Mopar Engine Tuneup - Getting Ready For A Road Trip
Summertime tune-up tips
From the November, 2011 issue of Mopar Muscle
By Dave Young
Photography by Dave Young
We all know a Mopar owner or two whose car never leaves the garage, sitting stationary like a full-scale die-cast model for the owner and his or her guests to look at, but not drive. These cars occasionally get pushed onto (or into) a trailer and are taken to an occasional car show, but rarely see road duty for fear of a rock chip, mechanical problem, or accident. And while we certainly know how nerve wracking it can be to drive a restored classic automobile on the roads these days, we also believe that the only way to truly enjoy a Mopar is to drive it and drive it regularly. Since the Hot Rod Power Tour began in Florida, this year we decided to crash the party with a few local Mopars-including a vehicle of our own-but needed to choose which Mopar to take, and then make sure it was mechanically sound enough to make the trip.
Some of you may recognize our vehicle of choice, a custom '78 Dodge Tradesman van straight from California, from previous issues of Mopar Muscle. With cushy captain's chairs up front, a fold-down couch bed in the back, and plenty of room for luggage, tools, spare parts, food, a cooler full of drinks, and anything else we needed, this could be the perfect Mopar road trip vehicle. Having purchased this groovy van several months ago, we hadn't really done much to it other than attempting to tune the Thermoquad carburetor and repairing a bent driveshaft. The van drove OK and had been regularly driven before we got it, which is better for a vehicle than sitting for extended periods. Vehicles that are frequently used are less prone to issues that come from sitting like dry seal leaks, moisture in the fuel tank, and dry-rotted hoses, belts, and tires. But even so, we didn't know the last time any maintenance was performed on the van. What we really needed was the same thing most Mopars can use on an annual basis. We needed to give the van a tune-up and thorough mechanical inspection to ensure its roadworthiness and that it would make the nearly 1,800 miles we were planning to put on it.
With our planned road trip a mere two weeks away, we drove the van up to Inline Performance Specialists to utilize one of their lifts and get a hand repairing whatever was needed to make the Tradesman roadworthy. The technicians at Inline specialize in Mopar vehicles, particularly trucks and Jeeps, so we knew they'd have the tools and expertise needed to get our van running and driving properly. During previous trips in the van, the 360 four-barrel engine seemed tight and ran cool with good oil pressure, but the Thermoquad carburetor definitely had issues. We also discovered that the fuel gauge was intermittent and the speedometer didn't work, and we noticed that the back of the van didn't seem to be level from side to side. We made a list of problems we'd detected with the van, so we already had an idea of certain parts we'd need before we even started. Arriving at Inline Performance, we put the van on one of their lifts and began our inspection of the vehicle, concerning ourselves mainly with items that would affect safety and roadworthiness.
Though we were skeptical about the condition of our van's suspension, brakes, and wheel bearings, we were surprised to find all the major components in great shape, until we got to the steering. From our experience driving the van, we knew the steering had a lot of play and discovered our vehicle would need nearly every steering component as the tie-rod ends and idler arms (yes, there are two on vans) were sloppy to the point of being dangerous. Additionally, one of the rear leaf spring shackle fasteners had broken, explaining our uneven ride (we're not sure if the shackle broke while the van was driving or stationary, and we're not sure we want to know). Making a list of the repairs we needed to make, and also the parts we'd need to perform the routine tune-up and servicing, we called Summit Racing Equipment to order our parts.
Most of you already know that Summit Racing Equipment is a quick, convenient, and economical way to get high-performance automotive parts, but what you may not know is that Summit also carries an extensive line of stock replacement parts for most vehicles. Going to Summit's website, we quickly accessed their OE line of parts and determined what they had listed for our van. The website was easy to navigate, but we had a couple of questions so we called one of the Summit salespeople to complete our order. Any time you're getting a vehicle roadworthy, especially a vehicle like ours with unknown mechanical history, it pays to replace all of the standard wear and maintenance items of the cooling system, ignition system, fuel system, electrical system, and charging system. Additionally, we decided to change all of our van's fluids, replacing them with synthetic AMSOIL lubricants. AMSOIL has a variety of synthetic lubricants designed for high-performance applications, including high-zinc formulas which work well with flat-tappet camshafts like the one in our van's 360. We also used AMSOIL synthetic gear lubricant in our van's differential, giving our ring-and-pinion additional protection from heat and wear.
Although in some ways vans are difficult to work on, once the engine cover is removed it's easy to access the carburetor and ignition components for easy replacement. In addition to the standard plugs, wires, cap, and rotor, we decided that after messing with the Thermoquad it would be easier just to replace it with a Holley we had on the shelf and replace the fuel filter as well. Moving on to the cooling system, we installed a high-volume water pump, 160-degree Stant thermostat, and new belts and hoses. The brakes were in overall good shape, but we did install new pads and shoes just to be sure. With the help of Garret at Inline, we had most of our maintenance, including the repairs to the shackles and steering, completed in a couple of days. All told, it took about 24 man-hours to complete the work, but we had a lot of additional labor involved with our project.
After inspecting, repairing, and maintaining our Mopar van, we feel a lot more comfortable about taking it on an extended road trip. Unfortunately we didn't have time to diagnose and repair the air conditioning, but look for that in a future Mopar Muscle article. Whether your Mopar is a groovy van like ours or a more popular model, it pays to give it an inspection at least once a year to find any issues and perform routine maintenance. It's a lot better to spend a day or so in the shop before a trip than to be stuck on the side of the road, wishing you had the tools and parts back at your shop.
1 One night several months...
1 One night several months ago, while on an eBay binge, we placed a bid and won this ’78 Dodge Tradesman 200 that was straight from California and had made the trip to Florida, under its own power. We don’t know what we were thinking, but we evidently are ahead of a trend making vans cool again (if they ever were).
2 We’d already been stranded...
2 We’d already been stranded on the side of the road, while returning with our purchase, thanks to a poor running Thermoquad carburetor and inoperable gas gauge. With over 1,500 miles of the Hot Rod Power Tour coming up, we wanted to ensure this wouldn’t happen again.
3 With only a couple of weeks...
3 With only a couple of weeks to get the van ready, and no lack of other projects and work obligations, we took our Tradesman up to the professionals at Inline Performance Specialists and utilized one of their lifts to give our van a thorough inspection.
4a An annual vehicle inspection...
4a An annual vehicle inspection is a good idea for any Mopar, whether driven regularly or not...
4b ...While on the lift we...
4b ...While on the lift we assessed all of our vehicle’s systems, and drained the fluids for routine servicing.
5 Tod at Inline Performance...
5 Tod at Inline Performance is a busy guy, but still found time to help with our project by changing the rear leaf spring shackles. We drained the differential and inspected the ring-and-pinion gears while the cover was off.
6a It’s common for the rear...
6a It’s common for the rear yoke bushing to wear in a Chrysler automatic, causing a driveline vibration...
6b ...We pulled the tailhousing...
6b ...We pulled the tailhousing from our van’s TorqueFlite and pressed in a new bushing and seal.
7 Our inspection revealed...
7 Our inspection revealed several issues with the van aside from routine service items. To get the parts we needed, we went to Summit Racing Equipment. Most people realize that Summit has performance automotive parts, but they also carry an extensive line of OE replacement parts for most vehicles.
8 In addition to the maintenance...
8 In addition to the maintenance items we performed, we changed all of the filters and gave our 360 a tune-up with new ignition components. We saved a little money by shopping Summit’s website, and it was convenient to have the parts delivered right to the shop where we were working. While working on the engine, we ditched the Thermoquad in favor of a working Holley carb.
9 We replaced our van’s vital...
9 We replaced our van’s vital fluids with synthetic lubricants from AMSOIL. Modern synthetic lubricants are engineered to provide better protection and keep your engine running cleaner and cooler than conventional oils. We’ve been impressed with the performance of AMSOIL products and thought this would be a perfect opportunity to upgrade our van’s fluids.
10 We replaced most of our...
10 We replaced most of our worn steering components with new items, greatly reducing the play in our van’s steering wheel. We also checked our van’s front end alignment, making a minor adjustment so the vehicle would track straight and wear the tires evenly during our upcoming trip.
11 Without time for a test...
11 Without time for a test drive, we loaded the van up Friday night for an early Saturday departure to join the Hot Rod Power Tour in Cocoa, Florida. We planned three legs of the tour, which would be more than 1,500 miles. Thankfully, we could cruise comfortably knowing our Mopar was in top mechanical condition (for a ’78 van).
12 If you’ve never experienced...
12 If you’ve never experienced the Power Tour, we encourage you to join it for a leg or two, or even as a “long-hauler.” We enjoyed the rolling car show with local enthusiasts Paul, Matt, Chris, and Brandon, and the van ran great during our trip.
13 How do you drive 1,800...
13 How do you drive 1,800 miles in three days? A big cup of Mountain Dew! Even if you’re not planning a trip like ours, an annual vehicle inspection gives you a chance to look your Mopar over and perform routine maintenance. Now that our van has proven its roadworthiness, we’ll concentrate on fixing the air conditioning for next year’s event!
Inline Performance Specialist
925 Tower Ave.
Summit Racing Equipment
PO Box 909