The first one I saw was in 2012. I hadn’t been paying particular attention to new Subarus at the time, since I seemed to have my hands full enough keeping gas in the ’91 metallic green station wagon that I had. It was beautiful – jet black, tasteful curves and a whiff of danger. The badge surprised me at the time – Subaru? This dainty little sport coupe? I loved it immediately. Oddly enough, no part of my fascination involved the concept of actually driving it, much less owning one. In those days my engagement with performance cars ended when my face bumped the glass of my own window as they sped past me on I-95. It was enough on that day to rejoice that Subaru, the automaker of my youth and upbringing, of my family’s countless banal but lovable station wagons, was branching out. While rally cars will ever excite my imagination, the WRX, Subaru’s answer to the “reliable but boring” slur, never stopped me in my tracks. Powerful, capable, angry, yes – but I’ve had knuckle bruises prettier than that beast. This BRZ wore polish like an evening gown. And it had a stick shift. For all I knew, it could have had a hamster wheel under the hood (and in fact does, according to the detractors), and handled like a rusty office chair, but I knew I liked it. This car was sexy.
Was it the sexiest car? Not by a long shot. The fastest? Certainly not. I’d be hard pressed to say that its the anything-est at anything. It’s an entry level two-seater with a small engine and Prius tires. To be perfectly honest, it rarely merits a head turn from anyone but 8 year old boys. Yet as an 8 year old, I can distinctly remember carving up the valleys and switchbacks of my bedroom floor with 1:64 scale Toyota MR-2 – a 2-door, hardtop coupe. No compromises – a vessel for the appreciation of the automotive arts. I didn’t know a thing about it, other than it looked fast, and looked even better going sideways.
I can’t say exactly what put the bug in me, but during an interminable powerpoint meeting in a featureless hotel conference room some years later, I had the idea to browse the inventory of the dealerships in my town. To truly understand the outlandishness of this act, one should consider that despite owning a handful of different cars and trucks, I had never spend more than two grand on a car in my life – dealerships were altogether alien to me. “Choosing” a car involved sorting craigslist ads by price and filtering for scams. It seemed to be my own private gag that I could sneak in, take a sports car for a spin, and run off, nary a dime spent. When I saw a shiny new rear wheel drive coupe was on a nearby lot, I scheduled a test drive. I nodded through the slick but thin pitch, then drove it like a bat out of hell for 20 minutes. It took a bit longer to extricate myself from the hard sell that followed, but, veteran of more than one time share pitch, I emerged unscathed. The price was a bit high for me, and I had what I wanted, a quick fling with a fast car. Back to business as usual.
I began to spend my free time browsing ads for used sports cars. I realized that if that price was a bit high, surely a very similar car would be just a bit less? I reassessed my finances and budgets, “just to see what I could afford”. I began to make phone calls. Schedule test drives. Read reviews. Build spreadsheets full of pros, cons, and cost comparisons. I waxed philosophically to my wife about how my birthday wish as a small child had always been for a racecar of my very own. Needless to say, the need to have a car like this in my life consumed me, slowly but surely. I had gone 30 years in a state of vehicular frugality, yet something had suddenly changed. It was no longer enough to admire the sight of a Carrera disappearing into the distance, or to watch jaded Englishmen sneer at the shoddy trim of a half million dollar supercar from my couch. I had peered out of the cave, so to speak, and stood blinking in the sunlight. I could make the dream real. I could put the pieces together, and snatch this particular fantasy out of the ether and make it happen. And so the hunt began in earnest.
My vague interest in the BRZ became a pointed fixation. The deeper I delved, the less I could believe the singular appeal of this car. Lightweight, carefully balanced, low-slung, elegant, but not gaudy. At this point in my life I had driven scores of vehicles, and I knew what I liked. I preferred poise over power, and responsiveness over bluster. I wasn’t interested in a fire breathing dragster, nor a plush, lavish ride. I wanted to be engaged, but not flattered. And all the while, at least some part of my scrambled brain still resided in the real world, meaning that the enjoyment of my theoretical sports car needed to also include the kind of well-being one experiences when avoiding utter financial and matrimonial devastation. Cost matters, and for me, greater maintenance cost meant greater down time. And this car was going to be about uptime. A lot of uptime.
And so, the gently used Caymans and Boxsters that I kept shortlisted were quietly pruned from the flock of maybes. The BRZ came to represent balance to me, in more than its mechanical design. A balance between wants and needs, between thrill and stability, between fantasy and reality. A car that was for me, because I wanted it, not because I needed it. As the weeks went by, and racked up a half dozen test drives, my preferences were sharpened to a needle point. I knew everything I wanted and everything I didn’t. My heart bled for the 2015 that sold as I drove to the dealership, blank check in hand. And yet I learned to be guarded as well, just in time to avoid saving $2000 on a car that my practiced eye realized had been in an unreported wreck. I watched them come and go, I cursed those buyers who beat me to the punch, and I showed cool disdain for those cars that were just not quite the one.
Until the day came. Wife in tow, I drove two hours to a tiny dealership across state lines and knew I had found it. Silica black. Spoiler. Limited edition. Low miles. Beautifully kept. An hour of polite but firm negotiating delivered the price I had set, even after the dealership assured me that “they simply do not reduce their asking price”. I had drawn up my battle plan, and I had won the day.
For some, it’s an entry level level two-seater for the middle market. Some call it underpowered (personally I find 100 HP per liter of displacement to be a rather peppy formula, but I digress). I would challenge any critic to take my stock 2013 Subaru BRZ Limited out for a 5 minutes without cracking a non-ironic smile. Go ahead, spin the wheels. That’s what its for. It’s a minor league baseball star hitting a homer. It’s winning $100 on a scratch off. It’s grilling a steak perfectly on your night to cook. Its stepping out of a 25 year old station wagon with a leaky window and into the racecar that you wished for on your 8th birthday. And if only the 8 year olds seem to understand how much I love it, well, I’m alright with that.