Are You Listening? I Was
Please welcome our newest contributor, TTAC reader David Walton
Like many automotive enthusiasts of my generation, my childhood was spent furtively devouring the latest missives from Brock Yates, Peter Egan, John Phillips, David E. Davis, Jr., and their countless imitators while ignoring my school lessons. I was preoccupied by some weighty existential topics, including but not limited to whether or not my first Ferrari would be Rosso Corsa. This rabid devotion continued up until my 16th birthday, which roughly coincided with the realization that my parents weren’t going to buy me anything cool or fast, and that I wasn’t going to buy myself anything cool or fast anytime soon.
Fortunately it wasn’t long after that when BMW’s E92 M3 was announced, renewing my spirits during a period of enthusiast ennui. With over a decade of buff book consumption under my belt, I knew that whatever the iconoclasts in Ann Arbor proclaimed was indeed the Gospel. The Good News was this: The new M3 was the best car in the world. Ever. It trounced all comers, even the latest-and-greatest Porsche 911 Turbo and the upstart Nissan GT-R, in every comparo. I was sold, and I realized pretty quickly that I could have my very own example of the greatest car ever made once I finished college and entered the real world, provided I studied something useful. Despite the financial crisis, there were a handful of jobs remaining in my industry, and I was fortunate to secure one.
Moments after I got paid my first bonus I picked up my cell phone and called a very nice man at a high-end car dealer in one of Atlanta’s affluent Northern suburbs. Armed with the appropriate tools for test driving anything I wanted to, I let the salesman know that I was interested in a few cars they had on the lot, and that it would be convenient for me to swing by on Saturday afternoon.
I arrived at the dealer at the appointed time, and the fun portion of the day began after the customary – and reciprocal – sizing up. First up – a Lotus Elise. As a hardcore car guy I knew this was among the ultimate indulgences, one of the purest hits of adrenaline on sale. Plus, I had seen a gangly guy about my age driving an orange one around my neighborhood – probably with an obnoxious vanity plate – so I knew it could be daily driven by someone with no wife or kids. Or friends. The salesman had to give me a tutorial on the appropriate protocol for Elise ingress and egress, both of which demand care lest you place your body weight on the wide sills. To enter, you straddle the sill and then carefully lower your frame into the bucket seat, mindful not to hit your head or place too much weight on the windshield. After my companion and I had finished pouring ourselves into the insectile car, I steeled myself for the mellifluous bark of the pur sang Toyota engine. But there was a problem – dead battery! This was a minor inconvenience, as the dealer happened to have another Elise parked next to the first car. Exiting the car requires carefully reversing the hokey-pokey routine, but I knew the drill for reentry so clambering into the second Elise was more efficient, only taking about 45 minutes. I once more prepared myself for the dulcet tones of the erstwhile econobox motivator. But there was a problem – another dead battery! After this I decided to take that “Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious” joke rather, uh, seriously and abandoned the fantasy of owning a John Player Special.
The main event was next – a BMW M3, complete with 8 cylinders, 414hp, and 3 pedals. I was quite nervous on the momentous occasion – driving the finest car in the world and all that – but I managed to guide the car onto the road without incident, despite the soft, imprecise clutch (“very sporty,” the salesman helpfully assured me) and the notchy shifter (presumably adding an extra quotient of sportiness). I was impressed with the high-revving engine’s power delivery, particularly near redline, as well as the reasonably supple ride given the elevated envelope of adhesion. Plus, the carbon fiber roof and 19 inch wheels looked menacing, and I felt confident that both representatives of the constabulary and assorted haters would dig the Melbourne Red paintwork. Although I had been “sold” years beforehand, I was really sold now.
I met my parents at a nearby Barnes & Noble the next day and recounted the impressive quality control improvements at Hethel, as well as my plan to apply some skillful negotiation tricks I had learned on the job to ensure a rock-bottom price on the M3. Meanwhile I was browsing for my monthly digest of Anglo Porsche magazines, the type with overwrought prose and stunning pictures of bearded driving gods dab of oppo’ing between picturesque, unpronounceable villages in deserted Wales. My father was busy recounting his own fascinating “Big Money Wasted” ownership experience from two decades ago – which I completely ignored – while my mother asked an innocent yet penetrating question: “Why are you buying a BMW if you’re reading all of these Porsche magazines?”
Well, it was a bit complicated. I had been considering an older 911 as a dark-horse first car candidate for a while, but I wasn’t sure if I would be able to rely on one as my only vehicle and still arrive to work every day. I decided to table Bavaria’s finest and began hunting for a 993 911, the final generation of the air-cooled Porsches to leave the factory. I quite swiftly found a Guards Red example that I liked in Texas, but I wanted to drive one before making that type of long-distance commitment, so I arranged a test drive for the next weekend of the only 993 for sale in metro Atlanta.
The Porsche was under the stewardship of a peculiar broker whose showroom was in his palatial, marble-tiled basement in a gated community. Although obviously well north of 40, he was dressed like a True Religion mannequin and chose to accentuate his overall ensemble with frosted tips and a two-tone Rolex Daytona. He made it quite clear to me that he typically only sold Ferraris and other exotic cars, he had at least two dozen signed photographs of him rubbing elbows with the likes of Elton John and Tyler Perry, and his day’s planned itinerary was organized around purchasing more designer jeans with rhinestones embellished on the pockets and laconically texting his “associates,” so I was quite thankful that he was able to pencil me in. Despite the uneasy feeling that I had walked into a Bret Easton Ellis novel, the test drive commenced in short order.
Initial impressions from the cockpit were wonderful: The seats were slim, yet supportive and comfortable. The slender A-pillars afforded a widescreen view out the windshield. The dials were gorgeous and legible, more akin to the dial and sub-dials of a mechanical timepiece than a prosaic gauge cluster. The doors were heavy and provided a substantial “click” when closing, belying the 16 years and 86,000 miles the car had endured. The pedals were byzantine, floor-mounted, and very heavy, especially the clutch. The steering wheel was close at hand and also quite heavy. After ceremonially placing the ignition key on the left side of the steering column – an ever-present reminder of 16, count ’em, overall victories at Le Mans – I fired up the flat-6 and reveled in the plume of smoke that fogged up the basement and perfumed the air. The car was quite low on gas, so I drove it a mile or so to the nearest gas station, thrilled by the tractable engine, inimitable air-cooled music emanating from the engine room, and the mechanical interaction and overall solidity of build quality that pervaded the entire experience. As the broker paid for the gas, I made up my mind to buy the car.
We took a more circuitous route back to the broker’s homestead, so I got the chance to exercise the car a bit more once the massive oil tank and fat tires had warmed up. Despite the sensory overload at the time, I can recall vividly the immense satisfaction at a few perfect heel-toe downshifts, the ineffable clarity of the narrative telegraphed through the writhing steering wheel, the thrum of the magnesium cooling fan echoing off of nearby structures while the exhausts roared like the ancestral dinosaurs whose liquefied remains we had fed to the 911 moments before.
I had a PPI performed and then took it home the next week. I’m glad I was listening.
David Walton grew up in the North Georgia mountains before moving to Virginia to study Economics, Classics, and Natural Light at Washington and Lee University. Post-graduation, he returned to his home state to work in the financial services industry in Atlanta. A lifelong automotive enthusiast, particular interests include (old) Porsches and sports car racing.
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David: You seem wise beyond your years. I took me about 20 years to figure it out. I have been a 911 owner for a decade and there is nothing like my strange little bug-eyed '89 3.2 for pure driving enjoyment. Plenty of faster and better handling cars but none put a smile on my face like this one.
Nice article, keep it up!