Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Tragedy rocks Brandon’s Blog: Back to Jalopy-ville (3/Thrilling Climax)

A custom racecar garage was an unlikely location to go searching for a reliable commuter. It didn’t help the only access to it was down an alleyway off of Highway 99 in Lynnwood, Washington between the Armadillo Restaurant and the coffee stand Jitters. On the bright side, if the 1998 Subaru wagon I was checking on turned out to be a lame duck there would still be plenty of quality java, barbeque and crack-cocaine for sale. 

Able (a 1994 Ford Escort wagon) was just skinny enough to squeeze between Jitters’ drive-up line and the crammed parking stalls off the side of the little Armadillo building. Into the long bend of the alley the sound of perpetual traffic softened to a low drone behind us. The last of the day’s light blinked out to nothing. We puttered into the darkness.

Behind the Armadillo’s rear kitchen doors, J***** Racecars revealed itself in the dim yellow glow of our single headlight. The tiny lot was guarded by a tall chain link fence that seemed to be the only thing keeping the windowless walls of the surrounding buildings from closing in on it like a trash compactor. 

But this wasn’t the disturbing part. Instead of racecars, the lot was packed bumper to bumper with what appeared to be a smorgasbord of Craigslist three grand wonders, one of which was my blind date - A 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback wagon, Forrest Green. 

She looked fine, so fine. The ‘Limited’ emblem meant she was a real giver; fully loaded with leather and all the feel-good options - Mirror defrosters, heated seats, cruise control, power everything. The tires were close to new. 

My beater senses were tingling. 

A wave of paranoia blindsided me into a Jimmy Stewart-esque vision of my future were I to purchase this fabled vehicle, the mother of all Northwest automotive stereotypes:

(Fogginess clears to scene)

I’m exiting a Seattle grocery store with quadruplets, all on toddler leashes. It’s difficult to push the heavy shopping cart wearing socks with sandals. Later that day I escape in the Subaru to a Starbucks to blog smugly between sips of a latte. This ritual continues on repeat every weekend for the next twenty years as a pile of used timing belts accumulates in my closet. 

A light behind the single barred window of the shop cut through the horror. In the garage a man in a welder’s mask was crouched over the flame of a blowtorch, working on the roll cage of a dune buggy. His vibes were wholesome but there was little to discuss before I put the baby-mobile through its paces. 

Our first date was on 99. With 189k on the odometer, she was tired but not sleepy. The engine ran a tad rough, the transmission waited a bit too long to shift, but she was solid, void of any leaks, noises, smells or shimmies that felt like a red flag. 

Even better, there was a slight dent in the driver’s side door and it appeared that someone had keyed the hood with a Christmas tree. These were just the sorts of frivolous cosmetic issues that would keep the price haggling advantage in my corner. 

Time to dance out a deal, but there were still several disconcerting mysteries that needed to be solved, namely just what Mr. Blow Torch’s deal was. 

In his office he explained that in addition to the race shop he was an independent car dealer with a clever gig: The larger car dealerships on the strip sold him decent cars they couldn’t get rid of due to the sorts of small defects the Subaru had at dealer prices. Each sale generated a couple hundred bucks, enough to help keep the race shop healthy. 

It all sounded legit. Torchy’s office was lined with neatly organized children’s toys. The walls were filled with pictures of him racing amateur stock cars. In several he stood with his wife and kids proudly holding a trophy. 

Just behind his desk hung a picture of the main characters from the movie Talladega Nights. In it, Ricky Bobby and Cal Naughton Jr. were giving each other the ‘Shake and Bake’ pound. 

Both actors signed it. 


A small price to pay for: Forrest Whitaker.



The latest news, reviews and commentary about cars, trucks, and more, automotive technology and car culture