Derek Kreindler is pondering selling his lovely BRG Miata and using the funds as “a down payment on a home of my own.” *Sigh.* Here on the West Coast of Canada, I’d have had to sell my (imaginary) Aventador to pull off the same trick. Spend half-a-million bucks: get half-a-bunkbed in some split-level commune. Pot to piss in, not included.
But that’s not his point, it’s whether or not to let the First One go. The first car you paid for with your own money. That first taste of wheeled freedom. Be it ever so humble, you’ll never walk away from your first without a twinge of regret and many backwards glances.
I remember when I did it.
Funnily enough, my first was also a Mazda product: an ’88 Mazda MX-6 GT. It couldn’t have been more different than the Miata though: wrong-wheel drive, muscle-car weight distribution, styling by Sir Arthur Doorstop. Kissing cousin to one of the worst-named cars ever, the Ford Probe, the MX-6 was a touring coupe in the manner of the Integra or the Celica, but floppier than either. Most were automatic: think Toyota Solara designed by someone who only had a ruler.
I too withdrew what was – to me – a large sum of money in a non-descript envelope and nervously got on public transit. The trip took me far from the ivory towers of my University campus, deep into the East Side of Vancouver. Those days, it was a place of fringe-thinkers and alternative living, public parks full of discarded hypodermics and the air redolent with mary-jane.
Nowadays, condos starting at $865,000. 50% sold. DON’T MISS OUT.
And there she was. Red. Stick-shift. No damn sunrooof. A enormous bright pink “PRINCESS” sticker on the back window like a tramp-stamp, which was the style at the time. Love at first sight? Nope, love at first drive.
The ‘6’s front tires were balder than Billy Corgan; some mass-market generic brand that has since collapsed into obscurity. When I shifted into second and walked on it, used to the heavy-footedness required to get the family Land Rover up to speed, the MX stuck its nose in the air and said, “smoke ‘em if you got ‘em!”, laying a patch for half a block. SOLD.
When I think back on it, perhaps not my best negotiation. Had it ever been in any accidents? “Uh, not sure.” Well, it clearly had. The spoiler had a giant dent in it and there was some bondo’ing under the rear passenger-side tail-light that looked like 3rd-grader papier-mache. I think I offered $100 less than ask and the seller grasped for my hand like I was throwing him a life-ring (the Princess thing: it was his girlfriend’s car). Oh well, done deal.
Whatever condition it might have been in, the MX was tougher than nails. JDM and EUDM models got a lovely 16-valve 2.0L engine called the FE3 or FE-DOHC that is even now quite desirable as a swap. If you’re interested Derek, you can make it fit into a Miata with an FC RX-7 transmission.
In North America, we got a truck motor: the iron-block 2.2L 12v engine out of the B2200. As the late-80s/early-90s were the era of GT-means-turbo, the engineers hung a teeny-tiny snail off the exhaust manifold and called it a day. It made about 6.5lbs of boost and gave you about 145hp. It also might just be the torque-steerin’-est car ever made, as the restrictive head meant you had 190lb/ft of surgetastic torque on tap any time you tried to pass. A ‘Speed3 is an absolute pussycat by comparison.
Around about this time, the increasing prevalence of automotive forums meant that you could get advice – mostly bad – on how to modify your car. Unfortunately, the MX-6 had all the aftermarket support of a Goggomobil. I bought the very last short-throw shifter in Western Canada: it had been sitting on a shelf so long that the box was partially decomposed. Maybe Jesus built your hot rod; I bought most of my parts from Methusela.
Luckily, the lack of readily available go-fast goodies meant that the few MX-6 loving lunatics out there were oracles of barn-door ingenuity and do-it-yourself low-budgetry. I had access to my Dad’s tools, and a Ph.D in automotive cursing. LET’S DO THIS.
And boom goes the dynamite.
Taking this picture was a monumentally bad idea. Guesstimating from the dyno results of similarly-modified cars, the ‘6 was making about 280 lb/ft of torque at 3500 rpm, with no limited-slip diff, nor equal-length half-shafts, or electronic trickery, nor even particularly accurate steering. I absolutely loved it.
There was nothing like the 1-2 shift in this quick-spooling front-driver to put a grin on your face. Every time you’d get bark and scrabble, wrestle with the steering and then a surge as everything around you went backwards. It was red. I was twenty-something. I believe the local constabulary were able to open a library wing with my, um, donations.
14.2 in the quarter, but it wasn’t just that it was quick, it was mine. I broke it, then I fixed it. I installed the rocker arms upside-down (don’t ask), drove it a couple hundred miles, and then figured out my mistake. No problem. Stripped second gear and blew a headgasket: bought a parts car for $200, took what I needed and sold the leftovers for $300. Some lady backed across three lanes of traffic and whacked into the quarter-panel. Settled privately and spend the money on an mandrel-bent turboback instead.
The MX-6 was like a faithful retriever, soaking up all the abuse as I pulled at its ears and poked its snout. It’d let me down from time to time, but not unless I’d done something stupid like forget to re-clamp the intercooler hoses.
But then it was time. I knew. I’d met this girl and things were – happening. At the 1/8th mile drags a buddy had simply smoked me with his WRX wagon and I’d always wanted one of those. Maybe in a little while…
She went to Australia for an elective, me to follow in three weeks. I put the MX-6 up for sale and only one guy showed. I took him around the car pointing out the dents and dings, the drip from the tranny, the tick that meant one of the hydraulic lashers was going. He looked non-plussed. “Well, maybe take me for a spin. You drive.” I hit second hard. He didn’t ask for a single dollar off.
I took the cash, pretty much what I’d paid, rode my bike down to a Jeweller’s and paid for the engagement ring I’d picked out weeks ago. Obviously it took a bit more than an old Mazda to cover things, but it was a symbolic gesture. My most prized possession, now in another form, to be given away as a promise.
I miss this car a lot. I wonder if she’s still out there somewhere, though I doubt it. But I don’t have a single regret about letting her go. Sometimes, you just need to know when to hold them, and when to walk away.
Goddam Kenny Rogers.