In the 50+ years since my 16th birthday, I’ve always owned at least one car with two doors. Most of the cars have been American: two Mustangs (a ’69 428 Cobra Jet Mach 1 and a ’68 Shelby GT500 KR convertible), a ‘71 Corvette, one "base" Camaro (a 1967 convertible), and two Z/28’s (a ’74, and an ’82), a one-of-200 1971 Yenko Turbo Stinger GT (Google it), and a few others I’ve lost track of. I’ve also owned a few foreign cars: a ’74 Pantera, a ’65 TR4A IRS, an ’84 Honda CRX, a ’71 MGB, a ’91 300ZX 2+2, three Mazda Miatas (a ’96, an '06, and an ’09), and an ’02 Porsche Boxster. And just to show I wasn't just a bell bottom wearing greaser and that I could hang with the hippies, I also owned a customized 1974 Chevy Van complete with sunroofs, airbrushed murals on the outside, and a button-tufted velvet interior. Ok, it did have a Corvette engine, but that's beside the point.
Me in 1971 on the way to college with my 1969 428 Cobra Jet Mach 1 Mustang. Center: My 1971 Yenko Turbo Stinger GT. Right: My 1970 350/350 Euro-spec Corvette.
I loved my first Miata. It was the first car I ever tracked and it was like driving a go-kart. Light. Turned on a dime. Not fast, but pleasingly quick. My lovely wife Annette hated it though. She called it my “rat” car. Among her dislikes: It was too small for her, too low to the ground and it didn’t feel safe. I thought these were all good things – at least the first two. She disagreed, and despite my desire to take long weekend drives to nowhere, the only place she’d go in that car was the beach.
I’d wanted a 300ZX forever. Or at least since the first time I’d laid eyes on one. I’d been casually looking for about 5 years and then one day, this one popped up on Hemmings. It had been discovered in a barn in 2012 with 18K miles on it as part of an estate sale. This car had never been in the rain. It had never been smoked in. It came with all of the service records and it had never even been in an automatic car wash. The first owner received it on her 60th birthday from her husband. She drove it for 2 years before she was unable to drive any longer and parked it in a garage on the property. The guy I bought it from was second owner. He was also in his 60s and was a local Nissan collector. Over the phone, I made the deal. I put up an ad for the Miata on Friday, sold it on Sunday afternoon and was on a plane to Portland, Oregon to pick up my 300ZX on Tuesday morning, certified check in hand.
First glimpse: The cover coming off of my 25 yr old 1991 Nissan 300ZX 2+2 with 28K miles
Since the ZX was bigger than the Miata and had 2 rear seats for the dogs (both things she didn’t like about the Miata) I reasoned that Annette would like it. I was wrong, although to be fair, her opinion probably had something to do with the fact that I didn’t tell her I was planning to buy the car and drive it home. Annette thought I was only flying out there to look at it. She found out about my cross country drive when she called me the day she thought I was coming home to ask what time my flight was landing. I said, “I’m not sure – I’m in Boise”. She didn’t speak to me until 4 days later when I got home. Despite that, I thought she’d come around. I was wrong again. Annette actually liked the 300ZX less than the Miata. She rode in it one time. One.
My favorite trophy. 1st place, Japanese Marques, Sunday in the Park at Lime Rock. Got the award from Bob Sharpe personally.
At least I could take comfort in the fact that the ZX took 1st place in every Concours event I entered it in. The thing about a show car like that is that it is so nice you’re afraid to drive it. At least I was. And track it? Out of the question. I was constantly worried that someone would bang their door into it, or that a rock would fly up from the highway or that a bird would drop a kidney stone on it. (Do birds even have kidney stones?). Anyway, I missed taking the car to the track, and after about 18 months I put it up for sale.
I didn’t really want to sell it, so I asked way too much money for it. After about 3 months of lukewarm interest, a guy from Boston called me on the phone and asked if I still had it. I was sure he was going to offer me less than what I was asking, but his only question was ‘did I have all the service records?’ When I told him I did, he bought it sight unseen. Paid my full asking price. It turned out that the guy was a mechanic who had worked for Briggs Cunningham in the ‘60’s. He wanted an Arctic White 300ZX 2+2 to go with his other two Arctic White 300ZX’s (a slick top non 2+2 turbo and a convertible).
So now I needed another car. I thought about how much I loved the Miata, and I began to look for another one. Since I already knew that Annette wasn’t going to like it, I spec’d out what I wanted: it had to be a third generation (NC) Miata; it had to be a convertible; it had to have less than 50,000 miles on the odometer; it had to have a 5 speed as opposed to the 6 speed, and it had to be all black. And it had to cost less than 10K.
I found exactly 7 for sale in the entire United States that matched my search criteria. Three were all clapped out, 2 were on the West Coast (too far away), one was in Dallas and one was in Houston. The one I settled on was in Houston and within days of selling the Nissan, I was on a plane headed South.
I took my time driving home, visiting 4 clients on the journey back (making it a business trip). When I got home, Annette took one look at my new prized possession, mumbled something about the seats being able to fully recline for sleeping purposes and walked away. Being fairly certain that she would never want to participate in any automotive related activities with me, I decided to look for kindred spirits within the Miata Club.
I noticed several things immediately about the club. First, there weren’t a lot of members. Maybe 70 or 80. Second, they didn’t really do anything. I went to one monthly meeting – a dinner at a not-so-fabulous restaurant – where the big topic of discussion was where to go for the next monthly meeting. The club held one driving event all year: an autocross day at LRP. The event was only open to 40 participants. If you didn’t register the day it was announced, there was an excellent chance you would be locked out of any club driving event for another 12 months. That’s partially because the club would only wait a couple of weeks before opening the event up to non-club members as a way to cover the costs. You snooze, you lose.
It was about this time that Annette suggested I look into buying a Porsche. Me? Buy a Porsche? Well, alrighty then.
Annette and I had friends where the husbands owned Porsches. Jim (above left with the track passes) owned a sweet 911 and Rob (above right) owned a Boxster. Their wives often spoke about how the guys were always off at car events, so Annette suggested that maybe I should look into buying a Porsche and joining the local club. It was something I had considered before buying the last Miata, but had rejected. I was concerned about maintenance costs. Miatas are relatively easy to fix if I wanted to do the work myself, and relatively inexpensive if I wanted to have someone else maintain the car. But the fact that my wife was the one suggesting I look at a Porsche made me start to reconsider my thinking.
Just like I did with the Miata 18 months before, I made a list of what I wanted and what I didn’t. My first requirement was that the car was a convertible. I enjoy top-down driving too much for anything else. Next, I wanted a manual transmission. After that, I wanted low mileage (less than 50K) and finally, I didn’t want to spend any more than what I was getting from the sale of my Miata. That left me with a first gen Boxster.
I started looking around immediately. This time, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake I did with the last two purchases – Annette was going to be part of the purchase process. Unfortunately, that meant the car had to be within an hour or so drive of Norwalk – anything further away would be too far for her to go for a test drive.
I narrowed my search down to a half a dozen cars in the designated geographic area. Two were S’s and four were base models. The first one was at a dealer in Naugatuck. A grey ’98 base Boxster with a black interior and a black top, it had “just come in” to the dealer. We asked for the keys, and after exchanging the appropriate information, we set out for a test drive.
Annette was immediately comfortable. The seats went back far enough for her to stretch her longer legs – a big complaint about the Miata. Me, not so much. This was the first Porsche I’d ever driven, and while I wasn’t sure what to expect, I knew it wasn’t this. The car didn’t seem quick, the clutch did not feel right and the shifts weren’t as crisp as I thought they would be. Handling seemed to be OK, but as I headed back to the dealership, I just had the feeling of being underwhelmed. It was not the experience I had expected of a Porsche.
In Guilford, walking up to my Boxster for the test drive. You could tell then that Annette liked the car – she took the picture!
Our next test drive would be with a private owner in Guilford. Like the guy who sold me my 300ZX, this guy was older – closer to my age. He said he was selling the car for a life-long friend of his who was no longer able to drive it. The car itself was a Lapis Blue 2002 base model with a light gray leather interior and a blue convertible top. The car was in great condition, having been in storage for the last four years. We took the keys and went for a drive.
As soon as I started the car up Annette cracked a smile. She liked it. I don’t think I drove more than half a block before I knew this was the car she would pick. This was the car any others would be judged by. There was an annoying little rattle coming from the exhaust system, but it didn’t bother me. I figured it was just a loose bracket. [Update: It wasn’t a bracket. It was broken baffles inside the right muffler. The whole thing needed to be replaced.] Besides, I was having too much fun driving the car. This was what I expected a Porsche to be. Tight. Fast. Crisp shifts. Like driving an overpowered go-kart.
After we took the car back to the owner, we headed home. On the way, I could tell my wife loved the car. I know this because she kept talking about the color, the legroom, and the fact that she would even be OK going out to dinner in it once in a while. I wasn’t 100% convinced. I still had a few others to look at including an S in Rhode Island. And besides, I still hadn’t sold the Miata, a situation that changed later that night. Now that I was actively looking for a Boxster, I had posted the Miata on CarGurus that morning. By the time we got home from our test drives, I had a full price offer for the car from someone outside of Boston.
My last drive in the Miata on the way to it’s new owners in Mass.
The next test drive was at a used car dealer just north of Providence, RI, so I went alone. This car was a silver Boxster S and was the one I really wanted. Plan A was to have the guy who bought my Miata meet me in the parking lot of a grocery store across the street from where I’d be doing my test drive. If things went well, he would hand me an envelope of cash and I would hand him the title and keys. Then I would walk across the street, test drive the Porsche, hand the dealer an envelope of cash and drive home.
I took the car for a ride. The guy at the used car dealership told me to take as long as I needed so I went for a trip. This was everything I expected. 15 minutes into the drive I decided I wanted it. I got back to the dealership about an hour later, walked into the office and said ‘let’s make a deal’.
The car needed some work. All four tires had to be replaced, the car had to be realigned, the brakes needed to be done, and based on my research, I was positive the IMS bearing had never been touched. I figured all in, I’d have to do about $6,500 work on the car to make it driveable. The dealer wanted just under 14K for the car. I had 11.5K cash with me from the Miata and I offered him 12K flat. That was 2k less than he was asking but with all the work, I thought he’d make the deal.
I was wrong.
This guy looked at me and told me with a straight face that unless my number had a 13 in it, he wouldn’t even consider it. Now I was annoyed. I had just made him a great offer on that car. When I asked him why he wouldn’t take the deal, he said it was because I was paying cash. That didn’t make sense to me so I asked him to explain his response. He told me he’d sell the car for $12K to someone who was going to finance because he would make his money on the financing. But a cash buyer would have to pay full price.
On to Plan B.
Plan B involved taking an Amtrak from Providence west to New Haven, and then a Shoreline East train back east a few stops to Guilford. From there, it was only a short walk to the house where the guy was selling the Lapis Blue Boxster that Annette liked. I called the owner from the train, told him I was on my way with an envelope of cash and license plates, and asked if he’d have the car ready for me.
Shined up and ready to go.
Two hours later, my new-to-me Boxster and I were on the road. The car was everything I expected it to be, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t stop smiling the entire way home. I will confess that I was a bit nervous about the IMS bearing failing the minute I started my drive (just my luck) so I probably didn’t enjoy the ride as much as I would have liked. In fact, I drove straight home and parked it in the driveway.
I didn’t touch the car again until it came back from Morton Competition three weeks later. Stuart – who specializes in 930 turbos – did me a solid favor and put in a new IMS bearing, a new rear main seal, and a new clutch. With the exception of a cooling tank that had to be replaced 12 months into my ownership, there have been no major problems. The car came with an aftermarket exhaust, so I didn’t have to change that out, but I hated the stock steering wheel. It took a while, but I found a guy in Germany who could make me a flat-bottom wheel from a factory core.
Before and after. The new wheel is wider and has all the right places to grip for spirited driving.
My journey to becoming a Porsche owner was a long one and in hindsight, I can’t believe it took me so long. That the car is amazing goes without saying. But for me, the best thing about being a Porsche owner is, and continues to be, my new friends at CVR.