Let’s play favorites

Do you have a favorite car? One that, over the years, you’ve consciously or even subconsciously, used as the measuring stick by which all other cars are measured?

Mine had been my mom’s 1971 Super Beetle. I learned to drive with that car. It was a four-speed manual and a blast to drive.

1971 Volkswagen Super Beetle

I was a teenager and got my license in my junior year in high school. Many of my classmates, if they had their own cars, drove the muscle cars of the day, complete with jacked-up rear ends and big, wide rear tires, so they looked like funny cars (the race cars, not something to laugh at). 

They drove Pontiac GTOs or Firebirds of various vintage, Chevy Novas, Chevelles, Camaros, as well as 442s, Skylarks, Cudas, Chargers, Challengers, and so on. All tuned so those big V8s would growl and cough and rumble as they drove around John Marshall High School, squeezing tires, to show off for the girls like peacocks waving their colorful tail feathers.

They lived for cars and girls  (queue song).

And here I’d come with my mom’s Bug. There’s not much you can do to mod a Bug, especially when it’s your mom’s, but I had a friend help me install an 8-track stereo that I could just plug in, then take out when I was done. We used my home stereo’s set of book shelf speakers, which fit perfectly behind the backseat storage area of the car.

So I’d cruise around blasting tunes and to really get attention, I’d pop the clutch and lay down some rubber. I think it caught people’s attention because no one expected a Bug to squeal it’s tires. Sure, the back end would hop and I’m sure I wasn’t doing the transmission or clutch much good, but it would leave about a two or three foot long burnout.

(And if I my younger son, once he has his license, ever pops the clutch in my Fiat 500, he’s grounded for life.)

That Beetle was a fun little car to drive. It had decent excelleration and was quick enough and small enough that you could weave in and out of traffic without any problems.

And it has been my reference car ever since. Whenever I’d test drive another car, I’d mentally compare it to that one. In the end, none even came close. 

I mean, sure, I enjoyed my 1986 Dodge Datona Turbo Z. When the turbo finally kicked in and threw you back into your seat, it was a lot of fun. But otherwise, it was a heavy car, despite its small size and wasn’t very zippy in traffic because of its turbo lag. And shifting always felt clunky until it finally did go clunk.

1986 Dodge Daytona Turbo Z

The two Ford Escorts I had were what would be called basic transportation. One was the body style from the ’80s and the other was the sportier looking version from 1995. They were more utilitarian than fun.

And although our 1996 Pontiac Sunrise served us faithfully for nearly 15 years until it developed a hole in one of the cylinders, I wouldn’t necessarily call it fun to drive either. In fact, it seemed rather heavy, but we always felt safe in it during the winter.

So over 43 years, and at least 14 cars, the memory of that Beetle lived on… until three weeks ago when we bought the 2013 Fiat 500 Lounge.

Queue angelic choir singing “Ohhhhhh!”

Now I have a new favorite car.

Small is the new black.

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Meet Gina

I’ve been doing research on a new used car, because that’s what I do: I research the Hell out of everything before I buy it.

Is that an odd trait? To enjoy doing research, making comparisons, weighing the pros and cons? 

I know some people buy on the spur of the moment, sometimes making what to me seem like rash decisions.

But I have to know everything about something before I jump in. Or in my case, wade in and gradually test the waters.

It’s just how I’m wired. I think it’s the OCD aspect of my ADHD. Others with ADHD are the risk takers and make decisions immediately. It’s been said that I can’t make a decision to save my life  (which is untrue. In life and death situations the obsessive part of me shuts down and I rely on instinct).

Anyway, this was supposed to be about cars. So I narrowed my search down to two makes, Ford Mustang and Mini Cooper. These two were then narrowed down to two specific cars on the same lot, both 2007. The Mustang was a black deluxe with white hood stripes and 75,000 miles and the Mini Cooper was the S, turbo model with 84,000 miles. Same price.

I test drove both. The Mini seemed like a better driving experience, but the engine was covered with oil, which concerned me, and they had to jumpstart it because the battery needed replacement. Because of that, the radio didn’t work. But the interior was cool otherwise.

Whereas the Mustang’s interior seemed dated. And although it had a new clutch, the shifting just didn’t seem as smooth as the Mini.

So I made a chart of pros and cons. Doesn’t everyone? In the end, it turned out there were more pros for the Mini than the Mustang and surprisingly, the Mini was actually the faster of the two in the quarter mile and the Mini had a top speed nearly 20 mph faster. 

But talk maintenance costs and the Mustang wins, because Mini turbos are notoriously expensive when parts start to go and they suffer from carbon buildup that can be costly as well to clean.

So it came down to the Mustang, my childhood dream, a car that still turned heads when I test drove it, or the Mini which was fun to zip around in city traffic, would be smaller and easier to park downtown, and gets much better gas mileage.

My teenage son tried to influence me toward the Mustang. “Dad, you won’t have any street cred in a Mini.” 

Which did I choose?

Right? The 2013 Fiat 500 Lounge,  of course. 

“Wait,” you’re saying, “you never mentioned a Fiat was on your list!”

That’s because it wasn’t. The Fiat was a surprise last second entrant that we saw sitting on a lot Saturday as we went by and once I took it for a test drive, that was all she wrote. 

It’s a cute, zippy fun car to drive and its the first car, or even first inanimate objects, I’ve ever felt compelled to name.

Meet Gina, my Italian beauty:

Gina strikes a pose

“So all that talk about researching and not buying spur of the moment was just bullshit?”

Well, yes and no. I did generic research on the Fiat 500, Honda Fit, and Mazda3, among others, but using Autotrader and CarGurus, I didn’t find any specific vehicles that interested me. Not like the Mustang and Mini.

So I knew specs, Fiats got much better gas mileage than the other two, and reliability, Fiats didn’t have the mechanical woes of Mini turbos and since Fiat owns Chrysler,  the parts are Molar and more comparable to other domestic cars, like the Ford for repairability.

The Fiat 500, Gina, reminds me a lot of the first car I ever drove, my mom’s 1971 VW Superbeetle. It was stick as well and a blast to drive around town. I’ve driven many cars since then, but not one gave me the same thrills zipping in and out of traffic or the cute good looks as the bug did. Until Gina.

Gina’s two-tone leather interior

Gina is all the bug was, and more.
And both my sons like it and not a word about street cred from my teenager. In fact, he wants me to pick him up from school.

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