“Car Talk” with Seth

First blog entry by me. It’s on cars. Right?
So, you might have a clue that I’m a bit of a gearhead, always have been. One of the hardest sacrifices I made to get over here was the selling of my prior fleet, which was a carefully assembled portfolio of Euro-trash from the last decades of the 20th century. Since then, its been a relinquishing of my license, acceptance of self-employed moped taxis as preferred transport options. So, said another way, I’ve gone from my pick of luxury sports cars to my pick of random guys hanging around outside the mall. You already know where to go, so you nod your head and raise your own helmet and then adopt a wide stance. Its all very Larry Craig in a way that I’m still not comfortable with. So, fine, I need a car.
Thing is, I don’t really want to drive here. First, I’d like to keep breathing for the next 30-50 years, if I can, so a motorcycle is right out. Here’s a summary of my logic of why I don’t want a car, for you to digest: There are very few traffic lights here, and a great deal of traffic/rules which are all seemingly absurd, chaotic and dangerous. And I come from a place where a 4-way stop is a passively paralyzing social event. So, I’m not exactly keen to dive headfirst into the streets where no one carries insurance, fault is accessed by whoever has the dermis with the lowest melanin counts and where law enforcement has a more lucrative second income (but, buying a cop off is cheap for motorists).
Enough with the conundrums. Lets get to the fun part. Buying cars. Most people hate this, but I’m in my element. I know my way around them, can talk down to details; like the 1967 corvette has a 427 cu engine. Or that the Porsche 911 had one year in the early 1970s where they had a random filler flap on a fender which makes them really valuable. I have a ton of these random factoids, ready for a game show, and I relish these details. Most gearheads do, and so we make easy conversation when we gather. So buying a car can be a great experience, if the seller is also genuinely interested in cars and not simply your money. So, there’s your pro-tip. After that, pick the make, model and year. Fall in love and swoon with your machine.
First thing to do when buying is car is decide your needs. How many passenger will you need to carry, what is the nature of the trips you will take. What is the priority for the car… safety, economy, business, pleasure. Oh… and what ever your budget is. Cause I also have Bugatti wishes and Kia means.
Finally… one last, simple rule: fastcheap, or reliable. Pick any two.
And here we are. I need to carry 3-5 passengers. To go to the mall AND legitimately get off road at times (well, just say that locally they are known as roads, but I’ve seen better groomed ski runs). I need slow, safe, reliable… and a bit of fun and adventure wont hurt.
So it came down to this: A budget of $3k (which I can usually do a surprising bit with, have you seen my work before?), something with a bit of mass to it, w/4wd. Answer is a Jeepy-thing. Suzuki Jimny/Katana (known as the Sidekick in the USA), Daihatsu Taft (Korean cousin of the Sidekick) or a classic Land Rover. These are my realistic options from searching the market here, a website that’s the Indo equivalent to craigslist. And so I found some:
The first Jimny we found was a 1980. Bright blue and kinda cool in primary colors. So we go see it across town, they want $2900 and I get there and the thing is a mess. Cut wires everywhere. Tape where bolts should be. Front propshaft is missing altogether (no more 4WD). Everything feels worn out and sketchy. The salesman accuses my friend of being my wife. I don’t even test-drive it and I won’t put a picture up so you can revel in the horror. Its worse than you think and I’m not into gory detail. Google some images of slums and speculate wildly.
Then we see another down the road, 1985 model year,  this one has been done up. Restored and loved. Where the first was ratty, this had character. Woven bamboo floormats. Little mitten on the shifter/big tassles on the seatbacks, barstools tops in the back on the twin benches. Kitschy but stylish for SE Asia. Clean. $5200. I get in to drive it and I realize one critical thing. I, at 5′ 10″, am about 4″ too tall to comfortably drive it, and the seat is completely immobile… bolted down. Seller offers to put in a custom fit seat (what about the extra 1/2 inch my wife occupies?). And then A/C. “I’ll call you”.  (see pictures below)
Finally, the last Asian mini jeep, a later Katana 4×2. Rattle can matte black with bondo chunking off the side. It’s engine wheezing on the surviving 3 cylinders, and they genuinely made me sympathetic to their plight. I barely fit in it when the seat is full back. I think it gave me syphilis. OK, so $3000 isn’t gonna come flying out of my wallet for this sled. I’d rather forget.
Enter the Land Rover Series (I, II and III): in over 50 years, it barely changed in it’s basic design (much like the 911). I’m gonna get all Top Gear about it, and rightly so. Hammond did it first: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFY_nb-4Wrk
If someone hits it, they will disintegrate. It seats 7 Anglicans with benches in the back yet it’s as narrow as a Corolla. It’s a convertible in the same way that it’s watertight (correct answer is: kinda… if that wasn’t obvious). It can withstand the punishment of the tropics and 50 years of abusive owners and go about it business without complaint. Entire wars have been fought on it’s back and then it turns right around and contributes to the rebuilding of the state. You can be seen poaching OR protecting endangered species in it, and no one will know better. When they are beat down a bit, have that weathered patina of real work under their axles, the aesthetic is even better than showroom clean. It is, quite simply, the most rugged vehicle ever. It’s also completely uncomfortable, ridiculously slow at everything, and kind of difficult to drive as it requires double clutching. It’s kind of like getting a fixie, you might think its awesome-minimalist, and certainly will get you there, but (big but) it comes at a cost. However, this model works here, and there are a few of them that you see around here regularly. In fact, the first time I ever wanted an SUV was in Bali, when an ancient Series 1 was going downhill at a clip where it actually cruised past me and I wondered what the hell it was. So my date with one, dubbed the Si Denox (“Sexy Lady” in Sundanese) is on Saturday. I can hardly wait.
Stay tuned. Next time, we’ll cover the bases from negotiations of the deal (if any is to be had), how to tax, title, and register your car in a corrupt state and how one should conduct themselves on the wrong side of the road, the wrong side for the driver and the wrong orientation for the shift patten (just cause you moved don’t mean the transmission did, ya dig?).
All that and passing a drivers’ test in a third world country. One thing is certain: you will queue for this next post longer than I will spend on the written portion at the Indo DMV.

4 thoughts on ““Car Talk” with Seth

  1. Are those similar to the Defenders? Saw one being restored on Wheeler Dealers (2012 Season). They seem to be like the Toyota BJ and RJ Series of Land Cruisers…never die, can go anywhere, and need minimal maintenance. Hope all is well.

    Oh…I’m the first response.

    • The Defender 90/110 rose to fill the market the “Series” created for LR. They are highly coveted around here and command exceptionally high prices (they are rather expensive in the US as well, I recently saw a clean mid-90’s model ask for $25k with 40k miles. In Indonesia, all cars command much higher prices, as the import tariffs are significant (~40%> USA).

      Your second point, they never die (Body is made of aluminum, so no rust), can go anywhere (believe so) and with respect to maintenance… we’re talking 1950’s era technology. every 15k miles, you have to replace the entire ignition system. But don’t get me wrong, I’m excited at the prospect of learning to work, rely and maintain what may feel like a grandfather clock.

      It’s an experience all in itself. One that I don’t think I would be able to replicate stateside.

  2. I have no idea what Seth was really saying, but that is nothing new. It’s awesome that you guys are living your dream. Enjoy, make the most of it!! I have so much admiration for you guys!!

  3. What was your ”carefully assembled portfolio of Euro-trash?” you’ve piqued my curiosity. I haven’t had anything particularly rare, coolest thing I’ve owned was probably my 85 Scirocco, and the coolness was mitigated by it being a 8V.

    It’s a little difficult being a car guy in the northeast, living out an apartment, and incurring the wrath of the neighbors by doing repairs on the street and infuriating girlfriends by having car parts strewn around the apartment. Wouldn’t change it for the world, tho;

    Wish you had been on the East Coast, we could\’ve done a banger rally together (BA/BE Rally)

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