My first new car, which I loved dearly, as mechanical things go. Despite that I had fun with it, beat it up, and tossed it around in the snow, it refused to complain much. Purchased July 21st, 1994 and sold to Melissa Litwicki in September, 1996, I racked up about 68,000 miles on it. We'll note that Melissa is still speaking to me, which says volumes about her most excellent and proper attitude towards cars: they're fun diversions, and you can't expect them to be perfect. The following text was written mostly during my possession of the car.
Shortly after moving to Indian Village in Detroit, I joined the social activism group "Wheel Covers for Crack," a group supporting the crack habits of local youth by supplying full sets of wheel covers to be hawked at a corner pawn shop. Which is to say they got ripped off overnight. Then a week later a couple more idiots tried to take the whole damn car. Fortunately, my landlord heard them, went downstairs onto the porch, screamed obscenities at them, and they sped away in the car they arrived with. Hole in the door, ignition completely missing, $100 deductible and another $600 from the insurance company fixed it up. I have since installed countermeasures to prevent repeat occurrences.
And then on 11 Jan 96, one of GM's Electric Vehicle engineers ran his (personal) '95 Buick Regal into the left rear end of the Neon in their parking lot. I'm thinking it would have been much funnier if he'd been driving an Impact (to be sold as the EV-1), but no such luck. Despite, as you can see, that there was little visible effect, it amounted to $700 of damage, though I got to skip the deductible since it wasn't officially my fault. But I lost my "accident free" discount, so my rates went up another $15/month. Joy.
Another butthead tried to rip it off again on Feb 11, two days after the blinking countermeasure indicator LED had stopped working. (I replaced said LED immediately after the attempt.) Basically the same damage as the first time, only this specific butthead wasn't even bright enough to get the ignition out. He went through my armrest and threw some cassettes in the back seat, too. Looking for a kill switch, maybe? Probably can't even drive a manual transmission, the little weasel. Anyway, he did leave me a copy of "Dirt Rag," a mountain biking magazine with a skate punk attitude. Hoo.
I took the Neon on our first road rally on February 24th, 1996. It was the Moonlight Monte Road Rally, organized by the Detroit Region of the SCCA. Charles Clark navigated, I drove, and we both struggled with the rules, since little of it makes sense until you've finished the first half of the rally. We missed three turns: one I corrected with a quick hand brake u-turn in the road and another with a bit of a bootlegger's turn. Proof that missed turns can still be fun. We also got stuck in the mud once: after passing a checkpoint, I saw a nice dry patch on the edge of the intersection, so I decided to park on that. Maybe I didn't pull over far enough, but when I stuck it in gear to leave again, I immediately dug the front wheels about four inches deep in mud. Oops. We got pulled out by Peter Schwarzbach in his Toyota Forerunner, and we were able to buy 14.5 minutes to keep the delay from hurting our score. Once again good fun, though it taught me the value of tow rings, devices the Neon sadly lacks. The rally ended at a restaurant in Imlay City, where we eventually discovered that we'd won first place in the novice class. Not bad for our first time out. I suspect we'll run in future rallies as well. It's terribly fun. The picture, by the way, was taken just before the truly muddy part of the rally.
Charles and I ran in the Scenic Rights of Spring rally on May 19th, 1996. Once again we won 1st place in the 4-team Novice class. Our score actually placed us 5th among 14 teams overall, prompting several teams to jeer us for still being in the Novice class. Heh. The sick thing is that we didn't even make an effort to calculate distances and times for this rally. We just checked our score for each leg and adjusted our behaviour for the next leg accordingly. I suppose next time we'll have to run more intelligently. Seat of the pants luck only lasts so long.
Some other bozo backed his utility van into the right rear of the Neon sometime in May. I was waiting in the Burger King drive-thru line, he was parked to my right. I basically watched him back into me, thinking, "he'll stop, he'll stop, he'll... awshit."
I did manage to run the Neon in one autocross in 1996, and I learned that it makes a damned competitive car in handling-intensive courses. This was an SCCA-sponsored event called the Firecracker Solo or something like that, and it ran at the Grosse Ile Airport. I can't find the results since the move into the house, but as I recall, my best time beat every F-stock car (Mustangs, Camaros, etc.) except one Mustang Cobra. I placed second in the S2 (S3?) street stock class, which included people running on street tires rather than proper autocross tires. It was a lot of fun, and met quite a few decent guys out there. One was driving his black Neon coupe in D stock, another had a red Festiva in H stock. His tires were wider than factory specs, so he had a minor problem with the tires touching the body during certain turns. Made a strange chirping noise when it happened, but he didn't seem to be worried.
Oh, did I mention I sold this one to Melissa Litwicki in fall 1995, then bought it back two years later? Sold for about $7000 (at roughly 72,000 miles), bought for about $3000 (at 92,000 miles or so) with a blown head gasket. A common problem with that original head gasket design, actually. So I got a new head gasket through connectoins at work, and replaced the thing. More or less on my own, though Charles Clark and his father helped out on the first day of work. I took about a month, total, though I admit I sort of gave up at the end and paid for my regular shop to reconnect the power steering pump and install the alternator belt (which I'd cut off, since I couldn't loosen the alternator bracket). Good fun. Oh, and I replaced the exhaust manifold with a piece of crap tubular header from Pacesetter. Sounded amazing when it comprised the entire exhaust system, but the backfires were a little scary. Once the rest of the exhaust was reconnected, it really didn't seem to have made any difference at all, though it clearly shaved weight. 20 pounds, maybe? I don't know.
We replaced the Neon with the Focus, partly on a whim, and partly because I really wanted a car that was quite at highway speeds, so we could hear one another on trips. The Neon now resides with another friend who still speaks to me, Pieter Foster. Naturally, the A/C died before summer swung in, and he's had a couple other minor problems, the most recent of which was the need for a simple tune-up. (As I recall, I never did replace the plugs when I replaced the head gasket. Bad mechanic, bad! No donut.)
February 2002: No, wait, we bought it back from Pieter because he moved to Japan. And then painted it in the theme of the Yellow Submarine from The Beatles' animated film of the same name. As of July 2003, it's developed a nasty case of rod knock, and needs the motor either rebuilt or replaced.
updated: 30 July 2003