I’ve owned quite a number of cars in my relatively short driving history thus-far. And a lot of them have been what I consider a “Project Car”. Now to me, that always meant a car which is pretty much your daily driver, but which gets lots of attention on evenings and weekends to either upgrade or (more commonly) repair it. These wrenching sessions were ALWAYS labored and rushed because, well, I had to drive the car to work the next day, or the coming Monday morning. This made working on the cars stressful, and burdensome, like a chore rather than a past time or enjoyable hobby.
Now that I’m a little more grown up, and have a family, our primary car (2006 Honda Odyssey) is quite new and is well maintained and needs very little (if any) attention. We also have my wifes car which is the second she’s ever owned, and is a little bit older (1992 Lexus ES300) but is also in quite good condition and is reliable. So that leaves my ‘67 Caddy, which is in need of a lot of TLC so I wrench on it, but the experience is different from that of a “project car”.
I had never realized it before, but working on a car can actually be fun! Don’t get me wrong, it’s always been rewarding, to see the results of your hard work. But when you have to rush to get done so that you have the utility of the vehicle when you’re done, it detracts some from the experience. I think I’ve stepped into a zone of having a “Hobby Car”, which to me means a car that I get to wrench on, rather than have to wrench on. A subtle difference to be sure, but very significant when it comes to the experience.
Take my latest project for instance. I had to replace the water pump since it (apparently) had a leak. Normally I would have run to a parts store, perhaps Friday afternoon or evening to get all the parts that I thought I would need. Saturday morning would come, and I’d remove the necessary parts to replace it. I’d discover that I forgot a replacement part, go to pick it up from the parts store then make some progress, and realize I needed another part I hadn’t picked up. Rinse and repeat the drive to the parts store a few times. Then upon reassembly I’d hit some snag where I either broke something, or lost a part, or was otherwise discouraged. This usually happens late on Saturday night, when I was starting to think I’d wrap the project up. I’d admit defeat, frustrated, and go to bed. Wake up late Sunday since I didn’t go to sleep til late the night before. Drag myself out to finish the job, usually repeating some of the frustration and parts runs and finally wrapping everything up late Sunday. Then, drive the car to work on Monday.
Now, however I get to really take my time. Identify the issues, order all of the right parts in advance, and even pick and choose the superior brands and have them mail ordered. I have time while the parts are in transit to clean everything up that I’m working on, removing rust, dirt, and old gasket material. Maybe even do some cosmetic things like painting. No hurry, I don’t “need” the car to be running to get me to work or take care of my family. I get to work on it at my own pace. I find that it’s actually relaxing, rather than stressful. How novel!
No doubt, the fact that I’m also able to work in a garage contributes to the overall satisfaction, but I think a lot of the enjoyment comes from being able to take my time and do the job right, with no looming deadline.
So for all you guys out there with project cars, consider buying a reliable daily driver, and make your project car a hobby car. This is advice that older, wiser gearheads have given me in the past, and I never quite understood it, until now!