What we drive: Roadshow's weird and wonderful personal cars

Sure, we have access to the best new cars on the planet, but here's what we drive on the daily.

CNET Cars staff
16 min read
Roadshow's personal cars

We here at Roadshow are all pretty lucky. We get to drive all the new cars, often in spectacular locations. From the over-the-top Ferrari F8 Tributo to the latest Porsche Taycan EV to the humble Kia Seltos crossover, we drive them all. But what cars do we spend our hard-earned money on?

Honestly, the Roadshow garage is... a little weird. Sure, there are the requisite little sports cars, but we've also got a few classics, a project car and one of us doesn't even own a vehicle(!). So read on, fellow car nerds, and see what we're driving. 

Craig Cole's 1951 Ford project car

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Allow me, dear Roadshow reader, to introduce you to my 1951 Ford Crestliner. (Hey, nobody said the car you selected for this story had to be running and drivable. I love a good loophole!) This chunk of vintage iron from Detroit's halcyon days may look like it's about two weeks away from disintegrating into a heap of ferrous oxide crumbles, but trust me, under that rusty patina it's rock solid. Aside from some minor patchwork, the body is straight and, more importantly, complete.

With a lovely twin-spinner grille, two-tone paint and tasteful amounts of chrome and stainless-steel brightwork, this two-door (Tudor in Ford parlance) sedan is a post-war beauty, a version of the famous shoebox Ford that saved the automaker from financial ruin. The high-end Crestliner was something of a stopgap intended to compete against other pillarless hardtop models offered at that time until Ford could launch its own pillarless hardtop, which it did in 1951 with the Victoria. 

These cars featured the famed flathead V8, which delivered an advertised 100 horsepower. A smooth-running and tough little engine, they're more potent and enjoyable to drive than you'd ever expect given that unimpressive output number. Several transmissions were offered in '51, including Dearborn's first true automatic, the appropriately named Ford-O-Matic. But my car has a three-speed, column-shifted manual gearbox, which I will augment with a Borg-Warner automatic overdrive. Among many other benefits, this offered-from-the-factory option gives the car significantly longer legs, allowing you to cruise on the highway at modern speeds while reducing noise, engine wear and fuel consumption. Obviously, there's a lot of work to be done on this old machine, but if you take it one piece, one step at a time you can finish before you know it. I plan on fully restoring it in the next three to five years. 

-- Craig Cole

Kyle Hyatt's 1970 Mercedes-Benz 280SE: A big, beautiful, hand-built heartbreaker

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Being a (very late-stage) Millennial with a serious kink for classic European autos has been getting increasingly tougher since the classic car boom started a few years ago -- and also because I make journalist money. So, what's a fella like me supposed to do when that masochistic urge for an old Euro project comes up? Buy a Bracq-era Mercedes sedan, of course!

Now, before you get all excited, yes the purchase price for the W108 and W109 sedans is pretty appealing and parts availability is great. Build quality is unequaled and specialist mechanics are way more common than for something like, say a Citroen -- but that's not telling the whole tale. Keeping "The Big Baby" -- as my wife and I call it -- on the road has been an exercise in monetary bloodletting and pitting willpower against the inevitability of death (my mechanic is 85 years old and very German and it took me years to find him, I don't want to have to replace him, damnit).

So, is it worth it? You bet your ass it is. The big Benz is as smooth and elegant as anything on the road and thanks to its insanely advanced (for the time) engineering like four-wheel disc brakes and a four-speed automatic. It's more than capable of working in the context of modern Los Angeles traffic. It's gorgeous in its deep, non-metallic Dark Olive paint and camel-colored leather and it's a car that people genuinely react to with joy. I get tons of people of all kinds asking about it or relating to me how their teacher had one, or their mother owned one. It's an approachable classic that still has real presence on the road. It's my wife and I's forever car and almost nothing makes me happier behind the wheel.

-- Kyle Hyatt

Chris Paukert's 1989 Nissan Pao is too adorable

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If you haven't seen one of these little guys before, that's understandable. This is a Japanese-market 1989 Nissan Pao. If that model year took you by surprise, that's to be expected -- it's a four-wheeled homage to an earlier age. Nissan was at the forefront of the throwback design craze years before cars like the Volkswagen New Beetle and Chrysler PT Cruiser popularized the retro car genre. I bought this little guy five years ago from a military doctor who had imported after previously being stationed in Tokyo and it quickly became a prized member of the family. 

I started off looking for a simple, small, and fun historic car with low running costs. I investigated classics like the Citroën 2CV, Renault 4, as well as original versions of the Fiat 500 and Mini Cooper before deciding to go with a Pao, which turned out to be cheaper, rarer, and more reliable -- all desirable characteristics in my book. I have a number of other cars and this Nissan is one of several "Sunday drivers" that only come out in nice weather, so it's helpful that it hasn't rusted itself into a pile when it goes weeks without turning a wheel.

You simply can't take yourself too seriously in a car that looks and drives like this. Powered by a 1.0-liter (carbureted!) four-cylinder that only gave 51 hp when new, speed was never the goal. That said, since my car weighs just 1,600 pounds (1,000 pounds less than a new Versa!), it can manage freeway traffic in a way that most of the aforementioned cars can't, albeit only just. Plus, on its tiny 12-inch wheels and super-soft suspension, everything feels fast! We adore our Pao's pitch-perfect retro interior, its right-hand drive, its factory retractable canvas roof (powered!) and the way it makes absolutely everyone smile. Whether at a local Cars & Coffee or the Woodward Dream Cruise, everyone steps over far pricier and more exotic machinery to check out this little Japanese curiosity.

-- Chris Paukert

Andrew Krok's 2016 VW Golf Sportwagen keeps on chuggin'

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Unlike every other schmuck on this list buying from the classifieds, I did the noble thing and contributed to the continued success of the automotive industry by purchasing new. Yes, I'm still paying it off. My wife and I bought Dan the Sportwagen (screw you, Ewing, it's a good name) because we didn't want a crossover, yet we wanted the smidgeon of extra space a longroof affords.

Over the last few years, Dan has proven quite the workhorse. The wagon regularly hauls animals, gardening equipment and groceries with ease and I'm never left wanting for more cargo capacity. The 1.8-liter turbo I4 is as plucky as ever, requiring the most basic of service regimens to stay as such. Cost of ownership is quite low and I'm not even thinking about resale value, as I intend on running this thing into the ground myself.

The only real pain so far has been the panoramic moonroof, which occasionally leaks small amounts of rain into the headliner and D-pillar for one of two reasons: Either it's got a clogged rear drain tube, or the moonroof's frame is cracked, which would require a full replacement. Since the dealer quoted me six hours of labor just to remove the headliner and determine the root cause -- and since the issue presented itself after the factory warranty expired -- I have been casually ignoring it for the last two years. I'll let you know how that goes.

-- Andrew Krok

Antuan Goodwin's 1999 Mazda Miata is the perfect project car

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The largest part of my love for cars is modifying and maintenance, but taking apart Roadshow's review cars is… well, let's just say frowned upon. So, in 2015, I went looking for a beater -- an inexpensive, fixer-upper on which to wrench. What I found was a gorgeous Sapphire Blue 1999 Mazda Miata 10th Anniversary Edition. OK, not exactly a beater. However, before I could get too precious about this special edition, the realities of street parking in San Francisco's Bay Area intervened and, after years my neighbors dinging my doors, scraping my bumpers and cutting my stock blue soft top (twice), my little boy "Bloo" is a bit rough around the edges. I guess I got my beater after all, but that doesn't mean I love it any less.

The 1999 Miata has proven easy to maintain and inexpensive to own with excellent fuel economy and cheap parts, both aftermarket and OEM. Brand new, the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine was good for a stated 140 hp and 119 pound-feet of torque at the crank, an adequate amount of juice for the bantamweight (2,299 pounds) roadster. With a six-speed manual gearbox and standard rear-wheel drive, the Miata's sport car formula is a tale as old as time. Of course, my example has 21 years and about 150,000 miles of wear and tear on it, so a couple ponies have likely escaped the corral, but that's also okay because this car's strengths don't come from straight line performance.

The Miata's strength has always been in the corners where the combination of a lightweight chassis and terrifically precise handling and steering conspire to make this slow boy so much fun to drive quickly. Up a twisty road at the speed limit or around a track at a healthy clip, the little Mazda is more engaging and more thrilling than faster cars an order of magnitude more expensive. For the money, there's simply no better introduction to the love of cars, whether it be the thrill of perfectly nailing an apex or just the simple joy of changing your own oil, than the humble Miata.

-- Antuan Goodwin

Jon Wong's 2008 Honda S2000 CR is a track star

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I mulled over buying a S2000 for years, but a garage that was full of cars that I didn't want to let go of and trying to be financially responsible held me back. That was until I realized a 1981 DeLorean with a three-speed automatic requiring a lot of work was never going to be much fun to drive. The DMC-12 moving on meant a garage spot opened and the funds from its sale could go towards the 2008 Honda S2000 CR pictured here.

Being an AP2 S2000, the CR is powered by 2.2-liter I4 with 237 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque mated to the best manual transmission I've had the pleasure of using shared. The CR's drivetrain was unchanged, but the suspension and aero is where it differs from base cars. Stiffer dampers, springs and super-sticky Bridgestone RE070 tires (replaced on my car long ago) helped it stay glued around corners better. Additional bracing was added in the soft-top storage area behind the cabin, too. Aero changes include the front splitter and honkin' rear wing, which I've greatly appreciated for the better high-speed stability particularly at Road America.

It doesn't matter if it's on the street or track, the CR is a riot to drive. The engine likes to play up near its 8,000-rpm redline and possesses stellar throttle response for downshifts to work in harmony with the gearbox. And the chassis is communicative to make whoever is behind the feel like an integral part of the drive experience. Yes, the ride is stiff, so I don't take it on long road trips except for going to track days. But for a weekend bomb through the country or late-night blitz around town, there are few cars I rather be in than my S2000.

-- Jon Wong

Tim Stevens' beloved 1991 Toyota MR2

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Let me just say that I don't generally get very sappy about cars. I've not owned that many, but those I've had to part ways with in the past have gone away without so much as a sniffle. Not the case with this one. This is my 1991 Toyota MR2, my first car that I bought before going off to college way back in 1996 and I hope to keep it around for as long as I'm around. During college, this car got me through my two-ish hour commute every weekend to get home to my job. I bought the car so that I could get back home for my job, but of course I wound up spending almost all my money on my car payments and insurance. So it goes.

Anyhow, this car was of the naturally-aspirated variety when I bought it, which is good as I probably would have killed myself driving a turbo through the winter. But drive it through the winter I did -- back before I knew that snow tires were a thing -- and let's just say I very quickly learned the definition of "snap oversteer." But I'm pretty sure I owe at least some amount of my low-grip driving prowess to piloting this thing through a five Upstate NY winters before I bought my Subaru in 2001.

It's in this car I took my wife on our first date and it's from this car she threw her bouquet at our wedding as I did a (peg-leg) burnout down the church driveway. We autocrossed the hell out of it together, she and I, and when that venerable 5SFE finally gave up the ghost a few years back, she gave me carte blanche to get it back on the road. So, now it's running a fourth-gen JDM 3S-GTE engine putting down somewhere around 300 hp -- more than twice what it made stock. It's a bit more of a monster now, but I'm trying desperately to keep it as stock looking as possible. So, yeah, that's my car. I love it.

-- Tim Stevens

Emme Hall's super-clean Mazdaspeed Miata

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My 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata was a legitimate buying coup -- a little old lady had hurt her knee and could no longer drive the six-speed manual. I bought the car in the summer of 2014 with a mere 13,000 miles on the clock for $11,000. Since then I've driven across the country, about 200 miles into Baja, Mexico (where I immediately parked it and moved into something more appropriate) and on countless back roads. 

Mazda didn't make too many of the turbocharged little pocket rockets, so it's rare to see one on the road. Driving one, however, is pure bliss. The tiny turbo only puts out 8.5 pounds of boost, but its enough to push the Mazdaspeed Miata to 178 hp and 166 lb-ft of torque, with a 0-to-60-mph time of 6.7 seconds. Is it quick in a straight line? Nope. But it makes up for it in the turns, evading 5.0-liter Mustangs when the road gets twisty.

Since I have an actual race car to spend money on, I don't put much coin into the Mazdaspeed. She just has better brakes, a roll bar and Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires and that's enough for an occasional track day. I wouldn't mind throwing a bigger radiator in there since the car tends to run warm when ambient temperatures go up. However, because collecting Miatas is always a good thing, I recently purchased another with a 3-inch lift and a few off-road bibs and bobs for a fun little pre-runner. 

-- Emme Hall

Daniel Golson's 1994 Volvo 940 Turbo wagon is both terrible and amazing

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I had always wanted a turbocharged, rear-drive Volvo wagon and in the fall of 2017 I was not looking forward to the prospect of daily-driving my stripped-out, first-gen Mazda Miata through another Michigan winter. So I flew down to Tennessee and bought this 940 Turbo sight unseen, which was one of the best decisions I ever made. Even though I began ruining the car pretty quickly.

After that first winter I installed some very stiff lowering springs and thicker sway bars, which absolutely destroyed ride quality but made it handle shockingly well. (Seriously, it's so much fun on a twisty road.) I've also straight-piped the exhaust, so now it's extremely loud and annoying but sounds freakin' awesome. I learned so much about wrenching from owning this car and it has never let me down. Except for when it wouldn't start when it was cold outside and neither me nor my mechanic could figure out why. 

It's got over 230,000 miles on it and is in pretty great shape. Well, the paint is really messed up... and the sunroof doesn't work... and it keeps eating up AC belts... and a lot of interior trim pieces are broken. It also gets horrendous gas mileage. But it has a turbo gauge and makes really great noises and it's the most fun car I've ever owned. It's a terrible car, but I love it so much. I'm also moving and need to get rid of it, so if you want to buy this lovely piece of crap, shoot me a DM on Twitter.

-- Daniel Golson

Steven Ewing loves cars, but takes the LA Metro

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Yes, I write about cars. No, I don't currently own one. (My last car was a 1988 Honda CRX Si that I sold to executive editor Chris Paukert in 2017 and before that my personal fleet included a 1992 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX and 2006 Scion xB, among others.) I know this is kind of sacrilegious, but I'm fortunate to live in a city with a surprisingly robust public transportation system. And honestly, when I'm not driving a car for work, public transportation is the way I prefer to go.

You might not think so, but a lot of car writers are concerned about their carbon footprint and overall environmental impact. I love a good high-revving V8 as much as the next gearhead, but I also love efficient forms of mass transit. Here in Los Angeles, the Metro transportation system offers a number of convenient light-rail and bus lines and works with Metrolink trains to take passengers even farther outside the city. A whole bunch of new projects are in the works to make the rail and bus lines even more widespread, too.

I live right off the E Line train (formerly Expo Line) that runs from downtown LA to Santa Monica. It's nice to be able to get from my house to the beach in about 15 minutes without ever having to sit in traffic. I can get downtown, up to Hollywood, down to Long Beach, or as far east as Azusa without ever having to use a car. And when I do get to my stop, Metro has a number of bike-sharing hubs that help with first-mile/last-mile transport. It's easier than you think to go carless in LA. Though I do still troll Craigslist on the regular because I've got that itch to buy a toy again...

-- Steven Ewing

Sean Szymkowski's 2018 Kia Stinger GT2: Grown-up hot hatch

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I previously owned three cars and sometimes life does its thing. When it was time to find a suitable jack-of-all-trades car to replace a 2016 Chevrolet SS, a 2018 Chevy Volt and a 2000 Acura Integra GS-R, I did a lot of searching and one candidate seemed to tick all of my boxes: a Kia Stinger GT2.

Does it drive well? Sure does. Kia's sports sedan isn't track-time sharp, but more of a well-weighted grand tourer. Nonetheless, it's plenty of fun for romps around well-paved roads and the corners they bring. It's just as much fun having the turbos spool up when stabbing the throttle a tad further leaving a stoplight. The eight-speed transmission works effortlessly all the while. Is it on the same level as the SS? Heck no, but I knew that going in.

While the cabin isn't as spacious as its large footprint signals, the Stinger GT2 is roomy enough in the front, though it squeezes rear passengers' legroom a tad. In GT2 trim, it's utterly loaded with more technology than I ever thought I'd use or appreciate, but here I am enjoying ventilated seats as the midwest sets into muggy, 85-degree weather. A Harman Kardon sound system is the cherry atop it all for the audiophile in me. And to help remedy some of the utility lost in the Volt, it's a hatchback. Bonus.

The Stinger GT in any trim offers up a lot of value, driving fun and real usability for those that park one car in the garage at night. Maybe it's a grown-up's hot hatch, or maybe South Korea introduced a modern day renaissance man.

-- Sean Szymkowski

Brian Cooley's 1988 Ford Country Squire is an awesome woody wagon

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1988 was the first year of the last generation of the full-size Ford Country Squire, a vehicle now iconic in the station wagon craze. Most people seem to have a memory of one, even people who were born years after production ceased. When I bought this car from its retired owners (who got it from their nonagenarian inlaws), it was just an unfashionable big wagon with laughable ersatz wood trim. But I'm a full-size Ford fan who welcomed the $2,500 price that widespread dismissal brought. Today, you need Moses with you to part the sea of onlookers who gravitate to it at Cars & Coffee.

Power comes from a fuel-injected 302, the brawnier 5.0-liter high-output sibling of which powered Mustang GT's of the era. A four-speed overdrive transmission goes to a solid rear axle with drum brakes in the back and power discs up front. I've upgraded the exhaust to a true dual in correct, factory optional layout. The three-way rear doorgate with power window is a Ford hallmark. This car is an LX trim which includes a split bench front seat, dual-facing rear seats, luxury interior trim, front curb lights and luggage rack. Its body-on-frame design and luxury trim yield ride quality and quiet on par with a Lincoln of the period.

More than once I've pulled into a Ford dealership and had service techs come out and say it's the best car platform Ford ever made. Weak spots are very few but include an underpowered four-speaker AM/FM/cassette audio system and a modest engine rattle that is acknowledged in a technical service bulletin on some 302s of this period.

I've made a few suspension upgrades, like KYB gas shocks and a big OEM rear sway bar, both of which do wonders for the car's handling. It acquitted itself well at PCA autocross a couple of years ago, coming in last against a field of sports cars, but only by a second.

Far from being pampered, it was my daily driver for over a decade and only recently retired to more occasional use. We took a friend's rambunctious young daughters to get ice cream in it years ago and when they got in the rear jump seats and propped their elbows on the lowered tailgate window sill, they were silent and mesmerized for perhaps the first time in their lives. I've bought and sold a number of vintage cars over the years, but only this and my 1967 Mercury Cougar earned the right to stay out of the 'sold' column.

-- Brian Cooley