If you ask most car enthusiasts about their childhood car(s), they’ll likely say something along the lines of “Oh yeah that was the car that got me into cars!” That’s because childhood cars, alongside Hot Wheels or Matchboxes, are the catalysts for a lifelong hobby. Not only that but they become more than just cars, they become a friend that you associate with at a time when things seemed easier and safer. Let me tell you the story of my childhood car.
I was born in Romania and during the time I lived there, cars from the country’s Communist-era were much more prevalent than they seem to be now. One of the most popular brands from that time gone by is still around today and it’s called Dacia. For a quick history lesson, the name harks back to the land inhabited by the Dacians, an ancient group of Indo-European people.
My dad’s first car, and the only one I’ve come to call my childhood car, was a Dacia 1310 Berlina. Most likely a 1999 model, the car was painted white with black plastic bumpers and silver plastic hubcaps. Classy. While I’m not 100% sure on the engine specs, my research leads me to believe it was that it was likely a 1.4 L i4 backed by a 4 or 5 speed manual with somewhere between 58-62 HP and a top speed of 88mph (probably on a downhill). For comparison, a 1999 Honda Civic DX Sedan had a 1.6 L 4-cylinder with 106 HP and a top speed of maybe 113mph.
Now you might look at those specs and think wow, this car was slow. And you’d be right, it was certainly no Ferrari or for that matter a 1999 Honda Civic. But to me, this car was my first taste of the automotive world. Listening to that engine go and watching my dad shift through the gears was a feeling I will never forget. I never knew where it came from until I was much older and that gave the car an almost fantastical feel to me. I thought that car could do anything.
One of my coolest memories I have in the car has to do with the gas tank. I distinctly remember my dad going to a mechanic friend and they stuck this big tank in the trunk that looked like what a tanker truck carries around. That hooked to a switch inside the cabin and when that was flipped, it switched the car from gas to some other alternative fuel. I just thought it was so cool to be able to switch what the car ran on and frankly that made the whole car seem way cooler than it really was. Like putting lipstick on a pig, except you’re putting alternative fuel in a 90s Eastern European car.
Eventually, my dad went to Iraq as part of his military deployment. When he came back, he decided to realize one of his dreams which was getting a new car. That meant selling the Dacia and those words still send shivers down my spine to this day. I remember refusing to come out and watch the car be sold saying that I didn’t care since it was just a car. In reality, though, I couldn’t bear to watch a childhood friend go away. I sat alone in the apartment, drawing the instrument cluster from memory and just crying my eyes out.
The new car we got was a 2005 (I think) Renault Megane. Now for us, this car was proper fancy. Push-button start, leather seats, and a CD radio! But it just didn’t get me as excited. It wasn’t the magic car I knew growing up; this was just a car my parents bought. It had no soul to me. Sure the Dacia would have trouble starting on cold days and you’d have more luck pushing it uphill and the beaded seat cover hurt my back but just the feeling of being in that car pushed all of those thoughts out of my head as a kid.
I did some research on various Romanian department websites and the most I could find was that our old tag, DJ 28 GAV, was still registered. The websites wouldn’t tell me what car they currently belonged to, but in my mind, they are still attached to the Dacia. And if I’m wrong and that car has long since met its demise in some junkyard somewhere, I hope I never find out about it.
To this day, a Dacia 1310 Berlina rests high on my list of dream cars. Maybe not the exact car because that’s the unicorn I might never get. As far as I’m aware no Pagani or Lamborghini or Ferrari could ever beat that car. Just thinking about those headlights and the dashboard brings me a strange feeling of peace and safety. It’s like that car was one of the places that define who I am and where I belong.
That car was like home.
I’m sure you all have similar stories about your childhood car and I would love to hear them so be sure to spin your own tales down below!