Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Top 15 Quintessentially Hipster Cars

Hipsters are here to stay. Ironic facial hair, Instagram and American Apparel are rapidly gaining adepts amongst hoards of twenty-somethings in search on an identity they can readily purchase. Vintage Americana, Pabst Blue Ribbon, plaid clothing and LOMO cameras are all part of the sophisticatedly unsophisticated language that combines alternative social behaviors, underground intellectual currents, and, of course, anything that is old and somewhat underappreciated by the bulk of society. Hipsters have taken to heart to be our current-day archeologists of the country's spiritual authenticity, and surprisingly enough, many have worked with the system to bring back to life many lost arts, renovate charming neighborhoods in decay, advocate for better food practices, sustain ethical entrepreneurship and really, not take life so seriously.

Taking back native America. Source: College Magazine.

While many hipsters diss cars as bourgeois, overfetishized commodities and relocate to areas with strong public transportation infrastructure, others are left without a choice and seize the opportunity to express their individualism in their choice of wheels. What follows is a list of the top 15 vehicles that the new generations are quickly relegating from their traditional underdog status...

15 - FORD ECONOLINE (1961-1967) 

Look at this face. Image source: C McSheridan on Flickr.
Choices are few when life dictates that your vehicle should haul your life-sized art installations, be as American as chewing tobacco, cost pennies to buy and maintain, and possess any trace of a personality. The early econoline vans have it all, and can be bought at all prices in all stages of repair and disrepair. A good alternative is the Dodge A100 with the invincible Slant-Six engine; however, due to the much prettier frontspiece in the Ford, the Econoline wins this round.

14 - CADILLAC DE VILLE (1971-1977)

Detroit iron? Positively. Image source: Hipster Wallpapers.
Thinking of big Cadillacs as cars for old people is just a product of a mainstream mindset. For the hipster that tends to carpool often –and you will need to split the gas bill at 12MPG–, few things beat the luxurious ride quality of a vintage Cadillac and the cultural mysticism of the beatnik riding a dilapidated symbol of status across the Great American West –think of Jack Kerouac here. Despite the brand name on the trunk, parts are plentiful, dirt cheap and reliable. Because 1971 marks the beginning of the "plastic" Cadillacs with the stigma of worse construction than their predecessors, collectors will not soar prices for these mammoth fuel hogs...let them stick to their 1959's! Brownie points if you can get an early one with the significantly angrier face (1971-2); a driveable one should range between $2k and $5k.

13 - MERCEDES 300TD (1979-1985)

My own private Burning Man. Image source: Jarigonnalikeit on Statigram.
Practical, durable, dependable and economical: the W123 Mercedes is always a solid choice –in wagon and sedan form– as a daily driver with gobs of European flair. Perhaps one the most popular vehicles in cities like Portland (OR) or Oakland (CA) due to the abundance of knowledgeable mechanics and the tendency of the owners to convert them to biodiesel or straight waste vegetable oil (SWVO). Parts can be furiously expensive due to some of them being model-specific (a wagon taillight sells for $200 new), although these machines can take lots of abuse and are very DIY-friendly. A rusty beater rarely sells for under $1,000; and mint condition examples have been known to reach up to $20,000 on eBay.


Free candy, anyone? Image source: jarigonnalikeit on Statigram
Despite being unrefined, noisy and uncomfortable, the traditional food/delivery truck offers the advantages of a van, combined with the aforementioned possibility of a SWVO conversion. Engineering is bone-simple and designed for heavy use, so no worries about the pothole-filled streets of Williamsburg. Besides unbeatable reliability and the cool-industrial factor, these aluminum-bodied vans have straight panels that are perfect canvases for any medium of graphic art. A grand or two should get you one in good running condition.

11 - Plymouth Satellite (1965-1974)

A car worthy of a David Lynch film. Image source: Craig's List.
Still an affordable classic –$5k should buy a decent driver–, the Satellite offers all-steel-and-chrome styling without renouncing to the temptation for V8 muscle. The Satellite is not only a steadily appreciating Mopar, but it is also referenced in the over-the-top B52's song "Planet Claire". What better ride than one from a classic American maker that is no longer in business? "A Plymouth? You probably have never heard of it".


Fugly is the new chic. Image source: Curbside Classic.
We definitely know that hipsters are crazy about the sleek bicycles Peugeot imported to the US... so why wouldn't they be about French cars? The last Gaul automaker pulled out of the US market in 1991, but to date many of their cars survive on US roads as $1,000 beaters (Renault Alliance, Peugeot 405) or collector vehicles (Citroen DS/SM) reaching well over twenty grand. Without any dealership support, pare parts are hard to come by and are only available from specialized collectors and enthusiasts, so think of buying an additional car for spares. Impractical? For sure. Perhaps the ultimate price for coolness? Take a look at this "H" van [link] and drool.

9 - SAAB 900 (1978-1998)

You may as well torch it and make a music video about it. Source: YouTube.
Scandinavians has always been renowned for their brick-hard cell phones and their odd-looking, sensible automotive creations. The Saab 900 seems to tick all the boxes for hipsterdom: cheap initial price, durable as rocks, reliable, fuel efficient, distinctive looks, ironic underdog status, and available with a convertible top to cruise the streets of Silver Lake at ease. Easily one of the nicest-riding front-wheel-drive cars on the market, they can fend easily in ice and snow, and you will find plenty of spares at your local pick-n-pull. A safe, quirky choice, even for a music video.

8 - JEEP WAGONEER (1963-1991)

Because paint oxidation just "adds" to your street cred. Image source: Statigram.
Taking into account the large amount of hipsters that look like rugged lumberjacks, it is a shame to see so few of them actually visit the woods. However, for those who do, few four-wheel-drive vehicles, if any, beat the Jeep Wagoneer. As usual with any old Jeep/Chrysler product, you will rejoice in acres of chrome, optional wood paneling, and distinctively kitsch-retro styling! While the mechanical aspects of these cars have gone through numerous updates –shoot for the last of the breed, an '87 through '91–, the cosmetics have remained largely unchanged since the sixties. These trucks are appreciating classics, so fetch one while they are available!


No problem, you can also live in the back of this Type III wagon! Source: Tumblr.
Few brands have done so much for gaining the trust of the younger generations as Volkswagen, which has always marketed itself as a fun, affordable car with gobs of personality. The vehicle of choice for the hippies of the 1960's, Volkswagens have a tradition of heritage and witty, ironic advertising [link] that simply clicks with the hipster crowd. It is hard to describe specific models, but the three kinds that seem particularly popular are the older air-cooled VW's –car of choice for the preservationist hipster–, the Golf MKII –for the cheapskate, ironic hipster– and the new "fender" Beetle –a favorite of the retro, trust-fund hispter. Tip of the (fedora) hat to all TDI models.

6 - DODGE DART (1960-1976)

American common sense. Image source: Wall Street Journal.
Produced from 1960 to 1976, the Dodge Dart seems like a monumental declaration of intentions sculpted in metal. The entire car is a screaming sign of "NO BULLSH*T", a firm statement from a vehicle that could be described as the automotive equivalent of Clint Eastwood: styling that is more angry that it is aggressive, a slim but unbreakable engine; a masculine, squinty face; austere lines inside and out. Anyone owning a Dodge Dart knows very well what he or she has: a solidly engineered vehicle designed to bury you and spit on your grave while chewing on a cigar.

5 - BMW Neue Klasse (1962-1977)

The Bavarian stare. Image source: Peter Hong, flickr.
Why not buy something Japanese or American? Too mainstream. Okay, so if you want to stick with European, how about a Volkswagen? Too mainstream. Maybe an old Mercedes? A little less mainstream, but still mainstream. Plus, they are expensive. Perhaps a Saab, or a Volvo? All my hipster friends have them, so it's mainstream now. Perhaps a Citroën, Renault or Peugeot? No, because being broke is waaaay too mainstream. And thus, we reach the only economical-yet-obscure choice possible: an old, pre-E30 BMW. Simple to the bone, quality finishes, great cornering and gas mileage, under-the-radar stealth and classic stance. The "New Class" BMW's are one of the few cars of choice for the hipster who not only likes his transportation by the way it looks, but by the way it drives and performs.

4 - VOLVO 200 SERIES (1975-1985)

Because one simply could not care less. Image source: Statigram.
Highly demanding hipsters will insist on the car having chrome hubcaps and the US DOT sealed headlamps, as opposed to the European glass-sheet lenses and the bland plastic wheel covers. For that matter, it's better to stick to the earlier ones, especially wagons or the rare, funky Bertone coupés. Price, more than styling, is the deciding factor on these Volvos; driving one is the ultimate statement of self-conscious, intentional carelessness. $1000 will get you a decent driver. Beware of the pricey spares: be ready for long sessions of junkyard diving, or bend over for parts prices that sometimes surpass those of Mercedes-Benz cars of similar vintage.

3 - MERCEDES W114 COUPÉ (1972-1976)

Reclaiming the role of vintage pin-ups. Image source: Mercedes Motoring.
To this day, it is a mystery as to why these gorgeous two-door sedans (250C and 280C) can be bought for under $2,500 in good running condition. While these cars get 17 MPG, tend to rust, and their parts prices will make you faint at the dealership, these are true lifetime transportation. Buy it now, restore it as you drive it, accumulate good used spares, and not much later you will have a respectable classic Mercedes that will get you anywhere in utter comfort for many years. The W114 will certainly appreciate in value over time, especially if it is painted in a rare original color.

2 - AMC PACER (1975-1980)

DAT HATCH. Image source: Statigram.
With exploding Ford Pintos and AMC Gremlins being ugly beyond words, the only American subcompact car that remains with any sliver of styling is the AMC Pacer. Perhaps worthier of the name AMC Greenhouse, this car can achieve over 30 MPG's and it is made up of pretty proven technology that the marque had been using for years. Body spares and glass are scarce, so count on digging in obscure online sources for parts for this space child –and its overly large forehead.

1 - FORD FALCON (1960-1970)

Thee-box design never goes out of style. Image source: Curbside Classic.
In the realm of hipster rides, the Ford Falcon reigns king, and for many reasons. Because of its large production numbers, throw-away reputation and four-door setup, it has become a perfect entry-level classic with a presence as genuinely American and blue-collar as PBR and Bruce Springsteen. Unlike Corvairs and Darts, excellent examples can be had for very little and fixed for pennies; few things are liable to break, and if they do, there is a long line of unpurchased falcons stored in many a grandma's garage. Rockabillies at heart, and pretty much the basis for the original Mustang, there is no shortage of glamour for this largely unregarded, yet soulful vehicles. For those needing the extra space, they were available as station wagons; and on sunny days, the money's on the convertible models. Few vehicles match the Falcon when it comes to cruising with your friends in $400 Ray-Bans, intagramming each sip of Pabst Blue Ribbon!


  1. That's a VW Typ III wagon , not a Typ IV .

    The Pacer was made by American Motors long before Chrysler bought and ruined AMC , they're FUGLY yet very good cars , they made a Wagon too .

    Interesting picks , I hope some hipsters remember that all these oldies need regular greasing and hot oil changes , most do not get this simple concept and run any oldie into the ground rapidly then blame the vehicle .


    1. Fixed the errors! Very unfortunately, many a hipster thinks these vehicles are just gas and go. Two years ago I bought a Mercedes 220D for $1400 in which the poor hipster girl had dropped $3000; the thing had the trunk completely rusted out. What a shame!

  2. as soon as you write an article about hipster "street" cred everything you write about will be obsolete ... hipsters are going to move to handmade wooden cars... my first car was a 1967 volvo (sold), and I have owed an Opal (front end fell of in a gas station), Mercedes 300 sd (transmission), MG Midget (death trap) , 80's VW GTI (shitty electronics) until I finally bought a ford focus because I caught pnuemonia laying in the snow trying to fix a high pressure fuel line on said GTI .... it was steel and ran from the back gas tank to the front fuel injection ...

  3. I thought most of them drove older Japanese cars (Accord, Camry, etc) given to them by their parents, with their favorite indy band stickers on the back and various political messages.

  4. Great article. One of the few "countdown articles" I've read lately that does not make the reader click through a separate page for each example. And of course the fact that it has two that I've owned (w123 Mercedes and the Volvo). Cool and the gang......

  5. My first car was a Falcon and second was a Pacer... also had a Volvo 240 wagon, and an old Valiant (Plymouth's version of the Dart) with a push button transmission.

  6. Cadillac de Ville looks too great, it has never become obsolete. Although the my 1969 Dodge Charger is excellent but it can't stop the truth is I enjoy this Cadillac. Pardon me for my English!!

  7. Actually Saab 900 had two generations - the first one, shown in the article, is also known as 900 OG (old generation) and was produced from 1978 to 1993. The second generation - 900 NG (new generation) was produced from 1993 (1994) to 1998, when after several changes it was rebranded into 9-3 OG produced up to the year 2002
    I used to own 900 NG Turbo - it was really cool. There are many people, who have never heard of Saab, and they thought that it was modified Lada or some chinese car; ignition key near the gearbox made people wonder why and how did it get there, and one person even asked why did I moved it there

  8. This is the first time when I know about the top 15 quintessentially hipster cars. Very great and special! I love all of them. Thanks for your sharing!

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