Owning Your First Car

How many of you would buy back their first car if the opportunity presented itself? I know plenty of people that enjoy the romance of the idea, like looking through an old yearbook and seeing past relationships, but only a few that would actually want to live with their first car again. Usually because first cars aren’t always the coolest, fastest, or most reliable forms of transportation.

I was fortunate to have a great first car, or truck in this case, a 1997 GMC Sierra 1500. Completely original, and had been in the same family since new until I became the third owner. I have not given this truck an easy life. It’s been totaled, crash into, and was even kicked by a horse once.  It’s also been forced to do things it was never built to do like handbrake turns, reverse 180 spins, and countless power-slides.

Right now its 5.7 liter Vortec V8 has over 182,000 miles on its clock, and countless gremlins in its electrical system, a mysterious fan belt squeak, but it still runs as best as it can. So when I received the keys to a brand new 2016 GMC Sierra Denali, I thought of a way to kill two birds with one stone.

A chance to review the 2016 GMC Sierra and find out how my 1997 GMC Sierra has aged in comparison.

The Generation Gap

Parked next to each other, the 2016 Denali towers over its older 1997 sibling. The 2016 Denali is bigger in just about every aspect compared to its 20 year counterpart. Wheel to Wheel my poor 1997 Sierra is no match for the 2016 Denali, but how well can it hold its own against it?

V8 Power

I asked my father, Oscar Garcia, to get behind the wheel of my old truck to do a short drag race between both trucks. In 1997, the 5.7 Vortec made 255 hp, but that was 182,000 miles and one major accident ago. I was more afraid of blowing the engine than seeing it lose a race. However, much to our surprise, the old beauty kept up with the Denali off the line. I felt pride seeing the front fender of my old truck in the corner of my eye before the Denali starting pulling away.

Up Around the Bend

There is a turn near my ranch that has lots of hidden dips which can take a driver by surprise if they are going too fast. In a test to see if there was a major difference in handling I asked my father to take that turn at 60 mph in the ‘97 GMC and I would follow in the Denali. My father told me that he was being bounced out of his seat as the ‘97 Sierra swayed over every dip and nearly drove it into the grass. Compared to the Denali, I only felt one really big dip at the end of the turn but sailed over the rest of them. I could have gone through that turn at 70 mph with one hand and still be in control. Benefits of having traction control on your pickup.

Dukes of Hazzard Fun

The last test had more to do with fun than anything else. Can the Denali be fun? I have to give credit to my father and my good friend, Homer Morales, for having the stones to stand in the line of fire with a camera as I tried to make these trucks dance around a corner.

Taking the 1997 Sierra around the corner was like a middle aged man finding out his high school letterman jacket still fits – nostalgic. All it took to get it to dance on the dirt road was boot-full of throttle and feel the back of the truck starting to swing round towards the end of the corner.

As for the 2016 Sierra, remember that I said the Denali was safe? It did not enjoy being forced to break traction and do something that was dangerous. Like trying to convince a boy scout to shoplift. When it did finally break loose, I became fully aware that I was driving a 6,000 pound machine as it shifted its weight across the turn. I couldn’t go flat-out because I was worried about my father and friend. I was surprised that at the Denali’s grace when it came to bringing the truck back under control.

Modern cars and trucks want to keep us safe, so power sliding is not something most vehicles enjoy being forced to do. It showed me that although the older Sierra is more fun to throw around, the 2016 Sierra wants to keep away from potential risk.

GMC Quality

My 1997 Sierra turns 20 next year and only time it’s broken down on me is because I threw it into a wall and has never been the same truck since. If it wasn’t for the accident this truck would probably still be running at its full glory. However, even with a years of abuse the old farm truck still held its own against a much newer model which is a testament to GMC’s build quality.