So I suppose I should just start from the beginning. My dad has always been a car appreciator. He was always too afraid to work on his own, but he always owned nice, clean sports cars. His cars included a 1980’s Honda CRX, a 1991 Mazda Miata, and now a C6 Corvette. Anyways, I never really cared or paid attention to cars until I got the first one that was entirely my own, a 2003 Chevrolet Cavalier with 1900 miles on the odometer and a manual transmission. Despite the ridicule that Cavaliers get in any performance car community, that car was my pride and joy. It actually had a lot in common with my dad’s old CRX. Both were light-weight. Both were quick and responsive. Both were basic cars (no abs, manual door locks, and manual windows).
That car would serve as my introduction into performance-minded automobile ownership and car customization. A lot of my firsts were in that car. I learned to drive stick. I raced for the first time (I won, nbd). I worked on a car for the first time (replaced the spark plugs). Other firsts were also had in the front seat of that car … Anyways, I owned my Cavi for about nine years, and spent about $3000 or so on bolt-on performance upgrades. They included a cold-air intake (AEM), upgraded shocks (Tokico) and springs (Eibach), high-flow headers, and a custom 2 1/4″ exhaust (Flowmaster muffler). My favorite of those upgrades was definitely the shocks and springs. The OEM equipment caused the car to roll like a Cessna and wallow like a row boat. The suspension made the car feel like a sports car. I, like my dad, was not comfortable working on the car myself so I always paid shops to install parts for me, but I always had it in the back of my mind that I would one day work on my own cars.
Anyways, the Cavalier got me through the end of high school, getting my bachelor’s degree in college, and the start of my career in the software industry. I started having issues with the clutch system that would ultimately end our relationship. First, there was a little plastic clip which held the clutch pedal to the master cylinder that broke. After reading about this issue and learning how that clip is a weak point, I realized that was what it was and fixed it how everyone else did … with a cable tie. Soon after that, the slave cylinder starting leaking fluid. Chevrolet in their infinite wisdom decided to engineer this car with the clutch slave cylinder INSIDE the bell housing of the transmission. Thank you Chevy; now I had to pay a shop over double the labor charge to remove the transmission just to replace the slave cylinder. Granted, it did give me the chance to have them replace the clutch, flywheel, throw-out bearing, and rear main seal (on the shop’s recommendation since those were still all OEM and the car had 90,000 miles on it now) while they were in there. Got the car back from the shop and it worked great! I wasn’t happy about the bills, but was ecstatic about being able to drive her again.
Unfortunately my excitement was short lived since it started leaking a steady stream of oil from between the engine and transmission about a week after driving it. Turns out that it was the rear main seal. The mechanic blamed the “shitty Internet parts” that I supplied him. I had a feeling that it was his installation since those parts were name brand and most people who installed them had no issues. According to the mechanic, Chevy only sold the rear main seal as part of a clutch replacement kit that cost $350. I said screw that and bought the most expensive “shitty Internet” rear main seal that I could find ($50). I convinced the mechanic to do it for half the labor to acknowledge the possibility that he was the one who cocked it up. He installed the new main seal and, sure enough, a week later that car started gushing fluid again! I was so sick of dealing with it at this point that I sold the car for way less than it was worth ($1600) just to get it out of my sight. Thus ended nine years of first car ownership.
I purchased my second car soon after graduating from college. I had just started working as a Software Test Analyst at AT&T and so I had a taste of what having a little bit of money was like. The very first weekend that the Cavalier was undriveable, I went car shopping. I test drove two cars, a 2003 350Z at Park Place Ltd (known more for their Porsches and Lotuses) and a 2003 Mazdaspeed 6 at Doug’s Mazda in Lynnwood. The 350Z was way sexier and much smoother to drive, so of course I
bought financed it for $14,500 (don’t judge me, I needed a car dammit!). Since the 350Z was expensive and financed, I was too afraid to drive it hard. Since performance upgrades were expensive (compared to what I was used to for my Cavalier), I couldn’t afford to do upgrades to it. Lastly, since I had no garage, there was no place for me to do significant work on it. I was craving a car that I could use to learn to work on cars and that I could make fast and my own; while I loved my 350Z, it was not meant to be. I only owned the car for a year before I sold it for $14,000 to another young guy that had to finance it. That was when I decided to get into Toyota MR2’s. However, that is a story all its own.