The Los Angeles Adventure (Part 3)

"Junipero" with the bus doors, in reference of a beautiful Black Mirror episode. Love that juniper green!

"Junipero" with the bus doors, in reference of a beautiful Black Mirror episode. Love that juniper green!


OC -> Goleta

2008 Passenger | 152,000 miles | $26,129 | Green | Bus doors

Back to square one. I was ready to give up and cry. Nick somehow remained calm and carried on. Earlier in the day he was comparing the blue van with a competitor: a gorgeous forest-green vehicle up in Santa Barbara. The catch? Price aside, it had a set of double-folding bus doors.

"Really, all it would take to break into it is a crowbar," Nick said at the time. But over text, the owner seemed nice and understanding, and said that the bus door could very likely be converted back into a sliding door. A cursory Google search showed that sliding door replacements were in the ball park of $500/door. Guestimating $1000 labor, it's pricey but potentially acceptable.

"It's a 3 hour drive," I told Nick. "We'll get there at midnight."

"We'll see it tomorrow then. Any one-way car rentals?"

Within an hour, we were back on the road to Santa Barbara.

7AM. It took all of my sheer willpower to drag my beaten down body out of bed. I was still hopeful--maybe delusionally so.

First impression: beautiful. Stealth. And the bus doors are wack.

In person, they stood even taller than the photos. Total attention magnet. But the test drive went without a hitch, and like Agent Mulder, we really want to believe. It took a few tries to find a mechanic willing to inspect a Sprinter on short notice, and Doug allowed us to take the van ourselves while he continued working.

Yet the seed of an awful idea had been festering inside my head since the first moment I laid eyes on the door: what if it's not reversible?

The next parts are straight out of a black comedy. We took it to the mechanic, who--as it turned out--had only worked on Sprinter brakes and accessories before, with no experience in diesel engines. No go. 

While Nick was straightening things out with the shop, I was on the phone with MB dealers, asking about the door. The verdict? Once it's in, it's permanent.

Just to be on the safe side, we took the van to a local body shop for a quick expert look. Same conclusion: it's hard to tell which, if any, of the original hardware remained, and we wouldn't know until getting the door out. Everything in, it's at least a $5k fix.

"Maybe you'd be better off finding a van that already suits your needs and spending that money on somewhere else, you know," the shop owner advised us kindly.

Strike 4.


Santa Barbara -> Philadelphia?

2011 Crew | 40,414 miles | $25,910 | 2 sliding doors | 2 side windows | 2 back windows

Sitting back in the rental car after a stroll down beautiful Santa Barbara to clear our heads, we were out of ideas. We had looked up two additional vans--one in Santa Cruz and one in Palo Alto--but both were expensive and, more importantly, sold.

At this point, we started considering a crazy idea: a striking grey van with double sliding doors, much like our first love, a 2004 T1N that proved to be too low to comfortably stand in. 

The van was obviously popular on eBay. It looked great. Expensive, yes, but decent for one that's barely a baby. AutoCheck completely clean with a high score. In freakin' Philadelphia.

I couldn't even begin to imagine the logistical horror show that would ensue after buying this van. We'd have to fly in, drive it back to SF to pack up our stuff, and drive to Atlanta where we'll do the conversion. Flights are expensive. Time is limited. But our options were out.

Sitting in the car amidst our dying electronics, we looked at each other and asked: can we really do this? Buy the car without a pre-purchase inspection? Without test driving it? Without even looking at it?

"It's basically a mail-order bride," I said.

But it's such a great investment. On a whim, before I could think too much, I dialed the number and asked the dealer what's the name of the shop and the address. Nick gestured wildly for me to ask him for the lowest price he'd go for. 

"$25.5k," he answered. 

"So if I make you an offer over eBay for $25.5k, you'll absolutely accept?" I asked.

"Yes, absolutely," he said.

"Ok," I answered, heart pounding, "we'll do it."

And we did. We placed the offer at 6:30PM. By 7:30PM, it was ours.

What did we just do!?