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Admittedly, my reasoning was largely financial for purchasing them in the first place. It’s amazing what you learn to deal with when the shallowness of your wallet doesn’t leave you a lot of options.
My first car was a ’76 Nova, which I purchased in the mid ‘80s for a $100. I knew the car well and had driven it myself for a time before I bought it. It had been in three accidents since I’d known it, with very little work done to the body. But the engine still ran (though at times begrudgingly) and despite a cockeyed headlight, was road worthy enough.
It did its job getting me from point A to B, but I had to put up with a few, shall we say…quirks.
First off, it was a four door vehicle, but only one worked for a time, and that was the rear passenger door. While I found the gymnastics it took to clamber into the driver’s seat entertaining at times, it was sometimes a pain. Especially for riders who were unaccustomed to having to vault over obstacles to get in the passenger’s seat.
If that wasn’t enough inconvenience for them, a hole had rusted its way through the floor on the passenger’s side. If I were to hit a puddle, a jet of water would spray the hapless rider. Fortunately, most of my riders were good-humored about it.
The right front quarter panel was in bad shape. If I hit a pothole, the tire would scrape against it. By the end of the first summer, the treads were a deformed, mangled mess.
On top of those other maladies, the car needed constant tending. The engine burned through oil like it was desert-parched. Every two weeks or so, I had to feed it another quart.
A Jerry Rigger is Born
One day, I rolled up my sleeves and decided to try to fix my car door problems. My dad was a mechanic. One would think that I would have some of that mechanical aptitude handed down genetically—or at least by osmosis. So I headed out to the Nova, took off a door panel and attacked the problem. Literally. With a hammer.
As I pounded on the metal of the door frame, a rain of rust poured from the inside. I winced at the thought of the mess that was inside that door—all the corroded mechanisms and inner workings I had no understanding of. But, I pulled the handle…and the door opened.
I had no idea I could find elation from such a simple thing. I stood and stared at that open door, the old, chipped wooden-handled ball peen hammer in my fist, and a feeling of accomplishment that sky-rocketed my confidence.
A few hours later, I had four fully functional doors. I patched the hole in the floor with a few old license plates and a floor mat, and pounded out the quarter panel so the tire didn’t rub against it (well, at least not as badly)—and all this with only a screw driver and hammer. A jerry rigger had been born.
It was the start of a strange relationship between that clunker and I, bred by necessity and a sense of challenge. At one point, the accelerator cable snapped and I patched it with a shoe lace until I was able to get it to the junk yard to grab a replacement.
Diamond in the Rough
It was a real hunk of junk. But it was my hunk of junk. I was 17 and it allowed me the freedom that only having your own vehicle could. In that aspect, even with all of its quirks, that freedom made my high maintenance rust bucket invaluable to me.
And when I was on the road with my fellow drivers, I could look on to other, newer, unblemished vehicles without envy. Sure, my car had its flaws and wasn’t as shiny, but at the very least, kept me entertained. And it stayed on the road because of my hands (and the assistance from Dad from time to time). And that did me just fine.
I had the Nova for another two years before I drove it to its final resting place at the local junk yard. As I bid it farewell, any sentimentality I had for it was squelched by the excitement for the new car I was getting. But that car was only new to me—it had seen its fair share of miles. And I was sure that in tow with that new title would be a whole new slew of quirks.
But I was sure that I would somehow find a way to deal with them.