Before I began professional writing about automobiles and the industry, I was an enthusiast. I could be considered more of a car fan boy rather than an enthusiast because I did not own a car worthy of being one.
That’s unless you consider my ownership of a 1991 Acura Integra becoming of one. But, that was 20 years ago…
How I learned about the automobile was not just from books. It’s from driving. A food critic has to have an open palette to try every restaurant or test a chef’s mettle on ingredients. Therefore, I must have an open mind when it comes to automobiles. There is one small problem: The clutch pedal. That is my kryptonite.
In developing a mind for the automobile, I sampled many different automobiles to get to the place I am at in terms of my knowledge and some founded biases in shaping the backbone of MotorGeek over the past six years. Therefore, I chose five favorite automobiles that helped shape this blog. These are some very divergent vehicles, nonetheless. If you understand where these five came from, then you’ll understand where this blog has taken me since incorporating it online.
One rule I made for these five: I have not owned any of these vehicles (through I have referenced the vehicles I’ve owned within the context of them). Putting cars I’ve owned would be just too easy…
1985 VOLVO 740GLE: It became the first European car I ever driven. My mother, being partial to domestic products, scoffed at the notion of any of us driving anything foreign. After all, she was a Reagan Republican. Yet, my brother brought a second hand 1979 Mazda 626 coupe and we never looked back (and it would end up being mine after a while). Once you’ve gone Japanese, well…you know the rest. However, I landed a Swede – something we consider “lumbering” these days. It was boxy, but roomy. It had a 2.3litre four under the hood without any turbochargers attached to it. Only in Southern California can you drive a car with the windows down and the sunroof open on Thanksgiving Day. That Volvo was cool! Even cooler was the space in the trunk. It took care of Black Friday shopping nicely.
What killed the experience was something I had to learn later in my driving years: Ignition lock. I never had to turn the wheel to release the ignition ever. Lesson learned, but, boy, was that a fun car to drive!
1986 TOYOTA CELICA: A word to the wise – never bring a sporty car to the funeral, even if it’s in black. I always liked the Celica – the first Toyota that I felt was good looking and worthy of a drive. My first one came on a sad occasion: My father’s funeral. Perhaps my mindset was cloudy then, but I took a drive in the car and thoroughly enjoyed it. It gave me a previous of coming attractions (five years down the line in the guise of my Acura Integra).
What made this Celica special was the evolution of the species and how the Liftback became the signature of this popular line. It drove superbly through Marin County’s roads and the streets of San Francisco. It’s 2.2litre motor was quite revvy and willing to handle what my right foot would give it. In the back of mind, I thought I was driving a proper sports car. My feeble mind should’ve told me it was just a mere inexpensive sports coupe and real sports cars began with the Mazda RX-7 (argue amongst yourselves – we’re talking 1986 here). That Celica was a nice car – though the occasion should’ve been better.
1987 FORD TAURUS: References to this particular car have been made over the years. In fact, I drove a couple that would cement a lot of things about my driving. For one, I never had to think I’d drive between cities if I needed to. Six years after I obtained my license, I achieved this feat – including an epic drive from Reseda to the Bay Area. It also helped me do my first overnight drive ever. Many drivers by that age (22) would’ve driven across country by then. Not me. I was too chicken.
Well, courage was achieved in perhaps one of the smoothest cars I’ve driven until that point. It also changed everything about automobiles from that point on. It wasn’t just the game-changing aerodynamic body and the amazing utilization of space between the cabin and the trunk. It had a competent 3.0litre V6 that made for smooth highway cruising and a transmission that gave you the right range at the right time. It also hugged the curves nicely – a relative change for sedans of its ilk back then. Yes, Ford nailed it with the Taurus and hence why every bull since had been held to the highest of scrutiny.
1995 GEO METRO: Laugh. Go ahead. You might think this is a joke that I would include this on this post, but let me talk you through it. Suzuki was partially owned by GM. To ensure that GM had small cars for markets such as North America, they contracted Suzuki to build one of theirs of GMs purposes. The result is the Metro – a very surprising vehicle that had its ups and downs in the eyes of many motorists. I had a prior model, a Chevrolet Sprint. It was utter crap. The Metro, though still a Suzuki Swift no matter what badge you put on it, was a completely better subcompact.
Whether it’s a three-door or five-door, it’s actually quite spacious. The 1.0litre three-cylinder motor is a willing and ready machine – think relative performance to the weight/size. I wasn’t driving a six-cylinder machine with oodles of power at my disposal, but it was quite the motivator. And, actually, it wasn’t cheaply built and tinny. Laugh all you want, but the Metro was ripe for the urban crawl – long before it was trendy to have a MINI Cooper.
2000 FORD FOCUS: It was even more than I expected. I thought it was a great idea for Ford to retry the World Car concept again (after missing the mark in 1980 with the Escort) and the Focus was the right product. Though they did change it up slightly for North American audiences, the essence of the Focus remained. The room inside was amazing as well as the entire driving experience. The seats are inviting and comfortable and the trunk can swallow plenty of stuff inside of it. Originally, it had the 2.0litre from the North American Escort, along with the optional Zetec twin-cam 16-valver, until they switched everything to Duratec motors. Still, these Focuses were ready to romp and run.
The thing I miss about the original Focus is the purity of the car. As different as it was amongst both domestic and foreign compact cars, it became the strength that carried the Focus through several facelifts on the same platform. Latin American Ford plants continued to build the original Focus until recently, while the North American Focus may have another year left on a recapitulated version of the 2000 platform. Its longevity is an asset that harkens back to a very good compact. It became my benchmark for the class over the past decade.