Monthly Archives: September 2011

Killinger Escape Plan

Full disclosure – I knew nothing about Dillinger Escape Plan’s music until I came up with that snappy title.  I’m so proud of my rapier wit that I can’t help but keep the title, even if their music stinks.

My work life has been a bit hectic of late – too many projects that never seem to end, turnover creating additional work for me, and, as always, increased pressure to do things quicker and cheaper.  So where I used to spend most lunch hours surfing the internet and playing flash games, I’ve recently felt the desire to get out of the office for a bit.

I started searching for roads in the area that would provide a bit of entertainment during my break.  This being suburbia, my choices were rather limited – most roads are either crowded at that time of day or arrow straight.  After a few drives, however, I discovered a more rural route that features a 45 mph speed limit, several elevation changes, and a number of curvy stretches.  The first section is on Killinger Road (hence the title of this post), and it’s a series of uphill curves that are slightly banked, providing some extra grip that enables me to keep a little extra speed than I normally could in a 40-year-old musclecar – or a 10-year-old Cadillac, for that matter.  A pretty lakeside road is next, followed by the return trip on a freshly paved two-lane through a wooded area.

I rarely exceed the speed limit,  and I don’t push the car too hard – I’m trying to clear my head, not wrap it around a tree.  The area is lightly traveled, and seems to be lightly patrolled as well.  More importantly, it has proved to be just what I needed to unwind a bit during the day.  The only problem is that I usually don’t want to go back to work at the end of the hour.


As Seen on Craigslist – 1964 Pontiac Grand Prix

This is one of those ads that immediately catches my eye, and even though I keep finding things that should scare me off, I can’t look away.  The ’62-’64 Grand Prix is one of the best looking cars of the era, and it’s on my (long) list of cars I’d like to own someday.  The styling manages to look formal and elegant yet simultaneously muscular (a contemporary reviewer said it looked like an athlete in a tuxedo, an apt description).  This particular car lacks the cool 8-lug wheels that were available at the time (the only time drum brakes have looked good), but the understated lines look especially great in dark blue nonetheless.  The dash-mounted tachometer is a cool bit of early-60’s tech, and closer inspection reveals what sure looks like a clutch pedal, but I can’t find a floor-mounted shifter.  It’s that bottom right photo that scares me, though – these cars were meant to be long and low, but the front end looks like it’s sitting way too low, so either somebody cut the springs or the front suspension is garbooned somehow.  The bigger concern is what looks like rust on the fender lip.  If the tinworm has made a home in there, any restoration just tripled in cost – especially since these bigger cars don’t have nearly the aftermarket support of the more popular mid-sizers.  Of course, this seller has neglected to list a price, so your guess is as good as mine as to whether this car is a worthy investment.  If it really is a four-speed runner with a solid body that just needs some cleaning and mechanical reconditioning, I’d be hard-pressed to walk away from it.  But if we’re looking at a rusty hulk that needs complete disassembly and extensive body work, run – don’t walk – away.

As Seen on Craigslist – 1956 Chevy

For some reason, I’ve been on a 50’s kick lately.  I saw a clean ’55 Chevy on the road over the weekend, and that cemented it.  Unfortunately, these cars have reached the point where anything that’s reasonably clean and drivable is way out of the reach of the average car guy.  That situation isn’t going to get any better as time passes, either; the few project-worthy cars out there will likely only get worse and drive up the price of the good ones.  The days of finding workable 50’s-era cars in backyards and sheds are just about over.

Unless, that is, you’re willing to look at sedans.  While two-doors will always be more popular with the hot rod crowd, the styling of the four-door cars is virtually identical and they can be had for MUCH less money.  Where a comparable coupe would likely command triple what this seller is asking, you could throw a couple grand in engine, brake, and interior parts at this one and have a nice little cruiser with a ton of patina and style.  The ’57 is iconic, but the ’55 and ’56 cars are more subdued and I think better looking.  If you want a 50’s car, you better act fast, and this might not be a bad start.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

So it’s been a little slow around here, thanks to a week-long staycation and the first birthday of my littlest wingnut.  I haven’t done much car-wise, other than take the family for ice-cream in the Tempest, thanks to my newly-installed modern seat belts that accommodate child seats.  I also helped my mom buy a new car, which was a bit of an adventure.

She decided she wanted a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited (the four-door model), despite my best attempts to talk her out of it – she drives quite a bit for work and Jeeps don’t exactly have stellar fuel economy.  I managed to convince her to wait for the 2012 model, which has a new engine and transmission that is light-years better than the ’11 model.  We test drove both, and the 2011 had noticeably less power and the engine lugged on inclines, to the point that I actually manually downshifted to get up the hill.  She could have gotten a better deal on a leftover 2011, but I think it was worth the extra expense to get the improved 2012.

The dealership located one that was optioned to her preference, and after another test drive, she decided it was the one.  I hadn’t had the chance to negotiate on my last (and only) new car purchase, due to time constraints, the cash-for-clunkers program, and some other details, so I was actually looking forward to a little haggling.  What I wasn’t expecting was a 2+ hour back-and-forth that should have taken approximately twenty minutes.  After starting with an estimated monthly payment that was more than her current mortgage payment, we whittled away at the price of the Jeep and added to their offer on her trade-in until arriving at a number that she could live with.  I guess I had assumed that most dealerships had abandoned this annoying process, but I was wrong.

Some lessons:

  • We test drove two vehicles, and I would have driven more if I were the one doing the buying.  I can’t imagine why, but there are people who buy cars without actually having driven them.  Even if I knew exactly what I wanted and had driven that car in the past, I would drive it again before signing on the bottom line.  You’re going to be spending a lot of time in that seat, so you probably want to find out if it’s comfortable, easy to see out of, and the controls are user-friendly.  Car makers try to make cars that fit everyone, but every body is a little different.  I wouldn’t want to find out a week later that the pedals were hard to reach unless I was up against the steering wheel.
  • I used to see that there was about a grand worth of wiggle room on the sticker price.  Being that we were looking at one of the first 2012 models, I wasn’t expecting much, but it was good to know.  I don’t know how accurate Truecar’s numbers are or where they get them, but at least it made me feel like we were getting a better deal.
  • Know what your trade-in is worth.  I printed off the Kelley Blue Book, NADA, and Edmunds reports to get a ballpark figure of what to expect for the old jalopy.  These are just references, especially considering the wacky state of the used car market right now, but it definitely helped in the negotiations.
  • On the same note, at least wash your old car before trading it in.  My mom forgot to reset a nagging “Check Engine” light that no mechanic can fix, and it probably cost her $500.  A clean-ish car with a fresh oil change sticker and decent tires makes it look like you took care of your car, even if you really beat it like a rented mule.  Luckily, the dealer didn’t drive my mom’s old car or they would have noticed the alarming noise emanating from a failing axle and offered her less than scrap value.
  • Be patient, and be willing to walk away.  Your only real leverage in this situation is your ability to go elsewhere.  Unless you’re buying something rare or otherwise forced to buy from a certain dealer, there’s nothing keeping you from shopping around – other than the inordinate amount of time it takes to actually negotiate, which is why dealers do it that way.  We were at the dealer until nearly closing time on a Thursday night.  We both had to work the next day, and I had two small children and a sick wife at home, but the last thing I wanted to do was accept a bad deal just because they had worn us down.

I am by no stretch an expert negotiator, but it was actually a little fun to go through this process with someone else’s money to spend.  In the end, my mom got the vehicle she wanted and I hopefully learned a little something for when it comes time for me to make my next purchase.  Unfortunately, I tend to look for more obscure vehicles and then fall in love with them, making it harder to walk away.  Maybe I just need to pretend it’s not my money.

As Seen on Craigslist – 1967 Plymouth GTX

Far be it from me to tell someone how to sell their car, but methinks Craigslist might not be the best place to showcase a six-figure museum piece – especially with the classic “I do NOT do EMAIL” disclaimer.  The prices of original Hemi cars have been stratospheric for years now, but given the current economic climate I think 150k might be a reach for this one.  It’s a pretty color, and looks to be loaded with bucket seats, floor shift, Magnum wheels, and so on, but it would take a pretty serious collector to part with this kind of cash for a car that you basically can’t drive anywhere, at least in good conscience.  I obviously don’t have the means to acquire a car like this, but even if I did, I wouldn’t.  I like to actually, you know, drive cars, and every mile I added to the odometer would decrease the value of the car, not to mention living with the constant fear of a rock chip or belt buckle scratch.  So – not that this guy was looking for my endorsement or anything – no thanks.