Hello Autopians, I’m Mercedes! Yes, I did legally name myself after a car company and that’s a story that you’ll get to read in the future. But for now, you have to know what you’re going to expect from me. I think the best way to get the point across is to just show you my expansive vehicle collection. I just did a count this morning and came back with 13 cars, 1 transit bus, and three motorcycles. Well, that was before I remembered that I had a fourth motorcycle just sitting around…somewhere.
If my name is familiar to you, chances are you’ve seen my work on that German lighting site or perhaps on Opposite-Lock, where I’ve called myself Miss Mercedes for years. I’m incredibly happy to be here and am even happier for what is in store. I hope to not just spread the joy of all things with an engine, but to tell stories that make you feel all warm and fuzzy, and not because there’s an ATF-fueled fire going on in your engine bay.
[Editor’s note: Everyone welcome my friend Mercedes, a car-geek of the highest order, and someone who will hopefully buy all the cars that I’m actively trying to resist as I work to build this site. Her unbridled love for cars is exactly what car culture needs more of, so I’m pumped to have her around. -DT].
Every car enthusiast has a vice, but I have multiple. My first automotive love is the Smart Fortwo. I have five of these cars stashed away in various garages dotting northern Illinois. Ever since I saw my first Fortwo in May 2008, I have been deeply in love with the silly machines. Fifteen-year-old me couldn’t get enough of how Mercedes-Benz somehow wrapped an entire car into a package barely more than eight feet long. These things also have thoughtful design ideas like plastic panels that don’t dent and could be changed out in a few hours; an airy interior thanks to an expansive clear roof; and an interior that isn’t afraid to be different. The icing on the cake for me is the rear engine, rear drive layout.
Since then I’ve only expanded my horizons. I now own a little bit of everything from a small stable of motorcycles to a giant transit bus. I even spend some of my free time adding hours to a logbook while learning to fly a Cessna 172 in pursuit of a private pilot license. Of course, you can expect my love for aviation to show, too!
I trace my love for vehicles to the day my uncle gave a toddler version of me a Matchbox Pontiac Firebird diecast car. I still have it today, and I believe that little car was critical in developing who I am today. As I grew up, the Firebird joined about 5,000 other diecast cars. There were so many of them that my parents began disposing of them as time marched forward. But I never really noticed them disappearing as I had other distractions, namely a PlayStation 2 with Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec and Grand Theft Auto 3. I also had a fire engine red Manco Critter off-road go kart.
That kart had just five hard-working ponies driving a single wheel, but its driver was just crazy enough to absolutely send it around the neighborhood’s makeshift dirt track and drag strip. I spent so much time behind the wheel of the kart that it churned through tires every four or five years. This rubber-shredding was only stopped when the engine block cracked.
I also had a Chinese electric moped alongside the go kart. It was some no-name machine with a top speed of about 25, but it had working turn signals, a headlight, and a speedometer. To a kid, those were huge features. Sadly, it worked for just a few months before it blew a tire and something fried in its charging system. And since it was 2003, there was absolutely no way to get replacement parts. Even the tire was a weird size that nobody knew how to get. Still, I credit that scooter for why I adore motorcycles today.
I’m the kind of person who can find something to love about any sort of vehicle. The Toyota Prius? It’s excellent at its sole job of reliably passing by gas station after gas station. The Chrysler PT Cruiser? Those things have neat pool ball-like shifters and are fun when paired to a turbo. Pontiac Aztek? It was far ahead of its time. This “rosy shades” approach to cars is generally how I live my life. I love to see what awesome things this world has to offer.
So, what does this translate to when it comes to a personal collection? Well…let’s get into it!
2012 Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe
This is my first Smart and my second car overall. This car is proof to me that dreams can come true. Teenage me made a Smart an attainable dream car, and it took four years of hard work and overcoming strong headwinds to make it happen. I bought it new and the car has about 160,000 miles today. It has survived three Gambler 500 rallies, towed trailers some 20,000 miles, and been on fire once. It then conked out on me and I sort of left it sitting broken for two years. Thankfully, it’s finally back on the road! More on that later.
Status: Operational, but requires a crowbar to get into gear. [Editor’s note: What? -DT]
2016 Smart Fortwo Edition #1
When the 2012 caught fire [Editor’s note: What? -DT], one of my connections at Mercedes-Benz made me a sweet deal. I could choose any Smart off his lot and he’d not only slash money off MSRP, but give me trade-in value on the 2012 without actually taking it in. And I would get the best financing offer at the time, hitting the road with 0 percent APR.
Of course, I chose the best car on the lot, a 2016 Edition #1. It was the launch model for the third and vastly improved generation of Smart Fortwo and came in a striking white and orange hue.
I drove it home straight from California on a wild Cannonball Run-style road trip where I made it from Los Angeles to Chicago in about 36 hours. I ended up repairing the 2012 and keeping it as a daily driver, making the 2016 a garage queen. It has just 6,200 miles.
2005 Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe
I’m sure most of you are aware of the annoying 25-year import rule that keeps us from owning the sweet sweet forbidden fruit like Nissan Skylines, Renault Avantimes, and more. Well, this little car is on the small list of cars that are allowed to bypass the 25-year rule, so long as it gets converted to meet regulations. Padding was added to the interior, extra lighting added to the exterior and a whole new set of headlight housings was installed. A bit over 1,000 of these cars are in the States, and I got this 25,000-mile example completely free because the owner couldn’t register the car in their state. All I had to do was pick it up in Denver, sight-unseen, then drive it home to northern Illinois.
Status: Operational, but crap, I just found a ton of mold in its interior.
2006 Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe CDI
One of the biggest complaints about the Smart Fortwo in the United States is that the fuel economy isn’t that great. Indeed, most people will get in the upper 30s for MPG; there are crossovers that could do that today and don’t require premium fuel like the Smart does. But the wildest part? Smart actually had a version of the Fortwo that got the kind of fuel economy that Americans wanted.
Cross the border into Canada and you’ll find that not only did the country get the first-generation Fortwo, but Canadians got them with a frugal turbodiesel. It’s a teeny tiny 800cc powerplant putting out 40 horses. It’s slow as hell, but in exchange for going so slow you get about 70 mpg around town and about 60 mpg on the highway with the speedometer at 75 mph.
Why did Smart never import these or their even better second-generation successor to the States? Years ago, SmartUSA told me that it chose a “one size fits all” approach to speed and fuel economy. They chose the engine that wasn’t as fast or as thirsty as the Brabus, but not as slow or as economical as the diesel. Unfortunately for SmartUSA, they missed the mark on what people wanted.
Someone went through the hard work to get this one imported into the States, and I was happy to spend $6,000 to get it.
Status: Operational with 99,000 miles.
2008 Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe
Finally, we’ve reached my last Smart. I paid $1,000 for it, and planned on turning it into an off-road beast for the Gambler 500. Then I discovered that it’s actually in far too good condition to beat up off-road. Instead, I will make this car into a creation inspired by a Volkswagen Harlequin Golf.
Status: Operational with 112,000 miles.
2008 Saturn Sky Red Line
In 2007 I booted up a white Xbox 360 for the first time. The first game that I popped into it? Test Drive: Unlimited. One of my first cars in that game was a yellow roadster that curiously, had a Saturn badge on the back of it. That car was the Saturn Sky. I put over 10,000 virtual miles on that car taking it around TDU’s expansive recreation of Oahu. That cemented it as a car for me to own one day.
That day came earlier this year when I saw one for sale for $8,700 with 145,000 miles in Missouri. I had never driven a Sky or its Kappa platform mate, the Pontiac Solstice. Yet, the looks, its manual transmission, and turbocharged four were enough for me to drive nine hours one way to find out. And I’m happy to say that these cars drive even better than they look. I’d say Bob Lutz’s dream of an affordable American sports car was a success, even if these cars came at the tail ends of their respective brands’ existence.
2002 Audi TT Quattro
The first-generation Audi TT has been one of my all-time dream cars. I had posters of them on my bedroom walls and hooned them in games. The style of the car–especially the coupe–hit all of the right notes in my heart. In 2020 I endeavored myself to finally get one. That’s when I discovered the perfect example. The seller said that it ran reliably until it just didn’t start one day. I decided to gamble that it was the issue.
My fiancee and I arrived at the seller’s house where I was able to turn the 197,000-mile engine over by hand. I ended up getting it for half of the asking price at just $1,500, and I was even able to drive it home by rolling it down the seller’s driveway then popping the clutch. We then replaced the starter and earned myself a reliable car.
Unfortunately, the new starter that I bought was so cheap that it died less than a year later. Then to kick the poor little car while it was down, my neighbor broke into the car just to steal a brass ring and the car’s title. Sadly, I learned the real hard way that day that storing your title in your glovebox is a real boneheaded move. Thankfully, the thieves couldn’t make off with the car itself because they couldn’t get it started. The car’s VIN is branded as stolen, even though I still have it. I’m currently working through getting that undone.
Status: Drives if you bump-start it, but the cops will definitely arrest you.
2006 Volkswagen Touareg V10 TDI
There is one vehicle that I own that both makes me feel like a super villain while also striking fear in my heart. The Volkswagen Touareg V10 TDI is what you get when the crazed Piech-era Volkswagen of the aughts decides that its Touareg needs to be a supercar wearing the body of an SUV with an engine that sounds like a Lamborghini V10 that slept with a Cummins.
The power of this twin-turbo beast is intoxicating. sure, it makes just 310-HP and 553 lb-ft torque, similar power numbers to the Ford Power Stroke of the day, but the delivery comes with thrust that hits like a turbofan engine. The Touareg V10 TDI has so much torque that you could keep up with V8 muscle cars while climbing a mountain, all in air-conditioned comfort. And when you aren’t playing with its ridiculous speed you can enjoy a close to 8,000-lb tow rating and 21+ mpg.
There is one major downside to these, and it’s that keeping them going can bankrupt you. I’m happy to report that mine hasn’t required anything in the year that I’ve owned it. But when something does inevitably break, my VW independent mechanic will most likely have to remove the entire drivetrain to fix it. I got it for $5,000 from a lady who was tired of repair costs.
Status: Operational garage queen with 192,000 miles.
2005 Volkswagen Touareg VR6
Before I got the V10 TDI I had this: the humble Touareg VR6. Volkswagen’s fabled 3.2-liter narrow-bank angle VR6 gives you the same impressive tow rating and still much of the SUV’s stealthy off-roading capabilities. This one is my daily, as fixing it is way cheaper than the V10. In fact, since the Touareg’s engine bay was made to fit a 4.2-liter V8, the 5.0-liter V10, and even a 6.0-liter W12, you get loads of space to work on the small VR6.
I paid just $1,700 for this previously-crashed SUV. It had 177,000 miles at the time and it currently sits at 188,000 miles. Over that 11,000 miles it’s done a 4,200-mile round trip towing a trailer to pick up a Honda Beat from Washington state. Then it went out to Baltimore and back to pick up a Suzuki Every. That VR6 has earned its keep, hauling through mountain ranges, high heat and even extreme cold. And all I’ve done to it was give a new bumper, new lights, a new transmission fluid pan and tires.
Status: Operational daily driver.
2005 Volkswagen Passat TDI wagon
My first-ever Volkswagen was a blue Passat TDI wagon. It was broken with an underboost condition, but it still reliably carried me through one of the roughest patches in my life. My 2012 Smart was broken and I was in an unhealthy relationship that left me broke, depressed, and so torn down that I couldn’t bother myself to fix simple issues. Seriously, the fix for the underboost would have taken 30 minutes and was free, but my depression killed all motivation to do anything.
I bought it for $800, sold it for $400, and made the greatest automotive mistake of my life. When I recovered from my depression I promised myself to get another one of these. I finally found the one last year. It has more rust than my last one, but came with a folder of service records going back to new. I know everything that was replaced on this car. The anal service records were because the previous owner (the first owner) was a pilot. I was happy to part ways with $3,000 for this one. Sadly, it has developed a boost leak like my last one, so that’s something to fix this summer, along with getting non-rusty fenders.
Status: Operational weekend driver with 236,000 miles.
2012 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI
As you’ve probably learned from the previous car, I’m a sucker for a diesel wagon. When I was on the search for a replacement for that Passat TDI wagon that I sold I came across this. For the price of $3,000 I could get behind the wheel of something made in the past decade with modern tech, a modern interior, and modern looks. I took the 350,000-mile wagon for a test drive and it was love.
The previous owner–the first owner–used to drive it all around the country for their job. And since it was a work vehicle, all services were done on time at the dealership. That meant that, while this car had 350k miles, it drove like something with a fraction of those miles. I’ve only driven it a few thousand, but part of that is because of the next car on this list.
Status: Operational, but no idea what I’m going to do with it.
2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI
You know what’s better than a diesel wagon? A diesel wagon with a manual transmission. I bought this 226,000-mile car for $2,900. The manual transmission wakes these wagons so much that I’ve been taking it on a bunch of road trips. I’ve racked up about 3,000 miles in a short few months, enjoying 40 mpg on the highway (going about 80 MPH) and 50+ around town. This one has nearly all of the features of the 2012, but doesn’t have ambient lighting and its driver information interface is more simplistic. It also has more rust, sadly.
VW people even crazier than I tell me to keep both of these, but I’m considering selling the white wagon and getting a Volkswagen Phaeton W12. I used to own a Phaeton V8 that was cobbled together from three other dead Phaetons and a dead Porsche Cayenne. When it worked for all of a day of my ownership it was awesome. So maybe my next one won’t be a Frankenstein monster of dead cars.
Anyway, this black wagon rocks and it’s sticking around for a while.
Status: Operational road trip car.
1991 Honda Beat
This little 97,000-mile Honda Beat is the most fun that I’ve ever had in a car. I used to describe the Smart Fortwo as being like an adult go kart, but that was wrong. The Honda Beat is truly the adult go kart.
This car is as cute as a button and turns heads everywhere it goes. Corvette drivers will give you a thumbs up, bikers will pull out their phones and take pictures, and kids will compare it to their Power Wheels. And it definitely meets the “handles on rails” cliche.
You can peg that rev counter to 9,000 rpm before every gear change and still be within the speed limit, but you’ll be smiling all the way through. It sounds like a Triumph Speed Triple mixed with a can of nuts and bolts, so a swarm of angry metallic bees right behind your head. I believe that it’s impossible to drive a Beat with a frown on your face.
And the best part? You can fit your big American body in it, unlike many tiny Kei cars.
Status: Operational weekend car.
1989 Suzuki Every
I paid just $4,700 for that Honda Beat, and that included all of the many fees involved in car importation. Seeing how cheap it was to import a car from Japan, I decided to import a van, too. I originally wanted a Honda Acty van, which sold for as little as $20 back in early 2021. However, I really wanted expansive sunroofs and fuel injection. You could get sunroofs with the Acty, but the only Acty vans with fuel injection were too new for importation at the time.
Enter the Suzuki Every. It’s a van version of the Carry truck. I specifically went for the turbo version because it hit every mark that I was looking for in a Kei van. It has a giant double sunroof (this one is electrically-operated, too) and fuel injection. I paid about $1,250 for it in Japanese auctions and when all was said and done I spent $3,800 to get it in my garage. She’s a little rusty, but it runs great. Driving one of these is an experience. This van is geared so low that it bangs off of the rev limiter at just 67 mph. Oh, and the handling is atrocious. It’s so bad that you can’t help but laugh through every corner.
And you get to enjoy it from an airy cabin and a sweet cabover seating position.
Status: Operational weekend car.
2002 Nova Bus RTS-06
Ah, remember how I said that I love buses? I’ve owned an International 65-passenger school bus for just over a year. That thing was great, save for all sorts of rust. The rust probably wouldn’t be so bad for our rust expert David Tracy, but it was far beyond what I wanted to deal with. So I looked for its replacement out west and down south.
That’s when I stumbled upon a treasure trove of one of the best buses ever put on the road by General Motors. The Rapid Transit Series (RTS) was an innovative bus featuring futuristic styling, a stainless steel unitized body, plastic panels, and glass that evoked automotive design. In today’s world where bus designs look more utilitarian it’s always awesome to see an old RTS on the road.
GM’s RTS design found homes in bus fleets all over for decades, including Texas A&M University where I found mine. These buses not only carted students around for two decades, but also taught generations of new bus drivers. TAMU is one of the last operators of the RTS design, and last year it offloaded more than two dozen buses onto the market. I got mine with 482,000 miles on the clock for $5,000.
My original plan for this bus was to convert it into an RV. Instead, I’m using it as a mobile motorcycle garage and a sort of bizarre weekend vehicle.
Status: Operational weekend bus.
And now the bikes!
1972 Yamaha U7E
I bought Yamaha’s 1970s answer to the Honda Super Cub in January 2019 with the intent on restoring the $500 motorbike. That never happened and I instead bought another that worked. I sold that other one and still have this one. At the time I bought it the seller (a descendant of the original owner) said that it hadn’t run in about five years. That means that it hasn’t run in about eight years now.
I’m happy to say that this will change with a restoration series that I’m launching here. I have almost all of the parts to bring it back to life; I just need to make it happen.
Status: Doesn’t run.
2005 Genuine Scooter Company Stella
This looks like an old Vespa PX, but it was actually built in 2005. The Genuine Stella is the result of a collaboration between Genuine Scooter Company in Chicago and Lohia Machinery Limited in Kanpur, India. It’s a license-built two stroke, manual transmission Vespa assembled India and imported to America.
The Stella almost goads you into being a hooligan. Its 150cc two stroke single tells you to twist the throttle a little more and the manual transmission makes you feel like a racer. This is a scooter that you’ll want to ride every day.
This $500 scoot ran for a while before I let its carb get all gunked up. I also failed to fix the peeling paint up front and now there’s a rust spot.
Status: Doesn’t run.
1999 Triumph Tiger
I’ve been riding motorcycles since May 2018. Since then, I’ve owned over 30 bikes. They often started off as barn finds that didn’t run. I got them running, rode them a little, got bored, then moved on to the next one.
In 2020, I decided to stop the madness and build a dream lineup. I already had the motorbike and the scooter covered. Next, I wanted the sounds of a Triumph three cylinder engine. And why not have that sound come out of an adventure bike? I failed to buy a newer 2012 Tiger before I found this 1999. I dropped $1,300 on the machine and it has been my daily motorcycle ever since. The sounds of the Triumph triple going through its custom exhaust makes me smile, and the hard cases add all sorts of practicality. Plus, with 49,000 miles and already beat up plastic I don’t feel bad taking it on a trail.
Status: Operational daily
2005 Buell Lightning XB9SX
For a very short period in motorcycle history you could buy sportbikes, streetfighters and even adventure motorcycles powered by engines derived from Harley-Davidson Sportsters. These bikes are the work of famed racer and builder Erik Buell. He took Harley’s lumpy V-twins and packaged them into motorcycles with weird designs that haven’t been seen before or really after.
Take my Lightning, for example. That fuel tank isn’t a fuel tank. That’s a semi-transparent cover over the bike’s airbox. The real fuel tank is that thick frame. And its oil tank is in its swingarm. Oh, and see those neat brakes there? Buells aren’t fast, but they will turn at the mere thought of going around the corner. Plus, the soundtrack of a Harley V-twin coming out of a sporty machine never gets old to me.
Status: Operational weekend motorcycle.
Whew! That’s it! I woke up this morning and counted 17 vehicles in my fleet. As it turns out, I actually have 18. Amazingly, most of these vehicles have covered parking in a garage and a mini warehouse. There would be no way to actually store these cars at my apartment. At least, not without angering my condo association.
I’m currently maxed out on parking, which thankfully means no more vehicles. I may sell the white wagon when the right car comes around. My wishlist is populated with the likes of the first-generation Honda Insight, C4 Corvette convertible, a GM New Look bus, and even the Volkswagen EuroVan.
David told me this morning that he’s down to something like eight vehicles here in the States. How I’ve managed to more than double his fleet size is beyond me. And yes, my fiancée fully supports it. In fact, she wants me to buy even more cars. I’ll need you, dear reader, to stop me from going out of control.