I Told You So!

Wait for it…

Here’as another ranting about my old POS Sentra. Well, maybe not a ranting, but certainly  another applause for how stout that little econobox was. Part of what Beaters great, part of what gives them personality, is their seemingly god-like ability to keep running even after we have tried our best, as humans to defeat their engineering.

There’s a new set of YouTube videos I”ve been watching lately. It’s not junkyard startups this time; its a bunch of guys mercilessly beating on crap-cans they find for cheap. In the end, it usually involves them dry-spraying the little turds with ungodly amounts of silly gas.  It’s a sort of sadistic pleasure that is only missing a gimp-suit but, damn is it entertaining.

Watching people destroy beaters is somehow more entertaining than watching people bring them back to life. I don’t know why, but it is. We shared a video to our FB page last week that showed these guys spraying the crap out of an old Mitsubishi. This video, along with the one about the Mitsubishi, shows just how much abuse many of these little Beaters can take before they give in.  That’s not to say you should go out of your way to beat them up on a daily basis, but a little flogging never hurt anyone.

 

I spark knocked my Sentra past 300k miles and 2k of that was without oil!  These guys cut, bashed and sprayed their to 125hp (dry shot too!) and it still chugged to life.  Yet another example of a Sentra that wouldn’t die.  Gotta love it…

Check it out:

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New Datsun Old Datsun

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” – Chuck Dickens

I’m not entirely sure how that works into this post or the upcoming video by Petrolicious, but I like it and it fits (maybe?).  Regardless of my efforts to find deep meaning and highlight the obvious juxtaposition here,  this is a great video.  It a video that, I think reflects part of what is great about Beater Life.

“Every car has a story, not just the pretty ones” has been our motto from Day 1. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Saab, and Angry Sofa or a Ferrari or sick Datsun like the one in the video, if it’s got a story, if it’s used , loved , and beat on, we’ll love it!

Petrolcious, which is one of my personal favorite blogs to watch, usually produces videos about concourse level cars that you will only see at Amelia Island or Pebble Beach, but every once in a while they put something out that’s pretty relatable. They’ve done their fair share of BMW 2002’s and Alfa’s, but this one from their archives is one of my absolute favorites.

Check it out:

“When Will I Learn?”

Trucks, especially old trucks are made differently. They’re stout and built to take a beating.  Up until the ’90s there wasn’t such a thing as a luxury truck.  King Ranch and Denali editions weren’t a thing. Trucks were basic, honest, machines made for getting the job done.

Old Ford F100s are iconic work trucks. It doesn’t matter which side of the argument youre on, F100s are beasts, along with other old trucks, and don’t give in to breakdowns too easily.

Check out Steve’s old Fords for a prime example of built Ford Tough:


 

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I suppose my story really begins with Bob Chandler, Jim Kramer, and Bigfoot. I can remember watching VHS tapes that my grandparents would get by mail of monster trucks running other cars over with reckless abandon back in the days when in order to participate in the sport, you just needed a truck, a big block V8, some big tires, a mullet and a set of brass testicles that were hard-pressed to fit into the high-waisted jeans of the early ’90s. I was hooked.

 
Throughout my early life, my parents insisted that cars were appliances and drove mostly Toyotas that were, above all else, disposable. When one broke, they would get just enough of it fixed to hum the next few thousand miles in relative comfort and reliability. My grandfather stoked the fire that would culminate in my beater, but I’m getting ahead of myself. He tried and failed to sell his truck, and thus it was handed down to me: a white 1988 Ford Bronco II with a 2.9 liter V6 and a 5 speed made by Mitsubishi. (Not Mazda. They made the 4 speeds.) That truck is for another e-mail story.
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I eventually gave that truck away with nearly 300k miles on the clock to my brother in law, who needed a winter beater, and the Bronco still ran nearly perfectly.
 
I mourned for that truck. It had given me my first taste of freedom, my first wrenching experiences, some of my first…intimate and special memories with young ladies who were kind enough to have them with me.
 
While in my sackcloth and covered in my ashes, I stumbled upon it: a 1965 F100 with a big block. My beloved and long-suffering bride gave me the green light, and we went to pick it up for $600, and the ad promised that it ran! It was no Bigfoot, but it shared some of the same DNA, which was good enough for me.
 
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We lived and worked at a little conference center in Idyllwild, CA, and the truck was in East LA county. Off of Euclid, I think. So we drove the hundred or so miles to the house, and the truck was BAD. loose steering, terrifying brakes and a transmission that was present, but maybe not great. I was thoroughly in love. Money exchanged hands and we had just enough time to hit the DMV before–steam.
 
Steam?
 
Lots of steam. Goddamn it.
 
So I decide that since I still have some cash in my pocket, I would hoof it to the nearest parts house and see if they had a radiator in stock. And some tools, maybe. No luck. no radiator shop was open, and no parts house had a radiator. I sent my wife home in the other car while I waited for a tow truck. 100-mile tows with AAA are an awesome idea, by the way. An AWESOME idea.
 
So the tow truck got there and he loaded the truck up and the drive home was uneventful, until we went to unload it. The conference center has a baseball field, or did then, and it was really the only level place on the whole property, so the tow guy drives onto it, hangs a left toward a retaining wall, and begins to unload it toward the edge of the field, and the lower retaining wall, which is about a six foot drop.
 
Remember the scary brakes? Well, the truck had not moved in more years than was disclosed, and the wheel cylinders had apparently rotted. As soon as the truck was on the ground, rolling, the tow guy realized that the brakes were nonexistent.
 
I had not, to that point, ever heard the pall on a parking gear make that grunt-scream noise that they do when you try to slam an automatic transmission into park while at speed in reverse. The Effey stopped just short of the drop, and the driver got out, looked at me, and simply said, “That thing ain’t got NO brakes.” and then had me sign the paperwork and off he went.
 
The next chance I got, I tore into the truck. I found an improperly made aftermarket aluminum radiator, which I gleefully jammed into the truck in a super sketchy manner just to get it moving, which I did, up to the shop at the center, where I fixed a minor rust hole that bothered me, got it fired up, and reversed downhill.
 
Oh yeah, brakes.
 
BAM! I rolled into a stump, put it in drive, and found a level spot to coast to a stop again. Luckily, my ancestor of the god Bigfoot had been equipped with the thickest, heaviest rear bumper I have ever seen and it was fine.
 
At that point, life happened and the conference center and we (being my wife and me) underwent a…how did Gweneth put it? A conscientious uncoupling? We did that and decided to head back to our hometown, Modesto, CA. I rebuilt the brakes, bled everything, and test drove the still-unproven mystery FE-powered hunk of shit a few miles. It worked! It had an exhaust leak that made it sound like a broken tractor, I had vice grips to open the doors from the inside and I still couldn’t tell if I could trust the temperature gauge, but we loaded it to the gills with possessions and pointed downhill.
 
It made it 28 glorious, V8 powered miles before I realized that it was starting from a stop awfully slowly. And over-revving when I tried to get to highway speeds. And not going into Park. The Cruise-O-Matic was stuck in second gear.
 
I found a shop that generously let me park the truck while we made our way back to Modesto and made what turned out to be the dumbest plan I have ever come up with.
 
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“Wanna go on a road trip?”
 
The six words that no man in their mid-20s can resist. It was two weeks before we got everything together. It was me, one of my best friends, a rented flatbed trailer, and a 1990 Chevy 1500 single cab, short bed. The wheelbase was important for reasons that will become obvious shortly.
 
See, rental trailers are designed to work with as many applications and in as many situations as possible. It’s why they have surge brakes equipped, which are basically manual drum brakes with the brake pedal integrated into the tongue of the trailer. As stress is applied by the weight of the trailer to the tow vehicle, it compresses the push rod much like your foot would on a brake pedal and engages the brakes at a pressure consistent with the force at which it is compressing. Slick, right?
 
Well, a funny thing happens when there is a leak in that system: You now have about 5 inches of play in and out on the tongue of the trailer, and about an inch side-to-side, which is…well, it’s not great.
 
We had decided to cannonball straight to Banning, CA, made it to the shop with the F100 just in time to thank the owner and load the truck onto the trailer and get to our hotel for the night. Neither of us could sleep, so we decided a couple of hours later to just go for it.
 
The I-10 at 4 AM is strangely serene. The I-10 also has a long, gentle downgrade that you wouldn’t notice at all if you didn’t have a trailer with no brakes, a 4000 pound truck on it, and six inches of play in the tongue.
 
We were doing 55 when the trailer rear-ended us the first time.
 
“Dude, I don’t think the brakes are working on that trailer.”
 
Josh slowed to 40.
 
The trailer hit us again, hard, and the back end of the tow vehicle wobbled, so he applied just a little bit of throttle to straighten out. He backed out of it at 50, and the trailer caught up again.
 
BAM.
 
The Chevy held straight.
 
BAM.
 
“Not sure if I can hold another one.”
 
BAM
 
I looked over at him and said “Nope,” just in time for 8 tires to break traction seemingly all at once as the trailer pit-maneuvered the Chevy, sending it and the trailer spinning toward the guard rail. I have no idea how we were between clusters of traffic, but we were, and we were sitting, stalled out, across 3 lanes. Josh slammed the truck into park, started the truck, and gunned it into the dirt.

SAMSUNG

 

“I am NOT towing that thing another mile.”
 
So we pushed the Ford off the trailer and spent the next hour with jumper cables trying to start it. Pro-tip: If you’re going to try to start a vehicle in gear, don’t have a manual choke. In 40 degree weather. With the back wheels on the ground.
 
The big block finally sputtered to life and I just gassed the bastard down the highway when I found another cool feature! Intermittent headlights! They blinked off and on at random intervals just long enough for me to find my way off the freeway and onto a side street, where I stopped, let the truck die and called Josh to tell him where I was.
 
We were 100 miles from Barstow. Remember those AAA tows?
 
I found another place to dump the truck for another week while we sorted insurance with the rental company, who paid out more than the Chevy was worth without so much as a question when we showed them the empty master cylinder, and I went back with another tow vehicle and another rented trailer to get the truck, which this time, came quietly.
 
I replaced the transmission, added some speed parts and drove it daily for 3 years, back and forth from Fresno, Turlock, and still drove it when I got hired on at Gallo Winery.
 
Then came the end of the ’65.
 
I had been out and about running errands and such when my wife called and told me she was headed out to work soon and would like to see me for a few minutes before she did.
 
I drove home, parked on the curb, and chatted with her.
 
kaBOOM
 
“Did someone just hit your truck?”
 
It sounded like a forklift backing into a train of trailers at the winery, so the sound didn’t even make me flinch. I pulled one of the blinds down to glance at where I had parked, and the truck was gone.
 
I ran to the door, as though speed would make any difference at that point, and saw it: my truck against the big tree in my front yard with a Toyota buried in the back, still running.
 
I went out and asked the old lady driving “Are you okay?”
 
“…I saw a bird…”
 
“Do you know what just happened?”
 
“It swooped down from a roof over there, and…oh, did I hit your truck?”
 
I saw a pill bottle rolling around on the floorboard. “Yep.”
 
“Oh, dear, I’ll just drive home and get my insurance. I live just around the corner.”
 
“Nope. You’re staying here.” I reached in, shut the Toyota off, and called 911 to let them know to send an ambulance and police.
 
The truck looked like an accordion. I ended up saving the engine, which turned out to be a 390, the radiator and the horn button. the rest went to the local pick-a-part.
 
That engine currently resides in my new beater–a 1972 F100! This time with a short bed and way more rust!
 
God, when will I learn?

Do Your Homework

 If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the years, it’s “do your homework.” Not only does it get you through school, but it also helps when working on old beaters in crusty junkyards.  It’s also how I learned the hard way that a Nissan 300zx MAF doesn’t work on a 280zx (I was young and stupid back then).

“Do your homework” was also the main theme in mechanic’s school too.  I remember sitting in on my first day of training at BMW, being handed 3 very filled 3″ binders full of curriculum and was told that we had to know that stuff in 9 weeks.  After laughing, the instructor reassured us that we wouldn’t know everything in those binders and led us into a makeshift computer lab.

“If you only learn one thing these 9 weeks, learn how find the information,” came out of his mouth.  I was floored.  Weren’t Bimmer techs supposed to know everything. Wasn’t I supposed to come out of this bavarian boot camp with some type of encyclopedic knowledge of the 3-Series? Wrong.

You were supposed to know how to find the information fast.  You were supposed to know how to do your homework. So, before you try swapping a z31 Nissan MAF onto a S130 Datsun, or a 2.2l head onto a 2.5 head, do your homework.

In the meantime, Here’s Joe’s Dodge Murder Missile:


So first up is my truck, 1995 Dodge Dakota, 2.5l I4, AX15 5-speed manual, 2wd short bed short cab sport, whose long list of options include 6 spoke alloy wheels….and that’s pretty much it haha

It wasn’t always a ragged, old bastard of a truck though, my best friend got it from his dad in high school with only 60k on the clock and was incredibly clean back then, of course, a couple of teenage rednecks from Hazel Park fixed that pretty quick.

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Plenty of air time, amateur rally, and grossly overloading the poor thing we managed to blow a head gasket, got halfway done with a 318 swap, said screw that with these bush-era gas prices, and rebuilt the 4-banger.

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Oh yeah, and we accidentally put a 2.2 head on a 2.5, the super high compression motor ran great til it smashed all the valves out of itself.  Remember kids, just because the hood on the car in the junkyard you’re pulling a cylinder head off of says it has the same motor as your truck, doesn’t mean that’s the hood that came on that car from the factory.

It did manage to pull a camper trailer with only 3 cylinders, though, so kudos little guy

Aside from us abusing the poor thing (and accidentally installing the wrong parts) it’s been a pretty solid ride mechanically, it’s got just shy of 200k on it now, and the body is pretty rusty but it’s a Michigan daily so, that happens.

3 cylinder heads, 1 short block, a rear end, and a fuel pump are all the major work I’ve helped with or done myself over the 13 years I’ve been around the truck, I’ve had it for, I want to say 6 years now and the only things I’ve done since then have been brakes, wheel bearings, a top end rebuild and a new fuel pump and starter.

I did drive it around for about a month with no bed after doing the fuel pump, went like hell with that weight reduction, little bouncy though.
 

Sadly, the old girl has been down with electrical issues since last June, no idea what’s wrong but Chrysler wasn’t exactly renowned for their high-quality electronics in the 90’s so who knows what manner of awful I’m in for getting it back on the road.

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Crank Til It Goes!

It doesn’t run, or does it?  For quite some time I had assumed that just about every car in a junkyard could not, would not start.  It just made sense to my naive self. After taking out a ridiculous student loan and pledging my income for the next 10 years to mechanic’s school I learned that simply wasn’t true.  I also learned how to get those crap-heaps running and how to keep them that way.

Auto museums are old and rare and one of a kind and fast and fun and art and innovation.  Car museums are great places to learn about cars and tech you didn’t know about.  They’re like immersive pop-up books. You normally pay just a bit and you’ve earned you tuition to some of the coolest day-classes you can take on automobilia. Junkyards are better, though.

Junkyards aren’t just a place for cheap parts and a place to take your car long after its dead. Junkyards are full of unique and interesting models that you won’t necessarily find out on the road.  Many of the best and unique cars to come out of the 20th century won’t ever make it into a nice air-conditioned museum.  Many of those cars weren’t built well and aren’t reliable enough to stay running on the roads. Many of the best cars ever made (I’m looking at you Volvo 240) are sitting in some muddy yard somewhere ready to be explored.

I used to head over to the nearest junkyard to practice on a forgotten beater before I would tear into my own at home.  If I had to do a job on my Sentra or Datsun that I hadn’t done before and wasn’t confident about being able to do it in the driveway, I’d just call up LKQ, see if they had a model in their yard and then go to town!

Here’s the first start of a Mercedes-Benz 407D in 12years. It takes some cranking and some innovation  to get the old girl fired up again, but she eventually gets going around the 9min mark.

 

Check it out: