Nuts & Bolts: "The Life of a Serial Sorter”

Those who know and love me say I’m just German, and that’s the way we are. A doctor would be less kind and diagnose me as mildly–or even less-than-mildly– obsessive-compulsive.

This tendency to need everything perfect and clean is something I’ve learned to live with, and as bad habits go, it’s a pretty decent one to have.

If you’re like me, your spouse may even like that you compulsively clean up after everyone, clear the plates at dinner before everyone is done eating, and wash and fold laundry at 6 a.m. before anyone else in the house is up. Yeah, it’s a problem, but not really a bad problem. And I hardly ever do anything really weird, like straighten the silverware on the table when I’m at a restaurant.

In the shop, I bitch at everyone for making a mess. My son is the worst. Is he really my son? Sometimes, when I can’t find the tools or parts I need, I just stop and clean things up. That’s normal, right? I admit—and this one really drives everyone nuts—I put tools away before people are done with them. I also have a penchant for throwing away packaging—and occasionally instructions and hardware kits– before the job is done.

When I started this column, it was going to be about how neat and tidy I am and how good that is. Now that I’ve read what I’ve typed so far, I’m starting to feel like a freak. No, this habit or compulsion isn’t all bad—unless you combine it with a penchant for restoring old cars. To make matters even worse, just add a pinch—or maybe more than a pinch–of swamp Yankee cheapness. That leaves you with someone who buys horrible old cars and then tries to make them perfect.

Now I think you’re beginning to understand my affliction. I didn’t buy the nicest fintail Mercedes I could find and then perfect it. No, yet again I bought the most horrible POS I could find for $1600, left it a rat, and rallycrossed it. Only after further bashing the living crap out of this poor old car did I decide I was in love and that it needed to be restored to its former glory.

And, of course, from glory, there are only a few quick steps to perfection. Or so I thought.

We got this car done and made an initial list of 23 niggling things to fix. This list quickly grew to more than 30. And yes, it is very, very important that the washer bottle be correctly installed and totally functional. And no, I don’t think the spray pattern looked like that when my people in Stuttgart let this pinnacle of automotive perfection leave the factory in 1966. Did I mention that I might be getting a little weird? And speaking of that, have you ever noticed that whatever tendencies people (especially your parents) had when they were young just continue to get magnified as they get older? Am I hitting a little close to home here?

So I keep sorting. The radio needs to look like the original Becker Europa, but it needs to sound better than a modern stock stereo system. A visit to Becker Autosound totally made that happen. We’ll cover that later in the Mercedes project car series, which starts in this issue.

We were running out of time and about to leave for a 3500-mile trip in this poor old Mercedes. And I’m talking a pack-the-kids-in-the-car, load-all-the-luggage-andhead- north type of trip. Yeah, yeah, the whole nine yards: Smoky Mountains, Henry Ford Museum, Mackinac Island, and the rest of the tourist sites on the way. This car needed to be well sorted.

With those 30-plus issues addressed, we went for yet another test drive, this time bringing my daughter Katie’s boyfriend to simulate the weight of all the baggage we would be bringing.

The test went well, and the whole family deemed the car ready to go. Even Boyfriend was impressed, but he was still not invited on the trip we were testing for.

That said, there did seem to be a slight vibration in the right-rear wheel/tire, and the cabin caught a bit of wind noise. And we definitely needed to adjust the valves and change the oil one more time. Soon we had a new fix-it list of more than a dozen items that, of course, included rebuilding the driver’s seat using the old seat foam, as it seemed like it was slightly more comfortable than the one in there now. Does this sound at all compulsive to you?

When all the sorting is done, reality sets in. You can sort and sort and calculate what spares to bring, but eventually you have to head out on the road.

Our first miscalculation was Boyfriend’s weight. Had my daughter dated a 300-pound guy instead of a skinny 120-pounder, I would have known that with the trunk full of everyone’s–mostly my wife’s–luggage, the ass-end of the car would drag on the ground. Soon after leaving, we turned around and jettisoned some weight–mostly tools and spares, as they were heavy and considered nonessential. From there, we headed out onto the back roads through the Okefenokee Swamp. Sure enough, the alternator started to fail and we drove 200 miles with only low beams and/or a flashlight to see by. The spare alternator and the tools to change it were sitting happily on my workbench, where they had been left for more important luggage items.

We did make it, though. Thanks to the kindness of readers Pieter van Rossum and Drew Tibcken, we finally got the last few things sorted while on the way to Michigan.

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