I said Si to the $100 Challenge

A week ago last night, my beloved WRX wagon offered what would become my final test of loyalty and stupidity, and thankfully, I failed. The engine locked, probably the result of an all-too-common spun rod bearing, and I thought for the first time, "This really isn't a very reliable car."

It's a great wonder that the thought had never occurred to me, as in the three years I've owned it, I've replaced the center diff, the transmission, the radiator, the front seats, and countless other little elements.

Now, I'm not jilted toward Subaru. A plain old Impreza is probably a very reliable car, but it seems like the WRX, at least my year, was made more powerful without being made more durable, which seems the wrong way to build a fast car.

So I went to work looking for something else. It had to be cheap, reliable, and manual (settle down auto-elitists: Even you can't argue that cheap and automatic are a good combination), and I was going to pay cash. I'm sick of making car payments and carrying expensive insurance.

After a parade of Craiglist flakes, including a man selling a Festiva- a man who seems to be terrified of me after I asked him what trim level it was and never called back, and one shady dealership test drive of the world's worst (but still strangely appealing) '87 Pontiac Fiero with an Iron Duke; I found a 1987 Honda CRX with 183,000 miles for $1500. I probably wasn't going to buy it, right? It was carbureted. It had a little rust. It was impractical and had too many miles and was too old. And the right front fender was shattered from a deer impact.

But then the seller popped the hood and I gasped. In place of a giant Skoal can holding an air filter stood a bare throttle body labeled PGM-FI. "Yeah," the seller responded to my inquiry, "all the SIs were fuel injected."

I had seen the badge, of course, in the ad, but since the seller hadn't mentioned it yet, even in the ad, I'd assumed that it was a 5hp Ebay mod. No, this was a real Si.

At that moment, some valve tripped in my brain, like a malfunctioning thermostat, which directly routed all my common sense to my armpits, where I promptly sweated it into my Old Navy tee.

A semi-clean CRX Si for $1500? Of course I was going to buy it! I wasn't going to haggle with him at all! It was the deal of a lifetime! I could make a grand flipping it!

So I bought it. And I don't think, despite my wisdom-dissolving surge of emotion, that it was an entirely bad idea. I can restore and lightly mod it as I drive it, and best of all, it won't blow up.

But this was supposed to be cheap, right? My effort to burn off my debt and get a better footing. I can't afford to restore it.

So I'm setting myself a challenge. The repairs on my WRX, when averaged over the three years I owned it, cost me about $100/month in parts and labor. So I'm going to take that $100/month and put it into the CRX. The savings from my regularly scheduled WRX expenses - premium insurance, premium gas, and loan payments - will go toward paying off my credit card and eventually my student loan.

And hopefully, by the time I'm out of debt, the CRX will be worth at least some of the money I put into it, and I can either sell it off and use the money to hire someone to hunt down that man with the Festiva, or just keep a really awesome and reliable autocrosser.

It's in rough shape right now. The fender needs replaced, the valve cover gasket is sweating oil like I sweat good decisions, and each bushing in the car seems to be made out of an individual roll of Barbie's paper towels. But I think I can pull it off.

I may fail miserably and die of ramen poisoning, but I think it's worth a shot. Updates to follow. I might start a blog. We'll see.