The Sub-$30,000 Dream Car: What Would You Buy?

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The Sub-$30,000 Dream Car: What Would You Buy?
If you were given $30,000, what would you buy?

Get a group of guys together for long enough and eventually, the subject of cars will come up. There are many factors that influence what vehicles we long for. Maybe it was a favorite childhood toy; maybe a family road trip; maybe just a desire to have something that isn’t an utter piece of crap.

Picking a dream car when money is no object is easy. Bugatti Veyrons, Eagle Speedsters, and Maybachs would be jamming up the streets in no time.  Putting a realistic price cap on things makes the scenario much more interesting.  I got four of Primer’s contributors together to discuss this very thing.  We talked about our first cars and what we would do if we each had $30,000 to spend on a dream car.

The results may surprise you.

Kenneth Suna

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Kenneth grew up a Honda guy because, like most of us, he had hand-me-downs from his parents.  They aren’t flashy, but they are reliable. Despite this, Kenneth grew up a full on car guy.  His particular tastes lean towards older, classic designs with simple interiors.  Power everything? Don’t need it. Electronic ignition system with facial recognition? Nope. Kenneth wants it simple…crank windows simple.

He lives in Washington D.C. and doesn’t have a garage, so a fully restored and flashy classic is out of the question.  Instead of a Chevelle, Charger, or GTO, Kenneth has decided on a classic from his matchbox collection: a 1985 Ford Bronco in black with a beige interior.

Ken’s plan is to use the money to buy and then rebuild the Bronco to better than original condition. A new paint job, interior, and drivetrain will give Kenneth a bad ass Bronco that will be as reliable as any new car, while maintaining that certain air of coolness that only 80’s trucks can provide.

Ford Bronco

Gin A. Ando

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Gin is another guy that started out with a Honda. His first car was a Civic with a ton of miles and a hard life, but the will to just keep on going.

What would he buy with $30k? A hunter green 2006 Acura TL. Sedan. Tan leather interior.

I thought that was a really interesting choice, and Gin has a great story for why he would choose that particular car.

I don’t remember a lot about this car except my paternal uncle drove one in Japan (the equivalent in Japan, at least), and took us from the airport to the childhood home of my father. We passed through the entire city of Nagoya, lit up by neon signs on the buildings and my older brother and I were sitting in the backseat, trying to stay awake while my father and his older brother just talked in a quiet voice.

I’ll never forget that car, that night or that trip. I’ve wanted an Acura TL ever since.

Plus, that thing handles corners like an OG.

After picking up his memory mobile, Gin would spend the rest of his money on making every aspect of the car that much better. By adding sound deadening material such as Dynamat to improve the quietness even more, fixing any interior bits that may be worn, and adding some well thought out suspension modifications, who knows, in a few years, maybe Gin’s nephews will be dreaming of his Acura, and a new family tradition will be born.


Jack Busch

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Jack’s first car was a 1990-ish Hyundai Excel that he bought for $600. Just as you’d expect, it had a laundry list of issues ranging from wheel wobble, to electrical storms erupting under the hood, to a dimpled and rippled body thanks to an incident involving his high school soccer team throwing copious amounts of apples at it.

Jack doesn’t know anything about cars, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. What he does know is that he wants a vehicle that is not only comfortable and economical, but that also won’t compel people to throw fruit at it. Since he’s got thirty grand to play with, and he isn’t picky, we came up with the following solution.

Jack will spend about $20k of his money buying a Volkswagen Jetta TDI.  They come nicely equipped, look sharp, and the diesel engine will run on vegetable oil. The rest of his money will go towards a biodiesel conversion unit and an old junker truck to drive around and pick up the grease from his local Long John Silver’s.  Jack is a regular there and is sure they will gladly donate the used oil to help their favorite customer free up some more funds for hushpuppies.


Christopher Buecheler

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Chris’s first car was a 1985 Nissan Sentra 4-door, silver with grey interior. Considering it was only 8 years old when it was passed down from his father, it was till in pretty good shape. Flash forward 42,000 miles after Chris “drove it like a lunatic, treated it like hell, and smoked in it like a chimney”, and the poor Sentra finally died a week after it was passed on to his younger brother.  Chris says he has since quit all of those bad habits, but won’t say if his brother will let him borrow his car yet.

Chris has never owned a non-Japanese car and plans to stick with them when he goes shopping for his budget dream car.  He loves two door vehicles and, because he’s at a place in his life where he doesn’t need to tote around kids, he can easily live with one on a daily basis.  While he loves sports cars like the 350 and 370 Z’s, the Mazda Miata, Chris has decided to write his check out for a 2013 Altima Coupe with all the trimmings. In fact, he has been looking at this car so much, he was able quote us the paint color codes and MSRP from memory.

Nissan driving

Adam Brewton

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My first vehicle was a 1987 Honda Elite 125cc scooter.  In Alabama you can drive a motorcycle at 14 years old, as long as the motor is 250cc or less. It was gold and had South Park stickers on the front fairing.  Pretty pimp right? In the 16 years between the scooter and my current Jeep, I’ve owned 31 vehicles. My driveway has held everything from American cars and trucks from the 60’s and 70’s, to lowriders, to tuners, even an MG Midget and a Triumph Spitfire.  I have no prejudice or preference except that the vehicle must have something to make it special.

I would use my $30,000 to increase my current fleet.  For road trips, a 1996 Buick Roadmaster wagon with a slightly modified engine, air suspension, and upgraded audio will do nicely. Just for the record, my family has been running cool wagons since long before Rutledge Wood and Top Gear US made them popular again. For weekends, I’d spend another five or six grand on a good running early 90’s Mazda Miata. They are just incredibly fun to drive.  They may not be drag racers, but for carving up a curvy country road or enjoying a sunny cruise down the beach, there are few vehicles better suited for the job. And the last $15K? Well, for that I would just scour the internet until I could get my hands on a good condition 1967 Impala sedan like the one Dean drives in Supernatural. Let’s be honest here, there aren’t many things cooler than a classic black Impala. My wife and I are planning on having a baby soon, and there’s no doubt I’ll be the coolest dad at day care!

station wagon, miata, and impala


I think what this experience teaches us most is that while we all come from different walks of life, and have different tastes in vehicles, we have many similarities as well.  Except for Chris, no one wants a brand new car.  What we do all want is something that is ours, special to us, and that gives us that warm fuzzy feeling each time we turn the key.

For Kenneth, knowing that at any time he could drive over the top of all that D.C. traffic in his Bronco is enough to keep him from getting the red mist on his commute home each day.  Gin gets to relive a small part of that memorable trip with his father, uncle, and brother, every time he makes a run to the Red Box. Jack not only gets to smell the delightful aroma of hushpuppies everywhere he goes, but he can go anywhere safe in the knowledge that no one will throw apples at his new ride. Chris can walk out to a parking lot full of Altimas and know that the one he’s getting into is special to him, built to his specifications, with everything he wants and nothing he doesn’t. As for me, even though I lose more driveway space, I gain three vehicles that are fun to drive and will do what I want them to do very well.

We’d love to hear what you would do with $30,000 to spend on any vehicle you want.  Comment below and tell us your plan.

Adam Brewton

Adam currently serves as the supervisor of Student Services for Columbia Southern University. His hobbies include adventure racing, anything involving the outdoors, and zombies. He spends his free time enjoying all of these things with his wife and two dogs.