I do this every year despite how much it costs me psychologically, physically, socially, and financially. But I don’t learn. I procrastinate until I lose sleep, tossing and turning at thoughts of just how much I have to fix in so little time. Just look at this enormous list of jobs I have to complete in the next three weeks if my $500 Postal Jeep is to have any chance at driving 1,700 miles to Moab.
I just got back from a short trip to Stuttgart, Germany, where I spoke with a Porsche executive about the future of the 911, and learned about Porsche’s plans to branch out into more than just cars. More on that last bit later, but let me just say that the trip was tarnished by the fact that I could not stop thinking about Project POStal.
With time running out, there I was, thousands of miles away from my rotting carcass of an automobile, not wrenching, but instead, dressed in a fancy, completely oil stain-less suit, pretending to be civilized. I felt like a fraud, a traitor. My postal Jeep needed me, and I had abandoned it.
I’ve got another work trip coming up that will eat up three days from the three weeks I have left to turn my white and brown metal square into an automobile, and to give you an idea of what I’m up against, here’s a list of most of (not all, because I’m definitely forgetting some things) the repairs I need to take care of by April 10:
Get the Engine Running
I really, really need to get my engine up and running. If I find out late that there’s something majorly wrong with it, I’m screwed. To get the motor back together, I need to clean and install the valve cover (it is layered with sludge), install the intake and exhaust manifolds, throw on a water pump and thermostat, then put the car’s front end back together with the radiator, and start getting the electrical bits all back into place.
It sounds easy, but I’m having issues with my exhaust manifold. Built in is a thing called a “heat riser,” which uses exhaust gases to heat up the intake charge via a flapper welded to a shaft. That shaft has a bi-metallic spring hooked to it, which acts to spin the shaft (and thus flapper) as the engine warms up, so that less heat goes to the intake manifold when the engine is hot, and instead all goes straight out of the exhaust pipe.
The weld between my flapper and my shaft is broken, so the engine is constantly sending exhaust to heat up my intake manifold. I need to tack weld this in the correct orientation.
I also need to make a new choke tube that goes from my exhaust manifold to a bi-metal spring in my carburetor choke to help the engine run better when cold. But that’s a relatively easy job that can wait.
Speaking of my carburetor, it is in pieces in my office (“office”—a room with a desk and lots of car parts everywhere) right now. It’s a fairly straightforward carb to rebuild, though finding the base flange gasket has been much harder than I’d expected. Once I get that done, and I install the manifolds and valve cover, throw on the new ignition coil and distributor cap/rotor, and bolt on a new ignition module, I’m firing this motor up.
I pray to the heavens that tick that used to exist has disappeared, and that the cylinder head repair I did a few weeks back holds up.
Replace the Ball Joints and Tie Rod Ends, Repack Wheel Bearings
If there’s anything that truly scares me, it’s the possibility of losing control of any automobile, which is why every car that I purchase gets a new set of ball joints and tie rod ends, and has its bearings and steering gear thoroughly checked.
I’ve got new ball joints for the Postal Jeep, and I really don’t expect much drama with getting them into place, aside from probably an hour or so hammering on my steering knuckles to get the seized tapered joints free.
The tie rod ends have been a bit of an annoyance, since they’re rusted onto the tie rods; getting them off hasn’t been easy. Also, I don’t have any replacement parts yet, because stores don’t have most DJ-5D components in their catalogues. I’m just going to have to bring the tie rod ends into the store, and hopefully match the parts up with what they have in stock.
In any case, the ball joints and tie rod ends shouldn’t be a problem, and hopefully the wheel bearings won’t be, either. I’ll just take the hubs apart, remove the bearings and—assuming they’re not toast (on second thought, this may be a big assumption)—re-grease them.
Swap Out the Leaf Spring Bushings and U-Bolts
Keeping on the topic of steering and suspension, my leaf springs were some of the sketchiest parts of my Jeep, as they contained almost no bushings. Luckily, I got the old sleeves out of my front springs, and now I’ve got new ones to put into place.
The only thing is, the previous driver drove so long without bushings that the bolts wore into the leaf spring eyes, so now the holes are out of round. I’ll likely just stuff the new bushings in and call it good.
The U-bolts, which hold the axle to the frame-mounted leaf springs, will need to be matched up at the store, as I can’t seem to find someone who’s got the right size for my DJ. This is the story of this build—hard-to-find parts.
And that’s what’s got me so concerned about the rear leaf spring shackle bushings. Apparently, they are unobtainium, and the parts that Postal Jeep Facebook group members say do fit are extremely expensive.
Fill the Rear Differential, Replace the Driveshaft U-Joints
I’ve got an empty rear differential that needs fluid. This will be as straightforward as scraping the old gasket bits off the housing, spraying the goo off the gears and diff cover with brake cleaner, reassembling with a new gasket, and filling with fluid.
The driveshaft U-joint should be fairly simple, too. I’ll use a ball-joint removal tool, and zip the old joints out, and then just hammer the new ones in. Getting the retaining clip out of the old driveshaft U-joints will probably take me forever, but what do I expect from a rusty shitbox?
Figure Out the Steering Box and Shaft
My steering has a lot of play in it, and though I had initially planned to rebuild my steering box, this one is made by a fairly obscure company called Gemmer, and it’s right hand drive, so finding parts for it is nearly impossible.
Do I want to drop $140 on a re-manufactured Saginaw box? Not really. Nor do I want to drop $65 on a new steering U-Joint, but mine is toast:
In an ideal world, I’d scour junkyards to find a compatible column, and I’d try to rebuild the box one way or another, but time is running out. The thought of dropping $205 just to get myself a nice, smooth, tight steering setup for my 1,700 mile trek makes me a little sick to the stomach. But if that’s what I need to do to make this a safe machine, then so be it. Especially considering what’s at stake this year (You’ll hear more about that later, but there’s quite a bit banking on me making this, and no backup car planned).
Figure Out Some Sort of Electrical System
My dashboard is filled with switches that do not work. The dome light, headlights, heater blower (sort of), and turn signal switches function, and to be honest, that’s really most of what I need. But the alternator doesn’t charge, none of my gauges work, and flipping a toggle on the dash isn’t a great way to activate a turn signal. I keep forgetting to cancel it, and also, it shuts off every now and then for no reason.
The electrical system on this Jeep is wack, as demonstrated by this wiring under my dash:
Gosh I hate working on electrical.
Fix the Fuel Tank
My fuel tank will not take more than a couple of gallons of fuel before spilling the fluid all over the gas station pavement. I’ve found the source of the issue—it’s a bunch of broken hoses meant to go from the tank to an evap canister. I may have to drop the tank to get good access to these hoses, which I plan to remove, and whose ports I plan to plug.
Weld in a Floor + Body Mounts, Install Seats, Install Bump Stop and Brake Line Bracket
My driver’s side floor is basically non-existent, which would be fine, if it weren’t the intended location for two body mounts—you know, the bolts that hold the body onto the frame.
As I’d like to prevent my frame from running away from under the Jeep’s body, I’ll be welding a new floor and hooking throwing in some hockey puck body mounts.
Once the floor is in, I need to get the driver’s seat welded back into place, and speaking of, I’ll also have to weld in this sweet plaid passenger seat:
I also have to install a third seat in the rear of the Jeep, since my other brother wants to join me in Moab, and I have to bolt in some seatbelts. Is the floor in the rear paper thin and probably not suited to hold an entire human? Maybe I should fix that, too. But that seems like it can wait.
The left front part of the frame has no bump stop, and no brake line bracket. And with no holes left to bolt the former to, I’ll be welding both parts directly to my frame.
Completely Rebuild Brakes + Fix Brake Pedal
I’ve got four drum brakes to rebuild. And while, generally, drum brakes can be a huge pain in the ass compared to disc brakes, as long as the shoes, rebuild kit, and wheel cylinders I bought actually fit my DJ, I should be able to tackle these without too much fuss. I’ve dealt with some tricky drum brakes in the past.
I also have to bleed and install a new master cylinder, install new brake hoses, and somehow fix all this wobble in my brake pedal shaft:
It should be clear at this point that the work:time ratio has reached a staggeringly high level, and I bet in about five minute, I’ll remember another 20 things that need to be mended.
I have three weekends, and fewer than three weeks worth of weekdays (thanks to that work trip), which are each taken up by blogging until about 5:30 p.m. So it’s time to roll up some sleeves, and get to praying. And wrenching, too, I guess.