Firsts are paramount to our mental growth. They tattoo our minds with an initial notion. Regardless of whether you like or dislike your first experience of something, it will remain deeply impactful on your soul for as long as you live.
One in particular is your first car. All of your first memories of freedom become tied up in a piece of metal with four wheels. Interestingly, first cars grow to become a vessel for your youth, more than your physical self, in ways.
The other first is finding and owning something so significant to you that you deem it your favourite. Sometimes this doesn’t happens for some of us, but for most we find a reason to single out one car as our favourite amongst many.
First car owned?
This story starts in high school, with 16-year-old me befriending a few guys in the grade above. We had similar tastes in music, they enabled access to cool parties, the usual. Standard teenager fare, really.
I had recently moved to Australia from the United Kingdom, and had yet to gain any experience in what transport of the youth looked like. As these kids were older, most were licensed drivers. My friendship with them proved to be insightful of what sort of metal P-platers had access to in Australia.
One of those gentlemen, named Stuart, owned a 1989 Toyota Corolla SX, registration number AID-66E. It looked fantastic, with a factory-fitted front bumper lip, red pin-striping, equally radical ‘SX twincam 16’ door decals, and machined-finish alloy wheels that resembled shuriken (Japanese throwing stars).
Backing up its groovy looks was an equally groovy awesome heart. Locally delivered cars, such as the one being discussed, all received the latest version of Toyota’s legendary 1.6-litre, twin-cam 4A-GE engine. Nicknamed by enthusiasts as the ‘smallport’ version, due to the size of the intake ports on its cylinder head, it was the most powerful iteration of the 4A-GE engine Toyota Australia ever offered here. It produced a mighty 100kW at the flywheel, when new.
I have fond memories of riding shotgun in that car. Everyone else in that clique owned mediocrity: a TG Gemini, an N15 Pulsar Plus (no legendary Nissan SR engine to be seen), a Holden VS Commodore and a Mitsubishi Mirage, owned by my best friend, who I’d marry later in life. In a nutshell, every other car in the pack was either slow, boring or charmless.
The mighty Corolla felt like an absolute star amongst that set. It revved, sounded good, steered well, and never let us down. I also recall being amazed by the seven-section gauge array that spanned more than half the dash, complete with oil pressure gauge and voltmeter.
It wasn’t all about sportiness, however, as its other fundamentals had too been well thought out. I spent many hours relaxing in the seats of that Corolla over the duration of many road trips. Compared to the other choices, as mentioned above, it was by far the most comfortable cabin of them all. I saw it as the ultimate first car.
My first car.
My mind had been made up – save my pennies, and when the time is right, buy my very own example. However, a friend in the same circle got his licence before me and opted for the same choice. I’m still not sure exactly what possessed him to do so, as he wasn’t into cars.
Regardless, it had been done. I couldn’t do the same thing.
So, what does one highly competitive teenager do out of spite? Buy the next-fastest choice, within budget.
Which in my case turned out to be a 1992 Nissan Pulsar SSS. It was a series-one ‘ES’ version, to those who remain in the know. Colloquially, this generation was also referred to as ‘Aus spec’, as it lacked the twin-spotlight front bumper, Pulsar GTI-R-style seats, and sunroof of the later ‘CBU’ version, or ‘Jap spec’ as they too were colloquially known. Silver with a metallic black bonnet, it was as much of a shitbox as my dad first imagined. “I’m not sure why you bought that car,” he still says to this day.
It wasn’t a good introduction into motoring. The example I bought was pretty rubbish due to my limited budget. One party trick it was bestowed with was the ability to stay running without the key in. How did you turn it off? Stall it with the clutch, of course. Regardless of the flak being dished out now, it served me well, and got me around until I broke away from that group of friends and found my own way in the world.
And yes, once this had happened, I proceeded to sell the Pulsar and buy myself a Corolla SX.
Boy, was that worth the wait. I’ve since owned eight of them, including a Toyota Australia test car finished in a colour not seen on that generation, as well as an extremely rare two-door version that made its way over from Japan.
My first car was not my favourite car by any means. But it did empower me to find greener pastures, break away from the nonsense clouding my mind at the time, and begin to enjoy cars for no-one else other than myself.
Favourite car owned?
Naturally, a harder one to decide. A few stellar vehicles come to mind, but one in particular stands out. I liked it so much that I actually bought it back 15 months after initially selling it.
That car is a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII MR.
My original answer was going to be something else I miss dearly, my old Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 Tommi Makinen Edition. However, the eight was a better car to own, live with and enjoy more than the old TME ever was.
That means the eight wins the tussle in my mind.
Mitsubishi Evolutions are the textbook cult car. They suck you in, consume your mind and your wallet, and in return offer you pretty incredible motoring for the money. Hordes of fans are tragics just like me, finding it hard to escape from the allure of their all-paw savagery.
Like any good Japanese product, it can trace its lineage back to the bubble era. In fact, it can thank that period of time for granting it with the solid engineering that truly made it special. They’re incredibly reliable, so long as you treat them with a few grams of respect. Aside from being quite rapid out of the box, the old Evolution remains very responsive to modification, too.
The eighth-generation car was equipped with some serious, technologically advanced gear for the time. Even more special was the MR variant, or ‘Mitsubishi Racing’ version. The MR is a final-year special-edition version of the Evo VIII that received a comprehensive sayonara package.