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The 250 GBP Challenge – Beating beater cars at a Finnish ice track

I can tell you a little secret.

Off the coast of continental Europe lies a little group of islands called Great Britain. I don’t know if you’re heard of it, but it is a noteworthy place for a car buyer, since the Brits have decided to keep buying their cars with the steering wheel on the right side of the car instead of the more commonly chosen left, rendering the cars worthless for a continental buyer. Add the traditional British weather that keeps the cars wet and salty, and the end result is a rusted-out car that changes hands for very little money. This background info is very important.

Our international and fearless group of petrolhead friends usually arranges a winter meet somewhere in Finland. I’ve written up a few of these meets for Hooniverse earlier: usually, we need an icy surface for driver training, and some snow banks to form a track outline. Another important thing is an available sauna, for any heated discussion afterwards. This year, the meet was held at Pudasjärvi, Finland, which is halfway through the country widthwise when you start east from Oulu. We got ourselves an airfield of all places, and invited some British friends to come over in cars they would buy cheaply. They certainly did well.

Amongst themselves, the Brits set some rules of their own. A car could not cost more than £250 and it would have to be rear wheel drive. It would have to make it to the meet on its own power, driven the entire weekend, and then left in Northern Finland as everyone would buy a plane ticket home. This is an exciting premise for anyone with £250 and a need for a disposable car. What sort of thing would you buy?

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The 60 Euro Polo does the Baltic Press Rally 2017 – Part 2

Day two of the 2017 Press Rally in Lithuania opened with excellent weather. Having checked the Polo had retained all necessary fluids for it to compete, we rolled to the start of the first stage of the day. Despite good-hearted chatting with the other drivers, who had heard how little the car had cost to buy, and who were eager to buy it for 120 euros, anticipation welled up in my brain.

We had done well the previous day, keeping a handsome distance from the last place on every account, but there was still a full day to go with little idea what it would take, other than repeatedly studying the provided charts for the upcoming stages. The first day had contained some faster sections, but the second day had a lot of parking lot slalom to do, where you didn’t necessarily need 200 horsepower or more to shine.

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The 60 Euro Polo does the Baltic Press Rally 2017

Piece by piece, I’ve mapped out the story of the 60 Euro Polo over here at Hooniverse during the years I’ve had it in my ownership. Starting from that drizzly late October day in 2013 when I trailered the 1986 VW home from the parking lot where it had sat with a failed head gasket since the previous winter, to the parts where I got it running badly, removed the head and let someone else finish the reassembly for me. After all that I got it through roadworthiness inspection on the first try, even if the car wasn’t all there. It took for a skilled old mechanic to tackle most of its running issues, including adjusting the carb and cambelt properly and diagnosing a shot vacuum cell, and after that I’ve just driven it and driven it, fixing whatever has popped up since last summer.

It’s proved itself to be such a reliable car for an over-30-year-old once-near-dead Volkswagen, that I’ve slowly built a lot of trust into it. Whenever asked, I say it’s my best car, and in a lot of respects that is certainly true: it’s still nearly rust free, has the lowest odometer reading and the tidiest appearance.

In fact, I’ve gotten so confident that I actually enrolled it in a rally. In another country. This is how it went.

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Which car is the perfect Yacht Rock car?

Cars and rock music are inseparably linked. From the cars’ inception on drawing boards where music easily helps you visualize a new car’s shape and form and purpose, to the marketing material where the car hits a floodlit stage or a sweeping road, to actually using the finished car for a quality time while blasting quality tunes – either as new, or 30 years since it first rolled off the lot.

And there are various genres to consider: punk rock when you just want to beat on the BRAT, hard, garage born rock when it’s a rattlecanned hulk laying down sweet rubber, or classic rock’n’roll to really suit a pastel Chevy that’s destined for a night out on the diner parking lot. Or then it’s all about dusty, dirty trucks, Budweiser and Bob Seger. But still, there’s one specific style of smooth music that perfectly fits some 30-40-year old cars, absolutely unparalleled from my point of view.

Yacht Rock.

The entire discussion I’ve been having with some fellow music/car nerds is based on a love of smooth, expensively made late 1970s-early 1980s AOR music, often linked to yachting in SoCal due to its image. Countless overdubs to get everything right. State of the art equipment, for the crispest sound. Seasoned studio hands brought in for just the shortest contributions, yet days, weeks, months, years spent honing the albums to flawless perfection. It’s all about expensive sound that only guitarists like Mark Knopfler could achieve in those proto-yuppie or full-on-yuppie days. But what are the cars that really seamlessly fit this kind of soundtrack?

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Frozen Wastes Weekend Edition: Opel Omega 3000

On the other side of the town from the Bonneville-hosting junkyard, I found this black Opel Omega. A-body Omegas have been vanishing for a long time, as the B-bodies have fared better – though not without their share of rusty body panels. This wasn’t even a completely ordinary Omega, but a high-spec Omega 3000, meaning that it came with a three-liter straight six.

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Frozen Wastes Weekend Edition: Pontiac Bonneville SSE

I took the Polo out today for a drive around the industrial districts. Snow had fallen a couple days ago, mercifully covering much of all the beaten and broken cars strewn around the junkyards. But as I turned the corner and saw this Pontiac Bonneville, I felt like I had hit the jackpot when it comes to finding something rare and rough. This was a complete goner.

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Light Green Light Resto: 1971 Toyota Corona Mark II

Driving through an industrial district earlier today, I spotted this light green Toyota Corona Mark II. It seemed to be a bit of a project, but available information told me it was actually road legal last week, likely needing a little fettling to pass inspection. That’s most likely why it was parked next to a shop.

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Project VW Polo 86c Classic: Bluemotion, but when?

As it is my white 1986 Volkswagen Polo that most readily drives me to writing, I was in luck to find this earlier example on an inspection station forecourt today. Well, there are also multiple dealers nearby and a carwash, but I think it’s the yearly roadworthiness inspection that has been the closest eminence for this humble blue two-door saloon. The plates are gone, and the car looks like a future project, one that has sat for a while. Funnily enough, at the very station I struck a deal on mine.

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Back on track: the 60 Euro Polo slides again

Out of all the varied cars in my fleet, it is with the 1986 Volkswagen Polo Classic I feel the strongest kinship. I’ve often said I like a good underdog car, and what better demonstration of that than a literally rescued car I bought for less than a tank of fuel? Obviously it came with a ton of issues, but it had been so sparingly used I saw great potential in its bare-bones appearance.

We’re talking about a 725kg two-door saloon with 54 factory horsepower, a four-speed manual, a 99% rust free body and an enormous trunk, complete with early-1980s minimalistic Volkswagen design. I had to have it, I grabbed it, I wrenched on it, I let it sit, I admitted nothing was going to happen to it if I didn’t take it to a shop, I took it to a shop, I bought a very expensive carburetor for it, they put it on wrong and adjusted it wrong, and then I got it back. This is where we probably left off in the tale of a man’s slow descent into project car hell the #60EuroPolo and how it regained its funky Wolfsburg mojo.

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Shower Thoughts: What if there was an American Opel Vectra?

chevrolet_vectra_20

This past weekend I noticed a first generation Opel Vectra parked on a side street. Their numbers are dwindling, as is the fate of a long-unremarkable car that doesn’t really have an enthusiast following. Sure, there have been Vectra hobbyists, but that has often been a result of an everyday hand-me-down car receiving sound systems and fiberglass add-ons and a dodgy paint job; after a Vectra has lost its new-car value, it hasn’t been anything for anyone to really pine for, as a dream car. The Calibra coupe versions are more exciting looking, and have a future as enthusiast cars; Vectras will slowly continue to disappear, like Asconas have.

But that’s past the point I was going to make. What if the Vectra had been available in the USA? In 1988, it was a hot offering after the C-generation Ascona bowed; that car, a J-body was available in the States in numerous guises from the Cavalier to the Cimarron. Ford tried to market its German/UK-derived Vectra competitors in the States with little success; the Sierra was rebranded as the Merkur XR4ti which was too weird and pseudo-posh to succeed, especially with the 2.3 turbo unit. The Mondeo was reborn as the Contour and the Mystique, which were too cramped in the back to catch buyers. Would the Vectra have fared similarly?

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