I’m facing a dilemma. How do you decide when it’s time to move on from a car. Actually no, that’s not the dilemma. I’m struggling with how to move on.
For the past 4 years I’ve campaigned a 1989 Dodge Daytona Shelby in the 24 Hours of Lemons. The general consensus from just about everyone in the world is that is approximately 4 years too long for such a god awful car. And yet here I am, prepping to pull the engine and rebuild it for the car’s 12th race. It’s been an insane ride.
Let’s start with how I landed with a Daytona in the first place. In college I decided I needed to learn how to work on cars. So I did what any sensible 19 year old who had just landed an engineering internship would do. I bought a car off craigslist. I set a budget of $600, struck a deal with my parents to take over the lower level of their barn, and started searching. Eventually I narrowed it down to two cars. First was a 1987 Porsche 924S. Second was a 1988 Daytona Shelby Z with a spare engine. I bought the Porsche.
Unwillingly however, I had planted a terrible seed in my head. Because years later in 2011 when I was searching for a car to build for Lemons with some friends I happened to land on a $500 Daytona Shelby. I owned it less than 5 days later.
Now we arrive at why I’m moving on and why it’s so hard. I don’t want to get rid of the car. I know it inside and out, it’s running great, it’s hilarious to drive. But it’s disintegrating, and I mean that literally. From the wheel well I can look into the foot well through the seams that are tearing apart. Putting it on a lift is terrifying because I have to get creative with what I lift on; the stock lift points and pinch seams wouldn’t hold half the required weight. I really think the cage is providing most of the structural support of the car right now.
But the thought of throwing away this car brings about the same feelings as having to put down a dog. The Daytona has been one of the biggest constants in my life for the past 4 years. It was there when I broke off a 7 year relationship. It was there when I was dealing with mental issues. It was there when I started feeling happy again. It saw me gleefully trade in my Camry for a brand new WRX. It was there when I started a new relationship. Through all my other random motorcycle projects the Daytona has been a welcomed familiarity. One of my happiest memories is crossing the finish line for the first time after a few races of failure. Whenever I’m having a bad day spinning a wrench for a few minutes on the Daytona completely changes my mood.
I fully believe that you can build a relationship with a car, and it’s easier with an old one. A car with faults has personality. And as you work through the faults, fixing things, breaking others, fixing it again, you learn to talk with the car. I can pick out the difference between the noisy but perfectly fine lifters, and a more menacing knock developing. I can feel when the car is starting to run worse. I can rebuild the engine blindfolded. I know exactly how the torque steer is going to kick in and use it to help get around a corner, how to throw it over to the bump stops and muscle it around tight corners. There isn’t a component, wire, or square inch of sheet metal that I haven’t touched in my Daytona. I’ve transformed it from a beaten ready to die car, to the Lemons Waahmbulance, to a multicolored art car, and now finally the magnificent HellKitten.
So the dilemma: How do you move on? Even talking about it near the car feels like betrayal. Pieces of the car I’ll keep. The engine will land in something else, hopefully something that annoys a new owners group. The wheels will become tables and wall ornaments, mementos of thousands of miles driving in circles. The “Daytona by Dodge” badge from the dash has lived in the center console of my WRX for 3 years now, it probably won’t move. The steering wheel, as dirty and trashed as it is, will find itself in a place of honor. The seats, belts, fuel cell, switch panel, and all the other race bits will land in something new.
But the shell... There’s a real chance a tear will be shed the day I have to drop that off at the scrap yard.