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

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

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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.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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le_reynard
le_reynard
1 year ago

My wife’s from out that way….it’d be a shame to spend all your time in Aus, out there…under an unsalvageable snake/spider pit.
Avoid driving at night out there where possible (roos)

Instagr.am/JakobKsGarage
Instagr.am/JakobKsGarage
1 year ago

Good luck David, and have a great trip!

If you have the time, watch some of Derek Bieri’s most “impossible” Vice Grip Garage videos on YouTube. He has many good ideas about what to do and not to do first, when ressurecting old abandoned cars.
And he’s an allround fun, relaxed and pretty smart guy, who just likes to play dumb on the screen, which is entertaining most of the time.

GRZ_DB
GRZ_DB
1 year ago

Living in regional NSW (not quite as regional as Dubbo/Deniliquin), my advice is:
– Don’t panic about snakes. The browns are getting out and about nowish but they’re more shy than the media claims. Pythons are for cuddles.
– Insults are part of common parlance. It’s unusual to meet a friend and not suggest that they have significant personal issues, laden with curse words naturally.
– Don’t underestimate the ServiceNSW registration processes. Ask MightyCarMods about jumping through the hoops of registration inspections (or watch their YT).
– Your previous experience with jerry-rigging solutions will be invaluable. Correct parts will be unicorn-esque, and the workable outcome will be far from ideal… but never let perfect be at odds with good enough 🙂

Silent But Deadly
Silent But Deadly
1 year ago

I’d advise you to check out the utes then come an hour or so north and check out the two ‘daily’ driver sedans that operate in my little town plus the various parts cars….and try to buy/rent either of them and get one of ’em through roadworthy AND in the sort of condition you’ll need to get them to Deni and wherever…

Either way, it sounds like you have decent grasp of the histrionics. If you need a hand then I’m happy to help given I’m only an hour or so away but (given how calamitous the comments section is on this website) I’ve no idea how we’d get in touch…

Sean Hannay
Sean Hannay
1 year ago

Remember the Nightrider when you look at the night sky.

Tom Kneebone
Tom Kneebone
1 year ago

Advice from an Aussie:
Parts shipping will take an age compared to the US, if it isn’t in stock at the local REPCO/(or even better an Auto 1) then you won’t get it in time in Dubbo.
Don’t be worried about the spiders, no one has died from spider bite in Australia since the 1980s, and the only really dangerous ones are funnelwebs which won’t be in am only rusty car. On the other hand, snakes will be a problem, get the utes out of the long grass and into a barn and you’ll probably be better off!
It’s cold here at the moment, the central Tablelands had their once every few years dump of snow so be prepared for freezing temperatures overnight.
Last tip is to find the mechanic who will be doing your blue slip inspection (registration
inspection when the rego has lapsed for more than 3 months) before you start and ask them exactly what they want to see. Will make the process a lot smoother and the inspector more confident when you eventually turn up with a “roadworthy” car. There will probably only be a handful of mechanics in Dubbo licenced for blue slips so you may even need to book a final inspection ahead of time!

Oh and don’t drive at dusk, kangaroos are way less predictable than deer and have more of a deathwish!

Paul Brogger
Paul Brogger
1 year ago

DT: You’re still single, right?

In relationship? (If so, I want to read Mercedes’ interview of the lucky partner!)

Assuming single . . . Is this escapade likely to somehow (in any way?) enhance your prospects in that area of your life?

I thought not.

Godspeed, sir.

cgeorgemo70
cgeorgemo70
1 year ago

Have you bought a set of metric wrenches?

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
1 year ago

Well, shit David. Watched the video. Actually it just seemed like a typical party when I was in high school. Except we did much more than drinking, (it was 1972-75, use your imagination) and living high in the mountains of Colorado. And a shit load of more chicks also. This seems like a wankers convention more than anything else. As an old fart now, I really appreciate the old memories. You need to party dude but maybe you can explore different ideas/options once you hit the ground there.
Advice? Re-think everything constantly. Be married to no pre conceived plan. Life is too farggin short for wasted effort or time. If you can be lucky enough to find the right person everything will change forever. For the right person will force you to re-examine your life priorities and use of precious time. So there are pieces of shit vehicles EVERYWHERE bro…good special women are truly what makes this world function. As to your current insane mission, well go into it with a fuck it attitude….I must assume you have thought this thru. Perhaps your BEST answer is spend a reasonable amount of time, money and effort on the rides there. Even if it does not end up running, stuff the best one with the best parts you have and ship it home. Why pay more for parts, etc. just cause you’re in a foreign country?
So in closing, the answer is priorities my young globe hopper. May the God of Rust and Travel have mercy on your poor demented butt…And find the best local party places rather than the Aussie version of a B level movie where acting like a douche bro is considered cool. David, chicks dig cool. Good luck weed hopper.
Torch! You are now on notice…and double secret probation. Don’t fuck up.

Ryan Dutra
Ryan Dutra
1 year ago

Jeebis crpes David. Good luck!

GeoffTuck
GeoffTuck
1 year ago

As an Australian that knows all too well the struggle of trying to source hard to find parts for old and tired (read “knackered rusty shit heaps”) may I offer the following:
– Pre plan a parts list as best you can, as well as tools etc.
– Watch out for spiders. We all joke about it, but as someone that has lost a toe from a spider bite, that’s a souvenir you don’t want to have.
– Be prepared to get creative, you will no doubt have to utilise all of your engineering knowhow in order to circumvent the inevitable unavoidable issues.
– Bring Duct Tape, if you can’t fix it with Duct Tape, you’re not using enough Duct Tape.
– Buy up as much penetrative oil product as you can, Valiant rust is akin to Lancia rust. We have a product appropriately called “Shift ya’ Bastard” because, you know we are culturally advanced in matters such as these.

In all seriousness though, you’ll have a blast David, you’re in for an amazing adventure!

Paul Brogger
Paul Brogger
1 year ago
Reply to  GeoffTuck

. . . and the BEST duct tape: Gorilla. Black is classic but I think you’ll be wanting the orange.

V8 Fairmont Longroof
V8 Fairmont Longroof
1 year ago

Hi David – another Australian here. We look forward to your visit! I’m sure someone has mentioned this already, but have you investigated getting the Ute registered in Queensland, rather than New South Wales? When I moved to QLD, I had to get my old Ford inspected – the independent inspector asked did I want a normal inspection for $A55, or a ‘guaranteed pass’ for $A110… no brainer. Either way you will need a local driver’s license if you are going to register ute in your name. Good luck!

Alec Harvey
Alec Harvey
1 year ago

Yeah its pretty easy to get a pass. Sometimes they don’t even need to look at the car 😉 gotta love QLD.

Alec Harvey
Alec Harvey
1 year ago

Not sure how strict the inspection is in NSW, but here in QLD its piss easy to get through. I’ve gotten some pretty dodgy stuff through. My 350Z is straight piped and got through no probs.

PajeroPilot
PajeroPilot
1 year ago

Firstly, I can’t wait to see how unhinged this place gets with Torch at the helm for 5 weeks.

The inspection is the least of your worries. I’m not in NSW (I’m in SA) but I know that no state in Australia has anything like the German TUV. You can register any old Shitbox here. As others have said, your biggest problem is likely to be obtaining all the parts you need in time. It’s been a few decades since Valiants were a common sight on our roads.

Good luck David!

Craig Simpson
Craig Simpson
1 year ago

David,

More importantly, when and how long will you be in Sydney, and should there be a meet up of Autopians?

Bob Jablonski
Bob Jablonski
1 year ago

Australia has good beer. Start with that

Philip Beresford
Philip Beresford
1 year ago

As an Aussie, I’m just going to echo a few tips others have already given you
1) Shipping / parts availability sucks. Order everything you think you need YESTERDAY
2) Watch for redback spiders (I’m not kidding). They love living on the ground, under rocks, timber, old cars, outdoor toilets, etc. Very rarely fatal to humans (mainly only children and the elderly), but bad enough to give you a bad time.
3) Get a tetanus shot
4) Our road worthy inspection isn’t as strict as places like Germany, the UK, or Switzerland, but they also won’t just pass anything.
5) Lefty-loosey righty-tighty only works in the northern hemisphere. Down-under it is the opposite 😉
6) Good luck. You’ll need it

Iwannadrive637
Iwannadrive637
1 year ago

When JFK wanted to go to the Moon in less than ten years he said, “We choose to do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Good enough for John , Good enough for David.

Captain Zoll
Captain Zoll
1 year ago
Reply to  Iwannadrive637

why would I do that? that sounds easy, not hard!

Bryanintowson
Bryanintowson
1 year ago

Godspeed, DT. Iacocca be with you.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 year ago

Just remember, you’re Going to Australia, not New Zealand. You’re definitely going to want to sleep on your back.

Carl Nichols
Carl Nichols
1 year ago

Good God. I just watched the video. Bring penicillin and Febreze.

Jay Cuzmanov
Jay Cuzmanov
1 year ago

At some point you’ll be in a pub drinking Cooper’s (I hope) and there will be this thing on the screen that looks kind of like baseball, but is incomprehensible. Here’s everything you need to know.

http://static.espncricinfo.com/db/ABOUT_CRICKET/EXPLANATION/CRICKET_EXPLAINED_AMERICAN.html

I can’t watch American Rules Cricket (baseball) anymore. It’s boring AF in comparison.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
1 year ago

My best advice would be to grab a gallon each of Kroil & the nastiest, most deadly insect/arachnid-killer you can find, mix them together in a big pump-sprayer, and hose your projects down—and I mean soak them puppies!—before you even pick up a wrench.
Godspeed, you madman.

Chris with bad opinions
Chris with bad opinions
1 year ago

My advice: Cancel your trip. You do not, I repeat, DO NOT have to do this.

Detroit-Lightning
Detroit-Lightning
1 year ago

Can’t wait for this. Also, can we add a “taillight mute button” while torch is in charge?

JOKING!

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