The farther I get into the desolate wasteland known as middle age, the more I love to tell stories about just how tough things were in my childhood, both for me personally and for my generation as a whole. We lived in a dead zone between skating rinks and 32-bit video games, born too late for free love and too early for Tinder. It was a bad time for music and a worse time for television. I could go on, believe me.
Yet despite my free-flowing tears of self-pity, I can’t agree with my fellow old people when they talk about all the great used cars that young people can buy now. I mean sure, today’s sixteen-year-olds can find everything from the stellar fifth-generation GTI to fire-breathing LS1-powered Camaros for less than the price of one year at the local community college. But here’s the problem: there’s no way a young person can afford to insure them, even if you pay cash for the car and just carry liability coverage. The insurance companies decided long ago that they weren’t interested in having young drivers behind the wheel of anything even slightly more sporty than Mom’s automatic-transmission CR-V.
Luckily for all of you teenagers out there, I’ve found the cheat code for affordable, easy-to-insure driving fun, and that code is L67. Which happens to be the internal General Motors designation for the second-generation supercharged 3800 V6. You can find it in at least the following cars, according to the infallible crew of GM-obsessed Wikipedia editors out there:
• 1996–2005 Ultra
• 1997.5–2004 GS / GSE / GSX (SLP)
• 1996–1999 (optional 1996-97, std. 1998-99)
• 2004–2005 SS
• 2004–2005 SS Supercharged/Intimidator SS
• 1996–1999 LSS (limited)
• 1996–2003 SSEi
• 1997–2003 GTP / GTX (SLP)
I know, I know—these aren’t exactly Corvette-class trackday terrors. But hear me out. To begin with, the L67 engine packs a punch conservatively rated at 240 horsepower—that’s 328i levels of power. And it’s easy to tune it for more—much more. There are people out there running twelve-second quarter-mile times in extremely streetable FWD Buicks and Pontiacs.
Nor are these cars all about the straight-line speed. Most of them were tuned for respectable, even admirable handling. They came with stout suspensions and plenty of tire width. Around a skidpad they were often a match for the imported competition, even if that didn’t really translate to a fast back road. Most importantly, they are predictable, cheerful understeer machines. If you make a big mistake, at least you’ll leave the road nose-first, where the crumple zones are.
Want to hear more? Sure you do. These were reasonably well-built cars with affordable parts and an ability to eat up the miles. They get decent fuel economy. There’s a lot of room in most of them for your friends and the accessories of your amazing life. Nobody steals them.
The most critical part of my sales pitch, however, is this: I’ve looked up a bunch of insurance rates on these cars, and the news is very, very good. You can insure a Regal GS for far less than a VW GTI, even though the Regal is faster most of the time. The Eighty-Eight and Park Avenue are particular favorites of the insurers.
Not all the news is good, of course. These are not exciting-looking cars, particularly if you’re younger than sixty years old. They are all saddled with slow-thinking, sharp-shifting automatic transmissions. The quality of the interior materials will neither surprise nor delight you. And don’t expect to impress your high-school crush with your new Bonneville SSEi, ‘cause it ain’t gonna happen.
Regardless of the low points, however, I think that a supercharged GM sedan or coupe makes a ton of sense for a novice driver with a sense of adventure. Just remember to treat your new Riviera or Monte Carlo with respect. It’s not a slow car and it won’t come with a modern suite of stability-and-safety equipment. If you’re a careful shopper and a responsible driver, you’ll have a fast and fun way to get to school or your first job.
One final entry on the credit side of the L67 ledger: There’s plenty of room for all your friends. My advice is to tell them that your grandmother gave you the car, then tell then to hold on when the light turns green. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to return to complaining about how tough I had it as a kid. Can you believe that we only had twenty channels of cable? And how can you “Netflix and chill” when you don’t know anything about either?