Columns / Question of the Week

What’s your low-budge dream machine?


Here’s a variation on a question we’ve all debated on elementary school playgrounds. Back then, it was simple: “What’s your dream car?” Ah, to be so care-free again.

Ok, grownups, tighten your wallets for the 2009 version: “If you could own any car under $30k, what would it be?”

For me, it’s a tough choice. There are literally hundreds of way-cool cars in this price range I would be thrilled to own. Vintage Toyotas, for one, are near and dear to my heart; Celica All Trac, Crown, Carina, or even a Mark IV Supra could be had. But when all is said and done, one of the cars I fell in love with a long time ago is the R33 Nissan Skyline 4-door.

What an amazing ride. All the power and style that defined Skylines, plus the elegance and practicality of a large sedan. Japanese street monster in grocery-getter skin… It’ll put your butt back in the seat, eats corners for breakfast, and does it with cost of ownership similar to a Ford Taurus.r33

Since they were not sold in North America, this car would be a tough find. Even in Canada, where the Skyline enjoyed moderate success via gray market importers, it’s hard to find a really great example of the four-door persuasion. The few sedans stand out in a crowdโ€ฆ amazing machines, and my pick for dream car under $30k.

And you?

What would be in your garage if 30-large magically materialized? Hey, it could happen!


  1. Yes, I love playing with pretend money! First thing I would do is buy back my ’59 Nomad: $3500. Never shoulda sold that one! Next, get all the body and trim work done that it needed, shoot it satin black with white metalflake roof: $15,000. Finish out the interior: $3000. Full air ride suspension: $3000. Bead blast and powdercoat the stock rims black, wrap in Coker wide whites: $1000. Refresh engine and tranny, run a dual exhaust with flowmasters and bellflower tips: $3000. TOTAL: $28,500

    Look at me, I came in enough under budget to throw a big barbecue for all my In My Garage homies. Can’t do that in a Skyline.

  2. For under $30,000? Not even sure if it would fit in my garage, but a 1963 Pontiac Bonneville in Starlight Black would be my choice. It wasn’t a particularly fast car, nor sporty or stylish or even a “cool” car. It just happens to be the first car my Dad had that I can remember. I loved the stacked headlights (still do) and all the chrome and body molding. Of course, I only remember riding in the back seat…..

  3. I’m going to have to weigh in on this one before my dream car cracks the $30,000 mark. Without a doubt, I’ll go with an ’88 BMW M3 in hennarot over black leather. No car has the history, the performance, and beauty of the E30 M3. If I play my cards right I might still have some spare cash to import a set of 16″ M3 Sport Evo Basketweaves before my pretend wallet is empty.

  4. I would love to have an old Ducati single cafe racer from the 60’s. I saw Richard’s Benelli in his living room and it gave me some motivation to start my living room collection. I just need to get the boss to sign off on it.

  5. I’m kind of coming around to the idea of a 911SC making my list. (I told you I would change my mind a million times)

    I think for the money, I could get a decent SC, throw some money at the brakes and suspension, tune the exhaust out and have a bona fide supercar killer.

    decisions, decisions….

  6. I guess my low budget dream machine is a 86 buick reagle. First it needs new motor and tranny about 5000. Next a green flake paint and new interior 7000. Oh tell that mike guy to forget about air bags!I would put a hydraulic set up on my car. Nothing crazy just a 3 pump set. And a nice set of all crome 14″ wire wheels. Total for everything twenty thounsand.What a beutiful thing!

  7. Jennifer says:

    If I had to choose a “low budget dream machine” it would be…2000 BMW M3.. in a bright blue color. It has always been my secret crush so to speak. Love that car, it’s so beautiful

    • Leguna Seca Blue…laots of those are out there. It was BMW’s launch color in 2001. Sexy car, that color gets better the longer it is around it seems!

  8. Mine would definately be a Datsun B210. I had one around 18 years ago. It was burgundy with an off white interior. Mint condition. I lost it in a poker bet, along with my left hand, after only having it for 2 weeks. If I could get it back today, I start by doing a full frame-off restoration.

  9. 1991 BMW M3 EvoIII. I think it can be had for under 30… I had an ’89 M3 and really loved it, but couldn’t afford the one I had. Next time I’ll be prepared to get a better example, and have the $$ set aside to make it right. Last time it caught me by surprise, and I needed a better daily driver.

    • I think you are pushing the budget a bit with the Evo. If I recall correctly BMW only released the Evo M3s in Europe, and they are quite rare. With clean, stock E30 M3s hitting the $20-25k these days I would think (if you could find one) the Evo is going to surpass the $30k budget. Now throw in import fees and federalization…

  10. Low budget can mean so many things…I would take a 92 Mustang LX Notchback (sedan), Black, black with a T56, AFR 185 heads and a GT40 tubular upper lower set up. Full GR40 suspernsion…yup that would work as a low budget toy.

  11. Well, I might have to push the 30K mark a little, but I’d love to have a 1997 Lotus Esprit in British Racing Green and Tan Interior. I’ve always thought the Esprit was the Big brother of the Toyota MR2. Mid Engine V8 twin turbos who could ask for more?

    low end 29K to 45K depending on year and millage.

  12. I’ve always loved the NSX, which has been holding 30k for nice early examples forever. A Ls1 swapped FD RX7 is a close second in my book, more power, just not as pretty.

  13. Pete G. says:

    A new Honda S2000, or an early high-milage Acura NSX, or a nice “driver” Lamborghini Espada.

  14. Porche 911 — late ’80s or early ’90s vintage.

  15. Robert Keplinger says:

    Def an E39 Bmw M5 in Imola Red with Tan Leather!!

    Or 2009 Hummer H3 Alpha w/ adventure package

  16. Hmmm too hard. Do I go with my long time crush of the 69′ Mustang with a black vinyl top and a 351 cleveland? Or do I go with my new love of a Turbo 84 Starion? I would probably swap out the Mitsu motor for something a little more familar in the Toyota family. I wonder if there’s enough room to shoehorn in a Lexus v8? ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. The ’05 Boxster S I drove last night but I’m going to hold out for one with the Cronos option – I LOVE the analog clock dead center in the upper dash.

  18. Billyray says:

    1967 Karmann Ghia. Cheap parts that are easy to source. The VW engine is easy to work on and easy to get parts for. Sports car styling on a beer budget. I had one in high school and I called it my poor-mans Porsche.

  19. Craig S says:

    A 1973-4 BMW 2002 tii. $30,000 should be enough to buy and restore/update.

  20. As much as I love my 17-year-old Accord LX Wagon, I’d be perfectly happy adding a supercharger to my 1997 Mazda Miata (the car that everyone still loves to copy). And, oddly enough, the combined cost of both would still be less than $30K. ๐Ÿ™‚

    The only other car I can think of beyond the obvious retro picks (eg, Nomads and Corsas) would be a late 50’s or early 60’s Auto Union DKW with a Saxomat clutch. Mmmm … great memories. Ring ding ding ding. ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. Dave Petty says:

    I have had my dreams. I have had an ’83,’85,’86 and an ’88 911 Porsche 911. The latter is even a cabriolet. All have been about the cost of a new Honda Accord. I have a great mechanic and I am amazed how cheap these vehicles have been to own and oh what a total joy to drive.

  22. Lotus Elise…


  23. E30 M3. No question. No debate. The most decorated touring car in history. Oh, and I would have it prepped to race JP.

  24. Datsun s30 (240z, 260z, 280z) with a proper engine (rb-series, l28et, Chevy 350, or Ford 302… anything in that range). $30k could buy a handful of z-cars here in California. After a little electronic sprucing-up they’d be more efficient AND reliable (and fun) than any modern car I’ve seen.

  25. Definitely a ’70 Chevy Nova SS with the 396 and a 4 speed. A Yenko would be even better but alas there goes the budget!

  26. 1995 Porsche 911 Carrera 2 – 6 speed, silver, black guts. Decent mile examples with maintenence records still out there. I just need to get my name on one!

  27. This is no longer a dream, it is reality, sitting in my garage. 1967 Ford Bronco half cab with a 170 cubic inch in line 6 cylinder engine, completly original right down to the AM radio. What is cool about these? 92 inch wheelbase , fits in a small space, turns on a dime, the very last of some old school things like a manual choke,3 speed shift on the column, manual brakes, oil bath air cleaner, manual steering , vacumn wipers ( which many of you have no idea about ) and an in line push rod six cylinder engine which to the best of my knowledge, only BMW still beleives in. I am not an attention whore, by and large, on the highway and around town, I like to blend in, but any time you are parked, Elmer Fudds walk over and want to look at it and tell stories like ,”My buddy who is dead and I used to go elk hunting in one just like this , or “By gosh, I had one of these back in the 70’s, I drove her to work every day down at the aluminim plant which is now in China”. Fomoco manufactured the first generation Bronco from 1966 to 1977. The six cylinder engine was dropped after the 1972 model year, they don’t have a lot of zip, but they will get you there and give you 18-19 mpg on the highway. It is kind of fun shifting the 3 speed on the column,listening to the vacumn wipers hissing away in the rain and if worse comes to worse, they travel well on goat trails and or in the deep snow. Fomoco used a lot of vertical integration when manufacturing these vehicles so some Mustang parts fit. Total production in the first few model years was under 20,000 units , many of which have been destroyed so resale value seems to slowly climb . The only drawback I worry about regarding these vintage Broncos, is they are a metal box inside, you would not want to be in any kind of accident in one.

  28. MrBally says:

    ’85 Porsche 928S. Car is cheap. Too bad part costs would prevent me from ever buying anything from Griot’s again though. I’ll stick with newer stuff.

  29. Very excellent choice there!!!!!! I detailed one at Porsche Parade this year. Was a blast to play with.

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