Cars

When I was young, the family car was a 1967 Ford Falcon. Over the many years we owned it, it lost many abilities: 2 doors would not open. The radio would not work. The windows would be stuck, and would have to be brought up with some manual help. But one thing never stopped: running. We drove it across thousands of kilometers.

We drove through most of Argentina, Uruguay, and south of Brazil. We crossed deserts, mountains, went to the beach. We crossed creeks, mud, gravel. Everything. Always worked. On one trip, the car used way more fuel than what was expected. It turned out one of the pistons was busted. We drove more than 4000 km. Gas was cheap. I think that even if we used piss, the engine would still fire up.

There was some uncertainty though: will we make it? Even though the engine worked, there were always glitches: too much gas into the carburator, low quality gas in the middle of nowhere (once we got a lot of water).

My dad and I worked often on it. But it mostly always involved changing oil, and replenishing water. We changed the spark plugs (rarely), and on really exciting occasions we would tinker with the distributor or we’d replace the belts that drove the fan and the generator. But it seemed the car just needed water and gas.

Every once in a while we’d go to the mechanic. A magic place for me: full of cool tools, shiny wrenches, mini-cranes, and the smell. Boy, I loved the smell of grease, oil and gas. The guy would always allowed me to go in the deep trench to see the underbody of our car. Magic.

I once tried to puncture a tire (on purpose) so I got to use the jack, which I found really awesome. I used a big nail and a hammer. It bounced and missed my head by just a few centimeters. I figured it would be better to just use the jack with no purpose but to lift the car. Of course loosing the fun of taking a wheel out!

Cars got very sophisticated over time, and we lost the ability to actually see how it worked. The engine became a collection of black boxes with cables coming out and in. Everything got electronic. The principles remained the same, but now it was all inescrutable.

Time passed and cars became more and more utilitarian: take me from one place to the other. Mechanics were replaced by dealers that shielded all the details of actually happens under the hood. Things got replaced entirely instead of rebuilt or fixed.

Around 2003 I won an award at Microsoft, and got some unexpected cash. I saw an ad for an old Volkswagen Karmann Ghia that was always parked a few blocks from my apartment. It was dark blue and looked OK for outside. But then, I moved to Washington and cars were not allowed in the relocation package. Bye bye blue Karmann Ghia.

But I had fell in love with that car. So once I moved to Washington, I looked, and found one at about 50% the price the one in Argentina where it was never built. A 1970 Karmann Ghia coupe in reasonably good shape. Some issues, but nothing terrible. And I used it for quite some time as my daily commuter.

Summers were great. Winters were cold. Rain was inside. I felt being a member of a special club. Other KG (or VW) drivers would wave when passing by, or when crossing you one the same road. I got complimented many times: what a great car!

I loved the smell: oil, grease and gas. A perfect blend. I also loved that I understood the car entirely, could fix and make it work always.

With time, the car became unpractical though. Modern parenthood requires shuttling kids (many) from one place to the other. And I could only fit 3-ish. Other parents were not as thrilled of seeing their kids shoved in a really tiny, noisy, and smelly place. Shopping was not as comfortable and after some time, I yielded and bought a 3rd car. A modern, utilitarian, black boxed car. My KG stayed in the garage, and would only take it out on special occasions.

I would take some criticisms occasionally: why do you keep it? oh! all the space it takes. why don’t you fix it? When will you fix it? Get rid of it! I agreed to everything: move it outside. Move it to the left garage, no, better to the right. But I never agreed to get rid of it. Never.

I never did much on it either. Once in a while I would turn the engine on. And it would always start. The engine would run, but the car would go nowhere. My KG just sat there, leaking a few drops of oil every day. That is until today. Today my oldest son (14) and I started working on it. And it is going to be our project: rebuilding this german-italian beauty, and bring it to its full glamour. He thinks it is Bumblebee. I think he is wrong, but hey, I’m not picky. I’m just enjoying our time together. (I will not paint it yellow though)

We have a long journey ahead of us. But the goal is not the restored KG. The goal is the Journey itself.

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