Instead of buying a Porsche Boxster, I bought a house, a quintessential "fixer-upper" that sends real estate agents into some sort of default sales-jargon mode. "It just needs love...with a little imagination and some elbow grease...I can really see you two in this house." I've heard them all.
Ultimately, however, the more accurate summation woulc have been something like this: "It is a total piece of crap. It needs to be gutted and rebuilt from the studs on out. The foundation is cracked, the pool's got 'gators, the roof is wasted and the plumbing's a roadmap to a watery hell. Plan on spending every penny you earn just to make the fixer-upper remain upright."
Not a pretty picture.
For the last year an odd collection of pickup trucks have sat in my driveway leaking oil while their drivers fixed or installed something, inevitably charging the standard $1,000. After a while, I stopped asking what they did. "Oh, you're leaving now in a pickup truck, here's $1,000." Everything you do to a house costs at least $1,000. I think it's a rule or something.
Although I had occasionally entertained thoughts of torching it, the restoration is nearly complete, and, I must admit, the place is beautiful -- strange what 40k in upgrades will do. So, now that the wife is happy, it's time for me, time to park something besides the Vanagon in the three-car garage.
Thoughts of owning a Boxster had long since disappeared, like so many tubs of spackle spread into my crumbling walls. Not getting a Porsche was a concept punctuated with six distinct phases: fear, anger, denial, bargaining, sorrow and acceptance. Fear: If I didn't get a Boxster now (in the prime of my life), I was afraid I'd never get one. Anger: The guy down the street just brought home a Boxster, and he's an asshole! Denial: I can't believe I didn't buy a Boxster when I had the money in my hands. Bargaining: If I take out a third mortgage, get another job and send the wife to work, I could swing the payments. Sorrow: I'm just sad the kids can't get along without their mother. She gets to stay home. Acceptance: Editor Brown just scored a long-term Boxster S. I can live with that.
However, as nice as long-term cars are, they are short-lived affairs. you fall in love and then they leave. I needed to purchase my own car, a penance, if you will, in exchange for driving the best European sports cars on a daily basis. I feel like I don't deserve such noble vehicles.
There was exactly $1,000 left in the bank, and I was determined to spend it on something other than my house.
For 2 years I had been eyeing an older Alfa GTV sitting in a neighbor's side yard. It reminded me of that Internet site with a camera trained on a plate of food, documenting each day's decay. When I felt its decompositition was proportionate to my fiscal means, I approched the owner. One thousand dollars and the Alfa would be mine. Then, of course, It dawned on me -- I know nothing of Alfas. Besides the few hours I had behind the wheel of a gorgeously restored 1972 2000 GTV, I don't have much of a history with them. I'd spend the rest of my life wandering the junkyards like a ghoul. I would be better off, I decided, waiting for the Mir to re-enter the atmosphere and restore that.
The second choice on my list was a GTI 16V, a second-gen car many (including myself) consider the quintessential hot hatch. Light well-suspended and equipped with a screaming four-pot, twin-cam 1.8, it has elicited more than a few love letters from me in the form of glowing articles about their fun factor.
Good examples start at 3k and top out at around 7k; a few highly modified cars list at 9k. Most of the car I saw had been treated with aftermarket gear, the most common of which was larger alloy wheels, European-style bumpers and lighting and exhaust systems. It's virtually a given that each one has led an active life -- few GTI 16Vs ended up in the hands of little old ladies. That's simply the nature of the beast--they were bred to be driven hard.
I was looking for a car with all its pieces, one that had been neglected but not abused. I found it parked on a vacant lot, sitting next to a ghastly automotive repair shop. Speaking through an inch of bulletproof glass, the proprietor said he'd been offered $2,500 but would let it go for $2,000 because he liked me. My liason in this deal was Eurosport's Raffi Kazanjian, normally a soft-spoken, articulate VW guru. These words fell upon Raffi's ears like molten solder. I watched him unhinge in a matter of seconds and any moment expected him to unshealth a scimitar and start flailing away. The deal ended up at 1,000 bucks. The GTI was mine...all mine.
The car started on the first crank, belching big gobs of smoke that startled a pair of rats living nearby--they ran inside, safe behind an inch of bulletproof glass. The GTI sputtered and hacked worse than my chain-smoking grandfather, so violently that at one point, a headlamp popped out of its socket (just like grandpa's teeth). I watched in horror as the car began to shake itself apart, like it knew help was on the way and its robust facade was no longer necessary. I started to understand why the seller was behind all that glass. A "mechanic" pulled out one of the injectors and began waving it through the air, all the while smoking a non-filtered Camel. I ran into the street expecting the VW to light up like a Roman candle. There was a method to this madness, however, as he proclaimed the fuel was contaminated with water. I called a flat-bed and left this carnival of freaks.
I've already spent days trying to figure out the rat's nest of wiring. The previous owner would simply remove insulation from arbitrary wires, tie into them and use duct tape to secure the splice. At some point, the knock sensor computer was opened, futzed with and disconnected. The engine has good compression, but seems to be running in a "limp-home" mode characterized by a rich mixture--put a match near the tailpipe and I'd bet it would explode. The injector O-rings have become fossilized, the clutch cable has worn through its plate, the right sub-frame is bent, the motor mounts are dead, the hoses are frayed... it goes on.
So, what I have here is the quinessential beater, a car that should probably be euthanized. That would be too easy...the gauntlet is down...I am determined to make something of this piece of shit.
Next installment: Damage Control.