There was a particular moment we realized it: this car was going to the junkyard.
I wasn't too upset in the morning. The day before, I had killed the $600 Lexus after two full days of rallycross. Now my coworker Freddy and I discovered that a new engine was five or six hundred bucks. This is when we both agreed the car wasn't worth fixing.
I don't mean that it cost more to repair than replace. That train of thought happens all the time when you're dealing with a beater car. The low cost of the purchase is just a small upfront fee to the longer laundry list of fixes.
No, it's that we realized the money the Lexus needed to get back on the road would be better spent on another car, another project, anything but this. That realization is what sent the car to the junkyard.
Well, I figured I would let anyone on the 24 Hours of Lemons forums buy the car first. That led to this charming advertisement.
If only I could have ended it with "ran when parked."
In any case, after nobody on the LeMons or Toyota forums made an offer on the car, Freddy, my other coworker Mike and I all piled into a press car Camaro 1LE and headed up to get the car. Mike has AAA, so he could get a free tow to the junkyard in the next town over.
We arrived and explained this much to the tow truck operator keeping the Lexus. He was not pleased.
"I see what you clowns are up to. You're trying to cheat the system."
This guy didn't look like a bitter man. He didn't look like a righteous crusader for tow truck justice. But he was anyway. We were accused of crimes of a moral nature against all that is Good and Honest in society, and that AAA would not tow a junked car. I called the junkyard, and he explained that yes, AAA will tow there because they're also a repair shop. I explained this to the indignant tow operator.
"But you're not getting the car fixed."
"Maybe I am."
This did not please the tow operator, who once more called us clowns, explained that he himself was the AAA guy for the area, and flatly refused to tow the car at all.
"They're gonna call me because I'm the AAA dispatcher in this area and I'm gonna tell them three clowns are here and they're gonna try and get a junked car towed and I won't let it happen."
I saw where this was going. I called a Jalopnik meeting outside the office.
"Fuck this guy?" I asked. "Fuck this guy," we agreed.
The junkyard picked up the Lexus the next day for $50, to be extracted from the $300 figure they were going to pay for the whole car. I got the check in the mail a week later.
With that, the saga of the Lexus came to a close. It is no more. No more alternate side parking. No more broken window switches. no more brake rotors to replace, spark plugs to change, skidplates to build, nothing.
I can say this to myself over and over. I can tell myself how happy it makes me to not have its drains on my time and money.
I can remind myself that the whole thing was an experiment. A learning experience.
I wanted to know what it's like to buy a complete beater car. Now I know it's a particular kind of liberating.
I wanted to know what it's like to own what was one of most reliable cars ever built, several decades down the road. Now I know it's still full of small problems and required maintenance.
I wanted to know what it's like to drive a front-drive V6 sedan, in the mold of today's omnipresent Accords, Camrys, and whatever else. Now I know it's more fun than I had ever imagined.
I wanted to see how an old retirement-spec Lexus handled itself as a racecar. Now I know that it runs great, well, right up until it promptly dies.
And I know that nothing lasts forever, that it was never meant to last.
But dammit, I miss the car. I had such great plans for it — ice racing, the 24 Hours of Lemons, skidplate racing, backwoods dirt jumping, and a final flaming, viking funeral. It was going to be a shining beacon of leathery Lexus resolve in the grungy, rusty world of crapcan motorsports. And none of that ever got to happen.
I miss its endlessly long shifter throws, its propensity to spin its tires on even damp roads, and its complete ability to blend in with the rest of the world. Unlike the Baja, I could drive it and dissolve, nobody else on the highway knowing I was driving something absurd.
In the end, there's one lesson that I can take from the car that's more heartening than all the others. After all the slides and burnouts and stares. After all the overheating road trips and sweating repairs.
Don't ever let anyone tell you you can't have fun in even the most mundane car.
Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove