So that was about it for car adventures over the Spring break. I had, after all, locked the car and turned off the headlights. It started with about 10 seconds of cranking and came to life with the red light on, pistons slapping, and rods knocking until the oil pressure built up. Then it was just pistons slapping for the first little while on the decidedly-less-speedy drive away from the airport. The knocking and redlighting reminded me the Valiant’s original engine was a tired pony, enough so to inspire thoughts of renewal…and upgrades, of course!
I’d been thinking those thinky thoughts for awhile; vis-à-vis that aluminum 225 I’d got from Svigel’s some years before. I’d taken it apart, called up the machine shop I liked in Denver, told them I had a 225 Slant-6 to bring in for machinework…then walked in the front door carrying the (76-pound) block in my two hands: “Here’s that Slant-6 I called about; where should I put it?”. That was a favourite party trick of mine.
The block was in great shape; it just needed honing, not overboring, and the deck flattened. I had the rods reconditioned, got new bearings and gaskets, had the head rebuilt with hardened exhaust valve seats. New oil pump, new water pump, new fuel pump. I had the oil pan and rocker cover powder-coated yellow, a few shades more vivid than the yellow Chrysler applied to 225s in trucks from ’63-’69. I had the crank turned and polished, and I got a very fancy set of Total Seal rings (gapless second ring) made out of moly-coated, gluten-free, artisanal, shade-grown, dew-harvested forged nodular iron. Double-roller timing set, Dutra custom camshaft I got for a sweet price because Doug didn’t recall its specs and couldn’t find the card for it. I had an Australian 2-barrel intake manifold with a brand-new Carter BBD export-spec carburetor. I bought an expensive ring gap grinder to make certain the ring end gaps were set exactly, precisely right.
I boxed up all these parts in Denver over break, and sent ’em to Oregon. The idea was a bunch of us from a Mopar listserv would gather at the home-and-shop of one of the listserv members and we’d build and install the engine. I was at home in Eugene, drinking orange juice and paying bills, when the UPS lady rang the doorbell. She glowered at me and said “You’re going to have to help with these”, then backed the truck into the driveway and opened the rear gate.
The boxes looked to have been kicked around quite a lot. They’d held up, but taken an obvious beating. We got them into the garage, and the UPS lady tartly advised wooden crates next time. I’m sure she was right. Battered boxes aside, there was my engine block, surrounded by foam noodles and wrapped in bubble wrap. It was fine.
The other carton, the one that weighed 115 pounds, was full of miscellaneous parts as previously listed. Metal parts with edges and corners and heft, so the cow count climbed as I recalled having put a very rare gasket set for the aluminum engine, together with a very rare extra head gasket, at the bottom of this box. Fortunately it came through okeh.
Dude with the shop lived some two hours north up in Oregon City, so I commuted over several weekends around the end of the school year (not good for my grades) and then for longer stretches once classes stopped for the summer, and the engine got built. The team approach never materialised; it was pretty much just shop-owner Steve and me. It all seemed to go together fine, and we got the engine installed, and started. Yay, it ran! Boo, it wouldn’t run at all below about 900 RPM and was rough and choppy below about 1100. At higher engine speeds—like if I left it in second gear—it made a throaty new growl and seemed to wake up briefly before then running out of breath. And the exhaust was smoky.
This was…very disappointing. I’d had such grand IMAX surround-sound THX mind-movies of this lovely, unusual aluminum engine running so picture-perfectly; it was jarring and bruising when the results in reality didn’t measure up to the fantasy. I had hair at the time, and there was much tearing of it; rending of garments, too. I chased after what seemed like they had to be vacuum leaks and timing problems, but never really got anywhere.
Eventually I arranged to head down the 5 to noted Chrysler tech Hemi Andersen’s, in southern California. This was not really on the way between Western Oregon and Denver, but…off I went! Me and my Valiant crammed full of not only the possessions I was moving back to Denver with because my lease had ended, but also a whackload of carp arts; heavy ones made of metal. About 850 pounds of stuff, all in all.
The trip down to California was troublesome. The carburetor I’d installed to replace the one I’d had to repair temporarily with JB-Weld flooded and vapour locked numerous times and the choke didn’t work right. The fast-idle cam dropped off and jammed the throttle linkage closed (better than open, I’ll grant). This amplified whatever was making the engine run wrong, and so the drive was unpleasant. At least I had my air conditioning, right? Well, yeah, until about a quarter of the way through the extremely hot San Joaquin Valley. A brand-new seal gave out where the refrigerant line attached to the compressor. PFFSSSSHHHH, smell of mineral oil, no more car cooling, and the ozone layer took a hit.
Tank you for the great set of stories over the past few weeks. I love your history of D’Valiant and all the details you added as you told your stories. Had a couple of Darts (1966 and 1965) and there were two in my family (a 1965 and 1966). The 1965 was bought new shortly after I was born.
I can visualize in my mind the Dart Interiors still and also the trunk. I can also see the engine compartment with the “Charger 225” sticker on the air cleaner. Thanks! Hope you are still slowly selling your 300 PCV valves! Appreciate the ride of your memories of the past few weeks! :)!
Thanks for reading! Most of the PCV valves went away all in one go, sold much too cheaply to a major vendor of Mopar restoration parts. They made a killing on ’em.
I’m going to miss D’Valiant and I never ever saw it. You do an excellent job of writing and taking us on the journey.
Thanks, Rick! I still miss D’Valiant from time to time.
“experience is knowledge we get just after we needed it.”
That sir, is a gem of wisdom I’d not heard before. I think I need to have that made into a sign I can hang in the garage.
I too am sad to see the last of D’Valiant, but looking forward to what comes next.
I saved that quote, too. My version of it is, “Experience is the consolation prize you get for screwing something up.”
The D’Valiant Saga has been a fun journey, look forward (maybe?) to the next chapter!
…along with a year’s supply of Rice-A-Roni™ and Lee® Press-On Nails™, if what you’ve screwed up is a go at The Price Is Right.
Another one: Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from the lack of good judgment.
Both halves of that one are true and correct!
That’s only half the gem. The other half involves actually heeding the knowledge we got last time, next time. That part of the lesson took me many years, cars, and dollars to learn.
When things don’t work out as planned, I look at it as “That’s the cost of education and eduction ain’t cheap.” It really does help.
True, correct, and it’s still less expensive than ignorance!
A fine Saturday morning read. Keeping D’Valiant running has provided plenty of entertainment over the weeks, and I’m looking forward to the next instalment. Maybe that should read “installment”, as it seems to be a regular thing in keeping an old car running. I can also relate to the “no alcohol sales on Sunday” issue. My wife and I were driving to Florida several years ago, and we stopped for gas in Georgia. Plenty of beer available in the store, including full coolers but none of it for sale. Oh well. We were almost in Florida, and there were no such silly restrictions. Gotta keep us Canadian visitors happy!
The amount of maintenance dad’s Lancer needed after I’d been away for what, eight months or so, stands in extreme contrast to today’s cars that go for prolonged time and distance without needing more than the screenwasher fluid topped up.
Let me guess. You get a Duster Featherweight and try to achieve 30 mpg at 65 mph?
I never had a Feather Duster or Dart Lite—didn’t and don’t like 2-door cars.
I do look forward to Saturday mornings.
And I knew where this was going with that unidentified Dutra cam. But a bummer about the smoky valve stem seals…
I love tidbits like the box of 300 PCV valves.
For better or for worse, my general mantra has been: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And if it is broke, I tend to buy cheap parts and keep my fingers crossed. My truck has always been primarily a work tool, so it’s just gotten what it needed to keep running. Considering I’ve had it for 34 years, the issues have been minimal. But then it’s not my daily driver.
So how did that fast manual steering box turn out? It must have been great once you got a wee bit of speed under the front tires. Especially so on the highway. But probably a bit of a bear in the parking lot.
This lesson eluded my grasp for a very long time. It’s true, that thing about those who fail to learn from history being doomed to repeat it; we’re not close to done with stories like this.
The quick-ratio manual steering box: another poor choice. Chrysler offered it as a race piece, and that’s what it was. It very efficiently sapped all the joy out of driving the car: much too twitchy on the highway, too stiff around town, and unbearable in parking manœuvres. Ditching the power steering for this was an exercise in trading one kind of Lenkungschmerz for another. This was a bit of experience I did heed; next time I did a steering box swap was on the Lancer, years later, and I wound up much happier. I took off the stock 24:1 box and installed a 20:1 box. Perfectly delightful! That’s how they all should have come.
I should clarify: I might very well have gone down a rather similar road. I spent way too much time making endless better cars in my mind, but I mostly didn’t have the means to do so. Actually, one timewhen I had a job for a couple of months I did have my VW engine rebuilt into a 1350cc (from a 1200) when it didn’t actually yet need to be, and that didn’t turn out so well, as thanks to my timing-by-ear technique (which for some reason doesn’t seem to work well on a VW) I gave it way too much advance and pulled the studs out of the case on a very long full-throttle ascent of the Alleghenies.
I think I put a set of Total Seal rings in my Yamaha RD-350 when I was 18. As I recall they weren’t an easy install compared to standard rings. I also ported the hell out of it and basically ruined its streetability. It was an excellent stock engine with lots of bottom end grunt but at that age of course I had to mess with it. I ended up with a little more top end along with spark plugs that would frequently foul.
Live and learn.
Yah, eh! Exactly.
This has been an enjoyable series of articles on D’Valiant. One thing you have reinforced is my strong preference for very original cars. As you note, many of your improvements turned out to be anything but. For the next guy, trying to diagnose and figure out what got messed with is not a good time at all.
It’s too bad you never got to experience the promise of that aluminum 225 without the smoke and other performance issues.
One irony of the whole thing is that I, too, have long preferred very original cars. It’s just for many years I didn’t have the sense to leave ’em the hell alone!
What is he looking at in that Lancer ad? Must be the same ad agency that did that Studebaker Commander ad featured a few days ago.
Well, it’s 09:15 Saturday morning here in Arizona now and I have finished ‘re-playing’ your visit to my shop in back in Cali, in my mind. I remember Daniel and those thoughts I had at the time continue to flash in my mind like the RED and BLUE lights of a ‘Cop car’ in my rear view mirror! “Why did he spend all that time and money on all sorts of exotic parts for that poor engine when good old ‘STOCK’ replacement parts, GENUINE MOPAR parts, would have done such a much better job?” Had we figured out that it was valve stem seals that were wacky, the fix would have been easy! That being said, I did enjoy the memories and cringe somewhat at the thought of upcoming automotive episodes at my shop!
Just as a hint, I include a photo that will certainly evoke varied responses for the next or a future saga in the automotive life of Daniel Stern. Be kind, Dan!
Because I had big, fancy ideas about playing Brandenburg Concerto № 3 fast and perfectly, despite having not mastered my scales.
Daniel, this is another very fine post. Last week’s was mostly lost on me, but that’s on me, not you. (In a nutshell, repressed childhood trauma, therefore must always obey rules for fear of incurring wrath of authority figures, and therefore no drug experimentation ever, not even a cigarette, and therefore what the heck is Daniel talking about? But I should leave it there, as this is C.O.A.L., not M.O.A.S.A.R.C. [Memories Of A Strange And Repressive Childhood].)
I loved the Gus Wilson (and The Model Garage) reference – these are available online, and I’ve read most of them. The Ray Quigley illustrations are wonderful.
Your story of nonchalantly carrying the aluminum Slant Six block about is marvelous.
Your ability to carry out field repairs is inspiring. I’ve worked through a few, but am not in your league.
I moved here quite a few years ago to further my studies, and discovered that CJOB, the dominant AM talk station of the day, featured The Automotive Hotline, a phone-in with Master Mechanic Sid Minuk fielding questions on Saturday afternoons. I tuned in faithfully ever after, until ‘OB cut the program in 1990. In any case, one of the first calls I heard was a fellow with a Slant Six Valiant or Dart who was looking for more power. Sid recommended that he find a 2-bbl manifold and carburetor at the wrecker, and convert his car to a “Super Six”.
Carry on, I’m already looking forward to next Saturday morning!
About a month ago I bought a secondhand electric piano. I’d been thinking about getting one for years, and finally did it. It’s got 88 keys like a regular piano, and it has a headphone jack which is crucial to the whole thing—secondarily so I can practise without disturbing the peace, but primarily because nobody must ever hear me strike a wrong note. I took piano lessons from age 7 to about 11 or so, and my mother, whose behaviour I’ve mentioned in my COAL stories, screamed That’s wrong, stupid!” every time I missed the right note. These kinds of things leave scars.
Sid Minuk’s advice on the radio was good; the 2bbl setup gave about a 10 per cent increase in horsepower and torque, plus large driveability improvements. And really, who wouldn’t want to patronise Gus Wilson’s Model Garage if it were possible?
There’ll be a reprise of that blocklifting stunt, with pictures, but not for awhile.
Arg, that’s painful to hear!
Back in my school days a psych prof warned us about the misuse of operant conditioning techniques. The example given was applying painful electric shocks to subjects who stuttered, with the goal of curing them.
Instead, the subjects quit speaking entirely.
In the same way, you quit playing piano. (Glad to hear you’ve taken it up again!)
Your mum’s approach was wrong, but I doubt she did it to be unkind or discouraging. She didn’t realize that no wrong notes ever would have meant that you’d quit trying challenging stuff.
As a mother, she almost certainly only wanted the best for you, but didn’t have the tools to know how to help you get there. Perhaps that’s how she was raised.
This is easy to say from outside, but is not meant in any way to dismiss or diminish your experience.
Your mother was redeemed in my eyes, to some extent, with the tale of “I will not (specified behaviour) 100 times”.
Tangentially related, and because car content sneaks into most everything, I spent much of yesterday troubleshooting a bad noise on a friend’s Chevy Sonic. Had to remove the serpentine belt to isolate the belt-driven accessories and then found the water pump and tensioner smooth and quiet but the alternator noisy when spun by hand. And then worked through removing the alternator. What a tight fit!
And then thought back to school days and changing the alternator on a friend’s ancient ’67 Plymouth Fury I with its Slant Six not taking up overly much of the very roomy engine bay. Ten minutes? 15?
In any case, a real study in contrasts.
Another great Saturday read. But it made me think … as I was trying to remember the last time I messed with points or rotors or “condensers”, I realized that I haven’t even touched spark plugs (except on a motorcycle or chainsaw) for decades. Our Prius went over 100K without any plug attention and now that our son has taken it another 50K I wonder if he’s ever changed them. I feel guilty that my CC credentials have expired.
Oh, just so. My CC credentials have not only expired, they can’t even be located any more.
But then, given that they consisted much more of enthusiasm than capability, it is unlikely that that is something to be mourned – even by the mechanics who made money fixing that which I had fixed first.
“I was able to undo about 80 per cent of the [hood] deformation with judicious hammering, but it left a sour feeling; every time I looked at every part of this car, it seemed, something about it reminded me of my incompetence!”
I know this feeling only too well, such as when I scraped the side of a former car against the garage door frame in an attempt to create more room on one side to more easily remove/reinstall wheels and tires. The garage frame was fine, but the car had wavy sheet metal and scratches on the right rear door! And this was only about a week and a half after the sunroof quit working, argghhh!
Your garage-scrape reminds me of two things: a story to add to a COAL instalment about a car I haven’t yet mentioned, and the time my mother got confused and pressed the grudge door beeper* while backing the 1970 Dart out the grudge, then got flustered and sat there trying to figure out what to do as the door came down and put a transverse dent in the car’s roof.
*i.e., the remote. I don’t know why my folks called it a beeper.
Another fine write up Daniel. Ouch, I can see where after that steering box swap it would be hard to maintain the enthusiasm to keep at it. It sure sounded good on paper though. My ’65 Barracuda burned about a quart of oil every 50 miles before I rebuilt it (mosquitoes were few and far between for the first few minutes of any drive). But it was run by a buddy of mine with a leaking radiator for quite some time before I bought it (for $200 in 1979). He just carried around a big jug of water and when the temp gauge hit the H he just poured more water in. He didn’t check oil often (or changed it). The bores needed 0.040″ over to clean it up irrc.
Oh, yeah, all the modifications were terrific until I did them. Some of them stayed that way afterward; others didn’t.
And yep, Slant-6s could still keep on ticking even with severe wear.
smoke can be diagnosed as you drive, black smoke over fueling blue smoke oil burning, smoke accelerating rings, lift off down hill then floor it smoke stem seals, grey white smoke engine is dieing,
oil is cheaper and easier to install than engine parts, just keep on truckin.
“Oil is cheaper and easier than engine parts”. I love it, the Chevy Vega owner’s mantra.
I hate Jägermeister. For some reason when visiting the Philippines and all the ex-pats I knew there would also be some Europeans. When out on a bar hop a favorite past time was one ordering shots for the group. Every time someone would order shots of Jägermeister. With sleight of hand I made mine disappear, One night I was sitting in a club enjoying my drink when the waitress puts a shot of Jägermeister in front of me. WTH! She says it is from a fellow behind me. I look and he holds up his glass in a toast knowing I hate the stuff straight. Trapped. On top of it he is Swedish and why couldn’t he just use vodka.
After this Spring Break party story there aren’t any more involving alcohol. I cook with beer and wine from time to time, but my yearly alcohol consumption rounds down to zero. I have no moral qualm about it, and no familial tendencies to worry about or anything like that; I just don’t like the taste or the effects. There are a few exceptions; a friend’s brother back in Toronto made very good strawberry wine, a case of which (about 20 small bottles) we received for helping the friend move in 2004 or so. We drank the last bottle this past New Year’s.
But for the most part I don’t drink alcohol, so the cultural stuff around it is largely opaque to me. Occasionally I’ll see or hear someone fretting about how to decline a drink without incurring increased pressure to accept it or sparking speculation that they’re on the wagon, and I just don’t get it. But apparently saying “naw, I’m good, thanks” is often not allowed to be the end of the discussion. Or I’ll read about “Dry January”, this thing of challenging oneself to not have any alcohol for a whole month, or see an article headlined “What’s I Learned From Not Drinking for Four Months” and everything about the idea is foreign to me, starting from its premise.
I’m not sure how I might’ve reacted in your place in that club, to some dillweed who sadistically made a show of giving me something he knew I didn’t like or want, just to get a laff by watching me squirm and suffer. I guess the particulars would depend on the identity of the dillweed, but I would be disinclined to play along.
(If I’m asked why I don’t drink, my usual answer is “My mouth’s too big as it is; don’t nobody need it getting any bigger”.)
Well I did know him and he was a nice guy so all in good fun. I got him back a year or two later when I was bringing bottles of liquor over to the Philippines because they didn’t have what I wanted in good bourbon or tequila. Happen to have a bottle of Mezcal stashed at a friends club and when he wandered in one night, when my friend and me having a drink, he came over. I asked Fred to give him a shot of Mezcal and he learned what it was for the first time in his life.
Hail, fellow traveller on the great Curbside crawl that we call Existence! I too have been an Improver, though perhaps in purer form than you, as my endeavours were ever untroubled by anything resembling engineering knowledge and always effected by what seems to be at least twelve fingers, none of whom have ever liked each other.
It is true that, once, after much valiant effort – not effort on a Valiant like you, for this was a Honda – I very nearly Improved a vehicle to a state where it ran as well as before, if not quite, but my most mystical achievement was to Improve a Peugeot whereby the Improvements transmogrified it another state of being, which might even include it now being the fridge next to me. (I applied all my pure expertise to dismantle and Improve a troubled 504 cylinder head: after some years in which plants and spiders began to take over the unfinished task, the car was towed to meet its maker).
We live, and we learn. Well, we just live in my case, and get an account at a mechanic, but that itself must surely count as a learning.
These are great tales Mr Stern, fun, and very honest.
And I’m glad the Daliant still lives. That’s a testament your at least having had a go (and about a 90% better hit rate than my efforts ever did!) Long may it stay around, awaiting Improvement.
Another fun and educational read Mr. Stern .
I’m fairly certain I made many similar mistakes in the 60’s & 70’s, I certainly watched in horror as most of the young men I knew destroyed beautiful vehicles without remorse nor learning anything…
Please keep the stories coming .
I haven’t been commenting but I have been reading my way through your series Daniel. The story of your Canadian Valiant has been an excellent read. It’s interesting to read how so many modifications you made resulted in the car being worse off. At that age I wanted to do similar mods to my cars but fortunately I didn’t have the funds so they stayed stock. Looking back, had I made the changes I probably would have had the same end result as you.
Thanks kindly, Vince, for the compliments and the feedback alike. I think I’ve been kind of lopsided in my storytelling; many of my modifications really did improve the car. At its peak—which occurred in the middle of my stewardship—it ran, drove, and worked markedly better than a completely stock example.
@ Vince ;
As a Journeyman Mechanic a huge amount of my work is repairing DPO & DPM “repairs” and / or “upgrades” .
I’ll bite – what are DPO and DPM?
Good stuff! The internet was not helpful with these particular TLAs.
I call them “IPO issues”, for Idjit Previous Owner, though I’m not always on the thickest of ice doing so—sometimes it’s a you should talk! matter.
Long before the internet I was using acronyms ~ then I met a teletype operator who noticed my shorthand and began teaching more of them to me .
I agree, many little changes can be done that improve the average old whip, adding disc brakes using factory parts, replacing rubber suspension bushings with polyurethane, good quality gas chocks (means no American made ones) and any kind of breakerless ignition and learning how to properly tune an engine can really wake up the average beater…
Very few have any concept of proper tuning .
Disc brakes, yes. Good gas shocks, yes, and beefier torsion bars and rear springs and wheels and tires and sway bars. Well-chosen electronic ignition, yes. Proper careful tune, yes. And a variety of other yesses.
Many people have put polyurethane bushings in the suspension of a Dart or a Valiant. Most of those who drive their cars on regular roads (vs. racing) have regretted it.
That depends on how you plan to _use_ the vehicle ~ I drive older slower vehicles as quickly and safely (hence gas HD Bilstein gas shocks & poly bushings) as possible .
If you’re just going to plod ’round town I guess you don’t need the poly bushing nor good quality radial tires ….
For me, road holding is critical the last vintage car drive I went on they decided to let my 38 year old 2/3 million mile clapped out 4 cylinder 57 HP, 3,900# Diesel taxi go to the front, I didn’t see any of them again until we met at the end .
No, I didn’t exceed 65 MPH and went maybe 45 on the really twisty bits .
It’s all relative .
I think I’d really enjoy a ’65 Plymouth Barracuda with ‘Leaning Tower Of Power’ slant 6, A727 slushbox and wagon torsion bars and disc brakes, AC etc., etc…
MoPars may be funny loking but they’re great road cars .
Uncle Tom McCahill was crazy about Chrysler cars’ road manners due to their torsion-bar suspension. In one ’60s Plymouth or Dodge road test he said the car “stuck to the road like an eel caught in a vise”.
On first reading I didn’t know if he liked the handling or not, but in context the statement was actually a high compliment.