I learned to drive a couple of weeks after I turned 14 years old, when I could get a learner's driving permit in my home province. I spent a week in an AMA driving course with a 1973 Malibu. I took my driver's examination a couple of days after I turned 16 and passed on the second try.
I consider my first car to be my father's 1972 Datsun 240Z, which he shared with me from time to time. It was quite the car to drive as a teenager and I certainly gave it some serious exercise, including a couple of evenings when I snuck out late, pushed the car from the garage and raced around Edmonton.
In the spring of 1980 I traded my Park Avenue for a dark blue 1977 Grand Prix I found on a used car lot. What attracted me to the car were the standard transmission and the t-top roof with glass inserts. But the silly thing had some electrical system gremlins and from time to time, the ignition wouldn't start. The car would just go dead for a couple of hours. I recall a weekend trip to Calgary with my girlfriend and getting stranded halfway home in a service station when it wouldn't start.
Around the autumn of 1985, I made the decision to leave my hotel career, leave Edmonton and move to Calgary where I hoped to enter the Calgary Police Force. In preparation for the move, I sold my Grand Prix (to the chef mentioned above by coincidence) and intended to use by motorcycle in the interim. However, fate smiled on me and instead of leaving the hotel industry, I was given a promotion and I stayed in Edmonton. At that time I purchased my first new car, a white 1985 Toyota Tercel 4WD wagon. This was a very functional car for my life at the time. It provided great traction in the Canadian winters and was perfect for camping trips. The Toyota also gave me an introduction to Japanese automotive quality and engineering.
Two years later I began to itch for something with a little more punch and style as my career was moving upward. The 1987 Volkswagen GTI 16V caught my eye and an overnight test drive sold me on it. I took home a dark red model and the German sports car fit my image well at the time. With the sale of the hotel in Edmonton in 1988, I moved to Vancouver with the car. Late in 1988, I had a slight accident with the car (my fault) and early in 1989 I was transfered to Santa Barbara but decided not to take the car with me since I was uncertain if it would meet California emission standards. The car stayed with a friend in Vancouver who was eventually able to sell it.
Arriving in Santa Barbara in January 1989, I still had the car in Vancouver and no established credit in the US with which to buy a car. Once the GTI was sold, I started looking for a car in the local area. I found a sky blue 1988 Acura Intregra in the newspaper that caught my attention after driving a rental Acura in the interim. The owner of the car turned out to be a genuine surfer dude, complete with ocean front home and a garage full of surfboards. We agreed on the price and he introduced me to the bank manager at his financial institution. Later that day I asked him how I could learn to surf, since I was anxious to embrace the SoCal lifestyle. He seemed "totally stoked" by the request and gave me one of his boards. That weekend we met up near Ventura and I got my first surfing lesson (after getting the required wetsuit, of course). The Acura was an extremely reliable car and saw me through most of the time I lived in southern California, including many trips to and from Santa Barbara for work.
Around the end of 1992 I was living in Manhattan Beach and got the itch for a new car. The newly designed 1993 Honda Prelude VTEC was getting hot reviews although I wasn't taken with its look and design. I stopped by the local Honda dealer for a chat and he encouraged me to take it for a drive. Sold! Actually, I held back on my enthusiasm and managed to escape that day without succumbing to the pressures of the salesperson. There was a guy working in the same office building as me who sold and leased cars. He gave me some good advice about negotiating with car dealers and was even able to look up the cost price of the exact car I was looking at. Armed with this information, I went back to the dealer. Easier said than done. These guys negotiate for a living and play very, very hard ball. It was at least four hours of negotiations, at least once I walked out of the dealership and the salesperson got a little hostile at times. But that evening I drove away in a black Prelude, my Christmas present. Roughly two weeks later, I was asked by my employer to consider a temporary relocation to Tokyo and I put the car into storage for two years. Upon my return to the US in early 1995, the car was delivered back to me with about 2,000 miles on the odometer and in perfect condition. A fun car to drive but I sold it later than year when I moved back to Japan.
Between 1996 and 1999 I attended school in Japan and returned to work at Four Seasons. There was no reason for me to own a car since I commuted by train and subways. Also, my wife had a Porsche 968 and later the first Jaguar XKR to arrive in Japan. Sometime in late December 1998, my wife was in an accident in her Jag and it was in the shop for about four weeks for repairs. Needing a car for her work, I arranged for a rental car, which, because she could only drive a left-hand drive turned out to be a BMW 3-series. While she was anxious to get her Jag back, I was quite taken with the car so I ordered one and took delivery of a 1999 black 323i in February 1999. My first car in Japan and the first and only right-hand drive car I purchased.
On the subject of right-hand drive cars and driving in Japan, I have always been able to switch back and forth between driving in North America and Japan, and either driving position.
I upgraded the BMW to a black 2004 BMW 330i convertible in the autumn of 2004. Good car, fast and nice to have the option of open top driving but not a practical car for Tokyo.
By the summer of 2006 my wife grew tired of the stiff suspension and road noise of the BMW 3-series. My first stop was at the BMW dealer where I inquired about the 5-series. To my surprise, the salesman took me on a very brief test drive (less than five minutes) and then presented me with a proposal to purchase the car. Never asked me what color I wanted. But I understood when he told me there was only one 550i in stock. The new 2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 caught my eye on a web site and I thought it was time for me to move up in the world. One test drive and I was sold. When I asked for a black on black model with left-hand drive, the reply was, "no problem". It took about two weeks to complete the deal, write up the paperwork and deliver the car. Longest two weeks of my life. But the best car I have ever owned.
My wife and I have the same number on our license plates: 12-25, our wedding anniversary.