Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Twenty-dollar beater: How to make your boring car more fun

There are some things that happen in life that are too stupendous to wait for the next semi-regular update. This is one of those times. Without further adieu, I bring you On Distant Shores: More Frequent Than Usual Update Bonus Edition.

I can't describe exactly how it started, but since I got the Camry I currently drive, I've felt the urge to spice it up a little bit. It was essentially given to me by my generous friend Caleb Reinking and his wife- we exchange $20 to have something to put on the tax forms. I had to spend three days under the car to get it roadworthy, and it suffers from significant rust issues and semi-high mileage. It's not a fabulous car. It's golden years are behind it, but it is still quasi-reliable transportation and useful. I really don't have any problems with it, and I'm grateful to have it.

If I have one qualm with the Camry, though, it's that it is a boring car. It has no character. It is common. There have been more Camries (Camrys?) produced since the car's introduction in 1980 than there are people in South America*. I don't like driving a car without character. I'd rather drive something unique, something that puts a smile on my face. Something with a story behind it (although the Camry does) or at least that doesn't scream 'typical broke college student wheels'.

Perhaps this anti-boring-car sentiment has been percolating since May. Perhaps I was inspired by the episode of Top Gear which I watched with Travis last night, in which Jeremy Clarkson hilariously tosses a three-wheeled Reliant Robin around the roads of Britain with admirable panache. Or perhaps I just wanted to do something fun and productive (well, sort of) rather than entertaining myself with tiny blinking lights on one screen or another.

Ideas for un-boring-ing my car have mainly consisted of three camps: the utterly ridiculous, the silly, and the ridiculous but could be momentarily mistaken for serious. The leading contender in the utterly ridiculous camp was the idea of converting the Camry into a Camrymino. That is, to chop up the trunk and rear seats an add a bed, El Camino style, like this:

I also considered making over the car as something entertaining, like a shark. The silver/gray color of the Camry would have lent itself to this well. I toyed with the idea of adding a shark fin on top and painting teeth on the front fenders in the style of WWII war planes:

I opted against both of those options though. I realize that the Camry was a blessing to me provided by God, and to ruin it by cutting its butt off or disfiguring its appearance would not be good stewardship. (For the sake of argument I'm using everyone else's definition of  "ruin" and not my own) At the same time, the Camry it at the ends of its useful life- the residual value in it will likely be expended while I'm still its owner, and if I sell it (as opposed to junking it) the person I sell it to will probably be like-minded and won't mind some tasteful re-styling. (Now I'm using my own definition of "tasteful") I decided today that the third category didn't constitute poor stewardship as long as it was either "tasteful" or reversible. I also decided that my life was too boring and that it isn't wrong to enjoy oneself when the opportunity presents itself so long as moderation and wisdom are employed. 

With that in mind, I settled on the goal of plastering my car in random racing stickers and doing it up like a rally car. I felt that the way to go about this was to make it look like some people could wonder (for about four seconds) if it was actually a race-driven car. It would be critical to avoid the obnoxious, distasteful, ubiquitously poorly-implemented The Fast and the Furious imitator style agreeably mocked by VW:

I didn't want to spend more than a pittance on this goal, however, so I broke out my oft-used scrooge skills. I knew some places would send you free stickers if you sent them a SASE(self-addressed stamped envelope) so I looked for those and made up some SASEs. However, I soon discovered that some companies didn't even require a SASE, they would just send you stickers for free if you emailed them. Hey, free advertising, right? I sent off no fewer than 36 requests for free stickers from racing companies online, most of which don't even make performance parts for the Camry, or even any car. I also bid on a handful of one-cent-and-free-shipping car-decal auctions on eBay. Wanting to give my re-styling job a professional touch, I also decided to drop $4.50 on having "N FUNNELL" cut out of vinyl lettering to be applied under the driver's window, along with a $0.49-and-free-shipping American flag decal. Driver identification is all the rage in all the cool international racing series.

Stickers don't come for days or weeks, though- and I wanted to actually do something, though. I knew instinctively, though, what any faux-racing-car needs: a racing stripe. Vinyl stick-on racing stripes can be had for $20 or so, but that was how much I paid for the car. I turned to my old ally. Some know them as spraybombs or rattlecans, but to your average joe, it's spraypaint. Now, spraypaint has a bad rap. It's the weapon of choice for graffiti-writing hooligans and many atrocities against style have been committed with spraypaint. Nonetheless, it remains a legitimate tool for the well-informed artisan. With a little bit of technique, patience, and masking tape, wonderful things can be done with spraypaint. 

"Hey Travis, want to put some racing stripes on my car?"
A smile. "Where are they?"
"No, spraypaint."
"Right now?"
A mutual smile. 

All we needed now were the supplies and the design. I was partial to the offbeat and aggressive offset double stripe of the Ascari A10:

I also considered the centered double stripe so often seen on the late Dodge Viper. My uncle gave me a blue Viper model car that decorated my room until I move out of the house. Although the centered-double stripe is somewhat common, it would also have injected an element of the familiar.

I also considered the unequal-width off-center stripe favored by BMW enthusiasts and briefly gave thought to doing an elaborate set of stripes transitioning from the hood to the sides, which would be more rally-authentic, but which was a bit over-the-top. Travis and I also went back and forth on black vs. white, but when we looked over the car before going to Walmart to get supplies, the correct styling became obvious. It would be a white stripe, centered and following the contour lines on the hood, and I am sure you will concur based on this "before" picture: 

You also have a chance to reflect on the comical nature of restyling my car as a rally car. With the rust holes over the wheel arches, nobody can take it seriously as racer. As the old Nordic proverb goes: "If you're going to drive a cheap beater, you might as well have fun with it, right?" 

Normally for a fun-and-useless project like this, I'd grab the El-cheapo Walmart-brand spraypaint for a buck a pop and whatever the cheapest masking tape is. While being sensitive to cost, this endeavor would be fruitless if the paint started to fade/crackle/peel after two months of high-elevation Utah sun. It may be ridiculous, but if it's worth doing at all, it's worth doing it right. After all- eventually I may sell this car to some poor misguided high school student who actually thinks the stripe is cool based on its own merit, rather than for its comedy factor. For these reasons, I reached for the Krylon gloss white (and clear coat!) and the 3M blue Clean Release painter's tape. 

Supplies in hand, there was nothing left to do but to do it. I was waiting on Trav to come back from his house with newspaper so we could mask properly, but I decided to commit to the project by applying the chosen 600-grit sandpaper to my still-good paintjob. And so it was. A bit later we had the first part of the stripe carefully masked off (we even used a ruler), the glossy Toyota clear-coat knocked off (paint applied directly on gloss will peel), and cleaned with 409. We didn't bother with primer because, hey, it was primered in Japan 20 years ago. Primer is only really needed on wood or bare metal anyway. 

The first layer of paint went on:

Note the handprint on my pants above.

After two hours or so and a run to Walmart for an extra can of Glossy White, the deed was done. I learned one important lesson that I would be remiss if I didn't pass on. This was my first time to paint a large flat area with spraypaint, and I discovered that you need to carefully alternate the pattern in which you spray- this way, you won't see horizontal lines (or whatever) in the finished product. The patterns cover each other up. I had luck with horizontal, then vertical, then diagonal both ways. We used four or more light coats on each of the sections painted.

Finally, the finished product! It's pretty boss, no?

I don't normally wear heart-pattern tie-dye shirts, but this morning the Solid Rock Christian Club was in the homecoming parade, the theme of which was "A Little Thing Called Love". Our float was pretty rockin', but I'll write that up in the next Semi-Regular Blog Post (SRBP).

The future plans for the Camry are to stick all the stickers on when they come. This ought to be done in a racing style, though, not like bumper stickers. The stickers will go on the rear quarter panel and extend on to the rear doors if additional space is needed. On race cars, the stickers always go on the rear because you're moving so fast that by the time the photographer snaps a shot, all you can see is the rear of the car. Because photographers are on the side of the track, they see the rear quarter panel and not the rear bumper, really. I may also go with a single line of stickers along the bottom of the rear window, just so that people tailgating me get to know that I'm an idiot too. I also want to do enormous car numbers on both sides (as is befitting of a proper racecar), but those can't easily be masked off an sprayed like a stripe, and vinyl ones would be prohibitively expensive. I'd also really like to do a logo on the side with the Solid Rock Cafe logo, because we have a sweet skyline-cutout logo that is bombski. The difference would be that the subscript would say 'RACING' instead of 'cafe'. It'll definitely have to be in italics because italic writing looks faster than boring straight-up-and-down writing. Both of these may be projects for an Inconviently Complex Stencil (ICS). Spraying on the number and logo would violate my goal of being either tasteful or reversible, though, because while the logo would be tasteful for me, it wouldn't be so much for the poor high school student who may end up with this car. 

The last matter to be settled is what number to go for. On my 2A shirts I always get the greek symbol λ (lambda), and I know a guy who actually races his car and uses π (pi). To stay with the goal of getting the response of "Hey, is that actually a race car? It's all... wait, no, that's ridiculous", though the numbers must be Serious Business, and that means no greek symbols. With that in mind, I ask my diligent readers for number suggestions. Yes, I know, 42 is good, but I'm just not sure. Leave it in the comments!

*I made this up. Who knows if it's true.


  1. you should go with the number 2 in Binary 01 ha kinda geeky and clever at the same time

  2. There are 10 types of people in this world: those who know binary and those who don't. ;-)

    A decimal fraction would be neat. It would look totally plausible to bystanders until they noticed the period in front of the number.

  3. Ned, you're my hero and inspiration not to let life be boring. In reading your blog, i felt as if i wanted to just skim it because it's so long, but then i realized that i would miss your clever statements and brilliant writing. whatever number you pick just don't pick 41, haha

  4. Stumbled on this from Jalopnik. You, sir, get it. I have a Race Accord which would love to challenge your Race Camry to a snow drift battle. Look me up if you're ever in the Northwest in a snowstorm.