It's 2004, I just turned 17 and I was looking for a car that would not only fit my slighty-above-minimum-wage budget, but show the rest of the world that I'm absolutely not someone that was making slightly above minimum wage. Also, it had to be fast, because being 17 makes you invincible since you're composed mostly of hormones and gorilla glue.
After a long search of possible candidates consisting of the usual 4 cylinder econoboxes, I made sure that my first car had to have, at the very least, a 6 cylinder engine and heated leather seats. I heard somewhere that the combination of 6 cylinders screaming at wide open throttle and the comforting feel of warm, perforated leather on the skin is absolutely irresistible to girls. It's science.
The ultimate panty-dropper.
This made the '92-'00 Lexus SC300 a perfect choice for me. It was a RWD, Inline 6 that had a decent following, rare enough in my area that it would single me out amongst the sea of Civics and Integras - and it had a Lexus Badge which is a great way to bump yourself up a notch or three on the "Guys I can't wait to get with" list that girls my age kept hidden in their purses. Again, science.
There were two things stopping me: my abilities and my income.
While I had enough money to buy the car initially (around $6000 for a good early model example), I couldn't afford to fix anything should a costly repair arise.
I also had no idea how to work on cars at the time. I remember overhearing someone talk about "straight pipes" on a car once and not knowing what the hell they meant. I certainly wasn't confident in trying to fix a car that had a near-$60,000 MSRP when it left the factory.
After doing some research on generic car forums, I realized (got scared into believing) that unless I wanted to be carless and penniless, this probably wasn't the best first car option, and settled on a 1998 Nissan Maxima GLE.
Panty-dropper Version 2.0
Ironically, I would find out years later that the only reason these cars could've been expensive to fix is because most owners I took advice from had them serviced at Lexus dealers and very rarely - if ever - did any work themselves.
Nevertheless, the seed was planted and I although I already had a car that fulfilled my criteria (sort of), I would always think fondly of the SC300 as the one that got away.
Part 1: The Purchase
3 years later, and I'm looking for a project car. The Nissan Maxima I daily drove up to that point had been 5-speed manual swapped, engine swapped, and every single component had been either changed, upgraded or hacked off. It was a bastardized compilation of parts, and I was ready to buy it a new sister. A local auto repair shop had a really rough-looking '92 SC400 out in their yard for a few months, and I figured it deserved at least a look.
What followed was a combination of unbelievably awesome and distressingly unfortunate. I asked the owner of the car if I can check the car out, he gave me a nod, and told me it's open. I ran over with giddy anticipation, like an 8-year old only-child opening a christmas present from his two wealthy parents.
This was the car as it sat in the lot:
Rough was the understatement of the year. It seemed like a blind 5 year old did the body work on the rear quarter panels and the interior looked like it had had an eventful encounter with the business end of a velociraptor. It had three of the ugliest rims I've ever seen on a car - 16" 3-spoke chromies, with two bald tires and a flat. This car was certainly looking like a winner. Not to mention it was an SC400, which had the less desirable 1UZ-FE V8, which was great for cruising but paled in comparison with the 2JZ-GE over-engineered powerhouse that came in the '300 model.
...or so I thought until I popped the hood.
I asked the owner of the shop how much he wanted for this shining example of Japanese luxury, and he replied with "I don't know, $500?"
As my brain struggled with the sheer affordability of this diamond in the rough, my mouth, unbeknownst to me, decided to take matters into its own hands. "I'll be right back with $400" it said assertively. A few minutes later, I was four Benjamins lighter, but one Lexus heavier.
Two things kept me from driving my prized acquisition: It had one shot alternator and zero keys. As the car was bought for parts by the shop, they never really kept tabs on where the thing necessary to start the damn thing was. The shop owner handed me a flathead screwdriver and a hammer, implying I get to work if I wanted to realistically drive this thing home.
I bought a car that I had to effectively steal to drive home. I relied on employing the help of friends who, in their exuberant youth, acquired a very useful set of skills that allowed them to start virtually any car without keys.
Unfortunately for me, Lexus made it very difficult to pop the ignition column. Even with the Cesar Millan of car theft at my side, it took us a full 30 minutes to stab away at the ignition cylinder enough to get the car to turn over with the flathead alone.
And turn over it did. Started on first crank and ran. Not brilliantly, but it could definitely move under its own power. The 4-speed automatic transmission shifted into all relevant gears just fine, and that's all I needed.
Part 2: Inspection
I limped the car home, having another car follow me so close enough that we would trade paint at stoplights - and of course that would happen, because about 20 fuses were burnt out, chief among those being the turn signals and brake lights. Just for fun, here's a tally of things that would've been painfully obvious if I was to get pulled over at that instant:
- No Registration
- No Insurance
- Brake Lights not working
- Windhield Cracked
- Car Exhaust Smoking
- Turn signals not working
- Ignition cylinder broken, using screwdriver as makeshift key
What was not so obvious was that the alternator was doing little more than scaring the hell out of the generations of spiders that resided there for years prior, and not actually charging the car. As soon as I got to my street, I decided to "stretch her legs", as ship captains sometimes say. That saying was more than fitting, because this Lexus had the acceleration of a cruise liner, although I don't think cruise liners put out that much blue smoke. I docked her, and went to sleep cautiously optimistic about what treasures lie ahead.