I’m Flying To Australia On Friday To Attempt The Hardest Wrenching Project Of My Life. I’ll Take Any Advice I Can Get

Borderline Imp

Four weeks. That’s all the time I have to turn the cars you see in the photo above — two dilapidated late 1960s Chrysler Valiant utes (a “ute” is essentially a pickup version of a car, for those not in the know) — into something that can not only handle a 400 mile drive to the wildest and largest Ute show on earth but also sneak through Australia’s rigorous inspection. If you looked at the image above and thought to yourself  “four weeks ain’t enough, Dave,” then you’re preachin’ to the choir. I know, and I’m worried. But also excited. Let’s talk about the task at hand.

I can’t believe I’m just three days from my trip to Australia, a place I’ve only ever seen in my dreams — dreams that have all included the beautiful purr of a Chrysler of Australia-designed “Hemi Six” inline-six engine.

Located in the center of New South Wales near the town of Dubbo sit two absolutely decrepit Chrysler Valiant Utes, one of which I aim to pilot to the Deni Ute Muster, the Burning Man of Australian car shows. If you were to google “Deni Ute Muster,” you’d happen upon videos like the one below, which require you to certify that you’re above the age of 18 to watch. In fact, when I spoke with one of the event’s organizers, she told me: “There are parts of the event that we don’t want the media to see…sometimes our men get a little ‘happy.'” What the hell that means, I don’t know, but I’m both alarmed and fascinated.

I’m not entirely sure how I ended up the owner of two extremely broken cars on a continent I’ve never set foot on. An Autopian reader named Laurence had found me on Instagram during my wild 1958 Willys FC build, and when I bought my 1965 Plymouth Valiant (there was no “Chrysler” Valiant in the U.S.) he reached out to say hello, as he’s a huge fan of the A-body Chrysler vehicles. It turns out, Chrysler Valiants were quite popular in Australia. Per Laurence, when he was younger, there were laws that forbid teens from driving eight-cylinder vehicles, so cars like the Valiant, with its Hemi Six, drew in quite an enthusiast community. Anyway, eventually he sent me a listing for a Valiant Ute, and — since I have very little restraint when it comes to car purchases — I joked with him about buying it on my behalf. He asked if I was serious and I, the mind behind the phrase “Buy First, Think Later,” said “Why the hell not? I’ll figure it out later.” Laurence bought the Kangaroo hunting ute shown on the left below, then a parts Ute a month or two later (on the right), and now it’s officially the “later” that I promised would be accompanied by “think.” So I’m off on Friday to fulfill my end of the deal and begin the thought process.

In fact, I’ve gotten a bit of a jump on that, with the outcome being the realization that the odds are stacked heavily against me, here. Like, heavily.

Screen Shot 2022 08 23 At 12.33.56 Am

[Editor’s Note: I like that the ‘should look like’ ute is still pretty beat to shit. – JT]

I fly out on August 26th, and the earliest I can conceivably start working on the cars is the 28th. Even then, I bet I’ll be absolutely exhausted and probably install a distributor 180-degrees off. Hell, that’s a best-case screwup after a 24-hour flight; I’ll be lucky if I don’t drop a starter motor on my head. The Deni Ute Muster shitsho—err, car show, begins on September 30th, giving me 33 days (or just under five weeks) to produce a running, driving, inspected vehicle capable of handling a 400 mile trek from Dubbo to Deniliquin.

That second bit — the “inspected” bit — is the one I’m most concerned about. In the off chance that Laurence and I can turn these rusty hulks into something that can propel itself down the street, we’ve then got to get the local Australian government to sign off on it. I don’t see that happening.

In a way, this project is like a mashup of my 1958 Jeep FC-170 project:

And my diesel manual 1994 Chrysler Voyager project:

I’m basically taking a vehicle in my Jeep’s condition and trying to get it through the rigorous inspection I had to get my much newer, much nicer Chrysler minivan through. What’s more, unlike the two aforementioned projects, this ute undertaking will require me to juggle wrenching with running an entire publication. When was the last time you saw an editor-in-chief of any website fly across the world to wrench on crappy cars for four weeks? Literally never — they’ve got to manage people and make sure that the Jason Torchinskys of the world don’t run amok publishing a bunch of fictional stories about taillight cults. My current plan is to ignore conventional wisdom and just let Jason go ham. What will be left of this website upon my return, I do not know. But of course, I will be around to watch the inevitable blaze as it builds, as my greasy hands will be blogging frequent updates from Down Under.

I really have no idea how I’m going to pull this off, but meticulous planning is going to be step one. Laurence and I (okay, mostly Laurence) have put together a list of parts we’ll need. Here’s a look:

Part Source Price Notes Status Extra Notes
Front Suspension
Upper control arm bushes local store $72 full set Purchased by DT
Lower control arm bushes local store $72 pair Purchased by DT??
Strut rod bushes local store $32 pair
Ball joints – Upper local store $68 pair Purchased by DT
Ball joints – Lower local store $118 pair
Tie rod ends local store $120 full set
Pitman Arm local store $50
Idler Arm local store $50
Shocks local store $365 All four corners, Gabriel’s. Also on Ebay for about $259/four
leaf spring bushings local store ~$70 Polyeurethane Have hanger bushes, just need front eye
Wheel bearings – front local store $30 ea
wheel cylinders – front Online $100 pair Purchased by DT
wheel cylinders – rear Ebay $40 pair Purchased
Drum brake spring kit online $45 per axle F & R same kit Purchased
Brake flexible hoses online $120 Purchased
Brake master cylinder Online $50 USD Purchased by DT? DT also acquired distribution block
Tyres local ~ $85 ea? 175/70/R14 – Winrun (better than Losewalk?)
resurface flywheel local store ~$50 Carton of Great Northern!
clutch kit local store $290 Inc. throwout bearing Existing 215 clutch may be okay
Clutch linkage kit online **Will check what I have here first**
shifter bushings May need to make up from stuff if req.
Speedo cable seal online $8 Purchased
Trans rear output seal online $20 Purchased
3-speed man. gasket set online $40 Purchased
rear brake lenses online $200 pair Purchased
front indicator lenses online $112 pair Purchased
radiator Facebook $50 Big-block radiator, will need testing Acquired
radiator hoses local $52 set I have a new CL/CM model upper hose we can use
water pump local $50 I have some decent used thermostat housings
Fanbelt local $14
Universal joints local store $32 pair
motor mounts local store $180
Trans mount online $40 Purchased
Fuel pickup screen online $25 Purchased
Fuel sender seal & lock ring online $18 Purchased Will need to save original rubber seal and double-up with new seal
Fuel pump online $50 Purchased
Hemi six gasket set local $160 all excl. rear main seal (I have some if needed)
Hemi six crank bolt and washer online $35 not installed as stock! Out of stock, not entirely necessary
Bosch style RE55 voltage regulator local $52
Rebuild parts for Alternator online ~$90 Brand new Alternator approx $350! Purchased My mate Gordo should be able to rebuild it in his sleep!
Seatbelts Ebay $278-$295 Either non-Retractable or Retractable lap/sash plus centre lap DT to check US stocks?
Front windscreen seal online $190 We have two used windscreens to choose from Purchased
Lock set + keys (ign. and doors) online $120 Purchased

I don’t think I fully understand the scale of this operation, but when I see the utes in-person that should become clear. Expect one of my patented  “Here’s Everything Wrong With” posts on Monday. Gulp. (My biggest concern is that seatbelt line-item. Can I just snag a shoulder belt from a U.S. junkyard? $300 Australian seems like a tidy sum for some nylon and some buckles).

I’m excited to be staying with a total stranger in his spider-infested home in rural Australia; the prospect of Laurence potentially harvesting my organs in a damp, meat hook-and-vinyl-curtain-filled cellar isn’t really my biggest concern, all things considered. That’s because I know deep down that trying to get a functional, legal ute made of those two highly dysfunctional utes to the Ute Muster so I can listen to Brad Paisley sing “Mud On The Tires” over the sound of vomiting, half-naked Australians is going to be borderline impossible. I’m actually sweating a bit just thinking about it.

Top-photo credit: Jan Rogers

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit

143 Responses

  1. The mental wind-shear of reading the Pebble Beach $2M Fiat article followed by this one is pretty significant.
    I’ve gotten into a few Australian car site/channels of late, Mighty Car Mods chief among them, and this little mission, while obviously futile and possibly life/threatening, really is appealing.
    Good luck, Dave, and we’ll try to limit just how many clicks Torch’s tail light fetish posts get while you’re gone.

  2. Sounds like you’re well prepared! I suspect you’ll have it running in less than two 2 weeks ????

    I feel i have to comment on how to handle yourself at the ute muster.
    Australians love to bring others down to their level.No harm in that,but be ready for it.
    There’s also a tendency to pick on foreigners in (usually) harmless ways.You might have to say ‘hell no!’ at times. All the best.Have a great time!

  3. First, get a complete official checklist of the Australian inspection. Then, work directly off that to satisfy the inspectors before doing anything else. That is your go/no go guide. Anything else is unnecessary. Don’t waste time on anything else before you can meet all the parameters. It will save you lots of grief doing it that way.

      1. I think you’ll find that checklist is a guide for someone buying a used car, not a guide for someone taking a car to a blueslip inspection in NSW.

        Inspections here aren’t like the TUV, as long as your tyres and brakes are up to scratch, it doesn’t leak oil like a seive, all lights work and anything required by the ADRs (Australian Design Rules) of that vehicle year are present you’re golden.

Leave a Reply