words and photos by Derek McCallister
This article isn’t about philosophy, religion, strip bars or even a crazy drunk night in Vegas; it’s about what brought me to cars. I’ve had several people ask me, even the folks here at Flüssig, how I got into cars and it took those inquiring to realize that I had never really shared the story. I think one of the biggest reasons is that I don’t tend to bring up the past much. I prefer to live in the now, enjoy things as they are in the moment and once I’ve learned from the past I think it’s time to move on. I enjoy living in the moment—some may hate that, but I prefer it.
“You should pay attention son. Someday you might need to do these things.”
At the time, though, it didn’t pique my interest. I was too busy playing Sega Genesis or PC games and I retained very little at that time in my life. Though I will honestly say I regret shrugging off those times with my Dad. No one lives forever and those are times I’ll never get back. But I still have now.
Life went on. I went to college, and did my own thing. Then I got married. It was during that time that I had purchased my first car I enjoyed (key word enjoyed, not first car), a Ford ZX2. I also purchased my first motorcycle, a Kawasaki Ninja 250. Both relatively slow by all means, but fun nonetheless. I spent a lot of time working on that ZX2. It was the first car I had ever modified. Urethane bushings all around the suspension, ES motor mounts, short throw shifter, customized intake, linkage changed, better struts and some lowering springs. I went ahead and swapped to ceramic pads and during that time had done some autocross fun runs but never got serious or competitive with it. It was still a blast and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
One day, during my first marriage, me and my wife had met some new riding buddies. We were trying to find people to go on long trips with, and they just so happened to have a gorgeous Ducati ST4s. For those not familiar, that’s the sport touring version they made, but the S model had the fancy superbike motor in it. It was FAST, loud, and gorgeous. I’ll never forget the first time I went on a ride with them, I couldn’t even hear my little Ninja 250 over his Ducati when I was behind him. It was obnoxious and sounded like it wanted to rip your face off; It didn’t sound like other bikes. It just had this barbaric roar, I loved it.
A rumbly, low toned growl emitted from the pipes when he started it up and every time he busted through gears I thought, “That’s it…I need a Ducati in my life.” It didn’t make any sense. They were expensive, they were ridiculous, they were maintenance heavy and they weren’t even the fastest bike out there for the dollar. But that would mean that I’d have to use common sense to make a decision to buy one.
The exhaust note alone was enough, not to mention the beauty of the frame, the way they put it together, the way it was styled. The Italians always had this way with motorcycles and cars that I absolutely could not let go of. With Lamborghini cars I was utterly obsessed with them when I was a kid; I think it was because they were outrageous and ridiculous, like a life sized Micromachine or Hotwheels car. I always thought they were the epitome of every kid’s dream.
Italian motorcycles were no exception…they were, and continue to be, motorcycle pornography. They were so fantastically gorgeous that I feel like having a picture of one in the office would get me in trouble with HR or something, true motorcycle porn. This sums up why some things in life we don’t do out of common sense, we do them because passion beckons. Sometimes you can throw common sense out the window if you have passion, even for short bursts or short periods of time…at least you’ll have it.
I sought out to buy one, and I did; a 1999 Ducati 900 SuperSport.
It was like a testosterone trip every time I rode that thing. There is this incredible feeling when you’re on a fast sport bike, you know? That feeling that if you had the skill, you could tear up any twisty road and if you launched it perfectly, there’d be almost no car that could touch you. It’s a weird feeling, sort of a power hungry, right hand on the throttle fulfilling fantasy…and every time I get on the Ducati, there is a brief moment that I get it…but then the self-preservation kicks in and I remind myself that this is the street, not the track and that I’m a fragile sack of flesh and mushy organs. Still, the feeling is empowering.
With time, things changed…I ended up in a divorce.
That was one of those moments.
What led on with that was a discussion with my landlord; you see, he loved cars and motorcycles too. I had wanted to repaint the Ducati for quite some time…make it mine, do something interesting. I decided that it was time to transform the Ducati, much like my attitude—it was time to shift my focus to something positive.
My question to the landlord was whether or not he’d be cool with me parking it in my living room. To my amazement, he said yes, that would be fine. So I did…and then proceeded to take it apart in my living room and rebuild the bike in my living room. Months followed and I ended up restoring various parts, doing a full tune-up, and ultimately pulling the fairings off so I could take them into the garage and do prep work for repaint. I spent hours and hours on Ducati.ms reading the tech section and asking technical questions.
"The bellowing boom from the low exhaust note and that mean idle hit me all over again, so pleasing."
One morning, I rolled it out of the living room and onto the patio and started it up. The bellowing boom from the low exhaust note and that mean idle hit me all over again, so pleasing. The neighbors probably weren’t huge fans of that in the early morning, but that morning was a new morning for me; the bike had been reborn and I felt like a new man. I poured blood, sweat and tears into rebuilding that gorgeous Italian…and I did it with my own two hands.
As time went on, love found me and a new relationship came into my life. She was vastly supportive of my love for all things automotive. I took on a new adventure of buying my first Porsche—the ‘77 924 I still own. It began with a sad story of previous ownership that is too personal to discuss here, but the car had a sad history behind it. I bought it because it needed a reason to be brought back to life and also because I wanted a challenge. Every Porsche I’ve purchased has generally had an interesting story and history behind it. This is why I enjoy buying Porsche cars not just because they’re Porsches, but because there’s generally some sort of history behind them waiting to be coaxed out. It’s a story-telling, history course with a culture of its own.
It was at that time I started to feel that sadness again.
That feeling of something that has caused you extreme discomfort; but I remembered it and decided to make something out of it. I decided at that moment that the 924 would become a future race car, or at least something interesting. So I did exactly that. Instead of letting the guy get to me, I rebuilt the car with the engine the way I wanted it. When it was all said and done, I got to drive the car quite a few times before making a few mistakes forcing the car to roll back into my garage for repairs. It was that first drive with the fresh motor, the ITBs making that incredibly satisfying sound and the feeling of a stripped down car… it was not only peppy, but quick…and it handled like a small go kart. It felt fantastic.
When it was said and done, I had stripped the interior out of the car, built my own carbon fiber dash, put Lexan side windows and quarter windows in the car, installed GSXR throttle bodies, Honda fuel system, Megasquirt 1 v2.2, carbon fiber intake manifold, Euro pistons, all new bearings in the engine, 5-lug brake conversion with stainless steel lines, converted the brakes to manual, and even slapped some GT lights on it designing my own version of projectors. It took a long time, but it was right then that I realized my adventure into the car world had taken me from a simple restoration of a Ducati in my living room…. to a full on modification of an old Porsche.
By the time it was said and done, over the course of roughly seven years, I had worked on, restored, and had been driving three different variations of 924, a 944, a 914 and my 911; Porsche had completely consumed me and I couldn’t get enough. Every single car was so different, none of them exactly the same some of which include different handling behaviors, different maintenance intervals, slightly different engineering and characteristics. Yet every single one of them had a feeling when you got in them that was inherently Porsche and felt like home.
Despite the good times and the bad, life will always shape who you are and it’s always a choice to proceed with a good attitude. It’s important to allow yourself to be happy, and to hope that others are happy to because that sentiment brings with it its own reward, and perhaps its own passion. This mentality extends into the car world to which is precisely why I try not to shit on other people’s rides. You never know when someone is building a car, trying to build a car or is using it as an outlet; and you never know when that project car someone is working on is that place that gives them motivation and solace. It just might be the one thing keeping them sane.
Granted, Italians and Germans share little in common. One is engineered like a Panzer tank with precision, while the other is engineered for the sake of beauty and elegance. If I had to sum it up… it’s as if someone designed something with a purpose for the driver, while the other was engineered to look beautiful and you either fit in it or you don’t. One rears the head of, “I am beauty, and you cater to me. It’s of no consequence if you feel comfortable here, I will remain beautiful.” while the other says, “Check me out, I’m high maintenance but precise, you’ll feel at home tearing up these corners.”
For me, that niche is filled by cars and motorcycles. In a time in my life when I needed something the most, something fulfilling, and something passionate, I found it in motorcycles and cars. If you told me a decade ago that I would have dived this far into it, worked on these cars and eventually taken on the projects that I’ve worked on, it’s likely I would have told you that you’re crazy and went back to playing World of Warcraft and pissing away my time.
Everyone needs that place in their life and in their mind that makes them feel like their life is complete. That place where, if you ended up having a heart attack right then and there, you could say,
“Well this is it… but at least I died doing something I love.”
I realized a long time ago that working on these cars was that place for me, and when that inevitable time comes, my only hope is that I die with a wrench in my hand working on one of my favorite cars. Sometimes there isn’t always a lot that we can find that gives us that feeling, but I feel like everyone needs something like that. When we are at our most vulnerable, or feel the most fragile or when we realize just how short life is, we find out what it is exactly that fuels us to find that passion.
It’s worth chasing, it’s worth finding.