Category Archives: Cars

You know, shit about cars. Damn.

Interlude: BMC Edition

His soft round face and the white, tight cropped ring of hair around his head made him look a little like a worn-out Q-tip. Chubby, broadcloth over sansabelts. A nobody. He showed up while I was post coitally napping to buy some old MG parts I never used on my Datsun.

-You don’t like these much, I take it.

I don’t get his meaning. He points to my ancient motorcycle pile. I blush and stammer a bit. He laughs warmly and his middle waves.

-When I was young, I had a Bridgestone, if you know what those are. The twin. And one day I was doing a seat stand.

It’s hard to imagine this man young. And this old fat man in front of me could no more do a seat stand than I could breathe fire but there was a glimmer in his eye that said this was real. The mist of memory. He gestures to an unnoticeable spot on his finger and I bend forward to pretend to look.

-The whole bike landed on my finger there, and flipped over me. The triple tree on those was stamped so when I stood up I just grabbed the front wheel in between my knees and twisted it back straight again. Kicked it and drove off. Nothing injured but my pride.

And his pinky finger. I laughed and laughed and cut him a good deal on the parts. He said he’s gonna put it on this weekend and part of me hopes he’ll drives past, his little british car farting noisily through its new headers.

Gearhead: Ongoing

The last few articles have been written with some authority because I am authoritatively good at basic, entry level mechanics. If it’s running I can keep it that way as long as the parts are available, and if the parts aren’t available I can kludge with the best of em. But I did not get here by playing it safe and sticking with what I knew, and I’m not that guy now. I bite off more than I can chew, I’ll keep a kludge far longer than is needed, I’ll endure a week of bus rides over a busted up back, and try to rush eight hours work into the two hours between work and dinner, or just make a rookie mistake that costs me $50 and two hours to fix.

Anyhow, I’m here to talk realness about cars, because working on them is hard work, it is difficult unless you have the right space to work on them, and it takes a lot of time, patience, screwing up, and fixing it. This one isn’t about what order you should put your wrenches on your hand truck or any kind of high mindedness about what vintage or origin of cars is easiest to work on. This is about the fuckups, kludges and failures.

My 68 Datsun, long suffering with little reward, now sports an enormous oil filter of unknown vintage which happened to be on the shelf when last I was feeling oil-changey. Actually that memory has a somewhat vintage feeling itself, now that I think about it. Maybe it’s time to fix that. It’s a big filter, I probably added a half a quart of capacity to the motor by using it and it fits right in the vehicle’s character, having been rescued from a barn only to find new life as the world’s most reliable dump runner. Sometimes if it screws on you gotta see if it works, sometimes you find out that the only difference in most older domestic oil filters is how tall the can is. Other days you spend five hours removing an exhaust manifold to replace it with a header, and then spend two hours putting that manifold right back in because the dozens of people online who swore up and down they had one in theirs were just lyin’. The difference between getting duped and learning something is all in measuring it yourself. Get out the visual aids if you have to. Getting in the car once is better than getting online a thousand times.

And it’s important to reevaluate your projects from time to time. In the time between when I started this article and today, the world’s most reliable dump runner has been sold and I upgraded to a 94 Jeep Cherokee. I need a dump runner less and less and a 4×4 more and more. I read a LOT about doing SAS swaps, how to mount a transfer case in an old 2×4 frame. It was fun to read about and fun to think about but when it came time to answer whether I wanted to have a hot rod Dodge or a hot rod Datsun finished, the answer was Dodge. So off to the next guy she goes, earning me $50 over my purchase price and not even washed.

And now about the Zebra. Princess Shamwow is stalled right now, well… not stalled but it appears I’m still digging my way to the heart of it’s problems. I tried to take it down the block to get some lugs busted off and it died 50 feet from my driveway, and hasn’t been able to drive more than 50 feet since. The battery just dies, there’s a huge short somewhere, I finally get it back into my driveway and begin digging into the harness. Despite the presence of super heavy duty “fleet wiring” on this particular dart, the main harness bulkhead power wire is shorted somewhere, and melted into the adjacent circuit at the firewall. The alternator is hot from the effort of welding wires together and the battery is only saved by the shittastic positive cable. I was dreading this, worst case scenario: I have to rewire an old car. Suck ass. Time to throw that piece of shit away right?

Ehhh nah. It’s cool, actually, I had a 12 circuit harness laying around already (these things are filthy cheap now and pretty good) and it only took me like 2 hours to pull every wire out of the car and cut off all the custom-looking plugs. It took another two hours to pull the forward and rear cable bundles through to their loom hooks. I will not lie — It’s gonna take a while to get all the plugs on; but I’m actually not that worried about it. I have heat shrink, a good set of crimps, a good stripper tool, and a huge bag of insulated blade connectors. I’m not even gonna tape up the harness, I’m just gonna ziptie every few inches to keep it in a bundle. I debated about how to penetrate the firewall, and I even went so far as to buy a Weatherpack 22 cavity military connector but it seems like an enormous pain in my balls to crimp 44 connectors and weather blocking jammers and still figure out how to cut this obtuse ass shape in the firewall if I’m not planning on plugging and unplugging the harness a lot. Which I’m not. I’m not planning on unplugging it from the car ever. There’s no reason to. The front clip never comes off the body on a Dodge, so I think I’m going with plan b. I’m gonna use the original firewall plug plate, cut off the old plug bases and drill a big enough hole to fit a ¾” PVC electrical conduit box bulkhead through, silicone the thing into place, then stretch a piece of bicycle inner tube over the whole mess and feed the wires through. Once all the wires are fitted, I’ll fill up the cavity with some more silicone, heat shrink that bike tube down onto the wire bundle and it’ll look mostly legit and be so much more reliable than the old wiring it’s ridiculous. But it is gonna be hard, and it’s currently still raining up here in Portlandistan and that is a huge ass bummer.

I also had a problem with my new Jeep on day one. The drivers side brake caliper was dragging and the brake was smoking hot after a drive from downtown. I limped it home slowly on residential streets and parked it, and sat down with the phone calling the dealership and trying to figure out of my warranty covered brakes, and how much a deductible was. They said that if I just paid the $300 now they’d have the truck come out and then it didn’t matter how much the rest of the work cost. Now, I understand better than most that not only are used car dealerships criminal enterprises, they are also part of a criminal network of warranty companies, shitty shops, etc, who are designed to take money out of your pocket first and then out of each others pockets in the long run. But $300 to start a brake job? The discussion of where the work would take place began to make my head hurt and I just hung up went to the Autozone on my bike and paid $40 for two new brake calipers and $10 for a bottle of brake fluid. Took me about an hour, meaning my hourly rate on that job was like $250 right? That’s top shop prices.

The next problem (and blog post): the turn signals won’t cancel after you turn. We’ll talk about trying to navigate the parts catalog and car company politics.

Exhaust Leak Identified

Well first off I finally got it all the way up to temp and it exploded the heater core (which I should have expected) and now it has a new heater core. I had to take out the glove box to get it in and those clips suck asshole and I stabbed my finger but whatever. I finally got tired of trying to tune around a huge exhaust leak and found… a real weird one.

I had snugged down everything as best I could and still had what sounded like a massive exhaust leak on the drivers side. The passenger side sounded fine and looked like it was nice and sealed. No amount of evening out the manifold flange bolts would seal it up, in fact the leak sounded just as big as ever. I finally pulled the driver side manifold to investigate and found one “soft” feeling exhaust bolt on that side and a nasty exhaust leak. The last exhaust bolt in the back had pulled out about 1/4″ of threads. I replaced the bolt (and the frontmost bolt which was also too short and not engaging enough threads) with an LA style short stud which was able to get plenty of thread further down in the hole. Everything looked fine, and I was taking the manifold in to clean it up when I noticed it has SHATTERED. The source of my exhaust leak was now obvious.

I have no idea what could have caused the breakage other than a somewhat angular block lug about halfway between the exhaust port and the starter. It’s possible that was hitting the manifold in some way and tightening down the exhaust bolts levered it until it shattered (I didn’t see any contact when I put them in or took them out but who knows) or maybe I just dropped them and it cracked and the thermal stress broke em’ but they are fuckin’ trashed. I busted out Mr Visa again and bought some cheapo headers and a dual exhaust kit, hopefully they will show up sooner rather than later. Hopefully she sounds like a muscley grumble car and not like a sharting two stroke.

I definitely want this bitch to stop givin’ me hassle.

cracks

Update: I have found the origin of the crack and I now believe this to be an incompatibility between the late Magnum block and the 73 smog manifolds. The kink in toward the block before the manifold hits the Y pipe interferes with a square lug on the back of the block. Some dressing with a grinder would probably fix it, and it might not happen with any headers other than the late smoggers, but it sucks balls and I broke my manifolds. Oh well, I have headers and duallies coming UPS, I didn’t want to do that this year but fuck it whatever.

Gearhead 102 – Jedi Knighthood

OK, Tubbs, first off, let me apologize to you. That shit with that girl was not very fun, right? You’re pretty depressed and that makes sense. But don’t sublimate it into anger. That’s a shortcut to a really shitty couple of years (OK like ten years, seriously, get some therapy or something, you take WAY too long to figure that shit out yourself). But now we’re back to cars. Last time, we had a very nice talk about how you need a place to work on stuff and we got you a basic toolset, along with the required support shit to do almost everything you need, right? You’ve probably picked up a few oddball tools along the way as required to do some bigger jobs, maybe like an 1 1/4 socket for crank bolts and a drill (why did you buy a sawzall before you had an angle grinder, dumbass?). Well, stop buying stuff right now and I’ll tell you what you should do. (aside from continuing to enjoy that hair, I know you’re finding it on your pillowcase right now and that’s a bummer, but you still have PLENTY up top. NOBODY NOTICES YET. KEEP HAVING HAIR. Enjoy your tan, too, you will never be that color again except for the skin around your asshole.) Parts washer is pretty great right? I know it’s a pain in the ass to drain and refill and the shelf bent but who cares, it’s better than wiping shit down with your shirt before bolting it back together.

Alright, so you have your basic toolset, and you have your consumables, and you’re looking for the next big upgrade to your project handling capabilities. Trust me it’s not a bottle-brush hone and it’s not a tubing bender. It is an angle grinder. This thing is good for dozens of otherwise impossible fixes, like hacking through rusted in place bolts or putting a wire wheel on to clean up nasty undercoat. This thing is gonna run you like $50 if you shop around and you’ll end up using it everywhere. Be careful with grinding stones and cutoff wheels, you can very easily fuck yourself well past being able to fix, but sometimes it’s invaluable to be able to delete metal from a part or delete a bolt head from something that’s truly stuck. If you don’t have a quality drill, get one now, find one with a keyed chuck, and get the following accessories: a set of drill-to-socket adapters, a set of step-drill bits. You also need a good plumber’s torch (you already have one you pyro, but this isn’t JUST for you, OK) because heat is Doctor SpaceJesus’ magic blue/yellow wrench, and you will end up burning some rubber bushings clean before it’s all said and done. A vacuum gauge (and a vacuum pump/brake bleeder), and an oil pressure gauge and sender are pretty invaluable. This is another couple hundred bucks in tools that will multiplex your capabilities hugely. Still have money left over after smokes and beers? Lets take care of that now.

Build yourself a workbench. Set the top of it right around your beltline, make the top out of two layers of 1/2″ plywood. If you can find an old laminate countertop or something to use for this, so much the better. Make sure the legs are sturdy — stop looking at those 4×6 timbers, some 2×4’s will be fine, and adjustable, so you can level the damned thing. Then go out and get ready to spend some serious money on a vise.

I know, I know, a vise is just a big pair of channel locks you can’t stuff in your pocket, but it is SO much more. It’s the key to drilling and cutting stuff square and not, for example, tearing off your thumbnail, snapping off drill bits and dulling their ends, or gouging a hole in your palm while you do it. It’ll help you install all those seal savers straight — you are installing seal savers on everything, right? And a high quality one, with some creativity, can do everything from driving out balljoints to bending tubing. If you want to do these jobs regularly, and right, what you really want is a 20 ton press, but that thing is HUGE LIEK XBOX (do you… I don’t know if you get that or not. The Xbox really is quite big. Oh and the cords are gonna catch fire? So keep an eye out for that recall.) and will not be friendly to your free wheeling lifestyle. It’s a great tool, and one you’ll want eventually, but right now for intermediate-level car repair, you want a bench mounted vise in the “large cat to small dog” size range. Don’t cheap out on this one, get something with a warranty that isn’t written in crayon.

Want more? Of course you do. You don’t have Smokey’s Speed Shop Mobile yet, so you’re still looking for more capability. Well, look no further than a compressor. This is another one that will weigh you down, so get something in the 3 gallon range and recognize that you’ll never be able to run a DA or body saw full time off it, this is strictly for filling tires, running a small paint gun, and short blasts of power like the impact gun for loosening stuff that you can’t quite get leverage on with the cheater and the breaker. Know that with this increased torque and impact, you are gonna shear off more bolts than ever, so always start with the tools from 101: penetrating oil, then wrench, penetrating oil, then breaker; before moving to 102 tools: oil, then torch, then oil, then impact, then grinder. Grinder don’t need oil. Grinder don’t care. Get a long hose and quick connects for whatever tools you have. Learn the maintenance schedule for your compressor, and pay attention when it’s leaking. Upgrade to a bigger one when you feel like you can swing it (I am at 20 gallons now and it’s just a teensy bit small for full time use but as long as you wait for it to catch up it’s fine).

Now, this is the biggest, most important lesson for 102. Documentation. Write down what you’re doing. Take pictures or draw diagrams of what you disconnect. Don’t count on your memory to save you, don’t count on hoses pointing in the right direction, take the extra couple of minutes to tape a label to some shit. Trust me here, this is going to save you some serious embarrassment and frustration down the line. The “there’s always parts left over” joke is good for a chuckle, but that turns to a groan when you hear a terrifying PLING on the freeway and you lurch to one side, or can’t ever get a carburetor to idle right. When you’re doing little shit like replacing a shock or an alternator, you’re gonna be fine just winging it but once you have to dismantle two or three major systems to get at your repair, you will wish that you had a little note that told you which of two wires was on the 12 o’clock stud on the alternator versus the 3 o’clock one instead of trying to divine position from where the crudded up things hang.

And while we’re on the topic of wires. You’ve not jumped into too much electrical, just because the systems are complicated and you hate trying to learn, but mastering the art of wiring replacement is critical. You’ve already got a cutter/stripper/crimper, now it’s time to add some smart accessories: a soldering iron, some flux, some solder, some heat-shrink tubing, and a variety pack of wiring connectors, along with a cheap digital multimeter. This won’t cost you more than $30-40, buy four or five different colors of wire and take the time to learn how to use it, and you will transform from the guy who can replace his alternator to the guy who can fix the car that mysteriously turns off when you hit the dash in this one place. IF YOU CAN’T FIGURE IT OUT, READ A BOOK. IF THAT DON’T HELP, TAKE A CLASS. Find somebody to teach you. This is a stumbling block for you now and unless you fix it soon it’s gonna leave you fed up and out of patience for cars altogether.

About the wires, and the documentation — if you can, find the factory service manual. If you can’t, buy a Haynes or Chilton, but don’t expect much out of them. FSM’s are precious like gilded Angel eyebrows. Hayes are like… listening to the guy at the parts store tell you how to do something over the phone. It’s better than a kick in the balls but for the most part you can figure out whatever the H/C is gonna tell you by just staring at the part you need off. Remember, these are SUPPLEMENTS to your documentation, not replacements. They tell you how stuff “should” be, your documentation will help you realize how stuff currently IS. And with those docs and some troubleshooting methodology with your multimeter, your vacuum gauge, and your oil pressure gauge, you will be able to track almost any problem down to its root within an hour or so. Knowing what is wrong before you start disassembling the motor is always a good thing.

That’s basically it, that’s all I can offer. Welders and benders and fishmouthing and metal work and all that crap? That is off in the distant future. You need a place to work on your cars, and then you need to build up your toolbox, you need to work on your patience, and everything from there on up is cream. It’s building experience and confidence on a solid foundation of tools and techniques, not just running to the tool store every time trying to buy the biggest, most badass thing you can find and then manufacturing a reason to use it. Trust yourself to find people who can do what you want, learn how to ask questions and judge answers. (serious about the therapy too, you need it)

Gearhead 101 – Notes to 19 year old me (and anybody else who is just starting to love working on cars)

Hello.
I am from the future, and I am here to bring you knowledge. Potential Future Spoilers are in parenthesis if you want to avoid paradox but it’s probably not a big deal. As I am you I will tell you one thing that only you and I know. For Squirrels Example was criminally underrated and their first-album-tour van crash cut short what could have been a shortcut to the future of rock (trust me I am here in the bleak totally fine post-apocalyptic renaissance-like future of rock and they were fucking on to something maaaan). OK so now that I have established my credentials lets talk about cars.

What are you driving right now? The Lincoln? Or is that guy already gone, that sucks dude. The Honda ain’t a bad car, and you should have taken better care of him while he was yours. You’re in a bad period, though, and it’s about to get worse. You’re about to take your fucking show on the road (you know this, already, in your heart. Arizona doesn’t get any better. It doesn’t change to magically be an OK place for you. Just go.) and you’re gonna drag a bunch of cars halfway across creation while you do it. Do it. Love them. Hate them. Throw wrenches, it’s gonna be great! (you’re gonna bust sooo many knuckles you dipshit) But anyways, here’s a list of worthwhile things to think about before you pick up a leaker and try to make it into a looker.

This is basically rule number one. Never trust that guy about the motor. It is not put together right, it wasn’t recently rebuilt, nobody went through it, it didn’t roll in purring like a kitten, it’s currently fucked, waiting to get fucked-er, and the longer you ignore that the worse a situation you will be in both financially and physically when it fails. Don’t trust that guy about the brakes, either. Don’t trust him about the carb, or the electrical. Assume you’re gonna have to tear into it early, or have somebody you trust tear into it. You are not going to have anybody you trust for quite a while, so here’s some big ass things to do, IMMEDIATELY.

Do you have a garage? Not a driveway, not a dirt lot, a garage, like a place with your tools and shit in it? No? You need to consider finding a place with a garage. Spend your precious time and learn how to deal with strangers and haggle enough to find one you can afford. If you can’t afford a garage, and you don’t have a driveway… you’re kinda screwed. I’m not saying you need to go buy a Tiburon (but you totally should turns out those Hyundais are fine! Despite all the ko-cars-are-crap talk. Who knew? No matter what Grandma Mickey says, don’t buy a “Kiva”. Not OK.) but maybe nothing French or pre 1950, OK? We’re not trying to buy up all the Francophile toolchest bits on, where the fuck are you working now, the school district? Yeah, you’re not buyin’ 2CV parts on you janitor bucks so calm the fuck down. Anyhow, my point is, you need a place to work on the car. So get working on that now.

In that garage, you need many tools, but the first tool you are going to need to buy is this. Yes, it costs more than a torque wrench, but trust me you’re going to need to use it thirty times more often. Don’t be tempted to get the little one, this packs down pretty small when you put the legs in it so it won’t get in your way (for example when you move to California next year with no plan and no money, smaaaart. No really it’s totally fine you needed to get out of there, it’s fine. God you dipshit.) when packed up. As a matter of fact it would store most of the tools you are gonna need right inside (since you will never, ever own or maintain a cohesive tool box or tool chest). Clean stuff. It takes more time than wrenching ever will but the difference between a fix made with clean parts and a “fix” made with parts that are soaked in grease will make a gigantic difference in how much you enjoy the cars you love. Add to this a giant bottle of the cheapest degreaser you can get for it, the big can of WD-40, some brushes and rags, a spray can of penetrating oil, a bottle of Naval Jelly, and an aerosol trio of paint stripper, black engine paint, and silver exhaust paint along with some masking tape to cover gasket surfaces. If you wanna really set yourself up right, go buy a box of nitrile gloves AND USE THEM. DOUBLE GLOVE FOR SPEED. KEEP A DOZEN IN YOUR POCKET. CHANGE THEM FREQUENTLY. This whole package will set you back about $200 and it will change the game as far as car work goes. You won’t have to snap off bolt heads (but you’ll do that plenty, dummy) or bolt rusty parts back on to an engine ever again. You won’t have black crap jammed in your cuticles. (And while we are at it enjoy that fucking hair buddy, grow it the fuck out and put some product in there, you have some great hair and I’m not gonna ruin the big surprise of “when” for you but it does NOT last forever, tiger) Gaskets won’t leak incessantly, things won’t rust into place, things that ARE rusted into place will be removable. You won’t cringe when you open the hood, and it’ll make it EASIER to identify leaks and track down problems. Tools you can borrow beg or buy, but having the right chemicals makes everything easier.

Second step… you need to learn where your local car wash with power wands is. Or you can borrow a pressure washer. This is where you’re gonna do your big degunking projects. And yes, you need to degunk that car. Unless you can see all the bolt heads and not just bolt-like-shapes beneath oil and dirt cake, it is not clean, and it sucks. Pressure washers aren’t quite cheap enough for me to mandate them like a parts washer, but for a couple bucks in quarters down at the car wash you can take care of whatever you need taken care of.

Third, start with a simple set of Craftsman tools. The warranty is great (now, not so great. Kobalt maybe.) and the tool quality is better than that dollar store home fix it kit shit you stole from Dad. As long as you stick with an American car, a basic set of SAE sockets, 3/8 drive ratchet with a few extensions, set of box/open end combo wrenches, screwdrivers, and a good pair of needlenose pliers, channel locks, and wire-cutter/crimpers will basically let you take apart any portion of the car and put it back together with confidence. If you go import, buy metric. If you buy British… (just… just don’t buy British right now. Wait till you have a shop with a welder and stuff man those guys… don’t buy British yet) Once you’re into bigger projects, get a 1/2″ drive set with a breaker bar and a torque wrench — do not confuse these two. There are some special tools you’ll want to buy — go cheap on these, don’t think Matco, think… the lobby of the Ace Tools on a rack — a harmonic balance puller, a steering wheel puller, a three arm/two arm combo puller. You are now equipped, plus or minus some cheater bar leverage to do basic repairs on a car.

Fourth, and this is important, so pay attention. Get a bike with fat tires. Put a basket on it. Trust me nobody cares if you have a basket on there (in the future it’s actually cool to have a bike with a basket. I mean, not in Arizona, I don’t think, but where you’ll be) and you’re gonna have to get to a parts store and back with some fairly heavy things. (Plus it’ll help you lose some of that chub there, Chubs McGubbs. Put down that Burrito Supreme and listen to me please.) It sucks to be stuck without your car. It sucks MORE to have to rely on some dickhole to run you to the Napa.

Fifth, and finally. Find a good parts store. Your local parts store is not only a highly efficient warehouse operation capable of bringing parts from across the country in just a few days, but also a tool library for stuff that you use so rarely or cost so much that you can’t justify it yet, THIS IS CRITICAL. FIND A GOOD ONE AND IT WILL PAY DIVIDENDS. Shopping online is great, and you can save a lot of money (especially as time marches on. Holy crap I can get anything delivered now hahaha sucker), but sometimes when driving — or specifically not driving — a project car there is a time factor which cannot be denied. This isn’t something you’ll ever regret doing.

That’s it. Every car is different, every project is different, they all have foibles, and they all have character. They’re all gonna require some kind of creative thinking to figure out. You’re gonna need power tools eventually and instead of just being in break/fix mode you should really be planning out maintenance in advance but that’s kinda 102 level shit so lets leave that for 22 year old us, OK?

Shamwow, the Shamwowening

So, it wasn’t the head gaskets. Best guess is it was leaking from the timing chain bolts, which would be NO surprise, the engine is all original, as far as I can see, but there have been half a dozen chuckleheads inside it over the years, all armed with different colors of RTV and not a one of them with a gasket scraper. One manifold coolant crossover was half-unblocked so maybe that made it overheat? Tough to say. Everything cleaned up real nice and I’m treating it to a couple cans of paint. I don’t have a really good underhood “before” picture, but here’s a corner that will give you some idea. Note: the one centimeter section of paint which remains on the timing cover, the two different colors of blue overlapping on the valve cover, and standing oil on top of the intake manifold. All important details.

So I am balls deep in motor right now, I haven’t the foggiest idea how or why I worked on cars before having a parts washer. How did ANYTHING ever hold oil? Oh, right they didn’t, for the most part. This motor has been a sludgemonster for quite a while, seems to have been weeping out of the hand-tight intake manifold bolts and down from the four-different-flavors-of-RTV valve cover gaskets. Dribbling down the back of the timing cover, and out of the back of the intake manifold by the distributor. Everything is gently preserved in a quarter inch of dusty sludgegrime. Stripped and scrubbed the valve covers, the intake manifold (what a mother fucking boat anchor holy jesus christ), timing cover, and crank pulley. Used Naval Jelly to strip the rust off of the exhaust manifolds and heat shields. Scrubbed everything as best I could, and then shot it with some engine paint. I’m into her for about $120 (and $23 worth of ibuprophen) now, gaskets and timing chain along with the paint and the stripping stuff. Here’s some progress pics.

Strippin' the covers
Valve covers getting stripped
Timing cover after paint

intake manifold painted up

valve covers painted

This shit is taking forever, BUT, it’ll be the last time I have to do it for a long while. I’m going to do the motor mounts (and the transmission mount) while the manifolds and shit are off, only makes sense, because I have plenty of time. Why do I have plenty of time, you ask? WELL. At the very end of the night, I tried to pull the choke shaft out of my Carter BBD to do the Idle Tube Fix ™, and lo and behold I managed to shear the heads of BOTH the screws that hold the choke butterfly on. Turned over the shaft and lo and behold my screws were staked into place after tightening. FUUUUUUUUUUU.

Screwed 2

I doubt highly I can remove those screws, and I’d be hard pressed to tell you where to go for Carter parts in town, I could find brass screws but that shaft? Maybe if I go dig around in the pull-a-part for a few hours. Plus this carb has been a royal pain in my balls (and the balls of thousands of others, if the insanely high number of forum hits on a google search for “carter bbd issues” is any indication), and a rebuilt from the parts store is $240. Frankly, I’ll be fucked if I spend a fucking DIME on a newly rebuilt Carter BBD when I have a Road Demon Jr 625 waiting on the bench for a thorough cleaning and an electric choke, and a 4bbl aluminum “Crosswinds” intake being shipped to me like… Monday. There’s the slight possibility that the stock throttle cable and kickdown lever assembly won’t fit right with the new intake, but a fix for that (which will very nicely transfer over to the new motor when it is ready) is $150 worth of Lokar shit away, and was very much on my list for the engine swap anyways. Sigh, it’s just money, right? Anyhow it’s stuck me in a very minor carman’s funk. I didn’t actually want to spend the money on this Lokar shit (and some brackets and shit from FBO Systems), or Bouchillon but at least it pays forward.

Princess Shamwow addendum

I’ve settled on a probational name for her, and she is most definitely a female car*, Princess Shamwow. She’s finicky as a hairless cat, and decided she didn’t like her new shoes so she simultaneously ran out of gas, killed the battery, and sucked a head gasket on the way home last night, like a truly psychotic girlfriend reacting to a poorly chosen birthday present. She does love me though, like junkies love smack – a simultaneous loathing combined with truly needing me to fix her. I ran out of gas coming off the freeway, dropping me and the lady just a mile from the house on for a post party misty walk back to the house — then an annoying cold painfully sober walk back to the car with a can of gas, then halfway back home again after realizing I left the keys in run and killed the battery. Then I got a divine reprieve and saw a tow truck driver taking a roadside break.

Well the devil is in the details and as soon as I got her charged back up and started, she had a nasty miss on the passenger side. I was thinking maybe fouled plugs, but then it got a little ticky, so I was thinking collapsed lifter or low oil, pulled the dipstick and lo and behold we have the gooey brown foam of a blown headgasket. Fuuuuu, etc. I swore her a blue streak for a minute then she hit me and we started to have hate sex and got into another argument and then I just made a pot of coffee, went out to the garage, and started running the numbers on my options. This is gonna get long so unless you’re into cars and numbers and hypotheticals, you can probably “tl;dr-Aaron’s stupid zebra car broke down” the rest of this post.

I could just re-gasket the top end. Doing it up with super overkill Cometic MLS gaskets is still only like $200 (regular type gaskets $45), which has a 70% chance of being “just fine” (meaning it seals and doesn’t knock after the hours I’ll throw at it). Say $200/350 to be safe with all the gaskets and a timing chain like a good boy. This is both very cheap and fairly risky, with zero residual benefits except like… a fresh timing chain to put on the next motor I build and some fancy head gaskets.

Re-gasketing without getting a good measurement on the head and block surfaces is a little bit like sharting into the wind. And deck measurement, well – I’d have to buy some quality surface/depth gauges and a magnet block, which could run me another couple hundred easy. Admittedly, good tools are good karma and pay for themselves in the long run, but bleh. What if I spun bearings? Flattened a cam lobe? Since I’m gonna have it apart anyways it would only make sense to throw a somewhat more modern cam in it, Summit has some RV/Tow cams which will make for a real dependable grocery getter smooth idling ride, even Crane has some sensible sticks that will give me a fat wide torque curve down in the cruising the city streets range, so tack on a couple hundred there between the bumpstick, lifters, springs, retainers, stem seals/valve guides. And if I’m doing a cam it would be kinda irresponsible after having water in the oil NOT to do the cam bearings, which is a machine shop trip unless I wanna “eyeball” the cam bores are OK and also trust myself to drive em’ in straight. Throw in $150 for water pump/timing chain cover gaskets and a timing chain/tensioner. Also it’d suck ass to pull the motor, take it to a shop and trust THEM to check the deck and flatten the surfaces on what amounts to an ancient economotor with small-valve heads with ultra malaisey 7.8-8.1:1 compression. Decked block means machining the intake manifold. Decked block and decked heads requires finding a machinist who has some pretty good triggeronometrical thinkulating, and guessing at WHO to trust is the door to seven types of dealing with bullshit like a fresh motor that can’t keep gaskets in it or has weird vacuum leaks. Plus I’d be $200 into the heads to get bigger valves ground in and it’d still be a shitball malaise head. Aftermarket aluminum heads are out of my budget, admittedly, not FAR out of my budgetary range but 1) I’d rather spend that money on handling and braking than on power, and B) I like shit I can get replacement parts for at the Napautomotivezone, y’all. I give up ponies for “holy shit I’m stuck in New Hicksburg At The Sea” parts availability 9 times out of 10. There’s RHS Magnum heads ($300 a side bare, throw another $300 for springs and retainers, $200 for stock stamped steel rockers and hardware or $375 for roller rockers) which are nice and iron and use parts-counter parts and will bump my compression up and add a nice quench area — if I swap in some KB pistons. Tacking in, another $300 or so, the stockers are so far down in the hole there’s no quench to be had, and if I’m going to modern compression ratios I’ll be damned if I’m gonna be $1500-2000 worth of parts and labor into a non turbocharged rebuilt 318 that detonates unless I’m running high-test. Homey don’t play that. Magnum heads also means new pushrods, another $150 or so. Throw in some new valve cover gaskets (and some fucking nice valve covers, I hate drippy motors), may as well do the oil pump while you’re in there, freeze plugs, main bearings, it’d be stupid to do all this work and not paint it so another $200 for a pro job or halfass with $40 worth of rattle paint. Down this road lies madness, and a $3000 318. I could probably pick up a core 360 to do all this same work on for $125, so it would only really make sense to go down that route instead of reworking the 318. It’ll require a new flexplate and oil pan but big fucking whup. $3000 318 or $3250 360. I waste more than $250 on junk food in a year, it’d be stupid to leave 60 ponies and 70 lb/ft on the table (probably more like 80/100 if I’m buildin’ right). And this motor would need a new carburetor and intake manifold to perform, pitch in another $300-500 for that or cheap out with a $40 rebuild kit for the shitball carb. We’re up into $4000 nose-bleed country and we’re still at stock strokes and shit. That’s fuckin’ silly. It’d purr like a little kitten and be fresh as hell, giving me thousands and thousands of miles of reliable streetable performance, but it’d make me pay through the penis to get there. Proper LA 318 rebuild is basically off the table. Proper LA 360 build is still pretty unappealing at the price point.

Cheapest swap, overall, would be a $225-350 Craigslist 318. They’re pretty readily available, some of them even promise they have low miles. Big gamble with almost no residual benefits except maybe they’ll have a nice aluminum 4bbl intake, add on $150 for a used 4bbl and we’re off to the races (hoping that the head gaskets on this one don’t blow too). Sinking even this small amount money into a slightly different low performance used motor is un-appealing, and I think the price difference between this and the magnum swap is a false economy.

So… magnum swap. There is of course a cheap, an expensive, and a mega expensive route here too.

Cheapest low-effort swap with best residual benefits would be – buy a 5.2 or 5.9 magnum, put in a cheap magnum-drilled 4 barrel intake, and bolt on a carb. I’ve seen magnums for $400-750 pretty consistently (both on craigslist and through car-part.com). Admittedly, they have miles on them, but if forum swap reports and magazines are to be believed the modern moly rings can leave sparkling, straight bores well into early six-digit mileages. Throw $250 in for a timing chain and the gaskets to do the job. Decent carbs that would suit go used for about $150/new for $350, magnum-drilled manifolds go for $150-300. Requires a 360 car style oil pan ($60 for steel vs $300 for milodon – guess which way I’m leaning). ~$1100-1750 ish for a pretty good gamble on a motor that’s 23 years of engineering newer than the old block (including a free swap to a hydraulic roller cam and 1.6 ratio rockers) is WAY more appealing than a $4000 LA. And if I want the thermonuclear overkill build detailed above on a magnum, it’s only 10% more than the LA360 option anyways. If the heads aren’t goofed, it might be CHEAPER. And the motor made 235 horsepower and 300 lb/ft (all in the “seriously streetable” rpm range) with the factory efi and manifolds farting through fuckin’ catalytic converters. Tuned right, a straight carby magnum swap would match that or beat it. And the motor would take all my stock electronic ignition (and benefit exactly the same amount from an HEI swap, which I could build on the engine stand), this would be a “hook up the vacuum lines and choke wire, time it and set some lean best idle” shit. I might be able to do it all on the engine stand and do a one-weekend beers and a buddy engine swap. This is, frankly, the option to beat, and most likely where I’ll start. Lets me resell my LA in parts to recoup some dough, and already comes with a power steering pump (I’d probably have to figure out how to temporarily delete that unless I feel like doing the power steering box at the same time – And I probably don’t. One fucking project at a time and she steers just fine, just sucks to park).

Cheapest high-effort swap would be a factory EFI swap. The magnums on CL come with all the wiring and the computer, and even if they don’t I bet I could find a harness and ecu at the LKQ for a Franklin. The part that will suck about this is wiring. EFI means wires, wires, wires. Wiring is hands down my least favorite thing in all of the automotive hobby, so I tend to do it slowly and with lots of swearing breaks. I’d have to find a good place to mount the stock ECU and figure out the ignition relay wiring to get it really soundly situated. Drill some bigass holes in the firewall, find grommets, but still, this is dirty fucking cheap cash wise, basically just the $550-700 for the engine and wire harness, the standard $250 timing chain and incidentals, and maybe $50 for various connectors, and of course the $60 oil pan, and I’ll have to figure out an EFI pump and hoses(and decide whether to modify a new tank (money)or modify the old one(effort/risk)). Say $1500-1750 for dead nuts Late 90’s OEM style reliability. $175 worth of beer to deal with the headaches from the wiring. Only caveat here is while I know the engine and the transmission will hook up “just fine”(tm) I don’t know how the factory ECU will handle not being able to control the transmission. Probably “just fine” but I’ll probably be leaving ponies and miles per gallon on the table.

Most overkill price AND effort option is Megasquirt. I’ll not dignify the idea of assembling a megasquirt myself from scratch on a deadline car-down engine swap except with a scoffing noise and eyeroll, so we’ll be doing calculations on the complete kits from DIYAutotune. Megasquirt 1 will run me $500 over the price of the OEM efi swap by the time I’m “all in”, and I’m wiring in all my free time for a week of vacation, probably twice the PITA factor of OEM EFI (but ultimately cleaner packaging), and I’ll know for sure that the ECU doesn’t give a fuck about what the tranny is up to inside. Megasquirt 2 is same effort but $130 more expensive (for poorly documented benefits I still don’t quite “get”, I’m still learning about MS). Megasquirt 3 is same effort but $250 more expensive (than the 1) but then it gives you 8-injector sequential firing instead of batch mode. All megasquirt options feature a pretty easy path to go to distributorless ignition/EDIS coilpacks. That much I do know. Also annoying about the MS series is that it doesn’t appear you can “wire once and upgrade later” from a MS1 to 2 or 3, they all have different connectors on the ECU. Stupidgineering there, you guys. Really fuckin’ weird choice for a project based on the idea of being able to tune every parameter and update the source code on demand. There are a ton of success stories out there and a pretty active support forum so I feel confident I could wring every last erg out of the motor with tuning. This has serious appeal, but it is a big financial AND time commitment to get set up right. I don’t think this is the right way to start on the swap.

Right now, the real fight is between the cheapest head gaskets/timing belt and an oil change hail mary out in the yard with a case of beer and the carb’d magnum swap. Lots of motors get shadetree head gaskets this way and work just fine for many more miles, but if I do that and THEN end up finding out the bearings are all fucked out or the valves are bent, I will be many types of angry and out a weekend of stooping over an engine compartment and $300 cash money for nothing and staring down the exact same choices I have right now. With the magnum swap there’s approximately the same risk of swapping in a pre-blown motor or blowing a head gasket pretty soon after I swap, but then I’m already at magnum heads, 1.6 rockers, roller cam, and I can reuse all the sensors and accessories, letting me just freshen a $200 junkyard 5.9 shortblock/longblock to the tune of probably $1200-1500 and have a zero-mile modern motor and a buildable spare core for the same price some people want for a bucket-and-box 340 or, christ forbid, one of those meth fiend listed “4V 318s” which they “know was a drag motor” which look suspiciously like regular old truck blocks that are returning to the elements in a corner of a backyard. This plan runs $1500-2000 less than a fresh mainstream builder magnum motor (which are all seemingly unavailable without rumpity rump car alarm triggering drag cams that would strangle on my fuddy duddy old man manifolds and want a holeshot torque converter), and EIGHT TO FOURTEEN THOUSAND than Ma Mopar wants for her new crate motors, all of which feature single digit potential gas mileage, and create extreme chassis compromises/complications that range from “pretty ridiculous amount of exhaust and suspension fabrication which will cost $3700 to truly fix” to “completely ruins weight distribution and requires offset master cylinder and no more power brakes or power steering ever”, and several interesting combinations of the two. Plus without chassis and drivetrain work they’ll tear the rest of my car apart in weeks.

The nicest part about going for the carb magnum swap is that I can always retain the EFI parts and eventually bench-build a Megasquirt (I could even do it from kit and get in for much cheaper), buy a new gas tank and prep it for an in-tank EFI pump, then when I’m ready bolt it in – after I’m done with some other reliability/driveability projects (suspension bushings/balljoints, new wiring harness/gauges, explorer rear axle swap, subframe connectors, weather stripping, interior jesusgodwhatdidigetmyselfintoohfuckohfuck) – it’s a weekend project. Then resell the carb and intake to somebody else in need, and motor on into the next decade in my EFI updated hot rod Dodge. This is pretty appealing, it’s got good residuals on investment at every step, with plenty to be recouped at the end, and a very high bang to the buck ratio on total investment even if I just take all the spares and throw them away at the end.

Sorry this was crazy long winded, but it’s a complicated problem with a lot of factors. But I think the final cost benefit analysis I’ve presented here is fairly clear. Excepting a bizarro-world gift-of-luck like a free recently rebuilt 318, nothing else comes close. You’ll excuse me, I have to talk to a Vantuckyite about a motor.

Update: Decided to shadetree some gaskets into it and source/build a 5.9 to swap in later. $120 for a full gasket set and roller timing chain, even if it only runs for another ocuple thousand miles that’s a cheap stopgap that will let me “do it once, do it right” on the magnum (with a 5.9 instead of a 5.2). Plus I can probably throw the “freshly head gasketed 318” on craigslist for a couple hundo when I’m done swapping.

* The way I determine a car’s gender is by analyzing the style of its failures. “Boy” cars tend to have stubborn, impossible to track down problems which rarely leave you completely stranded, simply perpetually baffled. To own a male car is to forever be replacing parts, tracing wires, checking sensors, and replacing bulbs to absolutely no avail. It’ll run forever – except for how it sometimes dies at 45 miles per hour and you have to restart it in neutral… which it always does without complaint. My family’s old Honda Accord was a boy – he slowly seeped power steering fluid and gently disappeared engine oil for 200,000 miles, as was my Pontiac 6000 (which I got for free because of the baffling, un-solvable-by-conventional-means stalling) which was remarkable only because it drizzled copious amounts ATF but was 100% reliable to get to work. Boy cars do tend to mark their parking spots. The Datsun’s a bit of a boy, at first glance. Starts up first time every time, gas gauge works, wiring has been fucked with by a team of six specialists in the field of “screwing up wiring” then gently soaked in salt water and let to crystallize. It blows fuses all over the place, but even though nothing ELSE electrical works, the pee wee engine is ready to go every time. It doesn’t overheat or care what type of gas you put into it, it’s always ready to go to the dump or the hardware store (as long as it’s daytime and you don’t need headlights) even though he’s overdue for an oil change. Dependably flawed. Girl cars though, they have attitudes. When you have a problem, she lets you KNOW, immediately, by simply turning off and refusing to start again, making horrible screeches, throwing fan belts, killing batteries, ballast resistors, and voltage regulators – until you coax the problem out of her and fix it — and so help you you better not halfass it. My Corvair was a girl, I swapped to an alternator and she’d drain the battery if you left it hooked up overnight. After a particularly punishing freeway run, I got to experience the gut-wrenching terror of watching her barf raw gasoline onto searing hot exhaust manifolds. Two mechanical fuel pumps later I learned she really wanted an electric fuel pump for her birthday. If you didn’t use just the right belts, she’d throw them off at speed and start to overheat. She knew moving back to Phoenix was a mistake, so she jammed her transmission in reverse 9000 miles from Nowhere’s Butte Crossing, Caliazona, let me pop it right into gear as soon as I got it to Phoenix and dropped it — then immediately jammed in reverse again as soon as I got it back into place. Turns out I forgot our anniversary, and with car-girlfriends a year is “new transmission” instead of paper. Run the wrong brand of gas and she detonates, grab the wrong type of spark plugs and she’s sluggish. Change the tires and a bushing starts to creak. Pay attention to her, give her all of what she needs and a little bit of what she wants (and sometimes a gift from the heart just because), and she’ll treat you right. Forget, ignore, fuck up, or halfass, and she’ll make your life hell. Maddening, but such personality, such charm. This zebra car, after her three way night pukeys? She is a Princess, confirmed.

The Dodge

It doesn’t have a name yet, probably because it’s still got somebody elses attention grabber wet-dream dripping off the sides, but this is the Dodge, my complete about-face on the cars-as-utility-units purchase of my last new car, the Versa. The Versa, by the way, received a very nice detail from Details by Mark and was then immediately sold to a lovely college girl from Corvallis who needed a car that got good highway mileage for trips back home. I hope she likes it as much as I resented every moment inside it.

Lets face it. Human beings are animals. There’s no way to fake it when it comes to what we want, and what we like; no sustainable way. At some point in living a lie; we crack — and our lies crumble down into temptation, temptation to delayed gratification, until MUST becomes the only refrain. And when I saw this car in the flesh, and drove it down the street? WE MUST BE TOGETHER I MUST HAVE THIS IT JUST NEEDS — ok, so the last part is probably only applicable to tinkerers but we’ve all been there, seen a thing and had to have it, desired it completely. An object of desire is more significant, in my mind, it has a story, a personality – character. A character you want to discover, a story you want to learn. I’ve always been able to do this with cars. With cars it’s easy, you’re not a stalker you’re an enthusiast, you’re not crazy you’re… the guy with all the cars in his yard. Well, you’re the crazy guy with all the cars in his yard.

Anyhow, it’s a real solid driver, original as could be under the hood after I removed a PO’s duct tape insulation job and a seriously fried starter harness. While I was fixing some broken seat springs, I removed an ugly as fuck cheap ass 80’s nylon seat cover and some loose-fitting zebra-stripe headrest covers, I found a fairly solid stock seat cover both front and back, some corner-muched headrests, and because of a slipup on my part, a good sized slice on the back of the front bench. Whoopsie. It’s got no carpets, just a pair of rubber floor mats, and even after finding a secret stash of body plugs, I’m missing a few, so stuff dropped onto the floor at speed is sometimes lost forever. The door seals are pretty much ornamental, they leak air like a sieve, so I ordered a set from Restoration Specialties. It showed up marked 70-72 4dr Dart so I am anxiously awaiting seeing if they fit. The window felts are not even ornamental, all gasketing material has drifted away to dust and left a rusting steel window scraper on one side and a pathetic inch or so of cracked whiskers on the other, and the window runs haven’t had felt in them since Reagan was in office. I ordered a set of these from Restoration Specialties too, but I’m backordered on something or other. Bother. And it’s the first year for shoulder belts so it has these insane, painful, unlikely to save from injury three part shoulder belts. I tried some aftermarket bug jobbies but the reel just ain’t quite right and the high anchor presses the belt into the roof, adding too much friction, so we’re “ridin’ dirty” on the seat belts to one degree or another. I’m always lapbelted in but I’ll be god damned if I put that cantilevered-for-max-torque collarbone snapping device on my shoulder. So obviously, it’s a work in progress, but it has some niceties because of the year. First and foremost there’s no emissions in Oregon for a 73, so I can swap and bop to my heart’s content with any small block mopar on the planet, including the fuel injected serpentine belted 5.2/5.9 Magnums from any Dodge truck and V8 Jeep made from about 92 to like… last year, as long as you find a proper 360 LA car oil pan (stockers are out of stock most places but there are always Milodon big capacity pans). It was the first year for collapseable steering column, standard 11 inch power discs up front (drilled/slotted rotors and high performance pads are all pretty much available on the aftermarket for Civic head-lamp money). Rad racey shit like tubular control arms, tubular k-members, rack and pinion steering, coilover conversions are all outside of my current budget, but READILY available. Shit, it even came with a rear defroster fan (that is noisy as all fuck and doesn’t defrost worth a mouse turd but that’s fixable).

There’s a heater/defroster hose that needs clamped up under the dash which just drapes on the floor right now. The gas gauge and temp gauge don’t work (already have the 5V regulator to fix that problem). That’ll hopefully fix the fact that there is ZERO internal illumination as well. For some unknown reason the reverse lights are wired to a switch and if the switch is left out/off, the reverse lights stay on in drive, if it’s left on, they don’t come on at all. Still trying to piece together that mystery, it almost sounds like a bad neutral safety/reverse switch on the trans. Easy and cheap enough to swap it and see. It stumbles off idle, especially at speed (the Carter BBD two barrel has a whole host of enthusiast fixes for what amounts to designed-too-small-prone-to-clogging idle emulsion tubes), it uses the weather/temperature/ghost sensitive Chrysler electronic ignition (a big step up from points but I have a nice HEI coil/bracket I’m gonna do this fix on her soon). Three separate retard previous owners have wired it for sound, each using their own retarded unique perspective on wiring, alternately using speaker cable for power and ethernet cable for speaker wire, but I’ve gotten a nice amp and iPhone cable setup that should tuck nicely into the glovebox and under the seat to provide 300 some odd amps to a pair of 6″s up front and some 6×9’s in the back and a good spool of real speaker wire that’s already run through the channels. I somehow collected a set of 7″ H4 housings a while back which will be getting some hi/lo HID’s (in the human visible light spectrum thanks, no pinkies/goldies/blueys for me) as soon as I get a nice mountable relay holder. Ma Mopar, in her infinite wisdom, continued using the Model-A esque “everything runs through the ammeter” wiring ethos well into the late 70’s, but it appears that I have “fleet/taxi wiring”, which at least runs a decent gauge cable through the firewall instead of hitting a big fire-prone bulkhead connector, so I think I can step up the alternator to a Denso/mini, which will give me two to six times the amps (depending on how ambitious I am and how difficult the bracketry/pulley is). I already picked up some 17×7 steelies from a 2005-on Dodge Magnum, which are getting outfitted with some 205/50R17 Federals as I type. Along with some Amazon chrome trim rings and some ebay NOS center caps (or some more expensive Wheel Vintiques center caps, depending on if I win this auction), I will have some 17″ rallye-alikes with 50 series rubber for under $200 a corner (seriously, these 17×7 steels are the shit, check the center cap look out here and imagine these on the outside lip). I already have my graphite-impregnated motor mounts and transmission mount, waiting for a sunny day to get put in. I have my heart set on a narrowed Explorer 8.8 (which are about Optima-yellow-top priced from a yard, complete with bigger-than-the-front (might have to fix that I guess) disc brakes and a limited slip in a variety of gut-wrenching gear ratios), but that will probably have to wait a minute, it’ll require a custom drive shaft (Denny’s Driveshafts is up the street and as long as I measure twice I think I can get a good deal) and a custom e-brake cable (gonna tap a local 4×4 shop to see if they have an ideas). One of the bigger things you can do to improve handling on these guys is tie the front and rear subframes together (there’s a subtle difference between unibody [which your civic is] and unit-body [which my dodge is], the short version is back in the 70’s we were pretty dumb and didn’t realize how to brace stuff good, which made a bunch of cars that started off loosey goosey and got looser and goosier with age), which is likely something I’ll want to do before I get too serious about an interior or the rest of the body work (dig those wicked kinks in the rear doors BOTH SIDES). There are a bunch of options, from bolt-in kits (which are probably just fine for anything I’d do but I hear they can creak. I hate creaking.) to shit you have to trim floor pan out to fit (NOT my cuppa), but I think the coolest option is these weld-ins from US Cartool, which tack all down the bottom of the body and bridge some of the gap between the unit body and what amounts to a convertible unibody chassis. No floor cutting, no dippy bolts. Probably not something I’d want to weld in myself but I can’t imagine it would be too dear to get done at a body shop. I’m also giving some serious thought to buying a 5.2 Magnum now, setting up a Megasquirt on the bench, and then doing a one-weekend swap to fuel injection. Ambitious but you must understand that when I say one weekend, I mean I’ll take a whole week off and do it at some point in the week. If I keep my budget real strict and shop smart for the engine, I bet I could get into a programmable EFI motor with a nice little cam in it for under $1500. Shit, at that price I could take the motor and the car to a shop and just have THEM swap it in. Even if I stick with manifolds I bet I could get a real sleepy grocery getter manageable 250 horses, and 17-18 miles per gallon. And I do feel like sticking with manifolds. If I could find a set of 360 manifolds for the car I’d do it, I hear they’re a little bigger and flow a little better. Then I’d just get some 2.5″ downpipes made up (I hear that’s a good match for the stock manifold outlet, but I’ll measure when I get ready to do the exhaust, if I can run dual 3’s that’s great too. Mopar headers are either expensive as fuck and screw up starter access, expensive as four fucks and hit steering components, or cheap and you smash them the first time you go into a parking lot. Oh, and some are expensive and you smash them the first time you go into a parking lot. And you always have that clangy exhaust sound, pating pating. So headers are fucking out. I’m keeping an eye on the Craigslist and some forum for-sale for a 360 or 340 header. I’ll get my die grinder out and gasket match them/clean up as much flash as I can, and that’ll be that.

Oh, and it looks like this.

1973 Dodge Dart Custom
The ZebraCar

That’s with the 185/75 R14 and 205/70 R14 in the back (and the stock hubcaps).

This is with the 17×7’s and 205/50R17 Federals. Backs look like rubber bands but I don’t want asymmetrical tires, you can’t rotate them and it just sucks. Hopefully the trim ring makes it look a little less roller-skatey.

205/50R17s on Magnum/300C17x7's for the Dart
205/50R17s on Magnum/300C17x7's for the Dart

Trust me, when those trim rings and center caps are on it’s gonna be like a hot-wheels rallye rim.

I’m pretty excited about the future of this car, and the nice part about A-bodies is that if you’re not a prime-pony-years whore (and I am not) you can probably find a deal on a nice-bodied shell on Craigsbay, and all your swank parts and gee gaws just swap over. So while I’m modifying “just a four door” today, maybe these badass parts will fill up a Swinger or a Scamp some day. Or maybe just a four door with a better front end (the hyper badass bumper/in-bumper taillights are still intact in a 73, apparently they moved up to dork-squad placement in 74, but the front end of a 72 and earlier is miles and miles ahead of the kinda derpy predecessor-to-the-le-baron nose of the 73). HOORAY!

Update: Here’s a sneak peek of what the 17’s look like with the trim rings. Center caps won on eBay and being slow-boated to me soonest.

17" Trim Rings on my 17x7's
17" Trim Rings on my 17x7's

Trrrupdate

Things with the Troika are slow going. Why, you ask? Well, allow me to tell you.

Everything that everyone says about the J13 Datsun Engine is a dirty fucking lie.

No, the intake and exhaust manifolds don’t interchange with the MG Midget. No, they don’t interchange with the MGB. Do they interchange with the MGA? I don’t fucking know because I’m not throwing any more money down this particular bit of forum-lie.

No, the transmission bellhousing pattern does not match the L-series engines. Nor does it match the bellhousing pattern on the MG engines (the MG engine bit is quite frequently repeated and while I’m no MG expert, I haven’t seen a fucking BIT of truth to it other than it shares the poorly designed single-sided head – but none of the common valvetrain internals – with centerline-of-port-shared-post manifold mounting.) As best I can figure, someone once said “These engines were built by Nissan based on licensing the MG design but with all their own parts and measurements” and then the internet version of “playing telephone” happened and it became “The engine is a clone of the MG engine”.

And lets talk about that manifold some more, while I’m good and angry. First off, it appears to be impossible to take off the carburetor without removing the intake manifold. Secondly, it appears to be impossible to take off the intake manifold without removing the exhaust manifold. Thirdly, it seems to be impossible to replace just the intake manifold without also going to exhaust headers (they aren’t exactly cast in one piece, but it looks like there’s an open “heater plenum” in the central runner that just connects to a pad on the bottom of the intake), and finally, and most disconcertingly, it seems to be impossible to take off the exhaust manifold period. There are bolts which could only be successfully removed if you had a scimitar-length ratcheting box end wrench. Half of the manifold bolts are bolts, the other half are studs. They all use oddball 5mm thick concave washers. The first bolt back from the front of the engine appears to thread into an OIL PASSAGE. Note I said bolt, not stud, so it’s not like I can put any yamabond on there and make it oiltight. Every single thing I’ve read about the J13 is either about how it’s impossible to find parts for it, or it’s a thread asking what the best engine to simply fucking replace it with is. It’s like all of the fun of working on a british car but without the enthusiastic support group.

Another interesting bit is I found out that while the 520 and 521 look very similar and are only separated by one year (again, this fact is possibly based on internet lies, the earliest 521’s HAD J13 engines), and they share suspension design, components, interiors, and many other things, the 521 has FIVE EXTRA INCHES of radiator-support-to-firewall space. This, of course, means that all of the common engine swaps are more difficult and almost all involve cutting the firewall.

This isn’t really a big problem, since I’m not really looking to do a super-common swap into it (L20B? I mean, I’m going to have to fab up new mounts for the engine and tranny anyways, I’m not gonna do all that and only get 15hp out of it), but it does mean that I’m gonna be abandoning the J13 sooner than I had hoped and doing more work to get any engine installed. That’s not necessarily a bad thing from a fangle and fun standpoint but it means more money and time.

I have a couple other interesting ideas going right now too. For example… did you know that the Datsun 280zx has almost exactly the same track width as the truck (it’s actually about an inch wider but that just means more clearance on the frame rail)? And it’s got a fancy IRS with lots of available lockers and geegaws. I mean, a triangulated four link and a Ford Motorsport 9″ is pretty trick, but IRS… I think it’s pretty doable. Plus it’d keep the pinion angle exactly and I wouldn’t have to worry about nasty resonance in a solid driveshaft (the stock shaft is a two-piece unit with a cradle just ahead of the bed). I could just find a 280zx donor, whack out the rear subframe, then do some cut and paste on the rear frame rails… Fancy diff, better handling, coilovers? Kind of a good proposition. Especially since rust-eaten 280zx’s are not exactly rare. (I briefly considered the second gen 300zx just because then I could justify the whole vg30de thing, but the track is like ten inches too wide and the R200 diff is bigger, heavier, and less common).

I’m still pretty excited about the Duratec/q4r/T5 combo for the powertrain. I keep finding VG30DEs (and less commonly, VG30Es, which would actually be easier to fit) for dirt cheap and they make 220hp stock, but that would involve all manner of crazy shit. I’d have to install a u-jointed steering column, the firewall would have to be cut and moved back maybe six inches (not easy with a standard cab, which is just barely big enough for me to drive anyways). Not to mention that getting the exhaust to go around the torsion bars would be a trick (still looking into solutions for the front end suspension – there’s a Ratsun guy who makes a weld-in kit to convert to QA1 coilovers but why would I go to that trouble and keep the kingpin front suspension?). There’s a dude who welded in a whole Miata k-member, which is an interesting idea. I’m not sure what else out there has the right track width (other than the aforementioned 280zx, which is still on the table). There’s also the “just cut off front frame rails, weld in a toyota front clip and reinforce” minitrucker route which is kind of a cop out I think.

Other than all the trouble I’ve had trying to get this stupid J13 into driveable shape, the truck is still very fun for me. I go out and wrench on it for half an hour and come back in with a head full of ideas and a smile on my face. Hell, even the problems are fun.