The Chicken Wagon, 1983 300D
This car was purchased (in 2002) for its parts. It came with two sets of 70+% tires, Michelin MXV4's and Alpins, which fit my wife's 450SL, and which was in desperate need of summer tires at the time. It also was advertised with a new(-ish) battery and radiator. The motor was described as "tired", and had oil pooling in the air cleaner. The engine also smoked, and made bad rattling noises periodically. The car had approximately 273,000 miles on the (working) odometer.
Upon seeing the car, it was in pretty rough condition. Filthy inside and out, definitely a parts car. It reminded me of a regional chicken advertisement featuring chicken puppets in a ratty old blue car, hence the nickname. (See the Foster Imposters) It had even been egged! The PO had not driven it in a while, and when he had it had been his winter beater and had eaten more than its fair share of rocks. But it started and ran.
I drove it around the block, and it moved OK. Tranny was iffy, and it did blow smoke. Brakes were weird, and it squeaked as it rolled. But the tires were good, and it looked like it might be fun to mess with it. So I bought it for the agreed-upon $400.
This car was located several hours from home, in a town (Yakima) where we were visiting relatives. The PO had recommended that it not be driven far, so I had made arrangements with our relatives to leave the car with them until better arrangements could be made to transport the car. (Renting a trailer and getting the camper off of our truck, and another free weekend.) The friend that followed me back to our relatives' house had to roll up her windows, and complained that the car smelled bad. It sure was putting out big intermittent clouds!
But there I was with a couple of hours to kill and an interesting new pet project. So we p(r)opped open the hood and started poking around. (One hood hinge was torn out of the body, and the other one's latch was all bent up. The PO had obviously used a couple of less-than-reputable mechanics at some time. We used a carpet roll tube to hold the hood up.)
Hmm, sure is a lot of oil pooled in the air cleaner. At least it had a K&N air filter so it didn't mind a little oil! And yep, the engine has a lot of blow-by. Meanwhile, my father-in-law had been fooling with the breather hose, and noticed that it had been repaired with some gummy rubbery substance, and that there was a huge clot of it mostly obscuring the pipe at the valve cover end. We pulled this apart and cleaned it out, and then re-tightened the hose clamps on the elbow to try to make it vapor-tight. I mopped most of the oil out of the cleaner, washed the windows, grabbed a cell phone, and took it for another spin.
The smoke was gone! I gave it a miniature Italian tune-up, and the more I drove it the better it ran. So I stopped at the K-Mart to get a turn signal bulb to make it street-legal, and decided to save myself a whole lot of trouble and just drive the car home that night. Which I did.
It ran great! Smooth and vibration free, it tracked well on the highway, and was generally a real pleasure to drive. (It was dark and I couldn't see the trashed interior!) It made it home without incident. Our theory is that the mostly-occluded breather pipe was causing the oil to separate in the pipe itself, and/or the increased crankcase pressure was preventing the oil from properly draining back into the crankcase from the separator located in the air cleaner housing. The oil would pool up in there, and then a bump or turn would slop some oil over the edge of the hole down into the turbo whereupon the engine would get a slug of oil droplets fanned into its intake, resulting in hammering ignition and smoke. Regardless, the engine was not as tired as was thought. But the rest of the car sure was a mess.
Meanwhile, our SDL had been rear-ended and needed to go into the body shop for repairs. But our designated backup family car, the Ebola Fishtank, was not running. And we had no other car with both an automatic transmission and a back seat. My wife won't drive a stick, and we have a baby. It looked like we were going to have to rent a car. (Ugh.) But wait, here comes the Chicken Wagon to the rescue! The engine, though earmarked for a generator project, is still in the car and will remain so for a year or more. So I spent a week's spare time cleaning up the car and tinkering with it to make it work well, with the results you see here. Unfortunately I have no good 'before' pictures, but even so you can probably get the idea. The idea was to make driving it a nearly-pleasant experience for my wife for the week or two we needed a spare car, and to maybe learn some things on a sacrificial vehicle where mistakes would not be significant. In fact she ended up driving it for three weeks, and we got $300 in lieu of car rental from the insurance company. So this car was now effectively free if we allow $100 for the pirated tires.
My wife is convinced that this car will never be parted out, and it may be that she is right. Only time will tell. The body is rust-free, except for a bit of surface rust in a couple of places. There is no rust in any of the hidden places where it can be a real problem. The body would be a good candidate for a restoration. Somebody with a good interior and drivetrain in a rustbucket might be able to make one very nice car out of two. But there are enough dents in the Chicken Wagon to make this a questionable project, and it really needs paint. I certainly don't know the answer. This would be an excellent first vehicle for our son, but he won't be needing one for sixteen more years. That seems like a long time to keep it around.
My wife is not amused by the amount of time I spend on this thing. I'm learning and having a blast alternately fixing and breaking this cheap car.
A belated log of its life with us.
A (partial) list of its repairs:
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