When you tell your friends in New Mexico that you're a car guy they inevitably have some beater piece of antique iron that's sunk into a field behind their house and has been sitting there for at least ten years. It was brought home by their uncle/dad/grandpa/brother and they want your help fixing it. Because the whole reason it's still behind the house with a tree growing through it, is because it was given to them and they want to make it special. "Sure" you say, "What kind of car is it?" because as anyone who has ever spent any time in the southwest can tell you, cars don't rust there, they just get slowly sandblasted. This means that whatever they have could be pretty sweet, or it could be a total pile of shit.
Either way you have about a 80/20 ratio of crap to gold so it's worth a look most of the time. However, when you ask anyone that question they get this kind of "Oh shit a pop quiz!" look on their face, and start looking around to see if anything positioned in their immediate area can help them remember any pertinent information about their car. Inevitably they just settle with "It's green" or "It's a Chevy" and follow it up with, "It ran good when it was parked" or "my homeboy down in 'burque tricked it out"
So you inevitably come to take a look at this car and it ends up being a faded silver Cavalier, and you wonder why you bothered, because no amount of pep boys hood scoops could ever save this mouse infested pile.
Yet, from time to time you find something worthwhile, it's rare but it happens. These are some of my favorite finds, for better or worse.
1. 1974 Plymouth valiant Brougham (Maxine)
Maxine belonged to an artist couple that had attempted to turn this piece of classic Detroit into an "Art Car". I cannot think of any phrase that makes me shudder harder than "Art Car" They started by gutting the interior and wrapping the steering wheel in purple electric tape. why? because art car that's why. That became the go to explanation for everything that was wrong with Maxine. No back seat? Because art car. need a screwdriver instead of a key to start it? Because art car. Motor oil in the transmission? Because fucking art car. I didn't find that last little tidbit out until after Maxine was "Gifted" to me. They thought that I would be able to enjoy a nice project car for free, and that was a nice gesture. Yet again though, her previous owners got the "Art" part down, they came up pretty short on the "Car" part of things.
Which is why my driveway was as far as Maxine ever got. Driving her home it felt like I was being hit from behind every time a gear change happened. I decided to chance it and since my house was only two miles away and I was already halfway home I just pressed on. Big mistake. I knew I was in trouble when smoke started pouring out of the hood and the exhaust as I pulled into my drive way and the car wouldn't rev it just slowly died. I shut it off and jumped out Not only was Maxine's transmission fluid full of motor oil, but so was her radiator. I know what you're thinking, blown head gasket, and you'd be correct except there was no head gasket. What? you say. No head gasket? That's right children, the previous owner had decided to make his own head gasket out of form-a-gasket and call it a day (because art car). So when I pressed him for answers on what else he had done that's when he told me that not only was the transmission full of 10w30 but so was the engine, almost all the way to the fucking top. He just kept filling the engine with oil until he could see it through the valve cover. Because fucking art car. Needless to say, Maxine died an honorable death in the crusher a few days later with the artist couple confused as to where they had gone wrong. I left them with a phone book and a highlighted circle around "Jiffy Lube" and called it a day.
2. 1971 Ford F100
I always have a soft spot for older Ford pickups, it's probably because I helped my grandfather limp his 1976 F150 along for so long, to the point where we hot riveted the frame back together...like you do.
I got this car for helping some friends of mine shoot a no-budget horror film. The shocks were blown, the transmission was hollowed out from shoddy gear changes and the rear end howled when it rolled. It was an amazing pile of shit and I loved it. But this truck was an amazing testament to New Mexican ingenuity. You could tell that all the fixes were thought through with good intentions and then executed with almost zero fucks given.
Mosquito netting screwed into the radiator with drywall screws? No problem. Bailing wire holding the exhaust up to the rear tire and letting the tire smack away all the rusty jagged edges of the tail pipe? You got it. No mufflers? Check. bent frame? Hell yes! and my favorite of all was a series of cardboard pieces that had been used to snug up the steering wheel bolt that was too long.
Life got in the way and I ended up selling the truck for $300 which was $300 more than I paid for it. For me, this will always be the one that got away.
3.1978 Datsun 280z.
Leaky, nasty, mouse infested, probably carried the hanta virus, but had a datsun fuel injected straight 6 in the front and a manual 5 speed in the middle. this car was ballin...except for the rust which came from the fact that it had been sitting outside near a runway at a small airport for the last fifteen years.
I acquired this car for free after doing some landscaping work and took it home in order to fix it up for a friend who had fallen on hard times and needed a car. So when I took it home and showed it to him he was thrilled. Until we tried to crank it over with a new battery and fluids and the dashboard caught fire. Not from mouse nests. but because the previous owner had soldered together several parts of the ECU in order to make an aftermarket fuel pump work. Due to a lack of funds and the fact that we lived in New Mexico where it is impossible to find parts for anything that doesn't wear a Bow tie, I ended up selling it to some dude who told me he was going to put a big block Chevy under the hood, bow ties indeed.
4. 1991 4Runner (The Silver Pig)
I want a 1991 4Runner again. I need that kind of heartache in my life.
I found this on the side of the road with a piece of cardboard in the window that said "$2800 habla Manuel (505) xxx-xxxx" So I called Manuel and talked him down to $1000, and drove this pig home. I knew it was a pile when I bought it, I knew it wouldn't shift into 1st or 2nd gear, I knew it already had 250K+ miles on the clock but I just didn't care. I was the proud owner of a squeaky rattly piece of off road hoonableness. I made this car hurt, and it just bounced back. Hill to steep? No problem just hit it at 30 and you'll be fine. Pothole the size of a tire? that's what suspension is for! I tried my damndest to break this thing and nothing worked. Which is why I thought it would be a good choice for my old friend who I was giving the Z to, before it burned down. I handed him the keys to my silver pig and he drove it around for a few months before all it's bodily fluids leaked out onto the pavement one night.
I miss some of these cars but I will always be glad that I took the time to go with my friends or strangers to take a look at whatever they had lying around their property because, if you take the time you can come away with some great pieces of automotive fun, and that's always worth it.