I have driven a lot of cars. Since getting my license, I have owned, or leased 18 different vehicles.
The first, compliments of my parents, was a Chevy Vega liberally covered with duct tape. I would like to state for the record that the duct tape was to cover rust and was not, I repeat not, holding the car together. The Vega came to a quick end when I was the fourth car in a six car chain reaction accident. Not surprisingly, the other vehicles (big honking Buicks and pick up trucks) came away with minor scratches and dents while my poor little Vega bled all its radiator fluid out onto the rain slicked pavement.
The first car I actually owned outright was a 72 Dodge Polara station wagon. It had a 400 cubic inch, V8 engine, ran on leaded gas, and could truly reach the 120 mph top speed indicated on the speedometer. (Don't ask how I know this.) It was a garage mechanic's dream. I bought it with 92,000 miles on it - drove it to 160,000 and replaced the exhaust system 3 times, the brakes twice, the transmission once, the water pump the alternator and the battery once, and had the radiator plugged I don't know how many times. I don't think I ever had the carburator rebuilt, but I remember frequently getting out to take off the cover to the air filter so that I could jam a ball point pen into the butterfly valve to get the car to start. I finally sold it to a scrap yard when I was afraid the frame was going to break in half if I drove too fast over the railroad tracks.
Then came a series of used station wagons. (I have to transport harps, remember.) The last was a Ford Taurus wagon with about 60,000 miles on it that actually almost killed me when, at 65 mph, some bolts sheered off and the flywheel broke loose and ricocheted around the engine. I was able to maneuver to the side of the road and walk to a gas station for help but I was really shaken. It later turned out that those bolts were under a recall. This car would verify the axiom "never buy the first model year".
At this point, I decided to look into leasing something off the showroom floor. I thought perhaps all my trials and tribulations came from buying used. I needed something reliable and I was also eligible for a tax break on the lease, since the car would be for my business.
Thus began the parade of Taurus's (Tauri?) and Dodge Caravans. Each of these was nice and I felt much safer but, honestly, I was so glad to turn them in after 36,000 miles. In my book, you should be able to drive a car at least that many miles without much more maintenance than oil and filter changes and the usual weatherizing that comes with midwestern winters. And these cars were needing major repairs by the second year. Probably the most fun was the Caravan which, suddenly - at 10:00 at night - on the Chicago Skyway- driving through Gary, Indiana - would no longer go any faster than 40 miles per hour. Loooooong trip home to Wisconsin -biiiiiiig cell phone bill as I talked to John the whole way in case the van actually broke down altogether. It turned out to be a faulty speed sensor. So much for the reliability of buying new.
So, as I said before, I have driven a lot of cars. A lot of American cars. (A total of 14 of them) I mention this because I would like to make it clear that I think we gave the American auto industry plenty of chances to impress us and provide us with vehicles that were within our budget and would last longer than our loan agreement.
In 1995 we bought, for all non-harp related driving, our first Japanese car. A red Civic hatchback that got 43 miles per gallon. We test drove everything in its class - Ford Fiesta, Toyota Tercel, even the Geo Metro. (Remember those?) The Civic won hands down. The power of the engine and the gas mileage coupled with the Consumer Reports findings on reliability were too good to ignore. We not only drove it out from under the five years of payments, we drove it four more years beyond that and would probably be driving it still if an uninsured, distracted driver hadn't plowed into John doing 45 mph on a 25 mph residential street and totaled it.
With the insurance money for the Honda (another plus - they hold their value really well) we were able to get a used Toyota Celica GT that was oh so fun to drive and had those retractable headlights. That took some getting used to - I felt like I was driving a muppet with big eyebrows when those lights came up out of the hood. But it was cute and had power and handled great and got decent mileage. Then, again we were hit. This time it was me driving and the other driver ran a stop sign and nearly took my front end off.
This time the insurance money was a little less so we wound up with a 1990 Toyota Camry wagon. A little bit of rust but ran well and was practical. I was still leasing vehicles but finally decided to bite the bullet, take on the 6 years of payments and buy something in which I could carry the harp and the entire family. So, in 2005, I opted for a Honda Odyssey bringing our Japanese car count to 4 in 14 years. Much better investment for us and a great vehicle.
Which brings us to (choir singing) THE MAZDA 3
This year the Toyota reached the point that it really shouldn't be driven anywhere that someone else in the family can't easily go and pick you up. And forget taking it out of town. So we needed something that John could drive further than 20 miles away when I'm hogging the Van for harp jobs. Again, we did tons of research and John test drove everything comparable.
Until he drove the Mazda 3.
His search was over.
We have never driven a car like this.
A sportscar in an economy car's body, it is SO MUCH FUN!
And it handles like a dream, makes it up our ice covered driveway with no sliding, gets great gas mileage, and didn't cost a fortune.
I may never drive any other car again.
For the first time in my life I understand brand loyalty. I find myself looking around at other cars on the road and when I see another Mazda I feel a kinship. I know that I will instantly bond with any and all Mazda owners when I encounter them at cocktail parties, sporting events, high school band concerts - whatever.
I have found my tribe.
The tribe of the Mazda.