CarTalk.com Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Best functional, reliable old car

Okay. Enough of the worst car stuff. Function over form. Economy over pretty. What’s the best value used? No bells, no whistles. Something that will stand up to grocery getting and highway driving and is easy to work on or at least trouble shoot and is built to last. The older the better. What would Cuba say? Me, I’d take an old Valiant slant six 225 or Chev straight six 250 across country and back in heartbeat…

I think you’re on the right track–those Slant Sixes were very reliable (so I’ve heard).

This:

http://www.streetfire.net/video/1964-mercury-comet-caliente-540000-miles_712665.htm

Or this:

I’d likely favor any '65,'66,67 Ford product with a 289 or 302 V8. This is a motor I could work on and rarely did they have problems. The motor could be in a Mustang, Fairlane, Galaxy, etc.

Just about anything with a contact point distributor and no EEC system with emphasis on the 4 and 6 cylinders due to a bit additional ease of service.
Those slant sixes are great engines, no doubt about it.

The plus with the old stuff like that is that one can pack a small tool roll of half a dozen tools and get through most problems on the side of the road short of a catastrophic failure.

That is an un answerable question.Sure I kept my 72 nova till 1990 Idiot for not keeping it, but had a friend today with a 66 mustang, want to borrow a dwell meter, there is no perfect answer./,

Do you want to have good parts availability for your old car? How far from home will you drive and how many miles in total will you drive the car? Don’t you want modern safety features and crash resistance? Are tires for your choice in an old car commonly available? Gas mileage for old crocks is not very good compared to modern cars. Without considering the realities of owning an old car, the OP’s post is an entertaining excursion off into dreamland. Sorry if I rained on your parade. Two of my favorite three cars that were easy for me to keep running were an early 60s and a mid 1970s car. Both would be impractical to use now as a daily driver.

Yeah, like I’m driving a '67 whatever coast to coast…sure, some were relatively reliable back then, but in comparison to other cars then available. I’m happy to not need my dwell tach and timing light. “Easy to work on” is very different from “reliable” (see, for example, VW Beetle).

There’s a reason the slant-six engines were reliable. Back in the late 50s, Chrysler had reliability problems they could no longer ignore. So they made it an engineering priority to get serious about reliable cars - hence the slant-six showed up.

This may seem a little odd but I have to say those Geo Metros are pretty reliable and pretty easy to work on. The little 3 cylinders are pretty tough if maintained well with frequent oil changes with the correct viscosity oil. The hydraulic valves are sensitive to dirty or incorrect viscosity oil and tend to burn valves if you don’t take care of this correctly.

I got two Metros a couple month ago. One was junk but had a good engine. The other was good but had a bad engine. So, I decided to do a swap of the engines and was able to do this myself without a hoist or helper. I replaced all gaskets/seals while the engine was out of the car as well as the timing belt/tensioner, water pump, clutch, etc. These are SUPER EASY to work on and I think I have worked on mowers that were more difficult to repair.

Another weakness of these cars is their tendency to rust on the underbody. If you look at buying one, get underneath and look at the underbody and frame horns. The frame horns are where the front control arms bolt to the car so I failure of this part can be catastrophic for sure. Look at them from underneath and from the engine bay. If you see lots of rust, beware. Minor rust isn’t a big deal and can be treated to prevent spreading which I did to my car.

These also get like 55mpg as I have been getting from mine. For 20+ year old technology that is easy to work on, reliable, and economical, I think there is a good arguement for these cars. Unlike the Prius which is like working on the space shuttle, any shade tree mechanic can work on these and the parts are CHEAP! I did have to order a few parts so don’t count on a parts store having a water pump or similar on hand if you break down. I kept the old water pump which was still working and have a cat litter bucket full of spare parts and basic tools in case they are needed. These are definitely not fancy cars but fit the bill of what is suggested here.

Many consider these disposable cars and therefore give them poor maintenance. If you find one with a body in good shape, be prepared to rebuild the engine, etc. because someome didn’t do the simple stuff.

Conor

The cars of the 60s and 70s that earned great reputations for longevity/reliability were, for the most part, the models that were designed for “relaxed” operation. The low compression 6 cylinder engines with 1 bbl carburetors, tall final drive ratios and automatic transmissions put little stress on the drive trains. And, the people who would buy and operate such vehicles were likely to be inclined to have normal maintenance performed while driving somewhat sedately.

Best functional, reliable old car.

What do you consider “best”:

Best looking

Best function

Best mileage

Best comfort

Least pollution

Best reliability???

Now when you finish answering those questions, how about: Best in the snow, fastest, most comfortable (remember my comfortable would be considered rather harsh by most drivers who like cushy.

The Slant 6’s were one of the most reliable engines ever made. Even by todays standards. I’ve personally seen several with well over 400k miles.

I’m a big fan of the 60’s GM/Chevy vehicles. They were easy to work on…Very reliable…and fun to drive…and cheap.

While I agree with OK about a points distributor system being very easy to work on…I prefer electronic ignition for shear reliability. Only some early models were there reliability issues. I’ve NEVER EVER seen one fail in the past 30 years…even after several hundred thousand miles. The Point distributor system was also reliable…but they did require servicing at least once a year (points and condenser). My Dads Malibu SS had to have the points changed about every 10k miles.

I’d go with an old Ford or Chevy primarily because of ready parts availability. Both were about as reliable as the other in their daily-driver stock configurations. All the smallblock V8s as well as the straight 6es were durable, reliable, and easy to work on. My '64 Fairlane with the 260 had very easy access to anything on the engine. The Fairlane was not a large car, but the engine compartment wasn’t loaded down with all form of plumbing & pipes. It was bone-simple.

Well, not all old…but cetainly “old-school” in design is my '94 F-150. Srtaight-6 (300), RWD, body-on-frame. But for the fuel and spark management, wouldn’t have been out of place circa 1965.

They made a gazillion of these, so parts are cheap and readily available; an engine bay you can play badmiton in; and an engine renound for durability. (If you can swing the fuel, all other costs are dirt-cheap, including insurance).

If I were to buy today, the most functional, reliable, cheap and economical car, hands down, are the 86 through 2002 Geo/Chevy/ Prisms. Being rebadged but cheaper Corollas,one of the most reliable, economical to own and best selling cars of all time, they come from good heritage.
Like Corollas, they were prone to rust after 10 years so body care and maintenance was needed. IMO, nothing was cheaper to run and own while giving satisfactory (BORING) performance.

But, this discussion of buying an old car is totally dependent upon the condition of the body. A rust free 20 year old Chrysler K Car could be cheaper to run then a Corolla with rust holes all through it.

There are a million Crown Vics and Grand Marquis out there…1992-2012. They will run forever, require little maintenance and are fairly easy to repair…

@dagosa ; you are right about the K car. the later versions with rounded edges were some of the best cars Chrysler ever built. A fellow down the street found one for his daughter to go to college with. It’s the 4 cylinder with the 3 speed autoamatic, the best combination. It has very little rust, is parked outside, and always gets her to school.

There are not many left, but we live in a relatively dry area.

We’re all thinking “old cars”, but the truth is that these old buggys required a lot more TLC. Chassis needed lubing, wheel bearings needed an occasional packing, points/condensors/wires/&plugs needed routine changing, shocks needed occasioanl changing, they were far more prone to developing rot spots, and when they started to approach 100,000 miles you’d start looking for a replacement…or an engine rebuild. The truth is that today’s cars are far more long lasting and reliable than those old beasts were.

The high points of the old cars were that they were affordable, and when they did break they were much more easily repairable.

Cuba? Most of those vehicles (except those imported by dignitaries) are in deplorable condition. Fortunately for the residents, they don;t have to drive on superhighways or salt their roads for half the year.

Speaking of Cuba. How have the Cubans kept those 1950s cars running all these years?