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!
Props from a fellow Chicagoan, especially for owning two of my all-time faves, the 900SPG and the Targa. If you see someone in an old black Acura waving on DuSable Lake Shore Drive, it’s probably me. 🙂
Very nice garage. I had an SE-R as a daily driver in the mid to late 90s and loved it. As you said very reliable, I had it before my autocross years but wish I had had a chance to auto-x it even though I have never really learned to properly drive a FWD car around the cones. The rest of the garage is great too, nothing like an air-cooled 911, and the Fiat 124 turbo is a neat piece of kit, as is the Saab of course, only Saab I have owned is a Sonett.
My midlife crisis manifested itself via a mid-pandemic purchase of a ’77 Fiat Spider. I too have spent a lifetime obsessing over cars, and this dream was a long time coming.
It has been glorious. I have needed to do just enough work to keep things interesting and learn my way around the engine bay, but not so much that it’s been out of commission for more than a day here or there. It’s not fancy or particularly fast, but driving it around rural New England on a sunny summer day is just about as good as it gets.
A working turbo on one of these is a rarity, as parts are unavailable. Fun fact: There were also plans to use these turbos in DeLoreans, but the deal fell through and DeLorean declared bankruptcy soon after.
Shout out to a fellow former member of the SE-R mailing list!
Anyone from Chicago gets an immediate sense of place from some of these pictures– the brick apartment blocks with the courtyards and the wooden multistory rear decks. Classic Chicago! ” you have to go a long damn way to get past suburbia and exurbia and find anywhere nice to drive” – as someone who lives at the outer rim of west-exurbia, I can say it equally sucks to drive into the city for…well anything. But we do have some nice 2 lane country roads out here with long sweeping turns that you can drive at speeds…let’s say above the posted limit.
In the late 50’s my oldest sister and her husband lived in one in Maywood while he was working for AC Electronics. It was a decent place. Then.
Good combo. I also own a 911 targa, 1977. And I own a BMW Bavaria. And some other stuff.
That said, one small correction, you said the secret to old car ownership is one new car, I’d just update that to one fairly stock RELIABLE car. My 2000 Insight has 285k miles on it, runs awesome, everything works, it’s the beater. Doesn’t need to be new to be a reliable machine.
Fair point – I guess what I really mean is one car that you don’t have to fix shit on. My SE-R has been ultra-reliable but by now it’s 30 years old and any 30 year old car needs *something*
I recognize your handle from BaT. Would love to see pics of both!
I love your 5 car garage. As someone coming from Mexico that had a Nissan Tsuru as first car (Nissan Sentra B13) and started my way up to where I am now living in metro Detroit, married with 3 kids, having 8 cars, I understand the car thing, you are born with it. My mom said everything started while she was pregnant of my sister, I used her belly to play with my hot wheels. Since I moved to Detroit, I wanted to buy interesting cars or something different. Part of my garage is a Honda Insight Gen 1, a Mercury Tracer Wagon, a VW Super Beetle, Polestar 2, Chevy Volt. I just purchased a Pacifica PHEV for the kids since my spouse was complaining we needed something more practical lol there is also a Chevy Bolt (recall ugh) and a GMC Envoy that was my first car when I moved to the US and now its my winter beater
Enjoy your collection and drive it as much as you can 🙂
A Tracer wagon, que chulo!!
Slight editing issue above?
The Autopian going. Our plan is to do these every week! Today it’s Mr. Asa’s turn!) – I don’t think it’s Mr. Asa’s turn again.
Lol, that’s what I said as well, pretty sure it was a cut and paste intro that Matt forgot to edit! 😉
I always love seeing fellow urbanist bike commuters on here.
They didn’t ask for bike photos but I’d have provided them! 🙂 I have seven-ish rideable bikes with four or five in normal rotation, and several other not-quite-complete bikes
Having owned a boat (’71 Cadillac Coupe deVille), they’re amazing. If you can totally wrench yourself. Finding someone that has the skills to diagnose and repair v. plug-in and replace is a rare, rare commodity. Exponentially so if you’d like it done affordably and on a timely basis.
Nice garage! I’ll even let the Never Nissan pass, as it’s special. The SAAB though…. OMG I love it. I had an ’88 900 Turbo, wish I still did. 911 is also awesome.
A note on the inevitable sunroof leak for the JSW: The drain system is dumb, because it’s over-engineered. It overflows rather than really leaking. Apparently there are valves at the bottom of the drains, because one wouldn’t want their car to just immediately rid itself of water. Better to build it up a bit first for…reasons?
Pretty easy to find YouTube instructions for accessing the line connections. When I blew out my front line I was quite impressed with the amount of detritus. Hasn’t rained inside the car since, but I’m sure it will someday.
Probably best to use a length of trimmer sting or something similar to unclog vw/audi sunroof drain lines. If you use compressed air the line can come apart up under the headliner and down at those “valves”…. and then its a pain to fix.
In this situation the line is already apart at the headliner end to access it. My reading indicated that the crap in the line would make it impossible to operate a pipe cleaner approach, and I found that pretty believable considering what came out.
Not sure I would have minded if it blew the whole valve assembly out the end. At least then I’d have an excuse to just straight pipe it.
I was and still am really hoping to avoid stupid-German-car shit with this car, but secretly I know that hope is doomed eventually. I bought the car from a dealership in Milwaukee that had tons of cars with a manual and a sunroof. First one I looked at had damp rear carpets and an inch of water in the spare tire well. Oops! I’m gonna pay for this eventually but I just love sunroofs.
But a few weeks ago I realized I…didn’t have any heat. Like, what? It’s either a take-the-dash-out problem (stuck blend door or something) or stupid computer stuff. Hoping for the former.
I do not understand all the love on this site for brown cars…..having lived thru the malaise era full of brown shit cars, I now associate brown with that era…..and it sucked completely. I guess since the majority of Autopian readers weren’t alive then, they don’t have this same feeling?
Whatever the reason, I have never liked brown on a car……not when there are so many other cool colors – like that gold on the 911!
Agree about brown, I had a chance to buy a late 70s 911 right before they shot up in value. It was brown, regret not buying a relatively cheap 911, but don’t regret not buying that car.
No notes. I nearly bought an SE-R and have always regretted choosing a Civic instead. And that chocolate Fiat, wowzer.
The user name, though, could use work.
It’s your fault! You pre-took it, LOL. My sister got a Civic EX coupe the next year. Nice car – basically an SI with a trunk – but not as nice as my own! I can still hear the Morse-code-H door-open chime, though.
I read it as Theo the Rotter the first time around.
That’s a great assortment of cars!
“Name is Ranita, and I actually call it that.”
Lo veo que hiciste allí
Una amiga mía la llamaba así la primera vez que lo vió. Es el mote perfecto – es lindo, y se cabe. Su nombre completo es Doña Ranita Dorada y Perfecta
Que molleja! Seguramente es dorada y perfecta. Viví en Barquisimeto y Caracas tambien cuando fui un niño.
DAT BROWN THO. Mmmmmm-hmmmm.
Was that pictured Fiat Spider not one of his?
Did I miss something, or were the Fiat pictures not included outside the lead-in?
In any case, excellent garage right now. Where do you find places for them in Chicago? I haven’t ever been there, but most other large cities space to house more than one vehicle is usually quite expensive.
I need to work on Dad’s Porsche.
You didn’t, but it’s the same car in both pictures (one photo taken in 1990, one taken last fall.) Everybody asks me where I keep them! It’s not an unreasonable question. When I have all five of them (currently two are out), one is garaged at home, the JSW and SE-R are street-parked, and the other two are in a garage I rent a couple of miles away. An upside to having N-1 cars is that the SE-R can be garaged again. I live on the northwest side in an area that isn’t overly expensive (yet still has great transit access!)
Good choices! Can’t give you any suggestions since you seem to be doing fine on your own. You might like to experience the joy of having a JDM car, though – just not one of the usual suspects but something more uncommon.
Totally! My JDM experiences are in a pair of Land Cruisers – a 2003ish 100-series LC with a solid axle, 5-speed, and rubber/vinyl interior, and a 1999 90-series Prado, loaded and with whatever turbo diesel those came with and a five-speed. Both were in Zambia, where my stepsister was living for some years. The 100-series is theirs and they’ve had it through three countries now (currently in Malawi), the Prado was their friends’. I wished I could have shipped the Prado home with me. 10/10 would have used it as my normal car if I could have.
My dream garage would have that Prado and something else JDM but uncommon.
This would not literally be my perfect garage, but damn is it close. Like, wow.
Porsche, A+++++, no notes.
My current (and only) car is a manual Alltrack, and I wanted to buy a TDI Jetta in 2000 to run it biodiesel, so obviously I love the wagon.
I’d probably pick a Spitfire over the Fiat, but I would absolutely dedicate a slot to a little, old 2-seater soft top.
Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a better family sedan than the Saab. Maybe a 626.
I wouldn’t have thought of the SE-R, but as soon as I saw it, I got a big smile. I remember how much the car magazines loved those cars, and while I never drove one, I thought they looked great.
I considered an AllTrak (sunroof and manual, please!) but decided I didn’t need to spend the extra $5k it would have taken to get an Alltrak. I’m not too enamored of paying $5.50/gal for ULSD, though.
I love this garage and I think the only change would be the inclusion of a CJ, YJ, or TJ. But that SPG is beautiful. I’ve always liked that front end more than the updated one because it reminds me of the EMS.
Please forgive me, theotherotter, but in that first picture, I’m getting serious McLovin vibes, and I’m here for it. I say this with all due respect.
Thanks! Make my off-roaders a ’70s Wagoneer and some Land Cruiser, probably either a Burbuja (80-series) with a stick, or a 90-series Prado.