Reisen aka Project 9 Lives

After seeing some of the responses and interest in my 240SX project, I thought I’d make a post detailing the joy and heartbreak that comes with buying a car on eBay when you really don’t know enough to make a smart decision. I don’t want this post to scare people away from eBay, but more to act as both a warning to do your research and possibly an inspiration for those who want to rescue a lost cause.

DISCLOSURE - This was originally planned to be one post, but writing it up became so daunting that I decided to break it into parts to make it an easier read.

Back in the heady year of 2011, I was a fresh college grad who was flush with cash from my first job as a manufacturing engineer and was looking for a 240SX to drive while my main 240sx project (a KA-T powered coupe) continued to dig itself deeper into the pit of “Screw it, I’ll build my own turbo kit, with water injection and all forged internals.”

The aptly named “Project Dead End”

A quick Wikipedia search showed me that, despite any logic in the world, the S13 240SX was sold as a convertible from 1991 though 1994. Knowing I wanted a fun cruiser, and with memories of my father’s long sold Miata and the 2002 Mustang GT convertible I had for prom, I decided that I must have a convertible 240SX. A few hours on eBay and a few phone calls later, I had narrowed my choices down to two cars.

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LESSON ONE: You will be wearing rose tinted glasses when you’re hunting down a car. The car you’ve found is never as nice as you think it is.

The first car was at a dealership 8 hours south of me. The car was bright red, seemed to be in ok condition, 130,xxx miles on the clock, and an interior that looked like something had died in it. Obviously, given the header image for this post, we can all guess how that car ranked in my mind.

Car two was a 1993 model located 8 hours east of me in southern Ohio. It had some so-so photos, the radio didn’t work, but it had less than 100,000 miles, a fairly clean interior, and a freshly installed top.

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Well, I put in my bid on the car and 3 days later I had won. That Friday evening I packed up my father, my then girlfriend, a mess of tools, and my money into my parents Ford Escape, and off we went into the night to pick up the car. We spent the night at a hotel near the seller, and Saturday morning, bright and early, I was at his house with cash in hand.

After some small talk, we went and looked at the car, looking under the hood, understanding how the top worked, and going for a short test drive. Little details bothered me like an engine bay painted flat black, some wavy metal in the engine bay, a persistent shake when driving down the road, and JC Whitney security system that was overly sensitive to the point that it either went off and drained the battery or outright refused to let the car start unless you turned the key 10 times. The story of why the car was for sale also did little to inspire confidence. I believe the seller’s exact words were: “I bought this as a project for me and my son, but that little a****** is back in jail again, so f*** him. His loss.”

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LESSON TWO: Do not ignore the red flags. “This will be easy to fix” is as big of a lie as “I can polish off another dozen ghost pepper wings”. This lie will burn your ass.

Despite the initial concerns, I didn’t want to return home after 16 hours of driving empty handed and agreed to buy the car. I reasoned away the shakes as being a damaged tire, the paint and damage under the hood as being from some idiot working with all the finesse of a half blind baboon, and the radio as something that just needed a replacement amp. After parting a fool and his money, my girlfriend and I were on our way back home with my father following in case there were any issues. 15 minutes into the 8 hour drive, the rear view mirror fell off the windshield. Not a particularly positive sign.

The drive home highlighted both the positives and failings of the car. The lack of a radio made parts on the drive monotonous, the shake presented itself with a vengeance between the speeds of 45 and 75, meaning we either crawled home at 40 or risked life and limb to rocket along at 80mph. I went with the “young and stupid” option. The positives were just enough to keep the feeling of making a huge mistake out of my mind. First, we were in a convertible. Even the crappiest car is fun as a convertible. Second, the Lexus pearl white the car was painted was beautiful in the sunlight.

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After making it home, I promptly made an appointment to get new tires. Well, after dropping the car off at the tire store, I was full of confidence that the shake would be fixed and with some minor work I would finally have a nice cruiser to enjoy and I could focus on my other project. That confidence was short lived. I soon received a call from the tire shop, the ominous words were “We need you to come down here. We discovered something you need to see.” When I got to the tire store, I was ushered into the back where my car was on the lift. What I saw made my heart drop.

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Everyone knows, if the bolt holes don’t line up, just add weld.
I doubt this is factory metalwork.

LESSON THREE: You will encounter a point where you feel that you are in over your head. You can cut your losses or you can double down.

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That damage is on the radiator support. Somehow I had completely forgot to really look at the car when I bought it and I was now left with a worthless hulk. I made my decision right there that I would do my best to rebuild the car. I was already out my purchase price with the scrap car I was now looking at. If I tried to fix it and failed, well I was still left with scrap, but if I fixed it, than I had salvaged what would have been a loss.

Tune in for Part 2 where I go into the process of assessing the damage and beginning my repair. Part 2 is here: