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Chasing Speed: A lifelong obsession with going faster

Chasing Speed: A lifelong obsession with going faster

Welcome to “Chasing Speed” where I delve into my own psyche, explaining my decades long obsession with going faster. I’ll try and make it smooth ride, but I can’t promise anything. This is what happens when press loaners are on a brief hiatus, you get the philosophical version of your favorite new car reviewer. OK, at least top three reviewer…on Hooniverse. Let’s get started shall we?

The early years were a bit horsepower deprived, and in some ways I think it set the stage for the later obsessions and an eventual realization that speed doesn’t matter. While I never went full tilt like others, I had to go through a lot of cars to figure that out.

1988 Nissan Pulsar NX, my first car (well not this one but it’s similar)

Phase One: the early years

Now, I already wrote about my first three cars for Doug D. over on Autotrader dot com slash Oversteer about five years ago. Read through at your leisure, but to summarize, I sneered about how my first car was a fairly underpowered 125 horsepower 1988 Nissan Pulsar NX. What’s funny is that what I derided as a bit slow and plodding would now be a Radwood special. It was literally one of the first cars I found on a used car lot with my parents and jumped at the purchase. I had been given some savings bonds as a kid and I was saving whatever money I could add to the pot as they increased in value over the years.

By the time I was 16, I had $7,000 or so which covered the purchase of this used Nissan. I worked all summer just to pay the insurance, which jumped up in cost significantly three months into my driving career when I rolled the Pulsar. It happened from a pure lack of driver training. Sure, we had driver’s education, but that was about road rules and not car control. And it still is, which is why I’ve volunteered at teen driving schools over the years where we help students get out of, and regain control of, their actual car. With their parents in the back seat!

(Not my) 1993 Mustang LX but looks the same

Anyway, even though the Pulsar was “fixed” via insurance, it never behaved the same. I moved to a 1993 Ford Mustang LX and based on pricing and nervous parents, it wasn’t a 5.0. It was the wheezy 103 horsepower 2.3L four-cylinder paired with an automatic transmission. However, for my age, roughly around 17 at the time, it was absolutely perfect. I was able to start to understand oversteer, though mostly in the wet since the tiny output meant it wasn’t exactly doing burnouts. It was fun to take the interior bits apart and build out a decent car stereo though.

The brochure for my 1996 Camaro, looked just like this though

Up next I literally doubled the horsepower available under my right foot. The 1996 Chevrolet Camaro was another great car for a younger driver, with 200 horsepower and RWD in a great looking package it was flashy but not super fast. Mine had the red inlays across the seats and was the perfect beach cruising car that took me all the way through college.

Phase One Power Summary:

  • 1988 Nissan Pulsar NX – 125 HP
  • 1993 Ford Mustang LX – 103 HP
  • 1996 Chevrolet Camaro – 200 HP
(Similar to my) 1996 Honda Civic EX and my actual 2001 Honda Prelude

Phase Two: an enthusiast is born

Cars are a funny thing, there’s a point at which you decide that they are either a mere conveyance or an instrument meant to be played for enjoyment. I was heading off to the real world and made the surprisingly responsible decision to trade the Camaro for a less expensive, and more economical, 1999 Honda Civic EX. It’s 1.6L made a respectable 127 horsepower, but more importantly it was a manual. Thankfully I had taken the time to learn how to drive stick by that point and it made the driving experience much more enjoyable. I even got the factory spoiler and upgraded wheels. The only issue was that my roommate and coworker, who had a six-month head start on the workforce, had bought himself a 2000 Honda Accord EX V6. His 200 horsepower coupe, painted a similar shade of green, absolutely left me for dead on the DC beltway.

I had to address this, and address it I did. While my new 2001 Honda Prelude also had 200 horsepower from it’s 2.2L 4-cylinder, the 300 pound weight difference made a huge difference. My new Electron Blue Honda was the new king of the block, for now. It also marked the tipping point from “cars are fun” to “I’m obsessed with cars”. I found the Prelude 5G message board and dove in head first. I attended something called an “autocross” where I actually learned how to drive properly. Being car crazy I also found the Car & Driver forums, where I met actual people that I’m still friends with. Many of which I’ve met in real life.

I wanted more power though.

My 2003 Mustang GT on a wet skidpad at a teen driving event

There’s no displacement for replacement. Wait, reverse that. After several years with the Prelude, I wanted more power. A trip to the local Ford dealer ended up with a Gunmetal Gray 2003 Ford Mustang GT. It had a manual transmission and a 4.6L engine with 260 horsepower and 302 ft-lbs. of torque at 4,000 rpm. The acceleration felt absolutely brutal compared to the Prelude, and I was intoxicated. I went all-in on autocross and track days, adding H&R Springs, Koni Adjustable shocks, good tires, and probably some stuff I’m forgetting. After a hard fought season in Street Touring X, I was the points leader. Earning a trophy for driving was a great experience and I became more obsessed.

Phase Two Power Summary:

  • 1999 Honda Civic EX – 126 HP
  • 2001 Honda Prelude – 200 HP
  • 2003 Ford Mustang GT – 260 HP
Time to try some different shit

Phase Three: Experimentation, and back to Powerrrrrrr

It was at this point in my life where I was successful enough financially to start to see what else was out there. As much as I loved the Mustang, I also had kids and a long commute. So, I was curious how I might address the notion of speed plus practicality. That initially turned into taking advantage of massive GM price cuts on a 2005 Saab 9-2X Aero. With a manual transmission, wagon practicality, and slightly upgraded interior over the WRX, it was part of phase three experimentation. I took it to some track days, and it was…fine. I missed the straight line acceleration of the V8, and there were lighter cars out there turning in quicker times with less power.

Enter the two-car solution.

Technically, it was three car solution. In addition to the 2005 Honda Odyssey that did kid duty, I picked up a 2007 Ford Focus ST sedan as my commuter car, and a 1986 Porsche 994 Turbo as my “fun car”. I wrote about the ST on Autotrader, and The Drive even did a quick piece recently on how it might make a good project. It was an interesting thing, the 944. The turbo lag was so pronounced it felt like you were getting rear-ended. It immediately had issues, and by immediately I mean “likely before I bought it and I was too green to figure it out before buying”. The seller even noted that the water pump was going, and it went. I called multiple shops and the cheapest rate was well over $2,000 since it’s down in the engine bay. I decided not to invest 1/3 of the purchase price and flipped (while disclosing the issue) to someone in California, thankfully without losing any money.

I moved on to a 2001 Mazda Miata for “reliability’s sake” and my focus was turning the Miata into a great weekender car. Unfortunately, the transmission gave way after a track event, and after spending $1,750 to replace it, I moved on to my buddy’s 2003 Nissan 350Z Enthusiast. I had helped him purchase it when they came out, and when he wanted to part ways with it a few years later, I was quick on the buying trigger.

My 2007 Infinti G35S Sedan

Then, I took another turn and consolidated both the Focus and the 350Z into one vehicle. In what was easily still the best buying experience I’ve ever had, I coordinated the trade-ins and the sale price of a new 2007 Infiniti G35S sedan via email (in 2007!) and just showed up to sign the paperwork. I wish that were the case now, but it’s not. They even sent a person from the dealership with me to pick up the other vehicle. The G35S had a six speed, good power, the latest tech, and a real backseat, I loved this car.

But then…then the itch for power returned.

My 2010 GT and my…2011 GT

Have you ever made a purchase and regretted it later? I’m sure we all have, but the purchase of a 2010 Ford Mustang GT was about the worst car decision I’ve ever made. Why? Because of the 2011 Ford Mustang GT. While I enjoyed the venerable 4.6L V8, that was tuned to match the last year’s Bullitt model with 315 horsepower, I soon found out that the 2011 Mustang would mark a return to the 5.0L engine and put out…400 horsepower. I sucked it up and went back to the dealer and swapped to the new hotness. Chasing horsepower and speed is a drug, don’t let anyone tell you different.

Phase Three Power Summary:

  • 1986 Porsche 944 Turbo – 217 HP
  • 2007 Ford Focus ST – 151 HP
  • 2001 Mazda Miata – 142 HP
  • 2003 Nissan 350Z – 287 HP
  • 2007 Infiniti G35S – 306 HP
  • 2010 Mustang GT – 315 HP
  • 2011 Mustang GT – 400 HP

Phase Five: I don’t know, whatever?

A funny thing happened while owning the 2011 Mustang GT. I got divorced. A divorced dad driving a white Mustang V8 with stripes, yeah that happened, but technically I already owned it at that point. This marks the era of trying to work through finances and life. I got remarried and we ended up bouncing through cars. I’ll summarize them in a bulletized list for brevity:

  • 2009 Range Rover Sport
  • 2009 Lexus IS250
  • 2012 Mazda MX-5
  • 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport
  • 2007 Chevrolet Suburban LTZ
  • 2003 Ford Mustang GT convertible
  • 2014 Ford Fusion SE
  • 2014 Ford Fusion ST
  • 2002 Lexus IS300
  • 2011 BMW 328i M-Sport
  • 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Altitude Edition
  • 2011 GMC Yukon XL
  • 2012 Mercedes Benz GL450
  • 2017 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Big Bear Edition

What did I learn through all that car buying? Well one, I have a very patient wife, and two, there are a variety of driving experiences. It was during this era that I started getting press loaners, and driving a different car every week broadened my horizons. But, It was during Wrangler ownership that I realized how much fun it is to own an off-roader. Both the 2012 and 2017 Jeeps were my first foray into non paved experiences, and I loved it. What it also taught me was that power isn’t everything. If you look at the list, we had a mix of daily drivers and fun stuff, and some fun daily drivers.

Phase Three Power Summary:

My 2020 GT and 2021 JL Wrangler

Phase Five: Present day

So, it only took me a few decades to realize that power isn’t everything. But then I bought a new 2020 Ford Mustang GT. Though I realized something critical, it was less for the power, and more for the noise. I was still intoxicated with the sound of the V8 (though having 460 horsepower wasn’t terrible) and found this cool orange Premium that I traded my 2017 Wrangler for up in Pennsylvania. Later, we also picked up a 2021 JL Wrangler after missing that drop-top experience, and finding a great deal (remember those?). I wrote about the Wrangler experience, it wasn’t long for our driveway since I ended up having to replace the Mustang with a different black convertible.

My 2020 GT…after a Focus attacked it

The Mustang was totaled after a carless driver tried to cross the highway in front of me, and I replaced it with a colleague and friend’s 2016 BMW M4 convertible. After our experience with the Wrangler though, I realized that the M4 was worth more on the open market than it was in our driveway. With used car prices through the roof, and an $800 piece of trim missing, I plugged the VIN into the same website we sold the Wrangler, and off it went. It is a very good car, but honestly at full throttle through a tunnel, it sounded like crap.

Which brings me to the literal present day. We have a newer model year GLS 450 as our family hauler, which was thankfully CPO since it’s already had some work done under warranty. After a dark couple of months without a car (and an awful first (and only) time with Turo) I put my money where my mouth was after saying that the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E was “The Best All-Around Car I’ve Ever Driven“, and I bought one.

My 2021 Mach-E Premium on the right, the GT tester on the left

I got a rockin deal on a 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E Premium in Dark Matter Gray, and by “rockin deal” I mean I paid MSRP without a markup. At this point I’ve had dealers offering $5,000 over original sticker since 2023s are hard to come across other than factory order. That leaves used 2021 and 2022 models as the only option for those looking to get into the EV world via the Mach-E. Have I been tempted to sell it? Absolutely. While that one week loan left enough of a mark on me to buy one, I’ve found that I’m part of the sect of the population that might not be ready for EV ownership.

Don’t get me wrong, during $5.00/gallon (and up) gas prices, I was sitting pretty. It charges fairly well via the 110v outlet in the garage, the only time I’ve need to pay for power outside the house was after a longer drive. And it’s that 200-220 mile range that means it’s not a long-distance workhorse. I love long drives, so a 1,000 mile (in one day) trip (that I’m actually planning) would require multiple stops. As a daily conveyance, it’s fine. It’s quiet, it’s comfortable, Ford updates the tech regularly (I now can ask Alexa to add milk to the shopping list), and it’s reasonably quick. The only issue is the silence, there is no emotional connection to the car. That’s why I’m totally on board with fake noise as proposed by Dodge in the new Charger EV.

That’s the biggest lesson, I was never really chasing speed, I was chasing an experience. I want some theater, some entertainment, I want some noise, I want to smile. And I’ve learned at this point that the best way to do that is either with a great sounding V8 or with a simple off-roader. I hope you enjoyed this journey, I definitely did.