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.
[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:
|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||$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|
|Universal joints||local store||$32 pair|
|motor mounts||local store||$180|
|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|
|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