Sir Richard Branson ran crying down a London road. He’d just sold Virgin records for a billion dollars in 1992, to found his airline, but was upset over saying goodbye to it. Despite the serendipity of a fortune to fly planes, Reuters reports he felt like he’d sold a child.
Selling my automotive baby wouldn’t take a billion dollars (I have had offers recently) but it would have to be a healthy figure, considering it’s only a few years ago that I finally achieved my childhood dream of owning a Subaru Vortex XT, albeit the stock standard version.
Along with the strikingly shaped car were some standout patches of rust: in the left side chassis rail, around the boot and on the edges of the sunroof.
I had repairs to all 3 areas in 2018 before getting the car back on the road, but in the last 40+ months they’ve all begun bubbling again. They were repaired quickly at a somewhat low cost, and now it shows. Let’s just say chassis rust was simply covered with new metal.. and body rust was just moved aside for filler putty.
Therein lies the problem – it seems that in neither case was the rust properly removed, with the metal then sandblasted and fully sealed. I’ve been learning a lot about oxidation this week, by studying the skill that another local body shop is putting into repairing my ride. The man behind the operation grew up in a cold country, repairing rust on cars which drove on salted roads. He knows how to stop the rot.
After a day at his workshop, the chassis rail was renewed and will be sealed inside with a particularly noxious substance, which has many warning labels. So that’s the underside done.
New rust spots around the body are also being revealed under plastic trim and will get the sandblasting treatment. There’s one nasty outbreak under the rear glass, perhaps caused by a hasty previous windscreen removal, with a sharp tool, that scratched the metal surface which was then left untreated. Add to that oversight, insufficient sealant – and rust will come. That’s a lot more glazing knowledge than I had last week.
Which brings me to my serendipity (apart from finding this very thorough body shop). The sunroof is a heavy metal lid, which has been gradually rusting on the passenger side.
Given that it can easily be removed, I didn’t expect it to be much of an issue to repair. However, on checking in at the workshop, I found my metalworking god scratching his head.
He said the sunroof was too eaten away at the edges to be restored. I’d have to get a fibreglass lid made, or have new metal cut to the ever-so-curved design, or just go with a piece of glass. Any of those options would cost a bit – and it’s then that I mentioned I had a spare sunroof at home.
This sunroof was salvaged from the Vortex car shell I bought, along with a “barn find” Vortex, when I went to see a man about buying hubcaps. I’ve had it for sale for years, and it’s sat unloved in the shed, until I pulled it out today to show to the body shop.
At first he didn’t say much, and I thought he was in shock at how badly rusted the spare roof was. But once he was able to put sentences together again, he revealed how marvellously preserved this metal was, for my car’s purposes. He grabbed a wire brush and immediately made positive noises, as he checked the shallow depth of the top rust spots. It made his day – and it will make the sunroof-sized hole in the roof a lot more leakproof.
Even the rubber seal around the outside was in good condition, just needing a good soak in an anti-mould solution.
I also learned the importance of looking at welds, and cleaning down bare metal before covering it. My body maestro put on his detective hat, while attacking a small rust spot in the passenger door sill.
He said the car looked to have had a new rear quarter panel at some time – with the Vortex a coupe, this covers quite a large area. He noticed that the welds on this side were not as precise as the robot-regulated shots on the driver’s side. Plus, the panel edge that’s usually under the plastic trim looks a bit rough.
There was one other thing he found, while going back to bare metal: what seems to be the fingerprint of whoever replaced the panel in the past. It matches up with where a hand would have placed the panel edge. In their haste, they didn’t clean it off before coating it. So the tiny amount of dirt or moisture from their thumb has left its mark on the metal, over the years.
So you never know how a previous owner or repairer will literally leave their mark on your car. That’s a lot more body shop knowledge than I had last week.
With so much attention going into the rust spots around my Vortex, I don’t think I’ll be doing a Branson and selling it. Anyway, he’s into rockets now – and I already own one, made in 1985.
The 1993 movie “Indecent Proposal” might have starred Warren Beatty as the man who buys a night with Demi Moore for a million dollars. But as imdb reveals, Robert Redford got the role, and he “walks better than anybody on Earth”, according to director David Lyne (who also made Flashdance and Fatal Attraction).
Twice in as many weeks, I’ve received very “decent proposals” to buy my cars, straight up from strangers who are admiring them.
The first was at Cars and Coffee with my Suzuki Mighty Boy. Friends beckoned me over to it, as I looked at other vehicles. A man standing in front of the little yellow ute was eagerly awaiting my arrival. He said “I like your car, how much would you sell it for?”
I said “I’m not really interested in selling it, as I’ve only had it a few months!” That seemed to put the brakes on his plans. He repeated how much he liked the Boy and moved on.
Then the following week, as I drove to the petrol station to fuel up the Subaru Vortex XT for a different car meet-up, I had another decent proposal.
As I waited to pull out into traffic from a business car park, a man in a 4WD pulled over and motioned to me. I thought he was saying “you leave the driveway and I’ll pull in.”
Once traffic cleared, I got onto the road and drove 200 metres to the servo. The driver followed me on the road and into the forecourt. Then as I filled up, he came over to chat.
Turns out, he used to own a Vortex XT, but sold it some years ago. He just happened to be driving down the road as I was waiting in the car park driveway, in the rare car he regretted selling (I know what he means). Surely a million-to-one chance.
This time the proposal was more direct: “I want to buy your car, how much would you sell it for?”
I gave him my usual response to family members, asking about my plans for the fleet: at the right price, anything is for sale. So it would have to be a very good price – many thousands – to tempt me.
In the end, he gave me his card and asked that I call him if ever I was selling it. But seeing as he was really looking for a turbo XT, I gave him some leads on a couple for sale online.
He’s a local mechanic who’s worked on the Subaru’s EA82 engine, so I said I’d give him a call the next time it needed work.
So, he may yet get to experience my Vortex XT like Robert Redford with Demi Moore (well, not exactly like that), but without a million dollars changing hands.