A Personal History of Buying Cars Both Good and Bad (But All Idiosyncratic and Some Temperamental)

This is Part 1 of a two-part article.

These days, not all of us buy cars the traditional way – at the dealership – per David Wyld’s articles last week. My approach is different. But before I get to that in Part 2, I thought I’d amuse you with a list of the odd set of cars I’ve had over the years – thanks to living in Europe and Japan. Here they are, listed in somewhat chronological order (the earliest ones were owned by my parents):

DAF 44 – A 3-door hatchback with a 2-cylinder boxer engine and with one of the world’s first CVT transmission – Variomatic as it was called. One speed forward, one in reverse. For the daring, I discovered that it moves as fast in reverse as it does going forward. On that note, check out these crazy Dutchmen racing backwards.

Fiat 124 – A depressingly utilitarian Italian people-mover that died on the way home from a skiing trip. The less said the better.

The aforementioned sad little Fiat

The aforementioned sad little Fiat

VW Bus Type 2 – The classic transporter, though severely lacking in power, delivering zero to 60 in about as many minutes. It took me and a friend across Europe from Poland to Turkey to Spain to England to Sweden, slowly.

Austin Mini Mk II – A bright yellow 2-door coupe with a big fabric sunroof, this was my car during college, and it once crammed in eight people with the top rolled back.

Honda City – A 3-door hatchback with a built-in buzzer when you exceed 100 km/h (used to be required in Japan). I bought this perfectly useful car for 20,000 yen ($200).  It was priced that low not because of fatal flaws but because it was 10 years old, which under Japan's vehicle inspection rules means it's worthless (and these cars often get exported to places like Kenya and other developing nations that drive on the wrong side of the road). It took me between the Osaka and Nagoya areas on several trips, and it also served as a good local get-around vehicle when the Harley wasn’t enough (or the weather was too bad).

Volvo 850 – This was my first brand new car, bought directly from the factory in Sweden while I lived in Japan and was preparing to move to the US. That saved me a good chunk of money by cutting the US dealer out of the transaction – and thanks to my factory connections (Volvo was a client at the time), it allowed me to get a car delivered in the US with various Europe-only specs. I picked it up in Baltimore at the harbor and sold it a few years later to finance a software company venture.

BMW 318ti – Yet another nifty 3-door hatchback. It was purchased new and loaded with airbags, which served my wife well when she drove it into concrete barriers in New York during a bad storm. She walked away, but the car was totaled.

BMW 318ti

BMW 318ti

Mercedes 280SEL – aka W108 – A gorgeous California car with complete records going back to 1970, when a retired school teacher bought it for her senior years. Tragically taken by fire when a fall leaf burn took down the wooden garage where it was parked.

Land Rover Discovery Series II – A long name for a big vehicle. Devilishly capable off-road, I took it on some serious gravel road drives up in hillbilly country in northern California. However, the British engine was hopelessly built, and not even the then-owner BMW could fix it.  All of them blow their head gaskets around 50,000 miles. This car died a fiery death in an Atlanta parking lot when a little ol’ lady drove her flaming Cadillac 500 feet across a huge parking lot until she planted her car into ours. It took us two years and a lawsuit to get money out of State Farm over this one – they claimed “mechanical faults” that they weren’t responsible for. None wiser from the lesson, I bought my wife another (used this time) Land Rover Discovery II, which also blew its head gasket around 50,000 miles. We are now free of British vehicles – forever – yes!!!

A Land Rover Discovery. Photo presumably taken before the 50,000-mile mark.

A Land Rover Discovery. Photo presumably taken before the 50,000-mile mark.

To be continued! Check back later today for Thomas’s car buying tips in Part 2. 

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