By on December 3, 2007

11_1.jpgDespite this website’s constant ruminations on the handling capabilities of various contemporary automobiles, the truth about cars is this: on any road that isn’t The Tail of the Dragon, you can set the cruise control to 10mph over the limit, put your feet up and just steer. Above that, well, what sets the lowly Camry and its ilk apart from cars whose dynamics get the Serious Drivers’ Seal of Approval is how quickly things start to get dicey. And that’s where the real fun begins.

I’ve driven plenty of machines renowned for their handling prowess. They all lived up to the “on rails” cliché. In fact, cars like Porsche’s legendary ass-engined 911 or BMW’s sublime 3-Series only start to get interesting when you approach triple digits. So, when do you drive through the twisties at triple-digit speeds? Let me venture a guess, and say that, like H.M.S. Pinafore’s Captain Corcoran, the answer is “hardly ever.” The high handling limits limit your driving fun to the track or simple S&M (standing and modeling). 

To me, a car only becomes fun when adhesion starts to degrade; when the front end starts to get light; when the body pogos like the audience at a Devo concert. Cane a car with track-worthy handling and you might as well be sitting at home playing a video game. Except for the G-forces, the experience is the same, and at home you don’t have to worry about speeding tickets and/or finding a place to pee. With a truly marginal car, going fast means you're working hard just to survive. Now that’s what I call entertainment!

My formative driving years were spent behind the wheel of a 1965 Dodge Custom 880 with bad tires and worse shocks. At three years old with 60-odd thousand miles on the clock, it was already deep into its jalopyhood. I drove that car between Brooklyn and my Jersey Girl’s house, via the West Side Highway (slick cobblestones, narrow lanes, and S-curves) at near-suicidal speeds.

The car and road combo taught me quite a bit about real-world handling, as did the route to Jersey Girl’s replacement, which included the full length of the wonderfully primitive Interboro Parkway. By that time, the Dodge had been replaced by a 1964 Jaguar Mark 2 sedan, which was a whole other kind of treacherous, but no less entertaining and educational.

Then there was the 1965 Mustang convertible, a zippy 289 four-speed that had spent its early years traversing the potholes of Manhattan and the frost heaves of the surrounding highways. By the time I got it, the chassis sagged half an inch if both doors were opened at the same time. Needless to say, I was in top-down heaven. Too much power, too little chassis and rock-hard bias ply tires meant that I could break loose the rear end pretty much at will, and did so at every opportunity.

Then there was the ’63 Corvair. While not quite the rolling coffin that Ralph Nader claimed it to be, the Corvair’s handling presented a challenge to the unwary. Despite having less power than you’d need to pull the skin off a bowl of pudding, that Corvair took me off-road, ass-end first, more than once. After a while, I learned the trick, which was to drop the front tire pressure to about half that of the rear.

Around that time I began to notice that Porsche drivers flashed their lights at each other, like members of some secret society. We members of the lumpen proletariat thought they were just rich, smug a-holes. In truth they were members of a secret society, and even though nobody knew it at the time, so were we. The society’s membership consisted of drivers whose cars were trying to kill them, but hadn’t succeeded. By flashing their lights, they were saying “Still alive? Good for you. Me too!”

In those days, only a few cars had serious homicidal tendencies, but almost all of them exhibited one form or other of crappy handling. Wrestling such a car into submission took special skills, and those skills varied depending on the nature of the crapiness. It also took a devil-may-care attitude that, let’s face it, is impossible when you’re driving a car that’s equipped with eleventy-seven airbags and a host of computer-controlled nannies looking over your shoulder, ready to do whatever it takes to keep those airbags from having to deploy.

None of today’s cars get my heart pounding like the crappy-handling heaps of yore. Fortunately (or not), there are still a few real stinkers still for sale; brand new cars that beg you to give up any attempt at serious speed. Whenever I see a crap car driver going for it I think “Good for him!” And get the Hell out of the way.

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56 Comments on “In Defense of: Crappy Handling Cars...”


  • avatar
    radimus

    Very true. Even my nine year old minivan outhandles the 85 Buick LaSabre I used to drive back in the late 90’s. Heck, I think my 97 Yukon does as well.

  • avatar
    confused1096

    Good article. I had a Pontiac Fiero that tried its level best to kill me anytime it rained or snowed.
    It’s worth mentioning that poor brakes (compared to now) were also a bonus. The old ’72 Caddy project car I had for awhile accelerated and stopped like a train.

  • avatar
    Virtual Insanity

    Excellent editorial. I swear, you talk to some people today, and they think that their commute to work requires them to hot lap the ‘Ring, Laguna Seca, and then run the Tail of the Dragon. The handling snobbery that permeates the enthusiast community is mind bottling-ly stupid. Don’t even get me started on the sh*t my buddy has to go through over his Trans Am…

  • avatar
    tony-e30

    The same applies to motorcycles. After riding a friend’s sublime handling race bike that didn’t begin to get interesting until after the speedo read 100, I immediately went out and purchased a crappy handling (comparatively speaking) bike that scared me at 50 MPH. Much more entertaining.

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    You might have a point. I learned to drive on a 1983 Nissan Sentra Wagon. Though new, the car never failed to get my adrenalin pumping on the rare occasions that I dared to pin the speedometer… at 85 mph. Talk about drama, the thrashy engine sounded like it was going to explode, the suspension crashed, and the chassis vibrated like an epileptic mainlining crystal meth. Kick start my heart!

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    Sloppy suspensions, no; skinny tires, yes. The best-handling car I’ve enjoyed had firm, well-designed underpinnings (including Bilstein racing shocks) and 80-series tires. Set up that way, “the limits” were right there at hand to explore on every off-ramp, at semi-sane speeds, but those voyages of discovery brought no sudden, unpleasant surprises. It’s a variation on my oft-stated bias towards the “slow car fast” philosophy. But it’s only a philosophy now. You don’t see me swapping out tires for a “minus-two” setup! I stick with the stock 60-series, which, come to think of it, are pretty narrow by today’s standards.

    I used to be a kayaker- a timid-to-terrified one, but I still felt superior to those crippled, single-paddled creatures, canoeists. Once I asked a canoeist, “Why?” ‘Because I can get the same challenge paddling Class II (moderate) rapids as a kayaker gets on Class IV (intense). But if I dump it, I’m only swimming Class II water.” Hmm.

  • avatar
    Virtual Insanity

    William C Montgomery:

    Excellent Motely Crue reference. Most likely my favorite of their songs.

    First car was a Rav4. Man, that was fun to drive fast. I pegged the speedo at 110 once. Operative word their being once.

  • avatar

    Now that was fun! I never pushed things when I was a kid, although I once did a 360 in the Peugeot 404 on some ice I hadn’t realized was there a few months after I got my license. But there are several sharp corners in a row on a road in Cambridge where, when wet, I can put the Accord into a brief 4-wheel drift. I had a twist in the road like that in DC where, when wet, I used to slide my Saturn. One time I came upon an econoline van that had gone on its side going around that corner.

  • avatar
    86er

    Did anyone learn how to drive with a truck? That’s an interesting experience.

    My early years driving were spent behind the wheel of a 4×2 1986 Silverado, in Saskatchewan.

    The driving dynamics of that half-ton was about the same as when it was introduced in 1973; the only improvement in that time was the introduction of front disc brakes in the early 80s.

    But learning on something like that was helpful for later in life, as it makes driving (most) newer vehicles a breeze.

  • avatar
    Eric_Stepans

    I disagree somewhat with the premise of this article.

    I don’t think the issue is handling limits so much as it a matter of feedback.

    The brilliance of the Mazda Miata isn’t in the fact of its cornering limits (which are very good).
    The brilliance of the Miata is in the feedback it provides.

    Thus, you can drive it at quite moderate speeds and still get a great sense of fun out of it.

    Other fun cars like the Porsche 911 and Boxster/Cayman, the E30 and E36 BMW 3-Series and the Mazda 3 share that fidelity of feedback that makes them fun to drive.

    Two other points:

    1) As the old expression goes, it’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.

    2) I’ve been to a Devo concert within the past year. Given the age of most of their fans (40+), very little actual pogoing goes on…;-D…

  • avatar
    miked

    86er – Yup, I learned on a truck. Technically, I learned on a ’75 CJ-5, but that couldn’t go fast enough to get me into trouble. When I was 17 I got a mid 90’s Nissan Hardbody pickup with crappy tires. I remember 3 times that I spun it and ended up in ditches. I quickly learned how to drive properly, and I’m much much safer now. I do think that Nissan was possessed though, I know of two times (probably more) that my brother spun it, and just last winter my Dad finally totaled it via a combination of ice and trees.

  • avatar

    After reading this I ran outside and gave my 1993 NA MR2 a big hug. (for not killing me yet)

  • avatar
    Paul Milenkovic

    There is bad handling and then there is bad handling.

    I am thinking about cars like the one time I rented a Chevette. Or the times I have driven my dad’s Aerostar. Steering with all of the feel of a limp, wet noodle isn’t anything I care for.

    Or the time I was afraid I would be late for a flight out of Boise, trying to make up time on that broad multi-lane road coming out of the mountains and going by the reservoir.

    I was way speeding, but while I was only being passed by about three quarters of the cars out there, the shocks and springs were such that there were coordinated motions of the car on all three rigid-body rotational axes. Kind of what Tom Wolfe alluded to in the Right Stuff, that when the early rocket planes were flown at hypersonic speeds (too fast in too thin air for the too small control surfaces before they knew better), these crafts had a tendency to convert roll to a pitching motion that was a lower-energy inertial state.

  • avatar
    CliffG

    This is truly hilarious, the first two cars I drove were a ’62 283 Impala with a “three on a tree”, and a ’62 Corvair. Learning how to double clutch the Impala into (non-syncho)1st gear at 15mph is a skill never lost, much less finding out what that whole “polar movement of inertia” actually means when you take your foot off the gas in the middle of the corner in a swing axle rear engined vehicle. Woo woo, surviving those cars driving fast means you can drive ANYTHING fast, and frankly caning cars that at that time were available in quantity for $450 was a lot of fun. Until your parents found out anyway…

    The bemusing part is watching people pay lots of bucks for early sixties Detroit iron, like that old Impala convertible I drove, and then remembering what an unpleasant dangerous beast it really was to drive. Brakes? What brakes?

  • avatar
    stuki

    Great article. Horrible cars can be fantastic amounts of fun. The small Ford Festiva and 3 cylinder Geo Metro made any drive a flat out race, and they were short enough to be driven almost entirely sideways while still staying in your own lane.

  • avatar
    shortthrowsixspeed

    i somewhat agree here. having driven and fishtaled a truck in my formative driving years, i can see that the adrenaline-pumping fear that’s induced could be adicting for some. But for me, the giddiness wore off real fast paying back that $1600 to my step-dad. as a kid, i had a lot more fun taking corners in my ’88 CRX. though it had less than 100hp, being that low to the ground was a blast around a bend. and at just over 2000lbs., transitions brought smiles by the bucket.

  • avatar
    qa

    Hey this is an entertaining article that I can somehow relate.

    My first car: ’68 Beetle, skinny tires, drum brakes and rear swing axles. Easy to fishtail this car and fun to correct. Improving chasis performance (after upping engine HP) was easy, cheap and rewarding.

    The best part – I never got a speeding ticket.

    I couldn’t flash my headlights though cause I had to have both hands on that 16 inch wheel.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    In my youth I’d take Mom’s ’69 Mercury wagon out on snow covered back roads and throw it into a slide just to see if I could get out of it.

    There was no feedback from the steering. I’m not sure the wheel was actually connected to anything. I had to feel the whole car; feel where the rear was going, feel it through the seat of my pants. It was fun. They don’t make ’em like that anymore – thank God.

  • avatar
    DearS

    Awesome article. I feel very similar about cars now. My E30 is more fun than the Most newer BMWs in a lot of ways, at much lower speeds, everyday speeds. I’m starting to think, its handles a little to well. Maybe an E34 5-series will work better for me. I’ll look into that. Thank you for sharing our truth.

  • avatar
    N85523

    They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Driving a 93 full-size Blazer at 70+ on Wyoming forest service roads (sometimes snowy and icy) taught me a great deal about how to handle a vehicle when things get edgy. The lessons learned back in those days have saved my bacon on more than a few occasions on the paved road under much more civilized circumstances.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Cliff G.Double clutch a three on the tree down to first?I don’t know what sounded worse the grinding gears,or the oldman yellin in my ear.
    I drove a 62 Pontiac Strato Chief [canadian]from Oshawa ont. to Vancouver in 1970 I learned driving skills that I never lost.
    Brakes? who the hell needs them.I can still hear the oldman saying.”What do think 1st gear is for boy?

  • avatar
    EJ

    The problem with sportscars is that they are great in fast curves, but crappy for just about everything else.
    On the other hand, crappy handling cars are only crappy in fast curves, but are great for just about everything else (I’m talking about my Camry V6 with sports tires).

    (I must note that a while ago I had no problem racing an Audi TT on a windy mountain road to the ski resort. We were both passing SUVs at high speed. The Audi TT finally got away…. by crossing a double solid line. What a no-no!)

  • avatar
    tchas35

    If I remember correctly, it was Rick Mears who was asked by a non-automotive journalist whether it warped reality to push 200 mph in an Indy car. He said, “Not really. The cars are meant to go at that speed, so everything they do is calibrated to that speed and driving them that way feels normal.”

    The journalist said, “Oh, so it’s like driving 100 in a Pinto.”

    Mears answered, “No, it’s like driving about 40 in a Pinto.”

    Lots of my early driving was done in a 72 Pinto, so I can cosign that thought. Nothing I’ve driven in the decades since has demanded anywhere near the attention that Pinto required at half the speed. If you wanted to go, turn or stop, you had to think so far ahead and adjust so regularly for the possibility of your commands being ignored that every other vehicle was a vacation by comparison. In a Pinto, you were on the limit, with life-and-death consequences, as soon as you left your parking space.

    It gave me a respect for the laws of automotive physics I’ve never lost . . .

  • avatar

    tchas35 :

    Ditto.

  • avatar
    DearS

    Funny Funny posts. I just spun out a few times, and plowed forward a few times in my Bimmer yesterday, icy road condition, I didn’t know. Spun on an Onramp, thank god it was late at night, and road was empty. I’d be pretty bad off. I continued to control the nervous car to my sisters job and back. I actually wanted to anyway. I was confident. Still I think it was dysfunctional (ironically) behavior. Same with my 240SX in winter, and Corolla in years past. My sister was like, wow, I’ve have gone over the edge. Thank god for shitty cars, and Gran Turismo 1-5. My car is fine. LOL.

  • avatar
    Sanman111

    Okay this is truly funny. I learned on a 1992 pathfinder before purchasing a 1992 corolla of my own. The pathfinder was an interesting experience and taking a quick left at a busy intersection once I almost learned how easy it is to flip over an SUV, I’m pretty sure I got some air. THough I have to say that the corolla was way more fun. Much less of the almost dying and much more of being able to make backroads fun. I had some good twisties near me and the corolla made it feel like a racetrack challenge at moderately fast speeds. I once got it over a 100 mph on an abandoned side street at 2am in the morning when I was 17. I stopped being afraid of roller coasters after that.

  • avatar
    cbrjim

    You havent lived until you experienced torsion bar calamity with drum brakes. My 68 roadrunner with a 383 and column shift, open end 3.23, oh boy! The telephone poles and guardrails I just missed. Anyone else remember your first musclecar? It was 1978, what was “handling” anyway?

  • avatar
    C. Alan

    This brings back memories. I cut my driving teeth on a 1974 Opel Manta (not the GT, but the 4 seater Coupe version). That car had some kind of wierd solid rear axle, with a trailing arm suspension set-up on it. I only spun that car out once, in the rain on an on-ramp in Bakersfield. I got lucky, and my car only ended up in the ice plant on the side of the road, and I was able to drive out there. In hind site, that car did not handle as bad as other I have owned. The worst I ever had was a ’89 ford ranger. With the bed empty, the rear end would start to come around quite easily.

    However, I consider myself lucky, because I got to learn respect for speed by racing solid axle karts in high school. Nothing takes the hod-rodder out of a high school aged male like bruised ribs after an encounter with hay bails at high speed.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    While I don’t totally agree with the article, it was well written and brought a smile to my face. I guess I don’t totally agree with the article because I can’t remember ever pushing the limits in the poor handling vehicles I’ve owned, or at least I never wanted to do it again. I learned to drive in an ’85 Aries K car, auto. About the only chances I took in that thing were making left hand turns without a left hand turn light (it had an annoying habit of dieing, which can get exciting when your turning left into a parking lot with traffic bearing down on you at 40 mph). My first “car” was a ’58 Chevy fleetside truck that I still have. The recommended speed limit around corners (yellow signs) is just fine with me when I’m driving the truck. It truly has ancient suspension with manual steering and skinny tires to rival most anything.

    I also drove an ’84 Nissan Sentra Wagon, and I don’t think it ever saw speeds north of 75 mph (I’m not crazy).

    My true hoonery period lasted the five months that I owned an ’87 Mazda RX7 (blown engine) with some lets just say not-so-good tires. I would take that out on some of the twisty, mostly deserted, backroads outside the city. I enjoyed rowing through the gears and sliding through the corners in that car because, even though I was sliding, I didn’t really feel out of control. On those narrow two lane back roads, it never once went off the pavement.

    My 240SX SE was pure show, no go. The yaw on that thing going around corners tamed me down from the RX7 really fast.

    My current Mazda6s stays planted well enough on the twisties and has good enough acceleration to allow me a little fun while still being a responsible grown-up.

    I don’t think it was possible to get stupid in the Saturn Vue that I had in between the Mazda6s and the 240SX. Buying it in the first place was my final stupid act with that thing.

    I think the common thread is that it’s fun for me to push the limits in cars that are predictable. I find no fun in scaring myself, or my passengers, to death in a car that feels it might go careening off the road or roll over at any moment or may not. The fun is in the predictability that I had with my RX7 and now have with my Mazda6s.

  • avatar
    skor

    I’ve owned my share of crap handling cars, and I’ve owned a couple of Mazdas. The Mazdas spoiled me. Both Mazdas had solid real world handling that was quite useful on NYC area roads for daily commutes. I’ll never go back voluntarily.

  • avatar
    taxman100

    Drive my 67 Galaxie 500 convertible some time – back then power steering was not standard, so they have steering wheels the size of a bus.

    There is a reason you cruise in those cars – you have to crazy to want to drive fast unless you like breaking the rear end lose, or doing burn-outs.

    Great car to drive – it is actually quite relaxing to drive in no particular hurry.

  • avatar
    labrat

    Thanks for the photo of the 65 Dodge. My first memory in life was going with my dad to the local Dodge dealership in 1966 to pick up our brand new Polara, which was nearly identical to the pictured car. These cars seem to have fallen off the face of the earth. Even at local cruise nights, where everything from the sixties is worshipped, these cars are a rare sight.

    By the time I was nine, the 66 was replaced with a 72 Polara which I did drive. The steering on this car was scary sloppy. If there was an upside to this dreadful beast, it taught me at a young age to give my undivided attention to the act of driving, as it took full concentration to keep this monster in its lane. Looking back at some of the junk on the roads back then, it makes you really appreciate how good today’s cars have become.

  • avatar

    I’ve never really flogged a muscle car, but this past summer I had the terrific fortune of driving a Miata MX-5 in San Francisco, Napa and Sonoma. Then, I had the terrific misfortune of driving a Buick Terraza over the same roads, especially the park behind UC Berkeley and down the California Coast.

    While the MX-5 was just sensational, forgiving, rewarding and up for anything, but I really have to admit I had tons of fun in the Buick Terraza also. Every single time I plowed into a turn, the chassis would shunt violently, in an almost train-like fashion. It became a battle of wills between the vehicle and I. I thought I was headed off the cliff so many times – when those front tires would finally find purchase. It was so easy to find the handling limits and torture those tires into aural protestation, I felt like a bit of a driving God in that van.

    Then I went back to my hotel room and took a shower to wash away the sin.

    The Buick Terraza, btw, was the 2006 TWAT Gold Medalist.

    Also, I learned how to drive in a Chevrolet Chevette. Never had to worry about torque or horsepower or handling limits in that car, since it took about 30 minutes to reach 88 km/h.

  • avatar
    LamborghiniZ

    Disagree about things only getting interesting when you hit triple digit speeds. You can feel handling superiority/inferiority on a simple basic roundabout. Realize that.

  • avatar
    Eric_Stepans

    If you want to put this thesis to the ultimate test, get a mid-70s AMC Gremlin and see if you can extract any fun out of it.

    Some cars are irredeemably crappy….

  • avatar
    coupdetat

    I agree with this article in the sense that, yes, cars with low handling limits can be a lot of fun. However, for me there’s a clear distinction to be made, between a communicative car with low limits and an uncommunicative one with the same limits.

    Exhibit A: My ’99 Toyota Solara V6 w/sport package. It feels plenty capable when aggressively pitched into a turn, especially after the addition of a TRD rear sway bar. However, there’s been two instances now where it’s been “feels fine, give it a bit more, feels fine, a bit more, feel–HOLY [email protected]%$” and then I find myself backwards on the side of the road. It’s scary and definitely not entertaining because the numb steering and chassis don’t provide adequate feedback as to what the car is doing.

    Exhibit B: My upcoming ’08 Honda Fit Sport. This car probably doesn’t have terribly high cornering limits, but the connection between driver and car is far more direct and visceral than in the Solara. I can feel the car begin to approach its limits and react accordingly. This is what makes it an extremely fun car, even though it may not be able to corner at triple-digit speeds like a Porsche.

    Although with double the horsepower, in all fairness the Solara can overwhelm its chassis MUCH faster than the Fit can.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    “Disagree about things only getting interesting when you hit triple digit speeds. You can feel handling superiority/inferiority on a simple basic roundabout. Realize that.”

    Absolutely true.

    Also ture, it means nothing. Nada. Zip. At roundabout speeds it makes no difference if you’re driving a Bimmer or a ’36 Chevy with knee-action shocks – other than the pleasant tactile sensations of good handling.

  • avatar
    glenn126

    My very first car, in 1973, was a 1966 Rambler Ambassador 4 door sedan, green “grandpa car”. Except – it was a sleeper. 327 cubic inch V8, factory Holley 4 barrel carburetor, 3.54 final drive (more about which in a moment), and Twin Grip (better now known under the generic GM name of “posi” for positraction).

    Because it had the (last) iteration of a torque tube drive, which meant the entire driveshaft was enclosed with one constant velocity joint on the transmission (somewhat like a Model T or 1948 Ford) you did not get any axle wind-up on hard acceleration.

    For what it’s worth, a lot of other school mates and out of town 16-17-18 year olds with mid-1960’s Mustangs, Camaros and whatever else they “run what ya brung” on impromptu street drag races, got awfully embarrassed to be blown into the weeds by a green 4 door sedan.

    Of course, it could go – but it could not handle, nor stop (mine didn’t have the optional front disc brakes, new in 1965 – years ahead of most Detroit 3 cars, one exception being the 1965 Lincoln).

    Mostly the handling problem was the non-radial tires, soft suspension and soft damping, not the torque tube drive system (which actually used locating rods, panhard rod and coil springs).

    The biggest problem I had with this car was that no girls’ fathers would let their daughters go with me on a date (the front 50/50 split bench seats reclined entirely to – gasp – make a bed!)

    Of course, one would have wanted to ask them what THEY got up to in 1950 Nash Ambassadors which shared the same attribute of “seat to bed”, back in the day when THEY were teenagers, eh?

    So a 1968 Pontiac Catalina 2 door hardtop with 400 V8, no power (drum) brakes, but with power steering and air conditioning replaced my first car, when I was 17. It was a total GM POS pig.

    We always recall our “first” car fondly, don’t we, no matter what kind of car it was.

  • avatar
    Joe O

    You know, I felt like agreeing with this article for awhile, but I have to agree with the commenter who said it’s all about feedback.

    My father’s Porsche Boxster is a pure pleasure to whip around low-speed turns, because it’s a pure pleasure to feel the central mass rotate, as opposed to plow.

    My wife’s Saturn Ion on the other hand is so numb that it is a displeasure to do more than start it up. Even starting it up is bad, because it sounds like a lawnmower, out of tune, and with big tufts of wet grass making the blades spin out of balance. But I digress.

    I believe the best balance is for a car to be “lively” and “communicative”. When you can EASILY get yourself into trouble, but are receiving such clear communication from the car that you’d need to have suicidal tendencies yourself to get there.

    My personal case in point: My 2006 Honda Civic SI. One of the best handling front wheel drive cars currently sold. Not something often said of Hondas, but it really does have great power when you are driving it right. Keep it ~7000rpms in a turn and you can apply your full power right as you are coming out of the turn.

    My point about this car is that, aside from ABS, it does not have stability or traction control. I have easily gotten it into an understeer slide and corrected it without even thinking. And it is capable of hitting those limits on tight, everyday roads. It’s also capable of cruising comfortably at 80.

    I think you can find the best of both worlds in some of today’s cars….those that communicate thoroughly.

    Mazda Miata, Honda Civic SI, MazdaSpeed 3, Mini Cooper (last gen at least), Porsche Boxster….those are just the ones I know for sure about…

    Joe

  • avatar
    lprocter1982

    86er:
    “My early years driving were spent behind the wheel of a 4×2 1986 Silverado, in Saskatchewan.”

    I don’t think that counts… you don’t have to turn in Saskatchewan, so handling doesn’t matter… whether it’s a Porsche or a Yugo, they all go straight pretty well the same.

  • avatar
    86er

    lproctor1982:I don’t think that counts… you don’t have to turn in Saskatchewan, so handling doesn’t matter… whether it’s a Porsche or a Yugo, they all go straight pretty well the same.

    You’re a fellow member of the Panther Mafia, so I’ll let that comment slide…

    You could be right, although if you head north into the Pre-Cambrian Shield amidst the forest and rock the roads start to get interesting and avoiding moose and deer could certainly test out a vehicle’s handling prowess.

  • avatar
    powdermonkey

    I have to agree with the “communication” comments. My first car was a 76 Audi Fox. That baby handled great, and if you were getting into trouble it let you know, fast.

    I learned to love communication in my car from my mom’s Reliant K (K car) wagon. One of my high school girlfriends didn’t like the Fox and insisted that I pick her up in a better looking car. (What the heck did she want, no rust holes? The rust matched the crappy paint color, and the leaky sunroof was a feature not a flaw!) So it was the Grocery Getter to her house. Think about that for a second, the choices were a K car and an Audi and she picks the K car, what kind of fool was I to pick her?

    Anyway, I was driving home, trying to beat my curfew, and taking the usual route. That called for a High speed run through the rural Iowa back roads (paved) till about 4 miles from my house where the most direct route was on gravel. In the Audi I would usually just maintain speed head down the middle, and feel the road. If something started to break loose the car would tell me. Huge mistake to trust the K car though. I had to chop the speed in half to less than 40mph and the 6 foot deep ditches still seemed to call to that car. I actually fishtailed the damn thing only once, but that was enough. I was late, busted and had driving privileges suspended, but I learned my lesson. The girl never saw that piece of crap wagon again. She could get used to the Fox or get rid of Me!

    ps she did get rid of me a few months later, for a guy who drove a Buick skylark.

  • avatar
    Antone

    Great editorial. My first ride was a sweet 1981 Ford LTD Crown Vic. Oxidized dark blue, nice red cloth interior and 4-bald tires. I had a blast driving that car through a practically active New England winter (1993-94). Back road antics, sliding, 5000 lbs, and numb over-boasted steering… At $ 400.00 it feels more fun being disposable. I had great times in that RWD tank.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    one of the silliest things I’ve ever seen was a Ferrari somethin or other stuck in stall and crawl traffic with the rest of us proles commuting up the SE Distressway into Boston

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    I’ve had my share of fun in a number of non-sports cars. It all began in a ’92 Cutlass Supreme 4 door. Even brand new, it was nearly impossible to get the brakes to lock in a dry road (and it wasn’t because of the ABS – I disabled that because at speeds lower than 20 MPH, it would kick in for no reason, leaving you with no braking power). Ironically, the very first time I borrowed the car after getting my licence, the power assist failed. Talk about long stopping distances! And when it came to cornering, my Mk2 VW felt like a racecar, despite sometimes barely keeping 3 wheels on the pavement.

    Yes, my ’92 Jetta… whose rear drums never quite worked, though it still braked infinitely better than the Olds. That car was amazing for learning how to drive: light, direct, pedals placed for heel-toe, worn synchros forcing you to learn to heel-toe and double-clutch, and you could get the back end to slide out with some light trail braking near the limit. Tons of body roll, though, and my dad once caught me with the rear inside wheel in the air rouding a curve driving away from home. Its 100 hp didn’t make it a rocket, but I saw 120 on the dial a couple of times.

    My most dangerous ride was my ’89 Ninja 600: warped disks, couldn’t come anywhere taking any given curve as quickly as the Jetta, but at 85 hp, it was nearly as powerful despite weighing a third as much. The gearing was just as low, too – 0-60 arrived in about 4 seconds flat, and you needed to shift twice during that time. Neighbours always complained about my speeding because even during leisurely riding I was never in the same gear more than a few seconds. The thing sounded like a chainsaw on steroids above 6,000 RPM. At 11,000 people were calling the police =P

    After all that, I have to say that I agree that bad brakes make for good drivers. Nothing makes you think twice about opening the throttle like knowing there’s a good chance you won’t be able to stop again. To this day, I’ve never (accidentally) rear-ended anybody.

    Oh, and the most unexpected fun I had in a vehicle: driving through the Swiss Alps in a 9 passenger Renault Master. It was about as tall as an Econoline, but the thing held the road! 6 speed transmission and a turbo diesel with narrow powerband were great fun, too. It topped out at about 95.

    One of my more disappointing moments lately: driving an ’04 Concorde flat out on the highway. Thing was stable, quiet and pulling like a freight train. Then the speed limiter kicked in at 110 and it felt like someone had hit the brakes. Talk about boring. Give me back my VW with its trembling hood.

  • avatar
    lprocter1982

    My most exciting (terrifying?) drive was along Highway 99 in British Columbia, from Kamloops through a bunch of small towns (Lillooet, Pemberton, a couple others), through Whistler and to Vancouver. For the majority of the 4 hour drive, there were no shoulders, no guardrails, and on one side of the road was a 1000 foot rock wall… on the other side was a 1000 foot cliff. There were also a number of areas where there would be a 10-15% downgrade for about 2km, at the bottom of which would be a 180 degree hairpin turn.

    So, driving down this road in an 02 Hyundai Accent, my brakes faded to uselessness, the engine wasn’t powerful enough to use to slow the car (I shifted down and all the car did was speed up) and it was overloaded. Taking hairpin turns at 80km/h in an Accent was definitely, um, memorable, if only because I managed to survive to remember it.

  • avatar
    Jason

    I learned to drive (and as a poor college student years later, kept on driving) on a 1981 Toyota Cressida station wagon. It was 20 years old by the time I was a freshman in college, and I could not blow that I-6 motor. The automatic was a downer, but fortunately its 2.8L I-6 had torque to overcome some of the losses. On dry pavement, it couldn’t peel out on banana peels, but on wet pavement, it was initial-D time. Body roll was probably worse than a modern non-SE model Camry, but with absolutely no nannies and RWD, fun could be found if I knew how to stroke the beast just right (and not get the cops called on me for being a lunatic). Even at now mundane speeds of 80mph, I felt that I was about to break the sound barrier. The motor was smooth while running at 3000+RPM on freeway, but with no damping on the engine mounts, the whole body started to shake past 85mph. I never got the nuts to go faster than 95mph, the speedo stopped at 85mph. Now, I have driven an Acura TL Type-S and TSX over 130mph on the interstate, and even my practical and drab commuter Toyota Matrix 110mph on the interstate. The only indication that I was committing a felony (in VA) was the cars blurring by in the adjacent lanes, other than that, no “thrill” like 85mph in the Cressida.

    And remember two sages of wisdom:

    1.) Life without risk is mere existence

    2.) Its more fun to drive a slow car fast, than a fast car slow.

    And even more fun to drive a slow car with nannies too fast than drive a fast car slow. I take pride in killing 60K mi tires on my Matrix in 25K miles, bluesmoke wheelspin when making U-turns and getting sideways (and nearly pissing my pants, but living to tell the tale with no damage) on cloverleaf ramps, even though Toyota’s nannies try to rein me in…apparantly, they cannot overcome pre-built up momentum and laws of physics that take over after a sudden jerk of the wheel. The TSX carving up a rural road is pleasurable, but not wet-your-armpits-despite-wearing-antipersperant thrilling.

  • avatar

    I’m with those earlier commenters who felt the best combo was a good suspension with excellent feedback and a moderate amount of grip.

    For example, my Mazda Protege5 is regularly more fun around town than the higher performance cars I’ve driven on the same roads.

    I recently considered buying an E36 M3, but wasn’t sure how often I’d get to truly enjoy it.

    Now, a good suspension isn’t the same as zero roll in turns. Just good geometry and precise responses. I tend to like a little roll in regular driving, to give me a sense that something is going on beyond the video game described in the editorial.

  • avatar
    Areitu

    If I close my eyes and wrench the over-assisted steering wheel in my ’94 Mazda MPV sharply to the right, the turn-in feels almost like a Lancer Evolution. Now if I turn it to the left, it’s not quite as sharp…

  • avatar
    Mike66Chryslers

    I’ve lurked on TTAC for quite awhile. I was finally inspired to login and comment because of this article and the 65 Polara pic used. I’m glad that the author was up-front with the fact that his Polara was not well-maintained, which would’ve been a major factor in it’s poor road manners.

    I recently had a chance to testdrive an Audi R8. A very impressive car, and I’m sure I wasn’t pushing it anywhere near it’s limits. Like the author’s experience, the R8 reminded me of playing a video game. As an aside, I’m also impressed that the Germans (still) know how to make a small car for big people, just like my first car, a 1984 VW Rabbit. When I’ve tried to squeeze into a Miata and a Solstice, it was comedic, especially trying to get back out.

    Regardless, if someone GAVE me an R8, I’d probably sell it and buy a couple more 1966 Chryslers for my collection (and have enough money left to build a garage to store them in). Although the handling can’t compare to a sports car, the torsion bar suspension of my 41 year old Mopars handles better than most “modern” cars I’ve driven. They also, thankfully, don’t have the rubber isolators between the front subframe and the body which made 70’s cars float numbly down the highway. Also, while the author’s Polara probably had a 318 smallblock, bigblock powered C-body Mopars came equipped with beefy anti-sway bars.

    Manual drum brakes, power drums, or power brakes with front discs were available. I’ve found all three to be adequate for safely subduing my sublime speeds. (The manual brakes used a longer arm on the pedal for more leverage, so you don’t need to be a gorilla to execute panic braking.)

  • avatar
    BabyM

    I learned to drive on a ’67 Grand Prix, graduated to a ’77 Vega, then a ’78 Monza wagon when the Vega disintegrated. Ah, the joys of live axle rear ends and Novocain in the power steering!

    I finally got smart and bought an ’85 Honda CRX. Good (but not phenomenal) roadholding for its day–but like another commenter said about the Miata, excellent feedback. It wasn’t as fast as it felt, but driving it was pure joy.

    I feel the same way about my new GTI. I reach the limits of my daring long before the car reaches the limits of its handling–but it’s pure fun to toss it down a back road.

  • avatar
    Dream 50

    Jason:

    Are you sure the motor mounts caused the shake, and not improperly balanced tires? I’m pretty sure that an 81 Cressida will track at 85 mph a heluvalot better than my recently acquired 82 1300cc Civic will at 130 kph.

    I was just tearing through traffic in the suburbs of Vancouver in said Civic, thinking about writing an article for ttac extolling the praises of such cars then I logged on and found Drucker’s excellent missive. Damn you, Drucker, for stealing my idea.

    My room mate and I are proud owners of said Civic, a RWD 84 Corolla SR5 and an 85 Toyota pickup. Talk about driving slow cars fast. And brakes? Sheesh. Twelve inch wheels on the Civic can’t hide very large rotors. Thank Honda engineers for at least letting the small four rev to Kingdom Come while stuffing a five speed stick in between the seats. I was playing cut and thrust through Langley traffic with a 3 series Beemer before the road opened up and he left me to settle into a more sedate pace.

    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned, though, is fuel economy of little beaters. After caning the shit of my not-so-rusted-out silver beauty for 200 km, I still have 3/4 of a 41 litre tank left. Assuming the gauge isn’t completely accurate and I “only” get 700 km on this tank that’ll work out to 17 km/l or 40 mpg. Being Canadian, though, we used big 4.5 litre Imperial gallons, so 40 mpg works out to 48 mpg on that scale. Not bad for a sloppily handling go-kart for the street that still runs on the highway loaded with a hatch full of crap and sleeping girlfriend in the passenger seat.

    Keith

  • avatar
    Ralph SS

    Reminds me of when I bought my first car in CA. A 1960 Ford Falcon (small six, 2 speed auto). I paid all of $40.00 for it. Had to drag it home. A tune up (when you could do a tune up at home), a battery and two u-joints and I was ready to go. I beat that car mercilessly on Hwy 9 from Los Gatos to Santa Cruz and back regularly. Felt like I was living on the edge, yet rarely breaking the speed limit. Sold it about a year later for $100. Yes, a 2.5X profit. The person who bought it proceeded to paint flames on the front fenders. Appropriate, I thought

  • avatar

    “Damn you, Drucker, for stealing my idea.”
    It was a good one. Got any more for me? And thanks, one and all, for the kind and/or amusing comments.

  • avatar
    red60r

    I had a ’61 Corvair. Even Chevy’s manual recommended 15 (!) psi F and 25 R on its 6.50×13 tires. The result was a car that was really sloppy. What turned it into a fun ride in the esses was a front swaybar and transverse rear “camber compensator” leaf spring. Both of those items became standard issue on the ’64 models. Upping the pressures to 24/30 F/R gave it a very nimble feel and the ability to embarrass MGs and Triumph TR3s. Really was a Poor Man’s Porsche, albeit limited to about 4500 rpm by a long and loopy fan belt, and really scary brakes.

  • avatar
    gibbleth

    Heh. I learned to drive in farm trucks. These things all had ‘quirks’. The one truck (a 300 some odd cubic inch ford with three on the tree) had brakes that required a minimum of two pumps to do anything at all and a towering first gear requiring very careful clutching to avoid rooster tails. The other truck was a four on the floor chevy with a 300 some odd cubic inch v8 whose shifter occasionally came loose (just cram it back in) and had a very low first gear making it really hard not to trigger a rooster tail.

    That being said, the worst ever handling car I drove was a Volkswagon Fox POS. The idea of hanging an engine on one side off the front of an axle was spectacularly stupid and made a car that was nearly impossible to drift. It tried really hard to kill me.

    Now I drive a massive two box with an engine that works, a transmission that does what it’s supposed to and four wheel abs-equipped disk brakes. Every once in a while, I trot out the old driving skills honed from those years on the farm and scare the pants off the family, but it really isn’t as fun.

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