The history of the Box, part 1

I’ve mentioned Box in passing here before, but I figured it was a good time to introduce him properly.

Box is a 2004 Scion xB I bought back in November of 2007. I had gotten bored with the ’96 Subaru Outback I had at the time and sold it. I was planning to replace it with something around $3K that got excellent gas mileage. I thought playing with hypermiling would be interesting and I was sharing a house with friends who owned a minivan & pickup so a wagon seemed less vital.


After looking at a variety of Civic hatchbacks & Neons without any luck, I found an ad for a used car lot selling an xB for $8500, a pretty good price for the car. My girlfriend and I drove about three hours out to see it on a whim. Despite having 92K miles on it, it drove like a brand new car, had a surprising amount of pep for a 108hp motor and had a flat out ridiculous amount of space inside.

The inside smelled a bit of cigar smoke though, and there was a small scrape on the passenger doors. On a whim I offered the guy $6500. When he asked how I’d gotten to that figure I told him it was what I felt like paying for the car. About then we got back from the test drive, at which point he went in the office and dug out a piece of paper and handed it to me, telling me he would sell it to me for that figure.

It was the invoice from the auction he’d bought it at, for $6828.


After a desperate drive to the nearest branch of my bank 30 miles away, I was the proud owner of a 2004 Scion xB, for $6823, because his secretary wrote the invoice wrong, and I didn’t catch it until we’d left. I drove home waffling wildly between maniacal glee and absolute “What have I done?!?” terror. The picture to the right is actually the first one I took, right after I pulled in the driveway.

Next part; I can’t leave well enough alone, some of the (many) modifications I’ve made.

What is better, mostly rusty parts or mostly no parts? Neither…

(I looked at this truck before I bought the wagon)

I looked at this 1953 GMC the same day I looked at the half-dissolved ’53 Chevy pickup. After how that truck was falling apart but supposedly solid drivetrain-wise I thought if I could find another truck that was more intact I could combine them into one good truck.


The seller of this truck was asking $1250, but it was pretty clear even over the phone that he was more desperate to get rid of the truck than to get the most for it. So once again I piled into Box and headed out to look at a truck. Upon arrival I was led out to a dirt-floor garage where there was about 60% of a truck. The frame & drivetrain were complete and it had a cab with a hood & both doors. That was about it.

There was no bed, no seat, no fenders, no grille, no bumpers, most trim was gone. The gauges were in a disassembled pile in a half-rotted box. Worse, the parts that were there were in rough shape. While not anywhere near the scale of the other truck, the cab had its fair share of rust, and everything had been badly spray-painted black.

I made my polite goodbyes and fled back towards home. About ten minutes after I left the guy called me and mentioned he had an LMC truck catalog that had all the things the truck would need in it. I explained to him my worry wasn’t finding all the missing parts, it was affording them.


I can’t even imagine how complicated it would be to figure out every single piece that was missing, track it down new or used & put it together never having seen it complete. Fortunately I was smart enough not to buy the truck, so I don’t have to do that.

I found myself joking shortly afterwards tha that after a truck that was mostly rotted and another that was mostly missing, would the next one be on fire when I got there?


Awesome Fins from the Dodge brothers

This truely staggering set of fins are found on the 1956 Dodge Royal for sale on Hemmings. There are an amazing amount of things going on here, half-shrouded rocket pod tail lights, setback fin with a chromed ribbed ‘support’ underneath, and five chrome vents on the fender. There is also a huge gold-plated crest on the fender displaying the ‘500’ model designation so no plebians would fail to notice what you were driving.

Dodge was not doing anything by half-measures here. This was without a doubt the car for your weekend jaunts to the outer moons of venus. From behind this was a car that screamed its defiance of sanity and simplicity. And if it was behind you, you had a face in your rearveiw mirror like it was trying to decide which of your children to eat first.

The Wee Trailer

The Wee Trailer

This isn’t going to be very thoughtful or informative, but there are lots of pictures, so that’s something. I bought this trailer when I was moving out of a household I shared with some friends. Most of my stuff was going into storage about 45 minutes away, so I figured anything to reduce the number of trips I needed would be a big help. So I bought a little 3’x4′ trailer that holds about 850 lbs. Harbor freight sells them little trailers for under $200, and it turned out to be some of the best money I ever spent. So here is a series entitled “Stuff on the Wee Trailer.”

A Student’s desk, hutch top for desk, small dresser & leather ottoman. Bonus: Box has two leather wingback chairs in him.

A Dresser, Ikea desk, TV stand, & night table. Bonus: Box has a couch & computer chair in him.

A Dresser

An Antique Buffet.

An Ikea Desk, bookcase, file cabinet, 1953 White Sewing machine stand, & oak office chair

An Antique Steamer Trunk & two Schwinn Bicycles.

The roof rocket sculpture from my old Patchworks artcar

A Tool cabinet, Air Compressor & Floor Jack.

Two sets of Snow Tires

Three 1963 Mercury Comet Doors.

Two 20gallon totes, pop-up shade awning, 2 folding chairs, hammock & a fully loaded rocket box(strapped to a pallet so I could offset it over the back edge.

The “new” motor & transmission for the Wagon.

And that is just what I remembered to photograph.


Hot stuff, in the good, then bad way

About two weeks ago I decided to finally use the parts I ordered from Falconparts to get the heat working in the wagon. The heating system was completely non-functional all playing with the levers would get you is a faint smell of mouse pee. After unhooking the heater hoses & unbolting the heater box I crawled under the dash to disconnect it. Clearly I’d been lucky with the faint wiffs of pee, the heater box was both full of, and topped with mouse nests.

After pulling the heater box out and dragging it downstairs I cracked it open. Lets just says you should be incredibly grateful this blog is not in Smell-O-Vision or you’d be desperately deleting these pictures.  The picture to the right is after I pulled out the worst of the still-damp mouse nests. I pulled everything apart & vacuumed up what I could, then carried everything upstairs.

I then spent the next hour bent over the tub scrubbing the ever loving hell out of every square inch of all the pieces. I scrubbed so hard the paint came off most of the painted pieces. After that hour I had a load of blessedly scent-free parts and a really disgusting tub(I have an incredibly patient girlfriend). Everything was laid out to dry overnight.

The next morning before work I masked and painted the metal pieces, as well as the screws & hardware. Once I returned home the re-assembly process began. First came gluing in all new foam seals on the various flaps. I have to say I am really unimpressed with the seal kit from Falconparts. The foam for the seals is really thin, the instructions are completely useless, and there was a missing gasket I had to make from some other foam I had.  Last time I did this with my ’62 Comet I used a mustang kit and the materials were higher quality and the instructions at least mentioned each piece.

Eventually it did go together, along with a new blower motor (single speed, but it will work for now), and an ABS plenum to replace the rotted out original plenum. I decided to leave the old heater core in place for now, It didn’t seem worth putting a new one in while there was so much rust & junk in the system. The plan was to replace it when the new engine went in.

Next it went back into the car, It’ll come back out again when I work on the floors so I can properly deal with the surface rust on the firewall and put up some sound deadener. I hooked up the cables,  installed new defroster ducts, and hooked the heater hoses up.

I now had heat.

The next morning I decided that heat meant I could drive the wagon to work. My commute is a 15 mile drive with a 3 mile highway bit near the end. Everything seemed to go well, and on the highway the wagon was doing ok (though the drivetrain gearing limited it to about 65mph) . However just as I came off the highway the heater core failed pretty spectaularly, pouring coolant out of the bottom of the heater box. Wisps of steam were coming out from under the hood. I limped the car to work where it immediately marked it’s spot wit ha puddle of rusty water. The radiator was spraying coolant out of the overflow pipe so violently the firewall at the back of the engine compartment was soaked.

Looks like that “new” engine needs to go in sooner rather than later…

Open up and say ‘ah’

Since I bought the wagon I have not been able to open the tailgate. The power window doesn’t go up and down so it has effectively locked it closed. After futzing with the wiring without any luck I shelved it as “something to deal with in the spring”. However two weekends ago the weather was amazingly warm for the last weekend of January, and I decided to take advantage of it and work on the tailgate. A couple guys on the Ford Falcon News forums gave me some hints on how to get it open and what to look for.

I unbolted the chrome trim around the back, then from inside pried out a dozen-plus rusty screws attaching the metal channels holding the weatherstripping. Once those were unscrewed and pried loose I carefully unlatched the tailgate and pushed it open, prying the weatherstripping mounts as needed to get the door to swing open. Success! The tailgate was now open, with the glass hanging at a disturbing angle since it was never designed to be in the up position without being supported by the channels.

Fighting with a few more screws, I got the back panel off the tailgate(the screws are inaccessible with the door closed), and was able to get at the guts of the door. Bizarrely someone had unplugged the factory wiring from the motor, made new wiring & attached that, then cut it off at the bottom of the tailgate. This explained why playing with the wiring didn’t work, the factory wiring was not in the circuit anymore.

I tested the motor and it worked, albeit sluggishly. Further testing showed the original wiring from the tailgate to the rest of the harness was also intact. So why they’d added the new wiring is a complete mystery. So I reconnected the old wiring, sprayed some grease on the mechanism and buttoned the whole thing back together. Now that I knew the tailgate worked I started messing with the harness. I found at least five places it had been cut within a two foot chunk. A lot of soldering and shrink wrapping and the harness was back intact. However the limit switch(which keeps the window from moving unless the gate is closed) was bad, the key switch on the tailgate is a stripped out mess and the dash switch doesn’t work(even with a new switch). So as a stop-gap measure I jumpered around the limit switch and wired a regular switch inline with the tailgate switch and mounted it on the back bumper. So now I can at least use the tailgate until I can get in again and make further repairs.

So now I have a real station wagon, not just a car with a really awkward storage area behind the back seats.


Crossing the line from ‘rusty’ to ‘dissolved’

(This is a car shopping post from before I bought the wagon)

Unlike the ’59 Pontiac, the seller of this Chevy truck was at least up front that it was really rusty. He’d advertised it for $1900 and said it ran well and had all new brakes, but needed the rust fixed and needed to be re-assembled. The truck was supposed to me a 1953, but the cab details didn’t match, the doors without vent windows imply it is a 1950 at the latest.

Upon arrival I found the truck, or more accurately the pieces of the truck, still loaded on his trailer from picking it up. He’d apparently traded an International pickup for it to someone who wanted a drivable truck. These “Advanced Design” trucks are very popular, and go for good money, so I wasn’t surprised to find that a $1900 truck was in this kind of condition.

However this truck was way beyond both what I was interested in working on, and what I had the skills & time for. Someone had started replacing the floors & rockers, however they were welded to more badly dissolved metal. I could tell very quickly that any metal repairs to the truck were going to be a struggle to find metal solid enough to weld or bolt to. Even given all of that, I couldn’t help but like the truck. If it was a bit more intact and a bit less rotted I would have been quite happy to pick it up and bomb around in it in its trashed state for a while. However I was at least smart enough this time to stare down the barrel of massive amounts of work to simply get it on the road, and turn away.


A small flock of gullwing cars

On my way out to look at the ’64 Falcon wagon I ended up buying, I passed a shop with these two cars parked out front. Seeing either a Delorean DMC-12 or a Bricklin SV-1 is an incredible rarity, seeing both at the same time beggars belief. However the pairing makes a surprising amount of sense. Both are two door sports cars, both have gullwing doors, both are made of unusual materials, both are nowhere near as fast as they look, and both were complete failures financially.

The Delorean is by far the better known of the pair, thanks to a certain series of movies. With it’s stainless steel body and gullwing doors, it at least looks the part of a supercar. However the rear-mounted Peugeot-Volvo V6’s performance was never able to match the body’s hype.

The first prototype Delorean appeared in 1976, and was supposed to have an all-plastic chassis and Wankel rotary engine mounted amid-ship. However as the project evolved.and engineering challenges reared their ugly heads the design was changed multiple times. These delays, combined with issues with the brand new factory, strung the design process out so long that the first car didn’t roll off the assembly lines in Ireland until 1981. By that time the car had evolved in the a rear-engined V6 with a steel backbone chassis, and much of the performance & handling prowess had been lost to compromises and to meet various regulations.

It launched into one of the worst car markets in decades and struggled from the beginning. The founder John Delorean being arrested on drug charges was the killing blow, and even though he was latter acquitteded the company never recovered. All total 9,200 Deloreans made it out of the factory before the company packed it in for good.

At only 2850 produced the Bricklin SV-1 is definitely the rarer bird here. This particular Bricklin has had some rather(to my mind) unfortunate custom touches added to it’s acrylic-fiberglass body. The widened wheel arches and side pipes do nothing for the “futuristic” wedge body shape, and the wire wheels look about as out of place as whitewalls on the shuttle.

Conceived by Malcom Bricklin, the same man who later brought over the Yugo, the SV-1(or Safety Vehicle One) was supposed to be the safe, economical sports car of the future. However all of the safety gear, and that crack-prone acrylic-fiberglass body added so much weight that the car ended up neither very sporty nor very economical (13mpg city/15-18highway). In addition to it’s lack of popularity, the company was being propped up by the New Brunswick Canada government(where the car was produced) and a financial scandal exposed that while the cars cost about $16,00 to build, they were being sold to dealers for $5,000. The company collapsed shortly thereafter and production ended.

Unfortunately the shop these were parked at was closed, so I couldn’t talk to anyone there, but I’m guessing they are owned by a major weird-sports car fan(there was a second wrecked Delorean in the back). I have to say, seeing such rare cars was a heck of thrill, and really made my day. I love that instead of storing them away carefully the owner had them right out in front to amaze and confound anyone who happened to drive past.