Nostalgia is one hell of a drug. It’s a great motivator too, especially when you’re looking to fork over $10,000 for a used car. That amount of money will (probably) land you a desirable vehicle that’s around 20 years old — prime glory day fodder. We took on the arduous task of window shopping for our favorites at the moment, and if we had to choose, we’d say these are the best used cars for the $10,000.
1984 BMW 318i
Though my ideal E30 includes four doors and the brilliant engineering that is BMW’s viscous coupling, this 1984 318i will do the trick for $8,500. This five-speed manual example is near-pristine and, rather miraculously, is free of the typical E30 dash cracks. According to the seller, it was “originally owned by a US Air Force pilot who often had it parked in the hangar at Kent County International Airport.” It includes the original manuals and a “folder full of service records.” Though I have a hard time believing that it was never driven in the winter, for a 24-year-old car, it looks to be in pretty perfect shape. — AJ Powell, Assistant Editor
Mileage: 105,692 miles
Original MSRP: $16,430
Since publishing, the price of this BMW has risen from $8,500 to $15,500.
1995 FJ80 Toyota Land Cruiser
A loaded, black, mid-Nineties Toyota SUV with a brush guard? This truck is the embodiment of my badass daydreams — since I’m perpetually stuck in the decade in which I came of age. Its aesthetic calls to mind movies like Heat; it reminds me of an age when top-end SUVs were Toyotas, not Bentleys. Never mind that there are a quarter-million miles on the odometer or that the wheel is worn smooth and the leather is cracking. This Land Cruiser is made so well that (with proper maintenance that respects its SUV-heyday heritage and on- and off-road cred) it’ll last three times as long. Not to mention it’s for sale not far from where I grew up in Michigan and sails in well under our budget limit. Put me behind the wheel and I’ll feel a little nostalgic and a lot like a king.– Nick Caruso, Associate Editor
Mileage: 258,228 miles
Original MSRP: $39,085
1993 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24
While there are many more practical car options for driving across the country, the thought of cruising down the highway in a convertible is ultimately the thought that wins out. There’s plenty of time to soak up the sun and blast the music on back roads and freeways alike. Chevys are workhorses, and while the mileage sounds low (we read it off the odometer in the picture), who really knows if the car will survive through the Great Smoky Mountains or all the way to Key West. Part of the fun of a road trip is never knowing where you might get stuck, right? I’ve heard there are some great car mechanics between here and Savannah. — Meg Lappe, Staff Writer
Mileage: 123,931 miles
Original MSRP: $12,975
1991 Toyota Century Sedan
I drove this very Toyota Century (or one nearly identical to it) for an upcoming story on JDM imports. Of all the incredible cars I drove during that trip, though, this Century left the most lasting impression. Which is strange. I like small, quick, agile cars. The Century is not small. It’s definitely not quick. Chris Farley was more agile as Matt Foley. Of all the cars I’ve ever driven, the one I can best compare it to is a Bentley Mulsanne: both the Century and Mulsanne waft along very gently, and no matter if you’re going very fast (in the Bentley) or very slow (in the Toyota) you do not actually feel any acceleration. None. You don’t really feel the steering, either. You just sort of… float into a new direction. The interior is dead silent. The Century’s seats are also incredible. They’re wool instead of leather because it doesn’t get hot or cold and it doesn’t squeak when you sit down (or fart). The back seats recline electronically, a feature most luxury cars today don’t even have. Another feature they don’t have? Electronically-opening smokers’ windows. So help me, I’d restart that disgusting habit again just to use them.– Andrew Connor, Staff Writer
Mileage: 88,690 miles
Original MSRP: 5,663,000 Yen (Probably about $56,000 today)
1990 Suzuki Jimny
I’ve been looking for a little 4×4 to take out of town on weekends, something to explore backroads upstate and beaches down the coast. This 1990 Suzuki Jimny fits the bill and can be had for well under $6K. A right-hand-drive Japanese import, it’s not necessarily built for speed with its 657cc engine, but its known for being reliable and easy to work on. What’s more, replacement parts are relatively easy to procure, as Suzuki released the Samurai stateside the same year. This specific model has no visible aftermarket work done and comes with the ‘90s-appropriate variegated side stripe. As with any import, it’s a bit of gamble, depending on how long it’s been sitting. But, that’s kind of the fun of it. — John Zientek, Staff Writer
Mileage: 19,628 miles
Original MSRP: 1,177,000 yen; about $10,779
Read our review of a more recent Jimny: here.