alexa When it comes to cars, old is not always gold - Daily Nation

When it comes to cars, old is not always gold

Wednesday July 18 2018

Vintage cars are dazzling and if well looked after, can be a worthwhile asset. However, maintaining them can be a costly venture. PHOTO | FILE

Vintage cars are dazzling and if well looked after, can be a worthwhile asset. However, maintaining them can be a costly venture. PHOTO | FILE 

Baraza JM
By Baraza JM
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Hi Baraza,

I am an avid reader of your column and an admirer of classic or vintage vehicles. It’s my wish to own one in the future.

I am torn between a standard Volkswagen Beetle old model and a Suzuki LJ80. Which of these vehicles is good in terms of reliability, fuel consumption, engine capacity and availability of spare parts?

NB: I intend to use the vehicle as my daily runner for local errands and I live in an interior part of my county where the road is not tarmacked, but it is gravelled.

Stanley Waitagei

Hello Stanley,


I’m not sure whether to cry or laugh or pull my hair. I know I’m the self-proclaimed car expert around here, but this is kind of stretching it a little.

Usually when presented with a pair of 50-year old “classic” or “vintage” vehicles, the wise choice is to pick the one that moves. If they are both incapacitated, pick the cheaper one. Or the one that demands less work to get to whatever status you dreamt it would achieve. Or the one that presents better.

Really, at half a century and counting, standard car comparisons have long since left the building and taken a left down the street, at the corner of 25 Years A Classic Boulevard and Fuel Injection Avenue.

Volkswagen Beetle engines range from 1100 to
Volkswagen Beetle engines range from 1100 to 1600cc. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH

  1. Whatever reliability these cars enjoyed very rapidly followed the standard car comparison bandwagon and was last seen 30 years ago. Both are hardy and both are simplistic, but anything can happen to metal that is half a century old.

  2. Fuel consumption will be what you make of it. These vehicles came with very tiny engines from the factory, which returned very impressive fuel economy figures even by today’s standards. However, these engines relied on carburettors as an AFR determinant and I can solemnly swear that they have not lived all these years without someone tampering with the carburettor settings. You also need to learn how to tamper with carburettors because you will need this skill or else you will either lack power or you will burn too much fuel or both. Tuning a carburettor is extremely difficult, more so if done for altitude compensation, so I have no answer for your fuel economy concerns. But I daresay you will have plenty more to worry about with a 50-year-old design than how much fuel you are burning.

  3. Engine capacity is the reason you don’t need to worry too much about fuel. I said these cars came with tiny engines, and tiny they are. The LJ80 came with engines in the 360cc-800cc range. The Beetle is sportier (as it should be, given that it sired the greatest lines of sports cars the world has ever seen: The Porsche 911) with engines in the 1100-1600cc range. I have driven a 1600cc from Brazil in LHD guise and... yes, it is definitely the father of the 911.

  4. Availability of spare parts will be directly tied to how fastidious you are about staying mobile. If you are not doing a restoration project, along the way you may want to consider fabrication and modification for the platform to accept more modern architecture like suspension setups and infrastructure like engines and transmissions.

Suzuki LJ80 has engines in the 360cc-800cc
Suzuki LJ80 has engines in the 360cc-800cc range. PHOTO | FILE

As for use in daily running... perhaps not. Besides the obvious pitfalls of trying to get a retiree to do a yuppie’s job, there is the other aspect you should not readily dismiss: discomfort. Both vehicles are deeply uncomfortable. Sorry to whomever drives one but y’all know I’m right.

First off, they’re cramped inside. Neither was ever really designed to hold more than one passenger for any length of time extending beyond, say, half an hour. Anything past that and preservation of personal space becomes more important than reaching your destination.

I know this from experience: I have been in Jimnys and LJs of all vintages and shapes from the originals with candles for headlamps to the semi-latest, which I somehow don’t see on the roads any more. They’re all tight inside. The Beetle... well, I have also been in Beetles several times, but the most memorable was first day of the Bite The Dust tour of 2016 with the Volkswagen Anonymous Club.

I’m sure some of you recall that little tale of Nairobi-Mombasa in four days by bush in which I narrowly escaped digestion by Crocuta crocuta. The trip was fun, but from second day going forward I finagled my way into two different Type 2s because sharing the Type 1 made things a little too intimate between two men and it started feeling a bit awkward.

Space is one thing, suspension is another. These cars both ride on leaf spring suspension and are both direct progenies of war. One was designed with the go-anywhere abilities of an ibex and is an offshoot of the Willys General Purpose vehicle (itself a war machine), the other is the outcome of when Adolf H tried to cost-effectively motorise das reichleutnanten in die Wehrmacht during the Second World War*.

Either way, these cars were deliberately designed to survive adverse conditions, and they both feel like it. The suspensions are concrete and they ride exactly the way you’d expect a military vehicle to.

Run either of them daily if you have a masochistic bent... or a titanium skeleton... or if you really have no choice, but these are better off as restoration projects than daily runabouts.

(*Clarification: the people’s car was actually birthed right before the onset of the Second World War, but this particular street fight broke out after only 210 cars for civilian use were built, halting production. These 210 cars were all given to the armed forces for unofficial mobility purposes, hence my starred sentiment above).



Get rid of need for crazy speed attitude and the real beauty of a Subaru Exiga really shines through


Hello Baraza,

Please review the Subaru Exiga in terms of performance, power and fuel consumption. I enjoy reading your vehicle analyses and it would be wonderful to hear what you have to say about the car.


Hello Jimmy,

Let me do the Kenyan thing and expertly expound on that which I know nothing about. The Exiga is a sell-out, along with its Judas Is-A-Trezia companion in the Subaru holding cell ominously darkened by Toyota’s overbearing shadow. Pretty ironic, then, that I sometimes refer to the Exiga as a “Subaru Wingroad”, yes?

It seems like Subaru wanted to build a van, but changed their minds about sliding doors at the last minute. They wouldn’t want to step on the toes of the Toyota Isis (unfortunate labelling in hindsight, but global geopolitics can be a cruel mistress)... or maybe not; we Kenyans are full of conjecture, most of it emotive, erroneous and ill-advised. Let me dig myself out of that hole, my dislike for the non-Subarus — Judas Exiga-riot and its 30-Pieces-Of-Trezia notwithstanding. I like the R1, though...

You will not be wanting for power with the Exiga-riot, since it comes with two versions of Subaru’s iconic flat-four mills in 2.0 guise — the famous EJ20; one being the 146hp atmospherically-fed antithesis of the other’s 221hp turbocharged form.

I usually say no need to buy a Subaru if it has no turbo, but in this case you are forgiven because the Exiga is a Wingroad anyway. It even comes with FWD if you don’t check too closely what is being sold to you. Brand identity is being ravaged before our very eyes...

A Subaru Exiga is a practical car. PHOTO |
A Subaru Exiga is a practical car. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH

So power has been sorted, somewhat. Now comes performance, and the Six-Starred Wingroad shows its blatant pandering to the non-enthusiast. There is no STi-fettled iteration, and has never been, which just goes to prove that this is not a real Subaru.

The existence of a turbo version does not always make a performance car; we have TATA Boleros with turbochargers and you don’t see those chasing down Golf GTIs, now, do you? 221hp is plenty of juice for the day-to-day; I suspect my own (very real) Subaru Legacy is putting down those kinds of numbers, but in my case this effort is channelled underfoot via a 5-speed manual transmission. Not so much in the Subaru sell-out: there is no manual version.

What you have are the following: a 4-speed automatic, which will be an abject lesson in fuel economy or the lack thereof; then there is the 5-speed automatic, which when coupled with the 221-horse powerplant and AWD is the closest you will ever come to an actual Subaru in spite of the Wingroad habiliments; and then there was X, the dark side of the moon, the wet patch on the bed sheets: the continuously variable transmission, more commonly known as CVT. I hate this gearbox.

Subaru calls their version Lineartronic, which means you can’t tell if there is any gearing whatsoever so to keep you from losing your mind, they create artificial “steps” in the CVT to more accurately mimic a pukka automatic. As the children of today would say: “Subaru, why don’t you make regular automatic like a regular person?”

Pet peeves aside, the Exiga is actually not half-bad. Get over your WRC/Fast & Furious/Need For Speed brand attachment and the real purpose of the Exiga shines through. It is immensely practical: seven seats, which means it is less a Wingroad and more a Wish.

And get this, those seven seats are arranged in cinema-hall format, which means the pews get slightly loftier as you move from the prow aft. The last time I observed this about a car was with the E65 BMW 7 Series — the predecessor of the car El Jefe was bowled over by during the recently concluded Total Motor Show. Six degrees of separation, right? The President likes an Exiga. Ha!

It gets better. The rear doors open at right angles for easier access. There is an optional panoramic roof. The interior is a reprint of the Legacy BM/BR generation, which means that for what it is, the Exiga is actually a little overaccomplished. It is a people over with AWD and 221 turbocharged horsepowers. Not bad, huh?

As a Subaru it may be a bit of a failure — first no manual version is available, but to compensate we are instead offered 2WD as available. In a Subaru? FWD, no less. Pass. But as a car, an appliance, a tool... you cannot do much better than the Exiga.



If you’re looking for sportiness, then Porsche is your car. Want to make a statement? A Mercedes is the best bet.


Hello Baraza,

I import cars and I’m very happy with your continued service to car owners and motoring enthusiasts. Last week, you advised Tracy, who was in dilemma on what car to take based on class and taste. I have a customer with similar sentiments and we are looking forward to shipping in a Porsche 2016 model. The customer is torn between:

a. Porsche Macan TDV 6 S PDK and 2.0 PDK petrol

b. Porsche Cayenne V8 petrol and TD V6 Diesel

Any of these car will cost the family a tidy sum. Kindly analyse the Porsche family and compare the brand with Mercedes, BMW and the Evoque.


A Porsche is famous for sportiness. PHOTO |
A Porsche is famous for sportiness. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH


My bank manager must have turned in his sleep as I read your email. These same children (see Subaru correspondence above) would then summarise this particular situation in one word: “lanes”.

Lanes. I have mine, and they have never led to any Porsche except a Cayenne GTS some years ago. The car behaved practically exactly like it would theoretically.

1. It has a V8 engine 2. it is petrol powered 3. Four-and-a-half litre capacity. 4. Most importantly, it is a Porsche.

It was faster than I imagined it would be, it handled better than my then-unhoned skills could fully exploit, it was thirsty, it got louder at higher revs, it felt heavy but not ponderous, and after I gave it back I made a promise myself to work harder and afford such a car. I am yet to keep that promise.

I have never been in a Macan, and I have never used a PDK gearbox (the GTS was automatic), so we’ll leave that train of thought on that track and get on another one.

A Mercedes is mostly famous for social impact.
A Mercedes is mostly famous for social impact. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH

Your Porsche buyer is a status-conscious punter, who wants to know about the other brands. As stated last time, it really is hard to beat Mercedes in the Game Of Gravitas; not even Porsche can unseat them.

Porsches are more famous for sportiness than sociological impact. BMWs, as stated earlier as well, are for the aspirational and those who want to look sporty, but really aren’t.

(That 7 Series that was at the motor show is to die for, though it still cannot hold a candle to the Sonderklasse in terms of sheer intimidatory menace. In the laws of Thugonomics, the S Class is owned by the established. The 7 Series is for those still coming up in the game, the upstarts.)

The Evoque is for those who read the latest glossy magazines, in print form. They are up to date, but simultaneously with a hint of old school about them.

If your client loves driving, they are barking up the right tree by looking at Porsche. If image is everything, let them have a garner at the three-pointed star.