Great Cars for Under 10 Grand – X308 XJR, R129 SL 500 and 1st gen. Mustang

One of my favorite hobbies as a publicly assumed car addict is pretend shopping. It’s easy and if you’re anything like me it will keep you busy and semi-happily daydreaming for hours, away from pesky day-to-day punishments like work or studying.

You give yourself a budget (or not if you wanna play the millionaire version), go online (I used to do this with magazines, ah the good old days…) and check out everything you can find within your budget. Then you’ll fall in love, get a piggy bank and start saving to get “that” beauty in your life someday. Of course in my case, my 67 Impala Coupe piggy bank is taking quite a bit to fill and you may experience the same regarding the love of your choice, but don’t despair! In the meanwhile, you can still get quality at relatively affordable prices, even if it isn’t that 4 wheeled soul mate you’ve always wanted just yet.

Today we’re taking a look at some affordable to buy, stylish daily drivers that will make people very jealous of you. The most alert among you to AV may remember that a few weeks back I wrote an article about great cars for under 20.000; now I’m taking the challenge further and cutting the pretend shopping spree budget in half: great cars for under 10 grand.

Of course that when I give myself that 10 grand imaginary budget, I immediately and incredibly stupidly spend it on an XJS V12, a car I’ve always disliked until about a year ago when I began to love it more than life itself. Now, I want one parked next to me at all times. ALL times. Owning one, I’d make sure to move my bed to the garage so I could turn on the lights several times during the night just to make sure it was still there. That being said I also know the XJS is an absolutely horrible car that will break down every day of the week that ends with a “y” so, for this article I’ll try to be as objective as possible and stick to – at least half – decent cars that make good daily drivers and that, when properly maintained, don’t completely bankrupt you in the process.

Now please, for the love of all that’s good and decent, if you don’t wrench that much yourself, maintenance for a European car can still get quite expensive no matter how reliable the ride usually is, so when in doubt – and even if my funky suggestions tempt you – just get something simple you can fix with a hammer or that you can take down to the local auto shop and they can recognize, repair and replace all the bits under the hood.

Cautionary note delivered, so moving on to the shopping list: one luxury Brit, one convertible German and classic American…Starting with luxury:

Jaguar XJR 1998

Actually more than that, a glorious, intoxicating blend of luxury and sportiness: the X308 XJR. Take a minute and look at it, I mean really look at it, it’s absolutely gorgeous! Looks so dignified and it’s hard to tell that underneath the conservative British exterior, lays the heart and soul of a completely insane tire shredder. The XJR is far, far away from what you usually think about when considering big Jags…but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Make no mistake, this is one of the coolest cars on Earth and if you are still young enough when you get it, you’ll be pushing members of the opposite sex away from you with a stick just so you can get out of your driveway. The cool factor in this equation is through the freaking roof. You see, when we usually think XJ, our mind immediately conjures up images of tiny old people with thicker than fog cataracts who drive at 15mph on the freeway and take up two parking spots at the local grocery store lot. But this is different, that little “R” on the back keeps the tiny old people away; actually they’d fear it deeply if they could see it at all because the “R” is much more than an extra letter on the old XJ’s badge. It redefines the whole concept.

Jaguar XJR 1998 (rear)

I think it will be alright with everyone if Iskip the luxury details because it just seems irrelevant talking about it, it’s a huge Jag with a magnificently comfortable interior, not a lot more one can say there. I’ll just move right along to the good stuff, the heart. The 4 liter “AJ” V8 was used in the XK8 and it suits the XJR beautifully. 370 bhp, 0 to 60 in under 5 seconds, an extremely impressive number in a monster this size. Actually, scratch that, that’s impressive in pretty much any car, even by today’s standards.

The XJR had to be good because it need to be able to walk up to the the competition, punch right in the face and put up a good fight afterwards. Now, when I say competition, I  specifically mean the superb M5 and it’s difficult to imagine anything capable of facing up to the E39, and endlessly capable and beautifully balanced machine. Let’s get one thing straight: as much as I love the Jag, I know the M5 would beat it in terms of performance, but then again it’s just not in the same league as the XJR regarding luxury and looks.

Now, one thing you need (desperately) if you even consider this sort of machine is as much reliability as possible. As we all know, t80’s and early 90’s Jags were painfully unreliable, hopelessly sensitive regarding mechanics…in simple terms, an endless insanely expensive bucket load of trouble. But the XJR is at great distance from those dark (blame it on Lucas – Ha! I crack myself up) days. Assembled in the Ford era of Jaguar, it steered – mainly – clear of that sort of trouble  and went on to make a hell of a name for itself: “A road going luxury rocket” says Traian Popescu of the website; a “Musclecar in a tuxedo” according to (if you start thinking seriously about one of these, the Motortrend article is essential, read it!); and if the previous doesn’t convince you, a word from Jeremy Clarkson, a man known for speaking his mind (?):“it really is the most incredible, awesome, wonderful machine. I adore it!” Later Clarkson added (speaking about his own XJR because he actually bought one) that in the real world it was better than his Ferrari F355.

The X308 XJR is pretty damn close to perfect; the styling is flawless, the engine is rock solid (when the stupid plastics timing tensioners are replaced with metal ones. Seriously, plastic? Who made that call?); it has an abundance of a rare and highly coveted mix of personality and presence that most of the big luxury/performance sedans of our days severely lack. It’s elegant, bold, ferocious and in the hands of the right driver/caretaker, it will last decades without skipping a beat.

Final note: the XJR is widely recognized as one of the most evil looking cars in the world, this of course adding to its huge cool factor. That being said, having this particular Jag in any other color than black is obviously unthinkable.


Mercedes Benz SL500 R129

Ok, I know this next choice is a tough pill to swallow, but I’m prepared to fight for it. I honestly believe there are good reasons to do so. The R129 Mercedes-Benz SL 500, a champion of longevity in production from 89 to 01. By the way, author Ken Rockwell has a very comprehensive article regarding everything that differentiates the several models of the R129 lineup in case you’re interested.

I’ve been absolutely in love with the R129 ever since I was a kid; I think it’s simply one of the most beautiful cars ever made. And that’s not just my say so either. The R129 received the International Car Design Award so there’s definitely something there, not just my obsession. It’s impossible to lose one of these in the parking lot, unlike the more recent SL generations . Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against the newer stuff, but I think they only got properly interesting from the SL55 AMG on because up until then, style wise, even the SL 600 seemed boring to me (still does).

Alright, now for the really tricky bit of this sales pitch…the performance. Despite its 5 liter V8, the SL 500 really fails to impress with only 315bhp. 0 to 60 takes 6.5 to reach and the top speed is annoyingly limited in the usual big German manufacturer fashion. I get why this measurement was put into place, to avoid a top speed war between Mercedes, Audi and BMW but at this point in the game, this sort of thing is absolutely ridiculous. Well, the Americans (Cadillac, Ford, Dodge, Chevy) certainly thank them very much for it…

Ok, this this top speed/bhp talk is usually extremely important, but with this car, insisting on sticking to those numbers is  missing the point a bit. It takes something properly special to forgive such an uninspired performance in a sports car (a cruiser may be more accurate), but in this one that something is there.

Mercedes Benz SL500 R129 (rear)It’s very tricky to put into words the R129 attraction and at first, I don’t find it hard to believe that it simply passes you by completely, but give it some time, really take the time to look and I guarantee you’ll see it. The whole point of the R129, and in this particular case of the SL 500, it’s not how fast it goes, how easy it is to park or if there’s room in the trunk for golf clubs. This car is a masterpiece, a work of art that just happens to be derivable. If I had my way in this world, all the R129s in the world would be gathered and placed in museums to assure that they would remain in perfect condition so that future generations could go there and bathe in the warm glow of their magnificence. It’s gorgeous, it’s refined and it’s one of those extremely rare cases in  which form surpasses (better yet, demolishes) function.

Off course neither the late 80’s nor early 90’s were times of brilliant styling choices, so the R129s were often painted in two tones; there were also chromed rims and frightening schemes for the interior along the way…In other words, pretty much everything that could spoil the appeal of this car is out there and yet, not one of those things would put me off one, even if I wasn’t allowed to change it at all, ever. If you go for a black or silver SL 500 and you drive it with the factory hardtop (because the soft top on these is simply hideous, go figure), I assure you that once you catch a glimpse of yourself in a store window or something you won’t care for a second about how long 0 to 60 takes or how old the car is. You’ll just be in awe and in love with the car for the rest of your life.

1966 Ford Mustang Fastback

Now for today’s classic choice: absolutely nothing wrong in going with a nice Mustang. It’s a pillar of American automotive design loved by millions around the world.  Convertible, fastback, even a coupe like the one pictured here, the classic Mustang always looks fantastic. It’s not gender biased, both guys and gals look great driving it, it’s a true American icon in every sense of the word and on top of everything, it carries  with it massive amounts of coolness. With 10k you’ll be able to get a fairly decent Mustang from a conscientious owner who probably gave it a lot of love and attention, so it will be in pretty acceptable condition as well.

Seriously folks, there is very little to go wrong with it. If you get a nice Mustang (mechanically obviously, not a rust bucket…Mustangs will develop serious rust issues if the owner doesn’t keep an eye on it) you’ll have a great classic you can use as a daily driver, a weekend cruiser, whatever you want/need, it to be it will be up to the task.

1966 Ford Mustang Fastback (rear)

It’s completely pointless to talk about performance at this point, it’s a classic…it won’t be shattering any speed records but it won’t drag its behind along the freeways either. It won’t handle brilliantly, but you’re not supposed to be running the Monte Carlo rally with it.

Back in the day the original Mustang was a huge hit for Ford, and what that means for you today is affordable parts and service (any mechanic with minimum abilities can pretty much fix anything on a Mustang ). Plus there’s a never ending assortment of aftermarket items you can buy and easily install yourself. In other words, you can customize the hell out of it and truly adapt it to your liking and personality. But this (hypothetical) purchase is a matter of the heart and not the mind, so just look at the beautiful pony in the pics (on sale now by the way…8,5…) and start looking for one of your own. Come on, you know you want to…


Image credit


SL 500



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