Between the ages of 16 and 32, I actually owned a lot of cars. Nine all total. I had a bad tendency to trade cars in for new ones every few years rather than simply paying off the car loan and owning the car outright. Two of the cars I owned were relatively fast. Not anywhere near Bugatti Chiron fast, but fast enough to put a smile on your face and occasionally make you nearly crap your pants when it was raining the Northern California roads were slick.
Since in my first two car articles I wrote I included Youtube videos showing off the rides, I will try and do the same in this article.
1953 Willy’s Jeep
The very first fast car I drove, quite possibly the fastest, and certainly the one with the most horse power took place several years before I even had my driver’s license. In the early 80’s my dad lived near the ocean in WA and I would often drive his 1982 Ford Bronco II slowly on the beach with him in the passenger seat often drinking a beer and or smoking a cigarette. The Bronco was automatic and very easy to drive. I doubt I ever went much over 35 mph, but it was a good way to learn the basics of how to use the gas, brakes, and steering.
In the summer of 1984 I went camping with my childhood friend and his family. In the late 70’s off wheel vehicles had become super popular all over the US and my friend’s dad had started a Jeep club around that time. So, naturally, on this camping trip, we brought the 1953 Willy’s Jeep. I should mention though that the Jeep had been customized to the point that it was a 1953 Willy’s Jeep in name only really. One of the main modifications was the 400 Chevy small block that was running somewhere north of 400 horsepower, I believe. It was also a four speed manual transmission. Since I’d never driven a stick shift before, my friend’s dad offered to teach me.
He took me out on a windy gravel mountain road to begin my lesson. I was actually doing pretty well. After one false start, I stopped popping the clutch and was cruising along in third gear at about maybe 40 mph. I was nervous, but I felt okay as we drove down the road. Then we rounded a corner and there were suddenly a group of hikers right in the middle of the road.
I slowed down and went around them, but as we passed them while trying to downshift I accidentally hit the gas instead of the brake and the Jeep roared out of control. Fortunately, my friend's dad was able to grab the wheel and pull my foot off the gas before I wrecked the Jeep. To his credit, he didn’t get mad at all. He had me pull over for a minute to calm down and he gently explained that in a situation like that always try and remember to take your foot off the gas and use the brakes. Once I calmed down enough he let me drive the Jeep back to the campsite. I wish I could say that was my first and last scary encounter with powerful cars.
The ’53 Willy’s I drove was a four speed manual, but it looked and sounded very much like the Jeep in the above video.
1975 Pontiac Firebird
When I turned 16 the car I really wanted was a 1973 Dodge Challenger with a 383 Magnum under the hood. A guy in the neighborhood had it for sale. I think mainly to stop me from whining about it, my dad humored me and we went and looked at the car. It was a 3 speed and at that time I hadn’t driven a stick shift in two years since the 1953 Willy’s I mentioned above.So, I didn’t get to drive this one, but instead rode in it around the block with my dad. He got on it once and then muttered, “Damn, this thing has a lot of power.” After we got down with the test drive we popped the hood. There was some black smoke billowing up from the engine. The car had been sitting for a while, so it might have been a minor oil leaked that had gotten onto the engine and was now burning off, but that and the $500 above my dad’s budget for my first car was enough for him to say no.
Despite his many lectures about Muscle Cars getting bad gas mileage, usually never running right, and costing you a fortune in car insurance, I didn’t listen of course to the guy that had owned several really hot roadsters a 1964 GTO, and a 1972 SS El Camino.
So, eventually, after a few weeks of combing through all the used car mags and more whining and pleading, we went and looked at and bought a 1975 Pontiac Formula Firebird.
Though still billed as a Muscle Car, by 1975 the high compression, high horse power engines from 1970–1973 were long gone. I’ve read that the 1975 Firebirds with the 350s like mine were rated at about 225 horsepower. That would have been brand new though. Mine was 11 years old when I bought it with 75,000 hard miles on the motor, because I’m pretty sure the 20 year old dude I bought it from had driven it hard in high school. Still, as a first car it was far faster than the Datsun and Toyota pick ups that my dad had tried to steer me towards buying instead. And by the time I sold my Firebird about three years later I had dropped a new engine in it that was putting out a healthy 300 horsepower.
My Firebird was red when I bought it and the paint was pretty faded, but other than that it looked exactly like the one in the video. He doesn’t say what type of motor this one has in it. It doesn’t sound stock in the video. And it is a four speed whereas mine was an automatic.
In high school, my friends and I were all sort of proto-Beavis and Butthead gear head rocker types. And many of us had cool Muscle Cars. My best friend at the time had a 1971 Camaro. Originally, I think it was an RS that came with a fairly tame 307. But when he got the car his dad dropped a pumped 350 out of a 1969 Corvette in it that I believe they said was running at about 400 horsepower. It was an automatic as well. I only drive it a few times, but I can tell you at 40 mph you could drop it into low, punch it, and chirp the tires. From a dead stop if you floored it and dropped the Powerglide into low the front end would come off the ground. Scary fast!
This one in the video is black with white rally stripes. My friend’s Camaro was red with white rally stripes. Also, this one has a big block and is a five speed, so probably retro-moded to some extent, but I think the driving experiences would be very similar.
1965 Chevy Impala
I only drove this one for about a total of 10 minutes. Basically five minutes up the road to the movie theater and then five minutes back to my girlfriend’s house. In 1988 my girlfriend at the time had an uncle visiting from Colorado. He’d driven his 1965 Impala to Northern CA from CO. I still had my Firebird at the time, so we talked a little bit about cars. He was a mechanic and told me all about his 1965 Impala that he’d just recently finished giving a very built 427. I guess because he’d had enough beers he offered to let me and my girlfriend drive it up the road to the movie theater.
It had a bench seat and an automatic on the column, so I imagine it began its life as a much tamer car then when I drove it. It wasn’t my car and I only drove it a short distance, so I didn’t really get on it, but on the way home from the movies I did get into the throttle a little bit and I can say it had a lot of power. Possibly the most powerful engine in a car I have ever driven.
The one I drove was white, but otherwise looked and sounded pretty similar to the one in this video.
1986 Porsche 944 Turbo
I don’t remember why exactly, but for some reason in 1990 for about a week my dad and I borrowed my uncle’s 1986 Porsche 944 Turbo. These weren’t the high end 911s or even the 928s, but my uncle had bought this car at an auction in 1986 and hadn’t driven it a whole lot since, so I think at the time it only had around 10,000 miles on it. Technically, I wasn’t supposed to drive it at all, but my dad let me take it out on a Friday and Saturday night. I only took it up on the freeway one time. I’d recently sold my 1975 Firebird, which I had managed to get four speeding tickets with during the three years I owned it, so I didn’t get too crazy in the Porsche. But, I did get on it a little bit getting on the freeway and went from 0 to around 80 mph by the time I hit the top of the on-ramp, which was pretty impressive to me at the time.
My uncle’s Porche was burgundy, but otherwise, I think it was pretty much exactly the same as the car in the video.
1984 Toyota MR2
In 1994 my little 1990 Dodge Pick-Up was stolen and basically parted out on a dead-end road. I had full coverage at the time, so the insurance company paid me about $3500 for my lost truck. I was feeling down and decided to buy something a little fun. I ended up buying a 1984 Toyota MR2. Again, not the fasted car in the world by a long shot, but it was peppy and fun to drive. In 1987 when I still had my Firebird I briefly raced one that was a supercharged 1986 MR2, I think and it easily kept up with my Firebird despite having about 100 less horses under the hood (or under the back deck lid since the MR2s were mid-engine cars). After I bought it, me my friend, the same friend that had owned the hot 1971 Camaro did a road trip from Northern CA to WA. A trip that normally would take about 12 hours we did in about 10 1/2. Needless to say on the very long straight stretches of Insterstate 5 we didn’t exactly stick to the speed limit. I don’t know how accurate the speedometer on those MR2s was, but at one point in Oregon, it said I was doing around 130 mph. I didn’t stay at that speed for very long since the little car didn’t feel very stable at all, but assuming the speedometer was accurate that is the fastest I have ever driven a car. I have ridden on a Superbike my friend was driving that I think might have been going faster. And at the Laguna Speedway in CA I got to ride in a Pace car driven by professionally trained drivers that hit close to 150 mph on the straightaway.
This is a 1985 MR2. I couldn’t find any Youtube videos of 1984 cars for some reason. Mine looked and drove very much like the one in this video.
2006 Jaguar X150
Even though I owned five more cars after I traded my MR2 for a 1992 Izuzu pick up, the worst vehicle I ever owned by the way, I didn’t own any more fast cars after that. And in 2003 I moved to Japan and for the most part, stopped driving altogether. But, on a few occasions when I visited the US I did rent cars and even had a chance to drive my uncle’s, yes the same Porsche uncle, 2006 Jaguar X150. I know this one had a supercharged V8, but I don’t know much else about it. I’m sure it is by far the most expensive car I have ever driven. To say I was a little nervous driving such an expensive and powerful car is an understatement. I did take it on the freeway briefly and to keep up with my cousin who I was following I did have to drive a little bit north of 75 mph. This car drove and rode so smoothly though it felt like we were doing about 45 mph. I drove it for a grand total of two hours, out to his summer house and then back to his regular house the next day. It was nice to once again drive a car that had both performance and luxury.
I’m not sure if this is the exact same model I drove, but it looks very similar. My uncle’s Jag wasn’t a convertible either, but from what I remember that is pretty much how it looked and performed when I drove it.
Those are the fastest and most powerful cars I have driven since I was 14. who knows if I'll ever drive anything faster these. Japan isn't that far from Guam and from what I've heard you rent some pretty hot cars there, so maybe I'll put my old lead foot to good or maybe bad, use again some day.
About the Creator
Steve Howard's self-published collection of short stories Satori in the Slip Stream, Something Gaijin This Way Comes, and others were released in 2018. His poetry collection Diet of a Piss Poor Poet was released in 2019.