The fun in creating our own problems

Kyle Smith

Years ago I met a person who created math equations for herself. It was fascinating to me: She enjoyed solving problems so much that she created them? Not only is that the worst version of reality television, it is also really dorky.

Who would go out of their way to create work for themselves? Who needs more things to do? For years she was the strange one, then it clicked: My project cars were the same as her math equations. Every hulk that enters my garage is a problem to be solved, and I revel in the self-inflicted challenges.

Kyle laying on ground working on Corvair
My 1965 Chevrolet Corvair has always needed something, including the day I bought it. Kyle Smith

Heck, at least a math nerd only pays for paper and pencil. My hobby dictates my housing decisions. The house I live in now was purchased half because my wife liked it and half because I discovered its garage was a decent upgrade from my last one.

(Speaking of, I’m tired of being scolded by realtors for wanting to look in garages. It’s important. Stop acting like it’s not.)

Some get so addicted to creating problems they end up with a field full of cars and Tom Cotter knocking on their door. In the chaos of crusty project cars and parts, there sits a list. At the bottom of that list sits the first project. The one that came before them all. The one whose parts have already been paid for and put on the shelf, just waiting for the owner to find the time to install them. When Tom stops by, those boxes are always dusty.

lost boxes on Kyle's shelves
Kyle Smith

I never understood how those situations happened. You spend good money on parts that your project car needs and then . . . just don’t do that job? Yet the white Corsa Coupe sitting in my own garage is proof that the same situation has found me. During a garage-shuffling last weekend, I found the new headliner and visors for the Corvair in boxes that I had lost in my own storage system. If that’s not a reality check, it’s going to take a fraud pen to prove it.

There was always another project shinier or more enticing than the delicate white headliner. Since the box contained the receipt for the parts, we don’t even have to guess how long I’ve been avoiding this project: Five years.

I owned zero motorcycles in 2018. Since then I have purchased twelve. You don’t do more than one a year on a writer’s salary unless you are buying some real projects. More things to fix. More new shiny objects. More distractions. You know what takes less time than installing a headliner? Scrolling Marketplace. Somehow, it always takes the exact amount of time you have. Never more, never less.

XR250R project bike
Why did I need to restore this before doing a headliner? Kyle Smith

Since this personal archeological dig and discovery, I’ve been brushing back up on the installation method for a bow headliner like that in the Corvair. The process really is not that bad. I have the space to do it. The tools, too. The power to keep my hands clean for a day or two is within me. I am an unstoppable headliner-installing force!

I have not started the project.

Am I simply avoiding work? Seems unlikely. Some soul-searching reveals that I am scared to make the Corvair too nice. The safety-pinned headliner is one of the few reminders left of a one-way flight to Austin, Texas, when after multiple delays I arrived in the middle of the night, slept on a couch for a few hours, then used a basic toolkit to make the car drivable before pointing the headlights north for 2000 miles. Those safety pins were put in somewhere on the side of the road in Oklahoma after the headliner dropped down to rest on my head. If I replace the headliner, will I somehow forget the adventure that cemented my love for this car? Surely not.

For now, I’m not going to chance losing the memory. It’s driving season in Michigan, but not for much longer—I’m not going to waste the good weather that remains staring at a car sitting in my garage, no matter the condition of its interior. Maybe this winter I’ll get around to that headliner. Probably shouldn’t hold my breath, considering one of the motorcycles needs a new head gasket, and that’ll probably spiral into a restoration. So many fun problems to solve . . .




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    I generally try to keep my projects one at a time, but I do have an instrument bezel for my vette hanging out on my toolbox and a blower motor and axle shaft for my Blazer hanging around the garage collecting dust

    I have done pretty good at only buying one broken toy at a time, and only when the last one is up, running, tagged, and in rotation

    The words “that should be pretty easy” have led to the most creative profanity I can muster. Enough so that in the restoration shop, that could get someone saying that out loud showered with whatever could be thrown across the room without harm. Yet we soldier on, because we have to master our predicaments and make the world a better place one vehicle at a time. Right ?

    You hit the nail on the head Kyle! Why do I (we) have the same affliction? I guess for me it’s the vision of bringing something old and cool back into the limelight with me behind the wheel/handlebars…and the new set of challenges therein.

    I’m retired, single, and own 3 cars – 08 Boxster S Limited Edition (the orange one), 08 Cayman S Sport (signal green), and an 89 928 S4 5spd w/ 57K mi. Starting last mo, I changed front wheel bearings on the shark, moved to maint on the LE (plugs, coils, brake flush, transaxle flush), then tie rods on the shark. Just finished up a complete stereo redo on the shark – took the trunk load of stuff out as well as the space age head unit. Going with a Blaupunkt Bremen that looks orig but is modern. Finished that last night, now working on the drooping headliner in the CSS. Always something to do…

    It was the realization that even though the engine was rebuilt and a pile of the necessary parts existed, I was not going to get to the third car in line for restoration which led me to pass the whole project on to my BIL. He has done a really decent job of resurrecting it so there is satisfaction in that. Though painful, the herd of motorcycles have been thinned to just one and I am trying hard to concentrate on the remaining project cars. But every now and then I see something really cool….
    We all must suffer from the same car virus.

    Self-inflicted problems? Usually preceded by the phrase what could possibly go wrong? Corvairs are cool so I understand.

    How many times have I bought ‘another’, then almost immediately found the one I bought a few months ago that got put somewhere out of sight. Sometimes I am afraid to dig into a pile of stuff that hasn’t been touched for a while

    Oh, I was scared to go digging through my shelf but I needed to “find” enough space to get my motorcycles luggage off the floor. A friend dropped by in the middle of it and forced me to acknowledge that what I actually found was about $800 worth of stuff I forgot about and would have said I don’t have the money to buy right now if asked to buy it. Free parts*!

    *That I paid for.

    I can really relate to what you said about buying parts. I get so excited to spend hours online searching for the correct part or best price and when I get the part, it goes on the shelf and I say i’ll replace it when I get time.
    Years later I find the part still on the shelf and I forgot I even had it.

    Truer words never penned, Kyle:

    “Heck, at least a math nerd only pays for paper and pencil. My hobby dictates my housing decisions. The house I live in now was purchased half because my wife liked it and half because I discovered its garage was a decent upgrade from my last one.

    (Speaking of, I’m tired of being scolded by realtors for wanting to look in garages. It’s important. Stop acting like it’s not.)

    I’ll second that. When shopping for our current house, I specifically told the realtor not to bother showing us houses with only 2-car garages. Each weekend trip for viewing was a 300 mile round trip from where we were living before the move. Nevertheless, he persisted. He just didn’t get it.

    “New” found parts, they’ll let you make new memories. Put that bad boy in, you’ll want the warmth of summer to help you with the install anyway!

    That’s so true. The number of warm sunny days is dwindling and being able to evenly warm a headliner before install is really nice. Thanks for the push in the right direction!

    You could always drive it back to Austin for the headliner install. We have warm days to spare here in Texas. I figure the headliner will be properly warmed in about 0.78 seconds if laid out at noon.

    My version of this?

    I buy all the tools in anticipation of starting my latest task. If course I never do. Leading to the realization:

    “I don’t like like fixing things nearly as much as I enjoy buying new tools.

    Mitch+Renko – my wife and I helped move my sister and bro-in-law many years back. He had a ‘workshop’ shed out back and I was tasked with packing it up. I found 5 sledgehammers. 5. When I asked him why, he said, “When I needed one, I couldn’t find it, so I bought another”. Apparently, this happened often…

    I can relate. My sole source of motorized conveyance was a dead hulk of a car when I found it 23 years sgo, having been dead for 15 years, part of that time submerged. The only thing that worked were the door and hood hinges. It took me four years to get it into some kind of roadable condition, then another 17 years to get it into a reliable roadable condition…and I’m still not done. The interior still needs a refurbish, and the A/C needs to be reassembled and charged…two things I haven’t been able to do even after acquiring what I needed to do those jobs, due to lack of outside service prospects where I live.

    But, I still drive it everywhere, and everywhere I go it draws attention to itself.

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