Your first car will always teach you lessons in Life, Love, and Car Maintenance – on a Budget
We did not have a family car for a long time while my pops suffered from an un-diagnosed medical issue, that and the DUI, of course.
During summer when I was on school break/vacation I would spend time in Tijuana Mexico, right across the U.S. border. Not much to do as a young kid as most my cousins had jobs at an early age. One summer it got boring I and decided to join the workforce, even if for the summer.
Most of my family in “TJ” were in the automotive repair and parts business. I was fascinated by the inner workings of cars. I started helping out at my uncle’s engine machine shop business. I then moved on to my other uncle’s home based auto repair business, both very crude in operation compared to the American versions.
Although crude, it was a steady source of business from people in the U.S. seeking low cost repairs and maintenance on their cars. My uncle James was friendly with a local telephone company and had a steady stream of vehicle requiring service. This company had a huge fleet of Volkswagen bugs (“Bochos” as they are known in Mexico), there wasn’t a day that went by without one of those bugs in the shop (really a dirt lot).
Even at this young age I could tell these were really basic; I believe just three or so bolts held the engine to the transmission. I’m glad they were, as this crude shop lacked hoist equipment, my cousin and I would take turns holding engines up to their mounting position either by hand or weird yoga poses using our legs as hoists. Again very crude; the dust in the work area and work positioning taught me a lot about being patient in tough situations.
Back at home my pop’s health and employment had improved. For a long time he would bike from our home in Highland Park California to Vernon, a good 10 miles every work day, to his overnight shift. He would sometimes have stories about the crazy people and situations he would see or be a part of. Enough was enough for him. I plan to one day thank him for doing that.
Cars for sale on the side of the road are common here in most of the Los Angeles area. When he showed up with this one day it was a surprise. The car showed up in all of its 1980’s cool glory, pull out stereo and rear louvers and all.
I took a look; Toyota Celica GT it read on the back. A very square-ish design that grew on me, and honestly I miss this car the most. Have you seen how much they go for now?
Although his health was much improved and mostly under control, and he had given up drinking, he still had random seizures while he was trying to get the proper medication timing/dose. For trips longer than 15 to 20 minutes he would employ me to drive him. I was 15 or 16 at the time and spent a lot of my time preparing; no, training, on the Gran Turismo game for this situation. I was glad to help!
Again, lack of maintenance led to the engine seizing one day. He moved on and got himself a ’96 Explorer. The Celica was handed down to me, seized engine and all. Yes it was a turd in its given condition, but it was my turd to polish (and I literally did). The bright red paint, Super Red I believe it was called, that once shined now had faded into a color that I can only closely describe as “International Orange”. Using a paint restorer wax from the parts store brought back the original shine. The only real “mod” I did was changing from an 85 mph speedo to an 130 mph speedo.
The Celica had the 22R engine known world wide. There were variations internally through out the production runs, small things like crank bearings. My uncle thought he could rebuild it, but again lack of knowledge led to the crank bearings being shaved down to fit and me throwing a rod through the block on the I5 freeway near the Broadway exit in Lincoln Heights. We took a risk on a junkyard engine and it worked. I got help installing it, getting it to run smoothly was another matter.
If you know or look of pictures of this engine you can see the hundreds of little vacuum lines controlling emissions, a true nightmare if you don’t know what you’re looking at. For an expert like me though…I just pulled and plugged ports until it ran properly. This was back in the day when you could pay someone to pass the SMOG for you.
So finally I had my own car, my ticket to freedom, my ticket to popularity, and my ticket to love. Who knew having a car at a young age could get you in with the ladies! There was no shortage of new friends coming around to ride around with me. Sometimes they’d wait while I finished up repairs on the car. It bothered me but not to the extent that I would turn them away. I was cool, finally.
I would burn up fuel, my friends would burn up that weed, nobody rode for free, and I was happy to drive them around.
The old skool Kenwood pull-out stereo never let me down no matter how many speakers we added to the additional speaker box to bump the new Linkin Heights or Dr. Dre album. Oh how I want to paint my fingernails black again today to trip people out. I was in my Goth phase at this point.
Truly the weed was the demise of this car. I didn’t have a real job; oddball stuff I did for money, or just plain out ask mom for money. I never really spent money on weed or beer; mostly fuel, my friends would provide.
A lot of the driving revolved around Elysian Park next to Dodger Stadium. The hills had small roads to travel and overlook the stadium. It was also a local hangout spot for men of an…”alternate lifestyle”; we never hassled them them, or they us. One night we were behind this gray Honda Civic 2 door one day, following slowly behind him. I guess he was cruising or something. We went to pass him on the left and wouldn’t you know it he decided to make a u-turn at that moment.
The impact was absorbed by his rear left tire, which popped on impact; no damage to his body otherwise. My low slung Red Rocket on the other had suffered fender and headlight damage. Never did run right after that, like it lost half its power.
The funniest part about this accident was having my stoned paranoid friends trying to leave (great friends huh?); the guy in the Civicwas not too upset about the incident. We tried to help put on his spare tire, but we could not. Would you believe that me and my best friend Dave, whom I could describe as “roomy”, could not get the lug nuts off, but the his super skinny boyfriend could? The wife of the Civics driver did not know about her husbands alternate lifestyle and so nothing ever became of the incident.
The Celica suffered a misalignment between the engine and transmission, finally snapping the flex-plate in my driveway when I tried to leave one day. The car suffered enough, I didn’t have money for repairs.
And that’s what it was like for me to be cool for a little while. The car headed off to the junkyard, never being fully rid of the smell of marijuana in the interior. The next car was something more luxurious, something I could not afford at the time.