Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Little Titanic

I've shared an apartment in Louisville with several other pilots for over six years now. The apartment itself is nothing to write home about, a converted garage which is 30 years overdue for renovation. But it's in a really cool part of town and close to everything--work, a huge park for walking / running, a zillion restaurants, a great movieplex.

Half a block from our crash pad is an apartment building, a non-descript '60s yellow brick building quite out of place with the other grand houses in what was once Louisville's premier neighborhood. Like our crash pad, I imagine it gives a relatively low-rent option for those wanting to live in the area. Houses in this area start at half a million and climb sharply from there.

About three or four years ago, we noticed that a resident of this apartment building had driven their little Mazda Miata home after a presumed night of revelry and parked it in the building's lot. There was some fresh, relatively modest damage to the bodywork (visible to the front end in the picture above--we pilots tend to notice stuff like this), and the convertible top was left down (no pilotey-ness was needed for this observation). The car sat this way for several months, the interior being alternately soaked by rainfall and baked by the oppressive summer heat, before another pilot who rents in the area took pity on the car and put the top up. The car has sat this way untouched ever since. Our best guess is over three years.

A couple months back, yet another pilot friend of ours (this one who actually lives next door to the apartment building) saw some people loitering around the car and assumed someone was finally going to rescue the old girl. But no, they were in the process of breaking in. Somewhere along the line the car's license plate had disappeared, and these miscreants had stolen a plate from another car, put it on the Miata, and were attempting to break in and drive it away. The police were duly called, and shortly after they broke the window (but not before they slashed the top, thinking this a better way to get in) everyone involved taken to the police station a block away where charges were filed, etc. In the course of this, it was learned that the woman who owned the car no longer lived in the apartment building, and the car was basically abandoned (hence, the missing plate).

The problem is that she may have abandoned it, but she still owns it. Someone (like me) wanting to get hold of the car legally has to go through her (or at least around her, which I have no desire to do if she's happy with her status quo). One can't really blame the losers for wanting to capitalize on it before it slid into irredeemability, but they deserve every ounce of scorn and vitriol for slashing the frickin' vinyl top to get in. They should be in prison for stupidity, if not for attempted robbery.

Quite apart from the hopeless vibration of my finely-tuned nostalgia whore string induced by this little story, I'd love the project of trying to nurse this car back to health. It would be a fun winter project. It just breaks my heart to see it fading away for, I presume, no good reason. Day by day it gets further and further from its functional self, until it will inevitably reach the point where it's beyond sensible consideration. It's already an open question whether the costs of making it function again would not easily exceed the price of a good, used Miata of the same vintage, but it's beyond me not to want to halt the slide.

By my casual overview, it currently needs a new convertible top, a new passenger side window, new seats and carpet, and new brakes and tires and sundry other interior pieces. It also likely needs new electronics in the dash--radio and instrument cluster--and possibly new heater & windshield wiper fans. The condition of the engine and transmission after four years of sitting outside is a big question mark: it might fire right off, and it might need a new engine. Probably it's somewhere between those two extremes. I've tried to contact the management company for the apartment building, but there is no answer to their phone. I could check with the police department, I suppose, though there's no longer a license plate on it (still, they knew whose it was after the break-in several months ago). But it might all be for naught: I understand that numerous people have expressed interest, and surely some have reached the person who owns the car. If they couldn't do it, I probably won't succeed either.

But every day I walk past it and it pains me.



I did a little footwork today, going to the local police station to see if the car's owner's identity could be determined, but they were understandably unwilling to furnish me with this information (though the officer I spoke to, who identified himself as a "car guy," was sympathetic to my goals). They suggested I start with the apartment complex's management. So I made that call and left a message.

Surprisingly, I was contacted shortly afterward by this office to inform me that they had someone already at work getting a "junk title" for the car, and they said they'd contact me after that step was complete to see if I was interested in buying it. I mentioned that I probably wasn't willing to pay much for it, since it was really an open question how much money would be required to return the little car to a happy state; but I said the fellow was free to call me in any case to discuss it once the car became legally available.

We'll see if anything comes of it.


Anonymous said...

Men and their freaking cars. My husband bought a 1969 Porsche 912 last winter and just bought a BMW 850. Because we don't have enough freaking cars in our driveway. Why?

wunelle said...

That's one of those if-you-have-to-ask questions ;-) The term "pilot" automatically implies a certain, inescapable machine-geekery.

(Be thankful he doesn't have to buy airplanes to keep himself happy.)

My wife has to put up with constant car talk, motorcycle purchases, and my unquenchable yearning for electronic gadgetry. I'm on the prowl now for an iPhone!

Boy, I'd LOVE either of those cars. Especially the 850. What? You don't "get" the 850?