Chasing down Zebras at TDS for $1,500.
My goal since buying a clapped-out CJ-6 in mid-December was to get it up and running in time for the Tierra Del Sol Desert Safari the first weekend in March. It sounded easy until I realized all the work that needed to be done. In addition to installing all the parts we showed you in the last issue (see "Project Tally" on Page 2), I also did a ton of other stuff there isn't room to mention. By the time I factored in a hectic magazine schedule (we do have more than one story an issue to write, after all), waiting on parts, going back East for the holidays, and changing poopy diapers, I found myself three days from leaving for TDS with no radiator and an unfinished rollcage. I planned on installing the radiator on Tuesday, finishing the rollcage on Wednesday, and heading out for TDS on Thursday.
After procuring a junkyard radiator and installing it on custom mounts, a buddy and I went for a testdrive late Tuesday afternoon. Aside from a major stumble right off idle, the Jeep pulled hard, the brakes worked good, and the gears sort of shifted, albeit with a lot of grinding. However, we noticed the temperature gauge quickly pegged past way-hot, so we headed home. A pull of the dipstick revealed an oil milk shake. Blown head gasket.
I was left with the decision of either finishing the cage and letting the Jeep sit in my garage for the weekend, or diving into the engine and finishing the cage another day. I'm a glutton for punishment, so Wednesday morning I went to Napa and ordered up a head gasket set (PN HS-1193-VC) for $56.60. Since the gaskets wouldn't arrive until Thursday afternoon, I went home and tore the top of the engine apart and got it ready for reassembly. The pistons in my 225 are 0.040-inch overbore units, indicating the engine had a rebuild not too long ago. Apparently the engine builder wasn't too familiar with the cylinder-head torque sequence of a Buick 225, as evidenced by the blown gasket.
The new gaskets showed up around noon on Thursday, and I had the engine buttoned back up for a quick testdrive just before it got dark. There were no major leaks, so I loaded it on the trailer and packed up my junk to leave first thing Friday morning.
Wheeling the Hatari! Jeep
There's nothing quite like wheeling a vehicle you're totally unsure about. The Project Hatari Jeep had been abandoned for years before I got my hands on it. Every second is an adventure, and every squeak and groan is a potential disaster. Summoning the gumption to ignore the urge to pull over and investigate each of these cries is half the fun. I knew the brakes worked, that there were no fuel leaks, and that there was a fire extinguisher right between the seats. After all, the word hatari is Swahili for "danger." Time to wheel.
The first thing I noticed was how smooth the ride was as we took off across the wash. Sad as it may sound, this Jeep has more uptravel than any vehicle I've taken to TDS yet, so bombing down washes and over whoops without slapping bumpstops was a ton of fun. Cappa said I looked like I was chasing down Rhinos. Perfect. The second thing I noticed was how poorly the CJ-6 climbed the huge Truckhaven hills the first night. It was an effort to get to the top, requiring a good running start and lots of engine rpm. After a little investigating we discovered that one of the hubs wasn't working right, so there was no front drive.
In the morning, we pulled the hub off and discovered I had merely installed it incorrectly. With the front wheels pulling, the CJ-6 was a totally different vehicle. The replacement 11-leaf front and 9-leaf rear springs from 4Wheel Drive Hardware are surprisingly supple. More surprising was how well the High-Tec Retread mud tires worked. The lugs are super-soft, and with the tires aired down to 8 psi, they grabbed like crazy.