Blog

Short blog posts, journal entries, and random thoughts. Topics include a mix of personal and the world at large. 

Want to go faster? Buy a faster car

Car enthusiasts modify their cars to stand out, to show off their personality. Unless they’ve got a super rare, practically one-of-a-kind vehicle (no one’s driving around a 250 GTO every day, I’m fairly certain), people will seek methods to make their car easily identifiable inside a parking structure. Even drivers of mundane grocery getters like a Toyota Corolla are wont to spend money to make it cooler than it really is. I know this, because I had one.

More importantly, car modifications are done in search of more speed and better performance. On one hand it makes perfect sense because who doesn’t want faster straight-line speeds and quicker cornering numbers? On the other hand, if you count all of the money spent to improve a particular car’s performance (and looks), wouldn’t it be more prudent to, combined it together with the car’s original price, buy a different model that’s simply faster?

Then again, I would argue most of anything related to the automobile is based emotionally, rather than logically. How many times have someone asked us for car purchasing advice only to go and not buy the one we recommended? Look at the popularity of heavy sports utility vehicles and pickup trucks: how often are those drivers hauling around enough people and gear to justify the extra volume?

Obviously, purchasing decisions aren’t logical, and therefore I don’t expect car modifications to be, on the contrary, completely utilitarian. The ‘Hellaflush’ and ‘StanceNation’ styling trend that’s been with us for a decade now (and don’t seem to be abating anytime soon) - I totally understand it, even if it’s far from my cup of coffee.

I’m known for my pragmatism amongst my friends, so it’s no surprise that I’ve gotten away from vehicle modifying since moving on from the Corolla. Admittedly, the Toyota was much too plain and unsightly for me to not invest some funds to lessen the enormous wheel-gap and give it a proper set of wheels - among other items. Since then, my motto has been if I want to go faster, I buy a faster car. Granted, my subsequent cars are built on decidedly sporting platforms, so there wasn’t any immediate impetus to improve on things.

Presently I own a 911 GT3, one of the best race-car-for-the-road platforms in existence; because honestly, we’re simply chasing after that race car aesthetic anyways. Cars slammed to the ground, body kits, wheels tucked neatly within a wheel-well, and adding horsepower: these are all inspired by motorsport, the look and sound of pure-bred racing machines (that’s why we like loud exhausts).

Instead of modifying the WRX STI and then the MX-5 to chase that aesthetic, I bought an entire car instead. Problem solved.

No shots were thrown away today.

Farewell to my first car

A petrol-head’s first car is something special indeed. It’s your first moments of absolute freedom, the feeling of possibilities, the ability to take off and go anywhere. Upon getting your first car, the world is your absolute oyster; just grab the keys and go.

My own first vehicle was a 2006 Toyota Corolla sedan. It wasn’t anything remotely sporting or fun-to-drive, but back then I couldn’t care less. I’ve been dreaming of driving ever since I reached my teens; 16 seems so incredibly far away when I found out early on that was the minimum age to attain a driver license. Some things don’t change: the wait to purchase a Porsche 911 next year have been at certain times excruciating.

I indeed may have gotten my license at 16, but the Toyota Corolla did no materialize until college, a generous gift from the parents. The reason we elected to buy the typical compact sedan was because insurance was going to be astronomical on anything fast, and I had zero income to support that. Nevertheless, I adored the Corolla; it was equipped with the five-speed manual, upon which I learned the intricacies of driving stick-shift, and thankfully the clutch was super forgiving.

Fast forward to post college, and I itched for something quicker on the feet. In came a 2013 Subaru WRX STI, bought with my own money this time, and the Corolla got bequeathed to my younger brother. He also cut his teeth in learning the manual gearbox with that car, and suffice it to say the clutch did not last much longer. I was glad the car stayed in the family, because in some distant future I had intentions of getting it back (no doubt my brother will upgrade at first opportunity), keep up on maintenance, and driving it from time to time for nostalgia.

Unfortunately that was not meant to be. A few weeks ago the Corolla’s notoriously weak C59 transmission completely shattered its third and fourth gear. My father was commuting on the car, so a reliable fix was needed very quickly. To fix the gearbox would cost roughly the same as the entire worth of the car, so instead we chose to lease a new Hyundai Tucson, and the Corolla got put out to the pasture.

A salesperson at the dealership my brother worked at bought the entire car for spare parts. Must be nice.

In an ideal world where I have a garage with proper space, I would’ve kept the Corolla and simply worked on it myself bit by bit. Being the first car I ever owned it was somewhat sad to see it disappear into the ether as a parts car for someone else’s revival project. Circumstances prevented me from being one of those car enthusiasts that kept their ur-auto in perpetuity because it was indeed something significant, even if the car in a vacuum, isn’t.

I think the next order of business after buying the 911 would be leasing a warehouse somewhere far and cheap; a place where I can work on cars at leisure. Hashtag goals.

Circa 2017, when the Corolla last looked as I had intended.

Circa 2017, when the Corolla last looked as I had intended.

Turo turned me on to automatic gearboxes

A few weeks back I helped my younger brother move in back to UC Santa Cruz. This year he’s living off-campus so there’s plenty more to bring, mainly the stuff that belongs in the kitchen. His MK7.5 Golf GTI hatchback can fit quite a bit of stuff, but in the end we also needed a second car to haul to all.

Unfortunately, my first ever car, the family’s 2006 Toyota Corolla, gave up the ghost the same weekend. The car’s utterly weak C59 manual transmission (third gear has had a grind since I can remember) shattered a few gear internally, and it was making the most horrible noises when driving, akin to a racing car gearbox with straight-cut gears. The lever refuses to go into third or fourth gear, and we simply weren’t confident it can make the 130 miles round-trip to Santa Cruz.

We needed another car quite quickly, so to the Turo app we went the night before. 50 bucks on the credit card later the following morning, and we had ourselves a 2017 Honda Civic to use. What lovely convenience it is to be able to rent a car in that swift a timeframe; the traditional route would’ve found us at the SFO airport rental car complex because it’s be the only spot open on a Sunday. Not to mention it’d cost considerably more.

The Civic had an automatic gearbox obviously, because why would any sane person lend their manual transmission car out to a stranger. I did the driving duties, and it was the first time in the longest time I’ve driven an automatic car for an extended period. Perhaps it is because I’m getting old, but as an avid advocate of the row-it-yourself gearbox, I found driving the auto Civic to be an absolute pleasure. Automatic transmissions are actually okay!?

I get it now: in normal everyday driving, not having to do the clutch and gearstick dance at every intersection is a godsend for comfort. In a car with an auto ‘box you just push the gas and go. Manual transmission fanatics sticking to their dogma of daily-driving a stick-shift car being no more difficult than a car with an automatic gearbox are fooling themselves; I use to be that guy, but having driven to Santa Cruz and back in that Honda Civic, my position have changed completely.

Bay Area traffic isn’t going to get any better, mind.

I don’t think I’ll buy another manual gearbox car as a daily driver ever again. The bliss and ease in letting the car shift itself, particularly in traffic, is worth the “car enthusiast credibility” sacrifice. Don’t get me wrong: on an empty winding mountain road in a proper sports car, a stick with a clutch is still the choice for pure driving enjoyment.

Or you buy a 911 with PDK and get the best compromise of both worlds.

Look at the stars, look how they shine for… you.

Look at the stars, look how they shine for… you.