You Never Forget Your First

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Your first car.  Have you forgotten it?  It’s doubtful you have because no matter how good or how bad your first car was, it represented a huge change in your life.  You may in fact not have the most fond memories of owning that car but what sticks out in your mind is the memories of friends and the experiences you had with that car that could only exist in that particular place and time in your life.  We all have stories about our first car.  This is mine.

I grew up in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough and I’m the eldest of four children and I have three sisters.  In 1989 I was 17 and my parent’s thought it would be a good idea to get me a car.  I worked part-time and my sisters were into horseback riding and they had riding lessons during the week and horse shows on weekends where they competed so us 4 kids were all over the place.  My parent’s felt that it would ease the burden on them if they didn’t have to drive all fours kids all over the place.  My father likely had more influence on this decision and he set the criteria for choosing the car.  My mom’s new car was the first in our family with anti-lock brakes and my father felt this was an important safety feature that any car I got should have.  My parent’s both agreed that a 2-seater was out of the question because insurance premiums were higher on most cars with 2 seats.  At the same time, they didn’t want me to have a car that was too spacious out of fear that I’d become a taxi service for everyone I knew so in the end they decided a 2+2 coupe was ideal.  Sure, it had 4 seats but in reality, those back seats were small, cramped and only good for short trips and most of my friends were over 6-feet tall like myself.  keep in mind that all of this decision-making was going on with my knowledge.

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My dad’s first choice was the Volkswagen Corrado G60 which had just been introduced in that fall of 1989.  One day he brought home a Corrado brochure, the one in the photo above with the pricing information written on it.  It wasn’t unusual for my dad to go and get brochures for interesting new cars he had no intention of buying, that was something he did it all the time.  It was unusual however for him to spend the time to get pricing information from the salesperson.  Usually he only did that for cars he was considering buying and when I saw it written on the brochure, I assumed he was considering the car for himself.  I didn’t give any thought at all to how impractical that car would be for him when we were a family of 6 and my mom had just replaced her minivan with a sedan.  My only thoughts were how awesome it would be if he did buy a Corrado and daydreamed about cruising around in it on summer nights.

At some point, I don’t remember when, my Dad told me the Corrado would be my car and, well, that blew my mind.  I hadn’t for a second thought that my parent’s would buy me a car, I mean it wasn’t even on my radar.  Holy crap, I was getting a car!  My Dad said he and my  Mom would go test drive a Corrado and make a decision after that.  So off they went for a test drive with the dumbest car salesman EVER behind the wheel who must have assumed my father was having a mid-life crisis and the car was for him.  The salesman takes that car onto highway 401 and proceeds to show my parents just how fast the Corrado could go by doing 200 km/h (double the speed limit) and told them it could go faster than that!  Take a guess just how impressed my parents were.  Hint; They weren’t!  My Dad came home and said “that car’s too fast” and my dream of owning a Corrado was crushed forever.  And that salesman lost himself a sale.  Idiot.

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But all was not lost.  My Dad decided one day that we should go look at the Toyota Celica that had just been launched that Fall of 1989.  I know the styling looks dated now, but when it was new, the ST185 Celica was a really sharp-looking car that really stood out at the time.  I certainly thought so and was eager to check one out at our local dealer with my Dad.  The test-drive went well without any high-speed hi-jinks on the highway this time.    My Dad mulled it over for a few weeks until one day in November when I my father matter of fact said to me; “What do say we go to the Toyota dealer tonight and order a Celica?  Oh man, I still couldn’t believe it was happening, it was too good to be true.  I went upstairs to my room and spent some time doing a wacky dance of glee.  By the end of the evening we’d put in an order for a black Celica GT-S with optional ABS brakes (as per Dad’s criteria), and the GT-S sport group (power windows, power mirrors, power locks and the “System 10” 10-speaker, 220 watt AM-FM-Cassette-CD and power antenna).  ABS brakes weren’t available until after January 1990 so it was decided to have the car delivered for the end of March as there was no sense in having delivered in the middle of winter.  Besides, that gave me time to take some lessons in driving a manual transmission since I didn’t want to practice on my new car and I was determined that it would be me that drove it off the lot.  And thus began a LONG 4-month wait but I could look forward to having the car in time for spring.

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The car was finally ready for delivery on the last Friday in March and it was hard to concentrate on school that day.  4 months of anticipation were finally over and of course it was pouring rain that day.  My best friend came with me and my Mom to get the car and once all the paperwork was completed, which took an incredibly long time, the keys were finally handed over to me and I was ready to take my new ride home.  Up until this point, I had only rode as a passenger in a Celica during test drives so now I was finally in the left seat and with what little practice I’d had driving a manual, I screeched out of the dealership and we were off.  The rest of that evening was a blur.  My best friend and I picked up our other friend and then my girlfriend and then went out for food.  Other memories from that night was a minivan full of kids gawking at my car like they just saw a Lamborghini and the sound of my 2 friend’s heads hitting the roof  in the back sear when I hit a particularly rough set of train tracks.  And later my biggest challenge of all that evening, starting on a hill in the rain in traffic.  The next day, Saturday, I had to be at my part-time job at 8:30 am so I got up super early just to out and drive my car around before I went to work.  The roads were empty at that hour and it was a serene time to just get to know the car and enjoy it.

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So many good memories of that car.  Road trips with friends, cruising Yonge Street in Toronto on warm summer nights listening to the sounds of Chris Sheppard’s Club 102 on the radio.  And washing it.  Always washing it.  I took such good care of that car and I soon came to regret choosing black.  It looked amazing when it was clean but keeping it clean was a never-ending cycle of washing and waxing to the point where neighbors would joke that I’d wash the paint off the car.  All regular maintenance was performed on time, I always checked the oil and the tire pressures.  It was always in proper working order.  Until I went away to university and for that, I got the VW Passat mentioned in a previous post and the Celica passed down to my sister.  When I was away at school, the Celica didn’t receive quite the pampering I gave it.  It certainly wasn’t neglected either.  Just little things like my dad replacing the Dunlop performance tires with off-brand all-season tires, replacing the stock wiper blades with crappy after-market ones.  Little things like that which really aggravated me.  And my sister also burned out the clutch on it and it never quite felt the same after that.  Eventually she traded it in for a new Nissan Pathfinder and it was gone forever.

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It’s funny, at the time, I always felt that the car was under-powered with only 130hp, and it was.  I would have loved to have had the more powerful, and more expensive, Celica All-Trac Turbo but I don’t feel that way today.  No, maturity and wisdom has made me realize that my driving ability was not as great as I had assumed it was at the time and 130hp was more than enough for my ability at the time.  Besides, you learn more about car control from driving a slow car fast.  I miss you, Celica.  I will never forget you.

The One That Got Away

For us as car enthusiasts, we’ve all had a car we regret selling.  A car that meant more to us then all the rest. A car that was just a little more special than the others.  It doesn’t have to be a great car or a classic or an expensive car.  It’s just a car that you owned that for whatever reason meant a lot to you and that you’d buy back in heartbeat if you found it tomorrow.  For me, that was my second car, a 1992 Volkswagen Passat G60 syncro.

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In the summer of 1991 I was preparing to go away to university in Canada’s capital, Ottawa which is about a 4 – 5 hour drive from Toronto and my Father insisted that I needed an all-wheel-drive car.  Ottawa and Eastern Ontario get far more snow than Toronto and he wanted me to be safe on those long drives between home and school.  The car he decided on was the Passat G60 syncro.  It’s odd that we got this car in Canada while it wasn’t sold in the US.  The previous generation Passat, called the Quantum in the US and sold with AWD as the Quantum syncro was never sold in Canada.  So this was a Passat with the supercharged 1.8L G60 engine from the Corrado and a part-time AWD system developed by Daimler-Steyr-Puch (now Magna-Steyr) of Austria that utilized a viscous coupling.  That name may not be familiar but they built the famous 4WD and 6WD Pinzgauer and they also designed and continue to build the Mercedes G-Wagon. It was the same viscus coupling-equipped AWD system used in the Golf Rallye that sent 90% of the torque to the front wheels under normal conditions and could send up to 90% to the rear wheels when needed.   The car also had forged Fuchs wheels which someone told me were magnesium but I was never able to confirm that and it was only available with a 5-speed manual.

The car had a lot of features that made it a great long-distance winter cruiser.  Heated seats and mirrors, heated windshield washer nozzles, ABS brakes, headlight washers and a gigantic 9-litre (2.4 gallon) washer fluid tank.  And those headlight washers were really useful in winter because that car had the worst headlights of any car I’ve owned.  They were dim to begin with and the accumulation of salt and snow on a night drive in the winter meant they got a whole lot dimmer as you drove so it was great to be able to clean them off while driving.  The car also had a 70-litre (18.5 gallon) fuel tank which meant I could make the drive between Ottawa and Toronto on less than a tank of gas while exceeding the speed limit the whole way.  The trunk was huge – though slightly smaller than the FWD Passat due to its independent rear suspension and rear diff and the rear seats reclined so it easily and often transported 4 us with luggage for a weekend home.

 

That car was fantastic in the snow.  Well, it was far less than fantastic in the snow with the all season tires it came with and I soon installed a set of snow tires and that made all the difference in the world.  That thing was a like a little tank and it’s why we nicknamed it “Volks Panzer”.  I drove through some very hairy snow storms and that car never set a wheel wrong, just tons of grip and no slip and I always felt very confident driving it but never over-confident and hence why I never ended up in a ditch.  And there wasn’t any noticeable change in the car’s behavior as power was transferred between the front and rear.  It was a remarkable system considering how simple and compact it was.

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FWD Passat torsion beam rear suspension

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Passat syncro independent rear suspension

That car was a cold weather champ.  Ottawa winters are a lot colder than they are in Toronto as I soon found out.  Temperatures in January and February were typically -40 Celsius (-40 F) with the wind chill with it dipping to -50 Celsius (-58 F) on a few occasions. That’s the kind of cold that just makes you angry when it hits you.  It freezes your eyelashes and the hair in your nose and makes cars refuse to start.  I had outdoor parking at my apartment so my car was constantly buried in snow but every spot had its own electrical outlet for block heaters which I soon added to the car along with an electric battery blanket.   That car never once refused to start even on the coldest days and that’s when those heated seats were really worth their weight in gold!

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There were a lot road trips made in that car between Ottawa and Toronto with friends from school. Trips home for Thanksgiving and Christmas or just for the hell of it.  Many times we went to school with the car packed up so we could hit the road right after class and get to Toronto as soon as possible.  Weekends home were always so busy trying to visit friends and family and were over in a flash so getting there fast was key.  And I’ll admit that a few land speed records were set and I have a personal-best time that will never be broken because I’ll never be young and fearless like that ever again.  And I’m proud that despite my excessive speed, I never got a speeding ticket on those trips in that car.  And FYI, radar detectors are illegal in the Province of Ontario so I had no early warning system.

That car was special to me.  It was a unique model that was sold in Canada in small numbers, but it was so much more than that.  We all have our dream cars.  That 6 or 7-figure hyper car we’d buy if we hit the lottery.  But those aren’t the cars that mean the most to us.  My Passat wasn’t a dream car, it was just an oddly-styled VW sedan that never occupied anyone’s dreams.  The car itself, what it was and what it did, is only half the reason why it’s so special to me and maybe even less than that.  It’s the memories of that time of my life, of moving away from home to university and living on my own in my own apartment.  It’s the new friends I met and the hours we spent together in that car on those road trips.  It’s the music we listened to and the stories and laughs we had along the way.  It’s a reminder of the one time in my life that I was carefree and truly living in the moment and loving every minute of it.