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Car and Driver 60th Anniversary: Reader Stories, Part I

By: · May 13, 2015

60th-Editors-Letter-Eddie-Alterman

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We’re celebrating our 60th anniversary this July! Big deal, we know, but this momentous occasion isn’t really about us—it’s about you. Our readers are the reason Car and Driver has thrived, and they’re the reason we do what we do. You’ve had a huge hand in shaping an incredible six decades, and we want to hear from you. 

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Here’s what we want to know:

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• Your favorite car you or your family has owned, and your favorite story about it.
-• Your favorite car of the past 60 years.
-• When you first discovered Car and Driver.

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We recently posed these questions to members of our Backfires community, and below you’ll find a few of the responses we’ve received so far—and there will be more installments to come. Please share your stories in the Backfires comments here, on this page, or via Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook using the hashtag #CD60thFeel free to share multiple stories with us. You can scan and share the milk crate full of photos of you and your ride through the years. If you have Super 8 films of you and your dad in his ’67 Eldorado, get it transferred to digital and share that with us, too. Now, on to the stories:

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VPapaidis Bandini - Car and Driver 60th Anniversary

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1957 Bandini 750 Sport Internazionale “Saponetta”

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Favorite Car I’ve Owned
-Shared by: Vasileios Papaidas

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This sports car with a hand-hammered aluminum body first emerged in 1957, the name “Saponetta” meaning little soap bar, for being small and slippery. The engine used a heavily modified Crosley block with an aluminum twin-cam cylinder head designed by Ilario Bandini. Using twin Weber 32DCOA3 carburetors, the 747-cc engine produced 68 horsepower and revved to 8500 rpm.

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This car first raced in the 1957 Mille Miglia, and up to 1962, it would raceVPapaidis Bandini - Car and Driver 60th Anniversary in many other races on circuits like Monza and Vallelunga, as well as competing in several hill-climbs. In total, nine Saponettas were to be exported to the U.S., the first of which arrived in 1959.  The cars were raced extensively and very successfully in the SCCA championship at locations such as Watkins Glen during the ’60s. The unique patented oval tubing, lightweight engine, and aluminum body formed one of the lightest race cars built in its day.

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The Bandini brand name is one of the Etceterini cars family, a group of hand-made, small-displacement Italian racing cars which were produced from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. Most of these beautiful cars used Fiat running gear and had their own chassis with hand-hammered aluminum bodies. They raced throughout Europe in events like the legendary Mille Miglia and also competed heavily in American SCCA racing. Some of the great names include Bandini, Moretti, Abarth, Volpini, Nardi, Giannini, Ermini, Taraschi, Stanguellini, Giaur, Siata, and more.

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Cliff Reuter’s www.etceterini.com is the site dedicated on these cars and a great place to discover part of the racing history of the ’50s and ’60s.

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1962 Chevrolet Corvette
-Favorite Car of the Past 60 Years
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Shared by: James Brooks

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One of my, if not the most, favorite cars from the past 60 years. I wanted an early Corvette then and still do now. It was affordable, modern, sporty, and stylish.

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When Did You First Discover Car and Driver?
-Shared by: Marc Koszak

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It was in elementary school. The library had a small rack of magazines, and me being a car guy since I was born couldn’t help but notice Car and Driver issues hot off the press. Most kids were signing out R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps novels, while I kept signing out the most recent edition of the magazine. I had a yearlong subscription at one point when I was a teenager, but without much income I decided to save for a car over renewing it.

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I was in high school when Car and Driver had a small blog/forum/club called the “First Drivers Club,” which seemed to be an early version of the current “Backfires.” That is when I started to realize that I was passionate about the automotive hobby. Nothing felt better than being able to talk about cars, driving, racing, etc. I’m 25 years old right now, and for at least the last 15-plus years I have always been loyal to C/D. I can even recall the days when Jim Scoutten hosted “Car and Driver Television”—I rarely missed an episode. Last spring I was able to live out a childhood dream of mine and got a tour of the C/D headquarters. At 60 years, I can guarantee there is no stopping, in my opinion, the best automotive magazine around.

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JoshM Ferrari 458 - Car and Driver 60th Anniversary

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Ferrari 458
-Favorite Car of the Past 60 Years
-Shared by: Josh Massab

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This is a tough decision . . . I’d have to say that my favorite car of the last 60 years may just be the Ferrari 458.

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This decision was reinforced by my amazing opportunity to drive a friend’s gorgeous 458 at a Concours d’Elegance this past summer, as well as my visit to the Ferrari Factory (a.k.a. Petrolhead Heaven on Earth). Here’s a short video of the crazy-fun drive I took to review the car for my blog, FantasyCarsDaily. It was, obviously, amazing.

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Favorite Car My Family Has Owned
-Shared by: RyanSTL

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My family hasn’t owned many fun cars, but my favorite to drive was purely because of image. My dad had a 1995 Chevy Suburban that was black with black tint. The thing was huge, but I loved driving around the Mizzou campus, because I felt like a G-man.

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Ford Mustang
-Favorite Car of the Past 60 Years
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Shared by: Mike Spadora

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Pretty much every generation of the Ford Mustang. I’ll also mention the Chevy SS, Cadillac CTS-V, and the modern Dodge Charger.

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When Did You First Discover Car and Driver?

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When I was a kid. My dad had (and still has) a large collection of them dating back to the late ’60s. I started reading them at an early age and haven’t stopped.

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Favorite Car My Family Has Owned

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I think it would have to be my dad’s Acura NSX. I have fond memories of riding in that thing, and of all the cars my dad has had over the years, I think it’s the only one he truly regrets letting get away.

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Loren Miller 1989 Ford Thunderbird SC - Car and Driver 60th Anniversary

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Blue Thunder: My 1989 Ford Thunderbird SC
-Favorite Car I’ve Owned
-Shared by: Loren Miller

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After owning a 1982 Toyota Celica ST liftback, which had been a decent “first car purchased all by myself,” and a 1986 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, which I had hoped would be my first serious sports car but proved to be seriously lacking in the horsepower department, I knew my next machine had to have some serious engine-room content. The new design of the T-Bird and especially the Super Coupe had caught my eye from its first release in late 1988, and at the end of the model year in August of 1989, I was in the money and in the mood. I had originally considered opting for Ford’s Titanium Silver, a very popular color at the time, but was totally seduced by the Twilight Blue machine on display in the showroom. And before you ask, yes, there were three pedals in the driver’s footwell and an H-pattern on the shifter! A bit of haggling about the trade-in value of my ’86 Bird and the new SC was mine. Per personal tradition, the new ride needed a name, and considering the color and a fun film I had enjoyed earlier that decade, the choice was automatic: Blue Thunder.

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While Blue Thunder’s predecessor had not exactly been a powerhouse under the hood, it had been fairly light on its feet. Anyone reading this who knows cars at all will immediately realize that with this purchase, I had gone from one extreme to the other in both departments. With 210 horsepower and 315 lb-ft of torque, I had go-power under my right foot the likes of which I had never experienced before. I also had something north of 3600 pounds of road-hugging weight working against both the ponies and the suspension. Blue turned out to be less cut-and-thruster than boulevardier, but that was okay with me. I loved how it looked and loved how it went. That 3.8-liter engine seemingly had torque almost anywhere from idle to redline; passing slower traffic rarely required a downshift. Seventy miles per hour on the speedo registered a mere 1700 rpm on the tach, and requests coming from the accelerator were answered nearly immediately regardless of the gear I was in. Changing direction wasn’t exactly its strong suit, but fun could be had once dialed into an on-ramp with a mild hint given to the throttle. Say what you like; this car had game.

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That game came out a year and some months later at a stoplight on northbound Harper Road, just before the entrance to US 422 west. I was sitting in the right lane; next to me was, I think, a late-model sporty Mazda compact. Something in the Mazda driver’s body language suggested to me that he might try to take me at the light and duck in ahead of me, but for the moment, playing it cool felt smarter. Green light, the Mazda rabbited, and it was on. I had initially come away from the light like I always did—fairly easy—but once I saw the Mazda take off, I hammered it and got an instant “YES, SIR!” from the supercharged and intercooled powerplant. Fifty-five-hundred rpm arrived in an instant, the tires chirped as I grabbed second, and my competition was well in the rearview as I entered the on-ramp. Oh, yeah, that was fun!

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Still, the T-Bird’s primary identity was a cruiser, and it succeeded in that role with consummate ease. In those days, I worked as a field service engineer and once a year, I had a series of preventive maintenance calls in Baltimore and north suburban New Jersey, which I called my “Grand Tour.” Come late July or early August, I would load my tools and calibration references into the back of Blue Thunder and set out on I-80, getting into Linthicum, south of the city, not quite six hours later. It was a pleasurable milk run, with the car frequently flirting with 30 mpg on the highway segments while the better than average sound system filled the cabin with Prokofiev and Ravel, Ralph Towner and Pat Metheny. Sure, I could have gotten a rent-a-racer for a business trip, but those miles would not remotely have been the same in a Taurus or a Lumina. I looked forward to my Grand Tour every summer for five years, and Blue never disappointed.

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I finally traded in Blue Thunder after not quite six years and 64,000 miles. Those who know me know I went from the Blue Oval of Ford to the Roundel of BMW. Certainly, I’ve had a great time with those machines—especially a 1997 M3! I suppose the T-Bird got under my skin back then, perhaps because it was the first real performer I had ever owned . . . and damn, but I loved its looks! In retrospect, I can’t believe I never took a picture of it, but the one up top comes pretty close.

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Thanks for the ride, Blue.

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Alex Dewitt Saturn - Car and Driver 60th Anniversary

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1995 Saturn SC1
-Favorite Car I’ve Owned
-Shared by: Alex Dewitt

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This was the first car that was mine/my brother’s, and it is by far my favorite. I got it from my grandmother, who bought it new and had only put 50,000 miles on it. I loved this car but couldn’t believe she paid to get the A/C removed. When my brother and I took this from Michigan to Virginia for the 2010 Boy Scout National Jamboree, it was one hot trip but didn’t have any mechanical problems—which, if you knew my family, was notable. It went out of commission after it was hit twice in a single month; the second time was by a drunk driver in a Caprice going 40 mph on my street. Still, I loved this little thing; it was not powerful but it was light and had really responsive steering. Rest in peace, Red Pig (as my busia called it).

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When Did You First Discover Car and Driver?

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I first noticed C/D at doctors’ offices, as my family didn’t have a passion for cars and because of that I’m still doing a lot of learning. I picked up a true interest from my school, Northwood University, home of the Largest Outdoor New Car Show in North America. College was good for one thing! Now I’m a subscriber and major contributor to the Backfires forums.

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Favorite Car of the Past 60 Years

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This is a tough one. I’m only 23, so that makes things difficult, but I have many cars I believe deserve note. I would have to say the 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 is my pick. Classy, powerful, a looker, and it makes a statement. There are perhaps more modern picks that are better overall vehicles, but that is the winner in my book.

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1974 Alfa Romeo Berlina
-Favorite Car I’ve Owned
-Shared by: Frank Hervey

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My favorite car of all time was a 1974 Alfa Romeo Berlina I picked up with a frozen engine for $300 plus towing. I had a cheaply rebuilt 2.0-liter engine laying around along with a set of Schneider 274 (a Ford flathead grind) cams, so I threw that mess in it along with some used Koni shocks. I ditched the 100-pounds-per bumpers, but this made the car sit too high. So I fitted a set of Giulia Super springs and shimmed them to “Fonzie ride height” (make a fist and extend your thumb, which should just touch the bottom of the rocker panel), and I also installed a used set of front turn signals from a Triumph TR3. Lastly, I swapped the 4.55 differential for a 4.11 limited-slip piece.

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I have had a lot of cars in my life, and I always take any opportunity to drive anything that moves, good or bad, just to experience it. From Ferraris to Isettas and everything in between, chances are I know something about it. This Alfa was easily the best car I have ever driven, hands down. It was not a “numbers car.” It didn’t win zero-to-60 contests or generate multiple-g skidpad numbers. What it would do, however, is whatever you wanted it to. It had the best road manners; the rougher the road, the better it worked. It would cruise at 80 mph on the freeway and stop on a dime. The car would rotate with the throttle in varying degrees depending on your foot, and it could haze the tires at will. (That became possible after some head work and a tweaked SPICA injection pump.) It was a car you could drive at nine-tenths all day, every day. There are better cars out there I am sure, but none deliver such a combination like the Alfa.

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My favorite thing to do with that car (well, the only thing I am going to admit to doing with that car) was this: Every morning on my way in to work, my friend who was scheduled earlier than me would be on break heading to wherever to get another bottle to spike his Big Gulp, and I would always see him waiting at the traffic light to make a left turn as I was making a right turn, so I would pitch the car into a drift, honk the horn, and wave. He would usually wave back. The first time scared him, but after that he got used to it.

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Unfortunately, I moved to the Bay Area and the car started to rot right before my eyes, so I sold it. It’s the only car I regret selling, but I hate rust buckets. I mourn the fact that engineers today likely won’t ever experience cars like the Alfa and will be content building the overweight, over-tired, overpowered “performance cars” we have today. Well, maybe the new Mazda Miata/Fiat 124 Sport might be nearly as good.

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MichaelJames_NY E55 AMG - Car and Driver 60th Anniversary

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2006 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
-Favorite Car I’ve Owned
-Shared by: Michael James

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Dear Car and Driver readers, fans, and fellow car nuts, speed demons and soccer dads, here is the story of my life in cars and my favorite of the bunch.

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I have been blessed to own a number of cars starting with an early Mercury Cougar with a 351-cubic-inch engine bought in 1981 from a co-worker. I sadly blew it up—on the same day as my first pro BMX race in Lowell, Massachusetts—not realizing cars need a little thing called oil every now and then. The next victim, er, car on my list was a 1975 Chevy Monte Carlo, which, sadly, also blew up. My brother Doug, an ace mechanic, got tired of me saying his job was easier than mine “ ’cause it’s only nuts and bolts,” and punished me by talking me through a rebuilding process which took me four months. (It was a one-day job for him.) I was proud when the car actually started up. Only trouble is, I forgot one crucial item: the dipstick. On the way to work one day, she started knocking and blew up again after gradually spitting the oil up through the dipstick tube. After this, I was known far and wide as the “Car Killer.”

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In 1982, I was blessed to get an early-1970s, mafia-style Cadillac Sedan Deville from a neighbor; I met and courted my future wife, Dawn, in that car. I managed not to kill this one and sold it to buy a used custom van, as I was now also starting to race motocross in earnest. In my haste to show off the van to Dawn, I had a cousin rig a fuel line against his better judgment and just as I got home, the flame that started in the engine compartment blew through the vents at me—the blower was on full blast in the middle of winter. I had just enough time to pull in the driveway and jump out before I was a toasted marshmallow.

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Some years later, I acquired my then-dream car, a Mustang. It was a teal 1994 GT, and I was in heaven driving it. She was a very low-mile lease return. After some mechanical difficulties and the realization that my kids were getting too big to stuff in the back of a Mustang GT, I desperately wanted a Volvo V70 T5. (The commercial with the soccer dad zipping all around had me.) But it was in high demand and prices weren’t coming down; the salesman promised he could get me into my second choice for about the same as I was paying for the Mustang and less than the wagon. Two weeks later, I rolled out in a spanking-new Volvo S80. Still a racer, I put many young studs to shame in this “old man’s” car:

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Michael James Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG - Car and Driver 60th Anniversary

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In the later years of owning this luxurious and ultra-reliable car, my old self popped up again—the one who didn’t check the oil. The Volvo had sprung a leak, but the underbody tray caught the oil and hid the problem. I drove for months without inspecting the oil level because, hey, “it’s got synthetic oil, I have ten thousand miles before I need to check it.” Then one day I heard the grinding sounds no one wants to hear. I limped to the shop and as the tech started pulling bolts that held up the cover, he was nearly doused with the smoking-hot oil that had escaped the engine and settled on the plastic tray. Yet another engine rebuild ensued.

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At the time, I had a pal who worked for a Mercedes dealership. He told me to dress nice, pretend I was a movie producer, and come check out a truck. Not being an SUV fan, I balked—but he insisted. Arriving with my son Brian, a budding drag racer, he showed me to an ML-class. On the test drive, I noticed that the hulking behemoth was getting out of its own way without fuss—the engine barely burbled. We spotted an Audi A6 on the freeway and my friend the salesman said, “PUNCH IT!” The thing literally exploded from underneath me, and as I blew past the Audi driver, I could only think: How is the Audi that far behind me? What the hell is going on? I asked, “Dude, what is this thing?”

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“It’s an AMG!”

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“An AM-what?” I was hooked, and all I could think about for the next year and a half was owning the car version of that magnificent beast. I could only imagine that a sedan would be easily a half a ton or more lighter and even faster. When the E55 AMG you see pictured here finally made it home with me, I quickly realized I needed to attend a high-performance driving school. I remembered reading about the AMG Academy in an issue of Car and Driver and signed up—20 years of racing dirt bikes could not prepare me for how much I didn’t know about driving fast cars.

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My AMG has been the car I’ve looked for all my life just as Car and Driver has been the publication I’ve looked to almost as long for sage advice about everything with four wheels. I come to the website often to read about dream cars, and I became an even bigger fan after getting my personal dream car, the E55. The Backfires section of the site has introduced me to many other car nuts like myself, and C/D even hosted a great dinner in NYC for the initial faithful where I met some of the dedicated crew than helps make this all work—plus other Backfires members like myself. I even met Pat Daly, a Backfires moderator who races and teaches racing at the Skip Barber Racing School in Lime Rock, Connecticut—the same track I took the AMG Academy course at. I hope fortune shines on me and lands me in the seat of a Skip Barber open-wheel car later this year, and I recently saw my first auto race thanks to meeting and connecting with pro-am driver Mark Patterson while on a cycling training ride. Motocross is awesome, but seeing cars barrel toward a corner at 180-plus-mph took my breath away.

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Michael James Volvo S80 - Car and Driver 60th Anniversary

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To think, all of this happened in large part because of a magazine. CONGRATULATIONS Car and Driver staff, writers, photographers, editors, and crew. Here’s wishing you all the best over the next 60 years.

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