Our First Cars: Three Revs For High School Cars

Your first car is special. It’s your first time driving on the road alone; your first grownup date with your sweetheart; and really, your first true form of independence. It may not have been the newest or most luxurious, but your high school car represented something more than just a vehicle—it kindled the pioneer spirit that Model T drivers had when they were able to expand their world. Your first car allowed you to explore the long roads ahead of you.

Advance Auto Parts | Our First Cars

The Cars That Taught Us (Some) Responsibility

But let’s not get too sappy here. High school cars came with first speeding tickets, first flat tires, and first repair bills. It wasn’t until years later, though, that we could look back and truly appreciate our first rides. We learned how to drive on them, but more importantly, we learned responsibility from owning them. A new set of tires cost us a whole summer job’s pay. Not having washer fluid when we were stuck behind a muddy construction truck meant we started regularly checking the fluid reservoir. In hindsight, we probably all wish that we had treated our high school cars better, because they gave us more than we ever returned.

A member at our church had posted the car for sale, and I begged him to sell me the car, even though I didn’t have the money or a driver’s license.

So with junior and senior year starting this September for new drivers across the country, let’s leave our first cars with an overdue parting gift, and I’m sure many of you are in the same boat vehicle. Call it an ode to our first cars. Let’s share the best and the worst parts. To get the party started, a few of us at Advance have volunteered our high school car stories!

Ode to First Cars

Advance Auto Parts | Our First Cars

“My first car was a 1972 Plymouth SCAMP. I started saving for the car when I was 14, and bought the car shortly after getting my first real job right after I got my driver’s license at 16. A member at our church had posted the car for sale, and I begged him to sell me the car, even though I didn’t have the money or a driver’s license. He finally agreed and I gave him a token $50 deposit. It was a 2-door hardtop, Gloss Red with a 318hp eight-cylinder engine, with lots of rust and I still paid $900 for it. My friends nick-named it the ‘Red Rocket,’ but it was a rocket that I never knew how fast I was going in because I could never get the speedometer to work. Nevertheless, it served me well through my high school years and I didn’t get a single speeding ticket, although I got stopped four times. I just told the officer my speedometer cable broke, and they let me off with warnings.” -Greg M.

Advance Auto Parts | Our First Cars

“My first car was a 1991 Chevy Corsica. I got it in the fall of 1995 when I was a junior. I could often be seen driving around with three hubcaps because they were plastic and fell off a lot. It didn’t run the greatest, only had an AM/FM radio, and there were NO automatic features. But that’s ok, its unreliability helped me get my very first cell phone in case I broke down on my way home from college.” – Lorie P.

“I got my first car, a 1980 Chevy Camaro, when I was 17 with a loan from my dad. My mom actually found the car in our small town newspaper. We bought it from a widow who was selling her late husband’s car. Her husband was the original owner and had only put 36,000 miles on it. I actually got to take the car for a short test drive down the street. When my dad and I got home after looking at the car I remember rationalizing the price to him. The Camaro was my daily driver for the next 13 years.” – Byron N.

Advance Auto Parts | Our First Cars

“My first car was a 1988 Toyota Camry—a hand-me-down from my stepdad that had the automatic sliding seat belts that forced you into safety mode once you shut the door. Everything about this car was gray. Gray paint, gray upholstery, gray carpet. I named him Steely Dan and drove him back and forth from Virginia to Tennessee for college until he finally kicked the bucket my junior year.” – Sarah M.

“My first car I ever drove in high school was a 1986 CJ7 Jeep with a manual transmission. I was so excited and relentlessly begged my parents to buy it for me even though I had never driven a manual before. My parents didn’t think it was a good idea, but I insisted. After all, how hard is it to learn to drive a stick shift on an old Jeep? About a week after they bought me the Jeep, I was begging them to sell it. I quickly realized that I was too afraid to actually drive it on the road. I have been driving an automatic ever since.” – Whitney S.

Advance Auto Parts | Our First Cars

“My first car was one that I had no business driving as a teen in the Midwest: a green 1974 Alfa Romeo Spider. It was loud, occasionally started in winter with an oil pan electric heater, super fun in the spring and fall, sweaty in the summer. Some people never learn, like me, so now I have a blue ’74 Spider.” – Richard M.

“I had a white 1977 Malibu Classic that my dad gave me. I bought chrome hubcaps and had someone in town paint it red for me. Then I took it to the new car wash and the high pressure water peeled off huge strips of paint! I was near tears because I had saved all of the money from my summer job to get the car painted. I had to drive it around with big strips of white paint showing through for quite some time.” – Dave K.

“My first car was a 2001 Dodge Neon R/T, handed down to me from my father. It was a neat little car, all black with a five-speed manual transmission and a decent engine. I did my share of stupid stuff until I got older and wiser, like fishtailing wet turns using my e-brake, burning my clutch disc and tires by popping into first gear at 6,000 RPMs, and going 8,000 miles without an oil change on conventional (gulp…sorry, car!).” – Neil B.

Share Your High School Car Story

What was your first car? Were you parking a block from school so no one could see it or were you washing and waxing it every week? Share your stories and photos on our Facebook page or reply in the comments.

Crucial Cars: Jeep Cherokee

Jeep Cherokee XJ pictureFrom timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

In this installment, Gearhead’s Garage turns back the clock to look at one of the most significant SUVs of all time: the Jeep Cherokee XJ.

Quick, what comes to mind when you think about classic, hardworking, never-say-die SUVs?

I guarantee you the Jeep Cherokee is at the top of the list.

No, I’m not talking about the current Cherokee that looks like a modern hatchback and shares a platform with the Dodge Dart. Honestly, I don’t ever want to talk about that thing.

And I’m not talking about the first Cherokee, either, though I gotta tell you, I had some wild times in one of those back in the ’70s with the 6.6-liter V8 under the hood.

What I’m talking about is the first unibody Cherokee, the so-called XJ series, which was built from 1984-2001. You know, the boxy one. Couldn’t improve on that styling if you tried. Everyone over 30 knows someone who drove an XJ, and there are still a ton of these things on the road today. Let’s take a look at what made this Cherokee so great.

 

Easy to Maintain, Hard to Break

With due respect to the lesser engines Jeep offered, including a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that was pretty popular, I’m going to focus on the iconic 4.0-liter inline-6 here. Whenever I see a Cherokee in the wild, I look for that “4.0” badge on the back, because that’s the one you want. It was only rated at 190 horsepower, but owners will tell you it feels stronger than that, with a nice low-end punch courtesy of 225 pound-feet of torque. The five-speed manual transmission was key for maximum performance, but the Aisin-Warner four-speed auto turned out to be a robust unit in its own right.

Either way, this powertrain is known to run for hundreds of thousands of miles without complaint — you’re more likely to encounter electrical gremlins in the power accessories. And if you’re mechanically inclined, you can do most of the required work by yourself. That’s why you see a lot of Cherokees in remote areas where the nearest mechanic is many miles away. Folks know they can count on this Jeep through thick and thin, and that’s a big part of its legend.

Unibody Visionary

Jeep Cherokee XJ 3 pictureWhen the Cherokee XJ debuted back in the mid-’80s, carlike unibody construction was all but unheard of. If you were designing an SUV, it had to be body-on-frame, just like a truck, because it just wouldn’t be tough enough otherwise.

But then the XJ came along, and the SUV landscape would never be the same.

That’s right. As unlikely as it seems, this boxy, go-anywhere Jeep is the one that got the unibody trend started. Nowadays, you have to look long and hard to find a body-on-frame SUV in dealerships, but back then, the Cherokee was an innovator. There were plenty of doubters, of course, but the Cherokee proved its mettle in countless off-road scenarios around the globe. At the same time, it provided a relatively smooth ride and agile handling, which is why practically every SUV today has a unibody platform.

Easy to ModJeep Chrokee XJ 2 picture

Although those unibody underpinnings were a revolutionary step forward, the XJ is still a simple beast at heart, and that means mods are a cinch. There’s a whole forum dedicated to various Cherokee XJ tweaks, from lift kits and lockers to winches and performance exhausts. It’s an open secret in off-roading circles that the stock XJ makes for a cheap and reliable rock-crawler with just a few alterations. You can pick one up for a song and have plenty of cash left over for building your dream XJ.

Tell Us Your Cherokee Story

The Cherokee XJ is the kind of SUV that inspires intense loyalty in its owners. I know some of you guys can speak from personal experience, so let’s hear it in the comments.