It began on a quiet, and unassuming night. Julian, my roommate, tapping away on the computer on his room. Our valiant hero was laying spread-eagle, half comatose on the couch, vaguely perusing the usual sultry corners of the Internet (Facebook, my eternal muse).
This week we had both received small pay bumps at work. Oddly coincedental, but readily welcomed, none the less.
“Dude, we both got raises, we should make a terrible financial decision together!”
It was only minutes later that we we’re both glued to Julian’s computer, staring at a congregation of dilapidated sheetmetal, Los Angeles’ finest: Craigslist. The rules were simple, most fun for under $1000.
Within minutes we had a realization: S13-chassis Nissan 240sx’ were plentiful and dirt cheap in the greater Los Angeles area.
Granted, none of them looked like that. Most of them more closely resembled a dumpster fire, that had eventually been extinguished, not with the aid of firefighters and firehose, but with a small garden sprinkler and a light breeze.
After about two hours of haphazard window shopping, we found our car.
A stunning 1990 example, with emphasis on stunned. Paralyzed, actually, the Craigslist ad stated that the car had a defective transmission and could only go about 40mph.
Perfect, just the sort of time suck we need, another half-broken car sitting in the backyard. So naturally, we called right away to schedule a time to go look at it.
The next day, after a decent 45 minute drive to get there, we made it to the disheveled home of the man selling this
beautiful ride. The questionable man selling the car (and a few others) had a side gig of buying cheap beaters from Police Auctions and then flipping them. According to him, the car had been impounded due to the owner having expired registration and no driver’s license.
Like everything in life, there were positives and negatives to the car.
- For a 26 year old, piece of junk, some of the paintwork looked nice!
- The engine started without issue, and seemed smooth enough.
- The price was right within budget.
- Rust-free, straight chassis!
- According to CarFax, clean title*.
- It had Tein coilovers with adjustable camber plates.
- Slipping autotragic transmission.
- Interior had “dat stank.”
- The rest of the paintwork, not included in the aforementioned some, was rattlecanned flat black.
- Steering rack was DED. D.E.D. - ded.
- Three different types of wheels, with three different types of tire.
- Bill of sale only, title missing.
Now, if you’re not processing all of this carefully, this car sounds like a decent deal for $1000. I say this, because we were part of that carefree group that wasn’t thinking about this fully before sealing the deal.
Cash exchanged, DMV paperwork and bill of sale signed, it was time to get this heap home. Now, we could have towed the car home, but where’s the fun in that? We we’re going to drive the car home, a distance of just over 45 miles, with a slipping automatic transmission, that could only go 40mph, no license plates, no registration, and no title. What could possibly go wrong?
Q: Did anything go wrong on the ride home?
A: Oh yes, a great many things, but none of which you were expecting.
About one mile from where we bought the car, we found an AutoZone and began stocking up on supplies.
Electrical tape - the engine bay wiring was an absolute MESS on this car. Electrical tape would at least help us get home, and adding these sick JDM-inspired headlight crosses ensured adequate lighting safety for the perilous journey home.
Oil and Coolant - Just because the engine ran well didn’t mean that this still wasn’t a damn near 30 year old car. The radiator hoses looked to have been replaced with generic rubber hose that was more afterthought than aftermarket, and there was clearly a leak somewhere. Same for oil, I’m surprised there was any of it left in the engine based on how much had leaked out and was all over the engine bay and subframe.
Transmission Fluid - The power steering rack was so beyond repair that it was leaking out almost as fast as we could fill it, ATF is cheaper in bulk than power steering fluid.
Various Silicone Couplers - There was a VERY poorly fitted aftermarket intake on the car. With some silicone tube and zip tie magic the car could almost hold it’s idle*.
Taking the most direct route home, LA’s Interstate system, would be suicide with the slipping transmission, so we began the indirect side-street, sub 40mph way home. I tailed Julian and Daud in my Civic Si as they drove the dying 240 with no plates home.
On a particularly brisk downhill section, the car hit nearly 45mph. It was terrifying to watch, mainly because I was watching from my rearview mirror. I had managed to get ahead of the car in traffic and watched with trepidation as the fading red ballistic street missile approached. Man, the brakes on the 240 were not great. That said, I managed to escape with my Si unharmed, and resuming trailing from behind.
About 30 minutes/10 miles into the journey, the car began having serious trouble holding idle, which culminated in Julian having to keep shifting the car from Drive to Neutral and revving up the engine at each stop, only to slam it in D to keep it from stalling off the line. After 10 minutes of tedium, we found a gas station and pulled in.
The prognosis: the air intake of doom had blown off again despite our best efforts and making merry with the silicone.
The solution: The Mechanic’s #1 Friend, Duct Tape. After unloading half a roll of duct tape around the intake pipe and the throttle body, that pesky S.O.B. was going nowhere.
Boy howdy, the car was running like a champ now. And by running like a champ, I of course mean a person who was champion seven or eight decades ago and can now barely stand let along jog around the block. That said, time was just flying on by. Mainly in the sense that when we bought the car, it was daylight, and three hours later, we still weren’t home yet, and night had fallen.
Quite a long time later, when both myself and my two cohorts had aged considerably, we made it back to the garage. We drove the car through the gate and parked it in the backyard, then went inside and pretended, for at least a few hours, that the car didn’t exist.
Then daylight reared it’s ugly head:
Here’s a guided tour of the car, complete with terrible, royalty-free elevator music:
For the love of cars, what did we get ourselves into? Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Cheap Craigslist Project 240 to find out.