Editor’s Note: We love scouring the internet for reasons to spend money we don’t have on cars we daydream about owning, and these are our picks this week. All prices listed are bid amounts at the time of publishing.
Some might say owning a car while living in the city is a waste of money and time. However, the people who say that are probably the ones asking you for a ride out of town on the weekend. Choosing to own a car in the city is as big of a lifestyle choice as living in the city itself. And just like any other urban dweller, you know the best ways to make life easier, more efficient — that shouldn’t stop at your choice of wheels.
SUVs work fine out in the suburbs, but the hard-to-park behemoths lumber from light to light guzzling gas. Their imposing presence works against them and makes driving more of a hassle on tight city streets. What you need is relatively small, easy to park, nimble car that sips fuel and saves you money. A little style and grace wouldn’t hurt either. Here are five good-looking and affordable vintage cars that are perfect for life in the big city.
1988 BMW 528e
Location: Farmingdale, New York
What we like: At first glance, yes, the 528e is a dull car. In response to the oil crisis, BMW detuned the legendary M20 engine to get better mileage and as a result, has lower power. However, a happy result of that is the engine is under considerably less stress over the course of its life, which means it will last longer. You get the style of an E29 5-Series, a decent average MPG and a long-lasting engine — a perfect car for the city.
From the seller: “The 2.7-liter version of the M20 inline-six was tuned for fuel economy with a redesigned cylinder head, mild camshaft, and 4,500rpm redline.”
What to look out for: In most BMWs of this vintage, rust is a common problem if it wasn’t looked after. On the E28 5-Series, you’ll most likely find rust in the front wheel wells, if there is any. Keep an eye on the cam belts, too. They’re not faulty but just tend to crack with age.
Expert opinion: “These understressed engines seem to run happily for 200-250k miles or more. Everything is old-school Germanic: high-quality materials and components, and not that hard to fix. And the ambiance is, of course, classic BMW: compact, great visibility, terrific seats, good ergonomics, great handling; everything except for the MIA rev band from 4200 to 6500 rpm.” — Paul Niedermeyer, Curbside Classic
1978 Honda Civic
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
What we like: The condition of this Civic is unbelievable. With only 30,000 miles on the clock and more than 200,000 miles in store, if well-kept, an original Civic will show you how Honda became synonymous with reliability. It won’t win any horsepower wars, but darting in and out of city streets and the ability to park in half-spaces makes this civic an urban warrior.
From the seller: “The seller is the second owner and describes it as very original with factory-installed upholstery, AM/FM radio, and 12? steel wheels. Service work performed within the past two years and 5k kilometers includes a replacement timing belt, water pump, and multiple oil changes.”
What to look out for: The first generation Civic was Honda’s first big stamp on the American market. It’s the car that earned it the reputation of being incredibly reliable. With that said, there’s not much to look out for on this car at just 30,000 miles and it was garage kept, so it’s practically brand new.
Expert opinion: ” It convincingly showed that it was possible to meet three seemingly impossible criteria (super compact size, super-efficient engine, low-emissions), right here and right now. And as perhaps the most important point of all, it was fun to drive.” — Paul Niedermeyer, Curbside Classic
1989 Austin Mini 30th Anniversary Edition
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
What we like: It’s hard not to like an older Mini. But as long as you don’t mind being completely dwarfed by everything else on the road — including some motorcycles — and want to be able to park perpendicular to the curb between parallel parked cars, the Mini is the city car you’re looking for.
From the seller: “This Mini was imported to the US in January 2018 following a Ministry of Transport inspection, and it is now being offered with the original bill of sale, the original number plate, a Mini-Thirty leather-bound book, service records back to new, the original order form, the original keys, a factory center console, and a clean Ohio title in the seller’s name.”
What to look out for: Look out for rust (no surprise there, it’s old and British) and for leaks from the radiator and water pump.
Expert opinion: “Because it’s a Mini, it’ll be part of the family, and will make you smile; what more do you need? If you’re considering one, you’ve probably already got a name for it. Being the original, it’s Mini as Moulton and Issigonis intended it to be – no add-ons, no frills, nothing to wow audiences, just simple, basic, family friendly tiny transport.” — CCFS.co.uk
1973 BMW 2002
Mileage: 79,820 (TMU)
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia
What we like: Nothing beats green over tan.
From the seller: “Service records begin in 1995 and indicate three California owners before the car was brought to Canada by its previous owner. Modifications include the addition of a Weber carburetor, Crane Cams electronic ignition, upgraded springs and sway bars, and Bilstein shocks.”
What to look out for: This is an incredibly clean 2002, so rust doesn’t look like a problem, though common spots for it to crop up will be in the wheel wells, shock towers and suspension. Mechanically, a 2002 will start to burn mmore oil as they get older, or tend to run richer than usual due to a stuck choke.
Expert opinion: “The 2002 is happiest in point A to point B dashes, and the more trying the circumstances the better. The ride is not soft but admirably controlled. The car is sure-footed on rough roads and you’ll find yourself up-shifting, downshifting, keeping the revs up and angling through corners at speeds that will make passengers wish they had taken a bus and left the driving to anybody but you..” — Car and Driver, 1972
1991 Nissan Figaro
Location: West Chester, Pennsylvania
What we like: The Nissan Figaro prided itself on its ’50s styling and Kei car silhouette. Don’t be fooled, though; it’s a fairly modern car (for 1991). This refurbished Figaro was imported from the UK (originally from Japan) and is in immaculate condition, so as long as you don’t mind driving from the right side of the car, the Figaro was meant for city life.
From the seller: “Originally purchased in Japan, then shipped to the UK in 2009 where it received cosmetic refreshing and service with UK specialist The Figaro Doctor in Sutton. Work was performed between 2016-2017 and reportedly included a repaint in the original color, new bumpers, a new dash pad, reconditioned leather upholstery and general mechanical service.”
What to look out for: cam belts and water pumps should be first on the checklist, but rust in the rear wheel wells is also common.
Expert opinion: “The Figaro was luxuriously equipped, with leather seats, air conditioning, CD player and an opening fabric roof. 12,000 were eventually built, and prospective buyers had to enter a lottery to be able to buy one of these cars. It’s been particularly popular with city dwellers, who appreciate its ease of driving. Most are fitted with automatic transmission. If you’re looking for a classic without the tears, a Figaro could be what you need.” — Honest John Classics
Maybe New Cars Are Your Thing
It’s no easy feat picking the absolute cream of the crop automobiles in any given year. But the 82 journalists who act as jurors for the World Car Awards have chosen a slew of great picks. See their choices and read our reviews here, from Volvo, Land Rover, Audi and more. Read the Story