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A sunny day and a strange love affair

It seems that spring may actually be here in southern Minnesota.  A few weeks early, but I’m certainly not complaining.  With spring comes annual rituals – spring cleaning, fertilizing the grass (not quite yet though), putting out the lawn furniture, and getting engines you’ve stored all winter back into running condition.

I have a love/hate relationship with working on vehicles.  I grew up as a shop rat, learning much from my motorcycle mechanic father.  For him, working on cycles has always been a passion that earned him money.  For me it has always been a necessity to save me money.  I’m competent at it, but I just don’t enjoy it (be it cars or cycles).

I’ve never been in the position to have a project vehicle.  Everything I have owned in life I’ve needed as my basic mode of transportation, or I didn’t have the cash to work on the secondary vehicle while trying to keep the primary one running.  Somehow I find myself at that intersection of life again.
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With the weather being so nice today, I went to the garage where I store my ’82 Honda Goldwing and my ’88 Chevy S-10 (4x4 4.3L Tahoe package with topper).  Neither would start.  The cycle has had the trickle charger on the battery for the winter, and yet it just barely creaked when I tried to turn it over, and then stopped.  Battery.  Sigh.  Since the cycle saves me quite a bit on gas during the summer I’m sure I’ll break even through replacing it, but not really what I was hoping for.

The truck has a similar but different problem.  I mothballed the truck in August 2009 when our son was born.  While it is an extended cab, it is still really only a 2-seater.  In fact, I even removed one of the jump seats years ago and built a custom enclosure behind the passenger seat to house my 12-inch subwoofer and amplifier.  Yes, even though I’m pushing 40 I still like some bottom end to my music.  No, I don’t try to rattle the neighbor’s windows (makes the rust fall off the truck too fast).  With the truck being what it is, with no safety features outside of seatbelt, I felt it wasn’t a good choice for our stage of life as a family.  But I love that truck.

In 1999 on my way to my parents' home for Thanksgiving in my truck I broke a piston ring while running 75mph down the interstate.  I managed to limp it into town on 5 cylinders (25 miles) that day, and made it back to my home 75 miles away the next day.  The truck wouldn’t top 45mph, ran rougher than you could imagine, nearly died every time it had to idle, but it made it home.  Insanity?  Yeah, a bit, but I didn’t have a place I could leave it at my parents' home, and I had to get back for work that weekend.  It made it home (all the while spewing oil out the exhaust) and I let it sit for 6 months. 

In early 2000 I put a new 4.3L GM crate motor in it.  It was a significant investment in a truck of that vintage, but since I had a company car for all my work miles, this moved into the luxury/toy category – perhaps the only time in my life where I could enjoy that experience.  I got a good deal through the Ford dealership my father was  working at, and found a local guy to install it in his garage in the spare time.  This motor spec’ed out with a bit more horsepower than my original one, and since my original motor had about 170,000 miles on it the difference was noticeable.

The truck remained a luxury for the next 2 years until I gave back my company car and my full benefits package at work, packed up all my earthly belongings, and moved to Minneapolis/St. Paul for seminary.  I was very glad at that point that I owned the vehicle outright, and that it was dead-on reliable transportation.  Over the years I had replaced nearly everything on the truck save for the transmission.  Alternator, water pump, radiator, fuel pump, all 4 shocks (and a shock mount – different story for a different time), both CV joints, idler arm, all ball joints, brakes all around, and the notorious heater core.
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The truck served me well during seminary and early marriage.  Somewhere in those years was another alternator, another battery, two serpentine belts, a tensioned pulley for the serpentine belt, and celery stalk control for cruise/wipers/blinkers.  Plus a “new” driver’s side leather bucket seat I pulled from a regional junk yard and reconditioned to a remarkable level.  I eventually put the truck in storage because early on in my ministry I was commuting 400+ miles a week for 6 months before we moved to the town where the church I am serving is located.  I borrowed a ’94 Honda Accord from my brother for a while during that commuting period to cut down on gas costs.

Since moving here to southern Minnesota over Labor Day weekend 2008, the truck has only had a couple of thousand miles put on it.  It has largely sat in storage, with me taking it out about once a month to just keep the fluids moving.  For most of that time it was garaged, but this past Thanksgiving I pulled it out of the garage so that we could get Christmas decorations out.  And then, since December was so mild, I just left it out until it we were done putting the Christmas decorations away (this is in our church garage).  When I went to start it I discovered there was no juice.  The battery had died, and in the process began leaking some acid along the way.  So on a relatively mild day for a Minnesota January I bought a new battery & cleaned everything up and got it installed.  But it still wouldn’t start.  As in not even a click.

Frustrated and frozen I had to call it quits.  I suspected one of two things – starter solenoid or the Code Alarm system that has a starter kill as one of its features.  I had the alarm installed shortly after I got the truck and before outfitting it with its stereo.  I lived on a college campus at the time, and didn’t want to became another crime statistic.  So either option was likely in my mind, and I didn’t have the time, nor the inclination in sub-zero weather to figure it out since I wasn’t in a hurry to drive it.

That brings the story back to today.  It is warm out, my family is out of town, so I could manage the time to go and fuss with the truck and see what was going on.  I’ve been dreading the reality that I might not be able to identify the issue and would have to get it towed, and then pay someone else to work on it & figure it out/fix it.  I’m again in one of those seasons where cash is tight and fixing the truck is priority #57 in our finances.  Amazingly, after only 3 or 4 minutes of fussing with the ignition and alarm system I was able to identify the problem.  It was the battery.  Apparently it was dead/near dead the day I purchased it, and the truck therefore has been sitting out for 2+ months because it didn’t have any juice.  Ever feel like kicking yourself? Yeah that was me today.  So I put the charger on it, and fully expect it to roar to life tomorrow.  I hope.

Why do I care?  It’s car lust.  It is irrational.  I purchased the truck in college as my “first” personal vehicle.  All previous rides had in some way come from my parent’s stable.  This one I picked out, paid for, and kept running all by myself.  The hours I’ve put into this truck are beyond count.  It’s had 5 different stereo configurations alone.  It is the truck I started my professional life in.  It is the truck I used to drive to New Mexico for the summers I worked at Philmont Scout Ranch.  It’s the truck that carried all over in Colorado on vacations for the better part of a decade.  It took me to seminary.  It saw me marry my wife. 

I once got the truck so dirty 4-wheeling that you literally couldn’t see that it was two-tone red and gray in color.  I once high centered it on a snow bank in a parking lot.  It has moved numerous friends.  Moved me 6 times.  It has been my do everything go everywhere trusty steed since Valetine’s Day week 1995.   So while I don’t really enjoy working on vehicles, I hate it a little less when it comes to my truck.  I wouldn’t call it a labor of love, but certainly a labor of lust.  It is rusting out severely.  The windshield wiper motor is now frozen.  The AC barely works and the heat control system is completely falling apart and gives you the option of all heat or nothing and no option in between.  It is noisy going down the road.  It handles poorly and keeps and OPEC nation  going with the rate it drinks gas.  But I still love the truck.  Outside of my passion for the Seattle Supersonics (no, not the Oklahoma City Thunder – don’t get me started), there is nothing else in life that I am this way about.  It makes no sense, but I love it nonetheless.  It is car lust.  And it’s the very reason this blog exists.  We who gather here might not like each other’s choices in vehicles, but at the end of the day we can all nod in agreement for that feeling in the gut we get when we see that car/bike/truck/boat/plane that does irrational things to us.

--Big Chris

(Both photos are the truck as it currently sits.  The electronics are still a work in progress as evidenced by the power cord running under the hood to a battery charger.)

 

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I miss these size trucks. They were (relatively) simple, did their job, and could be had from base model to sporty to somewhat luxurious. But most of them grew into trucks so large, that you might as well buy a full-size pickup. The Nissan Frontier is an example.

There's a rumor that GM is going to build the next-generation Canyon/Colorado in Spring Hill, TN, alongside the Equinox soon... maybe this year. That's the old Saturn plant, btw, which also happens to be GM's best plant. They haven't built a vehicle there since the Traverse packed up and left a few years ago.

Good luck, GM. And please make your next generation small truck better than what you've offered for the last several years. Those things are rubbish!

Nice writeup!

I can (sort of) relate, after I got back from Desert Storm in '91 I bought myself a "welcome home" present in the way of a 1968 Pontiac Firebird convertible. It was in decent running shape but far from perfect, but it was bright red (originally yellow), had a non-matching 400 motor and got 9 MPG on a good day - it was the quintessential "20-footer"... but on a nice sunny day there was just no substitute.

Anyway, I got orders to go to England shortly after I got the car so not wanting to take it over there with me I stored it in a friend's garage until 1995. Naturally after sitting so long it needed alot of work to get it going again, but we finally got the beast running and I was so jazzed to be driving it again, so on the first nice sunny day I'm driving it around town and all was well... till I stopped at a red light and I start smelling something afoul.

First I'm sniffing going "what the hell is that smell"?, then I look at the temp gauge and I can actually see it going all the way over to the right... then I see steam and smoke coming from out of the grille... ohhhh S--T!!! After all I did to get it started I didn't even think the check the radiator and its fluids - from sitting so long the inside had basically corroded and self-destructed internally and it puked its guts our right there at that intersection... oops (definitely felt like kicking myself at that moment!)

So I ended up getting it flat-bedded to a repair shop and swallowing alot of personal pride when the mechanic asked how this happened ("well, I was a BONEHEAD and forgot to..."). Thankfully no other internal engine parts were damaged so all it required was me replacing the entire cooling system, but that whole situation is still burned in my brain as "things to check" when pulling a car out of storage!

Reminds me of my Hornet. Not matter how rusty and clunky it was, I still loved it.

I have this irrational love for my 1997 AWD Astro van. It’s the sacrificial lamb to bad weather while my 2 Miatas wait out winter in the garage. When I first went to buy it from a farmer, my wife (also a gear head) gave me a hard time about driving a minivan. A week after I bought it we had over a foot of snow and the van plowed through it like it wasn’t there, the wife started to change her tune. Now after hauling car parts from the u-pull-it junk yard, pulling a trailer full of our worldly possessions during a move and carting nieces and nephews to Hershey Park she’s in love with the pig (blunt nose and insatiable thirst for gas earns the moniker). No one makes a body on frame, all wheel drive, cavernous vehicle that can haul people and cargo with equal aplomb anymore. The Astro proves that love can be blind but it doesn’t have to be irrational.

I dug the early Blazer. I had a neighbor when I was in 5th grade with a Blue and Grey one. Base model 2WD with steel wheels. I liked it's simplicity. 2WD Blazers are silly, though. I miss pick ups, small sensible simple ones without frills that will go the extra mile. I still dream of Toyota releasing a 1990 Truck with no rear bumper and vinyl seats again. I had a friend with one that had 210k and he beat the living crap out of it. Nowhere was it dent free. Went off roading with the $6000 new tough little 2WD truck. Oh, to be in high school....

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