The City Wants My Cars Gone Or Fixed. Here's Where I Stand With Just Two Weeks Left

Since June, I have been living under the suffocating cloud of a government-mandated Automobile Reduction Order. After telling me I was breaking an ordinance, my city gave me six weeks to ensure that all 12 of my cars become functional and registered. While this might sound like an easy job, it hasn’t been, because my cars are crap-cans. Here’s where I stand with just two weeks until my July 31 deadline.

Back in June, someone complained to the city of Troy, Michigan, saying they didn’t like how my yard of broken cars looked. The city responded by visiting my property, apparently agreeing with the complainer, and then sending me the letter below, notifying me that I had only two weeks to bring my cars into compliance with the “No person shall permit the accumulation of one or more inoperable vehicles outside of a completely enclosed building for a period of more than fourteen days” ordinance. I called the city inspector, who graciously gave me an extension to July 31.

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Illustration for article titled The City Wants My Cars Gone Or Fixed. Heres Where I Stand With Just Two Weeks Left
Photo: David Tracy

I had resolved a few weeks prior to even receiving that letter that I was going to slash down my fleet as a way to focus more on things that 20-something year-old people should be doing, and less on wrenching all day, every day. I’ve mentioned this in previous installments of this City Ordinance series of articles: Since moving to Michigan, and especially since working for Jalopnik, I’ve been swimming a bit too deep in the wrenching world, and it’s about time I come up to the surface for a bit of air to see what else is out in this world.

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Last week’s update laid out a plan to bring my fleet into compliance with the order, but—as some readers pointed out—those were just words. I hadn’t actually sold anything. But that changed this week.

I Sold Three Cars In One Week

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Photo: David Tracy

A man named John drove up to Michigan from Pennsylvania to buy my 1948 Willys CJ-2A. An enthusiastic Jalop, he’d read all my articles about Project Slow Devil, so he was familiar with the vehicle’s copious faults. This made me comfortable selling the vehicle to him since I knew he knew what he was getting into.

The jovial wrencher and family man met me at my house with a big trailer hooked to his Chevy 2500 diesel. One of the first things he did upon his arrival was wail on my Kia Rio with a sledgehammer. You know, just for good measure.

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Photo: David Tracy

Then, out of the kindness of his heart, he volunteered to tow the Kia to the junkyard, since he was already set up for towing.

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Illustration for article titled The City Wants My Cars Gone Or Fixed. Heres Where I Stand With Just Two Weeks Left
Photo: David Tracy

John inflated the Kia’s tires a bit with his jump-pack air compressor, hooked up his come-along to the rusty red Rio, and began yanking the handle.

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Illustration for article titled The City Wants My Cars Gone Or Fixed. Heres Where I Stand With Just Two Weeks Left
Photo: David Tracy

After a few iterations of adjusting the length of the chain spanning between the come-along and the Kia, the totaled junker made it to the top of the trailer’s ramps. John and I used some ratchet straps to hold the little sedan to the trailer, and we were ready to go.

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Illustration for article titled The City Wants My Cars Gone Or Fixed. Heres Where I Stand With Just Two Weeks Left
Photo: David Tracy

A 20-minute drive brought John and me to U-Pull and Save—one of my favorite salvage yards in southeast Michigan, thanks in part to its history as the former location of a Pontiac stamping plant that made parts for Pontiac Fieros, among other cars.

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I went into the junkyard’s office, told the clerk a bit about the Rio, handed over the title, and was told that a check for $145 would be in the mail. That’s quite a generous sum, I think.

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John pushed the Kia off his trailer, and the rusty shitbox that sat in my yard for years is now on death row, right next to a Chevy Trailblazer (Hopefully its Atlas inline-six still works, and will be plucked to continue inline-six-ing in another vehicle).

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John and I then drove back to my compound, fired up the Willys with John’s jump-pack, since the starter foot-switch wasn’t working, and John drove around my backyard before reversing the Willys his trailer.

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I grabbed every single Willys part I had laying around (and I mean literally “laying around.” This axle and fuel tank has been sitting at the base of this tree for three years), and loaded it all into John’s truck.

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Among those parts was a transmission, transfer case, cylinder head, radiator, multiple six-volt coils, a brake pedal shaft, a brake pedal arm, a distributor cap, and the list goes on. John helped me clear out quite a bit of clutter.

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Photo: David Tracy
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John and I drove in my manual transmission Jeep Grand Cherokee to the UPS store, notarized my title prior to signing it (this is required in Pennsylvania, it turns out), and then John handed me $3,000—$100 more than my asking price. That, along with his tow to the junkyard, showed me how much generosity this man has in his heart, and also how thrilled he was to be the new owner of Project Slow Devil.

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Photo: David Tracy
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I also sold my Free Jeep Grand Wagoneer. It’s still in my yard, but the new owner—who wired me $4,000 from Italy—says a truck will be here next week to take the woody away. The gentleman who bought it is in the military and has always dreamed of owning a Grand Wagoneer. He tells me he’s looking forward to starting this project when he returns to the U.S. in a little over a year.

I Still Have Some Work To Do

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I made decent progress on my 1991 Jeep Cherokee thanks to the generosity of some Jalopnik readers named Travis, Amanda, Aaron, and Karl. With their help, I was able to replace the axle’s ball joints and swap out the U-joints in the axle shafts.

The jobs were giant pains in the butt since the parts were seized in place, but with some patience and brute force, we got it done, and I’m now on the fast-track to having this XJ roadworthy. All it really needed, mechanically, was a new axle; it was otherwise in decent shape, as far as I knew.

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I will need to find another fender at some point, but the biggest concern now is to get it functional so that it can be inspected (since it has a salvage title), titled, and registered.

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Photo: David Tracy
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I’ve made very little progress on the Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle. My friend Brandon and I installed some piston rings, but that’s about it:

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The AMC 360 V8 motor remains dismantled:

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The Land Rover Discovery runs and drives! I swapped in a new starter motor from a junkyard Discovery II, so I don’t have to pull-start this SUV anymore, so that’s good. But what’s not good is that the vehicle overheats after 10 minutes of driving.

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I have to admit that I spent like, three hours doing something totally pointless: I swapped jump-seats into the Disco. I know, I know. It’s not my car. But I found some perfectly good jump-seats at the junkyard, and there was no way in hell I was going to just leave them there.

I figure, if this Discovery is going to sit in my yard for any amount of time, it cannot have these abominable things in the cargo area:

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That’s a storage bin, by the way. A storage bin, folks! Normally, that’s not something anyone would call “abominable,” but in a Disco, it absolutely is, because what should be in that spot is an incredible, folding jump-seat—one on each side of the car.

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After snagging the seats from the junkyard, I had to remove the trim on the Disco in my yard and install some brackets for the seats and seat belts.

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It was a bit of a pain in the arse, but the results are glorious. Look at at the jump-seats in the folded position above (and also the cargo cover, which I also snagged from the junkyard), and check out how it unfolds:

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Wow, that’s glorious. At least, when the vehicle’s owner removes this Disco from my yard, it will be properly equipped.

My other machines, my Jeep J10, 1992 Jeep Cherokee, 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee, 1991 Jeep Comanche, and 2000 Jeep Cherokee do need to either be registered for the first time or have their registrations renewed. But that should be trivial.

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My biggest concerns remain the 1991 Cherokee and 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle. I should hopefully have the former fixed by the end of the weekend, and the latter I’ll try to have mended by month’s end, but if that doesn’t work, I’ll roll the beautiful “SJ” Jeep into my garage.

Sr. Technical Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from auto engineers—email me. Cars: Willys CJ-2A ('48), Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94).

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DISCUSSION

I’m smirking a bit at all the comments chastising you for the state of your property.

Like, I get it, lots of folks put a high priority on making their yards and living spaces presentable and otherwise socially acceptable. This is fine, especially where things like property values and safety are considered.

However, here’s my personal experience - on one side, my neighbor is a 70-something retired minister and piano repairman/tuner. He drives a Miata. His yard and home is always tidy. He mows twice a week.

The other neighbor is a 20-something that works for a towing company. His yard has, at last count, 12 vehicles in various states of disrepair. There’s an old Fox-body ‘Stang on blocks in the driveway, next to his DD Ford CV Police Interceptor. Car parts are everywhere. He mows maybe once every two weeks, which takes all day because he usually runs over something metal and has to fix the blades.

Not wanting to be like Neighbor #2, I spent a lot of time after buying my house (which needed a lot of work) trying to fix up the property, keep my lawn as trim as Neighbor #1, etc. It was exhausting and ate up a lot of my limited time and funds.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I had a long conversation with Neighbor #1, basically apologizing for keeping my property as fixed up as I’d like. There are weeds, broken bits, clutter, etc. He said, “Hey, you’re a young father, you’re busy, it’s fine. Don’t try to keep up with me! I’m stuck at home and bored! I see you outside playing with your family, my family doesn’t even come around. Spend this time with them. So what if you put off getting the yard mowed? So what if there’s clutter? Do what you love, you’re not hurting me any. Life’s to short, worry about weeds when you get old like me!”

It doesn’t hurt to tidy up every now and then, and you shouldn’t be “trashy”, but there’s a difference between someone that just doesn’t care about anything, and someone who is busy pursuing their passions. David, you are doing Good Things, don’t worry about what everyone else thinks. Worry about the weeds when you’re too old to wrench.

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