It shouldn’t have to be this hard!

I have just returned from our annual Street Challenge track day at Putnam Park. We started doing this event three years ago to showcase the fact that an air suspension car can perform at least as well as a traditional performance suspension. Well, we proved that pretty quickly and have moved on to demonstrate that air suspension can be quite superior on several levels. I’ll save the shameless self-promotion for another venue!

My whinings today revolve around how obscenely hard it is to get a damn car built! Now I’ve been building cars for 30 years so one would thing that I have learned a few things, found a few shortcuts, a few tricks to make things easier, or at least some thing to avoid at all costs. I guess I have learned a few tricks but there sure appears to be so much more to learn.

When I am at work I typically delegate the “nuts and bolts” of many tasks to my staff, which are always more focused, usually more adept, and often smarter than I am about the job at hand. When I work on my own car I have to blame only myself when things go wrong. Given that fact I have gotten used to three trips to the parts store to get the right part, not being able to reach even the bolts I can see, removing a header that took three hours to install to put the starter on, and a fresh engine that leaks fluid from every orifice. What I still struggle with after all these years is the collection of obscure problems that seem to find me.  Check it out…how many of you have gotten a Tremec 5-speed stuck between gears? I never even heard of it happening until two days ago. And how many times have you bought a tap and die set that had no 5/16 fine tap and two coarse thread taps? How about a timing light that was inconsistently seven degrees slow? Or an intermittent test light? These problems should not happen…you should be able to assume some things and count on their being right, right? Right!

I guess if it was this easy there would be a whole lot more cars finished and the exclusivity of such a completed project would disappear. So many people, even car people, look at a bitchin’ car and think first of the money that it cost. While that factor may be truly breathtaking, consider that commitment of time and the perseverance required to finish even the simplest of projects. Many professional builders have confessed that mere money cannot build a so-called “high-end” car these days. There has to be an understanding of the obstacles involved and a commitment to continue to overcome them. One builder said that he spends a fair amount of time determining his potential customer’s mindset and personality before agreeing to even outline a price for a project. If the customer has little tolerance for “pain” there is no way they will survive the mental rigors of completing a car. This may seem a little “elitist” but it is really just good business. If you are going to involve yourself and your customer in a several month (or year) project that may require a considerable amount of money, patience, understanding, and perseverance…you want to make sure your “partner” can hang! If not they need to be steered towards a more appropriate project. You’ll both be much happier.

I have spent the last few months -- and a morbid amount of money -- getting my ‘69 Mustang put back together after last year’s Street Challenge event. I have devoted the last four weeks quite intensively to that task. My duties here at Air Ride Technologies were delegated or pushed aside while I toiled in my shop at home. My wife and children brought my mail and my meals to the garage and complained not once.

I made it. We actually took the car to our Street Challenge Autocross event at the Kansas City Goodguys the weekend before our track day. It performed flawlessly. That car will actually pick up the left front wheel about six inches going through the corners. We took it to the Street Challenge and it ran great there as well. Scott Pruett and Mike McGlaughlin were both impressed with the torque and handling. Horsepower TV did several minutes of filming in the car at speed. My time and money were well spent. All the hours I spent in the garage instead of playing with my son were justified.

Then the rods came out. I don’t know what went wrong yet; my grieving is still fresh in mind. My first reaction was to strangle the engine builder and burn the car. Instead I smiled and said “it’s just a car, we’ll fix it.” I suspect I will find something that I did wrong myself.  I guess it is this very situation that prevents so many people from finishing their projects, or to relegate them to the garage or trailer for fear of damage. I am here to tell you though…all the pain was worth feeling that machine pull over 1G through turn seven at Putnam Park. Yes, I’ll fix it. I may not enjoy every last minute of it, but I have tasted the rewards of perseverance and have become once again addicted. 

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