It was a rainy Saturday morning. Zara was spending the morning with her friend Ueli in his spacious 2-car garage. Together, they sat in a couple of folding chairs, sipping on the lattes that Ueli had prepared from the stylish Marzocco espresso machine in his equally stylish kitchen. Relative to Zara, Ueli was rich. However, he was down-to-earth, and Zara liked that about him. They shared a similar sense of humor, too, so although she was both competitive and socialist by nature, she tolerated his wealth.
Together, they gazed at the yellow Lotus Seven that was parked at the opposite side of the garage.
The car was in a constant state of disrepair. Ueli had bought it over 10 years ago, and it barely ever functioned. He enjoyed mechanical work, although even he admitted that he wasn’t very good at it. He thought that by working on the car, his skills would improve - or at least he would have fun trying! In the worst case, should he give up, he could take the car to a professional mechanic to turn the machine into a working vehicle. There were no imagined scenarios in which he didn’t win in some way. Ueli liked to set up his projects like this, and found it was usually possible to do so.
At the moment, though, he was feeling a bit frazzled. And this was the reason for Zara’s visit.
“I’m embarassed to tell you how much money I’ve sunk into this car,” he said.
“Please don’t,” she responded, cringing. But the fact was, she had a pretty good idea. Ueli kept a Google Sheet of all the work he had put into the car since he had bought it, and Zara was deeply familiar with it. The headers read “Date | Description | Parts | Cost”. The rows were filled with all sorts of tasks, from “replace fuel filler hose” to “four new tyres” to “custom boot liner” (Ueli was pure American, and Zara classified his Britishisms as playful, although she would have considered them pretentious in anyone else).
Ueli had started the spreadsheet as a simple handwritten document. Eventually it grew to be annoying to maintain. As a favor to Ueli - but really to scratch her own itch - Zara built an OCR app to digitize the document, and Ueli now maintained it online. She knew the expenses could only have ballooned since she had volunteered for that job a few years ago.
Ueli continued. “When I got the car, I had dedicated ten thousand to making it road-worthy. But I kept running into problems because of my inexperience. I’d buy a part, install it, and the thing would break. Then I’d take the car in to Moe’s down on Main Street - you know them? They always fixed the problem. But then, sometimes, something else would break a few weeks or even months later. I could never be sure whether it was my fault or theirs.”
Zara was familiar with Moe’s Motors. Their prices were very reasonable, but they only did standard work on late model cars. She wondered how Ueli had convinced them to work on a classic car like his.
“I’d really just like to be able to tootle around some country roads in my Lotus… I’ve had the car for so long now, and it just sits in the garage.” Ueli pronounced “garage” in a posh British fashion, causing Zara to snort some latte out her nose.
“So I’ve been thinking of just chucking it all in and bringing it over to the Euro shop in town. I’ve already talked to them. They specialize in repairing older cars like this, and they seemed sure that they can get the car running. But they charge by the hour, and couldn’t give me any idea how long it would take. They said that every case was so different that they couldn’t possibly make an estimate until they’d been working on the car for a while.”
Zara was familiar with Euro Experts as well. She knew that the shop owner had a small fleet of classic European cars, meticulously maintained. Now she understood how he could afford them!
There was a long silence while both pondered. Finally, Zara said “Well… the whole point of this car was to have a fun hobby project. Now it’s not so much fun anymore?” Ueli nodded.
“You’ve actually got a lot of options,” said Zara. “You can just pony up and pay Euro Experts. They’ll probably make it work, eventually.” Ueli rolled his eyes.
“You could sell the Lotus. I mean, you’re not exactly having fun with it anymore. I’m guessing you could afford to buy a fully working Lotus…”
“That’s true,” he responded without batting an eye.
“But I get the impression that what you really wanted from this car is the experience of repairing it, and the joy of using something you had worked on with your own hands.
“I don’t think there’s anything terribly wrong with how you’ve been doing it so far. But Moe’s is not a classic car shop, and they never claimed to be - maybe you even got a discount on the work because of their lack of expertise?” Ueli gazed up at the ceiling.
“Anyway, it’s a problem that your interests are not entirely aligned with the people who’ve done the work, and vice versa. You keep paying Moe’s, even when you’re unsure of the results, probably because you feel like you’re getting a bargain. And they may like working on a classic car, but I bet they don’t like doing the work at a discount. Maybe they cut corners, or make mistakes because they aren’t really sure about what they’re doing.
“In the end, probably you won’t find anyone who cares about this car the way that you do. So sell it! Or do the work yourself. The problem with doing that is that you don’t have that type of expertise, since you’re a hobbyist.
“In your position, I’d find myself an experienced guide to help with advice about the final repair work. Sort of like a mentor? Someone who is passionate enough to be really focused on this type of car. Someone who can estimate how much more work needs to be done, and how much it might cost. Seems to me that’s the only way to get the fun back into the project.”
A gleam had appeared in Ueli’s eyes. “You know,” he said, “There’s a classic car club in town. I never met up with them because I was waiting for my car to be fixed so that I could proudly show it off. But maybe there’s someone in that group who can act as the guide you suggest. I’m going to head over there tomorrow. They meet every Sunday in the parking lot of Frannie’s Frappes and Floats.”
“Good - give it a try!” urged Zara. “And now, as my consulting fee, another latte, please!”