By on December 31, 2010

A little over an hour into our long-planned three-day West Virginia road trip, en route to rendezvous with my best friend and his father, my old man had entered a blind downhill hairpin too quickly, hit the brakes mid-turn, sideswiped a tree, and totaled his Mazda RX-8. In the past I’ve wondered what leads people to post about their unintended off-road misadventures on the Internet. Normally I wouldn’t, but this is a special case.

With the RX-8 immobile on the shoulder of County Route 46 a couple miles from Mill Creek and (with it) US 250, and our local rescuer Chad patiently standing by, we discuss our options: a rental car, the Infiniti G37 I had parked in Bridgeport, making do with all four of us in a single car. But I hadn’t put this trip together to drive just any car. I had put this trip together to enjoy the roads of West Virginia in a pair of RX-8s. So while my father keeps musing about the ins and outs of getting a suitable rental car, I have a different plan in mind, the previously alluded to (but not suggested by anyone in the comments) Option 4: continuing on in the totaled RX-8.

One major problem with the RX-8, aside from the crumpled right side: it won’t start. My search for a hypothesized fuel cutoff failed. So, using a borrowed screwdriver, I worked the rocks out from between the right front tire and wheel instead. Then, glancing at the side airbags, I realize they can simply be stuffed back into the headliner. And, who knows, maybe there’s just a timer on the fuel system? So I jump back in the car, give it another shot…and the engine starts. But is the car driveable? One way to find out.

My father’s mad driving skillz now in disrepute, he hops in the RX-8’s adult-friendly back seat (suddenly very good to have) and I return to the driver’s seat. We thank Chad for his assistance, and set off for Mill Creek. I go very slowly at first, wondering if the right front tire might deflate or if the suspension might come undone. When neither happens, I go a little faster.

Considering how it looks, the RX-8 drives surprisingly well. The steering wheel is now about fifteen degrees off center to the left, and the steering now feels a touch loose on-center, but the car somehow still tracks straight—just another of today’s minor miracles.

Next step: get the remnants of the side windows out of the car. Chad had said there was a car wash with vacuums not far down 250. We miss it on our first pass, and stop at a gas station at the junction of US 250 and US 219 in Huttonsville to get better directions. Now that we’re on a relatively major road and in an almost-town the cell phone works, and I call Trey and his father, the judge, to report that the car has been resuscitated. As it happens, our carefully planned route was to pass this very spot, but tomorrow on the way back to Virginia. So the new plan: follow the same route, but in reverse.

The others are still a few hours away, so we have time to get the car cleaned up and checked out. We return to Mill Creek, finding the car wash behind Bob’s Mini Mart this time. About an hour, multiple ridiculously slow to clot finger pricks, and many quarters later, we finally have the glass out of the car. I don’t talk to my father much during this time, preferring to focus on the task at hand. How-to photos are nonexistent for the same reasons.

I’m most concerned about the tire, since some slivers of rock remain trapped between it and the rim. There’s a tire place just up the road, but it’s closed. My father wanders down the adjoining side street and returns with two men, one carrying a tire iron. Apparently he works at the tire shop. I explain that I see no need to remove the wheel from the car. Perhaps we can just deflate it, clean out the area around the bead, then re-inflate it?

Discussion ensues. The second guy says quite a bit, and he sounds like he really knows what he’s talking about, but neither my father nor I can understand a single word. I don’t recall his name—consider it Boomhauer. Ultimately, a visual inspection suffices. The local experts take a close look and pronounce the tire good-to-go as-is, though very low on tread. (My father had considered replacing the tires prior to the trip. I had advised him to wait—why chew up new tires on the roads of West Virginia?)

But what about the right front suspension? The structure of the car is clearly deformed around the firewall, which could explain why the steering wheel is no longer centered. A little further up the road we stop at Double L Auto, which is open. Unfortunately an ancient Mercedes that doesn’t run has taken up residence in the service bay, so the Mazda can’t be hoisted on their only lift. One heavyset mechanic comes out of the bay as three others watch from the entrance. With him kneeling down by the fender, I turn the steering wheel all the way to one lock, then all the way to the other. He pulls on this and that and says that everything seems fine aside from the obvious.

So, from a mechanical standpoint, we’re cleared to continue.

One “fixable” problem remains: the badly damaged windshield and missing side windows. Solutions are found at the Dollar General. Eight dollars buy Duck brand clear packaging tape, a pair of scissors, and a pack of clear plastic sheeting. In the parking lot I wind tape around the B-pillar formed by the two doors. They don’t look like they’ll ever open again even if we want them to, but better safe than sorry. We then apply multiple layers of the tape to the both surfaces of the right side of the windshield, to add some strength (it flexes under even the slightest pressure) and to prevent more bits of it from detaching. The Duck tape serves surprisingly well—it remains possible to see through the windshield.

This done, and feeling much happier, I call Trey again. They got hungry and stopped for lunch. So we get lunch as well, at the restaurant in the Bob’s Mini Mart complex. Since the car isn’t secure, lacking right side windows, I grab my laptop out of the trunk.

Inside we meet a lot of down home flavor (“Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit, look who’s here!”) and some of the locals. We’re the only flatlanders. Tygarts Valley Middle/High School is across the street, and photos of “Bulldog players of the week” fully suited up in red and white adorn one wall. A man in a reflective jumpsuit tells my father that he mines metallurgical coal, which is apparently the most expensive sort. I note the daily specials, and (wise ass that I am) remark that it’s a shame they only offer the roasted chicken tomorrow and not today. A well-fed man at the next table takes my remark seriously, and enthusiastically drawls, “You should come back, it’s real good!” The decade is wrong, the decor is downscale, and there’s no fricassee on the menu, but I half expect to encounter Big Dan Teague.

The complimentary breakfast at the Days Inn (hardboiled eggs and cereal) had failed to hit the spot, so I order a cheese omelet. My father orders a Philly steak sandwich and a cappuccino.

Out in the parking people repeatedly do a double take then walk over to our car to check it out. West Virginia has its share of hoopties, but an RX-8 with a caved in right side parked as if there’s nothing wrong with it nevertheless attracts attention. Some people inside the restaurant ask about the car. My father tells them a tree jumped out into the road. We’ll get used to fielding such questions.

After a lengthy wait (we have the time, but are feeling more than a mite peckish) our food arrives. I get the omelet I ordered, but my father receives a steak hoagie with Oliverio peppers and cheese instead of a Philly steak. I recognize the brand—we considered eating at the Oliverio Ristorante in Bridgeport the previous evening. Though produced locally, these peppers have a Facebook page with over 3,000 effusive fans.

My father declares his sandwich outstanding, and my omelet is also quite tasty. Yet the prices are low: $4.20 for his sandwich, and about $3 for my omelet. Can’t beat the combination of good and cheap, and if I’m ever in the area again I’ll definitely be back to the restaurant in Bob’s Mini Mart. Others seem to agree. When I head around back for the restroom I discover a newish Range Rover with OEM dubs (which I had always assumed were for urban posers) parked there. I assume it belongs to Bob. With the prices so low, he must make it up in volume. Or by selling a lot of gas and “play here, win here!” lottery tickets.

We finish our leisurely lunch, and about twenty minutes later Trey and his father arrive. Trey’s in the driver’s seat. (Though the judge technically owns the car, I never actually see him drive it.) After much chuckling about the state of my father’s car, our 400-mile two-car road trip to Summersville and (hopefully) back can finally begin.

Follow Michael’s journey in part six of this piece here.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data

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17 Comments on “A Road Trip Five Years In The Making: Part Five: “Option Four”...”

  • avatar

    what a relief that you were able to continue in the RX-8. Bon voyage!

  • avatar

    Great series you having going here Michael.  I’m looking forward to the rest.

  • avatar

    I hope pics of the taped-up car are coming in part six.

  • avatar

    By the way, the curve that bit my old man is in the top left corner of the map, while Bob’s Mini Mart is across the street from the high school in the bottom center.

  • avatar

    Good for you, Michael!  This is a great series of articles. I have never busted up a car so badly that it couldn’t be driven.  In ’82 or so, I was on vacation in Vermont in my Scirocco, and I went to pass a farm tractor on a two lane road, and he turned in front of me to enter a dirt road on our left. I braked and swerved, but the tines on his tractor’s trailer ended up in front of my face after tearing up the hood.  Luckily for me the windshield was intact. I nursed the car with no functioning radiator up over a mountain or two to get to Woodstock, Vermont, where the VW dealership was able to patch the car together enough for me to get it back to Pennsylvania.
    Incidentally, I took a trip similar to yours last year, from PA down the Shenandoah Parkway and the Blue Ridge Parkway to Asheville, NC, and then back up through the winding roads of  West Virginia to PA.  My current ride, a 4 cylinder TT, got a good 30 mpg, much better than your Infiniti G37 did.  I figure that the average 45 – 55 mph speeds were about ideal for gas mileage, though rain and fog kept me from hooning too much.

    • 0 avatar

      If you can’t fix it, Duck it!
      The G37’s gas mileage would have been in the low or even mid 20s if I’d been easier on the throttle and brakes.

    • 0 avatar

      Michael, even with flogging it in the twisties, 18mpg should be easily possible in the G37.  In my G35, I normally average 18-19 on club drives while pushing it to 85% or so of it’s performance capacity.  Infiniti seems to program the throttle to be (too) responsive on tip-in, so that last 15% of pedal travel gives minimal additional acceleration, yet a bigger drop in economy.  I’ve stuck to bumpers of other Gs and Zs throughout a drive and returned sometimes 5-8mpg better.

    • 0 avatar

      There is one key variable you might not be considering. When I observed under 13 the G37 might have been encountering additional air resistance. Had to shake Mr. J.

    • 0 avatar

      I did the Dustball 1500 rally in August (think affordable Gumball combined with an SCCA gimmick rally). The G was no stranger to low-mid triple digits. Still averaged 18-19.

      While in the mountainous, twisty stuff: never dropping below 4k rpm, heel-toe downshifts, 85-90% acceleration out of every turn, generally skipping straight to 6th once at a good clip for the straight…17-18mpg is still do-able.

      All this is with the VQ35 though. I guess it’s possible the VQ37 is a bit thirstier when flogged. The only time I’ve gotten 10-13mpg is on the track.

  • avatar

    I feel your pain. I mistook a decreasing radius, simi blind turn for a less hairy one that my MR2 could safely handle at 90 MPH (decades ago). It’s an isolated road that runs along side a river with no signage what so ever. I knew I could take all the curves at 90 except for the last one. I miss counted… Anyway, I enter that corner and quickly realized that I’d end up upside down in the river if I tried to negotiate it. I just stood on the brakes and kept the wheels straight ahead, hoping to hit the water wheels down. Glanced off a boulder and stayed on the bank. Only my ego was bruised. Broke tie rods, front and rear, plus minor lower body damage. Damn it I got lucky! And had a young female passenger… Stupid for sure (me, not her). Yeah I was showing off a bit.    

  • avatar

    I hoped this would be the outcome as the car didnt look too bad now you can fang the shit out of it and not worry about an off. But remember NEVER brake in a turn just feed the throttle and steer.

  • avatar

    Bob’s Mini Mart… no rating for the dumpster contents?

  • avatar

    Oh Brother, we know where thou art. Great reference Michael!

  • avatar

    Good story.  I’ve never felt sorry for an RX-8 before now.

  • avatar

    Michael – I’m still waiting for part 6! I have to admit this series (so far?) has been one of the most enjoyable reads since Bertel’s ” Autobiography Of BS” or Jacks very none PC “Maximum Street Speed Explained“

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