Today I have a great interest in cars, but I was not always this way. Once upon a time I had no interest in cars at all. They were transportation, I put gas in them, and that was about it. My first car was a 1995 Volvo 850 non-turbo sedan and I “liked” it a lot. It had a strange smell not unlike smelly socks. Things didn’t work, there were faults with it, the transmission would shift funny, but I didn’t really care. It went where I wanted it to go, the cd player and a/c worked, and it was great!
This is the only photo I could find of the 850.
Fast forward a couple years when I was 19 or 20 and I discovered BMW after the accident pictures above forced me to replace the 850. I purchased a 1994 318i with a manual transmission. It had a primer M body kit, replica M3 wheels, and a manual transmission. To my eye, it was pretty fantastic.
I don’t even remember learner to drive a manual, it just happened and my world changed on one magical day. I was performing a task I would have never dreamed of doing – washing and waxing the car – and I realized, I was an enthusiast and wanted to drop all kinds of money on the car to make it special. It was a light bulb moment and my world changed forever. My tattered 318i with 200,000+ miles on it got a new interior and many other things. I remember feeling like I memorized where every screw and bolt in the interior went from having it apart so many times.
I drove this car for a year or two and decided to upgrade. I got a 1996 328i that was nicer and quicker, then got a 1997 M3 coupe, and the enthusiasm kept snowballing.
My immediate family and a large portion of my extended family has always been involved in cars from having garages to entire salvage yards, and I had a ready and easy access to cars at all times. I started collecting and acquiring a fleet of cars interesting to me in my early 20’s.
This was a fertile time for me: I developed a love of cars and started developing a business sense of how I could have a hobby I enjoyed and make money off it. I made some mistakes for sure, but for the most part it served me well. During this time I also took on the role of “service writer” at my family’s business; which is the managerial role of the person coordinating repairs for people, scheduling, ordering parts, etc.
Fast forward a few more years, and my interest in cars was waning. There wasn’t much desire for speed and my feelings towards cars were leaning towards tedium. I was making money, but I really was getting tired of the continual headache of switching cars all the time. It was during this stage that I met my wife. We dated for a year and a half and then got married on July 13th, 2013. It was a lovely wedding and we drove away from the reception in my triple black Mercedes CLK500 cabrio.
We drove the more traditional Volvo station wagon on our honeymoon to Canada, and life was pretty good. But all was not well, the cracks started showing in my wife’s mental health, and within months of getting married, she was having a full mental breakdown. In the ensuing chaos, it was discovered that she had schizophrenia and the world as I expected it to be was turned upside down.
Our plan had been to pay off the house in 5 years or less, have kids, and do the normal parenting thing. What we got instead was years of hospital visits, dozens of different extremely expensive medications to try, insurance debacle headaches, and all our savings completely disappeared. It was during this terrible time I discovered cars again by accident.
By nature I’m a driven person who has to always be working towards a goal and am a workaholic by some people’s definition. In this time where there was nothing I could do but survive and wait and pray for improvement and I struggled deeply to find something to occupy myself. I played some computer games, read books, watched movies, but these things got old quickly as it was solo play only. In the past I thought of myself as an introvert, but when life took away my social options I realized I was far more extroverted than I thought. I tried blogging to limited success. I first tried a primal scream type blog during the most difficult early stages and that lead only to more depression. I then tried to write a blog of memories in future tense, as in from what I hoped would be the perspective of my future self looking back. Unsurprising to anyone, this failed too. Then in an attempt to work with my driven nature, I decided to write a blog talking about the things I was accomplishing and not bringing up the things that were terrible at all. I was focusing on the positive things and reinforcing the idea that I was getting somewhere rather than thinking about my failing attempts to cope.
It was during this time that I found cars again. My financial circumstances forced me to go from my three completely paid for cars – CLK500, supercharged Range Rover (pictured above), and low mileage XC70 – to a back up cheap option. I bought a high mileage 06 Xc70 and in the spirit of maintaining optimism I started a build thread on SwedeSpeed in an attempt to come with cheap options to make the car better and more reliable without spending money I didn’t have.
This build thread revitalized my love of cars because it brought me the things I desperately needed in a time of crisis: community, something to focus on, and something solid I could depend on.
Through this thread I strengthened friendships with people I already knew and made some very solid new friends too. I discovered I was not the only person on the internet that was willing to admit they were using cars as a form of escape as their world fell apart and the community that developed has been one of the most positive things I’ve encountered in the last several years. Entertainingly, my thread became one of the most viewed threads for it’s side of the board. I went through several XC’s during this period, and here was the most complete version
So, where does that leave me today? I’m about to turn 31 as well as celebrate my 4th wedding anniversary in July, my wife’s health has stabilized, my life has returned to some semblance of normal, and our bank account has gotten reasonably healthy again. It’s in this place that I am working to discover my “voice” as I move forward into the future of the rest of my life. This blog is about some of my experiences.
Things I would like to say moving forward:
I did not spend much time talking about my wife’s schizophrenia by intention. I feel like that is her story to tell, not mine. She’s a very strong woman to have survived with it for so long and I love her even though she’s a little bit crazy.
I want to thank my in laws and my family for helping me in the roughest of times. They gave me comfort, support, and monetary help when I needed it most and gave me space to grieve and seek help.
I want to thank my car mates for being a crash pad of fun when so much else was bleak.
I want to thank God and my spiritual friends who were willing to go out of their way to reach out to a hurting young man frustrated and angry at the cards life dealt him.