Nissan Pulsar 1992 sss, Mitsubishi Lancer 2004 ralliart evolution viii

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First car, favourite car

The cars that helped shape me as a car enthusiast and driver.

Firsts are paramount to our mental growth. They tattoo our minds with an initial notion. Regardless of whether you like or dislike your first experience of something, it will remain deeply impactful on your soul for as long as you live.

One in particular is your first car. All of your first memories of freedom become tied up in a piece of metal with four wheels. Interestingly, first cars grow to become a vessel for your youth, more than your physical self, in ways.

The other first is finding and owning something so significant to you that you deem it your favourite. Sometimes this doesn't happens for some of us, but for most we find a reason to single out one car as our favourite amongst many.

First car owned?

This story starts in high school, with 16-year-old me befriending a few guys in the grade above. We had similar tastes in music, they enabled access to cool parties, the usual. Standard teenager fare, really.

I had recently moved to Australia from the United Kingdom, and had yet to gain any experience in what transport of the youth looked like. As these kids were older, most were licensed drivers. My friendship with them proved to be insightful of what sort of metal P-platers had access to in Australia.

One of those gentlemen, named Stuart, owned a 1989 Toyota Corolla SX, registration number AID-66E. It looked fantastic, with a factory-fitted front bumper lip, red pin-striping, equally radical 'SX twincam 16' door decals, and machined-finish alloy wheels that resembled shuriken (Japanese throwing stars).

Backing up its groovy looks was an equally groovy awesome heart. Locally delivered cars, such as the one being discussed, all received the latest version of Toyota's legendary 1.6-litre, twin-cam 4A-GE engine. Nicknamed by enthusiasts as the 'smallport' version, due to the size of the intake ports on its cylinder head, it was the most powerful iteration of the 4A-GE engine Toyota Australia ever offered here. It produced a mighty 100kW at the flywheel, when new.

I have fond memories of riding shotgun in that car. Everyone else in that clique owned mediocrity: a TG Gemini, an N15 Pulsar Plus (no legendary Nissan SR engine to be seen), a Holden VS Commodore and a Mitsubishi Mirage, owned by my best friend, who I'd marry later in life. In a nutshell, every other car in the pack was either slow, boring or charmless.

The mighty Corolla felt like an absolute star amongst that set. It revved, sounded good, steered well, and never let us down. I also recall being amazed by the seven-section gauge array that spanned more than half the dash, complete with oil pressure gauge and voltmeter.

It wasn't all about sportiness, however, as its other fundamentals had too been well thought out. I spent many hours relaxing in the seats of that Corolla over the duration of many road trips. Compared to the other choices, as mentioned above, it was by far the most comfortable cabin of them all. I saw it as the ultimate first car.

My first car.

My mind had been made up – save my pennies, and when the time is right, buy my very own example. However, a friend in the same circle got his licence before me and opted for the same choice. I’m still not sure exactly what possessed him to do so, as he wasn’t into cars.

Regardless, it had been done. I couldn’t do the same thing.

So, what does one highly competitive teenager do out of spite? Buy the next-fastest choice, within budget.

Which in my case turned out to be a 1992 Nissan Pulsar SSS. It was a series-one 'ES' version, to those who remain in the know. Colloquially, this generation was also referred to as 'Aus spec', as it lacked the twin-spotlight front bumper, Pulsar GTI-R-style seats, and sunroof of the later 'CBU' version, or 'Jap spec' as they too were colloquially known. Silver with a metallic black bonnet, it was as much of a shitbox as my dad first imagined. “I’m not sure why you bought that car,” he still says to this day.

It wasn’t a good introduction into motoring. The example I bought was pretty rubbish due to my limited budget. One party trick it was bestowed with was the ability to stay running without the key in. How did you turn it off? Stall it with the clutch, of course. Regardless of the flak being dished out now, it served me well, and got me around until I broke away from that group of friends and found my own way in the world.

And yes, once this had happened, I proceeded to sell the Pulsar and buy myself a Corolla SX.

Boy, was that worth the wait. I’ve since owned eight of them, including a Toyota Australia test car finished in a colour not seen on that generation, as well as an extremely rare two-door version that made its way over from Japan.

My first car was not my favourite car by any means. But it did empower me to find greener pastures, break away from the nonsense clouding my mind at the time, and begin to enjoy cars for no-one else other than myself.

Favourite car owned?

Naturally, a harder one to decide. A few stellar vehicles come to mind, but one in particular stands out. I liked it so much that I actually bought it back 15 months after initially selling it.

That car is a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII MR.

My original answer was going to be something else I miss dearly, my old Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6 Tommi Makinen Edition. However, the eight was a better car to own, live with and enjoy more than the old TME ever was.

That means the eight wins the tussle in my mind.

Mitsubishi Evolutions are the textbook cult car. They suck you in, consume your mind and your wallet, and in return offer you pretty incredible motoring for the money. Hordes of fans are tragics just like me, finding it hard to escape from the allure of their all-paw savagery.

Like any good Japanese product, it can trace its lineage back to the bubble era. In fact, it can thank that period of time for granting it with the solid engineering that truly made it special. They’re incredibly reliable, so long as you treat them with a few grams of respect. Aside from being quite rapid out of the box, the old Evolution remains very responsive to modification, too.

The eighth-generation car was equipped with some serious, technologically advanced gear for the time. Even more special was the MR variant, or 'Mitsubishi Racing' version. The MR is a final-year special-edition version of the Evo VIII that received a comprehensive sayonara package.

As per the regular car, the MR maintains the full carbon-fibre spoiler with exposed centre blade, aggressive front bumper, and more vents than it probably needs.

New additions to the regular car, however, included a unique turbocharger featuring a titanium-aluminium alloy turbine wheel, Bilstein suspension, upgrades to the Active Centre Differential (ACD) plus Super-Active Yaw Control (S-AYC) systems, an alloy roof to complement the pre-existing alloy fenders and bonnet, and a six-speed gearbox.

Other noteworthy additions included new headlights and tail-lights, as well as swish black Alcantara Recaro seats and carbon-print interior pieces. Optional extras, exclusive to the MR version, included forged-alloy BBS wheels and the now famous, highly bastardised, roof-mounted Vortex generator.

All of these subtle tweaks added to the attraction of what was an already solid package. Topping off the MR version was the introduction of ‘Medium Purplish Gray Mica’, a pearl grey colour that became the signature for the MR range in both VIII and IX generations. It’s the colour to have, so much so that it affects the value of your example in the enthusiast marketplace.

Despite nerding out on the above facts, there are plenty of other cool things to check out. Showing off its race car genes is the factory-fitted Secondary Air System (SAS). This is a hardware- and software-based anti-lag set-up that had to be present on the road car for use on the dirt, as per homologation stipulation.

It features a small air valve with connections to the turbocharger exhaust manifold. When it is activated via inbuilt ECU programming, it can be used to inject air and adjust ignition timing to assist combustion in robbing air from the manifold to spool the turbo.

Cliffs Notes – when activated, it goes bang, bang, bang. Just like Tommi Makinen's rally car did.

All of these points culminate to create an intoxicating package that will forever have me captivated. I've accepted that the thought of an Evolution will always cause rose-tinted glasses to fall from the sky and grace my eyes.

I consider it a special car that’s ageing wonderfully in today’s world. In an ideal fantasy, I’d have one of these, a little Corolla, and something else that sadly got away, parked next to it.

We’ll save the ‘one that got away’ for another day.

What was your first car? Do you still own it? Or is it even your favourite car? Share your stories with us below.

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