Sunday, December 15, 2013

On Stickshifts, Longroofs, & Infants - ANF's Growing Family

Long time no post, but I've got a good excuse. My wife and I are overjoyed to be expecting our first child after nearly 11 wonderful years of marriage. It’s simultaneously beautiful and horrifying news, and has sent us on a mad dash to get our finances, health, home, and even our car in order before the July 24th, 2014 due date.

my beloved but tired dirtbag before the Prodrives were fitted

Being childless never stopped me from liking wagons, and in many ways we already have the perfect mommymobile—a 2000 Subaru Legacy Outback. It’s safe, commodious, and even has a factory built-in child seat. It’s also a massive steaming pile of shit, albeit a fun to drive beat one. It’s been through approximately 17 head gaskets, and based on nothing more than intuition (aaand maybe the conversation drowning gear whine) I’d say it’s well on the way towards lunching it’s second 4th gear synchro, taking the rest of the gearbox with it. Time for an upgrade.

Here are my criteria:

  1. Longroof
  2. Safe
  3. Fun to drive
  4. Manual transmission
  5. Not front wheel drive
  6. See number four

A mythical beast. I’ve spent the last five weeks scouring Craigslist, eBay, and Autotrader for a car that matches this description, and have turned up empty handed again and again—despite the fact that this is literally what I do for a living as a professional car hunter/writer with Bring a Trailer.

First I thought I’d like a Forester Turbo, because I really like Subaru’s, and you’ll notice reliability was not among my list of must-have characteristics.

They’re fast (0-60 in 5 flat, stock), safe (for more than a decade now Subaru has quietly been building the safest cars on the road, regularly beating even Volvo in tests), and make that fantastic off-kilter, deep farting noise I love so much. I’ve already got a set of 18” OZ Prodrive P1’s that would look perfect in combination with a coil over enabled drop, and we’d have more than enough room in the back to accommodate the seed, Home Depot runs, and our midcentury furniture hunting addiction (and our super-posh ass collie – edit by author’s wife).

Problem is the only examples I’ve found are either beat to hell with 100k + miles, ridiculously overpriced, tastelessly modified, rusty, previously wrecked, and/or in violation of commandments 4 & 6. All of this can also be applied to turbocharged Legacy wagons.

baggage included

Maybe an E46 Touring, then? After all I love German cars. I love the way they're built, engineered, and the way they drive. I used to love them even more back when they were styled with the kind of careful, purposeful restraint German design used to stand for, an ethos of which the E46 was perhaps the last BMW to adhere to. Problems with this one:

  1. German cars are nearly without exception driven by sociopaths and other assholes.
  2. Though this describes me pretty accurately I like to pretend to myself that I am a nice guy.
  3. My wife is a sweetheart and doesn't deserve these associations. Read into that what you will.
  4. The only manual equipped ones are owned by BMWCCA types (see no. 1) and are extraordinarily overpriced. This is what happens when a group of people who derive so much of their over-inflated yet shallow and delicate sense of self from their car are allowed to appraise its monetary value.

I’d buy an Audi but I like a car that is built and drives properly more than I like soft touch plastics. Many feel differently, though, and in addition to fitting the typical German car driver characteristics mentioned above, these people frequently have fauxhawks and small, yipping dogs with Louis Vuitton collars.

That brings me neatly to Plan C., buy a nice W124 300TE and throw in an LSsomethingorother from a wrecked Vette/Camaro/Firebird/Saab 9-7x, hook it all up to 6-speed of some sort, then happily drive around in the best car ever hacked. 

I’d put another list of impediments here but it’s not necessary as only one thing really stops me from doing this—I’m awful at swinging a wrench. I enjoy it, and have semi-successfully toyed with project cars in the past, but never anything entrusted to cart a baby around in.

pure class

Are you listening Subaru? You have at least one American customer who could probably scrape enough cash together to kind of afford a new forced induction Legacy wagon or Forester XT should you choose to offer him one with a manual like you already do in other, less stupid countries.

Last night I decided I’ll just get a nice ’06-’07 Hawkeye WRX five door and an old beater Datsun pickup. Now all I need to do is find an example of the former with no mods and low mileage—wish me luck.


  1. Stay away from German cars... if you think your Subie has had issues, at least those aren't $1000s of to maintain... Stay Japanese :)

  2. Try an Audi Allroad 2.7T with 6-spd. Super fun to drive, you can hack the air suspension until it breaks and you replace it with coil-overs, very tunable and though expensive to maintain at a garage it's pretty easy to do everything yourself with the right tools. All you need is a fauxhawk and you are ready to go :)

    1. I've heard for years that they're a lot of fun, but have already had some bad luck with air suspensions in the form of my LS400.

      Maybe an Armani Exchange shirt or two?

  3. American? So you had the Lexus IS 300 Sportcross with manual transmission. Well, not sure if it is easy to find...

    1. Yes, in California. They never offered the Sportcross with a manual here, unfortunately.

      That's the problem in a nutshell, many cool wagons are readily available but this being the land of convenience very few are available with three pedals though they may be elsewhere in the world.

  4. Good luck on your manual wagon quest. I've been on one for nearly six months and guess what I'm driving? Nothing.

    I just noticed that my neighbor's Jetta wagon is a stick. But that's FWD, right?

    The only reason the E46 wagon is not on my list is because I had an E46 sedan already. All of the wagons seemed well cared for and driven by older women. I assume most/all of those are autos.

    My cop friend used to have a Forester wagon. I couldn't believe how fast it was.

    1. How did you like your E46?

      Now that I've decided on a WRX the quest is getting easier--I've found a few nice ones but holding out for the exact right one, in WR Blue or gunmetal with heated seats and moonroof.

      Yeah, 5 seconds flat to 60 in a closet on wheels is impressive. I'd still much prefer a Forester but they're just too rare.