The progression from base model to top-of-the-line is usually quite logical and linear, wherein every model adds desirable content in an additive progression. But every once in a while manufacturers (or customers) take crazy pills and concoct specialized models that are, um, not so special. Oddball, low-power, decontented editions rarely sell in large numbers, or remain in the sales catalog very long. Such is the case with the three points of today’s vehicular trilemma:
- The Plymouth Feather Duster was only offered for 1976, the final year of Mopar RWD A-body production. The Feather Duster version was a fuel-economy special, featuring lightweight aluminum parts for a 5% weight savings over the standard model. The body was purely plain-jane, right down to the steelies and dog dish hubcaps. Power was supplied by a one-barrel 225 Slant Six and an extra-high rear axle ratio. A 3-speed automatic was optional, but the standard overdrive 4-speed gearbox was cheaper, lighter, and got better fuel economy, so let’s assume our subject car has the manual.
- The 1980 Chevrolet Malibu Iraqi Taxi was a special, non-catalog configuration built especially as taxi cabs for Saddam Hussein (yes, that Saddam Hussein). The Canadian-built sedans were definitely utility-spec, with a 110 HP carb’d V6 backed up by a floor-shift three speed manual, commercial-duty interior fabrics, heavy-duty cooling, steelies, and instruments that read in kilometers. The Iraqis quit the deal before the full quota was met (either because of Iraqi financial issues, or because the Malibus didn’t handle the stress of desert taxi duty particularly well, depending on who is telling the story). When the deal fell through, 5,000 “Iraqibu” Malibus had been completed but not yet shipped. They were sold to Canadians looking for basic transport for C$6,500.
- When first introduced in 1999, the Nissan Frontier Desert Runner combined the truck’s base powertrain (143 HP SOHC 2.4L, five-speed gearbox) with the raised suspension, fender flares, and larger wheels of the 4×4 version—only without the driven front wheels. The “Faux-By-Four” concept of 4WD style with 2WD mechanicals would stick around, but it only used the base four-banger that first year; from 2000 on, Desert Runners switched the larger V6. One interesting note: Though the truck shown is gray, I have it on good authority that all first-year Desert Runners were white King Cabs. The lede photo is actually a 2000 model Desert Runner. Why? I was unable to find even one veritably accurate photo of a ’99; that should indicate just how rare they are.
So, there are your three oddball, econo-spec candidates. Your task is to chose one for each of the following roles in your conceptual garage:
- RACE – build into some sort of dedicated racing machine (not street legal) for your choice of competition — any legitimate, sanctioned form of motorsport: road course, rally, drag, LSR, Baja, etc.;
- DAILY – have as your sole street-registered car, for all your commuting and general transportation needs.
- RESTORE – do a museum-quality, factory-correct, frame-off restoration, then add to your collection, but not drive on the street.
Your choices should be accompanied by your persuasive justification, or at the very least which choice you felt most strongly about.
As always, more caveats (there are always caveats) appear after the jump.
- Assume that you’re given these three vehicles outright, so there’s no acquisition cost, but the cost of race-prepping, maintaining, insuring and restoring them will be on you.
- Assume the cars are in “average condition” for their age; neither junk nor in flawless condition.
- These are your ONLY three cars. You cannot factor in any other cars you might actually own, e.g., “I’ll daily the MR2 because I have a van I can take the kids in…” Likewise, you can’t sell the restored car to buy another vehicle.
- You must assign one of the cars to each category. You can’t say, “I’ll race my street car,” or “I’ll drive that one for a season then restore it.”
- You can’t half-ass a car you don’t like, such as theoretically racing Lemons or doing a “20-footer” cosmetic restoration.