Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

December 5, 2012

DIY: Damage it yourself

Dan Graves
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — At some time or another we have all felt that it wasn’t necessary to call on professional help to repair that noisy air conditioner or do a ring job on a lawn mower that was effectively keeping all the mosquito’s in the neighborhood at bay by belching out clouds of smoke.

The old saying, “I don’t need no stinking repair manual” normally ends up with the repairman fixing not only the original problem but also the mess left by the self proclaimed professional.

If anyone fits into the latter category like a square peg in a square hole, it’s me. My usual reaction when told the cost of replacing a leaky faucet is, “HOW MUCH? I can do that myself with nothing more than a hammer and a screw driver.” Finally, with the kitchen floor covered in an inch of water and Judy struggling to load the shotgun, I pay twice as much as the original quote for repairs and a cleaning service.

Many years ago, I was bitten by a disease called “teenycarpsychosis.” This ailment is diagnosed as the inability to resist buying small two-seat cars produced in such countries as England and Italy and referred to as “sports cars.” The name is appropriate because anyone has to be a sport to live with some of those things. I

t’s well known that the average automobile buyer is driven first by the emotion of attraction to styling followed by the number and function of accessories available for any model. Brand loyalty also plays a role. “If my daddy always drove a Belchfire 88, that’s good enough for me.” It doesn’t matter that the good old Belchfire is built in Siberia by itinerant goat herders; it’s brand loyalty that matters.

My first sports car was an MGA, a bright red British two-seater coupe with a faulty door latch on the passenger side. Unless I held onto the door handle in a left hand turn the door would swing open, requiring a pullover to the curb to jerk it back in place. Passengers were instructed to hang onto the handle except in the case of a large dog chasing the car. Large dogs have always been a potential problem.

I’ve always had a fear of being caught by one and buried in someone’s back yard. However, an open door smacking a dog in the rump always works as a deterrent. I finally solved the problem by hooking a screen door spring to the passenger door and securing the other end of the spring behind the driver’s seat. I loved that little tomato can.

As the years passed, I owned a succession of the little junk heaps with my moods swinging between enjoyable summer drives with the tops down and pure rage at a bevy of niggling problems that frequently popped up.

One car, a beautiful Jaguar XKE, was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Trying to use one of those things as a daily driver is like attempting to make a living on the horse races. Put it in the garage at night and the next morning turn the ignition key and get nothing. After a lot of trial and error and a broad expansion of my four-letter vocabulary, I learned to dismantle the ignition, jiggle certain wires around and be back on the road in five minutes — not to mention the times when the cockpit would suddenly fill with smoke which meant fiddling with the wiring under the dash, finding the shorted out connection, separating the smoldering wires and driving on. It was a bittersweet divorce when I finally sold the car.

Then came the cherry on the sundae. I found a semi-rare car I had lusted after for a long time, a Lotus S4. A limited production all fiberglass bodied small speedster, it had apparently been electrically wired by the freshman class at the Neanderthal School Of Electrical Nonsense.

When it ran it was a little rocket. When it decided not to run, the problem was always due to electrons in the circuitry trying to swim upstream. I would spend hours trying to figure out if the blue wire connected to the yellow one or if the oscillating transverse modulator was supposed to activate the double pole scintillator. My vocabulary expanded to words never before heard on this planet.

One day, we decided to take a two-car jaunt around the countryside, Judy and Gina, our daughter, in the Triumph TR4 and Tony, our son and I in the Lotus.

I pulled the Lotus out of the garage and sat, letting it warm up, when the engine exploded in a ball of fire, blowing up the hood and sending a fireball rolling over the windshield. My first thought was to protect my hairdo from being scorched and the second was finding the on-board fire extinguisher.

After the smoke settled, I had $1,200 dollars in damage in only 30 seconds of excitement. A paint job, body work and new wiring later, the little assassin messed up a valve in the engine. After driving it noisily to a local repair shop and the mechanic seeing me pull in simply shook his head no. I had no choice. I had to do the job.

This was no ordinary engine to say the least. In the garage, I removed the top end, twin cams and all.

After hours of labor dis-assembling the thing, correcting the problem and during re-assembly, I accidentally dropped a small nut into the exhaust manifold.

No problem, since exhaust systems blow, not suck I thought. It will blow the thing out the tailpipe. Wrong! It sucked the nut back into the engine on top of the repaired valve and locked the engine again. That’s when I learned to do the Saint Vitus’ dance and curse for a full 10 minutes without drawing a breath.

After the second valve rebuild, I rewired the thing, put another new paint job on it, found a hapless buyer and unloaded it. Over the years following that car, I’ve owned a procession of some of the most mechanically incompetent machines ever created by mankind. I finally settled on my present sports car which, being a more recent model, hasn’t given me nightmares over the past 12 years.

But because those memories still smolder inside me, I plan to write letters of protest to the Queen of England and the president (or whoever controls the country) of Italy. They should be aware of the larceny of their automotive companies who preyed on innocent Americans by pawning off those pretty little pieces of junk on us.

But if I could, I’d do it all over again.