Everyone who has started a project car is familiar with the, “While We Were There” syndrome.” That is to say, you get started on a certain aspect of a project, buy all the parts, get the old stuff taken off, then decide to touch up something else, “While We Were There.” This is the case in almost every part of our beloved budget project truck, Geronimo.
Let’s give you a quick review of our project truck, and the goal. We wanted to find a project car that was an everyman project. One that was vintage and rare enough to be interesting, but one that we could drive without spending more than a man with a young family could afford.
This goal has been difficult to maintain. Companies will try to get parts on media builds to help get some advertising for their goods. We could throw all kinds of expensive parts on this build, but that wouldn’t really fit the definition of “budget,” now, would it?
So, no high-dollar parts on this beast. We were looking to make a project truck that was used as a daily driver, and still upgradable as we needed. The truck came with the correct 261ci straight-six Stovebolt engine. The engine was strong, but the vacuum was terrible in this stock beast.
We opted to add a new HEI distributor from Performance Distributors, based on the word of our good friend and mentor, Sam Memmolo. He must have known a secret that we didn’t, because our timing and vacuum problems went away immediately after the swap.
Sometimes Performance Hurts Old Parts
Next, we noticed the truck was a pig on gasoline. Getting a horrible nine gallons per mile on a good day, it was getting a little costly to drive with California gas prices. We took out our pencil and did some serious ciphering to justify the cost of a modern EFI conversion kit. We ended up adding the entry-level FiTech EFI kit, with the hopes of saving enough on the weekly gas bill to pay for the unit within a year. We showed this was possible in the EFI upgrade article.
The EFI upgrade was so successful – and opened the doors to so much more performance – we literally drove that engine to death. First, we tore up the timing gears by pushing the speed and engine RPM on the fast California highways. There was no problem getting up to speed with the local traffic.
Stopping however… that wasn’t as easy. Running at freeway speeds on four-wheel drum brakes with a heavy chassis amongst the smaller and more nimble cars wearing disc brakes was hazardous. Upgrading to front-wheel disc brakes with a kit from Master Power Brakes was a no-brainer.
With our starting and stopping problems taken care of, we drove our project truck, and drove it hard. Perhaps too hard. On one drive back home from a hard day at work, the old stovebolt coughed once, then belched a dark could of blackish-gray smoke out of the back.
We nursed the wounded beast home, pulled the dipstick and spotted green coolant where it shouldn’t be. Instantly, we knew that an engine rebuild or swap was in our future. We calculated the price of rebuilding the old straight-six against sourcing a newer engine. Rebuilding the old engine appeared to be a costly adventure. Looking for an economical swap seemed to be the best option.
Finding An Engine
Our first choice was to locate a period-correct V8 engine that would work with our three-speed Saginaw. We really wanted to keep the “three-on-the-tree,” because it’s very unique in this day and age. We loved it, and everyone that rode in the old truck loved it.
So the search was on for a 283ci Chevy V8. Knowing the power of social media, we posted on our personal Facebook account that we were searching for this engine.
We weren’t expecting much luck, because anyone that had one of these mills probably pulled them out in favor of a 350 and tossed the smaller engine or used it as a boat anchor. As luck would have it, one of our dirt track race car builders happened to have one from a car that he acquired. He had pulled it out of a car and sat it in the corner of his shop.
Having located the engine, we set about negotiating the price. “How much do you want for it?” we asked. “An 18 pack of Bud Light,” he said. “Cold,” he specified, “and a ride in your truck when you are done.” For the price of 18 domestic beers we had an engine.
Our buddy said it was running perfectly when he pulled it out, with about 140,000 miles on it. We got to our buddy’s house, made the exchange, and noticed that the engine was covered with 50 years of grime.
Not just covered, it was a full blanket of dirt and gooey stuff. It was so bad, we didn’t even take a photo of it. The price was right, and we are opting to keep the name of our seller anonymous. We may need to go back there and get another bargain someday.
When we got home and unloaded the gritty engine, it was obvious that engine degreaser and a wire brush was in our future. The next three days we cleaned and painted the 18 beer engine… “While We Were There.”
Hoping we could squeeze another 20,000 miles out of it would buy us time to source a 350 or gather the parts to rebuild this 283. Keep in mind, this is a budget project. Everything needs to be done like a young man with a family working on his first project would do it. It looks like we nailed it this time.
Here’s where the incident of “While We Were There” syndrome came into play. We yanked the engine and noticed the wiring was in a shambles. Fraying with some of the plastic chipping off in places, it was only a matter of time before the electrical gremlins started causing us problems.
We kept our eye on the internet and found a full wiring kit with switches on eBay, for the low price of $112. Sure, it was a universal kit for hot rods by Keep It Clean Wiring, but it was an extra length wiring harness, and was perfect for our truck.
Our choice would have been to go with a wiring kit purpose built from Ron Francis Wiring or another premium wiring company, but it is a budget build and we had to go with anything that we found on clearance. So, we started rewiring the old C20 Apache …“While We Were There.”
We also noted that the heater blower motor did not work when we bought the truck. So, we pulled the heater box to find out what kind of motor we needed and found a cracked blower-motor resistor. We removed and tested the blower motor, and it failed to work.
The heater resistor is more important than most enthusiasts realize. Once the blower-motor wheel gets old and builds up grime or rust, it will draw more amperage. This will eventually cause the resistor to fail and give the indication that the blower motor is the problem. For $19, it was cheap insurance to replace it when we had the heater box out. So we put in an order with Brothers Trucks for these parts to fix the heater … “While We Were There.”
Another instinctive buy was a $48 HEI distributor we picked up through Amazon to replace the older point’s distributor with separate coil. It was more of an impulse buy than anything, but the price was right and we crossed our fingers that this obvious cut-rate offshore piece was going to work for us.
Stay tuned for upcoming articles on the conversion to V8 from straight-six with engine mounting brackets from CPP and engine mounts from TransDapt, repurposing an old Edelbrock Torquer intake, and adding our FiTech EFI system to the V8.
We will also have an update on the wiring installation as we progress. Our hope is to have the truck back on the road as a daily driver in April. However, things could change as we move forward and find yet another “While We Were There” task.