Monday, May 28, 2012

The Death And Life Of Project G-Body

 Nothing matters but the human story. The truly mature, worthwhile, reachable reader looks for the human story. It's why we care about where a car is made. It's why we care if somebody wins a race in the car. It's why we have Bullitt Mustangs. It's why a white Challenger is more interesting than a red one. It's why the cars of our fathers resonate with us. We may be writing about cars, but we still have a chance to tell the human story

"Derek man, I feel like I haven't talked to you in a month." It had only been a week. "So much has gone on. I decided I'm going back to New York. I want to give film making a real shot. I have a lot of unfinished business. And I broke up with [redacted]. I spent the last five days crying my eyes out. I'm packing up my stuff now. I'm selling the Challenger and [redacted]'s X1, and I'm taking driving down in the Grand National."

With that short phone call, Project G-Body came to an end, albeit temporarily. But now that Joey's Grand National is on the road, we have a chance to tell the human story, the most important element, behind a car that was born out of tragedy but will accompany Joey on the next phase of his life.

The genesis for Project G-Body came in the back office of Joey's warehouse. I'd met Joey a couple of weeks prior, at his birthday party. Joey and I were acquainted with one another through our mutual friend Kyle, and I ended up tagging along to top floor of the Park Hyatt. The rooftop bar looked preserved from the Mad Men era (complete with a wizened bartender and caricatures of octogenarian local celebrities) and the mood was sombre. Joey's father had suddenly died shortly before, and instead of copious liquor and obnoxious behavior, we all sat around, speaking softly while nursing our highballs.

A chance encounter at a restaurant a couple weeks after led Joey to invite me to the warehouse owned by his family. There was "some Pontiac muscle car" there that he wanted me to see, which ended up being the resto-modded '77 Pontiac Can-Am seen below. Joey discussed his own desire for an American car, preferably a G-Body Monte Carlo with a big-block V8. I suggested a Buick Grand National, since the cost and time required to build up a Monte Carlo would end up being greater than what Joey was willing to invest.

With most project cars, budgetary concerns are the biggest stumbling block to getting a project completed to a satisfactory level. With Joey, a crash course in buying a used car was the first order of business. Questions that would be elementary to any TTAC reader, like "where do I find a good candidate" had to be brought up. I'd get weekly updates from Joey in the form of text messages and phone calls that went something like this.

Joey: "So, what do I do? Just like, call the guy up and ask if the car's there, then go buy it?"

Derek: "No, you go there, you look at the car. If you like it, get your mechanic to put it up on the hoist, check to make sure there's no rust underneath, no accident damage. Make sure you check the VIN number to make sure it's real."

Joey: "What's the VIN number?"

Two minutes later

Joey: "Dude, I found a sick car. It's an '84 with 190 k on the odometer. He wants $8,500. If it looks good, I'm going to buy it."

Derek: "Joey…that's not the car you want."

I'd spend more time at the warehouse with Joey and Kyle, each time bringing Joey up to speed on different things. How much cash to bring with. How to inspect the car and what some of the big red flags were. How to negotiate with the seller without losing your upper hand.

After a few weeks of looking around, we found what would end up being Joey's car. It was a 1986 model that had been sitting for years. It had 38,000 original miles, the interior was in poor shape, but there was minimal rust and it started up right away. The owner, a middle-aged man who still lived with his mother, reluctantly let Joey flat-bed the car to his mechanic, who gave it his blessing.

The Grand National essentially needed an extended tune-up, as well as some cosmetic upgrades to become road worthy. The warehouse itself was slowly becoming a play house for Joey, and we spent more time there as we waited for the GN to be ready. Most of the time we'd sit around on the various sofas, ride bicycles in doors, drink beer and talk about cars. The warehouse, in the Northwest corner of the city, was a refuge from the congested streets of downtown, the endless status jockeying of the Toronto social scene, girlfriends, bills, and the minutiae of everyday life.  A band practice room was put in, with sound proofing and a drum kit. In the rafters sat a mint BSA Lightning motorcycle, next to some vintage barber's chairs. We talked about buying a go-kart to run around, once the concrete floor was polished. There were short-term plans, and there were longer term plans, like space for TTAC Project Rallycross, a vehicle lift, a full set of tools. It was not to be.

On Saturday night, I went to the warehouse to take my first and last ride (for now) in the Grand National. Pulling in to the gates, I saw it, sitting with dealer plates on, the 3.8L V6 rumbling at idle, as Joey and another friend sat inside. Joey wanted to take it for a shakedown after having taken a 50 mile trip in the car earlier in the day. The GN needed to make the 9 hour drive to New York without any incidents.

I tried to offer Joey some advice about the crude suspension, the unpredictable nature of turbocharger power and the lack of ABS or traction control. The thinly veiled message was "be careful."

"Umm..ya…I already discovered that on my own," he said from the passenger seat. "I hit the gas coming around a turn and fishtailed. My sister was in the car screaming her head off. I'm not letting that happen again."

The interior still looked like it has been inhabited by a pack of hungry raccoons, but the car ran well apart from a curious idle dip that popped up sporadically. The turbos came online after a good "One Mississippi, Two Mississippi…" count, and the steering wheel could be moved 15 degrees in either direction before the car changed direction.





from The Truth About Cars

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