Are you mad!?

Mad scientists can be a little, well, mad.  Not mad in the sense of hopping around red-faced after you dropped a very large wrench on your big toe on the one day you decided rockin’ the sandals in the shop was a good idea.  No, I mean the other kind of mad.  As in Dr. Victor Frankenstein playing Legos with previously owned people parts. Well, that’s perhaps seriously deranged.   Let’s dial it down a bit to somewhere between Doc Brown turning a DeLorean into a time machine, and Charles Babbage baking himself in an oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. (Yes, one of the fathers of the computer actually did that…the oven thing, not the DeLorean.)  The mad scientists among us (fictional or otherwise) are those folks that just can’t help themselves when it comes to figuring things out.

The reason I bring this up, is that Righteous Rides has sort of its very own not-totally-bonkers mad scientist.   We call him Fred.

Fred has a penchant for putting things together, particularly parts for cars that are no longer in production.  We do not believe he has actually worked on any DeLoreans, and we’re fresh out of flux capacitors. (Sorry, missionaries.  No matter how pressed you are for time during your home assignment, I can state with near certainty that Righteous Rides has no plans to include time travel as a van option anytime soon.  But if Fred figures it out, we’ll go back and change this article … but for now your stuck with a goody bag and maybe a GPS.)  Anyway, as long as nobody catches Fred looking thoughtful with a tape measure near the oven in the break room, then he can safely put his mad scientist talents to use as one of the chief wrench-turners in the Righteous Rides shop.

Just in case you didn’t know, interchangeable parts is one of the concepts that makes it possible for Righteous Rides to keep over a hundred Chrysler vans on the road, in its mission to make life a little bit easier for returning missionaries.  So Fred, who has worked on just about everything with an engine during his life, keeps busy replacing parts.  That doesn’t make him a mad scientist, just a good mechanic.

Here’s where it gets … mad.

Some Details on “The Toy”

The evidence of Fred’s possible derangement, up until recently, could be found parked along the side of Righteous Rides HQ in Warrenton.  I’m talking about “The Toy,” Fred’s alleged 1996 Saturn SL1.  I say alleged because that’s what it started out as, but after 5 years of after-hours tinkering, and the addition of numerous 96-98 parts from other cars, the end product is much closer to an SL2, what with its DOHC engine and other additions.  (This is the part where the dedicated gear-head explains to the nearest significant other, in excruciating detail, the pros and cons of single-cam versus dual-cam engineering. This is also the part where said significant other rolls her eyes…)

Internal combustion intricacies aside, what makes Fred’s Saturn the product of a mad scientist is a bit more obvious.  A sizable chunk of the car seems to be missing. 27 inches, to be precise, since Fred is a very precise sort of fellow.  Yup, Fred took a sedan, and made it a coupe.  A very, very short coupe.  Fred proudly points out that “The Toy” has a wheelbase only about a half-inch longer than a SmartFourTwo.  I’m sure you’ve seen those tiny little two-seaters around, hopefully not trapped between two 18-wheelers on the interstate.  Tiny cars are quite the thing elsewhere in the world, but not so much here in the U.S.  We have cheeseburgers that are bigger.

What would possess Fred to do such a thing? Well, as a mad scientist, it is in Fred’s nature to solve mechanical puzzles.  He reports that one of his very first projects some years ago was to put a V-8 Buick drive train into a Toyota truck.

He’s been working on cars for over 25 years, and somehow ended up specializing in Saturns.  (This is where some discussion of the structural peculiarities of the Saturn line of vehicles would come into play, but we don’t want to encourage more eye-rolling…)  By his recollection, he rebuilt about 50 of them before they stopped production around 2009.  Thus, he ended up with a lot of odds and ends lying around, and like a certain mad German doctor, decided to stick some parts together and see what would happen. Countless evening hours and about $1,500 later, Fred had “The Toy.”


Fred modestly admits that he didn’t do it all by himself.  He did have an Igor…or a Marty McFly, if you will.   Actually his name is Jessie.   Fred is a mechanical/electrical sort of mad scientist.  But he doesn’t do body work, or paint.  His buddy Jessie was a body man.

(Time to insert a shameless plug:  Righteous Rides is always looking for more volunteers, and on top of the wish list are people with skills in paint and pounding out dents.  Missionaries tend to hit things, as you’ve already learned if you’ve been paying attention…)

Anyway, back to Victor and Igor… er, Fred and Jessie.  Jessie needed someone to help squeeze a 351 Ford into a small pickup, and Fred is very good at that sort of thing. In exchange, Jessie agreed to weld/smooth out all the rough parts of Fred’s project and give it a nice coat of paint.  One of the questions Fred gets frequently was why the somewhat yellow-ish paint scheme. He just shrugs.  Jessie and he had kicked around the idea that “The Toy” looked somewhat like a wasp or a bee.  (Fred even thought about calling his creation a “bug” but didn’t want to get trampled by an angry horde of trademark lawyers from a certain German auto manufacturer…) Jessie just surprised Fred with the paint job.

We should perhaps talk a bit about performance. “The Toy” is small, and quick, but not some folks’ definition of a “hot rod.”   (There is a sub-species of wrench-turner known as Gear-Headus Go-Fastus, whose sole purpose is to eventually break the sound barrier in the quarter-mile.)  Fred admits he is not a speed guy.  He’s a mad scientist.

Handling is the main issue.  As stubby as it is, it can turn on a dime (almost literally) and Fred admits that you have to “stay on top of it” as it goes scooting down the road.  Nevertheless, it is stable enough that Fred has driven it daily for several years now. The dashboard reads 80,000 miles. However, Fred admits he doesn’t actually remember where he got the odometer from in the first place, or how much mileage was originally on it.

“The Toy” is certainly an attention getter, firmly in the category of “something you don’t see every day.”  Fred can recall numerous occasions where people have just about snapped their necks, or slammed on the brakes doing a double take.

“Gee, that’s an unusual color for an automobile,” ponders the Cerebral Cortex.

“Wake up, you fool!” screeches the Temporal Lobe.  “There’s something else missing here!  I’ve never seen a Saturn that … short!”

“Who cares?” says the Frontal Lobe.  “It looks cool; I wanna get a selfie with it!”

That’s the sort of thing that happens when you’re a mad scientist with an extremely unusual ride.

The Rest of the Toy Story

I’ve got some good news and some bad news.   The semi-sad part of this tale is that “The Toy” is no longer Fred’s.  He recently decided that it was time to pass it along. The youngest of his three sons called “dibs” and was last seen heading off toward the Pacific Northwest with a big grin on his face.

The good news (or maybe bad, if you’re a significant other…) is that the mad scientist’s lab now has room for a new project, and Fred is not the sort of person to sit idle.  Righteous Rides has been around long enough that some of its out-of-service Chrysler vans have reached the point where even Fred’s mad scientist skills aren’t enough.  They could be scrapped, but Fred has been spotted nearby, with a tape measure, muttering to himself about sliding door mechanisms, centers of gravity, and other mad scientist-type things.  We suspect that shortly, something will be cooking in Fred’s oven.  And it won’t be Fred.

Fred is the chief mechanic at Righteous Rides.  If you’d like to volunteer to work with Fred in our shop (a great chance to see an automotive genius in action) apply HERE.