Moving from Ohio to California in the fall of 1997 was a great change for me – I was very much looking forward to new scenery, and southern California would fit the bill nicely. Unfortunately, this meant that my cost of living was about to skyrocket and I had to make some personal sacrifices in order for this move to happen. The most obvious issue was my 1996 Eagle Talon Tsi. Great car, but the $420/mo payment was going to be a bit overkill alongside a much higher rent payment.
I survived about 3 months with my Talon in California before throwing in the towel – money was tight, and the car had to go. Being young and stupid, I opted for a brand new car with a lower payment as opposed to a used car with a much lower payment. Live and learn, right? But that’s not the issue here – what’s important is that I traded the Talon on a brand new 1998 Dodge Neon R/T.
It was actually a pretty spontaneous buy. I had no intention of actually purchasing a new car that day, but as I was passing a local Dodge dealer I noticed (out of the corner of my eye) that they had a fleet of Neon R/T’s in stock. I already knew a lot about this car, and it appealed to me because it was cheap, fun, and basic. Just what I needed at the time. Several hours later, I drove home in a brand new white Neon R/T coupe with blue racing stripes.
It felt like a huge step down compared to the Talon. It was kind of goofy looking, it felt cheap, and it was not very quick. However, it did handle much better than the Talon. It was perfectly balanced, and the steering feel was darn near telepathic. Bold claims for a Neon, I know, but it communicated to me really well.
The seating position was also quite different than the Talon. The Neon is very tall for it’s size, so that meant a more upright seating angle. I had thought that it was going to be a problem for me, as at the time, I preferred something a bit more aggressive. But over the years, I realized just how good it was. I could see out of the car very well, everything was in easy reach, and it was easy to get in and out of. My only complaint here was the long shift lever – it made for really long throws, which made it slightly difficult to run through the gears quickly.
Power from the 150hp engine was adequate. It wasn’t a fast car by any means, but it didn’t have any difficulty powering through the canyons of southern California and high-speed freeways. I was pretty easy on the car the entire time I owned it, and I only tried a strong 0-60 run once. Tire spin is difficult with this car, and that’s pretty good I guess – the power is transferred to the ground without much fuss.
I drove that Neon for just a bit over four years and 60,000 miles and I never had a single problem with it. Well, I did receive an incredible amount of grief from everyone (friends, coworkers, passing motorists, etc) about the racing stripes. They did seem a bit out of place on a lowly car such as the Neon, and I was becoming tired of the ridicule. I was growing up so that meant trading it in on something a bit more reserved (a brand new 2002 Toyota Celica GT). I’ll never own another car with stripes again – I’m definitely past that stage in my life.
It’s really hard for me to fathom that a 1998 Dodge Neon R/T has been the most trouble-free car I’ve owned to date. I’m thinking that I should play the lottery more often…