Home » I Made One Of The Biggest Mistakes You Can Make With A Car Project

I Made One Of The Biggest Mistakes You Can Make With A Car Project

Screen Shot 2023 05 23 At 11.29.00 Am
ADVERTISEMENT

“For sale: 1965 Ford Mustang project car. All parts are here!” read the listing for what I hoped would be the deal of the century. “A whole V8 vintage Mustang for only $4000? With a rebuilt engine? That’s a smoking hot deal!” I thought. I hopped into my 1965 Plymouth Valiant daily-driver, and drove over to the neighboring city of Sterling Heights. I arrived to meet a disheartened Army veteran who had gotten himself into a deep hole with a Mustang he’d dreamed of someday fully restoring. He’d torn the whole car down, and was now in way over his head — parts were stacked everywhere in his garage, and getting the vehicle back together was a daunting task that just wasn’t going to happen, he’d recently realized. The car had to go. This was one of many similar stories that taught me a lesson — a lesson that I’ve foolishly ignored with my Jeep Grand Cherokee Overlanding build.

That lesson is: “Never let repairs stack up.”

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

I cannot emphasize enough how important this rule is.

It could be argued that I am among the world’s foremost experts on car hoarderdom, having covered many, many car hoarders during my time as a journalist (I broke the Ron Dauzet story above), and having practiced car hoarderdom myself to better understand the minds of my subjects. Yes, that’s definitely why I did it. For science. Yep. Look at the “research” I’m doing in this clip:

ADVERTISEMENT

I have seen and experienced what it takes to get completely overwhelmed by a car project or nine, so I know that the single most common driver of hoarderdom is allowing issues to stack up. Oftentimes folks will buy up a bunch of parts. They’ll purchase a whole suspension, new steering parts, new wheels and tires, maybe some new seat covers, maybe a new winch bumper, and on and on. They’ll stockpile a bunch of parts, and then they’ll try to install them, only to realize: Holy crap, this is daunting. That’s what the Army vet felt about his Mustang project, and it’s what I’m starting to feel about my Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJ overlanding build (I consider the five-speed ZJ to be the best budget overlanding Jeep in the world):

Pxl 20230519 214042413

I received notice last week that I need to move my Jeep from its current location, as it’s taking up prized employee parking lot spots. Unfortunately, the brake pedal isn’t installed, the shifter tower isn’t in place, the steering intermediate shaft isn’t bolted up, there are no driveshafts, and on and on.

ADVERTISEMENT

I spent a few hours trying to work on the Jeep the other day (I’m pleased to say there were no cats in the cabin — see above), and I just couldn’t decide where to start. There’s just soooo much work to do. And I’ve amassed such a humongous pile of parts. Off the top of my head, here’s what I need to install:

  • New coil springs
  • New shocks
  • New axles with 3.73 gears
  • New control arms
  • A new front track bar
  • A new rear track bar
  • Sway bar links (quick disconnects)
  • A new grille
  • New front and rear bumpers
  • A new header panel
  • Mudflaps
  • New seats
  • New door trim
  • A new exhaust manifold
  • A new water pump
  • A new serpentine belt
  • A new rear hatch
  • A hyper-rare rear spare tire carrier
  • A fuel tank skidplate
  • A transfer case skidplate
  • New headlights
  • A front winch (I need to buy a skidplate)
  • New tires
  • New driveshafts
  • A new radiator
  • A new fan clutch
  • A new brake pedal
  • A used shifter
  • A new center console
  • A bunch of new interior trim
  • New wheel center caps
  • A headliner

This is all a bit overwhelming. Look at all the interior trim here:

Pxl 20230519 214057703

Under that pile of trim is actually an entire rear axle that I snagged from a Michigan junkyard.

ADVERTISEMENT

Incidentally, here I am with my friend Adam, wrenching that axle out of a Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 in 15-degree weather:

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by David Tracy (@davidntracy)

That axle, by the way, underwent an electrolysis derustification process that I’m eventually going to write more about:

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by David Tracy (@davidntracy)

That’s not the only rear axle I have, either. I also snagged a Dana 44 out of a purpose-build off-road Jeep Grand Cherokee I found at my favorite junkyard in Michigan:

ADVERTISEMENT

While at that junkyard, I also grabbed some sway bar disconnects:

At a different junkyard I grabbed some rare factory mudflaps and a silver grille:

ADVERTISEMENT

I imported some euro-style turn signals from Germany:

Screen Shot 2023 04 20 At 12.56.31 Pm

And I bought this gas tank skidplate for $100 off a website called deadjeep.com:

Screen Shot 2023 04 20 At 1.40.41 Pm

And of course, there’s that hyper-rare rear spare tire carrier:

ADVERTISEMENT

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by The Autopian (@theautopian)

It’s all just incredibly daunting, and I should have known better. I’ve seen this play out a million times — people buy up a bunch of parts, and try fixing 100 things all at once. That’s not the way to do it. What I should have done is what I’m going to call The Number One Rule Of Project Car Wrenching:

  1. Get The Car On The Road

That’s it. Get the car running and driving.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by The Autopian (@theautopian)

That means, after I’d bolted up the transmission from that donor Jeep (see above), I should have figured out how to get this red ZJ running, then I should have installed some driveshafts, checked on the brakes, installed the brake pedal and shifter, bolted up the steering column, and gotten the vehicle working. Sure, it’d have been very difficult for me to resist buying some of the parts I spotted at the junkyard, but the reality is that ZJs are still a dime a dozen; I could have nabbed the parts later.

ADVERTISEMENT

Once the Jeep was running and driving, I’d have felt so much less stress, and I’d have been able to whittle away at the interior, then installed a lift kit, the thrown on skid plates, and on and on. I should have paced myself, but instead I made a critical mistake that’s making this build absurdly difficult to even begin.

And it’s not just a mental thing, it’s also just physically impractical to have all these parts clogging up the Jeep. That header panel you see sitting on the spare tire covers below — I could have just bought one of those later from a junkyard. Instead, it takes up space and reminds me of the humongous mountain of labor I have ahead of me.

Screen Shot 2023 04 20 At 1.42.04 Pm

So learn from my mistakes, fellow wrenchers. Get your car running and driving; resist buying up a bunch of parts until you’ve done that. Because working on a running, driving car feels a lot less hopeless than working on one that’s been sitting for years. Minimize hopeless wrenching — get your car on the road.

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
101 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Camp Fire
Camp Fire
11 months ago

Nobody’s asked yet what David did with the spare Mustang?

Brian Souhan
Brian Souhan
11 months ago
Reply to  Camp Fire

I just read this and was Cleo seeing as well!

Scott
Scott
1 year ago

Why’s the Valiant your daily driver David? I thought that was one of the ones you sold before the move, but I’m obviously mistaken (wasn’t that the one where something broke while you were out for burgers and milk, and had to be welded later?).

Don’t tell me something’s happened to the i3? Or maybe Sterling Heights is too far? I hope it’s OK, as I wanna buy it off you someday in the future when you move on to something else… (maybe an EV hovercraft that you luck into?) since I’m still joyless in finding a cheap one. 😉

Autojunkie
Autojunkie
1 year ago

Being part of the Galpin family, don’t you have access to keep that in a garage on a hoist somewhere? The bigger question is why hasn’t Beau given you a dedicated Autopian garage and hoist? 😉

Jb996
Jb996
1 year ago

1) Sit down with a sheet of paper or spreadsheet
2) List everything you want/need to do. Be specific. (Front brakes, front springs, rear brakes, steering column, drive shaft, front rotors, etc.)
3) Group them by region of the car with related work. (Brake pads, rotors, fluid flush), (dashboard), (rear axle, rear springs NOT front) etc. Define a clear delineation between groups, don’t “while I’m in there” your way to one single “whole car” group. Also, the car gets put back together after each group, so they should be as isolated as possible.
4) Prioritize the groups. None are equal, you must end up with a clear order. 1,2,3 will be required to drive. The bottom groups are mostly cosmetic. If the car runs and drives after group 3, then it will also run and drive after group 4, and after 5, etc. Completely finish before moving on.
5) Go do group 1.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jb996
Parsko
Parsko
1 year ago
Reply to  Jb996

COTD

Parsko
Parsko
1 year ago

Another rule I go by…

Only buy the parts you are going to work on now. Same exact concept, but from a different approach. I tend to buy a lot of 3d printer parts with the same hopes. I have changed my ways in the past year and only get what I need now.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
1 year ago

What is required is obvious – Autopian needs to hire someone to follow David around while documenting his work repairing this Jeep. They can then turn it into content, allowing David to wrench in peace and not having to worry about the need to post. Instead of producing finished content, he will produce raw material from which to make content, as it were. I think it makes financial sense.

Jeff N
Jeff N
1 year ago

I lost a 67 Impala SS 396 4-speed convertible that way. Sat way too long and the rust monster ended up eating up what was left. Fast forward a few decades and the same thing happened with a Lincoln Town Car I was going to restore.

Tim Connors
Tim Connors
1 year ago

You can take David Tracy out of Michigan, but you can’t take Michigan out of David Tracy!

Tristan Hixon
Tristan Hixon
1 year ago

So break it down further. As someone with ADHD, I get overwhelmed easily, so I’ve learned to do one thing at a time.

So in this case, even getting it drivable is overwhelming, right? So many things to do to make it work. Well then, instead of trying to have that goal, make the goal “install the driveshafts.” Once that’s done you can consider the next step, and it will be easier because you’ll be on the dopamine high from succeeding at a goal. Just pick one thing, do it, and when it’s done, don’t worry about all the other things, just pick one more.

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
1 year ago

Isn’t Galpin like one of the largest car dealers in the country? They need ONE parking spot freed up all of a sudden?

Or are they concerned about the appearance of having a 30 year Jeep that looks like a theft recovery with a bunch of spare parts in the back sitting anywhere near their facilities?

Dsa Lkjh
Dsa Lkjh
1 year ago

That letter reminds me of the time I got a letter from the owners of the building site I lived in telling me that I was responsible for removing the abandoned car on my plot.

That month I also had an e-mail from my employers telling me that I couldn’t store non-running cars in the company car park, and that I had to remove a particular vehicle.

Both the letter and e-mail referred to the same car: a matte black BMW E30 320i with no front grill and a black plastic bag covering the smashed rear window. It was my daily driver at the time, it just looked like an abandoned car everywhere I parked it.

Sean Ellery
Sean Ellery
1 year ago

Well colour me surprised and call me the Mona Lisa. Dave’s new landlords aren’t as forgiving than his previous Michigan landlord was about leaving half assembled non running cars all over the property… Who’d have guessed that was going to happen?

And on the subject… How is our friendly Northfield junkyard hoarder going with getting rid of his cars? It’s a couple of years since an update on his progress.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
1 year ago
Reply to  Sean Ellery

That letter is from 2022, probably the Michigan peeps?

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
1 year ago

Or do what I did when one of my five vehicles was noticed in a paid-for covered carport space. Move it to another unused covered space. All vehicles were in covered spaces!
Push the Jeep into another space in the lot. Rinse and repeat!

Fire Ball
Fire Ball
1 year ago

Clearly you need another non-running ZJ to store the parts in so you can work on this one.

M K
M K
1 year ago

Non-running car full of parts… Good to have you back David. Was worried that Hollywood broke you, but now I see all is well.

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
1 year ago

Can confirm, I almost sold my Thunderbird when I was getting overwhelmed with everything it needs. Paint, bodywork, electrical work, interior work… After electrical problems put it off the road for a while, I didn’t even know if it would run, and that made it even more of a headache. What convinced me not to sell it was the anxiety that in its then-current state, I wouldn’t get back what I’d put into it, and that wouldn’t be enough to buy an actually better car. I managed to focus on just getting it started again after figuring out one of the electrical problems was with the ignition, which I managed to fix myself, and it ran amazingly well again for the first time in over a year. Then I sent it to a mechanic to fix the rest of the electrical system… which they didn’t have time to do and I got tired of waiting, so took it back once they’d at least got the turn signals working again so I could drive safely.

Now that the car runs and drives… well, it’s still a mess, and I’ve added “fix power windows” and “replace all suspension bushings” to the list of things it seriously needs, while I’m still pretending other problems don’t exist (Is that ANOTHER rust – nope, not thinking about that! Future-me problem!), but OHMYGOSH IT RUNS! AND I CAN DRIVE IT! It starts whenever I want it to and I can drive anywhere I want whenever I want! It IS a good car worth saving and continuing to work on, because darn it, the drivetrain is solid and a running car is too good of a thing to give up on!

Manuel Verissimo
Manuel Verissimo
1 year ago

My spouse enforces another very annoying but very sane rule: one single project car per person. She gets to wrench in her 1996 Honda Rebel, I get to blow my savings on the Datsun. No other purchase until one of these goes from project to daily.

Gubbin
Gubbin
1 year ago

Wise folks with very good taste in your household.

Manuel Verissimo
Manuel Verissimo
1 year ago
Reply to  Gubbin

Thanks man, we like to think so!

sentinelTk
sentinelTk
1 year ago

So where did “David’s ‘Jeep'” land on the Autopian Summit agenda? Did it lead off or was there a safety moment first?

101
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x