Home » It Took Me 33 Years To Find My Dream Car; Here’s Everything That’s Broken

It Took Me 33 Years To Find My Dream Car; Here’s Everything That’s Broken

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I’m an automotive journalist by trade. I’m also a terrible car enthusiast. As much as I love cars, I always feel like I’ve never been able to really dive into the hobby. Year by year, I’m trying to right my wrongs, and slowly, I’m coming good. It took me 33 years, but finally—I bought my dream car.

I’ve loved cars since I was a kid. I had the Hot Wheels, the RC cars, and I religiously watched Top Gear—and I’m talking old Top Gear. I got my license as quickly as I possibly could. I grew up thinking my first car was going to be a Nissan Silvia, and I’d join the JDM hoons on a journey of boost and self-discovery. A Skyline GT-R would follow shortly after.

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But somehow I never had the money. The years passed, prices rose, and by my early 20s, I realized it was all over. I’d never own one.  The cars I lusted after grew ever more distant on the horizon, and my dreams began to fade.

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On another timeline, that should have been me.

Big Mistake

The truth is, my career choices had gotten in the way. I was supposed to be a smart kid, and the world was to be my oyster. I was going to study to be an engineer because it seemed like I’d enjoy that line of work. Every adult in my life promised me that this would bring me wealth and riches the likes of which they’d never seen.

Pursuing a degree meant spending most of my waking hours at university. I didn’t grow up in money, so I worked a side job to pay for essentials like beer, fried chicken, and fuel. I drove a 1992 Ford Falcon for most of my uni days, which in itself was a huge mistake. That thing cost me so much in fuel and registration, it’s not even funny.

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That thing got about 15 mpg towards the end of its life. It kept me broke for a long time, but it was reliable as hell.

As I grew up, my friends who avoided uni were putting their money into tires and turbo kits. “That’s okay, I’ll get around to it when I get a real job,” I thought. “I’m gonna be rich, it’ll be great. I’m gonna get that GT-R one day.”

Fast forward a few years, and I landed myself a job with one of the world’s biggest automakers. I was a graduate engineer, and every adult I knew was patting me on the back. On paper, it sounded like a dream. A career with an internationally-renowned brand, in my professional field of choice. I had it made, right?

The reality was anything but. I was barely getting paid more than if I’d just started working full-time at the hardware store from my uni days. I was stuck living in an expensive city, and I’d made the foolish mistake of taking a company lease car because I thought professionals were supposed to drive new.

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Despite my lease, I hung on to my Daihatsu Feroza. That was a good move amongst many poorer ones.

I was living paycheck to paycheck and was generally miserable. The future wasn’t bright, either. A few of us graduates got together and spoke to someone who’d been through the program a few years ahead of us. When we found out he was only earning $2,000 more a year than us, we all quit within three months. I moved on to a more lucrative job in marketing because of a dumb joke I made at pre-drinks one night. I basically only scored it because I’m charismatic in interview situations and I know how to use Facebook.

At this point, I realized I’d gotten to age 25 and I’d never had a proper enthusiast car. I loved cars, but I’d never done the car thing. My life was passing me by and I needed to get involved. By this point, Silvias and GT-Rs were well outside of my price range, and I was only just earning a notch above shit money. Instead, I scraped together $3,000 for a Mazda MX-5, and I tried to become a car guy.

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You’d pay five figures for an MX-5 in similar condition today.

The MX-5 wasn’t bad. I loved the top-down lifestyle, but I hated how slow it was. It had shit paint, a shit interior, and as much rizz as the captain of the high school math battalion [Ed note: That’s what they call it in Australia? Way tougher than Math Team – MH {Editor’s Note to Editor’s Note: And way way tougher than “mathlete.” – JT}] . I built it into a handling weapon, and it was great in the corners, but it disappointed me every time I hit the throttle.

Eventually, I put it up for sale, and sold it for $10,000 in 30 minutes flat. When the tow truck hauled it away, I never looked back.

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The paint on that car was so bad that I once drew my race number on the door with a permanent marker.

Righting Past Wrongs

The intervening years were tough. I got another shitty engineering job for slightly less shitty pay, working in a shitty office with miserable old men. But along the way I’d picked up writing as a side gig. My fortunes started to pay.

It wasn’t my chosen career, but I started making decent money with far less bullshit than before. After a few years, I pivoted into writing about cars. I was doing better, but I still didn’t have real money. I had to choose my moves carefully. I picked up my Volvo 740 Turbo for $750. After I dumped that, I went with a cheap Mercedes-Benz for $2,650 and misstepped with a ridiculous BMW for $3,700. Each had its charms, but I didn’t really connect with any of them. Each was simply an attempt to buy the coolest ride I possibly could on a very limited budget.

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I had some neat cars over the years, but nothing that quite lit me up the way I hoped.

Eventually, I decided I needed to ditch my fleet. Both the Merc and BMW were causing me trouble, and I wanted something properly fun again. I browsed the classifieds and contemplated dropping a few grand on an old Peugeot convertible, or maybe an Astra. Cheap, disposable fun, I thought. But then something else caught my eye.

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Love At First Boost

There it was. An Audi TT. Not a car I’d ever considered owning, but there it was. Knowing nothing about them, I clicked through to the ad, and my eyebrows raised a little higher. 225 horsepower—more than anything I’d ever owned. It was a roadster, to boot.

Somehow, I realized this could actually tick all my boxes. It wasn’t another compromise like the cheap drop tops I’d been looking at. It wasn’t just front-wheel-drive that was mildly warmed over. It was quick, turbo, and all-wheel-drive. Plus it looked sick on those aftermarket wheels.

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At $7,500, it was way more than I planned to spend. I held out for weeks. I had a move to pay for, and I still had two German sedans sitting like a millstone around my neck. But when my Merc finally sold, I couldn’t resist. I made the call.

The test drive went well. It started up on the first go, with the pleasant low-pitched thrum of a modern VW four-cylinder. The 1.8-liter turbo paired well with the short gearing. It wanted to be let off the leash.  “PSHHH-tahhhh,” went the blow-off valve. “PSHHHH-tahhhh.” The owner politely asked me to stop hitting boost before it warmed up, and I obliged, chuckling all the while.

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At this point, there was no question; it had to come home with me.

I realized that this could actually be my dream car. Something that would light up my senses in the way the turbo Nissans had whenever I’d ridden in them before. The rush was real every time I leaned into the pedal. The prospect of doing so with the top down excited me in a naughty way, like the first time you dare to fantasize about a crush.

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Realistically, I knew it wouldn’t all be smooth sailing. The car had no service history, and the owner was coy when I grilled him about any work that needed to be done.

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Ultimately, though, I knew I had to have it. That test drive made one thing clear: this was my dream car.

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I’d never thought about the Audi TT this way before, but it had everything I’d ever wanted. This thing was quick. This thing was turbo, and it made all the right noises. It was a roadster. And it was all-wheel-drive.

Most importantly, it wasn’t a compromise. I wasn’t going to have to talk it down every time I went out. I wasn’t driving the base model or the lower-end version of something good. This was the good one! I wouldn’t be saying “Yeah, I wish it was the quattro 225,” or “It’d be great if it was a manual.” Why? Because I HAD THE QUATTRO 225 with SIX SPEED STICK!

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That’s the correct number of valves per cylinder.

I’ve never had the good version of anything before. This was a big deal for me. This was my Holy Grail, to use an Autopianism.

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Yeah, I know. It’s not actually the fastest car in the world. And Audi would eventually release a V6 model with more power a few years down the line. But for me? This thing was a rocketship. I suspected it had been tuned, because it simply felt too good.

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Bby, yes.

I realized this was my chance to own a car I fucking loved. Not something vaguely related to something good. Not something that was just quirky or cool. A car that would make me grin like a fucking idiot when I matted the pedal.

I went in eyes wide open. I decided I was ready to spend a few thousand bucks up front in maintenance if necessary. I had my fears about the service history, and I’d noticed a few things on the test drive too. But I also knew that it was time. I was going to own a car that truly set my brain alight.

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Getting to Know You

Transaction made, I drove the car home and started getting to know it better. The steering felt good, as did the engine. Still, I had to be sure that the timing belt was okay before I put real miles on it. I elected to take it into a mechanic to get that swapped out ASAP.

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Hilariously, dumb luck meant I didn’t need to worry. After a long hunt for a good Audi specialist, I found one across town. When I took it in, they chuckled and told me they’d seen the car regularly from an earlier owner. They confirmed that the wheels, tires, and clutch were all virtually brand new. They were also able to advise me that the timing belt had been done only a few years ago, so it was still within its safe service life of five years. That put me in a good mood, and I mentally filed away a note to get it done next year on schedule.

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The air conditioning works. The heater doesn’t.

Of course, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. This is a 24-year-old car we’re talking about, and a Volkswagen product to boot. Something had to be wrong, and indeed, several somethings were.

First up, the convertible top. It works… mostly. The switch that detects when it’s popped open is a little finicky. It often requires some manual manipulation to realize the top has actually popped open, before it will activate the motors to lower it down. I can’t find much about this online, nor new replacement parts. I might have to disassemble and clean or replace the windscreen-mounted switch myself.

I had a horror moment when I drove top-down to a nearby supermarket. I went to close the top, and it wouldn’t budge an inch. I had to abandon my shopping trip and lock the car up at home. After some research, I gingerly pulled the top closed manually, hoping not to damage the hydraulics. I read horror stories about people having to replace hydraulic pumps and refill them with eyedroppers and it all sounded like hell.

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The seats need retrimming. I’m tempted to farm this out. But what color—red, purple, tan, grey?

Amazingly, though, the German car gods took mercy on me. It was just that finicky switch playing up again. The car had assumed the top was already closed, so it wasn’t letting me fire the motors to close it. A quick finger-toggle of the switch got everything humming once again and the top has since opened and closed without issue.

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The wind deflector, though, is similarly non-operational. I didn’t know to check for this because I didn’t know the car had one. If I’m lucky, a cheap replacement of the toothed drive belt should fix it. If not, I’m probably up for a set of threaded drives or even complete motors. This one isn’t a big priority for me, though.

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The pod filter gives this thing amazing induction noises.

More annoying is the heat, or more accurately, the lack of it. While the air-con works great, the heater simply doesn’t. I was worried about big problems with the heater core or coolant circuits, but I think I might have gotten lucky here. I did feel some heat coming out of the footwell vents only, while the face vents were occasionally blowing foam. Research has told me that the blend door is probably at fault. This lives inside the dash, and controls the flow of hot or cold air through the HVAC system. It’s coated in foam which eventually degrades. When that happens, the blend door is essentially full of holes and no longer functions. Covering the blend door in a layer of aluminum tape or similar is enough to fix it.

The key fobs don’t work, either, for some reason. I’ve tried changing the batteries, and I’ve tried a number of “resync” methods I’ve read about online, none of which have worked. I’m sure I can figure out the problem eventually; here’s hoping it doesn’t require an expensive new module or three.

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Meanwhile, this little device does wonders for throttle response.

The most concerning problem, though, is the power steering. While the car drove fine when I first got it, a recent early morning run scared the hell out of me. It was just 50 degrees out and frosty, and my German roadster sounded like a bus. I feared the worst but kept my head. I eventually realized it was making the noise solely while cornering. My insight told me to check the power steering fluid, which was a little low.

I topped it up, and have had no problems since. With that said, that fluid had to have gone somewhere. I’m hoping it’s a very slow drip that only needs periodic attention. Worst case, I’m up for a new steering rack. I haven’t had the guts to figure out what that’s going to cost me just yet.

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The Honeymoon Phase

I couldn’t be more thrilled with my purchase. It has its minor flaws, some dings and rattles, and yet. It’s by far the coolest car I’ve ever owned. The quickest too, and the most exhilarating.

What I learned is dreams are ephemeral, malleable things. This car looks nothing like the car I thought I’d end up in, but the fundamentals are the same. It’s turbo, it makes PSHHHHH sounds, and it goes hard. That’s what I was really looking for, it just came wearing a different badge.

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The cabin is a nice place to be.

It’s so special, I actually barely drove it for the first week I had it. I had this superstition that if I dared to enjoy the car, I’d break it. That would be my punishment for daring to think I could have nice things.

When I finally dared to drop that top and head out on the open road, I laughed like a mad schoolgirl. No longer would I ride passenger in my friend’s Nissans, dreaming of what I couldn’t have. This Audi was fast, and fierce, and mine. And I look fucking gorgeous in it.

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Any accountant would have told me this was a bad financial decision. But any life coach would tell me that it’s important to go after what you want in life. My girlfriend said the same, and she’s fucking wonderful.

I finally have my dream car—and I couldn’t be happier. Stay milky.

Image credits: Lewin Day

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BigThingsComin
BigThingsComin
16 days ago

Was your Volvo a stick shift?

BigThingsComin
BigThingsComin
16 days ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

And more engaging. The 740/940 autos were a snoozefest.

BexleySpeed
BexleySpeed
16 days ago

Any other site I would have skipped right over this. It has 2 things I despise on the internet: any article that starts with “I did this” screams the author just wants to talk about themself rather than give useful info. And a picture of the author with some dipshit look on their face.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
16 days ago

Thanks for the picture of the Sileighty. Still a dream car of mine despite having had an S13 200SX and an S12 Silvia.

I’ve had 24 cars now, and I’d say I fell madly in love with most of them.

Racer Esq.
Racer Esq.
16 days ago

Referencing the other discussion, Audi should have stuck with longitudinal engines to retain its premium positioning and differentiation from the VW brand, and this should have been a Ghia.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
16 days ago
Reply to  Racer Esq.

The Ghia Mark VI, if the 914 had been the Mark IV with the 924 as the Mark V.

Laurence Rogers
Laurence Rogers
16 days ago

I am stoked for you, mate!

The old adage, ‘if you look back at your car when you park it, that’s the right car’ is definitely true.

It’s also true that turbos make everything better. It’s why I kept my WRX while the rest of my fleet is running carburetors; nothing can replicate the rush of a turbo nor the noises!

Manuel Verissimo
Manuel Verissimo
16 days ago

That reminds me of then I bought my ’04 Z4.

I saw my mentor driving one when I was an intern, and when he told me how much it cost him, I was amazed at how attainable it was.

I wasn’t much of a car guy back then, but as a mechanical engineer, I had a fascination for anything moving under it’s own power.

2 years after graduating school I started looking for my first non shitbox car. I looked at anything with a drop top and some power: Miatas, SLK, S2000, 350Z, Z3 … But I kept coming back to that bangle bimmer.

It wasn’t the prettiest of things (I liked the E89 better back then), but it wasn’t as bland as a Merc or a Honda, was more powerful than a Mazda and cheaper than a Nissan. It checked most of my boxes.

I remember driving it back from the seller in the rain, shitting myself at the prospect of losing control in a 230hp rwd sportscar after having driven nothing but 60hp fwd econoboxes.

Even if many friends doubted the enthusiast cred of that choice (no turbo, open diff, hairdresser car, old dude drop top…), it still set me up on a path where I’m now building up an engine for a ’76 Datsun Z.

My point is, this is a big deal Lewin. I hope that German convertible will change your life for the better just as much as mine did. Keep us posted!

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
16 days ago

I really wanted a Z4 Coupe after driving a press car when they first came out. I saved up and got a 350Z, but it wasn’t the car I really wanted (despite having better steering than the E86 and being hilariously sideways all the time).

Then years later the perfect Z4C came up. In many ways the best car I’ve ever had, I miss it a lot.

Manuel Verissimo
Manuel Verissimo
16 days ago
Reply to  Captain Muppet

The steering sucks ass, brakes are plain bad and the non-M deserve an LSD but overall it’s a great car!

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
16 days ago

I’ve never driven an M, but I assume with hydraulic PAS, bigger brakes and a LSD they are perfect. Apart from the extremely fragile pop-out cup holders.

Manuel Verissimo
Manuel Verissimo
16 days ago
Reply to  Captain Muppet

I’ve been told the extra heft makes the upgraded brakes insufficient still

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
16 days ago

In that case I’m finally glad I can’t afford one.

Manuel Verissimo
Manuel Verissimo
15 days ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

Fun is all they are good for!

Morgan Thomas
Morgan Thomas
16 days ago

While it wouldn’t have been something I would choose (I hate convertibles), I can definitely see the appeal. And paying bills on a car that you are actually excited about hurts way less than with something mundane, or something basic and boring you had to settle for rather than what you wanted.

Chris Lewis
Chris Lewis
16 days ago

Congratulations, Lewin! I think I’ve seen it around over the last few years (I recognize that part of town from the photo backgrounds). Will have to keep an eye out at the local car meets. It’s a good town to have a drop-top in; I’ve had my old Saab 900i for about three years now, and though it’s similarly slightly finicky, a manual convertible in traffic makes you feel like the smartest person in the world, especially when surrounded by ostensibly ‘better’ modern cars with lease payments owing on them.

Utherjorge
Utherjorge
16 days ago

My American Feroza was great. Loved it. Until it died.

Utherjorge
Utherjorge
16 days ago
Reply to  Lewin Day

I’m truly amazed it lasted that long. American ones might make it to 100k miles, but then the head cracks and the engines cannot be sourced. A check of search tempest can find a million of them (well, some, anyway) but all need a new motor. Good luck finding one, or the even more rare Charade motor which is actually better in some ways. I should have saved mine and re-engined with a 22r but two head gaskets in less than 50 miles of travel made me angry.

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Last edited 16 days ago by Utherjorge
Patrick
Patrick
17 days ago

Awesome ride! I’ve always had a soft spot for TTs. When they first came out, they were like nothing else. For your seats, I recommend you try to find the “baseball” ones. Beautiful and OEM. Also, nice wheels indeed; they fit.

About the engine: I absolutely loved my 1.8Ts. I had 3 of them in 2 cars.. but it was my fault… for pushing my luck with timing belt maintenance. I was at approx 125k km and I had it planned with my next oil change, but I didn’t make it. Don’t fuck with that schedule, it’ll destroy an engine when it snaps…

However that event simply made me upgrade my 150hp-now 0hp (with k03 turbo, 180hp versions have k03s turbo) to an Audi 225 with the bigger injectors and k04 turbo. While I was down the swap rabbit hole, Unitronic tune, FMIC, full custom exhaust that may or may not have had a cat… Had paint pealing on my bumper because of the heat/flames … Ah the good times. Enjoy that engine, and push it like it’s meant to be. Not only is it a blast, but that 20v just begs for it. Even my lowly 150 had low lag and a lots of punch, but at 300hp, even in a fwd Golf, it was a mischievous neck-whipping grin inducer.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
17 days ago

Congratulations Lewin! What a beaut!

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