Weekend Edition: The Lure of the 800 Euro Car

I’ve decided I won’t be buying another beater this fall. It’s an easy decision to make, since I still have four cars under my ownership: the Miata, the 205, the Sierra and the Polo. The Volkswagen is going to be reassembled by someone else, as it’s painfully apparent I won’t be fixing the engine together myself (or haven’t done it over the past two years); the Sierra needs a bit of welding to pass MOT, and then it’ll either perform winterbeater duties or get sold altogether, albeit I’m still tempted to Merkurize it to the best of my abilities. The 205 will stay and get improved on, and the Miata will be taken off the road for the winter so the rusting will be at least slowed down.
Yet, the market is full of AMAZING DEALS for 800 euros, as the summer is inevitably ending and people don’t know where to put their cars. Everywhere I look, there’s a dead end waiting there’s something that needs rescuing for 800 euros – or less. The Miata was cheaper than that in Germany, originally; the Sierra was cheaper than that, the Xantia I used to own was priced right there: with a loose grand, you can pick something up and even fix one or two of the initial problems. Let’s take a quick look at some of the stuff I’ve seen for sale recently in this beautiful used car country.

That’s right, you can buy a first-year Chevrolet Citation here. It’s probably the only running Citation in the country, and it’s not even in terrible condition. Been in the same family since new, and there has been some recent overhauling done. You get a parts car too, and the only thing holding you, me, or anybody back is the fact the Citation leaks a litre of oil per thousand kilometres, or forty rods to the hoghead in 1979 American terms. Surely that’s only the least worrying thing about buying a very early example, but it’s perfectly likely to only need minor repairs to become the best example available for 800 euros [citation needed]
Then there’s this maroon/burgundy/dried blood colour Alfa Romeo 33 from 1983, which is also very early production. The seller is offloading it without a parts car, which apparently was the original configuration of this deal. It’s said to be in almost daily driving, and works alright. You get what looks like an aftermarket sunroof, two- or three-tone paint depending what counts, and a lovely tan cloth interior. The 1.5-litre boxer engine should be quite peppy, and for 850 eur it can’t be a bad deal if you don’t spend any money on it.
When’s the last time you’ve seen a clean, early-’80s Accord like this? They’ve been used up, rusted out, smogged, sliced, diced and cubed. The later generation sold more here, but those begun to vanish after the first decade due to rampant rocker rust. This one is for sale in deepest Lapland, which means it shouldn’t have spent too much time on salted roads, and that gives it a good chance of actually being made of metal instead of liberal applications of bondo everywhere. For 800, it’s a steal, even if there’s a mention of one or two small electrical faults (blower motor, central locking).
This is the last one, a true joker, a super strong deal candidate if there ever was one. It’s a 1991 facelift BX with a 1.6-litre base engine and fuel injection, producing all of 88 horsepower, and it’s available to be bought for only 300 euros. Sure, there’s no valid inspection, but that’s only due to an exhaust leak. You can spend more on the car if you want more tires, or try to configure out some kind of part exchange deal, but if you just show up and buy the damn car, it’s there for 300. It’s not even too far from where I live, and if I had two less cars, I’d easily have one more.
Out of these shitboxen unicorns, which one tickles your fancy?
Chevy Citation
Alfa Romeo 33
Honda Accord
Citroën BX

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20 responses to “Weekend Edition: The Lure of the 800 Euro Car”

  1. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    Get the BX.
    The only sensible alternative to an orphan Chevrolet and rust troubled, (probably) Alfa and Honda. If parts and reliability for a BX aren’t a problem in NZ then they shouldn’t be anywhere in Europe. And the suspension will give less trouble than the Alfa’s, the spring supports won’t rust away. And the Citroen is a better drive than all of the rest of them. (Disclosure: happy owner of an ’89 BX19 and an ’86 Civic Shuttle ) And normally I’d recommend a Honda for reliability, but not one that old, on even lightly salted roads + no blower = no real heater.

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      I’ve only owned a Citroën once, for two weeks, and it didn’t go well. On the other hand, my Honda isn’t St. MacReliable either. Yet I’d still tend towards the Honda because I know I would become attached to the machine and spend more money on it than what appears to be sensible. 300€ for the Frenchman is a steal though.

    2. karonetwentyc Avatar

      I’m in agreement with the BX plan as well, and I’m going to do my best to come up with a justification for this:
      IIRC, the 1.6 in the 1991 BX was an XU5-series engine. That should be fittable into the 205 and with some tweaks give you what’s essentially a 205 1.6 GTi in a 205 1.4 XS body. Then you sell the BX for parts for the 300 Euro that you paid for it and, boom, storage issues solved. This will free you up to go looking for a cheap 1.9BX GTi (preferably 4×4), because you should have a BX anyway.
      Another option: swap an XU9J4 from a 405 Mi16 into the BX carcass at that point, but I’m not entirely clear on what would be required as part of the swap to run the BX’ hydraulics. The Mi16x4 ran the accumulator and pump for its hydropneumatic rear off of (IIRC, and somebody please correct me on this if I’m wrong) the intake cam, but as the Mi16x4s only ran rear hydraulics there’re likely some key differences between the engine in the Pug and the engine in the Cit.

  2. Drives Dead Marques Avatar
    Drives Dead Marques

    I second the BX. Being from the US I’ve never had a Citroen. That, and the Alfa/Honda are too old, Chevy is an 80s Chevy (been down that road, hated it). This is coming from a guy who has not bought a car for more than $3000 US in his life.

    1. crank_case Avatar

      A 1991 car is still 26 years old at this stage, what can go wrong or rot at this stage is already going to be in an advanced state of decay. You can get a survivor 80s car and a dog of a 90s. At this stage condition > age.

  3. salguod Avatar

    Grandpa bought a 1980 Citation 5 door, 4 speed new and later sold it to my Dad. I learned to drive a stick on that car. This one, bought new in 1979, would be an early production car of what was by all accounts a terribly engineered vehicle. Ours somehow managed to be just mediocre instead of terrible, but the odds are not in your favor.

    1. dead_elvis Avatar

      Except that it’s survived/been maintained for this long, so maybe it’s a magical unicorn.
      Of course, you’re still left with a Citation, so… shitbox unicorn.

  4. Guest Avatar

    I’d pick Alfa and Citroen, because I’ve never seen one in the wild, and I like odd things.

    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      The irony is, that in Europe, the Citation, (and to a slight extent, the Accord), is odd, the BX is normal.

      1. Guest Avatar


        Business Idea #4000056:

        A company who connected people on both sides of the ocean who want to trade old economy cars.

        The company would arrange everything, and the clients would pay shipping and handling fees to the company.

        People would get interesting cars, for only the expense of an old beater, and the cost of shipping.

        What do you think? A way to make dozens of dollars?

        1. karonetwentyc Avatar

          The idea’s good, but it’s pretty much how things have informally worked for the past 20 years or so. Once Internet access was publically-available in a big way a couple of decades ago and people were able to set up email lists, this started happening where car enthusiasts gathered. Some of that has moved over to social media these days, but in general there’s still an informal network of folks in various countries who will help out folks overseas with finding whatever it is that they’re looking for.
          As for a business model… Probably not so much. Overseas dealers will happily take your money for whatever they happen to be selling, so it’s about the same thing as you’re proposing except without the enthusiast helping the fellow enthusiast.

          1. Guest Avatar

            Yes, enthusiast helping enthusiast.

            The problem with what has been happening is not finding and buying the car, it’s the shipping and registering.

            What my model proposes, is a company of middle men who helps with all the grunt work, a group of people who are experienced with navigating red tape, who know the laws, and make sure importation is done quickly, and correctly.

        2. Rover 1 Avatar
          Rover 1

          Perhaps tens of dollars more than dozens?

        3. julkinen Avatar

          There’s not enough Citroën BX:s in America. There’s not enough turbo K-cars in Europe. Make it happen. 🙂

        4. Drives Dead Marques Avatar
          Drives Dead Marques

          I once attended an American car show in the Netherlands. So surprised how many American cars there are there. So weird to visit a country that up to that point had so many different cars I’d never seen, then get this blast from the past from my country.

  5. NapoleonSolo Avatar

    I feel the need to defend the Chevy Citation. No, it wasn’t a fantastic car, but if you were alive at the time it was introduced you would appreciate what watershed event this car was for General Motors, a MAJOR change in approach for a company that was hidebound to say the least. I also have to point out that this car in Chevy Blue and the hatchback body style is a truly pretty car, and it should get some kudos for that alone. Engineering-wise it was somewhat crude and unsatisfying to drive, and most of them had really chintzy interior materials, but someday these will probably be seen as historically important, at least by GM people. A truly tidy example is at least nice to look at and a good conversation piece at any automotive get together.

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      I went to one of the local Chevy dealers on launch day, and yeah, it was huge for GM. Of course it would turn out to be a huge flop.

  6. crank_case Avatar

    My choice would be the Alfa if it’s in decent condition. Not driven a 33, but did driver the boxer version of the 146 which is mechanically quite similar and that was loads of fun for a 1.4, just brilliant chassis balance, you could really hoof it into the twisties in a way I doubt you could with any of the others, and while that engine isn’t powerful, it is charismatic sounding. Heavy on fuel for its size though.

  7. dukeisduke Avatar

    Leaking a quart every 600 miles – that sounds like a front seal, or rear main seal. A front seal wouldn’t be too bad to replace, but a rear main seal would mean dropping the cradle and separating the engine and transaxle. Is that one an Iron Duke, or the 2.8 V6?

  8. neight428 Avatar

    If there is a lure to a Citation, it probably has a nasty hook attached once you bite. As “significant” as they were, I’d buy 800 eu worth of bus passes first.