Back in 2015, I had a credit rating of zero. Wait, before we go any further, let me point out that it wasn’t due to poor spending and shoddy financial decisions, rather it was a result of never having a credit card prior. Throughout my whole life at that point, I always paid for everything in full, always paid my bills on time, and the apartments where I lived allowed me to pay the rent/utilities under the table. Because of this, I never built a credit score. Unfortunately, also as a result of never having a credit card nor ever taking out a loan for any reason, I was immediately rejected for car loans from any dealership. This was a severe hindrance to my desires to drive a car and take a road trip to Connecticut in fall 2015.

Not only was it difficult to get a car loan, but in the state of New York, a person’s credit score also negatively affects their car insurance, especially for newer models financed from a dealership. Even if I were to drive a new car with a loan, I couldn’t afford the monthly insurance — hence, my only option was to buy an old car or a junker paid in full. This was a shame: I really had my hearts set on a cherry red 2011 station wagon from a dealership on Northern Blvd. In fact, I was so confident in getting the wagon that I purchased a chrome Autobot emblem for the hood. Well, of course I never got the station wagon, so I had to settle with alternatives.

In my darkest hour, I turned to Craigslist, and what I initially thought was a joke was soon revealed to be reality: for sale in my neighborhood was a white 1999 Dodge Stratus designed to resemble a Stormtrooper’s helmet! The previous owner was an official member of the 501st Legion, and he was selling this car in order to modify a newer model to resemble a Trooper from Episode 7. I promptly replied to the ad, and by the next day I took a look at this vehicle. The owner only wanted $950 for the whole thing, as he was desperate to get rid of it quickly. The mileage was surprisingly under 100,000, and had no real problems aside from a crappy factory stereo and faulty speakers. After paying the guy in cash, I became the proud owner of The Stormtroopermobile!

The Star Wars stickers were of course from the previous owner, but the band and video game stickers were added by me immediately after purchasing.

Within the first week of owning this car, I made poor attempts at replacing the stereo and speakers, and as a result I unintentionally damaged the door panels. I also drained the battery from installing the stereo and leaving the door open for so long, which caused me to scramble at the last minute to charge the battery for my trip to Connecticut. Nonetheless, I now had a reliable mode of transportation, and on the morning of October 25th 2015 I embarked on a journey to Connecticut to visit the North American LEGO headquarters!

All was well and mostly stable throughout the rest of the year and through 2016. The driver’s side door panel was broken from my shoddy speaker installation, which was problematic; sometimes the door would jammed and I would have to get inside the car from the passenger side. Essentially, in order to install new speakers, each online tutorial I found gave me misinformation which told me to remove the entire door panels — whereas in reality, this specific make and model simply required me to pop out the speaker grill covers to replace the wiring. Oh well. I’d be damned if I’d be forced to listen to FM radio and with only one speaker on my road trips — it was imperative that I had a proper MP3 player and four speakers for stereo sound! Going on a road trip without an Iron Maiden and Motörhead playlist is just uncivilized!

During the summer of 2016, I used the Stormtroopermobile primarily to get groceries and to occasionally drive to do outdoor photo shoots. Prior to this I had to lug camera equipment around to places in New York via train, which was frustrating and cumbersome. With this new vehicle, I could simply drive to anywhere within the boroughs or even New Jersey if I wanted to take toy photos.

All was relatively normal and stable until one fateful afternoon in April 2018: I took a leisurely drive to Great Neck, Long Island to get some sushi and iced tea on a warm spring Sunday. After returning home and parking my Stormtroopermobile in my driveway, I noticed white smoke coming from the car’s hood. I couldn’t quite tell if it was just the engine overheating from lack of coolant, so I ignored the problem and went inside my house. A few minutes later, my roommate frantically yelled that my car was on fire! I ran outside and to my dismay saw a fire engine and several FDNY crew members rushing towards my flaming car! I was barefoot and trying not to step on the broken glass as I awkwardly explained to the crewmen that I was simply driving home from Long Island when the engine apparently spontaneously combusted.

Oh, the humanity!

Our only guess is that it had a fluid leak, which dripped chemicals on the engine and caught fire during the drive. After the whole ordeal, I cleared out my remaining valuables from the trunk, and took photos of the burned-out hulk in my driveway.

Well, the important thing is, I wasn’t in the car when it burned.

The bad news? My insurance was so cheap and didn’t cover spontaneous freak accidents like fires, so I was given absolutely zero compensation. The good news? A salvage yard in the Bronx offered to tow it away for free, and paid me $200 for the scrap.

I haven’t driven another car since the whole ordeal, and if I ever plan on getting another car, it’ll be if/when I move away from New York City. On the plus side, since 2016 I’ve taken out several credit cards and gradually built my credit score. As of fall 2018, my credit score is currently excellent — so now I know I won’t be gouged by shady dealerships or greedy insurance companies.

-Baron von Brunk