Dear Tom and Ray:
Recently I've been thinking of piece-mealing a car (aka creating a Frankenstein car) from the best parts of all the cars I can identify, the goal being that the car would be the most reliable, lowest-maintenance, most fun to drive vehicle ever to grace the surface of this planet. I do realize that such an endeavor would entail a great deal of fabrication and modification of components, but hopefully these matters will be overcome by my optimism and determination. I've been Googling to find the best components, and so far I've decided that the engine of this beast will be the Volvo B18/20, which apparently powered some of the world's highest-mileage cars. So, do you have any other advice for me, as far as components or anything else? — Hunter
Tom: Well, I'd suggest that you go back and watch "Frankenstein" again, and take note of what happens to the "vehicle" in the end.
Ray: It certainly sounds like a fun project, Hunter. And you're obviously unencumbered by such hindrances as family or employment. So I take it you need something to keep you busy. This will fill up your schedule.
Tom: But keep in mind that there's a 99 percent chance that if you do produce a vehicle in the end, it's going to be unsafe, unreliable, unpredictable and undriveable.
Ray: Manufacturers spend a lot of time and effort matching their components so they all work well together — so that the weight balances and the car handles well, so that it has the right amount of power and braking ability, and the engine works well with the transmission, and so that the computer software ties everything together, including the safety equipment.
Tom: You're just going to throw a bunch of parts together and hope for the best. The result is likely to be a mess, even if all of the individual pieces are good ones.
Ray: But I know you're going to do this anyway, Hunter. We've been answering car questions long enough to recognize that no matter what we say, you're going to be out hunting for an engine this weekend.
Tom: In which case we'd recommend a late-1990s or later Honda Civic engine. The old Volvo "DL" engines certainly were great and durable, but the Civic engine is less expensive to fix, more reliable, more fuel efficient, cleaner and easier to get parts for.
Ray: In fact, I'd use the engine and transmission from a Civic. Not only will you have a reliable drive train that way, but you know they'll work well together, and you'll be able to use the computerized engine-management system with little modification.
Tom: Actually, while you're at it, you might just want to buy a whole Honda Civic and be done with this crazy idea. We know it's already full of great components. And then you could concentrate on modifying the body panels and interior. That way, you might end up with something you could actually drive.
Ray: I know, I know. That's not enough of an adventure for you. And to be fair to you, Hunter, projects like this sometimes are the venues in which genius is unleashed.
Tom: Or the venues in which people get killed. Those activities often are closely related. So whatever you decide, please be careful. And send us pictures of your monster — before the fire consumes it.
(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)