Automotive Zen

Once in a while folks would ask me why I became a mechanic. I used to tell them that I just had a “car jones.” I don’t think like that anymore. To me now it’s more like meditation. That’s right more akin to playing my guitar. I can get all “Zenned out” by running my creeper over a nut and getting pitched off of it, or holding up something heavy and trying to start a bolt into hole that refuses to start that will relieve the weight. Makes one wonder if the bolt threads and the hole really are “at odds” with each other. I am also in wonderment of all the scars on the back of my hands and forearms for every mechanical that cut me or burned me during my tenure as a mechanical doctor.

    Lots of people like to plop the black hats on mechanics and make us out like we’re the bad guys. Some say we’re out to cheat little old ladies and women out of their money. Some are. Most aren’t. Cars nowadays are ornery, complicated critters to work on. A few years back they didn’t have diagnostic computers to tell you where they “hurt.” You just had to take an educated guess. Doctors have the luxury of asking their patients what’s wrong with them. We have to guess most of the time. I had a guy that got really upset with me one time during the early part of my career as a mechanic. He brought in a car that was made during the late 60’s. A Chevrolet V8 small block. Methinks it was a 350. At any rate this was during the time that the government pulled the plug on tetra ethyl lead in the gasoline effectively turning it into bad smelling Kool Aide. The octane went right into the old toileto. His car had a relativley high compression ratio for the gasoline available at that time.  He wanted me to tune his car up. So I did. I took it out to test drive it and when I put a load on it going uphill the motor began to rattle its brains out with this pinging song from ingesting the new shit grade of octane. So I took the car back and retarded the timing back a couple of degrees. It still pinged. Knowing this gentleman I knew he’d complain if it pinged AT ALL!  So I backed it up some more. Seems to me this motor was supposed to run at like 8 degrees before top dead center. I had it running at about 4 degrees before it would quit pinging. Of course it didn’t run a good as it would have at 8 degrees. When he came and got the car I told him about the problem. He didn’t seem to be concerned at the time mainly because he hadn’t driven the car yet. The next morning he was back and was he steamed!  He came in and got all over my case about the “shitty tune up” I did on his car. My boss at the time explained the exact same thing I had told this Bozo the day before. The gas company had backed me into an impossible corner. I would have liked nothing better than to set his timing at 8 degrees but the gasoline wouldn’t allow it. So opting not to damage his engine I decided to retard the timing which is all anyone could have done under these circumstances. So I was the bad guy here. I’ve seen cars that are so poorly designed that they take half a day to disassemble just to change the part, heater cores come to mind here. Someone has to pay for the time it takes to do this. If the owner wants to get upset with someone get upset at the engineers who designed this crap to begin with, don’t shoot the messenger because of the message.

     I don’t miss this Zen part of testing one’s mettle. Not me brother. I have zero tolerance for corporate greed and bean counter neckties dictating to stockholders how their cars should be designed and built so it puts more money in their pockets and cost you the consumer more. That’s the Zen part of mechanics I really understand. It comes from seeing this sort of tomfoolery and nonsense evolve thru the years. It almost killed the American car manufacturers in the late 70 and early 80’s. Imagine experimenting with water borne paints and having your car lose 65% of it’s clear coat, base coat or both driving down the freeway. This is a truism to the saddest degree. None of the car manufactures I know of took car of this problem it was just a case of “toughski shitski” for the owners who gave their hard earned dollars up to this sort of manufacturing skullduggery. What a way to do business?  Then the Japanese come along, offer a car for less money, more reliability and the paint stays on! What a concept. It’s no wonder Americans stopped buying Made in Detroit, by necktie dipshit bean counters and shareholders. What a load of shit. 

One would think that Detroit would learn from past mistakes but it all comes down to a brand new set of bean counter shoes and bad colored neckties and the process starts all over again.  The next time you are driving down the freeway on  a long trip and are bored looking for something to do try this; there is a wiring problem with the parking lights on the late model GMC and Chevrolet pickups and Suburban’s. Usually the driver’s side parking lights are out. See how many of these you can count while you’re driving. A few years back it was a problem with the glass in the windshields. Most GM windshields developed a crack in the center of the windshield. Usually started near the top and ran downward. Although I’ve seen them start from the bottom and go up.

     Well I really do like working thru a problem on my 1968 Olds Cutlass. It doesn’t have all these defugealties I’ve mentioned here. It has its own set but I can deal with these. The engineering on this car is so much better than the new stuff, and it’s made out of better steel. It’s sheet metal is also heavier, but somehow the car weighs less than its new counterparts by almost a thousand pounds. How does this happen when so much of the newer cars utilize plastics everywhere and aluminum this and that? Some of the higher end cars are sporting titanium pieces as well.  I don’t know the answer to this question and frankly I don’t give a shit either. I dig my Oldsmobile because it is what it is. I totally understand every nut bolt and screw within its lovely old frame. I know why it does the things it does, and how it’s wired from its funky back up lights to its four headlights and everything in between. And when it doesn’t feel good I can fix it and it doesn’t cost me and arm and a leg and best of all there’s no damn place to plug a computer into it!

   This is hot rod Zen at its best.  



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