Originally created 02/21/99

Tired of the job? Build a sports car



So. You're a man, and you're 35, and you're having your basic mid-life crisis. What to do?

Aerobics instructor? Everest? Leather hat and duster?

Hey, why not quit your job, drain your family's savings and spend the next year or so building an exotic sports car from scratch?

Of course!

After all, you know absolutely nothing about cars, have no proven mechanical ability, and there is an excellent chance you will fall flat on your oil can.

Thing is, it all worked for Chris Goodrich, who has written Roadster, an interesting book about his 14-month nuts-and-bolts bout with a kit car.

Mr. Goodrich, a Yale graduate, had been working for 15 years in white-collar America, including stints as a journalist, book reviewer and editor.

But he had reached a point where the work was unfulfilling, and in an effort to escape the bonds of his routine world, he decided to chuck his conventional lifestyle and build a car.

But not just any car. His choice of opponent was a 1957 Lotus model called the Caterham Seven, a car he had first seen as a teen-ager watching the cult television show The Prisoner.

After plunking down nearly $27,000, Mr. Goodrich's adventure begins when the crates arrive bearing the components, which, when properly joined, will resemble a motor vehicle.

Although Roadster is billed in part as a fun trip down trial-and-error lane, it is really more of a serious exploration of such things as history, the automobile, sociology, Henry Ford, the labor movement, philosophy and the birth of the assembly line.

Just as an auto mechanic might leave smudges on a clean sheet of writing paper, Mr. Goodrich's intellectual fingerprints are all over the vehicle he is attempting to master.

His objective, he explains at one point, is not just to assemble but to understand:

"I'd start on what seemed a straightforward task, only to discover I hadn't understood the reasoning behind a part's placement, the performance goal behind an engineering decision."

Given that part of Mr. Goodrich's personal quest is self-discovery, there is also a fair amount of self-absorption to be waded through.

Yet another braking zone is encountered whenever Mr. Goodrich insists on describing in detail the mechanical dilemma with which he is currently wrestling.

While the weighty subject matter often slows Roadster to a bumper-to-bumper pace, the writing does not. It is always strong, crisp and clear.