Archive for the 'Project Build Reports' Category

 

Operation RESTORING BROWN: Romance of the Rusty Roof Rail Repair

Jul 05, 2019 in vantruck

Alright, here we go! The first meat and first potato of Operation RESTORING BROWN, the only thing which I technically set out to do and could in fact just rattlecan the whole thing brown right afterwards and be done with it. I’m going to keep an rolling index of previous posts here so by the end, everyone can read the whole thing and realize just how embarrassing it all was. We begin of course with…

  1. Episode 1 – the initial teardown of the house of horrors

So, I’ve established that there wasn’t really anything too flammable in contact with the inside of the roof where I’d be making repairs, which means it will go pretty quickly once all the prep work is done. What is it exactly that I have to put back together? This:

Yikes. These spots were already present when I bought Vantruck in late 2016, but they were smaller in visual magnitude because I hadn’t explored them until maybe last year. By then, the two ends were “joining” in the middle causing the rust-colored stain in the roof paint in that area, and I spent a little whole doing some initial scratch-n-sniff with pulling up degenerated sealant beads and hitting the area with a wire brush. I also covered the area in rust converter (causing the dark color) and gave it a blast of clearcoat paint, which was able to preserve it until now.

There’s a little divot all the way to the right near the “van seam”, which was where I applied a grinding wheel to try and get a sense of how the roof was attached. I had done some research then on how I would make this repair, and feared the worst.

You see, Ford in all its wisdom decided that the best way to make a roof drip rail is to also use it as the rolled spot weld seam (pinch weld) to attach the roof to the side panels.  The spot welds are then coated with a bead of body sealant. Predictably, the sealant deteriorates and lets water into the crevices of the spot welds, upon which it rusts out and there is scant little you can do about it except some very expensive metal replacement therapies with harvested body panels (if you’re lucky to find one since they all rust in the same place!). If you just run an image search for “Ford drip rail rust” you can see many examples of this failure mode.  What I now fear is Mikuvan’s drip rails are made the same way, as it seems to be a popular method of making the roof panel back then. It doesn’t have any issues there, but it’s only a matter of time.

For me right now, it meant having to cut the entire section out and then…. not replace it with anything. My restoration, my rules – I was just going to cut the damaged sections out, bridge the gap with welded on strips, and just reseal the remaining. It’s going to be visible, ugly, and purposeful.

But before I could begin anything, I had to peel back the walls of the house of horrors even more, since the rust extended under the….

van seam. This was a rather cringeworthy and frustrating exercise. Frustrating, because I had to impact-drive out around 25 time-cured Phillips-head self-tapping sheet metal screws. Cringeworthy because really? Just driving irregularly spaced flat-head screws into stuff?

This aluminum trim strip originally had a large rubber seal clipped over it. The rubber seal deteriorated and crumbled away slowly, so I removed all of it about the same time last year I tried to arrest the roof rust.

I only managed to destroy 2 screws while removing the upper half of the trim strip, which I had to drill out and grind away the remnants thereof. Honestly, I was expecting so much worse. What’s going to happen here is eventually I’ll remove the whole van seam trim strip and refinish the underside separately. They just screwed it on and painted over it, which means the underside has a lot of surface rust and built-up grunge.

Bonus points if you can spot the red Sharpie line they marked and followed to cut the van!  Yes, there is an actual red sharpie line on both sides.

We begin the actual demolition now, where I just arm up a cutoff wheel into a grinder and zip the remains of the drip rail off.

Quick note – just because I found “nothing flammable” on the inside of the roof, doesn’t mean I didn’t keep a fire extinguisher and a pressurized plant sprayer bottle full of water nearby. The interior was still questionably fire-resistant 1980s urethane foam, cloth, plywood, and carpet. This cutting operation created a lot of sparks, and I’m sure there will be even more to come.

Following up with the cutoff wheel, I used a flappy wheel to remove the paint in the area and explore how deep the rust pitting went i.e. what can still be reasonably salvaged. I’m not planning on removing every semblance of rust, especially as much of it has been hit with the conversion compound and should in the end be painted over.

It was time to arm up my limeboi here with a proper cart and C25 gas bottle. This is what you were designed for!

A long time ago, I bought a lot of aluminized steel strip and sheet in anticipation of eventually needing to make repairs to Mikuvan.

Making so many different repairs to Vantruck has, in a way, been practicing for that. While I’ve done a lot of mechanical only work to Mikuvan, I’ve not nearly been as comfortable digging deep into it because it’s a much better packaged and integrated experience, not to mention very difficult to find recourse if I mess something up badly due to its rarity in the U.S. market. I’ve already had to source some interior parts from Japan and Taiwan myself because parts are just no longer easily available here – the most recent adventure being securing a set of replacement windshield trim strips because the glass shop could not guarantee being able to get the old pieces off cleanly to replace the windshield. Not to mention, of course, the completely Chinesium cylinder head that’s currently living in it.

Vantruck’s primitiveness at the cusp of the changeover from the “Malaise Era” to the contemporary age of more computerized and polished automobiles, as touched upon in the dénouement of the Regular Car Reviews episode, has made every repair or upfit on it more approachable. I know I can generally transfer the experience if I needed to, even if the methods aren’t 1 to 1. More importantly, its ubiquity even in the modern day means if I completely botch something, it’s a more recoverable error.

In fact, on any day’s regional Craigslist search I can find at least 4 pre-1992 Econoline vans, usually 2 decrepit ones, one “okay” one, and one well-kept one


I’ve actually visited the blue one on the right, and man if I thought I had rust issues….

What I’m saying is, now having witnessed the result of making the sausage, I am not beyond buying an old conversion van and cutting 1/3rd of it off myself. They still sell endcaps for these. In all, these vantrucks are about the weirdest vehicles you can buy which still uses the most common ingredients – Ford truck parts – in their construction.

Enough of the van philosophy! Onto sheet metal repairs.

The plan was to use the area by the van seam as a test weld. If this went of well, the rest will go very quickly. If not, I can still Bondo Castle the whole thing!

I started the patch piece at a distance where it abuts the van seam trim strip, and the difference underneath will be made up by sealant (for someone else 25 year down the line to deal with, I suppose!)

Four little spot welds to hold it down, and I think I generally get the idea.

The mass deletion of a strip above the drip rail and the remains of the body side panel below it then commences. Remember where I said I still had a fire extinguisher and a water sprayer on standby? If there was one part I needed them, it was right here. I basically filled the interior up with sparks. What wasn’t being caught by the tangles of fiberglass insulation was, as I witnessed, shooting straight into the carpet, beyond the areas I pre-emptively wet down near the roof! Oh well.

For the upper slit line, I dug straight down with the cutoff wheel. To separate the gap, I actually approached from the bottom at a very shallow angle. The result was a strip of rusty steel, seen here.

This repair is extremely simple to execute because everything is straight. All I had to do was line up the welding magnets and blast away.

I used the “randomized point welds” approach where you never weld twice in adjacent places or make a single long bead, to minimize heat deformation of the sheet metal. So I’d anchor the strip by opposite corners, then basically switch corners every 3 or 4 trigger pulls.

 

And after another strip plus a finishing chunk, I’m done here. There’s already like 4x the original spot welds holding the roof on here. Notice the still-present drip rail over the door? That’s staying. I’m not going to shave the whole thing.

All that will happen now is I’ll grind these welds relatively flush and then apply a big Adaptive Fillet of body sealant down the length.

I test drove the process once again by where the van seam is. This was very quick and easy with an already broken-in flap disc which has a bit of an edge radius worn into it. I made sure not to grind enough that I started erasing the root of the weld blob.

Moving down the line. Basically, the area between the patch strip and where the body panel jogs inwards will be entirely filled with sealant. Same goes for the top half. I’m just going to use a popsicle stick as a squeegee / trowel to lay that bead down.

With this process having taken much less time than I figured, I decided to transition to some lookahead work. A lot of other exterior fittings had to come off anyway if I wanted to repaint it, so I was going to just piecemeal address every rust issue as they come up.  First up is the big “I am a classic van” visor. I know it’s hiding something underneath, but have never wanted to check. What I do know is that it some times rains from the upper left corner of the windshield if it either 1. rains too hard or 2. I try to wash it.

 

 

It’s held on by a total of 10 screws, two on each side, three in the middle, and three on a little support bracket underneath the …. front awning bit. Luckily, all the screws came out relatively easily despite being somewhat rusty.

Have I mentioned that the hardest part of doing CAR (especially truck-shaped things) is just fighting out what dumb names are given to certain things? And how many of those parts are just named after the guy who invented it?

Anyways, after all the screws are out, you just lift the thing up and……

 

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Yep, this project is getting out of scope fast.

Well that’s no good. A cursory inspection shows that this hole ran deep into the windshield frame, and had a through component on the interior sheet which led directly to an area over the sunvisors. Well that’s why it rains on the inside!

I decided to return to menially applying petrochemical compounds while I thought about what to do here.

Here’s the sealant compound in the “Deposit large blobs and pave over” stage. There’s a matching fillet gfor the bottom edge that didn’t exist yet in this photo. The plan was to let it all cure overnight, and then I just scrape the cured excess sealant off, leaving only the fillets I desire.

While the sealant lines were drying, I decided to  just take care of the rust patch over the driver’s door. There was enough steel left over here that I decided to just Hairy Bondo over the whole affair after cleaning the area up. This is just regular Bondo with short fiberglass strands already pre-baked into it, so it forms a stronger composite not unlike a crappy chopped strand mat.

It doesn’t sand easily due to the fiberglass content, so you use a thing that looks more like a file to get the major cutting done, and then fill in the low spots with regular pink mystery butter.

The final stage is what I call the “cancerous death” looking part, which is after sculpting and sanding down of the regular material. This is called glazing compound or “spot putty” and is intended to fill in very tiny pinholes that might exist because of trapped air from mixing the batch of shame you blobbed on. The juxtaposition of dark red and pink is just kind of gross to look at. This stuff sands very fast, so at this stage I’m using at most 220 grit or so sandpaper.

By the end of this exercise, I had formulated an attack plan for the windshield hole.

Observe, daylight! This is where water was getting in and causing the interior to rain. I was going to equally exploit it to close the hole up. This hole, and actually the empty space above it, meant I could reach tools around from the back.

I don’t have a good closeup photo of the trimming I did to the windshield hole,  so here’s a wide shot that sort of shows what is going on. (Nor it turns out did I take photos of the removal of the chrome windshield trim, which was “Many little broken plastic clips” which fortunately are still made because Ford Trucks Never Change)

I carved away with a Dremel until the metal was solid again, both interior and exterior layers. The black staining is from the same rust conversion treatment which I just sort of do as a matter of course now since I wasn’t going to, say, cut the A-pillar and the front of the roof off to excise it.

So what’s my grand master plan?

Bondo Castle.

Sorry, world. I formed a dam which was roughly the right shape of the windshield frame curvature from a piece of soda can (luckily, enough of it remained to use as a guide).

Then, I ‘primed’ the interior area with brushed on fiberglass resin (a component of Bondo filler) so it would ideally wet out better for more adhesion. Then, I added a Blob of Shame to the hole. However, since I can reach it reasonably with a small popsicle stick from the inside, I was able to create a dome which reached beyond the edges of the steel, again to try and gain area for adhesion.

If I couldn’t reach it from the inside, then this would be one of those Bondo Rocks of shoddy restoration legend, since it would have to be solid and “built up” from the deepest point.

The initial dome was reinforced on both sides with more Fiber-Filled Regret as it cured, gradually reaching the surface enough to level out. I then pulled the soda can barrier off and Dremeled/filed the curvature to shape.

 

Nobody will know.

Only I will carry this curse.

Okay, that wasn’t nearly as bad as I made it out to be. I think it will be fine, maybe except for getting beaned directly in this repair zone by a flying dumpster. And if that does happen, it will be on dashcam and it will be awesome.

 

With the entire left side more or less settled, I moved onto the right side. The destruction here luckily was far less extensive, and this was the only trouble spot. It was shallow enough that I just ground it smooth and wire brushed the area and could seal it directly. The sealant on the entire length forward from here was deteriorated, though, so I tore it all out (it wasn’t difficult, since after all it had failed to seal and was just nursing rust underneath) and wire wheeled the gutter. All that will happen to it is application of new sealant.

I decided to keep going and just replace all of the sealant on this side, so I ran all the way down the passenger side A-pillar with the wire wheel.

Technically, at this point, the drip rail operation was all done. But the fun really had just begun! Memorial Day weekend is over with now, and I would take the next few evenings to jump on the roof itself and start dismantling all of the lights and the dysfunctional airhorn, while patching up and priming troublesome areas.  All while plotting the interior rehabilitation and the Next Generation Sex Lights.

Operation: RESTORING BROWN: Vivisection of the Beast – the Summer of vantruck Begins;

Jun 24, 2019 in vantruck

With all of Vantruck’s major build phases being named cheekily after American military operations in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, (AMEEEEERICAAAAAAAAA), y’all knew this title was coming. ENDURING BROWN documented the struggle to get it back in running order after the Crash of Motorama 2017.  Later, RESOLUTE BROWN saw it become a staple of the Big Chuck’s Van Navy and move from “de-shittification” to “more-goodification” with addition of new fitments such as an overdrive, attending a few  (largely undocumented here) cAr ShOwS usually by just showing up and having everyone assume I belong, and even assuming the role of Company Truck™ in the critical pre-money months of yesteryear.

But, in all honesty, it was missing a lot. Cab rust issues were seriously affecting how I was viewing having it around – the roof became no longer rain-proof at the rusted weld seams (apparently a very Old Ford Truck Problem), making me wonder why I (at the time) had two non-waterproof vans. The paint was globally deteriorating to the point that every wash was turning my towels a light brown shade. And most shameful of all….. I never actually liked the brown-on-brown-on-BROWN paint job anyway. Sacrilege to my fans, I know.

And on top of that, the interior fittings were coming apart with increased use and mileage, reflecting their original cocaine-fueled construction pedigree. One fine day, I was minding my own business trying to get some tacos when the entire CB radio console fell onto my head in the middle of Route 16. I guess the last drywall screw holding the console to the 1/4″ plywood roof liner finally gave out. None of these are exaggerations. It only gets worse.

Yup, just like that, my decision was made. Big Chuck’s Auto Body Center was ready and waiting, and I was going to dive into the beast and cut it open, watching it bleed from every gash. And it’s gonna like it.

Perhaps the most insightful conclusion I’ve made in the past few months – really in the past year and a half after Season 3 of BattleBots …. which I only just now discovered I never actually did an event report for…. was just why a lot of people car as a hobby.

I do consider myself something like a creative person, and I thought that this creativity was generally bottomless and I’d generally be able to design and build things nonstop. It turns out this is more true if all of the things you build are on your terms – for me, that’s been robots, silly go-karts, scooters, and the like, up to and including the half dozen or so consulting jobs I had taken on in the area for friends’ startups and local companies.

When you pick and choose your battles, you tend to win them, creating the rush to fight more. It’s also why winning robot matches is a good thing! However, in the past (roughly) 2 years of the new company, it’s more been like all creativity, all the time, no matter if I think this is a good idea or not because it’s no longer my idea, only 35-45% mine depending on which paperwork we filed. That , like an artist who has to create boring but necessary marketing graphics all day, is what drains your WILL. TO. BE. 

When that happens, it’s difficult to open Autodesk Inventor again and work on Overhaul because I just spent 7 and a half hours trying to work on something else, and know that tomorrow is going to bring 9 hours of the same and 5 the next day with several meetings thrown in juuuust well spaced enough that I can think about something and get nothing actually completed. Then maybe I spent several hours more at home thinking, or late at night wrenching on the company products, metaphorically or literally, with nobody else around to bug me, which just makes me more tired and peeved at the #System.

Well, in that regime of operation, it’s nice to have a hobby where someone else already did all of that work and you have to exercise minimal thought. Just do. I’ve become more accepting recently of the “Guy who works on 1 motorcycle for 5 years”. Before, I always wondered how you can just sit there polishing one engine cover and not do anything else awesome to it. It’s because his day/entire career might be mind-numbingly repetitive or draining, not necessarily by choice, and all he wants to do is get the perfect polish on all of the chrome motorcycle parts I don’t know the word for before having to acknowledge the rest of the family he dubiously signed up for, that one night in his modified van. I hope I don’t keep this up – because at least unlike this hypothetical Gen-X career twilight strawman I’m talking about, I exercise a lot of control over the product and company direction….for better or worse.

(looks over at his modified vans)….. well shit

But I get it. I understand now. Some people car  because they enjoy the performance and tuning process (as I touched on in the bottom third of my accidental engine rebuild post, automobiles have basically every manufacturing process ever invented in them, often because of them) and exploring the often multivariate paths to their optimum solution. Or maybe they never find one and just go along for the ride. But other people car because it is an easy thing to pick up and put down in the limited time available between interpersonal obligations.

I have no interpersonal obligations to speak of, but I sure as damn have much less time to fiddle with finding the perfect hidden motor for my robots. So here I stand, with roughly the hours of 7-8PM to 11-midnight or thereabouts every night, and only about 50% of Saturdays – a.k.a the self-motivated postmodern Millennial with mutually induced career and success anxiety work schedule (what’s the Latin medical word for that?!). What can I get done in that kind of time? I never thought this would actually happen, but here I am with my first real “Project” “Car” so to speak, and another adventure into which I ran into headlong with just enough knowledge to get into trouble but likely not enough to get out of trouble. What will befall our incompletely Byronic Heroes in this episode!?

The events of the past few weeks will be the first in a few stages of this whole journey. It will include:

  • Stripping down the interior and discovering all of its dirty secrets, in preparation for
  • Recovering the rusted areas on the rolled/welded rain gutters and welding patches over them, then
  • Replacing or retromodding the interior fittings which I can’t (or won’t) save, and finally
  • Painting of the whole thing and addendum of dumb truck accessories

But first, let’s rewind a little to the closing days of Operation RESOLUTE BROWN.  Remember it was about making incremental improvements to make it less horrible? You know what’s horrible? Fuel filler necks that are held on by zip ties. Zip ties that break randomly with chassis-bed flexing and end up prolapsing the filler neck out the bottom of the fender.

I bought the interior fittings and (white, even!) doors from someone on Facebook last year, and never found the time to install them (remember self-motivated postmodern Millennial with mutually induced career and success anxiety – look, I ain’t saying it’s right or wrong, just giving the facts. We report, you decide.) until a few months ago. These things were…. let’s call them “Made to Print”. I get the impression the holes were just in-place drilled on the assembly line if it was vaguely aligned, because I could only get 3 of the 4 holes of the allegedly identical model-and-year filler neck fitting to line up – and one only after drilling out the embedded threaded insert nut completely and just using a loose nut on the back side.

Hey, whatever. It closes and doesn’t even look that bad!

The rear filler door and fitting were going to be a little more of a challenge, because…

To make the custom-length Centurion van-to-truck filler neck remotely reach the existing fuel door location, it had to bend and twist more than the hose could handle. This hose was already damaged when I got it, and rotating it upwards sure didn’t make it any better.  It would need to rotate even more to accommodate the fitting angle. I don’t know why Ford chose to put the fuel doors inside the dually fenders in those years.

With a lot of PB Blaster and some coercing with strap wrenches and prybars, I managed to “pre-compensate” for the twist needed to seat the filler neck such that the hose isn’t twist-kinked any more, just kinked. This should really be replaced for real some time – it hasn’t leaked, but I figure the reinforcement wires showing isn’t a good sign anyway.

The rear tank fitting aligned just as badly, again allowing me to use only three screws out of four.

And both fuel doors are now mounted. Instantly, looked at least a few percent better!  Man, the one-year anniversary of the Centurion RCR Episode (now approaching 400,000 views…. yikes) was coming up, and I really wish it could have been in a better state of De-Shittification back then.

If you’re detail oriented, you might have noticed a trivial change that magically appeared in the past few photos. Go ahead and look again at the past five photos!

Check these out. Around the time I signed on for Big Chuck’s Auto Body, I started more seriously shopping for truck accessories since I would have a less-frozen and less-seagull-dropping-covered place to install them. One of the issues that Vantruck has had, in my assessment, has been “Too Little Ass”.

What I mean is that the thing sits so high that it’s mostly tires looking at it from the back.  Just look at some of the drive-behind shots in the RCR episode.

The aftermarket step bumper I used to replaced the wrecked original is rather short in stature, and a conflict in its height versus having to access the existing van-frame trailer hitch for towing the company trailer meant I had to flip my mount and bring it up even higher. It just looked rather wrong, like not enough is going on, not truck shaped enough.

I plan to fix the bumper issue with a custom rear deep-drop step-and-tow style bumper (see: Stage 4 where I add horrible truck accessories that I haven’t gotten to), but in the mean time…

I am reminded of why I hate the idea of buying horrible truck accessories. Because they’re all overpriced and shitty for what they are. For the low ruble amount of $125 I got these rubber sheets that have the thinnest diamond-tread plate aluminum ever riveted to…. no, I HAD TO DO THE GOD DAMNED RIVETING. I could bend these sheets not just by hand, but between my fingers.

Dunno what I was expecting, really. If I still had 24/7 unfettered access to a “Milk my tuition back dollar by dollar” machine (also called an abrasive waterjet) I’d probably have made my own from 1/8″ or something. Nah, College Charles would have done 1/4″ for dramatic overkill.  But for now? Whatever, more money than time or sense.

Yeah, not to mention the braces were bare, uncoated steel. They’d melt away in one winter. So I did what I do best – paint them Miku Blue with leftover Overhaul paint.  Primer, base, and clear. These will last for a while yet!

Because it was actually still the middle of winter (what I call Winter begins in late September and runs until mid May), I had to give the paint some boost to dry and cure properly.

 

While snooping out the underside of the bed for where to drill the holes, I discovered a fun archeological fact about this bed I bought.

It had the exact model or a very similar model of mudflap.

The holes were already there. Both the underside and wheelwell one.  Well, now I understand what those holes were there for! I might start playing this game on purpose – try to “Guess the Accessory” based on the vestigial hole pattern!

The truck this bed was on definitely used to have a Gooseneck type hitch, because of the, you know, 4 inch diameter hole drilled right in the middle. On my long-term agenda is to re-add such a hitch, even if I have nothing worthwhile to tow, because truck cred.

The convenience was short-lived, as I quickly discovered that the rubber was cut assuming the F-series truck frame dimensions (33″ wide) which are a good 9″ narrower than the van frame (42″ wide). It just meant I had to move the thru-holes about an inch or so over for them to clear the leaf springs.

And…. not bad. The Ass Factor has substantially increased, and with it, the Truck-Shaped Coefficient. The higher your TSC, the more truck-like your truck is. Get it? Good, because I’m not going over this material again; you’ll have to work with your TA in recitation before the exam on Tuesday which will consist of one question only: What color is BROWN?

I finished all of the previous installation work before Motorama this year since I wanted to use that as an excuse to finally make the thing presentable. Externally-imposed but still artificial deadlines, you say!

We can now move on to the true beginning of Operation: RESTORING BROWN.  I spent a day or so after being beaned by the radio console to kind of outline the scope of the whole project and reaffirm my motivations. In short,

  • The radio console falling off will be the triggering event of pulling apart the interior
  • This has to happen because the rain gutter rust had, in my opinion, reached almost irreparable levels on the left side in three locations – the rear near the stitch seam, the center over the double windows, and over the driver side door
  • Repairing it will necessitate hotwork (welding, grinding) and I definitely don’t want to set the interior pieces on fire; I had to take the all off to investigate what will be nearby the weld site
  • While the interior is apart, perform upgrades and make changes; at least lay the foundation for changes I want to make so it can be closed back up
  • Repair or address all remaining rust sites on the cab in the interest of a full repaint; leave stuff in primer or some spraybombing
  • Shop around for a repaint quote or stop being scared and do it myself.

During this process, I had to minimize the amount of “immovable object” downtime so I had to plan my moves carefully – just taking everything apart with reckless abandon is how you end up with a Craigslist pile. I bought my vans as Craigslist piles, I should know this.

I decided a good brainless task to start on was going ahead and dismantling the interior, since at the time I was waiting on my welder and also needed to do research and think about how to attack the rain gutter rust. Learning more about the interior might also inform future changes.

First operation was to begin unscrewing all of the interior fittings, like the sun visors, trim pieces, and the cabin lights.

At this point I had no idea how anything was attached, so I carefully marked and retained all of the screws I removed. The answer: 1″ long self-drilling sheet metal screws. Just power zipped in there.

I sighed, and pressed forward.

I removed the passenger-side B-pillar upper trim to release another section of Centurion-special upholstery and….

 

Uh oh.

 

Literally duct tape has been found as a construction material. This wasn’t recent duct tape by my investigation – it was rigid and crispy, the kind of duct tape that only could have gone into it from day one.

I signed, and pressed forward. I see how this is going to go.

The stained wood roof….arches? are how the individual panels are retained. Under them are some more edge screws that hold the interior panels to the OEM steel roof beams, most of which are flat-head and were “driven through” the fabric so I couldn’t see them. I had to carefully examine the surface with a flashlight and catch reflections of the screws.

Alright, down comes the front portion of the interior roof liner, and…. I see duct tape from here. Oh no.

Oh no.

You know the canned movie/cartoon scene where the hero opens a door, chest, box, or some other cavity-laden plot McGuffin, makes a face, and then looks away back at his consortium of misfits and goes “It’s worse than I thought” or “Don’t look in here”, and closes it again?

That.

Right, also, do you see what I mean by 1/4″ plywood? It’s literally just stapled “Sagging Headliner” material on 1/4″ regular-ass 1980s plywood. Probably made from cocaine trees. I’m going to keep making “80s cocaine” jokes, despite having nothing to do with either subject matter.

 

Yep. Okay, moving on. I anchored everything back by 1 screw so it would stay in place; I wanted to see how bad the rest of it was.

To remove the rear panels, I had to first guess what order Centurion fit everything in. The answer is the worst possible order, a.k.a how I’d have done it too.

The driver’s side double-window panel went in last. You can tell since it overlapped the edges of all the other panels on that side. This meant to release the (what i now call) #2 and #3 roof panels, I had to remove it first. To do that, I had to release a significant portion of the driver’s side B pillar including the seat belt anchor bolt and both conversion van window frames.

These window frames were, let’s say, clearly not intended for the Ford van, as they had a different curvature than the outside of the body. This was hidden by the fact that the outer sheet metal to interior drivers’s side wall panel distance was about 3 inches filled with fiberglass batting. The curvature was then forced by elastic averaging beasting it with 17 1″ long self-drilling sheet metal screws each.

If any of this is able to go back in after I was done, I am starting a van restoration shop for real.

By the way, I went full long sleeve and respirator for this op – because the first time I popped the roof down, a cloud of orange decaying urethane foam dust and fiberglass particles rained down.

So how did your co-founder die? Miner’s lung. How did he get that? Working on his van. We don’t talk about it. What a conversation for your Series A funding round party.

 

Investigating some of the artifacts, such as the rear cabin light module, was a source of entertainment also. A lot of companies made RV accessories in the 1970s and 1980s, and most of these companies (Centurion included, in the end) are no longer around. Well, I found out why one of these lights always kept falling off: Because the HOT GLUE JOINT retaining it had given up.

You know what, maybe ya’ll fucking deserved to go out of business.

With the driver’s side wall panel pulled apart, and all of the roof panel screws released, it was time to unveil more of the Fiberglass Flabberglast. The silver foil tape isn’t OEM – I had to add it, very fittingly of course since it’s designed for insulation panels, because the two rear pieces kept trying to fall down on me.

I had known that Vantruck was insulated for a long time, but didn’t know how good of a job they tried to do until now. The side walls and rear endcap wall are very well filled, but the roof just had these cut rectangular chunks. Better than nothing I suppose, and it made me want to install the rest inside the gaps once I was finished in here.

Gee, thanks. Just pull naked wires against exposed steel edges. Yup, who cares about strain relief?  Who cares if your product is a fire hazard if the company will go under soon anyway!?

The condition of the roof underside wasn’t that concerning – not as bad as these photos make it look. It looks like rust caused by temperature cycling and condensation, and was entirely surface. Will it become an issue one day? Probably. Do I care enough right now to rip out all of the fiberglass and try to clean/remedy it? Nah, I had much larger, browner fish to fry first.

As a final step in this adventure, I decided to just rip the scab off and reveal the full Lovecraftian wirebomination that is the #1 roof panel.  I knew it was going to be bad, since all of the five “I am a large truck please thank you” DOT lights on the roof are wired in here, as well as two internal cabin lights and all of the CB radio and console buttons.

Up your nose, here we go…

 

Boy howdy did this get out of scope fast. I haven’t even touched any rust yet! In the coming days, I would switch mental gears and just grind and sand stuff while thinking of what I could possibly do to make this any worse.

 

The Most Curious Story of Sadvan

Apr 29, 2019 in van

On a bright and breezy day in October 2018, I found myself on a two-lane country road somewhere in the bucolic expanse of the Delmarva Peninsula. Well-trimmed fields being prepared for winter fallow were punctuated by leaning, creosote stained electric poles, and the occasional faded goldenrod crossing sign informed me of places known only to their generational denizens.

Sassafras?” I snidely remarked at the passing visage at the side of U.S. Highway 301. “Where the fuck is THAT?”

It struck me as a fantastic dupe by the locals, a name you mutter about having pressing business therein when the unfamiliar out-of-towner violates your shallow interest in their affairs, like “Westchester County, New York”. I was a man whom Fate herself had drawn here this day, far out of his raucous urban mechanical sophistication. Never known for being well-traveled, it mystified many as to why I would abscond well before the morning light to a backwater which, well after the first glance, seems to have nothing to offer me.

But, as the trite phrase goes, I was a man on a mission.

I was here to buy a van, dammit.

Okay, enough with the Millennial Thoreau. This is really the story of how I stalked a van on Craigslist for over a year, drove a total of 18 hours to get it, and in the end sold it to a van-mongering stranger. Yet it existed in my life briefly as a sort of practice for well-scoping your automotive projects, which is something I touched on in previous posts.

This story really begins in the fall of 2017 when I first saw the Craigslist post for a 1988 Mitsubishi Van, in Still Pond, Maryland, for $1500. Allegedly, it was parked over 10 years ago with “rod knock”, and of course it Ran When Parked. Sadly, at the time I didn’t save the post since I never counted on this happening. As is par for my course, I offered $600. It was declined.

Every few months throughout the next year, I would periodically see it re-listed for incrementally lower prices. $1200.

Then $1000.

Then $900.

Each time, I offered $600 with pickup the same week. Eventually, the seller simply stopped responding to me. But a few weeks after Dragon Con, in Mid-October, it came up again.

$500.

At this point, it was worth more to me in the parts I could pull off of it for Mikuvan, looking rather intact from the photos. Or maybe I’ll just try waking it up and seeing how roddy-knocking it actually was. This time, I called the seller so he wouldn’t associate my email again, and got an agreed upon pickup day! There wasn’t even any chance to offer $600 again, because it was now lower.

So a few friends and I rolled out of Boston at around 6 in the morning with Vantruck. We picked up a one-way U-haul car trailer on the way in Delaware and arrived at the agreed upon back yard in Still Pond by around 2 PM.

This thing has obviously been used (as expected) as the guy’s storage unit for those years. It was absolutely crammed full of unrelated car parts, building materials, and household goods. It also clearly suffered from the Delica Windshield Leak I wrote about, because “moldy” didn’t quite start to describe the interior, and the floor carpets especially were basically solid with some unspeakable sediment.

Whatever. Remember, I was here to cart it home no matter what at this point. So we began the 30-minute long process of removing all of the guy’s worldly belongings or whatever from the interior; while doing so I got a chance to appraise more of the interior conditon. Downside? I didn’t come with a winch, which in retrospect should be in all van-retrieval crashkits, so the seller and his friend hoisted it up the trailer using a parallel truck and a hill, then gave it a bump with (of course) his rolling wreck of a forklift. I greatly enjoyed this double-truck operation.

And that is the background of this fantastic aesthetic van train. The ordeal was all done by 5pm, but it took us a good 10 hours to get back into Boston due to traveling slower with the trailer and avoiding the hell out of all of the Northeast’s toll roads and bridges for which I’d have lost another 20% of the purchase cost.

Honestly, the cost to acquire was greater than the cost of the van itself. Fuel alone was nearly $350 because 8.5 miles a gallon and the one-way trailer was $150 or so – maybe I should have gotten a round-trip trailer instead, but I just didn’t want to deal with the additional drama of a trailer if I didn’t have to. Add in the tolls I didn’t avoid on the way down, and incidental costs like food too.

Aaaand dropped off in the neglected back corner of the old shop parking lot. I stashed it here since it was most out of the way of the landlords should they visit, and also the most out of the way for parking lot use in general.

I gave it a real wash later on, and once the plant growths and grunge stains were removed, the paint was actually in remarkable shape. Certainly smoother than Mikuvan in many areas, even. The massive black snout plastic was more aged and faded, however. Likely because the work van trim leaves these unpainted.

And that’s how I ended up with a fleet of three.

Well, two and some I suppose, because it didn’t run at this point. We called it a variety of creative names like “shitvan” and “sadvan” and “the gray van”. I figured “shitvan” wasn’t the most public-friendly name, and come on, it wasn’t that shitty in the end! So I more referred to it as sadvan.

It was time to start digging in. Check out this triple van service day!  Our goal was to get it at least to being able to start, or try to start, because I was wondering about the condition of the engine. Mikuvan’s engine rebuild saga wasn’t that long ago at this point, so if the engine were in remotely competent shape, I’d pull it to keep as a core. By this time, too, I was also no longer afraid of “rod knock” since I’d seen how to pull the crank and rod bearings.   But first, a more thorough mechanical inspection was in order.

One of the niceties of the work van trim is that it basically doesn’t have interior body panels. It had some pieces of MDF which used push rivets to secure to some holes where the interior trim would otherwise be. The benefit to me was that I finally got to see how many of Mikuvan’s interior fittings work. I need to service my power lock actuators eventually, so it was good to see the lock mechanism and how its cables and pushrods route.

In fact, with the initial inspection I did of the sliding door (whose handle wasn’t engaging), I was also able to identify and lube up a cable which on Mikuvan was somewhat rust-seized, causing the sliding door handle to stick at times. I then back-propagated the fix here while I made the little pushrod adjustment which allowed the handle to disengage the latch all the way – it seemed to be just worn plastic parts from usage.

It does make me debate the merits of having multiple of one vehicle, especially with different psychological importance assignments so there is one you don’t feel bad experimenting on.

I did roll around on the ground a little in Maryland, but didn’t identify anything I was too concerned about. It’s below the Salt Belt of the northern states, so there was some Almost Rust but absolutely nothing concerning on the underside.

Look how empty it is! No A/C. No power steering. There is ONE accessory belt:

…and it only handles the alternator and water pump/fan. There’s not an A/C condenser and cruise control gear in front of the radiator. With this barebones honest work truck setup, this thing was perfectly serviceable!

I drained the radiator through its bottom fitting revealing some rusty water, then off-color coolant. At least it wasn’t chunky, and the fins on the inside of the filler cap did not look too corroded. The oil level was off-stick low, so I added most of it back in 10W-40 Walmart-special conventional oil. Hey, if it does have damaged engine bearings, at least it would get a fighting chance.

The exhaust parts had some rust, but nothing like the dissolution typically seen in anything which has spent time in the north. It actually seemed plausible to back out those catalytic converter bolts. The rear interior was fairly beat up from usage as a work van, and the hatch needed a little slamming to close, but otherwise all of the fittings therein were functional.

There was, however, the aftermath of what I warned about in the Delica Windshield Leak post.

I’m sure years of leaking down into the floor plus sloppy work boots is responsible for this, and you can see exactly where water splashing from the front wheels and water pooling from the Delica Windshield Leak took their toll. The driver’s side floor was, shall we say, transparent. This is the extent of the scab picking – I thundered through this area using an aggressive twisted wire brush wheel and steel body hammer. Quite a lot of barely-structural metal was removed. Luckily, the frame rails underneath were sound. I planned to think about what to do here, while we picked through the rest of the thing to get it to run.

The first step is to hook up a battery and see if it does anything. I’m happy to say that all the electrics appear to work fine, though the door open buzzer was initially unhappy. It even still had functional central locking. I don’t even have that any more.

Actually not bad. The idiot lights were all functional  upon key-on, but the fuel gauge was stuck on full. Knowing this thing sat for indeterminate periods of time, and having previously experienced fuel system deterioration in vantruck, I knew that the fuel system was no matter what fuckered (that’s a technical term)and would require removal and possible complete replacement.

Cranking tests showed that nothing was making weird noises, and cold compression testing also returned high 90s PSI, which honestly was better than what Mikuvan started with. I inspected the timing belt through the upper cover, and it seemed to also be in decent shape. After a dozen or so cranking sessions, I drained some oil to check for metal particles – there were none.

Honestly, at this point there was nothing indicating to me there was anything wrong at all with the engine. I began to wonder if low oil caused the hydraulic valve lifters to begin ticking, or they began doing so due to being worn out, and the sound being located close to the driver  with the engine located in the center was mis-diagnosed as “rod knock”.

Testing the fuel pump terminals showed there was no continuity, so (again, from Vantruck’s front fuel tank adventure) the interiors were probably rusted apart. We spent a few hours pulling the fuel tank out, which was 4 bolts and several hose fittings on the top side

First off, it was heavy. Fearing the worst, we pulled off the filler neck first and drained the contents a little.

It was BROWN.This decision was immediately regretted, and the tank carefully removed with the filler hose attached at the base so no more would spill. About 8 gallons of brown were emptied into two buckets. Not knowing really what to do with this substance, I just let it hang out in the open air behind the building. That, plus the amount we spilled onto the parking lot, made the whole area smell like freshly-finished wood furniture for days.

brown

Turning the tank upside down and shaking it out made clump after clump of brown fall out of the bottom. The fuel pump and sender unit, as expected, were basically rusty coral reefs. In my assessment, there was absolutely no value in trying to restore this tank. Over the next few days, I made a few calls using car-part.com as a reference to see who could possibly have a whole fuel tank unit from this obscure model of 80s van. A few turned out to be imaginary or were catalog mis-files.

However, in the end, Burlington Auto Parts came through again! I went to them a few years ago for a replacement headlight bezel. This time, I went in with a more determined attitude to try and score all of their Mitsubishi Van leftovers, and besides the fuel tank assembly, I walked out with a free pair of taillight modules! Allegedly, there were more interior parts and other fittings somewhere deep inside a warehouse off-site; maybe I’ll call back some time.

Hey, taillights are basically consumables around here. I’m quite giddy about any duplicate part for Mikuvan if I can get my hands on it!

In the duration of the few days it took to get a confirmed part hit for the fuel tank, I occasionally filled up the fuel injection rail (with fuel fitting removed) with various cleaning-oriented petrochemicals like Seafoam and straight acetone-based brake cleaner and would ‘crank through it’ i.e. have the injectors fire and cycle the solvents through some. My hope was this would tend to break up anything sticky that had formed in the fuel rail and injectors, and make the initial start and running more deterministic.

After we finished the fuel system fitup, it was time to install a more permanent battery, hold the key down and let nature take its course:

As you can see, the test was conclusive. After a few seconds of cranking, the new fuel system primed and off she went.

Again, I couldn’t hear a single thing wrong with it. I let it idle to full warmup (discovering that the temperature gauge wasn’t reading) to purge the cooling circuit, topped off the coolant thereafter, checked the oil level, and closed the lid. Then I ripped the inaugural burnout seen above, to great fanfare. The thunk at the end was the entire collection of tools and equipment left inside meeting me up front all at once.

That was the last time I touched the engine in any way for running condition purposes.

 

Over the next few days, I would think about what to do with Sadvan while casually improving small aspects of it, such as installing a new light bulb in the 3rd taillight, and replacing the temperature gauge sensor with a spare from Mikuvan (that was the only thing wrong).

I was going to rip everything out that I cared about and put the husk up for adoption or scrapping. Yet here I am again, with a now functional and running endangered species. Do you eat the whale or save the whale? Hell, I even began to consider having a 3rd member of the fleet.

Sadvan did have its shortcomings, such as no power steering or air conditioning, plus (as of then) a classic rat’s nest filled front heater blower, which I would later resolve quickly with pulling off a duct and jamming in a Shopvac nozzle. It also had “no weight over the rear wheels” syndrome where it, like many light trucks, would break the back end free at the slightest provocation.  Hey, I actually liked that last one. Without an interior and power accessory drives to pull around, arguably it was even faster than Mikuvan by a fair margin!

Whatever – while thinking of either selling it as a whole to some other enthusiast or hanging on to it for later amusement, I kept moving towards improving the facilities. That’s my problem, really – give me some mediocre device or machine and I have a habit of making little improvements here and there as I think about whether or not I should be doing them in the first place and is it worth my time.

One of them was thoroughly cleaning the interior. Pretty much every plastic surface was covered in unknown organic grunge, and some of the surfaces were obviously moldy. The carpet was all-around disasterous. I invested in a few different auto detailing products like foaming carpet cleaners and interior cleaning solutions, after being declined by 2 local detail stops since they did not (rightfully!) want to handle the potential mold.

I guess they just want to polish BMWs all day long or something. Whatever, 3 of us had this thing fresh and shiny in one evening. The passenger-side floor did get wet regularly from the Delica Windshield Leak, however; in some of my inspections through the area, I tried to hammer on the baseplate here and chip at it from underneath to inspect for weak spots and rust holes. All told, I couldn’t find any here – it doesn’t mean there aren’t any critical rust spots, but that it was not a priority.

The driver’s side Transparent Floor though, was more pressing. If I were to adopt and register it, this wouldn’t even begin to pass the state inspection. I at least wanted to arrest the rust development until one or the other path (sale, repair, part-out) became reasonable. So I approached with my usual formula of rust converter compound followed by top-coating with something disgusting and goopy. I gave the area another wire brushing to expose as much remaining surface rust as I could, then emptied most of the can of rust converter shown onto it.

Once that cured (turns dark brown/black and the clearcoat-ish component dried, I followed up with my preferred Eastwood Goop. This stuff dries to a waxy consistency and is supposed to be easily removable by solvents later should you want to return to the area to do things, like, correctly. If not, well, this substance comprises a substantial portion of Mikuvan’s underside in the same fender areas!

I masked up pretty high since there was a substantial amount of material to cover.

In the midst of several coats layered both top and bottom here. I also painted manually in the edges where the body is made of multiple sheets together. At least for now this part won’t get any worse!

I still had to cover the gaping hole with something, though, and in the same vein as a lot of the work on this thing, I wanted to pilot something for Mikuvan on a clone that I didn’t have as much paranoia digging into.

Because of the water intrusion, the carpet is pretty deteriorated in both of them, and I had wanted to completely de-carpet the front of Mikuvan. However, what would I replace it with? One day while at Home Depot, I noticed they had big reels of thick particle rubber mats – think certain gym floors and playgrounds which are covered in that chunky rubber stuff, usually made of shredded tires and other rubber detritus. It’s like the Spam of rubber, sold in sheet form – if only they sold mystery sausage meat in large sheets and spools!

This stuff was both flexible enough to bend around but cut with (okay, heavy duty) scissors. What if I just made a giant, epic floormat that covered all of the shortcomings? Mikuvan could also use something similar albeit less epic.

So I got a spool of the material and got to work making a pattern to cut it out of. To do this, I cut up the carpet on the driver’s side of Sadvan and traced its general shape onto some wax paper (I later got real tracing paper from an art supply shop).

As you can see, it took a few revisions to get the shape to line up. My plan was to just cover most of the area I gooped over, including the Flintstone Hole.

Each tracing paper implement improved the fitment until I was confident the last tweak could be committed to rubber.

 

And here it is! This is how it looks just shoved in place without any fastening. Not bad! I was planning to later put a few screws through it to conform to the wheelwell better. This looks plausible enough that at least now my usual favored inspection guys would at least just sigh. Contrary to popular belief, none of my regular fleet have ever had to fib a state inspection in any way, so out of respect I would try to not pass anything too absurd along to them.

At this point, Sadvan had actually been wearing Mikuvan’s license plates for a few days and I had been casually using it for grocery and lunch runs. What!? WHO’S GOING TO KNOW? I saw it as quasi-destructive testing: If there were any engine problems, surely me being able to continue a one-tire fire into 2nd gear and revving everywhere gratuitously would reveal them. But nothing indicated any kind of imminent failure. At around 100 miles, I did an oil change – this time back to my preferred Rotella 5W-40, and once again tried to inspect the drain pan and oil filter for chunks of rod bearings or whatever, and still could find none.

Really, all that my friends and I did after all this was just bleed the brakes since they felt a little soft, but not dysfunctional. Sadvan was otherwise about as good as it ever would have been.

At this point, we made the mental decision to just put it up on Craigslist and Facebook and see what happens. If we were able to turn a profit, we’d split it and put it towards the next van some day. If not, it would join the fleet.

Here was just one of the few glory photos of the sales post. We picked up a set of cheap hubcaps to clean up the slightly rusty gray steel wheel look. Not bad if I do say so myself.

 

Alas, the wholesome story of Sadvan ends with Jonathan here, from Rhode Island, who is a motoring enthusiast and all-around van bro. So if you ever see a small gray Mitsubishi van running around the vicinity of Providence, Rhode Island, you will know its humble origins. He’s since built it out to be a ski- and motorcycle-hauling machine with lights, racks, knobby tires, the works; and has gone on adventures as far as North Carolina. What’s the automotive equivalent of a Cinderella story? A #RanWhenParkedIKnowWhatIHave story? That doesn’t roll off the tongue very well…

How to Remedy Your Mitsubishi Delica’s Leaking Windshield: A Pictorial Guide; Or, Van Facility Improvements Late 2018 to Nowish

Apr 24, 2019 in mikuvan

It’s well known that every 3rd-generation Mitsubishi Delica produced, for any market, has the Delica Windshield Leak.  This manifests as rainy days or water from car washes/even window washing dripping into the front of the cabin floor by the outer corners, making the floors wet. Left long enough, besides amplifying your foot dank, it will rust the floors out.

But it’s a trap – the “windshield leak” isn’t a windshield leak at all. You can have the windshield replaced and resealed as many time as you dare, but it will still happen. That’s because the actual source of the leak is from a corner body panel immediately under the windshield! After learning of this condition from the delica.ca forums, I…

…waited like 3 years and did nothing in particular about it. I was leery of taking off body panels since there wasn’t a guarantee I could get them back on in due time, if at all. The ensuing “not having an indoor facility of some sort” was also a psychological damper. So on rainy days I usually stuffed some shop rags into the corners and used them as diapers. Well with the facility issue resolved, and with Mikuvan really just running too well lately, it’s time to make myself some problems again. Here I will show step by step how to remedy your Delica Windshield Leak That Isn’t Really A Windshield Leak.

I hope you hipsters in Somerville all don’t see this until it’s too late.

Not that I’m bitter or anything, but with the 3rd generation Delicas becoming more and more legal to import into the U.S., I sincerely think there are more here now than the USDM ones! I’m now outnumbered in the greater Boston area by at least 3 known-to-me and possibly more imported late 80s, early 90s 4×4 Delicas. Does this make me, in fact, the original Mitsubishi van hipster? I think it does! Anyways, before the word “Hipster” loses lexical meaning due to saturation…

Okay, first, this story begins with a national tragedy in the making.

That is a dent in the side of Mikuvan which somehow missed both doors. I was going to the #NewVapeShop on a side road when, at a 2-way stop, someone just straight up rolled their stop sign into the main road. Which I was crossing at the time, of course.

It was a gentle bump, and I remember thinking to myself “Really?” before the sound of mashing plastic. And guess what!

IT’S ANOTHER NISSAN!

Well that makes 2 of 2 of my vans which have been attacked by Nissans in some way. Maybe if I buy a Nissan Van, they’ll go away. What the hell is it with Nissans?

I think the sheet metal damage on the side was actually solely the result of mashing the license plate holder off the front of this Altima. They more or less hit the tire/rim first (destroying one of the hubcaps) and then slid backwards some. Besides the dent, there was no other damage to anything save for the hub cap.

 

bump

I’m just glad it was a gentle bump. While I generally consider myself very cautious, and try to ‘drive ahead’ instead of be reactionary, it’s a clear demonstration that some times, crashes just come out of nowhere. Apparently expecting someone to see a stop sign is too much to ask. My guess is phone, of course. Someone once said that driving a classic (or just old) car requires the same caution as riding a motorcycle; you have to anticipate the mistakes of others before they make them, because you’re not getting any protection from your own ride.

Maybe I could have staggered into that intersection a little more (I was following a loose line), or maybe……… someone can look at a stop sign. Oh well, I’ll let the paperwork elves handle this one.

Anyways, after this facepalm-worthy occurrence, I decided it was time to really give Mikuvan some attention again. The Weird Idle Problem of Vantruck had recently been resolved, so it was no longer in an awkward state of “is it REALLY running, though?”.  Now, with BIG CHUCK’S ROBOT WAREHOUSE AND AUTO BODY CENTER established, I had a place to leave unfinished work for indeterminate time periods (uh oh… so it begins).

In we go! Big Chuck’s Auto Body (as I keep calling it now) is just deep enough to put Vantruck in wall to wall, with around 2 feet of clearance. Mikuvan though can just about whip a U-turn inside.

So here is how we begin. The big steps are

  • removing the headlight bezel, then
  • finding and undoing the corner panel screws, then
  • remedying the aged and likely crumbling body seam sealant.

It helps first to remove the bottom windshield trim, which I didn’t know how to do correctly so I just pried until the little plastic clips popped off, some cracking in the process. I ordered a bunch from this website, and you should probably too before starting.

Two of the screws for the corner panel are hidden under the headlight bezel:

And one more behind the A-pillar inside the doorframe:

And finally, one last one – the most irritating one, in my opinion, since it’s highly possible that the cross drive screw will be rusted in place.

These screws are all going to be JIS type screws, but a good quality #2 Phillips driver will also fit and drive with downward pressure.

I found that heat cycling the screws a few times using a heat gun, then using an impact driver (electric or hammer), was effective in freeing up the stuck screws. Honestly, they weren’t rusted in place so much as just aged together.

The two on the bottom side of the headlight bezel are probably better off done with an electric impact driver because of the awkward angle of approach. If you strip the heads out, you’ll probably have to cut straight slots into the heads and use a large flat-drive bit instead.

The driver’s side windshield trim screw on mine had some Natural Loctite holding it on, but heat cycling did the trick. It’s interesting to see that the body was seemingly assembled with these screws, then painted.

A little bit of wiggling to release two pieces of rubber foam trim strip and the panel will slide off to reveal the abject horror underneath. That’s some pretty deteriorated sealant there!

One of my diagnostics to determine if I had the Delica Windshield Leak was pouring some washer fluid into the corner of the windshield, then heading inside and sniffing around for the mildly-sweet methanol smell and the colored drippings. Sure enough, it was leaking profusely.

Most of the sealant will be so deteriorated they come off with the poke of a screwdriver. I didn’t even really need to break out chisels or scrapers here.

It’s highly likely that the sealant will be hiding some rust, so wire brushing it off and treating it is part of the order. I used a few sizes of wire wheels on a drill to knock as much of it off as I could, manually wire brushed the rest, and applied a little bit of rust converter compound into the gap.

The area after a cleaning and wipedown is ready for new sealant.

I painted the sealant on in a few blobs first, then smoothed it out into the gap. Make sure to also smear some up top where the windshield seam begins, since that is probably where weak spots will start growing.

I waited for the first pass to dry a little and then went on a 2nd pass to give plenty of material and a healthy fillet in the gap area.

The day after, when the seam sealer cured, I did a water bucket test where I just poured a whole lot of water down this area and watched the inside for signs of dripping. I’m glad to say there was none!

You’d want to cover all the bare metal exposed by the brushing, so I painted on some POR15 in a much more widespread area – I decided to go ahead and hit some of the other surface rust around this area while I was at it.

Give a day for everything to dry, and the corner goes back on. You can also replace the rubber weatherstrip foam, but I didn’t.

I also didn’t put the screws back by color – instead I put them back by which one was least stripped and would require the least effort, or most accessibility for Unconventional Screwdriving tools, to get back out. So the more damaged screws went on top and by the door, and the screws which were quickest to come out went on the bottom.

I later picked up some #10 truss-head sheet metal screws in 316 alloy stainless steel and replaced some of these screws with them.

On the passenger side, I ended up having to Dremel a slotted drive into the former cross head, which had deteriorated so much that it basically stripped the instant I tried to torque it.

Yikes, this side looks substantially worse than the other, even!

Same procedure in progress! Scraping off of the old sealant (barely any effort required here… it all sort of fell off), wire brushing and rust conversion, and then application of sealant and protection of the area.

I went a little more gung-ho on this side with the seam sealer use, doing it in one run instead of two.

And went a little more crazy with the POR15 on this side, just sort of coating the whole area top and bottom.

I said earlier I ordered some 316 stainless steel screws for the reinstallation of body panels. I also got these M4 pan-head machine screws to replace the headlight retainer screws, which were otherwise rusty and deteriorated. They did come out with some effort again, so I figured they’d been reused enough times – the threads were almost completely gone – that I should just replace them outright.

Luckily, the completion of this timed well with 2 or 3 days of rain. I purposefully parked outside all day long to try and see if I got any more water intrusion. Suffice to say, both sides were dry to the degree that I couldn’t tell if it was just condensation or not. The driver’s side had a very confined moist region which I’m not sure is water intrusion or a worn out window/door frame seal. I’ll keep working on figuring this out, but for now, one of the biggest annoyances of driving in the wet has been remedied. It always felt kind of ridiculous to have a van that isn’t waterproof.

There are other known sources of water intrusion into this area further back by the seat which only is a problem when the tires kick a lot of spray up. I think it’s an unfilled screw hole or plastic snap rivet hole. I know where it is, so maybe it’s time to do some more exploration!

Operation RESOLUTE BROWN: Conquest of That Weird Idle Problem

Apr 20, 2019 in vantruck

And now we return to another chapter of Big Chuck’s Auto Body Center! This time, I’m happy to announce the eradication of something which has plagued Vantruck since not long after I installed the FITech fuel injection system: That Weird Idle Problem.

For almost a year and a half now, Vantruck has never idled correctly. The air-fuel ratio would sink to as low as 10 or 11:1 almost as soon as the engine was started. This meant it stank of unburned fuel, adding to its absurd reputation. Hot starts were strenuous, needing foot-to-the-floor and gentle nursing afterwards (oh, but it would start with one key bump on the 10-20 degree winter mornings!). When it idling, it always sounded like it was missing one or two cylinders. Yet on the highway, or even anything-but-idling, it was great! It really behaved like a carburetor flooding issue, and my friends would quip about how it still acts carbureted, even after conversion to fuel injection. You will never truly take the brown out of the vantruck.

I did numerous dives in to try and figure out what was happening. Theories from people abounded, like a localized vacuum leak of some sort affecting combustion only in 1 or 2 cylinders, or some component of the California smog package still being active (which was the real motivation for its epic dismantling a few months ago). I also replaced the spark plugs (let me tell you about THAT some time), the distributor consumables, and the plug cables. Hell, someone even guessed one (and only one) of the distributor electronic ignition points (the reluctor wheel) was just far enough out of spec to not trigger the ignition module. What are the chances of that? Who knows!?

Honestly, through all the Car Guy Advice, it was clear  to me something was overfueling, so I even did things as dumb as turning down the engine displacement parameter in the ECU. None of these attempts had a first-order impact on the behavior, so I surmised it had to be something very fundamental; something as drastic as tricking the ECU into thinking the thing was only 250 cubic inches and not 460 should have at least had a palpable effect.

One of the hallmarks of a strong debugging heuristic is obtaining a mental model for how sensitive the system is to certain changes; but the other is… well, if something is in the last place you looked, check that you didn’t step over it in the first place, right!?

So I stuck a camera, finally, down the bore of the throttle body. I had a vague idea of what it should look like, and hoped that I would be able to tell if something just looked wrong.  Why didn’t I do this before? Well, you can’t exactly stare down the barrels in these damn vans by putting your head over it. I have to either put an inspection camera inside the engine closet, or in this case, hold my phone inside and try to crank it. Great!

So here we are right after the key is turned to the ON but not Start position. Looks okay so far – barrel 1 (is it called 1? I’m calling it 1) looks a little moist, so maybe we are getting somewhere. The others are pretty starkly dry.

….and immediately on cranking and starting. Oh, my.

Well that’s no good. The injector handling this barrel is basically stuck open, so the thing was getting fuel for 1/4 throttle while idling. How it ran at all, then, was a complete mystery. I attribute it to the 460 being so stupid it didn’t know any better.

So why didn’t I home in on the injectors initially? Well, honestly, I didn’t even know they could leak!

In principle? Yeah I could see that happening. Never dealt with it, though, and a forum full of carburetor bros is surely not going to say “Fuel Injector”. After some research, I found that this generation of FITech head unit was from shortly after changing injector suppliers, so they experienced quality problems. It was covered under warranty and they would send you a new set of injectors.

But I was impatient.

 

So out it comes! The nice thing about these throttle body injection units is you just unplug a few things  and out pops the whole head unit. So if you route your hoses and cables carefully, the installation can be under 5 minutes, really.

Come here, you problem child. My plan was simply to plug up the leaking injector and throw this thing right back in.

To dismantle the FITech unit’s pressurized fuel rails, there are two large 1/4-20 socket head cap screws on either side that need to be released, and then the things pop up upwards at a 45 degree angle. Not straight back or straight upwards. O-rings towards the front and back of the unit get squished into grooves in order to seal the fuel rails; these look like they should be replaced every time you do this, but I elected not to for now.

On the throttle linkage side, the throttle lever cam itself has to be removed to clear the fuel rail half.

To plug the leaking injector, or at least head off its flow to a point where it didn’t really contribute, I resorted to abject terrorism and shoved a cut-off piece of vacuum fitting cap into it. I don’t care if this thing swells or distorts with gasoline contact – so long as it sufficiently reduced the fuel flow!

And the truth reveals itself after a full ECU reset to clear any memory of the incident – now, the idle is far smoother and more stable, and the AFR ratio is very tightly managed. Hurray!

Sadly I didn’t have the foresight to also swap one of the secondary injectors with the blocked primary injector, since it pretty much only uses the primary barrels for low throttle. That means it was missing half of its injection capacity, so stepping on the pedal quickly would overwhelm the other injector and cause it to lean out and stumble. But if I kept it gentle, I was even able to highway drive reasonably well since the secondary barrels kicked in the difference.

Nevertheless, it seems like the issue was resolved. It was now time to call FiTech up and ask for a new set of injectors.

Fast forward a week and so and I’ve dug the thing out again to replace all four injectors with the newest revision parts, replacing the fuel rail O-rings in the process while I was at it. The new injectors get a small smear of grease to facilitate installation, and then the whole mess was unceremoniously stuffed back in. And it worked! My goal was to get this surgery done before Motorama 2019, and I put it together a few days beforehand.

So did the gas mileage get any better!? Well, not really. See, the leaking injector would only really manifest itself at low throttles. On the highway, it’s basically running in that state constantly anyhow. If the ‘city’ mileage improved, I sure as hell haven’t noticed. But at least now it starts quickly, idles less asphyxiatingly (more long-term lung cancer now, I suppose), and responds much more crisply.

With Vantruck now driving competently, I can now turn my attention to the next steps in making it more gooder. One added bonus?

I managed to secure a garage space across the street from the (now previous) shop. You know what? A garage is a garage. It’s enclosed, heated, and has a modicum of power and lighting. And even a mini functional bathroom. You’ll be seeing more and more of the now-real Big Chuck’s Robot Warehouse and Auto Body Center in the future.