Well, the Baja’s broke again. But after so many breakdowns, this one doesn’t even bother me. Let me tell you why.
(Welcome to the Continuing Misadventures of Raphael and his Baja Bug, a series on how I buy a half-broken 1973 Volkswagen offroader that I proceed to break, fix, break, fix, and break again.)
So I was about to drive off to see my coworker Jared at First Class Fitment. I wanted to kill a roll of film, maybe do another film vs digital comparison, and possibly talk to a guy who stanced a $400,000 Lamborghini Aventador. You don’t get many chances to talk to people that far off the deep end, so I was happy to take an hour and a half drive out to Princeton Airport and shell out $20 for the pleasure.
That did not end up happening.
Just as I was about to take the final on-ramp up to 278 and the Verrazano Bridge, the point of departure where I leave my borough, the point where I split off from the subway system, the point from where I can no longer walk home if I need to, the car goes kerblooey.
Well, I thought the transmission shit the bed, but that ended up not being the case. The car shuddered as I got away from the light, stuttered, and started a low grumble from the back as the car slowed. I could rev the engine, I could clutch in and out of gear, but drive was not getting to the wheels.
I turned onto a side street, rolled down the hill, and turned directly into what turned out to be an auto repair shop.
A phone call to my coworker Freddy helped diagnose that something was up with the axle, not with the transmission. He wanted me to jack up the car, let it run in gear, and see what spins. My car is so rusty that jacking it up only crunched away the rust on the frame, so I let it run in gear with all four wheels on the ground. Here’s a little video I took of the driver’s side axle spinning freely. You can’t see it here, but the axle nut was spinning, too.
I made a few more calls. I tried to get a hold of the usual shop I take the Baja to when repairs require tools I don’t have, but they were closed and they were in Queens. I couldn’t get a hold of a shop nearer to my neighborhood, and the owner of the garage in front of which I had stopped politely informed me that he would not work on the Baja. He couldn’t get the parts, and even if I could get them for him, he feared needing tools he didn’t have. I knew that even if he had all the tools he needed, it would still take time for me to get the parts for him, longer for his mechanics to figure out how to fix the car, and all that time would sap into his business. We both knew he could turn around a dozen Nissan Pathfinders or whatevers with weird clunks and grinds in the turnaround time for my Baja, so I let things go there.
I have had this conversation many times before. At this point, I didn’t mind.
So I simply rolled my car a bit down to a quasi-legal parking spot on the corner and walked to the subway.
The car sits there now. It will likely sit there for a few days. Then I’ll call AAA and get it towed somewhere it can get fixed, or where I can fix it. I have a line on a possible garage space right next to my old coworker Ben Preston, and he seems bullish on getting the car in working order. He’s a good guy to have as a friend. We’ll see what some phone calls bring.
What has me in such a fair mood is how easy everything turned out on my end. My car will be fine, and it will certainly come out stronger after this whole affair.
It seems like the splines on the hub have sheared, or the splines on the stub axle have sheared. This is something like $50-$100 in parts, though the labor involved in the fix is somewhat intensive. This kind of failure isn’t all that surprising. The regular 40-year-old VW parts just aren’t meant to take all the added stress of such big wheels and tires, and they were bound to bust at some point. It’s almost polite that the car broke down where it did.
If the problem is that the splines in my rear brake drum gave out, then I really don’t mind this oncoming repair. My rear drums need replacing anyway. I figure this as part of the ongoing renewal process my car will always undergo. Old parts wear out, mine are particularly old and worn (the last owner let this thing sit for ages, rarely driven before that), and I’m going to have to keep replacing them until the car is basically all new. Then I’ll just buy a better shell and swap over whatever’s still good when the rusty pancake frame finally splits in two.
That and I didn’t end up stuck in the woods for hours. I didn’t even end up outside of city limits. I took the train and was home in half an hour. Like I said, it was like my Baja was being polite, holding off its parts failure until I was two blocks from a subway station.
If only all breakdowns were so low key.
Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.