(my first baby)
I remember the day clearly... I was 16 years old and beginning to think about what kind of car I wanted to get as my first. A car I'd be proud to be seen in... a car which wouldn't be breaking down over every hill... and most importantly a sports car.
Defining the Dream
Now, to most loyalists, the common definition of a sports car must contain all of the following attributes:
If you're missing out on any of these attributes, your car would be considered a sports coupe at best. This includes the Ford Probes, the VW Corrados, the Honda Preludes, etc. There are, admittedly, some cars which blur the line a little, like the AWD Diamond Star cars (Mitsubishi Eclipse/Eagle Talon), which have all the requirements (especially in the turbo versions). The only thing they can't do very well is power oversteer around a track, but that can be good in certain circumstances.
So I wanted to find something which met those requirements yet had reliability. Being a home-grown American boy, I of course checked out the traditional cars here: the Corvette, Mustang and Camaro. But, being an extremely technical and perfectionistic person (to the point of being anal), I did a thorough job researching all the reliability data in Consumer Reports as well. It was about this time that my family was starting to get fed up with GMs. They all seemed to die at about 50,000 miles and start eating oil in large bites. And, of course, we and friends' families had owned other American cars and had the same luck (or lack of it). It was about this time that my Dad was also doing a lot of research on what to replace the family sedan (then a Buick Century) with. We finally agreed on a new 1987 Toyota Camry as being the right choice. And it was. In all my car memories up until that point (which included the Buick Century, a Buick Electra Wagon, a VW Rabbit, and a few other VWs my family owned) nothing had the ride quality, spunk and most importantly the amazing build quality of that Camry. Toyota had surprised the hell out of me. Every nut and bolt was virtually perfect in its placement and function. The little 4-valve multicam 2.0L motor could easily out gun the 3.0L V6 motor in the Century it replaced. The automatic transmission could snap off shifts better than most manuals. It was amazing.
So I continued to do my own research. I looked into the German side by checking out Porsche, BMW and Mercedes, but for a 16 yr. old boy with just a part-time job, that was pushing it. Plus, other than Porsche, the Germans didn't really make sports cars per se. Plus the Porsche was no pinnacle of reliability. I then began delving into the Japanese sports car market. There was lots of stuff to look at but it mainly came down to the "Big Three" of Japan: Toyota, Honda and Nissan. From everything I've read (including up to now), that's the order of quality in Japan. I'm talking about an extremely tight line separating them though.
Next I looked at the sports cars made by these companies. From Toyota we had the Supra (and the then fledgling MR-2), from Nissan the 300ZX and nothing from Honda (the NSX wasn't even out then). So I looked at Mazda's RX7 to get an even three choices to go with. Knowing I wanted one of these three cars as my first I started combing through the car magazines.
I spent lots of time at the library and found that when it was introduced, the then MkII Supra, won the Motor Trend's Import Car of the Year for 1982. It beat out the 1982 Nissan 280ZX Turbo and the Mazda RX7 for the crown. I also scored near the top of every other comparison I read about it. The biggest pusher of all was that it was built by a company which epitomizes quality. A company which today has blown away the luxury car competition by creating Lexus and cars which continue to push the quality and refinement envelope to the limit. When I found out that the Supra was the technology leader and the test bed for Toyota's R&D work, I was floored. It was the first Japanese sports car to sport twin overhead cams, an independent rear suspension, four wheel disc brakes, tons of killer gadgets and gizmos to increase driving pleasure and safety, it had a killer redline for an I6, and oh yeah, it had an inline six cylinder engine. Being a budding mechanical engineer at the time I knew that the inline six was the perfect engine layout since it was perfectly balanced and required no extra balance shafts unlike a V6, I4 and even an V8. It quells all of it's nth order vibrations naturally and all the way up through the rev range. Even cars with balance shafts (like say the Eclipse) can't cancel all the order vibrations out. They'll usually concentrate on first and third order vibrations, but they can't nab them all.
This is probably why Germany has used it for so long on their cars and why Japan decided on it. That made up my mind -- I wanted a Supra -- the apex of mechanical design and sports car-dom.
Having decided on the car, I needed to now see what I could actually afford to get as my first car. I'd been working now for a few years and wasn't one to spend my money frivolously. Hell, I was already investing money for a house downpayment back then :-). Anyways I calculated, based on what I could afford plus the amount kicked in for my birthday and stuff, that I could afford an MkII Supra. The then brand new 1989 Supra Turbo had come out then and, yes, I thought it was the most beautiful car I'd ever seen in my life, but there was no way I could afford it's $35-40k pricetag.
So I started to scan the classifieds (I didn't want to get ripped off at a dealership). I found lots of MkIIs at the time ranging from 1982 through 1986 (all the model years). I'd say that up to the 1985s were in my price range, so I did a little more research on what the differences were between the years. The car debuted in 1982 and I didn't want to get a new model introduction since they usually have a few bugs to still work out at that time (of course they didn't, but it was the American car-guy in me talking :-). In 1984 they added a few extra horsepower by tweaking cam timing and upgrading the ECU. In 1985 they changed the wing design to a dual setup and 1986 was pretty much unchanged. Thus, going strictly by cost and the fact that I wanted that money to yield me the lowest mileage Supra I could find, I narrowed it down to either a 1984 or 1985. Then I moved on to asthetics. I stared long and hard at the 1984 versus the 1985 wing. Then it hit me to do a little aerodynamics research and see if anyone else had published any info which might help (hey, I told you I was anal :-). Anyway, I found out some interesting facts. The 1984 wing actually provided usable downforce at highway speeds for better traction! The 1985 dual-wing design reduced drag only slightly and not enough to even show up on the usual Cd tests. I had made my decision... The 1984 Supra would provide me with the most power the MkIIs ever had, the most asthetically pleasing and functional wing, and all the goodies I could ever want in a car.
After a few months of searching I finally found one -- and a red one to boot. It was in mint shape, had everything down to a power sunroof and relatively low mileage at 67k. It ran like a sewing machine, accelerated like a greyhound and handled great. No scratches dings or dents, it had been garaged all its life, and a great paint job wrapped it all up for me. I haggled with the guy for a little while and got the price down to even more reasonable... and then it was mine...
The Golden Years
It was the car which took me through high school (where I named it Bandit after the man who taught me how to drive :-), to all those good times at the mall, the movies and hanging out. It was the car which taught me how to balance on the edge of the performance envelope and make these cars perform as gracefully as ballerinas. It was the first car I admittely ever truly speeded in, the first car I ever raced, and the first car I ever really loved. It took me on my first trip away from home without my parents (Hershey Park, PA) and gave me the freedom to begin enjoying new things like skiing and tennis on my own.
The modifications I did to it were minor and included only a killer top-of-the-line Sony CD/Cassette system with dual Soundstream Amps, a Stillwater Designs Kicker Bar and upgraded speakers all around, a K&N drop-in air filter, Mobil 1 synthetic oil (only) every 3000 miles, Mobil 1 synthetic differential and transmission fluid and lots and lots of cleaning. I had that car so clean that new cars paled in comparison. When I found out that grease-free cars run cooler, it pushed me to new limits of anal-obsessive behavior. I took apart every hose, clamp, grommet and panel and cleaned, Armor All'd, and Simple Green'd them until everything was super shiny. And it loved it. It treated me right for it and never let me down.
It survived all the racing, off-roading and rally'ing I threw at it with flying colors, but after a while and numerous races which I mainly one due to skill alone and not sheer power, I decided to continue my quest and reach for the gold. I sold her in the end two years later with nearly 120k miles on her but still in race-worthy condition and not a blemish on her. Her new owner was another young lad much like myself and full of hope and ambition. He was awed by the amount of time and care I had put into her and vowed to keep the tradition alive when the sword changed hands. The gauntlet was passed that day and my baby had a new master.
I thought I saw her a few weeks later in the form of a red streak going past at a stoplight, but I'll never know for certain. That's because I never did see her again. She now only lives in my heart, my mind and my soul. And she'll always be a part of me...
The Future and Beyond
Like every other car guy, I got restless as the dream of owning my favorite car in the world -- that MkIII Turbo -- kept egging me on. The sheer enormous quantity of mods available for that car (the most ever offered in Japan), especially in turbo form finally pushed me over the edge those aforementioned two years later when I found my new love, the 1989 Toyota Supra Turbo... but that's another story...