A fun game to play when I was young was "I spy with my little eye, something that is..." and you would name a colour. The other person playing would have to guess what you were looking at. Last Sunday, it wasn't so much a colour as a strange car feature that caught my little eye: a continental kit.
The continental kit came into fashion in the 1940's as a way to carry a spare tire without taking up trunk space. The upright rear tire, often in a styled case or cover, added a bit of style to cars of the day. By the 1980s, the continental kit had fallen out of fashion, but that didn't stop Dodge from making it an option on their 600 convertible. The K-Car based 600 convertible was never a beacon of style, so I suppose anything that made it stand out a bit more was worth a try!
Aside from the continental kit, which is the highlight of the 600 convertible design, a few well-placed chrome touches made for a tidy package. The chrome trim on the A-pillar was an especially nice touch, and is a design element seen on many convertible luxury and sports vehicles over the years. This example of the 600 had a 3-speed automatic transmission and 4-cylinder engine, meaning it would be better suited to lazy Sunday drives than sporting driving, but the spotless interior and exterior as well as the like-new folding top make it appealing nonetheless.
This isn't the first time a K-derived Chrysler product has caught my attention and likely not the last. This 600 is about as unique and stylish as they come. The 600 was parked behind a building that housed a used car dealership, so hopefully with the nice weather coming, it will be put out for sale and find a happy home. You can be sure that if it ends up somewhere nearby, I will catch sight of it again. Not much gets past my little eye!
It's hard to hold out much hope for a $270 vehicle. Last summer I had the chance to purchase a 1999 Suzuki Grand Vitara. A family member knew of someone looking to get rid of their little 4x4 and they were hoping someone would keep it on the road, instead of scrapping it. Having spent most of its life in British Columbia, the vehicle was showing very little rust for its age. With 214,000 kms, it was no spring chicken, and had a few problems:
While none of these were major problems, they all had me worried that the Suzuki wouldn't pass safety and emissions testing. As much as I loved the idea of owning a 'proper' 4x4 like the Grand Vitara, I didn't want to have to spend alot of money to get it on the road, only to find that something else would go wrong in a short time.
One of the highlights of the Grand Vitara is the small 2,5L V6 engine. By 1999, V6 engines were typically 3.0L or more in displacement, so such a small V6 was a rarity for sure sure. With 142 hp and 153 ft-lb of torque, it isn't a particularly powerful engine, but it is well suited to the 'pocket-sized' GV.
Another great feature is the true 4x4 system. Unlike other small 4x4s with button-selected or fully automatic all wheel drive systems, the Grand Vitara features a manual gear selector to shift between 2WD, 4 HIGH and 4 LO. 4 HIGH is designed for driving in snow, mud and other low-traction situations, while 4 LO is designed for low-speed off-road use.
The owner of the Suzuki had been offered $270 as a trade-in on a new vehicle, so was only asking that much when I went to check it out. He liked his little 4x4 and preferred the idea of someone driving it a bit longer. I decided to take gamble and buy it, not sure if it would prove to be a money pit or not. It took a few hundred dollars to safety, but for well under $1000 dollars it was on the road.
Just a few short weeks after buying it, I put the Grand Vitara to the test. My nephew and I headed out on a road trip to the East Coast of Canada in a convoy with other family members. I had flown to the West Coast just before, so it was exciting to dip my toes in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans in the span of one week, especially since it was Canada's 150th birthday as a nation! Despite some burnt oil fumes that wafted into the cabin at every stop and less than encouraging fuel mileage (11 mpg, on average), the trip was a success.
Eight months have passed since I bought the Suzuki, and I feel that it has definitely proven itself. A scan of the OBD system indicates that the intermittent check engine light is due to a faulty O2 sensor. Changing the brake pads fixed most of the brake shudder, though new rotors will be necessary. I installed new winter tires to tackle the snow and will soon be installing a set of meaty summer tires. My brother in law helped me tighten the valve covers and the oil leak has all but stopped.
I have now put over 12,000 kms on my $270 purchase and am convinced there is lots of life left in it. There are a few dents, scratches and a bit of peeling paint on the bumpers, but overall, the body and frame are in fantastic shape for the age. The interior is looking a bit worn and tired, but a thorough cleaning when the warm weather finally hits will help. What is needed now is a little TLC to the engine and drivetrain to ensure the vehicle is running properly. My plan is to take care of a few issues that affect fuel economy and how the vehicle performs:
With this bit of TLC, I think the Grand Vitara will easily make it to 250,000 kms, and hopefully beyond. I enjoy extracting every last km out of an older vehicle and am excited at taking it on more adventures this summer. While I have yet to do any serious off-roading, I have tried it in 4x4 on some rough, muddy trails and enjoy seeing what it can do. A friend said that with a small lift and some serious all-terrain tires, my little 4x4 would be unstoppable as an off-road warrior. This is probably the best $270 investment I have ever made, so lets see just how far I can stretch it!
Welcome! My name is Paul, and I am an old-fashioned, low-pressure, low-buck car fan with lots of automotive stories to tell!