QotW: What’s your best “3-digit purchase price” car story?

If you’ve been around J-tin long enough, you’ve purchased a 3-digit car. That’s when the transaction price is less than $1,000, and we’re not talking about the so-called “value” you declared to the DMV. We mean money that actually exchanged hands, from buyer to seller. Sometimes it’s a decrepit heap in someone’s backyard that you have to yank out of its car-shaped hole. Other times it’s a rusty parts car that you limp back to your garage. Or, if you’re really lucky, an actual, running machine that you white-knuckle home over a number of miles exceeding the number of dollars paid.

What’s your best “3-digit purchase price” car story?

The most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “Which car should automakers make reproduction parts for next?” 

We learned from your answers that there are lots of Toyotaku out there who want to see Toyota begin reissuing parts for the beloved AE86A20 Celica, and various Corollas, as well as Mazdafarians who’d love to see rotary engine or Miata parts. There were even calls from Subarites for the SVX, followers of the Mitsubishi clan for the Starion, and Joe Isuzus for the Impulse. However, the most passionate plea came from PDXBryan, who made a compelling case for the 510:

I can’t believe I’m the first to vote for the 510! We all have our favorites and I know folks are often wanting to look for the more esoteric and rare but seriously, name another JNC that’s had more influence than the good ol’ five & dime? Even though we think of the 510 as being unchanged through it’s 6 year run, there are many differences between the model years that can make restoration difficult. Try to find a dashpad for a ’69, I did, but I was very lucky! Futofab and Datsport have done commendable work reviving some important pieces but they’re small companies. Imagine how many decrepit Dimes could be revived with help from Nissan? For evidence of their value look at the prices stock and nicely modded 510s have been fetching on Bring a Trailer. The love for these little guys is not dwindling and folks are willing to put their wallets where their nostalgic hearts are.

Omedetou, your comment has earned you a set of decals from the JNC Shop!

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24 Responses to QotW: What’s your best “3-digit purchase price” car story?

  1. banpei says:

    I have to admit I never bought any car in the 3 digits… Only sold them… 😮
    Well I got close buying my first AE86 in the 3 digits (1300 euros), but it came delivered as a half finished lego-puzzle: a drivable shell filled with boxes of (small) parts. 😀

  2. Jack Robinson says:

    Come to think of it all my cars have been 3 digit purchases.
    My first car, a 1984 Mazda 626 GLX was given to me by my parents. It was given to my dad and he used it as a run around for his garage business. Day I passed my test he gave that too me. Ran me good for 4ish years. I ended up painting it Nato green in the end. It all came to an head when I crashed it. Away it went to car heaven.

    Owned 3 more rides that arnt JNC related so wont go there..

    Now to the current car. 1983 Mazda 626 LX
    Bought it on ebay for £150 for a vicar. He knocked £50 off because it was advertised with MOT which it didn’t, score!
    After delivery costs it cost me £350 in total for it to be road legal.
    This was 4 years ago and i don’t want to go into how much its costed me since then, I don’t care because I love it! Exactly what a car should make you feel.


  3. Patrick Carey says:

    I bought a running 1971 Datsun 510 wagon for $300.00 in 1983. I sold it for $300.00 in 1986 after a paint job and many repairs. If I could go back in time and undo that sale…..

  4. Darrel B says:

    I’m back again.

    My first Cosmo, found in East Tennessee, was purchased to $200 with a truckload (literally) of spares.

    My 2nd Cosmo, found in Middle Tennessee, was purchased for $800.

    There have been many RX-7’s bought for 3-digit dollars, but these are the important ones!

  5. CLShifter says:

    My only 3-digit car purchase was my first one.
    It’s autumn, 1993. I am 16 years old. I’ve been walking/biking/bumming rides to my job flipping burgers at Wendy’s for a year. I want a car. I want to learn to drive a manual. One afternoon my dad picks me up from work, and as we’re driving the two miles home we see this odd-looking black hatchback parked in a driveway with “FOR SALE $550” in the windshield. So we pull over to check it out.

    It is a 1982 Datsun 200SX. It is RWD. It has a 5-speed manual. It has 211,000 miles on the odometer. It has significant body rust, but this is in Buffalo, NY and most cars over 5 years old have significant body rust. It runs, drives, pulls in every gear. Works for me. I offer $450 and it’s accepted immediately. (Damn, should have said 400).

    In a couple days I get the title and plates worked out. The new title says under mileage: “Exceeds mechanical limits”. I think it means the machine that prints the title won’t go that high, but I always wonder.

    When we get the car home, we are looking it over, and we are looking it over. The 200SX features 4-wheel disc brakes and a dual-plug ignition system. My dad remarks, “When this was new, it was quite a nice car.” We take a spin around town with him giving me instructions on driving manual, which he did for years but hasn’t done in awhile.

    The next day is Monday. I take the bus to school (only Seniors get to park at my high school), but I’m supposed to work in the afternoon. I’ll be damned if I’m biking to work again. After school I fire up the Datsun and take it to another street in our neighborhood with cul-de-sacs at both ends. I spend the next half hour starting-and-stopping, over and over until I feel confident enough to head to work, and then I’m out on the road, solo for the first time in my own car.

    Over the next 18 months, I have the time of my life. I am free. I stall occasionally, but improve. I drive the Datsum through two Buffalo winters with old snow tires and no power steering. I bounce it off a couple of snowbanks, but eventually get quite good at countersteering and throttle feathering and can keep the car going in a straight line even when the rear end is dancing all over the place.

    The Datsun spends quite a bit of time out of commission. Multiple leaks in rusty fuel lines get patched with a hacksaw and replacing the rusted steel line with rubber fuel line hose. New brake rotors take a week to come in. A bad PCV valve leads me to replacing two blown valve cover gaskets. A bad ground causes the entire electrical system to go haywire until I track it down by studying the wiring diagrams in a Haynes manual. I learn and I learn.

    In the spring of ’95 a co-worker of my dad’s is getting rid of his ’88 Accord hatchback. It’s a 5-speed in great condition and he’ll sell it to me for trade-in value: $1500. At this time I’m getting ready to go to college. I’ll be commuting to school and I know the Datsun isn’t going to cut it. It’s recently decided it doesn’t want to run in the rain. Probably electrical, but no matter. I make the deal on the Honda and put the Datsun up for sale. It now has 225,000 miles. A kid from a neighboring town buys it and off it goes. Selling price: $400, fifty bucks less than I paid for the car.

    Maybe two months later a friend of mine calls me from a local junkyard. “I found your car.” he says. I head over there and sure enough, there it is. It has a few new dents but nothing obvious to indicate what finally did it in. The odo reads 229k. I grab a couple souvenirs: the rare “Datsun 200SX – by Nissan” badge off the back, and the shifter knob. 23 years later I still have both.

    But the story doesn’t quite end there. After college, I move from the car-eating Rust Belt to North Carolina. Older Japanese cars are much more common. Nostalgia for my first car is strong. I decide I’m going to get me another 200SX. Even in NC, S110-generation 200SX’s are just too rare, and I don’t find one for sale. What I do find is an ’88 S12 200SX SE V6. I buy it and drive it for the next 8 years, fixing and improving it along the way. I spend the best years of my ’20s behind the wheel of that S12. I road trip all over the East Coast. I go to meets and help start an online S12 forum in the early days of PHP forums. That forum is still going.

    In 2010, with a child on the way, I retire the S12 from daily-driving duties, and buy a B14 SE-R, then a B15 Spec V after that. Today the S12 is in my garage, a bit beat up and with a disassembled fuel system. It’s now a beloved project. The car has been a big part of my life for many years. And it all goes back to a rusty black Datsun hatchback, sitting by the road, For Sale: $550.

  6. Scotty G says:

    My first car, in 1980, was a 1971 Toyota Corolla 2-door wagon. I paid $400 for it and I’ve been looking for another one for years. I rebuilt the engine and ran it on the ice-racing track on the frozen Lake Superior harbor in Duluth, MN one winter and then I sold it for $750 for some band equipment. Stupid. I need (not want, need) to find another one!

  7. Not long before I started writing here, I bought an ’85 AW11 MR2. The seller was a guy I knew that was playing mechanic and thought he could restore the car, luckily a “restoration” to him was primering up some rust and doing a timing belt.

    After he did the timing belt the car ran like crap and he was afraid he was going to blow it up so he sold it to me for $500. Turns out the reason it ran like hell was he had ignored the sparkplug recommendation and put in a set of coppers. Since a 4A-GE requires a double platinum, I tossed them in on a whim and it ran like a top.

    I drove it for a year then traded it for a rust free EA82 Subaru GL-10 and $1000.

  8. r100guy says:

    It’s funny. At the time, it didn’t appear to be such a great purchase, basically buying someones junk car but if you keep them loooong enough, your “not so great purchase” becomes a “pretty damn great purchase”.

    1971 Mazda R100 purchased for $300 12/83
    1973 Mazda RX2 purchased for $500 12/99
    1977 Mazda RX3SP purchased for $800 12/2010

    You’ll notice that all three of these cars were purchased in December which I can’t explain. I do get excited every December in anticipation of another find.

  9. Hector says:

    I purchased in the early 2000’s before the ae86 blew up in popularity at 1984 Toyota Corolla SR5 lift back for $400, and a 1975 Toyota Corolla 2 door for $300. At that time I had to eventually give them up to focus on my move to college. I wish I could find deals like that again.

  10. Timothy Sevakis says:

    My daily driver for the last 4 years until recently, a 1981 Datsun 210 Deluxe. Was looking for something better on gas and came across it on Craigslist. Bought it from a 19 year old girl that drove it her last 2 year’s of high school. Her and her mom we’re moving up north and she couldn’t take it with her. She was afraid for me to drive it the 40 miles home on a set of may pop tires but I made it. I knew it was meant for me because the last 4 digits of her phone number was 1974, the year I was born. Has been a great little car.

  11. Alex Ngonvongsa says:

    I’ve purchased an all original, straight, mostly rust free, white Datsun 1978 620 Kingcab. I grabbed it for $200. The truck was on Craigslist in the same city I live in. The seller wanted to get rid of it due to the strict landlord. The truck wasn’t running, had an L20B. So, grabbed it for $200, towed it home which was free. The L20b had a hole in the block! Month later or so, put another L20B in it. The transmission was still good, which was automatic. It was lowered on 3 inch blocks, and then I scored some Nissan Titan 18inch wheels for it. When smog came around, it couldn’t pass. Ended up selling it for $1800 to a guy in Southern California.

    Another story, a 1972 510. It was a shell, with a Subaru LSD! Offered to buy just the differential, but the seller didn’t want to part it out. Instead, purchased the whole car for $450 and towed it home for free. It was also in the same city I live in. Scored a Subaru LSD for a 510, and sold multiple parts to get money back and I still have some parts from it as well.

  12. speedie says:

    I was around 25 or so and it was a 1976 Toyota Celica GT fastback. I paid $300 for it. I was in college at the time and my friend Rick called me up.,“Hey I have a five-speed Celica I’m looking to sell, you interested?” “Well, I would be but I’ve never driven a manual before.” I replied. “No prob,” says Rick, “I can teach you in like five minutes.” So, convinced that he could teach me to drive like a race car driver, I showed up at his house late on a Friday night.

    The color was called “metallic copper” but in its 150k mile plus condition the faded paint could have easily been called ”Drab Crap Brown”. It had some rust, including a small hole in the top of the driver’s fender that would spray rain water at highway speeds (it was actually pretty cool as the faster you drove the higher the water would spray), the interior console was torn apart as someone had stolen the radio by brute force, and the front bumper was at an unnatural downward angle (it would fall off onto my foot months later when I pulled up on it and discovered that rust had eaten so much of the bolts that they just snapped).

    Rick took me around his neighborhood and showed me how to shift through the gears. Once he was convinced that I could get into third and back down again, he knighted me “good to go”. I then proceeded to drive 30 miles home on the highway at one in the morning with borrowed plates. Any state trooper that saw me must have figured I would break down before too long and felt pity on me.

    I’m not sure if it is a testament to Rick’s great teaching or the fact that the Celica was such an easy car to learn on, but every car I have bought since has been a manual (except for a Volvo V70R which I could not get with one). I drove that car all over Boston like an Indy car driver with no fear and put about 40K miles on it. I finally had to retire it when the rust got so bad that it could not pass the safety inspection. Alas, no amount of duct tape and coat hangers could save it. I still smile every time I talk about it.

    • Evan P says:

      Funny I have a “brown” Supra and I have had people call it crap or Doo Doo Brown!!

      I owned an 07 S60R and loved every min of it.. well until it blew up.. quirky cars and the softest shifting manual I have ever driven.

      • Speedie says:

        I also had an 85 Supra that was “Maroon”. My friends five year old year old daughter called it “baby poop”. Great car not a great time great color.

  13. Geoff says:

    I was fiddling around on the internet one day, looking at S30 projects at HybridZ, when I decided to browse the classified section. Just for background, HybridZ doesn’t really cater much to platforms beyond S30, though they do feature sections for member projects in S130, Z31, and Z32.

    So, I was looking around the classified section, and happened on a new, in box Z32 TT early-style spoiler. These have been NLA for years and years through Nissan. He’d bought it back in the early ’90s with the thought of adding it to his SCCA-racer naturally aspirated Z32, but the rules ended up being such that it wasn’t legal for him, so he kept it on the shelf and it gathered dust for the better part of 20 years.

    I messaged the guy and asked what he wanted for it, and he asked for $100 plus shipping.

    I was on that like a fly on poo.

    So, I got one of, if not the, last new-in-box early-style spoiler for my Z32 TT for $140 after shipping.

  14. Greg says:

    In November 2016 I recently purchased a 72 Toyota corona mx22 2dr ht for $400, a 73 rx3 wagon for $320 & 79 civic & 74 610(basket case) for $500. These cars have been sitting since 1980-81 & need work. I’m in the Toyota & mazda forum. About to get started on these cars, can’t wait. My wife thought I was crazy dragging these car out of their resting spot to our house. She’s starting to dig them now though 😉

  15. Parrot says:

    My TE27 levin cost me $AUD486

    Mind you that was for a totally bare shell. Not a single nut bolt or screw (except for the four screws holding on the ID plate)……..

    And it was in Japan………………..

    I also have a KE25 rolling shell that cost me $AUD500, so technically that’s still 3 figures.

    We wont of course mention how much all the levin specific parts I’ve bought from all over the world cost, though none of them actually reached 3 figures individually…….

    I call it my Tamiya TE27 as it is a collection of (very desirable) parts. But instead of being packaged in a small carboard box, they are stored all over the house, shed etc, much to the wife’s displeasure. I’m reminded of those photos where they put all of the myriad components laid out on the ground that eventually build a car. Would like to do that one day.

  16. Jason Marah says:

    My first retro was a 1984 Mazda RX-7, which I still have. I always wanted a retro of some sort. I was into my Mazda’s at the time (and still am) and was dailying a ’91 Eunos Presso V6, which was my first car, but I was thinking along the lines of an Opel Manta B.

    I went along to RetroStock, in Mondello Park, Ireland, which is an awesome event of retro drifting and grip sessions along with a massive display area of Ireland’s finest retros. I left that event knowing I needed to get a retro. The bug was well and truly planted. I searched online for Manta B’s, and there were a few contenders. Among my search, this UK registered RX-7 popped up. Listed as an ’81 and for just over €1000, I thought this was a goer. Being an ’81 meant it was eligible for cheap tax and registration in Ireland. A couple of quick texts, and we set out on the 7 hour round trip to pick it up.

    Being my first retro and first rotary, I didn’t really know what I was looking at. But I knew I wasn’t leaving without it. A deal was done quick, and I got the car for €950. Knowing what I know now, I would have brought a trailer, but being super naive, we decided to drive this RX-7, which had been sitting outside and idle for quite sometime and was in no way road legal, 3 and a half hours across Ireland back home. About an hour from home, we ran into a Police checkpoint. Luckily, the policeman was more interested in what the plans for the RX-7 was than the fact it shouldn’t have been on the road. An hour later, in the pitch black, we arrived home. The RX-7 missed a few beats on the way home but largely went without any issues.

    Further inspection the next day revealed there was quite a bit of welding needed, as we poked through filler and orange juice cartons impersonating sills. Not the best of starts. To make matters worse, I posted a thread on IrishRotary.com and was soon informed that it wasn’t an 81, but an 84. From a mechanical point of view, that’s a win, but from a cost point of view, it sucked. Those 3 years in a difference meant I was liable to pay €1800 to get it registered in Ireland and would have to pay over €1000 a year for tax, until it reached 30 years old (that’s when it becomes eligible for €56 tax per year). So, yeah, that’s my only 3 digit purchase which turned out to be closer to a 5 digit purchase by the time I actually got to drive it legally and restored.

    I regret nothing.

  17. Evan P says:


    I have a pretty interesting story about getting my 85 Celica Supra. So this is 1999 when initial D and drifting was just becoming a thing in the US. I was always a fan of the AE86 and the Supra’s from seeing them on the streets when I lived in Va Beach, Va, a lot of military guys and old school heads had them from the Air Force and Navy Base out there. So it’s 1997 I’m in The Air Force stationed in Oklahoma, “BFE Oklahoma” at that…. A pilot I worked with had this super clean 85 Supra, it’s the Terra Cotta Brown, even more rare than the white, silver, red ones. He drove it on Fridays around base and I would see him and his wife in it around town on weekends for “ date night”. It was immaculate. I would always ask him about it at work and he let me sit in it one day at the base gas station. So clean you could eat off of it. So I drooled over it for a few years. So in 1999 I started looking for an AE86 because well I figured it was a cheap alternative to the Supra since they were going for 8 thousand in some areas and the AE86 had now shot up to 5-6K in certain parts of Dallas FW area so I was screwed. I’m 21, E-3 in the Air Force so you know I have deep pockets right?!!

    Well I could never get my hands on a AE86 so I bought a 1990 honda accord. So the summer of 2000 I noticed the Supra sitting in the parking lot of the Squadron I was in. It had been there for months and had not moved. I asked around and asked why this pilots car was in the parking lot. I was told he got stationed out of the country and couldn’t take the car so he was going to leave it there and deal with it when he had time. So I emailed him and told him I would take care of it until he returned and would even put it in storage if he wanted to. He told me “I’ll do you one better, I’ll sell it to you if you want it” , the phone went silent.. as I didn’t think he was talking to me…. In disbelieve I stuttered sure “I would love to by your car, but sir I can’t afford it, these are worth well into 8,000 range especially in the condition it is in, its mint”!! He replied. “Oh I know it’s okay. I know how much you enjoy the car and I would love for you to have it. I know you will take good care of it.” “ So how does $750.00 Sound?”… pause..……….. hello, Evan, Hello you there?……Me: “Sorry sir I dropped the phone, you are kidding right?”, he said “ if that’s too much at once I can work with you on payments”. Me: “No sir the price is fine ( jumping up and down silently screaming on the phone) but I can only send you $100-200 a month until I pay it off, then you can send me the keys and title.” He replied: ‘No need I’ll mail all of that to you now and you just send me the money orders when you can, hope you enjoy it”!!

    And that is what I did for 7 months I sent him 100 bucks in money orders from the post office until I paid it off. I have owned it for the last 17 years. I’m the second owner, no rust, no accidents, everything still works and it has spent its life in various countries around the world and after getting it repainted its original color in 2010 it’s got a full JDM 2JZ GTE /single turbo swap and other goodies. I showed it at JCCS last year and took 3rd place for Best Celica.. you can check it out on my IG @ tokenblkguy78

    “ Cool story bro”…. lol yeah yeah I know… 😛

  18. Noddy says:

    I bought a 1967 R411 Bluebird SSS for $200 as a parts car. It wasn’t complete, most of the interior & glass was gone, bonnet missing, roof caved in. I bought it because I had a 65 SP310 at the time and the SSS had mostly SP311 running gear in it. It had an alloy heard & twin solexes. Used some of the parts myself and sold off the other bits over the next couple of years. The body went to the wreckers. I made a good profit on it. Have never seen another one ever…..

  19. ol shel says:

    I did buy a 62K mile 2-door Datsun 510 from an elderly man. It was his wife’s and she no longer drove. This was 1995. I paid $350.

    Still have it.

  20. Paul C says:

    In 1985, I purchased a 1978 Ford Courier, (Mazda B-Series Pickup), for $800. It was equipped with the Mazda 1.8 or 1.9 (?). I swear it had about 12 moving parts, was un-killable and had the finest shifting box in a JNC I ever drove, (and I believe it was a Ford box). It also came with the ubiquitous B-Series front fender corrosion. But, I loved it. An 8 year-old could maintain it. Very cheap to keep.
    A senior citizen ran a light and hit me, ending our relationship. The insurance company actually paid me more than I had into it. I subsequently purchased a Nissan 720. But it was more than three digits and a whole other story.

  21. Here’s mine. I bought a 71 240z on like from a seller explaining the car didn’t run but had a solid body and most of it’s original trim. I paid $600 for it.

    After dragging it home and eventually getting around to tearing it apart, I realized I had nowhere near the time or help to complete this project so the car sat in my garage for the winter.

    I eventually listed the car for sale and was contacted by a 13ish year old kid looking for a car to fix up with his father for his first car. I didn’t reply back but the kid reached out to me several more times over the next few weeks. Finally I replied back and told him to come look at it with his father.

    The two showed up a few days later and we got to talking. The father was a mechanic and vaguely familiar with old z’s. He told me his son was very determined and occasionally stubborn when he got an idea in his head.

    I liked what the two were planing so much that I gave them the car for free.

  22. Chase says:

    I’ve bought several 3 digit J-tins before but my most memorable one would have to be a 72 510 2 door shell I picked up around 4 years ago.

    I was wearing a shirt with a Datsun logo one time at a local swap meet, and had an older gentlemen stop me to comment (you stand out wearing anything other than a shirt with a Chevy bowtie here in Texas). Guy liked Datsuns as well, and said he had a few for sale. One of them was a yellow Datsun 510 roller. I essentially bought it sight unseen and 6 months later found myself in the middle of a pasture in Texas digging a 510 out of a muddy field. The car looked like it had survived several tornadoes, escaped a few bullet holes, and was on the receiving end of a charging bull. Best part was a skunk had laid claim to the car for a very long time, and wasn’t happy to give it up either. Despite the struggle, multiple attempts to jack the car up on soft soil, and nearly being on the wrong side of a skunk, we managed to get the car home. The 510 now has a new KA24DE heart, freshly restored undercarriage, all rust fixed, and a new interior. By far one of my favorite cars to drive.

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