Which one of these 80's/90's cars should I buy?


Hello again,

What would I do without you guys and CarTalk…

My plan in the next little while is to locate a vehicle that I can spend a little time and money on to turn into a nice car…hoping for a smaller initial investment so I can use the extra money on repairs, etc. It will be parked for a bit while I try to do most of the repairs myself until it’s ready to be a daily driver.

Here’s my question, looking forward to hearing people’s opinions…

which one of the following cars would you pick, based on repair costs/frequency, parts costs, reliability, and looks and fun factor?

- An 80’s Jaguar XJS (either with the original 12 cylinder or a Chevy 350 which I’ve seen a number of Jaguar owners do…what do you think of that engine switch in any case?)

- A late 80’s, early 90’s Nissan 300ZX, either turbo’d or not.

- An 80’s BMW 6 series

Any and all opinions are very appreciated!




JMHO, but I would go with the Jaguar. The Chevy conversion is a very viable, and far less expensive way to go.
You do not EVEN want to have to buy Jag engine parts unless you have a fat wallet.

A friend of mine has 2 old Jag XKEs; one with a 6 cylinder in-line Ford and the other with a Chevy 350. The latter is a work in progress but the motor/trans is in.
It’s also a common swap.


None of these are good economic choices. The Jag was unreliable even when new, the Z is likely to be beat to death, and the 6-series BMW was never exactly an econobox.

And they’ll all be old and tired!


Which do you like, and why? Have you driven them? You might find that you like a newer BMW 3 or 5 series for the same money, for instance.


The only one I would bother with is a first generation 6-series. I’m not a big fan of 80s vintage jags, and certainly wouldn’t want one that’s been hacked up with an incorrect engine. I don’t know anything about nissan. Expect to pay for a good 6-series, you really don’t want one that’s been beat up. There seems to be some decent (not perfect) ones available in the $10K range.


If you like the BMW 6, I’d suggest looking at an '89 - '95 Thunderbird Super Coupe. They are very nice cars, built better than most Fords of the time, and are quite sporty. Rear wheel drive with an independent front and rear suspension that actually out-shines anything BMW was putting out in that era, IMHO.

The Jag… there’s just nothing that appealing about them to me. I’m not you, obviously, but still, they just seem kind of bland, regardless of how fast they are.

Of your list, I like the 300zx the best, but do a Google Image search for '95 Super Coupe. You’ll like it.


Thanks, I liked the 350 idea…love the body of the XJS but not the cost of maintaining the mechanicals…good to know it’s a common swap.


I know, not really going for economical as you can see from my choices…just wanted to know which was thought of as the best of the not-so-economical.


I just love some of the old 80’s styles…they seem to me to have more character and are eye-catching. I really love the look of the Jag, the handling/power/style of the 300ZX, and the old school look of the BMW and it’s “luxury” features.
I do like the new 3 series but I just feel like everyone has one these days.


Thanks for the suggestion, but the Thunderbird is just not my bag…doesn’t do anything for me. Thanks though!


I don’t remember the name of the company, but I believe there is an outfit in Fort Worth, TX that specializes in 350 Chevy/Jag conversions.

No idea on how much they charge, but I’m sure it’s a bit pricy since my understanding is they do a lights out, professional job using all new, and high tech, stuff.

The home guy could do the same thing much cheaper of course. Just pointing out how common a swap this is.


Thanks ok4450, that’s encouraging. There’s a Jag on ebay right now, already with the conversion, but I’m not ready to buy and was a bit discouraged…so I’m glad to hear it wouldn’t be too insane to convert one later on, if needed. How much do you think the home guy or a cheap mechanic could do it for? Used 350 engines can be had for around $500, right?


It depends on the engine, mileage, and seller around here. Normally a decent running carbed 350 with somewhat high mileage will go for a dollar a cubic inch; so 350 bucks.
Low miles, fuel injected engines may go for a grand or more; that also depends.
That’s from the salvage, but I’ve seen many of them in a local trade paper for 300 or so; some with the transmissions included.

The incidentals is what might add up. The home guy can do the wire and hose adapting, etc. but may have to farm out building a driveshaft and exhaust system.
Around here anyway, driveshafts (from scratch) can run 2-300 dollars and the exhaust could also run that much, or more depending on the mufflers.

A driveshaft can be built from scratch at home (I’ve done it) but it’s not recommended as the chances of an imbalance are fairly high. It’s strictly spin the wheel and hope. Generally the best way is to take the front half of a Chevy and rear half of a Jag shaft and mate them together with a sleeve inserted, followed by welding it up. And hoping a bit.

I’m considering a Benz conversion myself. When the right car in A-One shape comes along with an expensive engine problem that just caused a coronary to the owner I plan to jump all over it with a Cadillac conversion.

You might check this out. I think they have manuals available that spell out the procedures.


Thanks again, and for the site. This sounds very interesting to me.

I bet that Benz conversion will be great…post some info/pics when it happens.



The Chevy conversion is actually well thought of in the Jaguar community, if done right. Here’s another source of information and parts: http://www.brokenkitty.com/index.htm.

These people, and jagsthatrun, have just about everything you need to do it yourself if you have the skills.

By the way, OK4450, I have seen an old Mercedes diesel conversion with a high-powered Chevrolet V8 and extensive suspension modifications. To the untrained eye, however, it still looks pretty much like original. Makes an interesting car, expecially when you can get the donor cheap with a worn out engine.

Good luck with your project!


Honestly, I think all of those are ugly cars. I always preferred the XK sedans to the XJS. The 6 series is just odd looking, and the 300 ZX is uninspired. But, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say, so if I were looking for a reliable daily driver in that bunch with some hope of doing my own work, I’d probably look for a Jag with the 350 conversion. The 350 Chevy engines are common as dirt and almost as reliable. Even if you need an engine part it’ll be easy to find. I’d just be real careful to find a car with good suspension and body. In other words, make sure all the Jaguar parts are solid because those could be pricey and/or hard to find.


What about a 560 SEC Mercedes Benz?


I owned at 90 300ZX Twin Turbo for several years. It’s a very nice car, but a complicated one. The 4 wheel steer is a little weird and there are lots of electromechanical gizmos and geegaws that could and once in a while did go wrong. All in all, I’d say get a non-turbo. It’s a beautiful car, way ahead of its time in styling and handling, and very easy to live with day to day. Be careful, because it might be beat to death. Or you could get lucky and find some low mileage beauty that’s been sitting in a dentist’s garage for years.