More than Machines: The Cars that Shaped Us

The car DNA runs deep in our veins at Stratacomm. They’re much more than a transportation vessel, cars are places we spend hours of our lives each week. They host heated discussion, deep thought and family memories. Cars are an extension of our personality and one of the largest investments we ever make.

As we approach Michigan’s 26th Annual Woodward Dream Cruise, an annual pilgrimage for auto enthusiasts drawing more than 1 million visitors each summer, we wanted to share some of our most memorable cars in our past.

Shannon Hartnett
Pontiac FieroAttribution: 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Pontiac Fiero

My dad is a retired General Motors PR executive and we had different cars every night—it was awesome when I got my driver’s license. My sister and I were referred to the “car girls” in our town of Reston, VA.

The car I have the best memories with has to be the Pontiac Fiero. Driving anywhere with this new “cool” car and picking up one friend at a time—the joys of a two-seater—to show off what this car was like. In a way, I felt like a GM ambassador when I was lucky enough to drive one of the new cars my dad brought home. It has all the characteristics of a fun car; small, sporty and flip-up headlights.

Jessie LeTarteFord EscortAttribution: All Rights Released under Wiki Commons

2000 Ford Escort

The first car I ever owned was a manual-transmission Ford Escort—without a tachometer or a working e-brake. The best way to describe it would be: rough shape. I layered the backend of it in those stupid, ‘My _______ is smarter than your honor student,’ bumper stickers, too.

My dad had to teach me how to drive stick by the feel of the car and the sound of the engine. I drove that thing throughout junior and senior year in high school and my friends were in awe of my manual-driving abilities the entire time. Except when I stalled at red lights.

Jennifer HeilmanChevrolet Corvette StingrayPhoto Credit: Jennifer Heilman

1969 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

The most memorable car in my family is my Uncle Lou’s 1969 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray—it’s banana yellow! At almost 50 years old, my uncle is the original owner of the car to this day. It was a gift from my great-grandfather, Benny, after my uncle graduated from Marine Corps boot camp. What I remember most from my childhood in the early 90s is the amount of time my uncle poured into restoring the car back to its original state after an unsightly custom paint job in the 80s. We often made “field trips” out to Uncle Lou’s garage to follow its progress. Today, he still travels to car shows each year and drives it in 4th of July parades in the Baltimore area.

Karyn Le BlancFord Mustang GTAttribution: 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

1986 Ford Mustang GT

Fuel-injected, 5.0-liter V-8—man, I loved that car. I had just started my first full-time job and was receiving my first real paycheck. Up until this point, I had always driven hand-me-down cars from my parents or brothers—this Mustang was my very own. I still remember driving it off the lot of a Ford dealership in Union, NJ.

My fondest memories are driving it down the shore with the T-tops off, blaring Bruce Springsteen and George Thorogood to all the other Garden State Parkway traffic as I sped past. God only knows how I never got a speeding ticket with that car, although the radar detector turned out to be a very good investment.

My dad, who passed away a little over five years ago, taught me to drive and how to handle a manual shift so I always credit him with my ability to handle that powerful vehicle. I love that memory and all the others wrapped up in that powerful machine. I sure would love the opportunity to get back behind the wheel of that car.

Sharon Hegarty
Saab 900 Turbo
Photo Credit: Sharon Hegarty

1988 Saab 900 Turbo

My favorite car was a 1988 red, 2-door Saab 900Turbo with leather seats, sheepskin covers (remember those?) and a sunroof. This was back in the day when Saab was a quirky little Swedish company. I liked that it was distinct vs. nondescript and there wasn’t one on every corner. It was the perfect car for someone starting a communications career in the big city. I also loved the pep and zip its little 2.0-liter turbocharged engine produced. It was a 5-speed manual that I learned how to drive on the dealer lot—it was that easy and that forgiving. I babied that car for 10 years, and when it was finally time to grow up and start a family, it sold quickly. I was heartbroken that the teen who bought my Saab totaled it the next week. RIP, old friend.

Marcia WilsonChevrolet MalibuAttribution: 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

1976 Chevrolet Malibu

My mom bought a white Chevy, Malibu brand new in 1976—it was her first car ever. We owned it for somewhere around 10 years. It stopped going in reverse when I was 8 or 9 years old. I remember having to park on inclines or in spaces that she would have to pull out of for the duration of the life of the car. Other than the car not being able to go in reverse it served us well. Since that time, I’ve owned several cars, but ironically, the one in my driveway right now is a Malibu.

Nicole GolvalaLincoln Town CarAttribution: All Rights Released under Wiki Commons

1997 Lincoln Town Car

My dad brought home a Lincoln Town Car when I was about 7 years old. My sister and I were convinced it was a limo. The large back seat made it feel like one for sure. Despite its terrible blue paint and matching blue leather interior we absolutely loved it. My family only had minivans up to this point as far as I can remember and it was the first thing we had that stood out. My best memory is when we brought our first dog home in it! He fell asleep in the back seat on the way home. Its smooth-sailing air suspension would make almost anyone fall asleep during a ride longer than 20 minutes.

Kristi TyllAttribution:

1990 Nissan Axxess

Both my mom and my grandma had the double-sliding door family hauler—the 1990 Nissan Axxess. It was so strange to not have a swinging door when they first got it. Plus, my brother and I loved it because it didn’t have just one sliding door like all our friends’ parents’ minivans—it had two. People would point and look so confused when we piled out of both sides (it was good training for being pointed at as my mom also had the first, non-engineering fleet Murano in Michigan several years later).

John Fitzpatrick Datsun B210Attribution:

1978 Datsun B210

The Datsun was my older brother’s car and I got to borrow it when I first got my driver’s license, before buying my own used car—an orange Ford Mustang II before I took it to Maaco for a cheap paint job to go blue. It was a knock-off Mustang, and not my proudest moment.

Unlike many kids today, we went to the DMV the moment its doors opened on the day of our 16th birthdays. As a young teen in a big hurry to experience life, my brother’s Datsun B210 meant driving to school, work, concerts, beach trips, ski trips and car dates. It meant freedom.

Two-door, root beer colored, 1978 Datsun B210 coupe. Black louvers on the rear hatchback window and side vents. Five-speed stick shift. Bucket seats. Rock and roll blaring from the FM radio. Not many Japanese cars running around the D.C. area back in those days—it stood out a bit and that was good by me.

Decades later, I’ve gone full circle as Stratacomm today proudly supports Nissan, which includes the Datsun brand. And the ride continues …

Steve Diehlman Cadillac DeVilleAttribution: NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

1996 Cadillac DeVille

I’ve owned many cars in my day, but the ride that stands out most is my grandpa’s Cadillac DeVille. He owned a number of fancy cars throughout my youth, but the sheer size and road-presence of the DeVille stays with me to this day.

That ‘Wreath & Crest’ hood ornament, massive seating space, cavernous trunk and premium appointments, it was king of the road. When you got to your destination, you hadn’t just shown up, you’d arrived.

My grandfather took me many places in that car; to the golf course, out to lunch and to his office. We rode around town in style.

Tatiana PeraltaToyota CorollaAttribution:

1998 Toyota Corolla

My parents bought a Toyota Corolla in 2003 when we first moved to the U.S. from Colombia—I was only 9 years old at the time. Having a car in Florida is a necessity and as immigrants, this car helped my parents provide for us and get situated in America. Seven years later, at 16, the same car that was their first big purchase became the first car I ever owned and the first I ever drove. This car became a staple in my family for all the ‘firsts’ we experienced as immigrants, and all the ‘firsts’ I experienced as teenage driver. This wasn’t a luxury car, and when I was in high school, most people wouldn’t think there was anything special about it; the paint was even wearing off by then. However, to me every element of the car became special because of its history with my family, and to this day it’s still one of the best cars I have ever driven.

Steve Diehlman is an account director in Stratacomm’s Detroit office. From original equipment manufacturers, to Tier 1 suppliers, to automotive retailers, industry associations and the consultants that analyze the industry, Stratacomm has a 360-degree view of the automotive and manufacturing landscape.

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