One of the hardest things to decide with a project like this is where to start. There are were so many things on the car that were screaming for a attention, so I decided to treat it like an emergency room triage. A car that doesn’t move under it’s own power is not a car, it’s a metal box with wheels an a couple of nice seats. So job one was breathing some life back into the dead donk.
I’ll start by saying that I do not have a long illustrious mechanical background. I’m an Environmental Scientist by profession whose only relevant qualifications for this project was the fact I did Home Mechanical Workshop in high school 20 years ago. But i’m always willing to have a go at anything handy, as the numerous projects of varying degrees of success around my house will testify. Give me some tools and a manual and I’ll give it a go. That said, there aren’t many manuals around that will tell you how to start a car that hasn’t run for 3 decades.
Thankfully, youtube is very much to the rescue in this regard. I was quite surprised at the multitude of various southern rednecks who record videos of themselves starting pickups that their Poppy pushed into the barn back in the 70’s. Thankfully I also learned from this research that the Slant 6 in my Val would generally start even if it had been submerged for an extended period in a swamp, my confidence was growing.
One fact that was immediately apparent, even to someone as mechanically illiterate as I, was that to start the motor I would need 4 things, spark, compression, fuel and a cooling system. The cooling system was maybe the first thing that struck me as being totally rooted, and given one of the few repair jobs i had experience in completing was changing out a water pump and thermostat, i started there.
On removing the fan belt it soon became apparent the waterpump was seized solid. But perhaps more damning was the fact the inlet pipe that attached to the radiator hose was completely corroded through. The thermostat housing was much the same, being the thickness of rice paper in the areas that were still present, and not already reduced to white powder. The thermostat? Well there was no thermostat, which i guess was removed at some stage to rectify an overheating problem, a real farmers fix. Every hose and clamp was cracked or ballooned. The radiator looked ok visually, and seemed to hold water, but contained a cupful of crap in the bottom tank. After a good flush I decided to leave it at that for now, but a rodding at the local radiator shop was probably on the cards.
Thankfully parts for these old girls are perhaps easier to come by now than 10 years ago, mainly due to a plethora of online stores that have popped up selling almost every part imaginable. 15minutes of seaching and 180 bucks netted a new waterpump, complete set of hoses, a thermo housing and a new thermostat, plus all the gaskets i’d need to complete the job. Not bad really, and at least now the rusty block would have something shiny hanging off it.
While waiting for the week or so for my parts to be delivered i decided to see if the motor actually turned over or was seized solid. Out came the plugs, and a play with the harmonic balancer pulley yeilded a very solidly locked motor. Some oil down the plug holes (thanks rednecks) and i tried again. This time using a bit more force, i noticed the bumper nudging me in the shins. Silly bastard, I’d left the thing in gear and it was trying to run me over as i turned the crank. Once neutral was engaged the crank turned over like a new one, and with my good mate Adam holding his hand over the plug holes, a good whoosh of air was felt from each pot. The motor was spinning freely and we seemed to have some semblance of compression, maybe this thing was going to run after all.