Car News:  Oversteer

Your First 3 Cars Say a Lot About You

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author photo by William Byrd May 2017

Like most automotive enthusiasts, I typically try to get a sense of someone's car-buying history in order to properly evaluate their credentials. Since I'm new here, I figured it's only fair if I start from the beginning. My own beginning. I'm sure you've noticed that the typical "What was your first car?" question is a staple of interviews in our business. On my first visit to the Untitled Car Show, I answered that very question, and the feedback was great ... regarding my first car. However, once we got to my second and third car, the response didn't buoy my confidence very much.

Growing up, I was an enthusiast well before owning an actual car. Between a bucket that was made up of a mixture of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars, plus a bevy of exotic-car posters on my bedroom wall -- complete with the de-rigueur Lamborghini Countach -- I was hooked. I can't recall if the two-dimensional Lambo on my wall was white or red, but I blame the opening scene of 1984's "Cannonball Run" for that bit. Who can remember? But if there's one thing that solidified that my car craziness would last a lifetime, it was actual car ownership. While the 1:64 scale cars were all well and good, there was no replacement for actually owning the real thing.

1988 Nissan Pulsar NX

I knew I was lucky to have any car at all -- and when I was fifteen and a half, I picked out my first full-size 1:1 car. It was a champagne gold 1988 Nissan Pulsar NX. I didn't know that much about (real) cars, but I knew what looked cool. The little Nissan coupe had the classic wedge shape with pop-up headlights, t-tops and a funky taillight pattern that differentiated it from most other cars on the road at the time. That'll do.

It also had a puny 1.8-liter 125-horsepower engine powering the front wheels. Oh, and an automatic transmission -- I'm not proud of that bit. I was so confused about why it wouldn't do donuts -- so I "added some power" with a cherry-bomb exhaust ... way before it was cool. I used to pass the "cool kids parking lot" and push the button on the automatic shifter to take it out of "overdrive" just to make the exhaust drone. I'm not proud of any of this, either.

The Pulsar is apparently considered a cool car decades later -- mostly when equipped with the oddball "Sportback" appended to the back end. I can say with some authority that it didn't give me much street cred. And by "street cred," I mean dates.

A lot of people in my high school had Mustangs, Camaros or big, loud, jacked up trucks -- think Billy Bob in "Varsity Blues." And even when I thought I was amongst peers -- fellow sporty Nissan owners in this case -- I suddenly realized I wasn't. I recall my buddy Jay's 240SX disappearing off toward the horizon when I tried to pass him on the highway. Compared to my Pulsar, that thing was stupid quick.

The Pulsar served me well, until I let it down. In the end, the meaty bit behind the wheel was the weakest link, and I actually managed to drastically oversteer a FWD car. Into a ditch. The car rolled multiple times and somehow the skinny side of the car ended up facing down, resting on the driver's door. I tossed my backpack out the top side of the car and climbed out the passenger door, jumping off the top side.

Some other students from my school were already present; some said they even saw the roll. They helped me out and we all ran for our lives, as the car was going to explode. Obviously. We hid behind the nearest car and waited. Nothing. Apparently, as I later found out, the exploding car was just a Hollywood thing. I also learned that I didn't know much about driving: Apparently "freezing" and doing absolutely nothing was not the appropriate method to counter oversteer. I got the car back a few months later, repaired, but it was never the same. Little things continued to break here and there, and I realized it was time to let her go.

So I needed a replacement. It was then that my parents agreed -- in a brilliant maneuver -- to take on an "inexpensive" car payment if I agreed to stay local for college in a few years. The road to hell was paved with good intentions.

In this case, my hell was a fox body Ford Mustang.

1993 Ford Mustang LX

The Fox was super-cool at the time; even Vanilla Ice had one. His was a convertible. Oh, and according to the song "Ice Ice Baby," it was a five-point-oh V8 he was rollin' in. Whereas my second car was, unfortunately, a 2.3-liter 4-cylinder Mustang that was churning out 105 horsepower and probably even less torque. I didn't care at the time -- I was still new to all of this -- but I spent senior year of high school defending my ride. "No ... it's not the 5.0. But it's still cool".

It wasn't. At the time, the marketing material claimed it was "spirited, yet economical." That's me.

1996 Chevrolet Camaro

From there, things only went up. Relatively speaking. My third car, which I bought when I was in college, was a brand-new 1996 Camaro! Right, no, I know what you're asking, and it was not a Z28. It was the V6. Right, I know, I know, you're saying that at least I was lucky enough to own a car at that age. Or you're totally making fun of me for owning the wussy Camaro (which was, again, an automatic). I can't decide which it is, likely the latter once you found out about the transmission.

If it was any other car at the time, 200 horses would have been considered perfectly adequate -- and for me, it was. Mostly. It kept rubber on the tires and I never ended up getting too far sideways -- a miracle, since I managed to spin a front-driver a few years prior. The automatic tranny helped keep me from doing too many insanely crazy things. God, I really do have a checkered automotive past.

Perhaps it was these early cars that made me appreciate what I ended up with later. I can say with some certainty that it made me realize the importance of good driver's education. More on that in a future post -- and keep an eye out to see if I actually found some automotive redemption.

Oh, and please post your first three cars below. Maybe I can take some solace in your poor decisions!

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Your First 3 Cars Say a Lot About You - Autotrader