I'm Going To Miss The Indy 500 If I Can't Fix One Of My Jeeps In The Next Three Days

I’ve got to drive more than 300 miles to Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday to go watch some auto race that’s apparently happening, but at this moment, I have no vehicle to get me there. Once again, all of my cars have crapped out simultaneously. And I’ve got three days to come up with a solution.

It was all good just a month ago. Then, three of my four Jeeps were in fantastic shape: my 1948 Willys was running and driving like a dream after this year’s Moab trip, my 1995 Jeep Cherokee was still going strong a full year after last year’s Moab trip, and my 1992 Jeep Cherokee was all healed up after I hydrolocked its engine. Things were great.


But as I’ve come to learn, my car situation is cyclical: a few months out of the year, my vehicles behave and I hardly have to turn a wrench at all, but then it all comes crashing down. This time, my vehicles have simultaneously shit the bed just before the Indianapolis 500, which is a five hour drive from where I live near Detroit.

In the past month, pretty much every tie rod end in the Willys has worn out, causing horrible death wobble, my red Jeep Cherokee also developed a scary death wobble of its own thanks to what I suspect is a worn track bar joint, and my trusty 1995 Cherokee overheated thanks to my own stupidity.

This last incident caused some complications, as Blackstone Labs told me they noticed high levels of sodium and potassium in an oil sample I sent them, indicating that coolant is getting into my crankcase. In other words, overheating my Jeep either blew the head gasket or cracked my cylinder head. Either way, I can’t drive the Jeep with watery oil will, as it will wear down my engine’s bearings in short order.

So long story short: I’ve got to leave for the race on Saturday, and I have no automobile that will get me there right now. I know, I’ve been here before, but this time is not as bad, I promise. Plus, I have a plan.


I’m not going to take the ancient Willys to Indy, because the little Jeep—bless its heart—is too slow. And I won’t take the red Jeep with the death wobble because I’m not 100 percent sure the issue is the track bar, plus I don’t have an adjustable track bar to install. So I’m taking the green $600 overheated XJ.


The good news is that when I blew up my red Jeep’s engine in that mud pit over a year ago, all the hydrolock did was break two connecting rods and send them through the oil pan (you can see the carnage here). That means the cylinder head, which I’ve still got sitting around, made it out unscathed. So all I have to do is bolt this thing to my overheated Cherokee, and I should be ready for the big race.

Unfortunately, water got into the intake ports and gunked up my valves. Plus, this head is coming off a 250,000 mile engine, so I have to lap the valves to make sure they seal the combustion chamber before installing the thing onto the XJ.


So far I haven’t done much. I just cleaned off the carbon from the valves, and I’ve lapped the first exhaust valve.


As I will be doing the valve lapping by hand, it’s going to take a while. I’ll be using a crappy suction cup and some valve lapping compound to rotate the valve against the valve seat. The compound will act as an abrasive, wearing down the valve and seat so they make a nice sealing surface.

Here’s what I’ll use to lap the valves.

Lapping the valves is the least of my worries, though, as I have to disconnect all the cooling system hoses, wiring, intake and exhaust manifold, and a whole bunch more from the old head, and reconnect them when I bolt on the new head.

There’s a lot of stuff to disconnect before I can remove the old cylinder head.

Swapping a head on a Cherokee is fairly straightforward, but it takes time, and I’ve only got tonight, tomorrow night, and Friday night to get this done.

Why are my vehicles always out to destroy me?

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About the author

David Tracy

Writer, Jalopnik. 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle, 1985 Jeep J10, 1948 Willys CJ-2A, 1995 Jeep Cherokee, 1992 Jeep Cherokee auto, 1991 Jeep Cherokee 5spd, 1976 Jeep DJ-5D, totaled 2003 Kia Rio