What Car Would You Buy with $10,000?

The Drive’s uncle gave us ten grand for Christmas. What car should we buy with it?

byMike Guy| UPDATED Jul 29, 2019 7:26 AM
What Car Would You Buy with $10,000?

Every day, the hard-working schlubs at The Drive make terrible decisions about what to wear, where to eat, the merits of the Fast & Fatuous franchise and how to style our hair. But we generally make the right choices about cars. And we're about to come into some money—$10,000, in fact—which we're going to use it to purchase a car. So what kind of car should it be? A spec Miata? A shop truck? 25 busted-up Subaru 2.5 RS's?

I asked the staff which one they'd go for right now. The only rule is vehicle cost: all in, under ten grand. Also, I had to disqualify a couple of people: Lawrence Ulrich insisted on selecting only Porsches that cost more than $10,000, and Mike Spinelli's imagination has been sapped by the recent purchase of his new and expensive Jaguar XJR100. The rest of us were mostly able to play by the rules.

Josh Condon, Deputy Editor

1990 Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce

Wikimedia Commons

Ever talked to someone who used to own an Alfa Romeo about the experience? Be it an older woman, a younger guy, or anyone in between, the resulting dissertation is remarkably similar: a halting, contemplative monologue, hands grasping and fluttering in the attempt to form thoughts that can’t be put into words, eyes shining with a fierceness that suggests both a profound love and tremendous pain, like an infantryman who met his soulmate in the middle of the firebombing of Dresden.

This, I’ve been told, is essentially what it’s like to own an old Alfa.

Perhaps it’s because I just got back from Italy, or maybe it’s because I’m wearing a turtleneck under a blazer at the moment, but I think ten thousand bucks is the floor at which you owe it to yourself to chase a bit of indulgence and whimsy—and what can be more indulgent than an old, unreliable, remarkably impractical Italian roadster? I’ve talked to some alfisti who think that car enthusiasts are split into two categories: Alfa owners, and everyone else. The truly hardcore suggest one can’t actually call oneself an enthusiast until one has owned an old Alfa—something about the matchless, almost spiritual driving experience, and some other stuff about shared pain and developing empathy.

I’ve never experienced that, at least not in car form. Seems about time. And I’ve already got the turtleneck.

Price: $9,995

Sean Evans, Entertainment Editor

1978 Pontiac Trans Am


We should get a late 70s Pontiac Trans Am for under $4,000, then spend the remaining $6,000 trying to get the horsepower and torque up as much as possible. We can beg, borrow and steal parts to get a modern LS engine in there, give it an over-bore, perhaps pester Whipple into giving us a deal on a supercharger kit and get that under a shaker. Leave any patina alone, and we won’t worry about any exterior patches or fixes, provided there aren’t massive holes in the body. The goal here is a power train that is powerful enough to run against one of the new 840-hp Trans Ams from Trans Am Depot. At the end of our build, we run our restomod against their creation in a drag race.

Price: $3,150

Will Sabel Courtney, Senior Editor

1960 Dodge Power Wagon 


Pick up a battered, beaten-up 1960s/1970s-era Dodge pickup truck for as cheap as possible. I’ve included links to a couple down at the bottom of this post. We’re talking $4,000 or less here.

We then hit up FCA to see if they’ll donate a crate Hemi and one of the recently-announced Hemi Swap kits to our cause: building the baddest Mopar pickup rusto-mod we can possibly devise.

No work should be done on the exterior, except where we have to for safety reasons. Leave the rust pockets and the holes alone. Instead, we spend our limited remaining money installing the new engine and upgrading whatever needed to improve the mechanicals. We stretch every penny, we call in favors, we trade coverage for parts…and we document it every step of the way, on video, social media, and on the site. 

My first choice is this 1960 Dodge Wagon Wagon, and my second choice is this one.

Price: $4,000, more or less

Aaron Brown, Staff Writer

Nissan 240SX Hatchback

Brian Silvestro

If there is one form of car racing that actually forces drivers to use all of their car control abilities, it's rally. And not only does it require racers to actually think and often, react without thinking while on a hot stage, rally cars are often pushed harder than any other form of race car.

Jumps, slides, pulling out of deep, rocky, mud ruts—that stuff isn't easy on a car, or on the team who has to actually work to keep that machine running.

And then there's the community.

There are only so many competitive grassroots racing opportunities here in America. Sure, Spec Miata is fun and competition is fierce over there, but it doesn't bring people together like rally.

You don't really get driveway-founded teams traveling hundreds—sometimes thousands—of miles to go compete in some random wooded area in the middle of nowhere with any other form of grassroots racing. And that's what makes rallying special.

Now, choosing a car to turn into a rally car is not all that easy. One could go the beaten path and choose a Subaru for their all-wheel-drive legacy and proven off-road capabilities, but that's boring. A slightly more exciting idea would be to choose something a little bit less capable. So, how about a Nissan 240SX hatchback?

It's real-wheel-drive, which means it will be slightly more of a handful on dirt, but isn't that the fun of it all? Plus, the rally nerds over at Broken Motorsports have some experience running 240SXs in rally events and would likely be more than happy to help show us around.

So let's build (or buy) a rally car. It doesn't have to be perfect—by the time one of us were to get it halfway down a stage, it sure as hell won't be. But it'll be loud, quick, almost constantly sideways, and hopefully jumpable. Doesn't all that sound incredible?

Sure as hell does to me.

Price: $1,750

Mike Guy, Editor

1970 Datsun 510


Fine. the Datsun 510 racer is not a practical car. It's a little racer with really no discernable use beyond a handful of regional races in region many hundreds of miles from where I live in New York City. My wife would veto the purchase, and my two children would probably be killed if I let them near it. However, I stand by this fantasy: I love the Datsun 510, and I love road-racing cars (slowly, that is), and this would just about fit on the terrace outside my apartment. Built by Datsun in 1970, rebuild by the estimable Datsun Dynamics in 1986, this 510 isn't just a flared, glassed looker: Under the hood is Nissan's 1.6L L16B engine, with a 32/36 Weber, headers, and 4-speed manual—naturally.

Price: $8,000

Chris Cantle, West Coast Editor

Class 11 Baja Beetle


It’s true, I’ve got a predilection for motorcycles. And aircraft. And jet skis, offroaders, and race cars. Nor am I immune to the appeal of a good road car. And in Los Angeles, 10k buys a hell of a lot of road car. Because it’s dry as a bone here old cars—even project cars—are a great investment.

But my pick of the bunch isn’t a clapped out Porsche, or even a lust-worthy classic muscle car, even though both can be had here under our $10,000 cap. Unfortunately my decision-making skills are soaked in high-test gas. What I really want is a Class 11 Baja Beetle. A nice one. All ready to race, class legal and shod with four reasonably serviceable BFG’s. An investment that’ll pay big dividends, it isn’t. But there’s nothing that’ll pay off in fun like my very own Baja racer.

Price: $13,000 [ED. NOTE: This violates the rules of the story, however, Cantle insists, "Whatever, you know it'll sell for $10k."]