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DennisDoesEverything New Reader
7/22/20 6:58 p.m.

...that's been this past year for me.

Then imagine actually getting the car back after not knowing if it still existed and innumerable broken promises or failed meet-ups where either the owner, the car, or the business itself doesn't show up.

The full story is long, and repetitive in a Groundhog Day sort of way.  Here's the gist.

I bought a 96 Prelude that was in a paint and body shop, stripped for painting.  The paint job was already paid for by the seller.  It was a risk, but it was worth it to me in parts alone.  Best case I'd get a "free" paint job, worst case I'd get enough parts to finish my other project Prelude.

For the next 50 weeks the shop owner told me my car would be done, "next week."  Or I was told nothing while the shop owner went incommunicado for a month.  At one point I even gave him a little money on top, half now-half on delivery, to make it a two-tone paint job.  I figured if the business was living hand to mouth he might be prioritizing jobs that bring new revenue, so maybe some cash might bump my car further to the front of the queue.  It seemed to work at first:  communication increased, but ultimately it didn't produce the desired effect.

During this time the shop moved locations several times, adding to my anxiety as I would show up unannounced and find nothing but an empty, locked building.

It being a Honda, I was resigned to the idea it was most likely my car was parted out, stolen, or resold without title.  There didn't seem to be any other logical explanation.  I'd already told the guy I didn't want a refund and didn't care what condition the car was, as long as I got it back.  I felt as long as the shop owner kept nominally trying to work with me, I had to keep trying.

It left me in a weird headspace all year, because I couldn't take on new cars or make final decisions on my other projects while this was unresolved.

Last month the shop owner let me know he was folding the business, though he still intended to paint the car before the lease ended.  As we approached the date he said his lease ended I became concerned the window of opportunity was slamming shut.  I contacted him again; he said he'd already moved cars that had been in the shop to "storage."  He could give me a day and time to meet, but not an address (claimed it was "up the road" from old shop but not marked).

When that day came and went still without hearing back, I finally started dropping words like "stolen," "small claims court," and "lawyer."  The shop owner called me back to assure me it was nothing like that, it was just that he hadn't been able to get ahold of the guy who owned the property.  We resolved to try again next week.

The next weekend's morning meet up also fell through.  I'd been fabricating a mount for a flat tow hitch (they don't make an off the shelf one for the Prelude), so instead of waiting by the phone all afternoon I threw my flat tow setup into my AWD Element and set off.  I'd decided to drive down the road by the original shop to see if I could figure out on my own where this alleged "storage" was.  To my amazement, the car was visible from the street (!) in a fenced-off field.  Unpainted, bumper missing, windows open getting rained in - but IT EXISTED.

I noticed the gate was unsecured so I let myself in.  An older gentleman, the groundskeeper / yard hand introduced himself by first name.  He was sympathetic but said he couldn't let me just take a car.  He asked I hang back so as not to spook the owner, who turned out not to be in after all.  I did finally learn the first name of the person who owned the yard, although the hand said he didn't know the guy's last name.  He recited a contact number he wasn't sure was right, because he himself didn't own a phone.  I got vague directions to the day job where the property owner might currently be.

I figured in this far, might as well continue:  I drove out to the square mile that was as far as the directions narrowed it down, which was a district with a couple Mexican tire shops.  I walked up to the open bays and asked techs and mechanics where I could find '{Hispanic-first-name}', mostly to silence and cold stares.   However in the midst of this I got a call from the owner of the former paint shop, apparently the property owner had heard I was asking for him and told him to tell me he was going to meet me at the storage yard.  However the paint shop owner would "not be able to make it out there for at least a couple hours."

I finally got to meet the man who could release my car, but immediately I had to leave and meet up with the paint shop owner so he could give me the key to the car.  Again with the vague directions, but I found the place.  He wasn't real sure it was the right key (spoiler: it wasn't) because the shop had been broken into.  As he gave me the key I asked him, "The only thing I don't understand is, why the Hell not tell me 'come get your crap' any of the three times you had to move all the cars?"  He said he felt bad about taking my money and not painting the car.  That he still hoped to make it up to me someday when he gets back on his feet.

Back at the storage lot / field they'd moved some cars around to let mine out, and that's when we found the key wouldn't work in the ignition.  I later figured out it was the key to the door but not the column.  Since we couldn't unlock the steering I didn't think flat tow was a good idea.  The yard hand (same one I'd met earlier) offerred to use his car dolly and truck to tow it to my house.  After we unloaded it, I pressed a $100 bill in his hand.  A tow truck would have been at least $160 anyway.  He said thank God; he was broke and had gas to get to a job tomorrow but not to get back.  I was touched he'd offered to tow my car despite it meaning he wouldn't have gas to get home the next day.

So now I've got this... thing... in my driveway.  It's pretty trashed, 50% rainspots and 50% bondo.  My wife said, "You've got your work cut out for you,"  then asked the no-win question, "Was it like this when you bought it?"  This certainly isn't the first time I've gotten in trouble with the wife over buying a car, but it is the first time I've gotten in trouble twice over the same purchase.

solfly HalfDork
7/22/20 7:17 p.m.

Hooked me. Let's have some pics.

Stampie (FS)
Stampie (FS) MegaDork
7/22/20 7:24 p.m.

I'd be willing to bet the PO sold it because he couldn't get them to finish the paint job.

Pattyo Reader
7/22/20 7:25 p.m.

Man, what a terrible thing to go through. I'm  super happy to hear that at least you have the car. Do you have the title? Some dealerships will cut you a key off the vin if you have the title, I guess that's assuming the column is original.   Otherwise a Maaco $400 job isn't the worst thing in the world.

Crazy thing is I have been on the other side of this... cars abandoned at my shop. No way to contact the owner, or sometimes I can and they just don't care. 

Aspen HalfDork
7/22/20 7:29 p.m.

I had a similar experience,but only for a spoiler.  I would have lost my mind if I paid for a car in limbo like that.

DennisDoesEverything New Reader
7/22/20 7:53 p.m.

The car after I bought it, while we were planning a two-tone color:

As found:

Finally home, note ridiculously sized exhaust:

But at least the engine was still there (H23A vtec):

Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
7/22/20 8:06 p.m.

Quite the adventure, I'm really shocked that you got it back. Your persistence paid off.

DennisDoesEverything New Reader
7/22/20 8:10 p.m.

It actually runs and sounds pretty awesome.  I have the title and could get a key cut, but for now I just removed the ignition switch to try start it directly.  It only took me about 5 minutes with a spring loaded scribing pick to remove the headless bolts that hold the ignition lock on.  (Good thing I'm one of the good guys!)

But I think I'm going to just put the engine in my black Prelude.  I did the interior on that one and it doesn't have an engine.  If the white car had been painted it might have become the nicer one, but now the black one is the nicer of the two.  I'd rather swap an engine than swap an interior right after finishing it, plus given the choice between fried paint and no bondo, or lots of bondo and no paint I think it's clear which one I trust more.

That's been part of the mental adjustment though, going from thinking one car will be a parts car for the other and having to reverse my thinking about which one is the project and which one is the parts car.

Appleseed MegaDork
7/22/20 8:22 p.m.

I had a car in paint jail for over a year. Every 2 weeks it should be done. When I got it back, it wasn't even qualified to be half assed. Body shop went under before I could do anything  about it. I made mistakes.  I paid the bastard before anything got started. Lesson learned.  No one will ever have me that tolerant again.

slowbird SuperDork
7/22/20 8:30 p.m.

This would make for quite the GRM challenge concours story!

After you swap the engine into the nice car, take the FMV of the unpainted car, throw in some kind of oddball junkyard motor, replace the shocks with steel rods for stiffness, and bring that skateboard to Florida for some autocross and drag racing. laugh

DennisDoesEverything New Reader
7/22/20 8:34 p.m.
slowbird said:

This would make for quite the GRM challenge concours story!

After you swap the engine into the nice car, take the FMV of the unpainted car, throw in some kind of oddball junkyard motor, replace the shocks with steel rods for stiffness, and bring that skateboard to Florida for some autocross and drag racing. laugh

I love it when a plan comes together.

DennisDoesEverything New Reader
7/22/20 8:39 p.m.
Appleseed said:

I had a car in paint jail for over a year. Every 2 weeks it should be done. When I got it back, it wasn't even qualified to be half assed. Body shop went under before I could do anything  about it. I made mistakes.  I paid the bastard before anything got started. Lesson learned.  No one will ever have me that tolerant again.

Honestly something that helped me handle the last few weeks of it was hearing someone else's story in the form of the Vinwiki story video where Rob Dahm told about all the crap he had to go through to get his four rotor project engine and chassis back.  It's like, if even this guy with a project this ambitious had the same problems it puts mine in perspective.  So I think we should share these stories.  I had questions like, "is this normal?" "How should I behave in this situation?" "How far will it go?"

stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
7/22/20 8:46 p.m.

I went through it once myself.  The shop that was working on my '66 F-100 got in trouble with the EPA.  They got shut down, had to stop all work, and had to let all their workers go.  Ultimately they lost the place in a tax sale.  I got a call the day before they had to sign over the deed, and had to basically break my truck out of the paint booth where it had been sitting for a year 75% completed.  Fortunately, another shop was able to finish the work and in the end it came out nice, but the ordeal added to my gray hair.

DennisDoesEverything New Reader
7/22/20 9:12 p.m.
Stampie (FS) said:

I'd be willing to bet the PO sold it because he couldn't get them to finish the paint job.

Bingo.  At some point I did some Facebook snooping and found a post from seller (whom I'm FB friends with) that referenced the car in that shop the previous January.  I mean I know the seller did have a proximate reason, to get the cash to buy a piece of automotive diagnostic equipment, because I was with him when he spent it, but I think you pointed at the ultimate reason.  Also I tried the same tactic, offered to sell it back to him.  He only said, "sorry haven't got the cash," but did NOT say, "can you hold it for me?"

OjaiM5 Reader
7/22/20 9:18 p.m.

I once had my 1955 Bel Air disappear for a year and a half at a body shop + money spent. It was torture. I hate even thinking about the experience. 

The talented hot rod shop owner got hooked on meth and went crazy. After legal and police reports I got the car back in pieces and many steps backward. 

I am sorry you had to go through this. Such a bummer. 

Appleseed MegaDork
7/23/20 2:23 a.m.

Funny thing, I was just thinking about the hack that had my car for a year. Disappeared. I swore I saw his ass about 4 years later at an other body shop. He locked eyes on me like he remembered me, slowing his movement   I locked eyes on him like I DEFINITELY remembered his ass. Hot searing rage flooded over me, but...I didn't do what I was thinking because I'm not in jail for attempted murder. 

I hope that guys dick fell off.

ultraclyde (Forum Supporter)
ultraclyde (Forum Supporter) UltimaDork
7/23/20 7:01 a.m.
Appleseed said:

I hope that guys dick fell off.

This is the best parting shot / let karma handle it comment I've ever heard. 

paint and body shops seem to be the worst of the auto repair jack-leg dumb-assery - of which there is plenty. 

tuna55 MegaDork
7/23/20 7:13 a.m.

I have heard enough of these types of stories that TunaDad just calls it "paint shop jail". He was there, too. He had an old drag car, an AMX, painted in a neat faded way, bright yellow at one part, which was chipping. I asked why he never repaired the chip, and he said he couldn't match the color because the paint guy mixed it by hand. I asked why not just have the same guy do it again (I was young) and he said the guy died. He was in the business of being the paint shop jail, and he went after some guy with a 2x4, and the guy was biger than he was, so the paint shop jail guy died. TunaDad had to rescue the car, similar to yours.


I hope you end up with something neat. There are lots here who can teach you to paint it in your driveway and probably make it look better than most Maaco style places.


jharry3 HalfDork
7/23/20 7:45 a.m.

Some of the stories on this site remind me of the Grizzlies from Hell Far Side cartoon:

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
7/23/20 8:04 a.m.

You are more patient than I. I'd have shown up with the cops and a tow truck long before this point.  Sad stories only work for so long, as some point you're never going to get the work done. 

NOT A TA SuperDork
7/23/20 8:57 a.m.

I had a case like that but with a roll bar being installed. Three years of excuses like broken hand, lost lease on shop, welder broken, etc. etc. The car was moved and disappeared more than once, police involved twice. First time police found the guy he was locked up several states away for hauling hazardous materials in a semi through a restricted area or some such thing. Next time the police found him in a hospital in Boston where he'd been airlifted to because an eyeball had popped out of his head. Eventually one night the car was dumped in the parking lot of a store I owned with the keys left on top of a tire, no call or anything. Hadn't heard from the guy in a very long time and thought I'd never see the car again.

Needless to say I had to cut the roll bar out. Pretty sure there were serious recreational drugs involved.


Professor_Brap (Forum Supporter)
Professor_Brap (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
7/23/20 9:03 a.m.

That is a hell of a story. You have more Patience than me. 

Gearheadotaku (Forum Supporter)
Gearheadotaku (Forum Supporter) UltimaDork
7/23/20 9:57 a.m.

My nerves can't handle situations like these. Not sure what I would do.

Kreb (Forum Supporter)
Kreb (Forum Supporter) UberDork
7/23/20 10:25 a.m.

Sorry man, what a nightmare. Near here, a noted Rolls-Royce restorer went out of business, skipped town, and left several partially assembled Rolls out in the rain for months before they could be recovered. In another such story, a friend bought an abandoned Alfa Montreal, took it home, started working on it, and the former owner showed up and somehow legally regained title - without compensation to my friend.

The world's just messed up sometimes. 

DennisDoesEverything New Reader
7/24/20 7:17 p.m.

Update:  against my better judgement I mentioned to the guy I bought it from that I'll probably be putting the white car's engine in my black car, and furthermore plan on separating it from the awesome-but-impractical storm drain sized exhaust.

I definitely didn't tell him I might go full-race-car with the white chassis; it's halfway there anyway.  Slowbird's suggestion above is uncannily accurate.

He was disappointed on all accounts, and mentioned that the teenager who'd bought the car the first time he sold it had also now passed away.  (I don't know what of.)  He never thought the car wouldn't get finished.  (I can never tell if I'm being lied to or if everyone in this story - including me - is delusional.)

I said I was sorry to hear about the kid, and that if the car means that much to him I'd entertain an offer to sell it back to him.  But he declined saying he'd already sunk all his money into his two Nissans.  Which begs the question, how much obligation do we gear heads have to history as stewards of cars with stories?

I ran it by a friend of mine who countered with a story about offering back and ultimately having to scrap a unique car.  "Holy crap," I said, "that car's still that guy's FB picture."  "I know."

I always wonder about the stories behind my cars, but now I'm thinking sometimes it's better not to know.

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