Turn One: Comfort Zones

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Dec 1, 2014 | Mini | Posted in Columns | From the Aug. 2009 issue | Never miss an article

No matter what the topic, I think we all have our own comfort zones. We may grow up on a steady diet of Froot Loops and SpongeBob, but as we get older and branch out we tend to find little personal plateaus regarding our favorite tastes. Maybe that explains why our parents watch so many hours of “Monk.”

Personally, I admit that I have my comfort zones, especially when it comes to food. I think I have gotten to the point where each eatery now has its one preferred meal.

Chick-fil-A: No. 1 combo with a lemonade. Subway: Cold Cut Combo, toasted, no cheese, spicy mustard, lettuce, tomato, black olives and banana peppers. Pasha’s, our Middle Eastern oasis: Gyro with a side of hummus. Kob Jai, the local Thai and Lao restaurant: sweet and sour sautéed tofu.

With music, I also have my standards. For the most part my iPod contains either stuff related to bebop jazz or a mix of punk rock and what I’d call traditional heavy metal—Iron Maiden, Anthrax and the stuff we all grew up on.

Electronics? Yeah, I’m just as predictable there, too. I have been shooting with Canon cameras since junior high, and for the past 21 years I have used nothing but Macs. My wife has a Dell, but to be honest I don’t even know how to turn it on.

And of course, we all have our comfort zones when it comes to cars, self included. While I haven’t stuck to one particular brand over the years, if there’s an underlying theme I think it can be summed up by the ever-popular 4x100mm bolt pattern.

I started with an ’82 Accord while in college and then moved to a VW Golf. That was followed by an original Sentra SE-R—back when they were new, by the way—plus another water-cooled Volkswagen. For the past dozen or so years since then, it’s been my Miata plus a string of Hondas.

Looking back, yeah, I guess I am that predictable, but I don’t think I’m the only one. I see similar behavior with our Challenge regulars. They may move from chassis to chassis over the years, but the general themes remain: Fox-body Mustangs, turbo Dodges, Hondas and, at least in Jonny Pruitt’s case, Yugos.

While it’s easy to poke fun at such behavior, in reality it’s totally practical. I’m sure that familiarity with the mechanical parts plus a huge stash of spares plays a big part, but being comfortable with the job at hand is equally important. Things just go more smoothly when you already know the trouble spots, easy mods and important players in the scene.

Personally, I know that if someone replaced my trusted MacBook Pro with a LeapFrog Text & Learn, there would be a steep learning curve. Familiarity breeds comfort. Comfort leads to increased productivity and less stress.

While some might consider these comfort zones to be a sort of rut, there are some benefits. For one, such behavior ensures that I’ll always come home to the same house and stick with the same job. My personal ticks also save time when ordering lunch or dinner.

However, a few years ago I started to break out of my mold. While I didn’t go crazy and bypass my comfort foods for a new menu item, I bought a car unlike anything I had owned before. My wife and I purchased a classic Mini Cooper.

While you could argue that it’s just a primitive version of a Honda Civic, in reality the Mini is its own animal. Through it I have discovered new areas of the hobby: new message boards, new clubs and new events. I even had to buy tools marked with fractions.

And instead of modifying a car for increased performance, for the first time ever I’m trying to bring it back to stock. The car was pretty close to original when we bought it, but since it’s a real Innocenti Mini Cooper—basically a Mini Cooper built under license in Italy—I’d like to undo some past changes.

Fortunately the car wasn’t chopped up, but I have been slowly gathering the parts needed to replace the aftermarket interior bits. The bling-bling shift knob has already been substituted with a stock piece, and the matching brushed aluminum window winders are next to go.

The aftermarket buckets get a lot of compliments, but I’d like to get the stock seats back in there. They came with the car but could use new covers, and they retail for about $300 out of Europe. Redoing the back seat in the proper upholstery would cost another $300.

The engine numbers match the chassis, and while everything under the hood looks correct, I’m hiding some small upgrades made in the name of reliability: Under the stock distributor cap lies a PerTronix ignitor and Advanced Distributors ignition rotor. I’m also calling my swap to Superlite wheels a step toward reliability. After all, the stock ones are known to be porous—and mine were certainly living up to that reputation. A previous owner had installed a raft of driving lights, but they’re cheap no-name pieces. I like the look, but to at least keep the mod period-correct I scored four new old stock, Italian-made Carello lamps. You can’t find these easily, and searching for them was an interesting adventure.

The Mini has been a totally new experience and worth the bit of hesitation I’ve felt at nearly every turn. I’m not saying that everyone out there needs to ditch their favorite car for something different or make significant lifestyle changes at home, but exploring things outside your comfort zone might reveal a new aspect of the hobby. A road racer might find rallycross to be an exciting venue, a British sports car fanatic might discover the beauty of all-wheel drive, and maybe a Ford loyalist will realize that Corvettes aren’t so bad. Too many of us travel through life—whether regarding cars or not—with blinders on. Fortunately they’re easily removed.

As for me, lately I have been looking beyond cars with 4x100mm bolt patterns—and even ones with only four cylinders. Remember last issue’s column about chopping significant waste from our family budget? Well, that extra money is going to a good cause. I still need to go fetch the car from its current owners, so I don’t want to jinx anything; let’s just say that the latest purchase starts with a “P” and ends with “orsche.” I’ll post pictures online as soon as I pick it up.

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View comments on the GRM forums
TRoglodyte SuperDork
12/3/14 2:41 p.m.

You have to step out of the comfort zone to enter the awesome zone.

captdownshift GRM+ Memberand Dork
12/3/14 3:24 p.m.

I for one look forward to sharing GRM content on E-Brake

oldeskewltoy SuperDork
12/3/14 5:53 p.m.


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