“This car has been the most abusive relationship I’ve ever been in.” I used those words to describe the 1983 Imperial that currently sitting in front of the garage at BangShift Mid-West. And I used them accurately, in the strongest form possible. I’ve owned the Imperial that I named Raven since 2012. In that time frame, the car has been fully operational and drivable for about twenty months’ time. Any other time, it was either a dead player or functioned, but was in some sort of limbo that kept it from being fully drivable and safe for the roadways. When I first put the car together those years ago, I loved it…it felt better than the Dodge Mirada it replaced (not a difficult task to achieve) and was good enough to live through daily driver duty and a cross-country trip. It had issues…what old car doesn’t?…but when a burned HVAC vacuum line is the worst thing that could happen, life is alright.
Well, since November 2014, life hasn’t been alright. The damage report: the 323ci Chrysler small-block in it’s entirety was garbage when it was torn down after maybe 10,000-15,000 miles of use. The A-904 that was in the car was killed, a victim of thermal damage. That alone was $2,100 dollars down the drain courtesy of an engine builder who was championed by a relative. Then there was the big-block fiasco that set me back about $600 and got me nowhere. But thanks to Eric Rood, I wound up with a useable engine and transmission. I had to learn how to build an engine, and I did…the break-in was smooth and throttle response was nice and sharp. So why am I bitching? Why am I so bothered by the car that I’m considering walking away from it?
First, let’s catch you up to speed on what’s kept the Imperial down. The goal was to have the car legal and driving again by summer…that ain’t happening. In fact, I have to tear the entire nose of the car off again. After chasing down why the car hasn’t been able to run on it’s own since the day I was ready to remove the transmission for a rebuild, it was determined that the cam eccentric, the lobe that bolts to the forward end of the camshaft to drive the mechanical fuel pump, had loosened up. Yes, it was hit with red Loctite. Yes, it was torqued down properly. This is simply a case of “shit happens”, and means that I need to get underneath the timing chain cover and determine what happened, and if all checks out well, it’s simply a matter of putting everything back together again properly. But that hasn’t been the only issue.
About the transmission: the last update on the gearbox showed that even after cleaning and re-installing the valvebody into our automatic, that we still only had two-thirds of the forward gears operational. A local shop was called in to look at the entire unit at that point, and it was determined that the torque converter to the
A-999 A-904 was, somehow, responsible. I sent the transmission off in March to get repaired, converter and all. I got the transmission and the “sorry we lost yours, here’s a replacement” converter, courtesy of the rebuild company the shop sent it to, back in June. I shoved everything back into the car, bolted it together, and using a cheap-ass electric fuel pump and the most sketchy fuel delivery system I’ve ever rigged up, got the Imperial to drive down the road, proving I had three forward gears. So, once I get the cam eccentric fixed and the engine re-timed, the powertrain will be completed.
So, that’s a good thing, right? Why walk away from the Imperial if the powertrain is ready? The answer is two-fold. First, the Imperial has not aged well. Paint is rinsing off, the rear bumper is showing the signs of rust bubbling up through the chrome flashing, and the interior is leaking copious amounts of rainwater in every time it storms. We’d have to have seats re-done regardless if we had the original 60/40 bench or the bucket seats recovered and that would cost a mint, the dash mounts to the metal structure of the car are disintegrating more and more, and there is no more outer door glass dew strip at all. And that’s just what I can think of at this second. Second, and this is subjective, but I can’t look at this car anymore and see good things. Right now, the only way I could get excited for the Imperial again is to gut everything out of the interior, make it into a NASCAR-like build, and go buck-wild with any modification I want. Which would be nice, if money was no object. That’s just not the case in my world. I can’t just park a car until I can afford to do it right. Even if I did, in this area of the country the car wouldn’t last.
I’ll fix the engine. I’ll get the car moving for the time being. But unless something dramatic changes my mind, I’m only sinking minimal effort into the Imperial until I come up with a new home for the running gear. I’ve looked at a few cars over the last couple of months, some trucks too. I’ve even given thought to selling everything outright and taking a breather on a project car for myself…that will drive me up the wall, not having an old car of my own to drive when I want, but I’m already there now.