Last weekend was epic—only two days (like most weekends) but filled with real automotive buffoonery. I bought a Jeep for $250, fixed my coworker Jason’s suspension using a hose and a roll of tape, and got a beautiful 1969 Ford Mustang running for the first time in years. Join me on a 1,300 mile road trip between Michigan and Virginia.
I’m going to try something a bit different today. Literally 99.9% of my free time over the past 10 years has been spent doing car things. I don’t even think that’s an exaggeration. So today I’ll just break down what I did this past weekend, and see if anyone reads this. If so, then expect stories about my car idiocy-filled weekends in the future. If not, I’ll have to come up with clever angles and write one-off stories about specific things about my weekends, per usual.
Anyway, it all began on—and those of you who are experts on weekends will probably have guessed this—Friday. I drove my 2002 Lexus LX470, a vehicle that I’d bought specifically to tow my 1958 Jeep FC-170 from Washington to Michigan (The full story on that trip is coming. It is wild), to U-Haul to pick up a car trailer. Then I pointed my fancy Land Cruiser south and then east.
I’d planned to arrive at my brother Tom’s place in Charlottesville that night, but since I left Michigan at 4 P.M., I’d have arrived at 2 in the morning. Try as I might, I became too sleepy, and pulled over for some in-car Zs in 37 degree Fahrenheit weather just two hours from Tom’s place. It wasn’t optimal.
I arrived at the abode, then showered, and headed southeast toward Richmond. We arrived at an enormous lumber yard near the town of Montpelier. I’d been instructed to go there by a man named Seth, whom I’d met over Facebook Messenger. We’d gotten in touch shortly after I published an article about a manual transmission 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee Base that I’d purchased from a couple in Reno, Nevada. Seth’s friend had read my article, and tagged Seth, since he had a Jeep almost exactly like the one I’d just waxed poetically about on Jalopnik.
I spotted the Facebook tag, and chatted with Seth, who seemed bummed that he’d recently yanked the manual transmission out of such a rare vehicle.Without a transmission, front driveshaft, or pedal assembly, Seth’s Jeep wasn’t worth much to anyone.
Then I received a voicemail.
It was from Dustin Sawyer, the man who broke the internet after being the subject of my well-read tale of a rotted-out rare Jeep sitting on a former dairy farm in Wisconsin, awaiting its certain death. The Jeep had huge rust holes from spending too much time on salted Wisconsin roads in the winter, sparking debate in the comments about what, if anything, could be done to save this rare, but not sought-after machine.
Sawyer’s voicemail informed me that he was preparing to take the vehicle to its final resting spot, a scrapyard. This left me with little choice: I couldn’t let both a Holy Grail ZJ with a good drivetrain but bad body and a Holy Grail ZJ with a good body and bad drivetrain go to waste. It was time to plan a transplant.
That’s why I was in this lumber yard in Virginia hanging out with a cool dude named Seth and his two hilarious kids.
As you can see from the video above and screenshot at the top of the article section, Seth loaded the $250 Jeep (with a $100 transfer case in the cargo area) onto my trailer by simply pushing the machine with the nose of his own 1996 ZJ, into which he had swapped the red Jeep’s manual transmission. A tire between his bumper and the rear of my new junker was enough to prevent any damage. It was remarkably effective, I have to say.
With the Jeep strapped to the trailer, I headed southeast to Dogwood Dell, an amphitheater in the booming city of Richmond. There, in the parking lot, I met my coworker Jason Torchinsky, a man who brings a smile to my face every time I see him.
The two of us were hosting a reader meetup in that gravel lot. You can see who showed up in the photo above. There was a Wrangler Unlimited “LJ,” a Miata, a Ford Falcon, a Corvette, Torch’s Pao, a cool hot-rodded Beetle, an E93 M3, an incredible old Range Rover, a Civic SI, and a VW Golf GTI.
After everyone left, I took a look at Jason’s Pao, which was apparently suffering some suspension-related ailments. Amazingly, out of nowhere, another Pao arrived! (I say amazingly because Paos were only sold in Japan, and in very limited quantities. To see TWO in the same spot in the U.S., outside of a dealership, is an amazing thing).
My brother Tom and I had planned to have some drinks with Jason, and check out Richmond. Sadly, the little Pao was very, very sick.
Its lower control arm bushing had ceased to exist, and there was a nut missing on the strut (see above). Replacing the nut was no issue, but finding a Nissan Pao lower control arm bushing? That was never going to happen.
So, enterprising individuals that we are, we made our own. We simply took the metal sleeve around which the lower control arm was rattling, slipped a piece of sliced hose over top, and wrapped that in self-adhesive stretch-tape. The end result looked like this:
Here’s what it should look like (it’s just rubber):
That bushing is meant to be tightly bonded to the sleeve and to the control arm. That way, when the vehicle’s suspension moves, the rubber is flexing rather than spinning against either the sleeve or arm. Do I think our hose/tape job is going to resist spinning? Absolutely not, though I did my best to wrap as much tape as I could, and I did end up using a U-Joint press to squeeze the resulting “ersatz-bushing” into the arm.
Still, even if it’s not perfect, just filling all that space between the arm and the sleeve led to significant reduction in lateral suspension play. Frankly, it seemed like all of the play was gone:
A quick test drive revealed really nice handling. After dinner at a Richmond Brewery, Jason drove home without issue, later telling me his car tracked reasonably straight and felt safe. So that’s good. The $5 fix is not a permanent repair, but if I had to guess, Jason will treat it as one.
My brother and I drove back up to his apartment in Charlottesville, me in the Lexus with transmission-less ZJ in tow, my brother in his own Mazda 3 hatchback.
On Sunday morning, I headed to Ruckersville, just half an hour from my brother’s apartment in Charlottesville, to try to fix a 1969 Ford Mustang.
My little brother had messaged me a few weeks prior telling me about how his childhood friend Patrick’s dad, who lives in Ruckersville,VA would appreciate some help getting his Mustang back on the road, as it had been sitting for years. I, having recently gotten my brother’s 1966 Ford Mustang back into operating condition, was keen to let someone else enjoy the elation that I felt piloting a classic Mustang for the first time in a long time. The summer is only just starting; if I could help Patrick’s dad, John, enjoy his incredible machine all summer, then that just felt right.
Plus, I wanted to wrench on that Mustang. I mean, just look at it! It looks incredible!
Upon arrival, we did the usual checks. Will it crank with the key and a new battery? Nope. Okay, will it crank if we jump the starter solenoid? Yes. Is there spark? No. So John handed me some fine sandpaper, I did some rubbing against the ignition points, and boom! It fired up!
We headed to a parts store to get a new solenoid and new points. Before doing that, we removed the alternator, as John had told me he’d been having charging issues. Most car parts stores will test alternators for free, so we figured we’d have that done. Since we were removing the alternator, I suggested we buy new belts; John agreed.
The parts store confirmed a good alternator. I suspect that the charging issues John had been having were a product of one or a combination of two things: 1. Even two years ago, his battery was roughly a decade old. And 2. One wire on his alternator did not have a nut holding it onto the stud.
We had some hold-ups here and there, with broken ring terminals, a battery cable that needed to be wrapped in electrical tape after having rubbed through its insulation, a lost nut for the starter motor wire, and a few more setbacks. But in the end — after my brother, John, and I had installed the alternator and belts, set the points, and bolted up the new solenoid, the 302 fired up and sounded incredible:
John threw me a bit of cash, some of which I used to buy my brother Tom and me some incredible Christian’s Pizza in downtown Charlottesville. At around 9 P.M., I, rather tired from all the wrenching, hit the road back to Michigan.
After another horrible night’s sleep, I got back on the road early in the morning, hoping to get back to Michigan by 2 P.M.
The Lexus towed the ~5,500 pound load up and over the Appalachians like an absolute champ.
Fuel economy was roughly 10.5 MPG, which really doesn’t seem so bad given the load and the Land Cruiser’s 5,000 pound curb weight.
Upon my arrival at my house at roughly 1:45, I met up with Dustin Sawyer’s (the guy living on the former Wisconsin dairy farm) parents, who had towed his manual, rusted-out green Jeep ZJ ‘Holy Grail’ to my house for The Great Holy Grail Transplant Of 2021.
That should be fun. But also, a huge pain in the arse.