Likes, dislikes and the memories that keep on coming back …

 


OK, so let’s talk cars! After all, this Buckle-Up blog has always been about motor vehicles, road trips, car shows and our time out on track. I know, it’s been a while to dedicate a post just to cars but for Margo and me year 2020 represents a milestone. That’s right; we didn’t buy a single car all year! Mark that down as a new record for Margo and me although truth be known (and already recorded in earlier posts), we did order a new car for delivery sometime in 2022. Does that even count?

Worth noting, however, was how we took the time in 2019 to reduce the number of cars from six – plus an RV and trailer – to four and this year that number will be further reduced to just three. Count them; a garage with only three cars to choose from. I seriously don’t know if I will be able to adjust to this new reality!

For the past two decades, we have really had opportunities to pretty much test drive many different cars.  Some we truly did enjoy more than others even as we had access to friends’ cars as well. However, with it being February, after all, for many years I have taken this opportunity to I write about our cars. Whether it’s the cold and simply seeing our cars “shelter in place,” each February we have looked at them all, taking time to record our likes and dislikes. But now, the time has surely come to do something we haven’t attempted before; creating our list of top ten rides where we rate them according the driving experience that they afforded us.

Experience gained while commuting between Colorado and California has definitely influenced these rankings even as time spent on tracks west of the Mississippi have been taken into consideration. It’s all subjective, mind you and there will likely be a number of surprises, but even so, as noted above, it’s been a long time since we talked cars.

As an aside and before we dive into this list the only excuse I have, according to Margo, to spend time writing about cars and not about children or grandchildren is that unlike cars the little humans cannot be ranked and you just have to love them all. So let’s just admit that there is really nothing to say as you can’t compare them; give us a couple more years though as in time, I am sure favorites will appear!        

Tenth Place …


No surprise here really; the Jeep SRT 392. Not the “Hellcat” version, mind you, but a beast all the same. We drove it everywhere; to Orlando, to Toronto, to St Louis and pretty much everywhere the compass points. You may argue that it isn’t a car but a truck and indeed we left off this list our GMC Yukon, our Cadillac Escalade and even our Range Rover Evoque convertible (too new an addition to properly evaluate) but in truth, the SRT 392 was not just a beast but could be driven hard up and down any mountain range. Or around any race track for that matter! Let the record show that my best lap around a wet Road Atlanta circuit was in a borrowed SRT 392.

Ninth Place …


This is the first reference to BMW and in this instance we cannot ignore the pair of Seven series “limos” we leased. Early 2000 it was a short wheelbase 740i and then mid 2000 it was the long wheelbase 750Li. Truthfully, the 740 almost had me thinking it belonged further up the rankings as it did prove to be a long distance tourer but the 750Li was, well, a bit of a compromise all around. Too long, too soft, and yes, border line ugly when viewed from some angles. With that, the seven series belongs in the cellar.

Eighth Place …


This is where the interest levels begin to rise. Having said that, sad to say, we have to rank our beloved C6 Corvette quite a long wat down the list! We watched the release of the C6 and read all the reviews that followed. When it came time to talk to our dealer he advised us to wait for the 2006 models as they would come with a six-speed automatic that featured paddle shifters. It was this very same Corvette we turned up with for our very first track weekend with the National Auto Sports Association (NASA) and where we began our journey that led to us regularly spending weekends at the track.

But this big blue Vette proved to be a difficult car as it was (surprisingly) slow and needed a court order to change gears when using the paddles. Driving it in full automatic didn’t help as the software was such that lifting off the gas to brake (entering a corner) the auto changed up a gear. Problem? Well as you exited the corned and stomped the gas, it dropped down at least two gears destabilizing the body with unpredictable results. To fix all of this, we elected to supercharge the C6 Vette but that story has been covered many times in the past. Enough to say, “what were we thinking?”

Seventh Place …


It all started when a white coupe pulled into the traffic a little ahead of us. “What’s that,” said Margo. “It’s a Jaguar F Type,” I responded. And so it began. Without a second thought we headed to the Jaguar dealership where there was a Supercharged V6 coupe on the showroom floor and a few days later, we took out yet another lease.

It certainly is a pretty car and one that we may even consider purchasing once the lease is up. This cat purrs and is beautifully appointed; it has become Margo’s car of choice now and her only possible regret is “should’ve got a V8” and for this reason alone, it doesn’t climb any further up the list.

Sixth Place …

And here is where we really cut loose and bought our one and only Italian exotic. It had been sitting on a showroom floor for nearly a year but ultimately, we sat down and did the deed. We left the dealer driving an almost new bright yellow (with black wheels but yellow brake calipers) Maserati GT-S. What a car and even as we drove it home (on summer tires) just as a snow storm began, we couldn’t stop smiling. We put a lot of miles on this Maser and enjoyed every one of them.

After we sold the Maser we noticed the dealer dropping the price. As it looked likely to drop below what we sold it for, we made the decision to rebuy the Maser but when that eventually happened we pulled the trigger just a few hours too late. We still think about it even to this day!

Fifth Place …


Touring, on track or simply heading for groceries, all of our cars serve multiple purposes. There have been few disappointments with each and every car offering something positive during the time they were part of the family. And what about the BMW i8 Coupe and the BMW i8 Roadster? These are both plug-in hybrids and pretty much in a class of their own.

For a short time we had both the i8 Coupe and the Maser in the garage but after a couple of months of not driving the Maser, we realized our car experience had taken us down a new path. But that is the beauty of living in the US and it’s hard to explain to those living elsewhere. As of the time of writing this post, there were moment when we thought about elevating the i8 to first place but then again, it really didn’t warrant being placed any higher than fifth as it sure could have done with a bit more power!

Fourth Place …

Let’s talk about BMWs M Division. We have had an M3 convertible and an M4 Competition coupe. Let’s just say that the M3 was forgettable and almost dragged the M Divisions offerings way down the rankings. And why? The 1997 US engine equipped M3 Convertible didn’t quite deliver; in US guide, it came powered by the lesser 240hp engine. And then we get to the M4. Without doing any research and following an enjoyable lunch, Margo and I walked onto the floor of our Boulder BMW dealership and saw a very special BMW M4 Competition and following a couple of well-timed “ooohs and aaaahs,” we drove it home.

Multiple trips to California have only confirmed that this is not only a good sports car but a pretty capable touring car although, I have to acknowledge, tire noise is pretty dreadful as there is almost no sound deadening in this particular model. On reflection (and yes, in a few weeks’ time, the M4 comes off lease and we will return it to the dealer), we aren’t sure what BMW is up to with its M division but ultimately the car, much like the Nissan GT-R left the driver out of the equation and ultimately proved just as soulless as each other.

Third Place …

There was a time when we lived with two sequentially purchased Nissan GT-R coupes. When we saw the first GT-R at the LA Car Show in 2009, we decided we would buy one pretty much the day they began arriving at dealerships. At first dealer markups were $25,000 and more but we did negotiate with our local Boulder dealer who came through with one at list. We came to the Nissan GT-R via an Infiniti G37S coupe that we had purchased but kept only for a very short time that in turn, was a replacement for our Pontiac Solstice.

Turning to the Infiniti for track days saw our skillsets improve almost overnight but with the GT-R, there was no way we were going to track it as everything about that car was expensive. We later traded the 2009 485hp GT-R for a 2012 545hp variant and what a difference. Have to say, with this upgrade all the little annoying issues we had completely disappeared and the only regret I have is that it was Margo who was behind the wheel when we drove US Route 129 otherwise known as the “Tail of the Dragon!”

Second Place …

Perhaps another surprise? Surely not this high up the list? In 2003 we bought two Corvettes – a 2003 fifth generation (or C5) coupe, the Z06 and a 2004 fifth generation convertible. There’s something to be said about your first love and there was no hiding the fact that we truly loved these Vettes. Even as we started our time on track with the 2006 C6 coupe we thought the 2003 C5 Z06 was simply “too pretty to track.”

However, with the purchase of the Maser for which we traded the C6, we finally broke down and took the Z06 to track and what a difference! Wow; we improved with every outing even if heel-and-toe gear changes never quite materialized. The car we ordered and referenced earlier in this post just happens to be a new mid-engine C8 Z51 Corvette convertible and maybe this will help push the Corvette to the top of the list.

First Place …


With no regrets or second thoughts, taking first place was our mighty Generation 4 Dodge Viper SRT/10 roadster.  What can we say; every time we backed it out of the garage, we turned to each other and smiled. There wasn’t an occasion when we didn’t enjoy the ride. Margo had her best track outing ever behind the wheel of this Viper when she passed everyone else on track except for another tracked-focused Viper ACR. The big surprise – on this outing she only needed to use third gear.

The whole track in third gear; so much usable torque and horsepower! A balance of 600 / 600 hp / lb ft. Glorious! Even without cruise control we drove it back and forth to California and we enjoyed each and every track outing with NASA at High Plains Raceway (HPR) Byers, Colorado. We keep talking about buying another one, but a lot has changed and we wonder if we would end up liking it as much. It would be terrible if something occurred that took the shine off our past experiences so for now, the answer has been no. We are passed that and yet, it’s always hard to argue with number one. 

This is indeed the automotive capital in the world and barring extreme exotics, the potential to drive almost anything is on offer – just walk into any car dealership and the possibility of driving away in something new is very high. Perhaps that is what Margo is concerned over me writing this post. But know this, Margo and I have been married for twenty years and enjoyed nearly twenty cars in that time. It doesn’t take all that much before our garages simply fill up, again.

So what do we like? What don’t we like? To start with we only turn to SUVs somewhat begrudgingly as we don’t like any of them. We have grown to like hybrids as long as there is reasonable power under foot. But we haven’t warmed to Battery Electric Vehicles, or BEVs as they are called. We have reservations about the infrastructure being in place out here in the western states. What we really do like though is the many memories we have created no matter which car we chose for the ride and that’s something that shows little sign of letting up any time soon.

Will there be another twenty cars in our future? Nothing is more certain these days than change so who knows? On the other hand, maybe the move to just three cars is part of a bigger program to downsize. Perhaps it’s just further indication that we have more we would like to do than just drive. And yet, to just drive seems such a wonderful idea in this time of COVID-19 even as our outings in 2020 were limited. Whatever happens though and something is sure to happen in 2021, keep reading future posts as you will first read all about it here, in this blog.



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