Quick, tell me: What happens after you die? Really? Are you sure? It’s important! What about for cars? Do they have any sort of afterlife? Should we consult a clergyperson? Actually we don’t have to, because when it comes to what happens after you die, you know, eschatology, I have some ideas. At least for cars. Because I’ve seen a car’s afterlife: my old Scion xB’s, and it’s all thanks to an Autopian named Tom. I better explain a bit more.
When it comes to eschatology, the religious culture I was raised in (a sort of sloppy form of Judaism that put more emphasis on the cathartic value of near-constant kvetching instead of strict observance) is notoriously vague. There’s no real clear afterlife. There’s no overt heaven or hell, and as a kid, when I’d ask my parents what happens after you died, they’d usually just shrug and say “rot in the ground?” followed by a reminder that I’d have better potential as a door than a window and to get the hell out of the way of the TV. When it comes to cars, though, I’m a very enthusiastic believer. Cars can have afterlives, and I’m delighted to report that for at least one of my cars, my old 2006 Scion xB, the status of that afterlife has been upgraded from Purgatory to Heaven.
First, a bit of history about my life with this car: like pretty much every “modern” car I’ve ever owned, this one wasn’t really for me. When my son was born in 2010, it was made clear that we’d need at least one relatively modern and safe car in the fleet to handle kid-hauling duties, instead of relying on the ’73 Volkswagen Beetle, ‘73 Reliant Scimitar, or ’82 VW Rabbit Cabrio we had at that time. Wait, did we have that ’99 Golf then? I can’t remember exactly. All I know is I kept my Beetle and Scimitar but got a 2003 VW Passat wagon to act as a kid car.
As most of you have already likely guessed, this was a mistake.
Of course the Passat shit the bed right as my kid came into the world, and shitting a bed before a newborn infant can even take that opportunity is the sort of achievement a turn-of-the-century VW excels at. So, my kid took his first car rides on Earth in my old Beetle, and I resolved to get something that wouldn’t break down all the damn time for the more long-term kid hauler.
With reliability as a focus, borne out by exasperation, Toyota seemed a safe bet, and of the Toyotas in my price range, only one really didn’t launch me into a coma: the Scion xB. I’ve expressed my admiration for the xB before; it’s a true modern peoples’s car, a do-anything little box that delivers a lot and ask very little in return. It’s a packaging triumph, and shockingly fun to drive. I’ve shoved entire washing machines in it and let Tiff Needell hoon it on the track at Willow Springs.
That little refrigerator-looking box on wheels served my family so well for years and years. I did minor repairs on it as needed – a new starter, a coil pack, but overall, it was solid as a cast-iron rock. I did smack right into a deer with it once, days after letting the comprehensive part of our insurance expire, so I had to rebuild its face on the cheap in my driveway. I did take advantage of this to install much better headlights and re-badge it as a Great Wall Coolbear, the xB’s China-market doppelganger:
DIY badge engineering: my Scion xB is now a Great Wall Coolbear. Thanks, @geely_ash ! pic.twitter.com/hJwBquYLum— Jason Torchinsky (@JasonTorchinsky) June 3, 2017
The little xB was still going strong, but my wife was getting sick of the somewhat low-rent feel of it, and wanted something a little nicer. So, around 2020, I got her a VW Tiguan, which was a great reminder to myself of my boundless ability to forget every worthwhile life lesson I vainly attempt to learn. What a pain in the ass that car is.
Anyway, with the Tiguan eventually and usually running, the xB was relegated to the parts of the driveway with the other less-used cars, and it sat.
And sat. And sat. And got moldy. And I lost the title, somehow, because, in case I haven’t been making it clear over the past decade or so, I’m an idiot.
Who likes mold in cars? Boy are you in luck! pic.twitter.com/wOqHUckV9v— Jason Torchinsky (@JasonTorchinsky) May 15, 2022
But! Then David and Beau and I decided to start this lovely community you’re hopefully trapped in here, and I was hopeful that we could find something fun to do with the old workhorse, which now was cultivating a rich community of molds and funguses inside. I got it going again (which was easy – with a charged battery the thing never fails to start), drove it from North Carolina to Detroit (with one dead coilpack, so on three cylinders, and with a bad throwout bearing) and David and I used it as the Autopian Test Car for our meticulously-researched and executed study to find the ideal driving-while-eating food:
The xB did great, but at a significant cost: it was now absolutely filled with a revolting melange composed of the detritus of many, many driving-while-eating tests, a non-trivial number of which ended up in legitimate foodsplosions. The inside was gross, pronounced like a dry heave that teeters on the brink of no longer being so dry.
The filthy state of the mold and now food-waste-saturated interior coupled with the lack of a valid title and a promise I made not to bring the thing back home meant that the xB’s fate was uncertain at best. I suppose the smart thing to do would have been to go through the hassle of dealing with the title and taking it to a state-bonded auto recycler and ending the car’s life, returning it to the elements from which it came, where it would be reborn as low-sodium soup cans and a door bracket for a 2024 Chevy Trax, or something.
Of course, that’s not what we did. Instead, we did the opposite of the smart thing, and abandoned the car in the parking lot of a major global auto manufacturer, because we did a lot of hoping that no one would notice it.
Incredibly, this worked for a while, at least long enough to mostly forget about all the things that would need to be taken care of to, you know, handle this situation like an adult. Of course, cruel reality always shows up where it’s least wanted, like the parking lot of a major OEM. The company seemed to be getting wise that an up-and-coming car publication may have ditched a filthy heap with their logo spray-painted on the doors in one of their parking lots, so it had to go. We were actually tipped off by a reader, who emailed us:
Just FYI, since I’ve seen that you dumped the “Autopian test car” in the [redacted] (which is hilarious BTW):I got an email from security today saying that they’re going to resume enforcement of the competitive vehicle parking policy from the pre-COVID days. I attached a pic of the map they sent out and your car is in one of the “[redacted] vehicles only” sections. Might want to move it to avoid tickets and/or a wheel clamp…
Luckily, Mercedes was in town, so we had her rescue it from the lot. And then, for reasons I can’t begin to fathom, our publisher Matt thought it’d be funny to ditch it by the house of an ex-Jalopnik editor with a very important spouse.
This was not my idea.
The whole thing could have gone a lot worse; thankfully, no bomb squads were summoned, and within a few days the car was freed once again, and this is the point where its new afterlife begins. You see, I count its life with me as just that, a life, and then the period of disuse as a sort of end. The afterlife, such as it is, begins with its use in that gross video, but then becomes a sort of purgatorial state; no direction, goals, title, or home. It was drifting in the aether of being, with no certain future.
At least not until the reassuringly-named Tom Sturdy enters the story.
Tom heard about the xB via our Discord, where Matt put the word out of the little car that needed a home. Tom stepped up, and, well, I’m going to let him relay his story from here, because there’s plenty:
Timeline: Unknown, 2023 (God I hope it was in 2023) - "The Video" is shot (T-minus???) April 13, 2023 - "The Video" is published (T-minus 80 days) June 13, 2023 - Open call for rubes (T-minus 19 days) June 14, 2023 - I introduce myself (T-minus 18 days) July 2, 2023 - I pick up the ATC (T-minus 0 days) July 5, 2023 - I start cleaning (T-plus 3 days) July 15, 2023 - HooptieX (T-plus 13 days)
I’m Tom, an auto enthusiast from southwest Michigan. I work from home, but my “daily driver” is a 2016 Ford Focus ST. I love weird vehicles, and have owned more than one three-wheeler in my time. Here’s a little story about the most recent vehicle I picked up…
My adventure with the Autopian Test Car (ATC) started on June 13, when Matt Hardigree posed an open question to the #Detroit area Discord channel:
As a 34 year old man with poor impulse control and too many cars already, I knew the answer immediately. I had even found an upcoming HooptieX event that would be perfect – it was about a month away in a town less than an hour’s drive from me. Still, I tried to play it cool.
I asked if the car had any mechanical issues, if it had to be a LeMons car, and where the car was located. Matt was cagey with the details. I could tell he didn’t want to spook me now that he had gotten me on the hook. I had a dim awareness that this particular car had been used for some video content in the past, but I wasn’t prepared for what I would eventually discover.
Later that day, I broached the subject of acquiring a new vehicle with my wife and put on my best salesman pitch. “It’s a free car! I found a race that would be perfect for it! It’s famous!” She had two words for me. Absolutely not.
24 hours later, I was making my virtual introduction to Matt, expressing a sincere interest in rescuing an unloved, orphan jalopy. My gracious, patient, and accommodating wife and I were tucking into a cup of ice cream from the local creamery after an evening at the Gilmore Car Museum’s Wednesday night cruise-in when she relented, stating that I could get the car as long as she didn’t have to look at it when I crashed it. Perfect!
Where else are you going to see a Pulse autocycle?
I told Matt a little about myself and my plans for the ATC and he seemed to like the cut of my jib. He explained that the Test Car had been relocated as a practical joke and that I would probably be able to pick it up ASAP.
Two weeks later, I received a message from Matt. “Way Rert” was finally tiring of the biohazard outside lowering their property values. They needed the car gone yesterday or their next call would be to the constable. As luck would have it, I was going to be in Detroit in 3 short days to pick up some friends for a road trip, so this would be a perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. “Way” and I ironed out the details, and my next call was to uhaul to get a tow dolly reserved.
T-minus 0 days
Sunday morning arrived and so did I. After a short drive to Detroit, I picked my friends from their hotel and we headed over to meet Way. Way Rert turned out to be Ray Wert, former EiC of Jalopnik and Cat Fancy contributor.
Ray explained that the ATC had been abandoned in his yard under cover of darkness, and recently he had taken to leaving the car unlocked with the keys on the seat. When I opened the door, I could immediately tell why nobody would want to steal it. Bits of food were strewn everywhere and the odor was pungent. A roll of trash bags was covering the driver’s seat.
At this point, the ATC had been festering in this condition for (at least) 80 days. Rain was in the forecast and I had a 3 hour drive ahead of me. Still, I elected to leave the windows open in the test car, the thought being that any water that happened to get in during the drive might rinse the upholstery. A downpour during our drive turned into a veritable monsoon. I think I made the right call.
We also stopped in Ann Arbor to see the football stadium of the local college:
I spent the next couple of days in Chicago with my friends, sightseeing and doing general tourist activities. When I returned, I only had 10 days to get the ATC ready to race.
My first thought was to gut the interior “because race car,” but the more I looked at the Scion, the more I started to fall in love with it. Sure, the engine bucked on its mounts and all the warning lights screamed “Stay Away,” but one spark plug and ignition coil later and the 1.5l motor purred like a housecat (the lights are all still there though).
Yes, the interior smelled like a Long John Silver’s dumpster, but I could tell that someone once loved this car. The AC worked! All the floor mats were there! Plus, when I discovered and opened a now almost 3-month-old fortune cookie, I knew I would be ok.
A good omen is discovered
I won’t go too in depth with my cleaning methods, as Mercedes Streeter has already written a very comprehensive “how-to” guide. What I will say is this: since discarding the interior was always an option for me, I went for the nuclear option with my tactics.
Step 1 was to suck up all the large debris with the shop vac. This took care of most of the bits of chow mein, bread bowl chunks, and taco flakes.
Step 2 was to douse the entire car in sanitizing spray. I don’t know if this actually did anything, but it did give me peace of mind.
Step 3 was to empty an entire bottle of Zep oxy carpet cleaner over the entire interior of the car, followed by a thorough scrubbing with industrial degreaser wipes.
Step 4 brought out the big guns – two bottles of Zep mold and mildew bleach spray (this isn’t an ad for Zep, I’m just lazy and my Menards groups these cleaners together). After an intensive misting of the interior, I left the car out overnight with the windows open and a couple of box fans inside to dry out.
The final step I employed was to deep clean the interior with a carpet steamer. I pulled 3 gallons of black sludge out of the upholstery, but surprisingly it ended up looking great! I wouldn’t advise most people to bomb their car with bleach spray, but at least in my case I didn’t notice any staining or discoloration.
The one tip I will offer that Mercedes didn’t cover pertains to floor mats. While a spray with a garden hose and a scrub with a sponge and soapy water works ok, you tend to still have a lot of crud leftover. At least, you do when you are dealing with petrified broccoli cheddar soup. An ice scraper works excellently to free up the deeply trapped detritus, plus it helps your mats dry out quicker since they retain less water. If you’re only using soap and water, you’d be amazed (and nauseated) to see what you can scrape out of a set of “freshly washed” floor mats.
After a couple exhausting days of cleaning, I was ready for HooptieX. I didn’t have the highest hopes for a bone-stock xB with 232,000 miles (plus a few stickers for extra horsepower), but the event was a blast! I may have gotten stuck in the mud on my first outing, but the course eventually dried up enough that I was able to put down a few successful laps. I ended the day covered in mud and in high spirits, secure in the knowledge that innovation and determination will lead me to success.
Okay, it’s me again. I’m so impressed with all Tom accomplished with this little car, and even more impressed with how he took it out racing in the mud, hardly any time at all after he rescued it. And he’s not even remotely done! Look at these fantastic hand-painted stripes he’s added:
Holy crap, right? The stripes, the extra lights, the fact it’s motile and running and being enjoyed, I adore every single oily bit of this. Tom even found an old 5.25″ floppy disk I had in there, some lost artifact from one of my many ridiculous old computers, and has it hanging from the rear view mirror now, a perfect little nod to this car’s past.
Make no mistake: this is Tom’s car now, but I appreciate that the little reminders of its past life, like the sloppy spray-painted Autopian logo, have endured into its new, exciting afterlife.
This little xB is realizing the dreams of any basic, everyday car, if I may anthropomorphize wildly. It started life as a practical economy car, a grocery-getter, lived a full life ferrying me and my family around, occasionally getting treated to something unexpected, like a track day, or something worse unexpected, like smacking into a bunch of myopic venison in a fur coat.
It was a car that was appreciated and cared for and used, but did eventually outlive its usefulness – only to be reborn into a second life of good-natured hoonery and racing and making people happy in the finest, silliest ways.
Oh, and it has a real title and everything now, too. I know it happened because I was pretty much not involved in that process at all, guaranteeing its success.
What an uplifiting tale for a humble, boxy little car! Thanks so much to Tom for giving this little happy shitbox the exciting and ongoing epilogue it deserves. I can’t wait to see more pictures of this be-striped xB tearing it up in the mud!
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