Back in 1999, I was a senior in high school. Ownership of my first car, a $400 Chrysler 5th Avenue, had not gone so well with it never passing an emissions test and generally sitting broken in the driveway most of the time. We ended up selling it for $800 somehow, even after it had overheated. Soon after that I went down to a little place called Tam’s Quality Auto Repair where I bought what would be the first car that I really enjoyed owning, a 1984 Datsun/Nissan Sentra hatchback, which was the U.S. market version of this Nissan Sunny. The only visual differences really being the steering position (U.S. was left hand drive), the wheels, and the location of the mirrors. The Sentra had them next to the A-pillar like most domestically available cars.
This is a car which barely exists today, which is why I’m using promotional photos of the Japan version. I was recently reminded of my Sentra in a Twitter conversation I had with Kamil Kaluski and Antti Kautonnen. My friends thought it looked like a DeLorean (if only) and it lacked in brute force, having only 69 horsepower (70ps) and 92 lb-ft of torque. It took nearly 12 seconds to reach 60mph, but it only weighed 1,916 lbs, so it was hilariously chuckable, despite the front wheel drive. Once it got up to speed, it was a blast to drive with the 5-speed manual gear box. Third to second gear downshifts around tight corners were the best thing ever that year… Until I broke the clutch twice while unknowingly doing very non-rev matched downshifts. This obviously wasn’t cheap and I was forced to sell the car for something more reliable, something less interesting. But it will always live on my memory as the first car I really tested the limits in.
Today, with how many teens and twenty-somethings are talked into buying used 200hp+ Camrys in the name of safety, the idea of “slow car” has probably changed a bit since the ’90s, but I’m curious, what car would you say is the first slow car that you drove fast in? The first car that you tested your limits in? The first car that you really enjoyed to its full potential, and then some?
H/T to Kamil and Antti for inspiration on this post
Images: Nissan via mad4wheels