Monday, October 27, 2008

In Hard Times and in Good....

Oh boy, well a lot has happened since my last euphoric post 2 weeks ago. My old girl has hit a major road block. Two Saturdays ago, I blew a head gasket heading up the Conejo Grade from Ventura to Los Angeles. I was headed to the twice yearly Mopar auto show and swap in Van Nuys CA. The actual event snuck up on me and when my friend and mechanical sensai Jeff emailed
that it was going down, I decided I HAD to go. Not only had I not seen Jeff, Mondo & Ed (The three dudes that really get the credit for resurrecting my first Dodge, Ol' Blue) in over a year, the Fall Fling is THE Mopar hook-up in So-Cal. I knew that there I could pick up nearly every part I am lacking on this new wagon. Also I could oggle the amazing cars in the show and have a sense of pride that indeed, this year I had brought my own bad-ass Mopar.

But Alas, none of that was to happen. Instead I spent the entire Saturday trying to get the car back to home base after an unexpected overheat that resulted in a blown head gasket. The Conejo Grade is a big steep incline that cuts through the mountains like a gateway to or from Ventura County. I have never owned a car that has effortlessly gone up this hill. In fact, my tow truck driver from that fateful Saturday said "If there is a weekness in a car, that hill will find it". I sure found that out the hard way. Half way up the grade the car was losing speed like mad, I shifted into second (its a 3 speed) and made the last bit of the hill going about 25, it was awful. The whole time I was eyeing my heat gauge. Sure enough by the time I hit the top I was near the "danger zone".

I exited in Agoura Hills, not really the most friendly town for jalopy breakdowns. I got plenty of scorn from the Mercedes, BMW and Hummer owners while I had the hood popped up and steaming in front of the water pump at a local gas station. I called Jeff and he diagnosed it as a blown head gasket over the phone. The car was still drivable so I limped to a Jiffy Lube to get some sort of flush to rid my engine of all the radiator fluid it took on. They patched me up enough to head back to Ventura. I had a stop in Thousand Oaks to replace the upper radiator hose which had expanded to twice its size during the over heat. From there I went down the grade and caught traffic in Camarillo, where I exited the 101 and discovered a completely flat passenger-side front tire. After that I called it quits for the day and phoned AAA.

I got towed home and as soon as the car was deposited in the driveway my spirits sank. I knew this was a big deal. For modern cars with aluminum engines, a blown head gasket is often a death sentence. My hope against hope was that I caught the overheat before it got too bad and minimal damage had occurred. The Dodge has the infamous slant six motor, which is of course cast iron. It can take a lot of abuse before it is a lost cause. That knowledge was my only hope. Now all I had to do was build up the courage to take apart my own engine!

My dad and I delved into the process this last weekend. We tore down the engine to remove the head. We had to take apart alot of stuff to get to that stage. We bagged and numbered everything. When we pulled the head and spied the head gasket, we as amature mechanics thought that it looked fine. When you hear the word blown to describe something you imagine smithereens. In actuality it was a very subtle pattern of unusual wear on the gasket, the head and the block. I had to have a seasoned mechanic, Fred point out the not-so-obvious to me. Now the next step is to have the head resurfaced at a machine shop. There are a lot of other projects that popped out of this Pandora's box like a radiator rebuild & thermostat replacement to name a few.

I feel a little better about the situation now that we have gotten an idea of what needs to be done to put Lucy (Oh yeah, that's her name!) back on the road. I have to locate a good/affordable machine shop and once that's done, we can start reassembling the engine. The sooner we can get that done the better because the longer we wait the less we will remember about how we took it apart! Till Lucy is running again, I'm on the Schwinn. I ride to work and back all week, about a mile and a half one way. My boss asked me why don't I ride a moped instead (we have 4)? I told her that seeing as how all my modes of transportation are vintage including my 70's Schwinn, I figured the bike is least likely to break down on the way to work! I don't really mind pedaling to work either, I am getting some killer exercise and not spending a dime on gas. Which is good because every penny is being absorbed by the Dart!

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