You know things are bad when your parts-car becomes your main car. But that’s just the situation I’m in right now, as I put my 1969 Kangaroo-Hunting ute — the Chrysler Valiant that I flew 10,000 miles from Detroit to Dubbo, New South Wales to fix and then road trip it to Australia’s “Burning Man” of ute shows, the unhinged Deni Ute Muster — on a hoist. And things were bad underneath; really bad. Here, let’s take a look.
New South Wales’ strict inspection requirements mean one can’t just sand a set of ignition points with a matchbox, run a garden hose from a jerry can to the carburetor, pop in a new battery and start driving on public roads legally like you can in much of the U.S. Vehicles have to be devoid of any potentially-structural issues like rust (that includes in floorboards, beds, and rocker panels), and all cars have to pass lighting, braking, and steering/handling-related inspection.
The latter requirements aren’t really my concern, since I can do some electrical work and I can confidently replace suspension and steering components. It’s the structural and rust-related mandates that convinced me that the vehicle I flew all this way to Australia to try to resuscitate is never going to be legally on the road in the four weeks I allotted. Frankly, the parts car doesn’t look that much better at first glance, but I’ll get to that in a second.
What I Found When I Put The Kangaroo-Shooting Ute On A Lift
In rural parts of Australia, there exists a concept known as a “Paddock Basher.” It’s basically just a beater that stays on the farm and off public roads, since it’d never pass inspection (or “rego,” as they say around here). This descriptor very much applies to the kangaroo-shooting ute I planned to fix and take to the Deni Ute Muster, because based on the condition of the underside, I can say this thing has been beaten on. Hard.
Never mind the hideous dipstick that my friend Laurence pulled out of the Chrysler Slant Six under the hood; that’s the least of my worries, as swapping a motor isn’t the end of the world. What is a concern is the ute’s body.
What you’re looking at are Wi-Fi floorboards (this is a term that the kids these days are using to describe a nonexistent thing, much like how Wi-Fi indicates lack of a wire (wireless)), and what does remain of the floor appears to be about as thin as tissue paper.
Even the floorboards behind the driver are perforated:
All of this would have to be replaced to pass inspection, and it’d have to be done in a way that convinces a mechanic that no significant rigidity has been lost. Riveting in a stop sign won’t work, and just slapping in some flat plate without closely matching the shape of the original floorboard could raise an eyebrow if done improperly. In Australia, major vehicle modifications have to be approved by an engineer, so a car like my 1969 Valiant is expected to remain as true to factory spec as possible.
The ute’s floor panels that do exist are thoroughly bent, possibly as a result of the vehicle being moved around by a forklift, but almost certainly due to some off-roading and, possibly, jumps. In the photo just above the last one, you can see a bump in the center of the transmission crossmember where a small bolt hangs down, and below you can see how banged up th engine oil pan is:
Perhaps more alarming is the front driver’s side frame rail, which is bent, and would likely have to be pulled out. It’s possible that an inspector would let it slide, but putting hundreds of hours into a car whose frame can’t be properly and easily straightened seems high-risk:
Other, less significant concerns include a bent front strut rode. Here’s the driver’s side, which looks decent:
And here’s the bent passenger’s side:
The exhaust is also total garbage; a piece fell off onto the ground while I was filming:
Oh, and the driver’s side front brake and steering bits were all rusted out, as this wheel was buried in the dirt for who knows how long:
Ignoring engine and drivetrain issues, and focusing solely on the question “Which body offers the the best starting platform for a project?” I began realizing as I walked under the hoist that the kangaroo hunting ute wasn’t ideal, especially considering the rust in the front part of the bed, particularly on the seam behind the driver where the bed floor meets the bulkhead:
Add the rust holes at the bottoms of the fenders and on the rocker panels, as well as all the big dents in the body, and it’s hard not to look over at the parts ute and say with a hopeful tone: “You know, I know it’s just a shell, but what is there doesn’t look horrible? Maybe it’s a decent shell?”
So Laurence and I chucked the parts ute up on the hoist to see which of these pathetic beaters we’d be spending far too much time trying to get through New South Wales’s inspection and then to the big ute party over six hours away.
Is The Parts Ute Any Better?
Look at that thing. It’s really not even a car so much as it is some metal put together with fasteners and welds. There’s no engine, no transmission, no front end, no radiator, no right fender, no driver’s-side door, no windshield, no hood, and on and on — this isn’t a vehicle that I would ever have flown 10,000 miles to fix. If my host, Laurence, had sent me a picture of this ute and said “Wanna fly to Australia and fix this in four weeks?” I’d have said “Absolutely not. That’s going to be the death of me.” And yet, the state of my project car, the kangaroo ute, meant desperation began kicking in, so I had to at least consider the parts ute becoming the main one, as much as I didn’t like the idea.
One of the first things I noticed once the parts ute was on the hoist was that the transmission tunnel at the base of the firewall just behind the engine bay has been modified to fit a floor-shift transmission. There’s a bunch of shoddy welding of sheetmetal over top of sections of the body that have clearly been cut/banged to make way for a different gearbox. It’s all a bit janky, and maybe an inspector might give us some guff, but Laurence assured me it’s probably fine.
There’s also a fairly large hole the driver’s side rear lower bedside just aft of the wheel; the rust goes all the way through from the inner panel to the outer, more visible one. Plus, there are some parts of the floor that are so dark-brown and flaky, it’s clear they’ll become holes as soon as I touch them:
You can see some of the holes/scaly rust in the front floorboards from the top:
But honestly, aside from the rear bedside hole, the shoddy tunnel modification, and the perforations on the flat part of the front floorboards, the parts ute’s body looked solid underneath:
There was still some rust in the bed floor (see below), but it wasn’t at the seam with the bulkhead — it was just the flat part of the bed, so it should be relatively easy to replace:
The parts ute also has a perfectly straight frame rail:
I Guess My Parts Car Is Now The Main Project
The car on the left is the one that Laurence and I have to fix in four weeks, then drive to the Deni Ute Muster. That car right there with the busted radiator on the cowl, with its driver’s-side door in the bed, with no tailgate, with no heart. That car is now Project Cactus.
The kangaroo hunting ute is like a fossilized T Rex skeleton. You’ll never turn that into a living, breathing T Rex.
The parts car on the other hand, is more like an ancient mosquito, encased in amber, and absolutely engorged with precious dino
With some elbow grease, investment, and years of scientific development and research, you’ll have a living, breathing T Rex.
There is such a thing as toxic positivity…But I don’t think you have it. You clearly know what you are up against, and you have a definite midwestern determination that I truly respect. While I want to read a story with David on a train (the mechanical deep-dives would be fantastic), I’d rather see what piece of crap he resurrects. It’s like a very low-budget version of a Top Gear Special with fewer people being slapped. Long live the parts car!
I’m confused about your budget. Does Autopian not pay towards these projects? Is there an expense account or something? I am just curious.
The build comes out of my own pocket, hence why I buy cheap rustbuckets.
A bit late to the party, but buying cheap rustbuckets has been very expensive for you.
You should look up the “Sam Vimes “Boots” theory of socioeconomic unfairness” authored by Terry Pratchett. It seems to relate.
In true “Grand Tour” Fashion you should be relegated to the worst ute ever made if you fail at getting this one to pass inspection.
A Honda’s Vamos
This “project” boondogle didn’t make sense to me from the start of the first proposal. With David’s skills and brains we would have hoped for a better chance of some level of eventual success, but there well could be some undisclosed and understandable ulterior motive to proceed. Such as…
1. A female is involved.
2. David finds Southern California, and as well as Michigan too crowded and confining. He needs more REAL space.
3. He has absconded with the Autopian treasury.
I can only hope for ulterior motive #1 to eventually be disclosed to his fans.
“the kangaroo hunting ute wasn’t ideal”
David, your ability to understate the condition of an automobile astounds us!
The more I look at this, the more I believe that the feasibility hinges entirely on the tools and equipment at your disposal. I mean, I hope your host has some actual shop gear to augment whatever you packed in your luggage, because you’re definitely going to need it. If that indeed is the case, then I think this project could just barely squeak it’s way out of the realm of the impossible.
I can’t help but wonder how much Lawrence knew about the car’s condition.Surely he didnt have his eyes closed every time he was near it??
Or maybe he knew it was crap, but has even more ambition than you David? Given has a ton of parts ready to go and has volunteered to help,it’s gotta be the latter.
I’m thinking this project may be possible,but it’s gonna be close!Be sure to prioritize.
Don’t bother about appearance! Patina will suit this car- for it’s near term future at least
David, do you think you can do this? I’m not in any way questioning your abilities but, my goodness, this seems like an utterly insurmountable task – especially with all the inspections this ute will have to pass. My stomach churns just thinking about it! Your dogged determination is admirable and I wish you nothing but success!! If you get it right it will be an accomplishment of note!
You will love these guys and their outback vehicles.
This can be done! I’m just hopeful my total lack of familiarity and experience with Australian an inspection isn’t tinting my glasses a little too rose colored. Admittedly I spent years on it, but my Charger was in worse shape than the “parts” ute, and it’s a show winning car now. I’ve done complete interior swaps (minus the dash) in A-body mopars in a day, and drivetrain and suspension swaps in a couple of days. It sounds like you’ve got the parts, keep at it, you’ll at least wind up with something you can bomb around in off public roads, although as I’ve said before I’m hoping you and your new Aussie friends have an ace up your sleeve to get that rust fixed and clear what’s hopefully the main hurdle to passing inspection.
Most people would look at these 2 utes and see machines that barely make the cut for the junk yard. David sees a roadworthy driving machine and that’s why we applaud him
Tracy, I used to think you were a lovable idiot, but I’m beginning to think you’re just an idiot. Cut your losses and go home.
Yeah! Quit, that’s the spirit. I hope I get to read an article called “I flew all the way to Aussietown to fix a ute, but thought it was too hard, turned around and went home.” Sounds like another Autopian classic.
Note to self: when visiting Australia, just rent a car or check train routes.
Just hop over the ditch and buy this one.
1971 Chrysler Valiant VG Wayfarer with a 400ci Chrysler V8, currently at $30k NZD.
Save ya heaps of time!
Whoa, whoa, whoa, 30,000 New Zealand Dollars? Why, for that kind of money, David could buy a 24 pack of nearly functional Geo Trackers!
Way too many numbers to the left of the decimal point for David.
When an actual shoestring costs more than the vehicular budget, then it’s a DT project.
“that includes in floorboards, beds, and rocker panels), and all cars have to pass lighting, braking, and steering/handling-related inspection.”
AKA the things that the competent US states also care about
I’ve seen videos of plenty of people in the US (eg Roadkill) rolling around in vehicles almost as bad as David’s utes. How does that work? Do they just register a vehicle in a state with no inspections, or just wing it?
Yup. Just registered a 30yo truck with a recycled sign bolted over a rust hole in the floor pan (among other sketchiness). DMV never had to see it. Tennessee, baby!
Good luck, man. Don’t give up! You still don’t have anywhere close to one good car between the two Valiants, though. I’ll be very interested to see what you do about that.
Well DT this is certainly a fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into. But look on the bright.
1. The devil who convinced you to buy this use is helping you. He will certainly be getting his cummuppance now. His free labor and housing more than makes up the cost.
2. Don’t dwell on repair car and parts cars. Sure you will use the Vin from one but it’s basically combination of the best of two cars.
3. A bed is a bed. Do you actually need a Valiant bed. As a person who moved and grew up in redneck country I’ve seen no bed at all just open area, I’ve seen cheap flat/stake beds, I’ve seen all kinds of custom work done to replace a rotten bed.
4. I have never seen you mention using POR15. Read about it, use it. Live it, love it. But not anywhere the sun shines. It and other products stop rust and return it to metal if done right.
That, or Rust Bullet, or Chassis Saver. Some great stuff out there that works great.
#3, since it’s a unibody I’m guessing the bed is integral to the back end structure of the car, at least in regard to passing NSW inspection as described in the video and from what others have described here.
#4, yes this!
#4 can be exposed to the sun, with the POR15 Top Coat.
I’ve learned through the years never to doubt you.
That said, I have my doubts.
With 2 dudes, this will happen. The video convinced me you will pull this off. Strip, patch, sandblast, paint, reassemble. Easy peasy. It’s not THAT bad.
MORE, we need MoAr!!!
Not all rusty heaps are meant to be returned to the road. There’s no shame in recognizing when to throw in the towel, and then doing so.
That one ute may have been used for hunting ‘roos, but it looks like they won.
I love following your adventures, but I can’t figure out why you won’t just buy a Valiant in better shape to fix? Are they that rare that you won’t be able to find another one in New South Wales?
Yea you would probably just rent one in good condition. It’s a challenge, it’s doing the impossible, facing mother nature and spanking her on the ass. When Sir Edmund Hillary was planning to climb the unconquerable Mt Everest he didn’t run away and climb some ant hill in his backyard he faced Everest and with everyone saying he couldn’t do it, he did it. And not like the hundreds of wannabes with tons of sheep’s, air tanks, thinsulate etc. He did it with a few Sherpas minimal equipment and true risk of life. These current buffoons die from stupidity.
“He did it with a few Sherpas minimal equipment and true risk of life.”
Poor sherpas, all the work and none of the glory. Reminds me of poor Ginger Rodgers:
Ha! Havent seen that one in years .Thanks for the reminder 🙂
Because David is a cheapskate, who is a gluten for punishment.
All gluten has been taking punishment lately with the hippies.
Good call on choosing the vehicle without the bad karma, so to speak, of having been used for killing animals. Good luck! You managed to pull it off with Project POStal & got a reliable daily driver out of that, to boot, so this is just…a little more challenging. Go for it, some of us aren’t here for easy-peasy walk-in-the-park projects, some of us are here for the projects with seemingly insurmontable odds with highly dubious stakes (Aussie Burning Man? Ha.) Besides, it does look genuinely fun despite how harrowing it might actually be. As they say, it’s not the destination that matters but the journey itself. Again, good luck!
Kangaroos are overpopulated in parts of Australia, and their excess numbers can pose an increased hazard when traveling via automobile as they haphazardly hop across roadways. Culling their population responsibly is a net positive for both their population (frees up resources) and for motorists (fewer roo-related accidents).
The fact that there were still empty shotgun cartridges in the bed, or, rather, tray of an extremely beat ute would suggest that those using the ute weren’t exactly the most responsible type & were more likely to have the mentality of taking pleasure in shooting kangaroos, hence the reference to the so-called bad karma. There are humane ways of dealing with potentially dangerous interactions between kangaroos & humans; this ute doesn’t seem to have been used as such.
You’ve managed to perform a psych evaluation of an unknown individual based on sequestering some of their shotgun shells in the back of the ute compared to landfilling them?
“Kangaroos are overpopulated in parts of Australia”
Counterpoint: It’s humans and their cars that are overpopulated.
No humans = no cars = no car/roo collisions = no worries!
The thing is, humans are there, the roos are there, if there is a more pragmatic short-term solution to the problem which individuals in the area can contribute to, I’m sure they’d be all ears (setting aside the vehicles in this article have been disused for probably a decade at least). In the meantime, it comes off as fairly haughty to criticize people you don’t know, for hunting an animal that indeed causes problems in their area, and pretty pointless to posture that kangaroos somehow deserve comfort and safety as much, or more than humans do, as kind as it would be to have done a better job predicting negative externalities to human development in the past.
In future feel free to mention that roo numbers are *artificially* high due to the masses of water point farmers have put in.Without those their numbers would be much lower
And some of are here for drinking a beer, and watching someone else do it. Please share your project with us.