Radwood Austin: A Prequel

“Thats fine but if anyone seems scetchy.. i wont hesitate to put a hole thru everyone. Not to threaten but this is were my family is and im very protective of their safety.”

The sweet spot for your average Craiglist find varies from market to market. Generally, for major metropolitan areas (be sure to enable the search for all surrounding areas) I try to keep it between $1,250 and $1,600. Awfully specific, sure. Less than $1,000 generally guarantees you that the car won’t run – and even if it does, you’re staring down some major system failure or elusive paperwork. $1,250 as a floor means someone put some thought into the price. It’s the price of the world’s worst Miata, the eight 240SX projects that are complete but with the motor removed, or a half dozen Volvo wagons that are stuck in 2nd gear. $1,600 as a ceiling keeps out all the bourgeois yachtsmen with their “ice cold AC” and “clean title” snubbing their noses at the hoi polloi. There’s an intrinsic drama to that $1,500 sweet spot.


As for this instance? Well, it’s not a challenge to see why he was being protective of having prospective buyers at his primary residence. The seller – who turned out to be an unbelievably accommodating dog-loving father – had a 1986 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser (not done yet) wagon (you aren’t ready for this) on original Daytons (wait for it) on hydraulics (yes and please). Two pumps, three dumps, 150lbs of ballast where the third row used to be stored. “Three-wheel motion” was explicitly advertised.

The car was originally modified in the mid-1990s and hadn’t moved in the last 4, but supposedly started and ran with a charge. Asking price? $1,400 and zero cents. It was rough – just on first glance, it would require: new tires, fresh fluids, all of the fluids, every last drop, and a scrubbing just this side of the cleansing power of fire. The car suffered minor tornado damage 3 years ago, leaving a side window permanently ventilated and the roof rack not irreparably bent. For our purposes, it was a bust – better suited for someone with the time and money to restore a former glory. Plus we did not actually bring a trailer as advised by the seller. But damn what a cool car. The seller even noted that he originally was holding out for the optional faux wood trim. Natch.

Can it be the one that got away if it wouldn’t start?

Our purposes, you might ask? I’d be lying if I told you it was just Radwood. Sure, Radwood is everything that is good and holy and righteous and just in car culture right now – self-aware enough to have a sense of humor and serious enough to spark genuine appreciation about what had previously just been 1980s camp and 1990s normcore. Radwood is magical. Radwood is something that I’ve spent the last few months preparing for. But Radwood is a nice convenient excuse. I have an addiction to cheap Craigslist finds, and if you’ve made it this far, you probably do too.


My friend, please let me give you some advice: not even once.

I know what you’re thinking, sure, I can just get a $800 Crown Victoria, maybe do some one-wheel peel, drift it on some dirt-roads, hop some curbs, and donate the remains to Kars 4 Kids.


Buddy, you cannot.

And it isn’t what you’re thinking. No, it’s not that it will absolutely not hesitate to give you tetanus, or that it leaks coolant in places where there is no coolant, or that the air conditioning last ran during the Clinton administration (the first one). Not that at all.


You’re going to fall in love.

This picture cost $2,550.00 and 4 hours on Milwaukee Craigslist to make - another love story for another day.

And I’m not being facetious, all those things that you always wanted to do in a car: you can do those now. The car will surprise you. It’ll do all the dirt road drifting, neutral-drop burnouts, and it’ll have endearing quirks, and all the burnt oil and failing interior adhesives and wrecked alignments in the world won’t be able to dull that sparkle. Decrepit, disdainful, and desperate cars are full of all the drama and gives-not-a-single-damn fun that you used to love about cars before you got something that had to get you to work so you could pay for your mortgage.

Deep under the faded paint and oxidation is a machine that took thousands of hours of clever engineering and torture testing, purchased by someone who originally adored the car and gave it a few decades of service, filling it with character and mechanical maladies and nearly sentient bits of personality. Anything for sale for under $1,600 on Craigslist has lived a life.


So when my plan A ticket to the best party in Texas decided to blow a head gasket right after the turn of the new year, it took very little convincing that we needed to take a walk on the wild side down to plan Z. One fateful Superbowl party, a group text, a week dedicated almost explicitly to market research for every single car in the Dallas market in that sweet $350 range, and a free weekend and here we find ourselves volunteering to be perforated by a middle-aged dad who let the chihuahua sleep at the head of the bed.

We’d originally lined up a couple actual test drives, with a “Mazarati” on deck should our second choice post-Oldsmobile fall through.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, and frankly maybe it’s just spelled that way.

And while $1,500 Almost Allantes are usually enough to get me out of bed in the morning, we wouldn’t need it.


Nope. With just two weeks to spare before Radwood Austin kicked off, we discovered the seat heaters in this $1,345.00 1997 BMW 740il still worked. The Craigslist ad had been taken down before we even got to the gas station after signing the title.

I’m ready to love again.

See y’all in Austin.

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