I have, in the past, had two really bad car experiences. Let me preface this by loosely using the adjective mechanic to describe me. The first cartastrophe, or bad car experience (bce), happened the day before my college graduation: June 5th, 1997. I had been working on restoring the body and mechanics of a 1975 VW Convertible Bug since 1995. Now the year was 1998 so I had 3 year restoration behind me. The car had been completely assembled for only 7 days the day I went out to start it. On the walk out to the garage I passed coolers of melted ice and cold bottles of beers from the night before. My room mates and I had just graduated from college so we had held a Graduation Party for ourselves. I opened the garage door and tried to start the Beetle—I was planning to drive the car to my Uncle’s shop to do some carborator work. The bug had a problem where the carb gave the engine too much gas and the car would “drowned” and not start. Well, that’s exactly what happened as I tried to start the car the morning we're discussing. I got out of the car, unscrewed some screws and took the top of the carb off to let it air out. I also took off the fuel line leading to the carb to allow even more airing outing. Dumbing. After 4 minutes of waiting for the airing I leaned in to try and start the car. It turned over for about 12 seconds and then WOOOOMPH! Flames! Orange! Heat! Fear! My driver’s door was open, and flames immediately shwooshed out around my leg. The garage was instantly hot. I whipped my head back and saw a tower of flames reaching from the back of my car to the surface of the open garage door. I can now still tap into that fear, panic, disbelief, and horror that I felt that second. I grabbed my fire extinguisher from under my seat and ran back to the open motor. I whipped the pin out and pushed the trigger. Nothing! Pushed again, Nothing! WHAT?! I whipped the extinguisher and lunged to get the convertible top and out of the direct flames. I put the top up and quickly looked back at the flame tower.
“The @(*%@!ing garage could to burn down!” I realized.
So, I leaned into the car and whipped it into neutral. I quickly ran around to the passenger side and gave a firm push to get the burning car out of the garage. Just then, a “Whack” alerts me that the drivers door is still open!
“Whack, Whack, Whack!”. The door had bent back and was thumping against the 2X4s of the garage wall. The rear wheels exit the garage to an incline, and nothing can stop the momentum of this burning carcass. All I can do is cringe as the car driver's door reach the narrow opening of the garage exit—“Yaaaoooiiiinn”. The door completely bends backward with an awful sound. I’m left standing there in the garage in even more shock than I was 10 seconds ago. Mouth open, eyes huge, I watched my flaming newly painted bug convertible speed down into the alley and smash backwards into the side of my neighbor’s stone house. That sounds like that would be the end of the awful story, but NO! The car is still on FIRE! I can’t rest, I cant think, I just need to run!
“Where?! What…the kitchen. Fuck! I’m going to have to run all the way into the kitchen and wait while a pale fills with water from the sink!??”
ZOoM! Out the garage, into the yard, next to the door is a huge, long metal cooler!
“I’ll fill the cooler with the hose!” I thought.
I whip open the cooler and what do I find? It’s full of melted ice (water) and some floating bottles of beer. Grab the cooler! Zip back to the burning bug! Dump the water and beers onto the charing engine!
“Still on fire!”
Back to get the other cooler! I was running back with the second heavy full cooler I vividly remember being so out of breath that I wanted to just collaps. I was in a panic trying to run in sandals while carrying a huge, full, metal cooler. I kicked off my sandles and hurried on.
I dumped the contense of the cooler onto the smoking fire.
Water and bottles of full beer dump out onto the back of my bug. Still, the fire continues. Two huge coolers of water had still not extinguished THE FIRE, though both the fire and I were feeling the effects of the fierce battle. I looked around desperatly for more fluid to put on the fire. BEER! BOTTLES of BEER! Grab! Twist! FUCK! I can laugh now, but when those beers weren’t twist offs, I just about lost my head. I ripped my palms pretty raw trying to twist those caps open. I tried quite a few bottles, and you'll believe me when I tell you I gave it my all trying to twist those things off. No go. My only option was to smash the necks off the bottles. I cracked a bottle on my neighbors house (the one my car just hit). The bottle just disintegrated in my already bloody hands. I tried to smash another one a bit more strategically, but by that time the fire and I had about had it. We both had no breath left. I sat, bled, and stared at my new car.
The second part of this nightmare came just after repairing the fire damage. The repaired portion of the car was all ready for paint. Now I had only painted one other time before—it was when I painted this car the first time. So I can blame my stupidity on inexperience, but forgot to add paint thinner to the paint before I began spraying the car! I sprayed a dry crap-mess all over my nice, smooth body work. I left the spray booth, found my Uncle, told him what I did and asked for advice.
“Try spraying just thinner on it.” He used his arms to smoothly say, “Maybe it'll melt your mess into a nice paint job. You can't make it any worse.” So I tried a coat of strait paint thinner, but that just turned the cars surface into a different kind of ugly.
A week from this paint day, I had plans to go on a VW cruz from Salt Lake City to Portland and up to Seattle. I forced myself to not fix the uglyness but instead reassembled the car (rough paint job on one side and all) so I wouldn't miss the VW trip. It was 2 years before I got another decent paint job on it, but this time it was Yellow and Green instead of just green!
Boy. After reliving that, my current problem doesn’t seem so daunting. BuT, unlike that last one, this problem is ahead of me. Last fall I received a call an old friend who'd heard of a Karmann Ghia for sale for $100. Well, as you can probably guess, shortly thereafter I was the very proud owner of a $100 1968 Karmann Ghia. To my surprise and delight, it came with a dangerously powerful engine in it! I mean, Yikes! The accelerator was stuck on when I got the car, but for the few seconds I heard it run, it REALLY ROARED! It roared so loudly it scared me. So, over the winter, I took the engine out of this $100 Ghia, painted all of the parts, used only shinny bolts, and plopped it into my Bug. I put the more normal sized engine from my Beetle into the Karmann Ghia so I could resell that car as a runner. Now we're up to date. I’ve been working back and forth on the two cars, switching engines, and I got them both to run on the same day—TODAY! Man was I psyched to pull that convertible out of the garage. Not only did it have this new, beefy engine, but it also had new wheels on it (which I haven’t been able to see properly all winter since my garage is packed so full of cars.) So, here I am an hour and a half ago, in the garage, in the bug, with the new engine purring loudly, all psyched to peel around the block. I even took a second to write the following in the car's log: “Milage 55,099.2 New Engine. BOY AM I PSYCHED”
I put the log back in the glove box, put the car in reverse, looked in the rear view mirror
and let up on the clutch. But I didn't move at all. NOTHING!
“I’m in reverse, the clutch is out, what the heck!”
What about first gear? Nothing!
“What the doubly heck!?”
I could shift into any gear without using the clutch, with the car running(!), and not go anywhere! Hmmmm. So, around this time I remembered trying to move the Ghia after I got it running. That engine seemed to be engaged whether the clutch was in or not! I couldn’t get the Ghia into a gear without grinding the transmission and immediately taking off like a race horse. I had thought that problem might be solved with a clutch adjustment, but now, after having some time to contemplate what's going on here, I have a sinking feeling I know what's wrong with both cars. The part that mates the engine to the transmission (the pressure plate) should not have stayed with the engines, but should have stayed with its respective transmission. Now one car is stuck in gear and the other is stuck out of gear! And the only way to switch those pressure plates is to take both engines back out of the cars! Ahhh! I thought I was DONE but I'm back where I started! Both engines need to come out, get worked on, and go back in. Dang. Such is the life of the hobby mechanic.