After writing a few days ago about the first car I learned to drive, that rusty old 1968 Ford Fairlane, I looked at the calendar yesterday and noticed that it was the anniversary of my first and only new car purchase. But before I finally scraped up enough to buy the new car in 1994, my first car was actually a 1981 Mazda 626 coupe.
This isn’t the actual car – mine was a light blue – but it is the same model and year. I bought my Mazda about a week before I moved from the Bay Area down to Riverside to start studying, right at the beginning of 1990. Previously, I had shared the Fairlane and a 1971 Mercury station wagon with my parents and younger sister and there was no way I was going to be able to live in Los Angeles without a car of my own.
I bought the car with a little help from my parents, from a guy who lived two blocks over. It was a stick-shift and I hadn’t driven one before so my father did the test driving and I had to learn to master the manual transmission in the few days before I left for LA!
My father, who is a pretty handy mechanic, inspected the car and we brought it down to the automobile club for them to do a used car inspection, too. It looked like it was in good shape and so we bought it for something like $2,500. What I ended up buying was a lemon and to this day it has left a sour taste in my mouth for used cars, even though I rationally understand that they are generally a good value.
Over the next four and a half years I kept sinking money into the Mazda, which set me back probably a year or more in my eventual purchase of my first new car.
I purchased my Honda Civic DX on June 30, 1994 at the Sunnyvale Honda dealership. Three months earlier I had graduated from university, I had been working at the same job for seven years already so credit was not a problem, and I had managed to save up a decent down-payment. My choice of a four-dour was practical: I often drove people around. I also decided to stick with a manual transmission, something that had grown on me.
It was a wonderful car that got great gas mileage. I lived in Los Angeles and then San Diego in the years after buying the car before eventually moving back to the Bay Area, and I tracked the mileage meticulously. On one of my trips from LA to San Francisco I actually got about 50 miles per gallon, thanks to careful driving and a good tailwind.
I kept the car as I moved into San Francisco proper in 1998, getting a street permit and fighting for the limited number of parking spots, trying to remember each morning where I had parked the night before. Eventually, after Tawn moved to SF and bought a car, I decided maybe I could live without one. For six months I made it a point to not drive all week, parking far away from the house in an area without daily parking restrictions. I would take the car out on the weekend to clean it and run the engine, but found I could get around on transit just fine, even when I had classes to train in the South Bay or Oakland.
In the autumn of 2001 (I think – it might have been 2002?) I finally put the car up for sale, selling it to a man from Belmont so his daughter could have her first car. We met at a rest stop off Highway 280, he inspected it and agreed to my price. I had kept detailed records of all the maintenance, oil changes, etc. so it was an easy sale. We signed the paperwork there, I handed over the keys to his daughter, and the man drove me back to my house. He took the above picture for me, the only one I have of my Honda.
To this day I sometimes see the same model car driving around and think how much I would enjoy having another one. It was a great car.