Marty takes us through a story of love and loss that most car enthusiasts encounter along their journeys of automotive discovery.
If you’ve spent any serious amount of time modding cars, you’ve probably had a money pit.
You know the kind of car I mean, no matter how much love and attention you give it – it’s just not enough. That car will bite you in the wallet at every single possible opportunity, and always with the worst timing. Your friends and family will tell you to get rid of it, but you won’t. It was probably your first car, or a car you bought during one of those days when you kid yourself into believing you actually need that 30 year old rust bucket. If you’re older, you probably had one as a ‘young fella’ and want to re-live your youth.
If you’re afflicted with this problem of owning crap cars, it’s very important for someone to tell you to wake up, and to go and Google ‘car salvage’ at the very first opportunity. A man with a truck will come along and ruin your driveway as he drags the dead carcass up onto his truck to be sold for scrap and munched into a thousand pieces only to be sold off and turned into a Kia.
Now, if the thought of the above scenario makes you shudder, then congratulations you have properly qualified as a hopeless car enthusiast, and we can now be friends. To test my theory, try this as an experiment, tell a loved one that you are buying a ‘<make> <model> that “needs a bit of work”’ and keep a keen eye out for their reaction. It will vary from eye rolling, to looks of shock and disbelief. If you are lucky you might get a grin of excitement. (If the latter happens, propose… immediately..)
My personal experience with money pits usually goes along these lines. I’ll be sitting in traffic in my car that I’m totally happy with, and wouldn’t change a thing on. This immediately makes the car unexciting and propels my brain into a flurry of activity latching onto things that I look for in a car. It has to be fast, it has to be cheap and it has to be reliable. There’s an old saying that you can only have two of those above things – and it should be remembered! Buying a fast reliable car is something I have never done because I don’t buy expensive cars. Expensive cars are usually shiny, clean and leak free, which makes them a lot less interesting, and would mean there’s little money left in the piggy bank to do anything fun to it. MOOG is known for his expert ‘automotive archaeology’ of my new purchases and usually manages to find all sorts of stinking paraphernalia and human slime.
Let’s use the little red Subaru Fiori we installed the $50 stereo into in Season 3 as an example. A friend of mine had purchased it from an older gentleman who had done a few modifications of his own. He’d installed his own back seat system out of a mini that folded down perfectly flat turning the little car into a decent cargo vehicle. He’d also decided to replace pretty much all the metal around the windscreen with silicone. It was not enough to do this just once, every time it rained he headed out with his trusty gutter sealant and pumped a few litres of it into the poor little car. The result of this was a Fiori that looked a little rough, didn’t smell all that wonderful and hardly started – but of course I fell in love with the ‘idea’ of it. It cost $300 with a week’s rego on it, you could get 400k’s from $30 worth of petrol, park it on the street without fear of it getting stolen, put some wild wheels and kit on it and make it look great - and most importantly you can drop in a JDM engine and double the power.
Sadly, that love affair ended the first time it rained, and MOOG was the first person to step inside it after a week of solid torrential downpour. The result was a smell unlike anything we’d experienced before. The bits of rotting clothing left in the boot had been soaked through and once it heated up again and baked in the sun for a while all their juices were now flowing freely throughout the cabin in the form of water vapour that had stuck itself to everything. Even this – which would be enough to make most people phone a scrappy immediately – did not deter me. I was dead set on saving this little car and making it awesome. The guys at GFB lent me their MIG welder, I bought some metal and set about getting serious doing some rust repairs. I figured if nothing else it would be a good way to learn. What I learnt is that you ‘chase rust’. You find some, cut it out, weld in a new plate that you’ve shaped to fit, and then find some more. This process is repeated over and over, and then you get the point where it’s time to give up.
Guys who restore ‘classic’ cars have a tolerance level for rust unlike any others. We’ve all seen examples where pretty much the whole car gets the treatment with the angle grinder and shiny new metal is welded in place. There’s a good reason for this and it’s called ‘resale’. My little Fiori was worth $300 and would never be worth more, it didn’t matter how much time and effort I put into it.
There is an upside to all this. And that is knowledge. I have no formal training as a mechanic, and while I have bits of paper that do contain the word ‘engineer’ – that’s mostly for soldering wires together! Everything I’ve learned about cars has been from pulling them apart, and putting the odd one here and there back together again. This is an EXCELLENT way to learn – and the perfect reason to buy a crap car in the first place. We’ve said this many times in episodes – buy something cheap that you’re interested in and get busy fixing and modding it. The car might never be worth a dollar more than the day you bought it, but the knowledge you gain during your mechanical adventures stays with you for life. Reading a how-to or watching videos will give you the general idea of how to do something, but until you’re knee deep in parts with nothing but a service manual and a pair of pliers, you will never really get the hands on experience your brain needs to set the knowledge in stone. If you find yourself Google-ing ‘car salvage’ but you haven’t gotten your hands dirty trying to fix whatever problem pushed you over the edge, then you haven’t tried hard enough. Get back in the garage and try again.