A Challenge to find the Best Sub-100,000 Mile Car For Less than $5,000 Has Our Writers Predictably Ranting and Raving

Following the success of our 24 Hours of LeMons challenge, Nic and I proposed a successor to the original that began amicably but quickly became two insult-heavy rants. We had a hell of a lot of fun doing it, so a new challenge was born: Find the best sports sedan possible with under 100,000 miles on the odometer with a budget of $5,000. Nic came out of the gates swinging, and I was forced to respond in kind. The transcripts of the exchange are detailed below.

Nic: I’m going to start and stop this exchange in one round.  Behold, the opening salvo and final hammer blow in one $5,000, brick-shaped pile of Italian exotica.  You are rendered powerless in its presence…the Maserati Quattroporte.

Maserati Nics Car

You said find a ‘performance sedan’ for under $5k.  Well, I found THE performance sedan.  You also said it needed to have fewer than 100,000 miles on the clock.  If you read that ad you won’t find mention of the actual mileage, except for the seller’s caveat that, “mileage on speedometer is not accurate.”  Really, that’s just redundant – needless copy from a concerned seller in this litigious society – for the ad clearly stated that this was a 1984 Maserati Quattroporte.  No one would believe that, a) the speedo would be operational, or b) even if it were, the car could have traveled more than 100,000 miles.

I’m trying to guess what kind of lame vehicles you have been bookmarking in your classified quest.  Maybe clapped out Subarus, or a Jetta with a VR6?  What about a Mercedes 190E with a slushbox?  Ha.  I laugh at all avenues other than Via Quattroporte.  For one, you can’t find any of the above-mentioned rides with less than 100k on the clock because they are all good, reliable transport.  If you do find one with low miles, it’s been sitting in garage for 10 years because Grandma doesn’t drive so much anymore and her greedy bastard of a son is selling it for more than $5k because he’s trying to cash out on Granny early.  And ask yourself this…would that bastard’s grandmother have bought a ‘performance sedan?’  No, she wouldn’t have and she didn’t because none of those cars are performance sedans.

The Maserati Quattroporte is a Performance Sedan.  And if this scrupulously honest seller is to be taken at his word (and why wouldn’t you?), this well-rested example doesn’t need anything but some ‘fine tuning.’  As soon as I fine tune the gaping rust holes up, she’ll be good to go.  Look, he’s already spent $2,000 on a motor rebuild.  And any Maserati enthusiast will tell you that that is more than enough to get that simple little quad-cam V8 purring like a kitten.

So, I win.  I accept your gracious concession.

Cameron: Alas, the surrender you so transparently crave will not be delivered by me. While the validity of your misguided choice is shaky at best, I will accept your Maserati Quattroporte as a contestant in this challenge despite the glaring omission of its mileage, one of only three requirements for entry. I will accept the Quattroporte because I am an incredibly generous, thoughtful person who goes out of his way to be accommodating to others, and your choice is largely irrelevant anyway when compared to what I found.

Like you, when I hear “sports sedan,” I make a few mental notes about what I believe fully encapsulates that description: a luxurious, RWD beast that makes short work of the plebeian offerings it is forced to share the road with. I am perplexed as to why a V6 Jetta popped into your mind as a viable choice. I think you forget that I live near Los Angeles, where the ratio of cars to people is roughly 3-1 and cheap performance sedans flow like maple syrup in your neck of the woods. While I found more than one Corolla S that would have embarrassed your Quattroporte on the drag strip, I feel it is my duty to bestow the crown in our challenge to a car that actually earns it instead of relying on a trident badge to move units. I am, of course, speaking of the king of sports sedans, the BMW 5 Series.

Of course, it was impossible to find a suitable M5 for a sub-100,000 miles, sports sedan challenge that capped out at $5,000. I did, however, find the next best thing. Behold: a pristine 1998 540i.

1998 BMW 540i Challenge

It is no secret that I love the E39, and while the 540i doesn’t have the 400hp monster lying under the M’s hood, the two V8s are related. In the 1998 540i, the block makes a very respectable 282hp, AND it comes with a 5-speed automatic so the driver doesn’t focus on anything but the 540i’s blistering performance.

The BMW isn’t advertised by screaming “THIS IS A GREAT PARTS CAR!!!” like yours does. That really doesn’t make you worry a little bit? How about: “You want to buy this MG for daily driving, huh? Well…the headlights work! Ten thousand dollars, please!” Your seller is undoubtedly apprehensive just letting the thing out of his sight. He is probably wondering if he can cash your check before the Quattro succumbs to the rust bunnies infesting the car, an ailment that will inevitably leave you sitting, dumbfounded, on the pavement in a tattered seat, foolishly holding the steering wheel as the rest of the car disintegrates around your body.

Speaking of those quarter-sized holes in the sheetmetal: I hear it gets a little cold up in Canada during the winter. Make sure to pack plenty of blankets!

Nic: Okay, Captain Generous, I suppose I should bow to your kind-spirited gesture of accepting the 4Porte, although really, what choice did you have after being pummeled by my expertly reasoned argument for why it hadn’t, and never would, travel more than 100k miles.

Fine.  I will withdraw one lame Italian stallion and replace it with a younger thoroughbred…

Nic's Alfa Romeo

Behold!  A glorious sports sedan par excellence, the Alfa Romeo 164.  You will doubtlessly be scouring the ad looking for the mileage, thinking, ‘there is no way D’Amato found so much car within our $100k/5k limits.’  And your eyes will fall upon two numbers, one higher than than 100k and one lower.  Well, prepare your swollen visage for another pummeling from my fists of reason.  What is the heart of any Italian car?  The engine.  To paraphrase Enzo Ferrari, himself once of the House of Alfa, ‘chassis are for people who can’t build engines.’  And you will notice that this particular example is young at heart, its engine covering only 90k miles.

And what an engine.  The 3.0 liter V6 is universally acknowledged to be one of the finest production car engines ever.  If you’ve not heard it rev, or felt its creamy surge of power, you know nothing of life and love.

That masterpiece of motivation is then placed into the chiseled nose of a true beauty.  Does a 5-Series have a little badge reading, “Designo di Pininfarina” on it?  No.  Why?  Because a 5 series was designed by a committee in a Bavarian boardroom, like just any other durable good.  And when you drive it, you and all those who see you pass by (not that they will, for ubiquitosity has rendered the Bimmer invisible), will know that you are piloting an appliance.

In fact, if you strike the 164 from the challenge, having once again proven yourself unfit to understand Italian car logic, I will buy just the engine and place it on a protest plinth.  Each day it will remind to be thankful that I am not another BMW driver.

Cameron: I challenge any of our readers to think of anything more satisfying than seeing a rival fall as a result of his own hubris. So quick were you to gloat about your Maserati parts car that the sprinkle of regulations forming the backbone of this challenge relegated your Quattroporte back to eBay hell, where it belongs. And here comes another contestant, this time an Alfa with 150,000 miles on the body. Your logic dictates that because the motor has traveled fewer miles, it is fit to run against my BMW, but I must disagree. See, an 80 year-old man with a heart transplant doesn’t magically make him 35. I am reminded of a Mitch Hedburg joke at the moment: “My hotel doesn’t have a 13th floor because of superstition, but come on man, people on the 14th floor, you know what floor you’re really on. ‘What room are you in?’ ‘1401’ ‘No you’re not! Jump out the window, you will die earlier!’” But, as with the Maserati, I accept your entry because I am a reasonable person who has a soft spot for the little guy.

At first, I was concerned about your choice of the Alfa Romeo 164, because I had featured it as a cool used car in the recent past, and I was afraid I have to rely only on the outstanding merits of the 540i to dispose of your rusty heap. But then I saw your example, and I realized that this 164 in particular was hilariously outmatched by the BMW for an almost uncountable number of reasons.

Let’s go over the old article here…a 1991? Fantastic! That means your two cylinder deficit translates into 80 less horsepower. And a four speed slushbox? You’re certainly choosing a more modern car this time around (the Quattro had trés) but mine is newer, has an extra cog in the tranny, and even has manual override. So on the performance side, my BMW is the clear winner. You can take the trophy for “sedan” if you wish, because the 164 certainly has 4 doors.

One more thing: being shaped by Pininfarina does not make a beautiful car. Here are some of the other achievements of the Italian design house: Cadillac Allante, Alfa Romeo GTV, and the stunning Nido concept. Your 164 absolutely belongs in their hallowed ranks.

Nic: Whatever.  I am utterly unphased and unsurprised, by your lack of lateral thinking ability.  Line 1,000 people up and say ‘sports sedan’ to them and 994 of them will immediately say ‘BMW.’  Yawn.  I do not count myself among their grey, humorless numbers.

I could have gone many ways with this challenge, all of them more interesting than your cookie-cutter Bimmer.  But in the end, there is always only route to go down…honesty.  I was tempted by the countless sub-100k Crown Vic Police Interceptors now retired from active duty.  And while it would have been nice to watch fellow motorists bolt from the fast lane as I approached, ultimately, I could not honestly see myself behind its enormous, spongy steering wheel.

Along those same lines, I was briefly tempted by some older American metal.  A couple mid-’60s lead sleds with small blocks matched our search criteria.  Their torque and whiplash-four-barrel throttle response would have been a hoot for a few miles.  But then I would have to turn, and I would find myself on the passenger side, having slid across the acres of vinyl bench seat.  The funny thing is I would find the the steering feel and accuracy improved once the wheel was on the other side of the cockpit from me.

Of course there were a half dozen nice Bimmers available within our challenge limits.  I could even have brand-trumped you with a big, bruising 7-series.  But alas, honesty prevailed.  Could I really become one of the bland, faceless millions hogging the fast lane?  No.

I buy this.  I cruise lazy and long-leggedly in the center lane, regarding the 94% as they angrily weave their Bavarian Bombers through those of us, “who just don’t understand what a sports sedan is.”  I ease the throttle pedal to the thick carpet and revel in the cultured growl of being original.

Nic's Jaguar $5K Challenge

[At this point, I had had enough with Nic flip-flopping more than a politician come election time, so I stuck with tormenting his Alfa]

Cameron: I do apologize for not understanding the conditions of the challenges which I myself devised; apparently there is an unwritten rule that the cars chosen must suffer from the worst aspect of hipsterism: obscurity. While I could see myself cruising along in an Alfa, coming home from Whole Foods with a case of PBR in the back and Neutral Milk Hotel blasting through the tape deck, I would be doing myself the disservice of choosing a sports sedan that is woefully inadequate compared to a more often seen competitor.

Because I submit my entry into this challenge based on merit rather than novelty, I will stick with the 540i. It’s softer than the car I really wanted, but it falls within our bounds and is far superior to the Alfa in every measurable way. I like the 164, it has plenty of charm and could probably get you to and from work before the Fates inevitably send you reeling into a financial downward spiral from which many never recover. I’ll take the BMW, assuredly succumbing to the sense of privilege and entitlement that unfortunately accompanies every Bavarian luxury sedan. But I will do so smiling, comforted by knowing that I made the right decision.

Nic: Although we got a few digs in here and there, everything was nice and chummy.  Sure I called you a bland, grey, faceless, Bavarian automaton.  And sure you compared me to a character in a Greek tragedy and reveled in my hamartia of hubris.  But there was nothing written that would keep us from having a beer together.

Until you called me a hipster.  That is the lowest blow imaginable.  It makes me want to roll up my pant leg and ride my fixie down to the local, fair-trade, rooftop distillery co-op and get drunk on single variety, mono-sourced alfalfa liqueurs.  There is nothing lower than to accuse a man of making a choice just because it is obscure.  I choose that Jaguar because I have a wider, more catholic, view of what ‘performance’ means.

I don’t understand why you keep rabbiting on about the Alfa, which you cruelly struck from the challenge after failing to find the reserves of creativity within yourself to see past its aging body to enjoy its young heart.  I can only read your last few paragraphs and assume that your unconscious mind knows what you really want…and is starts with an ‘A’.

Now, hopefully, we can put all this ugliness behind us and still find the goodwill to meet up for a beer.  If so, please be sure to throw a set of jumper cables in the Bimmer’s trunk.  The Jag seems to have some small electrical draw I can’t quite trace.  I’ll find it and fix it this weekend, I’m sure.  But just in case.

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About Cameron Rogers

Cameron Rogers is the founder and lead writer at Downshift Autos, the only automotive blog on the Internet*. Born in the back of an AMC Gremlin, Cameron vowed to never let this extraordinarily embarrassing detail define him, so help him God. He drives a GTI but absolutely will not shut up about it if somebody asks. He will not hesitate to let people know that no, they shouldn't get a Porsche 911 when a Morgan 3 Wheeler is so obviously the superior choice. He is obsessed with the seats of a Carrera GT and the steering wheel of a Fisker Karma. He once sat in the driver's seat of a Tesla Model S, his greatest accomplishment to date. He is just now realizing that writing an autobiography, however miniscule, in the third person is odd and unnerving. *As of this writing, Cameron has been informed that there are, in fact, many websites and blogs centered around cars and car culture. He regrets his grievous error.

One response to “A Challenge to find the Best Sub-100,000 Mile Car For Less than $5,000 Has Our Writers Predictably Ranting and Raving”

  1. quattroporte3 says :

    Nice blog guys! After owning a QP3 for a few years, I have to say they grow on you. And that engine, there’s nothing like it at all.

    People like to talk about how unreliable Italian cars are, or Italian exotica are. These cars, like Jaguars and other performance cars, need to be driven regularly, used and maintained. They don’t take well to sitting for long periods of time unused, and if you don’t stay on top of maintenance things can get ugly.

    While that’s true of almost every car, catching up on 10 years of deferred maintenance on a Toyota will cost a fraction of the same on a Maserati. However, one thing many people aren’t aware of is that many parts were standard off-the-shelf OEM stuff used in a wide range of cars of the era, e.g. Bosch ignition, Chrysler transmission, Jaguar rear axle, etc etc. Only the Maserati specific items (engine, body, interior) pose any economic challenges.

    That said, when used and maintained (which is not difficult for any average weekend mechanic), they are in my experience very reliable and offer a motoring experience matched by few others.

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