Sean Nurse tries to define what is to be a car enthusiast. Sound familiar?
What is a car enthusiast? It’s a question that I’ve asked myself since I was in high school. In the decade or so since I first pondered this question, I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time and money on my personal vehicles, always trying to keep up with trends, buying cars that I feel may suit me better as a driver. Then there’s the hope that your purchase will provide you with the sort of kudos that automotive enthusiasts crave from our peers and colleagues, like Strava, but for car enthusiasts from the East Rand.
Today though, I’d like to impart some wisdom, well, as much wisdom as one might have accumulated in 29 years on this earth at least. My automotive affliction began when I first had the money to buy my own car. I am not counting the R53 Mini Cooper S that my father let me drive around, or my 180i Honda Ballade, or even my Volkswagen Polo, because I didn’t buy those, I was fortunate to be given those by my family.
Instead, a Top Gear and Evo magazine-infused Sean, who will only refer to himself in the third person once, maybe twice, I promise, bought a Renault Sport Clio 197 in 2011. My goal was to do track days, attend meet-ups with likeminded individuals and of course, gain the nod of approval from other car people. I loved my Clio, and I did all of the aforementioned things in it, but it enjoyed obliterating its gearbox frequently, leading me to seek something more robust.
At this point in time, turbocharging was the new buzzword; I needed boost more desperately than Brian O’Conner needed NOS, so naturally the Renault Sport Megane was the obvious upgrade. I absolutely adored my Megane, but I abused the car, attending each and every track day, gymkhana and drag strip event I could. This meant that when I sold the car, it was well used, and with only 60 000km on the odometer, it must have looked like a steal to the dealership in question.
The reason why I had approached a dealer to purchase the car was because a rather special Subaru WRX STI had come up for sale. It was an ’07 Hawkeye which featured a heavily modified motor, larger turbocharger, coilover suspension, OZ Racing wheels, a brake upgrade and get this, it had covered just 48 000 original kilometers since new. I had to own it, so I made the necessary arrangements and drove it off within a week.
In typical EJ25 fashion, it suffered from ‘rod knock’, leading the previous owner down the proverbial bottomless pit of Subaru modifications. He had forged engine internals installed, including trick bits such as an oil catch can, phenolic spacers and more aggressive cams, courtesy of Tomei, to name a fraction of the work done. This meant that the brakes and suspension had to be upgraded too, and the clutch and, well, you get the whole bottomless pit analogy.
I bought the car in perfect condition, but soon fried the clutch at a track day, leading to the first expense. Overall though, I escaped the whole Subaru ownership experience relatively unscathed and eventually parted with the car after 18 months because I didn’t enjoy it dynamically, despite the DCCD and its ‘analogue-ish’ driving experience. I also lamented the fact that the car drank ethanol at a rate that makes a Space Shuttle seem like a reasonable daily driver.
From there I went about looking for an N54-powered BMW, and remembered how much I loved my father’s E82 135i coupe in high school. So I found one, finished in a shade of maroon that would only suit a school blazer. I caught a bus down to Durban with a friend of mine. We were greeted at the station by a chap from the Pinetown-based dealership selling the car, who graciously gave us a lift. I had bought the car, sight unseen, so I was glad to discover that it was in reasonable condition, and that it was in good enough shape to get us home.
Don’t let the positive, 500km journey home fool you into thinking that I had scored the proverbial diamond in the rough, oh no, this 135i had more issues than a magazine stand. Problems included faulty Vanos solenoids, dodgy coil packs, serpentine belt failure, a leaking oil filter house gasket, a failing High-Pressure Fuel Pump (HPFP) and the beginnings of wastegate failure on one of the turbochargers. Lest I forget the fact that in intake side of my valves looked as though someone had opened the valve cover and poured a bowl on instant muffin mix in to it.
My 135i was immensely fast in a straight line, producing 283 kW and 620 N.m on the wheels, but with an open differential at the rear, I was the textbook ‘one tyre fire’ guy wherever I went. This made the Beemer a one trick pony, and something that I was too scared to use on the track, in fear of even more maintenance costs, so I sold it and guess what? I bought another Megane, completing my circle of idiocy.
In my quest to remain, in my mind at least, a proper car enthusiast; I have gone through cars at a rate that many people may go through shoes. Although, having just typed that, a quick glance through home office revealed a pair of New Balance running shoes that I’ve owned for far longer than most of my cars.
So what’s my point? I am not in any way discouraging those that want to experience a similar automotive journey to me; in fact, I encourage you to explore your passion for cars as much as possible. My only piece of advice, and potentially the most valuable thing that you can take from my experience is that you should always do what makes you happy, don’t buy into a trend for the sake of it, get the car that suits your needs, your driving style, your budget and most importantly, do your research, calculate the costs and have any vehicle that you purchase thoroughly inspected before adding it to your garage.