How I got into cars

CREATED Feb. 15, 2013

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Ask anyone around me. I am obsessed with cars. If you think I love weather, cars top the weather card in my book. Yes, it may actually be an unhealthy obsession at times, but like any of us, there are just some things that we just love to have, research and make our hobby. I would like to share with you my story of my slide into the car world. If you love cars, or have kids or friends that do, this story will especially resonate with you.

Maybe you're one of those people  get in your car, hope it starts in the morning and get out the door. You bring it in for an oil change when needed, tires and brakes. It never crosses your mind on what a complex machine you're driving around or what it's doing for you. I respect that, but then there are some of us who think the experience is amazing. What can you do where you can feel that acceleration in the seat that you're in control of?

My parents biggest mistake happened in the late 80's. My dad and mom picked out a 1988 Lincoln Continental for her in Fond du Lac. Dad always drove Ford Broncos but then started changing things up a little as the age of the SUV started around then. They told us the family was getting in the new Lincoln and heading to the Milwaukee Auto Show. I was so, so angry. Wasting a Sunday when I had homework to do and school the next day. What would I want to go see a bunch of cars for? Are they classic? Bleh. Don't care. I'd rather go out and play in the snow. So, they packed up the Lincoln, put my little brother and me in, (I think my sister may have been skiing. I can't remember) and we headed for Milwaukee. I'm going to admit this... I think I cried and pouted the whole way down. Yes, I was being a little brat.

We got to the show, and one of the first areas we went to was the conversion vans. My mood perked up a little bit. Dad, Mom, Dan, look! This thing has a TV in it! Woah! Look at the seats! They swivel around! The seats are huge! Then I started sitting in the driver seats of the vans. My brother and I were now having a blast. They had food there and all sorts of auto displays. You could go and sit in all these different cars that I had no idea even existed. Think about it. The late 80's in Fond du Lac, and the only dealers we had there had Ford, Chrysler and GM products. This was really cool! I was sitting in the cars like I was driving them around. You could try the buttons, move the cupholders, adjust the seats and check the thing out. If you ever go to the auto show and see little kids playing in the car, let them be. You could see a child finding his passion at that very moment. The manufacturers had brochures you can take home in bags with their names on it. For a kid, I was now in heaven! That was it. I was absolutely hooked.

Needless to say, things went downhill from there. If there was free time inside, I was not playing video games all day. I wasn't watching TV. I was reading my car brochures over, and over, and over again. I knew the engine size, horsepower, brake size, trim levels, options and you name it. The second mistake was my parents taking me to Waldenbooks (remember that store?) and getting me the “Consumer Guide Auto Book.” It had every car you could buy with every specification and a little rundown of the vehicle. I memorized every car and every spec. I guess if you want your 11 year old boy obsessed with something, I would imagine as a parent that cars are on the “good” list of things to love.

This continued all through high school, all through college, right to this very day. I can spot a car's make and model in the dark by the headlights and taillights. I can even tell a car's type by the way it sounds when it starts. Car buffs, you know the sound of Ford 6, 8 & 10 cylinders when they crank over at start-up. I will tell you if a motor has 1 through 16 cylinders. Yes, there are 16 cylinder cars. I think we're just down to one though which is the Bugatti Veyron. Each motor makes its own sound and every manufacturer's motor has its own sound of the same type engine. When you've hit that point, you know you have an obsession. 

I can still hear the car now. My first car. It was a really big deal. My first car started with a driver's car for its day. It was the all-new, redesigned, red 1993 Ford Probe GT V6 with a stick. Man, that thing was a hot, little machine for its time with its whopping 165 horsepower. I fell in love with it. You have to understand that 0-60 in 7.0 seconds was pretty fast for its day. I felt like I was driving around a Ferrari because it looked so cool! I remember the day I first took it out for a test drive. I was with my dad and came home to find that my sister had put her car in the ditch across the road from our house. It was absolutely devastating to have my whole time taken up by a wrecker retrieving my sister's GMC Jimmy. I had a great time with the Probe, but since I never put snow tires on it, I was always stuck, and our house in Fond du Lac had a really steep driveway. Because of the now thing, it was time to get something a little more “snow-worthy.”

Enter my next car: a 1994 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer 2-Door. Mine was “Emerald Green” because the ones in the movie “Jurassic Park” were so cool. The Explorer wasn't the fastest car for its day, but it was great. My friends could fit in it as well, and I was heading off to college soon. The Explorer had a 4.0L V6 with 160 horsepower, but more torque than my Probe. Having a 4-speed  automatic transmission was different, but it was nice not having to shift all the time. I could pull trailers now! That's cool for pulling stuff I wanted, but not as cool as I had to do more work now for my parents. “Mike, can you take that load of mulch over to Grandpa's house?” “Yeah, Mom. That's really exciting. Or not.” That truck had a CD player and a subwoofer right from the factory made by Ford and JBL. That was so awesome. My favorite memory of that truck was taking it out on a frozen Lake Winnebago and jumping snow drifts. When I say jumping, I mean literally flying through the air. My brother was out there doing the same thing in his 1995 Jeep Cherokee Country with a video camera. Guess who saw the video? Mom and Dad. Guess who got grounded for that stunt? Me.

Okay, I was at college in Minnesota now. Driving that Explorer back and forth was using whole oil refineries of fuel. I had seen this new car with a cool engine that I really liked. The 1997 Subaru Legacy Outback Limited. The color was called “Black Mica” and is still one of the coolest paint jobs I'd ever seen. This car had what's known as a horizontally opposed, 4-cylinder engine. The horsepower was pretty good at 165, but there wasn't much in the way of torque. This was also a 4-speed automatic. This car was my first with heated seats. That was the best feature ever, and wasn't very common back in it's day. I could get around 30 miles per gallon on the highway which was a huge improvement from the 17 or less in the Explorer. I seriously just loved this car. It sounded cool because of its engine and looked the part. It was missing one thing though. Speed. Passing someone on the highway needed a good half-mile or more. I ended up putting about 92,000 miles on this car before selling it. My favorite story of that car was taking a road trip from Minneapolis to Virginia and back. That was when gas was really, really cheap. I think the total trip cost me like $100 in gas. Can you believe that? I've filled up my current car, once for that price and it got me like 300 miles. Cheap gas was awesome for people who love to drive.

I could go on and on about cars I've owned since then, and each one has things I love and dislike about them. Whether you love cars or don't care one bit about them, they all bring us the same thing: Memories. You can't put a price on that.