Friday, May 6, 2011


I have a good friend called The Raven. The Raven and I met in 10th grade when his oil company working dad moved the family to Houston because of a job transfer. Many of my friends from the 70's in Houston were transplants from elsewhere whose father's worked for oil companies.

The Raven and I, along with a guy I had been friends with since 6th grade, The Mog, whose dad worked for Exxon and who was from New Jersey, became fast freinds. We were all in band, and all lived within blocks of each other and rode the same school bus. We were all very into cars, as we were about to be driving, but The Raven had one up on us as he had a motorcycle and license already. He was mobile.

And so began our long friendship. I soon obtained a heavily used Mustang in need of all kinds of engine and other rebuilds, and I found that The Raven had a level of mechanical knowledge about cars that far exceeded anyone else I'd ever known. He, along with a friend of my father's from Detroit nicknamed "Mr. 289" (who had his own cool restored 1969 Shelby Cobra) rebuilt that car, and turned it into a sleeper monster that looked stock but had all kinds of dangerousness lurking between the hood.

The Raven himself had rebuilt the C-6 auto transmission, with a shift kit of course, and basically rebuilt the entire drivetrain and suspension system. Those were the days when you could go to the Ford dealer and get all your parts at reasonable prices and the parts were in stock. Mr. 289 rebuilt the 351 Cleveland engine, adding a 3/4 grind cam and boring the heads over about .30. Gapp and Rousch heads were added to solve some inate Cleveland engine design flaw regarding poor oiling and some kind of huge Holley double pumper carb was added.

Despite having wide 50's series tires on the rear of the car, it wa a lot of car to handle. Stock except for the engine and tranmission mods, I later sold it for far more than I had paid for it. It was a monster.

We've stayed friends throughout the years. I introduced him to his soon to be first wife at our five year high school reunion, then nursed him through a long and difficult divorce appearance at the 20th Reunion. Through it all, we've been good friends, and although we don't get together as much as we used to in our 20's, we still talk quite a bit.

The Raven went on to work for Mercedes and then to found his own shop many years ago. I've been trading with him for decades now, and he's the go to guy for our family when car problems arise. I've always been proud of him. He's done quite well for himself, but many of the snobs we attended high school with thought his aspirations as a lowly mechanic were low class and treated him accordingly. I laugh now when we attend reunions because The Raven has his 500 acre ranch outside of Houston as well as a huge and thriving Benz and Beemer repair shop in a haughty part of town.

In any event, The Raven also works on Toyotas and Nissans in his shop, since many of his less affluent customers like me have those brands of vehicles. He recently worked on the SUV of the Princess, a Nissan X-Terra. She's had the car for six years now, and did not inherit the family trait of keeping cars nice for many years. He called me quite often as he encountered numerous examples of how the Princess is "hard on cars, man!". I talked him through it, he didn't understand how she wouldn't take care of certain aspects of her vehicle. Like that mechanic on Seinfeld.

In any event, we are contemplating a new vehicle, and as such, rotating the exiting vehicle over to the Princess, as it is a far better car and is in far better shape than her current ride. Then I had the brilliant idea that I should take her X-Terra and turn it into a fishing/camping mobile for El Fisho Jr. and I.

Of course, such thoughts are delusionary. If only we were back in high school, and The Ravens' auto restoration efforts were gratis, or nearly so. He could be bought for days hard work for a burger back then. Now, well, let's just say he has overhead and his rates are higher. Still, I can get a great screaming deal on work done by him, and some work could do myself if pointed out what needed to be done.

My delusions involve finding a transfer case and front end and all the related hardware off of a 4wd version of an Xterra at a junkyard and transplanting or more likely, having transplanted, the 4wd into the castoff Princess-mobile. I know from reading first hand examples of this that it is a road frought with peril and problems, a money pit if you will.

So perhaps we might forgo the act of 4wd'ing the XTerra and simply camperize it. By removing the backseats and cargo covering in the rear of the vehicle and adding one bucket seat in the rear middle, we would have ample space for two bunks and lots of gear storage. A porta potti under one bunk and a small fridge and outside stove under the other, along with a generator, would provide a whole lot of accomodations for fishing trips. We'd just have to get a small winch and try to avoid thinking the vehicle has 4WD.

I approached The Raven about this brilliant idea, and he was less than enthusiastic, recommending that I sell the XTerra for what it will bring and start over with another vehicle. Something which has not already been driven into the ground, as it were. He says my idea has great merit, but that I do need 4WD and could get a roomier and more powerful and far more durable of a vehicle that is far cheaper to fix than an XTerra. 

So sayth The Raven.

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