“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.

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“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.
 
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“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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Jeep: Part Deux

We weren’t planning this but it seems like July has become “Jeep Month”, so we’ll probably keep it that way.  This’ll be the third Jeep we feature this year with many more likely to happen. Since first featuring Jon’s Jeep (we’re proud of that guy)  I’ve learned some things about Jeeps.  I’ve learned that although they are simple, rugged, and honest transportation, they have a tendency to  break weird stuff repeatedly.  I’ve learned that they aren’t the greatest when it comes to gas mileage. I’ve learned that they are probably the quintessential beater, or at least it’s turning out that way.

When we started this blog we thought w’d be getting old Corolla’s and Fiero’s that were reduced to rolling rust piles, but we have’t gotten those. We’ve had some pretty interesting vehicles over the last couple months. Land yachts and mini-trucks are sweet, but those Jeeps just keep coming in! Jeeps are iconic Americana, right up there with apple pie, the Yankees, the Ford Mustang and the Chevrolet Corvette. So, its only right that Jeeps would be favorited among commuters and enthusiasts alike.

Check out Jeep: Part Deux!


·         When did you get your beater? I got my YJ in Early April of 2015. I’d decided that I wanted a Jeep, but was having an absolute dickens of a time finding one in the St. Louis Metro for less than $5000– in any condition. My sister’s boyfriend at the time had this ’91 YJ hardtop with 200K+ miles on it, and he needed to unload it fairly quickly. So I picked it up for $3500, and the rest is history. It’s now got 266,000 miles, and it hasn’t missed a beat. Well, almost…

·         What do you like about your beater? The typical Wrangler allure– open top freedom, no doors, no frilly BS, No F’s given. The 4.0L I-6 might be the best engine AMC ever designed, and the torque curve is hilarious. It’s either bored stupid from 1100RPM to 2000, or really coming alive about 2200, and then it’s a beast on the highway. Until you hit 70, and then it falls flat on its face. The Jeep itself has tons of dings and wrinkles everywhere along with two rusty holes in the floorboards next to the body just for the character, they amuse me. The whole Jeep reminds me of that old, grizzly looking, bearded veteran that you see in a VFW Post that’s actually fairly well read, but is an absolute riot when shit-faced. It’s forgiving and friendly. I’ve also NEVER got the roof or doors on it, except in the winter.

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·         What do you dislike about your beater? The horn’s broken (watch for finger, heh) and every once in a while, the AX-15 5-speed likes to get a little cross-eyed. The driveshaft is out of balance, which means I’ve had to install 3 rear U-joints in the last year and three months. The previous owner also installed a 3-inch shackle lift without shimming the transfer case or adjusting the angle of the rear axle, and I’ve not had the time to fix it yet. So, I really have to take it easy while off-roading or on funky, broken back roads, because the slip yoke might bottom out, and blow the U-Joint. Also, the stereo currently isn’t working, but that just involves replacing the speakers.

·         What is the funniest thing that has happened in it? I currently work as a laborer for a local prestressed concrete firm, and as a purveyor of concrete and concrete accessories, we can’t really work in the rain.

One day we were sent home early because of a torrential downpour that lasted most of the day. Think 10am. Well, I’m rolling down the highway, sans doors or roof, in the middle of this big-ass storm. And well, apparently a local decided that was hysterical, because he apparently took a picture of me chillaxin’ with my foot out the door, laid back with my mind on my money and my money on my mind. I’ve not seen this picture, but it’s apparently made it around the Alton, IL facebook circle.

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·         Do you have any good roadtrip stories? Not really, I’ve been so damn busy in the last year or so, that all of the roadtrip opportunities that I’ve had, I’ve had to ignore unfortunately. The longest trip I’ve taken it on is from Edwardsville, IL to Bloomington-Normal, IL. About two hours. That said, I’ve taken it with some friends down a shit-ton of trails that we probably shouldn’t have been on…

·         Has it ever broken down on you someplace unpleasant/sketchy? Not really. It’s been pretty reliable for the most part. There was one time a tensioner pulley up and R-U-N-N-O-F-T while I was going to have dinner with my friend Sami, but I limped it to the closest parts store, and replaced it in the parking lot with tools that they loaned me. I started packing my tool-kit with me everywhere after that. Bolted to the floor, naturally…

·         What is the weirdest thing you’ve had to fix or take it to the mechanic for? The steering column started getting this weird wobble that I’d never experienced before. The tilt function was basically not locking, because it really wasn’t connected to the column itself. Come to find out, the same steering column is in my ’90 Cadillac hearse. (I’ve got a hearse too. That’s a fun story…) Well, apparently that wobble is called a Saginaw wobble. The hearse started doing the same wobble. It’s now perfectly fine, connected and functional.

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*all photos credited to Meg Fairless of Megyme Productions.

Heap Of A Jeep

Jeeps are like the Chickenpox.  Its seems as if everyone has owned one (or a mid-90s Corolla) and everyone gets the chicken pox. unlike the ‘pox though you don’t just a get a Jeep once. Most people suffer from multiple Jeep infections sometime of various mutations (Cherokee, Wagoneer, Comanche) throughout their lifetime.

I used to think of Jeeps as rugged almost indestructible vehicle when i was a tot, but after befriending Jeepers and reading several of your submissions it seems otherwise. I’m sure most of them are great vehicles, but I’m not sure they would have the kinds of stories their beater brothers have.  You gotta love a Jeep!

This week’s Beater Feature comes all the way from Rockford IL. Tom works at a Jeep dealership, so naturally he has a Jeep. This one is a bit special. It’s pretty , not a rust bucket, but somehow keep breaking on him! If you’re anywhere near Rockford Illinois stop by Andersen Jeep and check out his heap of a Jeep:

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“My name is Tom Perrin and I come from Rockford Illinois. I drive a 1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ that was purchased about a year ago with more rust than paint. This isn’t my first Wrangler, not even my first TJ. Call it a midlife crisis, call it reliving my youth, call it whatever you want. This Jeep stuck out to me on my quest for a daily wrangler. It was ugly, cheap, and pumped full of miles. What’s under the hood will make just about any Jeep owner cry, but I love it. The AMC based 150 cubic inch 4-banger that kinda can. Reliable, simple as all get out, and makes the most annoying sounds, especially at idle.

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My first car, a YJ wrangler, was also equipped with this iron paperweight, but it still got me around. As of most Jeeps of this era, she is a project. Cooling system has been upgraded a bit, 4in Skyjacker lift, some random “heavy duty” AutoZone clutch, 31in Cooper mud tires (yeah, I know), 1-ton steering components from Spicer, and a few other stuff tucked under the triple bedliner coated frame. No mid-life crisis is complete with a nice audio system. Kenwood head unit, overhead speakers, compact subwoofer and amplifier in the “trunk”, along with a 301 piece mechanic’s tool set just in case.

 

Since I’ve had her, and after sitting for 3 years prior, she has had her fair share of breakdowns. One of which was the water pump which let go on the coldest day of the year. Nothing like being stranded at 11pm at a gas station waiting for my very understanding girlfriend. After a fun day with our son, we thought a little missing adventure was in order. Well, being instantly sunk up to the headlights literally 6 feet off of the road wasn’t a fun time. $200 tow bill and way too many embarrassing pictures later, we finally got her out. I love my Heep of a Jeep and our family will continue to love her forever. This one’s a keeper. Well worth every penny.”

 

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A Lexus For Dad

 

Drift beaters are some of the coolest most pure forms of modern hotrodding.  Buy me a beer and we’ll debate it sometime.  Little cars, big engines, going fast, lots of tire smoke. See hotrodding in the dictionary and this is what you’ll get.

Don’s SC400 straddles that line between missile car and candy coated drift machine.  A line commonly blurred by many.  I’ve long said that a proper racecar isn’t that pretty to behold. It’s basic and purposeful. You find beauty in the engineering not necessarily tin the aesthetics. This one combine all those things, hot rod styling cues, stripped down racecar, and since it’s Father’s Day, a nice tribute to pops.

Check out Don’s butthole of a Lexus:


The car is a 92 Lexus SC400. It runs the factory 4 litre v8 through a Collins adapter kit connected Nissan KA transmission. The driveshaft is custom built and rear diff is out of an SC300 for better gearing and it’s welded.

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When did you get your beater?

               I got the car about a year and a half ago, from a guy down in Philly. We were going on the info that it only needed a driveshaft put in it to be ready to run. That was way off and after tearing down and rebuilding most of the car between February and April we started drifting it with the IFD guys at the first event of the 2015 season. The whole year was basically a shakedown. The car needed way more work than we realized when we picked it up.

What do you like about your beater?

               Where to begin? The look of the car. And the looks the car gets. It’s a real love it or hate it kind of thing. There really isn’t a middle ground people either really dig it or get really butthurt by it. The look of the car was all done for a reason though. I chose everything sort of in honor of my step dad. He passed away just about the time I was really getting into drifting so he never got to come out to an event and have a ride with me. The guy was the king of making something work with whatever was laying around. So that’s kind of how we approached the car. The ultimate budget build. He would get bored and go to Kmart, buy a bunch of rattle cans and paint his truck for something to do. So when it came time to make the SC one color the choice was obvious. I get a lot of primer jokes, but it’s actually matte black rustoleum spray paint with red and chrome vinyl. Kind of a throwback to the old school hot rod days is where I was going with it.

               I also enjoy how easy the car is to drive. I’ve let a few people drive it and everyone is surprised at how easy it is to get sideways, and how responsive it is, considering the size of it. It’s a deceptively large car.

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What do you dislike about your beater?

               One of the guys I drift with warned me when I told him I was looking to get an SC. He told me to be ready to have the most annoying issues I’ve ever had with a car. I should have listened. This car seems to really love coming up with new and exciting issues to have.

 

 What is the funniest thing that has happened in it?

               That would probably be the looks I’ve gotten from my boys when they ride in it. My step sons are 13 and 10 and neither had ridden in anything like it before. I went off track with the 13 year old once and a big rock punched a hole in the floor between his feet. My memory isn’t great but I’m pretty sure his feet came off the floor so fast they hit the ceiling. The younger of the two apparently wasn’t ready for v8 torque and when I gave him a hard 2nd gear pull going into his first run his eyes were big enough to fill the opening in the helmet. He seriously looked terrified. Half way through the first turn he had figured out he wasn’t dying and was head banging in the passenger seat. Thank fully I had the go pro running inside the car and that is now on Youtube.

 

 

Do you have any road trip stories?

               The car has only been on the road for a couple months so it hasn’t had a proper road trip yet. Mostly just to and from drift days. I guess the best would be taking it to a car pride meet, covered in mud from the previous rain soaked drift day. The looks from the people with their beautiful shiny cars was fantastic.

 

Has it ever broken down someplace unpleasant/ sketchy?

               To date I’ve only had it break once outside of a drift event. I left an oil spot as wide as the car at the last meetup we took it to. It ended up being trailered home.

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What is the weirdest thing you’ve had to fix or take it to the mechanic for?

               The oil leak that made the massive puddle ended up being caused by corrosion that was caused by a massive mouse nest hidden in the valley under the intake. The best part was the oil was coming out between the bell-housing and block so we did the obvious and changed the rear main and it didn’t stop the leak. Only after tearing it down the second time did we realize anything in the valley drains out 2 small holes in the back of the block and out the bottom behind the oil pan. Very misleading when it comes to diagnosing where a leak is coming from.

I have to give many thanks to my girlfriend Jess, who deals with me being at the shop more than home with her, my boys in the subtle crunch drift crew for dealing with my almost constant whining about how much pain this car causes my b-hole, and mostly my buddy Tim who is the co-creator of the car. Tim has more hours spent working on it than I do, and I never would have been able to make it anything worth owning without his help