A Four Grand Fantasy Frenzy in '93

It’s one of life’s little pleasures, probably enjoyed less often now that everything happens in the virtual world (taking your laptop into the bathroom is a bit…. eww). I’m talking about spending a little time in the smallest room while idly flicking through a local Ads paper, daydreaming about snapping up one of the many bargains right there in your lap. Fun to do, even more entertaining when you’re in another country reading about cars which are almost impossibly exotic to you, despite their low, low fiscal value.
When I first visited the USA as a twelve year old my knowledge of American cars up to then was based solely on the rare occasions that Car magazine tested something from the other side of the Atlantic, or perhaps when I’ve found a copy of Car and Driver during a visit to one of my the local USAF bases. As soon as our Delta L1011 touched down at Orlando International I realised that I actually recognised precious few of the cars I was surrounded by. I felt genuinely ashamed of myself.
So, to resolve this, the first time my Dad stopped at Citgo to fuel our Alamo Lumina, I seized the chance to pick up the local Autotrader and start putting names to the shapes. Twenty four years later, let’s take a look back at the rich variety of machinery I feasted my eyes upon that exciting evening in August ’93.

4000 US Dollars in August 1993 translated to 2715 Great British Pounds. As the evening progessed my Father became increasingly exasperated as I showed him endless ways he could spend his money and told him about why importing an American car would be such a great idea.
Below are what I remember as being my highlights, together with my recollected thought process as I leafed through the ‘paper.
These adverts were extremely educational to me. I was able to extrapolate a lot of facts through association. I already knew that 454 meant 7.4 litres in new money, so this Nova had a big, proper V8. And here were the magic words “very fast”, which I assumed were the product of all the cool sounding Muncie, 12 bolt, 411 posi stuff also mentioned. $3600? Much as I liked the idea of a Rat Motor, I had no idea where that stood as a value proposition.
This was the kind of machine I was looking forward to seeing in the US. I knew that land yachts like these existed as I’d seen them in films. But they only existed in two-dimensions and therefore might as well have been a figment of my imagination. But here they were. Big and floaty; they wobbled and swayed along the Turnpike in exactly the way I imagined they might. $2900? Why wasn’t every kid driving one?
After a couple of days in FLA I soon realised the answer to that.
Whoa, now we were getting cheap, and this “runs good”, which is a start. ’71 made for a 22 year old car by 1993, but I was sure I had heard that name before, and it meant something good. And 4bbl, too. That sounded like a <i>good</i> number of bbl.
Like New! $1495 was like £1061, and that number of quid would buy you a pretty meagre amount of car back in ’93 England. And this Elite (which I soon learnt was a BIIIG Ford Coupe with snazzy little windows in the “C” Pillars which were freakin’ awesome), looked like a whole lot of mild steel real estate.
I knew this one. I knew that Camaros and Firebirds were cousins, and I also recognised that this advert listed a whole mess of stuff which presumably made the car faster or something. 350 meant 5.7, and there’s that Muncie again, whatever that is. Posi? Positraction? Oh, like the rear differential perhaps? 373? Axle Ratio? AHA! This seemed like a pretty tasty list for $2300.
1967? That was when Muscle Cars were being built, wasn’t it? Ah! Mercury Cougar. There was one of those in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. V8, too, but only a 4.7 this time. And some mysterious “Extra Accessories”. Air freshener? Fluffy dice? Pink velour and ankle straps in the ceiling? Who knew?
Hell, at $950, who cared?
Impala, another name I recognised, and 350, one of the more famous engine sizes. 300hp was useful to know and confirmed that 4bbl was definitely what you needed. In fact… more extrapolation…. Q-Jet? Jet, like Carburettor jet? 4bbl, four barrel? Four jet? Quadrajet! This publication was a bloody brilliant educational tool.
“Great for restoration”. Bummer. Sounds like hard work. NEXT!
Oh, I felt sorry for this one. It “runs real smooth” which is the kind of parlance which really should appear in more car reviews. Seller was clearly desperate to sell, “Asking” $3495 but willing to negotiate, so not really asking $3495 at all, then? Turn up and empty your pockets. “Whadya got?” It’s yours.
25o engine. 250hp? Nah, he’d have written that more proudly. Must be something else. Maybe it’s size? Well, if 500 is 8.2, 240 must be 4.1. I knew that Ford Australia did a 3.3 and a 4.1 (which you could even get in a Ford Cortina), so by that logic a 250 must have been a 4.1 litre Six.
Autotrader, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways,
455? That’s a BIG number! And by God that’s a nice looking car and seems to have a nice long list of positive attributes to celebrate, providing “runs/drives exc” means “Excellent” or “Exceptional” and not “Execrable”.
Rare antique? $2350? I’m sold.
Whoa, XR-7? Fords in England only went up to XR-4, so this thing was three more. $2000 seems VALU, even if it’s got light hail damage. Every bloody car around here seems to have light hail damage anyway, including the Lumina sitting on our driveway in Indian Wells right now.
I recognise this from my book about Muscle Cars, I distinctly remember reading about an SS396 and how great they were. So why the hell is there one in a “Cars under $4000” publication? Oh, what’s this, “Not matching nos”. Chicanery and skullduggery? Is this like one of those Sierra Cosworths which turn out to be a 1.6 L with a bodykit? Hmm, interesting moral dilemma. What about a Cosworth replica made out of genuine Cosworth components, with a genuine Cosworth engine? What if this SS396 turned out to be every bit as good as a genuine SS396?
I just don’t know! $3900…. do you feel lucky? Well do ya, Punk?
Why is everyone moving? Also, why did they call this the Fairlane 500 when it never had an 8.2? Loads of new stuff mentioned here and the poor bugger’s actually volunteering to be $3400 in the red just to move this thing on. Bite off more than he could chew? Federal sapena? Who knows. Three Grand. Nice looking car.
Muscle cars were one thing, but this was my understanding of the American Car. Lots of bonnet, lots of trunk, rear wheel spats, massive blindspots, A vinyl roof and lots of chrome. Though our 3.1 Lumina Euro in Medium Garnet Red was a pretty cool car (by my standards at the time…. oh, NEP81J, where are you now?) it was all a bit conventional, like a bigger, slightly weird version of what we have back home. The Cadillac DeVille was totally different to anything we ever did have, or ever would have.
Only $2000, but only 90% completed. What made him stop? Reality check, ill health or laziness?
Next time I visited in ’95 the magazine had changed to “Autos under $6000” and there were nowhere near as many interesting cars among the blurry, indistinct listings, but I still bought a copy. It served me well and taught me that, to quickly learn about the motoring landscape of a new and strange place, you need a copy of the local “cars for sale” rag.
(All images taken from AutoTrader East Central Florida, Aug 05 1993. Copyright probably still belongs to Trader Publishing Company, but if it’s lapsed I’ll probably claim it for my own)

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12 responses to “A Four Grand Fantasy Frenzy in '93”

  1. dukeisduke Avatar

    I still have a DFW area issue from the mid ’80s.I only kept it at the time because thumbing through it, I found an ad for my sister’s first new car (it still wore the same plates in the ad), a ’78 Camaro sport coupe with the 350 4-bbl. As seen in the Auto Trader, it was listed on a salvage title, for $1495. The ad picture (of the front) didn’t show any damage, so maybe it was hit in the rear.

  2. GTXcellent Avatar

    First thought is a ‘damn those prices are nothing!’ And then I think back to my financial situation 1993. Still in high school. Sold my 1970 CST10 for $750, so I could buy a 1965 C10 Custom Cab for $500. I still couldn’t have afforded that Chevelle SS.

  3. acarr260 Avatar

    I really enjoyed this. When I had the opportunity to work in France and Germany a few years ago, I was very surprised by my lack of knowledge of the automobiles that roamed the roads over there.

  4. JayP Avatar

    My hometown still prints a Tradin’ Post.
    I love thumbing thru it even though everything is online.
    Make – Chevrolet, Model – Lumina, Price – $2,895
    Seller Description: 1992 CHEVROLET LUMINA Z34,
    5sp, pw, pdl, CD changed, new battery, altanator, timing belt, pullys,
    brake pads & rotors, 152k $2895 423-xxx-3778
    Make – Ford, Model – Thunderbird, Price – $3,500
    Seller Description: 1993 FORD THUNDERBIRD Bill
    Elliott Special Edition, 5.0L H.0., Super Chip & jacket, Budweiser
    Red, new tires, lots of new parts, 97k $3500 423-XXX-7027
    I’m diggin’ that TBird.

    1. Fuhrman16 Avatar

      Oh, a 5 speed Z34? That’s a pretty rare bird.

  5. CraigSu Avatar

    1993’s $4000 is approximately today’s $6500. 64% inflation in less than 25 years. Sheesh.

  6. tonyola Avatar

    The funny part is that the huge Ford Elite was considered by Detroit to be a “mid-size”car in 1975.

  7. Tanshanomi Avatar

    Just for perspective, $4000 in 1993 is around $6600 / £4500 today. Here’s a Ford that’s the same relative age (18 years old) and mileage at very nearly the same price when adjusted for inflation. I’d gladly take this Mustang GT this over that foul Elite any day. It’s currently a good time to be a car guy.
    Cars for Sale: 1998 Ford Mustang GT

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      Same car in the UK would probably be for sale for twice that with an imbecile vendor for good measure

  8. Pete Avatar

    My first time in the USA was in 1984, and i did exact the same, get a few autotraders to lust after the cheap cars….

  9. Moparmann Avatar

    I still own the two best vehicles that I bought using this source, (and have the Autotrader/Trucktrader copies as well)! My first Honda, a 1989 Accord LXi 5 speed coupe, and a 1983 Silverado pick up. The Honda was also the first car that I’d ever purchased with over 100,000 miles on it!! 🙂

  10. Guest Avatar

    That 1980 Camaro would be my choice.

    A Camaro of that generation (Z28, 5 speed, blue) and a 1977 Chevrolet Truck, hence the user name, (blue, 5 speed, short-box, step-side, 4×4) have always been on my list of favourite cars.

    That list is always fluctuating, but those two have always remained on it. I haven’t been able to purchase either, but someday…

    EDIT: That isn’t quite true… I did purchase a 2nd Generation Camaro, albeit a small one.