When I discovered Curbside Classic, it awakened a long dormant interest in cars that had been slumbering since childhood. Having never taken an auto shop class nor having any mentors in automotive mechanics, I was a late arriver to working on my cars, but it’s rapidly becoming a newfound passion of mine here in my third decade on Planet Earth.
Reading the articles on this website from other passionate people who take pride in their cars and work on them has been very inspirational for me. I love all the articles here, but over the years, watching the ambitions of the dreamers and mad-skilled DIY mechanics like Paul, David Saunders and Keith Thelen, to name a few, has been mind-blowingly awesome. Their DIY spirit was infectious, and it rubbed off on me.
My renaissance started when I bought a VW van that I tinker with as time and funds allow. I did not intend it that way; the damned thing just needs a lot of work and attention. I have a love-hate relationship with it that I have written about before, but overall, I have found it very rewarding to work on.
This summer, I put two large dents into two separate panels on the rear of the van when I scraped up against a cement stanchion at a gas station while trying to avoid a poorly parked Trans-Am.
I hardly even noticed the impact, but when I got out to look at the damage, it was significant. This wasn’t going to buff out; there was real body damage there. Seeing the dents every day when I exited my house stung, and I sought some estimates from some PDR (paintless dent repair) professionals. They all waffled and declined the job, telling me that there was too much stretched metal to affect a PDR.
I next took the van to a body shop that took a thousand photos and then told me that their plan was to find a donor van, cut out a replacement panel, and weld it in. Well, that was some crazy talk, so I told them to terminate the estimate right then. Who knows how many untold thousands of dollars that would cost? More than the van is worth, certainly. It looked like it was either live with the damage, or get my tools out and see what I could do.
Over the next few weeks, I spent some time reading up, watching YouTube videos, and ordering tools. The most significant of the tools new to me was a slide hammer. This technique is a last-ditch, invasive procedure. Having already tried a suction cup dent puller, compressed air and a heat gun with no success, I was running out of options.
Finally, the moment arrived when I was standing in front of the van with a power drill in my hand. Once you drill holes into your car, they don’t come out. Did I really think I knew what the heck I was doing? Screw it, I thought. I cranked up some heavy metal on the stereo and went to town on the damaged panels. My wife came home just in time to find me swiss-cheesing the van, and she looked at me like I was half mad; maybe I was, but my confidence was high, even if my experience was low. Neighbors began to walk by as I was working and give me thumbs-ups. “I didn’t know you knew how to do body-work,” one commented. “Neither did I,” I responded.
Please don’t criticize my amateur work. I’d never used Bondo before, I’d never used a slide hammer – this is all uncharted territory for a newbie. I’m just an average unskilled idiot, but I’m learning!
This weekend, I’ll be working on the long crease that I inherited when I took ownership of the van. No holes were necessary for this one, but I’ve still got to get the primer on smoother and more even before I paint.
So what’s your next DIY project? Whether you are looking to tackle something big or small, hopefully this story will get you fired up to take it on!