Do not fear having an emotional relationship with your car. Even though you can't win. I know. I loved a car that stole my heart and then left me with memories and a handful of bills.

It was November, four years ago. I had just turned 30; the car was 5. It glistened orange in the sunshine, a black lift-off top, the word Porsche in white on each side.

The mileage was low. The price was right. I made it mine. What else could I do? It made me feel like I was no longer 30, merely 18 and 144 months.

My wife approved of the relationship. So did my two children. But this car, it was understood, was my car.

The engine purred when first we rode. Headlamps (not lights) rolled back at night like shining eyes that blazed a path to promises. No curve was too sharp, no hill too steep. Together we explored back roads, secluded roads that twisted and dipped. Turns that bigger cars eased cautiously around, we took with a burst of speed and a sneer. We tread where others feared, and with each new path our ties deepened.

I gladly made sacrifices, scoffing at the creature comforts of other cars. My car had a heater too -- it just didn't keep me warm from the waist up. The defrosters worked well, on the passenger side. No air conditioner for me; I just lifted the car's top off and rode happily blowing in the wind. The summer sun, the rainstorms -- trifling concerns.

The affection was deeper than surface frills. A curious coordination marked the relationship -- my heart, its pistons; my insights, its turning ratio; my stamina, its miles-per-gallon. I had never had a car that seemed quite so much -- well -- me .

It suffered one accident during its stay with me, and I really don't think it ever recovered. It was late at night. Smoothly rolling down a straightaway, summer's damp air cooling me, I slowed approaching an intersection. The stoplight flashed yellow in front of me; it flashed red to the sidestreet. To my left I glimpsed headlights. The oncoming car streaked large and gray in front of me. I swerved left and slammed into the right rear quarter-panel. The car I hit rolled onto its roof, glass littering the road. Totaled. No one hurt. The Porsche sat, still running, one headlamp beaming, the other car smashed beyond recognition.

From that point on, things seemed out of rhythm. Little things grated and annoyed. One headlamp grew arthritic, refusing to open in the cold. The windshield wipers went spastic, overlapping and bending in mid-wipe. One window could not be coaxed up. Then the body began to decline. Some rust. Some acne. Some sagging.

Still, I overlooked the physical defects. After all, time will take its toll. I had a gray hair or two myself.Besides, its spirit had not decayed. Oh, maybe it seemed a little tentative at times, and once in a while I perceived it balking when I accelerated up a hill. It dawned on me that a growing caution and conservatism typically accompany -- it hurt to say -- old age. I refused to see the twilight's last gleaming; it it had to be thrust upon me.

It was last February, cold and cloudy, and I was hitchhiking on a back road in Virginia. The car -- my car -- sat, exhausted, on the shoulder. The end had been signaled by a scream -- a painful wail -- followed by a guttural moaning. Then, nothing. Once powerful, responsive and energetic, the Porsche -- my Porsche -- coasted -- no, crawled -- to the roadside seeking rest.

But dreams die hard in the hearts of desperate men.

I ordered a transplant. Cost was no object. It would be like new, said the surgeon in mechanics clothing. A new engine to pump new life. It would be like old times, I thought. The operation was performed, deemed a success. I drove again with the spirit of youth. Old age can be averted.

But not forever.

Six months to the day of its first attack, death struck viciously. Even as I rode in the tow truck, I knew what had to be done.

An 18-year-old bought the car from me. He took it to the University of Virginia with him. He gave it another transplant. But I could see clearly that he had done even more. He had rejuvenated its spirit. It looked newer, sounded smoother, looked -- well -- younger. He appreciated it, too. And when he drove it out of my life forever, I knew I had done what was best for us all.

My new car keeps me warm in the winter, cool in the summer and dry in the rain. It is comfortable and safe and big enough to hold kids and lots of groceries. It promises to be good to me, and I appreciate that.

But it's not the same.

I mean, what can I say about my 9-year-old Porsche that died -- twice? That it loved sharp curves, high speeds, the flashy life and youth itself. That I'm sorry it's gone.

But, then again, loving your car should mean never having to say you're sorry.