By Bruce Nelson
I would suppose that most people who read any of my ramblings don't know much about me or where I live. Well, I'm going to try and explain about where I live. At least I understand that. I live on an island in the San Juans in the small town of Friday Harbor. The San Juan Islands are about one and a half hours north of Seattle by car, then about an hour by Washing State ferry. There are about 7000 year round residents. Living on an island like this is a very different experience. If you want to go to Wal-Mart, for instance, it is an all day trip. There are most of life's' requirements available on the island, although they tend to be rather expensive. At the time of this writing, regular self-serv. gas is $2.20 a gallon. When you decide to make the trip "off island" you try to make it count. That means stops at Costco (I believe everyone on the island is a member), Wal- Mart (my least favorite store) and at least one grocery store. When you consider the waste of a day and the about $30.00 it costs for the ferry ride you don't want the trip to be a less than fruitful. I personally own the local Bowling Alley. It is rather new to the island and of the four ferry served islands in the area, it is the only venue of its kind. That really has little to do with this story except that when things get slow during the day, I write down this stuff. For the thirty years before the Bowling Alley, I did electronics repair. Mostly TV's and other home entertainment gear. This included service calls, and since I moved to this island eight years ago, digital satellite installs.
So, this brings me to the automotive portion of this drivel. During my life on the mainland, if your car died, you could at least give it or sell it to the local wrecking yard. Not so here. If your car dies here, it will cost you $200.00 to have it removed, and that is if it is complete. No motor or other major components, more than the $200.00. This throws a whole new twist to the value of old cars here. I have been able to take advantage of this on occasion, and know many people who have also told great stories. I would like to pass a few on.
The first story is about a car I noticed when I was on a service call to one of the other islands. I went down one of the many long, unmarked, gravel roads on this island to the very end house. There in front of this beautiful waterfront home was a 1974 Porsche 914 2liter. The car peaked my interest, so after I picked up the broken TV for repair, I asked about the Porsche. The owner of the car, who was probably in his seventies, said he had purchased the car new in 1974 and that even though it had current license and insurance, It had been years since it had been driven more than a few miles. He said it had only 45,000 miles on it and very little rust, but there was a problem with the parking brake. He went on to say he would like to sell the car, and wanted about $3000.00 for it. At the time I was starting to look for a car for my daughter who was fifteen, but that was more than I was looking to spend. When I returned the TV, I told him that the price was OK but it was not what I needed right then. I must admit, I thought about that car from time to time, but it still was not where I wanted to invest my money. About a year later I got a call at my shop. The caller was a woman, who asked if I was the person who repaired TV's on the islands. I said yes. She then asked if I had come to fix their Sony at their house and had looked at the old Porsche. I again answered yes. She asked if I was still interested in the car. Again yes. She then told me that if I wanted it I could have it for free. I was returning to that island the next day anyway, so I offered to pick up the car then. She said that was fine and that it would start right up and drive, but she was concerned about the brakes. After I promised I would drive slow, and fix the brakes right away, she agreed that I could pick the car up the next day. Even then she offered to send the car out to the local mechanic to have the brakes fixed, I declined and told her again my intentions to fix them right away. I did, and with a few minor repairs, I drove the car for about a year and a half. What a fun car with amazing handling. The only disappointment was going to Porsche events. Even though the 914 was quite possibly the best handling car they ever produced for the general public, the 911 owners really look down their noses at the 914. Owning one of these cars is an experience I highly recommend.
The main reason I kept the 914 was, I always like having a sports car in my collection of cars that interest me. Again, about a year or so later, I was on a service call, again at the end of a gravel road, but this time there was a totally stock and original 1973 Datsun 240Z sitting in the driveway. As I did the last time, I asked about the car during the service call. Now, I knew at the time that these were a very collectable car. Not to mention I have always wanted one of these. The owner did want to sell the car. He said the car was very original and he had all the records since new. One thing he told me was that he had gotten into a wreck when the car was only a few years old and it had to have a rear clip installed. The work was done very well, but the donor car had an unusual spoiler, much like the one used on the 70's Trans am's. It even had a raised area for the "240Z" insignia. He had opted to leave it on the rear clip. At first I thought I would remove the spoiler, but after finding out it was a dealer-installed item, I decided it was rather interesting. The other thing I found out about the car from the owner was that he had originally driven a new 1972. When he ordered his 1973, he was disappointed with the performance compared with the earlier model. He was told the there had been a carb. change that year to meet smog specs. He demanded the dealer bring the car to 1972 spec's. Believe it or not, they did. He said that every year he had to mis-adjust the carb's to pass the annual test, then return them to where the car ran well again. Anyway, the car had sat for nine years without having been run when I happened onto it. We talked for a while and I towed the car away for $325.00. After I got it home, I realized it would need the fuel tank rebuilt. I proceeded to pull the tank, and for about $100.00, it was rebuilt inside and out. By this time, I was very anxious to drive this car. I had repaired the other minor problems while the tank was out for service and when it came back the car was ready to roll. After a few days of driving the Datsun, I came to the conclusion that it was a much more enjoyable car to drive, in my opinion, than was the Porsche. So the Porsche was sold. Don't get me wrong; the Porsche was a blast to drive. But it was also a lot of work to drive. You had to keep the RPMs up, you had to really wring the power out of it, the shifter was unusual and even though the handling was amazing, you had to work it. The Datsun, on the other hand was so easy to drive any way you wanted to, and was very comfortable to drive even on long trips. What a great car. I said to myself that I would not sell the car, but someone offered my $4500.00 and out the driveway it went after only a couple of years in my possession.
So, these stories are but a few of the "island car stories" I could think of. There is the 1982 BMW 528 with minor wiring problems I just got for $50.00. It had $6000.00 in receipts in the glove box from the last year. You know, standard stuff. The real interesting story to me is the Jaguar XK120 story. About 2 years ago, a friend of mine asked me to go look at a car with her. She is very knowledgeable about cars, but was interested in my opinion as a collector. Off we went to look at a 1956 Chevy BelAir sport coupe that she had heard about. When we saw the car, I was amazed. The car had been sitting for 17 years in a storage unit. It had 98,000 miles on it. Was a California car with the black plates on it. No rust anywhere. Clear plastic seat covers. A cracked 235 6 cylinder, and a power glide. The people wanted $6000.00 for this car. During the visit, he also showed me another car he wanted to sell. He opened another storage unit and there was a 1953 Jaguar XK120 fixed head coupe. This car had 51,000 original miles on it and was in very good shape. He started it up and offered to move the boxes off it and let me drive it. I declined, as I really did not have the $15,000 he wanted for it. I did call my brother and had him talk to a Jaguar collector he knew in Carmel. He said it was a "good deal" but it didn't have him on the next plane. My friend also decided against the '56 Chevy for that price. Another friend of mine from the mainland had been looking for a project for a while, so I told him about the '56. When we looked at it, the owner said he had decided he would drop his prices. He now wanted $4500 for the '56 and $10,000 for the Jaguar. I now went into high gear to find a new home for the XK120. My friend did not buy the '56 even though the owner said he would listen to offers. A few weeks later the owner called my friend who looked at it first. He asked her to make him an offer. She offered him $3500, he accepted. A few days later we went to get the car. I also had someone on the island that wanted the Jag. For the $10,000. In talking to the owner, he said the car was sold and gone. When we delivered the car to it's new home the owner followed us over to get the check. As we were waited for the check, I had to ask if he had held out for the $10,000. He said he was tired of paying storage on these cars and had sold the XK120 to a guy for $4500.00. I about fell over. How could anyone sell that car for that?
My friend who bought '56 Chevy and I later discussed the economics of the Chevy. This guy had purchased this car 17 years ago to fix-up someday. He paid $5000 for a very nice original BelAir with a bad motor back when he lived in California. He had it transported up to Washington; I have no idea how much that cost. Then he paid $100.00 per month for a storage unit for the 17 years. He only sold the car because they were going to raise the rent. Then sold the car for $3500.00. Do the math, he may have lost money! Even if he had gotten $20,000 for the car I think he would have lost. This guy actually sold 5 cars in this move. He has one more to sell. Anybody want a clean 1978 Lincoln Mark5 with 75,000 miles on it? Bruce.
By Bruce Nelson
Last Update: 01/01/04