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The Sociopath's Guide to Owning and Maintaining Classic Cars

I'm just like most of you currently reading this: functionally useless to society in any kind of meaningful fashion. If you're anything like me, you're not particularly handy, productive, mechanically inclined or even allowed to vote in most states. That's likely because we didn't have anybody in our lives that was there to teach us these things: How to fix appliances, build a shed, when it is and is not acceptable to urinate on a police officer or, in my particular case, how to work on classic cars. And that's a damn shame too, because from approximately 1960 to 1979, the United States built some of the most beautiful objects in the world.

And yet, despite lacking the knowledge to love them up close and personal, elbow deep in their sweet hot fluids, I still loved them from a distance, in the proverbial bushes while watching them shower. It's a seemingly impossible feat to cross over from the mental viewpoint of terrified peasant riding inside some kind of mystical mechanical dragon to car guy, so I figured I'd document my own (likely doomed) attempt to cross the techno-wizardry barrier, and maybe along the way, I can help a few folks by relaying what I've learned so far in owning and maintaining a classic car.

#6. Picking the Right Car for You

There are a lot of factors that go into picking the right car for you: What are your wants and needs? How much time do you have to spend on it? Do you plan on restoring it for show, or using it as a daily driver? How much money are you willing to spend? But that's all boring and stupid. What's really important in picking out the perfect car is making sure it's got a good face. No, that's not some insider slang, I mean actually look at its face: Take a picture of the front end, draw a face on it and see if it looks like a dick. Body integrity, working engine, wild animals roosting in the interior all of these things take a backseat to making sure your car doesn't have terminal Dickhead Face. Here are some examples to help you get started:

Here's the one I bought, a 1966 Plymouth Fury III:

That car is here to do three things: Fuck, fight and fuck again. And it's going to do them all at the same time.

In contrast, here's a mid-70s Cadillac:

Look at thing: It's unhappy that you've changed the television schedule around, and it firmly remembers when an honest day's work meant something. Driving this car is only for people so old that it technically counts as a Do Not Resuscitate Order in most of the continental U.S.

And don't even think about buying foreign. Everybody knows all those foreign cars are shifty and amoral. What? Don't look at me like that. It's a fact:

Oh, and finally: If you are buying American, for the love of God stick to pick-up trucks and cars. You're not fooling anybody; everybody knows what that van really means:

#5. Acquiring the Proper Tools

Working on cars often requires some very expensive tools. Check the service manual; it will tell you that even moderate maintenance may necessitate spending hundreds of dollars at the hardware store. Aaaand that's how they fucking get you! Who do you think owns all the big tool manufacturers?

That's right! I don't know.

But what if it's the car companies? They could have free reign to pluck the sweet, innocent dollars from your virginal wallet and fondle them with their greasy hooligan fists. Don't be stupid: Owning and maintaining a classic car is all about trying to prove to your deceased father that you really are a man, goddammit! If you need anything more than some wood (to sit on and possibly eat) and your bare hands (to grapple, yank and punch uncooperative parts) to fix up your car, you may as well slap on a dress, call yourself Big Susan and go out Saturday nights giving handjobs for mixed drinks in the darkened corners of bars along South Lexington between 16th and 35th avenue (that's right between precincts, so the cops usually don't patrol the area, and the owners mostly turn a blind eye).

FUN FACT: A tranny can also mean transmission. See? It's all related.

You show me one single real man who uses any actual tools to fix his car, and I'll show you a guy with a working vehicle, most of his fingers, both eyes and no class.

#4. Your First Project

Now that you've acquired your perfect vehicle and you've got all your tools, it's time to drink a lot. That's about 80 percent of the reason people even own cars. It's like fishing: Nobody actually goes to fish. You just get drunk on a lake, because ducks are hilarious when you're wasted. So it's time to open up the hood, smear some grease on your body and get sloshed in your driveway. If anybody asks what you're doing, simply look annoyed, yell something that sounds like a car-part and then blame it on a minority. Here's a few to get you started:

Alternator! Goddamn Japs!

Steering Column! Sumbitchin' Mexicans!

Flux Capacitor! Fucking Samoans!

"Everybody knows those damn Samoans farm inferior uranium!"

Feel free to improvise, and with any luck, you'll mostly be left alone. However, if you do find yourself with enough drunken confidence to do some actual work, pick something simple and preferably unnecessary to the overall operation of the car.

I chose the brakes.

On older model American cars, brakes were more of a polite gesture than a vital function. It was simply courteous to try and apply them if you found yourself hurtling towards the mailman--like holding the door open button on an elevator when you see somebody coming through the lobby; it's probably not going to work, but it's important to look like you're trying. If you ever actually needed to stop, you just aimed for a building. Americans bought cars like new jeans: a few sizes too big, because they're going to shrink through regular use. Which is why your older car is probably going to have the less effective drum brakes installed. Drum brakes differ substantially from our modern disc brakes in that they look much more like Dr. Theopolis from Buck Rogers in the 24th Century.

Ed.: For those of you not currently making antiquated references to nerd shows, he was the talking Pimp Clock that the Dick Robot wore.

Once you're done laughing drunkenly at this realization and doing your best Twiki impression, consult your service manual. For example, mine tells me that I need to bleed the brakes, and that's easy enough. You want to go to your kitchen and grab the sharpest knife you have. Everybody knows robots are heavily armored and don't feel pain, so that means you're gonna have to go for the eyes.

Don't be afraid to really get in there, take out some of that repressed rage, maybe yell out the name of your mother and always remember: Twist the blade to open the wound.

#3. Attend Classes, Network with Friends and Neighbors

If you don't have the time or mental capacity to attend classes, that's OK! You already have a great support system in your neighborhood. Friendly neighbors who share the same passion with you and, for the price of a cold beer on a hot summer day, will happily lend you a hand and give you some valuable pointers.

But fuck that, that's your beer.

What is this, communist China? You're a lone wolf. You're like John DieHard and this car is terrorism: You go it alone. Viciously fend off anybody circling your loot--helpful neighbors, concerned family members, pedestrians out walking their dogs, passing cyclists--these people are your enemies and there is a wealth of heavy metal objects within your reach to hurl at them if they come too close. Like that cyclist there. He thinks he's better than you. Look at him: Happy, healthy, with a functioning vehicle powered by his own rippling muscles. He's even got that gross one on the thigh that looks like somebody melted a butt on his knee.

I'm pretty sure he just looked at you; huck a fucking brake shoe at him.

Oh shit! Did you hit him?

#2. So You've Murdered a Cyclist

Shit. Oh shit. Shit.

OK, calm down. Panic isn't going to help anybody especially not that dead cyclist in the road. Did anybody see? No, no it's clear. Luckily--and purely hypothetically--you have a classic American car at your disposal like, say, a 1966 Plymouth Fury. And that's great because--in this once again totally theoretical scenario--that thing can hold like a baker's dozen of corpses in the trunk. Seriously, it's like they designed the entire vehicle just to haul your dead family around in style.

"Look, there's even a little alcove for good ol' Rex!"

If anybody sees the blood, you can tell them it's rust. And if they notice the stink of rotting flesh, you can just say it's like old car smell, right? That's a thing: The opposite of new car smell. It's going to be okay, just act normally. Wave to the passerby. You're just a friendly guy working on his car. All American. Smile pleasantly, nobody knows anyth what's this guy on the bike doing? Is he? Shit, was he with the cyclist? They're both dressed in the same color bike shorts. Hold on, don't overreact, he might be turning. Is he turning?

He's not turning.

#1. So You've Murdered Two Cyclists

I won't lie to you: This has gone south. If you've been following this guide so far, then you've bought an immensely complicated piece of machinery that you are in no way qualified to repair, and you've possibly murdered two bike-enthusiasts.

But that's OK, what do you think all the rest of these guys are doing? There's probably five classic cars up on blocks in your neighborhood right now. Do you really think your neighbors are smart and industrious enough to rebuild and maintain these whirling steel death chariots? No, they're all in the same boat as you. You're in the fraternity now, bonded by the unspeakable secret of the metal coffins in the yard that you all share.

Buy anyway, congratulations on purchasing a classic car! Enjoy owning a piece of Americana, and always remember...

If you ever tell anybody, I swear to god I'll cut you in places that will never heal.

Just ask Dr. Theopolis.


You can buy Robert's book, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead, or find him on Twitter, Facebook and his own site, I Fight Robots, or you can wait for next week's column: A Serial Rapists Guide to Home Ownership and Repair.

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Robert Brockway

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