What does AU$10,000 or less get you?

Can you find a dream car for AU$10,000 or less? 

What do I constitute a dream car firstly? For me it needs an element of exclusivity. It needs power. It needs to be well put together and obviously well loved. Ideally it will have the best spec available at the time and it also needs to have as few kilometres on the clock as possible with full service history. Finally, it needs to be reliable. So, what does AU$10,000 or less get you?

In this part of the market we are more often than not talking about a car that is at least 5 years old and in many cases over 15. So we are in the realm of power loss, expensive part replacement and quite possibly rust. You can probably tell I am not talking about a run of the mill Toyota, Ford or Holden. Though undoubtedly there are some good buys among them, they simply don’t get my juices flowing. It doesn’t need to be Italian or German either, a nice little MX5 would suit me, for there are few cars around that would put a bigger smile on my face, especially for its price.

A glance around NSW shows up twenty possible contenders:

  1. 2002 Audi A4 3.0 137,000kms $9,499
  2. 2003 BMW 318is E36 Sport 145,000kms $8500
  3. 2001 BMW 530i E39 Steptronic 100,000kms $9500
  4. 2004 Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo 148,000kms $9000
  5. 2005 Ford Falcon XR6 171,000kms $10000
  6. 2007 Ford Fiesta XR4  91,000kms  $9990
  7. 1995 Holden HSV Clubsport VR 192,000kms $6500
  8. 2001 Commodore VX SS 114,000kms $8500
  9. 1990 Mazda MX5 Limited Edition 90,000kms $9880
  10. 1973 Mercedes 280 W114 30,000kms $7500
  11. 1998 Mercedes CLK 230 Kompressor 157,000kms $9990
  12. 2000 Mercedes CLK 230 Kompressor Elegance  170,000kms $9900
  13. 2002 Mini Cooper R50 106,000kms  $9500
  14. 1996 Nissan Skyline R33 GTS 104,000kms $8900
  15. 1990 Nissan 300ZX Targa 116,000kms $9990 (twin turbo)
  16. 1992 Nissan 300ZX 103,000kms $6500
  17. 1992 Subaru SVX 163,000kms  $9950
  18. 2004 Subaru Liberty 4 Gen GT Premium Pack 175,000kms  $10000
  19. 2005 Subaru Outback 150,000kms $9200
  20. 2000 Volvo C70T Convertible 103,000kms  $9000

As you can see there are some surprisingly tasty cars for the cash, and of all shapes and sizes too. Some are old, some rare but all tick the boxes in some way. But now I need to halve this list. A quick look at the odometers lends a hand, which takes out the Bimmer 318, Falcon XR6,  the HSV sadly, the older CLK even though it has less on the clock than the newer verson, the Skyline because it has an after market exhaust and undoubtedly been thrashed, one of the 300ZX’s and the Outback. So that’s down to 13, which goes next?

The Volvo, though good looking, and a soft top to boot, falls short simply because it was never a “fun” car to drive, fast at any rate. Slow whilst tootling around town maybe, but I’d have to put the roof up for fear of embarrassment, and what would be the point of that?

Next goes the 1973 Mercedes 280. Bloody lovely car and with its white-walled tyres as advertised it is a really cool set of wheels. But for driver enjoyment, all the others run rings around it.

The Mini Cooper gets scratched next. Nice car, very well specified, but it’s still only a Cooper, not the S or JCW.

And so we have our top 10:

  1. 2002 Audi A4 3.0 137,000kms $9,499
  2. 2001 BMW 530i E39 Steptronic 100,000kms $9500
  3. 2004 Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo 148.000kms $9000
  4. 2007 Ford Fiesta XR4 91,000kms $9990
  5. 2001 Commodore VX SS 114,000kms $8500
  6. 1990 Mazda MX5 Limited Edition 90,000kms $9880
  7. 2000 Mercedes CLK 230 Kompressor Elegance (supercharged) 170,000kms $9900
  8. 1992 Nissan 300ZX 103,000kms $6500
  9. 1992 Subaru SVX 163,000kms  $9950 (leather, 3.3i 6 cyl, very rare)
  10. 2004 Subaru Liberty 4 Gen GT Premium Pack 175,000kms  $10000 (2 ltr Turbo)

So let’s take a look a closer look.

  1. 2002 Audi A4 3.0 137,000kms $9,499

It’s a well built car, with beautiful lines, better in my opinion that the latest version, but the 3 litre is far more fiddly to work on than the 1.8T or 2.8 and parts are more expensive.  Apparently its timing belt needs to be replaced every 4 years which can cost up to $2,900+ (debatable). When added to the cost of large service you could be looking at a bill in excess of $4000. Hmmm maybe this is one to walk away from.

  1. 2001 BMW 530i E39 Steptronic 100,000kms $9500

BMW e 39There are very few reported problems, especially with E39’s built after 2000. Its cooling system can cause problems in time and brake wear is a consistent complaint with owners facing a hefty bill for replacement rotors and pads. Look for oil leaks around the engine and a rough idle could indicate a lack of servicing and extended oil change periods. But it is rapidly becoming the front runner.

  1. 2004 Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo 148.000kms $9000 1248926024922

Cheap and fast. If the car has been hooned, you could be staring at issues with the clutch and transmission. Build quality is obviously not as good as a BMW, but then this was just over a third of the price when new. At 148,000kms, I kind of think that there’s some expensive replacements around the corner, but they’d be cheaper than its European rivals.

  1. 2007 Ford Fiesta XR4 91,000kms $9990

Fiesta xr4The smallest, cheapest and newest car here. It may come without some of the niceties that others on the list have, such as a footrest or cruise control, but this is a zingy little motor. It’s the precursor to the current ST which globally has been lauded as one of the best little hot hatches money can buy and the XR4 is no different. Is it a dream car though? If I were 18 again, maybe so.

  1. 2001 Commodore VX SS 114,000kms $8500

    By: FotoSleuthCC BY 2. 

From reading the forums piston slap, or too much clearance between the piston and the cylinder walls has been a persistent problem with the VX, particularly with the early models. By revving the engine from cold to around 1500 rpm and listening for a knocking sound, you can easily find out.  The water pump has been known to go, as well as rear cv joints, along with a tendency to experience backlash in the driveline, or a certain amount of play in the gears’ synchro assembly. By accelerating hard in first gear, taking your foot off and back on again you may hear a knock, which would be a tell-tale sound. But this is a Holden, so cheaper to fix than the Euros and with improved safety over its predecessor, such as Bosch anti-lock brakes and traction control for the manual, this is still a contender. Still would this be a “dream” car? The current model V8 SS would be, but personally this generation never did it for me.

  1. By: Martin PettittCC BY 2.0

    1990 Mazda Mx5 Limited Edition 90,000kms $9880

I love the MX5, always have done but this is expensive for such an early model and appears to be over-priced by at least $4k.  Carsguide.com.au tells us to “check that the Mazda’s engine starts easily, idles reasonably smoothly and doesn’t blow smoke from the exhaust under hard acceleration. The gearbox should be light and positive in its change action and not baulk or crunch even on the fastest of changes.”

The soft top needs to be in good condition with no stitching missing. Hopefully it has not been used to race or run around too many tracks. A roll cage and things like a fire extinguisher would be a big give away. As with any car this old, if the numbers on the odometer do not align perfectly, you could be staring at a car that has been clocked. At this price though, I don’t care how limited edition it is, it would need to be exceptional to hand over your hard earned.

  1. 2000 Mercedes CLK 230 Kompressor Elegance 170,000kms $9900Mercedes CLK

As with the BMW, very little goes wrong with the Merc CLK. Its supercharged 2.3 engine, though no AMG, should give you enough of a push in the back to make you smile. However there has been issues with the control unit for the myriad of sensors it has. When some of these sensors go the car can’t be moved until the system clears itself, which can take anything up to 20 minutes, and can cost around $1000 to replace. Some drivers find the seats hard and uncomfortable, but most owners love their cars and forgive these little foibles. It is sleek and elegant and still looks as good on the road today as it did 13-14 years ago.

  1. 1992 Nissan 300ZX 103,000kms $6500

Nixxan ZXI was never too sure of these cars when they first appeared, perhaps it was the American badging, they called it the Fairlady, but today it still looks futuristic and very much like a sports car. The forums suggest it is usually a reliable beast but with no traction control it can be a handful in the wet. As with most of the cars here servicing and maintenance can be expensive but at $6500, you could put the remaining $3500 to good use and see many more kilometres of happily hairing around.

  1. 1992 Subaru SVX 163,000kms  $9950 Subaru SVX

This is the wild card, or joker in the pack, if you will. Subaru was intent on showing the world it could make more than just small hot hatches that like to go ram raiding. It was futuristic and quirky and, because it was a Subaru, was very well put together. Apparently its auto transmission was not up to much, and getting parts and replacements could be an issue today. The word is Subaru apparently lost $3,000 per car back in the 90’s but it is safe to say, this car stands out like almost no other.

  1. 2004 Subaru Liberty 4 Gen GT Premium Pack 175,000kms  $10000 

Subaru Liberty GT Gen 4Along with the Fiesta, the Liberty is perhaps the least “dream” like car on this list. But it would be foolish to ignore its capabilities. Famed for its unbreakable reliability, excellent build quality and, in this generation, its looks rivalled Audi’s A4. Some Subaru engines had a run of cylinder-head gaskets that were prone to fail and an ‘04 model could be one of the affected batches. Have it checked carefully but the new gasket design fixes the problem. This being said, the chances are that after 8 years this problem would have already been identified. Subaru engines do not tolerate poor maintenance and if oil changes have been missed, engines have been known to clog and die prematurely.

My Top 5


Ford Fiesta XR4

Mercedes CLK

Nissan 300ZX

Subaru GT

And the winner is …

If I follow my own rules, then the Merc CLK and and Subaru GT would fall by the wayside. Lovely as they may be, 170,000 plus kilometres is not something to ignore. No doubt the Scooby will go on for ever, they always do, and the Merc was built like a tank, but you know a transmission or an air conditioning unit is bound to go and that will take the shine off.

The Fiesta though the youngest and the easiest on the wallet just doesn’t quite shout “dream car.” The ZX, looks great, goes well, but I’d like to get home in one piece after a spot of rain.

So considering the small difference in price between them all, it seems obvious that my winner would be the BMW. Not only was the E39 one of the best saloon cars ever made, it was fast, supremely able and wonderfully put together. It may not be an M5, but surely it would be the next best thing.

To conclude then, it is quite possible to find an affordable car that ticks all the boxes and, depending upon the depth of your pockets to keep the vehicle in tip-top condition, there is a car for you. 100,000kms these days is not such an issue and for many cars it means the engine has barely been run in. Ensure any one of the cars mentioned is serviced at every interval, the right oil is used and changed regularly, and you make note of important belt changes, you may never live to regret your decision.

bmw e39