Wow! That is a Fiat Ritmo (here in Italy, maybe in the US were sold under another name), it was my dad's first car. Never thought it was sold in US too.Dude......well done! Some of us have lived through some of those very experiences, it sucked. But, got refocused, like you and made a better life. Well done.
As for the beaters....hell ya. Back in high school (circa 1982ish...) had a friend whose dad owned a big old farm and tow yard. When the owners abandoned the cars and before they went to scrap we were authorized to "test" them on the farm, creeks, pastures, etc......The funny part, one of the most toughest and reliable car that we beat the hell out of was this Fiat Panda!
View attachment 667059
As for my son and I's little beater following crazy life events.....He spent alot of time getting it stuck in the sand (never engaged 4wd....) and running the woods in the Ozarks!