Unlike a lot of fellows in other places, my dad didn’t have a ’70 Plymouth Cuda with a .426inch Hemi engine that was just waiting to be restored that inspired my love for cars, instead my father like most of the fathers in my generation drove communist era cars followed by older european cars after the so called democracy set it. I tend to believe the petrol in my blood comes from my mother whom loved the ’79 Civics (EB series, the first generation of Civics) so much that she and my father actually owned two of them.
Of course, I grew up with the Need For Speed series and Fast&Furious movies (which, weirdly, I didn’t especially enjoy except for the general action genre embedded in them), but of those two – the first one touched me and instilled something in me that I’d find out years later about. I didn’t enjoy ricing out cars, but I did it in the game because hey who doesn’t love a Vertex body kit on a Celica?
Years passed and I still enjoyed driving games, especially the simulator type, and then the moment to get my drivers’ license came, and I did so successfully after taking classes from a Police Officer who was also a driving instructor, and that came in really handy because you drive a whole lot different when “I got to get to the precinct now” is the way the words are laid.
My first car was a Mitsubishi Pajero Pinin, it’s like a Pajero but smaller and lighter with just two engine options AFAIK – the 2.0GDI (Petrol, N/A, some 129HP) and the 1.8GDI (Petrol, N/A [some info about some of them being turbo’d], some 120HP). It had an automatic gearbox, the 4 speed kind with overdrive and multiple selectors for traction distribution, but on the 2WD mode it was RWD – and this is important.
You learn a lot by driving a RWD car, but you learn even more by driving a small SUV with important amounts of body-roll that’s also a RWD car with a light rear end. If it’s dry outside and you want to overtake “slalom style” you’ve to always take into account body roll so as not to touch the other guy, if you’re taking a corner a bit faster on a rainy day you should remember that you’ve got rear wheels powering the whole thing, and you also have a light rear end so it’s gonna pop faster than a bottle of Prosecco, but you do learn things about oversteer, how to control the car, how to control a slide and how to generally feel comfy at the wheel of such a car.
I tortured the car, especially but not limited to wet days when I’d take every corner especially hard so my rear would lose grip, in parking lots, on longer trips when I’d always redline it and so on – as a matter of fact, I redlined it pretty much daily since the gearbox would always allow me to do so and it never showed signs of not liking it – and I’m a firm believer in the “cars like to be driven” creed. The car didn’t have modern electronics such as ESP/ASP/ESR/TC or other names for traction control systems, it did have ABS though I disabled it pretty fast since it was too jumpy for my taste and braking at the limit of traction loss was way efficient in my opinion.
The next car I daily’d (and am dailying) is a Skoda Octavia 2 1.6TDI (Diesel, TURBOOOO, 105HP) which is a wonderful car, a perfect daily driver, a safe and easy to drive car.
The Octavia taught me things about how understeer can and will kill me if I’m not careful, how turbo lag is actually awesome, and probably other things that don’t really come to mind right now. The difference between the two cars couldn’t be more obvious, one was manufactured in 2001 while the other in 2009, one is a small SUV while the other is a lower-mid level business sedan for people who couldn’t really afford the Passat but they wanted something really close. One of them is RWD and the other FWD, one is Petrol while the other is a Diesel. If you think about it, they’re really very much different cars in every criteria but the actual differences aren’t to be seen here.
The early 2000s were the ending of a much romanticized period in which we didn’t care about safety (SKINNY A-PILLARS!!!) that much because we considered it to be much more of a drivers’ responsibility to drive safe, not of the car to keep you safe… (this is just my romanticized interpretation)
…and here lies one of the biggest differences in the two cars mentioned: the Pinin had GREAT visibility, like absurdly great visibility, you could look anywhere and almost never would your vision be obstructed by large pillars or big headrests, but this isn’t the difference, the difference was the mindset of people – which in turn led to cars becoming the safety clams that they are today. In the Skoda you don’t have great visibility, there are a lot of moments when you basically “instinct” it because you can’t see something (and this isn’t a good example, the visibility in a Chrysler 300C is infinitely worse and driving such a car was a horrible experience).
A good example regarding the safety-clams cars of today would be this guy I know that got one of the first BMW 4 Series and managed to take down a tree and a concrete lighting pole and not only did he live, he didn’t have much of a scratch on him.
This is why the next car I ended up owning is a 1989 Nissan 200SX – an almost classic car, a drifting icon, a weeaboo’s wet dream and now my dream.
Let’s sort some things out first, most people know the car as a 240SX because of the NFS series, but it goes like this: the 180SX was available only in Japan with the SR20DET (2.0L Petrol, some 250+HP depending on the model no and the CA18DET (1.8L Petrol, some 179HP, the 200SX was available in Europe with the CA18DET and the SR20DET engine, and the 240SX was available in the US with the KA24DE engine (that was not a turbo).
(Unrelated thing that happened while I was writing this: a guy in a Golf 4 tried to ehm, donut right next to my car and then park, he managed to screetch a bit and then ended up fucking up his front bumper on a bigger curb that was there. Karma, bitch.)
It’s not a daily driver by any means, especially because the one I got is what people apparently call a “basic T28 CA18DET” setup which means it’s got a bigger turbo and other supporting mods that take it up to 270-300HP (on a good day, not dyno tested yet). What I was amazed by was how much I ended up learning about this car from a technical point of view in a very short time. This car is a modders dream since it’s extremely easy to increase power without sacrificing too much reliability (that’s not really there to begin with but hey I needed to end the phrase well). After I got it, in a few months I ended up replacing the starter motor, ordering a turbo rebuild kit since the turbo seals leak oil that leads to the car smoking like it’s the 50s, and now the car has another issue – the brake calipers have seized, all of them at the same time. If I were to be talking about the Skoda, all of those issues would cost an impressive amount of money for parts and hours of work, but this being a 90% mechanical car back from an era where things were simpler, most of them were very cheap to buy/fix, and simple enough for me to do. The starter motor took about 10 minutes to take off, take to a shop to refurbish and another 10 to put it back on the car.
It was incredibly simple to install a turbo gauge, just install a T fitting on a line and then run the tubing up into the interior, try doing that on your Golf 6 GTI in under 10 minutes.
I’ll have to admit, you give up on a lot of convenience, safety and general evolution by not getting the latest car models, and it’s easy to understand and approve the act of buying a new Jetta instead of a Skyline, you should buy a new Jetta and then buy a Skyline. One of them will take you wherever you need to go, the other will remind you that you’re human, that you make mistakes and that it’s capable of taking your life if you don’t treat it nicely. Human mortality is a given, but we tend to forget that and I think it makes our lifes a bit more bland because of it.
My red coupe sportscar isn’t running right now, I mean the engine runs fine but the brakes are gone for the moment, and that’s perfectly ok. I didn’t get it thinking it’s a good grocery getter, I got it thinking it’s a nice car that matches some of my criteria (being japanese so rev happy, being RWD, being a coupe and having forced induction) that will run and will break and will be fixed and so on.
Bringing the Nissan home was an interesting affair, a friend drove me and my girlfriend about 180 miles to pick it up and then follow me in case it’s going to breakdown on the highway. I swear I almost never went over 140km/h because I was terrified of it, the sheer power that’s not restricted in any way by electronics meant to keep you safe, the instant throttle response from an age when fly-by-wire didn’t yet exist in mass-market cars and the general road attitude of a car in which you get the feeling that you’re standing with your bum on the road.
On the other side, since we as humans tend to live in the past having such a piece of history is a nice way to keep reminding you of a simpler time (back when I wasn’t even born, THAT simple), and everything inside it just screams 90’s.
The interior shows an era before “Supersize Me” was (such) a thing, so no cupholders for you! The ashtray is much more important than a cupholder. The handbrake is leaning towards you, the driver. No airbags, not needed in a drivers’ car! I romanticize this car too much, I know, but then again I do the same with anything I like, and that’s the beauty of being subjective when loving something.
James May says in one of his audiobooks (can’t remember which one, will update post when I do) that between the differences of having a slow car or a fast one and not having a car vs having one, the latter is much more important. Any car is better than no car, and he’s right because the joy of driving, tinkering and so on doesn’t rely on the latest 7 Series, it relies on anything that has an engine and can be tinkered with.
What’s the point to all of this? I don’t know, I know that I really like cars – this whole post was written while in the car due to a considerable amount of coincidences that took place.