Here’s my auto-biography. I got my license in 1995.
1. 1981 Pontiac Firebird, 3.8 th250.
My first car. I loved it. Drove it back and forth to work at Taco Bell, to school, and to so many rehearsals - I was a theater geek in high school. Blew up the 3.8 Buick and dropped in a Chevy 350 from an 83 C10. It had a rear brake that would occasionally lock up, which made me spin the car a few times. It also had various parts fail randomly - like the seal from the transmission dipstick - causing my car to bleed Dexron all over the parking lot of Skipper’s where my friends and I hung out, ate terrible fast food, and smoked cigarettes underage after school.
In 1996, two weeks before I graduated high school, I got really well acquainted with a brand new Buick LeSabre. I crunched up the hood, front clip, and driver fender pretty badly. The guy who bought the car pulled the heads off of it and told me it had two cracked exhaust valves. No wonder it’d backfire like crazy when I punched it.
2. 1987 Mercury Cougar, 3.8 auto,
It was mom’s old car that she wasn’t driving because she had a company van that she took everywhere. The head gasket went (like literally every Ford Essex V6?) and it spun a rod bearing. My dad dropped in a 302 from a Town Car but neglected to install the wiring harness or TBI from that car so it was running a TBI from a six in the V8. It ran, but super-lean, hot, and with lots of stalling. Every time I shut it off, the exhaust manifolds were glowing red. I crashed it into a highway sign when it stalled as I was exiting, thus killing the power steering and locking the brakes up. Dad replaced the front and drove it a while until my sister got her license in 1998. It caught fire in the mall parking lot in Statesville, NC.
3. 1973 Ford Mustang Convertible. 351C 2bbl FMX
Dad bought this one for $500 in the fall of 1995. Thought it was dark green until we took it to a car wash.
I spent ~$2000 on parts to get it into weekend-driver condition. It was Medium Bright Yellow with Ginger interior. I took it to prom in Pennsylvania with a friend of mine who still lived up there. Drove it most of the summer after graduation and then off-and-on until my dad took it over, put Jeep mesh wheels on it, and then eventually broke the timing chain. This put a valve through the water jacket. He didn’t want to spend the money to put a new engine in it. He also didn’t maintain it properly, and it always had steering issues because the front end was loose. It’d throw itself into a weird positive camber state that required a jiggle of the steering wheel to fix it for a while. I miss it, in a way. Because it was a bright-yellow Mustang convertible.
4. 1988 Plymouth Sundance. 2.5 n/a 5-speed
Mom bought this for me in the summer of 1997 - for $500 from my uncle. It had 170k on it when she got it, and by the time it died in fall of 1998, it had over 220k. Went through a lot with this car, and it was the first stickshift I drove on a regular basis. I sort of learned on dad’s Bronco, but I didn’t get to drive it much. Used it to go back and forth to college, deliver pizzas, and take poorly-planned road trips.
In October of 1997, my first girlfriend broke up with me for a married dude 10 years older than us. Instead of meeting her parents for fall break that year, I went to stay with the uncle who sold me the car in Pennsylvania. Got to hang out with family and smoke lots of good weed. Cousins, you know? I was following my cousin Shawn up to Johnstown from Bedford, PA when he went around a curve and somehow flipped his beat-up S10.
On the way home to North Carolina I locked the keys in at a rest stop in Virginia. I didn’t get help opening it so I busted out the passenger rear window. Then about 20 miles from home the wipers stopped working in a driving rain.
Once stuffed six people in the rear hatch. After replacing the timing belt, clutch, alternator, rear quarter window, brakes, and struts, I ended up throwing a rod through the block. Junked it for scrap value.
5. 1995 Saturn SL1. Single Cam 5-speed
It was the late 90s and I had a dark green car. First year of the 100-hp 1.9 with multiport injection. I had a 5-speed, tan interior, and a bangin’ Pioneer stereo with Polk Audio speakers. I had a pretty awesome time in this little thing. Drove it to school, delivered pizzas, and ran it into the ground. Bought it for $7999 with 50k in fall of 1998, and then traded it in summer of 2002 with about 200k - after it sat for over a year with a blown head gasket/spun bearing. I was more interested in partying than replacing the engine.
6. 1989 Dodge Dynasty 6G 3.0/4speed auto
Bought for $500 when I had to have a car to get to work. It lasted about a year before the head gasket went in a spectacular fashion. It blew hot compression gases into the cooling system and the radiator overflow tank popped its lid.
Before then it spewed smoke for the first three to five minutes it ran, and any time it idled more than a few seconds because Mitsubishi 3.0.
This car took me through a lot of hard times. I lived in it for a while - my sister packed up all my stuff and wrote a note that I thought was my mom’s handwriting. She was a troublemaker in high school, after all. She needed to be able to copy mom’s writing.
Anyway - I slept in it for a while. I was fortunate to have a job with a gym attached so I could shower when I needed. After I found a roommate through a newspaper classified (this was 2001. Craigslist was only in the SF Bay at the time.) I was in probably the most depressed state I’ve ever seen. My family wasn’t talking to me, my girlfriend broke up with me after cheating on me a while, and I spent Christmas 2001 watching Memento on HBO and eating Jack in the Box. Turned on the radio in my room and cried myself to sleep listening to an old recording of “A Christmas Carol,” on NPR.
This car also led to me coming back home to live with mom. The roommate I found was a crazy Latina who was dating a friend of my sister. When they broke up (probably because my sister was sleeping with that friend) I had to go.
7. 1988 Buick Century 2.5 Iron Duke/3 speed auto
This had the Iron Puke - and I bought it for $450 from the Goodwill. Seriously. I needed a cheap car and still didn’t fix the damned Saturn. This was one that I’ve detailed in the past (or click here to avoid digging through comments)and the story is worth a read if you scroll down through those comments. It caught fire about a year after I bought it.
I was with my friend Russell (RIP big Fella) at the time and this huge dude moved faster than I ever saw him move.
8. 1999 Chrysler Concorde 2.7 sludge-o-matic.
By my 24th birthday in August of 2002, I was living back with mom, looking for an apartment, and working two jobs. I thought life was going to go well. It was looking up for once.
So I decided to go to one of those push-pull-drag sales at a now-closed dealer in Rock Hill, with my Saturn knocking, banging, and smoking the whole way.
A friend followed me in his Mustang, and while I was looking at a 1998 4-cylinder Wrangler, I was moved into a 1999 Concorde. I don’t know why exactly. I was young and dumb and insecure and would let the salesman put me in whatever he wanted. Anyway, with not-great credit I wound up with an interest rate where most credit cards are now, and a 4-year-old Chrysler with 3,000 miles for about $12,000. I thought I was getting a deal because I was naive. So it goes.
The car was an immense piece of trash. About two months after I bought it, the driver’s seat broke in half, meaning I had to put boxes in the back to hold it up while I drove while I fought with the dealer to honor their warranty. Not long after that, my sister crashed it and busted up the washer fluid reservoir. I had to take it to PA in the winter with no washer fluid. I pulled over multiple times to throw snow on the windshield and wipe off the road grime. It was on this trip that I also got the ticket in West Virginia. This is the one that I didn’t pay and lost my license for seven years. Then the engine sludged up and seized. It sat in my cul-de-sac and I wound up calling the bank to get it.
9. 1989 Ford Taurus SHO 3.0 MTX
I bought this rusty beast one night on Ebay while I was drunk. The next weekend I drove up to Winston Salem with my mom and I drove this thing home. $700 and a signature and it was officially mine. Drove it home, filled it with gasoline, and then picked up new wiper blades at Wal Mart. Then the transmission ground itself to metal shavings. It turns out there was a hole in the case that was patched with JB Weld Steel-Stik from the last time the differential pin ejected itself.
It sat in my driveway for about six months until we moved. I gave it to a SHOForum member who used the engine for his project car.
10. 1988 Isuzu Pickup 2.3 long bed 5-speed
I saw this one with a for-sale sign out in front of an electrical contractor in the summer of 2003. The $300 truck was a wonderful thing. I was working a crap retail job and spent a whole week’s paycheck to buy it. I was without a car (and a license) but needed to get back and forth to work because catching rides with family and friends left me stuck either at work an extra two hours a day or sitting in front of the mall, smoking cigarettes. It had foil-tape racing stripes on it, a beat-to-hell bed, and a 5-speed stick. It was a white 1-ton that had 230k on it when I bought it, and it took me through about a year of driving, including some ill-advised road trips and a few bad dates. It literally never had turn signals for the whole year I owned it.
One afternoon some friends of mine took $5 worth of wal-mart spray paint (when you could still buy a can for $1) and painted green, pink, purple, blue, and red flames all over it. It looked horrid. Then a few days later I bought about $10 worth of flat black paint and covered it all except the rainbow-striped steelies. It moved my family’s recovered stuff from a house that burned to new place, and it carried me to so, so many shows. It suffered a catastrophic engine failure on the way to work one morning at around 6 AM. I abandoned it on the side of I-77.
11. 1989 Volvo 240DL auto
After the Isuzu’s engine decided to rattle itself to pieces, I was once again without a ride and my job was 25 miles away. A friend of mine had picked up this Volvo on a trade and gave it to me for $600. It took me back and forth to work and through many an ill-advised adventure (including a trip to a strip club after which my friends and I got kicked out of a Waffle House), all while returning decent gas mileage. It also taught me that “reliable” and “durable” mean two different things. A 3-day brake job sorting out all manner of issues with the distribution block, master cylinder, and 3 of 4 calipers made me wonder why I wanted a European car. It wound up impounded one night after I got pulled over because I never actually titled the car to myself and the tags were long-since expired from a friend’s old car. I never claimed to be responsible in my 20s.
12. 1999 Pontiac Grand Prix SE 3.8
I drove this car about 50 miles in the 18 months I owned it. It sat at my apartment, then at my sister’s place, then with an ex-girlfriend who needed a car, and then at my mom’s place because she wound up driving it for over a year. I would have loved to have kept it, but in my typical cart-before-the-horse fashion, I bought the car intending to get my license. That didn’t work out the way I wanted. Ended up selling it to a friend after one of the worst craigslist experiences I ever had.
13. 1988 Volvo 240DL auto
Here I was once again, working two jobs, and I bought a beat-up Volvo for $600.
This one was nowhere near as reliable as the Volvo I had purchased years prior. It was easily the biggest piece of garbage I ever drove. The transmission started to slip and it began to stall within a few hours of taking possession of the car. I took it to a mechanic and he assessed that “This car is long past its usable life. Cut your losses.”
So I cleaned it up as best I could and put it on Craigslist. It sold for $700 within two days. And the guy was a Volvo enthusiast. The interior was in good condition - the door panels were intact and the seat heaters worked- and he was very interested in the euro-style taillights that were in the trunk.
14. 2005 VW New Beetle Convertible 2.0/5m
I married into this car. At the time I didn’t have a vehicle and was riding the bus and train 2.5 hours each way every weekday just to get back and forth to work. I would occasionally have Mom’s car, or the roommate’s car to use, but it just wasn’t enough to keep me from having to commute on public transportation in Charlotte.
Then I met my wife. She was funny, smart, cute, and fun to hang around. She also drove a baby blue over gray Bug convertible. She was also on short-term disability from work due to a long-term illness, so she insisted on driving me home from work after we started dating.
It was reasonably fun to drive, even though it rattled and shook constantly. There was also always something wrong with it.
Literally always. Before the timing belt went in fall of 2012, it had a whiny fuel pump, a window that wouldn’t roll down, a non-working A/C unit and and a host of little issues that made it unpleasant to drive every day.
15. 1997 Honda Accord LX wagon 2.2/auto
Blue the wagon. I loved Blue. It came time to buy a second car with cash and my wife and I had about $4000 to spend. I proceeded to buy the most crackpipe 1997 Accord Wagon ever. We looked all over for a good example and everything we found was either beaten up or typical craigslist garbage. This was, of course, a time when the used car market was still inflated and $4 grand wouldn’t get much.
I went looking on the right places, too. I searched forums and enthusiast club sites to find something good. Then I got a PM from a guy on a local Honda forum. He had a stock, LX wagon, original except alloy wheels and an aftermarket sunroof. My wife and I looked at the car and I let emotion take over. We both wanted a wagon and from my initial assessment, this was the cleanest Accord I had seen in over a decade. We picked it up on our first wedding anniversary and drove it home that day.
The next morning I drove it to work. The “honda valve rattle” started. I knew it wasn’t a huge deal because they all seemed to have that. Besides, he had the receipts from the most recent timing belt service only 5,000 miles prior. Then about a week later it started to howl with a bad wheel bearing.
Within six months it was traded in, with a leaky head gasket, overheating issues, and a host of other little things going wrong. It was nowhere near as clean as it seemed.
Still, I miss that car a little.
16. 2013 Kia Soul Base 1.6/6m
My first new car. My wife and I had gone from commuting about 40 miles a day to over 60 so we needed something reliable. The blown head gasket on Blue was the last straw. By the time I got home with the tow truck, she had already applied for a loan and set up an appointment to drive a Kia Soul. She liked the way they looked, and their 100,000 mile warranty, and the fact that my 6'7" friend had one and drove it comfortably.
We put 62,000 miles on that car in just over 3 years and I chronicled some of its journey. It took my wife to have important medical procedures, and took me back to school. It was reliable, decent to drive, and roomy. But it also felt cheap. It was a good, cheap car. And it was superlatively both good and cheap.
After the crash it was never the same. It drove differently and felt less connected. So we traded it in on Meepster the Jeepster
17. 2007 VW Passat Wagon 2.0T/6A
My wife and I bought this in the fall of 2013, paid too much for it, and basically chalked it up to a manic episode. It was a nice driving, really clean car but like our prior Accord wagon, it was the wrong example. Poorly maintained and likely surviving on 87-octane winter gas for much of its life, it was rustier underneath than a car from the south should be. That’s because it was actually from the Buffalo, NY area. And it had lots of little issues. AC stopped working in the summer of 2014, and then it began to overheat. Then it started to burn lots of oil through the turbo, and electrical gremlins abound. After it decided to shoot straight engine oil out of the exhaust pipes and then refused to start, we cut our losses and gave it back to the bank. We’re still paying down the remaining balance. But if I could find a perfect example I’d get another one.
18. 2015 Jeep Renegade 1.4T/6m fwd
Love it so far. 20k miles in and not a single issue.