It’s Not Just A Car – It’s My First Car

1

It’s just a car. That’s what I keep telling myself. It’s my first car. A 1997 Mazda Miata. British Racing Green with tan leather. A rip in one of the seats. Torsen LSD, Bilstein coilovers, a roll bar. Needs a new 02 sensor. Otherwise in great condition. In the last year, it’s needed a new alternator, new brakes. Body is good, paint is only so-so. Someone made me an offer I’d be stupid to refuse. I am usually responsible with my finances. No debt to my name. Rarely carry a balance on my credit card. Roughly a quarter of each paycheque goes into a dedicated savings account. I’d be an idiot not to sell it. My self-control is failing me.

It’s just a car.

That money, plus the money I’ve set aside in savings from my meager auto journalists salary will give me enough for a down payment on a home of my own. No more renting. A chance to get in to Toronto’s booming real estate market before I get priced out by foreign investors buying “escape pods” to flee instability at home. A chance to buy a great place when the market inevitably corrects itself.

It’s just a car.

I can buy an old E30. Or a new(er) Outback. Go rallycrossing, slide around in the dirt, not give a shit where I park it and if it gets dinged. A car I am not afraid to drive in winter. A car I can drive comfortably on the highway. No more buzzing at 4000 RPM. No more getting nearly run off the road by big rigs. “An Outback?” asks my Dad’s friend. “Why? This is a perfect time to own a two-seater.”

2

It’s just a car.

But it’s my car. My first car. In high school, I decided I wanted a Miata. Cheap, rear-drive, a rag top. A Lotus Elan for someone who can’t turn a wrench. I worked at a game booth at the city fair. I was a carny, for god’s sake. I worked on the loading dock of a store that sold camping supplies, hauling boxes off of a truck on 95 degree days, dodging hoards of rich housewives trying to grab shitty Made In China trinkets for their kids, moving the merchandise up steep flights of stairs for $8.75 an hour. I had a Miata to pay for.

3

It’s just a car I bought myself, and kept running myself. No help from anyone else.

I started looking in February ’09, and only found a good one in April. The exact one I wanted, with all the options. I withdrew my life savings in $100 bills and ran home from the bank, afraid of getting robbed for the small brown envelope I stuffed in my front pocket. My hand shook when I signed my name on the title. After taxes, registration fees and an oil change I had less than $100 dollars left. I drank Olde English – or nothing at all for the rest of the summer. I didn’t care.

4

It’s just an old Mazda. 202,000 km on the clock. They made nearly a million of them.

597 Miatas were sent to Canada in 1997. Most of the early ones like mine have been ravaged by rust and neglect. My friends called it a girls car. It’s not. To prove them wrong I took off-ramps at double the posted limit, watched their knuckles go white with terror as the Miata begged for more. Girls called it cute, and I did the exact same thing, but hoping for more. Every time I hit the middle of third gear, they would all throw their arms in the air and cry out. Once, I finally worked up the courage to hold my crush’s hand, and I looked into her eyes as I slotted the shifter into the next gear. All of a sudden, a gasp from her. I slammed on the brakes just early enough to avoid slamming into the back of a brand new, Brilliant Red S4.

It’s just a car.

The same girl’s house, a year later. She is newly single, I am dating around. Lately, there is undeniable tension between us. I’m driving a bright red 2011 Shelby GT500. Zeppelin blaring. Heel toe downshift as I pull up to her lawn. I am so fucking cool. She’s waiting, long-legged, rosy-cheeked and radiant in a clingy summer dress – wearing a frown. “Ew,” she pouts. “This is so tacky. Where’s the Miata?”

It’s just a car.

I am in denial that this car is a part of my identity. My self-image is not tied to it. But it has become a part of me. Neighbors, friends and relatives ask where it is when they drive by my house. Half the time it sits in a lonely lot while I’m driving a press car. In winter it barely moves, save for a fresh snowfall, when I know there’s no salt on the road. When it’s cold out, the doors nearly freeze shut, and getting them pried open requires a gentle tug that is equal parts finesse and brute strength. The thin sheetmetal and leather interior makes the car absolutely freezing, and with a parka on, there’s little room to maneuver. It is truly miserable to drive a Miata in winter. Until you dip into the gas just a bit too much and suddenly, a quarter turn of opposite lock is required to bring the car back in to line.

It’s just a car.

“Man, this must be ill for hollering at girls.” I tell my friend that I’m hesitant to take my car out, since the car is having trouble starting. But it’s a clear, cool night and Queen St West is full of women in short skirts and high heels. My friend yells at anything with two legs and two X chromosomes, without success. I pull back in to the parking spot, and just out of curiosity, try to start the car again. It’s dead. I almost kill myself trying to reach the trunk mounted battery with the jumper cables. The car gets towed twice. My friend is now a major recording artist who just played at Coachella. He still doesn’t have his license.

5

It’s just a car.

And there are so many other cars I want to own. An Audi urS4. A Lotus Elise. An air-cooled 911. A GMC Typhoon. A black on black 1991 NSX – to me, the pinnacle of the automobile and an equally nostalgic part of my childhood. Even the current NC Miata. It’s so much better than my car could ever be. I want to own them all. I want my Miata too.

6

It’s just a car.

I worry that I will forever regret selling the Miata. I tell myself that it’s a lousy highway car, unsafe in a crash, liable to be run off the road by an 18-wheeler, only capable of carrying two, with a small trunk, gutless and underpowered, a chassis too sloppy to be rewarding on the track, profligate with fuel for such a small engine, useless for half the year, uncomfortable with the top down on a sunny day as the sun beats down on my scalp and my back sticks to the poorly designed leather seat, lousy on long drives.

7

It’s just a car.

But it’s also a vessel for so many memories. Sneaking out at 2 A.M. to go across town to a girls house. Driving home from a cottage with the roof down, far away from the smog of the city. Looking up and realizing I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen any stars. Shaking off feelings of apprehension and malaise with a girl I loved (but not like that), driving to a hidden spot by the lake with a view of the skyline, and having it all melt away. My Blackberry buzzing in the cupholder with an email from an old neighbor who moved to California. I pull over on a busy arterial road to read it. I thought he was long dead but he’s 93 years old and doing quite well, thank you very much. My first track day. My second track day where I spun for the first time. The roof was down and as I put all four wheels off, grass and dirt flew in to the cabin, landing all over my lap. Screams, laughter, joy, terror, endless parking receipts that trace my movements over the last three years.

It’s not just a car. TC mark

This piece originally appeared at The Truth About Cars.

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