Amazing, Those Five Year Olds

I’ve been a car nut for my entire life. My parents remind me that by age five I could identify every brand of car on the road. It was easier then of course, because every car’s styling changed completely every year. It was a “golden age“ of car styling of sorts, although it was also a time when some of the most egregiously (and sometimes hilariously) overstyled cars ever made were produced. The 1958 Edsel is the “bad poster child” for this period of automotive history (it was described as “an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon” by a magazine at the time), but there were plenty of other examples of highly questionable taste, to put it mildly. There were also some classic beauties too, like the ‘63 Corvette Sting Ray, ‘58 Ford Thunderbird, ‘60 Lincoln Continental, ‘61 Studebaker Avanti and ‘63 Buick Riviera.

Building And Racing The Little Ones...

As a pre-teenager (before The Beatles came along and changed my life), I avidly built plastic model car kits, and with putty and paint, redesigned them into whatever fantasy car I could dream up. Car styling was such a huge thing at the time that there were contests held by hobby shops where kids could enter their original kit car designs for trophies and prizes. I entered and won twice, came in second once, and (gasp) last once. That was the one where I got caught cheating. The rule was that only kits bought at the store holding that particular contest were eligible, and I had bought mine elsewhere (and I guess the store figured out they had never sold that one). It was one of my best designs I thought, and one of the last I made before I outgrew the hobby, but my I’ll never forget my failed attempt to beat the rules. Busted!

I also was an avid slot-car racer, and finally received what I treasured more than life itself at the time, an Aurora Model Motoring set, as a Christmas present when I was nine.  Over the next few years I built a pretty huge assortment of cars, track and accessories before The Beatles pretty much blew all that out of the water too. Out with the model cars, in with the drum set...

 ...I’m pretty sure my parents preferred the way the slot cars sounded...

I gave away all the model kits a few years later, but believe it or not, I still have the Model Motoring set. Apparently these have become quite collectible, so maybe I’ll put it up on Ebay one of these days. Not getting too much use out of it at this point, I should say...


Shortly before my family moved to Ohio in 1969 (unfortunately, on the same weekend as Woodstock, meaning, unlike a number of my friends, that I couldn’t go) I got my first car, a 1963 MGB Roadster.

   An MGB very similar to my first one

The bad news first: these British sports cars were hideously unreliable (the electronics were made by Lucas, soon to be referred to by many as “Lucas, Prince Of Darkness”), and were known to rust out astonishingly quickly. The better news is that they were an absolute hoot to drive, and were very simply designed and easy to work on for the mechanically inclined. I did a lot of engine and cosmetic work on it and sold it a year or so later at a considerable profit. Thus, having proven myself a Master Automobile Restorer And Dealmaker at 18, I bought another MGB roadster, a ‘66, which had already had some very cool performance and appearance features added to it. I put in an 8 track tape deck (now there’s a little piece of audio nostalgia for you) and some decent speakers, and had it painted a pale yellow. I was feeling pretty smug until it became apparent that the car was literally rusting itself to pieces. I knew the end was near when a friend, without much force at all, put his foot right through the passenger side floorboard, which had rusted out to about the thickness of a piece of paper. The car was also burning about a quart of oil every 100 miles, and had started doing interesting things like the time the headlights suddenly quit while I was driving at 70 MPH on an unlit, serpentine mountainside highway in Pennsylvania that had no guard rails. They popped back on again about ten seconds later, never to mysteriously go dark again, but that was one long, scary ten seconds, friends. I sold the car at a huge loss not long thereafter, and swore off British sports cars for good. Also over was my all too brief career as an Automobile Tycoon...

Datsun 510

I got real “sensible” for a while after that, and owned two Datsun 510 sedans in a row, a ‘69 and then a ‘68 (the first got totaled, not my fault). They were nice and reliable, and were actually pretty advanced designs for the time, having an overhead cam engine, front disc brakes and independent rear suspension. Both of mine had four speed sticks, and nothing but AM radios for sound systems. Fortunately, Cincinnati had a great AM jazz station, and I developed an appreciation for Ella Fitzgerald, among many others, because of it.

  They were less boring than they looked
  Mine were pale yellow and light blue

I sold the second one when I moved to NYC and started at The Hit Factory. No way to keep a car in the city with what I was earning. Not much need for one either, since the city’s a great walking/mass transit town.

Mazda RX-7

After I sold the 510 I didn’t own another car until I bought a brand new “Tender Blue” Mazda RX-7 sports car ten years later, in 1984. It was the first generation model, with the 12A rotary engine and a 5 speed stick. I put a really nice Kenwood cassette/radio system in it, with two amps, a 5 band graphic EQ and four speakers. It’s still the best sound system I’ve ever had in a car.

   Pretty much identical to my ‘84

Unfortunately, that stereo (along with the rest of the car) was stolen in 1990. My poor baby was later found, sans wheels, seats and the stereo, and with several big new dents, dumped along a highway in Newark, NJ. It was declared a total loss, and the good news is that I did unexpectedly well on the insurance. The claim form had an equipment/features checklist (including things like tinted windshield, power antenna etc.) that I dutifully checked off, even though many of the items were included in the car’s original base price, and I received a few hundred dollars extra for them. It sort of made up for that heartbreaking model car contest defeat...

I threw in several hundred bucks more and bought a lovely white ‘86 Mazda RX-7 GXL with red leather, sunroof, cruise control, power windows and lots of other features that were pretty darn spiffy at the time.

   Likewise, just like my ‘86 except for the
   rubber side strip, which was black

It was fast, and cornered like it was on rails. Big Dirty Fun as they say. It served me well until I got out of cars (and also boats) in early 1993. A little financial reprioritizing was in order at the time (translation: I was in too much debt).

BMW 325is

In 1998, after setting my financial house in order (props here to Anthony Robbins’ “Personal Power” course for helping me with that), I bought a certified pre-owned “Boston Green” (metallic green with a very cool hint of blue) 1995 BMW 325is Sport, 5-speed stick, with all the bells and whistles like a 6 CD changer, sport leather seats and a sunroof.

   Mine had slightly different wheels

It was a very cool car and I loved it although it was pretty punishingly stiff on long highway drives. It had a bad case of what the automotive press calls “freeway hop” - a tendency for the car to bounce up and down abruptly on fairly ordinary highway surface undulations (it’s mainly caused by a short, stiffly sprung wheelbase). After a few hours of this my brain would begin to feel like it was inside a cocktail shaker, and I eventually started avoiding long drives whenever possible. This Was Not A Good Thing. BMWs also have a reputation for less than stellar reliability, and mine was no exception, particularly as regards electrical gear (did Lucas escape to Germany?)

Infiniti G35 Coupe

In spite of the 325’s shortcomings (and it was a fantastic car in every other way), I had expected to keep it for at least another year or two when, in 2003, I went to the NYC Auto show and saw the Infiniti G35 Coupe. My brother and his son met me there, and I remember taking them to see what I said would be “my next car” (without telling them what it was), after having spent some time earlier checking it out and being completely blown away.

  This picture, finally, is of my actual car

After the show, I decided to go try one at a dealer (I mean, what the heck right? It’s just a test drive...) and became so enamored with the 6 speed version that I simply had to have one. On June 6, 2003 I took delivery of a “Diamond Graphite” exterior, ”Graphite” (black) leather interior G35 Coupe 6-speed with the Bose stereo, sunroof, and a bunch of other nice stuff, and the GPS navigation system on a neat little pop-up color screen. I’ve had it now for almost six years, longer than any other car I’ve owned, and still love it madly. It’s got phenomenal performance in every category and still manages to ride very comfortably and quietly when you want that. It’s been utterly trouble free so far, and it is blissfully immune to freeway hop (ahh...). It’s the best car I’ve ever had, by far.

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Ted Spencer Recording