The Imperial: It Lives Once More
It's been a bit of time since there was a solid update on the 1983 Imperial that resides inside of the Thrown Wrench Garage, hasn't it? A little over four months, in fact, since a proper, well-written update of one otherwise forgettable Chrysler product's return to the streets for the second time in it's existence. Do I have an excuse? I've got plenty...most of them involving work. But you aren't here for excuses, you're here to find out just what all has happened and, given that you've read the title by now, what kinds of noise this car now makes.
The last time I put anything up about the car, I was busy shoehorning the 367 cubic inch engine and transmission into the car. Well, that presented some problems. Chrysler did use the small-block LA engine in many different applications, including trucks, which have a different oil pan design than the cars do. Luckily, when I acquired the engine, I acquired a ton of excess parts from a 24 Hours of Lemons race car that went from ugly to "rusted in half" and among the piles of loot was a car oil pan. All I had to do was clean it up...
I won't discuss just how I cleaned up the disgusting pan, but my efforts were truly in vain, as you can see by the lone blade of grass. In reality, if you looked at the drain plug from the inside out, you saw a corona of specks of light where rust threatened to let dead dinosaurs drip everywhere. Not good. So a new oil pan from Milodon was sourced and ultimately, the engine was bolted into place.
Next up on the problem list was a temporary exhaust system that had to survive the engine break-in process. Putting brand-new headers on an engine that needs to stay at 2,500 RPM for twenty or so minutes is not idea. I wanted to run factory exhaust manifolds...and they proved to be exceptionally difficult to get. I sliced a finger down to the cartilage trying to pull a set from a Plymouth Gran Fury ex-cop car in a Tulsa, Oklahoma junkyard and didn't even get the manifolds. I called in favors from around the States and came away empty handed. Ultimately, a Chrysler collector a few miles from my house came to my aid.
Then there was the oil pump driveshaft. This device connects a gear driven off of the camshaft to the oil pump itself. Engine spins, oil pump sucks up oil, spits it everywhere inside the block, and machine remains happy. Except that the driveshaft proved to be the biggest bitch of the whole project. The gears did not want to mesh, no matter what I tried. Ultimately, a 1 1/4 inch socket on a large extension and a hammer drove the gear into place with no damage...except, do you see that slot in the center of the gear? Here's a useful tip: the driveshaft has to be in time with the engine too. In this case, the slot has to be in a position that the distributor's rotor is set for Cylinder #1 once fully seated. I almost had to disassemble the entire upper end of the engine. I was nothing but rage. And I did the smartest thing I could do: I called for help and walked away. Within two hours, the driveshaft had been freed, and after a very liberal coating of hub bearing grease, dropped in and moved around with no issues, rendering timing a breeze. With that, it was time to run the plug wires, make final checks, and hit the key...
As soon as gasoline entered the carburetor, the LA fired into life happily. And for someone who was watching their first engine rebuild come to life, that is a very happy moment indeed. The cam could've gotten wiped out because of a stuck lifter. Any number of potential screw-ups could render months of hard work into an eight-spot flower pot for the front yard. But it was alive, running, healthy.
There is still more work to be done. I have to rig up a throttle system that will actually work (hence, no driving footage), fix a couple of small coolant leaks, and determine why the charging system isn't working. But I'm happy to say that for the first time in over four years, the Imperial moved under it's own power, idling it's way back into the garage with the kind of grunt the old engine could only have dreamed of.