Infernal combustion: the #crankedwagen story, part 6 (in which we reach a conclusion of sorts)

Warning: this post contains petrolhead content. If you’re offended by talk of non human-powered vehicles, may we suggest you look away now?

The longer I lived with the Crankedwagen, the more apparent the limitations of its original Subaru engine transplant became apparent. Thrown in (and I use that term with care) about 12 years ago, the best thing that could be said about the conversion was that it had covered over 40,000 miles. And that it ran.

The original plan had been to coax it through another year or so of use before replacing it with a newer, neater installation. But an internally disintegrating radiator and bodged wiring forced the issue. It felt like I was chasing my tail round in circles, trying to coax a tired and badly installed 25 year old engine back to health.

To give just one example: when I bought the truck, it needed a tickle of throttle to start. This always seemed odd for a fuel injected engine, but with so many mechanical and bodywork issues to sort it was a while before I got around to investigating. I suspected the idle control valve might need a clean. Turns out it wasn’t even plumbed in, but had been blanked off completely. Which explained rather a lot. One new secondhand ICV and some rubber hose later, and it was working as it should.

But then there was the wiring, which was a mess. And all the rest…

A lowish mileage, latish 2 litre engine became available. I snapped it up and booked the Crankedwagen back in with Jamie at J’s Garage. And promptly began to have doubts. The engine it was replacing was the long-discontinued, but solidly reliable, 2.2. The 2 litre had a bombproof reputation but would be down on power and torque. Hmm. Did I want that?

A much rarer 2.5 litre engine came up for sale. More power, more torque. And a reputation for blowing head gaskets.

Pffft. Head gaskets can be fixed. I bought it.

A couple of weeks in the capable hands of J’s Garage and the new engine was in and running. Properly supported with a bar from RJES, with a custom stainless exhaust and ECU tucked away in a waterproof box on the back wall of the treasure chest.

It’s an installation that has transformed the Crankedwagen. The 2.5 litre Subaru revs freely and has a flat torque curve, so it pulls strongly from low revs and keeps. On. Pulling. All the time it’s doing this, there’s a wonderfully sonorous soundtrack from behind the cab. Tickle the throttle and it burbles. Bury your foot and the rumble turns into a deep, offbeat roar, accompanied by a distinct and ongoing shove in the back. Do this too early in 2nd gear, and you’ll quickly find the limits of the rear tyres’ traction. The grin on Jamie’s face during test drives says it all, really.

Nearly 18 months after buying it, the Crankedwagen is in better shape than when it left the factory in 1985. Faster, more comfortable, more economical and more practical. Coming to a trailhead near you in 2018. If you see us, come and say hi…

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