Project Car SOTU: Project ToYOLO

I was worried that I wouldn’t really have anything new and exciting for this season’s Project Car SOTU. Then this happened. I dragged home a truck. Why?
Last weekend I was out for a Sunday morning walk with my wife, and I saw this poor little thing sitting on the side of the road. The truck had a tow notice on the windshield (it’s still there in this photo), the fender and hood were removed, the 20R’s cylinder head was missing, and the passenger side window was shattered. As soon as I saw it, I was in love. My wife and I have been looking for a beater truck to make Home Depot runs, and to grab big junk from Craigslist that won’t fit in our hatchback. This has the potential to be the vehicle we need, and I told her that I wanted it. She said that she loved it almost as much as I did. So when we returned home, I wrote a note and grabbed some tape and drove back to the truck to let them know “If you’re interested in selling, I’m interested in buying, here’s my number”. The guy called within 20 minutes, and I had a truck. Here’s the preliminary details.

A fool and his money are soon to part. Prior to getting the call, I told my wife that if the guy ever called, I’d be willing to spend up to $400 for the truck as it sits. It’s mostly rust free (well, no rot anyway), and it’s just got so much charm and what I’m going to call ‘patina’. When the phone rang, I didn’t want to give a number, I waited for the guy to talk himself into giving me the thing for a song. I asked the pertinent questions “Is the cylinder head included?”, “Do you have the title?”, “Why did you abandon it?”. The answers came ‘Yes’, ‘Yes’, and ‘it’s complicated’.
As it turns out, the owner had been forced to move out of the neighborhood and into a place that didn’t have space for the inop truck. When the people at the house called to let him know that they’d called the city to have the truck towed, he drove out to rob the truck of a bunch of its more valuable parts so he could sell them on eBay in an effort to recoup some of the cost. He’d supposedly spent ‘almost a grand’ trying to get the truck to run, buying some cylinder head parts, carb parts, a new radiator, etc. But he’d run out of time to get it running and decided to cut his losses and take what he could get. I said “Well, what were you looking to get for the parts, and I’ll take the title to this abandoned truck for free, how does that sound?”. He hemmed and hawwed about the issue for a few more minutes, and just before I was about to break down and offer 300 dollars, he asked if I’d be willing to spend two fresh crisp hundred dollar bills on the deal. Yep, sure, done.
Only one problem. The truck was due to be towed the following morning, and the guy didn’t get out of work until 11PM. He said that he’d trust me to meet him later, and that he’d call the people at the house to let them know I’d be by to pick up the truck. It was only about 2 miles from my house, I could probably tow it home without incident. “Oh yeah, do the brakes work?” The answer was a rather unconfident “Well, they should…”. Screw it, good enough, let’s go get a truck. A stop at Auto Zone to snag a 25 foot tow strap, and a stop at the bank to snag 200 bucks from the ATM, and we were golden. The key wasn’t in the truck as he said it would be, but the steering wheel didn’t have a lock, so no worries, let’s get it home. A group of kids playing basketball in the street whooped as our little 20 mile per hour convoy rolled through their impromptu court.
The truck made it home with no issues. The brakes work, the steering works, and all of the tires held air and rolled without any groaning or resistance. I figured out pretty quickly that engine braking didn’t really work in a truck with no cylinder head. Duh… Once it was in my yard, I had mixed emotions. First of all, this is going to be a TON of work. However, the truck just has way too much character to be scrapped. I couldn’t bare it. This will be my fall/winter project and hopefully next spring we can use this to haul plants home for our new garden.
The good – 
It’s got a “Lil’ Lightning” decal on the driver door. How could you not love it?
Long bed
No rot
Mexican blanket seat potential
So simple to wrench on
*probably* can be finished for under $500 total investment
Steers, stops, shifts, engine turns over
The bad – 
Lots of grot
Lots of work
Missin’ bits
The hood is tweaked, possibly from a latch failure
The passenger fender is not in great shape, nor is the passenger door
Busted window
No grille
Three days later I exchanged money for the title and the myriad other parts the owner had removed. At that time he told me about a bunch of terrible decisions that he’d made to get to this point. He had initially bought this truck just for its 20R cylinder head, which routinely sells for a few hundred bucks on the market, to put on his other Toyota Pickup off-roader with a 22R. This is a common modification, so I wasn’t entirely surprised. He then told me how he crashed his off-roader truck one night when he was blackout drunk and driving home. He “popped a tire” and slammed into a parked Cutlass with “32 inch wheels or somethin”. When the owner of the parked Oldsmobile came out and proved to be less than excited that his pride and joy had been destroyed, the guy then proceeded to drive away from the scene on three wheels and a bent up front corner. A few miles later, he pulled over and abandoned the truck. When he later tried to get the truck out of impound, they supposedly wanted $1200, so he decided to let them crush it. As someone told me the other day, I saved this truck from a far worse fate.
The cylinder head has been kitted with a set of 22R aluminum rockers, which is cool. Unfortunately the exhaust manifold has a huge crack in it, so I’ll probably have to have something fabbed, or buy a used one somewhere.
Here’s the crate of parts that were taken off, the stuff that was quick and easy to snag at midnight on a Saturday, apparently. I haven’t even dug into it, but it looks like most of the pieces to this puzzle are intact. It’ll be fun to put it back together. And the wife has said she wants to learn more about how cars go together, so she’ll be getting her hands dirty on this project as well.
The plan for the future is to basically get the truck running, get it titled, and go haul stuff. I don’t care what it looks like, I don’t care if people like it, I just want it to drive and make vroom vroom noises. Bare bones, no radio, no AC, no nothing, just an engine, a cab, and a bed. Put In Work.

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  1. Alff Avatar

    You guys are making me feel bad that all of my cars are projects.

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      I’m feeling bad that mine are all intact.

      1. Alff Avatar

        This, too, shall pass.

  2. kogashiwa Avatar

    After reading all that all I can think is: does your wife have a sister?

    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      Unbelievable!!!!! I just came here to post the same question.
      In the spirit of sharing. Does she have two sisters?

    2. outback_ute Avatar

      My friends wedding included vows from his new wife to”hold the torch and pass the spanners”

  3. #JailTruck Avatar

    JailTruck approved!

  4. longrooffan Avatar

    This olelongrooffan will be curious to learn if the windshield wiper arm falls off when turning a corner. (Obscure Daytona 24Hour reference.)

  5. Ben Avatar

    Bradley, Loved the article, shared it with my girlfriend who had to stop reading due to PTSD due to flash backs of our project truck. I look forward to updates on your project she looks great! I have writing the story of ours here.

    1960 Ford F100: Part 1 The Search

    1. 0A5599 Avatar

      What happens after part 5?

      1. Ben Avatar

        What happened next was a motor that I couldn’t keep coolant in, blown head gaskets, my father passing away due to cancer and a very expensive time consuming 8 months drive line rebuild process. I kind of just lost the motivation to finish writing the series. Trucks back and running with about 300hp out of a 292 y block, rebuilt trans, and I am still slowly pretending that this is still restoration project. I do drive it to work on a regular basis in DC rush hour traffic. If there was interest I guess I could bring the story up to the current status of the project.

        1. 0A5599 Avatar

          Please do.
          It was a very good read, and I’m not just saying this as the co-owner (purchased with my then-girlfriend/now-wife) of a 60’s F100 with dubious mechanicals.

  6. stigshift Avatar

    My beloved ’90 Miata has many needs, but it runs like a top, drives like a video game, and is tagged and insured. But damn it, I need to show it some love. Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. 0A5599 Avatar

    I was about to comment that I’ve never seen a tow strap used to haul a less-complete vehicle 4-wheels-down on a public road, but then I remembered the guys who once got a very picked-over parts car from me. No brakes on that one, they just left about 2 feet of slack on the strap and had it threaded through some old tires to cushion the impact.
    How long can you get away with leaving the orange sticker on it?

    1. Bradley Brownell Avatar
      Bradley Brownell

      Well, it’s parked in my back yard, so nobody is going to tow it from there. I figure rain will probably get it cleaned off in a year or so.

      1. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1

        Depending on weather a year give or take a month or two is about right or so I’ve heard.

      2. 0A5599 Avatar

        Hopefully you will get it streetable while the orange badge of defiance is still intact.

  8. William Robinson Avatar
    William Robinson

    So much room in that engine bay… dare I mention LS swap!!! Nah I probably should not.. oops too late, he’ll a 4.8 truck engine would probably be alot less money to buy than it is to put the 20r back together…. I’m getting sick of LS everything but this truck is very fitting of it..

    1. Bradley Brownell Avatar
      Bradley Brownell

      Nope, not happening. 20R swaps into stuff normally powered by LS engines would be better. I’d love to drive a 98 horsepower Corvette.

      1. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1

        You just have to keep pulling off plug leads.

      2. #JailTruck Avatar

        It’s all fiberglass you really don’t need more than 98 horsepower.

      3. William Robinson Avatar
        William Robinson

        I’d like to see that too. I’m sure with a massive diet a c5 could make due with 98 hp.. or here’s a money no object and weird dream for your truck. How about a V4 katech motus. Spendy but could be a neat rig.

  9. Sjalabais Avatar

    Got a good laugh out of The truck made it home with no issues. Your optimism is what I’ll remember with this writeup, and I’m really looking forward to read more about that collaboration with your wife. This could become more than a beater supply runner over time.

    1. Vairship Avatar

      How many supply runs will they need to make before this truck reaches beater stage? 😉

  10. dukeisduke Avatar

    At least the guy had the presence to separate the fan clutch from the fan, and store it upright in the tote. Viscous fan clutches can be ruined by storing them horizontally.

  11. Tanshanomi Avatar

    I threw a note on your dash,
    “Don’t tow this truck I’ve got cash”
    You had a bed full of trash,
    And you were in the way
    I’d trade two bills for your frame,
    Impoundment would be a shame
    Now I got Internet fame,
    ‘Cause I towed you home that day
    Your wheels were rollin’,
    Down that street we’d been strollin’
    You smelled like a colon
    Where do you think you’re going, baby?
    Hey, I just met you,
    And this is crazy,
    But here’s my number,
    So call me, maybe!

    1. #JailTruck Avatar

      Gaht damn poet over here.

  12. outback_ute Avatar

    Reminds me of towing a car home behind my mates ute on a short rope, we checked the brakes worked then hit the freeway cruising at about 70 mph. The 4 wheel drums would slow the lot down, he could tell when I hit the brakes to keep the tow rope tight on down hill sections. Later got the car running for some drifting around the gravel car park, not much though because a) it hadn’t run in 5-10 years and B) the exhaust was rusted off the muffler so it was ridiculously loud. $150 worth of entertainment right there. Then turned into a parts car, it was fairly rusty.
    Good luck with the Toyota, sounds like you have it under control.

  13. Vairship Avatar

    You’re definitely keeping Tahoe blue,
    You bought local,
    But I’m not sure you bought fresh 😉