The Ballad of $1000 cars – Maeva the MK3

When you see an advert for a car around $1000, people start getting skeptical about it like “Ehh what’s wrong with it?” Or “Oh boy, that car’s motor probably has a bad knock”.   I was sort of the same way when it came to cars around that price range. Usually the cars you bought around that price were nothing but field cars that would get slayed til the motors popped. Some would get parted out, others would meet their fate in other ways such as demolition derbies, 24 hours of lemons, and so on.

Since you have heard the story of Julia, my BMW M3, let me tell you about the little Volkswagen that could.

I was at one of those car shows in Connecticut, enjoying myself with the presence of friends. I was still daily driving the M3 back and fourth to work, car shows, driving events, always praying nothing major would break. As we were walking around, (I believe “Dubs in the Trees” was the show) I saw a red Volkswagen Corrado.  It was well restored, tastefully modded, and in the front of the car there was a sign on the ground that read: “1995 mk3 Volkswagen Jetta, 2.0L, 5 speed, 138k, laser red, $1400 obo.” Included was the mans phone number, and at the bottom in parentheses it said “no, the Corrado is not for sale, stop asking.

So, I waited and questioned myself about it, looked into mk3s online… talked to a couple friends who were into Volkswagens. Not too long after I decided to call the man to see if he still had the car for sale. He told me yes, and as is customary, we made a time and date to come visit it. Checked it out, he told me about the rust and rot spots, which I noticed right away, but nothing major. Took it for a drive and it wasn’t bad. Needed some TLC but nothing too major from what I noticed. It ran, it drove, and was better on gas than the M3 (and it used the cheap stuff). More importantly, it would be a nice daily driver. It even came with crank down windows!

This car was so basic that it didn’t even have a glovebox. I guess the Jetta City editions didn’t have them or something.  Figuring it would last me a couple months though the winter, die on me, and I’d move on with something better, the owner and I agreed on a price of $1000.  I put down a $100 deposit. I met up with my friend Cady a couple days later and I asked if she would be willing to drive my BMW back, she agreed and off we went.  We picked it up, took one of the plates off the BMW and put it on the back of the Volkswagen and drove home with it.


I decided to park it in my fathers backyard until I could get it registered in my name. After the party that is the DMV, a week goes by and I’m daily driving this car 60 miles a day to work and back. I decided to do some ‘maintenance’ on it, I bought some red duct tape that matched the paint and I covered the rust and rot holes to make her look more presentable in public. I also put the french number plate I sorta borrowed when I used to live in France on my car.  Since she was representing a French number plate I decided to give her a french name. “Maeva”. Maeva and I we were having a wonderful time together driving around.. that is until one morning I was driving I was hearing a “humming” sound…

I just figured it was the old snow tires the car had on it. New wheels and tires were a weeks paycheck away so I didn’t see it as a big concern. Of course, that was until I was driving home from work that same day. I was down on interstate 84 eastbound around 4:00pm in Plainville when my rear passenger wheel decides to fall off! I hear it rubbing on the wheel well and then shoots up in the air as my little VW is doing about 55-60mph on 3 wheels, I’m yelling “holy hell!!” And trying to steer her to the break down lane. That was a definite “check your pants” type of moment. Two things went into my mind; “I just killed my adorable little Volkswagen”, and “where the hell did my runaway wheel go?!” I was so fearful it was going to strike a car, but I lucked out as it basically rode the Jersey barrier a good distance before coming to a rest.

I got out and threw the wheel into the back seat while I waited for a tow.. long story short, it was the wheel bearing that failed, and since it had drums in the rear, that’s apparently what happens when they finally wear out. The whole wheel breaks off. Sort of unfortunate the previous owner never told me about it, but what do you expect? So, after a nice trip to eEuroparts I picked up new stub axle and inner and outer wheel bearing assemblies…all for like $40. Upon working on it, I’ve noticed how crispy these Volkswagens can actually get underneath (one spot by the drivers seat I can see my ceiling through). Other than that, I have not really had any major problems with the car, and we have gone everywhere together. Obviously a bit nervous at first, I started actually seeing how reliable this car can be. I’ve been to the beaches of Rhode Island to the streets of New York City.

Our first snow storm together, I was a bit nervous, but she gave me no problems at all. Using what was left of the 115 mighty horses from factory, she dug and climbed her way through the deep snow, climbing hills surprisingly around town. I was impressed, but I was more impressed when I decided to travel across an international border with her and two wonderful girls from Poland. We planned out a road trip to Toronto and Niagara Falls.

Once more, the pressure was on and unfortunately I had to do it with 3 good tires and a snow tire on the back due the wonderful roads of Connecticut cracking a rim right before our journey. Not risking it, I threw two more old snow tires in the back and I still had the factory spare donut as a last resort, along with some basic hand tools, tire iron, and a couple quarts of oil.

We had just enough space to fit all our gear in it. 1200 nerve racking miles (about 2000km for those using the metric system) ..always checking the gauges, making sure she’s not running hot, listening for noises, people with hoopty cars will understand where I’m getting at. She gave me no problems that whole trip there and back. When I tell that story I always get the “you drove to Canada in that thing?!” And I am proud to tell them “yes I did!” I do treat this car with the respect she deserves and I have what you’d call an attachment to this car. I probably wouldn’t sell it if someone offered me double the price I paid for it.

If you ever watched that Top Gear special when Richard Hammond gets that Opel Kadett, names it “Oliver”, and he doesn’t want to tear it apart or destroy it like the two are doing… Fun fact: he actually had the car shipped back to the UK with him and it’s in his garage. All and all Maeva and I are still out there driving around to this day. I’ve driven her over 30,000 miles and she still kicking and going on adventures with me. I’m betting she can make it across the country and back.

This car owes me nothing and it’s literally the best $1000 I’ve ever spent in my life. It’s more reliable than my M3 and Camaro at the moment, I’ll give her that. There’s so many other stories I could write about but I’ll keep this short and sweet. Maybe if you see me parked out in front of a local pub come in and ask about it and we will swap car tales. But remember, next time you pass up that $1000 car, think twice about it. It could be the one of the best cars you’ll ever own.

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3 thoughts on “The Ballad of $1000 cars – Maeva the MK3
  1. There’s something about European designed & built cars that north American builders have yet to compare with. I myself prefer the VOLVO product. I bought a 2 year old 1996 Volvo 960 in 1998 with only 25K on the odometer. At the time, I cheekily said it was the last car I would ever need to buy. At this point in my life …I’m mid eighties … I believe that to be true. It drives & runs as well today as the day I purchased it & in my opinion, it is a fantastic car. My only concern is availability of replacement parts considering the fact it is now 22 years old. It has never had a major problem, & has only required regular servicing, & minor parts replacement such as the water pump, belts, brake pads & rotors. I have replaced the tires for the third time with wheel balance & alignment at each change. I have all liquids changed every other year. Just this week, I replaced all the original bulbs because I figured I had got my money’s worth out of the originals. It still has the original stainless steel exhaust & muffler system so this car owes me nothing. I’ve been driving Volvos’ for almost 50 years. I’ve always had my cars serviced or repaired by qualified Volvo repair technicians.

    • Adam Goral

      That’s awesome news, glad to hear your Volvo is doing so well. Let this stand as a testament to good maintenance. Replacing the fluids frequently contributes significantly to the longevity of the car, especially brake fluid, coolant, and transmission fluid. Keep these systems happy and fresh and your European 90s car will run forever. Also don’t worry about parts availability, we have you covered there too!

  2. I have a ’99 Mk3 Jetta Wolfsburg Edition in “Silver Arrow”. In ’01 I stopped by a local VW dealer’s used car lot to see what they had. (I had decided it was time for a “grown up” car) The salesman was going for the keys of a black one when I spotted the Wolfsburg. I stopped him half way across the street and told him to get the keys for the silver one instead. He said, “That one’s a lot more expensive”, I told him I didn’t care. Well, a 20 minute test drive later and some negotiating, the deal was done. I just stopped using it as a daily driver last year with 178k on it. Aside from a few mods, normal maintenance and a few minor repairs, it hasn’t needed much other than window regulators. It still fires on the first try and runs like a sewing machine. Doesn’t use any oil either. I’m getting stuff ready to do an AWP 1.8 turbo swap and then it’s time for some body work and she’ll be back on the road doing what she does best, chewing up the miles. That car is still a blast to drive. With the turbo, she’ll be even more fun.

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