By on November 11, 2006

98_jeep_cherokee_classic22.jpgA genius named Vinnie Cilurzo in Santa Rosa, California makes a beer called “Pliny the Elder.” I will never forget the first time it passed through my lips; it was as if the Victoria’s Secret angels were lap-dancing on my tongue. Even after thirteen years of home brewing, even after qualifying as a Certified beer judge, nothing had prepared me for my first taste of Vinnie’s magnificent brew. And no beer I would drink after that would ever taste the same. I’d had a beer epiphany. As a pistonhead, my first automotive epiphany occurred, oddly enough, in a Jeep Cherokee.

I was in the market for a new car. I needed an inexpensive vehicle capable of hauling a recently purchased upright bass. Out went my safe, reliable, comfortable and endlessly dull Nissan Sentra. In came one of the most remarkable vehicles ever produced. Now you might think my moment of revelation occurred on a broken trail or eighteen-inches of mud. And I’m proud to report that this particular Cherokee– and the one I purchased afterwards– saw plenty of off-road action. But the big moment arrived on plain old asphalt.

I was heading back from my parent’s home in Los Angeles (where my bass had been stored) to my home in San Francisco. I was driving the Cherokee down California’s numbingly straight main vehicular artery, Interstate 5. It was a weekday morning; there were neither cars nor constables visible in any direction. The Jeep was humming along happily at 85mph. And then, for reasons lost in the mists of time, I buried the throttle. The Cherokee’s 4.0-liter straight-six came alive and the needle climbed higher and then higher still.

Now I’ve passengered at more than 200 miles an hour in a NASCAR race car. I can say with some authority that the Jeep’s 120mph terminal velocity was not an objectively impressive feat. But it was the first time in my life I’d ever driven fast. To say I was hooked is a monumental understatement, and I have the insurance premiums to prove it. Of course, going fast in a single line may be the be-all end-all for muscle car or drag racing aficionados, left / right action is where it’s at. As I discovered during my second epiphany, on a test drive of an Audi A4 1.8 Turbo.

After the dotcom bubble burst, I returned to my native Los Angeles. After two car-free years in Manhattan I wanted a set of wheels so bad I could almost pay for them. The cheapest Audi’s AWD turboness appealed to me– though I really had no notion why. With the dealer in situ, I gave it a go. I will never forget taking the vehicle’s speed into and through a corner. The g-force joy unleashed by Ingolstadt’s engineers was indescribably delicious, like joining the mile high club, only down to earth.  I was hooked X 2.

About a year later, I dated an exotically beautiful woman (it is hard to argue against Scottish/Vietnamese hybrids) who owned a BMW 540i. On our very first date, I asked if I could drive the mid-sized, V8-powered German luxury car. Let it never be said that I have my priorities straight; the Bimmer’s throttle response, seamless gearbox, faultless chassis control and sublime ride quality suddenly became much more appealing to me than the stunning sexpot seated to my right. Cars like this existed? I believe my political affiliation changed from Nadar-socialist to confirmed-capitalist in 1320 feet.

One of the things I love most about my job is my job. Case in point: on a junket to Skip Barber’s High Performance Driving School I managed to overheat a BMW M3 and shred the tire off a Porsche 911. My third automotive epiphany arrived on the second day of the class in the form of a red Dodge Viper. That’s 8.3 liters, 505hp and 550lbs. feet of torque and a cabin temperature north 150 degrees. It was terrifying. Everything I did was wrong, wrong, stupid, dangerous and wrong. Cones ran for their lives, wheels smoked and more often than not, the big bad Dodge found itself going backwards. I was hopeless.

But then, suddenly, for about one-quarter of one of my twelve laps, I did everything right. Hard on the throttle. Pick the perfect line. Light braking to redistribute the weight. Late steering input to the apex. Nail the gas and blast out of the turn. Sadly, I performed a scary, pupil-dilating 720 afterwards to, uh, celebrate. And yet, for the most fleeting of moments, I was Fangio: calm, deliberate and in control.

Now, whenever I test a car, no matter how humble or exotic, I wonder if a paradigm shift awaits. Mind you, I don’t need another epiphany. I just want one.

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30 Comments on “Epiphanies...”


  • avatar
    Claude Dickson

    There is a long tradition of car journalism analogizing car experiences being as good (or better than) sex or cars being like a beautiful woman. I love cars and like most of us, have my own automotive memories emblazoned in my memory.

    But cars, like porn, are male fantasies. Cars, whether you love or hate them, do not call you in the middle of night asking you uncomfortable questions or cursing or crying. Cars do break down, sometimes at inconvenient times, but the pain is usually more monetary than emotional. When the love affair is over, you sell a car. The breakup takes place on your terms and when you are ready.

    A car no matter how complex, is far simpler than the hybrid beauty that sat next to you or any other woman for that part. And at least with the special women in our lives, far less rewarding.

  • avatar
    kablamo

    Great article, definitely something most readers here can relate to.

    I think cars can have very strong personalities and easily grow to be loved or hated, much moreso than almost any other machine.

    My first ephiphany (these seem to be speed related so I’ll continue) was buying my second car, a 1991 Honda Prelude. I came from a 1991 Honda Civic DX (92hp) to what was still just a 4cyl FWD “sports car” – but the difference was like night and day, moving from the bottom of a manufacturer’s lineup to the top, within the same model year. It used to take a 2 mile straight to get that Civic to 170km/h (106mph or so). Used to heavy footed action to get around, I got to 195km/h (115mph) in the Prelude without even needing a perfectly straight piece of road – on temporary plates even. Now I knew what 50% more power meant!

    My fun was halted within a week by “The Man”, who caught me doing twice the posted limit in town. Because I was a lucky SOB, I got a ticket for excessive noise since the poor guy didn’t have a change to actually clock me. The car’s sound at redline through the aftermarket exhaust was loud enough at 11:30pm that I decided I’d best just pay the non-moving-violation, and see what kind of fuel mileage the car could get.

    My next, and only epiphany since, was at a racing school (Jim Russell) at Mt. Tremblant, Quebec. Something about driving a Formula car on a 1960’s F1 track just got to me. That hit was the good stuff…

  • avatar
    Ashy Larry

    Great post.

    My epiphanic moments have been somewhat random. The first time I did a burnout — in a 1978 Honda Accord hatchback. Hoonage was never so much fun.

    The first time I cracked 100 mph — in a weak Saab 900 8v non-turbo, all 110 horsepower struggling to push the car through to its 105 mph terminal velocity on a trip from Maryland’s Eastern Shore back home to the DC ‘burbs (and how I didn’t get ticketed on that cop-infested stretch of Route 50 just reinforces the somewhat religious nature of the expierience — surely God had chosen that day for my epiphanic experience. Later, ownership of a Saab Viggen gave me ample opportunities to bust through 100 mph with ease.

    The first time I drove a very good handling car — a rental Mazda 6 gave me first hand experience in the joys of excellent turn-in, the front of the car tucking itself neatly into an overcooked corner, the car going where I wanted it to, not plowing like my old Honda and Saabs did.

    The first time I got the car’s tail out — in a Volvo V70R, on wet pavement, sharp turn, ESP off, stomp on the gas and wheeeeeeeeee!

    I can’t wait for my next one.

  • avatar
    xargs99

    A crystal moment (not quite the real chemical stuff, but close) for me came in a mid-90’s Dodge Stratus rental car!

    This unexciting lump of Dollar rental car served as the transport for an epic weekend of vehicular hoonage with a couple of my friends.

    We left the Bay Area after work on a Thursday night and proceeded to blaze down I-5 to an anonymous chunk of desert layby near Palmdale.

    We all slept in the car and early the next morning drove to Willow Springs Raceway. By some magical coincidence the team that was testing there that Friday morning was late, and since we were all motorcycle roadracers at that point somehow the track management smiled upon us with a couple of free laps. After putting 40psi in the tires we went out and wailed around for a bit. There are few things more fun than throwing a pathetic street car into Willows’ 110+ mph Turn 8 and slithering to the apex. Lift throttle oversteer? You betcha.

    The fun ended all too soon when the transporter of the testing team showed up, but then it was on to the desert. I don’t recommend 120mph long 4 wheel drifts down a pass into Death Valley, but it sure was fun.

    One gets a bit jaded after long enough at those speeds. When you’ve been driving at 125mph for 20 minutes on some arrow-straight chunk of desert highway, you get bored- 70 feels like parking lot speed.

    That said, I cannot recommend a trackday or autocross enough for anyone who wants to experience the ‘thrill of speed’ in a safer environment. An old beater Miata can be had for $2000, and teach you more about chassis dynamics (and how little most of us know) in an hour on the track then you’ll ever learn in a lifetime of street driving.

  • avatar

    Great stuff Jonny. I experienced one of my seminal moments when I was trading in my 550 Marenello. The V12 Ferrari was a big bad-ass brute, and far more expensive than a cocaine habit. It was spending most of its time in the shop AND killing me financially. But what next? The dealer had a silver Porsche C4 (996) on the lot. After five minutes behind the wheel of the Porker, I knew I'd never buy a Ferrari again. The C4 was nothing less than a revelation. It was twice as fun as the 550, 400X safer, half as expensive to run and felt– at least in comparison– as if it was hewn from a single cliche. I could do things with the C4 that I could NEVER do with the Fezza, and do them with relative ease. Yes, Maranellos machines are more "alive" than Stuttgart's surgical instruments, but I instantly knew I'd feel and be more alive in a Porsche than the Ferrari. That C4 was my first "real" Porsche, and I was hooked, but good.

  • avatar

    I came to my “car guy”-ness honestly, through genetics, as my father is a hopeless autophile… having owned a string of interesting (mostly British) hardware from the 50s, through to the 70s. My youthful hoonage was limited by a gas price crunch soon after my 16th birthday, and I spent my college years as a hypermiler in a 1980 Diesel VW Rabbit (no better carriage for a poor college student – 800 miles under $10!)

    Though I still have the oil-burning (and home fuel-making!) fetish for my daily driver needs, my father is responsible for my mid-life infatuation with classic performance cars. His retirement project was restoring a 1965 E-type Jaguar. He & I rode this wild mount through several 1000-mile Vintage Rallies, and one coast-to-coast endurance run (the 1999 Cannonball Classic with Brock Yates & Martin Swig).

    My epiphany came in 1998 at the New England 1000 coming first in class and second overall in the Hillclimb event. Throttle-steering the snarling E-type through hairpins to the wail of Sir William’s Sixth Symphony.

    I was hooked.

    A series of unfortunate events and momentary lapses of reason put the old Jag into my garage, and I’m now infecting my own sons with the disease. I tell myself that my home-brewing and filling the air during rush hour with “eau de pomme fritte” from my Jetta’s exhaust is putting down my carbon-neutrality deposit for my summer weekends behind the wheel of the Jaguar. Long-dead dinosaurs gasp their last breath from the loud pipes, belching carbons long buried. Bits of Pirelli Super-Touring painted on asphalt. Baby squirrels deafened by the straight-six roar.

    It is all about balance you see. ;)

    –chuck

  • avatar
    Jan Andersson

    Twenty years ago on a job trip with a younger college, we used his new car. It was an Opel Kadett GSI, which was hot because it could top 203 km/h (126 mph). And of course he had to try. Unfortunately, the Opel had a bathroom scale type speedometer. And it never read more than 199, and I was the witness. He was yelling out load and promised to send the poor Opel dealership manager to Hell personally. I still see him now and then, and still laugh at the memory.

  • avatar
    kablamo

    As a child living in Europe, I remember my best friend’s parents drove an Opel Kadett, it was a good-sized car at the time.

    I don’t remember the car itself too well (other than it was red), but upon recent investigation I found out…those were re-badged Chevettes!

  • avatar
    Matthew Potena

    My epiphany came while driving a friend’s 1989 Ferrari 328 GTS. We took the 328 to the Ferrari Club of America’s 1991 meet at Summit Point in West Virginia. The moment came as I was taking one particular corner. It is the last corner that leads onto the front straight, and I had been slightly increasing my entry speed on each of the previous laps. It is a 90 degree right hand corner. On this particular lap, I was behind a guy in an F40, while another 328 was behind me. For that single time through that corner, I got my line, speed, steering angle, brake application and throttle application exactly right. I just slid the car perfectly, with the inside wheel touching the rumble strip at the apex, and the outside wheel gently nudging me back into a straight line at the exit. It was automotive nirvana! I do remember thinking; “Gee, if you screw up, there is about $400,000 of other peoples’ Ferraris around you!”

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Well my paradigm shift will make me sound old and stodgy; but it occurred way back in 1979, when I was neither. That’s when I lost one of my favorite little rides, a 1965 Volkswagen Beetle to a lady in a 197something Chevrolet Chevelle, who failed to yield and made my little Volksie into a door stop. There’s nothing to make you question bumpers, than to watch one smashing in your driver’s side door. Admittedly and perhaps foolishly, I replaced that ’65 rolling antiquity with another of ’66 vintage. But in a year-and-a-half, I ended up selling the latter Volksie for a (then) late model Volvo, having experienced the Swedes via some test drives. The idea of a beam in the door – at least for city driving – and four-wheel disc brakes registered with me; still does. Now if Ford will just divest themselves of the marque, maybe it will come back to the level of build quality it once had.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    For me it was a Miata. My friend let me drive his when we met up at the college town we had just graduated from – he didn’t have his car during school, just this one time. It wasn’t the greatest of circumstances – middle of an urban area full of pedestrians, cold night, hardtop on, and his passenger seat full of stuff that he was driving halfway across the country.

    I only drove it around two city blocks, but what a feeling! I didn’t know RWD could be felt at low speeds, or that power steering could have feel like that. Granted, it was the most powerful, nicest, plushiest, and heaviest car I had driven at the time (

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Wonderful piece Johnny! It’s a nice reminder of why we all became “car-guys” in the first place, and a respite from the depressing “state-of-the-domestic” doom and gloom.

  • avatar
    pauln

    My first taste of speed: 1968: A “family friend” who was in the seminary at the time regularly let me drive his black 1963 Olds F-85 Cutlass with the aluminum V8. I was 15 and had no license. One night we were coming back from the Eastern Shore to Baltimore, and I hit 100 for the first time. A little later, a cop caught me doing about 80 on the Beltway. The seminarian was asleep. I woke my him up and we managed to switch seats before the cop got out and walked up (yes, I’m a risk taker). The seminarian tried to look awake, and showed him his ID and whatever you show that tells you’re in the semianary, and the cop let us off. My taste for speed and risk taking was reinforced that night.

  • avatar

    Very inspiring piece. I have nothing that amazing. But I remember, at age six, driving along with my father in the ’57 Chevy and saying, “I wonder what it would be like to drive.” “Do you want to try,” came the reply to my surprise and joy, and the next thing you know, I was steering the car. The progressed to operating the gas when I was 7, and then when I was 9, he taught me to shift on the ’57 Plymouth Savoy, a car with a monster clutch. Boy did I make that thing buck. When I was six I got my mother to figure out how many days it would be until I got my license (3000 and some).

    I first broke 100 in a Ford Sierra (Merkur XR4TI on this side of the pond). My sister and I were driving from Paris to Brittany at US speeds. I got curious at how fast the natives were going, and so I caught up with one of them, and fouind myself doing about 105mph.

    But my thrilling moment of speed was helping a friend test drive a Boxster (he was in the market). I got that thing to just south of 120mph on Boston’s Rt. 128 without realizing it, because the thing was so firmly planted. I would love to take one of those across the country at that speed.

    There was a certain curve in DC, near where I lived at the time, and whenever the street was the least bit wet, I’d throw the Saturn SL2 into a graceful, well-controlled 4 wheel slide. I always knew exactly when the car was going to let go, and when it was going to catch again.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    I really liked this article.

    I’ve had a few epiphanies here and there, probably the best was on a 3mi road course, spanking every other corner-carving newbie in the process.

    It didn’t matter if they had a 300ZX or a Corvette, they all got their clocks cleaned by my modified, Fox-body Mercury Cougar. Hell, I was only 10mph slower than a seasoned C6 Z06 in the tight turns…and I was on street tires!

    After 120 miles under my belt, the track’s staff and experienced drivers went from curious disdain to toothy grins when I drove by. My ride was 3600lbs of “reality check” for the poseurs, and everyone knew it.

    The lesson of my epiphany? You can tune a mundane car in your own garage and make it kick butt in both a straight line and the twisties. And its so worth it.

  • avatar
    buzzliteyear

    My automotive epiphanies have been more of the ‘reality fish-slapping my starry-eyed dreams’ variety.

    Case in point: At the San Francisco Auto Show a few years ago, I was drooling over the Acura NSX on display (it’s still one of my all-time favorite fantasy cars).

    My (then) wife looked at it, agreed that it was cool-looking, then asked “But what would you do with it?”

    I replied that I’d get up early on Sunday mornings with a route planned through the wonderful twisty roads in the Bay Area……then see that our two dogs wanted to go along and take the 5-door hatchback instead!

    Thankfully, my Mazda3 can haul both dogs and a**, if necessary.

  • avatar
    Ryan

    I suppose I’ve had three main automotive epiphanies, although to some degree, much of which I’ve done behind the wheel was part of a checklist formulated sometime before I got my license.

    Still, the first one occured probably soon after I got my G2 (the Ontario license where you can first drive by yourself). Since it was January, I quickly learned the joys of hooning about with the parking brake. I know you can’t really drift with a front wheel drive car, but I’ll be damned if a snow covered parking lot and locked up rear wheels aren’t almost as good.

    The second came after I got my second car, a beater Escort. I found that just because the thing was so light, I was able to go around corners at speeds that would’ve had my Intrepid’s front tires squealing for their pathetic lives.

    And lastly, when you drive a pickup, country music almost makes sense. Almost.

  • avatar

    My first came in midwinter at a military base following weeks of heavy snowfall. The snowtrucks had carved deep channels for roads through the snow, and we were standing around bored until one of us realized this was a horizontal (more or less) luge track. All we needed were some good luges.

    A friend had a 1974 BMW Alpina with tires that he had shot about twice as many snowspikes into as were in a street legal one, and we commenced to luge.
    I still have the film of that playing against my inner eye when I want to.
    Remember the first Star Wars games, where you flew into the channels on the Death Star? That’s what it felt like, only you added flying through the air for real, slamming into the sides of the road and just bouncing off to a never ending whine from the drive-train, since we never took the foot of the gas pedal.

    But I’m with Chuck above on the E-type.
    In the mid 90s one came into my life.
    A 4.2 two-seater with hardtop from 1972 that had spent two decades in a private collection and had 9000 miles on the clock when I bought it.
    It was in excellent condition, down to the green phosphorus on the dash indicators. I would occasionally go flying with it, without benefit of tall snow banks, but the car handled well.
    It had come back from California and had air conditioning, which was a good thing since it got Saharan inside the cabin once the engine was up.
    I put multiples of those 9000 miles on it, touring Northern Europe, investigating sideroads and byways never seen by users of multilane highways.
    This wonder of a car is now in the care of a car enthusiast of the highest order. And a week doesn’t pass by when I don’t think of what a fool I was to let him have it!

    Those are my car epiphanies, so strong I can hear the spray of snow and ice and smell the engine oil as I write this.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    1972 Fiat Spyder – when detroit was making brononsauri

    1975 Fiat X/19 – see note above

    1983 Audi Coupe – mamma mia!

    2006 Mini Cooper convertable (last week)

  • avatar
    Alex Rashev

    A sparkling blue 89 Firebird Formula did me.

    The poor thing had a gaping rust hole in the shock tower, broken window switches, old house’s smell and leaky t-tops when my friend got his hands on it for funny money. He crashed his other car shortly thereafter, and since his parents declined to insure the beast, I tagged it myself, just to drive it around for a month and then sell it.

    The day I got the plates was one of those strange east-coast phenomenons, warm, sunny day in the middle of February. Off go both T-tops, car gets a generous 2-minute warmup while I spray the entire interior with Lysol, transmission in reverse, I slowly roll out… And peel the tires all the way through, not even (at least not really) intentional. I stop where another parking lot merges with mine. A car makes a turn going my way… And his automatic headlights turn on, because the smoke is so thick you can barely see 10 feet in front of you. That realy made my day :)
    I then had lots of fun during that month – sliding sideways on a highway at double the speed limit (ugh), cruising around town, drifting through snowed-up parking lots, and so on. The very same day I sold it, I went to pick up my current F-body, a 76 350 Formula. Needless to say, I was hooked.

    Prior to that, I wouldn’t touch american cars with a 10-foot pole. But those big V8’s got me hooked forever. A quick, grippy little sports car is still my favorite transport, but there is this certain something about a few dozen pounds going up and down, in eight pieces, over and over and over, fast or slow – like your own heavy tank brigade, always ready to punch through anything at your command.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    I had an automotive epiphany once; a different kind than these..

    When I was of college age, I used to commute about an hour each way to school, in a Chevy that was more sporty than sport. It was, in fact, a slug. This commute involved a two-lane US route that twisted and turned across the New England, speed limit 60 to 65 or so. It was not uncommon to get stuck behind a pickup doing well under the speed limit. Or just under the speed limit. Or just not as far over the speed limit as I’d prefer to go.

    I found that, once I learned the route, with the proper planning, I could coax The Slug into passing just about anything. I’d lay back a bit, work up steam to have a 15mph or so advantage as I approached the target’s rear bumper, take a final check for oncoming traffic and swing out to pass as the road turned from solid yellow to dotted yellow.

    I got to be fairly good at it and shaved a bit of time off every trip.

    One day, however, I screwed up a bit – I have no idea what I did wrong – and I found myself not quite nose to nose with an oncoming dump truck, uphill and in his lane.

    I swerved back in Just In Time and there was no contact and I didn’t leave the pavement.

    But, after that, I planned my trips better and left for school with a bit more time.

    Some things just aren’t worth the risk.

  • avatar
    Infamous Dr. X

    My moment was a crisp fall day in 1997. The place was what passes for the autobahn in my little corner of the world – 495 North up by Lawrence, MA. The car was my boss’s 1992 Jaguar XJS convertible. I was alone (thank god) with the top up.

    The road was pretty empty and cops are pretty scarce on that stretch of road, so I didn’t mind going a bit above the limit – 80, 85, 90 is a fairly reasonable speed for that end of 495.

    At one point, I saw a big yellow highway dept. dump truck up the road a ways. I was listening to the tunes and just enjoying the ride. The next thing I knew, no more than 20 or thirty seconds later, the truck was nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t in front of me; it wasn’t visible in any of my mirrors. I hadn’t passed any exits. Where the hell did it go? Did it pull off the road? Did I pass it and not even notice it? What the hell?

    That’s when I looked at the speedo and realized I was NOT moving at a sedate pace of 85 or 90 mph. I was doing about 128 mph and it *felt* like 80… Yeah, I was HOOKED.

    Possibly because this was my time over 100 mph in a car that didn’t feel like it was about to rattle itself apart, I’ve always had a sweet spot for Jags. I guess what they say is true…you always remember your first.

  • avatar

    My very first car was a hand-me-down ’91 Pontiac Bonneville SSE with the V6. It had some torque, but was down on power and never should have worn a Pontiac badge. My automotive epiphany wouldn’t happen until an unfortunate accident totalled that car and allowed me to buy something of my own choosing. A teal ’96 Eclipse GS. They weren’t the fastest things on the road and wrong-wheel-driven but it was my first manual, and revved far higher than the domestics I’d driven; it was fast enough and I got hooked. One day a girlfriend and I woke late to a canoe trip an hour and a half north of town and I got my first chance to do something really stupid in the car, that is open her up on a thankfully scarcely patrolled section of Interstate 24. A 993 making the same northward trip was egging me on, and though I knew he could have sunk the throttle and lost me at anytime, he was looking to play. We passed back and forth for most of the 45-minute trip averaging a speed north of 100 mph. We made it to the canoe trip on time and I never drove a car the same way again. Today I own a Porsche, but my Eclipse bought it in the most ungracious of accidents — a hit and run driver of a big American sedan in the suicide lane in a thunderstorm, the same girlfriend in the passenger seat. The Eclipse was totalled thanks to two airbags deploying.

    Most people develop loyalties to their first cars that go beyond good common sense or those cars performance capabiliies. For boomers it was muscle cars and for our generation it’ll be the early imports of one stripe or another. These days whenever I pass an Eclipse for sale I think “maybe I should buy another one now that they’re cheap…”. Of course, I’d never settle for the GS now. I’d have to have the later AWD GSX and look at some Evo part swaps.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Great stories, everyone — thanks for sharing.

    Although I do worry about PaulN — he spent an unnaturally large amount of time alone with a priest when he was a boy…

  • avatar
    socsndaisy

    Nice topic JL,

    Ive had a few but one of my favorite lasting memories on this subject took place on Utah’s Route 70 in 1997. I was on the return trip from San Diego after doing route 66 (technically not the entire route, but Missouri to Santa Monica should garner some respect no?) in a 96 Mustang GT convertible. For those who arent aware, there used to be signage indicating no services for 100+ miles (still??) and signs of life were thin to put it mildly. Yeah…let’s just say that I made good triple digit time on that leg of the trip.

    Other highlights of this trip include crossing the mojave with the top down, some delicious switchbacks in Jerome, AZ…and stopping in for a chat with Bob Waldmire in Hackberry, AZ (who recognized the signature exhaust note of a mustang)

    Oh how I loved that car that carted me across the west. That convertible earned a kind of respect far surpassing that of mere machine. For me, adventure plays a huge part of my love affair with the automobile.

    If any of you ever gave a damn about cars, roadtrips, or americana — and I suspect most do — please do yourself a favor and by all means, go…..and go NOW.

  • avatar
    Jim H

    I’ve never had near the thrill of speed in a car, truck, motorcycle, or snow mobile as I have on a horse. 30 miles an hour through the trees just seems so dang fast when the wind and branches are clawing at you.

    I do remember a time in high school trying to outrun a cop…of course, it involved me taking lots of corners in the housing part of the base and then jumping out and hiding! I was young and stupid then…at least I’m not young any more. :)

  • avatar
    Cavendel

    My first car was an ’88 RX-7. It had a little trouble keeping up with mini-vans on the straight-aways, but conered like roller-coaster. Summer was fun, but winter was an absolute blast.
    With snow tires on the car and an extra 150 lbs in the back, I would wait and wait until the snow fell. I probably steered with the pedal as much as with the wheel during the winter. Every snow fall was special.
    By the time I got rid of that car, the windows didn’t work, it leaked gas, burned oil, bled coolant, and the exhaust was foul.

    I miss that car.

  • avatar
    BrendanMac

    I’d just like to break into the epihanies for a second to give a shout-out to beer. God I love beer. Just got back up from a trip to the states, and my fridge is full of Rogue, Red Hook, and assorted others.
    Recently, when my wife had to fly to Hawaii to take care of her ailing grandmother’s legal documents, she returned (at my insistence) with thirty-six bottles of beer.
    Good wife.

    Anyways, automotive Nirvana started early for me at my Dad’s side in his ’85 535i. Yes she was a handful in the wet, but what a rewarding car to drive in its prime. Of course, having got my licence, I was relegated to a ’75 Landrover that accelerated and handled like an oak sideboard.

    Probably the next good thing that happened to me was putting a cheap manual boost controller in my slightly beaterish ’88 MX6 GT (1st car I owned). I turned the bleed knob up from 7psi (stock) to 11.99psi (the most the stock fuel system and ecu would handle). This amounted to about a 65-70 hp increase and made a fairly unremarkable front-driver into a torque-steering, tire-smoking pig. I loved it.

    My most recent epiphany is tucking my $150 beater Escort GT (and no, if you haven’t been able to tell yet, I do not have an E63 on order. My ass is broke. Probably from spending all my disposable income on beer) into the sweeping turn at the north end of the Lion’s Gate bridge, scooting past a newish 3 series on the inside.

    I’ll be getting into a WRX wagon fairly soon, and I’m sure that’ll open up my eyes further.

  • avatar
    Chaser892

    It took almost 15 years of driving normal everyday cars to experience my epiphany. Few years ago my stepdad picked up a barely used 2002 Audi S4 and instantly deemed it among the best cars of his life, right up there with his old 280Z.

    Two Christmases ago I half-jokingly offer to drive the grandparents home on the condition that I get to use the S4. Stepdad must’ve had more wine than I thought because he actually said yes! After calmly dropping off the elders, I find myself alone on a suburban freeway at 2am. In a blink the speedo smoothly passes 90. I purposely skip the usual exit back to mom’s house and aim for a familiar frontage road a few miles away with long straightaways and a few fun curves mixed in.

    The moment of zen occurred in the midst of one of those curves. For the first time in my life I truly experienced the phrase “rides on rails”. The steering wheel solidly in my hands. The seat holding me securely in place against the lateral g’s. I knew, no FELT, exactly where those tires were and where they were pointed. Brake in/gas out perfectly timed. The last turn was a 90 degree left with a warning sign that suggested 20mph. The car BLASTS of it at 50, pinning me back against the headrest. I then euphorically let the car (and my pulse) wind back down along the final hilly homestretch back into suburbia. Hot Damn!

    Back in the garage I smell (imagine?) a hint of burning rubber, and worry about getting busted for the first time since highschool. Barely 3 steps in the door I intercept mom headed for the garage with a bag of trash. “er, um, I’ll take that out for you mom…it’s, um, cold out there.”

  • avatar
    emcourtney

    Hate to be the kill-joy but my epiphany was of the negative sort.
    I was 20 years old with the ink not quite dry on my driver license north bound on the Jersey Turnpike.  It was a pleasant Friday afternoon, traffic was moving along at sixty something and I was at the wheel of my newly acquired ’79 Mercedes, 300SD (a great first car by the way) tucked snugly into the dense traffic flow.  At which point my epiphany occurred; this is insanely dangerous… because nobody’s really in control here.  Physics were in control.  At that speed the performance envelope of the car was minuscule, and in traffic that dense if anything went wrong, there was no way to avoid the ensuing wreck.


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