In evolutionary terms, I started driving as a 16-year old amoeba in his Mom’s Honda Fit, lift-off oversteering in the Ohio winter, and making good use of the backseat
in the summer year round. At 19, as some sort of creature crawling out of the mud onto land for the first time, I bought my own beater, a 1993 Sentra SE-R which I have polluted this blog thoroughly with.
And then, in 2015 (Or rather just the second half of 2015, the first half wasn’t anything special) I became a mostly fully-functioning car enthusiast, and got myself an internship at the Classic Car Club of Manhattan. Or as commenters on certain automotive blogs around the web say- “The coolest job in the world”
My first experience there was not so much of an interview, but rather just peeking my head in and introducing myself. After making a copy of my license, and other real job-type things, I was told to go on a test drive in one of the cars. “Neat”, I thought to myself; “someone will drive me around the block in something that costs the same as my college tuition to give me a taste of what it is they do there.” Even better, the Shelby Cobra was out in the driveway and was going to be our ride of choice.
And then I was handed the key…
Now being handed the key to one of your childhood dream cars, if you haven’t experienced it, is a bit of a mixed bag. Especially when your childhood dream car is a 427-powered assisted suicide machine, whose suspension mainly consists of its own chassis flex. Ah, and I also forgot to mention- I had only driven in Manhattan once before. To put it eloquently, I was scared absolutely shitless. We’ve all heard horror stories about big block Cobras; they’re up there with 930 turbos and Group B’s in the list of cars you don’t want to fuck with. But as I said, the Cobra had long been a dream of mine, and I wasn’t going to let something as trivial as the threat of fiery death stop me from hitting the innocuous looking starter button on the dash and (carefully) creeping out of the driveway and onto Hudson Street.
As soon as I pulled away and gave it some gas however, all of my prejudices immediately dissolved away. This was one of the sweetest handling, easiest driving cars I’ve ever experienced, even now after piloting most of the CCC fleet. Truth be told, it’s not really a Cobra, but a vastly improved kit; garnering as much attention as the original all while not punishing the driver. I unwillingly pulled it back into the showroom a few blocks later, and thus began my all too brief semester as the CCC intern. I could go on and on with such stories- one of which involving the same car on a freezing cold early morning run to the far reaches of Long Island, and the subsequent abandoning it there due to a rainstorm- but I’ll save those for another time.
My job (as much as I hesitate to call it that) was far from the only Oppo-worthy thing I did this year though. Other such hits include sharing a tiny hotel room with six people at COTA, a fair share of SR20 hoonage, going to several races, and more recently, blasting down the mountain roads of a tropical island on a fluorescent orange Korean Scooter. I saw some cool cars, I spent way too much money de-ricing an obscure performance car, met some awesome people thanks to JGrabow, and drove my all-time dream car. (More on that later)
So what did I learn?
You didn’t expect this to just be a resuscitation of the high points of my year without a Scrubs-style inner monologue recap of the lessons learned, did you? Because I’m a fairly normal, uninteresting (not rich) guy from a fairly normal city in Ohio who also happens to have driven a few supercars, I feel at least somewhat qualified to give a bit of advice which you may not have heard yet.
Don’t be an armchair critic-
Over the course of the last few months, I can’t say there was a single car I’ve driven which didn’t surprise me in some way. We’re all used to taking the word of Jeremy Clarkson and Chris Harris as bond, but in reality, they’re just two people voicing their own opinions and idiosyncrasies. You may think that new Lamborghinis are too tame to deserve the name, or that aircooled 911s are the work of god; but until you actually experience any of these cars yourself, you’re just regurgitating someone else’s opinion. There are cars I thought I would love but left me cold (cough… i8…), and cars which I had never previously given any thought to which I now lust over. (And I’m not going to share my opinions on aircooled 911s, for fear of being lynched by hundreds of livid Porschephiles)
That being said, it’s okay to be picky-
Let me paint a scene here, and you can tell me if it’s happened to you. You’re on your favorite automotive blog, reading the comments about someone with a seemingly petty complaint about a high-end car, say… “Porsche’s PDK transmission isn’t great in heavy traffic”. Then, your favorite automotive blog’s fine commenters grab their pitchforks and aim for the throat with things like “WHO CARES ABOUT HOW IT IS IN TRAFFIC YOU SHOULD BE RACING IT ON THE NURBURGRING EVERY DAY HOW CAN YOU CALL YOURSELF A CAR PERSON BACK IN MY DAY WE DIDN’T HAVE TRANSMISSIONS BLAH BLAH BLAH…” Well the thing is, we as people, tend to drive our cars quite a bit. So something that may seem minor, multiplied by the number of times it’ll annoy you every day, can become a pretty serious factor in what car you want to buy. Case in point, my Sentra is terrible in most ways, but I bought it anyway, because I thought it was interesting and it had an SR20. It was the first and only car I looked at. I’m not saying I regret it, but doing the same thing now, I would shop around quite a bit more before pulling the trigger. I can personally guarantee that there is a perfect car out there for everyone, which leads me nicely to my third observation.
Dream cars are a funny thing-
Since the age when I realized that I wasn’t going to own eight Ferraris by the time I was 20, my dream car has been the e30 M3. This is a car I idolized; I’ve seen all the DTM highlights on YouTube, I can recite all of the stats, and in my rotating folder of 850 computer wallpapers, an embarrassing number are of, you guessed it, e30 M3s. So what happens when I get the opportunity to own one for 24 hours? Well, I naturally show it off to all of my friends and then take it to Cars and Coffee to show it off to other people’s friends. And I’m sure at this point you expect me to say it was a letdown and to never meet your heroes, right? Not really... It was a fantastic car; one of the best I’ve ever driven. But it wasn’t the life affirming experience that I expected it to be. I loved every minute, but I still felt that there was something 1% better out there. And there is, in the shape of the 1991 Honda NSX. I had obviously always been a fan of them, but it wasn’t until the first time I drove one that I realized that it was pretty much my perfect car. Every single characteristic of it is what I would consider ideal; The transmission is perfect, it looks great, it’s super comfortable and easy to drive, it’s quick, sounds nice, and on and on... To put it bluntly, I felt as if it was made specifically for me, and that’s a pretty special feeling. And I could go on about how the turn signals make a nice noise or how the pop-up headlights go up in the perfect amount of time, but I’ll spare you and just conclude that idolizing a certain car that you’ve never driven may not be leading you down the right path, so to speak.
So why did I go to the trouble of writing this post?
Contrary to what you may think at this point, I’m not just doing this to brag. I’ve wanted to write this for a while to give my perspective on what I think it means to be a car person. I don’t consider myself any more lucky or fortunate than the average person; I’m fortunate in that my parents can afford to put me through college in New York, but everything else I’ve mentioned in this post were just opportunities that I seized. No one here has the money to buy all of the cars they want, or the chance to drive all the cars they want to drive. But that sure as hell doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Thanks to Ayrton Senna, we all know that if you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver; but I believe the same philosophy can also be applied to our daily lives.
To conclude my rambling, I give to you my favorite quote of all time. Jack Griffin was a 40-year old former tennis player who, with almost no racing experience, got an invite to race a Rondeau prototype at Le Mans. Despite the initial hesitation, he said-
“In the end, I decided to go through with it. I just didn’t want to be that guy who later goes around telling everyone that he could’ve raced at Le Mans.”
Thanks for reading!