By on April 17, 2012

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.

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31 Comments on “Time To Say Goodbye...”

  • avatar

    This is why, almost 30 years later, I still occasionally check out ebay for my first car, a 1979 VW Scirocco.

  • avatar
    Speed Spaniel

    The official ride of the Connecticut state trooper circa 1986. Black with blacked out windows. You would see these on the side of Rt 95 with the radar hanging on the driver’s window. I used to drive from NYC to RI every other weekend while I was in college and fortunately I never got bagged (by one of these).

  • avatar

    My father’s first car was a ‘64.5 Mustang. He got rid of it in the ’70s when it basically fell apart. He said he would have gladly pushed it off a cliff if there had been a cliff within pushing distance.

    However, decades later, he regretted getting rid of it. I don’t know if time makes us forget the bad and only remember the good, or if there’s something deeper to sentimentality. But what I did learn from him is that when you find something you love, keep it, because it’s a far cheaper price to take care of it than to wonder what if.

  • avatar

    The first car I bought was an ’90 LX. I loved that car! I also ended up killing it in a stupid my-fault traffic accident.

  • avatar

    Nicely written there Brendan,

    I had to get rid of my first car, due to issues, some of them mine, others due to rare parts.

    I had a ’68 Chrysler Newport, a base sedan with a 2 barrel 383 V8 and a non working under dash Chrysler Airtemp AC unit and torqueflite auto. It was well past its prime when I got it in 1982 but it still ran fine, despite some slight smoking upon startup.

    It had front disc brakes, rare as they were not standard at the time, I had been told the units from a 69 were easier to get parts for at the time (1983) when one of the pads slipped, causing a caliper to grind against the rotor, causing it to be beyond resurfacing and with a badly dented driver’s door that really needed to be replaced (could not open), we junked it at a local junk yard that now no longer exists.

    Got $50 for it as I drove it in under its own power.

    Spent many an hour adding an 8-track/AM radio head unit out of a friend’s older brother’s 74 MGB, later putting back in the stock AM radio and then adding a nice underdash cassette player from Radio Shack and some cheap stereo speakers, also from the ‘Shack and a pull out mount that I bolted to the transmission hump so I can pull out the deck for security amongst other things.

    I still have a mind’s eye vision of that old car and the times spent working on it. I miss it for the times, and at times would love to find a 2 door version of it, with buckets and console for a weekend cruiser but am happy with what I drive now.

    Since then, after 3 other US make sedans, I went Honda for over a decade with an 83 Civic, and later an 88 Accord, from 1992-2006 time period, then a Ranger truck until January and now I, too, drive a Mazda, a Protege5 and love it, so far.

  • avatar

    I’m lucky. I can’t get a duplicate of my first car. A 1937 Buick Special luggage-back (as opposed to the humped trunk, they called them fastbacks a decade later) two door sedan. It was the only one in the national Buick club back in 1968. Assuming it’s still running, I doubt if there’s a second survivor.

  • avatar

    Still have my first car sitting in the garage, 10 years later, looking as good as it did then. More special though, it still looks as good the day my mother drove it off the new car lot, 33 years ago. There is a picture somewhere as me as toddler trying to stick the keys in the door and unlocking it. Did add some go-fast parts to it once I got my hands on it, completely de-smogged it, etc.

    Now on this business of selling a beloved car to buy an engagement ring? Come on man!! Known too many guys who did this, I hope things at least worked out with that girl…….

  • avatar

    That was beautiful, sniff sniff

  • avatar

    Damn! 14.2 was very fast for that car. Best my friend could do with his Probe GT was 14.8 and that was damn fast for someone on no budget… I was only dreaming about breaking the “14-second barrier” :(

    • 0 avatar
      Brendan McAleer

      Thing was, the quarter was not where it was fastest. We did 1/8th mile drags and aside from the AWD cars, the ‘6 would beat everything handily. Smoked a N/A b20 Integra that would have easily finished me off in the second half of the track. I remember 14.2 being fairly high up there, but I also remember guys who broke into the 13s with just the usual junkyard bolt-ons. Always wanted to make one into a LeMons car.

  • avatar

    When I first met my wife she had one these. 89, manual, Red and with the wacky 4WS. Crazy crazy torque steer. Good times.

  • avatar

    I still own the first car that I bought with my own money, well, money that was given to me as Bar Mitzvah gifts. I was in college, wanted a sports car, my brother had infected me with the British car disease but having worked on his Mini and his Lotus Cortina, was resolved to buy one that didn’t rust. At the time the $1,600 that I paid for a slightly abused ’66 Lotus Elan (about the 10th from last Series 2, it has some Series 3 parts) was probably not a good idea because the car turned out to have had some collision damage and engine work done by someone who fancied themselves to be an actual mechanic, but it’s even turned out to have been a decent investment. More to the point, it was a complete blast to drive. If you like cars that handle, a car that brings a smile to your face the way it can go around a corner and hold a line, you owe it to yourself to drive an Elan. There is a reason why Gordon Murray and Jay Leno say the Elan is their favorite sports car, it’s the standard by which well handling cars are measured. It’s 50 years old this year and with stock wheels and stock sized tires, can pull .9g or higher on a skid pad, with a delicacy and precision that I can only compare to a high end road racing bicycle. Not slow either. With a big valve head the Elan Sprints could do 0-60 in the 6 second range.

    It was damaged by a Chevy Blazer that didn’t see it while parking, not too serious but enough to make an insurance claim and get the broken panel mended, but the collision shop had changed hands from the reputable people who had owned it, someone there broke a stub axle while hot rodding it, so when I finally got it back, I decided to take it apart and restore it. Best laid plans etc. I got as far as getting the engine machined and partly assembled, then sold the project to my dad because I needed the money for a business venture. Based on our agreement, when he passed away, ownership reverted back to me. It’s sitting in what is now my ex’s garage about a half mile from here. Even in pieces it’s worth two or three times what I paid for it. With inflation, I’m sure it’s no great investment, but considering that today $1,600 doesn’t get you much more than a reliable beater, it was money well spent. Hell, the two 40DCOE Webers would cost almost $800 to replace.

    It seems to me that fettled Elans these days are bringing about $18K or more. An “plain Jane” S2 in “drive or restore” condition on Bring A Trailer last month got $18,600 on eBay. Really nice ones are probably mid 20s or a bit higher. From what I know about Lotus parts, it’d be one of the rare cars where it might actually be worth more than what a restoration would cost to do. It’s a moot point because I don’t have the money to do it, but one can dream. In any case, I’d never sell it. I remember my ex’s dad asked me if I’d sell it once I fixed it up and I looked at him horrified and said, “that’s your grandkids’ inheritance”.

  • avatar

    As a 30-something, I was working on Mazda’s advertising account in the ’80’s and after a series of RX-7 company cars (first gen 1979 GS through 1985 GSL SE) I decided to try something different and ordered a 1987 626 GT Turbo in black. Had the sunroof. It wasn’t as nicely styled as your ’88 MX-6, but compared to the RX-7’s Let’s just say that the driving experience when under acceleration took some getting used to. Nice change of pace though and quite a handful. Different but tons of fun. Good times, great memories.

  • avatar


    Didn’t know you wrote for TTAC.. reading this article brought a tear in my eyes. I had the blue 626GT hatchback with Protege 5 wheels that you wanted to buy a few years ago. I finally junked the car last year through the retire your ride program.. and I miss the car a lot. It wasn’t my first, but its the car that I really loved the most. Owned it for 8 years, went thru 4 turbos, like u headgaskets, cv axles, repairs here and there. Finally figured it wasn’t worth to fix anymore. 5th gear was popping out, it had 330,000km when it went to the junkyard.

    Something about these cars…. I bought and sold about 8 cars when I had the 626.. but it was always the one I kept.

  • avatar

    “…styling by Sir Arthur Doorstop” – hey now, that Mazda is still one of the best looking coupes ever! I had 626 GT hatch with that Euro-GT engine and it was not the best possible car but I always wanted to have coupe version because it looks just so right.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    My first car was a 1965 Chevy Malibu with a V8 and AT. Result:

    Junkyard gave me $100 after the powerglide died.

    The record after that:

    Gave it to my brother.
    Traded (I got hosed)

    The next one will probably be given to a child.

  • avatar
    George B

    Not my first car, but I kept it’s cousin, a 1990 Ford Probe LX, for 16 years before selling it. Ran ok, but the paint was badly oxidized and the relatively stiff suspension hurt my back. 3rd and 4th owners drove it another couple years until it got towed to an impound lot for unpaid parking tickets. Probably got bought from a city auction and sold at an Oak Cliff BHPH lot with the plastic triangle flags.

  • avatar

    I bought this Mazda 626 Coupe´ new in 1988. The European version had a 2 liter 16 valve 4 cylinder engine with 140 bhp. This engine was not the best example of the type. It was very “sporty”. You needed to rev it over 4000 rpm to get anywhere fast. The suspension settings was very soft, so it was by no means a sports car. The best things was that it was reliable and looked great.

  • avatar

    Most of the MX6s we have have the biodegradable automatic so are basicly crap the tranny will die with gentle use never mind tramping the throttle to the redline every start just another failure from Mazda

  • avatar

    *sniff* I have been considering selling my first this coming summer… I have had my 88 Jetta Slalom coupe since 1995 and it’s been with me through everything over the past 17 years.

  • avatar

    When my first car had a big issue costing more than its worth, I already bought another car and used my first one as a winter beater. However, everyone around recognized my first car despite being a lowly ’89 Tercel : it was just about the only one almost rust free around here.

    I exchanged it to the local body shop guy who gave me 4 brand new winter tires for my other car. He knew how much I took care of it. He gave it to his stepson. Without meticulous care, it probably rusted to death. It was 18 years old, almost 13 of these under my care.

  • avatar

    The most depressing thing about that first car, is that like that first girl, the second time is never the same. Even when its objectively better, it’s never as good.

  • avatar

    I have those rims on my Mazda3 at this very moment. I use them for the winter, guess it’s about time to put the summers on.

    All I remember about these these cars was that they got super hot under the hood after a hoon session. Open up the hood and it would burn the hair off your face.

  • avatar

    1971 Ford Pinto 1600 – bought for $125 in 1981, sold it a year later for $150 because I fell in love with an Italian beauty (74 Fiat 128SL).

    Yes, I miss the original Pinto and occasionally look around for a clean survivor, but it must have the 1600, which remains the quietest idling engine I’ve ever heard.

  • avatar

    I had the second-generation model, a 1995 LS (six cylinder) five speed, and it made it to 293,000 miles (240,000 with the original clutch). By that time, though, it had overheated a few times and was burning a quart of oil every 50 miles. That, and a badly-repaired collision-damaged quarter panel caused me to buy my current Mazda 6 (after my Probe, three cars from the same factory!). I gave away the MX-6 to a friend of a friend, who blew the engine a week later and junked it. I miss that car more than any other I’ve owned.

  • avatar

    Had an ’89 Ford Probe. I loved that car. Remains one of my absolute favorite cars – put 186K miles on it. Auto crossed it, drove it cross country, through blizzards, up mountains, across the desert, drove almost 50 miles with a BMW 3-series at 115-120 MPH across Alabama with Massachusetts plates. Put an insane stereo system in that car. Two-and-a-half DIN chassis in the dash, all Alpine, 20 speakers, 1650 watts of 4 Ohm of hearing destroying power. What? WHAT?!?

    God I loved that car – faults and all.

  • avatar

    Looks good. I can’t recall ever seeing/noticing one of these. I didn’t even know what it was from the pic until I started reading. I have seen a couple Probes of that generation though. Not a common car around here either, especially compared to the second-gen versions.

  • avatar

    Sigh. My first was a super-trashed 66 Galaxie 500 ‘vert… Didn’t have the money to fix her up and sold her to a couple of brothers who swore they’d treat her right. I wonder where she is now…

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