Affordable Mid-Engine: 75k-mile 1988 Toyota MR2

Remember when mid-engine cars were being offered at prices accessible to most U.S. consumers? If you can't, don't blame yourself. It was a long time ago.

The superiority of mid-engine layout - in handling, balance, and common sense - needs no introduction.

What's more interesting is how this concept trickled down from outlandish Italian supercars of the late '60s and early '70s to frugal, affordable and efficient Japanese cars of the '80s and '90s. It's proof that the market, when free of collusion, truly does work in a top-to-bottom fashion, where fancy ideas are introduced on expensive models before they work their way into every car. I'd rather wait for good technology than never be offered it at all.

The first-generation 1984-1989 Toyota MR2 is an example of good things that come to those who wait. These featured a mid-mounted engine towards the rear powering the rear wheels. Prior to the MR2, I can think of only the Fiat X19, Porsche, Ferrari, Lambo and the like that have that setup.

With the MR2, Toyota offered consumers the advantage of mid-engine without the hassle of maintenance previously associated with it. Everybody won. Toyota had good sales and bragging rights. Consumers actually got an intriguing choice of vehicle. Competitors were influenced to come up with rival cars (like the ill-fated Pontiac Fiero). Prices went down as quality and selection went up (and even the Fiero got better each year).

Non-supercharged cars were powered by a 1,587 cc straight-4-cylinder engine producing around 112 horsepower. That's very modest by today's standards, but with a weight of only 2,350 lbs., it moved the car amply from 0-60 mph in around 8 seconds. How nice it would be if the lowest weight possible was still a priority for auto manufacturers. Instead of emissions controls, light cars are probably the key to unleashing true fuel efficiency.

This example looks awesome in navy blue over blue. It seems to have none of the tacky aftermarket modifications that plague survivors. Styling is somewhat typical of the time with the pop-up headlights and body cladding, but the overall micro-wedge shape has also transcended its era and become a minor classic of lean, folded-paper design that a broad spectrum of people appreciate.

The interior shows some wear, but nothing major.

The seller says the manual transmission shifts smoothly, power equipment works and engine runs properly. They list the odometer as reading just 75,761 miles, and say it is accurate.

Plenty of them were made, but not many are left in good shape, and even fewer with this low mileage. If you have a craving for fun, reliable transportation with a unique engine placement, this MR2 is a good bet. Today, there simply are no affordable mid-engine cars anymore. This increases the importance, if not value, of the MR2 by tenfold in my humble opinion.

Find it here on ebay in Philadelphia, PA with no reserve and bidding at $1,125.

Never This Nice: 75k-mile 1993 Volvo 960 Wagon

This Volvo looks to be in the kind of exquisite condition you never find them in anymore.

The 900 series were made from 1990-1998 and were, sadly, the last rear-wheel drive cars they made.

This is a pre-facelift '90-'94 960, before the car was moderately updated in 1995. Both the pre- and post-facelift models are nice looking, but the black plastic side molding on this early model absorbs wear better than the all-body-color strips on later cars.

The car is powered by a 2.9-litre, 24-valve DOHC inline 6-cylinder engine.

Exterior design is ultra-conservative, but it works so well. It's boxy and relatively simple but the price paid for not being stylish is a wonderful amount of useful interior space. And that's what a station wagon should be (as opposed to the loony Dodge Magnum, for example).

This one is pitch-perfect in gold over saddle leather interior. The alloy wheels are also really nice.

Since these were the mom car of the '90s upper middle class suburb, they were often driven a lot and with children in the back seats. Seeing one in this great shape is kind of bittersweet, as if it was never used as intended, but so nice to see it almost as nice as new.

The seller states the odometer clocks in at just 75,466 miles.

The vehicle is being offered by a dealer who are "Volvo specialists" and was driven by the seller and his wife.

They say it has also never been in an accident, reaffirming the low miles are just due to sparing use.

These are great cars. Since the mileage is unusually low but not museum-quality low, I would keep driving it for another 100-200k miles, as they were designed to go.

The price for this all this? A buy-it-now of just $4,975. You won't find another one like it, and you won't find any new car with this kind of build quality.

Find it here on ebay in North Miami, Florida.

Micro Traction: 1989 Mazda 323 GTX

This little Mazda is one of only 1,194 special cars built by Mazda to qualify for Group A rally car racing.

The 323 was your typical Japanese entry-level compact hatchback with front-wheel drive and four cylinder engines. Styling was decent, but overall the car was nothing spectacular.

That changed with the GTX. Mazda swapped the engine for a turbocharged and intercooled 16-valve unit producing 132 horsepower. Rigidy was strengthened and the track widened. Finally, all-wheel drive was added for superior road traction.

Some styling changes were added too, including a rear spoiler and alloy wheels.

Since so few were made and they are so desirable, finding any example, let alone a mostly untouched example, is almost impossible.

Fortunately, the seller of this vehicle says it's a 139k-mile survivor that has spent most of its life in New Mexico and has little rust as a result of the arid climate there. It also looks mostly stock, with no tacky tinted windows or aftermarket paint job. The seller says this has the analogue gauge package, a sunroof and cd player. They say the head was recently rebuilt and the transmission shifts smoothly, but the car is consuming some oil and may have a fuel pressure issue. The seller says a new job has left them with little time to tend to the car.

This is probably the most GTX you'll find out there, next to a pristine low mileage example which would command probably double or more. With some mechanical and cosmetic attention, it could continue to be a fun driver.

Find it here on craigslist in Minneapolis, Minnesota for $3,250.

SUV Pioneer: 48k-mile 1989 Laforza 4x4

The Laforza was one of the first automobiles marketed as a luxury sport utility vehicle. Other than Range Rover, the Lamborghini LM002 and the Mercedes G-Class (which wasn't offered here officially until 2002), I really can't think of anything else quite like the Laforza at the time. There sure were many vehicles like it after, however.

It was designed and built in Italy for military and police use. Then a manufacturer named Rayton Fissore used a Ford V8 engine and upgraded the interior to luxurious appointments before it was sold in the USA for the 1988 model year as a Laforza.

Styling is credited to Dutch-American Tom Tjaarda, who has quite a number of designs for various companies under his belt, including the DeTomaso Pantera, Chrysler LeBaron and Aston Martin Lagonda Coupe.

The Laforza is another mostly successful design of Mr. Tjaarda. Proportions are good. Styling is extremely bland and generic but that's part of the whole 'forgotten' charm of this thing. You can't tell whether it's a Jeep or a Toyota or something else. There is no logo on the grille but a "Laforza" badge does sit on the base of the hood hump. The greenhouse glass is plentiful, so vision isn't impaired as in most of today's cars, especially SUVs. This one also boasts some impressive ground clearance. I'm not sure whether the owner has raised it or what, but it looks funky especially with smaller-than-norm wheels.

The bottom line is that the design pulls off a large, attactive boxy shape that would  be duplicated hundreds of times over and over again in the '90s by dozens of automakers with maximum success.

Inside, occupants were treated to swaths of leather and wood in the best tradition of Italian luxury cars.

The seller states this survivor is in "excellent" condition and has no rust. They state the odometer as reading only 48,500 miles. From the pictures it looks excellent, especially the interior. Many owners often swap the stock wheels or tint the windows so this example seems refreshingly untouched. Black over tan is also a nice combo that flatters the car, inside and out.

The engine is a 5.0-litre Ford V8 powering all four wheels. The seller also says the vehicle has a moonroof.

I like these. The idea is along the same lines as the DeTomaso Pantera: Italian/exotic design coupled with reliable American muscle for power. They are also noteworthy for helping to start a huge trend in automotive history, even though they rarely get credit for it. Have an itch for a big people hauler, but don't want the typical Jeep Grand Cherokee or Ford Explorer? Grab one of these.

Find it here on ebay in Tallahassee, Florida.

COTC Exclusive: 1981 BMW 733i Manual

This beautiful copper BMW is coming out of storage for the first time in months and offered for sale by the original owner. Now it's your chance to treat yourself.

Imagine just landing your first big job. What do you do to celebrate?

The seller of this vehicle bought it for himself at Mid County BMW in Tenafly, New Jersey to mark an exciting new chapter in his career back in 1981. The fact that he chose a BMW and has kept it this long says a lot about the superior quality and charm of this modern classic.

The E23 chassis was produced from 1977 to 1987. It is notable for being the first generation of BMW 7-series, and was their flagship vehicle. Powered by a range of 6-cylinder engines and rear-wheel drive, these were as sporty as they were luxurious and comfortable.

The styling is courtesy of a Frenchman named Paul Bracq and is nothing short of iconic. Although he only designed a couple of vehicles for BMW, his vision both built on the past and looked boldly to the future for the brand. The E23 7-series is riveting. The forward-leaning "shark" nose is instantly menacing, and the combination of quad-round headlights and narrow twin slot BMW grille give the front a a semi-human, semi-robot look, mimicking eyes and nostrils that are perceptually flared and alert. The whole shape of the car is easy on the eyes. In person it's actually smaller than you'd think, about the size of today's 5-series, and with careful use of sheet-metal it gives off a lean, frugal look. In fact, early 7-series didn't even come with passenger side mirrors. The seller added a mirror from a later model car for better visibility.

Only the 733i, 735i and L7 were offered in North America during the model's lifespan. The 733i featured a 3.2-litre inline 6-cylinder engine.
The E23 had numerous advanced features and conveniences for the time, like a light panel that monitored all vital systems and could be "tested" with the push of a button to check for any faults, along with a service interval indicator, on-board computer and climate control. These things can still be appreciated by today's driver.

This '81 733i survivor is blessed with a clean and straight body. The most striking aspect of the exterior is the condition of the paint, a raspberry-orange color that just pops out in sunlight. The seller repainted the car in its original color in 1997. It's still deep, glossy and nearly flawless. There is no visible rust on the exterior, and only some bubbling on the bottom of the passenger side rear pillar.

All panels line up seamlessly. There are no dings, dents or even any major scratches on the paint. The car seems to have never been in an accident.

The seller rebuilt the engine in 1995. The odometer currently reads 185,097. This car was driven regularly all its life before being put into storage 5 months ago.

Mechanically, it starts, runs, shifts and drives fine. The engine doesn't put out a lot of horsepower by today's standards but has a lot of low end gusto. What really makes the driving experience special is the rare manual transmission this car has. Since American drivers preferred automatic transmissions, especially on larger sedans, most 7-series were shipped with automatics. The combination of torquey engine, stick shift and rear-wheel drive can still make this vehicle a sprightly performer.

The interior is in remarkably good condition considering the age and miles. The seller replaced the driver's seat with the original leather. There is usual wear from normal usage, but the build quality and craftsmanship still shines through. BMW interiors of the '70s and '80s were some of the best out there and have stood the test of time. They were specifically designed to be as functional as possible. Not surprisingly, usefulness also led to good aesthetics. Every switch, dial and button is perfectly sculpted to be pleasing to the touch, work well and look good. The large steering wheel has a funky ellipsoid center. The instrument cluster houses three crystal clear analogue gauges of white numerals over black dials. The center console is angled towards the driver for ease of reach and vision. The wood is real wood. It's these kinds of things that make you realize why this brand commands so much respect. Sitting inside it is like being a member of a club. The interior actually has this wonderful musky scent of vintage leather and plastics.

BMW built over 280,000 E23 7-series, but a good number have succumbed to rust and been junked. You rarely seem them on the roads anymore. Examples that are still driven have usually have had multiple owners and dubious history. This is a unique opportunity to acquire a one-owner 733i in very good condition and with a rare manual transmission. This car was one of the best cars money could buy in its day. Times may have changed, but it's still a good car for what will be a fraction of the original sticker price. Just as the car was originally bought in celebration, it's waiting to be enjoyed by the next owner in the same way.

The vehicle has been stored at and is currently located in Seekonk, Massachusettes at Seekonk Car Storage.

The seller is asking $5,400 and is open to offers.

Click here to submit an email inquiry if you are interested in purchasing this vehicle.

COTC Buyer Tip: Where To Store Your Car

You've just purchased the classic car you've always dreamed of, but you don't have any space left in your garage. Or, you inherited your grandfather's old ride and want to keep it preserved somewhere safe. Or perhaps you're traveling the globe and need a car in the right location for when you return home.

All of these scenarios point to one solution: Seekonk Car Storage located in Seekonk, Massachusetts.

This isn't your typical park-and-leave facility.

Seekonk Car Storage is a family owned and maintained 15,000 square foot car storage garage. It is conveniently located off of Interstate 195 in a discreet and unmarked building. Security measures include alarm monitoring and 24-hour video surveillance to ensure a safe environment for your special car. There is always authorized personnel nearby as well, as the site also houses offices.

So secure is the facility that even the owners have their own cars in stored there.

The storage room features a shot blasted and sealed epoxy floor. It is climate controlled to monitor temperature and always keep humidity below 60. Mechanized 4-post lifts are used for plenty of room for all types of vehicles.

At any given time, Seekonk Car Storage has a variety of old and new, American and European, restored and un-restored vehicles. Older vehicles have their batteries unplugged. Later model cars have a triple charger.

Tenants from all over the world are attracted to this facility. The cars, therefore, reflect a snapshot of many different people and tastes all under one roof. One thing is certain: these vehicles are in excellent hands until their owners reunite with them at some point in the future.

Seekonk Car Storage also provides space for evidence cars courtesy of S.D. Lyons, Inc. Automotive Forensics.

Have proof of insurance, ownership and a floor pan and you're all set to go.

We've all had those moments when the only thing holding us back from our dream car is where to keep it. With Seekonk Car Storage, that's no longer a valid excuse. Get the car you want knowing you'll have a place keep it safe and sound at Seekonk Car Storage.

Find out more information at Seekonk Car Storage to make an appointment and get a space for your car now.

Summertime Fun: 46k-mile 1977 Fiat X1/9

If you're looking for a Fiat X1/9, this could be the one. The seller's listing makes a very convincing argument.

The X1/9 was a rear mid-engine, rear-wheel drive two-door sports car with a removable hardtop. It was produced by Fiat from 1972-1982, then by Bertone from 1982-1989, quite a remarkable production length for a little Italian car, but it speaks to the model's success.

With a mid-engine setup powering the rear wheels for ideal weight distribution, the X1/9 handled very well. It also featured storage compartments in the front and rear, a huge plus and quite a feat considering the small size. In addition, the removable top segment was lightweight and easy to store.

The seller says they are the second owner having purchased the vehicle from the original owner in 2002. Since then, they claim they have spent $13,000 perfecting the car. They provide a list of some of the things they have done, and it's impressive, right down to re-applying the gold pin stripe to factory specifications.

The mini-wedge styling was done by none other than the great Marcello Gandini, and while not exactly elegant, it is cool and hits the right notes, especially in bright colors like this apple green. Fiat was notable for actually making an effort to work with the U.S. government mandates of the '70s, and the 5mph bumpers have some thought put into them but are still comical and unsightly. These cars look so much better without them it could be worth the effort converting to smaller bumpers.

Inside, the seller says the seats were re-upholstered.

The seller mentions there is no rust, another big plus.

They also say they have the original window sticker and maintenance records proving the car was maintained with upgrades done as well.

There are currently no new targa-top mid engine cars on the market. The only mid-engine cars today are priced well above the average vehicle. The X1/9 is a delightful reminder of a time when ideal driving principles and engineering were presented to the public at an affordable price. The seller of this vehicle has certainly appreciated it.

Find it here on ebay in Woodbrige, Illinois with 0 bids starting at $6,500 and a buy-it-now of $8,000.

Totally Modular: 1988 Nissan Pulsar NX Sportbak

Are you in the market for an unusual vintage Japanese car? This '88 Nissan might be just what you're looking for.

The Pulsar was a two-door front-wheel drive compact car produced from 1986-1990. The nameplate was only used in North America for two generations, but has continued elsewhere. This is the second and last generation offered here. It is based on the Japanese Nissan EXA, but shared many components with the Sentra from the same era.

An otherwise dull car, the 2nd gen Pulsar was livened up by an interchangeable rear end, which could be ordered as a coupe, hatchback or open-top. In Japan and North America, there was also the "Sportbak" option, which featured a contrasting grey colored square wagon back that opened as a hatchback and was also fully removable, transforming the car into something like a low, sleek Volvo. On top of that, the roof was a t-top with removable panels. With all of the parts removed, you essentially had an open top micro pickup truck. Structural rigidity was not a priority, but space, utility and eye-catching weirdness were.

The seller says they bought the vehicle a year ago from a dealer $2,900 and have spent $1,500 in maintenance since, including a new exhaust. They say it runs fine and the manual transmission shifts smoothly. They say nothing is broken and everything works, including the odometer, lights, and switches.

Cosmetically, they say it has been garaged every winter so there is "little to no" rust.

Is the cigar included in the sale?

The seller also mentions it comes with the original factory tool kit and instructions on how to remove the Spotbak, should the mood strike you for open air driving pleasure.

How many can be left? How many other cars out there do what the Pulsar does?

Find it here on craigslist in Gorham, Maine for $3,000.

Still 5 Lug: 1965 Volkswagen Type 3 1500S Notchback

This VW is in need of some serious love.

The Type 3 was a rear-engine, rear-wheel drive compact vehicle produced by Volkswagen from 1961-1973, resulting in over 2 million built. That's a ton of cars but I wonder where they are all hiding, as I'm not sure I've ever seen one.

Oh, to live in a time when automobile manufacturers gave consumers a real choice of vehicles. Wanted the superior handling and driving dynamics of rear-engine setup? No problem, Volkswagen offered you practical, affordable and reliable cars. Ask the same thing today and the least expensive rear-engine car is a Porsche 911 at $70k or whatever they start at. And Volkswagen has completely abandoned the engineering principles they held for most of the 20th century.

The condition on this one is clearly rough. Paint is poor and the seller states there is rust. The interior has no seats. The seller makes no mention of the engine and transmission, but say it is very complete, and still wears the 5-lug wheels. They also mention they have a donor '66 floorpan to use on this and a bunch of extra parts.

The seller says they have paperwork for the vehicle as well.

This thing needs a lot of work, but it's a classic vehicle with the unique rear-engine setup that has a devoted following around the world.

Find it here on craigslist in Fall River, Massachusetts for $1,700.

It's Not What It Looks Like: 1988 Pontiac Mera

This it not a real Ferrari. It is also not a kit car.

So, what is it then, you ask?

The Mera was created by Corporate Concepts by adding a Ferrari 308-inspired body on top of the Pontiac Fiero chassis, mid-engine and interior. It was sold through Pontiac dealerships and was offered as a new car, so it not technically an aftermarket body kit. To my amazement, it's considered a unique vehicle.

Ferrari body kits for Fiero cars are a dime a dozen. Most are pretty awful looking, but they were very popular in the 1980s, probably in part thanks to the use of several fake Ferrari cars on Miami Vice. Once the public learned that such a thing even existed, it dawned on them they could have one too. Exotic looks for a fraction of the price!

Fortunately, the Mera does look good, at least about as good as a 308 body can look on the Fiero. The nose is a little long, but the overall shape is surprisingly accurate. There are also some clever changes too, like the grooved air intakes on the hood hiding the pop-up headlights and the reverse lights moved to around the license plates to accommodate the Fiero setup.

Unfortunately, since the car straddled such ill-defined legal parameters, it met its fate in the courtroom when Ferrari sued to stop production. Actually, I guess that's quite an honor of sorts, knowing that you caught the attention of Ferrari and were forced to stop making your car.

The seller says the injunction resulted in only about 247 being made and only 80 left. They say this is all-original with only 49k miles, power windows, sunroof and new clutch.

When Tarantino finally gets around to paying homage to exploitation films of the '80s, some character has to drive a Pontiac Mera. Not a real Ferrari. A Pontiac Mera.

Find it here on craigslist in (appropriately) Miami, Florida for $12,000. How do you put a price on imitation?

First Generation: 1975 Audi 100 LS Manual

Here's an Audi you never see on the roads anymore.

It's a first generation "C1". The 100 nameplate would last for another three generations until 1994.

These were important cars for Audi. Over 800,000 were sold and they helped established the brand since it had been revived by Volkswagen in 1965.

Still, these were simple cars. They had front-wheel drive and four cylinder engines. This one is mated to a manual transmission.

Styling is classic '70s European sedan: simple, large flat planes, round headlights, big trunk, small taillights. Other than the trademark four-ring Audi logo, they have no innate connection to the flashy, hi-tech Audi cars of today, as these are stark, bare-bones two-wheel drive cars.

Although these sold in large numbers, not many must have made it to North America.

The seller states this survivor runs and drives, but the vacuum lines are rotted and will need to be replaced. Cosmetically, they say the vehicle may have had a repaint but they can't be sure. They do say there is rust on the rear wheel arches, strut tower in the trunk, floorboards, and radiator support. That would make this car good for just continued daily driving or a possible total restoration, although such an expenditure may never be justified.

But this definitely has some charm.

Find it here on ebay in Mount Vernon, Ohio with 5 bids at $305 and reserve not met.