The Best Worst Hobby

If you’re reading this, then you’re likely an idiot. And by idiot, I mean a person that has dumped an unbelievable amount of time, money, and anxiety into attempting to build and maintain a project car. But don’t take it personally- you’re in very good company. There are thousands of idiots like us spread out all over this country and the entire world all working towards a similar goal. We might intend to use the cars we build for different purposes or chase this seemingly intangible goal for many different personal reasons, but the overall story is more or less the same.

For most of us, building a car is a terrible financial decision. I would argue that most people in this community (myself included) have no business sinking thousands of dollars into an aging economy car when there are much more important priorities in life- owning and paying for a home, saving for emergencies and retirement, providing for a family, etc. It’s something that we rarely discuss as enthusiasts and I’m not really sure why that is. I think we probably all know that what we are doing (or attempting to do) isn’t a very wise choice, but I really believe (even at the risk of sounding cheesy) that tinkering with cars is an addiction for many of us. Despite our best efforts to be responsible and make the right choice, it’s just something we can’t steer away from. I’ve never done drugs before, but I imagine it produces a similar craving. It feels amazing once you get a taste of it, but the high only sustains you for so long before you need to do it again- pushing the envelope a bit farther every time.

At 32 years of age, not a single day goes by where I don’t consider parting out my car and throwing in the towel on the car hobby all together. It’s not a matter of a lack of passion or motivation, because I typically have a high amount of both of those things. It’s more a constant reminder that I am the sole provider for my family. When my wife and I had our third daughter last August, we decided that the best solution was to have her stay home with our girls and stop working. Switching to living off of only one income has been one of the most difficult things I have had to juggle in life, and while we are more or less getting by (thank goodness), I could cure a serious amount of my daily anxiety and put a nice big padding on my savings account by getting rid of my S13. There’s never a question to me that this is the wisest and most responsible choice. But talking about it and actually doing it are two different things, and I always struggle with taking the plunge. It’s probably one of the most difficult challenges I have faced as an adult, as silly as that may sound.

Why is it so difficult for most of us to fathom letting go of this hobby? What is it about modifying a car that’s so exciting? It always sounds corny and embarrassing to admit, but our cars really do become our identity in a lot of ways. It’s a canvas that allows you to project who you are and what you’re about to the world. Whether we set out to do it from the beginning or not, everyone wants to be known for something- to feel included and to make a name for themselves. Whether you’re into the car show scene, drifting, other forms of motorsports, or just cruising around- you want to be a part of the club. Once you’ve established yourself and have made friends in the community, it’s hard to imagine letting go of that aspect of the hobby. We walk around at car events and barely talk to each other, often shrouded in insecurity. The conversations often flow awkwardly until someone finds the courage to say “I’m *stupid username,* I have the black 199X Nissan with ________ wheels.” Suddenly a light bulb goes on and the conversation is ignited. Two strangers are now conversing as if they have been friends for decades. The gap has been bridged and there likely won’t be a shortage of conversation again. No matter how humble you are or how little the attention might mean to you, there’s no doubt that our cars become an extension of who we are- a way to identify ourselves.

That’s one of the most positive aspects of this hobby that I enjoy the most- people from all sorts of different backgrounds with different interests all come together with one thing in common. I’ve made the majority of my best friends through this hobby and our shared experiences along the way. Friendships morph from simply talking about cars to larger support groups, spinning off into deeper conversations and advice around getting married, having and raising kids, buying a house – even fixing a broken humidifier over Facetime. I’m consistently amazing by all of the friends I have gained through wrenching on cars. It seems for virtually any situation life throws my way, I know someone that’s an expert on the subject that can lend me some advice- all thanks to this hobby. While its core may be rooted in poor decision making, there are definitely many benefits to it that have brought me a lot of joy over the years.

At this point I’m not even sure what I am rambling on about anymore, but I think you probably get the idea. I am often conflicted when young people reach out to me and ask for advice with building their S13s because the obvious answer is to not build one at all. Many of them are currently in high school or college and it’s just so difficult to come up with the time and money to put one of these cars together in that situation. I was very fortunate to have a supportive mother that helped me greatly with putting myself through college as well as the blessing of coming into a little bit of money from a distant relative- this a result of my father taking his life when I was 16. This was essentially the kickstart that allowed me to build my Toyota Solara so quickly, and then funded the majority of my S13 build in the early years. Without those funds I would not have been able to put together a car like mine so quickly. While money is only a small portion of what it takes to build a well thought out and influential car, it’s definitely something that can’t be avoided. I’m forever grateful that I was afforded an opportunity to have the means to express myself through building a couple of cars in my early 20s. It’s not something that everyone has the chance to do.

I’m always tempted to tell young people starting out to wait until they are finished with college, have a career with a consistent paycheck coming in, all of their bills are paid, and they have another car as a reliable form of transportation while building an S chassis. But despite all of those things being taken care of, it still really doesn’t make good financial sense for most of us to build one of these cars. It’s too easy to get lost in the pursuit of perfection, something that can never be obtained. There’s always going to be a flaw, always an unexpected issue that needs to be fixed, always just one more part that’s needed to complete the build. I’ve watched many friends try to chase this goal over the years, explaining that “once I have this all done I’ll be able to just enjoy the car and cruise”- only to see them hold onto the car for years without driving it and end up selling everything, putting an end to their time in the hobby all together.

In all honesty, I am not sure it is possible for 99% of us to ever get to a point where our cars are completed. Because even if we did manage to assemble the perfect car, the journey of building it is usually more exciting than the finished product. I love driving my car, but the thrill of spending hours researching how to do something, coming up with a game plan, tracking down and ordering all of the parts, installing them, and then stepping back to look at what I have created with my own two hands is where the real enjoyment lies. I think that’s why I can never leave my car alone. I’m always looking to reach the next milestone and to be overcome with that feeling of accomplishment. It’s a feeling that is hard to match. When things remain static and there’s no goal I am reaching towards, it begins to lose its excitement. But as I learned with parting out my S13 the first time I felt this way back in 2012, getting rid of the car all together isn’t always the solution.

I’m not really sure where I am going with all of this, but if you’re expecting me to sum this up with “it’s all worth the sacrifice in the end, go build the car of your dreams!” I’m not going to. When you really step back and think about it, this hobby puts a financial strain on almost everyone that’s a part of it. People may never speak about it and it’s easy to think that the grass looks greener on the other side, but we rarely know what is going on behind the scenes. It’s difficult to be a part of the car culture without coming off as having a “Look at me! Look what I have!” mentality since it is a hobby based on being unique, trying to stand out from the crowd, and buying things we don’t need. I would caution you to avoid the temptation to keep up with others around you and focus on your own build and priorities in life. Ensure that you are not living outside of you means or putting unnecessary strain on your life and relationships to build a car. It’s incredibly difficult to focus on the things and people that matter in life, and I’ll be the first to tell you that I do a bad job at it sometimes. But if your car needs to sit on the back burner for a bit while you take care of priorities and get some of life’s details sorted out, don’t feel any shame for that. You’re doing the right thing!

Don’t be afraid to take a break. Come up with a detailed game plan to obtain the things you want- maybe even one that breaks everything down into stages so that you continue to feel a sense of progress. Always have an exit strategy should life decide to hit you with something unexpected. Keep a spreadsheet of all of the parts on your car and what they are worth so that you know what you have available in the event that you need to pause and take care of life’s priorities. There’s no shame in it and it is something that the majority of us with cars like this deal with. If you’re going to play the game, you have to keep tabs on where you stand and always be ready and willing to make sacrifices if you need to. Unless you have tons of money, which must be an amazing feeling- but I don’t think most of us do.

For me personally, it’s much easier to write a blog post like this offering advice than it is for me to listen to it myself. I don’t know what the next year or two holds for me or my car, but I do know that I will take a break from it or even say goodbye to it completely in a heartbeat if I need to to ensure that my family’s needs are met. Building and improving my S13 is the only hobby I have at this point and there’s not really anything else that can bring me the same sense of accomplishment and camaraderie that being a part of this community does. I hope to be able to weather what might be one of the most challenging segments of my life and come out with my car intact on the other side, but nothing is ever guaranteed. Just know that when you see my car on social media and it looks like I have everything, I struggle with the same guilt and anxiety about owning and tinkering with one of these cars as everyone else. I am absolutely fortunate beyond measure to have a loving wife, three beautiful daughters, and a nice home- but the car is secondary to all of those things and always will be. It’s a wonderful bonus that I have been able to enjoy for a long time and I understand that at any moment I might need to let go of it.

Thank you for enduring my long-winded rambling. I’m not sure what the end message here is, but I hope that it reaches someone out there that needs to hear both sides of the coin and that it resonates with them. I don’t know the magic formula for finding a way to maintain balance between it all in this hobby, but if you figure it out please let me know. I think my best advice is to enjoy your cars and our community, help others when you are able to, and know when it’s time to check yourself. Take care of your family, because at the end of the day that’s what matters most!

Thanks for stopping by.

Damon

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12 Responses to The Best Worst Hobby

  1. jyw0rld says:

    Message of the story: PART OUT

  2. Andy E says:

    Really enjoyed this. Exactly where my mentality is at.

  3. Whoa.Mikey says:

    Hit the nail on the head, Glad i found your blog, this is the first post Ive gotten to read but definitely going to check out the rest. I think this is something we all struggle with. I’ve posted my car for sale numerous times only to back out when talks get a little more serious, then ended out parting most of it and starting over. I think it comes down to getting complacent and striving for change. An unnerving feeling of needing to keep progressing. Again great post!

  4. Mike says:

    “The best worst hobby”

    I have used this phrase many times over the years and only 50% of the people I have said it to really understand. While I have made some dumb decisions over the years pertaining to this hobby, I’ve met some lifelong friends and have great memories tied to my cars. Wouldn’t change a thing!

    • I definitely know what you mean! The experiences and friendships are well worth the price of admission. You have a nice looking S15! Enjoyed flipping through your blog. Thanks for the comment.

  5. merlzrps13 says:

    Almost shed a tear bud. Great write up. I feel like that all the time too. I’ve said it to myself many times. As much as i don’t want to to either sell/part out… It’s just a car and if i had to for family/house reasons i would in a heartbeat.

  6. Alaedran says:

    There have been so many times I parted out and sold my project cars to ease my financial burden. I keep coming back to the hobby and repeating the cycle and nearly every day I wonder if I should make the prudent financial choice and just let the hobby go. It’s nice to hear other enthusiasts thoughts on the subject since, as you say, people don’t usually talk about it. Thanks for the post!

    • Thanks for reading and leaving a comment! I know exactly what you mean, believe me. I have gone through the same cycle many times now. I know leaving it behind is easily the wisest choice from a financial standpoint, but it’s just so difficult to let go of the hobby all together!

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