As they say, it really is strange how things work out. Shortly before my sixteenth birthday, my dad bought a brand new 1993 Mazda 626 ES in glorious bright red with tan leather, a sunroof, and alloys clad with summer Bridgestones. It was a fantastic car, one of my favorite driving experiences when I was given the chance to drive it. That sweet V6, excellent handling, and overall solid build made for an almost perfect car, in my opinion. What would have been perfect would have been a coupe with a manual, but Dad wouldn’t go for that.
My sister’s first car was a brilliant 1987 Nissan 300ZX that was totaled, about a year after she got it, by someone who decided not to stop at an intersection. Looking for a replacement, we stumbled on a 1994 Mazda MX-6 LS in green with tan leather and a manual transmission. Suffice to say, the Dad and older-brother lobby pushed heavily in that direction, so soon my sister ended up with a Mazda. She liked it well enough, but after a couple of years decided she wanted a newer Honda Accord – which she still has today – and left the Mazda behind for Dad to sell off.
Dad didn’t have much luck, so I put in a bid, gave him part of the payment, and drove the Mazda home to my apartment in the fall of 2005. In the several years from the time of our family’s purchase to my acquisition of it, the clear coat had essentially disintegrated, leaving the exterior looking pretty shabby. As I did some searching at the time, it sounded as though that was a pretty common thing for dark colored Mazdas of that vintage.
I didn’t really care anyway; I lived a block from work, and wanted the car for other reasons: specifically, driving. Yet despite the bad paint I still rented a garage at my apartment complex where the MX-6 spent most of the winter, letting Fred, the mighty F-150, handle winter driving duties again.
What did age well on this car, or rather didn’t seem to age, was its performance. Mazda’s 2.5 liter V6 was small, smooth as silk, powerful and sounded brilliant. I was right in my younger assumptions – that motor was best paired in the coupe with the manual transmission, as it was just stupid fun to row through the gears and head toward the 7,000 rpm redline. Of course, the astute will note the Ford valve cover. This car’s original motor had gone south shortly before we purchased it, and the seller had replaced it with a low mileage Probe GT motor that just sang.
I got the dreaded VRIS system to work again—a common malady on these cars, but thankfully easily fixed. I’ve had few motors that were as good as that one and maybe only one that was better — maybe. I can’t say enough about how smoothly it built its power, and a what a brilliant mix of quiet and growly it exuded. This car just loved to be driven.
The interior had definitely been used, but aside from a pad on the driver’s seat, had aged somewhat well. Confirming my impression of the 626’s seats, the MX-6 had some of the most comfortable seats that I’ve ever had the pleasure of driving in. What I liked most about the interior was not only how comfortable the seats were, but also how it seemed to perfectly mix the size of a sports car with that of a sedan.
Whereas my CRX had been a punishing place to spend a lot of time in, the Mazda was brilliant to blast down the interstate with the sunroof open, tunes loud and not a care in the world. Which is exactly the plan I had for it – it would be my good weather fun car, with the F-150 being the storm spotting, transmitter hunting adventure vehicle. As I walked to and from work each day, I didn’t need a car for transportation, only for fun. Talk about getting the best of both worlds – plus, I didn’t have any expensive full coverage insurance or car payments, so I had that magical “disposable income” for fun!
What is it they say about the best laid plans? If you remember the last installment, just as spring was coming and the plan was hatching into action, some ding dong in a Chevy 3500 ruined my plans. Funny, though, how it all worked out – without things happening the way they had, I would have been completely without a vehicle and probably would have had to go into debt again. Not only that, but I definitely would not be where I am today had the accident never happened – so some events rapidly made me be cool with it.
Debt wasn’t high on my list but replacing the F-150 was, so I quickly put the MX-6 into adventure duty. Not only was it fun to drive on pavement, I quickly found out that thanks to a limited-slip front diff, halfway decent tires and a low profile, it was a great storm spotting rig too!
One of the things I liked best about it after years of an F-150 was how sleek of a profile it had. On its first spotter assignment, I was assigned a point in the far Southwest of our county – one notorious for where storms come into the county and also one just a stone’s throw away from Hallam. This town had nearly been wiped off the map two years prior when a F5 tornado ripped through town, one that just about nobody saw because it was a mile wide and appeared like it was a big rainshaft.
Parked facing south at that point in the county when a very strong (50-70mph) downburst form the storm hit, it was cool to feel the car almost “squat” closer to the ground instead of doing the wind salsa dance that the truck would have done. Adventure was now in my blood, and with every storm or fox hunt I pushed the MX-6 to its limits, much like I did Fred – it handled it all with that smile on its face.
A key part of the story to date was that during the ownership of the F-150, and after college, I’d had a rough time in my life that involved a lot of drinking and gaining weight. I rapidly got up to about 500 pounds and was a foot or two into the grave when I decided to take control in early 2005. I had taken a couple years off from fishing or outdoor activity in favor of long hours sitting in an office chair, all the while not liking it at all, which is where the eating and drinking came into play. Eating right, working out and backing off on the partying resulted in losing 200 pounds over the course of 2005. So it was pretty sad to me when the F-150 got killed about six months after I hit my goal weight, and after I’d rediscovered all kinds of outdoor activity.
Of course, the icing on the cake, as they say, was that the Mazda was then a much more comfortable place to be. My life had changed and it was almost as though the F-150 had taken me through hell, delivered me back on the other side to the next phase, and then let the Mazda take over. It may seem like a stretch, but the way the timing worked out – and has since then – is just something else.
After the accident everything changed, and rapidly. I realized that while I’d gotten my life back together in one way, I’d also somehow gotten a second chance and walked away from that accident. About a month later I drove the Mazda over to a good friend’s apartment – whom I’d had a not-so-secret crush on for years – for a date. Up until that point my longest term relationship had been about a month, and I’d gotten a little bit of a reputation because of it. Whoops. This time was different, though, and to spoil that part of the story I married her a year and a half later. And we just celebrated as our seventh anniversary a month ago. I’ll always remember the Mazda for taking me to what was my boldest and best decision ever.
Sometime in the late summer, another accident changed my vehicular direction, but this time it wasn’t mine – it was my brother’s. He was about a week away from his wedding when someone totaled his beloved 1982 Toyota pickup, leaving him about to be married, about to close on a brand new house and without a set of wheels. I was dating a girl I was getting pretty serious with pretty quickly, but it was still only about a block away from where I worked and an easy bike ride to my girlfriend’s house. Knowing that there was no way my brother would be able to afford a wedding, house and car in the same month with his sanity and plasma intact, I decided it would be a good idea to pass the MX-6 on to him and look for something else. I’d owned it for just under a year, making it by far the shortest term vehicle I’ve had to date.
I had a blast in that car and it definitely left an impression, so I was open to getting another car. Yet at the same time through all the adventures of summer I really missed having a truck. I started looking and almost decided on a two-year-old Ranger FX4 but it was equal parts not what I wanted, and expensive. I had a couple thousand dollars saved up that I could either have used for a down payment or bought something outright, but you already know how that ends since I spoiled it in my last COAL.
After a little bit of a search I stopped down to see my mechanic, whom I’ve used since I was 16 (I still use him to this day) and told him my requirements. Wouldn’t you know that exactly what I wanted was sitting right in his lot?