Escalation of Commitment

Posted: October 8, 2012 in 300ZX Build, Automotive Related, Documentary
Tags: , , ,

A week from yesterday I was sitting in an emergency room, bleeding through my homemade bandage of paper towels and an old ace bandage. My right arm sliced open by a car almost comically enacting revenge on me like a jilted lover (or the mythical “Christine” from the Stephen King novel).

While I waited for the ER staff to admit and eventually stitch me up, I had plenty of time, what felt like an eternity honestly, to ponder – how did I get here?

The Z build has become a lot like a bad relationship. The type of relationship that in your heart of hearts, you knew was doomed from the start. The brief highs never seem to outweigh the long periods of exhausting lows. But still, you keep trying. You keep thinking, I can fix it; I can SAVE it! You invest all your free time, energy, and money – and there are brief periods where it looks like you’re going to make it work – but it never seems to pan out. Always ending up right back where you started.

Eventually you hit rock bottom and do what you knew you should have done from the start… end it. The Z knew her time was up: I had reached my rock bottom. But sometimes just as jilted lovers do, she had to have the last word. 15 stitches later, I heard her loud and clear.

Guys, I’m tired. This build started over a year ago, and the car is still in pieces in my garage. I’ve spent more than I ever thought I would have had to: more than I ever should have had to… I’ve given every ounce of my free time to this build. But yet it sits, in pieces, mocking me.

I’m so burnt out, I don’t even enjoy going in the garage anymore. This is supposed to be fun! As days turn into weeks, weeks into months, months into years… it feels more like an obligation or burden than something fun.

So why have I kept going so long? My studying to be a psychologist (Ex) fiancée can explain it in psychological terms: escalation of commitment – “the phenomenon where people justify increased investment in a decision, based on the cumulative prior investment, despite new evidence suggesting that the cost, starting today, of continuing the decision outweighs the expected benefit.”

I thought it would be good for the film, give me an opportunity to learn new skills; use the Z as a “vehicle” to build my documentary around. It all sounded great in theory.

So I went on blissfully unaware how truly fucked this car was. In hindsight, I should have never tried to rebuild it, but I did, and spent way too much money in the process.

First mistake was putting it on the frame machine – I had my doubts it could be fixed properly, and knew it wasn’t “right” as soon as it left the shop, but I thought, “I’ll make it right. If I don’t, I’ll lose the money I just spent…” Then the motor/turbos were shot; should have called it quits then, but I can’t stop now, “I have too much invested!” Then the steering was no good, the suspension was bent, the driveline had issues – “just a little bit more,” I thought, “almost there; can’t quit now…” and on and on it went.

This build is hemorrhaging money; I’m hemorrhaging money! It took a literal hemorrhaging of my blood, to realize that.

I’ve had to pay to store the Mustang last winter (because of lack of space with my one car garage); pay to rebuild the motor, turbos, driveline, suspension… practically every part on the Z; all for a car with a tweaked frame that even in perfect condition wouldn’t fetch half what I have “invested” at this point. This is madness.

The final straw came a little over a week ago when I went to replace the $300 steering rack, only to realize something was still bent in the frame/cross member, causing the steering/suspension geometry to be out of whack. That’s it… in that moment I finally realized there was no saving this car. I made the decision to scrap the shell, and went about putting the body panels and wheels back on to push it outside. An hour later I was in the ER.

I’ve seen this happen countless times, car guys pouring thousands upon thousands into cars not worth saving; cars not worth building. Build threads where the same scenarios I’ve experienced play out… only to have it end with a Craigslist want ad that reads “decided to part her out.”

I’d say those guys are probably the lucky ones; they had the common sense to stop.

As a matter of fact, as I write this, my inbox just chimed with a reply email from a post I put up on the forums looking for a clean Z shell – another disheartened car guy with a half finished project who’s realized it’s time to stop. I feel for ya’ man.

So why do we do it? Why do I do it? This isn’t the first car I’ve built; I should know by now they almost never go the way you plan (and take double the money to complete). I’ve been here before. I’m scratching my head honestly. Is it love; is it stupidity?

So here I sit – with a fully built motor, thousands in performance parts, sponsors… and a bum car with a bum right arm…

What would you do?


  1. Awesome DriftKing says:

    finish it, then take it drifting

  2. twinturbozx says:

    I would move on. To another Z maybe. Transfer the parts you can, scrap the rest. A car has to have good bones.

  3. Jason Schneider says:

    Agreed. That’s definitely the choice I have to make. This Z is destined for the scrap heap… It’s either sell off everything and move on completely, or find another Z shell and transfer everything over.

    I’ve been looking like mad the past week (since I’ve had nothing but downtime) and It’s so hard to find a good clean (rust/body damage free) shell these days. Z32’s are getting old and so many have been beat to all hell. Most of the shells in my price range are in worse off shape than the one I have!

    I’ll just have to keep looking. I need a break anyways.

    Thanks for the comment!


  4. illest says:

    That is why I am finally out of the Z world. I dumped way too much money into the Zs that I have owned over the years when I need to focus on my studies. Maybe I’ll have another Z32 in the future but now is just not the right time.

  5. Fuergrissa says:

    I’d stay with it. Ditch the body and keep your eyes open for another shell. If you have a family member or friend with a barn you can store everything until you get the project back on track then all the better.

    I’m going into the fourth (or maybe fifth?) year of my project and I’ve been where you are several times. The best advice I can give is to try and limit how much of a burden the car is on you (and your fiancee). Only spend on it if the money is truly expendable, never allow yourself to think that if you can just get past that next hurdle, or that next purchase, that you will be through the woods, you know that you won’t. And beyond money, don’t kill yourself over timing, If you don’t feel like working on it, then don’t. You will do shit work and piss yourself off anyways. I can also say from recent experience, that as bad as it feels when you have a string of bad things happen, it feels fantastic when something turns out. I just today finished painting my brake booster for the third time. The first two came out like shit; once because I cut corners sanding, and once because of contamination, so both times I had to sand it all down and start from scratch, but now it looks fantastic. I’m especially proud that I masked off the decals for base but buried them in the clear.

    It’s amazing how one of those small victories can wipe the slate for several crushing defeats, and the closer you get to the finish line the more you can start to imagine looking back on the whole thing through the thickest set of rose colored glasses known to man for the rest of your life.

    If this project is important to you then don’t do something you will regret in the future, but don’t kill yourself in the present either.

  6. The shell is what killed you. I would never put work into a bent frame. You have a built motor and all those parts. Get a good frame. A truly clean shell for 15 hundred MAX and pile in all those goodies. Im on my second Z build and Ive spent 3 times as much as my original intentions. This isnt even a high HP demon but just a well put together and reliable street daily driver that I can enjoy with a little more toys than a stock Z. But hey there will be no one whos enjoying there car more when Im done. It will feel like a dream and every time I drive any other car its like torture and reminds me how much I miss my corner hugging, no swaying, boosting Z32. I wish you had someone to let you know from the start that the shell was shit.

  7. Jason Schneider says:

    See, that’s where it originally all went wrong. The car only had 67 thousand miles on it (which in hindsight was most likely a hard abused 67K on a really bad tune and crap injectors).

    But back then I thought – fix the body, and I’ll have a mint 300zx TT with 67k miles! Something I can track on the cheap and have a lot of fun…

    I had no idea the turbos were shot, the engine was about to lose a rod bearing, the driveline & steering system were failing.

    So I spent a good deal of money on the frame machine and all the body panels to repair, on top of the price I paid for the car. That’s where the escalation of commitment comes in. I didn’t want to be out that money, so I kept trying to stay with it, making one bad decision after another.

    In hindsight, it would have been way smarter to take the hit then; lose a few grand, and walk away. I kept thinking if i could salvage it and pull the build off, it would have all made sense. Live and learn I guess.

  8. Jason Schneider says:

    Thank you for this. All great advice and much appreciated!

  9. stockspyder says:

    Jason, feel for you man. Been there many a time on customer’s cars as well as my own project cars. And it’s so true what you say about the escalation of commitment, so often as enthusiasts we lose sight of the “big picture” and what exactly our project is worth in relation to the money being poured into it.

    But in the end man, it’s just another step in the journey. Take a deep breath, a few steps back and try doing something in cars you enjoy ( go to the track, cruise, etc ) and recharge the batteries a bit.

    Scrap your shell and pick up another, you won’t go wrong.

    As always, best of luck bro.

  10. ashman2k2 says:

    “Essentialism” -Check out this articles, and if you can find the experiment it refers to

    The other thing I’ve seen a lot is another sort of child like psychology of wanting this ultra perfect thing, toy, car, race car that is a track car with a James bond wine cooler..and it is all you can think of, and what it does is cloud sensible thinking. All of these things are way complex to explain in writing..but I think you can sort of get what I mean…you know how those stories end….or do they ever end?

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