Like any relationship, project cars needs to be nurtured if they are to stick around in your life
This is a question I’ve wondered about, and recently it’s smacked me sideways. If “love” is a car project, we start out thinking big—really big—and usually buy something cheap. It may or may not even be something we like, but it is usually cheap. It can be the usual (i.e., 1967-’69 Camaro), obscure, or rare like a Volvo P1800. We seal the deal with money and a smile and drag our newly purchased love child home where it sits on wheels with dead-tired rubber, the interior gently rotting away, paint peeling off as if it were an onion, waiting patiently for your loving touch to resurrect it.
We then scour the forums and ask anyone and everyone what they think of our build, only to get a myriad of answers (some good and others meh). Our nightly reading consists of Summit and Jegs catalogs instead of Rolling Stone and Playboy (for the articles, of course). And more often than not the catalogs compound our indecision about the build direction, and what was originally intended to be a fun Pro Touring car is now in limbo.
Even if initially it seems very doable financially, it can quickly turn into a budget buster. Just selecting an engine can be daunting, as LS anything is “the new black,” with bonus points if it’s got a poweradder or a dry-sump. A traditional small-block Chevy is the pariah of powerplants, right? Leaf springs?
Are you nuts! It’s as though if you aren’t able to outfit your Pro Tourer with something multilink or, gasp, independent out back you shouldn’t even bother.
I could go on but you get the gist. It’s no wonder that a lot of us never complete the grandiose plans and sell off the project in whatever state it happens to be in. This is the “tween state,” and you need to get past this stage if you hope to have a chance of reaching project completion. Do it quick, too. Think about it. How many times has someone come up and said, “I used to have one of these. Had to sell it.” As for the reasons some of us stall and remain in neutral, life in general ranks right up there as number 1.
Suddenly you’re years past your deadline with kids in college and a mortgage or two to pay. Jobs, commutes, just keeping a home in shape and “tuned-up” also take time away from your project. Add in family obligations and ever-present financials, and guess what? Your midlife crisis isn’t happening and I’ll tell you a short story.
At a Goodguys autocross many years ago a woman came up and meekly asked if I’d give her a ride. I did and that began a friendship, and not one but two builds for her. She had a really nice two-door Chevelle that had the stinkbug “drag” look, and we corrected that quick. The drivetrain was good but the wheels and tires were upgraded, which turned the sedentary Chevelle into a mean blue slalom machine.
For a couple of years, autocross was our lives. She’d come down to our place and stay the weekend plus drive in a local event. We had fun; she learned about apexes and braking points, and did very well. Then she said she’d like to buy a Camaro, and found a beautiful ’71. As I was upgrading from the scorned ZZ383 SBC to something LS, she bought my old powertrain, wheels, tires, and other bits. In my mind, she had the ultimate car as she could drive it anywhere, compete in a track day or autocross, and then drive home with no issues.
She got good, too, really good, even though she’ll probably disagree with that. Being single at the time, she told more than a few of us, “If I meet someone, they will have to love the cars as much as I do.”
And then life, and love, happened. Her Camaro was driven less and less until it was rarely brought out. I’d visit her from time to time, and it was nice to see that the Camaro never had garage stuff piled on it like others in the subdivision did to their project cars. Four-wheel drives were now the favored vehicles so it was no surprise when the once-prized Camaro found a new home.
Looking back, I can see no other option for the Camaro even though we never really discussed it. All the signs were there: horrendous commute,
JFH (job from hell), new house that needed lots more attention, and no relief from any of these three. Weekends? They’re spent licking her wounds from a week’s worth of ugh. She’s moved on and it’s good that her Camaro now has a chance to reclaim some of its past glory. And her spouse really did love both cars.
But sometimes, the love you have for your car—and competing with it—is a casualty of marriage. A friend we knew from the forums was betrothed and his bachelor party was a track day. Many of us used this as a wonderful excuse to beat on our junk and celebrate the impending nuptials. Over the next eight years we saw him driving his Mustang only once.
Finances are another killer of builds, and if this is the reason yours is languishing neglected and forlorn, the blame can only be placed squarely on you. Work within your means, money and time wise. Research and buy quality stuff and don’t rush, as a good car build doesn’t happen overnight.
Concerning the engine, I’ll be the first to tell you that there’s nothing wrong with that SBC if it works with your checkbook. The same with leaf springs, as several companies make darn good ones. Build something you can first afford, and then drive often. Just getting your build up and running is an accomplishment, and there’s always time for upgrades. Trust me, they’ll always be there.
Significant others and spouses MUST be on board, or guess what? Your build probably ain’t happening. The solution? Get them involved.
Ask them their opinions and take opportunities to educate them.
When you attend car shows, do it on their terms. And unless they’re color blind, even let them pick the color, if you dare. Don’t let that build be “the other woman (or man)” in the relationship. It’s doomed if resentment builds up.
I guess after writing, then reading, this missive it’s more about how to save relationships we have with our cars and less about the why’s that they fail. Just like any relationship, car or otherwise, you have to work it into that pesky thing called “life.” Recognize that there will be ups and downs, good days and ones where the car, and life, will grind you senseless. Above all, don’t be that guy or gal, who 10 years down the road, is walking around a show wondering why you quit or muttering to yourself that you used to have one of those, but had to sell it.
Mary Pozzi is a part-time freelance writer and 12-time SCCA Solo National Champion.