Being raised in Seattle, Washington I did not get many opportunities to drive in the snow growing up. When it did snow, usually only 1-2 inches, everything shut down and people just simply stayed home – no need to drive! With the current snow storm hitting the Seattle area, I though I would share the valuable lesson I learned in 2015.
After high school I decided to go to college in Montana, and as most people know it snows quite a bit in Montana. My first year of college, I decided to drive back to Seattle for Thanksgiving with a few of my friends. It had just begun snowing the day before and I had a 4-wheel drive car so I figured everything should be OK.
I began my drive down I-90 West with a car full of gals, the snow was light and everything was going fine… well, for about 50 miles at least.
Coming around a slight curve at about 60 MPH (the Montana speed limit is 80 MPH) I felt my back tires starting to slide and just like that I had lost all control. My car spun around 3 or 4 times before slamming into a ditch and screeching to a stop. Shock. That’s all I felt. Silence. No one had said a word the whole time we were spinning and crashing. Immediately we all got out of the car to make sure everyone was OK and to examine the damage.
The airbags had deployed, I had a broken front axle, completely messed up front and back bumpers, two popped tires and two bent rims. But most importantly, no one was hurt. Luckily, my friends are much better at handling bad situations than I am because that is when it all set it. I could have killed myself and all my friends. Why? Because I was inexperienced. I didn’t know to slow down. I didn’t know to be on the lookout for black ice – what ended by causing the accident. I just didn’t know.
Driving when there is snow and ice on the road is unlike any other driving condition. Yes, you might have 4-wheel drive but that does not mean you have 4-wheel stop. The ice has a mind of its own and once you begin to slide it can be very hard to stop.
This winter, I beg of you to go slow in the snow. If you are an experienced snow driver, slow down. If you have never driven in the snow before, slow down. Even if the roads seem fine, slow down. It could save your life.
Life is tough. Between work, binge watching Breaking Bad, and microwaving ramen noodles, don’t you have enough stress? Imagine adding in the fact that you drive a manual transmission car with no cup holders. How are you supposed to hold the wheel, text, drink your coffee, and shift gears with only two hands?
Ze Germans, even to this day,don’t care that your supersized coke has nowhere to call home in your vehicle. They do not build cars to coddle your beverage until you decide that the second half of those 42 oz’s is ready to be thrown in the garbage. What they do build, however, are cars that…you know what? They don’t build cars. Let me start over. They take a few cows, turn them into supple leather seats, and then once they have determined that the seats are microscopically perfect in every way, they add four wheels to the bottom and call it a car. Being that German is a by-word for precision, they of course include top of the line components and a powerful engine. Hiding all of this underneath is a body design that usually says something along the lines of: “Hey, I’m a restrained and highly refined piece of impeccable engineering. I’m driven by a lawyer that you can’t afford and every other Saturday I am pampered with a fresh coat of wax by a man in a white lab coat.”
The story of my German car is a little different. You see, until only recently, Porsche never quite figured out how to SELL cars. For the most part the company just built whatever they liked and the only reason customers made a purchase is because they were quite good looking and drove like no other automobile could. My Porsche is no exception. In 1970, Porsche believed that they needed to offer an entry level sports car at an affordable price. Seems like a good idea right? I can own a Porsche but I don’t have to sell any body parts to be able to afford it. Perfect! Well, in their infinite wisdom, Porsche decided to collaborate with Volkswagen on this project. (Dieselgate anyone?…Yeah. Smart move.)
Anyway the end result was essentially a mid-engined Porsche supercar. They deemed it model number 914. The 914 was perfectly engineered; low to the ground with a wide stance and perfect 50/50 weight distribution. The body was an edgy design that was way ahead of its time. It had two trunks, one in the front and one in the back, thanks to the engine being in the middle. What was Volkswagen’s contribution? A tiny four cylinder engine that made more noise than power. It was all show and no go. Despite being incredibly slow and underpowered, the car went on sale anyway. In 1976, Porsche cancelled the 914 program after a production run of just under 119,000 vehicles.
Fast forward to 2005. I was 14 years old, and a freshman in high school who knew everything. All freshman know everything right? That’s part of being a freshman…until a Senior puts you in your place. A few years earlier, my Father had purchased and restored a Porsche 912. It was, and to this day is, gorgeous. The color of the paint alone could make you pass out. It’s like having wine and chocolate with Scarlett Johansson, except you’ve just spilled your wine on her dress “accidentally.” Now your panic stricken, chocolate covered hands are smearing chocolaty perfection into the crimson rivers in an attempt to clean her ruined dress. The result is a deep burgundy bliss. Come back to reality with me for a second, my goal was to elicit the emotion felt from seeing such a perfect paint color…not bring you into whatever odd fantasies I may or may not have. What I fantasize about on my own time is between me and Scarlett Johansson.
After my Father had finished the restoration of his 912, it was time for him to find my first car. Keep in mind, I grew up in a decade where Paul Walker was driving cheap Honda Civic’s with neon lights painting the asphalt underneath…and when his movie franchise was still within an acceptable number of sequels. Being the testosterone filled yuppie that I was at the time, I naturally assumed that I was fast and furious and as such I required a car reminiscent of those in the film. My Father was smarter than this, realizing that not even a few months later our garage would be strewn with blown up turbos and every other failed experiment I would attempt to install on my Japanese street racer. In an attempt to change my teenage view on what cars are cool, he dragged me along to a Porsche car show in his perfect 912. We walked around, looking at the various vintage Porsches and discussing my upcoming future with life behind a steering wheel. We discussed what cars would be a good first car for me, with him hinting at the possibility of something vintage or at least something we can wrench on in the garage…something that didn’t require a laptop and a degree in advanced mechanical engineering to fix. Then, out of nowhere, there it was. My first ever sighting of a 914. I pointed at it, my mouth gaping open, trying to form words instead of the befuddled umm and err noises it was leaking. It was the kind of point that your parent would slap your hand out of the air and explain: “Don’t point. It’s rude to point.”
Throughout all of this my Mother was under the impression that my first car would be something safe and used, a certified pre-owned Toyota Camry perhaps. How wrong she was. Almost immediately after my first 914 sighting, my Father purchased one. This was back before the vintage Porsche market skyrocketed, when old ones could be had for next to nothing. It quietly sat in his office warehouse, collecting dust, waiting for the right moment to pounce on its 15 year old, acne fighting prey: Me. Looking back on this, I sometimes wonder if he was just working up the courage to tell my Mother what he had done. It was September of 2006. My sophomore year of high school had just begun. One night at the dinner table my Father explained he had purchased a white 1971 914 for me, and that we would restore it together and finish it by the time I had my license.
It had cost him $1,500, all of which I would have to pay back as a lesson that I needed to work to afford my own car. You’re thinking: “Wow! A Porsche for $1,500? What a steal!” No. You know when you buy a Coke from the vending machine and two roll out because the second one was so dented and crushed that the machine couldn’t hold it in place? This car was that second Coke. There was a rust hole the size of Chuck Norris’ fist right behind the driver door handle. The engine bay was a concoction of oil spray, dirt, grime, and of course more rust. The car would start, but honestly you were doing yourself, your neighbors, and the environment a favor by not starting it. I don’t know what was inside the transmission, probably just a pile of metal chunks and broken pieces, but every shift resulted in schreeching or grinding noises, further killing the already-on-its-last-leg transmission. This car was, and theres no other words for it, complete and utter crap. But it was my complete and utter crap.
Over the next few years (yes you guessed it, the car was nowhere near complete by the time I had my license) I learned a lot about all of the components required to propel a car in any given direction…because my car had none of them. They were strewn across the garage in various states of repair, awaiting that glorious day when they would be called back into action. The one thing the car did have going for it was a massive motor upgrade. My Father had dismantled the original motor and installed all new high performance internals. It now had a big bore kit, and the original fuel injection was tossed in favor of a dual-carburetor setup. Once the motor was installed, we invited a few friends to share and participate in that drumroll please moment when the motor would be started for the first time. My Pop turned the key and the Porsche fired right up, like it was brand new. It ran and sounded great…for all of about 30 seconds. It then decided to empty every drop of oil it had onto the driveway below it. For the sake of keeping this story from getting too long, and since I know my Father will read this, let’s just chalk it up to the fact that we are all human and sometimes we make mistakes…Love you Dad.
The almighty big bore motor made a second appearance after once again being dismantled and rebuilt. Only this time around it was discovered that the engine block was cracked and would need to be replaced. On to motor attempt number three we go. Third time is a charm right? Well, as it turns out, it was! I was finally able to drive the car. I drove the car in this state on and off for a few months as every night more work was being done to it. It had minimal interior pieces, no heater (California…didn’t really need one), old suspension, old tires, something that didn’t really deserve the term “brakes” but would eventually bring the car to a stop after some praying and holding the door handle in case you needed to bail. But you know what? It had that big motor! I learned a lot about how cars handled during these few months. Mine didn’t handle, that’s essentially how I learned. I would go screaming up Angeles Crest Highway in this thing, quick as can be on the straights. However, once you threw a bend into the equation, the car would buck and shake like a bed in a honeymoon suite. The 40 year old suspension just wasn’t up to the task, and would simply collapse at the thought of going around a corner. Nevertheless, I had proven to myself that, yes, I was fast and furious.
Of course, as we all know by now, my Father is much too smart to be letting his son take Utter Crap up and down one of the most dangerous roads in the country. The 914 was decommissioned once again. This time, all new performance suspension was to be installed, as well as an anti-roll bar in the front. A new exhaust system, new brakes, and tires also made their way into the equation. This car was loud and proud now. The suspension was so stiff that driving over a pothole was similar to jumping off the roof of your house in your superman costume, hoping you could fly. Here’s the problem though: You can fix the car, but you can’t fix your less than intelligent son. Yet again, my Father defeated even this problem. How? He took me out of school for a day and took me to the racetrack with the new and improved Porsche. Let me repeat myself. I’ll break it down in steps for you. 1. He took me out of school. 2. He took me to a RACETRACK. Dad:1 All my loser friends sitting in class that day:0.
We spent the day with the Porsche Club of America out at Willow Springs Raceway. As it turns out, I was quite skilled at the whole track driving thing. I repeatedly had the car stepping its tail out on corner entry and not once did I lose control or go off track. In fact, the only time I really made a mistake was about half way through the day. I had made quite a few laps around the track by
this point and was picking up speed with each and every one. Just before the straightaway is a very long second gear corner. It is imperative to be quick in this corner so you can maximize your speed on the straight. Now, I said second gear corner. Well, turns out it’s really more of a third gear corner. By the time I was exiting the corner, I had that car revving so far over the redline it was a miracle the motor didn’t explode and shoot bits of piston all over the track. For reference, the car has a redline of about 5,500 RPM or so, I had it somewhere around the 6,500 RPM mark. If this motor has 9 lives like cats do, that was easily one of them being pissed away into oblivion by your (slightly more intelligent now that he has done a trackday) son.
Let’s skip ahead a few years. It’s 2009 and I am off to college in Montana. The Porsche stayed behind in the luxurious warm weather of Southern California. By this point it was no longer my Utter Crap. It was Utter Perfection. The interior was clean and perfect, the paint shiny and new, and no the motor hadn’t blown up yet although it probably had lost a few more lives throughout my final years of high school. The 914 would sit for months at a time, occasionally being driven by my Father just to make sure it was still in tip top shape. I would call home and the first thing out of my mouth would be “How is my car?” My Pop did another trackday or two in it, but in the end it was placed in storage, doomed to become another “barn find” or God forbid on that depressing piece of television known as Storage Wars. I couldn’t take it anymore. It was eating at me. I had to be with my beloved car.
I decided it was time to bring the Porsche to Montana. I had another vehicle by now, a Toyota Tacoma to be exact, and the Porsche had garage space ready and waiting. It was the perfect setup. No college kids would ding my car as I would never take it to campus. A few of my friends decided to go to Vegas that year for Memorial Day weekend. I thought this was a perfect chance to grab the 914
from California and drive it up to Montana. I’d meet up with them in Vegas, spend the weekend there, and complete the rest of the drive after. I phoned my Father and he agreed it was a good plan. A few weeks later I received a call from him. He wanted in. First off, I had been out of the house for a few years now, leaving just my Father and two ladies: My sister and my Mother. Let’s just say some dude time in Vegas with a bunch of college kids seemed like a nice vacation. The 1,200 mile road trip in a vintage Porsche was just the icing on the cake.
Utter Perfection made it from start to finish without a single hiccup. It even doubled as a rum running vehicle on the stretch from Los Angeles to Vegas. Unlike Vegas, alcohol is cheap in California and can be bought in massive portions. Plus, the 914 has two trunks right? Don’t judge me, I was clearly putting my college education to use. To this day the 914 is with me in Montana. It has since done a few autocross races, seen some early winter fun in the snow, and even made an appearance at a few car shows.
This story isn’t really about the car though. It is about my Father. When i began writing it, that wasn’t my intention. After reading it however, I refuse to edit a single part of it. On that drive from Los Angeles to Montana, my Dad told me that these 914’s are slowly but surely creeping up in value. He suggested I enjoy it a little longer and then look at selling it and maybe getting something else that I can once again restore and watch go up in value. I’ll never forget this talk as long as I live. Here’s why: I told him that I don’t really care if the car is worth a dollar or a fortune, I won’t sell. Someday he will pass away, but you know what? That Porsche never will. As long as it is by my side I will always have my Father with me.
Ever since I moved to Missoula back in late summer of 2012, something stuck out to me about the cars that I was seeing everywhere around town. No matter where I went– the university district or downtown, Brooks St. or Reserve, there was a constant presence of Subarus. The unique trait about these robust Japanese cars is the lack of a target demographic who drives them. From new drivers to the elderly, (lots and lots of elderly people drive these things) the Subaru charm knows no bounds. But there are very good reasons for buying these sturdy and odd looking cars: affordability, build quality and reliability. Due to these reasons and more, let us begin looking at the first contender.
The Subaru Forester
These boxy station wagons are a staple of any street, corner, or parking lot in Missoula. Introduced in 1998, these quirky looking cars quickly came to popularity by offering symmetrical AWD, high fuel economy at an incredibly low price. These days, a clean Forester can be had for as little as $5,000.00. They are incredibly well-suited for winter conditions as well as Missoula’s notoriously poor street conditions.
Honda CR V
My girlfriend has an older version of the Honda CR V and it has been a very welcome addition to our family. Honda introduced the CR V in 1999 to compete in the cross-hatchback category, and it absolutely killed. The sloping roof and increased head room make for an excellent daily driver easily capable of hauling a massive trunk-load of things as well as 4 passengers in comfort. The high ride height, ground clearance and off road suspension in addition to part time 4WD make this eager commuter car a very capable off-road companion. The thing that amazes me most about the CR V is the dependability. Over 2 1/2 years of abuse and neglectful oil changes and maintenance, our 2006 CR V has never gone amok once. It has started every single time, even in the dead of Missoula’s harsh winters. For all of these reasons and more, the little CR V will always have a special place in my heart.
Mazda CX 3
For as boring as these new Mazdas look, they are just as much fun to drive in the snow. Being a relatively new release by Mazda, these new crossover SUV’s have been selling by the boat loads all over the country. The reason is due to the very affordable price tag for a brand new CX 3. I have seen them advertised for $25,000 out the door. Having driven two now, I can say that a $25,000 AWD car with this nice of an interior with a factory 100k mile warranty is an AMAZING deal compared to the crossover market’s other offerings. These little cars are very similar to the other two mentioned above. I believe that these crossovers are perfect for Missoula’s climate. This is because they are very capable of driving in the worst road conditions while at the same time being able to hold a good amount of stuff in the trunks. But the biggest reason I love these cars is because they are a great alternative for people who think they need a truck to satisfy their driving needs. Trucks are wasteful, dangerous and in most cases, unnecessary for most people’s daily driving needs.