Well, what I hope are the final parts for Charlie’s engine swap from hell that would have been fairly quick and easy if the engine seller didn’t lie about the engine pictures being of the engine I was buying, but that’s another story. Either way, after tracking down some blacktop specific parts that are stupid hard to find (the clips that hold the injectors in took like two months before I gave up and bought an all new ITB setup just for those metal bits) and getting a very nice looking custom exhaust built specifically for 20V conversions from SV3Power (sorry, didn’t take pictures), it should just need to be filled with fluids and started now. Soooon..... In the mean time, I picked up Charlie’s original heart from the shop to start taking it apart and see if I can salvage it or at least learn how to rebuild a motor. (sorry for shitty pics)

Dirty as hell, but still in one piece .

Here’s the quick recap of Charlie’s history. Charlie is a very late-built ‘89 AW11. I bought him for under a grand in central Florida in running and driving condition but needing alot of work with 210k miles on the car. The car was almost all original. The timing belt was changed at 130k miles. That’s about it. The original struts were completely shot, bushings were dry-rotted, tires (with original wheels) were useless, and with a straight pipe attached to the engine buzzing behind me and a tiny resonating cabin amplifying the signal because I couldn’t roll the windows down, I started driving him home. He had a name by the first stop for gas.

Well that’s hideous.

The original goal was a quick and dirty LeMons build with the thought being that I can sell all of the trim pieces and bits I don’t need to make up some of the cost and maybe fix a few suspension bits before destroying it on track. That didn’t happen. Instead, I spent the next year and a half beating the shit out of it, completely taking it apart, and grinding out rust (might have been a feature in 80s Toyotas - not sure). Between bouts of service, it went to every track meet and autocross I could make it to in Florida. In that time, almost every piece of the car was removed and either upgraded or cleaned and reassembled. Everything other than the engine, obviously.

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See those metal things between the injectors that look like they’re attached to a fuel rail (it’s not a fuel rail)? Want to guess how hard they were to find? Note that they’re attached to an ITB setup that’s not attached to an engi ne...

I don’t want to say that I knew the engine was bad when I got the car. I mean, at 210k miles of who knows what and an autozone fartcan poorly welded to a flex-pipe (seriously), I was surprised that I felt comfortable driving it three hours home right off the bat. I mean, it still screamed to 8000 and sang gloriously at the top. Down on power and burning a bit of oil? Whatever. What I wasn’t expecting was for it to hold up as long as it did.

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Is that hole supposed to be there? Pretty sure that gasket’s supposed to hold fluid in or something...

It finally had enough in spectacular fashion at Palm Beach International Raceway. The engine hadn’t been running right and by the second heat, I knew that it wasn’t going to make it home. In the last few minutes of the last heat, it went completely. I coasted into the pit and back to the paddock in a massive cloud of smoke. This is the point where I call a tow-truck, wait til the last minute of the wait period, and get a tow across the state. Nope. That would be too easy. AAA can’t find a company willing to pick me up fifteen miles from Nowhereville Indiantown, Florida. I kept calling back in hopes that they’d have better luck, but they didn’t. It got to the point where the track was closing and it was looking like I’d be stuck outside of the gate with my broken racecar miles from anything. I got one of the people who worked at the track who had a gas-powered golf cart/utility thing to give me a tow out past the gate and started desperately trying to bump start it. I mean, the engine’s already fucked. What am I going to do? Break it? Somehow right as we got to the gate and with my foot buried in the pedal, Charlie sprang back to life one last time.

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E ven the rust has rust!

I told the guy I was going to try to see how far I can get on it. He had no faith, but I knew Charlie wasn’t going to let me down now. He’s tried to kill me but he’s never left me stranded. With my foot in the pedal, the sounds no engine should ever make coming from behind my head, I steered north. Slowly I made my way to something approaching the speed limit, but only barely. The car couldn’t pull fourth gear and seemed to be losing power with every mile. Eventually I was going ten under with my foot all of the way down. Occasionally I’d see headlights obscured through the haze to remind me of just how fucked the engine is. As I approached Indiantown, people stopped passing me. The smoke was so thick behind me that it was unsafe to get close because of visibility. As I slowly topped the bridge leading into Indiantown over the St. Lucie River, I was relieved to see the lights of a gas station – the first I’ve seen since the racetrack. With that, Charlie decided that he’d done enough and stopped completely. I dropped it into neautral, coasted down the bridge, and came to a stop in the gas station. I popped the trunk lid to find that my exhaust was so hot that it had melted and set my distributor on fire. Luckily that was it as far as flames go. I still can’t help but feel that it should have been worse.

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As Charlie’s heart sits now.

This time I was able to get a tow. After a couple of hours in the sketchiest tow truck I’ve ever seen, Charlie was back home and ready for a swap and I’m ready to start learning how to rebuild an engine. Luckily the crank still spins freely. Every gasket is blown, many more are melted, and so are a ton of plastics. Hopefully my next update will be from the car on the road, but for now I’m glad to be able to work on it again in some way and hopefully I’ll have a backup engine for when my blacktop blows. I picked up a storage unit to do some work and to store Charlie because I’m running out of space. When sitting in the corner taking a break, I accidentally opened my camera and took a picture that makes me feel like Sven Nykvist possessed my phone for a minute. Sven Nykvist totally needs to be an Instagram filter.

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