The Parking Lot: Students behind the wheels of the coolest cars on campus

Published on December 6th, 2012

 

Spotting hundreds of Benz and Beamers – and the occasional Porsche or Aston Martin tossed into the mix – is an everyday occasion at the University of Miami. Sometimes a stroll in the parking lot can make you feel like you’ve landed in an exclusive auto show or a nearby luxury car dealership. But you’re not in a convention hall, nor are you perusing The Collection. It’s just an ordinary school day on the Coral Gables campus.

If flawless paint jobs and shiny rims are an essential part of the Miami lifestyle, it’s only fair for the cars parked in UM’s colored zones to be on par with those cruising down Ocean Drive. And with a disproportionate number of BMWs decorating the parking lots, it’s inevitable to find yourself wondering, “Who are the students driving these flashy convertibles and high-end sedans?” Although most of these car owners will remain a mystery, Distraction found threestudents proud to be living life in the fast lane.

Turning up the temperature

 Junior Alejandro Gonzalez has driven his orange Volkswagen GTI since high school. Compared to the hundreds of Mercedes-Benz sedans that fill UM’s red zone, Gonzalez’s 2007 Fahrenheit edition is a rare breed. One of only 1,200 in the United States, his fiery hatchback always turns heads. “They’re like, ‘Oh my god. It’s orange!’” Gonzalez said. “That’s the first thing that grabs their attention – the color.”

 From adding on a body kit to making the engine sound louder, Gonzalez has pimped his ride, making nearly all of the car’s upgrades himself. “Ninety percent of the things I’ve done to my car, I’ve done myself. I only take it to the shop if it’s for the motor or something,” he said.

Although sightings of other Fahrenheit editions are few and far between, Gonzalez said he takes pride in his handiwork when he does come across another. “Usually when I see them, they still have it like they just bought it from the dealer. It still looks the same and they haven’t done anything to it,” Gonzalez said. “I compare how I used to have it to how I have it now and I’m like, ‘Okay, I did a good job.’” In contrast to the other GTI Fahrenheit editions he’s seen, Gonzalez said he especially loves his car’s low-to-the-ground look and feel. “A lot of people don’t realize that but, other than wheels, lowering your car makes the biggest difference,” he said.

A true car buff, Gonzalez picked up on the tools of the trade from his father. “He grew up racing muscle cars and working on cars his whole life, so he knows a lot about cars,” he said. “I got my love of cars from him.” This interest in cars is what made Gonzalez, a mechanical engineering major, choose to follow such a career path. Expecting to afford a luxury car as an engineer, Gonzalez said he foresees driving a BMW, Mercedes Benz or Audi in the future. “We live to want more. We’re all going to graduate with our degrees. We’re going to make more money,” he said. “Of course we’re going to want something a lot better.” Gonzalez isn’t ready to toss aside the VW so soon. With all of the upgrades he’s made to the car – his baby– Gonzalez said he’d be happy to keep driving the eye-catching Fahrenheit for quite a while longer.

From TV screen to UM scene

Sophomore Salvador Suarez drives a charcoal gray Hyundai Tiburon – a true-to-life version of the car he used to race when playing video games. “That’s always been my dream car, the Tiburon,” Suarez said. “I remember playing video games back when I was younger in middle school and that always used to be my favorite car.”

Suarez received the car as a graduation present towards the end of his senior year of high school and was very appreciative of his gift: a car that he had previously only driven in the virtual world behind his TV screen. But there was one small issue; Suarez said he used to be overly cautious when he would drive the Tiburon. As much as he wanted to test its limit, he was hesitant about damaging the car. “When I first got it, it was kind of like getting a really brand new toy. I didn’t drive it all that much,” he said.

It wasn’t long after that Suarez finally “broke in” his car. He took his Tiburon to a racetrack near home and discovered how fast it could go. Circling the track finally allowed Suarez to truly let go. “It took off pretty fast. … I’d say 6 seconds to 60 [mph]. … I got to about 151 [mph] before I redlined it,” he said. After redlining, or reaching the car’s maximum engine speed, Suarez says, “Now it feels good to drive it.” He typically drives the Tiburon from his off-campus apartment to the UM campus, but he also enjoys taking day trips from Miami to Boca Raton.

Suarez has made many customizations to the car. It includes an after-market stereo and sporty spoiler but the car’s most noticeable feature is the blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that have been installed throughout the car. “I like driving at night because, after the LED conversion, I can put the radio on and it has blue LEDs, the vents have blue LEDs, the dash, the speedometer. … At night it’s black and you just turn everything on and it’s all blue,” he said.

Like Gonzalez, Suarez picked up on his love of cars from a family member. His grandfather, who takes cars apart as a hobby, loves the Tiburon as much as Suarez does and helps maintain it. “He’s actually taken that car apart, piece by piece. It actually sat in a box, like three boxes, for about a week. He was cleaning out all of the parts and stuff,” Suarez said.

 A mechanical engineering major, Suarez gets his passion for tinkering from his grandfather and has always been impressed by his ability to reassemble cars. But Suarez transferred from Florida Atlantic University to UM with larger goals in mind. “I was like, ‘I want to do that, but on a bigger scale. Planes, boats and stuff.’ So I just said, ‘Let’s do engineering,’” Suarez said.

Age is just a number

 Senior Shevaun Bryan is known amongst her group of friends for the “small white car” she drives – nothing to laugh about, it’s a limited edition BMW Z3 M-coupe. “It’s a car that a lot of BMW owners have never even see before,” Bryan said.

A sleek roadster model with a white body and black top, her car has caught the eyes of even those driving the most expensive cars on campus. “A lot of people here driving newer cars, nicer cars, they come to me and say, ‘I love your car. That’s so cool. What is that?’ and you know, it’s really flattering because my car is ten years old,” she said. Though the car is a 2002 model, it can keep pace with the rest of them. In fact, the car’s age is what makes it so unique. “Nobody here has the car that I have, so I love that because I’m a car person,” she said.

Bryan, a Miami native of Jamaican heritage, received the car from her father as a test of her inherent ability to drive a stick shift. “Before I drove an automatic; but my dad who runs a body shop just came to me one day and was like, ‘Give me your keys,’” she recalls. “He came back that evening with my new car and just threw the keys at me and said, ‘This is your new car. Learn how to drive it.’” Bryan, so thrown off by this challenge, hardly had the time to be excited about the idea of driving the Z3. “So you’re going to teach me?” Bryan asked her father.“No you’re Jamaican. It’s in your blood,” he responded. If she couldn’t figure out how to drive the car within a week, her father would take it back. So Bryan took on the mission of proving herself a true Jamaican. She told the car, “You’re cute and all. But one of us has to get out of this winning, and it has to be me.” Bryan taught herself how to drive with a stick shift in three days and got to keep the car. Now a proficient stick-shift driver, Bryan feels like a proud woman.

 

“Driving a stick and being a girl is very uncommon. Everywhere I go, every guy I’ve dated, every guy who’s looked at my car says, ‘You drive a stick? What? That’s crazy. I’ve never met a girl who drives a stick shift,’” Bryan said. “I love hopping out of my car with my heels on.”

Bryan said she drives her car to her internship and to class from the University Village when she’s lazy. More importantly, the Z3 is her main accessory when she arrives at a club or shows up on a first date. “I love when I can go out to a party where I know it’s going to be an upscale event and I know that I can just valet it, throw the keys to the valet and walk inside,” she said. “Everyone’s kind of looking at me like, ‘Who is this girl in this car?’” Even car owners with the likes of Porsches and Range Rovers feel her car is right up there with the rest of them, says Bryan. “I’ve seen guys in Lamborghinis just tapping their friends, looking at my car like, ‘Yo, look at this girl’s car,’” she said.

 And Bryan has impressed more than dates and party goers with the fact that she owns this car. She remembers a funny encounter with a stranger in the parking garage of a mall. “He looks at me and he sees my car and he decides to lean on it like it’s his and he’s trying to get my attention,” Bryan recounted. Playing along, Bryan began asking the young stranger questions about the car, like what model and what year it is. The man’s answers proved that he was clueless not only that Bryan was on to him but also about cars in general. “It reached the point where really he didn’t know what the heck he was talking about, and then I just unlocked the car. When it did the clicking sound, he just jumped up and I was like, ‘Get off my car.’ …“ Bryan said. “He stood there, mouth ajar.”

With so many good memories of her BMW Z3, Bryan said she feels a motherly connection. She calls the car dependable because it has never broken down – which made the two car accidents she has been in feel that much worse. “It hurt my heart,” she said. “I felt like I had just abused my child. I felt like I was just a bad mother.”

Graduation is around the corner for Bryan, a broadcast journalism and sociology double major. That means she’ll soon be purchasing a new car. But she’s hesitant about being able to find something that beats the uniqueness of her two-toned Z3. “I feel like any BMW that I want I’ve seen it so many times on the road, so to come from a rare car to a car that everyone has, regardless of how nice it is or how new it may be, I’ve seen it,” she said. Bryan said that, more than likely, her next car will be another BMW because she comes from “a BMW family.”“But I can’t choose another car, especially coming to a school like this where everyone has a new M3 and a brand new this and a brand new that,” Bryan said.

Gonzalez, Suarez and Bryan confirm that passion, dedication, ingenuity and a whole lot of love are what having a sweet ride is all about. Not one of these car enthusiasts is driving the newest car on campus. And they don’t own the most expensive cars either. But with unique tweaks and tune-ups, each car can easily claim the title of the most unique on campus.

words_lyssa goldberg.  photo_taylor duckett.