AUTO MARKETING;BOOMER PROFILE;SPORTSCAR SOUL YIELDS TO MINIVAN REALITY;WEANED ON FIATS AND BEETLES, BOOMER NEEDS TO TOTE SCHOOL-AGE KIDS 'ROUND TOWN

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It was 1967. Doug Davidson had just graduated from high school and was looking around for his first set of wheels. Visions of Mustangs and Triumphs danced through his head, but with only about $250 in his pocket, he had to settle for a 1961 Volkswagen Beetle.

"I was looking for used cars through the newspaper [classifieds] and this one came up," recalls Mr. Davidson, now 46. There was some body damage to fix, and about three years later, he had to rebuild the entire engine, but it was his ride for the next four years.

FIAT ATTRACTED HIS WIFE

Right after college, Mr. Davidson traded in his trusty Beetle for a new 1972 Fiat 850 Spider, a yellow ragtop. It was sporty, it was hot and it certainly attracted the attention of women, including his wife, Jackie.

But, "it would have been more fun it if were more reliable," he says. "If the weather was in the 20s or or lower, the car wouldn't start. It was a car that was supposed to stay in Italy."

After several Milwaukee, Wis., winters of pushing the Fiat to get started, and then letting the car run at full throttle to warm up the engine, Mr. Davidson finally had to part with his sportscar. The Fiat gave way to a new '74 Olds Cutlass, what Mr. Davidson calls a "real car, one of the best cars I ever had."

Not that the Fiat gave foreign cars a bad name, but Mr. Davidson says he found himself leaning more toward American-built cars. Through the '70s, during which the Davidsons moved to Minnesota, they went through a series of American cars, including another Cutlass and a '79 Buick Skyhawk.

In 1986, with a growing family, the Davidsons purchased a Chrysler minivan. Ten years later, that vehicle now has more than 103,000 miles on it and they're starting to look around for a replacement.

To drive to work, Mr. Davidson now drives a 1983 Ford LTD, which he bought from his aunt in 1991 when it had about 58,000 miles on it. To date, the Ford has clocked 112,000 miles and is still running strong.

To replace the vehicles they have now, the Davidsons are checking out the imports, especially the Japanese. But with three school-aged kids at home, their budget dictates that they look closer to home, says Mr. Davidson.

EAGER FOR SEPARATE SEATS

"We're checking the Chrysler minivan, as well as the Dodge, the Ford Windstar, Mercury Villager," says Mr. Davidson. "We really need something like a Grand Voyager, something with separate seats to give each kid their own seat."

Mr. Davidson can foresee a time, maybe, when he'll be able to purchase his dream car, a sexy, classic, sportscar, like a mid-1960s Corvette. But for now, his new-car fantasies are limited to a vehicle that will give the family enough room and will be good on extended trips of 1,000 miles or more.

"I may yet get that sportscar," says Mr. Davidson. "But it's not going to happen 'til the kids are through college."

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