Ben

Apr 262015
 

Between the cold, the heat, the rain and the NBA playoffs there are endless distractions to keep me out of the garage. Getting started is the hard part. I shook off the winter blues and started today. But wait, the winter months generated a nice layer of clutter on top of all the parts and tools. Three hours later… I get started again. Now where was I. Ah yes, brakes lines and the missing brake distribution block. Of all the parts I figured I could not buy new this is not one of them. A quick internet search and quickly I realize I really need to find this thing or I will be wading through junk yards for countless hours. So I spent another two hours looking through every box of parts that came off the truck. I was sad to find that I didn’t remember removing more than a few of them. There were many exclamations of “Hope I took a picture of that thing before I took it off!” I finally found the part and of course it was in the very last box. Small victories! With part in hand I think my schedule is still intact. Next time I will get some serious work down!

Here is confirmation of a successful treasure hunt along with a bonus master cylinder:

 

Brake Distribution Block

 Posted by at 9:13 pm
Feb 162015
 

One of the problems you have when you decide to be your own automotive mechanic is that you will be forced to work on a vehicle when you don’t want to. This happened to me in January. I worked on every car but the D150 project. Since there is no progress there to report on I will talk a little about what I think it takes to be a good mechanic.

So, what does it take to be a good mechanic? What type of mechanic do you want to be? An entry level mechanic should be able to change motor oil and replace worn out brake pads. These are maintenance items that require very few tools and very little skill. Some people don’t want anything to do with even this level of automotive work. There is nothing wrong with that. But what if you want to go further. Replace wheel bearings, shocks or struts? What about head gaskets and transmissions? Maybe rebuild a carburetor? Any of these things I consider past a beginner level. They require more tools, more time and more skill. More than that, you have to overcome a little fear. In most cases this is your only car, the key to the freedom of the road, a way to get to work and most likely your largest investment outside of your house. You are not going to trust it to just anyone so why would you trust yourself unless you are a professionally trained mechanic. If you mess it up then you only have yourself to blame. Here is a short list on what I think it takes to go to the next level.

  • Find someone that has done it before. The internet makes this so easy. I can almost guarantee there is a video or a forum post concerning the job you are about to tackle. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • Use the right tools. If you can afford it, buy it. If not, rent it. Sometimes there are tools that are so specialized that you can do neither. In that case do as much of the work you can then find a machine shop to do the part you cannot.
  • R T F M, really, read all that you can get your hands on. Shop manuals are one of the cheapest and most useful tools you can own.
  • Buy good quality parts.
  • Take your time, don’t cut corners.
  • Don’t lose your temper. I still struggle with this one.
  • Don’t give up if you don’t fix it the first time.

Lets talk about that last one. Most of the time the diagnosis is easy. If a part is broken, replace the part. Computer controlled car systems tend to make life easier. You get a code that tells you what is wrong, fix it. Then there are issues that defy common sense, the computer codes do not exist or they don’t match the symptoms you are witnessing. I have my only philosophy on how to tackle these harder issues.

  • Eliminate the obvious.
  • Start with the easiest fix first.
  • If there is a chance a part under $50 is the problem, just replace it.
  • Again, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

I am no where near an expert in all things automotive and I cannot call myself a master mechanic yet. The only way I know of to get to that elite level is experience. You know that guy that has your problem diagnosed before you even get out of the car. He’s not psychic or a car whisperer. He knows what he knows because he has seen it hundreds if not thousands of times. If you find this guy, whether you want to be an expert mechanic or no mechanic, make him your friend.

I knew I was going to be a garage mechanic pretty early. My first truck lost second gear. I asked my dad what I should do. He pulled out the jack and jack stands and handed me a tool box full of wrenches. We pulled the transmission, bought a used one from the junk yard and replaced it all in a weekend. He taught me a lot of things that weekend but the one that meant the most was that there was absolutely nothing on that vehicle that I could not fix on my own.

To all the vehicles in my past and the ones to come, I am not afraid of you.

 Posted by at 11:08 pm
Jan 032015
 

Happy New Year!

I don’t like resolutions but this post’s timing is too coincidental to not be influenced by the ritual. So here is hoping I don’t quit posting before I quit the gym…

I completed the tear down of the truck a few months ago and as I reviewed all I had done I only had one thought. “Oh my god, what have I done.” Then the doubt spread. Did I need to take it all apart, really every single nut and bolt? Will I be able to put it back together, I will never be able to put it back together! Then I started to breath again and got my heart rate under control and the panic attack subsided.

So now I literally have 4000 lbs of rusty, greasy and dirty parts all over the place. They exist in the garage, attic, shed and backyard. So lets start putting things back together! But wait, they need to be cleaned and re-finished before they can be put back on. I threw a wide range of cleaning techniques and a variety of products with just  as wide a range of results. I will try to list them all here as I remember them.

Mechanical:

  • Pressure washer – great for removing loose grime and rust from larger parts like frame and suspension.
  • Wire brush, good for the smaller parts and removing deep crusted grime in combination with de-greasing agents (see Chemicals section below)
  • Angle grinder, its versatility is only limited by the variety of disks you can use with it.
    • Wire wheel, these can take off rust, grime, paint and… well, everything. There is a size and shape for just about every need.
    • Grinding wheel, good for knocking down un-wanted welds and metal damage.
    • Cut-off wheel, great for removing parts that did not come from the factory and bolts that have forgotten the “lefty loosy” part of their design.
    • Stripping disc, strips things, like rust and stuff.
  • Sand Blaster, I used a light duty one for parts that I want to take back to a nice clean finish or just to have fun.
  • Sand paper, its sand paper, it sands things and comes in a billion different grits.
  • Scotch Brite pads, good for wet and dry scrubbing and prepping painted surfaces for additional coating.
  • Rock tumbler, cleans nuts and bolts as good as it cleans and smooths rocks.

Chemical

  • Simple Green, this stuff at full strength is potent. I used it to soak deeply grimed pieces and as part of a slurry with the rock tumbler with nice results.
  • Gunk Engine Cleaner, specifically the gel variety. Takes care of the greasy, oily stuff.
  • Soap and water, a good environmentally friendly detergent for light cleaning.
  • Alcohol, for prepping before painting.
  • KBS Coatings, Rust Seal system. Found this as an affordable alternative to sand blasting and powder coating. A detailed review is coming soon.

So the shelves in the garage are a little more crowded with cleaning tools and chemicals but more importantly there are parts ready to put back together! Thanks for reading, I will leave you with pictures…

 

Bare, naked, very clean frame.

Bare Naked Clean Frame

Before and after a little wire wheel cleaning. The safety equipment viewed here is essential. That wheel has tasted blood and it thirsts for more.

 

 

Just a little wire wheel cleaning

A little farm style modification. Angle iron to help support the bumper for a little more towing power. These non-oem parts will not be seen again.
Rear Frame Added Towing Support

The last parts to come off. The entire front suspension. Some will be cleaned and reused, some will be replaced with new parts. Stamped steel parts are cheaper than I expected.
Front Suspension

 Posted by at 9:20 pm
Nov 072014
 

I am sure we have all heard the saying but it seems to ring true in so many situations. It becomes extremely relevant when taking on as large a task as completely rebuilding a vehicle. Obviously you need the right tools and expertise but you also need a plan. Let’s face it, planning is a skill in its self and some people just don’t have it. Not to fear, like any skill it can be learned and even augmented by tools. Spreadsheets and whiteboards have been the planners best friend for a long time and there are workbooks published specifically for rebuilding a car. I have been a fan of Trello since i discovered it several years ago and I have been looking for a good excuse to put it through its paces. I plan on tracking this project there and in public so if you feel like checking it out you can search for the first phase “D150 – Rolling Chassis” and follow along.
One bite at a time

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking of phases, this rebuild will be broken down into three separate phases each with its own budget.

  • Rolling Chassis – Projected completion spring 2015 – $2000
  • Body and Interior – Projected completion spring 2016 – $3000
  • Engine and drive train – Projected completion spring 2017 – $5000

So what is the goal? Is the spring 2017 significant? I am glad you asked because it is. There is an event put on by HotRod Magazine every year called the Power Tour. Click here for a recap of the 2014 edition. My son will graduate high school in 2017 and I thought taking him and this truck on a tour of a portion of America with a bunch of like minded car lovers would be the experience of a lifetime. Maybe you could join us! See you soon with more updates.

 Posted by at 1:04 pm
Sep 022014
 

Sorry Number 5, this truck has already been disassembled. I am just now getting around to talking about the tear down process. I will not bore you with all the details of taking a vehicle completely apart. Most people will never try, most are not stupid enough to consider it. Maybe I will drop a post with a lot of pictures of the tear down.

The process is rather simple.

  1. Take pictures
  2. Lefty loosy
  3. Put it in a bag
  4. Label it
  5. Take more pictures
  6. Find a place to store it
  7. Find a place to store it that does not piss off the wife

As a drive way mechanic growing up I could not always afford new parts. Junk yards aren’t that scary just make sure you are up on your shots. Could not always afford special tools. Did not always have the patience to adhere to safe practices. I managed to grow up and get a good job so I can afford all those things I could not before. Patience, not so much.

I apologize and recommend you do not do what I am about to show you. I am embarrassed to even share these but maybe someone will learn from my mistakes, even if I do not. Keep in mind these pictures are about 5 years old (2009) so I can safely say I would never attempt this ever again.

Setup

Tear down had finally reached the point to where the cab needed to be removed. I don’t have a lift, crane or fork lift capable of lifting the cab off of the frame. What I did have was a jack, landscape timbers, a butt load of loose paver stones and a bunch of people willing to help (or witness a new level of fail).

Results

Yes, i did that and surprisingly we all survived.

Cheated death again! All the spectators were truly disappointed there was no blood. Landscape timbers have so many uses, but not for fence posts, just stop Pulte!

My sister expresses her approval of a job well done.

I hope you have all learned a lesson, I sure have, maybe.

 Posted by at 11:22 pm
Jul 252014
 

I have had years to think on what I want to do with this truck. At first I thought I would shoot for the moon and make a show car. Really, have you ever seen a Dodge D-150 show car. Exactly, so lets not go there. This is my first frame off restore so really how long and how far do I want to go. Since I don’t want this project to be the only restore I complete in my life I figure it should be simple and just finish it. So I will learn my lessons and apply them to the next project. Since I am not really working to resell the finished product and I have plans for future restores then it makes sense for this to end up being a shop truck. This does not mean it needs to be boring. The fellas at Gas Monkey Garage have recently advanced the idea that the shop truck should still be a cool truck that anyone would love to drive. Big engine, big power, low, fast and loud. Here are a few examples.

 

So that’s what I am going to do with this truck. Lower it, stroke the 360LA to 408, swap the 3 speed auto for a 4 speed manual transmission, bigger rims and a loud exhaust. There are a few custom items but a lot fewer than when I first started: remove the window wing and replace with solid door glass, custom dash, grill and since this is Texas an updated AC unit. Here are a few inspirational pictures of a 78 Warlock.

 Posted by at 1:55 pm
Jun 092014
 

So here is the truck. It is a 1984 Dodge D-150 step-side short-bed.

These trucks were designed for work. Most of them ended up seeing a lot of hard times but you would be amazed at how durable these trucks truly are. This particular truck was not a farm truck or a trailer hauler. No, its destiny was even more challenging… A teenagers first car, not once, but twice. A good friend of mine and his younger brother both drove this as their first car all through high school. I fell in love with it the first time I saw it. Once the boys were done with it, it sat for quite a while. Then I decided I had to have it. They sold it to me cheap and I actually drove it for awhile. It was a good driving truck, just not a good daily driving truck due to the fact it was a little mpg challenged.

So what do I do with this thing. It’s not going to be a commuter and I don’t live on a farm but everyone can use a truck. I decided to tear it down and see what makes it tick. I grew up taking apart just about everything else mechanical I have ever owned so why not this thing. If I can’t put it back together I’m not out any real money and maybe finally I would learn the lesson I never did growing up.

I want to keep each of these posts short and since I actually started tearing the truck apart over five years ago I will not be in a rush trying to get the documentation caught up all at once. Needless to say, the truck is completely apart. It was a great learning experience. Writing about it here will be another form of learning. Next time I will tell you what the plan is on putting it back together. In future posts I hope to talk about the tools, products and skill used to do all the work.

 Posted by at 11:25 pm
May 132014
 

Thanks Bob Barker,

It is part of human nature to dream, whether it be about saving a damsel in distress, dating a super model or driving a sports car. Maybe, all of the above, at the same time. I am no different and a lot of my dreams do center around owning/building cool cars. So what is so interesting about a 3 wheel, 3 cylinder, 2 seat metro car designed for commuting?

Cars can be as unique as their owner and the task they are designed to perform. I guess that is why they are so appealing to me.  I love the Corvette for its history of innovation and how it represents the American spirit. I love old trucks for the function and the form. I love the big bad boats of the seventies for their excessive nature and over the top luxury – have you seen the size of the back seat in a 1974 LTD. And I love electric cars, the idea of alternative fuels is so hip. There is something about a car that can excel at the one purpose it was designed for. That is where Elio Motors comes in. The idea is simple and the tag line is almost all you need to know. Then when you see the car it seals the deal.

Must Have’s for the Elio Brand:

  • 84 MPG Highway
  • Engineered for an anticipated 5-Star Crash Test Safety Rating
  • American made
  • $6800

Payment Options

Your Elio can be purchased by traditional methods. You may have the opportunity to drive off with no money down, using a unique Elio credit card payment plan. The plan allows you to pay for your Elio over time when you charge fuel. Each time, there will be an extra charge equal to twice the fuel amount that automatically applies to the vehicle price. Think of it this way: For about what you have been paying to fuel your existing vehicle, you can fuel your Elio and buy it too!

A Car for Everyone

Its not really designed for everyone, but for the price maybe it really is! Around 140 million Americans commute to work via personal car. That means you most likely have a car payment and a monthly gas bill not to mention car insurance. Since most people can only afford to own one car it is most likely not specifically designed for commuting. I’m looking at you soccer mom in the Tahoe and you, country boy, in your 4×4. What if you could add a car without taking a hit to the wallet. A car specifically design to get you to work and back and still allow you to keep your existing car. I think Elio has done it if not gotten closer than anyone else. For the price of your monthly gas bill you could pay for an Elio and its gas. So if you shift your commuting to an Elio you would pay nearly the same amount and still have your other vehicle to use for its designed purpose. Enough chat lets look at the numbers.

Math!

Lets say you drive a car that gets 23.6 mpg (the average mpg for all cars sold in america in 2013) and you are lucky enough to only pay $3.5 a gallon for gas (just go with it) and your daily commute is 32 miles. That is ~ $103 a month for gas alone.

Now what if you did it in an Elio using their credit card payment plan. 84 mpg but double the gas purchase and add it as a payment. That gets you ~ $29 a month for gas alone + $58 toward the car loan for a grand total of $87 a month for gas and car payment. Well, what do you know.

I sure hope these guys can pull it off because these numbers get me almost excited as I do when driving that great American sports car I love so much. Check them out for yourself, I think you will be glad you did.

 Posted by at 3:34 pm
Oct 242011
 

I got the frame and fork back from the powder coaters just in time for the weekend so I spent Saturday reassembling the bike. I love the way the finish come out. Even though I know it is stronger than paint I was still afraid of scratching and chipping. After several slips with wrenches I was convinced the finish was on there for good and would provide plenty of protection from the road and weather.

Assembly went off without a hitch. Had to replace one damaged brake cable but other than that a good cleaning is all that was needed for the parts that were to be reused. I think the wheels need to be trued, never tried it so maybe I’ll just let the shop handle that job. There is not much else to say besides how happy I am with how the bike looks and I just wish Powder Coating was a little less expensive.

Cost Breakdown:

  • Bike – Free, thanks to my uncle
  • Powder Coating – $206
  • Tool Kit – $45 but reusable
  • Seat – $29
  • Bottom Bracket – $13
  • Grip Tape – $5
  • Brake Cable – $3

Such a nice clean looking and uncluttered bike if I do say so myself. Next bike will have to be a fixed gear bike, but I think I’m supposed to build a poker table first. Maybe I’ll post that project here too even though it has nothing to do with transportation.

 Posted by at 3:56 pm
Oct 092011
 

I decided to start cleaning the Ross bike to get it ready for the Fall riding season. Fall? Yes, it has finally arrived, although a little late, to Texas. The bike needs a complete shake down to make it ready for the long rides I have planned for it. Possibly the MS150 in April.

I made a checklist and placed an order at my favorite online bike store: nashbar.com. I can always find a good deal or two on their site and catalogs.

Here is what I had planned:

  • Replace the seat.
  • Replace the bottom bracket, the one in there was in bad shape.
  • Replace the handle bar grips.
  • Repack the wheel bearings.
  • Clean, Clean, Clean, this thing has a nice layer of dust, grease and surface rust.

I started by taking the wheels off and repacking the bearings. They are now spinning much better.

Then I removed the cranks and bottom bracket. The tool kit I ordered from nasbar is really nice but did not contain the tools for removing a 35 year old bottom bracket. A pipe wrench was a great substitute tool for this job. I have a nice Shimano sealed bearing that will go back in, the kit has the tool for that job.

I ordered a nice split seat to try out and it will go on in place of the temporary seat that was on there before.

I also ordered a good set of handle bar grip tape that I hope are long enough for the bars (They seem to be longer than modern bars)

Then I started taking parts off to clean and I kept taking parts off to clean until I looked up and noticed I had completely disassembled the bike. I had not planned on taking it this far down but I kept finding more grease residue and rust the further I got in. At this point the bike is going to get a complete make over and I’m really excited.

The bike weighs a lot less than I expected for an all steel bike so I’m going to stick with the stock frame, fork, crankset, brakes and derailer/gear setup. Reusing all these parts will allow me to focus on the finish of the frame and fork. The paint on the Vigilante is not as strong as I would like so this time I’m going to try powder coating. I am not sure on the price for this service yet so I will follow up in another post.

When I decided to go with powder coating I realized I would need to take a few more parts off of the frame. Specifically the fork bearing cups. Guess what, another tool needed that I don’t have and there is a specific tool just for this job. I found this one from Park for around $30:

Not wanting to wait for another order or even pay the price for a gloried piece of pipe I decided to make my own. It cost me the grand sum of $2.48 for the pipe and 10 minutes with the cut-off wheel. Since I have enough pipe to make 4 of them I set the total price of this tool at $0.62. How did it perform? flawlessly! Let me know if you need one, I’ll only charge you a few bucks. Here  is my version:

I’ll put together a price list in the next post…Assembly.

 Posted by at 10:18 pm