Project Chevy Blazer Update: Incontinent No More
If you remember a few months back, I was bellyaching that I couldn't find anyone to fix a leak in my 1979 Chevrolet Blazer. In the last couple of weeks, I've had good news and bad news, and ended up making progress on all of the leaks, meaning my garage floor doesn't look like a BP cleanup site any longer. Flashback to the summer: I picked up the Blazer in June with 56,000 miles. It was in decent overall condition, but looking a little worse for wear.
I power-washed everything underneath, spent the better part of the summer cleaning the interior, and threw a bunch of wax on the -- mostly -- original paint to get it looking better than it was.
I also had a bunch of mechanical stuff to tackle:
Mechanically, it ran pretty well. I ran some Sea Foam through it, shot the carb full of carburetor cleaner, and I've been feeding it a steady diet of Lucas fuel system cleaner since then. Aside from being a little cold-blooded, it runs great.
PHOTOS: Complete Galleries of the Chevrolet K5 Blazer
The thing that kept me up nights when I first bought it were the spark plugs. This Blazer was an old plow truck, and over the years, the hex-shaped shoulders of the plugs had disintegrated to the point that they were more or less round.
I worried that I'd end up pulling the heads off to have them removed, thus rendering my $1,800 good deal not such a good deal at all.
I ended up buying a through-drive ratchet, almost like a ratchet you'd see in use to tighten down a set of scaffolding. I soaked each plug in a 50/50 mixture of automatic transmission fluid and acetone for about a week. Luckily, the plugs had been installed with anti-seize compound, so they backed out with only a minimum of cursing.
The truck had a set of plow lights hooked up when I bought it, and I wasn't interested in plowing with it, so I took the plow harness out. That lead to a comedy of errors trying to get the headlights working again.
The starter was also not terribly reliable. It would start fine when it was cold, but if the truck was warm, the starter struggled to life. I tried cleaning all the contacts, but 35 years of use killed it off.
I bet I've changed 50 starters in my day, but I've never seen starter bolts this stubborn. The trouble with starter bolts, of course, is that they're long, and they're mounted upside-down, so no amount of penetrating oil is going to work its way to where you need it.
The heads stripped off almost immediately. I ended up working at it with a set of Irwin Bolt Grip extractors mounted on a long breaker bar. Finally, I got them to move and the new starter has been working great.
I replaced almost every bit of the braking system, except for the front calipers, after I stepped on the brake pedal and had it go straight to the floor while driving my son around one day. I ended up replacing the master cylinder, and when I did, the steel brake lines disintegrated.
I sourced stainless steel brake lines from LMC and replaced the rubber lines at the same time. When I went to turn the bleeders on the rear wheel cylinders, they snapped off, so I replaced the wheel cylinders, and bought new drums to replace the horribly rusted drums that were on it. It stops about as well as a sport-utility vehicle from 1978 is going to at this point.
The shocks were in deplorable condition. They essentially did nothing, and the shock bodies had rusted beyond anything I'd ever seen before. New shocks for this thing are about $35 bucks a set.
My mission this fall was to cure every leak in this truck. I had resorted to sticking a turkey pan under the truck to catch all the oil that was pouring out of it.
But it was weird: I'd drive the truck and it would leak to the point that the back window was covered with a film of oil, but in the garage, I couldn't figure out where the oil was coming from. It didn't look like the rear main seal was leaking. I knew the valve covers were leaking, but not enough to cause that much evidence all over the place.
As I mentioned, I tried bringing it to a couple of shops local to where I live in Holliston, Massachusetts, but nobody was interested in looking at it. I finally ran into the guys at BDR Automotive. They're hard-core four-wheelers, and they took the job on, and were really interested in doing it right.
As an indication of just HOW hardcore, check out their project Land Rover 101 forward control earth-crusher. It's been updated with an Isuzu turbo-diesel, and a transmission with a super-high overdrive so it'll cruise at 75 miles an hour when the need arises.
Originally, Brian at BDR thought it was simply the crush washer on the drain plug, but after replacing it, he noticed it was still leaking. He drove it around a bit, poked around some more and -- a-HA!! -- figured out that the oil pan had a tiny pinhole in the side.
That's why it would gush oil when I drove it, but when it was parked, I couldn't figure out where it was coming from: It was high enough on the pan that the oil level would drop below it.
Brian replaced the pan, and it's dry as a bone under there now. As a bonus, he also replaced the pinion seal on the front diff, and cured a small leak in the transfer case.
Once I got it back, I went to work on the valve cover gaskets...which I soon found out were missing in action.
I took the valve covers off and both were sealed with RTV, but never had a gasket in place. Okay. We rectified that situation with a new set of FelPro gaskets.
Next up: Bodywork
In total, the truck's in pretty good shape. But rust has taken its toll. Over the next few months we'll be working on:
-Rocker panels: The inner and outer rocker panels are shot and require replacement. We're looking for someone to weld those in now
-Inner fenders: The inner fenders up front both have holes in them the size of a baseball. Replacements are sitting in the garage now, getting painted with the Rustoleum roll-on method - More on that in the coming weeks
-Outer fenders: LMC has these in stock. Not sure whether it's worth fixing what I've got, or replacing them completely.
While we've got it in for bodywork, we're also going to have the front driver's seat reupholstered.
That's it for now. Stay tuned over the next few months for more updates as we get this thing ready for spring.