Home » Here’s My Very First Look At The Two Dilapidated Chrysler Valiant Utes I Bought In Australia

Here’s My Very First Look At The Two Dilapidated Chrysler Valiant Utes I Bought In Australia

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“I flew 20 hours to Australia for this?!” I thought to myself as I looked out into a paddock housing two old Chrysler Valiant utes overgrown with brush thanks to extreme rainfall in the Dubbo, New South Wales part of the Australian bush. I expected the cars — the main $900 Kangaroo-hunting ute and the parts ute — to be in bad shape based on the photos my host and Autopian reader, Laurence, had sent me. But seeing them in the flesh was downright shocking. At that moment, a realization set in: Building a fully functional ute from these carcasses in just four weeks — a ute that would pass Australian inspection and then road trip to the world’s biggest ute show — was going to ruin me.

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The notion has so far rung true. It’s 4:30 in the morning right now, and I’m basically a grease-and-RTV-covered zombie trying to write some kind of coherent article because I owe you all an update, and also our video team made gold out of my crappy cellphone clips and I need to show you all (see above). But damn am I tired, so hopefully this article doesn’t suck too badly. My typical schedule goes like this: Wake up at 9 A.M. Wrench until 10 PM. Try to help run this website until 3 A.M. Do it all over — everyday. And while six hours of sleep may sound fine, it’s the 13 hours of wrenching followed by five hours of work that has aged me approximately 20 years in just three weeks. At least now all those people who joke on Reddit and in the YouTube comments that I look both 15 and 45 can buzz off.

If you’ve been following Project Cactus (named for the Australian slang term that means “broken”), or if you’ve watched the clip above, you’ll know that I’ve flown from Detroit to Sydney, and taken a seven-hour train ride inland to the small city of Dubbo. There, I met with Laurence, a reader whom I’d befriended on Instagram, and who had purchased a $900 Chrysler Valiant kangaroo-hunting ute on my behalf. An agricultural insurance salesman who frequently stumbles across all sorts of cool old machines, he also managed to snag a parts car for me for a song. The two vehicles have sat in his mom’s paddock for many months now, awaiting a zany American car-website editor to arrive to attempt to fix them up and drive something to the Deni Ute Muster — the wild, ute-themed Burning Man of Australia.

Well, I’ve arrived with all of my tools intact. Even my can of PB Blaster made it through customs, as did my gas-charged Monroe shocks and my ridiculously heavy brake master cylinder (these parts were way cheaper to buy in the U.S.). Tired as hell from all the traveling, and my right arm aching from carrying that heavy tool bag, I stood in the paddock and looked at the most daunting sight I’d ever seen:

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Laurence told me he thinks the main car is cactus — so much so that it’s not worth saving. His recommendation? To use the parts ute as the primary project vehicle. Hearing this was disheartening, because as bad as the ‘roo-shooting ute is, it at least looks like a car. It has an interior, it has a face, it has a tailgate. The idea of using the car on the left as my main car just seems absurd given my tight timeline:

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I wasn’t able to see the underside of the parts car, since it wasn’t on jack stands like the ‘roo-shooting ute was (though even that car was hard to assess in the high brush). I’ll be getting the two machines up on a lift later, at which point I’ll have to decide which vehicle to try to fix. I’d love your input on that. Until then, here’s a look at all the issues I saw that first night seeing these two vehicles in the flesh. Let’s start with the ‘roo ute.

‘Roo-Shooting Ute

The white (and brown, let’s be honest) ute appears to be mostly complete, but it’s very clearly been a “paddock basher” for much of its life. The panels are dented, there’s plenty of rust, and the engine – well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

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The Body Is There, But It’s Bad

“MG Landscapes” reads the lettering on the side of the white ute, but it’s clear that its days holding down a steady job are far, far behind it. Its last occupation was to be absolutely beaten on somewhere in the Australian bush — jumped, bumped, and probably revved to the sky. We’ll talk about the first and last on that list in a second; for now, let’s focus on “bumped.”

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The photo above doesn’t quite communicate just how bad the dents are in the driver’s-side B-pillar, tailgate, and door, but trust me: They’re hard knocks. The B-pillar dent in particular is one that I worry probably tweaked the entire body. Would an inspector ever allow this vehicle to be registered? I had concerns, and so did Laurence.

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The left side of the ute was similarly dented.

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And for some reason, the door wouldn’t open.

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The hood had broken off its hinge, and was strapped to a clearly-replaced-but-still-awful brown fender, which had a rust hole at its base and dents everywhere. The front bumper had been bashed in rather violently (as will be made clear in the next update article), the grille was mangled, and this wasn’t even the worst of it.

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The taillight lenses (and frankly, ever single plastic lens on the vehicle) are cracked, and the bed (or “tray,” as they call it here) is filled with shotgun shells from the vehicle’s ute-hunting days. Towards the cab, things become rather perforated:

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Worse, the rust in the tray has breached the cabin, with the rear bulkhead basically rotted-out at its base, and in need of a rather complicated weld-job:

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Further welds would be needed to the floors; they were a bit hard to see from above, but if you look at the ute’s (horrid) interior, you can spot some holes where one’s feet should sit:

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The Engine Is Gone

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The Slant-Six engine is one of America’s greatest of all time. It’s a bulletproof mill that I’ve written about ad nauseam, since I daily-drove a 1965 Plymouth Valiant all through the last Michigan winter. Still, even if it can stop a bullet, the mighty Leaning Tower of Power can’t handle being bounced off the rev limiter while doing “skids” in a paddock in the Australian bush. That’s what I assume happened to this motor, though it seems based on the above photo of the dipstick that, even if the motor hadn’t been abused, the moisture that made it into the engine would still have killed it. Seriously, how can a dipstick — a piece of steel meant to be bathed in oil — disintegrate to this degree?:

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While we’re in the engine bay, allow me to point out a radiator that has been completely ruined by who knows what; look at the missing tubes and fins:

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Also, this brake master cylinder has turned into dust!:

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The Car Has Clearly Been Jumped

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Since I’d just landed in Australia a few days prior, and since Americans seem to think the continent is just a wild, pest-filled land where everything wants to kill you, I was a bit hesitant to crawl under the vehicle in the high grass, but I didn’t want to seem weak to Laurence, so I slid girded my loins and took a look at the floors. As you can see in the image above, there are giant rust holes in the floorboards. Here are a few more towards the back of the car:

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Some of the floor looks okay, and certainly the vehicle looks better than my old Valiant underneath. But just look at how concave the floor panels are; this thing has been jumped — I have no doubt about it:

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All of this rust, and many of the structural compromises, would have to be fixed to get through Australia’s inspection. This concerned me.

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The Parts Ute

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I’m not going to go into too much detail on the shape of the parts car, because it’s just a shell. It stopped being a car when it lost its engine, panels, transmission, drivetrain, windshield, doors, tailgate, front bumper, grille, radiator — everything. It’s scrap metal.

But let’s just see what we have to work with, here:

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Okay, so there’s at least one fender and one door:

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And hey, there’s the second door in the bed:

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The interior is, well — there isn’t one. The floorboards have some holes, and the tunnel has been banged, welded, and cut to fit some kind of aftermarket transmission:

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The windshield is gone, but at least the flange isn’t rusted out. So there’s that?:

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Here’s another look at some of the floor rust — there are no holes on the driver’s side, though the rust is scaley:

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The worst rust is in the bed, though. You can see where someone mounted an aftermarket fuel tank; just between it and the can of beer, you can see a giant hole:

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Anyway, that was my first night in Dubbo. I learned that my project car is rusted out and dented, its engine is completely trashed (and so is its transmission; Laurence told me water poured out when he removed the driveshaft), and the interior looks worse than 90 percent of interiors I’ve seen at junkyards. And the parts car is just a shell. How the heck I was going to get something rust-free and structurally sound enough to pass inspection, and also running and driving well enough to road-trip to the Deni Ute Muster, I had no clue. But I stopped thinking about it, and headed to the pub to have a classic Australian pub feed: a chicken Schnitty:

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BAD EDIT
BAD EDIT
1 year ago

David’s travelogue on fixing the Ute is about to devolve into a travelogue about hitchhiking to a famous party in Deni.

Lance Rutherford
Lance Rutherford
1 year ago

3 is one

Lance Rutherford
Lance Rutherford
1 year ago

3 is one

or just get this one and export it when you are done.
https://www.gumtree.com.au/s-ad/kanmantoo/cars-vans-utes/chrysler-valiant-ute/1301088707

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
1 year ago

Does either of those really qualify as a parts car? The first one has every single sheet metal stamping rusted and/or crushed, the interior shot, all the trim shot, and the drivetrain completely destroyed, the second one is missing almost everything but the bare shell. Between them, I guess maybe you can salvage some glass, maybe wheels, maybe some suspension bits?

Ben
Ben
1 year ago

So let’s tally up what you have here:

0 usable bodies
0 usable engines
0 usable transmissions

I’m unsure where this series goes from here, but I’ll be clicking all the articles nonetheless. 🙂

SageWestyTulsa
SageWestyTulsa
1 year ago

I suspect you’re already well down this path, but your friend is correct re. building the “parts car.” The main car is so beat as to offer no real advantage, and have the front clip already off of the parts car means you’re starting out with easier access for all of the stuff you’re going to have to replace anyway. This looks to be a real shitshow even by DT standards, so I’m definitely looking forward to the next installment!

DysLexus
DysLexus
1 year ago

Any chance that you can find a more, uh…substantial starter Ute to build on and use those as 2 parts car…i.e. (3) halves to make (1) whole???

SLIDTossedPissedinto BleuCHSaladwCroutons
SLIDTossedPissedinto BleuCHSaladwCroutons
1 year ago

Alright….
*Takes a XANAX* I apologize flatly for what might tumble out of the whole in my face…

What in the name of the Tap-dancing-baby-fucking-JEEBUS have you walked into? I mean… Ive seen some stuff that looked so janky even I didnt want it (thats not entirely true, I have 2 of those janky items).

I.. dont know what possessed you… to fly into the UPSIDE DOWN TOILET AND ACTUALLY hand over MONEY.. to buy these things.

But may god have mercy on you.. and if anything is like my wife and her blood…

God help us all.

FatGuyInALittleCar
FatGuyInALittleCar
1 year ago

I’m getting secondhand anxiety. But if anyone can do it….

James Gawne
James Gawne
1 year ago

“And for David’s next trick, once the ute is complete, he’s going to turn it into an amphibious car, sail it to Ensenada, and then drive it from there to Moab in time for the Easter Jeep Safari.”

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
1 year ago

Abort. Cut losses. Spend more and get a project car that was ‘restored’ like 20+ years ago by someone who didn’t know what they were doing, and fix that. Then sell before you leave. You have the skills, but you are not a magician. Could you get one of those running? Not without spending a lot of money and time, and even then, at the end of the day, it’s a rusty, dented, not especially desirable car. If you find a botched restoration, or a half completed project, or a barn find that has issues, you have a much higher chance of succeeding, and a much higher chance of not flushing money down the toilet. I know money isn’t the end-all of your adventures, but when you can combine your wrenching adventures AND BE PROFITABLE or at least break even, that’s a good thing.

2004_Z06
2004_Z06
1 year ago

Sorry, but this is far more hopeless than Project POStal. Too bad you couldn’t have gotten better pictures before traveling halfway around the world. You need a complete working drivetrain, brakes, and who knows what else. I suggest you exit now as gracefully as possible.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
1 year ago
Reply to  2004_Z06

Same. He still has time to find another project, build that, and make a lot of content from it. Those are hopeless… and if he does stick to it, it’s like lighting cash on fire. An older restoration that isn’t running, or a barn find with missing parts is a better idea to spend the time/effort getting running.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
1 year ago

I don’t know how you build off that ‘roo Ute. The structure is just complete shit. I’ll reserve my opinion on the parts ute until we can see the underside, but that big rust hole in the bed is not comforting. That dipstick is surely terrifying, but that motor just may be salvageable. I only say that given David’s miracle worker reputation – those valve seats on that FC motor were AWFUL, but you got that going with some major elbow grease. I am not sure what you have to prove at this point, David, but Godspeed! We’re all pulling for you!

Data
Data
1 year ago

The Autopian Presents David Tracy Mad Libs:

“I to for this?!” I thought to myself as I looked out into a housing . I expected the car to be in bad shape based on the photos. But seeing them in the flesh was downright shocking. At that moment, a realization set in: Building a fully functional car from these carcasses in just was going to ruin me.

Re: Holy Grail Jeeps, Jeep FC, Project Krassler, Postal Jeep, etc.

Data
Data
1 year ago
Reply to  Data

Well damn, all the selections were wrapped in greater than and less than signs that were deleted. I’ve been censored!

The Autopian Presents David Tracy Mad Libs:

“I (Drove/Flew/Walked/Biked) (Insert Time) to (Insert Location) for this?!” I thought to myself as I looked out into a (Insert Vehicle Location) housing a (Insert Vehicle) (Insert depressing vehicle description). I expected the car to be in bad shape based on the photos. But seeing them in the flesh was downright shocking. At that moment, a realization set in: Building a fully functional car from these carcasses in just (Insert Truncated Timeframe) was going to ruin me.

Lokki
Lokki
1 year ago

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in Australia, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood and spider bites, who strives to resurrect his Valiant, who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy (or otherwise) cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat, but buy that aren’t totally hopeless pieces of rust.”

Teddy Roosevelt’s comments upon finding out that people are calling David’s newest project both insane and impossible.

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
1 year ago

If you can make those Jeeps run, you can do this.

Maybe he won’t notice the Challenger Engine in the UTE or a swap?

“Dunno how it got like that so fast. Did you show you this engine I found for the UTE?”

SquareTaillight2002
SquareTaillight2002
1 year ago

I love travel. I love cars. I love impossible tasks. You are crazy.

Lotsofchops
Lotsofchops
1 year ago

I’m sorry, David. I’m sorry I ever doubted you. After project postal and the FC, I didn’t think you could sink any lower. I will never doubt your prowess again.

M0L0TOV
M0L0TOV
1 year ago

I’m more concerned about the Pub. Jesus, are we that unimaginative (not a knock on you) that it looks like pretty much any pub around the world? Is it Tampa, FL? Madrid, Spain? Shanghai, China? It’s like the song Little Boxes. “Little boxes all the same.”

Data
Data
1 year ago
Reply to  M0L0TOV

I only see one TV. While I don’t frequent pubs often, when I do, there are usually 10+ TV’s per wall, all on a different channel. ADHD-lapooza!

Outofstep
Outofstep
1 year ago

I had one of the worst nights sleep of my life after a 16 hour workday and rushing to spend some time with my lady for her birthday. I feel like I drank all the alcohol even though I didn’t have a sip. Basically what I’m saying is I feel like absolute dogshit. If I was asked to describe how I feel I’d just show them a picture of your 2 utes (1.25, .75 utes? I mean really there’s not much left of either one). Jesus Christ, DT! I was concerned before but now I am terrified for you.

SLIDTossedPissedinto BleuCHSaladwCroutons
SLIDTossedPissedinto BleuCHSaladwCroutons
1 year ago
Reply to  Outofstep

Are you saying.. ABSOLUT.. or just dogshit?

Flyingstitch
Flyingstitch
1 year ago

I see it now, David. This was an elaborate ruse to get you out of the United States. Don’t get into any unmarked vans with anyone. If you’re lucky, you’ll get home with both kidneys.

Bomber
Bomber
1 year ago

Will this be the end of our great hero? Will the rust get him? Or will it be the entire daunting task? Find out next time! Same bat time! Same bat channel!

Data
Data
1 year ago
Reply to  Bomber

We’re in Australia, it shoud be Same Wombat time! Same Wombat channel!

Jason Smith
Jason Smith
1 year ago

Sweet Christmas, those are bad even by your shockingly low standards! I’m looking forward to seeing if and how you’ll be able to turn those piles of rusted, very questionable parts into something resembling a functional vehicle.

ChefCJ
ChefCJ
1 year ago

Just looking at the pictures, I’m struggling to figure out how you determined which one was the parts car. Was it weight?

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
1 year ago

“THE POWER OF RUST COMPELS YOU! THE POWER OF RUST COMPELS YOU!”

I say to do the parts ute as the project ute just because of the stripes and wheels. That’s it. That’s the only reason.

I know part of these series is the “this looks totally hopeless” post. But without an engine that has a hope of working (how does a dipstick rust? HOW?!?) you’re up shit creek without a paddle.

Hangover Grenade
Hangover Grenade
1 year ago

I mean, if you can get that FC running and driving, maybe this isn’t so bad.

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