My friend M. is a weirdness magnet. When some strange shit happens, it will happen to him. Fair enough, sometimes he is actively involved in bringing the weirdness about, like when he… no, that’s a story for another time.
Anyway, some years ago I had the pleasure of being involved in one of those episodes of weirdness, and apart from having a nice story to tell it also taught me a valuble lesson: How (not) to be a car thief. (You can skip to the relevant advice right at the end of this post if you want to. You will miss a true and funny story, though.)
M. has a friend who at the time of our story was not living in Saarbrücken anymore. On his way back home from a visit to his old haunts his car broke down and he barely managed to get off the Autobahn and left it on a parking lot close to a motorway junction. The car was a proper POS (Piece Of Shit), a twelve-year-old Opel (1) Corsa which he had bought only a few weeks before.
Assuming that the car was beyond repair he asked his good mate M. to get rid of it for him. Now, you have to know that at that time to properly, i.e. legally, dispose of your car, cost you money. Roughly a 100 Euro. (Simply leaving your car somewhere could get you into trouble). So, he sent the registration certificate and all the necessary paperwork to M., whom he asked to do this for him as the breakdown had happened quite close to Saarbrücken and he was living some 200 kilometres away. The parking lot, in turn, was quite close to where I lived, so M. asked me to give him a hand, fully prepared to having to tow the Opel POS.
When we got to the car we found out two things. Firstly, M.’s friend had bought this car from a woman who had not bothered to de-register the car before selling it. Mr. Friend in turn had not bothered to register the car in his name in the few weeks of his ownership so technically and according to the papers the car still belonged to the previous owner. Great!
Secondly M. found out that the car was actually still in a drivable condition. If hobbling along at 30 miles an hour whilst a broken engine mount is making strange noises is what you would call driving.
Nevertheless, we almost immediately developed a most cunning plan. Scrapping it would cost money, so why not… sell it! Hey, there must be someone out there who’d be willing to buy a car, which had amongst its multitude of special features a full petrol tank (probably worth more than the car). Most used-car dealers operate a garage as well, so maybe one of them would share in our logical assessment as follows: Buy a car for 20 Euro, fix it, sell it for 250! Not exactly a big profit but better than nothing. We’d be happy, Mr. Friend would be happy, new owner would be happy. What a clever trick… But it has to work. (2)
Spending some time with the yellow pages we called about a dozen used car dealers. Here’s a typical conversation:
“We’ve got this twelve-year-old Opel Corsa and we wondered whether…”
“Well, at the moment it doesn’t make more than 50 kp/h…”
“But it has a full petrol tank!”
“No? Okay, thanks anyway.”
At this point yours truly remembered a used car dealer whose offerings he had seen just a few months before whilst looking for a new car himself. From what I had seen there I assumed that he might be our man! So, I got into my car and the intrepid M. voluntered to drive the POS. We got to the premises of said car dealer and looked at what he had on offer. A strange mixture of high-class, yet used, cars and… well, wrecks. I mean proper “This car was on the receiving end of an accident” kind of wrecks. (Strangely enough among them a rather battered London black cab.) We were sure, this guy would know how to do business our way!
We mustered our best salesman attitude and pitched our merchandise.
“Well, it’s a twelve-year-old Opel Corsa. The engine mount seems to be broken and it doesn’t do more than 50 kp/h but it has got a full petrol tank. You know, this car belongs to this friend who bought it off this woman, and he never bothered to register it, which is why her name is still on the papers, and the car broke down and now he asked us to scrap it and we thought we might just as well sell it…”
Slowly it dawned on us how improbable the whole story sounded.
He blinked and looked at us like we were complete twats. Then he looked at the car. He looked back at us shaking his head solemnly and said in a broad eastern-european accent:
“No, not interested. But venn you haf ozzer car – Audi, BMW, Mercedes then come back.”
“Well, Sir, we’re afraid that we don’t have a Mercedes, or Audi, or BMW. We know our car isn’t not in the same league as those are, but maybe someone could fix it and it might make a nice car for someone on a small budget. Also, it has got a full petrol tank.” (3)
His expression did not change and he said, slowly now: “Come back venn you haf ozzer car. You know… Audi, BMW, Mercedes.”
“Unfortunately we only have this twelve-year-old Opel Corsa, but it does have a…”
He said, for the third time and with a strange emphasis on the ‘other’: “Come back venn you haf ozzer car, okay?”
This guy was not only giving us a broad hint, he was literally shelling us with whole broadsides of them. When we left I said to M. “When this guy gets home he’ll probably tell his wife ‘Today I hef met two most stupid car thieves in ze world.'”
Adding insult to injury
With heavy hearts we abandoned our plan and decided to scrap our POS in the end. Again, we brooded over the yellow pages to find the cheapest junk yard in the area. Once we got there we were welcomed by an elderly guy, wearing an oil-stained undershirt. Grey stuble, a cold cheroot in the corner of his mouth. (Seriously)
We paid the money said goodbye to the Corsa and went back to my car. It was a Suzuki Swift, which has now long gone to car heaven, after carrying me many a kilometre and never letting me down. However, it did have a rather annoying feature. You could lock the driver’s door without using the key. Now, as soon as I realised this I paid extra attention to always make sure that I had taken the key with me. I always did, for four years. Until, well, I think you can guess. Standing outside my car, looking at the key in the ignition M. said: “Let’s crack it. It’s an old and cheap car. Shouldn’t be too difficult. Have you got a wire clothes hanger with you?”
I thought about that and looked in my pockets. “Not today, no”, I said.
“This is a junk yard. Surely they must have a piece of stiff wire here somewhere.”
We went to the owner. “It appears like we have to have to break into our car. You wouldn’t happen to have a piece of wire we could use?”
He blinked and looked at us like we were complete twats. He shook his head solmenly and said: “Nope.”
We looked around us. Dozens of car bodies, engine parts, scrap metal worth thousands of Euro but no piece of wire for a cent per metre? (4) His wife, who, after looking at us like we were complete twats, tried to be helpful, went to their office and came back with a wide selection of old car keys:
“But that’s a Mazda key!”
“Yeah, I thought that’s one of them Jap cars as well so maybe…”
After several failed attempts with car keys for every possible make and model (apart from a Suzuki of course, they’re quite rare you have to know) we had to abandon our plan of breaking into my car and – rather crestfallen – call for help. A friend brought my spare key in the end.
So what’s the morale of this story? If you decide to become a car thief you have to keep two things in mind.
- Choose your target carefully! A twelve-year-old Opel Corsa with a broken engine mount and a max speed of 50 kp/h won’t do. (No, a full petrol tank does not make any difference!)
- Always bring the right tools. Don’t think you can improvise, unless you’re fucking McGyver.
Anything else will seriously lower your street credibility and will make you look like a complete and utter twat. Oh, and should you have “ozzer car” call me. I have connections.
(1) That’s a Vauxhall for you Brits. Yeah, that’s right – Vauxhall don’t do their own cars, they’re just licenced Opels. And Opel belongs to GM. Remember, they don’t make cars in the UK anymore.
(2) Any blog that does not have a reference to Das Boot somewhere is not worth a tinker’s cuss. Seriously, I mean it.
(3) This is what they call a Unique Selling Point or USP in economics. See, these lessons at uni were not entirely in vain.
(4) Alluding to Das Boot twice in one post might be considered a bit too much, but hey, the opportunity was just too good to let it pass.