1979 BMW 323i B6 Alpina
Owner: Ezra Dyer
I bought the car for $1000. Some cretin had crammed a 3.0-liter Bavaria engine into it, as well as a five-speed out of a 528. The interior lettering was all in German and it had 15-inch wheels in staggered sizes (225/50/15 on the back looked huge on that car) and there were big dual mufflers tucked under the bumper.
The only issue with all this was that the Bavaria block went right from the firewall to the grille. So there was no room for a fan of any kind, and there was some sort of piggyback radiator hanging really low off the front end. Once I came around a corner and hit a turtle. The creature lost its shell, and I lost the radiator hose, which stranded me on the side of the road. Another time I had to rig up a throttle cable in the breakdown lane, and once I drove home by moonlight when the alternator abruptly quit.
But all that said, it was a fun car. One time a cop pulled me over and I ended up popping the hood to reveal the unlikely scenario beneath. He said, "You're a braver man than I," and let me go. I sold it for $1,650 in a McDonald's parking lot. I was so desperate to get rid of it that I took a personal check. The check cleared.
1974 Chevy Vega
Owner: John Pearley Huffman
I swear, the cars I've loved have never disappointed or frustrated me.
My first car was a yellow 1974 Chevrolet Vega notchback sedan with an automatic. It was a piece of dog doo-doo with terrible brakes, and I knew that the moment I inherited it from my grandfather. I never even liked it. And when the starter motor's mounting hole on the aluminum block sheared off, making the car essentially valueless, since no one wanted to replace the whole block, I was glad to get rid of it.
1969 Fiat 124 Sport Coupe
Owner: John Pearley Huffman
My next car was a terribly rusted 1969 Fiat 124 Sport Coupe. I painted it, put wheels and tires on it, and kept those tires inflated to 50 psi so that it would slide through every corner and do wicked reverse-180s. When the motor mounts rotted out, I let it go — euthanized it, rather than watch it suffer. I loved that car; it had done its best and died a noble death. But it never disappointed me.
1971 Chevy Camaro
Owner: John Pearley Huffman
I put $25,000 into a '71 Camaro between 1993 and 1997. I gave it a Chip Foose paint job, 17-inch wheels, Baer brakes, 400-inch small-block, 4L60 transmission... but sold it for $15,000 the day I finished it and bought my house with the proceeds. The guy who bought it from me sold it for $35,000 three months later. That I hated.
I still have the house, though.
'67 Sunbeam Alpine Series V
Owner: Kevin A. Wilson
It was 1974 when I bought the Alpine and it was gorgeous, with Union Jack decals on each front quarter panel, wire wheels and tractor-like 1725 cc four cylinders.
Years later — only after I'd acquired spare parts to do a full restoration — I was driving on I-94 from Ann Arbor to Detroit, in the left lane, in the rain, passing a large semi. Just as I got near the front of the truck, I looked at the instruments to see how fast I was going (80!), and I actually saw the needle on the oil pressure gauge go from 55 psi to 0 in about as long it takes to say it. I got off the throttle and popped it into neutral, but there was no left shoulder, just a guardrail and a big (everything else was big compared to the Sunbeam) sedan tailgating me.
Coasting down, the truck came by and I had my right signal on. There was a little gap in traffic to my right that the sedan immediately filled and he flew by, showing me a finger. I saw another gap in traffic, thoughtlessly put the Sunbeam back in gear and, ka-boom, the engine gave up, steam pouring out from under the hood on all sides, oil and bits of metal hitting the roadway in my rearview mirror. I could put both fists into the hole in the side of the block that the connecting rod had created.
1967 Mercedes 230
Owner: Basem Wasef
I bought the car when I was a UCLA student. It seemed like a great idea at the time.
I had a Benz shop replace all the hoses and cables, and stupidly decided to drive to a party before I had it registered (I was only 19 years old). I parked in a no-parking zone in Westwood while I ran into a store to pick up a gift, but, turning back toward the car, I noticed a warmish light emanating from beneath, which turned out to be the brakes. On fire.
I called 911 before I realized I could extinguish the flames with my sweater. After swatting the conflagration out, I called the fire department back and told them to cancel my call. I was told they had to send someone out anyway, at which point I said, "OK, but I'll be gone!"
Sheepishly, I hid the heap in a locked garage over the weekend, and later had the mechanic fix the brakes. Shortly thereafter, the engine overheated. Frustrated, I gave up on the car. And yet, strangely, I still have inexplicable nostalgia for this bucket of trouble.
"Austin-Healey 3000" Replica
Owner: Dan Carney
I was graduating from college in June 1988, and I wanted a trim little two-seat roadster. But the Miata wouldn't arrive for another year, and I hadn't heard it was coming. I looked at a lovely Alfa Romeo Giulietta, but it was just too precious for everyday use. I really liked the idea of building a Shelby Daytona Coupe replica, but who had the money for that?
Then I spotted something intriguing: an almost-new Austin-Healey 3000 replica, one that had been factory-built, not garage-built. It rolled on a GM T-car chassis, and so, like the Chevette, Kadett and Impulse, its steering wheel veered off slightly to the left. It was powered by a Mustang II Cologne V6 and had a four-speed manual, so it accelerated briskly. I was getting married in a month and imagined us driving away from the reception in the resplendent white plastic Healey.
Right away I noticed that the steering was very heavy and that the clutch travel was excessive, but I didn't notice that what passed for a roof was, in fact, a poorly designed pup tent that was stored in the trunk. Days later, as the first rainstorm bore down, I struggled to get some vinyl over the cockpit to prevent the car from becoming a bathtub. Later, I cruised back over to the used car dealer where I'd bought the car, and the lot's owner and I fiddled with the cockpit cover until we got the roof on in what seemed to be the closest approximation of "right." It took 15 minutes, and my record time for this process never shrank below a still-frustrating five minutes.
Shortly after our honeymoon, I thought I'd get the repli-car's oil changed. But we were moving and I lacked decent facilities to do it myself, so I sprung for Jiffy Lube, and then hovered nervously next to the car while they did the work. Two blocks after pulling out of the garage, I noticed a disturbing clanking sound as I accelerated. I'd heard that sound once before and recognized it immediately: It sounded like a broken crankshaft. I pulled to the side of the road and shut off the engine. A wiggle of the front pulley confirmed it: The front of the crank was no longer solidly connected to the rest. I know of no way that an oil change can precipitate such a problem, and I had watched everything they were doing, so I had to conclude that the timing was coincidental.
I limped the car home and called the dealer where I bought it. He had implied no warranty when I bought the car, but this wasn't a hit I could afford to take, and he knew it. He told me to have it towed back to him. The guy, over the span of a couple months, had a mechanic replace the crankshaft at no cost to me. I was without a car, but at least it wasn't costing me money.
Once I got it back, all of the kit car issues that I'd planned to improve myself just seemed like too much trouble, so I decided to sell it. Unfortunately, that's easier said than done with a gem like this, no matter how good it looked on a summer day. I tended to leave the roof off for extended periods because of the hassle, and at some point a neighborhood cat took to peeing in the car, so now it smelled like a litter box. Winter came, and following some snow and ice, the car was frozen into an impenetrable iceberg — an iceberg parked in the wintertime permanent shadow of our apartment tower. Weeks passed before it thawed enough that I could chip the ice off and advertise it again.
Finally someone pulled out his checkbook and wrote a check for thousands less than I was asking — take it or leave it. I'd paid about $12,000 for the car and sold it months later for about $7500, just glad to be free of it.
Here's the kicker: For all that trouble, I don't even have a photo of the thing. At the wedding reception, our photographer got drunk. So he took no pictures of us driving away — the one and only time the car performed perfectly.
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None of this stuff was the "cars" fault. The fault lies with the owner. How can you expect anything to run as new when its an oldy but goldy and sometimes a little moldy. Many of these happenings were when a person was young and had thought themselves a mechanic. Which in most cases gained them good experience, maybe lost cash, and maybe their **** went into an emergency pucker a few times. For example, I put a Buick 231/auto in an MGB and at 135 had a wobble that would make a webble proud. The experience you got is gold...At 142 my 1930 Ford Roadster blew a hydraulic trans line. The half plywood floor boards and milk crate seats didnt help when hot trans fluid sprayed into the passenger compartment. I dont label these things as stupid because that would be stupid. I label these things as experienced gained through activities that should have killed ya but didnt. I buy off of E bay. This is my 21 car, I expect absolute caos and if it isnt...bonus. Every car and truck has a story and that should be that way it comes with the factory sticker. So I drive a 62 Ford Falcon Ranchero, and my friend Kel and I were out driving to lunch, California hiway driving. As he was holding on asked , How fast are we going... I said 45. See gold.