Sunday, June 24, 2007

Matilda's Story

Tiny purple Fiat in Prague, 1993

Years ago (14 to be exact), I saw this car on a side street in Prague and fell in love. At that moment, that tiny purple car became my vision of a dream car. I knew it was chimerical, but stashed it away in the nether regions of my psyche as a "someday" wish anyway.

The next few steps in the story may seem superfluous, but will all be necessary in hindsight.

Fast forward to December 2006. Gary has a dream that he's acting in a play again, and it drums up such nostalgia that we decide to dive back in to community theater. I find a listing for an audition in the newspaper which sounds like it would be a good fit for him. He auditions, and is cast in one of the lead roles. He spends the next three months going to rehearsal four nights a week and becomes good friends with Chad, who also has a part in the play.

Chad is over one night and I end up sharing the photo of my dream car. This got Gary and Chad talking about possibly one day finding that car (turns out it was a Fiat), or one like it, and fixing it up. It turns out that someday would only be a few months away.

It just so happens that Chad is quite the car connoisseur. He is rather adept at finding and fixing up vehicles. On Thursday (this past Thursday!), he was down in the Cottage Grove area (south of Eugene) for a haircut. While passing a saw shop, he saw a friend's car and decided to stop in and say hi. Bob, the slow-talking gentle giant that runs the shop, felt compelled to mention to Chad that he'd seen a little Honda car at a wrecking yard in nearby Creswell. Chad asked if it was a CVCC, but Bob said it wasn't, and it was actually smaller. Chad was intrigued, and called Gary on his way to look at it, knowing our penchant for Hondas and desire for a tiny car.

We were immediately interested, and when it turned out they were only asking $350 for the 1971 Honda N600 Sedan, asked Chad to seal the deal for us. The fellow at the wrecking yard, whose name was also Bob, seemed reluctant to part with the car. Chad left empty handed. Facing the uncertainty of that deal, we now wanted the car even more.

The Honda N600 in Creswell

We spent the evening looking up information on the old Honda 600s and found they are pretty rare. It's estimated (by one of the sites we looked at) that of the original 40,000 cars produced, only about 1,000 are still in drivable condition today. The car down in Creswell was certainly not in drivable condition, but we hoped with a little TLC and a couple years of faithful effort, it could be drivable again. Not wanting to pin our hopes on a deal that might not go through, we started searching for other Honda N600s that were for sale. We scoured the Internet, and found a few on Ebay. Several were way overpriced and others were too far away or in too bad of shape to make bidding on them worth it. We went to bed anxious and a little disheartened.

Friday morning Gary woke up an hour early by accident, and because he had some extra time, he decided to check Ebay again for any new postings. He did a slightly different keyword search than the previous night, and stumbled across an auction for the same car Chad had seen in Creswell, but in considerably better shape. This car was in the LA area, there was no reserve, and the bidding was only up to $450 after six days. Only nine hours remained. Gary placed a bid and became the high bidder at $485. He then left for work and put me in charge of keeping an eye on things.

Initially, we thought we'd max out at $500, but after consideration, decided to up it to $750. A noontime call from Gary upped the max to $1000. We stayed at a pretty steady $485 all day and were excited that this car might actually become ours. At 4:30 pm, 15 minutes before the auction closed, a new bidder came in and outbid us at just over $1,000. After some deliberation, we decided $1300 was the absolute most we would be willing to pay. We entered our new maximum and kept our fingers crossed. The bidding went back and forth a little bit more in the remaining 10 minutes, but stopped once our bid was upped to $1,110. Bidder 5 backed off, and the little car was ours!!

Our Little Matilda

The next major undertaking was figuring out how to get the car from the Los Angeles area up to Corvallis. We spent the next 12 hours waffling back and forth between driving down there ourselves (a side trip from our vacation to Nevada next week) and having it shipped. We penciled out all the costs and risks and determined it would only cost about another $150 to have it shipped than to get it ourselves (and not have to risk running our truck into the ground). Gary got online and got a bunch of quotes from different companies and ended up finding one that would pick it up in LA and deliver it to our door for a reasonable rate. As a interesting side note, Dan, the customer service rep Gary talked to, was originally from Eugene and was watching the Beavers game on TV at the time (we only need one more win for a second World Series title!).

So now the wheels are in motion, and our little Honda N600 will be here within the next two weeks or so. We have named her Matilda, and have big plans to start on her restoration once she arrives. We have started this blog as a diary of her transformation from a slightly tattered orange car into a shiny purple Corvallis cruiser. Simone will look so cute riding in Matilda with her head poking out of the window!

Artist rendition of Simone in a purple Matilda. Picture to scale.

We will keep you posted on her progress!

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