- My 1988 Merkur XR4Ti

Talking about my first car and the value of fun

A long winded excuse to show off my car because I love it

5w ago
23.5K

Seven months ago I made a post entitled "The Future Looks Lame". In that post, I complained about the "future of cars" as it has been pitched to us and how it depresses me to think about it. Looking back at it, it all comes across as very trolly and immature, and I am a bit embarrassed about how poorly I communicated a mindset that I do still hold. So call this a second try at explaining my feelings on the current state, and future of cars, combined with me talking about and showing off my car, all to explain why how things are and how things look like they will be depresses me.

A little less than a year ago, I was looking for my first car. I had a very low budget set for me by my mother, and a taste guided by the Classic Ford Mustangs, and Initial D. Since any of the cars featured in that show have had their prices inflated to the point of unattainability, the fact that you can't get a running 60s-70s mustang for less than seven thousand dollars, and the prospect of paying the insurance for a classic muscle car on a teachers salary didn't sound too appealing to my mom, I was relegated to skimming the lowest-priced cars on Craigslist and Autotrader, dreading the inevitability of ending up with a 1999 Toyota Camry. I was desperate to run across something cool and after a few weeks of searching, I got my wish. At the very top of the Craigslist listings (sorted from price lowest to highest), I saw something resembling that 1980s two-door hatchback from the anime I had come to love so much. Finally feeling somewhat intrigued by a listing, I clicked on the ad, and just from looking at it, I wanted it. I didn't even know anything about it yet but I could tell that at least visually, it was very much my style. I then turned my eyes to the specifications which I had no real idea about past certain things that people had told me were good, and it also ticked all the boxes with that. "Turbocharged! Rear-wheel drive! That means it's fast!" I thought to myself. However, all of this meant nothing if it didn't meet my most important requirement. It had to be a manual. I had never driven a manual car before, my dad owned one when I was younger but by the time I was driving age he was already too far away and too sick to teach me how to drive, and my mom has a 2008 Toyota Corolla that I learned to drive on. But from the day I had first sat in a car with my father he had cemented two absolute truths into my head. The first being is that racism is okay if you're angry at someone on the road, and the second is that manual is always better. So looking at that craigslist listing, when I saw the word "manual" next to the "transmission" part of the form, perfected with a $2,500 asking price, my heart was set. This was the car I was going to buy. I would do everything a responsible person would do when looking at a used car, but deep down I knew it was all a formality to give my mom a sense of security in paying half the cost for her son's first car. This is it. This is my car.

After showing the listing to my mom and emailing back and forth with the owner the next day, my mom agreed to come with me to check it out. The night before we left I decided to do a bit of research on the car, mainly how popular it was and how enthusiasts regard it. I had never heard of it before, but something did seem familiar about it. After looking it up I found a video that a small YouTube channel had made about it, and a few seconds what seemed so familiar about it clicked. It's a Ford Sierra. I had heard a lot about the Ford Sierra Cosworth, but living in the states, I had never seen one in person. However, I had heard a lot about how fast that car is, so the prospect of owning the American version of it (despite not being a Cosworth) made me even more excited. So the next morning, with me at the wheel of her 2008 Corolla, my mother and I set out on the half-hour-long drive from Detroit to Farmington Hills, Michigan. When we arrived, pulling into one of the parking lots of a relatively lifeless looking area; full of truck depots and storage facilities, I saw my car parked next to the door of the seller's electrician business. I parked, got out, and immediately went to take a look. I noticed immediately that this car was not in perfect condition. The paint job looked rough towards the back, and there was some surface rust, I fully expected this given the asking price, and therefore didn't care. I also noticed aftermarket wheels, a custom shift knob, after-market gauges in the center console, and what looked like team stickers on the rear windows. The words "rally car" immediately jumped to my mind. Now, a lot of people would take that as a red flag, but that only made it all the more special in my mind making me even more dead set on buying this thing.

Intently peering in through the window, my concentration was broken by the sound of a door opening to my left. There was a tall, friendly-looking older gentleman exiting the electrician business that the car was parked in front of. It was the owner, who after a few minutes, had noticed us looking at his car. He introduced himself, we introduced ourselves, and the three of us made idle chat for a few minutes before ending the conversation with him going to get the keys so my mom and I could take it out for a test drive. My mom got in the driver's seat as I didn't know how to drive manual yet, I got in the passenger side, and she started it up. I was immediately a bit disconcerted by the experience of sitting in the car while it was running. I had only ever been in modern cars, and even just riding passenger this felt nothing like those. I had never heard these kinds of noises from a car before, I could feel the movement of the car in a much more visceral way, and when we got out onto the main road, I was pretty shocked by how fast the acceleration felt even at low speeds. After adjusting a little bit, my initial slight discomfort soon turned to excitement and curiosity. "This is cool," I thought, "this feels like what I imagined all the sports cars I gawked at in magazines and videos would feel like". Obviously, this isn't an insanely high-performance machine by today's standards, but it feels like it is. After driving for about an hour, taking a closer look at it in a different parking lot, and returning it to the storefront, I had made a choice, and my mom had decided that she liked it. However, she also reasonably wanted to get it checked out by a mechanic before buying it. Two days later we came back and took it from the owner to take it to a garage, and after having a diagnostic done, there were some issues. Nothing major, just some minor leaks, along with wheel alignment. However, the mechanics said it would cost a bit to fix, and my mom, being famously cheap, was reluctant to buy a car that had a few issues (I still think this was stupid considering the price point). However, I made a deal with her that if I could come up with a definite budget for repairs, she would pay her half. So that night at home, I set about doing it, finished, got it approved, and the next morning I called the owner to negotiate a price for the first time in my life. I got it down to $2,250. Nothing impressive, but still within the limit my mom had set.

We went to pick up the car the next day. The owner seemed pretty busy when we arrived, so after him rushing us through the paperwork, we gave him the cash and he went back inside. I wasn't going to be driving it home as again, I didn't know how to drive stick yet, but I was still overjoyed that this was the car I ended up with. I got inside, felt the steering wheel, pedals, shifter, and then snapped this picture.

It was a rainy drive home, alone in my mom's Corolla, with her following close behind me. I was happy, listening to music, going a bit too fast, and kind of just taking in the occasion. When we got home and pulled into the alleyway behind the house, I just stood and stared at my car for a while. Despite the flaws with the paint job, it looked good. It fit the image of what I wanted my car to be, and it was nice to boot. Even though there was no air conditioning, it had working heated seats, power windows, a radio with an auxiliary port, which may not sound like much if you own a new car, but to me having only sat in bare-bones commuter cars from 2008 or before my entire life, those were luxury features.

In the coming week I would go through the punishing, but short process of learning how to drive stick, and once that was over I started driving it normally as a way to get around and mess about when I felt like it. That's where we come to the present day. After driving my car for a few months, and learning a lot about how cars work mechanically through working on my cars and overall becoming more and more immersed in the hobby. I can firmly say that I understand what I love about my car. It was made to be fun, and it is fun. Getting around normally is an absolute joy and something I look forward to doing. Even though I do have to work on it now and then, and it doesn't get the best gas mileage, I still love it because it's fun. And that leads me to the larger point I started this post with. That sense of feeling connected to the car, and the idea of looking at a car as more than just a mode of transportation, as something that is meant to be enjoyed for the feeling of driving it alone, is completely gone today. Cars have been redefined as something to purely provide mobility, and the products have and will continue to suffer as a result.

This is my biggest issue with electric cars; the supposed "future" of what cars will be. They're not fun. In fact, they're very boring. Every single one of them. Sure the acceleration is good, but that's the only good thing I have to say about them. They're heavy, inefficient, worse than ICE cars in pretty much every way, but that doesn't get to what the heart of the problem is. In his review of the Tesla Model X Jeremy Clarkson said that it interested him because it "redefines what the car actually is". Well, I wouldn't call it a redefinition, more of a perversion. You can see this with why people buy these things. It's certainly not for recreational purposes, nor is it for the efficiency or reliability (or lack thereof) that they offer. It's for two of the worst reasons you could buy a car. Ideology and image. It's not the car that they enjoy. It's the feeling of being a part of some kind of social movement that owning that car affords you that they enjoy. It has nothing to do with the car itself as again, it is just mobility to them, and you can feel that in every inch of the car's construction.

"Mobility culture" as it has been described is the general trend in attitudes towards cars that for me, ruins any hopes I have for a bright future for the automotive industry. Instead of car ownership being a path into a new set of interests and hobbies for most people my age, signs point to the consensus being that most just view it as a bus that you don't have to share. Even with higher-priced sports cars and supercars, it seems that the majority of the people that own them don't especially care or know much about the car itself, as it's just a matter of how people perceive them while they're driving it. They buy these incredible machines that most people will never drive, specially engineered to go as fast as possible, and then they take pictures in front of it, and then drive slowly in crowded areas so other people can take pictures of them. When they do go fast they don't know how to handle it as again, they're not interested in cars, so they often crash and then sell it off because repairs are too costly. Not all supercar owners are like this, but all the ones that you see are, and as a result, that's what the mainstream perception of what a car is has become. A status symbol, or a way to get around. There's no room for enthusiasts in today's market and cultural zeitgeist, and for lack of a good way to end this, that's where I'll leave it.

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Comments (43)

  • An enthusiast loves cars beyond the figures. It's a passion almost impossible to explain to someone who doesn't get 'it'

    Most people do only see cars as transport.

    People with a real passion you'll find generally drive older cars because people who know are aware the driver/vehicle connection has been watered down exponentially over the last decade.

    Safety devices extra equipment nobody should need coupled with lower grade construction materials equal a far inferior product in every way.

    If you see someone with a car that's 12+ years old and it's in good nick you know they appreciate cars 👍

      1 month ago
    • Took the words right out of my mouth. The safety regulations have also lead to a lot of the artistry in car design being diminished. My dad always used to tell me how when he worked for Ford and GM in the 70s and 80s, he could tell what every car...

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        1 month ago
    • I used to be able to, I loved looking at all the different shapes and designs going past, this was back late 80's into the 90's as a young lad.

      Nowadays nothing has any individuality.

      The Vauxhall Insignia for example I still call a Vectra...

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        1 month ago
  • great article!

      1 month ago
  • Awesome read and awesome car! They were ford sierra Xr4x4tis over here. take care of it because it’s rare, rad and is an important piece of U.K. car history. Also apparently the V6 can make good power with a turbo, maybe 300hp or so, something to do down the road I guess…

      1 month ago
    • I was thinking of trying to find a better engine for it. I'm not really sure what I'd want to put in it tho, or what the car could handle. DM me some recommendations if you want.

        1 month ago
    • Being in the US you have the Windsor V8 which will plop straight in as they were sold over their as Merkur XR8 with that motor. Or any other Ford motor from a vehicle that had a model within its range that also came with the Windsor unit as well as...

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        1 month ago
  • Lovely article, it brings back the joy I felt with my first car. It was a clapped out Peugeot 205 Junior. Not fast but great fun to drive. Finally gave up driving manual 3 years ago and traded my Saab 9-3 for a Mercedes GLA but only because the constant clutch use in London traffic was giving me trouble with my ageing back. It has flappy paddles, but I don’t use them, because despite what some people may suggest it’s not the same as using a clutch pedal and gear lever. It never seems to give you the same feeling as selecting the perfect gear at the start of a bend and smoothly accelerating out if it. But despite that I still love my car. It’s right for me for now; it has comfort for my ageing body, but still just enough fun in it (remapped 2L Diesel engine) for me to blast around twisty British country lanes when nobody is looking. Some people really don’t care much about driving or cars, and for them their car is just a tool They are I’d say around 5% of new drivers and around 90% of older drivers. There are still cars that are made for the pleasure of real driving, but they are rarer and more expensive nowadays, and that’s a pity. The Mazda MX5 and Morgan Plus Four (which is lovely but quite expensive) spring to mind. As you age, your priorities will change, but I hope you keep the joy in driving whatever you choose. But for now, I love that you chose the Sierra. It’s I suppose what you’d call a “hot saloon/sedan”. And thank you so much for sharing your excitement with us. I’d love some more pics of it.

      1 month ago
    • I'm glad to hear you enjoy your car so much. My aunt in England bought an automatic AMG GT for pretty much the same reason. I hope I never make that decision, but who knows what I'll think by then.

        1 month ago
    • AMG GT is a pretty swanky car. It’d be no good for me because I need to be able to get a large dog in the boot, but I’d love to drive one.

        1 month ago
  • In Oz there is a current Idiom "It is what it is." So untrue. With a lot of stuff that is cheap, especially old cars, the Idiom should be "it is what you make it."

    Enjoy the freedom and no debt. Enjoy the wind in your hair because the air con does not work. Enjoy building something that is your own design. Enjoy cruising down the road not really given a shit about if you crash it.

    Go hard young man. It is what you make it and everyone else can go and get ............

      1 month ago
    • "Enjoy cruising down the road not really given a shit about if you crash it." Lol I appreciate the sentiment, but when I was learning to drive stick, I did mess up a bit of the side molding after taking a turn too sharp, and I felt like I'd kicked my...

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        1 month ago
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