My First Car: 1986 Nissan 200SX

Ask any grown man about his first car and it will stir up emotions and memories. I just found pictures of my first car which ironically was my late dad's mid life crisis vehicle.

In May of 1986 my father bought his first import car, a brand new 1986 Nissan 200SX XE, 2.0 four cylinder with a five speed manual transmission. It was a big change for my dad who was driving a 1975 Oldsmobile 98 Regency and previously had a 1979 GMC Sierra 4X4 truck, 1969 VW Bug & 1967 Chevrolet Camaro all at the same time and the latter two were "project cars". That means they were always in a state of repair or "disrepair".

To my knowledge the Nissan 200SX was the first new car for my dad since his 1972 Buick Electra 225 ("Duece & a Quarter"), so this was a big deal. It also meant the end of the line for the Oldsmobile 98 but we all soon got over him selling it with the new Nissan.

Not having a new car in the family for a while (my mother had a 1984 Nissan Sentra station wagon she bought when it was a year old), and me as a boy who loved cars (and still does), this was great, I was enamored with that car, its manual transmission, huge radio and it was honestly not a car for a family man. Which made it even more cool.

Fast forward until the summer of 1993 when I got my drivers license, my father was driving a Chevrolet conversion van and he taught me how to drive a manual transmission (for which I am forever grateful), and I could drive his beloved sports car.

The next school year was my senior year at Brother Rice High School my parents just didn't hand me the keys to start driving to school right away, after getting on the B Honor Roll (which got us a insurance discount), and my parents letting me drive intermittently. I finally drove to school every day in mid February 1994 and of course this being Chicago, the second day I drove it snowed and I learned the beauty of getting stuck in the snow and getting out with a manual transmission.

I won't lie, having a car in high school add to your popularity, it also adds to your responsibility as my father constantly reminded me to maintain the car and he helped enormously. Before I started driving it regularly he and his mechanic friends overhauled the car, new brakes, fluids, tires and even a new clutch and pressure plate.

Up until that point I was pretty sure my dad could fix anything fairly easily but I saw with my own eyes how hard he and the best mechanic he new (Scotty), worked all day to change the clutch and pressure plate. I was humbled (even as a cocky 18 year old), to see these top mechanics work so hard on the car.

Did I have my moments where I had a minor accident while driving carelessly? Of course but I did check the oil often (once on a date at the old Howard Street Bowl), and I kept it clean (though not to my dad's standards), but overall getting that car changed my life.

Even more important it brought me and my dad closer, I totally got it, why he initially loved that car, it was fun to drive, looked cool and yet you could haul some stuff in its hatch back. I used to cut people's lawns and carried a lawnmower and all my tools in the back of that car. And yes still looked cool.

I got three good years out of that car until mechanically dad and I couldn't keep up with it and didn't think it was worth the money. At one point we took it to the old Milex shop on south Western Ave in Beverly. That got us another good year of the car running pretty good.

But by the fall of 1996 (the start of my junior year at DePaul University), the brake system was failing, the gas pedal would stick and the car just wasn't reliable.

My father helped me buy a 1992 Chevrolet Corsica right before Thanksgiving in 1996 and we traded in the Nissan 200SX to offset the cost. The Nissan was so broken down the dealership (the old Arrow Chevrolet in south suburban Midlothian), sent a flatbed tow truck to get the Nissan.

Dad and I stood in the yard and watched our dream car get towed off. That would be my dad's last new car and my first foray into car ownership. I think about that car a lot and have even tried to find one for sale somewhere, no luck. I often think about my dad when I drive and how much cars, driving and mechanics meant to him.

And I never forgot his trust of me with his car and everything he taught me.

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    Charles W. Johnson

    I'm a lifelong writer (since I was 8 years old), and have been doing this blog in some form or fashion since 2004. I'm a DePaul University alum, class of 1999 and prior to that Brother Rice class of 1994. . And I appreciate you taking to the time to read what I have to say, feel free to email charles.w.johnson@hotmail.com

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