I’ve been in love with cars ever since I can remember. My first car was a 1993 Toyota Paseo that I bought for $3,800 with almost 100,000 miles on the odometer. Manual transmission, crank windows, a weird pop-up roof that you had to store in the trunk if you wanted some open air motoring, and about 100 hp of pure Toyota muscle. It was great on gas, reliable and actually fun to drive. Looking back, that was the smartest car purchase I have made to date.
Here she is – what’s not to like?! 🙂
My first mistake happened about 3 years later when I decided that I wanted a brand new Jeep Wrangler Sahara that I could now “afford” on my post-grad salary… Not really though as I had to take out a loan to buy it so I could only afford the monthly payments. I traded in my trusty Paseo and took possession of the brand new Wrangler at a special price of only $22,000!
And it was fun… Driving with a top down even made a commute to work a cool experience. Instead of trying to pay off the car loan as soon as I could, I decided that something is missing… that’s right, a sub-woofer! Lets go to Circuit City and have them make a custom fitting box for the trunk. Perfect, but this is a Wrangler and it should be beefy looking! Off we go to a 4×4 shop to install a 4” lift and 33” tires along with a bunch of off-road accessories. Now it looks the part, though I’m $3,000 poorer and getting even worse mpg than before. But I am having fun with the Jeep at this point, even venturing off-road on some weekends and I still have great pictures to prove it. Here is one!
And this is how it spent most of the time, unfortunately.
A couple of years go buy and it is starting to feel less and less exciting to get behind the wheel of the Wrangler. I am tired of the long manual process that’s needed any time you want to drop or put up the top. All those zippers and latches… who has the time? I’d love to take it on longer trips but the ride is jarringly uncomfortable and the gas mileage is terrible while the gas prices have crept up higher. Three years of this and then – what’s next? My friend got a 5 series and it is so smooth and fast and slick… I know, lets get a used 3 series convertible with a bit of rationalizing… A 3 series BMW has all that I suddenly want – one button convertible top, smooth sporty ride, decent gas mileage (compared to the Wrangler). I paid off the Wrangler by now and they keep their value very well so I can put all that money into a new to me BMW. After some looking… ah, yes here is one with less than 40K miles for $28,000. Perfect, here it is, all in cash!
What a sweet ride that bimmer was! It was everything that I thought a BMW would be – smooth, fast, fun, great handling… Two years into ownership I decided to see what other people think on the BMW internet forums. Wait, the convertible is the heaviest of all the 3 series and the least sporty? It has an overboosted steering rack? It is not a real BMW unless it has a manual transmission? While I enjoyed driving this particular BMW, maybe it was time to experience the “real” bimmer… From the forums and the car magazines I learned that there is nothing like a 3 series sedan with a manual transmission. Convertibles are usually more expensive so I could sell my car and find a sedan for about the same price. A friend owned a car lot and paid top dollar for my convertible. Time to find the dream BMW sedan with a 5 speed manual transmission. Would you look at that – there was one only 2 hours away. Jumped in a friend’s car, test drove it and laid down the $20,000.
That car was fun! Better handling than the convertible and it was great to be back in something with a proper manual transmission. But it was not long before the mod bug bit again. The car did not have the sport package so it was begging for some suspension tuning by way of full coilovers, 18” rims and low profile tires. These changes held me over for another couple of years until I discovered that the ultimate driving machine is an e46 3 series sedan with a performance package. Time to hunt again! After selling my car and adding just a couple of thousand I was able to find exactly what I was looking for – a 2004 330i with the Performance Package, known simply as the “ZHP”. Price? $13,000. Actually that was a steal for this rare model even though it had over 90,000 miles on it.
The ZHP was the ultimate driving machine indeed! It was so good, in fact, that this was the first car that I left stock without ever wanting to modify it in any way. I enjoyed driving it for almost 3 years but the miles were adding up and driving it mostly to work did not really use its full potential. It would get up to 30 mpg on the highway but only 19-20 in town for a combined total of around 24 mpg overall. Not bad but I was becoming increasingly interested in making changes to live my life a bit more efficiently. With that in mind and with visions of high maintenance and repair bills looming over the high-mileage German luxury vehicle I started thinking about my next ride. After years of being spoiled by 3+ liter 6 cylinders I decided that I want to go back to a small displacement, easy to maintain and efficient 4 cylinders. Nothing was ruled out… I looked Toyota Yaris, Honda Insight and even a Honda Prius. All I can say is that I quickly realized that there was no way I wanted to drive any of those after the superb BMW handling. So what does one do in a situation like this? Go literally next door and test drive a MINI! Years ago I was given a Cooper Hatchback as a loaner and I was blown away by the way it drove with its proverbial go-cart handling. I found a pristine well-maintained MINI Cooper with only 20K miles on the odometer at a dealer several states over. After negotiating over email I was on a plane with a certified check for $15,000.
Driving the MINI back home through the mountains I knew that I made a right choice. It had a willing small engine that worked beautifully with a 6 speed manual delivering the same smiles per gallon as the ZHP at a substantially better miles per gallon. My first fill up came after 550 miles of highway driving for a 45 mpg average. Since then I have been consistently getting 39 miles per gallon on average in mixed city and highway driving. But more importantly this car seems to have that uniqueness and entertainment factor that should keep me happy for a long time while providing an economical and sensible transportation.
What is the point of this post? Well, looking back there are a lot of things I would do differently. I wouldn’t buy a brand new car. I wouldn’t spend that much money on a used car. I wouldn’t spend thousands on modifying cars, basically flushing it down the drain as you never get back the money spent. I would research what I want a bit more so that I don’t have to go through 3 models of the same car to find out what I really like. Then again, hindsight is always 20×20, especially after having the privilege to experience these luxuries first hand.
I also think it’s interesting to observe the spending curve over the years. Going from $3,800 to $28,000 and then dropping to mid-teens. We became homeowners right around the time of the drop so that might explain it. I now also know that mid-teens is a comfortable range for me where I can get a great reliable used car. Although I do hope that I don’t get the urge to replace my MINI any time soon. This car has very low miles and should easily last 10+ years with minimum DIY repairs if I don’t get bored again.
Funny thing is that my MINI Cooper is actually very close in all specs to my very first Toyota Paseo. Things like horsepower, weight, size, performance are all strangely similar. So here we are, after years of partying with expensive models I am back with my high-school sweetheart and it feels great!