Trading Speed For Emotion | Column

J.G.
By J.G. Pasterjak
Aug 30, 2021 | Chevrolet, Toyota, MR2, Corvette, Column | Posted in Columns | From the May 2021 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Chris Tropea

Head or gut, what’ll it be? 

That was the grim choice given to any dirtbag unlucky enough to cross onto the bad side of impossibly hard-boiled private eye Joe Hallenbeck in Tony Scott’s gritty 1991 neo-noir action comedy/drama “The Last Boy Scout.” 

Hallenbeck, a disgraced Secret Service agent portrayed by Bruce Willis, offered these options to particularly unpleasant subjects he felt needed to be punched in one of the two aforementioned areas. 

While the movie’s criminal underworld faces this fairly clear-cut and literal head-or-gut choice from Hallenbeck–a detective so grizzled he never met a case that couldn’t be solved by drinking just a little harder–folks like us face a more metaphorical, ephemeral head-or-gut proposition when we’re choosing cars.

I’ll make it personal, I suppose, what with my name being on the column and all. For the last three years, I’ve been the caretaker, project manager, frequent wrench turner and driver of our 2004 Corvette Z06 project. As with so many of our project cars, we knew going in that this one wouldn’t be around forever. And now the finish line is in sight, as are some difficult farewells. 

But I’ve also started on a new project car, a 1991 Toyota MR2 Turbo that I’ve owned for around eight years. 

For the purposes of our metaphor, the Corvette is the head car. While I have deep feelings for the car itself, my primary attraction to it is for what it can do. It’s a tool designed to go fast, stick to the road like glue, and stop like a hungry coyote hitting a fake tunnel painted on the side of a mountain. 

It looks cool, makes great noises, and I’d be lying if I said it isn’t fun having one of the fastest cars at nearly any event I’ve attended. The entire car is a tool–a logical, rational decision made with my brain to produce low lap times and high excitement, and it’s exceptional in its execution of those functions.

The MR2, though, is a piece of my soul.

I suppose some background is in order here: I’ve been an “MR2 guy” for pretty much my entire adult life. For over 30 years, one MR2 or another has lived in my garage, and the first car I ever autocrossed seriously was a 1985 model. I’d hop in it at 3 a.m. on a Sunday–after waiting tables at Chili’s until midnight–and drive 4 hours to some out-of-the-way parking lot or airfield to toss it around. Something about MR2s connects with me on a deep, gut level that I can’t quite explain but that I know I want to keep feeling.

So when content about my current ’91 Turbo started resonating with readers, leading us to officially designate it a “project car,” I was naturally excited. But now it’s causing a bit of a reset in my brain.

Look, I’m a competitive guy. I like judging myself against others with the cold, unemotional precision of lap times, and I like that the Corvette is a tool that gives me a decent advantage in that comparison. It’s exciting to show up at an event and know that you’ve just made someone else’s weekend tougher–and that you have a realistic shot at an overall win or even a lap record. Having that level of skill and equipment is a rare and special treat, and I fear how much I will miss it when the Vette finally passes out of my care and into the garage of another.

With the MR2, those things just aren’t going to happen. Despite the fact that we’ve made great strides in improving the car since we started fooling with it, it’s still 30 years old. A lifetime of technology and development has gone into improving everything that came after it, and the reality is that it’s only ever going to be so fast.

But God, I love it so much. It makes me smile every time I drop into it on an autocross grid, or during one of our track test days, or even when it’s just parked in the garage and I want a cool place to sit for a few minutes. 

It’s going to take some recalibration for me to eventually adapt to my next phase of project car life after the cold, rational speed and potential of the Corvette. I’m trading the satisfaction of performance and victory for the satisfaction of being with a car that I have an emotional, gut-level connection with, and I think it’s going to work out fine. It’ll all be fine.

Have you ever traded speed for emotion? Or did you bail on a car you loved because you wanted to bring home some hardware? It’s fine, you can tell me. We’ll get through it together. Shoot me an email and tell me about it or throw something up on our message board, and we’ll work through these complex emotions. I promise— no one will get punched.

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Comments
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MadScientistMatt
MadScientistMatt UltimaDork
4/22/21 10:19 a.m.

Well, my current project is to get as much power as I can out of a street driven Dodge slant six. I didn't really put any rational thought into that goal at all. I needed to save the rational thought for figuring out how I'd accomplish my irrational goal.

ProDarwin
ProDarwin MegaDork
4/22/21 10:22 a.m.

I thought this was going to be about when you take your car to an event and it blows up and you end up crying instead of going fast.

obsolete
obsolete GRM+ Memberand Reader
4/22/21 10:33 a.m.

I can definitely relate to this. Speed is on the right, emotion is on the left. Speed is going to be for sale soon, despite being a better car in every measurable way.

Apis Mellifera
Apis Mellifera Dork
4/22/21 11:00 a.m.

I sold my late-model Porsche 911 and bought an old, worn out Ford Gran Torino.  I'm much happier now.  I don't know why anyone would trade joy for performance.

Tom1200
Tom1200 SuperDork
4/22/21 11:00 a.m.

Au contraire mon ami, it's all emotion; your ego likes the speed because it makes you the fastest driver there. 

Having a faster car for the sake of having a faster car brings no joy in and of itself; it's like having sex strictly to make a baby....................where's the joy in that.

I once fell prey to having a faster car for the sake of a faster car; our D-sports racer, it was very fast and exhilarating to drive but the ownership experience was miserable; it needed constant attention and was expensive to maintain.

I went back to the lowly Datsun; it's dog slow but super fun.

frenchyd
frenchyd UltimaDork
4/22/21 11:04 a.m.

In reply to JG Pasterjak :

Vintage racers make that choice up front.   Go faster which is like money, never fast enough or rich enough. 
  Or do it for the pure visceral feeling of getting all there is out of an obsolete race car. 

captdownshift (Forum Supporter)
captdownshift (Forum Supporter) UltimaDork
4/22/21 11:07 a.m.

Emotion wins in the long run as it leaves regret if you leave it behind. Something faster always comes along and the previously fastest thing is then available, cheaper. 

 

Back in '05 I purchased a new STi and sold my mk3 jetta with a 9a headswap onto the aba, lysolm supercharger and ITBs in front of the lysolm. Transmission wise I had a 4.25 R&P, .75 5th gear and quaiffe. The setup sat on H&R "dune" coilovers. I miss that car dearly and rarely think about the STi beyond the amount of mechanical grip that it had. The STI was also far from stock when I got rid of it, but improving its suspension with Group N stuff and causing it to have 430hp while spooling faster then stock just made it "more" it didn't make it special. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
4/22/21 12:01 p.m.

I disagree that a fast car is about the ego. That punch in the back coming off a corner is fun even if you're just tooling around by yourself, which I usually am. And they are more difficult to extract full performance out of, as you have all the challenges of a slow car plus the extra challenges of a fast car. 

But the last time I went to the track, I left the 500 hp Miata in the garage and took the 91 hp Honda on 300TW tires because I knew it would be entertaining :) And it was, but I'll take something else next time.

I've never tried, but I'm pretty sure it's possible to have sex to make a baby AND have fun.

strawman
strawman GRM+ Memberand New Reader
4/22/21 12:13 p.m.

I agree that emotion always wins out. In 2006, I rescued a 1985 MR2 with 275k miles that had a rod thru the block. I built it up to be reasonably competitive in NorCal SCCA autocrosses, but I could only beat the CSP Miatas when it rained or when traction was low due to low ambient temps. One day my neighbor saw me working on the MR2 and told me he used to occasionally autocross an old Porsche 914 -- a car that I fell in love with in high school in the early 1980s -- and that his car has sat in his parents' driveway for the past two decades. About six months later, he told me his parents gave him an ultimatum to move it or they'd have it towed to a crusher, so I got it for free (the most expensive kind of Porsche!) in 2008. It was ruuuusty and full of moss.

I spent the next four years cleaning it, replacing metal, and modifying it for an at-the-time novel drivetrain swap: Subaru EJ22T and 5-spd transaxle. I finally drove the 914 for the first time in 2012, and  I continually update it. It now has an STI-based engine that dynoed 302hp at the wheels on pump gas; haven't yet dynoed it on E85. "The Beast" is still in epoxy primer and is "mostly" street legal; most cops either ignore the car or give me the thumbs-up.

During its 13-year build, I also built/engine-swapped a range of BMW E28s, E36s & E46s, shifter karts, VWs and other "gut" cars. I also helped build and race a few oddball Lemons cars (Opel GT, Hyundai Elantra, BMW E24). The Beast does reasonably well on the autocross courses here on the CA Central Coast, but it really cannot compete with the more modern ABS-equipped and huge-tired cars on faster courses. But it always makes me smile -- so much so that I recently picked up a mostly-stock 1975 Porsche 914 for around town cruising (and so my wife will go for rides up the coast with me!).

At this point in my life, I can afford to walk into a dealership and buy something new-flashy-n-fast, but I still believe cool cars are built not bought...

Tom1200
Tom1200 SuperDork
4/22/21 1:34 p.m.
Keith Tanner said:

I disagree that a fast car is about the ego. That punch in the back coming off a corner is fun even if you're just tooling around by yourself, which I usually am. And they are more difficult to extract full performance out of, as you have all the challenges of a slow car plus the extra challenges of a fast car. 

But the last time I went to the track, I left the 500 hp Miata in the garage and took the 91 hp Honda on 300TW tires because I knew it would be entertaining :) And it was, but I'll take something else next time.

I've never tried, but I'm pretty sure it's possible to have sex to make a baby AND have fun.

OK time for my contracts guy pedant hat; I said a faster car for the sake of a faster car and being the fastest guy at an event.....that's ego. That's not the same has enjoying the challenge of a higher horsepower car for the sense of accomplishment.

Additional I said  "strictly" to make a baby, this infers a purely mechanical act i.e. no fun all around.

For speed also doesn't necessarily mean high horsepower; at the vintage races a couple of weeks ago a 67 bi block vette driver told my friend the car was simply a really cool noise maker and that the car wasn't particularly fast (lap time wise). 

So since I mentioned on ego; I actually like driving a slow car fast for the sense of accomplishment and the joy of taking a car to the absolute limit BUT I must also admit there is an element of ego there...........however small that element may be.

frenchyd
frenchyd UltimaDork
4/22/21 1:51 p.m.

In reply to Tom1200 :

There is a challenge/reward thing with a really quick Vintage car. It's realitively safe going to the limit in a slower car but as speed increases getting to that limit is more and more challenging with greater risk.  
Few accidents occur at top speed in amateur events most tend to be at slower cornering speeds.   The damage at 30/40 mph to the human body is much less severe than at 150-200 mph. 
Speeds that are obtainable in Can-Am type cars and it's predecessor CModified.  There are a whole batch of specials etc unrecovered or unrestored  still out there

Matt B (fs)
Matt B (fs) UltraDork
4/22/21 2:29 p.m.

Yep, I also have a (much slower) MR2 that I seem to be emotionally attached to.  I finally have enough disposable income to trade up to another 2 seater that's faster, more reliable, and safer.  I can't seem to bring myself to do it though.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
4/22/21 2:32 p.m.

In reply to Tom1200 :

There's no question that some people just want to buy speed to make themselves feel good. Hey, it's how I make my living to some extent :) But I don't believe a slow car is some sort of badge of honor. Those fast cars have limits too! And compared to my CRX, everything is a fast car.

ProDarwin
ProDarwin MegaDork
4/22/21 2:44 p.m.
Tom1200 said:

OK time for my contracts guy pedant hat; I said a faster car for the sake of a faster car and being the fastest guy at an event.....that's ego.

If the 'event' is a competition, then being the fastest is called 'winning'.

preach (fs)
preach (fs) GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
4/22/21 3:21 p.m.

I am from the East Coast but spend a ton of time in Southern Cali. I freaking LOVE hammering canyons in my Cayman S. This thread, however, aligns with my feeling that I'd rather hit those same canyons in my 914 rather than the 987. It would be a little more fitting for the 50mph speed limits too and still be a ton of fun.

Tom1200
Tom1200 SuperDork
4/22/21 3:28 p.m.
Keith Tanner said:

In reply to Tom1200 :

There's no question that some people just want to buy speed to make themselves feel good. Hey, it's how I make my living to some extent :) But I don't believe a slow car is some sort of badge of honor. Those fast cars have limits too! And compared to my CRX, everything is a fast car.

For sure slows cars are not badges of honor.................they're just slow. LOL

I'm happiest when I get the most out of a car, the further up the food chain the less likely it is for me to do this.

I've been lucky enough to drive some fast single seat cars as well as production cars; one of my favorites was a 911 GT3-RS, while I know I went quickly in it I also know I'm only going to get it 95-98% of it's true potential (calling Patrick Long). Same goes for the Formula Super Vee I drove years ago; the guys said I drove it well...................especially for an amateur.

Also factor in my innate cheapness and fast cars are less pleasant for me.   

Tom1200
Tom1200 SuperDork
4/22/21 3:42 p.m.
ProDarwin said:
Tom1200 said:

OK time for my contracts guy pedant hat; I said a faster car for the sake of a faster car and being the fastest guy at an event.....that's ego.

If the 'event' is a competition, then being the fastest is called 'winning'.

I've won my class without remotely being the fastest car at an event.

Case in point; at autocross my buddy is always faster in his shifter kart than I am in my F500. I'm the perennial 2nd overall. I really do want to beat him at some point but I'm not running out and buying a shifter kart just so I can claim FTD. I've driven a shifter kart numerous times but I just enjoy the F500 more as I can use it for vintage racing and autocross.

    

malibuguy
malibuguy GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
4/22/21 5:00 p.m.

I always choose emotion.  

Why else would I have 3 Tercels...a Yaris, a 1uz Malibu, a Highlander and just recently a toyota pickemup.

Could I picked more advanced chassis to go faster with?  Absolutely.  But my choices speak to me.  I am a natural underdog, and on the odd occasion any of my cheap fleet beats a better car (which we know really boils down to driver mod) it just makes it sweeter.

I respect the fast cars, but they just aint my style and I like developing a car, not just buying the latest and greatest and throwing the credit card at it.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
4/22/21 5:02 p.m.

Fast doesn't mean you just bought the latest and greatest. It's possible to develop a fast car ;)

Tom1200
Tom1200 SuperDork
4/22/21 5:05 p.m.
Keith Tanner said:

Fast doesn't mean you just bought the latest and greatest. It's possible to develop a fast car ;)

Very true.................I'm enjoying the development of my F500; for autocross it's a fast car but for road racing it's neither slow nor fast, I'm trying to get it closer to being fast.

Driven5
Driven5 UltraDork
4/22/21 5:14 p.m.
ProDarwin said:
Tom1200 said:

OK time for my contracts guy pedant hat; I said a faster car for the sake of a faster car and being the fastest guy at an event.....that's ego.

If the 'event' is a competition, then being the fastest is called 'winning'.

1st place and 'winning' are not necessarily the same thing.

malibuguy
malibuguy GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
4/22/21 6:30 p.m.
Keith Tanner said:

Fast doesn't mean you just bought the latest and greatest. It's possible to develop a fast car ;)

100%...

AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter)
AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter) Dork
4/22/21 7:34 p.m.

The problem was speed is there is always something newer, faster, or better to aspire too.  You will never stay on top in the speed arms race and it can hit your wallet incredibly hard.

Now finding a car you enjoy and maximizing it and yourself as a driver can be just as rewarding and more wallet friendly.

drock25too
drock25too Reader
4/22/21 10:40 p.m.
AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter) said:

The problem was speed is there is always something newer, faster, or better to aspire too.  You will never stay on top in the speed arms race and it can hit your wallet incredibly hard.

Now finding a car you enjoy and maximizing it and yourself as a driver can be just as rewarding and more wallet friendly.

Exactly. Why would anyone in their right mind build a '98 Dodge Avenger v-6 race car. Last time I took it out I got out run by everything except the tow truck, and that was close.  I've always like the first gen Avenger, got it cheap and have had a blast with it. Learning to drive, getting faster and then maybe modify it, but I just like it.

ShawneeCreek
ShawneeCreek GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
4/23/21 10:33 a.m.
JG Pasterjak said:
 It’s a tool designed to go fast, stick to the road like glue, and stop like a hungry coyote hitting a fake tunnel painted on the side of a mountain.

Thank you for that bit. Having grown up with those cartoons, it really made me smile. yes

ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter)
ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter) HalfDork
4/23/21 11:09 a.m.

I feel like this describes the track day Circle Of Life that so many of us go through.

Once upon a time I built a turbo Miata street/track car.  It was fast and I loved it, and it was an ego trip to run with the fast/expensive cars.  As I got to be a better driver the car became more needy, and I got tired of always fixing things.  Things I needed to do to make it better for the track made it worse for the street.  I sold it and got a Cayman, with the idea that it would be even faster with less headaches even in stock form.  In my head it made sense, and it turned out to be 100% true.  Then the practical aspects of tracking a Cayman started to show themselves... $1200 for tires, $600 for brake pads, track day insurance that costs more than the actual track day.  I found that I was going to the track less often.  My learning process slowed because I wasn't pushing myself or the car as much, out of fear that I'd break my baby.  The novelty of being "fast" started to wear off, especially when some hotshoe in a slower car would show up and drive my wheels off.

Long story short, I kept the Cayman for street use and got another Miata, fully prepped for the track.  The car doesn't help me be fast like the Cayman did, I have to do that part on my own.  I've started racing and my driving continues to improve.  It's a better experience all around than tracking the Cayman (as much as I love it).  When I started with the track hobby I had more experienced friends who told me to just start with a Spec Miata and go from there.  I didn't listen, because nobody listens.  I feel like most people need to go through this cycle to fully understand it.

Tom1200
Tom1200 SuperDork
4/23/21 12:12 p.m.

In reply to ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter) :

Yes this exactly; I've always enjoyed the Datsun but spurred on by some good overall finishes as well as not having learned my lesson with the D-sports racers, I started tuning the Datsun harder, and go figure it became more fragile.  As the car became more fragile it was less enjoyable. As I've mentioned numerous times; I'm cheap and faster usually means a lot more money, for me that sucks the joy out of racing and track days.

 

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