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The cars I've owned or driven in my lifetime.
It wouldn't be a guys website without a page talking about my thoughts on cars. And my driving adventures. Once, the 4 year old son of our Chinese salesmanager was asking me (in Mandarin, which don't really understand, of course) what kind of car I had. No I don't drive a Jaguar or a Ferrari.
However essentially, for me it boils down to this.
I think about cars as transportation, and in a strange way they're no more special than they can be basic. So yes I'll agree with the pundits, out there on this point, people can think too much about their cars. Cars are simply vanity, they get you from one place to another, it shouldn't matter what other attributes we give to them. Then again, shoes serve the same purpose of transportation, and I'm not going to start on why some people need 20+ pairs or shoes either.
But they're part of one's character. Just as taxi drivers in the United States are known for their beat on Ford Crown Victorias, and taxi drivers in Shanghai are known for their VW Santanas. Cars are built into culture, LA culture, California culture, American culture and ultimately they're a worldwide status symbol, and expression of self.
Just as Cantabridgians in my hometown are stereotyped by their beat up Volvos and Saabs. Suburban parents their Minivans, SUVs and in some of my circles, 3-series BMWs, E-class Mercedes, and Volvo wagons. Kids are known for their slammed Civics, college grads and hip yuppie couples their Passats and Jettas, and just about everyone else is also known for their Honda Civics.
The first, second, third, and maybe fourth cars I drove..
My first car which I learned to drive on was a faded baby blue 89 Toyota Corolla. Even despite the phat rims, it was far from a styling car. Although I was told it had electronic fuel injection, I still don't think it had quite 100hp. Maybe..
Thus it's not too surprising that I commandeered my dad's late 80's BMW to drive to high school. Hey, it had a big straight six engine, and I think it had 169 horsepower. In those days, that was a lot of power, and my dad had bought a grey-market import from Germany, which had a more powerful engine not availible in the USA. Jeez, I guess I impressed some of my friends with it, including the oh so styling pull-out stereo of the era. But mostly it was distinctive. I remember driving it to San Francisco, Christmas Eve, because I hadn't imagined spending Christmas alone, it got pretty bad (14 mpg) gas mileage.
I still think, my father taunted me as just when I graduated high school, he purchased a slammed and blacked out '91 Celica with bright chrome rims. At the time, I would have preferred an MR2 or a Prelude, but hey. It was his choice. I didn't drive it too much during college, it sat in the garage, while I lived in Berkeley and pretty much walked everywhere. Jeez, I remember borrowing my cousin's car so I could go to my first job interview at Intel. Intel later rented me another car, of which we had a 93 Corolla. Which was a bigger, and a bit more substantial than the '89 Corolla which my parents still tooled around in.
Although I did eventually get to drive that Celica, it lasted one summer, I took it out to Boise Idaho, where I realized the futility of a radar detector. If you're the only car on the road, you pass a sign, and it registers a crazy bleeppp--- I looked in my rear view mirror, and saw the trooper parked behind the sign. Although I slowed down to 55mph, the lights come on the troopers Tahoe and I might have well just pulled to the side and saved him the trouble of driving too far after me.
Looking back, I should have just kept going at full speed and pulled behind some bushes. Alas, I saw him coming after me, so I simply pulled over and put the radar detector in the glove compartment. The fine for doing 75 mph in a 50 zone... $72. Payable to the district of Idaho City, Idaho.
Not too bad, but not as painless as the photo speed radar I was told I got caught in while driving in Korea.
At the end of the summer, my dad took the Celica back. I think i got it for a few months while job hunting at the end of college, I don't know if my dad expected to get it back, he bought a convertible to replace it. In the end I gave it back to him, packed up and moved to Massachusetts.
The first car I really owned
So I moved out here to Massachusetts and purchased for myself, the car I had originally thought I'd wanted. Unfortunately the practical side of me took the forefront and I settled for a seven year old Honda Prelude, with 100K miles and a dented rocker panel. But it was the first car I bought with my own money, for a good $6500. I even got a car loan for the vehicle. Which having an engineers job and nothing else to do, proceeded to pay off in six months.
Alas that Prelude, for all it's noise, lasted me 6 years and 50K miles. In the course of which I totaled an engine due to a timing belt, and lost the hood because I forgot to latch it after jump starting the battery. At one time I had a 200watt JBL amp, and a 10" bazooka tube in it as well. I went six months with a failing starter motor, carefully parking it facing downhill, and rocking the car to engage the right brushes and pawls on the starter. Only after realizing that the starter could be replaced by removing two bolts and some electrical connections. Sheez...
I think I replaced both front axle half shafts due to wear and front wheel drive, and the road conditions in Massachusetts. Hmm... On that note I replaced a front suspension bumper that had worn through as well. I had to replace the entire exhaust twice due to rust. The second time springing for the JC Whitney special "Pacesetter" headers, exhaust and muffler with twin chrome tips. Jeez, along with a bad idle feedback, and the rattle from the cheap mod, that car was loud! My friends thought they could hear the distinctive rumble of my car for blocks. After blowing another timing belt I simply called it quits.
I borrowed a Honda Civic from a friend for about a month and I thought I would defiantly end up driving a Civic this time. The thinking being if you keep a car long enough, I'd feel guilty that I would have to buy it. However the car was kind of cursed, and I had disliked Civics, because it seems like everyone else seems to drive them.
In 2002 I started to drive a pearl white '97 Nissan Maxima. Which I purloined off a graduating MIT student (who probably was the second owner). The short specs, 3.0L roughly 190hp/190lb-ft of torque. 5 speed manual transmission, black leather seats, Bose Audio, Sport Package w/ spoiler.
It's a reasonably decent ride. One of the previous owners was probably made a bunch of subtle but tasteful mods, as the car came with a 2" lowered suspension, stainless steel brake lines, front and rear strut tower braces, as well as a very short shift kit with Momo knob, and a kind of goofy pearl white trim pieces covering up the fake wood trim. Oh well... Although the shifter on my prelude at stock was reasonably short, compared to the Celicas Civics and Integras which I'd driven in the past. This shift action... Well let's say it's got me sold....
My gripes, the steering is light, and leaves a lot to be desired for road feel. Although it corners, and the suspension is tighter than stock, it doesn't have the solid reassurance that even the old prelude did. Duh, the prelude was a lot smaller car. This car is more powerful, silent on the road, doesn't rattle, and the sound system doesn't hum. But it's reliable, and aside from changing the oil and recharging the A/C in 10K miles hasn't given me any problems. While not quite as boring as driving say, a grey or beige, 4 cylinder Camry.
5 years later, it still seems to be going. The AC probably needs to be recharged, and it probably also has a leak somewhere. The power steering fluid needs to be topped off every month, and there's a wiered clunk in the suspension when going around turns. The last mechanic I brought it to, said "You should just get rid of this car and get a Honda."
I kind of miss the Prelude. Sure it was unreliable, but it wasn't something I was afraid to try and fix myself. It was distinctive, and it wasn't something I worried about. I was a bit melancholy when I junked it, but one's got to remember, at heart it's only a car.
I miss the BMW too, every so often in Craigslist I'll see an old BMW, one that looks like the car Tom Hanks drove in the movie Splash (in the 80's those were the Yuppie-mobiles). It's still sitting in my parents driveway, however hasn't run for years.
And indeed when i got rid of this I missed this car too.
July 18, 2007