting some reward is due at the end of it all. Therefore, some form of point system will be established in order to determine a winner of sorts. I don’t know if you have looked recently, but finding a registered running $500 car is a challenge in its self. Taking the cars on this road trip and administering a series of standard road tests to see who procured the “best” car is the second part of the challenge. Maybe we will throw in a couple of not so standard road (or off-road) tests as well, we’ll have to see how far the selected vehicles make it. As for the reward, that is the third challenging task. Each contender will sell their chariot and the winner will collect all the proceeds Obviously, I would not have committed to such a competition if I did not want to win. Therefore, when such a reminiscent vehicle should present itself it is hard to think it wouldn’t be up to the challenge. Unfortunately, the GTI had already been passed on to its new owner by the time I called, so I continue to hunt.

I am interested in hearing what car or vehicle you would be looking for and why?

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