Monday, January 16, 2012

Your first car, what was it?

Nissan recently posted a question on their Facebook page asking when was your first time driving a Nissan.  This got the ball rolling and the question we would like to ask is:  What was your first car, and what are your memories of learning to drive?  For many people, driving began in our teens with lessons beginning in a parking lot and lots of classroom instruction about safe driving. 

For this author, the first car I drove was a 1986 red Nissan Auster Rtt Euroforma edition. 
This car was a 4 door sedan that followed the 80s norm of a boxy shape and squared off front and rear bumpers.  It received a factory body kit and rear spoiler, along with adjustable suspension stiffness.  The interior had sport bucket seats and amber lit gauges.  Note, the vehicle above is not mine, but very similar minus the wheels and the giant front mount intercooler.  Instead of the pedestrian CA18i motor which produced a whopping 91 hp, the Rtt motor was a CA18DET with 160hp mated to a 5 speed manual transmission.  Ours was slightly modified with a turboback exhaust, free flowing intake, and slight increase in boost pressure.  I loved having the car race towards it's 7500 rpm redline under full boost, and it was a cheaper way to get an adrenaline fix than going to the expensive amusement park at the northern end of Okinawa.  This car introduced me to the world of modified vehicles, and started my love affair of turbocharged cars. 

Being a turbocharged car from the 80s, this car was very different from the low lag, instantaneous boost response from the cars of today.  The Auster made very little power below 2500 rpm.  Once the tachometer needle swept past 2800, the vehicle would leap forward as the turbo came online and the car would tug violently to the right.  This taught me a lot very early on about high powered front wheel drive vehicles: Hang on with both hands!  As long as the engine was above 3000 rpm, turbo lag was not a problem, and it was useful in teaching me to stay in the proper gear to keep the car in its powerband.    Another side benefit of the car's ability to create rolling burnouts a possibility was the lesson of throttle control to limit wheelspin, a fact compounded by the very slick road surfaces of Okinawa.  It was a lesson which was more apparent when tackling some of the back roads where too much throttle input paved the way to understeer.  

My father would take me out to an old air field to practice clutch and throttle application.  A nervous left foot would always be greeted by a shudder from the drivetrain or stalling as I was not sure how quickly to release the clutch pedal.  Shifting at times were met with the sound of the engine rpm bogging down as I rode the clutch.  Soon enough, I was finally able to take off properly from a standstill.  From there we progressed to the ever fun hills.  Trying to get the car to go up an incline was one that was met with plenty of frustration initially, and led me to another fun tutorial in car work:  changing a clutch! 

If you have never been to Okinawa or Japan, driving there will quickly help you with your depth perception and knowing exactly where the ends of your car are.  You will also become adept at reverse parking a car as many of the people there do so to ease leaving a crowded area (easier to see what's in front than behind you, in particular small children).  The streets on some roads are very narrow, to the point where 2 vehicles can pass each other with barely an inch to spare.  After driving there, the width of the streets in a typical residential area here seem very generous and still people are over the center median line, but that's a story for a different day. 
A narrow back road street.  Photo courtesy Scott McGlynn

Many people reverse park in Japan and Okinawa.  Photo courtesy

Back to my story:  Eventually shifting gears became second nature, and I was fighting my father for the keys to the car at every opportunity.  Living on a small island meant that going for a drive had 2 options:  Driving around the perimeter of the base my family was stationed at, or going off post and enduring stop and go traffic all day long.  So I didn't get that same sensation of freedom that some of my friends had when they got their licenses here in the U.S., but it did not matter to me.  As long as I could be behind the wheel, I was happy.  We ended up selling the car my senior year of high school, but as with most people, we never forget our times in our first car. 

What was your first car you drove?  What memories do you have of learning to drive and getting your license?  Happy motoring and keep on driving!

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