COAL: 2003 Acura 3.2 CL Type S – My First “Collector” Car

2003 Acura CL Type S

I found having a third car (the 2000 Taurus I profiled a couple of weeks ago) to be really handy for many reasons. A four-door sedan was a great extra car but it wasn’t exactly exciting. My impetus for selling the Taurus to my sister-in-law was to free up space in my driveway for a more interesting vehicle, one with a history well-known to me.

The car in question was a 2003 Acura 3.2 CL Type S leased by my mother and brother in mid-2003. My brother was the main driver of the car, which my father leased and brought home a day before he died in May 2003. It replaced my brother’s 1996 Honda Prelude and matched the 2003 Acura 3.2 TL Type S that my mother was driving at the time (the one that was essentially the same lease payment as my 2002 Camry). It wasn’t the first CL my parents had owned – my father had a first-generation CL V-6 in 1999 that I had liked very much. This particular CL Type S was one of the rare 6-speed manual cars (only around 2700 sold without navigation) and had been well cared-for by my brother, although the mileage was relatively high for the age of the car (almost 50,000 miles in a 36-month lease).

Acura CL rear view

Around the time that the lease on this car was up in 2006, the automotive collector publication Collectible Automobile published a profile on the second-generation CL Type S as part of its series on “future collectibles.” The article talked about the rarity of the vehicle (especially the one-year only 6-speed) and the likely status of the car as an “end of era” coupe in the age of luxury SUVs. That got me thinking about buying the car from my mom when the lease was up as my first “collector” vehicle. My mom was pretty open to the idea since my purchase of the car at the residual value would save them some money. If they turned it in to Acura, they’d have to pay a considerable lease end mileage overage penalty (if memory serves, my dad had negotiated a 12,000 mile per year lease, so the overage would be pretty large at 10 cents a mile or so). It meant that I probably overpaid for the car a bit because of its higher mileage than the residual would have implied, but since I knew its history (coming from my own family) and the scarcity of the car, I didn’t mind much.

Acura CL Type S side view

My parents’ preferred Ohio Acura dealer took care of the entire process for us and made it easy (the observant reader will pick up the dealer’s name from the photos in this entry). All I had to do was show up at the dealer with a check and they handled all the transactions, and even provided me with a temporary tag to get the car home to Maryland. My brother had mixed feelings – he really liked the car but was replacing it with a 2006 TL with a 6-speed manual. Even with the new car, he was sorry to see this one go and he was a bit cranky when I came to pick it up.

I, on the other hand, was really happy to see it come home with me. This car was very different from the other cars I’d been buying around this time (practical sedans, pickups, and minivans). The 260 hp 3.2 liter V6 was very well-matched to the 3,500 pound coupe, and the 6-speed manual gave the car a sporting character that my mother’s similar TL 5-speed automatic couldn’t match. Even though the CL and TL were essentially the same car underneath, the manual transmission totally changed how the car performed. (Based on subsequent experiences by owners as the cars aged, the manual transmission made the car more reliable, too – the automatics in the TL and CL had a reputation for being fragile, sometimes lasting only 40,000 miles before failing.) The seats in the CL Type S were much more supportive than the TL, as well. They were well-bolstered and really encouraged spirited driving. In some ways the car reminded me of my ’89 Thunderbird – a stylish coupe with a manual transmission and luxury appointments that could show its taillights to quite a few cars on the road.

2003 Acura CL Type S interior

Although my brother had put almost 50,000 miles on the car over three Ohio winters and summers, the car was in very good shape (the photos in this blog entry bear this out, as they were taken not long after I brought the then 3-year old car home). My dad had taught both my brother and me of the value of taking good care of a car, so the paint was in great shape, the interior was essentially new, and the wheels hadn’t seen any curb rash. Some undercarriage items were a bit corroded from several Ohio salty winters, but nothing to be concerned about. The keyless entry remote was pretty beat up – the paint/transfers used to label the buttons wasn’t particularly durable to start with, and the remote had seen quite a bit of use. My brother’s smoking habit initially made the car a bit funky inside, but some thorough cleaning and air freshening (and a couple of days of airing the car out in the driveway) made it much more bearable. (The smell never really goes away entirely, though.) On the plus side, my brother had spent a small fortune on an Acura OEM-style color matched rear spoiler that I thought added a bit of interest to the rear of the car. He’d had a friend in the service department at the dealership install the spoiler, but he didn’t want to watch as the service technician drilled holes through the trunk of his new car!

The car wasn’t without its quirks, though. The main one was the 6-speed manual – I’d tried to drive the car when I visited Ohio when the car was new, and found it to be very difficult to drive smoothly. The clutch was somewhat touchy and had a very high takeup point, so getting the car underway without stalling was a tall order. My brother had mentioned it to my dad on the day he bought it, and my father dismissed my brother’s complaints and got in the car to demonstrate how easy it was to drive…and promptly stalled it. Even though I’d had a lot of experience in driving stick shift cars, the touchiness of the clutch made it easier for me to borrow my mom’s TL when I visited them. After 50,000 miles the clutch had some wear on it so the takeup point was a bit lower, but it was still a challenge sometimes to get the car underway without either stalling it or setting the tires ablaze. Luckily the gearbox itself was enjoyable to operate, with relatively short and positive throws and well-spaced gears.

Acura CL Type S driver area

Another minor oddity was the heated seats – because of the configuration of the console with the manual transmission, there wasn’t room for two heated seat switches for driver and passenger. The automatic transmission version had two-position rocker switches for the seats, one for each side, but my manual transmission car only had space for one switch that controlled both seats with a single heat setting. I had to buy a new switch for the car, as I recall, as the one in the car had a faulty indicator for the driver’s seat (probably because my brother ran with the seat heater on virtually all the time – he’s pretty cold-blooded). A quick eBay search for a switch and a shop manual, and ten minutes of work, rendered the switch operational again.

I owned this car for almost 3 years and used it mostly in the summer as a weekend joy ride. Running this car up through the gears on a winding road with the windows and sunroof open was always enjoyable. I hadn’t thought of taking the car to any local cruise-ins or car shows, as it was still just a used car to most people who didn’t know of its rarity. Writing this post made me realize I kind of miss this car…

Rare doesn’t translate to valuable, of course, and when I decided it was time for someone else to enjoy it as much as I had I didn’t exactly make money selling it on (but I didn’t lose a fortune, either – more than I can say for my daily driver purchases). My decision to sell it was based partly on the desire to have an extra car that I could use like the bargain Taurus for winter transportation and travel to areas where I didn’t want to take my newer cars. My next “extra” car was like the CL only in the sense that it had a manual transmission – otherwise, the two cars couldn’t have been more different. A story for a future COAL, though…