Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Car You Really, Really Want

Okay, cars.

Make magazine just sent me a "car" issue.

It's got articles on making back-yard biodiesel, installing a Mac mini in your car, ... how to make your car geekier.

I like looking at the pictures, and I gave two people Make for Christmas, but I'm not a gizmologist, so these aren't things I'm likely to do.

I'm also not a car guy. I have a 1978 Volvo 242DL. I bought it a few years back for $500. The rust was free.

At first, I knew its exact mileage because the odometer always had the same reading. Then I took it in to an odometer shop, because I wanted to actually use it. My mechanic explained that only special, Federally-approved, odometer shops can fix odometers, because odometers need to have accurate readings -- otherwise people will roll off miles and sell the cars for more. When I got mine back, the odometer shop had rolled 100,000 miles off. Now, I could sell it for $510.00, I guess.

Other than that, it runs great. I maintain it aggressively, and my maintenance costs are low. It's just an old Volvo.

It lacks power steering and handles like a fine, European, sports tank. If someone ran into me, I might not notice. It doesn't have a little bell to remind me to turn off the headlights, so I have to jump-start my car once or twice a year. If I can roll it downhill, I put it in second, and pop the clutch instead. You could say it's not a girl's car. I could say, "Depends on the girl."

A couple of years ago, my sister Jo, the tattooed lady, called. "I've been hearing about your music festival for 15 years. Sign me up. I'm coming."

I said, "Done. What workshop are you giving?"

"I have to give a workshop?"

"Everybody has to."

I'm her brother. I just lied to her. It's what brothers are for.

"Fine," she said. "I'll be doing an art car workshop, and we're painting your car." She's been my sister for a long time.

She transformed it in an afternoon with spraypaint, a dropcloth, and an ocean of workshop participants. She says she felt like Tom Sawyer with rattlecans.

"Ooh. Can I do that, too?"

"... If you was to tackle this car and anything was to happen to it --"

Every kid wants to ride in it. Every cute babe wants to ride in it. I want to ride in it. I get notes stuck under my windshield wiper: "Cool car!"

Don't paint? Jo says, "Remember: it's cheaper to glue than to paint." Once, she covered her beater, Rusty, in rubber rats.

Don't glue? Refrigerator magnets. $500 cars have bodies made from steel. Remember steel?

Total cost? $500 and the right sister. To goose your imagination, check out the main page of the Houston Art Car Society, "Art Cars in Cyberspace."

If you try it and don't like it, remember: the car was already a junker. Give it to your favorite 17-year-old.


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