Thursday, September 26, 2013

Making the Wheels "Turn, Turn, Turn"

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven,” but you don’t have to be a Bible scholar or a fan of The Byrds to know that getting the Eagle’s engine running was a time to celebrate. It was an important practical and symbolic step in what is sure to be a lengthy journey. But now it’s serious times. The euphoria of hearing that old straight-six cough, then scream, then roar for the first time in ages, has passed, and now we gotz to get down to bid-niss once again.

Everything between the engine and the wheels is still an open question. Over the last few days I raised the car on jackstands so that the wheels could spin freely (not an easy feat, considering the high ground clearance) and performed the factory-prescribed transmission diagnostic procedure. Outcome: regardless of what gear the transmission is in, the engine and wheels both seem unaware of its presence. 
broken transmission? That's jacked up, yo!

I hoped that this was because the transmission fluid was a little low, so I added enough to get it to the Full line on the dipstick. Put it into gear again and… nothing. Not only that, the new fluid was all that showed up on the dipstick, meaning that it wasn’t circulating in the transmission. No bueno.

Yes, I knew that the car was immobile when I picked it up, but you always hold out hope that the easy solution works first. And I have one more easy solution to try. If the transfer case is in what’s known as a “false neutral” position, this might, MIGHT, explain the problem. Fixing it is a matter of turning one wrench in the short term and replacing 2 vacuum hoses in the long term.

In the (likely) event that that doesn’t work, I’ll have to accept the verdict of the small-town mechanic who has already said: complete transmission rebuild. On the bright side, this means many more pictures and entries for your viewing and reading enjoyment, probably for many weeks to come. It's an exacting and tedious process, with sensitive tolerances, and if you fail to put just one part back in the right place, you could easily have serious problems.
... is pretty much what I'm trying to say.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

"Eagle Powers... Come To Me"

The time was coming. All the gas and chemicals had been put in. A new battery was procured and placed in its home as you can see here, in the lower left hand corner of the snake pit engine bay.

Not to be forgotten was the spiritual preparation - maybe the most important part- which was roughly like this, today's Eagle pun:

I was a bit anxious as I went over all the pre-flight checks to make sure everything was hooked up right for this momentous occasion. Crank it with the ignition coil disconnected to build oil pressure... connect the wire back up... turn the key and hope for the best... and this is what happened:

Appropriately for an American Motors classic, it said "...'murica!'murica!'murica!..." a few times before starting (at least that's what I heard). All the lights and other rudimentary electronics appear to be working just fine. I switched on the radio, and the first song that it played was AC/DC's "Back in Black" (again, very appropriate)...

"Back in black
I hit the sack
It's been too long I'm glad to be back
Yes I'm, let loose
From the noose
That's kept me hanging around
I keep looking at the sky
'Cause it's gettin' me high
Forget the hearse 'cause I'll never die
I got nine lives
Cats eyes
Usin' every one of them and running wild
'Cause I'm back
Yes, I'm back
Well, I'm back
Yes, I'm back
Well, I'm back, back
I'm back in black
Yes, I'm back in black!"

Saturday, September 21, 2013

It's a Gas, Gas, Gas...

The other night found me nursing the Eagle back to health, with help from my long-suffering wife.

betcha haven't seen a center-mounted fuel filler for a while

To prepare it to spread its wings for the first time in many months, I put in some Lucas fuel system cleaner, Sta-Bil fuel stabilizer (because who knows how long it will take until it's roadworthy again), and all the 91-octane gas I could fit into the gas cans we had, plus a couple that were borrowed. This didn't go as well as it might have, and several ounces of gas ended up on the ground in various places, smelling up the garage and our other cars quite effectively. 

At one time or another we both got splashed with some errant drops of petroleum distillate. After a while, the look on Lydia's face was something like, "I'm helping you because you asked, and I love you, but this really sucks." The fumes were pretty bad, I have to admit, but with any luck this was just a one-time deal.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Origin Story


Unless (or even if) you’re a car enthusiast with very democratic (read: cheap) tastes, you may see a guy with a 30-year old non-running station wagon built by a long-defunct manufacturer, and the thought that might come into your mind is “um… why?”

Why go to the trouble to get it? Why try to restore it? And for the love of Mopar, why put pictures of it on the internet? A couple different people recently have had questions like these. Why did I choose *this* as a project car? Short answer: like a pathetic homeless animal, I didn't choose it, rather it chose me.

But in any case, it seems to be time for a little background before we get back to our regularly scheduled programming. So… ::cue the wavy lines on the screen::

Some time ago (not sure how long), on old friend in Utah found the Eagle for sale near where he lived, and bought it for two purposes: as a second car for the family, and as a way to learn more about car repair and maintenance. But as the saying goes: men plan, and God laughs. Long-story-short, many things happened and the Eagle, with a broken drivetrain, was consigned to a spot on the street near my friend’s house.

Months later I was visiting Utah with Lydia, and we decided to meet said friend and his wife, with their newborn spawn, for some frozen yogurt. I was curious about the Eagle, having seen something about it on Facebook when it was purchased, and so I asked. Somewhat sheepishly, my friend confessed that he had driven the Eagle for only a month or so before grenading the transmission, and that it hadn't been driveable for some time. They had replaced it with a 3-series wagon which a previous owner had lowered for some reason.

As the death (or paralysis) of almost any car is a somber and sensitive thing, condolences were expressed, and the conversation branched off to some other subject. Days later, I was talking with Lydia and said, very tongue-in-cheek, that "Worth and Paige have two station wagons, and we have none. They should give us one, and then it would be fair. I would even take the busted one."

The intended humor was not lost on Lydia, who said, “that’s going on Facebook.” It did, and the owners of the broken Eagle saw it, probably had a brief laugh, and that was it, or so I thought. Weeks later, out of the blue, I got a fateful text message: “Ok, so hey. You want this Eagle or what?”

Many things happened, and a month later I flew to Utah, loaded the Eagle onto a trailer, and it was in my garage a couple of days later. 

And now you know the rest of the story. Although really it's just the beginning, and as Robert Plant put it: "as the Eagle leaves the nest, it's got so far to go."

More details to come.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Good Times, Bad Times

It may be that you’ve never done much work on a car. Perhaps you couldn’t even give a pair of solid wastes about cars in general. But even then, it doesn’t take much imagination to realize that when a car is parked for a long time without running…. “things” can happen to it.

Gasoline turns to rancid black coffee. Batteries turn to inert rocks. Moving parts that were once separate, fuse and seize up as nature begins to reclaim its own. None of these things is conducive to the successful operation of the car.

None of this is surprising, of course, and I was prepared for whatever I might encounter.

So, the bad news first.

I tried to jump-start the Eagle in a moment of optimism using the never-complaining workhorse that is our Corolla. I succeeded in getting the radio and lights to work, and in making the jumper cables and the Eagle’s starter solenoid red-hot (the latter let off a bit of smoke). But when I turned the key, the Eagle just said “…….rrrrrrrr…….rr……..” very quietly. The Corolla, on the other hand, complained loudly and was all like, dude, you expect me to start that? LOLWTFBBQ!

A few more tries got the same response. The next day I took the Eagle’s battery to Autozone in another fit of optimism to see if it could be re-charged. The manager at the counter brought out the battery tester first. After hooking up the clamps to the terminals, pressing the same button on the tester repeatedly, adjusting the clamps, hitting the same button again, he said something like, “Yeah, so it’s not even recognizing it as a battery.”

In a doubtful voice, he said he could put it on the “really slow trickle charger” but I knew it was probably curtains. Sure enough, two hours later, I came back and found this:

Eagle battery haz a sad.

But now, the good news. I located the gas cap and proceeded to try to get a whiff of the contents. To my relief, the gas still smelled like gas (never thought I’d say that). This means that if I fill the tank with the expensive stuff and a couple additives, I should be in the clear as far as the fuel system goes. So one system down (most likely), a dozen to go.

My other big worry about getting the Eagle to start was that the pistons might be seized – in other words, that the most important moving parts of the engine might have become “glued” to their surroundings in such a way that even a new battery wouldn't be able to start the engine - oh yeah, and the car would be pretty much useless.

The easy way to test this is to take the appropriate size wrench and rotate the crankshaft manually. This took some significant effort… BUT! It moved! It rotated almost a full turn in each direction which means that all the pistons are able to move. I sang a little song in my head that was something like “The pistons aren't seized! So glad the pistons aren't seized.” (to the tune of “The Cheat is Not Dead”)

Next time, the attempt to start it once again.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

This Just Happened

Saturday night, cheating death by torrential rain in southern Utah, and death by holy-shnike-this-road-is-narrow in northern Arizona, a 14-hour epic towing journey from Tooele to Mesa came to an end. The 1985 AMC Eagle wagon has found a new home, or at least a rehab center, where hopefully it will one day return to full functionality and awesomeness.

What we know so far:
  • transmission has been cooked
  • hasn't started in... a while
  • needs a new heater core, CV axle, catalytic converter
  • leaks like a sieve
On the bright side:
  • electronics, like the radio, appear to be working
  • actually has current registration through October

 After being shoved into the garage by some helpful friends, the patient is resting comfortably.

For anyone out there who might like to stay apprised of the goings-on of this project, look no further. Stay tuned (you know you want to). Much more to come. Also there will be plenty of "eagle" puns. Ye be warned.