Everyone who drives has a first car. Everyone also has a favourite car, too. Nine times out of 10, the favourite car only reaches such a status when it is on-sold. Consider it seller's remorse.
In my own piece, we got to know a bit about my first foray into driving, as well as what was my favourite.
As a consequence, the rest of the CarAdvice team thought they'd throw their hats into the ring and share their automotive backstories, too.
Rob Margeit – Culture and lifestyle editor
First car – Datsun 1200
It's the car I learned to drive in, and the car I inherited from my mum once I got my licence. Four-speed manual and with 51kW and 95Nm emanating from its asthmatic 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine, it was the perfect car for a P-plater in the mid-1980s. I inherited the four original hubcaps, but by the time it was rear-ended (and written-off) in an accident, those original wheel covers were long gone into the tall grass lining our freeways.
It looked tough on its four-lug steelies, too, even if it didn't match that toughness with its Duck Egg blue paint. Infotainment came courtesy of an AM radio (FM? What's that?), while sat-nav was provided by a 1978 and hopelessly out of date Melway. I loved that car.
Favourite car – Mercedes-Benz 280CE
It's a bit like me. German. Old. Dependable.
I bought this car in Queensland sight unseen, and me and a mate flew north and embarked on an epic road trip to bring it back to Sydney. A magic car that never missed a beat. Merc's venerable 2.8-litre inline six is the stuff of legend, and after owning this example, it was easy to see why. Powerful, effortless, reliable.
Inside was typical high-end Merc of the day, power everything, air-con, factory-fitted sheepskin seat covers and that pistol-grip auto transmission shifter. Throw in the fact it was a pillar-less coupe and summer night cruises became a delight. Used as a daily, including much to my daughter's delight on the school run, the only thing that ever broke on it was a split radiator hose. Took five minutes to fix it myself. They don't build ’em like that anymore.
Sadly, the 280CE was a forced sale, my then (and now ex... Hmmm wonder why?) partner demanding a more practical car for our daily needs. The Ford EA Falcon that replaced it never cut the same figure, and is quite possibly my least favourite car ever. I shouldn't have acquiesced.
Susannah Guthrie – Journalist
First car – Nissan Tiida
My 2008 Nissan Tiida. I bought it used when I was 22, from a father in his 50s who had taken meticulous care of it. It was my belated gateway into the wonderful world of cars, because it brought me independence, responsibility, and a sense of comfort whenever I would get back into the cosy fabric seats after a long day working at a shoe store at a local mall (in order to pay for the petrol, rego and insurance).
I only sold it this year, and I won't lie – I cried after it drove off with its new owner.
Favourite car – Subaru Outback
While the Tiida will always have a place in my heart, I have fallen in love with my husband's car, which I have adopted as my own. It's a 2006 Subaru Outback we call 'the Duchess' and she's never failed us. We've moved states in the Duchess, and I spent my first year navigating Sydney's incredibly confusing roads in the Duchess, too.
Wagons are my one true love and she's hard to fault – I love that you can fit absolutely anything and everything in there, and that it feels safe and capable no matter how winding, long or treacherous the route. We're looking to upgrade at the end of this year, and while there are plenty of excellent options out there, it'll be hard to go past another Outback.
James Ward – Publisher
First car – Lada Niva Cabriolet
It was 1996, and I had landed my first job for a publishing company. Mum and Dad's cars had served their P-plate purpose, but now it was time to spread my wings and get my own set of wheels. Parental advice suggested something reliable and sensible. But a Jedi craves not these things, and I bought my beautiful, red 1989 Lada Niva Cabriolet.
Converted locally by Peter Brock's engineering firm in Port Melbourne, the Niva Cabrio was a rare beast, but blended in well due to its period decals, white-wall tyres and EX-KGB number plates. I owned it for 10 years and literally drove it to death. There were modifications along the way, and it went everywhere, enjoying the ups and downs of life and mixed reliability of Russian engineering and Fiat-based electricals. Say what you want, but I loved that car – although I did love another more...
Favourite car – BMW E28 528i Motorsport with Alpina 3.5-litre conversion
My 1983 Polaris Silver E28 BMW 528i Motorsport with Alpina 3.5-litre conversion, dropped on period-correct 17-inch staggered Alpina wheels.
Just look at it!
The 528iM pre-dated any 'actual' BMW M-cars in Australia, and was developed by Frank Gardener who was running the BMW JPS Motorsport teams at the time. Take a 2.8-litre 528i in base form (wind-up windows, manual-winding sunroof etc), add Pfeba BMW M-Tech spoilers front and rear, cloth Recaro seats, Bilstein suspension and some 14-inch basketweave, and you had an Australian-exclusive executive sports saloon.
Mine had the Alpina work done by a previous owner and looked a lot less presentable in person than it was in photos, but it was one of those cars that just made everything better by going for a drive. It was so cool.
Sure, the battery had a constant current draw and would be flat within a couple of days, the tappets would constantly remind you there was an engine rebuild in the future, it had plenty of power but wasn't great at washing that speed off again... But it looked hot when parked, and sometimes that counts for more.
We parted ways when it became important to free up some cash, and while I expected it to sit on the classifieds for a month or two at least, she was gone within four hours of the listing being published, the buyer rushing over to pay my ask in cash as soon as he could. Apparently I 'did not know what I had'.
As a fun footnote, I keep track of the E28 through its new owner on Instagram, who is gradually restoring it to the period hotrod it deserves to be.
Mike Stevens – Production editor
First car – Toyota KE55 Corolla
I still lose sleep over this one. Sadly, I wasn't into old cars in my early driving days, let alone Japanese ones. As a good young Aussie bloke in the opening years of the 2000s, I was all about Commodores. (Although I did also have an XF Falcon that I loved more than it deserved.)
I learned to drive in the Corolla, but I handed it off as quickly as I could to climb into a VK Calais. I still remember the VK fondly (my first of four Commodores), but the Toyota Corolla is the one I miss. And I have no photos of it!
Favourite car – Toyota JZA80 Supra SZ
This one I do have plenty of photos of.
Unlike our man Justin, I've only owned a handful of cars in my life – my early years' income was devoted to partying a little too hard, and frankly my love for cars was a later bloom than for most others.
But, among the few I've owned, my old Supra stands out as my favourite. Partly because of nostalgia for the JDM-obsessed life I was living at the time, but also because frankly it was just a great cruiser. I couldn't afford an RZ, but the SZ was still a lot quicker than anything I'd had before, and I loved it.
Jez Spinks – Contributor
First car – Ford Fiesta 1.1-litre Popular Plus (UK domestic market)
I had been shopping the classifieds for an Alfa Romeo Sprint after passing my driving test, but my dad insisted I have my (middle) brother’s Ford Fiesta. In an ideal world it would have at least been an XR2i, but sadly it was a 1.1 Popular Plus – with a 1.1-litre petrol engine providing a, ahem, sizzling 37kW. Online specs say it completed 0–60mph in 16.3 seconds, and that’s easy to believe.
Even taking the engine to 70mph for the UK’s maximum motorway speed limit, and maintaining it, always felt like a mission. Still, at least it was a (five-speed) manual, and I loved driving it – because, even though it was a hand-me-down, it was still mine. (It was reliable, too – probably unlike the Alfa I had intended to buy!)
Favourite car – Ford Puma (UK domestic market)
Sorry, another Ford. But forget the new compact SUV Ford is bringing out this year… The original Puma was an affordable sports coupe based on a Mark IV Fiesta city car. It was released in 1997 and I bought one two years later – with the best engine option: a 123hp (92kW) 1.7-litre four-cylinder co-developed with Yamaha. (In 2000, a more powerful version of the engine was installed in a Racing Puma.)
The engine was a joy to rev and supported by a slick five-speed manual – with a beautifully tactile aluminium gear knob (which was freezing first thing on an English winter morning!). Completing the Puma’s status as a brilliant driver’s car was an incredibly agile chassis (and a kerb weight just over a tonne) – said to have been partly honed by none other than triple Formula 1 world champion Jackie Stewart (who’s worked on several Ford cars).
If Australia’s import rules only allowed, I’d have a second-hand Puma here in a heartbeat.
Sam Purcell – Off-road editor
First car – Holden EH
This was firstly my older brother's car, who owned a string of Holden EHs and HRs in his early days. After blowing a head gasket on the original 179 red motor going up the big hill on the highway near Brooklyn, it went in for a rebuild. My brother tells me the radiator was bubbling like Rotorua when it was opened.
Freshly bored out to 186 cubes, I was thrown the keys when I was in my last couple of years at school. You didn't need those keys, by the way: the barrel was so worn that anything would work – paperclip, fork, you name it.
The car was overall very original (including the plates), quite reliable during my tenure and incredibly lovable: green bench seats, three-speed hydramatic (that spat out fluid like a pinhole in a dropped beer can after a big run), and in my opinion a very handsome cream and white colour. There was a lot of rust starting to turn up, so the decision was made to sell it after a few years. I wish like hell we kept it.
On a side note, I think my early days of driving this old thing taught some good habits behind the wheel. I learned to not trust the brakes much, and started looking far ahead in traffic to see what was happening. The steering had more slop than a pig sty, and forced unwavering concentration at anything over 30 clicks. Or should I say, 20 miles per hour.
Favourite car – Land Rover Defender 110
I've only bought three cars since that very EH Holden, and still have all of them. My favourite would have to be my Land Rover Defender. It's my favourite because it's now much more than just a car. It's the memories of awesome adventures over the years, and the promise of more in the future.
Turning on the woefully crap air-conditioning still belches out a puff of desert dust, and the scratches, dings and repairs all tell a story of good times and great locations. It's driven some hard tracks over the years, and taken us to some truly remote places. In that way, it's irreplaceable.
Sure, many other vehicles could do what this has done. But they didn't. And I could replace it with something newer, more comfortable and significantly safer. But I never will. It's a forever project in terms of maintenance, repairs and modifications, but that's all part of the fun.
Ben Zachariah – Journalist
First car – Chrysler Lancer fastback
I'd started building 1/24-scale cars when I was about 12, buying one a fortnight for $40, but soon realised it would be cheaper to just get a real car (back when you could actually buy old Japanese cars for a few hundred bucks). That's how I justified it, anyway. Back then I was super keen to get a 1970s Celica, but every cheap example I looked at was filled with rust.
When I was 14, I came across a ’79 Lancer fastback that had the original 1.6-litre engine replaced with a 2.6-litre out of a Sigma, which gave it pretty decent power-to-weight. I bought the car and competed with it at motorkhanas, fixing some panels along the way, and eventually having it resprayed.
A year or two later, it was rolled by a mate while I was trying to teach him how to drift in his parents' back paddock.
Favourite car – BMW E34 535i
I got the E34 when I was still on my learner's permit, and it was the car that really taught me how to drive.
The 535i was optioned by a dealer principal, so it had a very unique black with parchment interior and a manual transmission. It was powerful enough to hold its own, but the car's secret was its 50:50 weight distribution. Its predictable nature gave me the confidence to push the limits of the car on different surfaces, without fear of snap oversteer.
I got to know that chassis like the back of my hand. A tune, exhaust, and new diff ratio helped improve straight-line speed, but fettling with the suspension gave the most benefit. The car was super reliable, fast enough, and began a lifelong love affair with the E34 5 Series.
What was your first car? Do you still own it? Or is it even your favourite car? Share your stories with us below.