Car people are insufferable nostalgists. It’s true! We glorify everything old and weird and full of character, but many times when we actually go to drive our motorized idols, they aren’t quite what we thought they’d be.
Some old cars live up to the hype. Nearly every huge-engined American muscle car I’ve driven has been a blast in its own unique way. The BMW E30 M3 definitely lived up to the legend. And an air-cooled Porsche 911 is never something I’d kick out of my garage.
But other cars are way more of a bummer. For some time now, I’ve been looking for a relatively inexpensive older car to tool around in—not necessarily a full-on project car, I don’t have time for that at the moment, but something old and cool that I can just drive and fix up a little and autocross and generally enjoy.
I simply haven’t found the right one yet. It’s a lot like online dating.
So when I got the chance to look at a well-priced Nissan 300ZX, a non-turbo Z31 from the mid-1980s, I jumped at the chance. Red interior! Pop-up headlights! Five speed! A cassette deck, for all my cassettes! I’ve always appreciated Nissan and Datsun Zs, and the Z31's unapologetically ‘80s sports car looks have long struck a chord. I went for a test drive.
Unfortunately, that was the end of it. The car was a great deal and didn’t need anything I probably couldn’t fix myself within reason. I just didn’t enjoy driving it much. Turns out everything that everyone says about that vintage of Z is true: it’s long, it’s wide, it’s heavy, the steering wheel and shift throws felt enormous, luxury (the ‘80s version of it, anyway) takes priority over sports car purity, and while the V6 pulls just fine it’s hardly exhilarating. Maybe the Turbo’s better. I’m sure the Z32 was.
I politely declined, but I’m sure the car will find its forever home with someone else.
I prefer things smaller and lighter than the old Z. But I was still a bit bummed by an experience I was hoping would be better. I can’t say it’s the most disappointing car I’ve ever driven—I had a Chevy HHR as a rental car once, after all—but it was a letdown. Something I thought I would like and didn’t.
How about you? What’s your biggest automotive letdown?
On a side note—I’m going to end up buying a Miata, aren’t I? God dammit...