Harry Campbell, who owns this 1964 Shelby 289 Cobra, assured me that it has been raced and restored. I was a little surprised at this when I saw it at the Art of the Car Concours this weekend, because it was so perfect. It didn’t carry those telltale stamps of a project car. But it’s proof that if you know what you’re doing, and you have the facilities, you can perfect your craft. What of those, however, who don’t have the facilities?
It’s tough to be a gearhead renter. Whether you’re renting to save money, to be close to work, or because American credit slingers have made it nigh impossible to finance a house, in most situations, you don’t have a garage. And that means you can’t have a project car.
Now, granted, if you have the money to restore a ’64 Cobra, you can probably just push it through one of the many garage doors in your mansion. But what if you want to build, say, a chopped-up, stripped-out race car like the awesome ones I saw at the Greenwood Revival? A rusty Miata or Fox Body project will often fall within a renter’s budget. So what’s a young gearhead to do?
Enter the rental garage. Downtown residential areas are filthy with storage rental businesses. You know the places: brightly-colored doors leading to stacks of printer paper boxes full of Time magazines and your son-in-law’s beer can collection. That’s not what I’m talking about. This would be specifically for people who want to wrench on and store their project cars. The rental garage could offer you everything you could have if you owned your own.
When you think about it, the possibilities are fairly endless. With each unit, you get a space big enough for your car, plus a little more around it to work. Each lockable stall door opens onto a two-lane hallway that leads out to the street. The stall – can we think of another word for stall? It brings to mind the bathroom. Uh, room. It’s a bedroom for your project car who doesn’t like to sleep in the rain. There. The room is fully equipped with a sizeable bench, a creeper (the kind you roll on, not the kind who looks through your windows), plenty of power outlets, and, wait for it…hookups to a massive central air compressor system.
One or two rooms could be set aside and equipped as sterile paint/finish units, with curtains and extra lighting and ventilation. But renters probably won’t invest in high-end paint guns, right?
That’s where the tool cage comes in. During certain hours, a manned tool check-out service could be operated out of another room. Can’t break that axle nut free? Go put down a deposit for an impact. Need a torque wrench? No problem. The same room could also house a vast library of Haynes and Chilton’s manuals. They could even check out bigger tools like engine hoists and transmission jacks.
Like the paint room, you could reserve a lift room for a quick exhaust install or transmission swap. Reservations could be easily handled online.
Climate control is often the most expensive part of storage facilities like this, but for a garage, it’s more for the health of what’s inside than your actual comfort. That’s why each room would have a separate “window unit” a/c box and heater, like those found in hotels. You’re charged for the power you use, and you can set a high-low range to make sure volatile materials don’t freeze or melt, but you don’t have to pay for the dude next door who prefers to blast the aircon and work shirtless in July.
One of my favorite features of this whole plan is that it could be open 24 hours. The main door could open with a code you’d get when you sign up (perhaps refreshed weekly via email), and each stall could be locked individually, as well. That means if you feel like sanding Bondo at 3am, go for it. There are no neighbors or family members to wake, and your energy level is your only limit. It’s 24 Hour Fitness for people who like a different kind of muscle.
The whole facility would be wireless, with laptops and tablets welcome, and an app could manage everything- tool rental, billing, paint booth reservation, and eviction notices for the forgetful.
Smaller, cheaper motorcycle rooms could also be a big draw here. Bikes are popular among renters, who often don’t have far to go. But landlords aren’t fans of project vehicles hanging around in the parking spots, least of all bare bike frames, which are likely to be stolen anyway.
I think the biggest drawback right now is cost. Renting a “car space” at a storage facility runs about $80/month, which might be a little steep for the apartment-dwellers like me. Some decent management and my extremely clever climate control idea could probably bring this down, but the overhead would still be pretty massive with the air compressor system and the tool cage. Still, I think this could really pay off over time. Each facility could effectively be run by just two people, an a-shifter and a b-shifter, in the cage, who would double as custodians and security. Tool checkouts could even be swapped out for a full, by-the-hour rental service to help cover costs. Renovate an old pole barn or parking structure, and you’re good to go.
I think the coolest aspect wouldn’t necessarily be the cars, but the community. Walk in one spring Saturday afternoon to work on your ridiculous LeMons MR2. Joe next door is tweaking the carbs on his ’69 Camaro. Krista on the other side is changing the oil in her tuned EF Civic. Matt across the way is welding the roll cage into his beat-up old MG. AJ down the hall is fixing the brakes on his cafe racer. You get to hang out with other gearheads who actually live right in your neighborhood. You get to share chips and beer and stories. You get to share tools and expertise. That alone might be worth the money.
What else would you add? A lounge and commissary? Locker rooms with showers? A large conference room for classes and viewings of Love the Beast?