Chapter 6: The One That Won’t Go

The Deuce

Back to the broken down Deuce…

Knowing that the A-frame tow bar from the PO was shit, and still broken, I unbolted the front bumper off Homer at home, grabbed his tow bar which is much more substantial, and a bag of tools to mount a rescue. I could only hope that the front bumper would fit. Sure, the internet assured me that the replacement front bumpers fit everything from the Cretaceous period to 1986, but there was 40 years of PO fuckery that may have taken place.

When I get there, the holes seem to line up, so I start disassembling. This is where I notice the winch, or at least part of it, needs to go. I take the hook off the end of the cable so that I can slip the line through the fairlead and remove the bumper. Throw the new bumper on and start whacking with a rubber mallet. I can get the left or the right to line up, but not both. The frame rails are the same size and distance apart, but the winch plate is mounted too far forward. More swearing.

I start to take out the bolts. The fronts are easy, but everything else is old and not easily moved. Through some PB blaster and some verbal lubrication, I finally get all the bolts lose enough to pry up the front of the winch plate and smash the bumper under it. Hammer to the rescue! Bolt it up, attach the tow bar, double check all the bolt and start home.

Remember the steep, steep degraded road with no guardrails from the last chapter? I went down that towing at 5mph max the whole way. I did have safety chains attached this time and got out at least twice to check bolts and welds.

Going that slow, you can take in the beautiful scenery and appreciate how far down the hill falls off on my left. And the distinct lack of guardrails.

After what seemed like hours of slow yet stressful downhill descent, we finally made it home safe. I am all out of four letter words.  My jaw is a bit tired from clenching shut.   But we made it.

To start digging into the issue, I take off the distributor and its horrible, horrible hold down… thing. It isn’t a bracket, but two flat, bent curved pieces of metal. Image a c shape, but in two different dimensions. And the extra bent washer piece the PO installed fell off too. Just look at it.

Um, yeah. That was attempting to hold the distributor in place. It didn’t.

A bit bewildered, I can’t figure out how it is supposed to keep the distributor from moving. Well, it doesn’t. Thanks to all my internet friends that I’ve never met, I was able to find an online copy of the service manual and… the stock part is a nice levered bracket. Go figure.

Looking online, I can buy an original used part, only 43 years old, for $65, or a new reproduction by a guy in Ohio for $35. Duh, the new one it is.

Wiring Nightmares! Everywhere you look!!

While I have to wait for the bracket, I start researching distributors. I like the HEI upgrade and order the parts for that. I decided to completely pull the distributor to inspect the old one and am greeted with the bad news of the day. The distributor hold down bracket bolt hole has been stripped and helicoiled. However, someone over tightened the helicoil and now that was a jumble of broken pieces. So there was no way the old distributor was going to stay in place.

Well, shit.

By now, I think you start to see the double meaning in the name “The Deuce”. It is not purely because it was the second CJ I bought.

After cleaning it up, I realize that there are good threads, and a fair bit, at the bottom of the bolt hole. Luckily, they had used a stubby bolt to secure the distributor when they stripped it. Yeah?

I found a nice long bolt that threaded in nicely. Crisis averted. At least I hope most of the helicoil bits came out the top and didn’t go on an unsupervised tour of the engine.

I also notice that the fan-alternator belt is old and cracked and there is a radiator hose clamp that is touching the suspect belt. While at the parts store, I grab two. Never hurts to have a spare, right? Get home and throw it on. But the alternator is all the way out and the belt is barely tight. Great, now I have to find a slightly shorter belt. At least I have a spare.

The rest of the parts show up, get installed, hit the key and… nothing. I have to say, having the right parts does wonders as the distributor hold down bracket does its job well when bolted down. But I was starting to think it wasn’t a spark issue.

All the time turning it over, I never smelled gas. Pull the carb supply hose… Dry. Pull the line into the filter… Dry. Pull the line feeding the mechanical fuel pump… Dry.

Well, shit.

I tested the pump by trying to pump out of a jar. Only a dribble came out. If I sealed the end, it would create enough vacuum to pull in fluid, but lose it immediately. I even add some extra fuel to the tank, just in case there is a pickup problem. I can only conclude that the diaphragm must be torn. Off to buy a fuel pump. Actually, I have to wait a few days because my wife and I run a small business that takes a lot of our time, and it is in the opposite direction of the parts stores.

Finally get the replacement pump, slap that baby on and it is instantly pumping more fuel! Yes! So, try again with the coil fuse back in… and it sounds like she wants to start, but it is more backfire than anything. I kind of figured that it might not fire well because the timing was all dorked up with the new distributor.

See, I had talked to the PO and he mentioned that he thought the harmonic balancer slipped or was installed wrong, causing the TDC timing mark to be off. I did the test where you cork the #1 cylinder and when it pops out you slowly finish turning the crack until it tops out. Sounds good, in theory. That and adjusting the distributor to #1 was a close guess.

I decide to check for the compression cycle with an actual compression gage. Yep, I had set up the timing 180 degrees out. That’s what I get for late night work sessions. Also, I believe I used a plug that came loose too easily… so easily that it blew out during the exhaust stroke. Excuses, excuses. Turns out, the timing marks were correct.

I rewire the plugs at the distributor and cross my fingers. Vroom! It’s alive! At least for a few seconds at a time. I guess I shouldn’t expect 100% success. But I am staying positive and as long as I give it gas, she runs. She will idle for a short time and then die. With help from the wife, she blimps the throttle when it is close to dying and together we manage to get the thing timed. Sweet!

It sounds great… until the motor dies a few seconds later. Sigh.

The next step is trying figure out why she won’t idle. Looking around the carburetor for clues, I see an open port at the front. A quick look in the manual revels that it is a PCV port. I turn around to face away from the Jeep and there it is, 10 feet away in front of the CJ. Seems when the carb backfires, the back pressure can launch things like vacuum plugs.

That vacuum cap is mint

Replace the vacuum plug and… She runs! She idles! Sweet Jesus on Toast! I cackle with mad laugher like Dr. Frankenstein. But enough celebrating, as there is more work to do.

I notice a little dampness in lower right of the radiator. It isn’t the drain petcock, or not the part that drains when opens, but around where it mounts to the radiator tank. It is just a minor weep, that doesn’t actually drip. I’ll save that problem for later as I deem it far down the list.

The steering damper was pitted and leaking on the floor, so I decide to fix this issue quickly. Or tried to. I head to the store and order one for morning pickup. The next morning, I run and grab the damper and start tearing the old one out. The U bolt holding the axle end was stripped on one end and over tightened on the other, and the tierod u-bolts were just plain loose. To make matters worse, I got the wrong damper from the parts store. Figures.

Steering Band-aide

Why hadn’t I opened the box at the parts store to verify it would work? The picture on the outside of the box showed the style I needed and expected. Stupid box. Oh well, back down the hill. Just check your parts before leaving the store, OK?

I decided to drive the Deuce down into town to get the replacement without the steering damper installed. To be honest, the steering was fine, if not better than before. Maybe a loosely mounted blown shock is worse than nothing at all. Go figure. I decided to replace it anyway.

I found the right (or close enough) u-bolt at Tractor Supply. God, I love that hillbilly store.

While at the parts store, I found a replacement air cleaner, a nice big 14″, but it wasn’t just the filter. It came with the top and bottom lids, just recessed down onto the carb. Oh well, it works fine, but seems a bit wasteful to buy the whole thing. Still, I needed a new filter and this is how it came.

Head back home. Of course I smelled gas after the drive to parts store, as I do every time after driving it, but this time I am determined to find out the cause. I finally noticed that the tank looked to have had the dirt washed down the sides. Look at top of tank. It is covered in fuel. Not a little, but Deep Water Horizon style fuel spill. Rolling molotov cocktail.

Well, that explains the gas smell.

Looking in from the back, I can see the return line was half off and torn, spraying fuel everywhere. That means removing the skid plate and dropping the tank enough on the left to access top of tank through back.

At this point, I feel like explaining the hardware situation on this CJ. It was not optimal. On the skid plate, there are four tiny #10 bolts of various lengths up front with a total of one washer. There are four bolts at the rear, four DIFFERENT bolts, that threaded into the rear crossmember. Three of those were stripped with no real thread left, but two had nuts on top that were actually easy to get to. Of the five bolts holding the tank on, there were three, one of which was loose. So on the front of the tank, the top of the bracket that bolts to crossmember was one bumpy dirt road front coming loose. I guess the skid plate would catch it. It’s only the gas tank.

With the return line trimmed back to good hose and tightened, I lifted the tank back into place. It was a tight fit with the left seam of the tank needing to be pried up into place over the edge of the frame rail. What’s an 1/8″ interference between friends?

The one back bolt that was missing was a bear to get started. The bracket it attached to kept getting pushed aside by the tank itself. After loosening the bracket and more swearing than a boy scout camp, it finally started and went together.

Up front, I used some new bolts with washers and lock washers. Unfortunately, I do not have much SAE bolts lying around, so I end up using metric. Time to stock up on SAE hardware and replace that before I forget.

Awesome, that is done and I can go to bed.

The usual pose

In the morning, I can’t wait to drive it to work. Fire it up, back out of the garage… And it dies. Silly cold carbs. Hit the key and it chugs a few times and dies again. Next time, no chugging. No firing. Nothing.

Well, except the swearing.

At least it is easy to push back into the garage.

The next day I look it over. I inspect the lines on top of the tank, as best I can as it is now fully mounted. I check all the other lines around the engine. Pull off the return line at filter to let it breath. Not a drop. Pull line into filter and crank it over. An old racecar driver comes to mind… Dick Trickle. One unhelpful thought comes to mind: man does this thing have an awesome starter and battery.

So, no fuel from tank, but I just checked it after replacing the fuel pump. So, back under the jeep to follow the lines from front to rear. Did I mention that the PO had used long rubber hoses from the tank to the carb for both supply and return lines, zip tied to the old hard line, of course? So leaks are a very real concern.

Looking at the hose, it is up to 10 years old, judging by date on hose. Lying under the rear diff, I happened to glance up at the front of the tank where it lays behind the crossmember. Is that a bit of rubber caught between the two? Yep. SOAB, this means dropping the tank again. Joy.

It took a little longer as I actually had more bolts to remove now. But it came down and I saw that there was a ton of extra hose that was looped around on top of the tank. So much, that the supply hose fell forward and got pinched between the tank and crossmember when raising the tank into place. Moving the hose around and a zip tie controlled that issue. Remount the tank, the skid plate and double check the lines. All good!

Hit the key and… Wait for the fuel to get to the carb… And on the third try she fires! I quickly shut it down because 1) it is after midnight and 2) I’m in a mainly closed garage. Call it a night and hit the shower.

Next morning, I fire it up. Yes! Back it out and let it idle. It sounds good and even, after the timing setup, although it lopes a bit on the cam. I remember back to the PO saying that they had some guy custom grind a cam that was good for low end torque. One day, I’ll have to have that checked out.

I decide to check on the engine while it is running. What do I see but a nice spray of fuel on top of the motor. Aw shit.

Turn it off and see that the line from the fuel filter, the new fuel filter, was split where someone had over tightened the hose clamp. Pull off both lines out of filter, cut them back to good hose, mop up the large puddles of gas off the engine (nice fire hazard there) and wait for the fumes to evaporate. I just want to drive this thing to work!

Moment of truth (attempt 14, maybe) : give it a start and she fires right up. Sounds good, no leaks from front to rear. I let her idle for a few minutes while checking everything out. Looks good so I take it for a spin around the neighborhood. She works great. Easy acceleration, brakes straight, idles at stops and goes when told. Sweet! I am stoked. Time to head to work.

Or at least the first 10 miles.

Just a few miles from work, she started missing on a couple of cylinders. Sounded like she needed to clear her throat. I pull over and blip the throttle a few times, and she runs well. All gages look decent except the voltmeter is showing a little less than 12v, I assume from the long alternator belt. Got almost a half tank of gas.


Take off again and she goes 1/2 mile before throwing another tantrum. At times, it sounds like the entire left bank is not firing. Throw in the towel and throw out the swear words.

I begrudgingly pull over again and park it. She stumbles to a stop and calls it a day. I check under the hood, but nothing is obviously wrong. I close the hood muttering like a sailor with a stubbed toe, grab my bug out bag and start hiking.

It is a beautiful day for a hike. I am 6 miles from work.

Luckily a friendly couple in a newer, actually running jeep (I’m starting to think these are myths), pull over and give me a lift to work. He used to own a 53 with a 4 cylinder, so he understands. Thanks for the lift Jimmy & Jo!

Looks like I have more work to do.

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