Monday, August 17, 2015

It's not always a good idea to add up all your receipts and see how much money you have sunk in your current project. Still knowledge is power or at least awareness. I've got a little over 5,000 dollars in my Mustang, probably more that I can sell it for, but every car will cost you money. If you don't spend some money on repair and maintenance you won't have any kind of reliable car.

My 96 Mustang has got more into it that my 70, but it has rewarded me with lots of good fun and reliable service. When I bought that car it was in pretty good overall condition. The paint and interior were good and even the A/C worked for the first year. The biggest problem was a worn rag top with some duct tape patches. and the rear glass pulling away from the fabric. I reapplied a better looking black duct tape repair and drove it for another year while I saved up money to replace it. The top itself from a repop supplier was only a few hundred bucks but the labor cost is the issue. I had installed a new rear window and top in a previous car but the results weren't that smooth. I found a local shop that would replace the top, labor included for a grand. Did it in one day too. I have been quite satisfied with the results. That was probably around three years ago which has helped to amortize the cost. This car was in much better shape that my 70 which pretty much needed everything replaced. Didn't have to mess the paint or body work, or interior, no rust or botched up repairs to redo. I later had to fix the A/C, reseal the transmission, replace the battery hoses, intake manifold, fuel tank grommet, brakes and rotors,tires, new CD player and just a couple of months back, a new fuel pump. That was 500 bucks alone. But I really like this car, it fulfills all my performance parameters even though it's twenty years old. It's plenty quick, handles great, sounds great (Flowmasters)! Cruises effortlessly at 70 mph at 2,200 rpm and will return 25 mpg. at 70 mph. on regular gas. And the top goes down. Just a great car and a great bargain. But...

On the other hand my 70 is a cool looking car and a real Classic but in it's current configuration  the driving experience is pretty blah. It was built to "secretary special" specs. Six cylinder motor, ( though it is the 250ci.) auto and power steering and that's it. Manual four wheel drums, of course no A/C cruise control, or tilt wheel. It rides okay and will handle pretty good now but fuel economy is dismal. I got 15.5 mpg at 65 mph. cruising down to Santa Maria for a car show last May. Still it was reliable and made a 560 mile trip without incident, which really is worth something. It's really easy to work on and parts are readily available and cheap. And people really love to see the going down the road! Thumbs up, big smiles and lots of questions at gas stops. The fun is basking in the Classic Mustang Mystique. So many people have owned one, or their Mom or Dad, Uncle, Aunt, sibling, friend, neighbor, co worker, etc,etc. owned one, or wanted to. I can build this car up any way I want to depending on my tastes and finances. On Sunday I was driving on the freeway with my son, who is also a car guy. I told him, " You know, I could drive this all the way to L.A. ( then a pause), but why would I want to?"

Time will tell.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Time to get back to earth. "Automotive Equity" What is it and how do you achieve it? Pretty simple, just build on your foundation and each improvement will pay off in a car in better condition and will allow you to amortize the costs over a longer period. Some investors buy stocks this way, they invest maybe five hundred bucks a month over the years. Dollar cost averaging I think it's called. Of course we all do the same thing, we try to squeeze a little money out of our monthly budget to keep our project cars moving forward. Figuratively and literally! No extra money, no work on the car. I read a post on the H.A.M.B. (Hokey Ass message board, check it out), discussing their project car budgets. Most of the responders are regular working or retired guys. One older guy said that he usually limits himself to 25.00 a week. He saves up week to week to make bigger expenditures. During that time he will do the labor intensive projects like disassembly, scraping and cleaning the motor and chassis, minor bodywork and sanding and painting, In this manner the car progresses steadily. Most of these guys are wheelers and dealers also, buying and flipping old parts and cars to help generate a little extra income.

Taking the long view is not something I'm very good at, at least when it comes to project cars. I have kept some cars, like my first '66 Riviera for many years. Once I got it into running condition it became my Daily Driver. I kept that car in good mechanical shape and trusted it enough to drive to Klamath Falls Oregon and down to Santa Maria. Unfortunately my stand on cheap paint jobs had not evolved and it looked like crap during those years.

Building on a good foundation is important. I have spoken with many older guys at car shows who own early hot rods, customs, and muscle cars and they have told me the same thing. " I've had this car for: ten, twenty, even thirty years" Then they add " I couldn't afford to buy this car now." It has taken them years to achieve the finished project, I salute their dedication and financial acumen, especially if their current car is now worth a small fortune. But this really applies to any car, even my poor little Mustang. I've had this car for about a year and a half and I've brought this car up to a acceptable level of functionality and appearance. There's still a lot more left to do. I've been pretty good on keeping the costs down, for a good reason. I don't have a lot of money to throw at the car and it would be a poor financial choice. If I can keep the car for at least another year I can improve the condition of the interior, detail it out under the hood and make some final low buck improvements to the appearance. But that's the point, I've got to keep the car. I've got to maintain my interest and enthusiasm. My interest is wavering. I've decided that I won't be swapping in a V8 or upgrading the transmission or chassis. It will be a good reliable base car that can be driven and enjoyed by myself and the next owner. I'll let the next owner decide how much further he wants to take the car. And I'll buy something else.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Whew! Discussing 12 cylinder Euro cars on a beater blog? Where have I lost track? Well these are going to be a little better than a beater. The concept really revolves around picking the low hanging fruit. These cars are really pretty cheap in terms of the "buy in" price. Let's talk about my current craze, Jaguars. An XJS convert or especially coupe can be found in running condition at anywhere from 1,000 to around 3,500 bucks. Pay more and get a car in better condition. Now, you have to have done your homework. These cars are notorious for electrical, fuel, and cooling issues. I've been doing a lot of research online and have discovered the Jaguar Forum and Kirby Palm's free book. "Experience in a book, Help for the XJS owner." This book is over 750 pages long so there is a lot of info. contained within. The gist is- that these cars can be maintained and repaired by a experienced hobbyist mechanic. If you have worked on less complicated motors before, you can handle most repair jobs. You will need good basic trouble shooting skills and the ability to hunt down electrical gremlins with a test light and multimeter. The electrical troubles really revolve around the failure of the various sensor functions: crank position, throttle position , coolant temperature, etc. For example a failure of the coolant temp sensor will deprive the ECU of a vital signal that will prevent the motor from firing. The condition of the connectors, ground straps etc. are of extreme importance.

Come on, Where's your sense of adventure.

Due to the size of the motor, the crowded engine bay and problematical cooling conditions, the intense engine heat will "fry" many components and lead to relatively short service life. The wiring harness for the fuel injectors runs deep in the "V" and is subject to intense heat damage. I would anticipate replacing all sensors, cleaning all electrical connections, fabricating a new injector harness from improved materials, replacing all fuel, water, and vacuum hoses, and repairing or replacing the radiator, just for starters. This is what is euphemistically referred to in the Forums as "sorting out".  If I do all the work myself, I will save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. The cost of these items is not prohibitive, but the cost of labor would be. So I will have to invest my "sweat equity" and time. Just like any other project car. But what will I end up with?

Well, these are fantastic cars. They are classic twelve cylinder super cars that the average dedicated hobbyist can afford to own. I know that I couldn't afford a new Jag then, and surely cannot afford a new one now. But I think I may be able to acquire a vintage XJS and hopefully get and keep it on the road.

Do the economics work out? Well, compare the cost to buying a classic American muscle car. The big savings is in the "buy in" price. An early Camaro or Mustang, especially a fastback or convertible builder can easily run from 7,000 to 15,000 dollars. Then all of the rust repair, body work, painting, interior, engine and chassis building and upgrades can push the build cost well over 25,000 dollars. Even if you go for a less desirable model like a Mustang coupe (like I did) you only really save on the buy in price. Even if I left the cosmetics of my car in "driver" condition I would have to upgrade to a V8 motor with corresponding transmission and chassis and brake upgrades. This would probably set me back around 4,000 to 5,000 dollars at least. This would put the total cost of my driver around 9,000 dollars or thereabouts. Not too bad to get a car that you like, and to be honest, this car would probably be easy to resell and recoup your investment or possible even make a buck or two. The Jag, maybe not. Figure 2,000 to 3,000 dollars for a fairly nice car. Figure at least that much to sort out the problems. There's no need to upgrade the performance of the motor or chassis very much, as these were outstanding performers when new. So you've got about 5,000 to 6,000 dollars into it. Not too bad to own a Classic. Will you be under water? Maybe. But I think the value of these cars is going to start climbing. How many V12s are out there? Where else can you find  a car of this beauty, performance and heritage at anything near these prices?  I saw in a recent issue of Jaguar World magazine that these cars are popular in England for vintage racing. This is sure to raise interest, and hopefully values. A "sorted out" XJS, especially a convert, would be attractive to many collectors. And at least you get to enjoy the car.

It's just a damn car. Roll up your sleeves and get to work!