Project Cars – When It’s Time to Let Go

Most of us car idiots are on constant search for cool project cars. For many of us it is a way of coping with undiagnosed ADHD or perhaps it is it a form of therapy we don’t know we need. For others, it is an escape from a stressful world into an environment that they can control. Whatever the case may be, these kinds of projects are meant to relax us and ultimately bring us satisfaction of accomplishment.

Unfortunately, the world often has other ideas. Daily life frequently gets in the way. There are only so many hours in the day and free days in a month. Even the easiest of projects can get shelved for the future. Sometimes that future never comes.

If there is one thing that I think I learned in life, it’s that it is okay quit. Jobs, relationships, hobbies, collections, and certainly projects – all of those things have some kind of an unwritten deadline or expiration date. Knowing, or learning, when that time is something many of us struggle with.

So pretty-ish…

I think it was in 2012, at New York Auto Show. At the end of the first press day, I met Rory Carroll at an Aston Martin-sponsored happy hour thing. I knew that the then Autoweek writer and now the guy who runs Jalopnik dot com had a Lada in his possession. He obtained it almost on a dare, having seen in Murilee Martin’s Project Car Hell post about a Lada Signet in Canada. And that SOB, in 2009, not only turned into a 24 Hours of Lemons racer but won the most prestigious award in auto racing, the Index of Effluency. The car and the team became instant Lemons legend.

The original race team, Rory on left.

Sitting at that bar with Rory, I was relatively fresh from my trip to my home country of Poland. There I saw Soviet era cars from my childhood. I made countless posts about those cars on this website, most of which have unfortunately disappeared after the site redo. I had a craving for a commie car ownership and I was not going to let anything get in my way.

I asked Rory about the Lada and his plans for it. He had other projects, a house, a kid, and a job. He said he would part with it but only under the condition that I was going to race it again. When ready, Rory would be the first person invited to race it, of course. When/if I was ever done with it, Rory would get the right of first refusal. That seemed more than fair.

Lada, as it arrived in Boston

It was in late 2016 that I acquired the Lada. To be honest, it was a bit worse than I expected. In its second race the Lada collided with a Camaro. The impact left the front left side with a good amount of damage. But it ran and it drove. I put the car on a frame straightener and the body shop guy beat the thick Soviet metal fender into submission.

I found a Cuban-American shop in Florida that was selling parts for Russian cars in America, for some reason. I ordered everything that was needed and then some. Long story short, some parts arrived damaged and some parts did not arrive at all. Arguing with the shop was pointless and I gave up on those parts or getting my money back.

I installed what could have been installed and I really don’t remember what that was anymore. I also removed the communist themed stickers from the car, as it really did not sit well with me. My idea was to turn into a livery-free body-in-white rally car kind of a thing. At that point the Lada still needed a lot of work before Lemons overlords allowed it to race again. The biggest issue was a cage that needed updating.

Long story short, that did not happen. It did not happen for reasons that are not relevant. I recently realized that it just was not going to happened. I called Rory. Two weeks later, in the middle of the night, a man showed up in an ambulance with a U-Haul trailer.

Jobs, relationships, hobbies, collections, and certainly projects will come and go in life. One thing we must learn to figure out is their expiration dates. The Lada project has reached its deadline for me. I had to move on. It was a challenge and an experience. I don’t see it as failure but rather I see it as an attempt at doing something cool. I would have regrets if I did not try it.

I really hope that Rory and his friends are able to bring the Lada back to its Lemons glory days. It’s a living lemons/internet legend and deserves another shot.

3 Comments

  1. We feel your pain.

    But, one of the most important skills to master as a gearhead is knowing when to walk away. Or, as the case may be, have it towed away.

    One of my pals once had an early 60’s Imperial in his driveway (back before they were Chryslers), mostly used up but sorta running and sorta complete, with the cool pod taillights mounted on the fender. After noting how long it sat dormant, I asked him about it. Turns out he was the either the fourth or fifth person to have it rot in his driveway. These guys all knew each other and loved beater cars, so little if any cash changed hands. It was more a case of “too cool to crush, too crap to drive”, and they’d each take a turn at dreaming Imperial dreams until the nightmare of reality began.

  2. I fully understand. I’m way deep in my own project- almost 2 years in the works now, definitely the longest project I’ve undertaken (at least since I built the car the first time, but that was in high school with the help and prodding of my dad). I’ve second guessed, considered taking a pause on it, did take a few months of a break to tackle some other things that were piling up, thought about selling it, and now I’m back at it. I’ve had the car for 20 years, I’m probably too attached to let it go. The right, responsible choice would’ve been to sell it before I started all this. I almost did. The engine was on its last legs, the transmission needed replaced, and I really should have let it go. If I didn’t have all the history that I do with the car, it would have been gone, no doubt. Whenever I finally get it done it will be awesome, and I’ll be glad I kept it, but in the middle of life, job, raising kids, trying to be a good father and husband- it can be real easy for it to just be time to let one go, and that’s ok. Hell, probably better to accept it and make the adult decision there. The reality of following through is always more time and money than we ever let ourselves belive when dreaming up some cool project.

  3. I’ve had my Thunderbird for almost 22 years. It’s better than when I got it, but all the big projects I dreamed of doing never have been done. I’ve now got the space to work on it properly, we’ll see if I do.

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