How My Dream Car Killed My Dream Car

Author’s Note: This is a re-imagining of a piece that ran on TTAC last year. I’ve expanded the dialog
and added many more pictures, which I strongly encourage readers click on for a richer experience.
An expanded collection with even larger photos can be freely downloaded here.


Memory can be a funny thing: an ally or an enemy. Any modern American likely grew up with cars, and can summon countless tales of good and woe. Childhood vacations that required an I-70 burn through Kansas winters, causing the POS ‘83 Vanagon’s fuel lines to freeze. Dad pumping bottle after bottle of Heet into the damned thing to no avail. Making our way to Oregon during the freakish Wyoming blizzard of ’85, seeing countless vehicles of all sizes rolled in the median, while the family cat is sleeping peacefully on Mom’s lap…

Mom. The cancer had spread to her brain. Through ten years she had fought, remission after remission, till those damned words: The Brain. Where memory lives. The realm of dreams…

Science has no consensus on dreams. A repository of unresolved feelings and emotions. A Freudian dumping ground delighting teenage males. But what about the other dreams? Day dreams? Dream girls? Dream cars? Like James May, I was a huge fan of the Countach when I was a wee lad. The angles, the aggression. The way it looked like it could open up and devour anything in its path. The stuff of dreams. And the Countach retained that title for many years, until I eventually attempted to “grow up” and stop being such a dreamer; settling in to a full-time job, having bills and taxes. No time for dreaming.

That is, until 2007, when I discovered Top Gear. A friend e-mailed me a link to the boys trying to kill a Toyota Hilux. This was art! I had purchased my first Toyota (and second) from a friend when I was nineteen: a ‘76 Celica GT in Krylon Blue. I learned to shift in that car, and drove the piss out of it for years until trading it off back to him. Dead reliable, unlike the truck I got in return. Over the next ten years, I would own an ‘84 Camry, ‘85 Celica, ‘84 Tercel 4×4, ‘85 van (twice), ‘86 van, ‘81 Cressida, ‘82 truck, and two Four Runners. Even an LS400. You might say I liked Toyotas.

Come the fall of ‘07, the same friend has an ‘87 Integra he needs to sell to pay off his latest used car, as well as a speeding ticket earned in the Acura. $550 cash and a 12 string guitar and we’re golden. My first drive was all I needed to know: across the Cascades in the dead of winter, balding tires doing their FWD-damndest to find grip. My new dream car.

My new dream car was twenty years old with 240,000 on the clock. Twice stolen, often abused and neglected, the Integra not only ran like a champ, but sparked my brain like no car I had ever driven. Over the next several years it took me to Yellowstone and back, including hours of 90+ mph burns through northeast Nevada. The following year, to visit my parents in Colorado. Never once a hard start or a hiccup. I put massive 18′ wheels on that looked quite hilarious, and didn’t quite fit, but no matter. The grip was immense and I could corner so hard I laughed. That is all that mattered.

Not long after getting the Integra, I got to Top Gear Series 7 Episode 5: the long-awaited and ridiculed Bugatti Veyron vs. a Cessna race across Europe. Later, Cpt. Slow doing the v-max run at Ehra-Lessien. I was smitten. An odd-looking car, even compared to the Countach. But the more I learned, the more I studied, the more I gazed at it parked in front of some place called “The Miner’s Club”, the more I loved it. The historical horsepower, the acceleration, the deceleration, the sheer audacity of the thing. The new stuff of dreams.

Early 2010, my immediate future is now obvious. Quit the job, sell the excess, stash the essentials, and go where I’m needed. GPS in tow, I plan a route to the folks via Las Vegas, where I can meet friends and leech a hotel room. The Willamette Highway took me to central Oregon and highway 97 south, which took me to route 139 in California towards Alturas, and across the pass to Cedarville.

From there it was south on Highway 1 to Highway 447 in Nevada.  I had driven across Nevada many times, but the vast expanses and ribbons of open road never fail to capture my imagination.

A few hours later, as the sun began to fade, I set up camp along a power-line maintenance road, five miles north of Gerlach.

The boulder-to-human ratio was approximately 86.32 trillion to 1, which I quite enjoyed.  The night winds, howling like a million dervishes, I quite did not.  My water bottle was frozen solid come 4 am, but I had packed accordingly, and slept well.  I left camp around 5am and reached Gerlach, known mostly for it’s proximity to Burning Man.

I still can’t explain what triggered the voice-in-my-head: “Slow down, take in the scenery.”  I took it as an order, and did so.  What’s there to see at 5 am?  Nothing is open, no one is awake, there’s nothi…. Wait!  I remember that! I flipped a u-turn and went back a few buildings.  And there it was: The Old Miner’s Club.  Veyron territory.  Bugatti had brought some early prototype Veyron(s) to the Black Rock Desert to sort out high speed dynamics and such, and many pictures were taken.  For weeks a picture of the Veryon parked right here in this very gravel parking lot in front of this very bar was my desktop wallpaper.  That photo, as much as any race across Europe, had cemented the insane Bugatti as my all-time fave.  My Day-Dream car.

There was no coffee to be had in Gerlach at 5 am, but no matter.  My little semi-rendezvous with destiny had amped me like a gallon of the Fine Colombian.  And there was a nice sense of serendipity: driving my dream car, in Day Dream car territory.  I felt inspired.  As the next few miles went by, the road straightened.  And straightened.  You could see for forever in any direction.  No trees, no other vehicles, surely no patrols.  The speed limit said 70, speedometer 85.  Highway 447 became my Ehra-Lessien, and I gave it the beans: 90, 95, 100, surely it’s almost done, 105, no way it can hit 110…

One ten.  My $700, 23 year old, 265,000 mile 4 banger with maybe 90 horsepower left can hit one ten.  And at over 5,000 feet elevation.  And it keeps on for several minutes.  Sated, I ease off and let the old girl back down to 85 and continue southward.  Two, maybe three cars other than mine were on the road that morning.  The purple tint of dawn lent the landscape a lunar tinge.  As the sun rose, I stopped for a whiz near Pyramid Lake.

I gassed up in Fernley and hit Alt 50 to Fallon where I would join 95 South to Vegas.  Within the hour I pulled off at Walker Lake to have a look-see and stretch my legs.  There was a sign warning of unexploaded ordinance at the south end of the lake, and to stay out of that area.  Sage advice…

95 continued south to Tonopah, by far the biggest town for miles at 2,627 residents.  Tonopah was founded at the turn of the 20th century by a prospector looking for a lost donkey.  The man found his missing burro and picked up a rock to hurl at it, and struck gold.  Silver, actually.  As in, he noticed the rock he picked up was unusually heavy.  Turns out he discovered the second richest silver strike in Nevada history.  Fittingly, I came upon this treasure halfway through town:

Times aren’t so good these days, however.  The mining economy has largely shrunk (so to speak), and it seems everything is for sale.

The nearby Desert Inn is deserted.

As is this long -abandoned mining community a few hours south.

I continued south and reached Las Vegas.  My friends had texted me that they were out of town for a few more hours, so I drifted onto Las Vegas Boulevard and onto the strip.  The traffic was stop and go, with a heavy emphasis on stop.  In the rare instances of go I, well, went, and kept on going with zero interest in returning.  I tend to favor water, so I found Lake Meade on the map and went thataway.  Less than an hour later I was at Hoover Damn.

Daylight was expiring, so I mistakenly got a hotel room at a casino in Boulder City that was straight out of a Hunter S. Thompson bad trip.  The place reeked of broken dreams and stale formica.  A “restaurant” that served generic warmed-over cafeteria food.  Soggy old people dumping their pensions into coin slots.  A husband and wife cover band at the bar, with a keyboard providing drums.  They had the look of well-polished turds, with leather clothes that screamed “Holy hell, has it been 20 years since high school?”

The next morning the car made a funny noise.  A few hours of phone calls and parking lot DIY’ing broke the bad news: the Integra had thrown a rod.  My Dream Car had killed my dream car.

Getting the engine rebuilt was simply not viable for a stranger in a strange land, especially since dad had urged the importance of my arrival.  My new course of action was to get a room for a week, sell the car, and then fly to Colorado.  I found the Nevada Inn.

Over the next few days I got to know some of the other residents.  The long-timers were mostly unemployed, and mostly alcoholics.  One of the older lifers often eyed me with suspicion, so to win their confidence I showed up at 9 am on Tuesday (unemployment check day) with a cold case of Pabst and open arms.

I heard many stories, and shared many laughs.  A friend of my next-door resident showed up in his late 80s Jaguar.  I impressed him with my (limited) knowledge of Jags, Lucas Electrics, and British Leyland.  He was also unemployed, but somehow had a significantly higher standard of living than his friends.  I passed out around noon.

The next day I sold the Integra on Craigslist for $400.

After a few more days wandering around, I flew to Colorado.  For the next few months my dream life would be on hold.  Mom’s remaining dreams, and making new memories, were what mattered.  On April 26th, her dreaming ended.

Back home in Oregon some months later, the reassembly process on my life and dreams continues.  And, frankly, it’s not like I’ll ever own, drive, touch, or even see a Veyron.  So my new dream car?  A one-owner ‘83 Tercel I found on Craigslist.  Time to make more memories.