A New Year’s resolution worth breaking

Kyle Smith

Just like I did twelve months ago, and virtually every week in between, I spent last Sunday night piddling about, cleaning up my home shop. It was the perfect time to both reflect and look forward. Thinking like that in late December leads neatly to a polarizing word: Resolutions.

I’m not great with resolutions. That doesn’t keep me from continuing to make them, even if the activity feels increasingly absurd. Somehow my lack of seriousness about resolutions allowed me to discover their core purpose: To force a small bit of evolution into a better version of Kyle Smith. Resolutions to “stop this” or “start that” have fallen flat year after year, and it’s finally become all too clear that subtle changes go a hell of a lot further than attempting to revolutionize or reinvent myself.

So this year will continue the trend of measurable but attainable goals that are also soft pitches. I thought last year’s were beer-league-softball stuff, quite honestly, yet when the season ended, I was batting below .200, stone sober. I swung and missed at making all my cars run. Saved myself from striking out by buying a couple of investment-grade tools. Watched a lazy one come right across the plate, then whiffed and bought a non-running project bike—which I swore I wouldn’t—at the last second.

I’m only making two resolutions for 2024. First, stop using sports metaphors. Second, break something.

Let me explain with a brief trip down memory lane. The 1965 Corvair I love so dearly has always had a few problems that I simply tolerate. One is an oil leak from the rear crankshaft seal, a leak that has been there since day one of my ownership. After a year of driving, the oil soaked the clutch so thoroughly that it flung off all its friction material and clogged the starter bendix. I took the whole powerpack out and put it back together with new seals, flywheel, clutch, and pressure plate. Three days after reinstall, I drove the Corvair 1000 miles to a car show.

The crankshaft still leaked. But it wasn’t bad enough to worry about yet, so I embraced the trope that “they always leak” and decided to enjoy the car in spite of its territorial behavior.

Corvair wrecked clutch
It doesn’t get much worse than this, as far as clutches are concerned. Kyle Smith
corvair clutch material
Scooping oil-soaked friction material out of the bellhousing. Kyle Smith

I’m currently staring at the tail end of the crankshaft of the Corvair. The leak got worse this fall, and this winter seemed as good a time as any to buy $50 in gaskets and seals and knock the job out before the leak ruined another clutch disc. Three hours into disassembly, I arrived at the last step, the bellhousing bolts. They’re loose. Did these 9/16″ coarse-thread bolts back themselves out or did I fail to tighten them in my thrash to get the car back on the road?

At some point, the reason doesn’t matter. I only sit here with greasy fingers dancing over a keyboard because I realized this might be the first time I can recall that something I did (or didn’t do) caused a machine to need repair.

I have sought out all of the broken stuff I own, often paying to bring it home. We chronic mechanics all agree such behavior is normal, though, so I’ll set that aside. That crankshaft seal sticks in my brain because points to a lack of use.

In my garage, the restored and rebuilt seem to sit on stands more than anything, engines and machines doted over a kid picking dandelions in the outfield of the T-ball field, their helicopter mom holding triple antibiotic and bandaid on the sidelines. I’m so ready to fix things that I am doing preventative maintenance on preventative maintenance.

This year’s resolution is to put down the tools and use one of the motorcycles, cars, or other motorized objects until something breaks. My true goal is to wear something out. Could be the 520 non O-ring chain on the trailbike, or the tires on the Corvair—something that demands service due to use, not decay.

I choose vehicles for their durable nature, so the ones in my garage are not the ideal group to choose from, but if I fail to break anything while taking Corvair on a good road trip and hit the single track multiple times on the Honda XR250R, was the time really wasted?

The tools are clean and in their boxes now, the top of the workbench wiped down as if I’m closing a bar. Really, I’m cleaning enough space to lay out a map and do some thinking about where I’d like to drive this year. Suggestions welcome, especially if you offer to help out when I break something on the road. Might be my arm …

Corvair dim taillights




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    Corvair Track day at a vintage Event, I.E Pittsburgh Vintage grand prix most of them are glorified touring laps, or better yet a vintage rally

    After a couple time-speed-distance rallies in an older car, I’ve always thought a TSD in teh Corvair would be really interesting. Maybe It’s time I join the SCCA after all.

    I think this is a great resolution! I have known too many mechanics – my dad as the best example – who were always working on cars and never enjoying them. Happy trails, not trials!

    Waterford Hill has a vintage weekend event you might like. There’s typically a Corvair or two that show up. They also have parade laps that are fun. You can’t pass, but if the person in front of you is way ahead, you can catch up.

    About that cover photo, I see someone sitting in the passenger seat, but nobody in the driver’s seat. Photoshopped?

    About that cover photo, I see someone sitting in the passenger seat, but nobody in the driver’s seat. Photoshopped? Or is the car stopped in the middle of the road?

    This is the time (winter) I find the time to work on all my car “projects”, once Spring rolls around other outdoor activities take over. Preventative maintenance is what gets them through the majority of the Spring, Summer, early Fall (for the most part). Good Luck on the projects.

    Would the break something resolution already be covered? Everything looks good, keep the Corvair reports coming.

    If you need a road trip in the Corvair come to Colorado and make a quick run up Pikes Peak..if you have any problems your welcome to come by my house and I’ll shuffle my VW’s around and we’ll work on it.

    Yawn… The same white Corvair that has been it how many articles now, 20? I had a Corvair Greenbrier van. There is a reason you don’t see a Corvair on the road – JUNK

    Why are you reading a car magazine? You may not see many Corvairs on the road because they are 60 years old and the majority of them may not have been owned by a mechanic.

    It’s 24 degrees out here in SW Colorado with more snow on the way and I have a propane heater facing me in my tent/garage as I work on replacing the clutch and rebuilding the rest of the engine in a 2007 MINI S. I have said for two years now that I will have it running for the Go Fast Don’t Die Devilstone Run each September (it’s about the community more than my not having a motorcycle, and I’m fine being a sag wagon). Join us. Or them, if this damned thing keeps not running.

    “Really, I’m cleaning enough space to lay out a map and do some thinking about where I’d like to drive this year. Suggestions welcome, especially if you offer to help out when I break something on the road. Might be my arm …”

    Might I suggest the map go on a cork board on the wall…and some darts to accompany it? A few tosses in the general direction you wish to travel could yield some interesting results for ‘destinations’ (but it’s REALLY more about the journey – RIGHT?!?!?!)

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