Thursday, March 17, 2005

Parts Hunt

Ah, remember when?

You got your first car, and being a used model, it needed just a bit of work to be perfect. So the hunt begins.

When I got my first car -- a Datsun 1200 -- it was missing the back seat. Instead it had a carpeted area in the back, which I thought was cool. But the next summer my buddies from out of town were coming to visit. I couldn't ask them to sit on the carpet! So the hunt began. Cutting it close, my plan was to drive the usual 3 hours to the Portland, Oregon airport to pick them up. The plan was to leave a few extra hours early, swing by the wrecking yards and buy a nice rear seat in time for the arriving flight.

Back in those days (the early 80s), there were a lot of early 70s cars in the yards, ready to donate parts. But the Datsun 1200 didn't sell in huge numbers like the domestic cars did, so I had to visit quite a few yards. I traveled down Columbia Boulevard, along the mighty Columbia River where are the scrap yards, industrial equipment lots and used-auto-parts lots were. There was a hint of dampness in the fresh sunny air, summer in Oregon. Walking through the dirt lanes between rows of classic and not-so-classic cars. Wow!

Anyways, I did find a seat in time, in the yard closest to the airport: John's Import Auto Wrecking. This also happened to be the most advanced yard at that time: concrete lanes, cars "stacked" three high on outdoor giant-sized shelves, and very clean cars. I purchased a like-new-condition rear seat and stuck it in my car.

Columbia River, 1984

My friends never knew ... we traveled back along the Columbia River in that little Datsun out to the Pacific Ocean. We visisted Mount St. Helens. We drove everywhere -- and got 38 miles per gallon.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Potential of "My Car"

What a car. 30-plus years later, thousands of owners are still talking about the Datsun 1200. Sure, back then it was basic transportation and viewed by many as only a get-me-by until a person could afford a "bigger, better" car. But Nissan really outdid itself with a timeless design and good engineering.

The other subcompacts have come and gone. Chevy's Vega (millions sold) are history. Most rusted out during the eighties if not sooner. Ford's Pinto (millions sold) lasted longer but are now history. But the 'lil Datsun 1200 (10s of thousands sold) commands a rabid following out of proportion to its sales figures.

Maybe it was all the races the 1200 won. For rallycross, it was really the car to beat until the mid-90s. It won many SCCA road racing events. And a modified 1200 was the fastest of the "Fast and Furious" cars in its class at the 2003 NOPI races.

The second-generation of the Sunny car line (that ushered in the "my car" era in Japan) is still loved by those who 1) love cars, who don't view cars primarily as transportation 2) who've driven 1200s for enough time to realize how good they were and 3) appreciate the more simple and direct excitement of a real car -- no radios, carpet, leather seats and power windows and other luxuries. Just pure driving enjoyment.