I Need An Affordable Project Car For A Tall Driver! What Car Should I Buy?

Image: BMW
Image: BMW

Caleb is going to sell his Z3 project car because at 6’8” he doesn’t exactly fit safely within the confines of the car. He and his fiancé have a $12,000 budget for a zippy, manual transmission car that can accommodate a taller driver. What car should they buy?

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Budget: Up to $12,000

Location: King of Prussia, PA

Daily Driver: No

Wants: Funky, manual, zippy

Doesn’t want: Something with a low roof

Expert 1: Tom McParland - Mini On The Outside, Big On The Inside

Photo: Patrick George
Photo: Patrick George

This one is certainly a challenge, as most of your small, zippy cars aren’t designed for folks with taller frames. Even though I am a very average-sized dude, I have some personal experience that may point you in the right direction. I once owned a 2004 Mini Cooper S and found the interior way roomier than expected. When the car was up for its state inspection, I took it station where they checked the basic safety features tested for emissions and so on. The worker that was assigned to drive the car through the testing area was a very large man, I don’t know his exact measurements but he was well over 6-ft tall. I pulled the car up, got out, and left the door open. The man looked at the car, looked at me, looked at the car again, and said, “Sir, I dunno if I can fit in here.” I adjusted the seat to its lowest position, and this big fella sat down with an inch or so of headroom to spare, he looked around and said, “Well I’ll be dammed.” There is a whole internet forum dedicated to tall folks driving Mini Coopers.

Obviously, the Cooper checks your boxes of small, fun, and zippy. It is also certainly funky enough to be different. Minis aren’t known to be the most reliable, but you said this was a project car, and there is decent aftermarket support. You will definitely want an S model for the extra power, and finding decent examples under twelve grand shouldn’t be too hard. Here is a 2006 with only 40,000 miles in NJ for ten grand. It does have a minor accident in its history, but that tends to be something that was cosmetic.

Expert 2: Steve DaSilva - OK, Wait, Hear Me Out

Photo: Steve DaSilva / Jalopnik
Photo: Steve DaSilva / Jalopnik

Caleb, bear with me a second. I realize that your entire thing here is “accounting for your height,” and that you specifically said you didn’t want any low-roof coupes. I also realize that I am suggesting a low-slung, compact coupe. Here’s the thing: I think a Toyobaru will fit you great.

Despite its low, sleek looks, the Scion FR-S/Toyota 86/Toyota GR86/Subaru BRZ is actually built to accommodate tall drivers. I, at six feet tall, could wear a helmet in mine with ample room to spare. Forum threads are full of drivers over six feet, even up to 6'7", who fit great in their hachirokus — all thanks to the slight, but noticeable, bubbles in the roof over the front seats.

It can be a little tricky to find a clean-title Toyobaru in your budget, but there are options out there. Here’s one with a fresh motor in Maryland, or you could try to talk this one in Pennsylvania down by two grand. You’ll likely fit great in a bone-stock car, but there’s always the option of throwing in some race seats for extra room. Bride has some great options for the platform, which will give you all the room you need.

Those options are, of course, the best part of a project car. You want something that’s not only fun to drive, but that can be wrenched on and modified. That means you need something with a strong aftermarket, and the Toyobaru twins (quadruplets?) have third-party support in spades. See you on the FT86Club forums.

Expert 3: Collin Woodard - Risky Business

Nissan 370Z
Nissan 370Z

Unfortunately, Caleb, as I’m sure you’ve already discovered, finding a zippy, fun car with a manual transmission isn’t easy on a $12,000 budget. If you could possibly spend a little more, you could always go with this 2014 Dodge Challenger R/T. It’s the king of coupes for tall drivers, after all, and it comes with both a manual transmission and a V8. Even if you could stretch your budget to $16,000, though, I don’t know if it’s what you’d call “zippy.” Fun in its own way, yes, but not zippy.

It’s also probably not the best candidate for a project car. For a 10-year-old Dodge with 127,000 miles on the odometer, it’s in shockingly good condition. So I say let’s roll the dice. Let’s take a few risks. My suggestion might end up being a terrible idea, but it also might not be a terrible idea. You won’t know until you bring your new car home and start poking around.

You see, my actual recommendation is a Nissan 370Z. They have a lot more headroom and legroom than you might expect, so there’s a decent chance you’ll actually fit inside. And this particular 370Z comes in just under your $12,000 budget. Oh, and it also happens to have a salvaged title. Normally, that would be your cue to run in the other direction, but you said you want a project car, right? I don’t know what gremlins are hiding under the hood, but sorting them out can just be part of the project. It’ll be fun!

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