Back when I got a magazine paycheck, the dark, looming locust cloud of the internet held promise of more than unemployment. It promised permanence. When a new magazine issue comes out, the old one is lost behind the toilet bowl forever. Each project car installment has to start with a brief summary of the ones that came before, because your reader may not have seen the one before. In the brave new world of the internet, I thought, everything is always there. You can refer to previous work with a link and never have to explain the same thing twice.
Turns out that’s not always how it works.
About a year and a half ago, I wrote a series of stories following Jared Holstein’s desperate attempt to build a fast, frugal turbodiesel Rabbit on TopGear.com America. Jared was editor of the website at the time, and the series would be the most popular feature in the site’s short history. And then the site folded. In less time than it takes the average magazine to go from toilet to trash, the whole Project Sipster series vanished from the interwebs.
And it may well happen again. We’re re-posting this old story even though, technically, we don’t have permission to do so. With the folding of TopGear.com America, I’ve lost contact with anyone who could give us permission or tell us of any plans for them to re-post the story. Meanwhile, all the people who helped us make that car happen were expecting the unending fame of the internet to shine down on them in return. We owe a debt of fame, and this is our attempt to re-pay it.
Of course, if someone at TopGear does object, we’ll have to pull the story. If they put it up themselves, we’ll post a link here. Meanwhile, read it while you can.
To really get the full impact of the story, remember this story was happening just as the financial apocolypse was unfolding. We had just endured the soul-sucking spike in oil prices and the country was reeling from the sudden disappearance of free money. In fact, my first draft of this story does a better job of putting your head in the times. It started out like this:
A funny thing happened when gas got to $4.00 a gallon. Driving stopped being fun. The pure joy of mashing the pedal, the satisfaction of a powerslide well done, the visceral tingle of an engine at redline, all of it was muzzled by the wet blanket of the $70 fill-up. Pouring Andrew Jackson into your tank each week is easy and painless. The $20 bill is the chump change of the ATM generation. But stuffing Ulysses S. Grant down your fill-pipe really makes you pause, and jamming both those guys in there together, well, it just didn’t seem natural.
But that intro was scrapped and the story that finally ran looked something like what you’ll find on the next page.