Note: I’ve been sitting on this piece for the last couple of weeks, unsure whether I wanted to risk negative consequences for the subject, given the rather dubious legality of his tinkering. I decided that if he’s going to be outed, it would be best for someone on FP to do a quality piece with his active involvement, so hopefully someone there will find this interesting enough. I’m still too clueless about automotive technology to do it justice.
Thus, Mark isn’t his real name. It wouldn’t be that hard to figure out who he is, but feel free to not do so.
My part in this story started with a Grand Wagoneer, naturally. Mark’s started with a Pacer.
Mark runs a small business in North Carolina, near the Outer Banks. As he describes it, his business used to be so busy that cars would park along the road because his lot was full, but with his decline in health the business has similarly slowed down.
Fortunately, his zest for automotive insanity hasn’t.
Years ago, someone offered him a Pacer to pay off a $300 debt. As Mark puts it, it was an ugly green, an ugly design, and when he tried to sell it from his parking lot, no one was interested.
So Mark decided to make it interesting, and turned it into a beach buggy.
He started, naturally enough to this Jeeper, by removing the doors. Thus began a long-term obsession with chopping up cars.
Over the years he cut up several Pacers, removing the front, removing the back, the doors, adding steer horns...ok, that last is a bit of an anomaly, since his real obsession is removing everything he doesn’t need.
The reason I stopped to meet Mark is his latest acquisition: a Grand Wagoneer for $600. Beautiful car originally, and with a very healthy frame, but the body has enough rust to give even David Tracy pause.
But Mark doesn’t care, because he’s going to cut it apart anyway. This is the latest of several Wagoneers he’s owned; regrettably he didn’t have any photos of the convertible he created out of one by chopping its top off. Very regrettably.
He said that another Wagoneer, similarly bereft of much of its bulk, managed about 20mpg going back and forth to cancer treatment.
After showing me many Pacer photos (you can see even more below), he started waxing enthusiastically about his Infiniti, then decided he’d take the Grand Wagoneer home so he could drive the Infiniti back to show off, then decided I should join him. I chose to follow him instead, because despite having never ridden in a Wagoneer, I was certain I wasn’t ready to die in one.
His yard is replete with marvels. He has nearly as many boats as cars; the boats are typically just as old, but with far fewer missing parts.
As he told me, the first major change when acquiring a new beater is to remove the fan, since it takes up so much space and adds so much weight. He tried to describe the cooling system on his Crown Vic, but even after seeing it I didn’t understand it. (It probably would have helped to ask questions, but by that point I was just too bemused by it all.)
He described the Infiniti as weighing, he suspects, less than 2500 pounds, about a ton less than factory. It accelerates like a bat out of hell thanks to the massive weight reduction. He says just about every day he walks carefully around it and tries to think of what else he could remove.
See the gap between body and tires? It’s not lifted; that’s the stock suspension, relieved of all the extra weight.
The hole in the hood serves as a key part of the cooling system; as best as I can recall his description, by taping over the grill and forcing the air upwards it creates a low pressure area at the front of the hood, drawing air in. He said the hole really should have been farther forward, but you’d really have to ask him for the details, because I’m not the guy you want to relay details about ad hoc cooling systems (or really anything automotive).
When I stopped to inquire about the Grand Wagoneer, I was just pursuing my normal hobby of annoying people about Jeeps. I had no idea I was diving into such a rabbit hole, but I’m grateful that I did. It’s rare to meet someone with such an entertaining passion.
Now if I could just remember what remarkable feat he achieved with Gorilla Glue. I knew I should have recorded our conversation.