As readers of The Garage, you take for granted that we simply know what we’re talking about as car journalists. Or, you read other blogs, buy magazines, or watch car shows on TV. But, did you ever wonder how the people providing you our opinions got here? If so, I am going to relate my story. In a recent issue of Road & Track, the magazine lists their writer’s 51 Favorite things about what they love about everything automotive, which inspired me to write my own story.
It starts at birth. During a snow storm in January 1973, my mother declared to my father that ‘it was time.’ They hopped in their only car, a 1967 Pontiac GTO convertible, drove off to Yale-New Hospital, and there I was born. Unfortunately, as a toddler, strapped in a car seat in the back seat of the GTO with the top down, Mom and Dad seemed like a million miles away from me, and driving top down was downright terrifying. I know, it’s heresy, but from the perspective of a two or three year old, cut me some slack. With the impending arrival of a baby sister, the GTO was traded in for a sensible Mercury Monarch, hardly a collectors item, but it was transportation. Still, the arrival of my newborn sister yielded a new set of Matchbox cars, which made my day.
My car obsession was something I had on my own. After the GTO, my father was not really into cars, they were more of a financial decision than emotional. My Grandfather, a World War II veteran, Pearl Harbor survivor serving as Lt. Col. on the USS Pennsylvania was fairly car conscious. He liked his cars large and luxurious, and would tell me repeatedly the key to a car’s smooth ride was a long wheelbase. He loved the big American personal luxury coupes, and I have fond memories of rides in this Ford LTD two door with doors that seemed about 10′ long and weighed 1,000 lbs. His Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz with its stainless steel roof that was hopelessly unreliable, but was his pride an joy. Most notable was his 1959 Ford Thunderbird, silver with a black hardtop with red and white leather interior. He bought that car new, and kept it until 1987. I would spend hours just sitting in that car, admiring the style, the art deco levers and controls and fonts on the dash. That car would be replaced with his last new car purchase, a 1988 Lincoln Mark VII LSC, with the Mustang GT 5.0’s V-8. At 15, he let me drive it. I was being extra careful, but he was getting frustrated. He said “This car has an American V-8, put your foot in it.” I love him for that. That was my first and only drive with him before he passed.
Timing is everything, and truth be told, as I grew up my interest in cars waned. It’s just not cool to be a pre-teen playing with Matchbox cars, and my attention turned to G.I. Joe, arcade games, electronics, etc. My parents drove cars that were appliances. But, we had moved into a more affluent neighborhood, and that car obsession I was born with would soon be awoken. I had a neighbor with a 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB around the corner from me. On early mornings he would fire up that Columbo V-12, and roll down our street in first gear, waiting for her to get warmed up. The sound was mesmerizing. Another neighbor behind my house had a black, all original Ferrari 275 GTS, and it had the same effect. I’d come running out of the house just to see the cars warming up, to better hear the wail of that stupendous V-12. I was getting back into it.
My great-uncle Tom bought me a Road & Track around this time, with a Ferrari Testarossa on the cover, and I have been a subscriber ever since. But the clincher came in 1988. I was the neighborhood paper boy, driving my Puch 12-speed every day. My neighbor Bill, also a gear head, asked me if I would like to work for him at his high-end audio store on the Gold Coast of southwest Connecticut. I said I would. On the first day I was able to legally work, I went to work. Bill picked me up in his 1987 BMW 535is. It was like no car I had ever been in. Red with black leather, the Recaro seats seats held me tight in place. This was clearly no ordinary car. I worked Saturdays, and our commute was on the bucolic Merritt Parkway. My father was always a cautious driver, and so was Bill, but for the first time in my life, I experienced 80mph in a car, and the 535is was one hell of a car. Not wanting to seem dorky, I restrained my excitement, but I was having the time of my life. I practically had tears in my eyes. I was experiencing the Ultimate Driving Machine.
One morning on our way to work, Bill informed me we would be stopping to pick up a client’s car for a stereo installation. It would be a day that would change my life forever. We stopped at a doctor’s house, where a red 1988 Porsche 911 Carrera was parked out front. We were handed the keys. Bill fired up that boxer six and I was sold. That sound literally possessed me, intoxicated me. What that 911 was capable of positively astounded me. I swore I would own one, no matter what it took. I won’t keep you waiting-I do own a 1976 Porsche 911S. I do not use it much, but just going out to the garage to pull out my gas grill, and to gaze upon the car always makes me smile. And yes, the sound of that engine is still intoxicating. Finally, I do take deep pleasure in the envious looks from men driving minivans who stare at me in envy when I pull up alongside them. It hurts them that much more when I have my wife and son strapped in his booster seat. Hey, it’s not my fault you spent $35 grand on your Sienna, and I have the Porsche for less than 10.
It was finally time for me to learn how to drive. Thankfully, my dad owned one of the best Honda Accord’s ever built, a 1987 LXi. I’d be coached in my hometown, but my favorite driving lessons were on the curvy roads of my mother’s hometown in rural Northeastern Connecticut, where I got my first personal taste a driving a car on a fun road. That Accord was a great car, at a time when Honda was at their height of engineering excellence. I enrolled at an after-school Driver’s Ed program at my Jesuit high school. Here, we drove god-awful Chevy Cavaliers. I got my chops on driving in ugly inner-city Bridgeport. Surrounded by drivers with little care in traffic law, or much anything for that matter, this was the school of hard knocks. Tough, but it paid off.
I studied hard, and passed my driver’s test. With my newly minted driver’s license, all I wanted was to get out and drive, and be free. That was not going to happen. I had finals the next day, and my parents insisted I stay home and study, which I did. On that note, I will stop here. I sincerely hope you enjoyed some personal insight on my evolution as a car guy to the point where I finally get to drive. Part II will focus on how I took that passion and cracked into the business of car journalism. Thank you for reading.