I foolishly bought a Willys Jeep in Washington, 2,200 miles away from my Michigan home. To retrieve the dilapidated machine, I’ll need a tow vehicle, and since none of my Jeeps have the towing capacity (or reliability) to handle such an endeavor, I bought a fancy Toyota Land Cruiser. A really high mileage one. Sight unseen. Here’s the rest of my idiotic plan.
As announced a few weeks ago, the centerpiece of Jalopnik’s new “Jalopnik Tech” initiative is a project involving working with automotive engineers to convert a 1958 Willys FC-170 into an electric vehicle. The insight I expect to be able to share with readers through engineers working for Tesla, General Motors, Ford, Fiat Chrysler, and a number of other automakers is beyond exciting. But before that can happen, I need to take possession of the host vehicle — this pathetic thing:
I thought about fixing my 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle, since it served much of its life as a rally car tow vehicle prior to my ownership, and is thus set up to yank heavy loads (it has a trailer brake controller). But then a reader offered to sell me her 2002 Lexus LX470 for $5000, and — curious about Land Cruisers after hearing so many good things about them — I couldn’t resist. But it wasn’t just temptation: I chose the Land Cruiser because there’s a chance that whatever vehicle I drive to the Seattle area is going to be sold out there, and I wasn’t ready to let go of the Golden Eagle quite yet.
Yes, my ideal, primary plan right now is to actually fix the Willys FC, get it into safe roadworthy-ish shape, and then try to drive it over 2,400 miles back to Michigan. Basically, I’m going to try to stuff one of my patented six month Moab projects into roughly two weeks of wrenching.
I’m fully aware that the chances of getting this Willys ready for the road in a couple of weeks are basically zero. I do think I can fire up that old flathead six, since I’ve gotten pretty good at getting old motors running. I’ll swap the ignition points, spark plugs, and plug wires, throw a new coil in, clean up the carb, take care of any bad fuel lines or hoses, hope the tank is clean enough, and try to fire it up.
The engine is the least of my worries, though. I don’t know what shape that transmission is in, and my history with ancient farm Jeeps with T-90 three-speed transmissions tells me that water is probably in that case, meaning rust is probably in that case, meaning new bearings and possibly gears are going to need to be in that case for the vehicle to move long distances. We’ll see.
Obviously, the brakes will have to be completely re-done, the steering will definitely require new tie rod ends, but who knows, I may have to rebuild the steering gearbox. The vehicle needs new tires, new leaf spring bushings, probably new shocks, likely some structural modifications — honestly, getting this thing driving under its own power is going to be rough. Driving this thing back across the country? It’s a dream that will not happen. But I’m going to see how close I can get. I’d at least like to drive it onto the trailer.
Back to the Land Cruiser. The 275,000 mile vehicle apparently has a bit of a steering rack leak, but is otherwise in decent condition. Check out the underbody photo above. All I see is surface rust; not bad! I called the seller’s mechanic, who rattled off the list of recent repairs. It was extensive! The water pump and timing belt have been done recently, as have the axle shafts and the front differential pinion bearing. The machine has clearly been well maintained, and aside from installing some plastic tees for the heater core hoses, I’m just planning to swap out the fluids and hit the road.
This 2,400 mile trip (well, 4,800 mile, if we’re honest) will be a great test of Toyota reliability, and of the previous owner’s upkeep. As a lifelong Jeep fanboy, I’m excited to see what Toyota Land Cruiser life is all about, though the 13 mpg city, 16 mpg highway is going to put me in the poor-house.
Geez. The very first time I drive this high-mileage Land Cruiser will be a 2,400 mile trek across the country. What could possibly go wrong?