By on April 15, 2016

Mark stands in front of his demolished Ford Focus, Image: © 2013 Matthew Guy/The Truth About Cars

Note: I’ve mentioned my one-time demo derby experience in the comments on a few occasions, so here’s the full story. This piece originally ran on and was later republished on It’s republished here with permission. I hope you enjoy it. —MS

Public auctions are usually a sea of bad decisions waiting to find a home in a new idiot’s garage or driveway. At one particular auction over the summer, I was the idiot, and my bad decision lay in wait with bated breath in the lot of automotive shame.

This wasn’t my first rodeo; I had been to the auction before. But, this time, I had plastic with a metallic stripe in my pocket, getting slightly warm and begging for release from its leather-bound sarcophagus.

As always, my partner in automotive crime and I scouted the lot prior to the auction, eschewing possibilities within my budget for interesting German and British metal to fuel grandiose gearhead dreams. If we had been paying more attention, a particular Ford Focus would have been written off the purchase option list due to its general state of disrepair — but we didn’t. Instead, we focused on a Jaguar XJ that would’ve looked perfectly placed in any retired dentist grandfather’s driveway.

After our pre-auction “inspection” of available autos, we made our way to the auction lanes, seeing a couple of familiar faces from the previous month. We talked about their purchase — a gold (in colour, not condition) Chevy Aveo — they were able to flip for a profit at a family towing business.

This gave me the gumption I needed to decide to buy that day. Hell, if someone can flip a Korean hatchback lacking A/C and automatic transmission, I’m sure I could pick something up and do the same.

Volume import and domestic examples were driven through the lanes, nothing going for less than a couple grand, and my patience began to wear thin. That’s when I saw the biggest automotive mistake I’ve ever made.

2000 Ford Focus, Image: © 2013 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars

It, a 2000 Ford Focus in wine red, had made its way to the block before I could see it drive past.

The bidding started at $500. No takers.

“Do I hear $400?”

Silence. Nobody moved, frozen in the fear a slight twitch may be inferred as a bid.

“How about $300?”

Again, nothing. The only noise came from the neighbouring lane and people shaking their heads in disgust at the auction example in front of them.

“Two-hundred dollars. Two-hundred dollars. Do I hear TWO-HUNDRED dollars?!?”

Up went my number-holding hand, faster than a shot of adrenaline.

“Okay, do I hear two-fifty? Two-fifty? Come on. Two-fifty?”



He could have finished it off with ‘to that idiot in the black coat’. Thankfully, he didn’t want to bruise my ego too much.

Mark drives his recently acquired 2000 Ford Focus home from the auction along Highway 102, Image: © 2013 Matthew Guy

Immediately after the sale, we returned to the lot to give my most recent purchase more than just a cursory glance.

One tire was almost flat. No worry, it still has the spare in the trunk. However, the wheel was missing a lugnut, and upon closer inspection, a good section of stud. After looking at the other wheels, the right rear had a massive amount of camber, the result of a rusted out rear subframe, not to mention the numerous fist-sized tin worm holes in the bodywork.

My hopes were still high that, between my friend, cousin, and myself, we could put it back together and price it to make a profit.

2000 Ford Focus, Image: © 2013 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars

Weeks went by as we searched for cheap parts, the Focus making a permanent home in my garage, not being touched for days at a time. The more we tried to justify refurbishment, being thwarted by the junkyard gods, the more I realized this would be one of my biggest screw ups to date.

That is, until, an idea hit me like a 20-year-old Crown Vic.

“Are you doing the derby this year?” I asked my compatriot.

“No, I’m skipping it this year. Why?” he inquired in return. I stared at the car and he clued in immediately.

2000 Ford Focus being stripped of its interior, Image: © 2013 Mark Stevenson

Over the next two weeks, and a total of maybe 10 man-hours of actual labour, the Focus was stripped of glass, front passenger seat, rear seat bottom, exterior lighting, airbags, and other unnecessary items. As I pored over the rules (which, at this derby, are more suggested than enforced), other modifications were made. The gas tank was relocated to the back seat, holes cut into the hood and trunk lid, battery relocated to where the front passenger seat used to be (sitting in a strapped-down milk crate, an excellent piece of redneck ingenuity), and we reused the rear seat foam to create a driver “safety cell”. We even cannibalized my friend’s Focus Wagon of its donut tire so we could run two skinnies on the rear.

No roll cage. No reinforcement (save the addition of a driver door plate). No mechanical alterations. The only aftermarket work completed was our incredibly stellar “shark mouth” paint job and engine-size badging.

2000 Ford Focus derby car sits at the end of the driveway awaiting its inevitable fate, Image: © 2013 Mark Stevenson

At long last, derby day had arrived, one of the main attractions at the Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition. Over three days, different vehicle classes compete in the pit of death. The class I was contesting consisted of four-bangers and smaller six-cylinder cars.

A local scrapyard happily donated a driver and tow truck for the purpose of delivering the car to the grounds. In return, they’d get the car for scrap at a reduced value. Win-win for all involved.

As we arrived at the horse raceway playing host to the week’s automotive carnage, it became apparent I was under-prepared for what lay ahead. Many of the cars fielded had professional sponsors, more structurally rigid driver protection, and crews of volunteers helping each entrant. My neighbour in the pits was a veteran of derbies all around the province, this not being his first nor last of the year.

“Don’t worry. It’s a crap shoot. Protect your nose and you should be fine. Who knows, you might be the only one running at the end of the day,” he said to me in an almost fatherly exchange.

“And, you know, we can look out for each other a bit. You help me. I’ll help you.”

After our friendly chat about strategy, drivers were called to line up their vehicles for introductions. It was then I realized my trunk lid, for some reason, would not stay latched on its own. Maybe the old girl had gotten scared, knowing what was to come next.

In typical Newfoundlander fashion, and after I exhausted brute force to remedy the situation, my friend said he would fetch some chain to secure the floppy body panel. He returned with some of the weakest looking, overstressed rope you could ever imagine.

“I thought you were bringing chain,” I stated in a frenzy as we were about to be called down to the pit of death.

To which he cheekily replied, “This, b’y, is Newfoundland chain.”

I was not about to argue. If anything, that little joke gave me a slight calmness as we furiously tied down the rear of the car before arriving last to the pit of death.

Demo Derby Focus in the garage, Image: © 2013 Mark Stevenson

After this point, I really can’t clearly recall what happened.

As I sat in the car, transmission in reverse with my rear lined up to give someone a shunt, my hands grasped the wheel as if it were my only lifeline. One of the firetrucks on scene, in case of emergency, blew its horn to mark the beginning of petrol-filled carnage.

I floored it, paying no attention to the lack of grip provided by slippery grass and mud, and hit the first car almost square on. I immediately learned looking over your shoulder as you hit another car while doing 35 km/h in reverse is not smart and, in fact, hurts a great deal.

The next 11 minutes felt like 45 to me. Hit after hit, my adrenaline began to wear off, replaced solely by a will to survive. My fight-or-flight response went quickly from fight in the beginning to hiding behind any disabled car that could provide adequate cover.

The shift interlock release, something I had never used to date on any vehicle, came into play as the shifter refused to move in any normal manner. The car itself also started to sputter, stall, and overheat with each hit to my front fenders. Yet, after 10 minutes of punishment, my front end remained relatively untouched. The engine, when running, ran fairly strong. It wasn’t until the very end when a badly placed bumper skin took away all hopes of traction.

Disabled, unable to move, but with my engine still running, I spun the wheels of the Focus trying to get away from my impending doom. A mid-’90s Toyota Deathwagon (aka Camry Wagon) was circling, looking for its final prey. It spotted me, took a nice, long run, and I witnessed in slow motion as it struck me one final time.

The derby had ended with another blow of the fire truck’s horn. I was the last one out, placing me in a respectful second.

Aftermath of the demo derby Focus, Image: © 2013 Matthew Guy

As spectators flooded the field to take a closer look at all the twisted metal and congratulate the winner, I extricated myself from the Focus, took a step back, and marveled at how well it had fared. The passenger side was a complete write-off, as was the rear I used as a battering ram. But the front bumper and driver’s door remained relatively untouched, thanks to both my hiding and getting a little respect from other drivers.

Aftermath of the demo derby Focus, Image: © 2013 Matthew Guy

My memory of the rest of the evening — which consisted of packing up the car with all its detached bodywork, taking it to the scrap yard, and having a self-addressed congratulatory beer — still remains spotty to this day. Concussion? Maybe. But I was in much better shape than the Focus.

And, all of this was due to making an idiotic financial decision. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, too. Sometimes ignorance truly is bliss, even when it hurts for a week after.

[Images: Mark Stevenson and Matthew Guy]

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26 Comments on “Bad Decisions: From Auction Lot to Demolition Derby Ring...”

  • avatar

    Don’t be so hard on yourself- for $200 to qualify as an “idiotic financial decision” you’d have to come away with a misspelled tattoo, or an appointment for a massive injection of antibiotics, or something more along those lines.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Mis-spelled tattoos are hilarious, when they don’t belong to you. I had to explain to my friend what was wrong with the part of his tattoo which said, “give me the patience i need to keep my [piece] of mind.”

    • 0 avatar

      No kidding. One of the rules of life is a 50k to 100k idiotic financial decision. My cousen bought a truck and fifth wheel camper before realizing it wasn’t really his thing…

      Don’t know what mine is yet, buts it’s out there :)

  • avatar

    A demolition derby that allows FWD cars? What sorcery is this? All the ones in my neck of the woods are a dumping ground for Panthers and G- and B-bodies.

  • avatar

    Next time, cheapest G body you can find. They should be plentiful. Mass = your friend

  • avatar

    That Camry was a V20 series wagon, from somewhere between 1986 and 1991. It almost doesn’t seem fair to match it up against so many cars that were looking for an excuse to quit even as they sat on new car lots. It’s pretty terrifying how these GM J and A cars just folded up in low speed collisions. I thought you put in a pretty respectable showing. Only the guy sitting on the back axle of his Pontiac was noticeably more aggressive, and you certainly never gave up.

    • 0 avatar

      If you’re referring to how the Olds Ciera bent at the base of the rear window, the car was designed to do that in a rear collision–it absorbs the energy of the hit there instead of the passenger compartment. (In 1979, I saw a one-year-old Impala after a rear-end collision. The deck lid was about 45 degrees down from the angle it should have had–and the car was obviously totalled–but the taillight lenses weren’t even cracked.) Good for safety, not good for demolition derbies; the Ciera seemed to be toast after its first hit.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I was really starting to get worried about the guy in the Sunfire. He didn’t have much car left behind him. If he took a big pop he would have been sandwich meat.

    Also, BOO! on the green Focus for avoiding contact for the first 2/3 of the derby.

  • avatar

    My buddies and I on occasion would get a beater car and take them out to a gravel pit or dirt bike riding area and flog the crap out of them. Small Asian cars were a blast because they were easy to jump. A buddy had an old Ford car (not a Crown Vic) and that thing was impossible to kill. We went through at least 3 complete sets of tires. Virtually every square inch of it was damaged. In a display or racism he spray painted
    “Indian wagon” down both sides and drove it home. Lucky for him the police or a local band did not spot him on the way.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Thanks for sharing a great story!

  • avatar

    I’ve always wanted to send off a worn-out car of mine in a spectacular fashion, but it’s not rural enough here for there to be demo derbies. Shame…

  • avatar

    Wow, trunk hinges with struts on a Focus sedan, I’m impressed!

  • avatar

    Reminds me of that Jackass bit…

    Good story!

  • avatar

    Well done, author. No money wasted. You’ve a story you can tell for years.

    I saw a nice hit at 3:22 by one of the other drivers.

    FYI, I’d love an auto magazine special where they take a few regular Joe subscribers and put them in a derby like this. I’m up for that.

    My weapon of choice: mid-eighties Volvo wagon.

  • avatar

    “Total writeoff” as the result of a demolition derby. You learn something new every day.

    Great story! :)

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Mark, I think I have that same plaid shirt…haha

  • avatar

    Fun ! .

    Also look at school bus and trailer / camper demolition derbys .


  • avatar

    For $200 you are feeling miserable?

    How about the $30 billion plus that the American Taxpayer is stuck without being made whole in the GM bailout? We’ll be paying interest on this until Jesus comes back (or Iran finally kills us all with weapons named after Obama).

    Chalk the $200 up to entertainment and that is fairly cheap. You didn’t pick up an STD and you walked away with all your arms and legs.

  • avatar

    The answer in this field was clearly beefy Camry Wagon! That Acclaim sedan just fell to pieces at the back quite quickly.

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