It’s amazing how fast a love affair can turn into a burden. Sometimes all that’s required is a timeline fallen from the sky. Case study: Recently I was informed that my request to relocate to Germany for work had been approved. Great beer, food, easy access to all of central Europe—score! But then, the not-so-score—rigid regulation, bad Mexican food, and project car liquidation.
How do I prepare for such a journey? Selling off project cars I know won’t be completed prior to departure is a good start. Well, they say the Phoenix rises from the ashes. Right, so let’s start the burning.
Car 1: 1979 Peugeot 504 Diesel
This is something I wanted to make into a safari-style rally car but didn’t get much past putting it back on the road. Slumbering most recently on 40 acres but previously in a variety of storage locations since 1983, this Pug was wrecked in Miami Beach when nearly new. One can only dream of the characters and circumstances. With only 12,000 miles on the clock, it was ripe for resurrection. But first, it needed extraction. Fast forward past a dog bite, hospital visit, field donuts, U-Haul, and multiple DMV trips, and the 504 was road ready with surprisingly little wrench time. More so multimeter and crimper time. Ultimately, a fellow in Uwharrie National Park had me drop it in his bar. His plans are to restore it and relive some past memories of his father’s Peugeot. With me at a black zero, I’m good with the plan too.
Car 2: 1987 BMW 535is
Truthfully, this is a car I never wanted to part with. This was my best friend’s car in high school. It’s unreal the torment this neo-classic went through when it was just a thousand-dollar used car in the early 2000s. Burnouts, rally crosses, compressing the bumpers by backing into the grocery store—it had seen it all. Some years later, a mutual friend gave me that car and I started recommissioning it. I laid some new paint in the garage (and tagged most other things in the garage), mostly installed a hybrid AC system from Ford and Chrysler parts, and got it in good running order. I sold it to a friend of mine for the paltry sum of $2500. Though my high school buddy gave me a rash of hell for selling it for anything less than $5K, I’m happy that it ended up with a like-minded mutual friend of ours who can finish where I gave up.
Car 3: 1984 (Aussie) Ford Falcon Ute
When I told my friends that I sold the Roo Chaser—this multicolored Aussie ute with a mural on the tailgate, slot mags, and a cammed-up 351; it was as if part of my identity was lost or mistaken—people choose not to believe it. Future lesson: probably best not to have your identity tied directly to a piece of bogan steel from the land down under. Sold 8 years to the day when a buddy and I boarded flights to LAX to retrieve it after impulsively buying it over lunch, the new owner showed up with a new-ish Silverado and a solid-looking trailer. I’m certain he will experience fewer than the 42 breakdowns we encountered. I really didn’t want to sell it until I envisioned what it would look like upon my return in 3–5 years. The tin fairies have already eaten most XE-generation Falcons, so I figured I’d jump on the opportunity to have it moved to somewhere drier than coastal South Carolina. I knocked a bit off the price under the following conditions: the body would get done, and should he ever sell the ute, I’d get first crack. As they say in its native Melbourne, grouse as.
Car 4: 1980 AMC AMX
Totally lost my shirt on this one. After swapping the motor, adding some fancy Crestline mags and whitewalls, and putting miles of welding wire and sheet metal into getting this stickered-up, faux muscle car out dormancy for 25 years, I now needed to find a buyer. One problem: after the Motorcraft 2100 carb swap, it wouldn’t idle for anything. I popped a vacuum gauge on it and fired it up. Hmm, atmospheric… that can’t be right. After inspecting the carb’s vacuum passages in the baseplate hanging over the manifold and adapter, it was clear that this reading wasn’t erroneous. After a few failed sale attempts, I capitalized on an unsuspecting friend who had jokingly threatened to buy the car on my online social media ad. I informed him that I’d have it on a trailer at South of the Border on I-95 the next morning, free of charge if he’d meet me there. Sure enough, he showed up. Growing up together, we were crazy for cars, but he’s owned well over 100… the AMX being his first American car. What an intro to domestic motoring. Wanting to prove it would idle if it had manifold vacuum, I slapped a banana peel between the carb and base plate. The big 258 sucked at it and tried to eat it as the idle ticked over at 450 rpm.
Car 5: 1982 Volvo 244
You hate to sell a car you just got, especially if it’s nearly your only reliable transit. But special exceptions can be made for friends, especially if they’re also going to be renting your house while you’re away. It’s going to be a little strange for the neighbors to see the same automotive and domestic landscape with different actors, but we’ll all adapt. With a sale date agreed for the future, I got the 244 all up and ready to go and took it on the final road trip to Virginia for work. Unfortunately, some people at the gas station alerted me to a massive cloud of vapor emanating from the hood. Apparently, the low pressure A/C line popped. But in August in North Carolina, who needs A/C anyway, right? Right? Now A/C-less (I’ll fix it, I promise), its new owners are still enjoying the Volvo immensely. And having proven its chops in the drive from Los Angeles to Charleston, I don’t have any doubts they’ll have literally weeks of trouble-free motoring ahead.
Car 6: 2000 Toyota Land Cruiser
This was the one that really hurt to get rid of, so much that it made my wife cry. This black rhino had towed cars all over the East Coast, as well as having faithfully transported both human and greasy mechanical cargo with only a handful of issues. Granted, those issues were complete bears to fix, the Cruiser was probably the most reliable car I have ever owned. Sitting on 18-inch steel wheels, it looked like some kind of third world diplomat special edition. The whole neighborhood watched me unload mulch from the cargo area every week and drag home some helpless pile of a project car on a monthly cadence, yet still, there were three households competing for it. My next-door neighbor and I struck a deal over a beer, and the Toyota moved one driveway over.
Car 7: 1971 Citroën Ami
Kept it. Sharing it with a friend who drives it daily.
Car 8: Studebaker Lark
Procured days before my departure, it’s now being put on the road by my father and my former boss at a Studebaker/BMW farm in North Carolina.
Car 9: 1988 Holden Commodore
Kept it. Freshly painted and sitting under cover in my garage.
Car 10: 1989 (Aussie) Ford Falcon
The drag sleeper is still mine, but a friend is finishing the build as I bank roll the parts remotely.
So, I’m here in Germany building a new fleet, yet the landscape at home in South Carolina looks quite the same. Between the Ami bumbling down Ashley Avenue to the Land Cruiser and teal brick Volvo in adjacent driveways, only those within earshot of the garage will know we have moved.
I did take some lessons from this whole ordeal—if I had zoomed out a bit, I should have seen that these projects would have constituted two lifetimes of work at my pace. Now I get a big toothy smile when I hear of Citroën Ami sightings in Charleston, a turbo Falcon making numbers on a dyno, or my neighbor shoveling manure into the back of the Cruiser. These cars are meant to be enjoyed, and not just one at a time.