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My Favorite Cars

I was driving my new 2010 Porsche GT3 along Highway 1 as it winds its way along the Pacific Ocean when the radio played Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones. This song always transports me back to the summer of 1965 when it came on every afternoon on Chicago’s WLS radio as I drove to work at the Chicago Transit Authority. It also connects me to my car at that time, a 1965 Corvair Turbo Corsa that I dearly loved. I started thinking about the cars I have owned and which ones stuck in my mind as really special. The results weren't surprising to me but might be to some enthusiasts. My top five cars aren't a ranking of the technically best. Instead, they are a ranking of the cars that gave me the most pure pleasure.
I have been fortunate to own many cool cars due to good fortune and a wife who, at least partially, shares the same interests. This brand list includes Audi, Camaro, Corvette, Corvair, Ford, Mercedes, Mini Cooper, Range Rover, Porsche, and, sadly, a beautiful but troubled red Chevy Vega GT. I have also had the opportunity to drive quite a few high performance cars in test drives. Porsche is clearly my favorite manufacturer; I have owned eleven of these German delights. Given these experiences, here is my list of favorite cars in descending order. Remember, favorite is simply how the car pegged my fun/pleasure meter.

#1 1962 Chevrolet Corvair Spyder

I was already a Corvair fan when Chevrolet announced the Spyder having owned a 1961 Monza with the high performance engine and 4-speed. I was also a sports car fan with a preference for seeing American cars and drivers compete well against the Europeans. I couldn’t afford a Corvette so the Spyder was right up my alley. The Spyder was fully equipped with performance suspension, metallic brakes, and positraction. It was a blast to drive and the new brushed chrome dashboard with its circular gauges looked so NOT like a typical American sedan. I didn’t just like this car; I loved it, and still do. I found it interesting that Dan Gurney, famed race driver, named the 1962 Spyder as his favorite car. Gurney drove a 1962 Spyder in Europe while he was racing for Porsche. He was young, in love, and enjoying life. So was I.

#2 2007 Porsche GT3

This was my second GT3. Porsche made some good technical improvements as they brought the GT3 from the 996 to this 997 version. I won’t bore you with a rehash of the well documented GT3 technical attributes. What makes this car #2 is the visceral sensation of loading up the outside rear tire coming full throttle out of a turn and then winding to the 8,400 red line as you blast down a short straight before hitting the ceramic brakes for a sensation that must be second only to a carrier-hook landing. Motor Tend picked this GT3 as the best handling car in America. It is. Importantly, the engine sound at the red line takes you to a special place. If Ponce de León were alive today, he wouldn’t have to search for the Fountain of Youth. He could just get a GT3 and be forever young.

#3 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Turbo Corsa

I bought this Crocus Yellow car in Chicago in the summer of 1965 between graduating from college in June and getting married an entering the Air Force in September. I expected something similar to my beloved 1962 Spyder but found something quite different. The Corsa was smooth and supple by comparison. Later, when I started competing and winning high speed Texas-style autocrosses in the Corsa, I learned that the car handled fabulously despite the gentle ride demeanor. At speeds from 65 to 90, the turbo delivered outstanding passing ability on the many long road trips we took on two lane roads. It was our family car and my weekend race car and it did both jobs very well.  It was quick, elegant, and is a milestone car in U.S. automobile history. It was also stunningly beautiful, and still is now.

#4 2007 Porsche Cayenne Turbo

We bought our first Cayenne Turbo in 2004 after doing quite a bit of research and road testing many SUVs. We put 140,000 care-free miles on our first Cayenne and were pre-sold when the new 2007 model was announced. The addition of the optional Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) that automatically adjusts both the front and rear anti-roll bars depending upon driving conditions made a big difference in an already great handling SUV. Ride  was improved, roll was greatly reduced, and turn-in was enhanced. My granddaughter recently attested to this after borrowing the Cayenne while her BMW X3 was in service. She was amazed how much front-end push there was in her X3 turn-ins compared to the Cayenne. Enough of this detailed technical stuff. What makes the Turbo Cayenne such a memorable vehicle is a combination of driving experiences over thousands of miles in all weather conditions of rain, floods, snow, and black ice on surfaces including  Montana mountains, wide-open Western highways, Virginia country back roads, off-road Texas dirt, and big city bumps and pot holes. The level of comfort, capacity, and performance are exceptional. If this isn’t wasn’t enough to get on my list, then our rides with a Porsche racing school driver as he kept up with 911s on the Barber Motor Sports course carrying three passengers in a Cayenne Turbo closed the deal.

#5 1970 ½ Chevrolet Camaro SS

We bought this Camaro when Chevrolet dropped the Corvair and we were finally in a position to buy a brand new car through holding down multiple jobs. We did a long evaluation of all of the pony cars and rented a few for weekend test runs. In the end, we had the new Pontiac Firebird and Camaro on our short list. The Camaro’s looks won out. I thought that the new 1970 ½ styling had a distinctly Ferrari 250 Berlinetta look from the back-rear side. The Rally Sport front added a cool aggressive personality that made the Mustang look tame. We ordered the car with the SS package, positraction, air conditioning, and automatic. The 300 hp 350 CID engine coupled to a touring rear axle ratio gave the Camaro true GT abilities. We took it on many long trips at high speeds and in comfort. Our two small children were snug in the back of this well-built car. In those days, Nevada had a reasonable and proper highway speed limit which was not a limit. I remember cruising by a Nevada Highway Patrol car at 90 miles per hour as the Camaro loafed along at low revs. Road & Track declared a 1971 version of this Camaro to be one the World’s Top Ten Cars. I agree and still think it was a high point for Chevrolet. I had a later 1984 Z28 H.O. that suffered by comparison. It was long in power but way short in quality. I hope to add a 1970 ½ Camaro to my car collection.

Postscript After I finished this article I asked my wife what her top three favorite cars were. Candace replied immediately:

#1 2007 Porsche Cayman S
#2 1970 ½ Chevrolet Camaro SS
#3 2003 Mini Cooper

I had already guessed this list before I asked. The Cayman S is a superb vehicle that often makes me wonder about my 911 focus. Her red rocket has PDK, ceramic brakes, and limited-slip. It is agile, light, and quite cute. I have already talked about the Camaro, which is the one car that made both our lists. The Mini Cooper deserves special note. We both loved this car and passed it on to our granddaughter who also loved it until a friend wrecked it. If we had to choose only one car to drive the rest of our lives, it would be a Mini Cooper. It is fun, thrifty on gas, has go-kart reflexes, and never saw a parking spot it didn’t like.  We have travelled throughout France in one with lots of luggage that we could never fit in a Porsche. I would get the S version to up the sporting nature so I wouldn’t miss Porsches as much.