How it Began & the 1980s
I love cars. My favorite color is orange. Those are related.
I suspect that my father paid extra attention to my mother when they first met because of her car. That car was an orange 1971 Datsun 240-Z. When I was born, baby car seats weren’t much of a thing. It was believed a baby was much safer in its mother’s arms in the passenger’s seat. Add these together and you get me riding home from the hospital on my mother’s lap in the passenger seat of that very 240-Z
Not long after that trip, my dad somehow convinced my mother he should race the 240-Z. He installed triple Webers, a header, a straight-pipe exhaust, and racing slicks. It was loud and fast. And orange.
Some of my earliest memories are in that car. I rode in the back, where there were no seats, and would mimic my mom or dad rowing through the gears. I would also numb my lips by creating my own version of that straight-six’s rumble. More on that later…
My oldest brother, Corey, was the lucky one to inherit the 240-Z when he was 16. Sadly, life as a Datsun in Florida, not to mention being a teenager’s daily driver, was not easy. I’m sure I would have MUCH more gentile. Driving it hard, though, probably wasn’t what
juiced the orange shifted it into the afterlife put the Zzz to sleep killed this car. Rumor has it the car blew away one day during a stiff breeze into a cloud of orange rust.
Corey’s favorite color is also orange.
In the ’80s, my courageous dad started his own car dealership: Shenk’s Specialty Cars. He did fairly well for himself selling mostly Mercedes, BMWs, and Porsches. I think there was a Corvette once, but it was a trade-in, so don’t hold it against him. Not only did this mean I got to play at a car dealership and see many great cars, but dad would also drive a different car home every night.
I also share my love for racing with my brothers and dad. This picture was likely at the 24-Hours of Daytona (that’s the name of a race – Daytona usually has many more than 24 hours). I would go on to not only attend the race many times, but wave flags as an SCCA Corner Worker.
The beginning of Porsches
Back to street cars. Another early memory of mine involved preschool in February, 1984. When my mom dropped me off in the morning, she told me she would have a surprise for me when she picked me up. I had no idea, likely nor did she, how impactful that surprise would be. The surprise was, of course, a car. In this case, it was a brand-new 1984 Porsche 944. My dad always claimed it was a Valentine’s Day present to her. Leave it to a Shenk to claim a Porsche as a Valentine’s Day present.
The 944 basically became the family car. My dad would drive whatever he wanted from the dealership and this was my mom’s car. For many years, it was used for everything from grocery store runs to 1,000-mile road trips. At one point my parents almost sold it. But after one person came to look at it, my mom couldn’t bring herself to sell it.
The 1990s and Through High School
In 1990 we moved to Warminster, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia, and the 944 came with us. My dad really loved driving in the snow. Whenever possible (and relatively safe), he would “goose it” a bit around turns and gently drift in the snow. I, of course, LOVED this. I loved it so much, in fact, I really wanted my mom to do it, too. After quite a bit of egging-on without dad around, she finally agreed. However, when I gave her instruction, I failed to clarify that “goose it” was different from “floor it”. The result was a quick spin into a snow bank. Later efforts to teach someone to drift proved a bit more successful.
A few years later, my dad traded in his beloved (and mom’s loathed) Mercedes Benz 420SEL for a barely-used 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited with the 5.2L V8. This Jeep and the 944 were the cars in which I learned how to drive. I took my driver’s test in that Jeep and learned to drive stick in the 944. I still love both brands.
Just after that, we moved back to Florida. Shortly after the move, I was looking for my first car. I had a little over $3,000 saved up over my 16 years, and I was looking for a car. I initially had my eye on a VW camper. We looked at a few, but at one point my mom saw the back seat of one and immediately said no. She realized it was a terrible idea for a teenager to drive around in a bedroom. So I moved on to British sports cars. I looked at some Austin Healeys and Triumphs, but I especially liked MGs. None of those quite worked out, so I expanded my search. I discovered 944s were actually in my price range, so naturally that’s what I wanted. At the same time, my dad was looking for a new commuter car. At some point, we realized we were shopping in the same price range, so I ended up buying my dad a 1987 Audi 5000CS Turbo with a 5-speed and he gave me the 944 in exchange.
I drove the 944 every day, throughout high school. It is not a fast car by today’s standards, but it was quick in 1995. It has a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder making 143 horsepower, naturally through the ever-important 5-speed manual transmission. I had so much fun in that car, and some of it was legal. The stories I could tell about just this period of time could fill a website. I learned most of what I know about cars with my dad through this car. It taught me about fuel injection, oil changes, friction points, handling limits, overheating, serious engine repair, custom car stereos, oil and water DO, in fact, mix, and so much more.
After High School and Into the 2000s
A couple VWs
In 1998, when the 944 had close to 200k miles and I was out of high school, I decided I needed a more reliable, more practical car. At the same time, Corey was about to unload his Volkswagen Jetta his wife bought new three years earlier. I took over the payments and the car was mine.
I loved this car. It was slow, with the 8-valve, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder making 115 horsepower, but it at least had a 5-speed manual. My modifications included an intake, Eibach lowering springs, Bilstein shocks, fog lights, and a custom stereo system, designed by me. I was very proud of that stereo. It was not just loud, but crisp. The spoiler, 4-spoke 14-inch rims, and burgundy paint were all from the factory, and I loved them all.
After three years, it had a still-low 120k miles, but I then had a job that required me to drive about 30k miles per year. I loved the car so much that when it was time to replace it, I headed straight to the VW dealer for a new Jetta. That time, I picked a black Wolfsburg Edition with tan interior and a 5-speed manual, obviously. The Wolfsburg Edition came with a number of upgrades, like power everything, but the best included upgrade was its 1.8-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine making 150 horsepower. I cannot find any pictures of this car, but that is likely because of how quickly I got rid of it. After a mere 10 months (and 24k miles), I had to unload the car after it required many trips to the dealer to fix problems. It turned out to be less reliable than my old Jetta.
For years, I had always loved 3-series BMWs. So when the 2001 Jetta needed to be replaced quickly, I immediately began shopping for a used 3-series. I picked the one I was going to buy, an E46 328i with a 5-speed, and headed to the dealer to trade for it. When I walked into the showroom, I immediately saw a brand-new (used) car that hadn’t been there the day before. It was a blue 1999 Mazda Miata 10th Anniversary Edition with a 6-speed. It was the exact same price as the BMW, but with a quarter the miles. So I bought that instead.
Mazdas and Jeeps
I can’t say enough about Miatas. Anyone who makes fun of a Miata (or its driver) has either never driven one or doesn’t like cars. It is the perfect balance of a raw driving experience, but with the safety and reliability of a modern Japanese car. The picture above was taken next to the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. I drove it to the Poconos from Florida for a ski trip in 2004. Yes, those are summer tires. No regrets, except selling it.
In 2006, Jill and I had the crazy idea to quit my job, sell our house and both cars (her Civic and my Miata), buy a Wrangler, and move to Utah. Once all were sold, we bought a 2000 Jeep Wrangler Sahara and Jill promptly named her Sydney. For a year or two, Sydney served as our only car and she did everything we asked of her.
After a little while, it made sense to not only buy a second car, but pick one that would serve as a better daily driver for me and our soon-to-grow family. Having my relatively-newfound love for Mazdas, I quickly narrowed my sights on the excellent Mazda3 and found a perfect example. It was a loaded 2004 Grand Touring hatchback with a sunroof and the required 5-speed manual. Yet another car I loved dearly.
This car was fun. It handled as if it was made by the same company that made the Miata. Its 160 horsepower 2.3-liter 4-cylinder made it decently quick, it had loads of room, was comfortable for everyone, and got great gas mileage. If one car had to exist for everyone, why not a Mazda3?
We took many trips in this car, but the most important one was the one home from the hospital after James was born. It meant something to me that his first car ride was in something special. Many people see these as just another econobox or hatchback, but they really are so much more. Another trip (or three) was to the Bonneville Salt Flats. It was there where we learned of the Mazda3’s hard limit of a disappointing 112 MPH (due to Japanese laws).
Just before James was born in 2009, we decided Jill needed a more appropriate car than her beloved Sydney. She liked the Mazda3, but didn’t want to drive stick every day. At first, we decided we’d get her a Honda Accord and keep the Wrangler. But pretty quickly, we decided it made more sense to trade the 2-door Jeep for one with 4 doors. Somehow the intention to replace the one Jeep with another used Jeep morphed into keeping Sydney and buying a new Grand Cherokee. Oh well. It ended up being a great decision, and you can never have too many Jeeps.
The Grand Cherokee, it turns out, is a special vehicle to not only me, but many people. This was the vehicle of our life in Utah. It could go anywhere and haul anything. It allowed us to discover our love for offroading and camping.
We had the Mazda3 for fuel efficient trips and my commuting, the Wrangler for top-down and serious off-roading, and the Grand Cherokee did everything else. Life was good.
The Mazda3 was fantastic, but it did struggle a bit to handle James’s rear-facing car seat. He had to go in the middle, where the seat could fit between the two front seat backs. So when Jill became pregnant for the second time, I reluctantly decided to sell it. However, I wasn’t initially too upset. It turns out Mazda makes a much larger car on the same platform, with the same drivetrain: the Mazda5 mini minivan.
Unfortunately, finding exactly what I wanted was a long struggle. I eventually found one with everything I wanted, but there were two catches. First, it was in Chicago. Second, it already had nearly 100k miles.
There was a lot about this car to not like. Compared to the Mazda3, it was heavier, slower, got worse gas mileage, didn’t handle as well, didn’t have as good a stereo, didn’t have leather, didn’t have heated seats, and was missing many more luxury features of the Grand Touring trim. However, it had three rows of seats, two sliding doors, and 5 manual speeds of gearbox. Still great fun.
The car needed a bit of paint touch-up and a few repairs, but its worst attribute was its previous owner. That person had to have held a lit cigarette for every mile of its life. The car wreaked, and the Chicago sales person lied to me before selling it. Lesson learned. This is the car I owned for the least amount of time, a mere few months. The saddest part was we lost that pregnancy and, adding insult to injury, never needed a bigger car than the Mazda3.
A New Beginning
When I dumped the Mazda5, I worked 6 miles from our house. We still had both Jeeps, and the short commute meant Sydney was a decent commuter car.. Plus, I bought a bike and rode to work whenever the weather was forgiving. So it was, we were a Jeep-only family. Not too long after, I found myself working for Goldman Sachs in downtown Salt Lake City, much farther than 6 miles. I began shopping, There was an unscratched itch…
I finally got my 3-series, and yet I almost didn’t. Going into the search, I set myself a price cap. Initially, I was looking for a 330i or 328i E90, as all 335is were out of my range. I spotted this car, priced about 20% over my cap, so I sighed and moved on. A month later, however, I saw it re-posted, but the listing said it had an automatic. The pictures showed the 6-speed manual truth. I guessed (correctly, it turned out) that they were having trouble selling the manual transmission car, so I headed to the dealership to take a look. Absolute car love at first drive.
After some negotiations, they came down to $500 over my price cap. I said no. Then, my amazing wife slapped (figuratively) some sense in me. She pointed out that this specific car and its exact selection of features was my dream car and it would be stupid to lose it over 500 measly dollars. Contrary to what she says and thinks, I love her more than any car. Because of her, the car was mine.
Not only did I finally get my 3-series, I also got my first 6-cylinder (besides Sydney, but she was Jill’s). Remember that rumble? I’ve been chasing that sound for close to 40 years. After a long wait, I finally have a car that makes similar sounds. I was lucky enough to get to have a new custom exhaust on my BMW, and it sounds amazing. And hooray for my wife for being willing to still ride in the car with me.
Speaking of that incredible woman, around this same time she coordinated with my father, who was storing the 944 (after using it as a delivery “truck” for his vending machine business), to ship it to me from Florida to Utah. How exciting!
The 944 has now traveled with us from Utah to Florida and now Vermont. It is a very slow-moving project, but I love having it. James and I bond over working on it, and I can’t wait for his first ride. Thankfully, I have had a bit more time recently to start working on it and I love every second.
Not too long after the 944 was delivered to us in Utah, we realized that four cars may be too many (especially for a family of only two drivers). It was with great sorrow that we said goodbye to Sydney. We had many fond memories of her, but it was the right time.
After moving to Florida, we weren’t using the Grand Cherokee for off-roading. We loved it so much that Jill’s stepdad insisted he wanted to buy it from us when it was time for us to say goodbye. However, it turned out he needed a new car sooner than expected. We decided to sell it to him sooner than we planned, but we ended up with an upgrade, and another car deserving of a name.
So here I am, content. I absolutely occasionally long for a Miata, or something much less reasonable, like a Singer 911, but never have I been more happy with my cars. I have no intention of replacing any of them any time soon. My BMW has well over 100k miles and needs some work, but I intend on putting in the work (or money) to not only keep it on the road indefinitely, but customize it.