Your high school and college years are full of many “firsts”—your first date, your first part-time job, and (if you’re lucky) your first car. And even though your first vehicle probably wasn’t the nicest you’ve driven, the fond memories may make it one of your favorites.
Due to COVID-19, for many students, there won’t be a need to drive to campus this year. Instead, classes will be taught online. But to celebrate Back-to-School season and remember better times, the team at CarParts.com is sharing some of the vehicles we drove in high school (or college).
Hopefully, all schools will reopen soon—and the student parking lots will be full once again.
1992 GMC Sierra K1500
Mia Bevacqua, Chief Mechanic/Technical Writer
The car I drove in high school was… a truck. As a teenage General Motors fanatic, I always wanted a Silverado/Sierra with the Z-71 package. I couldn’t afford a late model version, so I picked up a 1992 single cab with super low miles. A 350 V8 with throttle body injection lived under the hood.
This photo was taken while off-roading at the Oceano Dunes in Pismo Beach, California.
1989 BMW 325is
Mitchell Dyche, Automotive Technical Consultant
After his first car (a 1994 Toyota Camry) got totaled in an accident, Mitchell Dyche upgraded to a 1989 BMW 325is. From the factory, the 3-Series produced 166 horsepower and 163 lb.-ft. of torque, which was respectable for the time. But Mitchell further enhanced his car by adding a turbocharger, a MegaSquirt standalone engine management system, Bilstein shocks, M3 springs, and a custom sound system.
2001 Honda Civic
Jacqueline Fauni, Marketing & Communications Specialist
As a little sister, Jacqui is no stranger to hand-me-downs, and her first car was no exception. In high school, she drove her sister’s white 2001 Honda Civic. (Later on, Jacqui graduated to her very own Accord.)
One of the most memorable moments she had in the Civic was when one of her fellow newspaper editors pretended that Jacqui drove over her foot in the school parking lot after one hectic night of getting an issue out. To this day, she is extremely wary of pedestrians when maneuvering through parking lots.
2012 Fiat 500 Abarth and 1976 Honda CB200
Danielle Penberthy, Social Media Producer
Although Danielle is now the Social Media Producer for CarParts.com, she went to college for engineering. And that means she knows how things work—including engines. At 17 years old, for just $250, she purchased a 1976 Honda CB200 motorcycle and rebuilt it herself.
Shortly after, while in college, Danielle bought her first brand-new car: a 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth. The sporty Fiat served as the getaway vehicle for trips to her older sister’s house on the weekends.
A turbocharged engine and manual transmission made the little car almost as fun as her motorcycle—almost.
1979 Pontiac Grand Prix
Weeza W., Merchandising Project Manager
Weeza bought her first car—a 1979 Pontiac Grand Prix—from an acquaintance for $500. Because the car broke down so often, she had a love-hate relationship with it at the time. But now, she looks back fondly on the old clunker.
She says, “I used to pile all my friends in it and drive and drive all over Los Angeles. We were so bad!”
2003 Honda Accord
Albert Arakawa, Master Data Manager / Vivian Liu, Returns Manager
When Albert was in high school, his mom gave him her Honda Accord. Four of his friends also had the same car (two were even the same color).
CarParts.com Returns Manager Vivian Lu had a 2003 Honda Accord, as well, further proving what a popular choice the sedan is for first-time drivers.
Regarding his Accord, Albert says, “It was a great practical car that I drove around everywhere—including secret trips to Vegas.”
Meanwhile, Vivian recalls, “My dad actually let me drive it without a license.”
Don’t we all wish our parents had been that cool?
1997 Nissan Maxima
Malik Sihota, Director of Product Management
Non-enthusiasts don’t usually think of the Nissan Maxima as a performance car. But as Malik points out: “When the 1997 Nissan Maxima was introduced, it was the second quickest (0-60 mph) four-door car sold in the United States.”
Malik bought his car, which was a hard-to-find manual transmission model, from a school teacher. He then set forth modifying it to make it his own.
1965 Ford Mustang
Art Reyna, Sr. Category Manager
Art says his Mustang wasn’t all that nice, and “the interior was black on white, but the paint job was shot.”
Obviously, the image above is not Art’s Mustang, though he wishes it was.
1979 Chevy Chevette, a.k.a. Brown Bomber
Dave Morris, Chief Merchandising Officer
The Chevy Chevette—you either love it or you hate it. David hated his 1979 model, but after graduation, he kept it around long enough for his wife to start using it as a daily driver.
2001 Mitsubishi Mirage
Manny Lopez, Manager, Commercial Products
Manny kept the car he owned in school long after graduation. The 2001 Mitsubishi Mirage started out dark green, but eventually got a sunset orange paint job. Manny also upgraded the wheels and tires, added an in-dash DVD player, and installed a massive sound system.
He and his daughter (who’s also in the photo) enjoy sharing memories of the Mirage.
1992 Toyota Tercel
Jaime De La Torre, Asst. Category Manager
A set of 13-inch steel wheels, a Kenwood head unit, and a complete stereo system kept Jaime’s Tercel rockin’ back in the day. The Toyota—with its hard plastic seats and manual windows—was far from luxurious, but it’s one of the most reliable cars Jaime has ever owned.
Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder GS
Moses Madrigal, Asst. Category Manager
Moses got his Mitsubishi Eclipse off Craigslist and, admittedly, he had to do a lot of work to keep it running. Despite recollections of the convertible top leaking all the time, Moses still reminisces over the good times he had in the car.
“If I could find the same one, I think I would buy it again!” he says.
2004 Mazda 3
Ryan Henderson, Director of Category Management
Ryan bought his 2004 Mazda 3 because he liked the bright orange color. Unfortunately, the car turned out to be a nightmare, requiring a brand-new transmission within a month after he took ownership.
Two years later, the engine had to be replaced.
“I loved it, but I don’t miss it at all,” Ryan says. “The orange made me instantly recognizable, which can be the best AND the worst. There’s no sneaking around town being a 6’2″ tall redhead while owning a bright orange car.”
1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera
Scott Johnson, Director of Category Management
What Scott remembers most about his Oldsmobile is that he “had to wedge a screwdriver into the radio to keep it turned on.”
Surely we can all relate to that, right?
1999 Mitsubishi 3000GT
Will Dover, Director of Category Management
Will actually had four cars during his high school career, including a 1987 Chevy Camaro IROC-Z, a 1996 Chrysler Cirrus, and a 1997 Ford Ranger. He also had a collection of motorcycles (yeah, he was that kid everyone was jealous of).
But Will’s favorite ride was his 1999 Mitsubishi 3000 GT. Sadly, the car was totaled after a stolen vehicle crashed into it during a police chase.
Obviously, this generation’s high schoolers and college students are lucky, as they have better choices than we did back in the day. If you’re considering buying a car for your high school student, consider these cheap-to-maintain vehicles.
With that said, thanks for riding down memory lane with us! Now it’s your turn!
What did you drive in high school or college? Share your stories in the comments below.