My Favorite Purchase... EVER!

by Colonel Steve Akley


I guess when you are 50, you start thinking about crazy things that happened in your life. Recently, for reasons I don't even understand, my mind was fixated on what my all-time favorite purchase was.

Could it be the bottles of Pappy 20 I used to pick up for $80? The Old Rip 10s I've managed to land in back-to-back Total Wine raffles? How about that time I spent the night outside of Four Roses Bottling Plant to buy a bottle of Al Young's 50th Anniversary?

Nah... your not even in the same realm with guesses of bourbon.

I mean I clearly love bourbon, and there is something amazingly gratifying in landing a coveted bottle, but there was this one time when I really bought something cool...

In 1990, I was a 21-year-old college senior living in Edwardsville, Illinois attending Southern Illinois University. My parents had unexpectedly inherited a tidy sum from a great aunt and uncle who lived in Arizona. This wasn't a life-changing amount of money by any means, but, a lump sum of cash was never anything we had in my family. We were strictly a middle class paycheck-to-paycheck type of family. My Dad, a policeman, always worked secondary, even as a commanding officer, to ensure we we never really wanted for anything in our single income family.

I had only met my father's great aunt and uncle one time when they were visiting in St. Louis. Without the types of communication we have today... email, texting, Skype, etc., communication was primarily through a yearly letter sent in a Christmas card my Mom crafted. 

With this mini-windfall of unexpected cash, my parents, like they did with everything, elected to share the good fortune with my sister and I. They decided new cars would be the best way to have us fondly remember relatives who so many miles away, enjoyed the stories of what my sister and I were up to in our day-to-day lives and school via a letter in a Christmas card.

My sister got a convertible Mustang. I had my eyes on something a little bigger... well, not necessarily in size, but certainly in scope: A 1990 Mazda Miata.

It seems ridiculous now, and the Miata is kind of a punchline to a joke about the awfulness of the 90's... but in 1990, when these cars first came out, they were some of the most coveted the auto industry has seen... maybe going all the way back to when the Mustang was introduced.

There was no negotiation with these vehicles at that time. In fact, many dealers were putting a premium as high as $5,000 on top of the sticker price because demand was so high.

Okay, that does sound a bit like a bourbon story, right?

My Dad and I set out on a mission to score a Miata in electric blue. Perhaps we were naive since the chances of scoring one of these cars (pre-internet) involved driving around to dealers and hoping they had them in inventory and wouldn't be selling them at a premium (my Dad made it clear we weren't paying over sticker).

We went to a couple of Mazda dealers in St. Louis and we were basically laughed out of there. It seemed we only had two options: wait for up-to-six months for inventory to catch up to demand, or buck up and pay $3,000-$5,000 over sticker.

It looked like I may be joining my sister in getting a Mustang. Again, not a bad concession prize... but I really wanted that Miata.

We went to the last dealer in town and right there on the show room floor, top down and looking like it was ready to go, was a 1990 Mazda Miata in that bold electric blue color just waiting for me... at least that's what I was thinking as we walked in. Unfortunately, in the windshield was a sign with a four-letter word on it: SOLD.

I was crushed.

A salesman approached us and asked what we wanted. My Dad said he wanted, "that car" as he pointed to the Miata on the showroom floor. The salesman laughed and said they were lucky to get it in, and we would need to go on the list for the next one to arrive. Of course, he was in sales so he starts speaking about the merits of some of Mazda's other offerings.

My Dad stops him in his tracks and says, "I have cash," pointing to his checkbook. He continued, "If this car is sold, why is it here?"

The salesman told us the guy had just agreed to pay sticker price and they gave him 24-hours to get financing from his bank.

"I have cash" again, my Dad told the salesman. "$17,338, which is what your sticker price says."

"But it's sold," the salesman told my Dad.

"If he gets financing," my Dad pointed out. "I have $17,338 I will give you right now. You are in sales... do you take the money in hand, or, do you wait and see if the other deal comes through?"

Right at that moment, a silver-haired, pinky-ring-wearing, Men's Warehouse-suit-wearing dude walks buy with a soda he just bought from the vending machine. Our salesman stops him. It turns out he's the sales manager.

The salesman runs through the scenario of the car being sold, down payment was received, and now we have a guy and his 21-year-old son wanting to buy the car for cash at the list price of the car on the sticker in the window. "They aren't willing to go on the list to wait or buy anything else here either" the salesman told the sales manager.

After a long pause of awkward silence where you could almost hear scenarios playing out in the sales managers head, he comes back with:


Another, pause, though this one was shorter.

Finally he said, "Sell it to them. We'll figure it out," he said as he turned to walk away with the soda he just bought.

What happened next was a whirlwind... I have never seen a car dealer work so fast. I am assuming they were worried the people who had already purchased the car might show up, but we turned around the paperwork in record time. A team from the garage area came in and open the bay door on the show room and moved cars out of the way while others controlled the crowd. For "insurance purposes" I couldn't drive the car on the showroom floor, but the sales rep drove it the 25 feet from the floor to the parking lot, where I jumped in and drove off with the top down as people stood by and watched that electric blue Miata head off the lot.

That my friends, is my all-time favorite purchase.