Continuing Car Saga

Several years ago I had a hard time with my car because, as I found out later, the mechanic I went to at the time was a cheat and not only didn’t do what he was supposed to, he actually sabotaged the vehicle. In one case, instead of replacing the leaky brakes, he cut the rear brake line and blocked it with a bolt. I still don’t understand the reasoning behind that. And there was something about the points. Either he put in bad points or used cheap ones, or something, because the car kept breaking down.

I eventually found a mechanic who only dealt in air-cooled VW Beetles. He switched out the original ignition with an electronic ignition, which eliminated the points problem. Of course, things are never that easy. It turns out that the electronic ignition and the carburetor no longer “spoke” to each other, so he had to put in an older carburetor, which entailed reworking various connections.

Fast forward to today. The carburetor he put in no longer works, so my current mechanic ordered and installed a new carburetor. And no surprise, it doesn’t speak the language of the electronic ignition. The mechanic spent all day yesterday trying to get everything meshed, without much luck. (I felt bad that he had to do all that work, but he seemed happy enough to have something different to do since it’s a far cry from what he normally does.) He’s trying one more thing today, replacing some connectors, but he doesn’t think it will work. While researching the problem, he found site after site that categorically said not to put an electronic ignition in this particular model and year because of the very problem he encountered.

So now the best option seems to be to order a new ignition of the non-electronic variety and install that. I had no problem with the original-style ignition until the days of the cheating mechanic, so I’m okay with that, and in a way I prefer it since it restores the car to its original condition. Although I had no objection to the electronic ignition, I never really liked the idea of a non-regulation carburetor.

I do like that this new mechanic seems to be invested in my car. I think he gets as much a kick out of people commenting on the vehicle when it’s in his care and listening to their reminiscences of their experience with a VW bug as I do.

Even though some people think I need to get a new car (and as I get older and have a harder time clambering in and out, I sometimes agree), I’ll stick with this one to the end — either my end or the car’s end. The money I put into the car each year is a lot less than a monthly car payment would be. Besides, it’s to the point that I almost have to keep it. I mean, how many people have bought but a single vehicle in their entire life, and are still driving that vehicle? It gives me a weird sort of prestige. And makes almost everyone I meet an instant friend.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

When a Rhinestone Becomes a Diamond

Let’s say you owned a faded rhinestone necklace, a piece of junk jewelry that you wore everywhere, to get groceries, do other errands, even clean the house or garden. Sometimes you left it out in the sun or rain, and it didn’t matter, because after all, it was just a cheap necklace. Then one day you took it to be cleaned, and when you got it back, it had miraculously become a diamond necklace. What would you do? How would you feel? Would you still wear it everywhere, even to go grocery shopping? Would you still feel comfortable leaving it out in the sun or rain? Would you feel differently about the jewelry? Would you feel differently about yourself?

This is what I am dealing with now that my car has been restored. I really just wanted a cheap paint job, but no one would paint it with the rust. And as it happened, the guy I took it to was a perfectionist, and so now my faded rhinestone car has turned into a diamond, and I don’t know how to react.

I never was one of those folks who loved her car. Never talked to it or gave it human characteristics. Never called it he or she. It was a tool. A sometimes frustrating tool, and sometimes a pleasing tool, but basically, just a thing. And now that thing has become something else.

I was awed when I saw the finished car, and am awed again every time I see it. It truly is a work of art, looking as if it just crept out of a time machine from the 1970s, but it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with me. More like an icon that I have been given permission to drive. But I don’t. Drive it, I mean. At least not yet. It’s sitting in the garage of the house where I am presently residing. I open the garage door periodically and look at it. Fiddle with a few things. (The guy who did the upholstery was not a perfectionist, and the seatbelt is all twisted. To untwist it, the window has to be taken out, which is not easy because the new stripping is so tight, the seller had to go to the auto body shop and install it. Then the new headliner has to be rolled back to get to the bolts. So I’m dealing with the twisted seatbelt as best as I can.)

After I look at the car, I shut the door, leaving the bug to its own devices, and I go walking. I don’t know what to think of the vehicle. Don’t know what to think of me. How will it change me? Will it change me? I don’t know.

I like how the vehicle gleams, and I know the first time I drive it in the fierce desert winds, leave it out in the intense sun, or let it get rained on, that gleam will dull a bit. (The paint isn’t baked like a car fresh from the factory, and though it should hold up for many years, it will lose its diamond-like luster, especially if it’s sandblasted by the winds or water-stained from the rain.) Also, as people keep telling me, it’s at risk for theft or being keyed by someone who is jealous of the perfection. The only way to keep that from happening is to keep it in the garage, and the use of the garage is only temporary. When my friends get back, I’ll move on, and the poor car, like me, will be at the mercy of whatever comes its way.

I’m planning on driving today, even leaving the bug in a parking lot for a couple of hours while I go to dance class, but I am keeping an eye on the increasing clouds. If it looks like rain (and rain is forecast) I might change my mind about driving.

Still, no matter how the bug gleams, it is just a car, a tool.

But somehow, I no longer believe that.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

The Great Reveal!!

I had nightmares last night. In my dreams, I drove helplessly around, got lost, couldn’t see where I was going, which makes sense since my six month hiatus from driving was about to end.

Yep. The VW restoration is complete!

Oddly, I didn’t think I’d feel anything for the finished car — I mean, it is just a car — but when I went to pick it up today, I felt awed and overwhelmed at my first glimpse of the restored bug sitting in front of the auto body shop. I knew Pedro did good work, but it’s one thing seeing other old cars looking new, and something else seeing your own. He truly went over and above what he said he would, partly because he is an artist, and partly he felt bad about how long it took.

The artist who restored my Volkswagen

The artist who restored my Volkswagen

The thing shines! He polished the windows, headlights, hubcaps. Replaced all rubber parts and weatherstipping. This in addition to hundreds of hours of bodywork. No bondo for him! Sheet metal and welds all the way. And he did all the things he said he would such as replace the brake and fuel lines that I’d paid someone else to fix. (He tells me God loves me because I could have been killed in that car. Not only did the cheat not replace the brake lines he was supposed to replace, he cut the rear brake line and plugged the hole for the rear brakes on the brake cylinder. Eek.)

And his upholstery guy did a good job on the interior — new padding and slipcovers on the seats, new headliner, new carpeting throughout.

It’s still an old car, of course, with old car crotchets, but not as many as you would think. The last time I drove the car, it was a rattletrap, a junker. It didn’t really matter what happened to it since it seemed to be on its last legs . . . er, wheels. And now, it’s a near classic, a vintage car of some value. That will take getting used to!

I was worried the car wouldn’t start after not being driven for so long, but it started right up. I was worried about forgetting how to drive, but that wasn’t a problem, either. I drove for a couple of hours today to work out any kinks, but the mechanic who did the repair work seven months ago did a wonderful job. There were no mechanical problems, and the car sounds like new. (Like a new old-style-beetle, that is. Not like a new modern day vehicle.)

I’ve often wondered at my folly for going along with such a protracted and rather costly restoration. (I didn’t envision a restoration — I just wanted to get rid of enough rust so it could be painted.) After all, as people keep reminding me, it’s still an old car, and as such doesn’t have the safety features of the new cars. On the other hand, it also doesn’t have a gazillion electronic parts except for the electronic ignition I had put in. It’s mechanical all the way.

Now I’m glad I went ahead with the restoration. It’s past time for a bit of folly, and besides, it’s nice seeing the old bug looking so good.

Restored 72 VW

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)