Might as well join all the cool kids.
Car #1 (2003-2004) - 1994 Plymouth Sundance
2.2L, auto, coupe liftback, 120k miles, $2700. I looked at everything from Rancheros, to Celicas, to Rivieras, and this was simply the best value for the money. Having an airbag kept the parents happy as well.
It was about as good of a starter car as I could have asked for, and actually not too awful to drive. I hadn’t awakened to my inner enthusiast at the time, but having something small and light to drive just felt nice. It was in need of a bunch of minor things which helped to negotiate the price down and later serve as some excellent learning opportunities to help get me started into car ownership. There was an odd electrical gremlin here and there, but otherwise it never let me down.
Unfortunately someone rear-ended me about a year later and totaled the car. My mom and I in the front seats escaped unscathed, but my friend in the back seat suffered some minor neck injuries. Insurance gave me $100 more than I paid for it, and I earned a little more from buying the car back and reselling it to a guy who ultimately tied it to a truck and tree, pulled out the damage, and sold it again for $1200. No joke. Kinda wish I would have thought of that.
Car #2 (2004-2008/2015) - 1998 Ford Escort ZX2
I took the insurance money from the Sundance, added in some savings from my lucrative $6.75/hr job at K-Mart and few hundred bucks loan from the parents and went car shopping.
Long story short, I sought out the familiar and eventually landed on this ZX2 with about 60k miles. Civics caught my eye as well, but were too pricey at the time. I also have to say that in spite of giving me an outstanding upbringing and countless years of good advice, my parents did me wrong here. Comparable ZX2s with a manual were going for about $1k less, but “Oh, you wouldn’t like driving one in traffic.”... *sigh*. I listened to them and later regretted it. The rest of the car was pretty good though.
This car got me through the remainder of high school and then college without any issues. It was like the Sundance, but better in every single way. Driving it on the hilly, curvy roads around my alma mater is what finally let it dawn on me that driving could actually be fun. My family already had a bunch of gearheads in it, but that interest had never really made sense until then.
The ZX2 was eventually sold to my husband-to-be in 2008 shortly after I got my next car. It kept on going strong, with only the transmission growing a little questionable over the years until about 2015/200k miles, when it too was totaled out, thankfully without any fault or injury on his part. The insurance payout was more than satisfactory for how long the car had been serving us and those funds went towards getting him his current 2013 FR-S.
Car #3 (2008-2018?) - 2007 Mazda MX-5 Miata
I was a freshly-graduated Computer Science major with a decent software engineering job right out of the gate and no kids whatsoever on the horizon, so it was time for something even more fun. First and foremost, it had to be something I knew I could potentially enjoy for 10 years or more, be reasonably priced to buy and own, and have decent aftermarket/community support. I checked out WRXes, GTIs, etc., but Miata was the obvious answer in the end. Nothing else was so immediately enjoyable under every single circumstance right out of the box.
I was considering buying new, but instead found a buyer’s remorse special and got a heck of a deal from a lady who mistakenly thought she wanted to change from fun bikes to fun cars. My level of experience with manuals at the time was on the order of minutes, so I got one more crash-course from my younger brother and his excellent ‘87 MR2 and then continued to perfect the art with the new car. It didn’t take long to get comfortable and the car was everything I hoped for.
I kept it stock for the first 3-4 years and then slowly started modifying. I gradually added most of the typical bolt-ons and once it was in a spot I was happy with, I ventured out to give autocross a shot. I signed up for a SCCA Starting Line class in late 2014, loved it, and then finally built up the courage to start actively participating about a year later. My novice season went pretty well, with most of my finishes landing around the top 40% mark consistently. After adding in some properly sticky tires and a LSD, the car became even faster and even easier to drive, so much so that I was able to start nipping at the heels of the very fastest locals. For the next two years of championships, I piloted the car to 2nd in class and 8th or better overall.
As much fun as I was having, I encountered some opportunites during this time to try out the next level of lightweight performance in the forms of an Elise and a Super 7 (clone) and was immediately smitten. The retractable hardtop on the Miata was a limiting factor for fitting a roll-bar, making track days a no-go, so I knew I’d have to move on eventually and that seemed like a great direction to head. I eventually did so last year and now have this car listed for sale with the hopes of moving it by spring.
Car #4 (2012-present) - 2005 Subaru Outback XT
I knew that if I was going to swap the suspension out on the Miata for something lower and more aggressive, I’d no longer be able to drive it in the snow. Having something more practical and capable than the Miata and ZX2 was an appealing idea as well, so I started searching. I had grown into a full-blown manual die-hard by this point, so I set out to find something with AWD, ground clearance, and a stick that preferably wasn’t expensive or awful to drive. It was very slow going, but I stuck to my guns and wound up with one of the last of its breed.
I was secretly hoping for the oddball unicorn of a Baja Turbo with a manual, but was more than willing to take a good Outback or Forester XT. After casually perusing Craigslist for months, I found someone up in Iowa selling this Outback with all of 33k miles on it. I jumped immediately, the vehicle checked out fine, and before I knew it, it was on its way home with me. It came at a small premium compared to the rest of the market, but I was more than willing to pay it for that extra peace of mind.
Finding one with such low miles let me make sure it didn’t suffer from the common failures of its generation (banjo bolt, etc.) so it’s been reasonably reliable so far. Some things like CV joints, shocks, and other parts wearing out quickly and winter usage taking its toll on undercarriage hardware have caused some minor annoyances, but it has yet to fail in any major way, so I can’t complain too much. It’s been the perfect counterpart to the Miata with its practical yet entertaining demeanor. This thing is downright beastly in the snow with winter tires on.
I’ll be holding on to it until next year or later, depending on what my next car purchase is.
Car #5 (2017-present) - 2015 Exomotive Exocet (‘94 Miata donor)
Next, I wanted to go for something even lighter than the Miata. I was looking at Elises for the longest time, but was also kicking around the idea of a kit car of some sort. The Exocet was particularly appealing because it was hands-down, the best bang for the buck in this sort of area and I wouldn’t have to fuss too much over keeping it looking nice (owning a black car for so many years wears on you, ya know?). I originally wasn’t planning on making a decision until this year, but someone just so happened to put one on the market that was built almost exactly like how I wanted.
It was located about 8 hours away near Denver, so I drove out to check it out. The guy who built it had a long background in building dirt racing cars and had completed this one to do everything from racing to several hundred mile road trips (for which he had plenty of evidence of both). That was good enough for me, so I pulled the trigger and drove it all the way home. My husband was kind enough to accompany me in the Outback to haul spare parts and tools, but thankfully none of it was needed.
I’ve only made a few changes and improvements so far, but my plans are to start autocrossing with it actively next year and also finally get my ass out to a track. The only thing it really “needs” at this point is a better set of seats and a 6-point harness (instead of the crotch-wrecking 5). Either way, if the little bit of autocross I tried this year was any indication, it won’t be competitive in the slightest, but it’ll be fun as hell, and be a great platform to continue developing and learning with.
Car #6 (2019?) - TBD
I’m still trying to figure out exactly how much and what type of car I want to cover the daily grind once the Miata is gone. I’d love to get something like a Golf R, Civic Type R, Veloster N, G70, etc., but we’ll see...