By on January 17, 2018

Image: 1989 Toyota Camry

Recall the days all those years ago (probably over a century for some of you), as the time approached for you to start driving. Some of you may have been prescribed a vehicle by the gift of a generous or perhaps spiteful relative. Others received a set stipend from the Bank of Parentus, while the rest worked at a low-end job to scrape up funds for an automotive purchase.

Today, we want to know what your aspirations were at the time; which vehicles did you desire and shop for as your first car?

Your author was shopping around for that cool high school ride in the very earliest part of the 2000s. Brand new cars all seemed to be going the oval route, but of course such expensive indulgences were off the table. I fell into the tertiary category listed in the first paragraph with regard to funding. Starting at 14, I worked as a cashier at the local Kroger, making almost no money per hour (minus union dues) while saving up for my eventual purchase when I obtained an Indiana learner’s permit.

I poked at my sore braces and looked through the Autotrader magazine made of actual paper whenever I had a spare moment. Ever practical in my selections, even my economic and middle-market sedan choices seemed just outside my $3,000 or so budget. Here are the old things that jumped off the thickly inked pages in the pre-Cash 4 Clunkers era.

Image: 1994 Honda Civic

The Honda Civic, circa ’93, seemed nearly attainable, economical, and cool. As I recall, most examples I saw were of the sedan variety, and pretty beat up. Still, they were out of my price range. But what about a smaller Honda, was that the ticket?

The Civic Del Sol was not a Civic to me, but rather a sporty coupe with a killer removable window arrangement. Though similar in age to the regular Civic versions, these were out of my price range, too. Worth noting, I also checked out a couple of Toyota Paseos, which were practically identical to me from a looks and functionality standpoint. No dice, they were rare on the ground and always in poor condition. Whatever, maybe a more boring sedan was in the cards.

Image: 1990 Toyota Camry V6 LE

Boom, a square-body Camry seemed possible (I’m loving this picture). Couldn’t find a sweet V6 like this one, though, and each one in price had a lot of miles, and had some sort of cosmetic malady. Maybe an even more boxy sedan could make things happen, with a bit of Euro flair.

Image: 1989 Volvo 760

I liked square sedans then, and I like them now. The 760 said luxury to me, and was a bit larger than the other options on my list. I remember driving one (which made some weird engine noises) and being impressed with the solidity on the inside. Again, hard to find in the Midwest at this time, it seemed a Swede was not in the cards. What about a German car though?

Image: 1986 Audi 5000S

Bingo. In the end, I purchased a light blue 1987 Audi 5000S automatic with the inline-five engine. It had something like 122,000 miles, and was in excellent cosmetic condition. The original owner let it go for $2,400 or thereabouts. It had electrical, climate, and power locks issues constantly, immediately needed a new water pump, and went through a radiator and a couple of trigger door handles. Bearing in mind I had it for just two years and drove it only to school, work, and around town, it wasn’t too great. Loved it anyway (and still love the looks), lifters ticking away as I drove to work. That car made me feel special.

What was your first car shopping list like?

[Images: Toyota, Honda, Volvo, Audi]

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120 Comments on “QOTD: What Models Were on Your First Car Shopping List?...”

  • avatar

    My brother picked out my first car when i was 16. (I didn’t know much but the z24 cavalier did it’s job)

    However the first time I actually started searching out my own car (1995), I was very focused on Mk1 MR2. (I had also thought about an AE86). Ended up getting a decent one. Not supercharged but it did do me well.

  • avatar

    It was something akin to this:
    1. Air cooled VW Bug/Type 3
    2. Renault Dauphine/8/10
    3. Redblock Volvos (the only sane choice on this list for a DD)
    4. Ford Falcon
    5. Chevy Chevette

    I ended up with choice numero uno, eventually getting into Volvos over time.

  • avatar

    I didn’t have a shopping list for my first car. I was given my mother’s old 1975 Dodge Coronet Crestwood station wagon in 1985 (I still own it and had it restored).

    The first car that was on my “shopping list” was a 1977 Mercury Grand Marquis. It replaced the ’75 when I parked it. Biggest PO$ on the planet. $6K in repairs over 4 years and about 10K miles. It’s purchase prevented me from getting the car I really wanted. A 1990 Chrysler Imperial.

    (Yes, I’m weird!)

    In hindsight, the issues with the transmission of the 1990’s Chrysler probably saved me, but the Mercury drained my savings. Took me several years to recover.

  • avatar

    67 Chevy II, 327/275, Saginaw 4-speed, 3.55 posi, drum brakes, bias ply tires. And by the grace of God, I’m still here to remember it.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Shopping list? It was pretty limited.

    It had to be a Ford, because that’s what my dad owned and understood.

    It had to be cheap to buy and run, because I had no money (minimum wage @ $3.10/hr).

    It had to be in the newspaper, because the internet didn’t exist in 1980.

    So I got a 71 Pinto for $125 with 88k miles and a broken differential that needed replacing. Miraculously, it survived the 15-mile ride home with the left rear axle tube sliding and pivoting about the gear pumpkin, creating semi-independent rear suspension.

    Simpler times then, but worse cars.

  • avatar

    Since my dad preached the 3 Fs (no Fords, no Front-wheel-drive, no Foreign cars, if could have been 4 Fs if Dodge started with an F) pre 1986 GM cars were all I could think of, since I was a broke teenager. An early 80s G body (Monte, Cutlass, Regal, Grand Prix) would have been cool. A square Caprice would have been too big, and no trucks. My dad and brother had Vegas, and they sucked, so they would be out. Monza would have hit the sweet spot. But I got a Chevette Scooter:

  • avatar

    My shopping list in the 80s – I was 17 at the time – was fairly simple.

    V8, something cool looking, but not expensive. I ended up with a 1968 Firebird for $680 (I talked him down from $800).

    It was a wreck of a car – Pontiac 350 replaced with a 1974 400, rusted rear quarters, wipers that didn’t work, and a 2-speed powerglide that leaked transmission fluid. But for almost two years it was _my_ car that had to bring me to my after school job a few miles away. I spent most of my paycheck on gas.

    After college, when I got my first “real” job, I knew I wanted something Japanese and fairly new. I bought a used ’94 Nissan Hardbody 2WD with a manual transmission and a replaced odeometer that only showed 7 miles. Hey it was cheap and supposedly only had ~60k miles.

  • avatar

    Only Honda, Nissan and Toyota had a reputation for reliability in my culture. Camry and Accord back in 2001. Went with an 1991 Accord with 160k for $1800 $2600 in today’s money. Could not buy a 2008 Accord for that price, but I just bought a 2004 with 100k for $2400.

  • avatar

    1963 Ford Fairlane for $350 in 1971.
    200 six & 2-speed auto..
    Good car, drove it awhile.

  • avatar

    It was the early 1980s and wanted something sporty, well-engineered, and somewhat economical (this was just after the Iran oil crisis). I seriously looked at BMW 2002s and Bavarias and Corvair Corsas. Ended up with a Bavaria and daily drove it for 7 years with nothing but regular maintenance (did myself including 1 battery and 1 fuel pump), and sold it for only $300 less than I paid for it. Did many 1,000+ road trips and it was a great highway cruiser getting mid-20s mpg.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    With dad’s money involved, only a GM car would do. I looked and looked, ‘hey, an Opel Manta, that’s a BUICK dad!!’

    Unwilling to argue, he bought mom a beautiful ’68 Chrysler New Yorker with an 8-track player and I got the ’64 Pontiac Catalina “2+2” with a 4 barrel and a console. College was 300 miles away, oh what good times we had! When you’re 17 the lack of actual tread on the tires, seatbelts and salt on the icy New York State Thruway in January didn’t seem as worrisome as they might be today!

    After 2 years, dad added a Grand Prix to their driveway and I got the Chrysler, which had the 440 TNT with a giant 4 barrel and a hot cam. It was my first car with A/C. I wish I had that one now!

  • avatar

    My first car in 1975 after graduating high school was a 1970 Chevy Nova. At that time a 5 year old car was considered really old and you could not expect to get much past 100K on the odometer. When I graduated college as a nurse I wanted a reliable new car. I really wanted a Honda Accord but in 1980 they were rare and pricey as they were being bought for above MSRP. I ended up in a Datsun 310GX hatchback. I tried to negotiate the price and the salesman just laughed as said, “Buddy, there’s an ass for every seat. Take it or leave it.” I took it. It was reliable and dull. Kept it for 5 years and got a Saab 900.

  • avatar

    In 1980 I was 17 and all that was on my list was a ‘68 Dodge Charger. Couldn’t find one, searched high and low, mostly low. I ended up settling for a 1970 Plymouth GTX with the 440 and manual transmission. I ended up falling in love with the B-Body. Terrible handling, Mickey Mouse brakes, and gallon per mile fuel consumption…But it went from A to B in a hurry. I never got a speeding ticket but I was cited for “exhibition of speed” for doing a burnout, I got it up to 5,000 rpm and sidestepped the clutch…BWAAAAA! Smoke everywhere, I banged 2nd and off I went, didn’t see the cop on the side of the dry cleaners, lol.

  • avatar

    It was 1998 and I had a budget of $3k after working all Summer. I love small cars and had a short list of 90’s econoboxes. As long as it was reliable and cheap to own. They included:
    Ford Aspire
    Geo Metro
    91-95 Saturn
    Hyundai Accent
    Ford Festiva
    Mazda 323
    91-96 Ford Escort/Mercury Tracer

    And being my childhood dream car, but being beyond my budget: any of the GM Dustbuster Vans

    I ended up with a 1993 Geo Metro with 92k miles for $1800. It proved to be sturdy and served its purpose perfectly

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Well, “my” first car was a 14-year-old hand-me-down from grandma, so there was no actual shopping involved. The next one ended up being a 7-year-old ’88 Sentra with 190k on the clock. I occasionally wonder how my subsequent automotive history would have gone if I’d bought the 240D or Tempo instead.

  • avatar

    My first car was free! Dad got himself a new car and I got his 1980 Fairmont as a senior in college.

    On my “first car” shopping list from Aug-Oct 1986, there were exactly two cars:

    1986 VW GTI (8V)
    1986 Ford Mustang GT 302 5-spd

    I leaned toward the GTI, but the Mustang was only $500 more.

    I thought they were both great, wound up with the GTI.

    Of all the cars I’ve owned, that one was, and remains, my favorite, kept for 13 yrs, 145k.

    I’m always on the lookout for a mint, low-mileage 85-87 VW GTI 8v. Anyone interested?

  • avatar

    I was looking for a 78 or 79 Magnum and when I went to a local lot they had a BMW 2002. I was very tempted by it but the salesman wasn’t sure if it had 200k miles or 300k miles. Being an 18 year old I wasn’t going to touch a car with that many miles. If only…

    I also didn’t know Mopar sold the big car with a 904LA transmission instead of the nearly unbreakable 727. If only…

    It didn’t sour me though, I still drive Mopars to this day. Other than a long hood 911 and a Cavalier winter beater and the Rogue that was given to us everything has been Mopar or Mopar powered. There is even an a833 in the Cobra replica.

    We even had a Stratus with the V6 and 167k miles when we traded it.

    Still wish I had bought that 2002.

  • avatar

    My first car wish? Anything I could afford. I wound up with a 1952 Chevy bottom trim level, whatever that was for $75.00. A real rust bucket in 1968, but it ran and ran really well.

  • avatar

    When I graduated high school, I needed a car to get back and forth to University. It was about 30 miles from my mother’s house, so I was able to live at home during the first 2 years.

    My grandparents decided that a used car was not a good idea, no matter what I told them.

    So, in 1992, we went new car shopping.

    My criteria were that it to be economical and a manual.

    The contenders were (in no particular order):
    – VW Golf
    – Honda Civic
    – Mazda 323
    – Pontiac Sunbird
    – Saturn SL1
    – Chevrolet Cavalier
    – Ford Escort

    I ended up with the 1992 Saturn SL1 with no options. That car lasted me 7 years and almost 300,000 kms, with the only major service being a broken rocker arm (factory defect) and a worn out clutch.

    Here was the process of elimination:
    – VW Golf – Price
    – Honda Civic – No radio (Still kicking myself about that one)
    – Mazda 323- Too similar to my mother’s Escort
    – Chevrolet Cavalier – Boring
    – Pontiac Sunbird – My grandfather was against me getting the 2 door with the V6 and a manual for some reason. Then it just became a tarted up Cavalier.
    – Ford Escort – My mother had one

  • avatar
    Middle-Aged Miata Man

    In the Fall of ’91 my first car choices came down to three vehicles hovering around $2000 apiece off the wholesale lot of the local Lincoln-Mercury store:

    1983 Chevy El Camino – White, 305 V8
    1984 Ford Thunderbird Elan – White, Essex V6
    1984 Plymouth Turismo – Silver/Grey, 2.2L I4

    The T-Bird was my favorite by far, although the El Camino would have carried a bit of “cool car” cred at my Midwestern (and Catholic) high school. Either one would have been more inspiring than the Plymouth I wound up with.

  • avatar
    Southern Perspective

    When I was 16 years old, I wanted a brand new Barracuda Convertible with a 273 CID, Torqueflite, PS, PB, and whatever the best radio they had at the time.

    I still do.

    The link shows a pic.

  • avatar
    Adam Tonge

    Growing up in 90s domestics country, my affordable list had such awesome vehicles as a Ford Contour, Dodge Avenger Coupe, and a Pontiac Grand Am. None of which I fit in. Then I went and bought an Audi 5000 and a truck instead.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Summer of 1972, just shy of my 21st birthday, my mother and grandmother chipped in $200 each and bought me a 65 Chevy Impala from someone we knew from my HS who graduated two years ahead of me. It was a hardtop with the small block V8 and slip and slide auto tranny. Manual brakes and steering too! I got three years and 40k miles out of it before selling it to another kid for $100.

  • avatar

    I wanted anything old and cool looking (this was 1985). I found a 1962 Fairlane 500 in a Car Shopper for $600. We drove down to Minneapolis and picked it up.

    Black, 260 V8, A/T, faded shag carpeting and velour seats (aftermarket) and about 500 pounds of Bondo in the fenders.

    I think I drove it for about a year. Transmission was wonky, had terminal cancer of the underbody and it became tricky to start, if I recall correctly.

  • avatar

    Spring 1996

    1) 1986.5 – 1992 Toyota Supra (no targa top)
    2) 1986 – 1991 Mazda RX-7 Coupe

    Got the RX-7 (an ’89 with 37k at the time) and still have it to this day.
    Spoiled me for most other cars. Certainly no front drive car, nor one without 50-50 weight distribution could ever feel so good. Actual performance numbers are irrelevant to me, it’s all about feel.

  • avatar

    My first car shopping list?

    Praying that Dad wouldn’t trade in the Celebrity when he bought his next car so pathetic me would have wheels. The man offered him $600 for the car in trade. Dad said to me later: “If he’d have offered me $800 you wouldn’t have a car.”

    My first two rides were family hand-me-downs. My first car shopping experience wasn’t until 2002, and the criteria was “what will you sell me for $7000?”

    Ended up with a 1997 Ford Escort station wagon – well optioned and just over 20,000 miles on it. Last registered owner on the title had their residence at a retirement village. I lost that car in the divorce in 2009, she only wanted it because it was paid for.

    At the time I looked at a Neon, an 2nd generation H-body Bonneville, and figured out that my budget wouldn’t allow an off-lease Taurus/Sable.

  • avatar

    First car was an 84 VW quantum but that was hand me down from parents.

    First car I went shopping for was 1994. On my list:

    Nissan Sentra SER (I could afford more)
    Ford Probe GT (Loved it)
    Mazda MX6 (very pretty but was too expensive)
    Honda Prelude (didn’t love it, weird dash)
    Volkswagen Corrado VR6 (what I really wanted being a VW fan but couldn’t get dealership to take me seriously)

    Ended up buying the Ford Probe GT.

  • avatar

    Oh God. Well, you asked for it.

    I was of driving age in the later 1990s.

    Ford Tempo
    Ford Taurus (first gen was affordable)
    Ford Aspire (if new)

    (My actual first car was a 1987 Escort GT that my brother gave me when I was 14, I never drive it much, and it was gone by the time I got a license.)

    Ended up with a Mazda B2000 Sundowner pile of pure garbage. I barely put 15 miles on it (not a typing mistake, really fifteen miles). In that time, it blew a head gasket, the rear main seal, clutch failed, brake caliper seized and the starter failed.

    I don’t see how I could be worse off if I’d gotten the Ford Tempo I wanted. As an adult, I have owned many Tempos and they served me very well.

  • avatar

    When I was 16 I really wanted a Lincoln LS, Jaguar S-type or BMW Z4.

    I could very much afford none of that so I bought a quad4 Grand Am coupe.

  • avatar

    Like many, my first cars were hand-me downs. My first car purchase was a 1989 Honda Accord LXi 5 speed in 1991. I didn’t look at anything else. I loved that car. It gave almost 100k miles of trouble-free service until is was totaled.

  • avatar

    The 1965 Mustang fastback I was 11. Two years later the 1967 Firebird 400 convertible was something else.But then in 1968 I saw Bullitt, and no it wasn’t the Mustang, but the Dodge Charger RT. So in 1972 a 69 Charger RT found a home in my garage.

  • avatar
    Griffin Mill

    The one issue with this question is that for the majority of us, our first car was not something we shopped for. It was a hand-me-down from our parents or older siblings. Often times a second car is whatever you can buy with the little bit of money you can scrounge together when the first car dies or is wrecked unexpectedly.

    I was in my mid-20’s before I was able to “shop” for my first car that I was going to buy with my own money.

    It was 1999 and the 1990 C-Body Cadillac Coupe deVille that I purchased used from a friend’s father was on it’s last legs. The AC was out (again), the air suspension was shot, the aluminium 4.5 liter Cadillac V8 was in it’s twilight as they really only lasted about 100,000 miles before grenading, and the electrical gremlins were spreading daily.

    I was making barely enough money at the time to finance something in the $12-14K range from a major lender at a reasonable interest rate. I wanted something large, comfortable, with as many options as possible. I was looking for something pre-owned no more than a year or two old, and after three used Cadillacs I wanted something with as much of the factory warranty remaining as possible.

    I couldn’t afford anything from Germany, and aside from Lexus or Infiniti (which I also couldn’t afford), the Japanese makes didn’t satisfy my definition of luxury in terms of size or features. I didn’t care for the recently updated jellybean styling of the late 90’s Ford Taurus so my list was eventually narrowed down to two platforms which comprised what seemed like a dozen different model options. A Chrysler LH or a GM W platform.

    I liked the styling of the recently updated Dodge Intrepid, and even then Dodge dealers were throwing big discounts at you if you even strayed near the dealership. I was dubious of the quality and long term reliability, but the discounts were hard to resist.

    The only GM W Body that I was interested in was the then new Oldsmobile Intrigue. The Lumina was too cheap, the Grand Prix too tacky, the Regal too old fashioned, but the Intrigue was just right.

    I found and drove a 1999 Intrigue with the then optional 3.5 liter “Shortstar” V6 and was immediately sold. The 215HP DOHC engine in the Intrigue was significantly faster than the smaller V6 in the heavier Intrepid. I realize now, the interior materials were equally as cheap in both cars, but at lease the cheap plastic seemed to have a better layout in the Intrigue.

    I bought the Intrigue and was very happy with it until the transmission failed completely about 2000 miles after the 3 year 36K mile warranty expired. After much persuasion up the corporate ladder, I was able to get GM to pay for a new transmission which failed again less than a year and 5000 miles later. GM paid for a third transmission with no argument this time, which worked flawlessly, but by then the bloom was off the rose, and I was ready to get rid of the car that had lost my trust.

    I flirted with one more used Cadillac before I bought my first brand new car 2007, but that is a story for another day.

    • 0 avatar

      I would have loved a hand-me-down from my dad: 1992 Ford F-150 Custom, 4.9L Inline 6, 5 speed. Instead he traded it in and it didn’t even cover the taxes on his new truck. He claims I didn’t want it because after being parked all weekend, there were two drips of oil on the driveway. OH THE HORROR! So instead I ended up with pure junk that tended to resemble the Exxon Valdez (sp?).

    • 0 avatar

      Ahh the Intrepid and Intrigue. Both looked so good back in the day and today you never see a single one on the road. I bought a (used) 1998 Accord when a friend got an 1999 Intrepid – literally bought same day. Not sure how long he had that Dodge but it wasn’t long for the world, while the Accord ran me over a decade. The late 90’s was when IMO Honda was hitting on all cylinders. The 1997 Camry update cheapened that model considerably but Honda was hitting their high mark.

  • avatar

    I got my DL in 1990, and was driving the ‘extra’ vehicle which was my dad’s solid black single cab shortbed ‘84 Power Ram with granny 4 speed and dual glass packs—which he still has. Despite this rig being the envy of most in the parking lot, I only had eyes for Jeep CJs. A Scrambler was my holy grail with a V8 CJ-7 being the more attainable option but in West TN, any CJ not thrashed and rusted was a score. I looked at a LOT of rigs and formed a list of possiblites:

    Jeep CJ was top pick.

    An early Bronco, Commando or Scout would have checked the boxes

    single cab 4×4 minitrucks mostly left me cold except ‘79-‘83 Toyotas. Great looking rigs always mechanically sound yet rusty.

    K5 Blazers, big Broncos…eh…close but no cigar.

    A first gen Ramcharger or K5 with full pop top: getting VERY warm.

    J10s and FSJ Cherokees definitely had my attention but rusty.

    I liked 2-door XJs and Comanches but anything with the 4.0 was out of my price range and any other powertrain was shit.

    Eventually I scored a ‘78 CJ-7 with a swapped in AMC 360. It was weathered and had some janky ass ‘maintenance’ done but it was a helluva learning experience and that Jeep was the centerpiece and willing accomplice in a LOT of unspeakable debauchery fueled on testosterone and stupidity.

    And in college I did nab a Scrambler!

  • avatar

    my first car was a 76 Chevelle sedan that was handed down from my parents, was actually the car I came home from the hospital in when I was born. It’s replacement after 8 years of me driving it, was a tossup between an 86 Pontiac 6000-STE and an 89 Chevy Celebrity Eurosport sedan. (not much choice eh) I took the Poncho because it was cleaner and had the gee-whiz features like Darth Vader’s bathroom for a dash.

    It’s replacement after two years was a lightly used 95 Ford Explorer that I kept for 14 years.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m looking to get either a first gen or early 2nd gen Explorer in a couple months. OHV 4.0L and 4wd, 4 door (as much as I like two door vehicles including SUVs, the Explorer Sport just doesn’t do it for me).

  • avatar

    Easier to say what was on my ‘no way’ list: No bugs, no pintos, a few others I cant remember- and it had to be under $2k. I ended up with a pretty nice 77 rabbit in about 1985. That was a great car.

  • avatar

    First car…1983ish, dying for an MGB, couldn’t find one but wound up with a 1970 MG Midget. Awful little $300 car, never really did make a decent runner out of it. Wound up buying 1 ’69 VW Beetle as my “driver” while I fought with the MG. Sold them both when I went away to college.

    First NEW car was a 1989 Toyota Corolla…silver, gray tweed, dealer installed a/c and that was IT. Little black plastic center caps on steel wheels, 5 speed, had a friend install a radio and 2 speakers.

  • avatar

    For my first vehicle, only a Land Rover would do. I saved money from walking dogs, mowing yards etc and bought a 1966 Series 2a short wheelbase Safari with the 2.3 liter 4 cylinder gas motor. I used my farmyard welding skills to patch up some holes in the chassis (and then had to learn wiring to repair the melted wiring!!) and my parents kindly gave me 4 new tires for my 17th birthday.

    The only problem was that I could only afford to drive to school once a week due to the horrible high UK gas prices!

    Follow up vehicles were more sensible, 1983 1.3l Vauxhall Cavalier, 1.8i 1985 Vauxhall Cavalier (rocket ship!!), 1982 1.5l VW Jetta, various 1980’s VW Polo’s etc.

    Wouldn’t an article on one’s early automotive owning ‘journey’ be interesting?

  • avatar
    GS 455

    My first car was a 66 Buick LeSabre I bought from my dad for $300. First new car I purchased was in 1989. Test drove the Audi GT Coupe, Toyota Supra, BMW 3 series. Bought the BMW, loved driving it when it wasn’t in for repairs.

  • avatar

    I didn’t have any cars on my first shopping list. In the early 80’s I was looking at Rangers, S10’s, Toyota pickups, Ford and Chevy full sized trucks. Dodge didn’t factor into the list since the local dealer had gone bankrupt.

  • avatar

    I started looking for my first car in about 1994. New was out of question, so it would have to be a mid to late ’80s car. My father had his word to say about any candidate as he was financing me.

    I didn’t know much about cars back then. I test drove :

    1986 Dodge Omni
    1987 Toyota Corolla sedan (best of the bunch, but couldn’t agree on price)
    198? Nissan Pulsar (immediately rejected by the Man)

    I ended up with a 1989 Tercel 3 doors, 5 speed. Price was a bit higher than we were expecting, but it was too good to pass up. An excellent first car that lasted me up to 2006.

  • avatar

    My first car was an even swap for one of my old race/touring bikes. My Paris-Sport for a 1969 Ford Torino GT. It lasted me from June 1980 until January or February of 1981, after gas prices shot through the roof. It made more sense to buy a fuel sipper… no, not really. 18% interest rate kicked 18 year-old-me’s ass. No money for anything but car payments.

    My next car that I “shopped” for was a leftover 1980 Mercury Capri turbo. This was the car with the 18% interest rate. The first year was great, but going into year two, it all started unraveling. After year two, I ended up selling the car at a huge loss and paid off the loan with some of the money my father left me when he passed.

    Did I learn my lesson? No. I ended up buying two more Capris, the 1985 5.0L was a POS and by the time Ford pooped out the 1986 5.0L version, they finally got it right. And then cancelled the car.


  • avatar

    I was looking for a first car in 2009 as a sophomore in high school, I had a good side job selling on eBay so a reasonable cash budget. I have always had huge respect for Toyota vehicles. And wanted my first car to be start every time quality from their golden age. If it was to be my money, I wanted a 1992-1996 Toyota Camry 3.0 wagon. And that was it, no other options considered at all. However even here in the West Coast with no rust they were not in amazing shape after up to 16 years of low income ownership.

    My grandfather ended up getting a new Highlander so he sent me his original since new 1997 production 1998 Sienna. What a car. What I didn’t realize at the time is Toyota made one last great high quality design as the 1990s were ending, developed under the old ways and that was the Sienna.

    The thing was a tank, thickest paint and metal on any Toyota made since. Glass headlights. Soft touch everything and the plastic that was there just felt nice. They don’t make cars like that anymore.

    I got it with 140k and did some suspension and just kept driving it. All the way through high school. All the way through college. Finally graduated and the reverse went out at 225k, still worked but slipped. Got the transmission rebuilt and put a new engine (as in Toyota genuine crate engine not rebuilt) in while I was at it. Rebuilt everything mechanical. I mean everything. All OEM parts. It cost a fortune. Likely in the $5k range all said and done. But I felt like the car deserved it. It never broke down once. And I still have it. Not many people keep their high school cars not because they are cool or collectable but just simply because they do the job they are designed to do, run and do so flawlessly.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Didn’t ‘shop’ for my first cars. Just ‘bought’ or took over whatever relatives were getting rid of.

    ’65 Chev Biscayne sedan.
    ’63 VW Beetle.
    ’67 VW Type III squareback.
    ’72 VW Type IV squareback.

    When it was time to spend my own money went full out on PLC’s. Tried them from each of the D3. The more ‘brougham’ the better. Always with the largest V8 available.

    Mixed in a C3 Stingray, a ’59 Caddy, a Pinto wagon (don’t ask) and eventually a ‘disco’ full sized van. Dodged a bullet when I did not close a deal on a new Fiat X-19.

    If I had taken all the money that I lost/spent on vehicles during the ’70’s and put it into Toronto real estate I would be worth a fortune.

  • avatar

    I inherited my first car, but the first car I lusted after with my own money was the brand new Nissan Sentra SE-R w/ a 5 speed. I ended up buying a new ’91 Ford (Mazda) Escort GT w/ 5 speed instead since the Nissan dealer wouldn’t let me test drive the Sentra. I was so turned off by the experience at Nissan that I didn’t even consider it again. Ironically, my next car was a Maxima SE w/ 5 speed. From a different dealer of course.

  • avatar

    Early 1992.

    I wanted a Mustang 5.0, but the insurance would be prohibitive. (The agent actually laughed at my mom when she asked.)

    Then I wanted a stick shift Maxima, but they were all too expensive, even the boxy pre-4DSC cars.

    It became clear that my budget best suited domestics. I didn’t want a truck. So I focused pretty quickly on early Tauruses and Sables, because they were far preferable to A-bodies and K-car derivatives. My only must-haves were a V6 and air conditioning. I ended up with an ’87 Taurus GL with the V6, air conditioning, the very rare floor shift option, and not much else. I bought it for $5500 with 60k miles on it, and proceeded to put on 30k miles in my junior year of high school.

  • avatar

    First New Car I purchased. Year 1969.


    Datsun 2000
    Sunbeam Tiger
    BMW 2002
    Triumph TR6
    Ford Cortina GT

    Wanted but could not afford

    Lotus Elan

    All (except Elan) were priced new between $2500-3000 USD.

    Test drove them all and chose the BMW 2002 based on build quality and handling. Paid $2800 OTD.

    In the US BMW was kind of an unknown brand/model at the time. Within 4 years prices had doubled.

    Most enjoyable car I have owned. Was my daily driver for 17 years/240K miles. No major repairs during ownership. Only modifications I made were electronic ignition, intermittent wiper function and upgraded radio. I sold it for $5000 in 1986 when it began to develop body rust.

    Google searching before this post led me to this archived 1968 first drive article on the 1968 2002. The article captures the spirit of this car. Worth a read for those interested in the beginning of the “sports sedan” culture in the US.

    • 0 avatar

      C&D did an updated test drive on a restored 1972 2002 Tii in December 2017 and that article is here.

      • 0 avatar

        Oh man, I loved the tii. Who made those alloys, anyway? I always thought they looked like Campagnolos. There was a ’72 3.0 CS that went across the block at Barrett-Jackson last night, wearing them. It looked fantastic (silver w/black interior, four-speed), and only went for $30k (WTH?). I thought it was a steal.

  • avatar

    Like many others, my first car was a family hand me down. Ignoring that POS, My first car purchase was a new car in September 89. Cars I considered and test drove… 240sx, Eclipse, Grand Am, MX-6, and Prelude. It was a great time period to be in the market for a sporty 2dr. Ended up with the Mazda, but wished I would have ponied up the extra cash for the Prelude … I would have more than made up the difference at selling time. Lesson learned.

  • avatar

    My dad gave me the ’64 Riviera (see my Avatar) in April of 1978, the year I turned 21, as he had promised. When I got back from college at the end of May of that year, I “sold” it back to him for $1000, and with $2000 of my own got a ’75 Scirocco with a manual transmission.

    My mother had offered to fully pay for a Honda Accord, the hatchback first version, which was very similar to the Scirocco, if I got it with an automatic transmission, so that she could drive it occasionally, but I turned her down. I have never owned a car with an automatic since that one month with the Riviera.

    What I had really wanted at the time was an Audi Quattro, but there was no way my cash was going to stretch that far. I did not end up getting my first AWD Audi until I was 44, a TT.

    • 0 avatar

      I remember the first Honda Accord. I was in high school at the time, and they were going for as much as $5,000, even though the base price was $3,500. A classmate’s dad was buying one, and had to pay $500 under the table just get on a waiting list to buy one.

  • avatar

    Used BMW 840

    Thank God that didn’t work out.

  • avatar

    Back in the early-to-mid 1990’s there was still a lot of 1980’s American metal in the school parking lot. A fair amount of Mustang’s and Camaro’s but mostly bloated boats – mom’s old 1985 Delta 88 for example. Not a lot of import love. Plenty of adults were driving around in Honda’s and Toyotas but they just didn’t sell at volume in the Midwest during the 1980’s to make them cheap buys for kids a decade later. Hands down the hotness was the Ford Probe. Oh boy, everyone wanted that. The new Mustang was hot too but way too spendy for anyone in my modest school.

    Me, I got my dad’s 1990 Taurus. It was a company car that he drove ridiculous miles and then gave to me when it was only 4 years old but over 100k miles. (Dad paid the company $3k for the vehicle and I paid him back until my loan was forgiven upon graduation.)

    Can’t complain as it is still to this day is the lowest cost of ownership vehicle I’ve ever owned, but oh did I pine for the SHO version. 5 speed and 220HP, which was huge at the time, oh baby…. Ended up keeping that Taurus through college and ran it up well past 200,000 miles – thus my screen name. By the end it was worse for wear but in 1995 I was driving a damn nice vehicle for a junior in senior high…hey, Robocop drove a Taurus, not a boxy and dated 1983 Cutlass. Yeah…those were odd times.

  • avatar

    About 1969 I had a budget of $100 for my first car. I had to get my Grandfathers permission on what I got and he hated all the hot rods I was interested. Finally I came home from school to a 1959 Ford Fairlane. To this day it was the worse car I ever had. It lasted about a year. Next I used my uncle who had a cousin who was a mechanic in LA and he got me a 1963 Biscayne. Not a Impala SS like I would prefer but for $400 it was a much better driving car. A few years later I gave up on American cars and bought a Sprite. I’ve been a lot happier with my cars since.

  • avatar

    My first car was a high mileage 1999 Nissan Xterra. I liked the thing a lot. It was unfortunately totaled a few years later (rear ended), so I purchased at 2010 Nissan Frontier which I still drive. I recently also purchased at 2007 Wrangler.

  • avatar

    In 2006, only these three cars were in my consideration:

    1. (Tie) 1993-97 Chrysler Concorde/Eagle Vision
    2. Dodge Intrepid, any year, sans the 2.7
    3. J-body Chrysler LeBaron (hardtop)
    4. H-body Chrysler LeBaron GTS

    The Chrysler Concorde prevailed. Unfortunately, two and a half years later it was totalled while parked on a busy street. Some box truck sideswiped it.

    Now, a little over a decade later, as I became increasingly nostalgic, I found a 1993 and I registered it as a classic. Life is good even though everybody thinks I’m crazy.

  • avatar

    In the fall of 1974, I got my first car – a fairly rough 1965 Mustang convertible handed down from my older brother when he bought a new Fiat 124 Spider. It was maroon with a white top and palomino interior. 200 Six and three-on-floor manual with non-synchro first gear. Let’s not forget the baby moon hubcaps. The car was equipped with an AM radio, backup lights (still an option then), and not much else. I did some minor bodywork and drove the car for the next four years. It was crude, slow, but generally quite reliable. My brother and I took a summer-long camping trip driving all over the US and Mexico in 1976 and the Mustang was a champ. The following year we shared a rental house. One weekend, we both had separate excursions planned and he ended up taking the Mustang because he knew that, unlike the Fiat, the car could be counted on to get him there and back. I got “stuck” with a fun and flashy red sports car. I didn’t mind much and the Fiat got the job done, especially in a college town. By the end of 1978, the Mustang was getting really tired and I sold it to a collector for $800.

  • avatar

    Best pal at college had a 1962 Volvo 544 Sport B18. Went on winter rallies for three years with him. Tough car. So I wanted one – the long gear lever looked silly but could be literally rammed from gear to gear, fast. Local Junior Eliminators at the drag strip were always 544’s – shifts sounded like a modern automatic, quick. Unfortunately, no B18 for me so got a 7 year old one with 136,000 miles with the weak B16B in 1967 with summer earnings. $367 and 6 volt electrics and rusty sills. Yes, the odo was on its second trip around but the owner swore highway miles as a salesman.

    Let’s just say that on a trip back from Europe in 1973, it was on its second owner after me, still putting around. Tough old birds those things. The 144 was a big fat boat by comparison, and the extra 500 lbs made it slow compared to my pal’s 544 with same B18 but less “quoted” power. Never bought another Volvo. But that first car was quite the old bus for me, I always thought. Loved it.

  • avatar

    Shopping for new cars in 1974. Wanted a new Firebird but the dealer didn’t have the color we wanted. Happened to stop by the Ford dealer and test drove a Gran Torino 2dr. Made a deal on it and drove it home.

  • avatar

    Oh geez. Not too many cars on the list. The Opel Manta, the Chevy Vega, and the Mercury Capri. I ended up with a 44,000 mile Chevy Vega base hatchback, two years old at the time. It had the RPO L11 2-barrel engine, automatic (the THM250, a downsized version of the THM350), manual steering and brakes, a/c, and an AM radio (dealer-installed Motorola, not a Delco). $1,895 + TTL in September, 1977 ($7,608.52 in December, 2017 dollars).

    I did also test drive a ’74 Mercury Comet 2-door and a ’74 Renault 17.

    When I did the inflation conversion, I discovered I spent more on my own first car than on the two Kia Forte Koups I’ve bought – $4,750 for a 2010 EX (5-speed manual), and $5,995 for a 2012 SX (6-speed auto). The Vega didn’t have all the features (PS/PB, power windows and central locking, ABS, SRS, traction control and ESP, etc.) that the Fortes have, but then they were older and had more miles on them (103k for the first and 107k for the second).

  • avatar

    There was to be no car for me until I could afford to pay for it. It, and insurance, and all the other costs.

    So, I walked to school.

    Now, what did I WANT? Those were the 1970s…not as drear as you young’uns may think. Yes, the Chevette was a curse on our roads. Yes, the Nova, the ultimate blue-collar Grandma-mobile, was still roaming the continent.

    It was ALSO the day of the original Civic; the day of the Rabbit; of the amazing, lustworthy mini-pickups from Japan. The day of the 240Z, The day when the future seemed bright, if the Detroit Luddites would just get out of our way.

    Alas – and maybe for the best – a new Civic was not attainable. Used ones were scarce. That, with their rust issues, was a bullet dodged.

    There was no Fiesta for me, either. Used didn’t exist; and new was a premium over MSRP.

    What there WAS, was a Super Beetle. Which was a good car, for what it was…took me some time to learn the practicality of an air-cooled Beetle in subzero winter; but there I was.

  • avatar

    1970 Chevelle Malibu sport coupe
    1974 Ford Mustang Ghia
    1969 Chevrolet Impala 427 wagon (my grandma’s ugly, white, land barge)

    I bought the Malibu. The Mustang only sat 4, didn’t have rear side windows that opened, and, was a 4-cylinder model…ugh!

    The wagon was repulsive to me then as most crossovers are to me today.

    The Malibu won as it looked good, had a 350 V8, was a 2-door, pillar-less hardtop, and, had a front bench seat so that I, my 2 best buds, and, our lady companions could cruise around in one car.

  • avatar

    I started driving at age 14 in 1995. My dad’s original plan was to put me in the ’83 Buick Century T-type that was the older of the two family sedans (and had been replaced for most family duties by a ’92 Cadillac Seville), but the Buick’s 2nd engine was most of the way into failure like the 1st engine had done. That put me in the ’73 Mercury Cougar that had been my grandma’s car & then had been my parents’ spare car after grandma moved up to a Cadillac. That ’92 Seville probably would have been handed down to me in ~’96 but it gave its life keeping my mom & my sister safe in a rollover, so dad replaced it with a ’93 Northstar Seville STS and I kept driving the Cougar through most of high school. Then the Cougar was my sister’s car for her last 2 years in school, and she eventually got the ’93 Cadillac to take to college when my parents upgraded again to a ’98 STS.

    The first car that I had any input into the process was my ’96 Thunderbird that my folks helped me buy as I was about to start my senior year of high school in 1998. My list of wants was written with something like a Dodge Stratus or Ford Contour in mind, but I fell in love with a ’94 Cougar that was on the used lot at my hometown’s Ford dealership. For various reasons we passed up on that car but we saw that the dealer in the next largish town 50 miles away had both a ’96 Cougar and a ’96 Thunderbird, and we came to the conclusion the Thunderbird would be the best choice since it had the lowest miles; also, the Thunderbird had been a demo car (driven by the dealership owner’s wife for awhile) so its 3/36 warranty actually didn’t start till the day we got it.

    First one bought entirely on my own decisions was my ’05 Dodge Dakota, 4×4, 4.7L V8/auto, Laramie, extended-cab. I was making what to me was big money ($42,000/yr) as a beginning engineer and had to give into my truck-lust that had been building for years.

  • avatar

    My first car was a hand-me-down ’82 Subaru GL 4dr, in ’86. From my Grandmother. How I did not kill myself or others in my first year of driving is a minor miracle. The first car I bought myself was a ’76 Volvo 242, in ’88. I blew up the motor shortly thereafter (no idea how or why, never diagnosed). Next were a succession of VWs, an ’85 Jetta 2dr, then an ’84 Jetta GLI through college and law school. Both were fantastic cars, especially the ’84. Then a whole bunch of Volvos and Peugeots once I was out of school. And my Spitfire, of course, which I still have – 22 years this summer.

    My first new car was an ’02 Golf GLS TDI, which I loved, and was also a great car. Then I got laid off and it had to go.

    But ultimately, I never really shop around. I kept one car until I saw a different one I wanted, and bought it. Once I had the ability to have multiple cars, I did. Seven was the max I have had at one time, currently holding at five. The diesel Golf was a car that I wanted forever, and once I could afford one, I bought one. Which actually is also very true for my BMW wagon. Didn’t cross-shop anything. Pretty much the only time I ever really shopped around for a car was when I bought my ’13 Fiat Abarth. The Fiesta ST had just come out – I tried that too. Occasionally I have thought I might want something and have gone and test-driven one – Toyobaru comes to mind (and that one was a huge disappointment).

  • avatar

    1988, parents willing to buy inexpensive new car as undergrad graduation present. Favored the VW Fox wagon, Dodge/Plymouth Colt, Mazda 323 and Mercury Tracer (Mazda 323 clone). Ended up with a 1987 Plymouth Colt E 4dr, 5 sp, only options rear defroster and cloth seat inserts! Paid $5929 new, added a radio and 2 speakers on the rear deck. Was a year old “leftover” at a Plymouth dealer in Kennebunk, ME. 145,000 later sold it to a friend who drove another 50k! Did a clutch, some transmission connection thing (didn’t have 2nd and 4th gear for a time), brake pads, a timing belt. Smooth running and better riding than many. And I was in Pittsburgh and New England for the whole time. Rust didn’t really set in until after about 8 years–front fenders and around the rear license plate.

    Got my dad’s 1995 Mazda Protege in 1998, felt like a luxury car with such features as power steering and a/c!

  • avatar

    1966 Cadillac Fleetwood 75

    I miss that car pretty much all the time.

  • avatar

    My choice of first car was limited to my great-grandmother’s 72 Pontiac Luxury Le Mans that my uncle had at the time. It was in surprisingly good condition complete with its wheel skirts, but it got vandalized on school campus that ruined the paint job. Once the glue that held the timing gear to its spindle gave up, I had had enough of the car; fixed the damage and sold it.
    A ’74 Lincoln Mark IV (which I miss immensely) would tide me over for a year until I bought my first new car – it was neck and neck between the ’93 Capri and the 93′ Thunderbird, but it was the Thunderbird that won out.

  • avatar

    The year was 2003, I was 16 and working part time at two minimum wage jobs. I had intended on saving every penny to buy something decent, but my ex girlfriend and the time was expensive to keep. I finally caught a break with two solid paychecks and vacation pay all at once leaving me with a measly $1000 or so to finally shop. This was peak “sport compact” and I wanted something that had some street credit at the time, so I shopped all the civics, crx, integra, etc but nothing could be had in my budget. Knowing I’d have to act fast before the succubus found out I had money in my pocket, I started riding my bicycle to the back corners of the local new car lots. I was almost
    about to bite the bullet and get a 4 door lumina when I decided to
    check out the new Mitsubishi dealer that had just opened (Canada, we didn’t get em till ‘03) I rounded the corner and there she was, sitting all alone, a faded white 1988 Nissan Pulsar. I knew right away that this oddball was coming home with me. I walked in, struck up a conversation with the business manager, got comfortable and he offered me the car for $300 as he wasn’t sure what to do with it and scrapping it was his next option. So there I was, $700 still in hand, t-tops out, and driving this thing home on a dealers plate! Best day of my life at that point. Kept it a little while and traded it for a 94 intrepid to haul my friends and I around in comfort.

  • avatar

    Back in the day, my first choice was usually the late ’70s Volkswagen Scirocco. Other times it would be the Datsun 280-Z or the first generation Mazda RX-7. Sometimes it would be a first gen Honda Accord Hatchback Coupe. Other times it would be a Volkswagen Rabbit or a late ’70s Ford Fiesta.

  • avatar

    My first car was a hand-me-down ’78 Mazda GLC, but when I joined the military I went shopping for either an RX-7 or a 240/260/280Z. I looked at a ragged out 280ZX and an RX-7 with serious engine issues, but finally found a fairly nice ’83 RX-7 GSL. I drove that car for ten years, and finally took it to the scrap metal yard when the rust became too pervasive.

  • avatar

    I *wanted* a 944, but I was talked out of it. “Too expensive, too unreliable.”

    I settled for either a Mazda MX-6 or Ford Probe. My first car was a 1994 Ford Probe GT. I paid half (it was $5000), and my parents paid the other half with the understanding that I stayed local for college and worked while doing so. I have a lot of memories of that car, but it was a *very expensive* car to own, and it left me stranded many times. It was unreliable and not that quick, but it was fun to drive, and it looked great. I spent a lot of money in repairs during my time owning it. Like more than I paid for the car kinda repairs.

    I should have bought a 944. It would have been cheaper and more reliable. I know, because I bought one when I was 21 and still have it 12 years later. 1986 944 Turbo.

  • avatar

    I actually only had one car on my list, a Dodge Charger. Any year between 68 and 72 would have worked. A friend of mine had a 71/2 and I thought it was a cool looking car. I found and purchased a 72 – gold with white vinyl top (could have done without the vinyl top)in 1975. It was a great car for me. Just had a 318, but I didn’t care all that much though a larger mill would have been nice. I think I got around 19 mpg highway on the less expensive 35 cents/gallon gas. Drove the car to 276K miles when I was advised I had no compression in one of the cylinders. Decided not to fix the issue at the time.

    Moved to an 84 Shelby Charger after that. In a weird bit of coincidence, on my way to work one super cold January morning about 3 months after buying the 84, part of the shift linkage came apart – something I came to be familiar with over the course of 15 plus years of ownership. (It was a metal tubular bar with nylon ends which “snapped” onto the ball shaped ends of that portion of the linkage.) Got a ride to the dealership to which the car was towed and spied my 72 in their lot waiting to be worked on in their shop. I verified it was mine as it still had the seat covers I had put on it and some pin striping along the side I had done.

    About a year later I spied the 72, still on the road. At one point the owner, with whom I eventually got to speak with, had a mishap one winter and smacked into a light pole severely bending the front bumper. His solution was to mount some wood in place of the bumper. I would see the car for a couple years after that point, then it disappeared from the road.

  • avatar

    My original shopping list was pretty boring. I was looking for pre-1996 Crown Vice, and to a lesser extent Captives. Some others that I had my eyes on were of a more practical (read cheap to run) variety: Escorts, Cavaliers. On the less practical (read more expensive to run) were Explorers, Blazers, Rangers, S10s.

    What I ended up getting, because I had to pay for it all myself with no help, was a 1993 Artist at Eddie Bauer edition. While it wasn’t my first choice, I bought it from somebody who I trusted for a song. I paid $750 for it and appreciated it because I didn’t have to ask anybody for its use.

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