Confessions of a Car Slut

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

1987 Nissan Sentra

As you might guess, I'm starting with the cars that I've owned. This would be my very first car, purchased right around my 17th birthday.

I don't know what letter designation the car carried; I'm sure it was a base model. Thirteen inch wheels, no passenger side mirror, no AC, no power locks/door/steering, but I do think the brakes were "power assisted". Silver, with light gray vinyl interior, 5 speed, 2 door, and dreadfully spartan. I learned to drive by engine noise, because there was no tachometer. The defroster didn't work much, all the speakers (which would total 2) were shot because of water damage, and the trunk was completely unlined. Purchased it for $1800.

It wasn't all bad. First, I was almost the first of my friends to own car which meant that the Sentra was privy to more than its fair share of boyish mischief. The car was certainly not speedy, but damn durable. I quickly learned how to reverse up to 30 mph, cut the wheel, yank the E-brake and spin the car in a smoking 180. Watching so much Knight Rider paid off.

Most surprising was the Sentra's off road capability. You might think that a stripped Japanese economy coupe riding on nearly shot 115/80/13's couldn't hack it off the pavement. You are wrong. I took that car across many lawns, playgrounds, school fields, curbs, and even through a foot of water. It even took jumps pretty well. I'm not kidding.

For $1800, I got a bullet proof little car that offered zero creature comforts.

Monday, July 25, 2005

2005 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

This is my car. It's nice.

Like other modern Jetta's, its' loaded with the normal features you would expect: power everything including sunroof. The seats, however, are a manually adjusted, sport cloth Recaro's with "GLI" stitched in bright red. Plenty of side support on the seat and back. Not tremendously comfortable on the longer rides though.

Blue Lagoon paint gets plenty of attention, as does the factory ground effects all around and lowered suspension. 18 inch BBS wheels with 245/40Z tires make it look pretty damn mean. Special GLI badging on the front and rear announce that this isn't your normal Jetta. Also, brushed aluminum replaces the shiny chrome around the transmission. Yes, it is an automatic, as necessitated by the fact that we bought it for my wife before she started taking the train to work. I would have much preferred the 6 speed and I believe it would heighten my fun factor. The tiptronic works well, for a tiptronic. It's nothing close to grabbing your own gears.

How does it drive? Well the turbo 4 cylinder puts out 180 hp, which doesn't sound like a whole lot but gets the car moving damn quick. Running the AC on max will slow you down, but normal driving is quick and mostly painless. The turbo does lag, though it isn't a problem until you really need to get out of the way and the slushbox decides to downshift. The suspension is very tight; body roll is almost gone and the car often accelerates well past the speed limit without you noticing. Braking, via the bright red calipers, is way beyond other Jetta's. It stops hard, especially if you're not used to it.

The ride is confidence inspiring on smooth roads. Change lanes with gusto or attack the exit ramps. The oversized, Z-rated summer tires grip very well through the corners and long sweepers. Accelerate mid turn and the car bites in actually have to be careful you don't get too near the inside of the apex. Hit some rough road though and you'll think twice. The stiff springs, low profile tires and huge wheels don't give you anything close to Lexus-like ride quality over bumps and joints. If you want a sporty car, you deal with the trade off.

The Monsoon stereo is loud and powerful, my only wish being a 6-disc in the dash instead of a single. We had a trunk mounted changer in one of our other Jetta's and hated it. We're too lazy to pull over and pick 6 discs to listen to. What about iPod connectivity? Would have been nice.

The sticker was around 24.5k, give or take a couple hundred bucks. I pay no attention to sticker prices; in fact, we picked up this car on a lease special over the winter. $269 a month. They wanted to push out the '05's before the new Jetta arrived (I'll trash them soon), and besides, what idiot would buy a car with 18 inch summer tires in January? That would be me. And yes, I did brave the snow and ice a few times on those skids. Bad idea. I'm a very good snow driver (learned to drive in Buffalo), but these things were tough to control. Definitely investing in some snow tires and wheels before next winter.

Given the chance, would I have bought the car again? Yes. Would I have gotten the automatic? No. Would my wife have been pissed at me for making her drive a stick? Yes. Plus, she wanted the blue, and we see very few GLI's on the road. It's a fairly rare car (most dealerships only got a handful) and I like not seeing it next to me at every light.

Man created the automobile. Then I was born, and I coveted the automobile. It began with matchbox cars and has evolved into my current fascination with these hunks of metal and wheels that get us from place to place.

What does my obsession mean? Should I learn how to fix them and become a mechanic? Or restore classics? Or open a dealership? I tried selling cars once, for Honda. It shocked me that the other salesmen cared nothing for the cars. They didn't care if the new VTEC brought the 3.0 V6 up to 240hp. It was just metal to them; expensive metal that could put fresh blow up their noses if they got someone to sign. I didn't last long. I wanted people to find the car they loved, but I didn't realize they wanted transportation...not a love interest.

I spend at least 2 hours a day in my car...the commute sucks. Looking at the cars around me on the highway, I realized how many suck. Badly suck. And people don't care, or don't notice. They get in, twist the key, and go. It only matters when it stops going.

Well, I've had enough. It's time to talk about cars. Perhaps putting the thoughts here will stop me from telling my wife about why I don't like the new Audi grille. And she, in turn, will be happier. I've always thought that I should sleep on Car & Driver's front step until they let me write for them. Maybe this is the beginning.

And most importantly, if you have a comment, of any kind, please share. Let me know what else you want my opinion on. And stand back, I might be contagious.