Tales of an exotic car dealer
Read a chapter from new book ‘Nothing Runs!
Here is a complete taster chapter, one of thirteen, each of which describes a hilarious episode in the life of Adam Slutsky a man who, with the benefit of hindsight, should never have become a classic and exotic car dealer …
1: The Fat in the Cat
(Taken from the ebook “Nothing Runs! – Hilarious Misadventures in the Classic, Collectable & Exotic Car Biz – Veloce Publishing Ltd”)
Bruce was a big guy — cement mixer big — with an immensity any champion Sumo wrestler would give his left natto to possess. Upon seeing him for the first time, I felt terrible that he’d driven over 400 miles to check out the Pantera I was selling. Had I known his gargantuan proportions when we spoke on the phone the day prior, I would have respectfully suggested he hold out for a larger vehicle, something along the lines of a Greyhound bus or a Sherman tank. Barring an act of God, there was no way in hell he could get inside my Pantera.
As it is, Panteras — Spanish for panther; hybrid European/American sports cars featuring gorgeous Italian bodies and powerful American V8 engines amidships — have small, cramped cockpits perfectly suited for anyone with a Napolean-like build, and not so perfect for those even a smidge larger. But this particular Pantera, a 1974 GTS model, had been heavily modified into a serious vintage racecar and the latticework of steel bars comprising the NASCAR-quality safety cage further reduced the interior’s wiggle room to non-existent. Now, a lean, lithe body was just one of the prerequisites for access. The other was a Master’s Degree in yoga. However, standing over the sleek fireball-red speed machine, fatty-boomba-latty didn’t seem to care.
“I’ve wanted a Pantera ever since I was a little kid,” Bruce explained. “And now I’ve got the money to buy one.”
“Have you ever driven one before?” I asked skeptically.
The big man shook his head. “Nope. But I’ve had others sports cars, so I’m sure I can handle it.”
“I had a ’95 Camaro,” Bruce stated proudly. “Put close to a hundred thousand miles on it before I sold it.”
“Uh-uh. 3.4 liter V-6,” he admitted. “But it was a convertible.”
“No,” he said bashfully.
“I had a sweet BMW for a while.”
“M3?” I asked hopefully.
“Nope. 528i wagon. Needed something to haul the wife and kids around.”
What the f**k? If I didn’t know any better, I would have sworn one of my friends was trying to punk me. First, there was the man’s size to consider. Side of beef proportions — and that was before cooking. Next, he tells me the most powerful vehicles he’s owned and driven prior to considering the Pantera were a mid-90s Camaro — a 160 horsepower six-cylinder with an automatic tranny, no less — and a freakin’ BMW station-wagon that, even with its larger displacement and horsepower specs (still under 200), was just a glorified grocery-gettin’ mommy mobile. And now he was in the hunt for a De Tomaso Pantera, more specifically, my fully customized, race-prepped, fire-breathing, 700-plus horsepower, asphalt eating monster? I feared this would end Abe Vigoda ugly.
But damn if he didn’t appear serious. He even arrived in a Chevy Suburban with a car trailer attached, fully intending to take my brutal beast home. Still, genuinely concerned for his safety, not to mention my potential liability — people sue over everything these days; if a woman could win a million dollars from McDonald’s for spilling hot coffee on herself, imagine what I would be on the hook for when a driver I considered incompetent mangled himself in a car well beyond his performance threshold — I knew I needed to try and talk Bruce down.
“Look, I certainly don’t mean to be rude,” I began, traipsing on eggshells, “but you might want to reconsider.”
El Gigante folded his flabby arms across his quadruple-barrel chest and gave me the dirtiest of looks, as if I had snatched and ate the last chocolate chip cookie in the jar right before his eyes. “And why is that?”
“Well, this car is a really tight fit for me and I’m five-eight, a buck-seventy. You’re, uh …” I paused, trying to figure out how to say exactly what I wanted to say as delicately as possible. “Somewhat um … larger.”
The big man didn’t say a word, just looked at me, then at the car, then back at me.
I continued my attempt to dissuade. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy a Pantera — just not this Pantera. I think you’d get a lot more pleasure out of a vehicle you can comfortably fit into. Find a nice road car. You’ll be much, much happier.”
Once again, his look seemed to indicate he thought my words were shit on a stick. He shook his head vehemently. “You don’t get it. I don’t just want to own a Pantera,” he whined. “I want to race a Pantera. That’s why I came here from El Paso in the first place.”
Jesus, this was getting better by the minute. I immediately tried to picture what the guy would look like wearing a helmet and a Nomex race suit. Visions of the Michelin Man, or one of those immense, colorful balloon characters from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade came to mind.
“Have you ever raced a car before?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“No, but I’m going to race school to get my SCCA license next month.”
“Wouldn’t you rather wait and see if you even like it before plopping down a ton of money on a racecar?” Seemed like a logical question to pose.
Bruce just laughed. “Oh, I’m gonna love it. I’ve been dieting and working out for months in preparation.”
The heck with buying the Pantera, I wanted to say. You need to get your fat ass over to your gym or your trainer or your dietician and demand your money back! Whatever fitness program or dietary regimen they had placed him on clearly wasn’t doing a damn bit of good. But I had no reason to be rude to the disillusioned behemoth. Instead, I decided to spark up a discussion about the many problems, pitfalls and expenses associated with vintage racing, in general, and especially his decision to race a temperamental and occasionally problematic sports car like the De Tomaso Pantera.
But Bruce cut me off before I got started. Overly candid about his recent financial success, he claimed he was committed to checking off every item on his ‘Bucket List’ within the next five years and racing cars, specifically those he had lusted after when he was a kid, was right up there with climbing Mount Everest and doing the horizontal mambo with Angelina Jolie. Considering he was in the vicinity of 400 pounds and not the handsomest chap in the yard I thought he should supplant that pair of impossible conquests and strive for something a bit more attainable, like winning the world-famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s on Coney Island, or perhaps settle for boinking Roseanne Barr. But since I had no desire to be the crusher of dreams, I kept those thoughts to myself.
When Bruce was done explaining his reasons for purchasing the Pantera, he ceased talking and began trying to squeeze himself between the car’s spaghetti tube-sized side impact bars. Adding insult to injury was the fact that he was wearing movement-restricting denim blue jeans instead of a far-more-maneuverable race suit.
It took all my resolve to keep from laughing at the spectacle. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression: “A monkey f**king a football.” Well, Bruce’s attempt to get in that car was like a primate orgy in a sporting goods store. If only I had a hidden video camera, I’d have won the grand prize on America’s Funniest Home Videos for sure.
Five minutes later Bruce was covered in a lather of sweat and all he had to show for his efforts was a brick chimney-sized leg in the car’s interior.
“It’s a little tougher than I thought,” he blurted, almost completely out of breath. “Then again, anything worth doing ain’t easy.”
While I certainly agreed with the gist of Bruce’s statement, that logic shouldn’t apply to the simple act of getting into an automobile, racecar or otherwise. If someone were to bet me right then and there that he’d find a way inside I’d have bet all the tea in China against it.
To my astonishment, after another 10 minutes of hardcore effort Bruce had actually made considerable progress. Half of his body was now wedged between the bars and his legs were in the right general area, on the floor in front of the driver’s seat. Of course, he still had to maneuver his prodigious stomach through the narrow opening and damn if I wasn’t curious how that was going to happen without a Jaws of Life, but there was certainly no quit in him.
By now, the rear of Bruce’s jeans bore a dark sweat stain, a planetary circle that resembled the spot on Jupiter — with his enormous rear end being the remainder of the planet — and his face looked like he had been sitting in a steam room. For a week!
Still, Bruce managed a joyful smile. “Almost there,” he declared.
Impressed with his determination, I honestly wanted to help him. But the idea of pushing against his thick back and chunky buttocks in the hopes of cramming him into the cockpit of a car I genuinely loved — even though I was trying to sell it — was about as alien a concept as I could fathom. As it was, I could hear the car’s custom suspension protesting the man’s largess, squeaking and groaning as he struggled to get behind the wheel. I felt complicit in a dirty act, as if I were the proud owner of a prize-winning Chihuahua, looking on while some stranger tried to forcibly mate it with an ugly pot-bellied pig.
Suddenly, there was an audible POP! and Bruce was through the bars and fully ensconced in the Pantera’s interior, bent over at an odd angle that I didn’t think human beings — or any upright-walking life form, for that matter — could achieve. After another moment of anguished wriggling (images of a fat turtle stuck on its back came to mind) during which time his face became so red you’d swear he was trying to pass an avocado pit — or maybe the entire avocado — he finally managed to force his elephantine backside down into the narrow, carbon fiber Recaro race seat.
“I did it!” he exclaimed triumphantly. “I did it!”
I walked over beside the car, fully expecting to see the look of a kid in a candy store. Instead, I saw genuine distress. Actually more like abject horror. Bruce’s once crimson visage had morphed into a sickly greenish pallor — a hue I’d only seen twice before; a bowl of pea soup at Denny’s and month-old guacamole in a frat house refrigerator. Sweat was now cascading down Bruce’s forehead in such a torrent that it appeared as if he were standing beneath a waterfall.
Gripping the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles had turned white, Bruce started to whimper, a diminutive sobbing that soon became a huffing noise, rapidly building in both volume and intensity. Then, the hyperventilating began, the rise and fall of his chest mimicking an oversized bellows in the hands of a meth addict.
“Are you okay?” I asked, genuinely concerned, fearing he was about to have a heart attack. And while I would never shy away from being the Good Samaritan, performing CPR under those conditions would have been nigh impossible.
Jesus, what if the guy codes out in my car? I thought. It would take a goddamn hacksaw to get him out — and for the record, I’m talking about a hacksaw on him, not my Pantera. Respect for the dead aside, after all the time and money I’d invested in that car, no friggin’ way was I going to allow it to be cracked open like a can of Starkist.
“Talk to me,” I implored. “What’s wrong?”
“I have claustrophobia,” Bruce said, voice quivering.
“Just relax. Everything’s gonna be alright.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” he fired back, his voice a caustic mixture of anger and terror. “You’re out there and I’m stuck in here.”
A wave of panic overtook him and he began clawing at the bars, desperately trying to extricate himself from the automotive solitary confinement cell. But not only wasn’t he making one centimeter of progress getting clear of the cockpit, he wasn’t even getting his obese rump out of the seat.
That’s when an idea came to me, a bizarre proposition to be sure but one that had merit. I walked over to one of my warehouse’s shelving units, returned with a can of silicone spray.
“Take off your shirt,” I said.
Bruce immediately stopped fighting with the safety cage and looked at me as if I had a penis growing out of my forehead. I’d like to think it was the even-keeled tone of my voice that snapped him from the frantic tizzy but I’m reasonably certain it was the strangeness of my statement that did it.
“Your shirt. Take it off. I’ve got an idea.”
“WHAT THE F**K are you talking about?”
I showed him the can of lube. “We’re gonna grease you up and slide you out.”
“And you’re stuck,” I replied. “Of course, you’re gonna have to take off your pants, too, and considering I don’t think you can do it the normal way …” I took out my Emerson CQC6 tactical pocketknife and flicked open the blade. “Your call.”
Standing there with a can of spray lube in one hand and a wicked knife in the other, it suddenly occurred to me that, even with his claustrophobia, being stuck inside the Pantera might not have looked like such a bad place to be. Granted, he was clearly still terrified, seemingly on the verge of a mental meltdown, but his expression was somehow different now — nearly that same look that Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames’ character in Pulp Fiction) exhibited when he was imprisoned by rapist rednecks in the basement of their pawnshop.
A minute went by with no response. My initial feelings of sympathy had now completely eroded away, replaced by a growing impatience. I tapped the face of my watch and breathed an exasperated sigh, letting Bruce know time was of the essence.
“What’s it gonna be?” I asked, shark attack serious.
* * * * *
A short while later, a very fat man wearing nothing but sneakers and ripped, sweat- and silicone-stained BVDs was standing before me, bitching ignominiously about the large patches of hair that had been friction-burned off his arms, legs, stomach and back. After allowing him to rant for 30 seconds or so, I had had enough.
“Tell me, what was the alternative?”
When he didn’t answer immediately, I strongly suggested he stop complaining and let it go. To my amazement, he did.
Without any clothes to lend him for his return trip to El Paso — unless he’d consider wearing one of my car covers; I would have happily sold him one at cost as a courtesy — I used duct tape to secure his jeans back into place. Sure, he looked like an absolute fashion reject, but the impromptu fix was more than adequate to allow him some measure of respectability should he need to get out of his car to refuel or use the service station’s rest room.
It goes without saying that Bruce elected not to purchase the Pantera and, if his near ceaseless cursing of racecars and roll cages was any indication, I’m willing to bet he cancelled his forthcoming racing school. Something tells me his ‘Bucket List’ also got one achievement shorter.
Two months after the Pantera incident, Bruce called to inquire about another vehicle I was selling — a 1964 289 FIA Cobra, a continuation car signed by Carroll Shelby with a legitimate CSX # and a well-documented vintage racing history. Unable to control myself, I started laughing; a simple chuckle at first, soon transforming into an unbridled cackle. When I finally got my giddiness under constraints, Bruce was no longer on the line.
I never heard from him again.
However, a few months later, two news stories got my attention.
The first was about a celebrity stalker in Tinseltown, a person whom the tabloids described as “a very obese, very unattractive man absolutely obsessed with Angelina Jolie.” Yet despite the man’s largess, he proved to be fleet of foot and eluded authorities, so no arrest was made.
The second was a sketchy report from a Sherpa in a Mount Everest base camp, who described seeing “the fattest yeti imaginable.” But because the Sherpa had just descended from the mountain’s summit and was suffering from hypoxia, no one took his bizarre cryptozoological sighting seriously. Interestingly enough, that same week, an acclaimed Himalayan guide service reported having to deny a summit attempt for one of its hopeful climbers due to safety concerns, something about the immense size of the climber and the strength of the ladders bridging the crevasses in the Khumbu icefall. The news story also carried a photo of a massively rotund climber wearing a polar white Bogner expedition snowsuit. Small, grainy and black & white, the photo made the huge person look like a weather balloon. And even though the individual’s face was concealed behind a sub-zero face shield and tinted ski goggles, it left me wondering … Bruce?
“Nothing Runs!” Is published September 1st as a great value ebook available from amazon kindle, iBookstore, Waterstones, kobo and nook.
If you liked this, try this: ‘Stang Struck