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Car of the Month, July 2011: James McBride's 1997 Dodge Neon

by James McBride

James McBride, 28 years old, Aviation Structures technician for Sikorski Aerospace Maintenance and owner/administrator of XINeons.com, has owned 8 Neons throughout his life so far. Featured as allpar.com's Car of the Month for July 2011 is James McBride's 1997 Dodge Neon Highline 4-door, with a 2.0 DOHC ATX, and 205,000 miles on it.



My
first vehicle was a 1976 Chevy 3/4 ton camper special that my dad bought for $34.
After spending an entire summer getting it ready for the road, piecing it
together with electrical tape, bondo, spray paint, and an old Chilton's manual,
I blew the transmission keeping up with my brother's 1998 Dodge Neon. At that
point, I knew I wanted a Neon.

I
picked up a 1996 Plymouth Neon that
was running on three cylinders for $1,000. Even with the engine that was on its
last breath, it was still more fun than my old truck. I was hooked in a serious
way.

That
car eventually received one of Missouri's first 2.4 swaps, probably the only
automatic 4 door. I terrorized the streets for a few years before destroying
the differential.

In
that time I picked up a 2005 Neon SXT 5 speed for daily driving purposes and
a 1995 DOHC Sport Coupe for another toy. All were very quick in their own
right, but as life often does, things changed.

I
got a huge ticket, I got married, and I grew up (just a little.) The 1996 sat
around waiting for the SRT turbo and a new trans, but I had decided to go back
to school to get my FAA A&P certificate and could not afford to have a toy
anymore. Parting was such sweet sorrow, and not anywhere near profitable, but
it had to be done.

I
thought I was out of the game, especially since my mode of transportation was a
hand-me-down Lincoln Towncar built by Harland and Wolff, where her keel was laid the same day as the Titanic. Little did I know what lay in store for me in the next few
weeks. (And the years that have followed)

I
ended up selling the Lincoln for $700. After some intensive Craigslist scouring
I came upon this 1997 Dodge Neon for $500. The ad said that it would die for some
unknown reason and that he was tired of trying to figure out what it was and as
this would be my seventh Neon, I was pretty sure I could figure it out.

I
showed up to his house and found very boring looking 'Grandma Green' (Emerald
Green Metallic) Neon with rental car style hubcaps. It only escaped being a
base car because of the DOHC and air conditioning. It was boring, but also in
very good shape for a car with almost 180,000 miles.

He
explained all the parts that he had replaced in his quest to absolve this car
of its demon; new computer, crankshaft
position sensor, cam
position sensor, fuel pump, timing belt,
ignition switch, and oxygen sensors. None
of it had worked and he was done using a shotgun full of parts approach.

The
car started fine, but shortly thereafter, died. After a few moments, it started
right back up. I offered him $400 and told him I could drive it home. He
thought I was crazy, but took my money.

After
5 shutdowns and the embarrassing pause to get it started while blocking
traffic, I pulled into a parking lot to listen closer when it died. Sure
enough, I heard a telltale sound coming from under the hood when I tried to
start the car after it died. A relay was cycling erratically, the ASD relay. I
had a short in the wiring and the movement of the engine too much caused it to
happen.

I
drove the Neon 30 miles back home without it dying on me again by driving as
smooth as I could. The next day, in less than 10 minutes, I found the short
below the fuse box and patched it. I now had about $400 worth of good parts on the car, the
old parts in the trunk as back up, and a car that purred like a kitten.

Because
I was still liquidating my old Neon performance parts to
make it through school, I met a guy who got me dreaming about re-kindling my
Neon obsession and doing something big. It was not about running the streets;
it was about sharing my experiences and knowledge with the next generation of
Neon owners who missed some of the best years in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Armed
with no money and a beautifully boring automatic Dodge Neon, I sought out ways
to improve my car somewhat creatively. I drilled holes in the interior plastic
to drop micro-ounces of weight, made aviation grade vortex generators for drag
reduction, created a cowl induction system using the DOHC hood bulge (a project
I abandoned for a NASCAR style cowl induction), and built my own K&N
filter out of an old paper filter, a T-shirt, and window
screen.



My progress was not
judged easily by the accepted rank, so it became clear what the next step was. Xperimental
Innovations was the name and creativity was the game. Before starting my own
website I brought xtremeneons.com back
to life. I did this without internet access at my house and limited access
while at school. The bulk of the work was performed with my Blackberry phone,
which I can assure you is no easy task. As time wore on, and after I graduated,
the price for a new site and creative control put XINeons.com on the map.

We
remain a fairly small faction in the Neon world, but our doors are open to
anyone, as long as members keep their minds open and criticism from getting out
of hand. We believe everyone should enjoy their car in their own style and that
a forum should offer solutions and ideas first, before sarcasm.

Two
years and 25,000 miles later I still drive her back and forth to work every day.
She is waiting for a heart transplant, scrapping the DOHC in favor of an
extreme; track only SOHC with parts from Darrell Cox Racing and Forward Motion. She
is a great car that I shall own for many years to come.

See our page on the 2.4 Swap and other cars of the month


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