The Secret Life of Joe Rico


By Eddie Shultz

It’s midnight on a Tuesday and Senior Joe Rico is just finishing up repairing the front suspension of his MG Midget. It’s a white two-door roadster about the size of a twin bed. Most Tam kids have probably seen his car parked outside the BPL in between the fence and the telephone pole and wondered a) how he managed to fit into the tiny space and b) why he decided to purchase such an unusual car. As it turns out, Rico made that car run with nothing but some basic tools and a few YouTube videos.

“I saw the MG on Craigslist and went, ‘Oh man that’s a pretty dope car, I wanna buy that,’ so then I worked all summer, and bought it, and then the first week I had it, it broke pretty bad,” Rico said. “I thought, ‘Oh boy, I don’t have any money to fix this at the shop so I’m just gonna have to do it myself.” Ever since his first auto shop class at Tam, Rico has wanted to work on cars, but never had the right opportunity until the MG Midget. “It started this crazy car addiction, and now I can’t really stop,” he said.

At this point, Rico has had to rebuild the entire engine, the front suspension, the differential, the steering, and the brakes. “It breaks a lot, so I pretty much have to fix everything that breaks on it,” Rico said. He uses his carport for his operations. “I don’t really have like a crazy car lab, I just have pretty basic tools and just make the best I can with those,” he said. Rico often grinds or welds his tools to fit his needs when he doesn’t have the right equipment. “One time I had a cylinder head stud, and it got stuck. I had to file it down and weld a nut onto it so I could get it off…that was a huge adventure,” he said.

The MG Midget may not be the most reliable of cars, but Rico loves it nonetheless. The small size, a factor that may turn many away, is what Rico sees as one of its best attributes. “I like the amusement of it being so small. I get the worlds best parking spot whenever I want,” he said. “It’s a really fun car to have and it does really good donuts…It’s better for hauling surfboards than most Toyota Corollas. No joke, I’ve had six longboards in the thing.”

Rico now has to repair his Midget again, following a crash he had during the March rains. “The car has the narrowest tires you can imagine, as wide as a shoe, and I was going around a turn and I was [hungry] for some McDonalds… I was going around the turn too fast and I hydroplaned on one of the super slippery parts of the road.” As a result, the front suspension has broken again.

In addition to the newly broken suspension on the Midget, Rico has another looming project: a 1969 Ford Ranchero. “I bought it in Gustine, California, from a paranoid schizophrenic… I knew it was a terrible car going into it. I drove it to school for a week but the transmission was toast, so now I’m making it way more powerful [and] putting in a new manual transmission,” he said. “The long term goal is to be really loud and fast, and just look bad-ass.” He hopes it will be done within a month.

Rico works three jobs to pay for his car expenses, including private tutoring and being a sailing instructor. “I don’t want to know [how much it costs],” Rico said. “I don’t really keep track because I just get depressed, like, ‘Oh man, I could’ve spent all this money on something else.’” Depending on the depth of his wallet and his school work, Rico will work anywhere from zero to 30 hours per week on his cars. “Some weeks I’m too busy at school to do anything at all, and other weeks I’ll go ham and work on it every single night until one-o’clock in the morning,” he said.

For students who might be considering doing this at home, Rico says it’s absolutely possible and anyone can do it if they have the time. “Just go on YouTube or the internet and pray. Sometimes there’s really terrible advice and it ends up costing you dearly, and sometimes the advice is pretty fire. It’s kind of an adventure that way. I honestly enjoy it. It’s changed the way I think. It’s the coolest possible puzzle you could ever do.” ♦