The Great Beater Challenge 2017 – Vehicle Selection and Preparation

Last year around this time my middle son and I participated in the Great Beater Challenge driving a 1983 Dodge Aries through the mountains. As a quick refresher the general idea is as follows: buy a cheap vehicle ($700 or less all in including repairs), come up with a team theme, drive it on a road trip while completing a scavenger hunt, and have fun. While the Aries was not really capable of highway speeds it made the whole trip which turned out to be a great experience. This time around my eldest son also wanted in as well. This year we did not even have to search out for our ride as it fell into our lap.

My oldest son has recently passed his learner’s test which allows him to drive accompanied by a fully licensed driver. At the time our fleet consisted of my wife’s Ford F150 as well as my Mazda 2 and MG B. Both the Mazda and MG have manual gearboxes and while the truck has an automatic it is both physically huge and worth real money. This left us without a suitable vehicle for a new driver to learn on. While I understand that in other countries many people learn directly on a manual gearbox I felt I would like to preserve my clutch and at the same time give my son a less steep learning curve. Luckily for us my brother in-laws had both moved away for their post secondary education but also possessed a cheap vehicle they were both ready to move on from.

This hail damaged 2003 Honda Civic was very generously given to our boys but for the sake of the challenge I am valuing it at $300. It needed a few minor mechanical repairs (rear wheel bearing, oil change, light bulbs and a maintenance warning light on) but mostly had cosmetic issues resulting from a collision as well as a powerful hail storm. In other words perfect for a beater rally (and teenage car). While I was hoping to run a real oddball this year the Civic proved to be a perfect fit.

The first step was to clean the car out. There was a couple hundred pounds of books in the trunk and back seat which were quickly donated. In the spare wheel well was several hundred of roofing nails which had to be individually picked out. Other miscellaneous items like the booster cables, flashlights and windshield washer fluid would be useful to take along on the rally. Hopefully we have no use for the snow brush.

The car had been sitting a while so the interior needed a good clean. On the plus side I found almost ten dollars from clearing out the interior which is a nice bonus for the budget.

I should have taken a better before photo but it cleaned up rather nicely.

While it is hard to fully see in photos the exterior is rather hail damaged. My plan was to customize the existing damaged trunk and hood for the rally and then replace with a salvage yard parts. The roof would still be a little beat up but perhaps the overall look would improve.

With a vehicle of this value it always comes with a few quirks. The first time I filled it with gas I discovered the oversized washer in the cup holder is actually there to open the fuel door. One has to use a surprising amount of force to get the door open but it works.

Mechanically the Civic was pretty close to ready to go. A noisy rear wheel could have been repaired but I took a look at it and declared it good enough for now. Mechanical preparation was limited to an oil change and a quick peek to make sure the brake pads had some material left on them. The biggest problem for the challenge is that the Civic is not a particularly unique or interesting vehicle. In a bid to earn some bonus points I attached a junkyard sourced Special Edition badge. If you recall for last year Dodge Aires scored most of its points for being a (legitimate) Special Edition. A few other body customization touches might be in order.

Since the car is a Civic we decided to go with budget\cheesy “Fast and Furious” style car. This meant we needed to add some simulated go fast equipment. Up front I used a leftover can of white spray paint to make some racing stripes. Only the hood was done as that is how far the paint went. Last year we mounted a paint tray hood scoop in a (failed) attempt to keep the Dodge Aires cool. This year I figured we could honor last year’s car with a similar scoop so I bought a slightly bigger version to give the impression of a cool air induction system.

It could not be a “performance” Civic without a wing. Some free pallet wood combined with some left over bolts, washers, nuts and screws from my spare bolt bucket gave us a suitably tall wing. It was parked in the garage leading up to the challenge so it does not bring down the neighbor’s property values too much.

The bolt bucket its self gave the Civic an enhanced size exhaust tip.

Inside an old fire extinguisher painted blue gave a reasonable facsimile of a NOS bottle.

While I would have liked some really terrible hubcaps and under-glow I could not find either locally. I would have thought Walmart or Princess Auto would have been a sure thing but all the aftermarket hubcaps at the local Walmart were disappointingly tasteful. Even the local scrapyard did not have any. They did have a replacement for the one missing stock hupcap which I bought but will install after the rally. I did manage to add two last minute custom touches which were a signature and personal message from rapper Vanilla Ice as well as a “No Junk Mail” sticker. The junk mail sticker produced a surprisingly large amount of feedback.

Here is our completed car ready to go at the start line. The hood stripes look surprisingly decent for the ten minutes I spent on them. Note the dinosaur behind … it is just that sort of event. I will reveal the dinosaur’s epic ride as well as others in the next installment.


The whole series:

Vehicle Selection and Preparation

The Teams

Day One Part One: Tarmac, Gravel, Tarmac and more Gravel

Day One Part Two: Out into the Prairie

Day Two Part One: Dinosaur Hunting

Day Two Part Two – Bridges, Pipes and Star Trek