Since I need a way to get from upstate New York to Troy, Michigan, I bought a Plymouth Valiant last week for $2,000. It’s a vehicle fitted with what is considered by many the most reliable engine of all time, the Chrysler slant six, also called the “Leaning Tower of Power.” I’ve now begun my 650 mile journey after conducting a bit of basic maintenance. Here’s how it’s going so far.
First things first, I bought a set of used Nokian winter tires from Facebook Marketplace for $100. “Don’t buy studded tires,” my friend Andrew Collins told me. “Dude, these are too cheap. I’ll just yank the studs out. NBD,” I replied. Andrew tried convincing me that this task would be a gigantic pain in the ass, but I didn’t believe him. I was wrong.
De-studding tires is hell on earth. Each tire had over 100 studs, and removing even a single one required squirting the stud with WD-40, carefully wedging needle nose pliers between the rubber and the stud, then squeezing the needle nose pliers with all my might so that the pliers wouldn’t lose their hold. Then I had to lean the pliers and pry out the stud.
On average, a single stud took me probably 30 seconds. That means each tire took an hour, but given how hard I had to grip the pliers, I had to take quite a few breaks to avoid cramps, so really, a single tire took about an hour and a half.
Andrew, bless his soul, even helped me. And so did his wife Sydney. Would I have been so kind to help someone conduct a monotonous task that I’d advised them against? Maybe, but I sure wouldn’t have enjoyed it. I am a fool.
Anyway, I only got two tires de-studded; my rears still have little metal spikes in them. Is it true that studded tires are technically not legal in New York until October 16? Is it also true that studded tires are technically not legal at all in my home state of Michigan? I’ll leave those questions unanswered for now.
The point is that I have nice, high-quality, new-ish tires (manufactured in 2015) on my vehicle. I also have a radiator full of coolant, an engine full of fresh oil, a transmission full of fresh Pennzoil Synchromesh (my go-to winter concoction for manual transmissions), a steering box full of gear oil, and a diff full of somewhat dirty but still acceptable oil.
My ball joints and tie rod ends are pumped full of grease (aside from the driver-side lower ball joint, which strangely wouldn’t take grease), and everything feels tight. The bearings feel good, the brakes work well, the steering is buttery smooth despite not having power-assist, and the Valiant is ready to roll.
Right now I’m somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania. I just spent a night in the Valiant’s rear bench seat, using a sweater as a pillow, and keeping one door open for my feet to stick out of. It was a bit rough, but it got the job done.
I’m tired, as I did have a bit of an issue with the driver’s-side rear wheel. During one of my typical bearing/brake checks, I noticed that the wheel was piping hot; pouring water onto it created steam.
I stopped by a Walmart to pick up a small hydraulic jack. As it had begun raining, I needed shelter, so — since it was early enough that fuel stations were still open, and I didn’t want to take up a spot and perhaps anger a fuel station owner — I went to a PNC Bank drive-through. Banks usually close early, so I figured I’d be in the clear to wrench here without any disturbance. Aside from one person who pulled up in the adjacent lane to use the ATM, I was right.
The videos above show how I diagnosed and repaired the fault. Basically, I knew the steam could have been created by either a bad wheel bearing or a dragging drum brake shoe. I jacked the car up, and immediately upon removing the brake drum, a spring fell out.
The spring’s job was to hold the brake shoe against the drum brake backing plate; without this spring, the brake shoe forced itself against the brake drum’s outer face (it produced a load on the drum in the axial direction), causing heat buildup and noise.
I tried reinstalling the spring, but it immediately broke. Luckily, I found this ancient brake hardware kit hidden in the Valiant’s glovebox:
The kit had the spring I needed. I installed it, then roughly adjusted the brake shoes, reinstalled the drum and wheel, and took the car off the jack.
The Valiant has been excellent ever since. The lights are surprisingly bright; the slant six is smooth and torquey, and surprisingly willing to rev (which it has to do all the time; and the ride is extremely comfortable.
Sure, the car doesn’t want to go over 65 MPH (the engine is turning over 3,000 RPM at that point, and though the engine likes to rev, sustained high RPMs makes highway driving a bit loud), the speedometer/odometer light doesn’t work (which is unfortunate, because I need to reference that since my fuel light doesn’t work), the windshield wipers keep detaching from the arms and flipping backwards, the radio doesn’t work, and the unsynchronized first gear grinds even at a stop unless I shift to second beforehand. But still, it could be worse.
Of course, I’m less than a quarter the way to Michigan, so there’s plenty of time for worse to happen.
If you want to follow along, check out my Instagram @davidntracy.