Turn One: "Amazing Drives"

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Written by David S. Wallens

From the Oct. 2012 issue

Posted in Columns

When it comes to most things in life, I admit that I’m a bit of a traditionalist. Call me old-school. I like my vodka unflavored, my “Star Wars” without Jar Jar, and my mouse with only one button.

Recently, I spent some time with the latest, all-new Porsche 911, and I fully admit that I entered the drive not wanting to like it. Yes, it looked like a 911 and still had a flat-six hanging behind the rear axle, but that Panamera-influenced interior wasn’t winning me over. Real 911s have a stick shift poking up from the floor, not a center stack filled with a few dozen knobs, buttons and sliders.

Guess what? I’m an idiot. The latest 911 is one of the best cars that I have ever, ever driven—so good, in fact, that it got me thinking about other life-changing drives I have experienced:

Mazda Miata: The best car ever pieced together by humankind? Yeah, maybe. End of debate.

Acura Integra Type R: If the Miata is at the top of the heap, then the Type R has to be the best front-driver ever. It marries Honda’s perfectly benign chassis with an insane redline, brakes that could stop the rotation of a small planet, and that wonderful Torsen diff. It’s like driving an air-powered impact gun.

In fact, this car made such an impact that I asked Honda if I could buy our test car from their fleet. Sadly, I was told, it was a preproduction example that would eventually have to be terminated.

Porsche GT3: Adapt that Type R rawness to the Porsche 911, and you have the GT3. Sure, the GT2 and Turbo may be faster, but nothing else sounds like a GT3. That shriek is somewhere between a TIE fighter and a Tasmanian devil hopped up on meth.

I’d totally rock an earlier 996-chassis GT3, too. Every time I get Panorama, the Porsche Club of America’s official pub, I check the going prices. They seem to hover around $49,999. That’s a chunk of change, but I bet in just a few years we’ll reminisce about when a GT3 cost less than a one-bedroom L.A. apartment.

MGA: A lot of you probably don’t know this, but I’m lucky to serve as chairman of the board of the British Motor Trade Association, a group that serves the businesses dedicated to the British car hobby. Between that and my duties at Classic Motorsports magazine, I can speak a decent amount of British car.

There are a lot of traditional British sports cars out there, but the MGA has a special openness. It’s part sports bike, part British motorcycle. The Miata may carry the torch today, but the English originals still have that special smell—a mix of Castrol, leather and dampness. If you ever happen upon a British car day, see if you can at least slip behind the wheel of an MGA.

Jaguar XKE: Speaking of British cars, the original supercar also comes from that land across the pond. Last time I visited Carl Heideman, I took his early XKE for a spin. You really owe it to yourself to bum a ride—not necessarily in his, but in anyone’s.

The XKE is just the definition of classy, from its pursed lips to the rows of toggle switches that punctuate the interior. Then there’s ride: smooth, composed, ready to pounce, yet supple enough to deliver you to work. Make mine British Racing Green, please.

Fiat 500: Carl also owns one of these—and I’m talking about the original 500, not the newly minted one. Carl described this one best: It’s a four-wheeled moped. Oh, and it has a non-synchro gearbox, meaning every gear change is a bit of an adventure. Like many of the cars on my list, it’s all about the journey, not setting the lap record.

Dodge Viper: The first time I approached a Dodge Viper, I got my calf a bit too close to a hot side pipe and wrenched it away—nice to see those reflexes work, huh? In the process, something popped inside my knee. After lying in the grass waiting for things to return to normal, the Viper and I had another go at it. The speedometer was flinging toward the three-digit zone, but the tachometer was barely climbing—I figured the tach was broken. Then I realized something: The Viper’s immense V10 engine wasn’t like anything else—it built power by its own rules.

Consulier: Before joining the magazine staff, I read the somewhat damning reviews of Warren Mosler’s Consulier in the buff books. It was crude and not fully baked. Someone criticized it for having too many cigarette lighters.

Soon after coming to the mag, Warren let me borrow one for what was billed as Florida’s first import drag race. True, Consuliers came from Florida, but for whatever reason, it was welcome—the turbocharged four-cylinder was at least in the right spirit.

My first run staged me against a Honda Prelude— remember, the import scene was still wearing diapers. He got the jump, and I simply buried the throttle. I beat him to the finish line by seconds. So I came to a stop and waited. After all, I didn’t know how to get off the drag strip. Someone had to show me the way back to the pits.

Volkswagen Kombi: Ever drive a VW bus? I imagine that the Goodyear blimp delivers a similar sensation regarding acceleration and handling. Like all air-cooled VWs, though, it’s about the experience, not the max performance numbers. Mark, my college roommate, had a bone-stock 1967 Bug when we met. Back then, that was just an inexpensive car. One day I’d like one just like his, down to the totally lackluster exterior almond hue.

My Own Porsche 911: I love it when the naysayers start beating up on the original Porsche 911. It’s just an overgrown VW Bug. The engine is at the wrong end. It doesn’t have a proper cooling system.

Know what? It’s a sports car. It’s not supposed to make any sense. If you can’t find joy in near-telepathic steering, an amazing view of the road, and possibly the world’s best exhaust note, turn in your sports car club membership right now.

And that, my friends, is why we drive, love and collect these silly cars—for the fun. So what cars changed your outlook on life? I’d love to hear your list. Just drop me a note at david@grassrootsmotorsports.com.

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