I used to think being a Jack of all trades meant a person could do many things with great alacrity and skill. I was happy to think of myself as a Jack of all trades; a person who was always willing to jump into something new and do it well.
Imagine my disappointment when I learned that Jack of all trades is only half of the saying “Jack of all trades, master of none.” As it turns out, this may be an even more apt description of myself.
Much like my lovely wife, I find that my interest and focus changes with some frequency. In the past, the following things have captured my interest: fishing, woodworking, cycling, my 280zx, jogging, Magic: The Gathering, and writing.
Part of the problem is, however, that in a desire to not do anything half way, I throw myself into each of these pursuits with great vigor. I will give you an example which is perhaps (though reports cannot be confirmed) a source of great ire from Mika: my 1981 Nissan 280zx.
Initially, we purchased the car because it was affordable, and it appeared to be a good opportunity for me to learn about car maintenance. Soon, however, I didn’t want to simply maintain the car, I wanted to improve it! So I set out to learn as much as I could about the car, and I quickly discovered that many people were able to successfully change out the engine in my car for the turbo version of the engine in other models of the same car. Quickly, the completion of this project became my ardent desire.
Around the time of graduation, I even went so far as to purchase a car for parts which had the engine I wanted. I began work on the transfer, which I had been assured was a simple process.
I quickly learned that when mechanics say that swapping out an engine is easy, they mean two things: 1) It is easy for mechanics, and 2) it is easy compared to other engine swaps.
As a result, I am left with a half-finished project. The engine has been taken out of the donor, and placed into the silver car, that is as far as it has gone. I mostly blame winter, but maybe I can now also blame myself. Just a little. Don’t tell Mika.
Recap: I bought an old Datsun 280zx with low(ish) miles, but started having troubles getting it running immediately after purchasing it.
I had already spent hours replacing the fuel pressure gauge, and had confirmed that the fuel line was holding steady with enough pressure. I headed home a bit downtrodden and again hit up several helpful forums for 280zx enthusiasts (yes, that is a thing). After posting in one of the forums, a member informed me that he had restored about 5 of these cars, and only lived 20 minutes away. Even better, he was willing to drive down and help me out for free!
By that time I had called around to a couple of shops in town, only to have the following conversation:
Me: How much do you guys charge for an engine diagnostic on a car?
Guy: Oh, it is only $60 if you bring the car in.
Me: Great, when can I bring my car in?
Guy: Well, what type of car is it?
Me: It is a bit older, it is a 1981 Datsun 280zx.
Guy: Oh, well that’s not $60 then. The $60 is only if you have a car that allows for a computer diagnostic.
Me: The kind I can get at AutoZone for free?
Guy: . . .
Me: So how much is it for my car?
Guy: We’d have to charge our normal rate of $70 an hour.
Me: And how many hours?
Guy: Well, these old cars are pretty complex, so I’d say anywhere from 7 to 10 hours.
After several of these conversations, I took the guy from the forum up on his offer. Free sounded pretty awesome.
He came down a couple of days later, and made a couple of suggestions as to what could be wrong. He checked this and that, and said that everything seemed to be working fine. He then asked the question that changed everything. “Did you put any gas in it?” I told him that the gauge said it was a quarter full, so I hadn’t put any gas in. “How do you know the gauge is even working?”
I didn’t have a response. I mean, why wouldn’t it work? It has only been sitting in somebody’s yard for 15 years. In the rain. And sun. And cold. And did I mention the previous owner never drained out the old gas? So I drained out the 15 year old gas and added in some brand new gas. Much to my surprise the car started right up! I was so happy, I got in the car tried to drive it home.
Just to be safe, I had my friend follow behind me, to make sure that the car was going to make it home. It was amazing. As soon as I stepped on the gas, the car lunged forward with impressive acceleration. And then it sputtered. And then it died. Again. After letting the car sit for a few minutes, the car started right up again but only went a few blocks before it gave up the ghost and could not be restarted. I ended up having the car towed to the house. Fortunately, the tow truck driver was a fellow 280zx enthusiast, and told me it would all be worth it in the end.
It was back to the drawing board. I knew that progress was being made, and I really wanted to get the car up and running. The next day I decided to take a peak inside the gas tank, only to discover that it was entirely rusted out, despite looking clean on the outside. The best that I can figure is that one of the previous owners let the car sit outside without a gas cap on, and so the tank filled up with water and completely rusted out.
When I dropped the fuel tank, I was greeted by this:
The sending unit in the tank was ruined with rust (which explains why the fuel gauge was not accurate). I immediately found a person parting out their old 280zx that he had wrecked (I believe he said he was “trying to drift it in the parking lot and hit a tree” Yay for teenagers trying to live “Tokyo Drift”). I got the gas tank and sending unit from him for pretty cheap. After 30 minutes of struggling with the gas tank I had the old tank out and the new tank installed (it is kind of embarrassing that I can swap out an entire gas tank in less time then it took me to swap out the fuel pump).
The long and short of it is that after replacing the gas tank and sending unit, my car was running! I am still making small adjustments here and there, but all in all it runs fine. It is a great car and a blast to drive, even if it makes Roni nervous every time she gets a ride.
I came home from work and the 280zx was just sitting there waiting for me- glistening in the summer sun. Well, maybe not glistening, it did have a couple of rusty spots. Well, maybe more than a few. Anyway, I went to drive it to work the next day, and it stalled before I could get down the street. No problem, I just haven’t driven a stick shift in a while and so I had probably stalled out. But then it happened again, and again, and again. I had expected some trouble, because the previous owner had let me know about the fuel pump issues. If only he had been correct in his diagnosis.
I purchased a new fuel pump, service manual, and a couple of other things that I thought I would need for the car (I managed to stop myself before purchasing “driving gloves.” I am not sure what they are, but I’m pretty sure that they lend a touch of class and elegance that every early 80s car requires). I drove the car (haltingly) to a friend’s house and tried to change the fuel pump. Remember how I said I don’t know anything about car repair? So, this is a job that I imagine a trained professional could do in 20 minutes, a competent mechanic could do in 40, and a complete idiot could do in 60. It took me 3 hours, and I was happy with that.
Imagine my excitement! I had just completed my first car repair. And now I was going to go ripping through town on my 2.8 liter 6 cylinder beast. So I hop in and stepped on the gas only to have the car once again sputter and halt. I was stumped, so I headed home for the night. After a couple hours of googling my car’s symptoms, it seemed like the consensus was that I wasn’t getting enough fuel pressure.
I went back to the auto parts store (they were beginning to recognize me by this point) and picked up a fuel pressure regulator, and a fuel pressure testing kit. A few weeks prior, I would not have even known what those things were. However, after more hours of tinkering, poking, and prodding, I finally got the new fuel pressure regulator installed.
I went to start the car and . . . it wouldn’t start. At all.
To be continued!