Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Full size experiment:

This is a 1978 Caprice Classic.
Years ago my freind John wrote something like this:
"if people would just learn how to keep cheap American V8 powered cars on the road indefinetly, instead of making huge payments, they could live better and cheaper."
I have never been able to forget about that and always wanted to put that into practice.

I have known about this car for over 5 years. I started thinking about it while I while I was working at Autozone 2 years ago.
I saw people coming in and spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on just a part or two for their fuel injected, serpentine belt driven “NICE” cars.
And they would always tell me how much the shop bills where.
Most of the time the stories usually start with thousands of dollars in shop bills.
Then I started to see how small, chinsy, rough riding, and cramped these expensive cars where that people were making huge payments on.

Then I got to thinking about it:
I like luxury vehicles, and big SUV’s and lots of room and smooth, quiet rides.
I also can’t afford to buy new Yukon’s, Cadillac’s, and Suburban’s. Not outright or the huge payments.
And I can’t afford those parts, and if they broke down on me on a trip to another state… I could never afford the parts, the labor for the shop, or the tow.
One thing I do know is that working on American V8’s in full size cars is a piece of cake. And that working on a 4 cylinder, or 6 in a modern car is usually amazingly tight and painful. Especially on the road with a hot motor and a flashlight in your mouth.

So I started to go through the computers at Autozone, every day trying to find the cheapest car I could that would still be big and comfy and fixable on the road.
After a bunch of looking I narrowed it down to the Chevys since the 350 is the cheapest V8 that I found with the most parts on hand in any parts stores anywhere in the U.S.
From there I had to keep it away from the serpentine belt, FI models… not hard… so I settled on the Malibu, Impala, Caprice classics in the early 70’s to early 80’s.
And the best part? Every single part you will ever need (and most you don’t) is on the shelves here in town. Or at any parts store. Every NAPA and Autozone will have what you need, no matter where you are.
I don’t have to order anything.
And as an added bonus, the tires will be cheap compared to modern tires.
Sure the gas will be a bit more…but my Jeep gets a MAXIMUM of 20 MPG. MAX. ON the highway.
So yes… it will be more expensive to drive… buy I will pay at the pump instead of monthly payments and at the parts store or the shop.
Ever sat in any 4 door full size American car from this era? You can live in them. It’s not just roomy, it’s cavernous.
Also you don’t get to hear that wonderful line:
“Oh yeah. Those cars just have that weird quirk. Sorry, that will be 600$ for that 3 week old fuel pump sir. I hope that it will last longer for you this month.”

Old American Full sizes also have shocks. Not struts. Shocks. You know… those cheap things that anyone can change themselves in no time at all?
Not those struts thingeys that cost you hundreds if not thousands of dollars to purchase and take hundreds of dollars in shop labor for a shop to spend 10 hours changing.

Ever priced 350 Chevy parts?
Let me give you a taste for the clueless.
Radiator 110$
Fuel pump 22$
Alternator 30-95$
Shocks 20$
Belts 10$
Blower motor 15$
Heater core 20$
Fuel filter 3$
Starter 50-100$
I could go on all day long.

This summer I can work on getting the A/C up to spec, and for now the heater is working about one million percent better than my awful non existent heater in my Jeep.
(Don’t ask. The heater core is clear, the thermostat is new, the water pump is working perfect, no air pockets in the coolant…. It just sucks.)
On top of that… I plan on changing most of the hard parts as soon as possible while they are still working and putting only lifetime warranty parts on from Autozone… then put all of the still running hard parts in the HUUUGGGGEEEEE trunk and always have a fully stocked tool box in there as well.
Then when something DOES go wrong on the road… I can fix it right there. In the middle of nowhere. And that will get me to the nearest Autozone where I can get my lifetime warranty part exchanged for a brand new one.

Need an example of how this works?
When I was 16 I had a 76 Monte Carlo. My fuel pump died in the middle of Kansas. I had no clue and no cell phone. (This was pre cell phones).
Some farmer stopped and pulled out his roll of end wrenches and in 3 minutes figured out what was wrong.
He took me into town on a Sunday, to the home of the manager of the local NAPA. That guy took me down, opened up the store and pulled the fuel pump off the shelf, sold it to me for 12 bucks, and took two end wrenches and a bolt and went out and changed it for me on the road in 15 minutes.
Next time I was in Kansas… I broke a fan belt. I walked up to a farm and the famer had a belt hanging in the barn that was the right size. He gave it to me and helped me put it on.

My 2001 Ford Focus? Yeah,... took me an HOUR to change my thermostat housing and I had to have special torx bits and I cut my hands all up.
And don’t get my started on my 90 Jeep Cherokee, or the 93 Dodge pickup, or any of the four different GM 3800 v6’s I have had to maintain.

And if I ever wanted to make it go fast…well… how hard is it to make a small block Chevy go fast?

So, I found this one a while ago and have been thinking about it, but I haven’t needed another car, or had the money.
I got this one for 500$ out of and old ladies garage where she had it sitting for 4 years.
It needs a new radiator and battery.
Other than that it fired right up for me, runs smooth as silk, the Quadra jet is spotless and the 4 year old gas is still running incredible.
Stops good, lights all work, shocks are still OK, interior is better than most of my American cars ever where.

Let the experiment begin.
Maybe in a few years I will take it on the Hot Rod power tour, if they still let people drive V8's then and I'm not in prison for owning this car.

This one is for John.