Sunday, April 22, 2007

THE FINE ART OF THE CHEAP CAR

Well, there it is. My latest automobilic aqcuisition, which will, hopefully, will get me 1500km to Broome to meet Kylie. And back. At two hundred dollars, it is twice what i paid for my previous car, the legendary Madaz. And, not being designed by Bertone of Italy, it is not nearly so stylish. But it has the advantage of the 1200cc Datsun motor, one of the most reliable engines known to Man. You can run these things for about three days, without any oil or water, before they finally seize. Valuable information, which will probably come in handy one day.

People often ask me, Art Director, they ask, where do you find such cheap, superstylin' cars?

It's simple. In the simple world of the Art Director, there are four stages in the acquisition of a fine used automobile.

Stage One: Learn how an automobile works. This stage, which is of course ongoing, will help in Stage Four. Trust me.
Stage Two: Find a car that has done over a million kilometres. If it hasn't, how do you know it is any good?
Stage Three: Make sure the car is broken. Nobody is going to sell you something cheap if it actually works.
Stage Four: Fix it.

See? It's simple. Where a lot of people go wrong is Stage Three. They buy an old car that actually works. Then they watch in abject horror as it breaks down and stops. Clearly, it is much better for your soul to buy a car that is already dead, and watch it come to life under the deft parry and thrust of your screwdriver.

The other stage where people tend to go wrong is Stage Four. They confuse fixing a car with restoring a car. Restoring a car is fine - but it is not cheap. And, of course, by driving a restored car, one sacrifices the innate panache and style that comes with driving a wreck.

There are so many cars on this planet they should all be free, really. While I have been known to pay good money for a car in the past ($2000 for a '65 Phoenix, $1700 for a '61 Spitfire) i object to it in principle. Here we are, with centuries of mechanical knowledge behind us, and the capacity to build a beautiful machine which could last hundreds of years - and manufacturers construct crappy disposable pieces of junk with names like "Daewoo." I mean, really.

So I place a "Wanted To Buy: licensed bomb" classified ad in the paper. One of the many perks of my job is free classified ads. Woo hoo. A girl rings up and says her boyfriend has left a Sunny in her driveway. She makes it sound like he has left a steaming turd. I say i will pop around and see what i can do. The rusty, dusty Datsun rests atop its blocks like Gandhi atop a funeral pyre. It has minor crash damage, nothing to stop it running, a rear seat decimated by years of sun, and a dead battery. Two front wheels with bald tyres lie in the grass nearby. Perfect, i think.

I arrange meet her inconsiderate boyfriend to work out a price. I drive out with Mick. Young Luke, an alleged mechanic, has gotten halfway through replacing the Datsun's tie rod ends before giving up, buying himself a 4WD ute like everybody else in town, and leaving the Sunny, immobile, in his girlfriend's driveway.

You'll never get that nut off, Luke tells me, shaking his head ruefully at the offending tie rod end. I've tried everything, he says. The front wheels lie on the ground nearby, their tread worn to the steel belts by the stuffed component. Luke has two brand new tie rod ends, all ready to go. Two! That's the way to do it. Homeostasis is what we're after. Balance, coherence, integrity. Plus he has a new slave cylinder, to fix the the leaking brakes.

I examine the old tie rod end and steering track rod closely. Clearly, this young "mechanic" has not tried everything to get that lock nut off. I can see where he has rounded a couple of edges of the nut trying to get it undone, but I can also see it is a left-hand thread. His valiant and no doubt strenuous efforts have gone towards tightening the nut, not loosening it.

How much are you looking at? i ask.
Three hundred, he says.
I've got 170, i say.
I won't take less than two hundred. It's licensed till July.
Mick, lend us thirty dollars.

We put the wheels back on, and borrow the battery out of Luke's ute. The Sunny starts first time. I pull the battery out. The motor keeps running. So the alternator works. This is good. Driving home, it looks like i have a severe case of the DTs, the steering shakes so badly. But this is why there are two brand new tie rod ends in the glove compartment.

I jack the car up, put a shifter on the locknut, its handle resting close to the ground, and lower the jack. The weight of the car on the handle of the spanner cracks the locknut. No strenuous, red faced, knuckle-skinning antics required. I unscrew the tie rod end, and replace it with a new one. The same on the other side. I take the back wheels, with their two good tyres, and fit them to the front, and vice-versa, then do a quick wheel alignment by eye. On payday, i spend $80 on a new battery. Voila.


The only problem i have now is the death-metal disc stuck in the CD player.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yeah...the problem with flash shirts like that is finding factory parts. Sure, you can use non standard parts, safety pins and the like, but there's nothin' like the original, eh?

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