It’s an adequate car.
I purchased this car as my wife’s first car. We got it from CDI in Victor. Within 30 minutes of purchase it threw a check engine light, and they refused to return my calls. Suffice to say I don’t think anyone should ever do business with them, ever.
Immediately upon purchase I dumped the car to the ground on some cheap, garbage coilovers and installed a rear lip spoiler.
I eventually also added a Borla exhaust. The sound of the VR with an exhaust is one of the primary reasons my wife kept this car for 6 years.
Now it’s mine. I’ll admit its fun – compared to later Jettas the size is just right – its small and can squirt through traffic. It has nice torque delivery but power up top as well. It’s been fairly reliable with a few hiccups, usually when my wife was in New York City – which is why she got the new Jetta.
My daughter’s expression pretty much sums up how everyone in my house feels about this car (seen in the background).
I picked the car up for my wife to drive, who refused to drive it – instead preferring to drive her 2003 Jetta VR6 (the other gray Jetta in the garage).
It’s got a torquey 1.8t automatic, two-tone white/black seats, nav, heated shit, NO SUNROOF, a lip spoiler, a lower sport suspension and 17″ wheels. My wife is happy with it.
Love is a strong word. Originally, when writing this article I wanted to title it “Cars That I Like” but I thought back to a business coach of mine who once asked me to tell him about the parts of my job I enjoyed. When I said “I LOVE x” his eyes lit up and he said “There. That. Love. That is a strong word. Do more of that.” And you know what, he’s right – love is a strong word. Love implies that I want more of that. Here’s what I want more of.
AP1, AP2, 2 liter, 2.2 liter, cable throttle, drive by wire – I don’t fucking care. Every single one of these cars ever made is fantastic. I know it’s cliche but this car is like driving a motorcycle. You hear a lot of complaints about VTEC, but honestly, this motor is plenty torquey, especially with the way it is geared, and it really rips in the VTEC range. Coupled to a stiff, lightweight chassis and you’ve got a recipe for awesome.
Let’s not forget that in addition to a fantastic chassis and amazing engine, you have a beautiful, timeless and classic exterior coupled with the fun of top down motoring. Perfection. Why’d they kill the car off? Because the average American consumer is an idiotic philistine – why do you think the Dodge Challenger sells in any numbers at all?
Following the simple recipe for pleasing me, we have two cars that are very well balanced, very light-weight, and near perfect. Now, I will complain – the engine on these cars is a total let down. Around town it is just a dog and there’s a big fat flat spot in power right in the middle of the powerband. Toyota could have put something similar to the F20/22 in the S2000 or the 2ZZ-GE in the Elise – with a nice switchover and lots of top end power. Instead, they let Subaru design the motor and what you got is essentially a tractor engine that sounds like its farting down the road.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about what’s good. Feedback and steering feel. Communication. Playfulness. Grip is actually not that high, especially in stock form – which makes them more fun. While these cars completely suck on the street, once you get them out on the track or at the autocross they come alive and you “get it.” You can’t understand them without pushing them to these limits. But once you start to understand them and realize what it is that Toyota actually did hear, your cold, dead heart begins to grow two sizes too big.
I know it’s been said, but really, these cars are special. They are just amazingly well sorted, well balanced, and well screwed together. I’ve owned a fair number of them and had the privilege of driving a ton of them. It isn’t shocking to see this car on the list. It also shouldn’t be shocking to hear me say that they’re better than the 911.
The biggest problem, as we all know, is that for years Porsche refused to give these cars the balls they deserved. Now, with the new Boxster Spyder and Cayman GT4, Porsche has decided to listen to customers and give them the power they deserved. Porsche did this before in the 80s (with the 944 turbo, which outperformed the 911 of its era) and the results were spectacular, as they are again. With their shift to 100% turbo power, I can’t wait to see how these cars wind up.
Simplify and add lightness. Are you listening? This is hands down the easiest way to improve performance. Sure, more power will make you faster in a straight line, but less weight will make you faster everywhere. It’s demonstrated to perfect here. The Elise weighs under 2,000 lbs.
Lotus gives you a high-revving, charismatic engine built by a reliable Japanese manufacturer and mates it to a super stiff, lightweight chassis tuned by the experts in Hethel. The results are quite possibly one of the best cars of all time. Throw in a blower and some aero and you’ve got the Exige. And now they’ve grown a pair and stuck the supercharged V6 from the Evora into it . . . .
Remember how I said the Cayman and Boxster were better than the 911? They are. But the GT3 isn’t a 911. The GT3 is perfection. You see, the standard 911 is rather soft and floppy, and it isn’t until you add the M030 sport suspension (or X73, or whatever the hell they call it these days) before it starts to get rather good. But even so, the company refuses to give the lesser 911s the good stuff like the ability to adjust front camber, dry sump oiling, limited slip differentials, or engines that won’t commit suicide (disclaimer – at this time of this writing I’ve owned 4 cars with the M96 engine and none of them blew up).
What we have with the GT3 is a car that will do 155 mph down the back straight at Watkins Glen one day while comfortably taking you to Trader Joe’s for groceries the next day. It is light, it is powerful, it is well appointed – yet it is ferocious and ready for hard driving. If Porsche has to build 1,000,000 Panorama monstrosities to afford building this car, I’m ok with that.
The Mazda RX8 is a real gem. Often overshadowed by its contemporaries – the faster, lighter S2000 or the more powerful (yet slower everywhere but in a straight line) 350Z, the RX8 was still a fantastic vehicle. Ignore the fact that it had four real doors, room for adults in the back, and a trunk that could store at least one dead hooker (ok, one dead Asian hooker) – the car had everything that I could ask for.
Light, agile, stiff, revvy – all of the things I love. Could it have used more power? Absolutely. But to be honest I autocrossed one for over a year and at no point on course was I ever clamoring for more power, such was the speed one could maintain through the corners. This was Mazda at its very best and I cross my fingers that the rumors of employees staying late and disobeying orders to continue work on the rotary engine are true.
I’m sure at this point you’ve noticed a theme. Light, rear wheel drive. Proper. What do I want to see more of? Light, rear wheel drive cars (that are also affordable!).
Right now, there’s hope. Two car companies are listening to people like me (i.e. – people with taste).
Yamaha Sport Ride
The Yamaha Sport Ride concept is exactly what I’m looking for. 750kg (that’s 1,650 lbs for you backwards hillbillies) and allegedly powered by one of Yamaha’s larger displacement motorcycle engines. This thing needs to be a reality today.
Being stupid enough to purchase an old English sports car doesn’t mean that I’m stupid enough to try and do the timing belts myself. That work has been subcontracted out.
And after a brief jaunt with some friends . . .
She goes to sleep for the winter.
In Spring 2016 I started driving the car around and experienced the hot start issue. I immediately took the engine apart with the help of some friends and replaced the injectors (leaky injectors cause the hot start) along with plugs, wires, and air filters while I was in there. It took about four days of work. Not easy, but not overly complicated.
I also had a few professional photos taken.
People who know me know that I can’t resist a bad ass 80s car. Especially one with a pedestrian clobbering wedge nose, pop up headlights, and an interior that really doesn’t care if you die by bashing your face on a sharp object.
Naturally, I purchased another 944 on eBay as a complete impulse.
It looked clean. The interior is almost perfect. The exterior has some blemishes that are not readily apparent in the seller’s eBay photos. The dash is not bad!
Hell, it even had a PCA sticker on it.
Of course, as soon as I got it registered and drove it something was clearly wrong. It felt WAY down on power.
To cut to the chase, it was down on compression 30-40% across all four cylinders.
So, I thought long and hard about what I had in the car. I took offers for the car as a parts car thinking I could cut my losses. But at the end of the day I decided I owed it to myself and enthusiasts everywhere to get rid of those horrible wheels, rebuild the engine, paint the thing and restore this car to its former glory.
So, after going to see someone who was low balling me for this as a parts car, we got talking and they said they could restore it for a reasonable sum. Out came the engine.
The diagnosis was far worse than anticipated. Not only were the rings gone, but the camshaft teeth had broken off, clogged the oil pickup, and starved the engine of oil. It was running and driving with two spun bearings. The oil had probably never been changed. The clutch was original from 1987. Yet, the car still ran and drove. Quite a testament to Porsche’s build quality.
At the end of the day, I spent as much purchasing and rebuilding this car as I cleared selling my 911 – but, this car is significantly cooler.