There’s no real, actual, perfect five car garage. What I like and what you like is different. That’s great. We celebrate that here. Member theotherotter, though, has five cars that are hard to argue with if you love imports. Seriously, he’s got a car from Sweden, Japan, Italy, and two from Germany. It’s like the Epcot Center without the Canadian steakhouse.
(Welcome to Member Rides. This is the weekly feature where we look at people who became members of the site by signing up here and parting with a little of their hard-earned dough to keep The Autopian going. Our plan is to do these every week! Today it’s Mr. Asa’s turn!)
Autopian: Alright, theotherotter, where do you live and what do you?
I live in Chicago, and I pretend to be an engineer.
Autopian: How’d you get into cars?
I don’t ever remember a time when I wasn’t obsessed with cars. My mom says it started when I was two. I don’t know how, because no one in my family was into them and I wasn’t born in a place (Caracas, Venezuela) with a particular car culture or anything like that. But years ago on the old lighting site, there was a post about Susie the Little Blue Coupe, a cartoon I had utterly forgotten about for years until then. I watched it again for the first time in decades, and I *cried* – like, ugly-cried. I’m pretty emotionally responsive in general, but maybe this was what did it for me when I was two. The only thing I ever wanted to do was “design cars”, which was how I ended up first at Georgia Tech and then at CCS, only to burn out from too much school and stay an engineer. They have always been my career, and some of my hobbies. At the same time, I’ve lived in Chicago for almost 15 years and I love cities – and designing cities around the needs of cars is terrible. I mostly ride my bikes in the city and drive the cars elsewhere, save about half of my commuting to work (it saves time, and I’m not on city streets for more than a few blocks)
Autopian: And what do you drive?
2013 Jetta Sportwagen TDI
Dead stock, little to describe that can’t be found anywhere. At least the D2 A8 wheels that my winter tires are on look pretty bitchin’ on it. I subscribe to the idea that happy old car ownership is aided by having one car you don’t have to fix. This is that car. CPO car, bought it three years ago with 35k miles. Now at 60ish. Manual and a sunroof because everything has to have those whenever possible. Yes I know I’m going to deal with sunroof water leak issues. No name.
1993 Nissan Sentra SE-R
I received this car new in May 1993 from my grandparents as a high school graduation present. I just love it. I don’t need it and don’t drive it much, but I know if I ever get rid of it I’ll regret it forever, so I don’t. Mildly modified, all mods done in the mid 90s to early 2000s when they were kinda low-key hot shit. Finally started rusting about four years ago. This one is named Dora but I never really refer to it as such.
1985 Saab 900 SPG
Bought it in Vancouver, BC in 2017, flew out and drove it home to Chicago, which was awesome. Swore this would be catch-and-release and it will be, but it’s taking longer than planned. Will get sold this year and if I’m smart the money will go back into the bank but it might end up getting traded for a BMW Bavaria. Hasn’t acquired a name.
1981 Porsche 911SC Targa
This is the car that I told everybody on my 4th birthday I would buy one day (seriously). Finally bought it in 2015 for money that today won’t even buy a drivable car. Lightly hot-rodded, super reliable. I love the shit out of driving it and I still regularly go out to the garage and look at it or sit in it and think, “This is *mine*!! Awesome!!” Name is Ranita, and I actually call it that.
1980 Fiat Spider Turbo
Given to my dad and I when I was in 9th grade (1990) as a father and son project by a friend of his, who’d gotten it new. My dad died years ago and it has tremendous sentimental value to me, plus it’s a lot of fun to drive. Turbo still present and functional. Just getting out of a two-year body and paint restoration so I can finally do all the deferred mechanical maintenance myself when it’s warm enough. Name is Pechi, which I will probably eventually get a vanity plate for.
Autopian: A Holy Grail! What’s the SE-R like? I love those.
Yes, it’s a holy grail! I wish I could have written the piece. When I was given the gift it was basically a “here’s our budget and we had a suggestion but you can buy whatever you like” arrangement and I knew right away what I wanted. If I’d had $5k more to work with I would have gotten an S13, but I didn’t have much of my own money then. It exceeded my expectations, and is probably the most reliable thing I’ve owned – I had some gearbox trouble early on that was fixed, ineptly, by the dealer, but nothing broke until the starter died at 185k.
I got into the OG SE-R mailing list early on and learned all about what I could do with, for, in and on it there. It’s got KYB AGX adjustable shocks (sadly NLA, which sucks because one needs a rebuild) on stock springs, a Jim Wolf ECU and air intake (recently removed), and a Hotshot header. It’s got stainless brake lines and used to have nice Porterfield pads and slotted rotors on it. I did my second ever track event in it and periodically took it to the track in the mid 90s to early 2000s on a set of Hoosiers mounted on Miata daisy wheels. I autocrossed it a bit too, but I can’t be bothered to care about winning and the fun-per-hour ratio was not high enough, so I stopped.
The driving feel is stock-plus, which is how I like it. The ECU requires 91 octane, which is annoying to pay for, but it also gives razor-sharp throttle response, tons of tractability (something the SR20 was already pretty good at) and a little bit more power. I like soft springing and lots of damping, which is why I put the suspension on it that I did. It’s got about 220k now and I don’t drive it much these days but, again, can’t get rid of it. It survived 20+ years in the Midwest amazingly well, but finally started rusting about four years ago. Strangely, the rust it does have is from water leaks, not road salt.
Autopian: SPG’s are worth money, but are you sure you want to sell it?
Yes, they are! Conveniently for me, it’s probably worth twice what I paid for it in 2017. It’s nice when it works out that way. I swore when I bought it that it would be catch-and-release because I already had four cars, I live in the city, and I don’t have enough money to have tons of space for cars. We can see how that went, since I’ve had five cars for five years. My original plan was for it to replace my Beige Transportation Appliance Accord, but the minute I saw it in its minty sparkliness, I knew I couldn’t drive it year-round in Chicago, so…whoops, I did it again. I seem to be better at acquiring things (incl. cars) than getting rid of them and dammit I want this time to be different. I was going to sell it last fall but I hit a deer while driving on a rally in the Hocking Hills, and getting it fixed is taking time. My smarter self says the money from selling it will go a long way towards paying for the Fiat’s restoration costs. I’d love to keep it because it’s so quirky, absurdly practical, and a terrific highway car. The less-smart self would trade it for a Bavaria in a minute because I’ve wanted one of those since high school and a local guy I know who owns one floated the idea of some kind of swap.
But in the end, I don’t have a sentimental attachment to it like I do to the other old cars; there is only so much money to spend on cars and time to drive them, and there are *so many* cars I’d like to experience. So it’s gotta go eventually.
Autopian: “Designing cities around the needs of cars is terrible” is very true! How do you balance your love of urbanism and your love of cars?
I don’t really think of them as competing interests that need balancing. My love of cars is something that has been so much a part of me for so long that I might as well have been born with it. So other interests sort of exist over, under or around it. Even ostensibly competing ones get reconciled with it by, I suppose, layering or compartmentalization. I’ve always lived in cities or urban areas (Caracas, Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago) but it wasn’t until I moved to Detroit in 1998 and, later, started visiting Chicago (I was in a long-distance relationship for almost five years before I moved here) that I really came to appreciate cities as living historical artifacts, a sort of living organism, and began to gain some understanding of how cities have come to be what they are (whatever they are), what was good and bad for them, and what can make them healthy.
I love cycling – it’s second to cars and car design, I’d say – and did a lot of it in Detroit, both for fun and transportation. When I moved here I committed myself to riding my bikes year-round for transportation in the city, and using my cars for other things – carrying big things, road trips, fun. For nine or ten years I drove to work only a handful of times a year, when I was going to Detroit for the weekend and leaving from work.
Since my office moved clear to the other side of town, I often drive because it’s faster than the CTA and a lot faster than riding, but I try to limit it to about half of my commuting. I still ride most everything else. One thing that is not fun is driving in Chicago, but one thing that is is biking in it, despite the entitlement and hostility of drivers who often drive under the largely true impression that there are no consequences for anything they might do with their cars. Seeing a city on a bike or on your feet gives you a relationship to your place that you just can’t get in a car.
It’s a wonderful luxury – and in most of America, it is a luxury, rather than something more like a right – to only drive because you want to, rather than because you have to. So yes, I have all my old cars (and the 911 has a gutted cat, so it’s rather…dirty) but I can only drive one car at a time. I drive around 10-12k miles a year, and a lot of that is road trips (so it tends to depend a lot on what trips I take every year). I wrench on my own cars for the most part – though the older I get, the more I appreciate that sometimes my time is worth paying for someone else’s labor when there’s some job that sucks, or I’m overwhelmed with projects and need to reduce my cognitive overhead. But I own my cars to drive them and enjoy them, so driving always takes priority.
One of the few things I don’t like about Chicago is that you have to go a long damn way to get past suburbia and exurbia (the other big one is winter) and find anywhere nice to drive (I was spoiled growing up in Atlanta in the 80s and early 90s), but there’s pleasure in driving the 911 to car shows on Sundays, or making a run to my favorite bakery on Saturday morning, or using the Saab for whatever I’d use the JSW for. When you don’t rely on cars, and use them as a choice rather than a necessity, I think owning a bunch of old cars is perfectly compatible with an urbanist spirit.
Autopian: Agreed! What’s your dream garage?
The 911 and Fiat and SE-R that I already own, plus: 1)A Citroen DS 2)A Tatra 603 (I think there’s 100% overlap between people who admire these two cars) 3)I used to say a 2002, but now I think I’d rather have a Bavaria 4)Probably a BMC Mini 5)A giant old Cadillac convertible, probably 66-68 6)Some other giant boat, why not make it a ’66 or ’67 60 Special Brougham but I’m flexible. 7)Something terrible because it builds character 8)Five or six slots for cars that would rotate every few years because in my dreams I get to experience *everything* but I can’t drive everything at once, so just buy, enjoy, and pass on. Is this too realistic for a dream??
Autopian: Seems realistic to me! Thanks!