It has finally happened. Dan Spinali’s Sentra has gone to the Big Garage In The Sky. A few days ago he posted pics of the sticker-encrusted ( I’m pretty sure those things held it together) Sentra. Along with those pics, we learned that his Sentra could no longer keep it together, literally. It had become more costly to keep on the road than what it was worth.
As much as we love our beaters, there comes a time to let go and put the wrenches away. Its not always easy. More often than not it feels like saying goodbye to a good friend, much like a family pet. It’s hard, it was a reliable and steady part of your life for quite some time. Take those memories and those adventures and use them as a reference to some new adventures in the next beater you get. Go buy another tossed-aside crap can and get back out there! Bounce the new beater off of other beaters and mailboxes. Smokescreen your way to work. Leave oil slicks down the highway and pretend like your James Bond!
Dan left us with some final words:
“Thanks for all the fun posts and the free stickers!
Sadly today was my last morning with my beater. 15 years parked outside in Canada took a toll on it, and the cost to repair outweighed the value of the car a long time ago.
15 years, 2 owners (myself and my grandfather), and only 130125 km.“
You’re most definitely welcome Dan! We can’t wait to see what your next beater is gonna be (even if it is something shiny and new).
I’ve shared my Sentra with you guys several times (you’ll hear about it a bunch). In a sense it is one of the biggest inspirations for this blog. It was old. It barely ran. Sometimes it even had oil in it. The pictures don’t show it too well but when I bought it there was a very noticeable scar on the passenger side.
At one point in its previous life with its eastern European family before me, it had been in an accident and was shoddily repaired, I assume, in the driveway. Not unlike any of the repairs I had to do on it. In the early years of ownership, the honeymoon period, I tried my best to keep it clean inside and out. I would take joy in spending hours detailing every crease and crevice. Invariably I would get to the bondo’d scar and then sigh because I wouldn’t know where to start. To be honest, looking back I should never have bough the car in the first place with a patch job like that so hastily smeared on the side.
As the honeymoon period wore off and detailings grew to be more and more infrequent, a sort of zen-like state grew over our relationship. I stopped caring about the Sentra’s outward appearance. I knew that it could handle pretty well, that it got incredible gas mileage. I also knew that it wasn’t quick or fast or even peppy. I didn’t care about these. I also stopped caring about the dings and scrapes and scratches that come with everyday car ownership. I no longer cared if someone ran their shopping cart into my car. As long as it started up when I had to leave again.
“Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all.” -Robert Pirsig
Now, you could argue that this state of being calm and at peace with the chaotic world of grocery store parking lots was because my priorities were in check (as long as it started up I was happy), but I don’t think priorities had anything to do with it. I still rarely changed the oil in the thing. That’s a big priority. I went almost an entire year with a clicking front CV joint. Only repairing it after it disintegrated on me while I was changing the shocks out. I don’t think it was a case of priorities. I believe it was because I knew that whatever was going to happen out there on the road, as long as the car started up, I was fine. It’s looks couldn’t get any worse, could they?
Every person should own a beater at one point in time. Be it your first car, or fiftieth. Buy a beater. Bounce it off other beaters, and experience the zen of being within its existence. Pretty soon you’ll have that peace of mind. Pretty soon you’ll have reached Beater Enlightenment. I promise you, that you’ll be a better person for owning it. You will appreciate you “new” car more. You will appreciate you life more.
Let’s face it, your beater is going to break down. Your beloved daily driver, the car that’s taken you on so many adventures, is going to leave you stranded somewhere. When your beater kicks the bucket are you prepared?
Many new cars come with roadside assistance services and road hazard kits tucked neatly in the trunk. Not your beater. It is a bare bones, rugged and noble steed. Somewhere inside your beater is a set of tools specifically tailored to its most common problems. Somewhere in your beater you probably carry an “Oh Shit Kit.”
The “Oh Shit Kit” or OSK is unique to to each beater. Its a collection of tools amassed for one singular purpose; to get you off the shoulder and back on the road, or at least onto the flatbed.
I had an old Datsun back in high school that had melted through it wiring harness and kept blowing through fusible links (old school fuses). Instead of forking over my hard earned caddyshack money for a new harness, I spent $20 on a roll on 10 gauge fusible link wire and a cheap soldering kit. I became a master of roadside (and car wash) electrical repairs.
I also kept an old broomstick in the hatch area. The hydraulic hatch dampers had long since expired, and a broomstick was cheaper and did the job much better than some cheap-o new dampers. Open the hatch. Hear the rust crunching under my fingers and find a hole to shove the broomstick in and prop the hatch up. done. Who needs hatch dampers anyways?
I currently am not using an “Oh Shit Kit”, but here’s what I kept in both the Datsun and the Sentra.
Show us your “Oh Shit Kits” in the comments section!
The 1996 Nissan 200sx/Sentra, the 1.6l model, is an underrated brute of a beater. I had one. It was great. It looked the part. It felt the part. It smelled the part. Most importantly it wouldn’t die. No matter how hard I tried to kill it, it wouldn’t die. It would try to kill me on a number of occasions but it wouldn’t die. Part of that toughness meant that it was a great sidekick. It got bruised and took hits for me.
I got the “Little-Turd-That-Could” as a sort of punishment for being a teenager with a sports car in high school (story to come eventually). I first met it on the side of a road in Saint Petersburg FL where I was living at the time. I thought it was the 2.0l SE-R model, but it wasn’t. It was a slow, anemic, boring 1.6l shopping cart. I would come to live out of it, get it stuck, and watch it die. Here are some of those stories:
At one point I lived out of my crap-can Sentra. I had just graduated from tech school and was just starting out my short-lived career in racing. I had just moved from my rented bedroom in Orlando to another rented bedroom just north of Atlanta. My tools, belongings, and dad all piled into the Sentra and took a long road trip up the forgotten and beaten up farm roads of rural Florida and Georgia. We never hit any scales, but the thing weighed so much it could barely move with its 90hp. I guess it was a good thing that we decided to take the back-roads on our father son trip instead of the highways. I vividly remember that every time my dad leaned forward, and I’m not exaggerating here, we could feel the car actually accelerate a bit.That was the beginning of it’s adventures. I hadn’t moved to Sebring yet.
The first thing I did after to moving to Sebring was use the Sentra to make some friends. I took a buddy of mine, Vinny, to lunch at Wendy’s. We finished our lunches and hopped back in the little black Nissan. As we pulled around the side of the building we found that someone had decided it was a good idea to pull a massive car-hauler through the drive-thru effectively blocking the out lane. I, in my infinite wisdom decided this was a great time to practice some rally driving. I pulled the Sentra around the hauler through the sand that Vinny kept telling me was too soft and well, predictably sunk my front wheels. The only thing we could do was wait for the new guy, Jon to show up and pull us out.
We had met Jon only a couple hours before this when he first showed up to his new job. This lunch incident, as I’m sure you can tell, was a great first impression. Jon backed up his nice lifted Cherokee, unrolled his tow straps and yanked the car out of the sand. He looked at Vinny and I, cemented his impressions of us in his mind, and drove back to the shop. All this wasn’t so bad except for having to come up with a way to explain to my shop manager that we were late back from break because I had gotten stuck, in the sand, at a Wendy’s.
In a weird twist of fate, however, Jon would eventually go on to work on rallycross cars in FIA Rallycross and trophy trucks down in Dakar. I like to think I was his first rally car, even though I’m it wasn’t. Regardless, we’re all pretty proud of the guy.
The Sentra took care of me after I made an fool out of myself taking a drunken faceplant on the floor of Chateau Elan during a company banquet. It took my Keith Richards level hungover self from Sebring the morning after the banquet to my new home in Limerock CT.
The Sentra always seemed to be a tool I used I meet new people. The first time I met my buddy Jim (the Saab Story guy) we had just gone out to lunch in Lakeville after a hard morning wrenching on Formula Fords in Limerock. We were driving back to the track after lunch at Deano’s. By the way, if you haven’t gotten a slice at Deano’s you haven’t been to Lakeville. Jim, the Sentra, and I are chugging up Well’s Hill Rd like it’s nothing. We had reached the downside of the hill and I dragged on the brakes like any good Florida flatlander would. We are approaching the intersection to the main road and the brake pedal goes right to the floor. I had boiled the brakes. Cold sweats come over me, I look at the car stopped at the stop sign, I glanced back at Jim. There was nothing I could do. I just let the car go. I swerved the Sentra to the left of the truck at the stop sign and onto the main road fitting the Sentra right behind a sewage sucking truck. Had I tapped the gas pedal at any point on the way down Well’s Hill, Jim and I would’ve had the most literal of shitty days. Somehow Jim remained oblivious to this until we got back tot the shop. Here’s how Jim puts it in a message to me right after I posted his Saab Story to Facebook,
“Don’t forget to mention the time the brakes boiled on our way back to the track. We went down that road with the steep hill and dove out in front of traffic without hitting anyone. And you didn’t say anything to me about it until we turned into the track. Like ‘I didn’t mean to do that. I had no brakes’ ha!”
So, that happened. Here’s another one.
The Day The Sentra Crapped It’s Last Crap.
I moved back to Gainesville GA and needed new shoes. It started simple as that. I drove the 45mins south to the Mall of Georgia, which had a most wonderful Van’s store. Cruising back up northbound 985 the Sentra seemed more anemic than normal. It seemed to struggle to hit 65mph, which wasn’t its normal peppy self. It usually struggled to get to 65mph but this time it took more thorttle than normal. This time, also, there was a strange noise. Mind you that for the 4yrs I lived with this car it spark-knocked and squeaked, and belt-shrieked its way around the eastern seaboard so when I heard a new noise I usually ignored it. Combine a new noise to less power than usual and now you have my attention.
I rolled down the windows and added a little more throttle to see if I could force the new fluttering a little louder, hoping this would help me diagnose it. A loud “Pop!” and “Thud” let me know that the knocking was now rolling behind me down the interstate with what was left of my #2 piston and engine block. I trailed a cloud of smoke that would make NASCAR drivers jealous. It was glorious.
I pulled over and started laughing hysterically. It was perfect. The life of my Sentra ended the way it began, on the side of a road. I called the the tow service and had them come pick me up. My roommate Mike and his girlfriend Brittany came out in her new Explorer and patiently waited with me for 3hrs in the tick infested north Georgia woods until the wrecker showed up (there was and accident just down the highway from me).
Every mishap was followed with a new barstool story and a new friend, provided I don’t fall off. First came Jon and Vinny after towing me out of some sand at a Wendy’s in Sebring, Jim and Well’s Hill CT, then came Brittany and her Explorer, and finally Dakota and what eventually served as a interim replacement to the Sentra, his Saturn.
It wasn’t a shiny car. It was a good car. It wan’t a thoroughbred, it wasn’t even a mule. It was a dirty and bruised sidekick that took hits for me and kept me going for 4 years. It did the impossible multiple times. Most important, it gave me wonderful stories and even greater friends. Here’s to you Sentra!
Remember: WE NEED YOUR STORIES!!! Send your stories and some pics about your everyday cars to: BeaterLifeBlog@gmail.com. If we like it. We’ll feature it!