I recently bought a gold 1975 Plymouth Duster with the iconic 225 slant-6, automatic transmission, manual brakes and air conditioning. It was owned by my uncle, who fixed it up for my cousin. My uncle was happy to let me take the car because he knew I'd take care of it. It sat for two years before I acquired it and needed a few touch ups (like a front bumper). It barely idled, requiring some deft footwork and transmission juggling to keep it running at stop signs and downtown Atlanta traffic. The Duster soldiered to its new home and I began to assess the situation.
I have always been a do-it-yourself kind of guy. I was blessed with a mechanical mind so cars have just come naturally to me. Notice I didn't say easily. Working on cars is not now, nor has it ever been, easy to me. When I was 16, my definition of "working on my car" was taking it to my Dad's shop. That lasted all of a year until the shop was closed. I found myself with a home garage filled with shop tools, and a car in need of maintenance. My Dad suggested I buy a repair manual and work on the car myself.
My first car "repairs" were questionable at best. I got the bright idea to remove the thermostat for the summer so the car would run cooler. Getting the thermostat housing off and on was an accomplishment in itself. Too bad I didn't understand how the thermostat worked. The next "repair" was to set my timing for more power. Too bad I didn't know what a timing light was, and ended up with a car that ran worse than before. Luckily, my next door neighbor (the hot rodder) saw what I was up to, and offered to teach me how to do it right.
I kept at it and eventually got into real repair work. I bought a Lincoln Mark VII with a collapsed air suspension. I knew nothing about these cars, or their complicated air ride system. I spent night after night in the driveway trying to get that car to rise off the ground. Repair manuals were useless as they recommended taking the car to a dealer for such work. However, I was determined, and one dark evening the front end of the car finally rose off the ground. The feeling I had at that moment was amazing. I had done it myself. From that moment on, I was addicted.
But, let's get back to the Duster currently sitting in the driveway behind my house. It has been there since I brought it home in January. So far, it seems that every time I touch it, I make it worse. First, it didn't idle; so I cleaned the idle tubes. Now, it idles; however, it won't get much past idle without falling on its face. I have inspected the engine compartment, and replaced parts here and there that were defective; yet still the car refuses to run right. Just recently the car refused to run at all! But, I'm not done yet. I am an addict and I need my fix. The Duster will rise again, and run better than ever. This is my first Mopar so I have a new langauge to learn. I will get frustrated. I will get mad. But, I will not quit. That is the strange thing about doing it yourself. Sure, I could drag the Duster to a shop and pick it up when it is done, but there is no accomplishment in that. It would be like taking an escalator to the top of Mount Everest; and that just isn't my style. I think when I go home tonight, I'll give the Duster one more crack.
After writing this editorial I went home and gave the Duster another try. Some fresh gas, a rewired coil harness and a timing check got it running again. It isn't 100% yet but I got my "fix" and that is all I needed. Now to figure out the fuel problem...
(Brian is an avid automotive enthusiast who grew up in his father's shop and has had grease under his fingernails from an early age. He has been involved in the classic automotive industry for well over a decade. He has owned several classic cars and is currently focused on the Oldsmobile brand. Special thanks to the friendly folks at ForABodiesOnly.com and The Slant Six Forum.)
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