I had picked up an Autozam and a Jimny. Those joined the Focus RS, which beginning in December 2017 was for sale; my 2000 Ranger, which is so unimportant that I have barely even mentioned it until now; the turbocharged NA Miata; and my boyfriend’s Fiat 500 Abarth. Not pictured: DSM from hell.
The Autozam was great, but winter had arrived so I got about three weeks of driving in before I put it away for the season. The Miata also went away since this one was far too nice to expose to the salt. The Jimny had arrived from Japan on bald, dry rotted 235 width tires from 2008, so those were replaced immediately with 185 width winter tires. Those were still wider than the stock 175 width tires but finding tires this narrow is difficult when they’re supposed to have an insanely tall sidewall. Winter tires went on the Fiat and they were already on the Focus due to a previous issue with a punctured tire. The Ranger hadn’t been touched in more than six months at this point and its tires were so crappy that they didn’t have grip on a warm dry day, let alone in the wet or cold. We should have sold it, but instead we just left it parked on the street being useless.
I mentioned in Part 8 how the Eclipse died yet again in January 2018 after running for only seven days total. When the tow truck finally got it home I found that the teeth had been stripped off of the timing belt. When I got the head off, I found that all eight exhaust valves were bent and the pistons had been scored significantly. All of my money had gone into getting that car and its winter tires, so there wasn’t anything left to fix the destroyed engine. Still determined to sell the Focus, I switched to dailying the Jimny.
That weekend was a con in Columbus and a big group of us had already organized a group cosplay. The forecast for the weekend jumped to temperatures in the upper 50s with no rain, so I decided to pull the Autozam out of storage and take my Japanese car to this celebration of Japanese culture wearing Japanese clothing. The con was great, but that night is where things get interesting.
There were too many of us to fit in one car and we wanted to go to the store to buy a Chromecast, of all things, so I piled into a Focus ST with most of the group while the remaining two got in the Autozam. Everyone wanted a chance to ride in it and we didn’t really have anywhere else to go, so two people would ride/drive to the store and two more would get to try it out on the way back. Well, that was the plan anyway. The whole drive is probably two miles and under 10 minutes in duration. There are three consecutive roundabouts in the middle of a road, added for future expansion that never occurred, so as a result there are no paths other than to go straight through all of them.
Sam, the driver of the Autozam, had fallen behind at some point. We decided to do loops around the second roundabout waiting for him to catch up. Just as we are finishing one particular loop, I see the telltale glare of disgusting blue HIDs illuminate the horizon. Suddenly they point toward the sky and then disappear. The Focus returns to the first roundabout where we see the Autozam.
Sam had been speeding to catch up to us and had missed the fact that this otherwise straight road was randomly interrupted by a roundabout. The road curves to the right to enter the roundabout, but Sam had gone straight instead. He mounted the left curb of the road and was launched into the air. He landed in the roundabout but perpendicular to the road and again mounted the inside curb, this time picking up a traffic cone. The car came to rest in a break in the outside curb that still hasn’t been developed into an exit from the roundabout.
A cursory check under the car revealed the traffic cone wedged right in the middle of the car. There were no leaking fluids and no lines appeared to be damaged. The dashboard was alight with warning lights, but none of them indicated any critical damage. Since we were essentially already there, I drove the Autozam to the store and we bought that damn Chromecast.
On the way back, Sam sat in the passenger seat. It was a penetrating, awkward silence. Just as he started explaining what had happened, I silenced him. The headlights were definitely getting dimmer. One of the warning lights was supposed to alert me of a failure in the charging system due to a loss of the alternator belt, and the headlights were quickly draining what charge was left in the battery. I shut my headlights off (at 11:30 at night) and signaled for the Focus to pull ahead of me so that I could follow their tail lights. The battery had gotten so low that the activation of the brake lights would drop the voltage enough to reset the radio, so I tried to avoid using the brakes. We rolled into the gravel driveway right as the engine shut off.
While the rest of the group occupied themselves with party games, I spent the night on my phone trying to hunt down a new front bumper. As my Autozam was a Mazdaspeed, it had a unique fiberglass front bumper that had been out of production for over 20 years. While reproductions of the Mazdaspeed hood and spoiler are common, no one produces replacement Mazdaspeed front bumpers. The used market was just as grim, with a whopping zero bumpers across all Japanese parts sites that I had become so familiar with.
In the morning, we did a dance that was starting to feel familiar. That 3L250 alternator belt was exceedingly difficult to track down, and I was only able to obtain one by special ordering it from O’Reilly and having them same-day ship it to the store. I installed the belt and made it home without incident, but the front right suspension was starting to make some alarming noises. In four days I had lost two cars.
The very next morning I got a call from my boyfriend. The temperature had dropped overnight and it had started snowing. He had managed to hit a car on his way to work because the other car had lost control in the snow and he wasn’t able to slow down enough to avoid a collision. Six days. Three cars.
We had long ago opted to drop rental coverage on our insurance since, by that point, we had had six cars. My boyfriend needed a car for his inspections, so I gave him the Jimny and drove the Focus to work on Tuesday. On my way home from work, though, I started to get a vibration coming from the left rear wheel. I scheduled a service appointment both because I was concerned about it being a wheel bearing and because Ford had just announced a head gasket recall and I wanted to get that done before I sold the car. My appointment was on Wednesday after work, and on my way there the vibration and noise moved to my front wheels. The vibration escalated to such an intensity that the noise coming from the shaking steering wheel was enough to drown out the radio. I was shocked to arrive at the dealership in one piece.
The dealership was quick to diagnose the problem. All four wheels were so far out of round that the deformation could be seen with the naked eye. The kind of impact required to cause that damage would have left marks on the wheels and destroyed the tires so the service techs had ruled out road hazards without even asking me if I remembered falling into a 6 foot deep hole earlier that day. And the fact that it had happened to all four wheels was equally puzzling. But even though they were Ford OE wheels, they weren’t the wheels that had come with the car and not even my wheel and tire warranty would cover them. These ST wheels were 18” as opposed to the OE 19” set so the winter tires wouldn’t fit my other set of wheels. Eight days. Four cars.
Fortunately the friend with the Focus ST had a spare set of aftermarket wheels that he loathed. He drove to Indianapolis and met me at a Costco so that I could swap my tires onto them. We waited four hours for them to get to my car only to be told that the OE locking lugnuts were too large to fit inside the aftermarket wheels and they couldn’t transfer them. By some miracle, however, they had exactly four black aftermarket lugnuts that would fit the Focus and sent me on my way right as the store closed.
On my way home from Costco I got a call from my boyfriend who claimed that the Jimny was acting odd. The heat had gone out and it was overheating. It was obvious that there was a coolant leak but I just couldn’t find it. I gave my boyfriend the Focus because he needed a car that could be driven at all times for inspections and I took the Jimny to and from work. It would eat through a half gallon of water a week just going to and from work, but there was no evidence of moisture on the ground after it was parked and I never found any coolant on any of the components in the engine bay. The oil was clean and the exhaust didn’t smell of coolant, so it didn’t appear to be consuming or burning it either. It was quite the mystery but since all of our cars were either not running or in storage for winter, I didn’t have another option. I just had to remember to top off the coolant after every single drive. And I also forgot to mention that according to my boyfriend, the air quality specialist, the interior of the Jimny maintained an average of 170 parts per million of carbon monoxide, so if I drove the car for more than two or so hours, I should expect to succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning and die.
A pallet of interior parts that I had ordered when I got the Eclipse arrived from Virginia, reminding me how broken everything was. But knowing that Winter would be coming to an end soon, I opted to hold off on repairing the Eclipse and instead focus my efforts on relisting the RS so I could be rid of it as soon as the Fiat came back from the body shop. I had appraisals at all kinds of used car dealerships in addition to peddling my ware across the standard gamut of online listing sites. I started off at the lowest price that I could afford to let the car go for and still be able to close out the loan, and every month the price dropped by the amount of my loan payment (cough $900/month cough). From January through the end of March there was not one bit of interest.
My boyfriend announced his growing dissatisfaction with his 500 Abarth. He tended to act as chauffeur for his coworkers, so the two door bodystyle was becoming an inconvenience, and the loud, aggressive exhaust had become grating and irritating during his inspections. He said that he wanted something the exact same size as his Fiat but with four doors, so the very day that the car came back from the body shop (and before the factory vinyl side graphics had been reapplied) he drove it directly to CarMax and traded it in for a Kona Blue Fiesta ST.
Still driving the Jimny, I popped the hood one day after work to check the air filter and happened to hear, for the first time, a hissing sound. Excited, I grabbed a flashlight and quickly found the source of the coolant loss. There is a rubber hose that runs underneath and is completely obscured by the intake manifold, and it had a pinhole leak on the top. It was spraying a fine mist of coolant up at the bottom of the intake manifold where, if it didn’t immediately evaporate because of the heat, it would run downhill to the block where it would then be converted to a gas. This explained why no coolant ever made it to the ground. I replaced that hose immediately with a section of hose that I had in stock.
By this point I had finally saved enough money to fix the Eclipse, so I placed an order for DSM parts: Mahle 9:1 forged pistons, Manley rods, Deatschwerks 1000cc EV14 injectors, Fluidampr crank pulley, MLS head gasket, Walbro fuel pump, fuel pressure regulator, balance shaft delete kit, and ARP hardware along with the standard gamut of bearings, gaskets, seals, water pump, and timing belt kit. I also found a freshly rebuilt head available in Columbus, so I scheduled a visit with my college roommate to pick that up. Unfortunately just as I had a pallet of interior parts for the Eclipse collecting dust in my basement, I didn’t get the chance to use these parts either. I had been pulling 50-60 hour weeks at work and found that I didn’t have time to eat, let alone work on my Eclipse. So in the garage it sat. For months.
And yes, at this point I still have the Focus. In part 11 you’ll get to read about selling the Focus and getting the Autozam back on the road.