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2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon – I Was Wrong and I’m Sorry

2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon – I Was Wrong and I’m Sorry

I was driving 80mph when a white Jeep Gladiator blasted by me in the right lane.
“How dare he? And in such a vehicle!” Bitterness and disdain washed over me like an acid flashback washes over a Deadhead boomer. “Who buys these things?” I shouted, shaking my fist at the inside of my windshield.

Visions of silly decals, angry headlight kits, and aftermarket wheels and mud tires that never seem to get dirty danced in my head. I had a long-held opinion that Jeeps were very expensive toys that didn’t make a good daily driver. When I saw that white Gladiator pass me in the slow lane I felt the familiar ire rise in my heart. “Oh look at that, jeep stuck a box on the back of their Wrangler.” I was wrong.

To me, Jeeps fell into about three categories:

  1. Mall Crawlers – usually a Wrangler Dressed out to look off-roady but never really make it off the asphalt
  2. Clapped-out Cherokees- which are usually heard or smelled before they’re seen. Often lifted with last week’s mud still visible on the fenders. Sometimes driven by zealous teenage boys.
  3. Legit offroaders – the hardcore, don’t tread on me, I took my swaybars off for “more articulation bro”, no-top when it’s 30 degrees out types. Usually seen with bald mud tires. Their owners should be avoided unless you’re ready to enter an inescapable pit of conversation about approach angles, locking differentials and lamentations about body lifts.

EXTERIOR

In October, Texas’ finest automotive journalists descend on the Texas Hill Country. It’s called the Texas Truck Rodeo, and it’s a crucible where one truck is elevated above all others and selected as the Texas Auto Writers Truck of Texas (read “the world”). The Jeep Gladiator would be there and I wanted to drive one.

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I got to spend some quality time with this firecracker red ragtop Rubicon. Initially, the proportions look a little funny but you get used to it. In 10 years when they change it, we’ll look back at this design and say, “why couldn’t they have left it alone.” Jeep engineers have done a good job staying true to the no-nonsense, functional design aesthetic while embellishing it here and there to offer some style.

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Thankfully, the kitschy stuff kept to a minimum and the marketing impulse to stencil Jeep on every panel has been curbed. When you sell something that looks like nothing else (aside from a Mahindra Roxor but that’s another article) you really don’t have to advertise that way. Batman didn’t have to paint “Batmobile” on the side of his ride, the wings, afterburner and menacing black paint give it away.

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INTERIOR

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Inside the Gladiator Rubicon, you’ll find a heated steering wheel and heated leather seats. Pretty swank for a vehicle with removable doors. In the dash, there’s an 8.4 inch display that controls the Alpine sound system. It displays the navigation and some other goodies too. A delightful array of buttons and switches for locking the differentials and disconnecting the swaybars occupies space ahead of the shift levers.

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Seats are firm but comfortable. The second row has space for adults. This jeep comes with the optional wireless Bluetooth speaker that tucks away into a special compartment behind the second row. Pretty neat, but it’s a $295 option I might skip.

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THE DRIVE

Under the hood, there’s a 3.6 liter V6 connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission. This sends power to the front and rear Dana 44 axles with electronic locking differentials and electronic swaybar disconnects. The power on-road is good, and offroad the Jeep feels plenty torquey.  Fox 2.0 shocks come standard on the Gladiator Rubicon.

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Vehicles on mud tires ride rougher and make extra noise. Combine that with a ragtop and you get what should be a cacophonous ride. I’m not saying the gladiator Rubicon is bending the laws of physics, but it is much quieter than I anticipated. It’s surprisingly smooth when you consider it’s off-road capabilities. I listened closely as I drove on asphalt and only identified one rattle. This Jeep was fitted with adaptive cruise control which makes for a relaxing interstate experience. Instead of the rattly, squeaky Jeep I expected, I was met with a level of sophistication and comfort I hadn’t anticipated.

When it’s time to play in the dirt, the Gladiator shifts effortlessly from two to four-wheel-drive on the fly. There’s gratification in grabbing the lever of a manually shifted transfer case that a push-button doesn’t deliver. It’s also reassuring to know that electrical gremlins won’t stand between me and four-wheel drive when I need it most.

I especially liked the forward-facing trail cam. It’s like having a spotter outside on the trail. Jeep even fitted it with a little washer nozzle to clean it off when the going gets muddy. The Jeeps handled the off-road course without breaking a sweat.

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Jeep claims the Gladiator Rubicon gets 17 mpg around town and 22 on the highway. These numbers aren’t great, but next year Jeep is offering their first diesel option which they claim is going to be the most efficient Wrangler ever.

THE DIRT

Zealots and kooky branding aside, there’s nothing like a jeep. Be ready to save your pennies and nickles though because Jeep isn’t in the business of giving these things away. The base price for a 2020 Gladiator Rubicon is $44,600. If you want it dressed up the way this one is, you’ll be in it for closer to $59k. Of course, you don’t have to go with a Rubicon package and a no-frills Sport model can be had for $33k.

Due to some silly biases developed in my adolescence, I have largely ignored Jeep. After getting to know the Gladiator I see that it’s peerless offroad and remarkably civilized when you hit the pavement. It’s so nice to be pleasantly surprised. It almost takes the sting out of being so wrong. Almost.IMG_9460.JPG

MAZDA REVEALS DETAILS ABOUT THE 2020 MX-5 MIATA

MAZDA REVEALS DETAILS ABOUT THE 2020 MX-5 MIATA

After receiving a heavily revised engine with more horsepower along with a list of other changes for the 2019 model year that were significant enough to justify a change in the model designation to ND2, updates to the 2020 model are relatively few.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support

Previously, these features could be added using a $199 kit plus installation labor. For 2020, the necessary software and hardware for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay come pre-installed. You no longer have to disassemble the dash on your brand new Miata.

Key fob

For 2020, the Miata gets Mazda’s new key fob design. It is thicker and wider than the old key fob and the buttons move from the front to the side where they may be less prone to accidental presses. The physical key has a much smaller head than the old key which provides less leverage. Fortunately, it’s rarely used except to lock and unlock the storage compartment between the seats

Perforated leather seats

Perforated leather is newly available on the 2020 MX-5 Miata and provides natural ventilation which can make for a cooler experience on warm days. While perforated leather may require a little more care to avoid liquid and dirt from falling down into the holes, I think it looks a lot nicer in addition to the functional advantage. Thankfully, all of this soothing and understated gray is offset by a new, dynamic (again, Mazda’s description) red leather interior.

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Stitching

All interior stitching is now gray. Mazda uses the words soothing, calm, and premium to describe it. I’m tempted to use the words boring, cost-cutting, and consolidation. To me, the MX-5 Miata is a sporty car that deserves a more sporty stitch color than soothing gray – leave that one to the sedans and SUV’s!

Polymetal Gray

Continuing the monochrome theme, Polymetal Gray is a new color shade of gray for the 2020 MX-5 Miata. Mazda describes the color shade of gray as understated and beautiful. I’ll just say that it looks like they forgot to paint the car and sprayed clear coat over the primer, but, hey – lots of folks aren’t happy with only 49 shades of gray!

Door sills

Wrapping up the changes to the 2020 MX-5 Miata are the availability of stainless steel door sills.

There is no official word just yet on pricing, availability, or other changes.

Photos from Mazda

HONDA SIMPLIFIES AND IMPROVES THE 2020 RIDGELINE

HONDA SIMPLIFIES AND IMPROVES THE 2020 RIDGELINE

The refreshed 2020 Honda Ridgeline exchanges its 6-speed automatic transmission for a 9-speed unit and introduces paddle shifters and idle stop. A pushbutton shifter replaces a traditional shift lever and a traditional battery has been replaced by an AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat) model. The tailgate can be locked and the number of trim levels have been reduced. Honda’s 8″ Display Audio system is now standard on all trims. The rear doors open wider and Honda Sensing becomes standard across the board. Prices increase by as little as $100 to as much as $2,050 depending on model.

TRIM LEVELS SIMPLIFIED

The RT and RTL-T trims have been dropped which simplifies the lineup. The RT trim allowed Honda to advertise a lower starting price for the Ridgeline, but despite this, it was one of the least-popular trim levels. The RTL-T was more popular than the RT, but the fully-loaded RTL-E model was arguably the better value with its list of additional safety, comfort, and convenience features. For 2020, the Ridgeline is available in Sport, RTL, RTL-E, and Black Edition trims.

NINE-SPEED TRANSMISSION

The outgoing Honda designed-and-built 6-speed automatic proved to be smooth and reliable in many Honda models over the years. The ZF 9HP 9-speed automatic that has replaced it in the 2020 Ridgeline drew some criticism for shift timing and feel in other applications. Over time, Honda has made changes to address these complaints and based on my time driving 2019 Pilots and Passports equipped with the 9-speed automatic, I’d say these changes have been mostly effective.

One of the best features of the 9-speed automatic is the introduction of steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters which allow for manual gear selection. Some situations where this feature comes in handy are engine braking, spirited driving, and downshifting while anticipating a pass. The 9-speed has a considerably lower first gear ratio and a higher top gear ratio than the 6-speed.

Routine maintenance on the 9-speed is more expensive than the 6-speed due to a more complex fluid replacement procedure and the cost of the fluid itself. Fortunately, transmission fluid changes are one of the least-frequent maintenance items. Honda recommends changing the fluid when prompted by the Maintenance Minder under normal conditions, but recommends changing it every 30,000 miles if you regularly drive at low speeds in mountainous areas or tow a trailer.

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IDLE STOP

Another change to the 2020 Ridgeline is the addition of idle stop – a fuel-saving feature that temporarily stops the engine while the vehicle is stopped and restarts it as you release the brake pedal. I find that Honda’s latest models with idle stop restart quickly, quietly, and smoothly enough, although this feature can be disabled until the next time you restart the engine with the press of a button. An amber indicator light will illuminate in the gauge cluster when you have turned off the idle stop feature.

WIDER REAR DOOR OPENING

The 2017-2019 Ridgeline had a curiously-limited rear door opening. Many owners took it upon themselves to replace their rear door checkers with those designed for the front doors to allow the rear doors to open wider. Honda must have listened, because wider-opening rear doors are one of the improvements to the 2020 Ridgeline.

HONDA SENSING

Previously, only the RTL-E and Black Edition trims were equipped with Honda Sensing which includes Lane Keeping Assist System, Road Departure Mitigation, Collision Mitigation Braking System, and Adaptive Cruise Control. For 2020, Honda Sensing is now standard on all Ridgelines. The Blind Spot Information System and Rear Cross-Traffic Monitor are still exclusive to the RTL-E and Black Edition trims. Honda’s LaneWatch camera which was standard only on the RTL-T is in no longer available on the Ridgeline since that trim has been discontinued. For 2020, the Collision Mitigation Braking System now turns back on every time you start the engine. Previously, the feature would stay off if turned off.

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FUEL ECONOMY

Despite three more gears and the addition of idle stop, fuel economy estimates for the 2WD models are unchanged at 19 city, 26 highway, and 22 combined. AWD models improve by 1 MPG to 19 in the city, but lose 1 MPG to 24 on the highway for an unchanged combined rating of 21.

AUDIO AND NAVIGATION SYSTEMS

Previously, the lower trim levels were equipped with a Color Audio system that had a 5″ non-touch color screen, but did have a rotary volume knob. The upper trim levels were equipped with a Display Audio system featuring an 8″ touch screen, navigation, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. For 2020, the 8″ Display Audio system is installed in all trims, although navigation is included only on the RTL-E and Black Edition. The 8″ Display Audio system still lacks a rotary volume knob that has since returned to other Honda models.

LOCKING TAILGATE

When the second generation Ridgeline was introduced for 2017, there was no tailgate lock available from Honda forcing owners to seek aftermarket solutions. Since then, a genuine Honda tailgate lock accessory became available. The 2020 Ridgeline’s tailgate now has the ability to lock and unlock with the doors. This setting is disabled by default, but can be enabled through the touch screen.

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HEATED SEAT CONTROLS

The two-setting rocker switches for the heated seats have been replaced by three-setting pushbutton switches. While a third heat setting may be of limited value, the seat heaters will now come on automatically during a remote start when it’s cold just like the heated steering wheel – you no longer have to leave the seat heater switch on when exiting the vehicle.

APPEARANCE

While the wheel designs remain the same, the RTL-E’s wheels are now solid gray instead of the two-tone black and machined finish. The Sport trim is now also available in Modern Steel Metallic while Pacific Pewter Metallic replaces Forest Mist Metallic. Platinum White Pearl continues as a replacement for White Diamond Pearl following a running change during the 2019 model year.

PRICING

Price increases are reasonable for the Sport trim at $510 for the 2WD and $850 for the AWD considering the addition of paddle shifters, a touch screen, the Honda Sensing suite of safety and convenience features, and a locking tailgate. The RTL trims increase the most by $1,800 for the 2WD and $2,050 for the AWD. The RTL-E and Black Edition increase by only $100 – that’s less than the price of a tailgate lock alone. The 2020 Honda Ridgeline starts at $34,995 including destination and tops out at $44,615 for the Black Edition.

All photos courtesy of Honda

Can You Daily Drive a 70 Year Old Car?

Can You Daily Drive a 70 Year Old Car?

After wrapping up the brake system tuneup on the 1949 Ford I started looking for the next challenge. Maybe for the first time since I bought the car, I didn’t see a good reason I couldn’t just drive it. For a 70-year-old car, it starts and runs with shocking reliability.  Now that the brakes are all sorted out, it stops too. I wondered if I could manage to use this old car as my daily driver for a week. How would it fare on roads after seven decades of innovation?

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First, a little about my car. I bought it in the summer of 2012. At the time I was working in a high-end exotic car restoration shop. Every day I saw magnificent machines, in various states of restoration. Year after year these cars stayed in the shop, away from their owners and off the road. The game was to create a car that simultaneously indistinguishable from a factory fresh example while being a cut above in every way possible.

That was NOT the kind of car I wanted. I looked for something I could drive now and fix up as I went. I found a car that was as far away from the cars at work as possible. What I landed on was a clapped out ’49 Ford, which I managed to drive home. Slowly, over the last seven years, I’ve improved the car a little at a time. If you’d like to read a more detailed account of the work I’ve done, you can visit my restoration blog here: aaronstarnes.com/blog

The lack of interior was the initial draw for me. It looked like a blank canvas on which I could learn to ply my intended trade. The exterior was a two-tone black and green and every panel had at least one rust hole. The engine, a 239 cubic-inch flathead V8 which had 100 horsepower when it was new. That’s backed up by a three-speed manual transmission with three forward speeds. The car has manual drum brakes all the way around and a top speed of about 70 mph. My mission for the week was to find out if this antiquated heap could hang in modern traffic.

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Monday

The old car is a little awkward in parking lots because its turning radius is not that of a new car.  It gets lots of smiles. I was pulling into a supermarket and a lady offered to trade for the car. I said, “what you got?” She said, “I’ll give you my husband for the car.” He looked strong and capable, but I thought I’d hang on to the car.

Tuesday

I looked forward to the commute to the shop. I left home and the mundane task of going to the bank was made more interesting because of the Ford. First gear has straight cut gears, which means you can’t down-shift to first unless the car is practically stopped. Even when stopped, about a third of the time you get an audible grind.

The wind noise is outrageous. It’s so loud. Probably because my interior is incomplete. I don’t have the appropriate weatherstripping for the doors or the windlace installed.

I turned right through an intersection and a guy hung halfway out of his driver’s window waving both arms and screaming about my car. I guess it was a compliment, but it looked like he was warning me about an engine fire.

Wednesday

The car just works. Drove home in the rain. Thank you rain-x! The wipers are terrible. They run off a vacuum system that uses the constantly fluctuating negative pressure from the engine’s intake manifold. They weren’t great from the factory and 70 years of wear have done them no favors. Plus, the driver’s side snapped off anyway.

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The stakes are higher when you drive a car like this. It felt like riding a motorcycle because I was more vulnerable. It has no airbags, no ABS, no crumple zones, and no factory seatbelts. Old cars also have a charming reputation for impaling people with their steering columns during collisions. The only safety restraints in this car are 3 point belts that I installed myself, and I’m not an engineer.

Thursday

I created an aluminum block-off plate to cover the hole in the firewall where the heater valve mounts. Hot air from the engine compartment would pour in through this hole.  mine leaks. With this blocked off, the fresh air vents do a pretty good job of cooling the car. I also replaced a fuse for the tachometer and hooked up the speedometer cable.

I worked late this day, and the drive home after dark was lovely.

Friday

It’s always something with old cars. You either like it or you allow it to become a nuisance. My temp gauge read null on the way to work this morning. I didn’t worry about over-heating because the car had been so consistent all week. Looks like a wire came loose from the gauge pigtail I made.

It was cool and drizzling that evening after work and the drive home was pleasant.

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The Dirt

This was the fulfillment of the dream I think anyone who buys an old car has. And that is to actually drive it around. This was the most amount miles I’ve ever put on it consecutively, about 200 miles including the commute and errands. It really never complained. It had a couple small issues, but never the catastrophic failure I half expected from the elderly powertrain. So, can you daily a 70-year-old car?

Of course you can. However, you have to limit your expectations to the car’s capabilities. My old Ford made me proud this week. But I had to adjust my driving style. Rather than taking the interstate, I left early and took back roads. You also have to account for looky-Lous and all the waving back you’ll have to do. Driving the car becomes an event. You’ll look forward to the commute, even if it is just to work and back.

Full disclosure: I did make one emergency trip to Ft. Worth from my shop to my upholstery supply store. The Ford could have made the 60-mile round trip but it would have taken half the day to get down there and back on back roads. My pickup can bomb down at 80 mph, in my truck that week.

 

Bye Dad, Thanks For The Ride

Bye Dad, Thanks For The Ride

For a split second my stomach was suspended weightless in my abdomen, just like at the top of a roller coaster descent. The four tires of my father’s red Isuzu Space Cab pickup had left the gravel road and were on their downward trajectory toward terra firma. As the truck landed, all three boy scouts and the grown boy at the wheel grinned, laughed and agreed that was the best jump yet.

We were headed to the campsite which was at the end of a dirt road that wandered through 2,500 acres that the Boy Scouts of America used for the betterment of young men. In an effort to keep the speed down on long straight stretches of this road, whoever was in charge elected to build, or more likely elected to use young men’s free labor to build, improvised earthen speed bumps. In my mind’s eye, these mounds were two and a half feet tall or so and stretched the width of the one lane gravel road. Nobody in their right mind would take one at speed. My dad would tilt to them like a knight with enough speed to momentary liberate the truck from the Earth in a flourish of gravel dust.

I was used to this. There was a poorly designed bridge on a back road near our house. When you hit it at 65 or so the suspension would compress at the bottom of the approach and rebound at the top launching the car. The wheels would touch down again on the other side of the bridge.

His mother and father lived down a labyrinth of gravel roads in rural Texas. When we would go visit them my dad would powerslide each corner. The feeling of sliding sideways in a car never gets old. He did all these wild maneuvers with poise and control. He also wrecked more cars than anyone I’ve ever met. The Saturn, the F-150, the Isuzu etc. I was only in a couple of those accidents. As far as I know, he never considered that it might not be a super idea to jump your daily driver. His brother tells a story of how he wrecked three cars in one day, which has to be a record. He got the first stuck in a creek and proceeded to thrash two more cars trying to unstick the first one.

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He took me to a monster truck rally when I was a boy. It’s one of the most vivid memories I have from my childhood. The huge tires, the smoke, the sideshow vehicles like the firebreathing-car-eating robot dinosaur. And of course the noise! All that fuel turned into horsepower and hydrocarbons right before my young eyes, creating an un-earthly racket that invaded my ears (no hearing protection, it was the ’90s) and rattled my little chest.

When the time came to teach us kids how to drive, my mother’s temperament proved too tightly wound to tolerate the inevitable and innumerable close calls teen drivers have. When she was in the passenger seat, the tension in the car was palpable.  So the task fell to my father. He taught my sister to drive stick by taking her to the steepest hill for miles which just so happened to have a stop sign at the crest. A hard lesson for sure, but to this day the girl can drive a manual.

I remember waiting until the last possible moment to brake each time I’d turn left off the two-lane highway a mile from the house. He’d say, “you’re scaring the bejeebers out of me.” I still don’t know what a bejeeber is. Once, I was maybe 15, he let me take the wheel of his green F-150 on the gravel roads leading to his parent’s house. I wanted to step the tail-end out like I watched him do so many times. Trouble is, he never told me how he did it. So I ended up carrying way too much speed into the corner and skidding into a ditch. He was not happy. I didn’t know what to call it then, but that was probably my first experience with understeer. It wouldn’t be my last.

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My dad died at the end of March 2019. Before that, he was sick for more than a decade. Frontal lobe dementia is what the doctors called it. It was protracted and painful for everyone around him. I witnessed his decline at home and eventual move to an assisted living facility. He spent his last six years there, in a continually worsening state of confusion.

I’m still trying to sort out what his death means to me. But one thing has occurred to me. I’m much more like him than I ever imagined, and that my driving shenanigans are a direct result of the adventures we had together.

He had a feral streak and a tendency to do mischief. To my knowledge, he was not a deep thinker or a terribly sensitive guy. He was the impulsive older brother to my two aunts and two uncles. A lot of the time I think he treated me more like a little brother than a son. When he was young, he was very clever at taking non-functioning machinery and electronics apart, diagnosing their malady, and restoring them to working order.

My dad and I didn’t see eye to eye on most things. Whether due to his illness, or some inborn stubbornness, he was frequently difficult to communicate with. I have to thank him though. Thanks for the handful of events he took me to that helped shape my love of cars. The arena-cross races where he did his best to explain the difference between two and four stroke dirt bikes. Thanks for the Volkswagen meet in Waxahachie when I was 14 or 15, where I saw a ’60s era VW transporter pull a wheelie on a drag strip. And I got to ride in a bizarre bug that was made to look like a blue whale. It was complete with a C02 activated spout and a tail that moved up and down as the car rolled along. Thanks for exposing me to fine cinema like Smokey and the Bandit, and all the chase scenes in the classic Bond films.

Finally, I have to thank him for whatever genetic anomaly he passed on that makes me mechanically inclined. Whether by nurture or by nature, I also inherited his feral impulsiveness, which I have mostly under control. I wish he could have seen me become a dad. I wish he were here and in command of his faculties to appreciate his grandson.

Life is weird. I doubt I’ll ever powerslide a car again, or turn off the traction control in the rain without appreciating where the impulse comes from. Even though he’d never be nominated for father of the year, I have love for my dad. I don’t wish I had a different childhood, because without it, I wouldn’t be here typing this. But I won’t be drifting or jumping my truck with my son and his friends on board.

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You Bought The Wrong Project Car, Now What?

You Bought The Wrong Project Car, Now What?

Last week a friend dropped by the shop. He wanted me to take a look at a potential project car. It was a complete, albeit somewhat rusty, ’54 Willys Wagon. The truck was a cool one, but it needed wiring, floorpans, glass and the engine condition was unknown. A viable and worthy project to the right owner. On the ride home, I tried to paint a realistic picture of the work it would take to resurrect the nifty old 4×4 without swaying his decision one way or the other.

This experience got me thinking about my project car. I’m going on seven years now in this build. I chose my Ford because it was close enough to drive home, and it ran well enough to get there. My logic was that I would save money because I wouldn’t need a tow. In hindsight, I should have kept shopping for a less rusty, more complete car that maybe needed a ride to my house.

I bought it hoping to try my hand at upholstery.  At the time, I looked at the empty shell and saw a blank slate. However, once I got it home I realized the car needed everything. It needed wiring, a fuel system (to replace the antifreeze jug full of gas bungee corded to the inner fender next to the engine), brakes, steering, glass, every system needed attention. And then there was the rust. Before I could start in learning about upholstery I had floors and body mounts to cut out and fresh ones to weld it. Thus began the saga of my ’49 Ford.

Basically, I bought the wrong car. Between bouts of welding and wrench twiddling, I’ve had lots of time to ruminate over what I would have done differently. The way I see it there are three paths for those folks who have hauled home a project only to find they’re in over their head. Bailout, sink or learn to swim.

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Bail Out 

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If you bought the wrong car and you’re in over your head, Craigslist can be a lifeline. Say you got your precious four-wheeled treasure home only to find out the floorpans are completely rusted out. Or maybe the differential explodes a mere block from your house on its voyage home from the seller. Rather than letting that heap molder in your driveway for the next decade, it’s not going to get better on its own, take the hit now and just post it on Craigslist. Even if you have to sell it at a bit of a loss, you’ll know better next time. There’s no shame in passing on a project you can’t hack, and the little blow to your wallet/pride is better than the next option.

Sink

 

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This is probably the saddest route. We’ve all seen an old car or motorcycle that’s slowly returning to Earth in someone’s driveway or backyard. Maybe it’s a second gen Camaro or a perfectly patinaed Corvair that’s sitting on four flats with the headliner falling in. They’re usually partially disassembled and left to rot after the owner’s initial enthusiasm waned. And due to some delusion, the owner won’t sell. Instead, they say, “I’ll fix it someday.” Don’t be this project owner. If you’re in over your head don’t let pride, shame, nostalgia any other silly feeling keep you attached to that old iron. Sell it and move on with your life.

Learn to Swim

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Get the tools and get to work. This is the hardest method. Most people work for a living. The idea of putting in more work at the end of the day rather than sitting in front of the TV or computer is almost unfathomable. The truth is, if you don’t do it you’ll have to pay someone to do it. Either way, you’re going to work for it. Learning to weld, spread body filler, or rebuild a carburetor isn’t something that comes naturally to most folks. But with practice and YouTube research, these are skills anyone can pick up.

Lessons Learned

By starting at almost zero, I have learned a lot about what it takes to put a car back together. And it provided source material for a blog dedicated to the Ford. But it has cost me more time and money than it probably should have. I negotiated the car down $2,000 from the initial asking price and still probably paid too much for what I drove home. If I knew what to look for I would have saved myself a lot of time, money and heartache.

By the looks of it, my ’49 was put out to pasture a long time ago. How it ended up back in a suburban garage, I don’t know. The frame was (is if I’m honest) full of silt. The suspension was encrusted with a mixture of red clay and leaked oil/grease. The differential is caked with a half-inch of diff fluid and some sort of livestock fur. The original floors were perforated with rust holes. Over these holes were riveted sheet metal plates to prevent your feet from touching the asphalt. This is what I call a farmer fix. It’s ok for the short term, but it doesn’t solve any rust issues. It’s like trying to cure cancer with Benedryl.

So why do I keep hammering at my project? In short, I’m a stubborn and curious man. The money is already spent, and I’ve got buckets of sweat equity in this thing. That said, for the right price, I’d happily pass it on to the next owner. I’d also feel good that they could enjoy the solid work I’ve done to make it a better car.

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Final Thoughts

  • Rust – if you see it, there’s probably more. It costs either a lot of time or a lot of money to fix. Do you want to invest in tools? Do you want to learn to cut it out and weld it new stuff?
  • Buy something as close to what you want as possible. This lets you spend your time and money making the car reflect your taste rather than merely making it a viable car. A little more money up front can save you time once your project is home. That white car without issues is a better option than the busted up red car, even though you like red better. Paint is only skin deep.
  • Four eyes are better than two. Get a bud to go with you, chances are they’ll see something you miss.
  • Don’t get project goggles. It’s so easy to get infatuated with a car or bike and completely overlook some red flags.
  • Be honest with yourself. Assess the skills and tools you have and your budget for the project.
  • Once it’s home, do the hard stuff first. Your enthusiasm is probably never going to be higher than right after you get it home.
  • Don’t fall into the scarcity mindset. “Oh man, if I don’t get this one, I’ll never get another chance.” I don’t know how many times I’ve bought something for what I thought was a good deal only to see another, better option the next week.
  • Know your expectations. If you want a spotless show car, understand that it entails a ton more work than a patinaed driver ever will.