COAL: 1965 Valiant, Part IV • Self-Own Service and Naming Names

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.

Contains 100 per cent of your recommended daily intake! ( )

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.

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