The Triumphant Rise and Epic Fall of my First Truck.

I would expect the editor of any automotive blog to have owned and driven a massive number of vehicles to give some kind of legitimacy to the blog itself.  For that reason, I feel that it is my duty to the readers to own and drive as many vehicles as possible, and for that, I thank you.   Between my own personal automotive obsessions and working as a technician, I have driven hundreds of cars, each with it’s own intricacies, oddities, and personality.  How trustworthy are my gearhead opinions though?  Why continue on this automotive journey with me if you don’t even know where I have been?  I think at this point in our internet relationship, it’s time that you learned about the triumphant rise and epic fall of my first daily driven vehicle.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I really loved that truck more than I can explain.  Something about it was special to me, though I am still unsure of what.

Triumphant Rise:

When I was 15, I had about $500 to my name from dogs chasing me my newspaper route days, and I knew that the pinnacle of life was knocking on my door.  I was getting my license soon.  Sure I already owned 1 car, which will undoubtedly come up in future musings, but I needed a car that I could actually drive daily.  A car that moved under its own power, maybe something with wheels and a running engine.   After harassing my parents for a while, they finally agreed to let me get a second car a little early.  (Thanks Mom and Dad).  I immediately ripped through the “Vehicles for Parts”, and “Antique Autos” sections of the local Want Advertiser searching for the perfect older car to drive daily. A Dart would be cool, I thought aloud… or maybe an Iroc, OH how about a 1939 Studebaker, that would be really cool too..

The weeks steadily passed and my parents shot down every dumb idea I had, thankfully.  Then my mom came home one day and said that a person that she knew had a 1987 Dodge Ram 50 for $500 that needed some work.  Initially, I wasn’t so sure, but within a day or two I had found pictures of some Ram 50′s in MiniTruckin magazine that made me fall in love.  I scrounged up every last penny I could find, and I bought it.  It was the beginning of a very special relationship.

The first thing I did when I got it home was to rebuild the carburetor.  That’s what you’re supposed to do right? It took a few tries, but I got the carburetor back on the truck and got it running again, albeit only slightly better than before I had touched it. Nevertheless, I pressed on.  I changed fluids, fixed exhaust, and even fixed the leaky power steering.  After an eternity (a few weeks) had passed, I got my license and began driving my newly improved Ram 50.  We quickly became great friends, and each weekend, I would spend endless time improving different areas of her:

- Removed rust and rot
- Straightened all the metal
- Added bucket seats
- Lowered 3 inches
- New tires, polished chrome wheels
- Absurdly loud stereo system
- Tinted window
- Bug guard (they were cool then)
- Tonneau cover
- Custom frenched license plate in the tailgate
- Painted neon green brake drums and calipers

The Epic Fall:

It was beautiful on so many levels, and perfect for cruising the beaches. Rust free, dent free, and just a really astonishingly clean truck.  Although the local law enforcement were not fans of my tailgate, it really did set my truck apart from the rest. Mine was special.   After about a year of driving the truck, I began thinking irrationally.  For some unknown reason, I decided that I could not handle the slowness of the truck any longer, and I needed a faster vehicle.  What an idiot! I put the truck on the front lawn for sale for $1000 obo, and a guy I knew gave me $800 cash for it.  He then drove away my original $500 purchase price, about $1000 in upgrades, and thousands of hours of making it perfect. All because I was an idiot.

Years pass, and the truck vanishes from sight and everyone’s memory but my own.  It was only a year after selling it that I had realized the mistake that I had made. I constantly dreamed about turning back time, but without a Delorean, I just couldn’t.  I jumped from one car to the next to the next, desperately trying to find the magic that my little Ram 50 and I once had, but the magic just couldn’t be found.  It was gone for good.

Months turned to years, and my brother and I needed something to do one hot summer day. We decided to challenge the junkyards in a game of mud, oil, and grease.  It was always a great time and would have been again, but destiny had other plans.  There she sat, my beloved 1987 Dodge Ram 50.  Smashed on every corner, missing wheels, and another truck sitting on her roof.  I felt sickened.  Something I had worked so very hard on was now crushed right before my eyes.  It was truly an awful feeling that I would not want any other gearhead to go through.  I reluctantly approached the truck knowing full well that I had done her wrong.  A silent heart felt apology was in order as I slowly meandered my way around the back of the truck.  My custom tailgate, the green drums, the lowering blocks, the interior, the tint. It was all still there, just horrified in every sense of the word…. I spent a few minutes thinking about all the great times we had, snapped off some pictures for memories, and then shamefully walked away.

Amazingly, this saga didn’t end that day in the junkyard, but “The Reincarnation” is a story best left for another day.  Anybody interested?

Name That Car!

For a little fun today, I decided to test out your automotive skills.   The game is as simple as it sounds, all you have to do is Name That Car!  Naturally, I am trying to make it challenging, so all you get is a picture of a stripped out floor pan.  Good Luck!

UPDATE:  The first person to determine the make, model, and engine size of this pictured vehicle, I will send you a free t-shirt.

MAP & IAT vs. MAF

MAP Sensors

MAP is an acronym for Manifold Absolute Pressure.  The MAP sensor is a key component in a Speed Density fuel injection system, and measures pressure and absence of pressure (vacuum) at the intake manifold.  MAP sensors typically have 3 wires: a 5 volt reference signal wire, a ground wire, and the wire that goes back to the ECU for all that sweet, sweet air related data.  The ECU (a.k.a PCM, ECM) then calculates the air / fuel ratio based on VE tables within the computer. We will cover Volumetric Efficiency tables at a later date.  Just imagine a magical grid in the computer that says “if you see this voltage from the MAP, then do this…”.  The cool thing about these sensors is that they are simple, and can be easily used for higher performance applications.   The bad thing about these sensors is that they are part of the speed density fuel injection system that doesn’t know exact amounts of air going into the engine, it just makes educated guesses at it.   These guesses are all well and good, but solid numbers are always better.  Or are they?  Naturally, there is much more to a speed density fuel injection system than just a MAP sensor…..

IAT Sensors

IAT is an acronym for Intake Air Temperature.  The IAT sensor measures the air temperature that is going into your intake manifold.  The colder the air, the more dense it is, and the more fuel you need to keep your engine happy.  Coool ….literally.  Almost all IAT’s are simple two wire devices that measure resistance.  As the air temperature changes, the resistance in the sensor changes and the ECU knows to change the A/F ratio based on this.  Combine this data with that of the MAP sensor and your computer can now give a pretty accurate guess of the volume of air moving through your engine.  This is great news, but it’s all based on calculations, instead of real solid numbers.  This is where speed density is tossed aside and big Mr. MAF enters the party…..

MAF Sensors

MAF is an acronym for Mass Air Flow.  These sensors are pretty impressive because they measure air volume, along with temperature, all in one (no IAT necessary!).  Remember, the MAP sensor above measured intake manifold pressure / vacuum and then estimated air volume with computer software.  A MAF actually measures real air volume so that the computer doesn’t need to guess what it might be.  As you can imagine, MAF’s are typically more accurate ways of measuring the amount of air that goes into your engine.  This sounds great, right? Well…. it is, on a stock vehicle, and even lightly modified ones.  However, if you decide that you want to make way more horsepower than your car was ever intended for (where do I sign?), then MAF just isn’t going to cut it.  MAF’s quickly become bottlenecks in your air intake system because they can only measure “X” air at once.  If your engine needs more than “X” amount of air, then your MAF freaks out causing your engine to run lean and quickly turns rotating engine parts into liquid hot magma, (Hellooo magma).  This is where Speed Density is welcomed back into the party, and brings along a couple of lovely friends, known as MAP and IAT.

So as you can see, there are pros and cons to each, and it really depends on your vehicle and its modifications to choose who is the cooler sensor at the engine party.  Luckily, choosing one or the other only needs to happen when you modify your car to the extreme.  If you have a stock car, none of this really even matters.

For those of you that are attempting to make crazy horsepower,  what do you guys & gals prefer?

L92 Heads: Do you know how awesome they are?

Can you believe that brand new from GM this bare cylinder head was only slightly over $200? Over the weekend, I spent a fair amount of time staring at a 6.2L L92 engine out of a Cadillac Escalade, along with all of it’s wonderful aluminum parts.  It made me want to build one for myself really badly.  The weight savings, the easy power, the plentiful parts.  There is no downside to this?! At $200 per bare head, you could build a complete set of these awesome flowing, 70cc combustion chamber, aluminum cylinder heads for like $800 (maybe cheaper if you are savvy).  These L92 heads, when combined with the right intake manifold, will allow you to effortlessly make 500+ hp without any power adders.  Just bolt it together and enjoy your tire smoke. After years of dealing with cast iron SBC and BBC cylinder heads, blocks, and intake manifolds, I don’t think I can go back.  I feel obligated to grab new technology by the horns and do a dance with it.  Who’s with me on this?

Question: Do I really need 17 wheels for one truck?

While doing a little spring cleaning recently, I began to realize that I had amassed a massive quantity of extra wheels and tires for the 1989 Dodge truck I have. If you combine the number of tires (18), with the number of wheels (17), you can imagine just how much space this takes up. Now, I can look at this a few different ways. I could think positively, and say “Hey, I have 1 set of wheels for each season, plus a spare!” Conversely, I could be a downer, and say “I have 17 wheels, and only 7 will physically bolt on to my truck at this very moment.” Yes, they all have the same bolt pattern, but let’s just say that my truck is weird, and doesn’t willingly accept change.  The question then arises, if the truck can only handle 4 wheels and 4 tires at any given time, do I really need 3 extra complete sets?

TIG welding is an art, but Not everybody is an artist.

Last year I finally bought myself a TIG welder so that I could weld aluminum, stainless steel, roll cages, and overall, step up my welding game.  I figured since I had been MIG welding for 10+ years, TIG would be a piece of cake, but boy was I wrong.  TIG welding is an absolute art, but not everybody is an artist.  It takes a boat load of practice and dexterity to be good at it, which is why professionals make the big bucks.  As I mentioned in this blog that I wrote a few weeks ago, MIG welding can be done with 1 hand (blind folded, tango dancing, while on fire).  TIG on the other hand requires holding filler rod with the left hand, a torch in the right hand (at the correct angle), and it has a foot pedal to control the heat.  Once you get all three limbs to work in unison, metal begins to melt, and the learning curve really begins.

Faster than I could say “this is hard to do!“, I had burned through 2 tanks of argon, countless filler rods, several pieces of tungsten, and a few layers of skin.  As I quickly learned, aluminum retains heat really well, and doesn’t look hot even when it is.  Note to readers: WEAR GLOVES when TIG’n!

Here are a few “finished” pieces from my last practice session. Like I said, TIG welding is an art, and not everybody is an artist, yet.

Arizona Junkyards Are Better

Every car in Massachusetts is rusty. Whether you have a 1955 Lincoln Capri or a 2010 Chevy Camaro, in the North East, your car’s destiny is rust.  Now, if the nice cars are rusty, just imagine what the vehicles in our junkyards look like.  They are absolutely horrifying at best.  In the time that it takes to remove a junkyard fender, it often erodes itself back into dirt right before your eyes.  Bolts? HA!  After 1 year (so… 2009 models at this point), all bolts become permanent.  At the 2 year mark, the bolts don’t even look like bolts anymore. They become round rusty buttons that can only be removed by breaking the head off with Vise-Grips.  It is truly an awful experience.  Thank goodness for torches, Sawzalls, sharp drill bits, and tetanus shots.

Arizona cars on the other hand, are better in every possible way.  Rusty cars (New England style) just don’t exist out there.  What they consider a junkyard car is usually “flawless” in my opinion.  The nicest cars I personally own aren’t as clean as what is found in their junkyards.  It’s quite sad really.  Over the last few years, I have had the pleasure of working on several classic cars from the South West, and I laugh like the village idiot the entire time I work on them because I can’t believe that the bolts come out.  Underneath the AZ cars, the original hydraulic brake lines and parking brakes cables are often still there and working.  It is a gearhead fairytale.

Let’s do a comparison, to see who the real winner is.  Massachusetts on the left, and Arizona on the right. Ding Ding Ding. FIGHT!

Sure enough, Arizona wins with a KO, as expected.  If you want to restore an old car, just buy a rust free body from someplace dry. It will save you thousands of dollars, trillions of hours, and a Tetanus shot.

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