Roadkill is a YouTube podcast by two guys who take sketchy, clapped out vehicles, do crazy modifications to them and then take ridiculous road trips to God knows where. They are the definition of the saying, “it is not the destination, it is the journey.” My son and I love this show.
Some time back my son bought a 1973 Chevy C10 pickup from a gentleman at my work. The truck ran but only just. I figured it would be a good learning experience for my son. Little did I know it would end up being our own Roadkill episode.
When we bought the truck it did not start well because the carburetor was in bad shape. It had a pretty bad exhaust leak and, although we did not know it at the time, it very likely had almost no compression on at least 2 cylinders.
My son had helped me rebuild the carburetor on my 1963 Chevy C10, which had the same engine with a carburetor from the same manufacturer. So, he bought a rebuild kit and rebuilt the carburetor. Not to brag too much but my son is one of the few guys his age that even knows what a carburetor, let alone how to rebuild and properly adjust one.
That left the exhaust leak. We decided to pull the head and the manifolds effectively doing a top end rebuild. At the time I really thought the truck was just going to get my son around town so we decided not to do a full engine rebuild. #RoadkillMoment
My son pulled the head, the manifolds, disassembled the valve train and got everything stripped down to parts and ready for the machine shop. We tried a couple of different shops before finding a decent place that would do a good job. Head and manifolds went in without incident and came back ready for reassembly.
We cleaned everything up and began reassembling the engine. It went back together well. My son learned a lot about engines in the process. After we got it back together we set timing and dwell and adjusted the carburetor. It was not running as well as I thought it should so I took it in to my auto mechanic and asked him to dial it in for me. I failed to close up all the vacuum leaks which was the primary reason it was not tuning up right. Once all the vacuum leaks were closed up and engine was tuned, it really ran pretty good.
About this time, my son landed an internship at a ranch in Montana. This would be a great opportunity to take his newly rebuilt truck on a road trip. A father and son adventure of a life time. I talked to my mechanic about it, he thought taking the truck on such a long trip with almost no break in after the rebuild was a bad idea. He does not watch Roadkill. We packed the truck and took off.
From Salinas, California to Big Sandy, Montana is 1350 miles, over Donner Pass in the Sierras and then over the continental divide. It is a long trip for any vehicle. The Rusty Bullet started out doing pretty well. It ran pretty smooth and held 65 to 70 without trouble. And got about 9 miles to the gallon. We climbed to the top of Donner Pass without much slow down for the grade, after a carburetor adjustment for altitude. At this point, I was really impressed with the old truck and my son’s work. I was pretty sure it was going to be a fun trip.
As we descended through the Sierras the oil light came on. At first I figured it was probably a faulty wire or light but better safe than sorry. I pulled over to check the oil. The dip stick was bone dry. Nothing. Not a drop of oil anywhere on the stick. Well, that is a little worrisome. We drove to the next exit where, fortunately, there was a gas station that did indeed carry oil. I bought five quarts (because it appeared to be empty). The engine took three quarts to get to the appropriate point on the dip stick. We drove into Reno where I figured it might be a wise idea to buy a case of oil, just in case. I also checked the spark plugs to see if they were getting fouled by the oil that was leaking into the cylinder due to the dilapidated rings. Based on the condition of the plugs it appeared that cylinders 1 and 4 were the worst, 2 and 3 were better but still pretty bad and 5 and 6 were in pretty good shape.
Remember that RoadkillMoment tag at the end of paragraph five? Yeah, I should have had my son rebuild the bottom half, too.
About half way through the first day of driving the truck began to hesitate under acceleration at the top end. Adjustments seemed to help but the hesitations never went away completely. Day one ended with our fairly late arrival at what was scheduled to be our only night in a hotel. The next day we were planning to drive all the way through to Big Sandy.
We woke up early the next morning and got on the road. Most of the second day was relatively uneventful. We carried lots of oil and kept the acceleration easy at speeds over 50 and things seemed to go OK. Until mid afternoon, my son was driving and we were starting up the hill out of Helena when the truck could not get above 30 miles per hour. Frustrated and worried that we were not going to make Big Sandy that night, we pulled to the side to see what we could do. We had towing available thanks to the preparations made by my wife. I called a knowledgeable buddy and we talked through carburetor adjustment. I did as advised and the truck fired up and seemed to run well enough again.
By the time we got to Great Falls it was acting up again. I decided that it would be better to stop for the night in Great Falls, either get someone to look at it or get more serious about fixing the problem ourselves, and then drive through to Big Sandy the next day. Fortunately we had no problem finding a hotel. We drove to the hotel and spend a good couple of hours talking,laughing and relaxing. It had been a stressful couple of days. At this point I realized that the problem we were experiencing with the truck was the same behavior I had experienced with a 1973 VW Bus I had. The problem that time was clogged fuel filters. Then I realized that there were no filters on the fuel line. Anywhere. OK. So, now I have a plan. I called O’Reilly Auto Parts in Great Falls. They had a fuel pump and a fuel filters in stock. And, they would let us work on the truck in their parking lot just like on Roadkill.
The next morning we had a lovely breakfast before driving over to O’Reilly. We bought a fuel pump, an inline fuel filter, a replacement filter to go in the carb and the necessary extra parts to put it all together. We also bought new plugs to replace the oil fouled ones that now had about 700 miles on them. We had everything replaced and the carb adjusted in about 90 minutes. Then the moment of truth. We climbed in and started down the road toward Big Sandy. We got to the first stretch of highway and opened it up. No hesitations, just good strong acceleration. We pulled into Big Sandy and the ranch in time for lunch. My son got very little time to celebrate the victory of his first Roadkill road trip (we didn’t fail). He was put to work right after lunch.
At the end of his time in Big Sandy, my son jumped in the truck to head home. The truck made it about 250 miles before the rings finally gave out completely. In true Roadkill fashion, the Rusty Bullet now sits at a friend’s ranch. My son rode the Greyhound bus home. He is now rebuilding an engine that we will haul out to Dillon, Montana. We will do an engine swap in the pasture and drive the Rusty Bullet home next summer. Because that, is the Roadkill way.
And no, the truck was not able to do burn outs. We plan to fix that with the new engine.