1961 Volkswagen Beetle

1969 Dodge Coronet

1978 Toyota Corolla wagon

1974 Dodge Dart Swinger

1992 Mazda 626

1983 BMW 633CSi

1989 BMW 325is

1999 BMW Z3 Coupe

My parents' car, this is the one in which I learned to drive. It wasn't fast, but it boasted a four-speed manual transmission. Originally equipped with a 6-volt electric system, my father had upgraded it to 12 volts, a common change for these cars.

One quirk of the '61 Bug is that it did not have a gas gauge. It was always a good idea to record the odometer mileage when filling up the tank, and our general rule was to fill it up every 200 miles. When that method failed, the Bug had a reserve tank, a lever on the firewall you could twist to let the car access a deeper well in its gas tank which held about a gallon of gas.

Caption by / Photo by Flickr/Creative Commons
This car was a hand-me-down from my grandparents, and proved to be a sleeper muscle car. Its 318 V-8 came stock with a four-barrel carburetor, and I quickly ascertained that stomping on the gas would make the rear wheels spin, an amount of power I hadn't been used to.

As the vents were full of dried leaves, a favorite trick was to leave the passenger air vent open and do a quick burn-out. Many of my friends ended up with face full of debris from that. As the car only had an AM/FM radio, a boom box frequently was placed on the rear deck for cassette tapes.

Caption by / Photo by Flickr/Creative Commons
After a number of years being carless, I bought a '78 Corolla wagon, which was probably the rustiest car in California because of its former service at a coastal marine lab. Rain tended to short the starter, but I was able to push start this car all by myself.

It was stolen multiple times because Toyota keys of that vintage are pretty much interchangeable. Eventually, the ignition lock broke, and I learned a valuable lesson in how to hotwire a car with a key ring. Ultimately, as a fix I rerouted the ignition through the three position rocker switch for the rear windshield wiper. That rear wiper had never worked, anyway.

Caption by / Photo by Flickr/Creative Commons
Deciding on a little panache, I bought a, to my mind, vintage Dodge Dart. As the Swinger model, it had two doors and a pillarless roof design. All the side windows rolled down, giving it a very open-air feeling.

The straight six engine in the Dart was rumored to be very reliable, but a previous owner had attempted to "upgrade" the carburetor, leaving the car a basket case. It would periodically overheat, which was ultimately its downfall.

Caption by / Photo by Flickr/Creative Commons
After the Dart, I became sensible, and got a reliable, economical car. As such, it caused few adventures in the city or occasional trips to Los Angeles. After one road trip, maintaining high speed on Interstate 5 for hundreds of miles, a mechanic noticed a plastic shroud had become misshapen due to heat, but it didn't affect the drive.
Caption by / Photo by Flickr/Creative Commons
The boring 626 left me craving something interesting, and so started the BMW era. The original 6-series has such a cool look that I had to have one. This car was advanced for its time, and even had cabin tech I had never seen before.

The engine was a 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder with direct injection, very advanced for 1983. But a lesson learned: never buy a budget BMW. A cracked head sent nice, white smoke spewing from the exhaust and eventually required an expensive repair.

Caption by / Photo by Flickr/Creative Commons
Opting for something newer, and more reliable than the 633CSi, I found this BMW 325is. It was one of the few models of this type to come with an automatic transmission, but with plenty of city driving in San Francisco, I favored the easy option.

The "S" in the model name stands for sport, as this 3-series was tuned for sharper performance. Pushing the gas pedal down past the initial hold point on the floor unleashed everything the 2.5-liter inline six-cylinder had to offer: a burst of power that let the little car charge up hills.

Caption by / Photo by Flickr/Creative Commons
Finally, I was able to afford my dream car, the Z3 Coupe. The first year of the Z3 Coupe, a hatchback version of the Z3 Roadster that had been out for years, was 1999. The story behind the Z3 Coupe is that engineers at BMW wanted to make an M version of the Z3 Roadster, so built this hatchback body as a means of getting the desired rigidity. The M Coupe followed the next year.

The Z3 Coupe came with a 2.8-liter inline six-cylinder, using the first generation of BMW's VANOS engine management. It was also a premium model, so it had a Harman Kardon audio system with nine speakers, quite a lot for a two-seater. To use an MP3 player with the car, I swapped the head unit for a Nakamichi. I also added a powered subwoofer, using that instead of the underpowered Harman Kardon sub. A tower brace stiffened the front end, and the car handles beautifully.

Caption by / Photo by Wayne Cunningham/CNET
Up Next
Six generations of the Ford Mustang...