Ed’s Intro: Please welcome Andy Stella! A car-minded guy with some hilarious insights to share in this two-pack of intro articles. Coming up next is his Top 5 Cars to Street-Park in Chicago — but his personal car history had me rolling on the floor with lulz. Enjoy.
By: Special Contributor Andy Stella
From Car Hell to Car Bliss… in Only Six Easy Steps!
My first car was a 1995 Buick Skylark that I bought from my mom. That poor thing endured driver’s ED for my older brother and I, many trips into/out of the snowbanks and ditches, being winched out of the mud by a tow truck, and rear ending a car (whoops!) on I-35 in Minnesota, an event that left it front-bumper-and-grill-less. It never complained.
Never left me stranded. It was a good car.
Side note: I recall all of our GM products as being pretty darn reliable, and all, from memory, had very decent speakers – important to anyone who spends 10-20 hours a week in rush hour, as I currently do.
The forest green Buick, affectionately named “The Ninja Turtle’s,” days were numbered when I got my first full-time job.
I originally went to the Saab/VW dealer in Minnesota to get myself a new (2006) Saab 9-2x, but that didn’t work out, so I went with a used 2003 Volkswagen Passat 1.8 manual.
That car stayed with me through the rest of my residency in Minnesota, and came along for my move to Chicago.
But then she started getting mis-firing badly in the 3rd cylinder and was repaired — several times — under the Godsend of an extended warranty. On the fourth service visit to the dealer I traded it in for a new 2007 GTI.
The GTI was a base model five-door with the manual transmission and interlagos tartan cloth seats.
The GTI was really immobilized by deep snow, and I had a 25 page service log full of warranty repairs.
I racked up enough miles to expire the warranty in less than two years, and I loved the car enough to trade it in on a 2009 Jetta Wolfsburg 2.0 with the DSG transmission.
The GTI-Jetta era marked my introduction to Chicago street parking (I had a parking spot with the Passat). Oh, and potholes. I went through three wheels and three tires with the GTI, but none with the Jetta — even though they had the same wheel style.
Lesson? Keep tire profiles and stiff suspensions in mind in harsh climates…!
On one random trip back to Minnesota in March 2010, I took the Jetta to the original Saab/VW dealer that I got my 2003 Passat from, and left with a 2010 Saab 9-3x SportCombi wagon!
I’ve been in love with Saabs since I saw a 1992-ish 900 convertible at a dealer in Michigan while driving by with my grandpa (remember the failed attempt at the 9-2x?).
The 9-3x SportCombi was marvelous in the snow and a hell of a street-parker; with its plastic Subaru-like bumper trim taking impacts from other cars like a champ. Its slightly raised suspension and AWD made it a hero when it came to jumping snow banks.
I didn’t even have to shovel myself out every morning! Alas, Saab’s bankruptcy came shortly after, and my warranty went bye-bye. Thankfully, I bought an extended plan with Geico that was really cheap, and saved me several times from expensive repairs.