Home > Life Lessons > Zen and the Art of Corvette Maintenance

Zen and the Art of Corvette Maintenance

My 1975 Corvette

I have a confession to make, I love cars, I mean I really, really, really love cars. Some people “like” cars, and if people are really into cars they might call themselves a “gearhead”. I really don’t think the term “gearhead” adequately covers my love for all things automotive. From my office, I can listen to the traffic outside and tell you by exhaust note alone if a vehicle is a Ford, Chevy, or Doge, and even more specifically if it is a Mustang, Camaro, Corvette, or a truck from one of the aforementioned brands. I can also diagnose most vehicle issues by sound alone.

Now then, I didn’t right this article in order to flaunt any of my preconceived notions of automotive prowess. Instead, I will tell you about some insights that I learned while working on my 1975 Corvette Stingray, which is in response to a request made by a friend

My old Corvette is in really good shape, mostly thanks to a fairly extensive restoration done by the previous owner. However, like any car that is 36 years old (at the time of this writing), it has some “issues” that have to be ironed out from time to time. The most recent issue was with the brakes, which is really the most important component of a vehicle; after all, it doesn’t matter how fast your car is if you can’t stop. Therefore, in the interest of avoiding a catastrophic  brake failure, I decided to replace the entire braking system.

While I have done this on numerous vehicles in the past, the ol’ Vette has proved to be a huge hassle. It is no exaggeration that literally every nut, bolt, and fitting is either rusted solid, stripped, galled, cross-threaded, or the incorrect size. Therefore, there have been many trips to various auto parts stores, online retailers, and long nights full of busted knuckles. Some of these late nights have been particularly taxing because I am generally tired from working all day, and I don’t like having to spend time away from my family, especially my two year old son whose sole wish is to help daddy on the car, but who must be refused because of the large amounts of automotive chemicals that have been spilled onto the floor.

During a recent late night I was having a particularly difficult time getting a bolt out that was 1) the wrong size (the bolt was right next to the frame and the head was so large that I couldn’t get a socket or wrench to fit between it and the car’s frame), 2) the head had been stripped (probably from the individual who “forced” the wrong size bolt into place), and 3) was rusted into place to such an extent that it might as well have been welded into place.

After working on this demonic bolt for about 2 hours using every automotive trick that I know 1) penetrating oil, 2) heating it with a blow torch, and 3) beating the living crap out of it with a big hammer, all hope seemed loss. As I lay under the car hot, tired, dehydrated, knuckles bleeding, with dirt/dust/rust/sweat and brake fluid stinging my eyes, I couldn’t help but get frustrated at the situation and the fact that this one simple bolt was holding up not only finishing the job on the car, but my going inside to actually see my family as well as going to sleep so I could go to work in the morning. After grumbling about this for awhile I couldn’t help but start laughing, and the more I laughed the more I realized that even in this moment of seeming frustration, life was going on around me: the cricket in the corner was still chirping, the neighborhood cat was making his rounds, both obviously oblivious to my dire situation. I quickly snapped out of my self-imposed frustration and realized that I needed to “just chill” tune back into the now, I needed a moment of Zen. So I got out from under the car, walked outside, and just enjoyed the sights and sounds of a cool summer evening for awhile, before calling it a night.

In many ways that old bolt has a lot in common with various portions of my psyche that have no business being part of me, and like the bolt they stubbornly persist despite my best efforts to remove them. These include various memories, events, thoughts, and even prejudices that I have not completely come to terms with, or put to rest. Oftentimes, it is easy to become frustrated at myself with not being as “far along” as I feel I should be, or when I have some sort of moral or ethical failing that I “know” I shouldn’t have failed at.

I began my journey towards greater personal and spiritual development almost a decade ago, and although I have tried various methods and techniques, sometimes mental garbage continues to hang around. However, when I look back at my life today compared to even two years ago, I am amazed at how far I have come. Therefore, just like working the bolt loose, which did finally come out, I need to be patient and understanding in my development, especially with my worst critic… myself.

One thing I learned from this experience is patience. I need to be more patient with myself, as well as with the circumstances that surround me. After all, I can’t always help what is happening around me, but I can help how I react to what is happening around me. With patience, and continued practice I know I will gain even more appreciation for the wonderful mystery of life, even in those situations which don’t seem all that wonderful.

Practical Tip: Personal and/or spiritual development is a lifelong process, but it is one that reaps great rewards. Don’t beat yourself up if you fall, dust yourself off and try again. Life is full of life lessons, we just must be open to not only realizing them, but putting them into practice.

The title for this article was inspired by Robert M. Pirsig’s classic book: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which I highly recommend.


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Also please check out my book, “The Path: Using the Religions of the World as a Guide to Personal and Spiritual Development.” (Click on the book cover to view on Amazon.com)

  1. September 16, 2011 at 2:18 PM

    I love the comparison in this. Jase loves getting to be your little grease monkey 🙂 You will finish the car in due time, but until then, keep smiling because you have plenty of people who love you…with or withou a properly functioning corvette 😀

    • September 18, 2011 at 12:36 PM

      I am a lucky guy 😉 In a few more years I will be putting Jase’s little hands to use. 😉

  2. September 18, 2011 at 12:08 PM

    Thanks Jason. It’s always good to be reminded that no matter what mess we’re dealing with, the rest of the world is going on and we can tap into that peace at will.

    • September 18, 2011 at 12:39 PM

      Thanks Mike. I think learning to recognize when you have “lost touch”, and knowing how to reconnect, are essential tools for bringing back peace and balance.

  3. Tim
    December 13, 2011 at 2:44 PM

    Fantastic article, I can’t wait for more! I will check back regularly 🙂

  4. April 3, 2012 at 10:07 PM

    Of course love the title. 🙂

    “…3) beating the living crap out of it with a big hammer” ~ very funny!

    I can relate to all of this – watching my boyfriend work on our ’63 Ford Falcon. We call her Bird Flu because she is always sick!

    My Dad had 11 Corvettes. I remember him working on them for hours, grumbling, grumbling, grumbling.

    I think it’s neat that you can tell cars apart by their sounds. My son is like that.

    He works in a machine shop and has started to design shift knobs (here I will start to sound like I don’t know what I’m talking about, because I don’t!) that changes something about the way the car shifts. I can’t explain it but I’m sure you would know. He plays with the design of the length of the knob and it has something to do with the way he bores the holes (not by reading them chemistry manuals). Anyway, I admire your skills!

    Love your need for a Zen moment in the midst of all of this. That makes life great.

    • April 4, 2012 at 9:02 AM

      I’m glad that you enjoyed the article! Working on cars is something that I both love (expecially when you finish, and it actually works), and hate, becuase patience is a virtue that I have always struggled with. Therefore, in many ways working on cars is a good meditative/spiritual practice for me, because I get to work on my patience and mindfulness while engaging in a hobby that I have loved since I was a child. Thanks for commenting!

      • April 4, 2012 at 12:31 PM

        That is a great way to look at it. Would never have thought of it really. It IS meditation. Car meditation! You’re welcome. Glad to be following your blog.

  1. March 12, 2012 at 1:24 PM

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