Here We Go!

Well, just like Lane Frost said “Here we go boys, here we go!”

But first, a little back-story. With $1k burning a hole in my pocket, and after finding myself unexpectedly in Denver, I decided that the best way to get back to Des Moines was to drive back, even though nearly everyone I know thinks it’s impossible (namely my parents) I’ll feel pretty vindicated if I make it.


To make it a little tougher I’m staying off the interstate, holding myself to a strict budget, and eating at every Runza I pass by.


Burning through Craigslist I managed to find three gems, with boatloads of potential. A ’79 928s Porsche, an ’86 Subaru GL wagon, and a 1987 Dodge Diplomat, an ex cop car from Nashville Tn.


On Tuesday my brother James and I test drove two of three potentials. (We decided to rule out the Porsche once I realized that it was 2 ½ hours away from Boulder and it didn’t run.)


The first car we went to look at was the Dodge. Sitting in the owner’s backyard it had definitely seen better days. Part of the urethane nose cone was missing allowing the driver’s side headlights to dangle in the wind a little bit. It had a scrape along the passenger side doors, and the driver’s window was busted out.


It was also exceptionally filthy. It didn’t smell like a homeless guy had been living in it, but it smelt like a homeless guy might have been using it as a trashcan.


The owner had worked at Autozone once upon a time, and like most Autozone shoppers (we can forget right now about Autozone sponsoring the blog can’t we?) the car was slathered in cheap seat covers, fuzzy dice, and a steering wheel cover. A cop car remade as a Hello Kitty car.


(For those of you not familiar with Hello Kitty, well, it’s a Japanese thing. I’m not sure how much else I can tell you about it.)


Still, despite some obvious issues the car seemed to run ok during our brief test drive, and owner was pretty desperate to get rid of the damn thing.


The Subaru was another story. We got to the guy’s shop, started it up, let it idle for a few minutes, and everything seemed to be going well (a sign that we’d doubtlessly overlooked something.)


The interior was clean, fairly presentable, and it came with some interesting junk.


Sidenote: One of the best aspects of buying cheap used cars is that often, the owners don’t bother to clean them out, or they simply don’t care anymore. Which means that you end up inheriting all sorts of unusual treasures. (More on this in a minute)

In the back of the Subaru wagon was a beat up acoustic guitar (missing only one string) and a book of guitar chords. The sight of these things made my heart swell. I pictured myself, sitting on the side of the road after a devastating engine failure, waiting for a tow truck, plucking away on a 5-stringed guitar and warbling every country western song I know.


The first time we went around the block in the Subaru everything went well. Most of the guys on the Subaru club forum (well, all of them actually) had strongly suggested I buy the Subaru, and to be honest, I’ve always been a fan of the older models. We had several when I was a kid, and the GL’s have a quirky streak that’s just a mile long.  After all, who but Subaru puts the spare tire on top of the engine?


Unfortunately disaster struck on the second lap around the block. The route that wed chosen required climbing a fairly steep hill, and the second time around the Subaru just wasn’t up to the task. The car started to stumble and run roughly and halfway up the hill I made an executive move and decided to abort. I floored the throttle and with my brother hanging on for dear life I whipped around into a U-turn and we coasted back down to the bottom of the hill.


Which still left us about half a block from the guy’s shop. By dumping the clutch and flooring it, I managed to get the ‘Roo going again, but every step of the way it shuddered and shook like a mental patient undergoing shock therapy.


Of course, the seller feigned ignorance about the problem, and even though we waited it out for about 10 minutes (I was hoping he’ d offer to let the car go for say, $200, instead of $750, it didn’t look promising.)


So our pool of three became a pool of one, assuming some other deadbeat didn’t swoop in and snag the Diplomat before I could get back there.


Sidenote: I’ve always wanted to own a cop car. You guys know the drill, it’s got a cop motor, a 440 plant, the last model before catalytic converters so it’ll run good on regular gas, cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks, whaddya say, is it the new bluesmobile or what?

The next morning I called up Eric, the guy selling the Diplomat. He was asking $700, I offered $400. (Don’t be afraid to negotiate substantial discounts when dealing with cheap used cars)


He countered with $450, and I told him I’d be over that afternoon with a check.


When we got to Eric’s house his mom was having a garage sale, and I managed to get Eric to toss in two boxes of records in the trunk of the car for free. (Of course, I also ended up paying an additional $50 for the cd player that was in the car already, so maybe it’s a push.)


We stopped at a gas station on the way home to add a little gas, which brought my total up to $531.06.


After getting back to Boulder we slapped my plates on it, and I grabbed a bucket of soapy water and started scrubbing the dash. It wouldn’t be untrue to say that the dash changed colors, going from a poop brown to more of a light tan. James got out the vacuum and we managed to get most of the broken glass from the driver’s side window out, although every time you shut the driver’s door you can hear the rest of the glass rattling around inside.


All in all I spent about 2-3 hours scrubbing the interior, vacuuming out the trunk, and inventorying the interesting stuff that came with the car. It’s not a Bill Morton job, but it looks a lot better than it did. What follows is a partial list of what we found in the car.


Condom wrappers and box (empty, thank God)

Broken glass

A pair of Vise Grips

Several miscellaneous sockets, and a T-handle

Flyers advertising a website called

The A/C compressor

The smog pump

The original air cleaner assembly

A kazoo (no one was brave enough to see if it worked)

A speaker grill

Pokemon cards

A new fuel pump still in the box

2 docu-dent kits (unused, despite the body damage)

Heart-shaped ruby ring

Spark plug wires (new)

Old business cards, fast food wrappers, small pieces of hard candy, and assorted nuts

Numerous ballpoint pens


Tennessee temporary plate

Receipts for carb rebuild, new radiator, and new water pump


It seems like it’s running a little rough so we made a test flight over to the auto parts store to pick up a new fuel filter in hopes of solving the problem. After $24.07 in auto parts I had a new fuel filter, some RTV (solves almost any problem), power steering stop leak, and a few screws (some of the trim is nearly falling off).


This morning I replaced the fuel filter (the pump is going to require tools I don’t have with me at the moment, so back into the trunk it went) and took it for a long test drive. It felt better, but it still seemed to be down on power, and possibly missing a little bit. Based on some internet research, I’m guessing the lean burn distributor and module may be the culprit, and while a new “orange box” ignition control module and distributor may be the fix, I don’t want to wait another day, and order parts that would blow up my budget to fix it. There’s a junkyard in Greta, Nebraska that has the window I need, hopefully I can grab a distributor and the wiring there, and I’ll need a new module. (If I need it, I may be able to make it all the way home without it.)


With $444.87 left in my budget, I’ve got half a tank of gas, and I’m headed to the dollar store to score some cheap snacks, get some lunch at the Walnut Café, and then it’s time to hit the road. I’ll try and post up to the minute updates on Facebook, and I’ll get a longer update with pictures when I stop next.


Next stop, Grand Island, Nebraska! (Get ready Laura Flores!)

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