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Team THOTC Dodge Dart and the 2012 BABE Road Rally (June 11, 2012 update)

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Team THOTC had some challenges this year as they tried to get a car lined up for the 2012 BABE Rally. The rules set a price limit of $500, but the cars must run 1,500 miles on highways, byways, hills, and curves.

The team had hoped to run a 1964 Dodge Dart 270 rescued from a field; the car was straight and mostly rust-free, but had no fuses, a poorly patched gas tank, a throttle linkage made of baling wire, the wrong carb, an incorrect alternator not connected to anything anyway, and an unbolted Chevy front seat sitting on the floor. The windshield was cracked and the brakes did not work. Then the transmission gave up multiple seals, the axle locked up, and the gas tank leaks resumed.


Paul Chambers, the miracle mechanic who saved the Valiant's rear-end last year, found and helped to bring back to life a 1969 Dodge Dart Custom (slant 6) that had sat behind a barn in Georgia for nearly 15 years. Even in that condition, it cost $300 to rescue "Dodge of the Dead;" after an overhaul of the fuel, ignition, and brake systems, with the help of honorary Third Horseman Paul Chambers, and a snazzy Zombie-themed decorating job, the car was almost ready to roll!

The THOTC run is being done for charity, for the American Diabetes Association and March of Dimes.

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Matt related:

We started the drive to transport the BABE Rally car to New York this morning and only made it about 20 miles out of Atlanta before having to limp back home. The car operates well at speeds up to about 45mph and then begins hesitating. At this point, trying to go any faster leads to bucking and a complete loss of power by the time we hit 60mph.

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Based on research and the advice of Paul Chambers (our hero mechanic) we have scrubbed the engine interior with an ATF/oil mix to free up any carbon deposits and make sure nothing is interfering with the rings, plugged the vacuum advance which could be malfunctioning, run with and without a gas cap, and bypassed the PCV. All of this has led to a smoother idle and slightly better performance below 45mph. We have observed are a small oil leak around the valve cover gasket, we are venting some oil from the oil filler cap hose, and we are blowing bluish-blackish smoke when under acceleration.

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... Today we replaced the fuel filter, adjusted the carb mixture, adjusted the timing, replaced the distributor rotor (it was new two weeks ago but appears since to have been beaten on by a dozen elves with tiny sledgehammers) and replaced the fuel pump (which may have had a stuck check valve based on fuel draining from the filter after the car was driven). We replaced the fuel line between the tank and pump.

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... [following advice from Bob Lincoln and dana44] The heat riser valve was stuck about three quarters of the way closed and its spring was missing. This was the source of the excess crankcase pressure that was causing oil blow-by and likely fouling up the carburator mix. Unfortunately, this was not the definitive cause of the loss of power above 45mph.

On a recent test drive up to highway speeds, immediately after the engine lost power, our hero mechanic popped the car into neutral, killed the engine and coasted over to the side of the road. He popped the hood and noticed the fuel filter was completely empty. We had replaced the mechanial fuel pump (twice) and so assumed that we were getting sufficient fuel pressure to the filter, however, that now appears to not be the case. Some additional research indicates that the mechanism that actuates the manual fuel pump can wear sufficiently to reduce fuel delivery and starve the engine at higher RPM. Our current working theory is that that is the case here. We are installing an electric fuel pump that should deliver all the fuel the engine could need, even running flat out.

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... The electric fuel pump has addressed whatever issue was starving the engine at high RPMs. The car can now acelerate to and maintain highway speeds but only at a very slow pace. A tear-down diagnostic of the carb reveals that the accelerator pump is stuck fast, despite the carburator having been rebuilt only a few weeks ago. Another rebuild kit (including a new accelerator pump) is on its way, and hopefully this will resolve the remaining engine issues. [Bob Lincoln suggested, "Pull the carb and check the float level, after the accelerator pump is fixed. Overtightening of the nut at the needle and seat can mess up this critical adjustment."]

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Well, it turns out everyone was right... In the past two weeks we have:

1. Replaced the distributor (the old one definitely had a wobble)
2. Replaced the fuel line from tank to pump
3. Replaced the fuel pump twice (first with another manual and then with an electric)
4. Unstuck the heat riser valve
5. Rebuilt the carb (again) to repair frozen linkages, a stuck accelerator pump and a bad float.

Each of these repairs rendered some improvement but did not solve the problem. Fortunately, the sum of these repairs is a car that accelerates smoothly even under load and can maintain highway speeds!
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The problem solved, there was now a new issue. Crash took a long detour to New York (from Georgia), as he swung by Team Foolswagen to be their chase-and-support car. The Foolswagen entry had only just started running for the first time in years a few hours before the trip, and broke down six times on its way to New York, delaying Crash but not preventing him from delivering the "Dodge of the Dead" on time for the rally's start. On the way down, they will be providing similar assistance to the Foolswagen team, feeding the hamster that runs its little 1.5 liter engine.

On Day Two, THOTC ended up on the side of the road for the first time since the start of the Rally. The Dodge lost a wheel brake cylinder bolt and some highly desirable braking performance along with it. Team Foolswagen repaid THOTC's help by acting as a parts runner, and thanks to Paul Chambers' help on the phone and the actions of helpful strangers, the team is now back on the road.

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In the end, Team THOTC came close to winning, and in fact came in second place to their friends at Team Foolswagen.

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Paul Chambers, whose independent shop is a mere 30 miles from Atlanta, maintains and preserves both current and classic Mopars. (That's Paul's personal, fully-restored Superbee in the photo above.) Paul's shop in Covington, Georgia is THOTC-recommended, Val-approved and can be reached at (678) 789-6749. THOTC recognized his contribution by naming him an honorary sponsor of the team for the 2011 BABE Rally.

BABE - "Big Apple to Big Easy" - was a road rally where participants buy a $500 car, make it safe and legal, and travel 1,500 miles from Staten Island to New Orleans. Along the way, teams participate in challenges that are worth points - none are given for speed, and safety is key. If a team's car breaks down, they can retire from the rally, or dispose of the car and hitch-hike with other teams to the end. The first prize was $1500; second place won $350; third place won $150. Team THOTC's pledge page.

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