on life, ambitions, and dreams

The Mighty Mazda: the Best Car ITW!!!

The best car in the world is a 1989 Mazda 323 SE, 5-speed manual, with a 1.6 liter engine and it’s share of 100,000 miles. It was discovered in the suburbs, parked in a ditch, with a “for sale” sign awkwardly taped to the window. It had a sun-faded hood and plastic chrome hub caps that sparkled in the July sun. It had four doors and a trunk that was deep enough to sneak multiple teenagers into a drive-in movie. It was the perfect first car, purchased with hard-earned cash, split 50/50 with my sister.

Our first upgrade was the radio, or lack-of. We opted for a period-correct Mazda radio that was rescued from the dash of a dead 323 in a junk yard (may it rest in peace). The radio featured a tape deck, a rarity in the era of CDs and the birth of the iPod. The tape deck perpetuated the illusion of coolness that every high schooler strives for. That is, unless one surpasses that status by racing.

The Mighty Mazda, as it was christened, was fast. And by fast that is to say it sounded fast but was not. The stock exhaust did nothing but give the facade of speed. There was no tachometer. You had to shift according to the roar of the engine, which came in handy when focused on the finish and not the gauge.

In the car overflowing with teenage ego, I’d pull up to a red light, sneak a peak at the driver in the car next to me, wait for the green and floor-it. Believe it or not, the 105 horsepower would usually launch the 323 across the intersection and secure a victory. A victory, of course, that was made possible by the fact that the other car didn’t know he was a competitor.

I was 16 and ripe with ambition. The Mighty Mazda helped me escape heartache and discover strength. It fueled innocent shenanigans and the most random road trips. It kept me out of trouble and was the hub of my existence. The 323 had a personality of its own, one that only a new driver and her first car will ever know.

What was your first car?

The Mighty Mazda made its cross-country expedition four years ago and currently resides in the hills of New Jersey with my sister and brother-in-law. No, it hasn’t been “put out to pasture.” Quite the contrary! It’s actually living a productive life as a daily driver, has had one complete engine swap, and recently celebrated 205,000 miles. However, it does need a new battery.


18 Responses

  1. 1985 Volvo station wagon that, no joke, JUST DIED. After 25 years of faithful service and the occasional break down and/or stalling, my dad is giving it away to Purple Heart (they can recover car parts apparently). It’s like a part of my identity has died but I am overjoyed that the next time I’m in Philly to visit, I’ll be borrowing something much more recent and safer. I do recommend Volvo’s in the future however for their solid frame and overall safety.

    PS: when I used to babysit and I would pick kids up from school they were embarrassed to get in the “rocket ship”. Little did they know I was just as embarrassed to drive it!

    1. @Lindsey, was the “rocket ship” a pale yellow Volvo? And how’d it get that name?

      “It’s like a part of my identity has died”–no kidding. It’s interesting how much we wrap our identity up with our car, especially the first car and while in high school. Part of it has to do with the car-dependent culture that we are but even as teenagers, our car is usually the first thing we “own” and is another way to express who we are.

      A friend once said that everyone has one car that defines them. I’m not sure I’ve been “defined” by the 323, but some of the adventures I had in it definitely were defining 🙂

  2. No unfortunately the volvo wasn’t a fun color like yellow it was just anthracite gray, but it was certainly there for me through MANY a drama with an ex bf, trips to friends houses, etc. I’ll never forget it 🙂

  3. My first car was one I didn’t buy until well into college. Enter the 1980 Buick Skylark, purchased used in 1991 for $2000, all of it my own saved-up money.

    My list of requirements on purchase were simple:
    * Must be reliable enough to get me, all my stuff, and my friends, and all my friends’ stuff across the mountains several times a year.
    * Must have 4 doors. Again, I was likely to be the only car-toting person out of an immediate group of friends.
    * Must be good in snow. College was in Pullman, often snow on the ground from November through March. Other years, not so much.
    * Must be dirt cheap. See also: college.
    * Must get reasonable (for the era) gas mileage. See again: college.

    So, the burgundy Buick Skylark was born. That car had so little personality, I never got around to naming it. I still had it when I met Sean, and he immediately christened her Camille. It was short for chameleon, actually, referring to the Buick’s simply amazing ability to blend into the background and be completely invisible to everyone from cops to friends who were standing on a street corner waiting for you to pick them up.

    My strongest memory in that car was actually my first trip in it to Pullman, bringing with me the most awesome 7 month old kitten in the world. However, it was the first week of August, and just at the top of the pass, my AC died. The poor cat panted the rest of the way there, lying in the passenger footwell, occasionally mustering the effort to make a half-hearted “meh” of complaint. Not “meow” but “pant, pant, meh.” I stopped once an hour to attempt to hydrate him, but of course, you can lead a cat to water, but he’ll still do whatever he damn well pleases. Oh, but the story was about the car. Yup, servicing the AC was the only thing that car ever needed, until the year before I sold it, where it started going downhill rapidly. Wow, did I really only have it for 5 years?

  4. My first car was a 1986 Jeep Cherokee. A red 2 door, with the hopelessly underpowered 4 cylinder engine and a 5 speed.
    I got the car the late summer 1999 with 88K miles on it, though I’m fairly certain the odometer had been rolled back at some point. I drove that thing as far north as Vermont, as far south as Virginia. It was always loaded with friends on some sort of adventure. I trailered a horse from Massachusetts to New Jersey with it and once had to make my own road through the snow on I-80 in a near blizzard. It never once left me stranded (Well, *once* — but that was mostly my fault anyway).

    It had the name “The Falcon”. This came from an observation I made it one night, “Man, my car is *JUST* like the Millennium Falcon…Only with out the fast…or the cool”. Which for those uninitiated Star Wars nerds our there, translates to, its a complete bucket of bolts that’s ready to fly apart at the seems at any moment, yet you know she’ll never let you down and will do things that that are seemingly impossible…the stuff legends are made of.

    I think one of the reasons that first cars have such an emotional hold on us is not only the sense of freedom they gave us, but the adventures that were had in them. It seems as we get older, the amount of time we have to burn on ridiculous adventures somehow disappears. Perhaps it’s the whole 9-5 grind that beats it out of us, or that perhaps with a little age we become less driven to find out what’s “out there”.

    Here’s to First Cars! You can have faster and better cars in your life, but they can only succeed, never replace your first car.

  5. Ah, great piece! I drove my parent's International Scout, which was truly a predecessor to the SUV's of today. The back seat had been removed so we could fit 3 on the front bench seat and 6-7 more in the cargo area (seat belts weren't the rule then – more like “guidelines”). The gas gauge didn't work, but we figured it got 13 miles to the gallon, so my folks knew I couldn't drive very far. You could actually hear how much gas was being sucked into the 4-barrel carburetor when we'd “punch-it” as it were.

    It was also made of solid steel and had stunt-doubled in several war movies as a WWII-era Sherman Tank and in another movie as a cargo freighter in space.

    To complete the space-ship effect I added a bumper sticker to the exterior spare tire. Back in the 80's in Colorado there were these bumper stickers designed to look like the Colorado license plates with the mountains in the background. The original design for the sticker said “Native” to spread the message that THIS car driver was BORN in CO and not some transplant from Texas or California or wherever. Then all sorts of variants on that theme started to appear such as “Transplant” “Alien” or the scariest one “Multi-Level-Marketer.”

    I was a true nerd – my sticker read “Jedi.”

  6. Oh, Mike, what a great story! The best car in the world truly is your first car, usually the one your purchase in high school that allows you some level of “freedom.” So, Jedi, I have to know, did the car have its own name?

  7. This is really funny. Long live the Mazda! I used to have one, I kept repairing mine using Pep Boys parts in order to keep it cheap, and managed to keep it going for years beyond its normal lifetime. Sadly I had to upgrade when my family got to big and demanded a people carrier.

  8. The information which you have given is very nice and also understanding. It will also help me as well as others for knowing the complete information regarding it. I am very much impressed by this.

  9. I have always been a great fan of Mazda cars and I am sure many of the people around the world love this car. In the past few years Mazda has become prominent among car enthusiasts.

  10. Mazda has always come up with innovative ideas and has shown
    its creativity in all of the recent car models. They should make efforts in order to bring an economical hybrid car to the market.

  11. First of all, take out this concept that costlier the car in terms of purchase amount, more costly it is for insurance. Someold cars are also very costly to insurance. Insurance amount does not go parallel to your purchase amount, they have their own statistics. Every insurer analyses your car and places it in a category which decides your insurance amount. Some of these features include:

  12. 100K miles and still working? Wow, that’s so awesome! My Miata is pushing 80K but still runs like a wild mustang. I’ve changed the breaks several times already, though. When you’re pushing your car to the limit those get worn easily.

    1. 100K+ miles on a Mazda is nothing, these cars were built to last. Interesting that you’re Miata is un-tameable. I’m not a mechanic, so I don’t know all the back ground, but maybe there’s more going on than just the brakes?

      But, yes, if you’re pushing your car…brakes are essential!

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