Back in Part 4, my second DSM died for the third time and I abandoned it at a storage facility 110 miles from home. In Part 5, broke and without transportation, I buy a car. And another car. And another car.
As I mentioned before, I had 5 weeks between my college graduation and the start of my job at Rolls-Royce. I went back to the hardware store where I had worked in high school and took as many hours as I could, getting 40 minutes of riding on my bike every day. After two weeks and my first paycheck I started looking for a car. I placed fun over practicality but I prioritized low cost of entry and low running costs over everything else. I wasn’t finding anything that interested me.
We hopped into my mom’s Mustang and crossed the river into Kentucky to check out a pair of del Sols, but if the guy hadn’t been waiting for us in the front yard we would have turned around without even getting out of the car. The rocker panels were completely gone on both cars. One had evidence of a budget subwoofer install but was otherwise missing the interior. The other vehicle proudly displayed a rolled-on repaint and was full of water despite the dry weather for the past few weeks. I was afraid to low ball him with an offer for fear that he would accept.
There were no other prospects and I was prepared to wait a few more weeks for something to go on the market when my mom sent me a listing. She was so excited about it that she had already contacted the seller on my behalf to arrange a test drive. This came as a shock to me because my mom had been pushing the Hondas pretty hard. Civics and Accords were her typical suggestions (three pedals, of course) and she took any chance that she got to blame my current situation on my preference for Eclipses, but now I was adding to my calendar a test drive for a 1999 GS-T Spyder. Another DSM.
I was leery, seemingly now less interested in a DSM than my mother, but I went on that test drive. The black paint was crap, just like my red Spyder seven years prior, but absolutely everything worked. The interior looked showroom fresh. I popped the hood and saw pristine strut towers and looked under the car to find a completely clean chassis, free of even surface rust. “I must have this car,” I told my mother, and so I bought it.
The car had no problems aside from a lifter tick noise that I already knew how to correct. I drove it to and from the hardware store every day and due to its shockingly good condition I started having dreams of an AWD swap. And when it came time to start moving my things to Indianapolis for my job, I visited my Talon. I may as well start disassembling it and preparing it to be the AWD donor, I thought, so I pulled the fancy dual piston calipers from the front and transferred the larger brakes to my Spyder. The storage room soon became littered with parts as I disassembled the Talon. I did that two more times before I was completely moved to Indianapolis.
My boyfriend had established himself in Indianapolis two years prior and I would be spending time with him, but I had arranged official lodging with two of my former roommates in their townhouse on the north side due to parking and general space issues in my boyfriend’s closet apartment. I got settled over the weekend and left for my new job Monday morning. On the way there, I started hearing a suspension clunk over bumps. Like the lifter tick, this was not new to me as I had already replaced some worn DSM ball joints. I wasn’t concerned, but since I would soon have money coming in form full time employment, I scheduled an appointment at the local dealership for diagnosis. They would be able to tell me if I should go ahead and replace all ball joints and, if I really felt like abusing my newfound income, I may even pay them to do it for me.
Nearly a week passed before my appointment arrived, and with each passing day both the suspension noise and the engine ticking had gotten progressively louder. As I waited for their diagnosis in the waiting room I shopped for a set of revised hydraulic lifters that would alleviate the ticking. Instead of handing me a form with their findings on it, the technician called me back to the shop where my DSM was still on a lift. A guy revved the engine while I stood underneath and from that vantage point I could immediately tell the source of the ticking. This wasn’t like when the first Eclipse’s lifters got clogged; this was like when the Talon’s motor decided to aggressively eject all of its bearings. And it was loud.
The technician echoed my diagnosis. “This car sounds, as Jeremy Clarkson once said, ‘bottom end-y.’” The Spyder came down off of the lift and they told me to drive it out to the lot. There, they popped the hood and told me to watch the passenger side mounting bracket for my strut bar. The technician grabbed the upper A arm on the passenger side and shook it. As he shook it, witnessed more than a half inch of play in the bolts that hold the A arm to the chassis. From inside the wheel well I could see that not only was there significant corrosion on the underside of the strut tower but parts were actually missing. The upper A arm had completely separated from the chassis and the only reason that my wheel hadn’t come off was because the two ball joints and bolts that originally held it on were too large to fit through the opening in the chassis and so they bounced around as I drove. The technician offered his prognosis: run.
I had an engine that I could have swapped in to save the car, but that wouldn’t have helped with the largely missing passenger strut tower. Replacement strut towers had been hard to come by back in 2008 when I first joined the community, and seven years later they were unobtainable. The car was scrap and my dream of an AWD Spyder disappeared. But due to a fantastically bizarre payroll system at Rolls-Royce, it would be another 5 weeks before my first paycheck arrived in the mail, so I had to keep driving the car.
And so, for the third time in 18 months I was completely broke without any income and effectively without a car. I listed the Spyder for sale, describing the symptoms but not the diagnosis. I listed the Talon for sale as a non-running parts car, stating that it was complete but disassembled and had transmission issues when it was parked. And I offered a bulk discount to anyone who bought both, but there were no takers. I discovered that rust-eaten Miatas hover around the $1500 mark so I convinced my boyfriend to loan me enough cash to buy the DSM’s replacement.
No mirrors. No turn signals. No springs. No headlights. No speedometer or odometer. It was hellaflush. It was three different colors on the outside and the engine bay had been painted bright blue. And I mean the entire engine bay. The air filter, the throttle cable, and the exhaust manifold were also rattlecanned blue. I didn’t have a point of comparison yet so I didn’t notice, but it had lost more than a third of the power that it had come with from the factory. But this 1994 Miata M Edition was a car and I set straight to work making it driveable. The previous owner had given me a set of springs that he had lying around, so I got those installed. I was unable to find mirrors for an NA Miata so I bought a cheap set for an NC and modified them to fit. Crappy aftermarket chrome turn signal housings went onto the car as well. It was starting to turn around. As long as I didn’t need to drive at night.
I installed headlight motors and bulbs but discovered why the previous owner had deleted them. Some significant front end damage had bent the chassis enough that it interfered with the headlight motor and the headlight itself. I had to resort to an angle grinder to remove enough metal to get the headlights to fit again. It was a disaster, but at least the car was shitty enough that I didn’t have to feel bad taking a cutting wheel to it.
The Spyder sold. Some guy came in from out of state to get it. He didn’t know how to drive stick so he told me to take it on the test drive while he observed from the passenger seat. He was very much an idiot but I still felt bad about refusing to disclose the blown engine and destroyed suspension. Until he pulled the whole “Oh, I only brought half of your asking price with me in cash,” bullshit and my first thought was to be angry and offer to take him to the bank but I changed my mind. If he wants to be an absolute piece of shit human being then I don’t have to feel bad about being one back. We signed the papers. It took him almost a half hour to get the car out of the parking lot. Dumbass.
The Talon garnered lots of interest, but things always fell through last minute. I had several offers for a trade for 2000s Rangers and, dealing with moving apartments, I was very happy to have a truck, but I inevitably got ghosted before any transaction ever took place. Then I was contacted by a guy from Chicago. He wanted to know if he could drive it back to Illinois and at that point I was so sick of dealing with it that I told him that I’d spend the weekend with him putting it back together just to get it out of my life. I repeatedly stressed that he may not make it back to Chicago due to the transmission but at least I could guarantee to him that he’d be able to drive it out of the storage facility.
He opted to not stay in Indianapolis overnight and arrived on a Sunday. He brought a friend that owned a Cherokee but otherwise couldn’t contribute to the task of reassembly. As I was now intimately familiar with this engine bay, reassembly was quick. The turbo, intercooler front bumper, and ECU all went back in without issue. Before too long, the buyer started the Talon and backed it out of that room. The Talon rolled down the steep slope and up the other side of the drainage channel and tapped the door of the locker on the other side of the road. The pedal went straight to the floor, the buyer said.
I checked the front brakes and was immediately incredibly embarrassed. I had stolen the front calipers and brackets for the Spyder, which was now long gone. And I had scrapped the Spyder’s calipers. I knew that we wouldn’t be able to find a replacement set locally but we tried anyway. The closest that we were able to get was one singular caliper bracket but no calipers. I wanted him to be able to drive the Talon home as much as he did, so after clearing my plan with him, I went to a plumbing store and picked up some pieces. I used plugs to block off the ABS module’s output to the front wheels, giving the Talon a firm pedal and functioning rear brakes. It was time for a test drive. Again.
I told the buyer to take it around the storage facility while I stayed in the locker cleaning up my tools. As soon as he left my sight I heard the engine start to rev followed by a loud pop. I grabbed my 10mm deepwell socket and walked in the direction of the sound. The buyer was incredibly flustered but before he could even explain that it had popped right as the engine hit boost, I was already under the car fixing it. I had tasked the buyer’s useless friend with one singular job that entire day, and that task was to tighten the clamps on the charge pipe. And just like I had suspected, he had failed to do that one job. I reminded the buyer that he only had rear brakes but other than concern for stopping distances he could beat the shit out of that car as much as he wanted to prove that it would make it home. And he did. I was so embarrassed by the brake issue and the fact that I had forgotten to mention the cracked windshield in the ad that I dropped the price even further. He effectively paid for a running 4G63 and got an entire AWD DSM free. But he left and made it back to Chicago.
The buyer continued to text me occasionally, asking about the history of certain parts or looking for transmission fluid recommendations. He said that as soon as he had gotten the car to Chicago the transmission started working again and he never had problems with the entire vehicle ever again. Just rub salt into that wound, why don’t you. I was happy for him, but that hurt.
So I was left with my Miata (named Rusty, of course) and not even enough cash to pay back my boyfriend for his loan for the Miata, but at least I was established in Indianapolis, free of DSMs, and it was only one week before my paychecks would start rolling again. Once again I didn’t make it as far into the story as I had thought, but next time you’ll definitely get to hear about the third car in those three months and the biggest mistake of my life. I promise.