My Car Story – How Top Gun and a "Justification for Higher Education" Poster Changed Everything!

By Jay_McBain
In Marketing
June 10, 2014

Jay McBain / Jay McBain

I have always loved cars.

From being a kid playing with Matchbox day and night, to an adult that is obsessed with the internal combustible engine.  In fact many of my memories revolve around the vehicle I was in – whether traveling through 67 countries or driving through 48 U.S. States.

I know it is a bad thing, but I have a lead foot as well.

I have the dubious honor of getting speeding tickets on all 6 drive-able continents – lucky that there are no cars in Antarctica!  Did I ever tell you the time I passed the Polizia in Italy with my mom?

He was smiling because I was driving a little yellow gutless Panda – and passing a Lamborghini!

A couple of major milestones happened as a teenager that further solidified my love of driving:

1. I was 14 when Top Gun was released in theaters.  

After watching Tom Cruise take off after the girl on that GPZ900R (or better known as the Kawasaki Ninja 900), I was hooked.  For the next couple of years my life revolved around motorcycles.

My first bike was old 1964 Bridgestone 400 that would literally seize up on the highway (having your back tire lock up at highway speeds teaches you a lot about balance and motorcycle handling!).

My second bike was a Yamaha RD400. It was white with red accents, had some serious upgrades including pipes that made the 2 stroke louder than a Harley.  My favorite memory was tearing down the engine and removing the carbs to get it running each day before school.

Then it happened.  I got a red and black (matching the movie) Honda CBR600R – with matching leathers, gloves and a helmet too!  I had arrived – in the motorcycle sense.

2.  Then my sister bought me this mounted poster and everything changed:

This poster became symbolic on multiple levels. One, to finish post-secondary studies, and two, to own all 5 of these cars in my lifetime.  It never left my wall – different dorm rooms, apartments and even my first house – never took it down!

Knowing my first car couldn’t be a Ferrari or Porsche, I started where I could.

First came a nice 4×4 Chev truck that I lifted slightly, put nice big tires and rims and a 3 inch solid steel bush guard on the front.  Nothing could stop me, especially shopping carts on late night supermarket runs.

With my first job secured at IBM came my first brand new car – a 1994 Saturn SL1.  It wasn’t the fastest or sportiest car – but it had the new car smell and I drove it everywhere.  Across all 10 Provinces in Canada and at least 15 States.  It was stolen off our front driveway (fun story for another blog).

Replacing the stolen Saturn was the new 1994 Mazda MX-3 Precidia GS Coupe with the smallest V-6 in production! The sporty and cool factor went way up until I was moved to Winnipeg and I learned (the hard way) about the ice ruts that form on the road for 6 months out of the year.

So I traded in the front bumperless Mazda on a new 1997 Ford Ranger Splash truck. You may remember these from BayWatch on TV.  That lasted until the kids came – Danica in 1997 and Mila in 1999.  It was time to upgrade the Ford to an Eddie Bauer Edition Explorer which were so popular in that era.

Then it happened.  A crazy few years of upgrades.

Combined with some good sales quarters at IBM and a neighbor who was a GM at the Toyota dealer, I located the first car on the poster.  A BMW 320i Sedan.

Then 1999 hit – and for anyone selling computers pre-Y2K, there were some rich commissions being paid out. Exit BMW, enter a cherry red Mercedes-Benz C230 Kompressor!

A year and a half later, the Mercedes was traded on a bright blue Corvette.

Not sure why I bought a 2 seater in the Great White North, the next year I went back to a 4 seater, a yellow 1987 Porsche 911 Cabriolet.

With some nicer cars meant that I had to get some winter wheels – everything from a Volvo, Pathfinder and Jaguar XJ6 provided some winter comfort.  I even took over the lease of a Toyota Yaris hatchback because I was pounding on miles driving to work and with my kids.

Three vehicles, one motorcycle, one boat and a jetski for a single guy was not efficient.

Around the mid 2000’s I decided to upgrade the Porsche to a 2000 model with the new body style – still yellow of course.  Also traded the Jaguar and Toyota into a 2000 Mercedes ML430 SUV.

After moving to the U.S. in 2009 I felt it was my duty as a new American to buy a Harley – so there it was, a beautiful V-Rod with $5K in extra chrome and only 600 miles presented itself.  Did you know that Porsche designed the V-Rod engine?

After 24 vehicles in 15 years, I officially pumped the brakes.  I still have those two cars and Michelle just picked up a 2009 Audi A4 Quattro Convertible to round out the garage.

The Marine Life is Calling

Around the time I moved to Toronto from Winnipeg (2000), I also got a passion for the water.

I bought a Seadoo Speedster boat with 2 jet engines capable of 55 miles/hr in a 15 foot boat.  Within a year, I upgraded to a more reasonable 16 foot bowrider that didn’t scare my children.

A few years later, after cruising the Trent-Severn, Rideau Canal and shooting up the St. Lawrence to Montreal, it was time to get a cruiser.  The Bayliner 2651 Cierra provided a couple of nice beds, a bathroom and some cooking abilities and we must have put 1000 hours on it.

Finally, the two-footitus set in and I upgraded to my dream boat – a Carver 350 Mariner – with leather seats, a big screen TV and ample room to live in summer comfort.  Parking it on the ocean in North Carolina provided the best moveable ocean-front property one could ask for.

History in Pictures

1964 Bridgestone 400cc Motorcycle

1976 Yamaha 400 Offroad Motorcycle

1982 Yamaha RD400 Motorcycle

1982 Yamaha IT125 Offroad Motorcycle

1987 Honda Hurricane CBR600 Motorcycle

1982 Chevrolet C1500 4×4 Truck

1986 Hyundai Stellar Sedan (Second vehicle)

1984 Yamaha 400 Motorcycle (Getting back and forth to Lethbridge more gas friendly than truck)

1994 Saturn SL1 Sedan (first new car!)

1994 Mazda MX-3 Precidia GS Coupe

1991 Honda Civic DX Sedan (second car)

1997 Ford Ranger Splash Truck

1995 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer SUV

1992 BMW 320i Sedan

1999 Mercedes-Benz C230 Kompressor Sedan

1997 Honda CR-V SUV

1995 Seadoo Speedster Jet Boat

1995 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe (and Mila!)

2000 Dodge Caravan

2000 Scorpion 16ft Bowrider 60HP Boat

1987 Porsche 911 Convertible

1994 Volvo 850 Sedan

1997 Toyota Corolla Sedan (second car)

1995 Jaguar XJ6 Sedan

1998 Honda CR-V SUV

1990 Suzuki Sidekick ($1000 project car – rebuilt engine) – and Danica!

1994 Nissan Pathfinder SUV

2007 Toyota Yaris Hatchback (and Austin)

2007 Honda CBR125 Motorcycle

1990 Bayliner 2651 Cierra Boat

2006 Honda Accord V6 (Michelle’s car before the deer incident)

Current Garage:

2000 Porsche 911 Convertible

2009 Audi A4 Quattro Convertible (Michelle’s car)

2000 Mercedes ML430 SUV

1997 Carver 350 Mariner Yacht

2006 Seadoo RXT Jetski

2006 Harley Davidson V-Rod Motorcycle

2011 Honda Rancher 4×4 ATV

History in Spreadsheet Format (yes, I track everything)

Where does the story end?

If you have been keeping track, I still have one car left to buy on the “Justification for Higher Education” bucket list.  The BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar and Porsche are done.  What is next?

Yes, a Ferrari.

I don’t know when, and I don’t know exactly how – but I will own a Ferrari.  My favorite so far is the 360, but time will tell…

On the marine side, I will have to let go the Carver to get a sailboat at some point.  Another bucket list item is to sail blue water from Florida to Spain.  Unless there is a breakthrough in battery technology, or they magically figure out how to convert salt water to fuel, I will need the wind.

Anyway, a topic for another blog.

Epilogue – How I Buy Cars

Cars are depreciating assets and can burn a hole in your pocket very quickly.  Here is what I have learned along the way:

1.  Focus on one number only – depreciation.  You can go a buy a fancy new $30K car that is only worth $4K in 5 years (many US based models last decade).  The depreciation number is $26K or more than $5K per year of ownership.  When you add insurance, maintenance and gas – not a pretty picture.

Take this example – I bought the Mercedes above for $18K (the list price for someone previously was over $80K).  Letting someone else take the $62K hit was a good strategy.  Even better is the 8 years of driving I have had with it and only $1,500 per year in depreciation.

It is hard to find a car that you only have to pay $1,500 per year on (buy or lease).

The Porsche new was over $140K ($CDN).  I bought it after 3 years for $62K.  After 11 years of driving, the depreciation number is $26K or $2,363 per year.  Still a low cost for driving a nice car.

2.  Buy OUT of warranty.  Everyone loves new car smell with a bumper to bumper warranty right? Consider buying out of warranty (with low miles and clean CARFAX).  The money you save – sometimes upwards of $10K from “in warranty” status – will more than pay for any mechanical problems that will arise.  In most cases, the $10K will be pure profit.

3.  Negotiate hard and without a hint of emotion.  Michelle’s Audi came from Florida and had a $500 shipping charge.  That didn’t matter because we had dealerships up and down the eastern seaboard competing for our business.  We walked away several times and still got the exact color, style, options, etc. that she wanted.  While you don’t make any friends, upwards of $5K can be saved by not buying in your local town.

4.  Use the $10K lift rule for buying.  I could have never saved $62K for a Porsche at the time – but I didn’t have to.  I bought the BMW for $20K, sold it for about the same and added $10K for the Mercedes.  Same thing, sold it and added $10K for the Corvette. Rinse. Repeat.  The Porsche ended up only costing $10K more than the Corvette when I sold it.  That is how I could flip cars every 6 months and not take a bath.

Quick Summary:

1. Target your dream car with options/color/etc
2. Research on Autotrader (disregard location)
3. Draw out the actual depreciation curve based on time and miles – choose optimal year (usually 4 years old)
4. Narrow down to 3-4 cars and approach dealers.  Negotiate relentlessly.
5. Drive that beautiful luxury convertible for less than a price of new Honda Civic!

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