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Cars have been on my mind a lot recently. So far in the decade I’ve been licensed, I’ve owned three. My parents gave me an Eagle Vision when I was in college, and I bought a Saturn LS2 from them a few years later after returning from Japan. Both were sensible, practical, well-maintained sedans firmly planted in the center of the luxury curve.

I might still be driving the Saturn, but the Army wouldn’t ship it to Korea. The standard tour here is only a year; they don’t figure it’s worth shipping cars for such a short time. I extended my tour almost immediately on arrival, and gained eligibility to have a car shipped, but it was sold by then.

I almost bought a cheap ancient hoopty, as is traditional for army folks in Korea. For $500, you can get a car good enough to last you your year or two–probably. One of my friends here literally had one of his wheels fall off as he was driving down the highway last week. He was fine. The car was totaled. I was lucky, though: before I went with the hoopty, I happened to see a nice-looking sports car with a For Sale sign in the window. The price was right, and I ended up owning a 1992 Dodge Stealth.

It’s been a good car for Korea, quick and agile enough to blow through traffic while being cheap enough that I wouldn’t be devastated if it got wrecked somehow. Still, when I PCS out of here, I’m going to sell it off and upgrade. I’ve never owned a new car, but I’ve got enough in the bank to plausibly buy one outright. (I’m not particularly interested in buying the biggest car I could afford the loan of; it’d be a bad value proposition and also far too easy to drive beyond my abilities and wreck it.) It’s become a question, now, of what I want to buy, and (after much research) there are three major contenders.

The first option is a Mazda Miata, in its highest trim level, with the convertible hardtop. After throwing in all the options, it’s both the cheapest car I’m looking at and the most luxurious. The issue is power: it only runs a 4-cylinder engine displacing 2 liters, and statistically it’s just not in the same class as the others. Still, every review talks about its wonderful handling and the pure exhilaration of driving it; it also gets many bonus points for being a hardtop convertible. It’s the current leader in my mind for what to buy.

Alternately, I could go for a Nissan 370Z. Its ancestor, the 350Z, was the first car I ever looked at and thought “I really wish I owned that thing.” It’s pure beauty, power, and good reviews. The convertible version is reviewed even better, but costs more than I want to spend. Even as a coupe, it’s a car that looks fast standing still. Of course, the speed isn’t just in its looks; it goes quite nicely. The only real issue is the price: it’s the most expensive of the three. If my budget were 25% higher, there’s no question: I’d get this car as a convertible. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

The last option is to go pure musclecar and buy a Ford Mustang GT. Here, the convertible version got markedly worse reviews than the coupe, so that’s not really an option. On the other hand, this is by a large margin the most powerful (and heaviest) of the cars I’m looking at. I honestly do not know how atavistic the thrill is of laying down twin rubber streaks on takeoff, and how it balances against the budget for tires; it’s one of the things I want to find out in a test drive. This car really has only two niggling and strange cons. The first is simple: I’d prefer a convertible. The second is that, of these three cars, this is the only one that actually makes me worry about driving within the car’s capabilities but not within mine and killing myself by accident.

If I worry about pushing too hard in the high end and dying, why bother with a sports car at all? It’s simple: they are fun. They are adrenaline in a shiny metal body; sexiness on wheels. They are enablers of joy: there is simply nothing like darting through medium-light traffic at twice its average speed, planning your movements three lane-changes ahead. There is much about driving in Korea that I’ll gladly forget the moment I leave, but I suspect that the sensation of freedom when the traffic finally opens up and the next obstacle is a speed camera 5 miles ahead is one I’ll treasure for a long time. I would never have experienced that in a hoopty; my ancient, base-model sports car is the only reason I have had that feeling. I can’t help but look forward to knowing what it will be like in a car that is modern and even more capable than what I have now.

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