Good decisions are made when people plan ahead and account for as many circumstances as possible. Bad decisions are made when people stay up too late, decide that their life needs spicing up, so they arrange to do things that they've never done with people they've never met. I'm not sure which one this falls into.
What is the measure of a car? Is it the sum of its parts? Is it the experiences that we have in the backseat as nervous, hormonally-charged youths? Or is it all of the above, with a sprinkling of a characterful inability to die? /DRIVE and The Smoking Tire host Matt Farah set out to find the answers to these clearly pertinent questions. If you've been following him, as you should, you'll know that he purchased a 1996 Lexus LS400 with a hair under 900,000 actual miles on it from a guy in Florida for $1,500 with plans on getting it to a million miles just to see what would happen. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this counts as a job.
However, there was one abundantly clear issue - Matt's an extremely busy guy and can't possibly get the car 100,000 extra miles in any sort of workable time, so he's lending the car out to automotive journalists and those who want to be part of Lexus beater history, good news to anyone that's willing to take on the monumental task of taking care of the car and putting serious miles on it, without any actual obligations like kids, a job, or anything resembling an adult commitment. Enter a wide-eyed Tavarish.
After adopting YOLO! as my motto for February and with no regard to my own safety, sanity, or bank account, I contacted Mr. Farah - holder of the fabled car keys and my destiny for the foreseeable future - about possibly driving the car from the nard-freezing climate of New Jersey to the downright decadent temperatures in LA. He agreed, with one caveat - I had to pick up the car from The Truth About Cars Editor-In-Chief pro tempore and bona fide mad genius Jack Baruth in Ohio - nine hours away.
Ah well, in for a penny, in for a pound. I booked a 13-hour overnight bus to Ohio, for one reason - I'm cheap, and comparable flights were close to $300 with two layovers. A bus ticket was a wallet-saving $60 and I stayed on the bus for the majority of the way, save for two refueling stops. With the price being so low, I paid for a good friend to tag along to make sure I didn't fall asleep on the journey back. Fueled by Red Bull, Combos, and whatever our naive man-child brains could find in the nearest 7-Eleven, we embarked on the cramped and fully packed bus for what felt like several hundred years.
Trying to sleep on a vibrating, claustrophobic bus when you're more than six feet tall and hyper-vigilant is like asking a surgeon to do a triple bypass while blindfolded and simultaneously being beaten over the head with a pool cue. To add insult to self-inflicted injury, Jack called me early on and told me that the trusty Lexus had developed quite a substantial coolant leak and that the radiator needed to be replaced, post haste. He assured me that he'd have the parts ordered and ready to install by the time I arrived.
For most people, that would've been a red flag to stage a hasty retreat, apologize to those involved, and get my ass home and back to writing why leasing is the devil. But most people have a nine to five job, travel to Disneyworld every three years with their 2.5 kids, and drive a beige Toyota Camry with scratches on the rear bumper because Dammit Bill, why didn't you move the trash can AGAIN?! The insanely popular YouTube show Roadkill featured stuff just like this, and I was at the very least as stupid as they are, and twice as desperate, so I kept calm, armed myself with a friend and a dream, and carried on.
For those not acutely familiar with the wonders of Jack Baruth, on top of possessing a brain ten times the size of the radiator we were due to replace, the man was a fantastic host. Jack picked up our barely animated corpses from the bus terminal and took us to get the recently ordered parts and lent us his personal set of tools, after showing us his cars, guitar collection, and dishing out the embarrassing and juicy secrets of every automotive journalist alive today.
As a veteran of the ways of the parking lot mechanic, I made short work of the old corroded radiator and made room for the new, likely Chinese-made replacement radiator and hoses. Everything fit and nothing was stuck beyond a few hearty, well-needed whacks with a makeshift hammer.
After burping the cooling system and getting an 'itis-inducing lunch at the local Five Guys, our parties parted ways and we were officially driving back home with a Lexus with more than 902,000 miles on it. I hadn't given the car a thorough pat-down because we simply didn't have the time, and the snow was picking up, giving me more reason not to trust the $160 set of all-season tires installed on the car.
The car drove the 500+ mile trip as if it never got the memo that mechanical parts have an expiration date. Apart from an issue that prevented the car from downshifting automatically with throttle input, the car handled itself remarkably well, considering that it had multiple round trips to the moon under its belt. It felt like an S-Class with 200,000 miles, or a Ford Crown Vic with 60,000 miles - just enough creaks and groans to know it was used by previous owners, but not enough to earnestly check the mirrors for a trail of parts. There were no overheating issues at all, and other than a slight valve cover gasket leak that occasionally crept its way onto the exhaust manifold and made the cabin smell like a minor oil rig fire, the car didn't internally burn a drop of anything. It returned a quite manageable 22 miles per gallon, which for a 4.0 liter V8 that had more miles than every rental car you've ever driven combined, was pretty damn decent. The more-than-nine, less-than-ten hour trek home was physically and mentally exhausting, but it served as a primer for the arduous journey to come, a fact you'd have known had you followed me on Twitter:
After driving for what amounted to a regular work day plus an hour and change of time-and-a-half, I parked the car in my backyard and quickly understood that four inches of snow plus hilariously under-qualified all-season tires make for great great bouts of involuntary landscaping.
I locked the car, and gave it a rest, for it still had a lot of miles, smiles, and adventure to go during my time with this old, boring, hum-drum, and absolutely spectacular Lexus LS400.
If you want to start your own epic journey with a car that just can't quit, find one of your own here, and make it spectacular.
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world's cheapest Mercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he's the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn't feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.