How I Appeased My City After It Gave Me Six Weeks To Fix And Register My Fleet Of Broken Cars

Illustration for article titled How I Appeased My City After It Gave Me Six Weeks To Fix And Register My Fleet Of Broken Cars
Illustration: Jason Torchinsky

Back in June, the City of Troy, Michigan sent my landlord a letter explaining that, if I didn’t get the 11 cars on my property fixed and registered by July 31, bad things would happen. Over the following six weeks, I wrenched as hard as I possibly could, and though I had an engine to rebuild and a front axle to mend, I somehow pulled it off.

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The following letter from the city of Troy to my landlord states that I had too many broken and unregistered cars on my property, and that I’d better do something about it or else. Apparently, a neighbor didn’t like the look of my dilapidated fleet, and complained.

Illustration for article titled How I Appeased My City After It Gave Me Six Weeks To Fix And Register My Fleet Of Broken Cars
Image: City of Troy
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I called the city inspector, got an extension until July 31, and set off to work.

Here’s the full list of cars that I owned at the time:

  1. 1948 Willys CJ-2A
  2. 1966 Ford Mustang
  3. 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle
  4. 1985 Jeep J10
  5. 1987 Jeep Grand Wagoneer
  6. 1991 Jeep Comanche
  7. 1991 Jeep Cherokee 5spd
  8. 1992 Jeep Cherokee auto
  9. 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd
  10. 1995 Land Rover Discovery
  11. 2000 Jeep Cherokee
  12. 2003 Kia Rio (totaled)

The seven in bold were breaking the ordinance. I’d just fixed the Willys’ engine with a freshly-ground crankshaft, but the vehicle wasn’t running. The Golden Eagle’s engine bay was motorless, with a green tarp taking the place of the hood. The Free Grand Wagoneer and $500 Comanche both ran, but neither was titled in my name. The mysterious Discovery didn’t run or drive, and it didn’t even belong to me. And the Kia was a gigantic piece of junk, missing its front end (due to an unfortunate backyard recovery incident), not running, and also not titled in my name.

Illustration for article titled How I Appeased My City After It Gave Me Six Weeks To Fix And Register My Fleet Of Broken Cars
Photo: David Tracy

With help from my friend Brandon, I managed to pull-start the Willys’ Go-Devil engine, which had been having some grounding problems that caused a no-spark condition every now and then. Once that Willys was firing nicely, I reached out to a reader named John, who’d expressed interest in buying Project Slow Devil.

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Illustration for article titled How I Appeased My City After It Gave Me Six Weeks To Fix And Register My Fleet Of Broken Cars
Photo: David Tracy

John drove up to Michigan from Pennsylvania, bought the Jeep for $3,000, and even towed the Kia to the junkyard, who slapped a generous $145 offer on the table for the rusty, crashed little sedan.

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That was two down.

Illustration for article titled How I Appeased My City After It Gave Me Six Weeks To Fix And Register My Fleet Of Broken Cars
Photo: David Tracy
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The 1995 Land Rover Discovery was a bit of an awkward situation that I managed to solve by simply towing the vehicle to a spot where I think it can sit for a while without being bothered. I notified the owner of the vehicle’s location, and hopefully he’ll pick the machine up at his leisure. As for the Grand Wagoneer, a reader named Sean—a soldier currently living in Italy—wired me $4,000, and had a truck arrive at my house to pick the Jeep up and tow the vehicle to his mom’s house in New York.

Illustration for article titled How I Appeased My City After It Gave Me Six Weeks To Fix And Register My Fleet Of Broken Cars
Photo: David Tracy
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That made four down and three to go.

Getting the Comanche registered was just a matter of finding a time-slot at the Michigan Secretary of State. I got lucky, and managed this, despite severe scheduling difficulties resulting from COVID-19 workplace restrictions. In fact, I managed to snag two appointments, one to title the Comanche and to register it and the rest of my vehicles (which were soon to be overdue), and once to title the 1991 Jeep Cherokee.

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Titling the five-speed Cherokee was a glorious moment, because I’d bought the machine from Indiana with an Illinois salvage title, and was worried that this might bring with it complications.

Illustration for article titled How I Appeased My City After It Gave Me Six Weeks To Fix And Register My Fleet Of Broken Cars
Photo: David Tracy
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The only major complication was the wrenching. The vehicle had been deemed totaled by the insurance company after it was involved in a side-impact crash. This bent the front axle, and bashed in the outer fender. Replacing the axle meant replacing a number of other components, including the axle seals on the leaky donor axle.

The seals were a giant pain in the ass to swap out (I think I broke four seals trying to install them), as were the seized ball joints and U-joints. In the end, thanks to lots of help from Jalopnik readers, I replaced the Jeep’s entire front axle and the driver’s side fender. With this done, I had my work looked at by an official Michigan state inspector and then I was in the clear to get the vehicle back on the road with a Michigan salvage title in my name.

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The 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle was an even bigger job—so big, in fact, that I skipped much of it. Instead of rebuilding the Jeep’s original motor, I just bought a rebuilt one that was being sold by a friend of a friend.

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Illustration for article titled How I Appeased My City After It Gave Me Six Weeks To Fix And Register My Fleet Of Broken Cars
Photo: David Tracy

After honing the engine, I was having trouble getting the pistons to slide in the bores. This setback, and the fact that, deep down, I felt that the engine really deserved a full rebuild rather than just new bearings and a hone-job, led me to install a newly-rebuilt motor. It cost me $849, but it just felt right.

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Swipe through the videos in the embedded Instagram post below, and you’ll see that I didn’t just chuck the engine into the Golden Eagle. First, I swapped the rear main seal, the oil pan seal, the valve cover gaskets (and I painted the valve covers, since orange is not the right color for an AMC engine), the water pump, the oil pump, the intake manifold gasket, some freeze plugs, and a number of other seals and parts. After all, I’d have felt like a fool if I installed the motor, and it started leaking. Especially after the engine had been right there on the engine stand, with everything easily accessible.

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Unfortunately, on the day before the deadline, the engine was still on the stand, and I had nobody to help me install it.

So, in the middle of the night, I installed a 500+ pound AMC V8 engine into the 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle by myself. I simply hoisted the motor using the crane, lowered it onto the engine mounts, and used some extra-long bolts and a quarter-inch drive extension to line the engine up with the transmission.

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In the end, I got the AMC 360 into the engine bay, and I installed the hood and grille. Again, I did this by myself, and it was a pain in the ass, as you’ll see in one of the clips above. But it did make the Golden Eagle look a bit more presentable:

Illustration for article titled How I Appeased My City After It Gave Me Six Weeks To Fix And Register My Fleet Of Broken Cars
Photo: David Tracy
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I drove the 1992 Jeep Cherokee that was sitting in my backyard onto the driveway, and with that, I now have five functional vehicles and one “aesthetically functional” vehicle neatly lined up in front of my house.

  1. 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle
  2. 1985 Jeep J10
  3. 1991 Jeep Comanche
  4. 1991 Jeep Cherokee 5spd
  5. 1992 Jeep Cherokee auto
  6. 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd

There’s also a 1966 Mustang in the garage and a 2000 Jeep Cherokee at my brother’s house, meaning I’m down to eight cars in total, with only six visible from the outside.

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The Kia, the Willys, the Land Rover, the Grand Wagoneer are gone, the 2000 Cherokee is my brother’s for the time being, and who knows, maybe the Golden Eagle and 1991 XJ will find new owners in the not-so-distant future, bringing me down to six machines in total.

That’d be a more normal car count, right? (OK, if you add the manual, diesel 1994 Chrysler Voyager that I’m currently fixing, that’d make seven, but this van is on a different continent, so it doesn’t count).

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I reached out to the city inspector to make sure I was good-to-go, particularly because the Golden Eagle may or may not exactly be running yet, and he replied with this:

The ordinance states that it has to be fully capable of being driven. If all the tires are inflated and all the cars are plated, I may not be able to tell if the car is operable from Public property.

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So I should be fine. Inflated and plated—it’s a term that my coworker Jason Torchinsky latched onto, and I’m now going to use it as a phrase to represent the bare-bone minimum standard of automobile ownership. Here’s an example to help you use this term properly:

Person A: “Hey, you’ve seen Dave’s cars right? What are they like?”

Person B: “I’ll put it to you this way: His cars are far from collectors’ pieces or even rough-around-the-edges daily drivers. Dave’s more of an ‘inflated and plated’ kind of car owner.”

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With this small victory in hand, I still wasn’t entirely in the clear. That’s because the aftermath that resulted from my harrowing battle against the city’s deadline led to a mess on my driveway. There were tools and car parts strewn everywhere, and even though my cars were now compliant with the ordinance, I now had a new problem:

Illustration for article titled How I Appeased My City After It Gave Me Six Weeks To Fix And Register My Fleet Of Broken Cars
Photo: David Tracy
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Dammit.

The good news is that, just prior to flying to Germany to take ownership of the diesel, manual minivan of my dreams, I spent a few hours cleaning the driveway, removing tires from roofs, putting bent axles and water pumps into the bed of my Comanche to later be taken to the scrap heap, and organizing the tools that had been laying all over the driveway. The place looks legitimately good now.

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If my house doesn’t meet the city’s standards, I’d be surprised. And screwed, since I’m 4,000 miles from my house.

Gulp.

Sr. Technical Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from auto engineers—email me. Cars: Willys CJ-2A ('48), Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94).

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DISCUSSION

ichibahls
Ichi Bahls

I may not be able to tell if the car is operable from Public property.“
This is a good public servant doing his duty and not being an ass.