I wedged a filing cabinet key into the ignition and with some wiggling and jiggling, it clicked the tumblers. I had already installed the 33x10.50R15 BFG Baja T/A tires and 15x8 American Racing wheels from Project JR, drained out the engine pudding, spun on a fresh oil filter, and topped the crankcase with new 15W-40 diesel oil. A borrowed battery was slung on the rotten tray and the engine laboriously cranked over. It didn't fire, so I poured a little 40:1 two-stroke pre-mix (hey, it's all I had) down the carb throat. Nothing. Out came the multi-meter, which told me the factory coil was toast, as were a few plug wires. My parts shed puked up an old coil and some spare wires into the little 304 and it sputtered to life. The fuel pump couldn't pull the rancid fuel up from the tank, but otherwise it looked like the engine was a keeper and warranted further investigation.
Three of the freeze plugs had popped out of the block, so I grabbed some new ones and hammered 'em in. The factory motor mounts were rotten through the core and the engine had actually fallen backwards, wedging the valve covers against the firewall. Who cares, right? I ran out, got some straight unleaded, and rigged a hose from the fuel pump into the fuel can. With another prime of the carb it fired and settled into a rough, lopey idle. I plugged a few open vacuum lines and the idle smoothed a bit, but the distributor was so worn the timing was hopping all over the place. Otherwise, the little 304 seemed to be in pretty good shape, with no knocks or bad noises. The alternator didn't charge, the transmission was fried, the T-case full of ATF, the radiator leaked both water and ATF like a sieve, and there was a slew of other issues to work out, but at least I didn't have to do an engine swap.
I made my parts list and weighed the pros and cons of going full budget or using quality components to ensure I wouldn't have to do things over again as this project evolves over time. After placing my order with Daystar, B&M, and Performance Distributors for the parts required to make this super-pile super-reliable, I scoured my shed for parts that could keep the bottom line in check. With the rig now able to move around under its own power, check back next time to see me sling a new suspension under the front, cut the body to clear the used 33-inch tires, install some seats, and finish up some other odds-and-ends to get it into competition-trim.