On the ride back to Brooklyn from Pennsylvania Dutch Country, it became clear straightaway that our screamin' deal of a project Toyota FJ62 was going to need a bunch of work. First off, it was way too easy to move the steering wheel back and forth; we’re talking 30 degrees of lassitude, with nobody home. (For those bad at math, that's a huge chunk of the circle.) Mostly, it appeared I was making a sharp left turn, even though I was going straight at a lawful 70 mph on the interstate.
Red Hook, Brooklyn, is currently threading the needle between a half-dilapidated-industrial wasteland and a half-posh boutique shopper’s paradise. It once housed much of the shipping apparatus for the country's largest city, so it’s a fitting backdrop for a washed-up truck in sore need of invasive surgery. Like the neglected factory buildings and trash-strewn street corners that it rattled past, our SUV looked like something that was once great and no longer was, but could be again.
So you picked up a lemon, eh? Did you get got, as they say on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia?
No way. For a running vehicle, especially a desirable model with four-wheel drive, it was still a steal at $3,000. But to see just how much work we were going to have to do, we had to go beyond the proverbial tire kick. So we pulled the truck into The Build’s interim new home at Brooklyn Motor Works and did what any mechanic would do: We put it on the lift.
Find any dead animals or school crossing guards lodged under there?
Not exactly, however the oily sheen coating covering most of the undercarriage had—on the unseasonably hot September day when I'd made my initial inspection—blinded me to the presence of a considerable coating of surface rust. Or maybe my eyes had been affected by that peculiar disease that affects most car buyers. It's the one that makes problems not look so bad and the sweet bits look way cooler than they really are. A little of each, perhaps.
How grave is the patient? Like, Fred Flintstone bad, or Big Lebowski beater bad?
There's definitely a walnut-size hole in the floor on the driver's side, but it's nothing catastrophic. And a corner of the bottom of the driver’s side door appears to have been reconstructed—and not by Leonardo da Vinci. The exhaust pipe was a nightmare, so I cut it out with a sawzall, and the truck now sounds badass, trailer park-style. The rest of the undercarriage rust is a little rough in texture, but there aren't any terribly flaky sections.
Erm, what's the difference between scratchy and flaky?
The scratchy rust can be cleaned off with a wire brush, etched with a special acidic jelly, primed and painted over, but the flaky rust has penetrated deeper, and usually means holes are either already there or on their way shortly. Cleaning up both kinds of rust—especially on the underside of the vehicle—is a nasty, messy operation that usually leads to days of crying tiny rust particles, even if you've worn goggles. It also makes you look like you work in a Bolivian ore mine.
Anything else need doing?
We stripped out everything in the interior except for the dashboard, steering wheel and shifter. In every nook and cranny, even underneath the carpet, I found at least $20 worth of nickels, dimes and quarters. But they were all grimy, so the derelicts I offered them to turned up their noses and asked what kind of people I took them for. There were a couple of spots on the carpet that looked like a cat had been electrocuted on them. We’re replacing the carpet.
Well, at least you didn't find any used condoms. Please say you didn’t find any used condoms.
No, but on the rear cargo floor, someone had taken an old cookie sheet, hammered it flat and sheet metal-screwed it to the floor to cover up some ugly metal-shear gashes, made apparently to access the fuel tank. As soon as I pulled up the carpet I smelled gas fumes coming from those wounds, so it didn't appear to be a very safe setup, even if it had been an easy way for someone to make a fuel line repair without dropping the tank.
Good thing the Grateful Dad probably only puffed in the front seat, huh?
True, but there was more. Worn shocks. A portside list due to a bent front spring. Under the hood, a bunch of wires had been spliced in with skull-and-crossbones duct tape to insulate them, and a fuel pump relay was wired directly to the battery. I'm guessing that had something to do with the cookie sheet repair, but who knows. That engine is getting pulled for something better anyway.
Oh? What did you have in mind?
Funny you should ask! A brief spin through the ol' Craigslist ads connected me with a guy up in Massachusetts who was selling the 350-cubic-inch V8 out of a '91 Chevy van. It looks like crap now, but when we get done with it, it should look like a museum piece and sound like a Saturday night at Talladega.
But more on that in the next installment. For now, I'm going to go take a shower so I can cleanse myself of gasoline fumes, stale candy slime and cigarette ash.