So I’ve been in the market for a new (to me) car for about 8 months now (aka, since the date I bought my ATS) and I’ve been flirting with a lot of things, two of which are a used 911 (late 996 or early 997) and an RX-8.
Now, before everyone starts politely explaining to me that a 911 and an RX-8 are not even in the same “sport” much less the same “league.” Please don’t. I know. I don’t care. I like both cars (on paper) and, until last Saturday, I hadn’t driven either.
I realized that despite the fact that I am a lifetime car lover and a huge 911 and rotary fan, I’ve never driven a 911 nor a rotary powered car. Despite this, I’ve basically been set on my next car being a 911.
Please allow me to explain why. As a youth (also known as about 2.5 years ago), I never liked 911’s. I couldn’t understand why anyone would pay a premium (both in purchase as well as maintenance costs) for a 911 when a Corvette, M3, Mustang, or Camaro can be had for less or the same price and offer equal or greater performance without the fear of having to transfer a kidney to the Fatherland for all but the most basic repairs/maintenance.
However, as I have gracefully aged, I’ve started to understand the appeal. Corvettes are obnoxious and not classy. No other car (an Audi S4 gets close) nails the “classy/understated performance car” formula like a 911. This has become more important to me as my career (law & finance) has progressed, and I moved from the midwest to the Northeast (Southern CT) the importance of my “image” has increased in lock step.
Among other things (clothes, etc), I sold my previous car (2011 Camaro 2SS/RS) because I found it a little childish in the sea of 3 and 5 Series’ I was swimming in. I bought an ATS because I thought it was the only car I could reasonably afford (I hate having debt so I don’t like to finance much, if any of an auto purchase (yes, I know this is stupid from a use of capital perspective but I sleep better at night not making car payments)) that still kept some semblance of my love of performance cars whilst maintaining my “image” needs and serving as a practical family car. I have regretted this decision for quite some time.
Life has a way of throwing curves and life recently threw me a big one. I had been working hard for years in my career with a goal of making money and living on the East Coast. This summer I considered my goals achieved. I was making pretty good money, I had recently started as a VP investment banker in Southeast Connecticut, about a 50 minute train ride from NYC. My first weekend on the job I went to Lime Rock Park for an automotive pilgrimage of sorts. I had finally “made it.”
A few weeks later I started not “feeling right.” I had lost my drive. My short term memory was non-existent. My fine and gross motor skills began to suffer. My muscles were twitching uncontrollably and my hands often trembled. I had horrible headaches. I was detached, distant, and miserable. The list goes on. It was impacting my job and my family. When I finally decided to go to the doctor, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. My continuing battle with this horrible disease is for a different post on a different day but I promise I am getting to the 911 and RX-8.
When I first got sick but before being diagnosed I thought I was just stressed so I took a long weekend in the Florida keys (lots of family there). Because of work I got to Miami a few days after my family arrived (don’t become an investment banker). Of course, my econobox rental car was unavailable and I managed to bamboozle my way into a free convertible upgrade. I had a few choices: Mustang v6, Camaro v6, and NC Miata. I had never driven a Miata because it had four fewer cylinders than I was typically accustomed to and due to its portrayal in the Academy Award Winner for Greatest Movie of All Time: Corky Ramano. But, the Oppo’s love Miata’s so I decided to try one out.
Within moments of getting on the highway and dropping the top, I started feeling something weird: happiness. The car was slow, much slower than my previous Camaros and slower than my ATS, but I didn’t care.
I could not get the smile off my face as I zipped through traffic at what felt like ludicrous speeds (aka, the speed limit). I hadn’t felt that alive in months. I didn’t care what people thought about me. I was happy. I was awake and alive for the first time in months.
As I have had the ups and downs of my continuing treatment and various setbacks (both health and professional), I believe I have begun to gain a sense of clarity as this disease has slowly poked holes in both my sense of self, my priorities, and my “reality.” Ultimately, that long weekend in a Miata helped me realize what is important in life: Happiness. Work-life balance is more important than money, family is more important than money, and happiness is more important than money. Although you do need money to have or do the things that make you happy, balance is the key. All the toys in the world aren’t worth it if you don’t have the time to use them.
So, I’ve realized that life is simply too short to not try to make yourself happy (within reason). Considering that I have been obsessed with and loved cars since as long as I can remember, not smiling as much as possible when I get behind the wheel seems to be a major missed opportunity on the road of life. I have decided I need to go back to having a car that really makes me happy, even if there are compromises. The key is to do this with minimal financial impact considering my precarious employment situation (they think I am an idiot because the Lyme has basically made me one). So now we come to the whole reason I started writing what has turned into a soliloquy: my first time driving a 911 and an RX-8.
It was with great excitement that I confidently waltzed into the Greenwich Porsche dealership with a mission to convince a salesperson that I was willing to spent about 25k more on a car than I really wanted. I have not lost my “gift of gab” so, despite my trembling hands, this was not difficult. The car was a 2008 Carrera 4s w/manual transmission, turbo wheels, heated seats, the sport chrono package, and a few other bells and whistles (one of which was not bluetooth). I took it for a very spirited test drive (with the salesman nervously saying “tricky corner ahead” on several occasions) on some fairly twisty roads by test drive standards.
^ Credit Porsche of Greenwich.
I was really impressed with how roomy and airy the cabin was. The engine sounded nice and had a certain “drama” about it. It actually sounded best when I first started it and it filled the cabin with a certain appealing mechanical anger. I was immediately excited and a little nervous that I was going to fall in love and then have the uncontrollable desire to blow my budget completely. However, once it warmed up and I started driving the car, those fears were alleviated. The shifter was good, but not amazing. The steering, while very good, was not the earth shattering experience I was expecting. It was certainly heavy and very responsive but, once again, not the “you are one with the car” sensation I was expecting. The car was pretty quick, but not earth shattering. It certainly “felt” slower than my my last, and second to last, Camaro. That said, it did have a certain sense of drama to it and it is definitely a better experience than a C6 Corvette, which is basically a really fast tractor. So I left the Porsche dealership liking, but not loving, the 911 and certainly not being willing to spend over $50k for one. Frankly, I was wondering whether I wanted to spend $30k for one. So, on to the next dealership to test drive the RX-8.
The car in question is a 2009 R3. According to the dealership it has a number of features including an “in dash clock,” “rear bucket seats,” and a “0” in the box next to the “number of cylinders.” When I started the RX-8, it provided some drama, but not at the level of the 911. Oh, and by “drama” I mean “the smell of oil.” As I walked around the car and poked around the interior while waiting for the warm up redline lights to climb to 9000 I found myself somewhat impressed by the interior quality. It is better than my previous Camaro(s) and not much worse than the Porsche. It’s not a luxury car but it appeared to be well made and full of cubby holes and storage.
^Credit Lexis of Greenwich.
When I drove the 911 I had a period of awkwardness as I got used to the clutch, shifter, etc. I’m sure part (most) of it was a mental “OMG I’M FINALLY DRIVING A 911” thing but it happened nonetheless. For whatever reason, when I got in the RX-8 I was immediately comfortable and within a few turns and lights I felt like a “pro.”
As far as cars I have driven, the RX-8 is the closest thing to a Miata-like experience I have found in a car with 4 seats, much less four doors. The steering was lovely, the shifter was lovely, the “experience” was lovely. Like the Miata, the RX-8 is just a “fun” car that, for reasons unknown to science, just felt like it wants to be driven. It felt like an organism with a personality, not just a fast machine. It was a car that is best described with consecutive sentences about “feelings” and heavy use of the word “lovely” as opposed to numbers.
Yes, it has less torque than almost every car, and potentially lawnmower, I have owned. Yes, it is probably not much faster in a straight line than my first Camaro, a 1992 Z-28, a car that transformed gasoline into noise without the side effect of horsepower. No, I didn’t care.
I had more fun driving the RX-8 on the same streets as the 911 despite, or perhaps because, of the fact that I was going slower. The engine just begged to (and needed to) be revved and made wonderful noises throughout the RPM range. I could really see myself enjoying a boring drive to work in the RX-8 more so than I would in the 911, although not as much as a Miata.
My main complaint about the RX-8 was the brakes. They seemed to stop the car fine, but the pedal lacked feel. I don’t know if this is common for RX-8’s or specific to this car. Also, the ride quality bordered on “painful.”
In short, the RX-8 just felt special to me and I left the test drive really wanting to risk immediate death upon returning home with a unapproved car purchase. I kept looking back at the RX-8 as I walked away, I can’t say I had either feeling after driving the 911.
Of course, buying an RX-8 would fly in the face of part of the reason I got rid of my Camaro. It’s a little (lot) juvenile. It’s not terribly handsome. It’s not classy. It certainly doesn’t scream “investment banker” or “lawyer” or “early 30’s well educated urban professional.” I’m sure I would feel a little embarrassed in the sea of 3-Series’, 5-Series’, X-3’s, and Q5’s (and 911’s) otherwise known as Southeast Connecticut. However, I am starting to think that, when driving with vigor, I might be wishing I had an RX-8 if I bought a different car. I also think I would be inclined to drive an RX-8 with vigor more often compared to other options. Finally, I wonder if I would like a 911 or some other car more than I would like an RX-8 plus several thousand new dollars in my investment account.
Naturally, I will probably go back and drive both cars again as well as drive another E-90 M3 (another car I really liked but ultimately didn’t “love”) before I pull the trigger. Hopefully, I’ll come back with my senses slapped into me giggling to myself about the time I seriously thought about buying the slowest car I’ve owned in over a decade over a fine piece of rear-engined German engineering with a very satisfying “thunk” when the door closes. Until that happens, I’ll be researching RX-8’s and losing sleep thinking of all the reasons Mazda should put a Wankle into a Miata and thinking of ways such a lovely motor could be improved to work in modern times.
I’m sure I would have immediate regrets if I buy an RX-8 over a 911, an M3, or whatever else piques my interest. But then again, I’m beginning to think that the life of the car enthusiast is one of regrets. The nature of our hobby (or obsession) is the fact that the grass is always greener, or at least the fact that there is other grass which, although brown, may be fun to roll around in(or mow, fertilize, and water) for a while. The key, dear reader, is to roll nonetheless. Life is too short to not drive something you love.