S Car Acquisition Stories
"There's always a story and it must be told."
Nearly everyone has a "story" to tell about how they got a particular car... here are a few stories you may enjoy. Want to add yours? Contact Brian by clicking here.
Subtitled: What Was I Thinking?
by: Brian Baker
I eat, sleep, and breathe Hondas.
That statement is for the benefit of those of you who don't already know me. But even for the people that do, a question that is often asked is, "How did it all begin?".
I've been involved with Honda automobiles for over 25 years now. It all started when my brother Jeff bought a 1976 Honda Civic. This action piqued my interest in finding out about older model Honda autos. I had remembered seeing advertisements in Jeff's auto magazines for a smaller Honda known as a Z600 Coupe. I thought this might be an interesting adventure for my first automobile purchase.
After months of searching (with my father's help and wisdom), I finally found a clean 1972 Z600 which I purchased in April of 1977 at the tender age of 15. I fixed and drove this car throughout my high school years. In my senior year, a friend advised me where he had seen another Z600 for sale. I originally purchased this car with the intent of it being a parts car, but later ended up restoring it.
Here I was, 17 years old, with TWO Z600s. Still, something was missing. I wanted to find an earlier Honda. One of the first cars Honda had built. I hadn't seen any in person, but I had heard and read about them. I had even seen a couple of photographs...coupes and convertibles! I had to find one!
Around this time, Mike Balogh, a friend of mine who also owned a Z600, introduced me to a friend of his by the name of David "Bud" Woodward. Bud owned an N600 and TWO S600 roadsters! We quickly became friends! I begged and pleaded with him for a long time to sell me one of his S600s. No such luck.
Finally, on September 12, 1981, I purchased my S600 roadster from Bud, who really didn't want to part with either, but financial circumstances forced him to sell me one. (Perhaps the previous 18 months of me begging and pleading with him to do so helped!) Both of the cars needed to have the engines rebuilt, so before I took delivery of my car, he had removed both engines and sent them to a person who was rebuilding them on an exchange basis. (Bring him your engine and he'd sell you one already completed.) This bothered me at the time because I wanted matching numbers, but we were so desperate to make the cars run, and I had no idea of how to do it myself at the time, I had no choice but to accept it. I later came to find out that he really wasn't doing a very good job of rebuilding them, either!
I drove the car for a short period of time, and then put it into storage. It hadn't run very well, so that took some of the luster off of my acquisition. A couple of years passed and Bud moved south, taking his car with him.
A couple more years passed, (it's now 1986) and I decided that it was time to finally do something with this car. I stripped it and sent it to my body and paint man, (and good friend), Walt Gutowski, who had it for nine months doing the body-off frame. I got it back in July 1987, and started to reassemble the car which included this non-original engine. I spent over 2 years working on it myself so that I might be able to drive it before I became too old and feeble. Well, when it was finally all together, it still ran poorly, but it looked like a million dollars! Unfortunately, its inability to outrun snails and slugs put yet another damper on what should have been a very joyous occasion!
About this time(1989), Bud calls me to say that he's selling his other car. Would I be interested? I tell him no, not really, one great-looking, barely-running S600 is enough for me, thank you. He tells me that I might want to reconsider my decision. I ask why. He says it is because when he had gotten his engine back, it ran very poorly. He went back to the guy who had rebuilt the pair of our engines and exchanged the one that he had gotten for another. It turns out that this other engine was my car's original and he never had the nerve to tell me! Needless to say, I bought the car, took out the engine, and then sold the car with my first engine to my friend Matt Rechtorovic. Unfortunately, my new, original engine had seized during the time Bud had his car in storage!
This engine spent a total of four years from start to finish sitting on my bench at my shop going through it's newest rebuild! Water had entered the #3 combustion chamber through a broken-off spark plug. Not only did I have to worry about drilling the remains of the spark plug out of the head without destroying the threads, but once I was able to free the piston from the liner (no easy task!), the piston pin was seized inside the small end of the connecting rod! For a full-floating design, this thing was really stuck!
My twenty-ton press was moaning and groaning quite a bit before the pin finally let loose from the connecting rod. Of course, by this point, the pin took a lot of metal from the inside of the connecting rod small end out with it! I shrieked in terror! I had just ruined an otherwise perfectly good crankshaft! (This seemed like an excellent time to pull out the five gallon can of gasoline and matchbook, but I somehow resisted the urge!)
Well, after crying over that for a few days, I finally calmed down enough to decide that I should try to find someone who was capable of repairing the crankshaft. My search took me to Pennsylvania, where I found a small racing-motorcycle shop owner who felt confident of being able to do the repair. He made up special jigs, which allowed him to press the crankshaft apart to get the #3 rod off. At this point, he welded new metal into the small end, and then lathed it to get it back to its original inside diameter. Nine hundred dollars later, I had a perfect crankshaft to start reassembling my engine with! The reassembly included all new gaskets and seals, along with new pistons, piston pins, rings, valves, guides, cam chain, cam chain rollers and tensioner, and all new starter clutch parts.
On May 26, 1992, my engine finally roared to life! After a couple of hours of fine-tuning and carburetor adjustment (and the four years on the bench), my engine was perfect!!!! That is, until I backed the car off the lift and spotted what appeared to be a rather large puddle of oil on the floor beneath where my engine had just been! It appeared that the oil was leaking rather heavily from the top of the tube (where it meets the underside of the head) that the oil pump driveshaft runs though. Apparently, even with taking great care and having two other people help me lower the head down onto the studs and block, I had cut the o ring at the top of the tube!
If you're not familiar with this little procedure, let me explain just what it entails to replace this little fifty-cent o ring! It requires removal of the head from the block, which destroys your brand-new head gasket, and since the chain case spacer sticks to the chain case spacer gasket (which sticks to the underside of the head), you destroy your brand-new liner gasket. Of course, to replace this requires you to remove both of the cylinder sleeves (Siamese type) which are such a joy to install in the first place! I suppose that I should also mention that if you try to remove the head from the block while the engine is installed in the car, it is impossible not to scratch the perfectly painted surfaces on the left inner fender and steering column that you had previously waited nine months for!
Well, now! I had talked myself out of torching the car the last time, but surely this was the appropriate moment! Take the five gallons of gasoline, pour it out over the entire car, and with one ceremonial lighting of a match, be done with it! End the torture! Move on with my life! Somehow, my brother talked me out of it. (I sometimes still question the wisdom of my decision to this day!)
After a couple of weeks to calm down, I went ahead with the inevitable. (During these weeks, I had conjured up many ideas such as injecting sealant into the orifice with a hypodermic needle, or epoxying the tube to the head, but unfortunately, my mechanical common sense prevailed!) After removing the engine from the car, and the head from the block, I very carefully installed a new o ring and proceeded with the reassembly. This time, it turned out right. I also realized after driving the car that it was all worth it! (Not that I ever could have admitted that while I was actually performing the work!)
It was around July or early August of that year (1992) that I also had the restoration of my hardtop completed. By far, most of the work on it was performed by Walt (my body and paint man), saving me the aggravation. It turned out perfectly as I was able to order every single piece from Honda such as the plexiglass rear window, all rubber and all chrome.
It was at this time that I thought I could not possibly be the only person who was enduring this type of self-imposed torture. So I decided to call up everyone I knew who owned an S-car and invite them to my place for a long weekend of S-car mania. I figured if people were going through the same torture as me, they might lose enthusiasm and interest and sell their car to the next poor, unsuspecting soul who would repeat this vicious cycle. Perhaps, if we all got together and saw and heard and felt and smelled and tasted what a properly restored S-car was like, it would collectively get all of us fired up to go home and start / continue / finish our own cars!
This was the beginning of my Annual S-Car Gathering. This first year (1992) we collected 3 cars and 6 owners. The second year we had 6 cars and 13 owners, and I purchased my S600 coupe from one of my friends. The third edition (1994) produced 8 cars and 15 owners. (1995 saw 22 owners with 15 vehicles, and 1996 brought 24 owners with 16 vehicles, along with 6 Z600s and 3 N600s! 1997 brought 9 vehicles and 12 owners, and 1998 was much stronger with 17 owners and 12 vehicles.)
Among the 1994 attendees was my friend Mike Robinet from Canada, with whom I was having a conversation about Honda trucks in general. I was basically telling him that I would really like to find myself a Honda pick up truck of any kind since Honda never officially imported any to the U.S. He began telling me about a classified advertisement that he had seen in a magazine a couple of years prior. He thought that it was for a T500. I assured him that he had to be mistaken, and that, if it really was for a truck, it must have been an Acty.
When Mike left to return home he assured me that, upon his arrival, he would look for that advertisement and telephone me with any information. He did just that and, about a week later, I heard from him. He said he had found the ad in a magazine that was published in Quebec, dated July 1991! (Remember that it is currently September 11, 1994). On top of that, the magazine is written in French, which Mike doesn't read! He read me what he could from the ad that did indeed say "Honda T500" along with a telephone number. I couldn't believe it!
I probably would have wanted to pursue this lead no matter which model it was, but this apparently was the "Holy Grail" of Honda trucks; the "big engined" version of the brother to the S-cars! I promptly called the next business day only to find out that I was reaching a Hyundai dealership, the person that I needed to speak to (hopefully in English) was away, and that they would have him call me upon his return. I waited, rather impatiently, for about 24 hours to receive the return phone call. When I did, I confirmed that this was not only the person who had placed that advertisement, but that he still had the truck, and it was still for sale! (Over three years later!) We pretty much came to an agreement over the telephone that I would purchase the truck with the purchase price to be determined once I had seen it.
My wife had Thursday, the 15th, off from work. So we decided to rent a 15 foot cube van, drive up in the morning, and return in the evening (about 6 1/2 hours one way), if all went according to plan.
The day dawned early, sunny, and brightly as we started off on our trek. When we hit the Canadian border, the border crossing guard was very curious as to why we entering Canada with an empty truck! After explaining our intentions, we were on our way again to arrive at our destination just about lunch time.
I was very excited in anticipation of seeing the truck. I had already decided I was going to purchase it, regardless of its condition. (I believe it to be one of only possibly two in all of North America!) Fully prepared to see a large pile of rust suspended on 4 flat tires, I entered the service department of the dealership with my wife in tow. There it was, sitting in the corner! A real, live T500F (fold-down side version) in its hideous green. It looked great, with only some way-too-heavily applied paint peeling and cracking from the driver's door! Otherwise, it looked to be in fantastic condition.
My host finally found and caught up to us at this point and insisted on treating us to lunch at a local Italian restaurant where we discussed the Honda new car business in general. After seeing a few local attractions on the return drive, we sat down to discuss business in his office, where he assured me that the truck would start and drive. To prove his point, he had one of his mechanics install a Hyundai (?) battery, and, after a few seconds of cranking, it did indeed start! I was unable to drive it, as the brake fluid in the clutch and brake lines had dried up. (No doubt due to the Hyundai brand electricity flowing through its wires!) Nonetheless, I was amply impressed! We sat down in his office again, came to terms on a price, and closed the deal. He called for a flat-bed truck, where once it was winched up, we rolled it off into my cube van. While securing it, he told me of the truck's past lives.
It seems that I am the truck's fourth owner, with him being the third, of course. He had bought it to display (along with an S600 roadster, S600 coupe, and N600) on the showroom floor of a Honda dealership that he used to own. When he sold the dealership, he kept these vehicles for his own private collection and, later, sale. He had explained to me that he had no trouble disposing of the other cars, but no one knew of or was interested in the T500. (Talk about fate...)
He had purchased the truck from the second owner who was a Honda motorcycle dealer somewhere outside of Montreal. This person used to pick up his motorcycle parts orders from a warehouse in Montreal and bring them back to his dealership in the truck!
This person had purchased it from the original owner, whom no one seemed to know too much about. He apparently had a lot of money and was visiting Expo '67 in Montreal when he happened upon the Honda display. Supposedly this truck was on display not so much for sale, but to show consumers Honda's varied product line-up. He explained to the Japanese people there representing Honda that he wanted to buy one of their most expensive motorcycles and a truck.
The Japanese very politely said, "Thank you for buying motorcycle, but truck not for sale." He then said, "No, you don't understand. I want to buy a truck and a motorcycle." To which they replied, "Thank you very much, but truck not for sale." He then supposedly explained it very bluntly that if they didn't allow him to purchase the truck, he would not buy the motorcycle. This was apparently the persuasion they needed and they sold him that truck. Or at least that's how the story goes!
On our return trip across the border, we stopped at customs to declare the truck. I filled out some paperwork and took a seat on the bench for what seemed like hours, while the guard ran the T500 vehicle identification number in his computer. Was he expecting to find an "all points bulletin" for a stolen T500? After it cleared, he walked out to the cube van with me to inspect this "Honda pick up truck." As I rolled up the gate, he said to me, "Oh, one of those."
Yeah, right. Like he had ever seen one of these before in his life! We went back inside, where I dutifully paid my $43 in taxes. (What was all of this talk about free trade, anyway?) Happily, we continued on with the return journey, uneventfully.
Now the really amazing part of the story begins. (Proof of the old saying, "When it rains, it pours!") When I returned home with the truck, I had a message that a friend of the brother of my friend Jim Lane had called me. I really had no idea what it could be about. We had only met once or twice and, except for a mutual interest in old cars, I had no clue as to what would prompt him to call me.
When I called him back, it was indeed in regard to old cars. Actually, a specific pair of old cars. He asked me if I had received my latest issue of Hemming's Motor News, to which I replied that I had. He asked me if I had seen the Hondas for sale in it, to which I replied that I hadn't. (I always go directly to the "H" section, with this month being no exception, and had found nothing that interested me.) He said that I should check out the "Multi-Make Cars for Sale" section. Well, there it was in black and white!
In amongst about 30 cars of all different makes, were a pair of S800s: one roadster and one coupe. They were to be offered at an auction the very next Wednesday, the 21st, in Pennsylvania. Here it is, Thursday, the 15th of September, and I've just returned home with a major addition to my collection, and now, six days later, it looks like I'll be taking another day off from work to spend some more money trying to add another car or two to my collection!
My first thought was that this could play into my favor since the auction was to be held at noon on a Wednesday. It would be in the middle of the day in the middle of the work week. Since I own my own business, I can take the day off, but perhaps it would narrow the field down for me as it could prevent some other bidders from being there.
My second thought was where do I get enough money? I pulled out all the stops from all of my bank accounts, borrowed some money from my brother, and even more from my friend, Bob Lane (Jim's brother). Bob played a very pivotal role in all of this for a number of reasons. It was his friend who had contacted me in the first place, he was willing to lend me some money, he had some previous auction experience whereas I didn't have any, and he took the day off from work to go to the auction with me!
On the appointed day, we met at my shop at 5:30 A.M. to make the six hour drive in my del Sol. With $13,000 cash in my pocket, and after only one wrong turn, we arrived at about 11:30, perfect timing to give us a chance to look over the cars before the auction started at noon. (Bob happens to be a member of the New York State Police, so that fact helped me feel a little safer considering I'm the type of guy who rarely carries more than $40 on me!) Including the two S800s, there were approximately 30 cars to be auctioned. Upon Bob's advice, we looked at each and every one of the cars for an equal amount of time, leaving the Hondas somewhere near the middle, so as not to let on that they were what we were interested in. As we were inspecting all of the cars, we came upon another friend of mine, Jim Phelan. He was there, quite obviously, for the same reason that we were; to try to snatch up a pair of S800s! Neither one of us knew that the other was going to be there! We had both kept quiet about our intentions so as not to increase the field of bidders.
Well, something had to be done now! Jim and I discussed the situation, and came to the obvious conclusion that we shouldn't bid against each other. He asked me which car I preferred between the two. This was an easy choice! When I had looked the two cars over, I had found the roadster to be a poorly restored, 4-wheel drum with live-axle, Japanese-market version (post-chain-drive, pre-front disc brake). Now, the fact that it was a 4-wheel drum version, in and of itself, was not a reason not to bid for it. The reason that I wasn't particularly enthralled with it was its actual condition. Poor paint, many previous repairs that were jury-rigged and extensively modified, and lots of brand-X parts were what turned me off.
Now compare that to what I found with the coupe. The odometer read an original 4,800.8 miles, which I had read in the prospectus but did not believe until I had laid eyes upon the car! All original, never retouched, ivory white paint adorned the car with just a couple of age-old nicks and scratches. The car was (is) still shod with the original Dunlop SP-3 radial tires! All rubber, plastic, weatherstripping, etc. was found to be intact, complete, uncracked, and not dry-rotted. The steering wheel, dashboard, roof-liner, seats, and carpet are all flawless! In fact, the only things that were found to need attention were a non-original battery, a cobbed-together but leaking exhaust, disintegrated ball joint boots, and varnished carburetors. As I stated earlier, it was not a difficult choice for me to make!
Well, what was even better was that Jim wasn't really interested in a coupe at the time. He really had his sights set on the roadster. He was only going to bid on the coupe if the price was really low. After having seen the roadster, this would have been the only reason for me to bid on this particular roadster.
After coming to this gentleman's agreement, we sat down ready to bid on the cars. As I recall, I believe the roadster was eleventh in the bidding order, with the coupe being twelfth.
Jim successfully bid on the roadster, and about $9,500 later, it was now his.
The coupe came up next.
On Bob's advice, I didn't get involved with the early bidding, so as not to artificially drive the price up. I just sat there like a disinterested party.
The bidding started at $5,000, and was answered by a gentleman sitting behind me. An unknown person (a plant?) on the telephone bid $6,000. (Meanwhile, I'm just sitting there wondering if, after all the money Jim spent on his roadster, my $13,000 is going to be enough to buy this coupe in all of its wonderfully perfect glory! I absolutely, positively had to leave here with this car!)
The gentleman behind me bids $6,500. I think that this is great; we've already gone from thousands to half-thousands. The person on the phone bids $6,600. Even better yet! Now we're going in hundreds! The man behind me goes for $6,700. The person on the phone goes to $6,800. NOBODY bids $6,900!
I'm still sitting in my seat, my heart pounding! The auctioneer asks one last time for $6,900. No one, including myself, answers.
"$6,800 going once!" Bob and Jim both look over at me with expressions of disbelief on their faces! Bob asks me if I forgot why we came here! I explain that I'm just waiting until the last possible moment.
"$6,800 going twice!"
"$6,900," I answer. The audience whispers to itself, "Where's this guy been?!"
The person on the telephone ups the ante to $7,000. The audience looks at me.
"$7,100," I manage to say, despite my trembling lips, dry throat, sweating palms, and a heart that's about ready to burst through my chest!!
The auctioneer asks the person on the phone for $7,200. No response. He asks a second time. Still no response! He asks a third time, to everyone gathered there. No reply.
"$7,100 going once!....$7,100 going twice!....SOLD! For $7,100 to bidder number 32!"
What a rush! My heart is pounding, my adrenaline is running. I feel like I just won an Olympic race! Bob and I leave the tent, and head over to the building to pay for my newest prize!
After finalizing all of the paperwork, Bob asks me how I plan on getting the car home. I really hadn't thought about it, but trucking it seemed to be the obvious answer. He suggests that I drive it home, with him following me in my del Sol. I ask him specifically what type of drug is he on!
He begins to regale me with the story of how he and a friend had gone to Hershey a couple of years prior in a Toyota. His friend bought a 1938 Chevy and decided to drive it home. During the trip, the TOYOTA broke down, and they continued on home in the Chevy!
Uh, oh! I'm starting to consider this idea! I check all of the fluids, hoses, and belt-they're all good. I try to start the coupe, but it is flooded. (Earlier in the day, while perusing this car, we had run across some idiots who were trying to start it during the inspection period by pumping the accelerator pedal about 80 or 90 times, and then cranking it over until my poor, little car was blue in the face! I had wanted to yell at them, but it was not yet mine. It may have also let on that I knew something about this car, and I wanted to avoid that appearance, so I bit my tongue!)
I found the spark plug socket (still in the tool kit!) and proceeded to remove the plugs. After asking around for some carburetor cleaner, cleaning, and reinstalling the plugs, my little gem roared to life! (Turning quite a few heads in the process! Obviously, the general audience was not familiar with the song of an S800!)
I let the engine warm up, checking for any leaks or ugly noises. I found none. I drove a few laps around the parking lot checking the brakes, clutch, and tires. All seemed okay. I am thinking out loud to Bob that maybe it would be kind of fun to do this. He tells me that this will be a really neat story to recount in the future. (How correct he was!) I figured even if I didn't make it all the way home, he'd be right behind me in the del Sol. At the very least, it would be that much less distance to have it trucked.
I went back to the building, where I was able to secure a very nifty, temporary, 30 day registration from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (Something way too cool for the stuffed shirts in my home state to ever allow!)
After Bob took a few obligatory photographs, we were on our way home.
Well, almost on our way home. Another reason Bob had wanted to make the trip with me to Latrobe, Pennsylvania was that it is the home of the Rolling Rock Brewery, brewers of his favorite beer.
We drove around town, unsuccessfully until we stopped and asked for directions. When we finally arrived at our destination, it was a very long walk across the complex from where we had parked the cars. We passed many different buildings until we came to the one we were looking for, the visitor's center.
Much to Bob's horror, the sign on the door said, "Closed Wednesdays"! Bob had made his journey to his Mecca, only for it to be closed on the very day he arrives! The shock still hasn't worn off to this day!
We left Latrobe, Bob with his head hung low, and me with my head held high!
Two fueling stops and 343 miles later, we were back at my shop. At each of the fuel stops, I gave a quick look under the bonnet (and under the car) to make sure everything was okay. Six and one-half hours with no trouble at all! To this day, that is the longest continuous drive I've ever done in an S-car!