Your Car Decisions Don’t Have to Make Sense to Anyone but You

Courtesy Rob Sass

I bought my first car when I was 15—a Triumph TR4 so rusty that it more closely resembled an artificial reef than a sports car. I can name the next five or six cars that came after it in roughly chronological order, but after that, the sequence gets really fuzzy. Trying to recall all of my cars simply induces a splitting migraine—I think I’ve owned somewhere over 50 total. A good number of my buys were the result of an impulse not much more cerebral than the one that causes a Venus Flytrap to snap shut on a green bottle fly. Amazingly, I don’t regret many of them.

If I had stayed with my original career in law, maybe I would be a mega-collector with a warehouse or two full of cars. More likely, I would have had some kind of cardiac event in my forties after another fruitless squabble with my partners over something truly meaningful, like raising associate billable hours from 2400 to 2450 a year. The point is that I am a mega-collector; I just enjoy my cars in series, rather than in parallel. My warehouses are the previous and next owners’ garages.

Although Porsches are my real weakness, I haven’t generally been a single-marque person. I get bored quickly, and I have a low tolerance for seeing my car’s twin at any cars and coffee. My quirks have led to some strange and rewarding cars. Exhibits A, B, and C are Jensen Interceptor, Lancia Fulvia, and TVR S1. They’re about as weirdly diverse a group of cars as one could assemble.

Red Jensen Rob Sass
The author’s Jensen Interceptor in burgundy on the left.Gabe Augustine

When I was about eight years old, I tried to get my dad to buy a Jensen Interceptor. As if the name weren’t cool enough, it had a V-8, a rear hatch with glass that recalled a fishbowl, and a set of tyke-sized rear seats upholstered in leather and worthy of a drawing room. Irresistible! A kid I played hockey with had a dad who was an orthopedic surgeon. He owned an Interceptor. My dad admired it, and was entertaining the idea of buying the convertible version of that car—until the surgeon’s Interceptor caught itself on fire. Fast forward about thirty years, I hadn’t so much as seen an Interceptor in decades when I got a call from an old colleague at Sports Car Market magazine stating that he knew of one that could be had super cheap. Minutes later, I had bought a maroon, Chrysler 440–powered Interceptor. It was nicely built, cushy, and handled better than any car that size with a solid rear axle had any right to. I loved it, although I never went anywhere without a halon fire extinguisher. I then realized I wanted the engagement of a manual transmission, so the Jensen moved on, replaced by its polar opposite, a 1.3 liter, four-cylinder Italian car.

Rob Sass Lancia front three quarter
Courtesy Rob Sass

I’d never even seen a Lancia Fulvia until I worked as legal counsel for an auto transport company. TV presenter Donald Osborne had bought one, and we were shipping it. I’d more or less forgotten about the car until 15 years later, in Italy, literally weeks before the pandemic shut everything down, when the idea of owning a Fulvia popped into my head. Well-finished, beautifully engineered, and expensive-feeling, my Lancia was almost Teutonic in quality, while still thoroughly Italian in style. Surprisingly, parts weren’t a problem. I bought one but eventually tired of flogging the tiny V-4 to the redline in every gear to get any performance out of it. I missed the torque of the Interceptor—and then some Mustang owner at a cars and coffee made fun of the Lancia’s comically teeny exhaust pipe. A short attention span combined with some modest insecurity dictated something a little beefier than the delicate Fulvia.

Rob Sass TVR front three quarter
Courtesy Rob Sass

A 1988 TVR S1 popped up at random in my app for AutoScout24, a massive European car listing site. With its British Racing Green paint, tan seats with contrasting green piping, and green wool carpets, the TVR had this Joe-Dirt Aston Martin vibe to it. I had to have it. Within days, the S1 was in a container on its way to the Port of Newark. If the Fulvia had the precision and quality of a manual-wind, 21-jewel Swiss watch, the TVR was a bit more homemade, albeit cooked up by someone who knew what they were doing. The tubular backbone chassis was largely the work of an ex-Lotus engineer, and the fuel-injected German Ford V-6 gave plenty of grunt to a 2150-pound car. Like the Jensen and the Lancia, the TVR let me fly my automotive freak flag high at a time when the car’s garage mate was likely to be a much more mainstream Porsche.

I suppose you can be a lot more deliberate in the old car hobby, have an actual plan beyond the next shiny penny. You can hold onto cars for decades and maybe build some real wealth; you can become, heaven forbid, an actual connoisseur. But in the end, we all get to the same place, and our cars wind up getting dispersed, whether it’s one at a time, or en masse at a big auction with our name in the catalog. For me, it’s always been about impulsivity, the lack of focus. There’s joy in being the untethered squirrel, ready to dart across four lanes for the next parts-shedding, oil-leaking, fat acorn.


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    TVR, I remember the Griffith that I believe Mark Donohue had a brief involvement with. A gentleman in Ottawa Ontario had one bought new that he thought would be a Cobra killer. The car had a habit of spinning like a top. Often in a straight line! No idea what happened to the car or the owner. This was at a time when Comstock Racing was the Canadian undercover factory Ford racing team and as we all know, you can’t beat cubic dollars.

    Rob, As the current owner of the Lancia Fulvia in the article, I can say that with a bit of tuning by local Lancia guru Don Lilly and a weight of 2100 lbs, the 89hp engine moves Mostro Di Biscotti (Cookie Monster in Italian) at a very forceful acceleration. I have truly enjoyed owning it. (Though now that Daisy, my 72 911 is back, it has been relegated to second place).

    Totally agree with the headline (which is a version of “Buy what you like.” Just thought: sometimes you don’t know what you like – or don’t like – until after you bought it.

    Buy what you like, like what you DRIVE, don’t worry about what “others” think of your ride, that just shows your insecurity, or more accurately THEIRS. Remember, “Motion is Lotion, Rest is Rust”, CARS are meant to be DRIVEN.

    Interesting, the intercepter you spoke of, if you didn’t say what that car was I would have mistaken it for a Jaguar XJ5 that intercepter has very similar body lines.

    The Jensen looks good, I’d love to drive one some time. Buy what you like and if you decide it’s time to change, do it. Other people can spend your money but they don’t fully know what you would truly enjoy.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling you what to do. And I understand really. That cute little Italian job and this Brit now sure is easy on the eyes. I played the field too you know, sowed my wild oats. But maybe it is time you started thinking about the future, settling down a bit. You’re not getting any younger you know and your mother is starting to worry.

    The vagaries of impulse buying, I know them well.
    Ropey S1 e type Jaguar. Check.
    Aston Martin Lagonda wedge needing a full rebuild. Check.
    Renault Alpine GTA Turbo. Check. And it’s my most reliable classic 😬.
    A second Aston Martin Lagonda Wedge in white. Check.
    Aston Martin project vantage show car needing tlc and saving for posterity. Check.
    Bricklin SV1 before they became cool again. Check.
    I definitely need help

    I love the idea that my warehouse consists of the garages of former and future owners! I’m also an automotive squirrel with a (growing) list of over 50 cars in my past (as well as over 50 motorcycles). Thank you for defending those of us with Automotive Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder. Kinda too bad about that Fulvia, though…

    I too have been afflicted with the auto collecting hyperactivity syndrome. Moving last one along to make
    room for the latest target has mostly been storage deficit driven. Trick is to identify the ones that really
    leave a mark and hang on to those. A certain TR4A I resurrected with more than a few miles of mig wire
    comes to mind. Miss that one.

    While I would never describe myself as a collector I do have a past full of all kinds of autos. Not braggy names like the bulk of what is here but I did learn the lesson noted. When I was still in my teens my first car was a little Toyota Corolla. A hand-me-down from my Mom. With an 1100 and Toyoglide it just didn’t make the cut. One morning I looked out my window and saw auto heaven in my 17 year old eyes with a for sale sign in the window. It belonged to my neighbor’s cousin and she had gotten it in a divorce. It was a ’74 Mercury Comet GT. Orange with black accents. Slotted mags and big rear tires. 302V8. I was smitten and worked out a deal that afternoon. Then I took it to school and the Chevy faithful there sneered and jeered. There may have been fruit and vegetables thrown. I took a constant and nonstop litany of insults for months. I still loved my orange monster and at least one girl and her sister thought it was cool. But in the end I relented to the Nova owning peer pressure and sold the Comet. The very next day I showed up in my new to me ’73 Ford F100. Not only had I not acquired a GM ride this time but now I was a truck owner. I couldn’t help myself. The insults started anew. The Irony was many of the so called pals that had picked on my Comet, immediately began asking where it was. “Why did you sell it? Why would you do that? It was so cool!” Lesson learned. There was more envy there than hate. I never let another person dictate what my next oddball purchase was going to be. I kept the truck a little longer and did find a girl who thought trucks were cool.

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