DSM or: How Ruining My Life Was The Best Decision That I ever Made, Part 4: A Grim Prognosis

An all-too-familiar sight...

Previously, I went from DSM1 to DSM2 and unwittingly poked the hornet’s nest of the DSM disease. Whereas my first DSM was a decent car and lasted me more than five years, this second one did neither of those things. The entire saga of this new DSM spans from its purchase in February until its third and final death in May of the following year.

But that’s getting ahead of things. I had an AWD DSM that desperately needed some attention and I also had a crashed convertible that was otherwise sorted. My work was cut out for me, so I began transferring things from the Spyder to the Talon. First was the radio, and that fixed a lot of the electrical problems. I removed the horrid narrowband AFR gauge and replaced it with the boost and wideband gauges from the Spyder. I moved over my fancy black leather seats but unfortunately the rear seats are very different and so the ones in the Talon had to remain nauseously 90s-patterned cloth. The same is true with the exhaust, so I was stuck with the Talon’s homebuilt straight pipe fart cannon.

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I was forced to drive like this for 16 hours! I was so happy to throw that in the trash.

I spent February through April swapping what I could and selling the rest. Once the weather finally stayed warm, it was time for the big job: fixing the botched 6-bolt swap. And I loathe 6 bolt swaps. The later head is far superior for everything except the most extreme of dyno queens, the later pistons provide a higher compression ratio for better off-boost torque while still supporting 400WHP with ease, and the later bottom end has a main girdle that connects and strengthens all of the main bearing caps. The corrective action was clear to me.

The first time. Far from the last. At one point I had four sets of those wheels...

I pulled my beloved 7 bolt engine from my Eclipse and transplanted it into the Talon over the Spring break of my junior year of college. There were a few small hiccups, such as the AWD axles not having a way to connect to my FWD engine, but I made it work. The car was immediately much-improved, especially given my softer OEM engine mounts, and all of the weirdos that circle-jerk about 6-bolt engines would pay me big bucks for the one that I had just removed. That week of bloody knuckles was engine swap number one.

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Unfortunately I don’t have a good picture of the house that I rented during all of this, but my totaled Eclipse (now missing both doors) was effectively resting in the side yard. Now, this is Terre Haute and this particular area wasn’t even a nice part of Terre Haute, but a certain one of my neighbors with a rotting couch in their front yard saw fit to complain to the city about a junk vehicle residing on private property. And so the police came to my house to hand me a formal notice. It was effective immediately, but they said that I had two days to remove the vehicle from the premises before it was towed and scrapped at my expense. I, of course, got this notice as I was leaving town for the weekend.

I mean, I can’t really blame them. Not shown: no doors.
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I pulled the wheels off and stripped the remainder of the interior, unable to delay my departure any longer. I had to leave behind many valuable parts like my brand new cloth top, but I had a three hour drive ahead of me and was running out of daylight. I left the car keys in the house and left for Cincinnati.

I had made things as difficult as possible for the potential tow truck. The car had no wheels and had settled into the gravel. My trash cans and my roommates’ cars were blocking it in. One of my neighbor’s rotting couches was blocking alley access (that one actually wasn’t my doing) and nearly anything structural that could be used to pull the shell onto a flatbed had been removed. It hadn’t been completely intentional but I wasn’t going to go out of my way to stop it. Then, as I neared Cincinnati, I remembered that cars have scrap value. I organized a pickup by the local junkyard and convinced one of the other car club members to hang out at my house to meet them. I made a whole $50 from that shell, but at least it was done. The police returned the next week with more official documentation trying to fine me for the car and having grass that was too long but my roommate laughed them away, having repaired the lawnmower and cut the grass the previous Sunday.

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They’re completely unrelated. I promise.

With the Talon finally driving consistently, I decided to go all-out. The exhaust had bothered be so much that I drove the 5 hours from Terre Haute to Columbus, OH to pick up someone else’s homemade exhaust. This one was smaller and fit better, but I had to pay an exhaust shop to weld it back together and add a catalytic converter. Obnoxious still, but at least my ears didn’t bleed anymore. With that solved, I drove to southern Kentucky to pick up a complete black interior to replace my grey set. I got a factory Eclipse wing to adorn my empty trunk lid. A rear wiper went back on. The car was starting to shape up just in time for my summer internship to begin.

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Nauseously 90s indeed!

I interned at Rolls-Royce that summer, and my two year old turbo blew just as my first paycheck arrived. I had money now, so go big or go home. I bought an EVO III 16G turbo and everything needed to get my money’s worth out of it. I did the work in the parking lot of my friend’s townhouse in Zionsville. The neighbors were interested in my work and one even came out to help and offer his tools, but I repeatedly got harassed by the HOA, who disallowed disassembled vehicles from being visible at any time. At the suggestion of one of my friend’s neighbors, I made sure to leave the hood and bumpers off whenever I parked overnight. I spilled oil and coolant everywhere. i even washed my car, which was also banned in this neighborhood. The HOA was in hysterics. The other townhouse owners thought it was hysterical.

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Not much else happened that summer. I had to replace the drain plug on the aftermarket radiator and performed general maintenance, but the reliability meant that I was able to gradually turn up the boost until it was tuned to 21 psi, and the Talon was a rocket! But things didn’t stay that way.

If this is all that I can complain about then my life isn’t too bad. If only...
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My senior year began, and it was a nightmare. I had had no faculty advisor during the first three years and was not aware that I wasn’t going to have enough credits to graduate, so my whole senior year was overloaded with 22 credit hours instead of the standard 16. I spent more nights on campus doing homework and pulling all-nighters than I did sleeping in my own bed. At the beginning of December, after one of the very rare nights where I got to sleep in my off-campus house, tragedy finally struck. I was pulling onto campus when all four wheels locked up. There was a loud scraping noise as the powertrain broke loose again, and then the engine started making knocking noises. I rolled down to the parking lot next to the car club’s garage and dumped the car.

I spent the day ignoring my professors, scouring the internet for a new engine. I knew that mine would not be rebuildable. By the end of the day I had a used 7 bolt on the way from New York. I skipped my remaining classes that week and started pulling the engine.

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This car club had an E30, Fox body, and a Porsche 914 and all of the tools required to maintain them for competition, all provided by the university. For insurance purposes, the facility and tools were for use on those three cars only and were off-limits to students’ cars. I had most of what I needed for the swap, but just like the first swap I needed to borrow an engine hoist. So I was parked next to the building, working by myself in the snow, stealthily gabbing small tools as needed and sneaking the engine hoist out of the building after-hours when I was less likely to be spotted.

During the day, no one would even know that something was going on!
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Progress was slow and this continued for a few days until I got a call from an unhappy facilities worker. An unknown pallet had arrived at their loading dock and this was the contact number on the package. I had known the university has a loading dock. I wasn’t aware, however, that it was not available for student use and the facilities employee was on to me. Knowing that my old engine would be stored in the club’s workspace, I told the woman on the phone that it was a teaching tool for the car club where we would disassemble a scrap engine to examine its damage and analyze possible causes, but the package had arrived weeks early, before it was even scheduled to ship out. She miraculously bought my story and even moved the pallet to the club’s workspace for me.

With the old engine nearly out, I waited until dark before finishing the job. Under the cover of darkness I pulled the dead engine from the Talon and wheeled it up the hill into the building. I worked through the night swapping my fancy steel headgasket, ARP head studs, and fancy red valve cover, and performing a balance shaft delete. I wheeled the new engine down to my car and lowered it into the engine bay just as the sun was coming up. To anyone walking through the club’s workspace the engine hadn’t been touched at all. I had even wrapped it in plastic again. The club now had a destroyed engine to disassemble and analyze.

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This was how I spent my birthday that year

Classes were now out. It was December 23rd and I needed to be in Cincinnati the following day. A friend stayed to help me finish up. In my rush, I was using the club’s tools and my friend was the runner to get what I needed from the toolbox. I wasn’t paying attention to him, but he had been, every 10 minutes or so, running through the door to the club’s toolboxes, rummaging around a bit, then running out the door again. This would certainly look suspicious to the notoriously strict building manager who was manning the front desk, and after one run to get me a 17mm combination wrench he followed my friend out the door.

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He saw me leaning over a car with no hood, standing in the middle of a small pile of tools. He was not very happy about this. “Do you know that you are not allowed to use these tools for personal projects?” he yelled from the top of the hill. I stayed silent. “Do you belong to a club in this building?” I told him that I was in the car club.

I wasn’t exactly hidden from view...
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“Who is your club’s president?” I could already see him mentally filling out the paperwork to report my behavior.

“I am the president.” No point in lying. I’d be graduating in five months anyway.

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The manager nearly choked. I set down my tools and started walking toward him, choosing my words carefully. I explained that my car had had some kind of small issue that was stranding me here, and I was desperately trying to get back to my family for the holidays. Not really a lie. Shockingly, “in the spirit of Christmas” he just told me make sure that everything got put back exactly where it came from and to promise to not do it again. I promised, honestly thinking that I wouldn’t need these tools again. Ha.

I finished up that night. The car started on the first try, so I drove it back to my house to get my first night of sleep in nine days. The car made it to Cincinnati and back without incident, and after some tuning felt even stronger than it had with the previous engine. I lost a coil and a camshaft position sensor at some point that Winter, but otherwise the car made it through April without issue.

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It was looking pretty good, if I do say so myself!

And by the way, the club did end up disassembling my old engine and, just as I had suspected, all of the rod bearings and all of the main bearings had simultaneously seized, locking the engine. They then pulled loose, dumping the bearings down into the oil pan. The rods, crank, and block were all trashed. I suspect that this goes back to the autocross that I did with my dad back in the first DSM when the oil pickup wasn’t attached. And a separate incident with that first DSM where I went on a short road trip with no oil cap. I could only blame myself for that one.

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There’s supposed to be a bearing in there somewhere...

At the very beginning of May, I started having transmission issues. In 5th gear, the transmission would suddenly start making a very loud grinding noise that could only be stopped by leaving it in gear and slowing down to engine idle. I found a freshly rebuilt EVO III transmission and immediately bought it, but while it was in the mail the issue slowly spread down to the other gears. By the time the new transmission arrived, only 1st gear was free of the grinding. And thus died my first transmission.

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The swap actually went smoothly and I was able to avoid borrowing the engine hoist for a third time, but I didn’t have time to test it. It was just days before graduation and I had to pack up the house. I had lived there for two years and nearly everything in it was mine, so it would be a busy few days.

My entire extended family came to my graduation. The plan had been for them to all drive separately. We would load all of my things into their cars and parade through Indianapolis to Cincinnati. I made it through the ceremony and before long we were on our way. Unfortunately, however, as we neared Indianapolis 5th gear started to grind. It was the exact same issue that had brought down the previous transmission. I had to slow down to around 30mph to fix the condition, but since I was leading the caravan of relatives this quite confused everyone behind me. This failure progressed much more quickly than my previous transmission and by the time we got to Indianapolis even 1st gear was destroyed. I wanted nothing more to do with this car. My family diverted to a restaurant for a planned celebratory dinner while I ended up at a storage facility nearby. I parked the car next to their oversized dumpster and flagged down the manager of the facility.

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“Can I leave this here?

The manager was a little confused. “The dumpster gets emptied on Monday as long as it’s moved by Monday that’s fine with me.”

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“You don’t understand,” I told him. “I’m not coming back for it. I’d park it in the dumpster if I could.”

The manager was quite surprised, but he could tell that I was serious. He went inside and tracked down an empty storage unit large enough to fit the Talon. Part it out at least, he had told me. These things are worth some money. But I wasn’t listening. He wasn’t going to charge me for this unit so I had no reason to ever return. I left and joined my family at dinner.

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My job at Rolls-Royce wouldn’t start for another five weeks. I had no car and had blown the last of my money on a transmission which wasn’t exactly as-advertised. So we reshuffled my belongings between the cars and I hitched a ride with my family back to Cincinnati.

It turns out that the guy selling the EVO transmission had actually had two transmissions. The second was just a used DSM transmission whose condition was unknown to him. The EVO transmission had just sold when I contacted him so instead he shipped me the other one and conveniently forgot to tell me until I contacted him about my newly failed transmission. He of course blew me off.

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In the next thrilling installment of why my life sucks and how it’s entirely my fault, I’m not done with DSMs, three cars in three months, and the biggest mistake of my life.

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