Sunday, March 27, 2016

Muscle Mule Test Truck

I want a fun vehicle that I can bomb around in, beat the snot out of, and haul large car parts around in (like axles, motors, trannies, and body parts).  A vehicle like this has been on my list of infrastructure building for a while now (along with a list of tools and a garage of my own with a lift).  I've gone back and forth on what vehicle that should be too.  Part of me says Ranchero, but another part wants the fuel economy of a Ranger, yet another part of me wants a Bronco.  The debate rages on inside me, and every time I see an interesting Craigslist ad, it resurfaces.  I can fit a motor in the trunk of a Vic, right!?

Couldn't find a shot with a motor, but how about a full set of Fox body tires PLUS the standard spare?
I have a strong opinion that full-frame is the best way to build a car.  I can't tell you how many unit bodies I've owned or driven in the past, but they just don't ride like a car with a frame.  Everything from road noise to ride quality, durability to even the ease of working on it - everything is better.  With this in mind, I'd like to keep that attribute on the list for my shop vehicle.

Look at all the space in the engine bay! 
It also came to my attention that, if I choose the right vehicle, I could also use it to test new motors that I get or rebuild.  This way I could have a solid chassis with no or known issues to try out new motors, break them in, or tune and troubleshoot them before they are installed into other projects.  If I ever get into cars as much as I want to be, this could prove very useful.

Ooh, shiny...
I bet you have no idea what the dream project de jour is... like at all...
I think I've settled on the right vehicle for the task at hand.  I need an old, '67-'72 F-100 short bed.  Now before you click back, here me out.  Their are many facets that go into the beauty of an old pickup.  It is easy to work on.  There's tons of room in the engine bay, everything bolts together on the body, and it has a big sturdy frame keeping it together.  It's a multi-purpose vehicle, when buit correctly.  If you give is good power and a good suspension, you can tear up the track or the local back roads and still pull a trailer or haul parts around in it.  It's a blank canvass.  You could give it an amazing, custom paint job and really deck in out, or it can be totally cool as a patina-riddled sleeper.  Furthermore, you can put any powertrain you want in it from a high-revving small block stroker to a bored out big block torque monster or even a turbocharged four or six cylinder.  It's all up to personal preference, and no one will be able to tell until you turn the key.  You can do whatever you want with an old, custom pickup.

See?  This guy did.
So did this guy. 
Even the guys from Mad Max did.
You can't tell me these trucks aren't cool...  Well, you can, but I'll stick my fingers in my ears and run out of the room yelling, "la la la la."

Flat black is almost always a good decision on older rides.
Personally, I really love the look of the old trucks with the patina, a good stance, and some sweet, new rims.  I'm not sure which motor I'd like to try in it first (because I'd kind of like for this to be an ever-evolving project truck), but I imagine that a small block stroker would probably have the best weight distribution and therefore the best handling characteristics.  Maybe I'd eventually add a blower too.  I'd really like to try a big block in it too, and I'm really intrigued by the idea of a turbo DOHC 3.0L (either Yamaha or Duratec) or 3.2L V6 or a 2.5L I4 with a turbo (like out of an SVO or Lincoln Super Coupe).  (It's more fun to say than Thunderbird Turbo Coupe.)  I'd set the truck up with preferably a 6-speed, dual exhaust, fun but weight bearing suspension, stand-alone engine wiring, and quick disconnects for the fuel lines.  This would be the solid, base chassis in which to rotate project engines in and out.

I dig the old-school Nascar look with the black wheels and raised white-lettered tires.
I think it could be a lot of fun, and it would lend me the opportunity to play with different motors and power adder setups without having to buy more cars.  It would also help my work out any bugs on certain setups without being in restrictive areas like the engine bays of pony cars or transverse applications.  I just really want to buy a fun, old truck to bomb around in that also has some power and handling and has a stick.

This is really close to perfect for what I'd be looking for.
This video doesn't help me keep from wanting one either:

Sunday, March 20, 2016

JK Day: Part 2

Morning struck the next day, and we were both awake before our alarms.  While my brother got ready early, I simply laid there contemplating how this keeps happening.  We were up and ready by about 6:45, but wound up not really leaving until about 7:30.  I had to take a few shots of the Grand Cherokee before we trekked it to the trade-in spot.  They always look good in the morning, especially when you're about to go give them away.

Who doesn't love the smell of exhaust in the morning?
The Jeep was looking good, but the photo-bombing Vic had drained its air springs overnight... again.
The ride was pretty laid back and fairly uneventful.  We got to tour the Illinois Tollways and a bit of the Indiana Tollway as well.  Ben went flying through a sweeping turn in the middle of Chicagoland doing about 85 in a 50, just to see if he could roll it, I assume.  We stopped at a truck stop that seemed a little extra creepy compared to the ones I'm used to stopping at.  We saw a motel on the side of the road that I was surprised Ben didn't book a room.  It was called the "$tay 4 Le$$" and had a giant banner advertising $35/night rooms.  It didn't look nearly as bad as the De Luxe Motel he booked us for Power Tour though (that story will come in June).  On the way back, we also saw one called the "Econo Inn" which I'm sure would meet his wallet's approval.  Eventually we got to the dealership and found the new Jeep, a shiny 2-door JK in hairdresser - I mean, Detonator Yellow.

We parked right next to it, and automatically started moving stuff from one to the other.  Whatever was left, that is.
Not gonna lie, they looked good together.
 We met the salesman and talked for a little bit, but we were motivated to take this thing for a test drive.  Not five minutes had passed, and both Jeeps went out for a test run.  The 3.8L V6 wasn't a slouch compared to the 4.7L V8, but I'm fairly certain that the 6-speed manual had a hand in that, and I'd bet they've got it geared pretty well too.  It was surprisingly not doggy, and at speed, it was also surprisingly not twitchy like I expected a vehicle this short would be.  Overall, it road pretty well and was really fun to drive...  I'm putting most of that blame on the stick.  It was kind of a rough ride, but it wasn't bad, and was by no means nauseating.  I've ridden in minivans that had worse ride and handling characteristics than this JK.  The wind noise on the highway was also something to get used to, but after an hour at 70 mph, you didn't really notice it that much.  I didn't find myself yelling either, which reminds me of the time we drove his wife's XJ to my mechanic to fix the exhaust pipe that fell off just behind the front seats.  We were still yelling our conversation when we got inside, and were promptly reminded we had gotten out of the Jeep.

They had it real shiny for us when we got there.  So un-Jeep-like.
Lens flare for the win!

 Eventually, we took it sight seeing for a quicky photo shoot, so we had some cool pics to show off his purchase with.  When I Googled the town of Marion, OH, the pictures of the town showed this... whatever it is with the columns and whatnot, and since we drove by it to get to the dealership, I suggested we stop by and take some pictures there by it.  So we did.  It's like shooting engagement pictures, but with your new car, as though to say, "I'm committing myself to this beautiful, yellow Jeep for the next 13 years!"  (at least by Ben's Theory of Automotive Depreciation)

See?  Again, lens flare for the win!

I was an interesting comparison to drive the JK right after a 9-year older WJ.  The Grand Cherokee definitely drove clunkier and had a lot less feel and precision.  The brakes on the WJ have always been numb and unresponsive, and the steering had a wicked dead zone that liked to wander quite a bit more than you'd like.  This made the Wrangler feel so much more tight and responsive.  The brake pedal actually did something, and I'm guessing that has a rack and pinion because of how stable and tight it was.  The Grand Cherokee had a lot of body roll which the Wrangler didn't have very much at all that I can recall.  The Grand Cherokee also bounced around a bit and drove kind of like a truck.  The Wrangler also had some bounce, but it was a good kind of bounce, a new bounce that made you feel like everything is new and doing what it should be still.  Some of that too can be attributed to the shorter wheelbase, but it didn't have that jarring, slammed Civic kind of bounce.  It was good, really good.  I'm so glad he bought it, but at the same time, I will kind of miss the Grand Cherokee - not much, but some.  All around, though, this Wrangler is definitely the better Jeep.  Is that age or engineering?  I don't know, but it feels like a more entertaining and enjoyable driving machine.

If you look closely, he's actually sitting in there.
 Eventually, we got back on the road heading for Milwaukee once again.  The trip was pretty uneventful, but we did see some speeding motorcycles in Chicago, and almost got hit by some douche in a Trailblazer SS splitting lanes like a motorcycle doing about 60 when all the traffic ahead of us was slowing to a stop.  Dude almost took our plastic fenders with him.  We also saw what we think was a guy driving around on the freeway at night with his dome light on as a woman administered fellatio from the passenger seat.  Ben saw it, and asked me if that's what I saw, but I had been looking the other direction.  We then pondered what kind of person would drive around slowly passing people on the freeway with the dome light on in his '01-ish Mercedes SUV with no license plate while a girl has her head buried in his crotch.  We couldn't decide if he was looking for attention, thrill-seeking, or hoping for a litany of citations when he got pulled for not plates.  There was also the question of what was that relationship, but some things the world will never know.

 In Fort Wayne, we happened upon Sweetwater Sound, which just so happens to be one of the biggest competitors for Kraft Music, where my brother works.  He felt compelled to stop in and note the fact that he was there.  We took the obligatory photo of the Jeep in front of their sign, and while doing so, we parked in some "Tesla only"parking spots.  I'd be surprised if anyone even owns a Tesla in Fort Wayne, IN.  Maybe just one of the higher-ups at Sweetwater, and they convinced the place to give them a decent parking spot with a charge to use, so he can drive it home again.

We had to take a picture in front of the sign of the competitor
Didn't they stop making these cars?
All in all, it was a great trip.  My brother and I got to go on a fun road trip, we got a new Jeep, and we got to see some cool new places along the way.  We got home at 11:15 that night, so it wasn't even crazy late that we would wind up sleeping all day Sunday.  Google said it would be about fifteen hours of driving to do the whole thing, but we didn't time it ourselves.  It was just fun to get out on the road for a day and see what was to be seen.  I'd never been to Ohio before either, so that's cool.  This really makes me wish I could save up enough to buy a car again, so I could go on another fun car-acquisition trip like this.  Granted my trips don't usually go as smooth.  (In May, I'll tell you about when we went to pick up my Vic.)  It was just fun to go on a road trip with my brother, and picking up a new ride was just a bonus.  It'd be a better bonus if it was a new ride for me.

Just two brothers, two Jeeps, and the road.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

JK Day: Part 1

A couple of weeks ago, my brother wanted to trade his '02 WJ Grand Cherokee for a shiny, new '11 JK Wrangler.  He had been eyeing one up in Ohio for a week or so, and then he found out it had sold.  We were back to the drawing board to find him a new one.  Thursday afternoon, I got the txt: "Pack your bags! We're going to Ohio!"

The Mighty Grand Cherokee - King of Traversing Suburban Soccer Fields
But it wasn't quite so easy.  See, he wanted to trade his Jeep, but he felt he also needed to fix some things to get the full value for it that they quoted him over the phone.  I got there Friday night, and not long after, I watched him back over his tailpipe.  A tailpipe that had been hanging just fine with braided steel cable last I had seen it a few weeks earlier.  A tailpipe that could've been fine to drive down and trade in, but he felt the need to buy a new one and cut the cable two days before we left.  He then realized that he had loaned his angle grinder to a friend and couldn't finish the job.  He drove to work the next morning with it dangling and was reminded how it rubs the tire when that happens (hence braided cable), so he scoured an old audio cable from his employer (who sells music things to music people), and that held it up halfway home.  The last bit where he backed it into the driveway was where the fun really started...

He basically pole vaulted over his exhaust, and it bent straight down
Since he couldn't back into his driveway and therefore couldn't back into his garage, he turned around and pulled in outside to cut off the main problem so we could then move it inside to fix the rest.  He had also retrieved his grinder!

I do like taking pictures of sparks
I resigned myself to documentation and moral support because he didn't need to cause himself this project... and it was cold... and he didn't tell me this is what was on the docket for the night
Once inside, we could turn on the heat... until we realized it was way too close to where we needed to be working.  We let it warm up a bit, and got cutting.  We had to cut the tailpipe off of the muffler through the wheel well, and then we had to untangle what was left of the pipe from the suspension.

Somehow, it'd found its way in between the shock and the sway bar
But persistence pays, and eventually it was free!
And to think, he figured they wouldn't want this on the trade-in?!
Our next feat was to then prep the muffler to fit the new pipe which revisited an older repair.  We had a couple of couplers and clamps holding that together where it had broken before, and now all of it was rusted together.  He cut off the u-bolt, and per my suggestion, he cut down the side of the coupler to peel it off of the muffler outlet.

You can see the repair we needed to undo kind of in the center.  Did we use enough clamps?
Then we realized we didn't have the right couplers and clamps to make the new tailpipe fit the old muffler.  Turns out I was also there for the use of my car.  Parts run!!!

Shameless use of employee discount.
Check out the stickers from Power Tour and Summer Nats!
In no time, we were back in the garage with the parts we had selected and found that they too did not fit correctly.  This is why people always curse about doing exhaust work... and brake lines.  One was the wrong size, one fit both but was too short, and the other was just there for show.  I came up with a scheme (since we'd see this car for another whopping one whole day anyways) that we could put on the one coupler that fit the pipe, and band clamp THAT to the muffler instead of the pipe itself which didn't reach.  This worked like magic.

Thing of shiny, shiny beauty
With the exhaust finished, all we had left was to remove some old air helper springs tucked in the coils that he was convinced made clunking noises that they would say was the control arm bushings.  (It still made clunking noises on the way to Ohio, and with 222,222.2 miles on it as we drove through Chicagoland, I'm guessing it needed control arm bushings anyway.)  He had pulled out the bags themselves a couple weeks earlier when I told him to come up and we'd use the shop at my other job to do his rear pads, rotors, calipers, hoses, and front track bar, but we didn't have the required tool for the mounts.  Enter reciprocating saw!

Sadly, they didn't just fit through the spring.
Didn't take much though.
The Jeep was finally ready, so we turned in for the night at about 11-ish.  Up at 6 for a 7am lift-off!  7 1/2 hours one way from Milwaukee to Marion, OH, and we planned to do it twice on Saturday!  But that is a story for Part 2... soon

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Bonus Post: ViewFinder Bio for LocaLeben

Hey guess what?!  I scored a local artist spotlight in a local magazine!  I figured I'd share the magazine with you all, so you can see the cool article that they put together on their website.  This is the first issue that is coming out online only, and they've certainly embraced the concept of crafting a digital magazine.  It's such a neat transformation to compare the hard copy version to the new web-based version.  I love the slideshows and the linking opportunities.  I'm super excited for both their new format and the fact that I'm now a published artist.

Check out the "print" version online at:
Contributors are on page 4, and there's a link from my smiling face to my article there.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Mad Fan Mayhem

What is arguably the most famous road in America?  Yup, Route 66.  This was the classic road to the West before the big interstate push back in the '50s.  The two-lane wonder way started in Chicago, IL, and ran all the way through the Southwest until it dead ends on the Santa Monica Pier on the Pacific Ocean in California. Along the way, you can see anything from a novelty motel shaped like some outlandishly oversized item to the Grand Canyon.

The Mother Road
It's the kind of classic road that has always been advertised as being larger than life with crazy towns and roadside attractions and magnificent views of the beautiful countryside it wound through.  It's one of those bucket list items for car guys.  If you can drive it, that's cool, but if you can drive it with the right kind of car, that's like hitting the lottery.  I've always felt it would be best done in an old '50s or '60s full size to get the full effect of how it would've felt to drive it back I'm its golden era.
Here's a harder question: what is my favorite car-based movie series (emphasis on series here)?  Fast and Furious?  Older.  Cannonball Run?  Not quite.  Smokey and the Bandit?  Getting closer, but keep going back.  Gone in 60 Seconds?  Nope, go a little older.  Mad Max.  I liked Mad Max pretty well, but the Road Warrior really cemented its awesomeness deep in my head.

Yes, it wants to eat you, and yes, he'll let it.
I like cop movies, I like distopia movies, and I like car movies; but the Road Warrior takes all three of those and makes a gasoline and testosterone fueled cocktail out of those as we watch a man slowly lose everything he ever had and then battle he way through the wasteland and fight for survival.  If that wasn't enough, they built some of the most insane-looking custom rides to battle the elements and enhance the characters' personalities.  I mean seriously, it's worth watching just for the cool old cars and what they did to them!  My favorite is the old Ford wrecker that they cut the roof off of and replaced it with a speedboat windshield!

How cool is that thing?!  And look at how much utility it provides!
It has recently come to my attention that there is a group of people who get together every year and have a 4-day party in the dessert with their homemade Mad Max vehicles.  This event is called Wasteland Weekend, and it is held in Torrance, CA.  (Uninteresting side note: the only reason I know where that is, living in WI, is because of the original Gone in 60 Seconds where they drive through a press function with the mayor of Torrance).

I strongly recommend checking out  It's super cool, and I also recommend watching the highlight videos from past years' events.  Also, I want a limo like that.
I know, but do you know where Torrance is?  Just a few 'burbs south of Santa Monica.  And do you know where I live?  About 3 hours North of Chicago.  Are you thinking what I'm thinking?  Because in Charlie's mind, 3 hours + route 66 = one bitchin' road trip to Cali in a Mad Max car!  While it's not what I would necessarily want to drive down Route 66, I would still be getting to drive down Route 66.  I'm still counting that as a win!

Courtesy of Keri Kilgo
I was hoping to do a big Route 66 trip after I got back from Alaska, but I think plans are gonna have to change on that one too.  If I can find a way to swing going to this Wasteland Weekend, I'm gonna have to do it.  So many fantasies coming true all at once if this happens.  This would be way too cool!

Courtesy of Cormac Kehoe
Courtesy of Cormac Kehoe
To see more bitchin' pics from Cormac, click here!