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My First Car - 2001 Saturn SL1

After passing my driving test, I found myself behind the wheel of a 2001 Saturn SL1 – my first car, and a fitting testament to Saturn’s unblemished reputation for building durable, efficient and reliable cars.

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The teenage years afford plenty of newfound freedoms, perhaps the most noteworthy of which is the coveted driving license, a rite of passage for 16 year olds across the country – myself included. After passing my driving test, I found myself behind the wheel of a 2001 Saturn SL1 – my first car, and a fitting testament to Saturn’s unblemished reputation for building durable, efficient and reliable cars.

And so it became my trusted, dependable Saturn – offering a sense of freedom and escape, as I guided the nimble sedan along the 400 Highway that winds through Barrie, where I then lived. Packing a naturally aspirated 1.9L, 4-cylinder engine, I would hop in and whisk away from the banalities of teenage life in suburbia.

Weekend trips to visit friends in neighbouring towns, a jaunt up to nearby Horseshoe Resort for a night of snowboarding in the dead of winter or a summer afternoon cruising to cottage country — I have countless memories tucked into the cloth-bound driver’s seat, gazing through the windshield while the straight-four engine hummed along agreeably, keeping time with the soft melody of top-40 radio music that poured through the car’s speakers.

But the ease with which these memories return to me betray the difficulties I first encountered – not least of which was the car’s feared manual transmission.

My mother, a teacher by profession and a patient soul by nature, briefed me on the basics of shifting gears when I was first learning to drive. Clutch in, guide the stick into first, slowly release the clutch while pressing the gas lightly. Of course, it proved a frustrating series of attempts – me frantically gunning the gas while the engine screamed, paralyzed by the clutch’s engagement until I hastily lifted my left foot and the car lurched forward in a cloud of smoke before ultimately stalling.

The car also proved the perfect antithesis to the turbulence and tumultuous nature of the teenage years – a quiet, reliable vehicle that offered stability and comfort, along with fuel efficiency that fit my penny-pinching teenage budget.

She remained patient as I learned to drive, but a certain right-hand turn in a mall parking lot proved to be her breaking point.

As I guided the car towards the mall’s exit, I managed to lodge the right side on a curb. With the front and rear left wheels spinning haplessly in the air, and a growing lineup of angry drivers behind, a friend and I were forced to get out and push the car off the curb as my mother, who had commandeered the driver’s seat, hurled instructions in our direction. (I’m happy to report that we both laugh about it now)

And of course, there were the pranks and mishaps: my friends hiding my keys as we spent the afternoon jumping from a train bridge on the Trent-Severn waterway, and my subsequent shock at returning to a locked car while they feigned ignorance until ultimately breaking into laughter and handing them over.

Still, I learned to love the car, and my grasp on the subtleties of manual transmissions improved. Driving stick quickly became second nature, and a point of pride for me – none of my friends could do it, and despite their indifference, I took pleasure in flipping with ease through the car’s five gears while they rode along.

The car also proved the perfect antithesis to the turbulence and tumultuous nature of the teenage years – a quiet, reliable vehicle that offered stability and comfort, along with fuel efficiency that fit my penny-pinching teenage budget. While I delved into newfound ideas, clothes and music, my glossy-white Saturn remained a source of permanence in my life.

Like most, that era in my life is marked by a series of people, places and events that while forever remain etched in my mind – the nimble, white Saturn remains at the forefront of my memory. In my mind’s eye, I can see a younger version of myself nestled into its driver’s seat, silently flipping through gears while humming along to the radio, eager to see what awaits me ahead – both on the road and in life.

Wheels.ca will take a journey back in time and ask our writers to tell us about their first cars and the memories and events that likely shaped who they are today. We will feature a new story every Thursday. #TBT

We would also love to hear your first car experiences. Share them here (kdsouza@wheels.ca) and Wheels.ca will publish the best ones.

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