By on September 4, 2010

Memory can be a funny thing: an ally or an enemy.  Any modern American likely grew up with cars, and can summon countless tales of good and woe.  Childhood vacations that required an I-70 burn through Kansas winters, causing the POS ‘83 Vanagon’s fuel lines to freeze.  Dad pumping bottle after bottle of Heet into the damned thing to no avail.  Making our way to Oregon during the freakish Wyoming blizzard of ’85, seeing countless vehicles of all sizes rolled in the median, while the family cat is sleeping peacefully on Mom’s lap…

Mom.  The cancer had spread to her brain.  Through ten years she had fought, remission after remission, till those damned words: The Brain.  Where memory lives; the realm of dreams.

Science has no consensus on dreams: a repository of unresolved feelings and emotions; a Freudian dumping ground delighting teen-age males.  But what about the other dreams?  Day dreams?  Dream girls?  Dream cars?   Like James May, I was a huge fan of the Countach when I was a wee lad.  The angles, the aggression, the way it looked like it could open up and devour anything in its path.  The stuff of dreams.  And the Countach retained that title for many years, until I eventually attempted to “grow up” and stop being such a dreamer; settling in to a full-time job, having bills and taxes.  No time for dreaming.

That is, until 2007, when I discovered Top Gear.  A friend e-mailed me a link to the boys trying to kill a Toyota Hilux.  This was art!  I had purchased my first Toyota (and second) from a friend when I was nineteen: a ‘76 Celica GT in Krylon Blue.  I learned to shift in that car, and drove the piss out of it for years until trading it off back to him.  Dead reliable, unlike the truck I got in return.  Over the next ten years, I would own an ‘84 Camry, ‘85 Celica, ‘84 Tercel 4×4, ‘85 van (twice), ‘86 van, ‘81 Cressida, ‘82 truck, and two Four Runners.  Even an LS400.  You might say I liked Toyotas.

Come the fall of ‘07, the same friend has an ‘87 Integra he needs to sell to pay off his latest used car, as well as a speeding ticket earned in the Acura.  $550 cash and a 12 string guitar, and we’re golden.  My first drive was all I needed to know: across the Cascades in the dead of winter, balding tires doing their FWD-damndest to find grip.  My new dream car.

My new dream car was twenty years old with 240,000 on the clock.  Twice stolen, often abused and neglected, the Integra not only ran like a champ, but sparked my brain like no car I had ever driven.  Over the next several years it took me to Yellowstone and back, including hours of 90+ mph burns through northeast Nevada.  The following year, to visit my parents in Colorado; never once a hard start or a hiccup.  I put on massive 18′ wheels that looked quite hilarious, and didn’t quite fit, but no matter.   The grip was immense and I could corner so hard I laughed.  That’s all that mattered.

Not long after getting the Integra, I got to Top Gear Series 7 Episode 5: the long-awaited and ridiculed Bugatti Veyron vs. a Cessna race across Europe.  Later, Cpt. Slow doing the v-max run at Ehra-Lessien.  I was smitten.  An odd-looking car, even compared to the Countach.  But the more I learned, the more I studied, the more I gazed at it parked in front of some place called “The Miner’s Club”, the more I loved it.  The historical horsepower, the acceleration, the deceleration, the sheer audacity of the thing.  The new stuff of dreams.

Early 2010, my immediate future is now obvious.  Quit the job, sell the excess, stash the essentials, and go where I’m needed.  GPS in tow, I plan a route to the folks via Las Vegas, where I can meet friends and leech a hotel room.  The first day’s drive takes me back across the Cascades and into northwest Nevada.  I set up camp along a power-line maintenance road, five miles north of Gerlach.  The boulder-to-human ratio was approximately 86.32 trillion to 1, which I quite enjoyed.  The night winds, howling like a million dervishes, I quite did not.  My water bottle was frozen solid come 4 am, but I had packed accordingly, and slept well.  I left camp around 5am and reach Gerlach, known mostly for it’s proximity to Burning Man.

I still can’t explain what triggered the voice-in-my-head: “slow down, take in the scenery.”  I took it as an order, and did so.  What’s there to see at 5 am?  Nothing is open, no one is awake, there’s nothi…. Wait!  I remember that! I do a 180 (ok, I turn around legally) and go back a few buildings.  And there it is: The Old Miner’s Club.  Veyron territory.  Bugatti had brought some early prototype Veyron(s) to the Black Rock Desert to sort out high speed dynamics and such, and many pictures were taken.  For weeks the picture of the Veryon parked right here in this very gravel parking lot in front of this very bar was my desktop wallpaper.  That photo, as much as any race across Europe, had cemented the insane Bugatti as my all-time fave.  My Day-Dream car.

There was no coffee to be had in Gerlach at 5 am, but no matter.  My little semi-rendezvous with destiny had amped me like a gallon of the Fine Colombian.  And there was a nice sense of serendipity: driving my dream car, in Day Dream car territory.  I felt inspired.  As the next few miles went by, the road straightened.  And straightened.  You could see for forever in any direction.  No trees, no other vehicles, surely no patrols.  The speed limit said 70, speedometer 85.  Highway 447 became my Ehra-Lessien, and I gave it the beans: 90, 95, 100, surely it’s almost done, 105, no way it can hit 110…

One ten.  My $700, 23 year old, 265,000 mile 4 banger with maybe 90 horsepower left can hit one ten.  At over 5,000 feet elevation.  And it keeps on for what seems like forever.  Sated, I ease off and let the old girl back down to 85, where I spend the majority of the rest of the day heading to Vegas.  The next morning the car made a funny noise.  A few hours of phone calls and parking lot DIY’ing broke the bad news.  The Integra had thrown a rod.  My Dream Car killed my dream car.

I sold the Integra on Craigslist for $400 and flew to Colorado.  For the next few months my dream life would be on hold.  Mom’s remaining dreams, and making new memories, were what mattered.  On April 26th, her dreaming ended.

Back home in Oregon some months later, the reassembly process on my life and dreams continues.  And, frankly, it’s not like I’ll ever own, drive, touch, or even see a Veyron.  So my new dream car?  A one-owner ‘83 Tercel I found on Craigslist.  Time to make more memories.

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24 Comments on “Ur-Turn: How My Dream Car Killed My Dream Car...”

  • avatar

    It still ran after throwing a rod?
    Grandma would gotten 300K out that engine.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Mike, Thank you for taking us inside your life, automotive and otherwise. Great stuff!

  • avatar

    Good saturday morning read, thanks Mike!

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Nice stuff.  Look forward to more B&B submissions on TTAC. 

  • avatar

    Sir, I don’t know what you do for a living, but if it doesn’t involve writing in some way, you’re in the wrong business.

    • 0 avatar
      H Man

      Well, I’m unemployed (not really looking yet) but thank you, and everyone else, for the kind words.  I’d certainly love to make money writing.  HINT HINT!
      Now if only I could race…

  • avatar
    Jack Baruth

    Propz from one Honda racer to another :)

  • avatar

    This reminds me of Niedermeyer pere with his teen angst series. That’s a compliment.

  • avatar

    Good job.

  • avatar

    The first in the series and it’s going to be hard to top… Well done, Mike!

    Great story, by the way. And I concur – most of my favourite memories regarding the vehicles I have owned revolve around the small-cost high-return cars. Nothing like wringing an extra 50K thought couldn’t ever do it.miles out of a $500 beater that you

  • avatar

    Your story brought tears to my eyes.

  • avatar
    amazon ray

    Nice story.
    Sorry to learn about you mother passing.
    Memories are what life is all about.

  • avatar

    Thank you for sharing a great story. That was really well written.

  • avatar

    Hits a few for me, too.  My friend had that same year Integra.  That was probably near Honda’s apogee (no, not the bong)..I saw that Hilux wrecking show, but it was bested on Davidsfarm by running over a Buick with a bulldozer (twice) and it still ran.  Sorry about your mother – hope the memories make it easier.  Sadly, I will be facing my mom’s lung cancer decline so I am about to go down that same path.
    You owned a lot of cars in your years…I guess that is the advantage of not insisting on 200K out of them…Good story.

  • avatar
    Sammy B

    Great read.  As the original owner of an 84 Toyota Van (5 speed), I appreciate other old school toyota lovers!

  • avatar

    Sorry about your mother. But it was nice you could remember her in this very nice paean to the integra. I enjoyed the photos, too, especially the one I presume is a piece of the highway snaking through Nevada  (I drove 80 through Nevada probably 7-8 times during 1970-74, driving between boston and the Bay area, and I loved that stretch). I can also relate to the familial car trips–we had 3 x-country drives when I was 4, 7, and 8.

  • avatar

    Thanks for this.
    I had an old Honda help carry me through a very difficult time, even managing to help with great ones.

  • avatar

    I had a string of Integra’s: an 87, and then an 89, a 91, and finally a 97.  I loved those first-gen cars the best. They reminded me of my Alfa Spider – great handling car with a sweet 5 speed 4 wheel discs,  and a fuel-injected smal-displacement all- aluminum dohc with a 7k redline.  OH that engine. She loved going to the redline – again and again and again and again. Nibbling a couple of hundred extra rpm over the red line  but under the limiter.   I sold the 87 for what I paid for it and bought the 89. I put 100K on the  89  and it never used a drop of oil. Never needed a clutch, and didn’t even need pads for 70 K.   I’d buy another one today if I could get it through the time warp. However even it didn’t wind like that 87.

    Bought the 91 for Mrs. Lokk ( a second gen) and it wasn’t as much fun as the first gen, but still a good car.
    Bought the 97 after being out of the states for for some years. Got back in the country, took a taxi from the airport to the dealership and bought it sight unseen.  Although the third gen’s were popular I hated that car because it was a nuthin’ burger compared to the first gen. No power, wouldn’t spin the engine. Yeah it had a little more torque  but  Dumped it after 10k miles and had to start buying BMW’s to get the feeling back. I still dream about that 87 sometimes though.

    Old man Honda died in 91 and that killed off some of the greatest car designs on the planet.  Honda quit making driver’s cars  and went to making passenger cars

  • avatar

    Good words, H Man. I recently lost my mother to cancer. I recognize your journey.

    I had a first-gen Integra on the other end of the life cycle: from 0 to 220,000 miles. It was the first car I owned that I felt zero need to modify, with the exception of stickier tires. It ate at least one set of Potenza RE71s each year. Five speed, no sunroof, 2300 lbs, 16 valves, 113hp, four wheel discs. As Lokki noted above, it really was a Japanese Alfa. I shopped Sciroccos and AE86s as well; though competent handlers, neither had the soul of that engine. Such lovely balance. I’d love to have another one — I have more nostalgia for it than the 2002tii that preceded it. Much more, actually. Sadly, the first-gens were quickly biodegradable in the temperate climes so I’ll probably never drive one again. I hope someone will plug a new engine into the one you sold and it will go on for another owner or two. I continued to see mine a couple of years after I sold it.

  • avatar

    BUY ANOTHER INTEGRA (with stock wheels)!

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