The island of misfit cars
The layman's struggle to keep oddities on the road...
Every now and then I like to venture off into the automotive "unknown" and take on a project outside of my so called comfort zone. This experience taught me a valuable lesson that I will never forget.
Like a lot of gear heads, I spend lots of time on the internet perusing classifieds and online auction sites basking in the infinite possibilities of project cars. While my go to car of choice tends to hail from Der Fatherland, every now and then the mood strikes me to try Asian, American, and in this most recent episode, French. (GASP!) I work in the airline industry which means lots of nights away from home. Hotels tend to be a second home for me where I'm stuck choosing between partaking in 12 dollar domestic beers and cold food menu in the over-rated hotel lobby bar, or staying in the room, indulging in room service, and shopping for cars on the internet; free of judgement from the other flight crew members who clearly aren't into cars.
On this particularly dangerous night, I made the HUGE mistake of clicking the eBay Motors category known as "Other Makes and Models." I had essentially stumbled upon the island of misfit cars. In this section you will find electric cars made well before Elon Musk was a household name, fascinating manufacturers (now defunct) from the teens to the 1930's, and basically anything else that wouldn't fit in a category on your local Auto Zone's helpful computer companion. My mind raced at the possibilities of being the only person with one of these cars at the local cars and coffee next spring! As I scrolled through the list of latest offerings, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the one-eyed Parisian I would come to find out was actually a 1959 Panhard Dyna Z. After looking at Hupmobiles, Reliant Robins (Top Gear jokes be damned) and even a Yugo GTV, I decided to go whole hog on the Panhard and for the staggering sum of $1425 I was now the new owner. It was quirky, air-cooled, and would soon become the bane of my existence.
Fast forward a couple weeks later when the car carrier arrived! I was still feeling pretty confident the car could be made roadworthy without taking out a second mortgage or selling any non-essential organs on the Colombian black market. Once in the comfort of my garage I began the task off cleaning decades of Arizona dust and grime from the drivetrain and interior which revealed a remarkably solid car structurally. I made a list of essentials that would help me breathe new life into the sad little Frenchman. Very quickly I realized why there are only a handful of Panhards in the United States, and of those, Leno owns 3 of them. My daily searches for obscure French car parts can only be described as being somewhere between daunting and impossible. I chalked up one week of constant searching as a success because I found an NOS "Ducellier" condenser for the car's distributor. I really am considering finding Jimmy Hoffa's body next, because it can't be nearly as hard to find as parts to this car were. Members of the local Panhard club expressed that the search is much easier if you are somewhat fluent in the French language. And with that, the writing was on the wall.
After months of very minuscule eBay battles were won, I decided I had already lost the proverbial war. The Panhard community was extremely nice and it's no fault of theirs that I wasn't able to see this project through. It had more to do with my impatience to drive the bloody thing before I was a full fledged member of the AARP. As I type this a nice Panhard enthusiast is headed here to pick up the old Dyna Z and take it back to Michigan where it will be in good company of other 2 cylinder outcasts. I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel like an utter disappointment to myself for not seeing this car through. Having wrenched on Beetles my whole life, I've become spoiled with the sheer number of parts still available for easily the most mass produced automobile in history.
So, the next time you find yourself at your local Cars and Coffee and see someone standing by a car with a deviant number of cylinders or wheels and tires, congratulate them on a job well done. Or better yet, buy them a Venti size cup of their preferred caffeine. Their's is a path less traveled. A much harder one than most. And they deserve every bit of attention-stealing admiration they get. Come Spring, I'll still be at all the local car spots. I'll just be parked a little further down the row in my humble VW Bug.