As you may have guessed, I have a number of cars and I do all my own work these days. My wife, upon seeing my first blog post the other day, suggested that I change the blog description to read "four" cars, as technically, her car is in my name, and I do all the repairs and maintenance on her car, too. You may be guessing that I'm a mechanic by trade. That is, you may be guessing wrong.
The fact of the matter is that I work in publishing, and the whole car thing (which for some reason I've never completely figured out, is near and dear to my heart) happened sort of by accident. In the interest of not boring you to the point where your brain drops out your nostrils and makes a run for it, I'll try and make the story as brief as possible.
For every car guy, there's a beginning to the story. For some, it starts with some unforgettable car experience in early childhood. While it's true that some of my favorite forms of entertainment in my formative years included the Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider, and Herbie the Love Bug, these fictional cars were entirely removed from my real-world interaction with cars. The one possible exception to this was family VW buses, which I was always fond of.
No, for me, the whole car thing happened fifteen years ago, the summer I graduated high school. Unlike most kids my age, I actually had no interest in getting my driver's license. In fact, I avoided it. I'd always considered myself not so much accident-prone, but bad luck-prone, and was convinced that if placed behind the wheel of a car, that I'd get into an accident that would either kill me, or that I'd be paying off for around 20 years. I preferred to get around town by bike, and left high school with only a learner's permit. My parents, determined not to be my chauffeurs for the rest of my life, insisted I get the license, and then did something that altered the trajectory of my life forever. They bought me a car.
I didn't have a license yet, and couldn't park the car on campus until my junior year of college, but seeing the car there, waiting for me, was motivation enough for me to complete my driving training. I knew that when I was ready, I'd be climbing behind the wheel of a 1982 Mercedes-Benz 240D. Keep in mind that Mercedes or not, this was an old car, even in 1996.
Although it's currently in vogue to dismiss the Mercedes W123 chassis as little more than a European taxicab, most people that have driven one will tell you that the experience is unique and fantastic. Nearly 35 years after they first debuted, many of these cars are still on the road, due to their tough-as-nails engineering and construction, and the driving experience rivals many brand-new cars even today.
I fell in love with the car for its looks and handling (acceleration, while it never bothered me, is NOT this car's strong point), and bit-by-bit, over the years, starting doing some of my own work on it. The miles and memories I accumulated in this car were nearly innumerable. The trips to the drive-in, the fast food runs with friends, the trips to the beach - I remember them all vividly and fondly. The car eventually followed me to college, and then into the professional world.
In 2005, after a move away from my home and my trusted mechanic, the Mercedes developed some symptoms that I didn't recognize, but knew weren't good. I tried several local mechanics here in Massachusetts, all of whom swore on a stack of bibles that they knew how to work on the car. The car left each on in worse condition, and my wallet left lighter. Sadly, in June 2005, after nine years, I reluctantly made the decision to sell the car and find something in better condition. I just wasn't a good enough mechnic to save the Mercedes myself, and didn't have the time, space or money to devote to it.
I ended up selling the car to someone who didn't seem worried about the problems, and who planned to convert the car to run on vegetable oil. I ended up scoring an unbelieveable deal on a near-mint 1985 Mercedes 300SD as my new daily driver:
So, I moved on, but I never forgot. My final months with the 240D inspired me to learn how to do all of my own work (when possible), as I could no longer fully trust any mechnic. Over the past six years, I've frequented mechnics with decreasing frequency. The last time I took one of my own cars in was four years ago now. I'm now at the point where few, if any, jobs scare me off.
As for the 240D, it popped up on Craigslist again in 2008, still alive and kicking. I wanted to buy it back, but was knee-deep in a project car at the time (another Mercedes 240D - more on IT later) so I passed on it. This spring I ran the original 240D's VIN through a VIN checker, and it appears that even in 2011, the car appears to be on the road somewhere in Rockland, Maine. Who knows... maybe I'll get a chance to own it again someday.
So, that's what got me started. So, I apologize - the story was a little longer than I intended. However, I promise (threaten?) that it could have been longer.