ZX versus SX: The Story of My First Car

When I was sixteen, my Dad let me know we could start looking for a reliable and fuel efficient used car. But I was a car enthusiast who wanted to go fast. I wanted to engage in heel-and-toe shifting in a low slung sports car. If it happened to be reliable and that's how I was able to convince my Dad to buy it, all the better.

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And just because I'd had a subscription to Car and Driver magazine since I was twelve and I thought about cars and driving all the time, I was convinced that I was a great driver. No question about it. But actually, I was a typical sixteen year old idiot who thought they knew better than their parents. Sitting on my bed with my parents once discussing looking for my first car and the privilege of driving (not a right, a privilege), I had the following exchange:

Dad: Do think you're a better driver than your Mom?

Me: Fundamentally (voice rising at the end to inflect a question)……..YES

Dad: Literally falls over laughing

Mom: Silently shoots poison darts at me with her eyes and for some reason doesn't laugh

I had to go back later and explain to my Mom that obviously I knew she was a better driver. I just said that for Dad. I enjoy making him laugh. To this day, I don't know if she completely believes me.

As the search got underway, I would scour the local newspaper classified ads hunting for a "reliable" used sports car that I could sell my parents on. Also, whenever I was in a convenience store I would buy a copy of Auto Trader. Most of you know Auto Trader as a website connecting car buyers with car sellers; currently awesomely advertised on TV by two heroes of my childhood…the Duke Boys racin' around rural areas in their General Lee (orange 1969 Dodge Charger emblazoned with the rebel flag on the roof and with the doors, of course, welded shut).

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However, back in the late eighties before Al Gore invented the internet, Auto Trader was a magazine sized publication on newsprint with black and white photos of used cars with little descriptive blurbs…year, make, model, mileage, features, asking price, etc. along with a contact phone number on the seller. When digital speedometers became trendy at the time, I remember one ad bragging that the car being sold featured "digital speed". Very fancy.

My Dad and I would always have a current issue of Auto Trader on hand. I would leaf through almost daily and dog ear the pages which contained a possibility.

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For months after obtaining my driver's license, I called sellers about Mustangs (old classic sixties models along with newer ones starting with the '79 model year – no one would dare touch the pseudo Pinto turd of a Mustang from model years '74-'78), Mazda RX-7s, Toyota Celicas, and any other sporty car priced from $1,500 to $2,000 that I could pass off as reliable and fuel efficient (no V8 for me) that wasn't a complete P.O.S.. It could and probably would be a partial P.O.S. just not a complete one.

Eventually, I made contact with the seller of a silver 1978 Datsun 280ZX and set up an appointment to test it out. I thought my plan was coming together gloriously.

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Unfortunately, the voice of reason and logic, my Mom, joined me and my Dad to go look at the Z car. Dammit. I was convinced she was going to sabotage everything.

I needed a miracle. I needed a nice, clean, well kept example of a 1978 Datsun 280ZX with a responsible looking seller that wouldn't offend parents or raise any suspicions.

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Instead I got the complete opposite. We drove about an hour east to Elberton, GA (granite capital of the entire world – Google it) and went to the prearranged meeting location. A rough looking guy in his early twenties emerged from a silver 1978 280ZX. The car looked a lot better than the seller. I was enthralled with the car. My Dad let me enjoy the moment. My Mom frowned.

First things first, the seller wanted to show me what this thing could do. C'mon man – let's go. She's fast. Shut up, I'm thinking. You're going to ruin this for me. Being a two-seater, my parents couldn't join us. Probably just as well. We took off like a rocket. My parents were, most likely, horrified. I'm sure I was wearing a goofy grin. He barely let up through the turns as he revved it to the redline through the gears. I was pushed hard against my seat. I loved it. I wanted it. I stopped thinking with any rationale or reason.

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We soon returned to the parking lot where my parents were left waiting and probably not believing that they let me get me in a fast car with this dubious looking guy. Dubious looking…picture a redneck with a blond mullet wearing only bleached out, ripped up jeans being lead out of a mobile home on the TV show Cops with his hands cuffed behind his back. His only request of the police officers making the arrest was simple, "I need a cigarette", pursing his lips and poking his neck around in anticipation. In reality, it wasn't quite that bad. He was wearing a shirt….and shoes.

Having hooked me on the test drive, now the seller was ready to show off some of the unique features of his Z car. He popped the hood while firing up a cigarette and proudly showed off the Krylon job he had done to the entire engine compartment. Silver. Hoses, radiator, spark plugs…everything. All silver. Then to get the heater to work was a slight inconvenience…you had to access under the hood and hold two loose wires together. Not sure how that was supposed to work while driving but I really didn't care. It was fast. It was cool. So it had a few problems. Did I mention there was a mass of dangling naked wires where the stereo once sat? And maybe the dash had a few large cracks. Anyway, I was sold. I was ready to discuss negotiating strategy with my Dad.

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To my shock, my parents did not share my affinity for this car. My Dad was at least discussing the car with me, pointing out the major red flags as he saw them. My Mom torpedoed the whole idea. I was pissed. And I let her have it (which was very uncharacteristic of me). I never went through a rebellious phase in which I clashed with my parents. But on this day in the granite capital of the world, I was a complete ass to my Mom. We left without the Z car.

And in a few months, I was the proud owner of a black 1980 Datsun 200SX with a five speed manual bought from a responsible adult seller who had all the records and fashioned himself as a Datsun guy. Everything was clean and appeared as the Nissan Motor Company intended it to. The seller explained, it'll do 55 in third. That's plenty, my Dad responded.

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The debacle on the Z car became a legendary story my Dad would tease me about repeatedly over the years. Of course, my parents were right and I was wrong. But all these years later and I still have never owned a true car enthusiast automobile.

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