Feel free to add some of yours.
Now, since I was 16, I've owned about 16 cars. For many years, I didn't want to spend more than a paycheck or two on a car. I didn't make a tremendous amount of money, so about once a year I would buy a cheap-ass car for about $3-700 and drive it for about a year.
My favorite and probably the best of the cheap-ass cars I've owned was my 88 Isuzu pickup. I paid $300 for it — it was outside a small electrician's shop — and drove it for about a year. It had about 220k on the clock when I first bought it. I made several 2-3 hour road trips up to the NC mountains in that thing.
With the 2.3 and a 5-speed, it managed close to 30 MPG on the highway. It hauled a refrigerator, washer, and dryer when we moved to the next town. One afternoon, a few friends and I decided to attack the $300 truck with spray paint and it ended up with pink, blue, green, and purple flames the whole way down its body. After being pulled over three times in the next week, I decided that it attracted too much attention. The same friend who spraybombed the flames onto it helped me paint it flat black. We used six cans of high-temperature grill paint that had been sitting in his dad's garage for several years, so it ended up looking terrible but nowhere near as conspicuous.
It actually drove pretty well until it suffered catastrophic engine failure one day on the ride to work. It had about 240,00 miles. I learned that it was apparently a rare bird — base model, long bed, 2wd, with no A/C— and I ended up giving it to a friend who built minitrucks.
A few years later I saw it at a local cruise in with a bunch of the guys in his car club. It had been repainted a nice glossy black, the dings were all smoothed out, and it was sitting about an inch off the ground with 17" Escalade wheels. That was the style at the time. I stopped to talk to him and found that he swapped in a 2.6 FI from a Trooper and it was running better than it ever did while I owned it.
Just imagine the pictured vehicle, in white, with stock silver steelies and quite a few bumps, dings, and scratches. That's how I bought it. Or imagine it flat black like a barbecue trailer.
Before that I had the Goodwill Century. My prior POS, an 89 Dodge Dynasty, had blown a head gasket. I decided that an $800 job on a car that was worth $400 would be too much work to bother doing. It was 2002, so I scoured the classified ads in the paper and found a listing for 3 cars for $450 each — an 87 Century, a late 70s Cadillac, and an early 80s Toyota Cressida. I called the number on a Friday morning and was told to go to a Goodwill store just off of Brookshire Boulevard in Charlotte. By the time I got there, the Cressida and Century were still available. The Cadi had been sold, but the two were joined by an old, green RWD Mazda 626. Now, at that time, I wasn't as Jalop as I am now and decided to go with something that I knew how to fix.
Just for reference, here's an ad photo for a 626 like the one they were selling:
It may have been a mistake.
The Century had, unbeknownst to me, a clogged catalytic converter and some strange electrical bugs. It was, however, a running, driving vehicle for less money than I had in my wallet, so I decided to get it. I drove it to work at my soul-crushing call center job and delivered pizzas with it on my days off.
Within a month, the driver door would only open intermittently. One day, it just decided not to open again.
One night, while delivering pizzas, I heard a loud pop and the car got significantly louder. I opened the hood to find that the o2 sensor had worked its way loose from the exhaust manifold and I was spitting fire into the wiring for the electric fan.
I let the car sit and with a piece of scrap steel, a few self-tapping screws, some high-temp RTV, and LocTite, I covered the hole the next morning.
A few weeks later, I was driving with a friend up I-77 in the nasty construction when it was being widened. We heard a rod start to knock so I decided it was time to just try to get the car home. Then smoke started billowing out of the exhaust — and then from under the hood, and then through the vents. There was no shoulder and we were luckily able to keep up with traffic until I heard the rod knock stop. The engine had stalled. I tried to hit the brakes but the pedal went right to the floor. This was bad news and it was time to find a solution. Luckily, I was in the right lane and saw a break in the barriers. I pulled through the gap in the barriers and hit the brakes, out of habit.
The pedal went right to the floor. I had no brakes. At this point I had a decision to make. Do I try to use the parking brake and risk flipping the car? No. I slammed the column shifter into park at about 50 mph and the car ground to a stop. The friend with me — a 450-pound tattoo artist with a 2-pack a day Camel habit — crawled out of the passenger seat and dropped his cell phone. Then he disappeared. I crawled across the bench seat to the passenger side and started walking toward him. He was about 100 yards away — just near the break in the barriers. I had no idea that he could move that fast.
I got to him and lit up a smoke. He said "man, I dropped my phone and saw fire falling out under your car."
About that time I heard a distinct pop from the direction of the car and saw that it was sitting lower in the front than the rear. The heat had blown the front tires. Smoke was billowing from under the hood. Within a minute or so, flames were coming from the hood, and then through the roof of the car. We called 911 and were told that firefighters were already on their way.
In the 10 minutes it took for them to arrive, the fire grew to about 30 feet high. The first responder was a police officer who told me that it was the second 80-something Buick Century he had seen ablaze that day. We had a good laugh.
It looked just like this one, down to the metal wheel covers that seemed to always be dented, even on grandma's pristine, dealer-serviced car: