1930 Willys 8-80D: Picking it Up from Oregon!

1930 Willys 8-80D: Picking it Up from Oregon!


Two weeks ago, I made a rather out of the blue post about the Evergreen Aviation Museum out in Oregon - but unless you follow my forum, you have no idea why.

This week, I’ll tell you why! Because we made a trip out to Oregon to buy a 91 year old car, and it felt silly to end up by Evergreen Aviation Museum, with two kids, and not stop for a visit! Besides, last time we were out there, we didn’t get a chance to tour the Goose.

You… bought a car? On eBay? It’s how old?

Indeed we did! It’s 91 years old. We bought a 1930 Willys 8-80D Deluxe Sedan, with a rather nice 4L straight 8, wire wheels, in decent mechanical condition, but needing some work. My wife grew up in the WOKR (Willys Overland Knight Registry) car club, I’ve written about driving a Knight earlier, and we’ve wanted a Willys of our own for quite a while. The existing, default plan was to put together a Willys Whippet (cute little 4 cylinder car) from nearly two cars worth of pieces hanging out up the hill, but then this one showed up.

This one, on the other hand, is already car-shaped, “runs and drives” (quite well, actually), has wire wheels, is known among those in the car club, and is a somewhat nicer project to work from for our plans, which include a decent amount of random touring in an ancient car - ideally in period wear, for the entertainment value.

There was only one problem. The car was in Oregon, south of Portland. We’re in Idaho. And we had a fairly short window to go collect it. Sure, we could have just paid for transport. But that’s no fun!

The Plan

Two adults? Toss a trailer on the truck and go, figure out details on the fly. Two adults, a six year old, and a two year old? That takes a bit more planning. After kicking around a few options, we decided to try the “kids sleeping overnight” plan. This involves leaving late at night, hoping the kids go to sleep, and generally trying as normal an overnight sleep as possible, despite rolling down the road. It does require an adult or two capable of driving overnight, which is far from my normal schedule.

After some discussion with the grandparents, we worked out that they’d watch the kids in the evening and try to tire them out, my wife and I would take an evening nap, we would leave around 10PM, and just roll until we got tired. Then, sleep in a truck stop somewhere, wake up after a few hours of snooze, and motor on into the Evergreen Aviation Museum for a day. The problem? The museum opens at 10AM. We were leaving at 10PM. For a 7.5 hour drive. Even with the time zone change, there was some time to scrub off, so we planned to just sleep for a while at a truck stop.

We decided early on that we weren’t going to tell the kids what was going on - mostly because we’ve got one kid who is very much interested in knowing all the details, and one who is totally at ease with whatever, especially if it involves riding in the truck.

Start the Confusion

I started the confusion by picking up a trailer. There’s an awful lot of family out here, and trailers (as well as other useful pieces of equipment) just roam around as needed. None of the trailers I have easy access to out here were quite what I was looking for (long enough, with working trailer brakes, rated for the appropriate weight), so I borrowed one from a relative an hour away. Drive out, hook it up, drive back.

My daughter (6) decided that since we had a trailer, we were obviously going to take our Chevy Volt with us. Why? She couldn’t articulate that, but, hey, why else would we have a trailer?

My truck needed an oil change before running 1000 miles, so I did that - I’ve got a Fumoto valve down under the oil pan and about 3.5 gallons of oil (yes, gallons… big truck, big engine), and I can fit a 5 gallon bucket down there, so I got that changed. You can buy diesel oil in 2.5 gallon containers if you look around, and they’re definitely more convenient than the smaller gallon jugs! I don’t have a bypass filter or anything, so I just change the oil every year or two, if it needs it or not. Old oil gets recycled, new oil goes in.

One tip for overnight runs with kids is to turn off the cabin lights, so you can get out without blinding everyone (and waking kids). However, in a bit of trivia I wasn’t aware of until this trip, our truck lacks a cabin light cutoff switch. There’s no way to turn the cab lights off, short of either pulling the fuse (which impacts some other stuff), or pulling the bulbs. So, to solve this, some black construction paper, some tape, and a few minutes worked well enough! If the “black” paper here looks an awful lot reddish, it looked far more reddish with the lights shining through. Good effect, even if not intentional. At some point here, I’ll get around to wiring in a cutoff switch for the cab lights. It’s apparently a common enough modification.

Truck fueled, kids exhausted, sun setting, time to roll out!

The Overnight Run

With the sun setting, we set out to the west. Grab the interstate and go. I don’t roll along at the full highway speeds out here (speed limit being 80 in some places, my preferred truck speed being 65 or so), so we purred along in the right lane, and eventually the kids went to sleep. Peace, quiet, and the Oregon interstate. As the night went on, the cars became less frequent, the trucks became more frequent, and that general peace which is night time interstate driving set in.

Around 2AM, I was getting tired and we had plenty of time to kill, so we found a truck stop. As is normal with kids, any change wakes them up, so the deceleration for the truck stop woke my daughter up. We pulled in, and she groggily asked me why trucks have rockets on them.

I’d been looking for a parking spot, sorting out the lot arrangement, etc, and so had no idea what on earth this question was and figured she’d been dreaming. Until we stopped, I got out, looked around, and… well, yes. There were trucks with rockets on them.

I talked briefly to one of the drivers, and he really had no idea about the cargo he was hauling, except that they were eventually going up to Alaska, somewhere. Why a missile launcher and Saturn-looking rocket were going to Alaska, I’ve no idea. Any clues? They do include labels about them being empty, presumably to avoid confusion with actual truck launched missiles. Some sort of theme park, I assume…

Lots of people like to claim I have a rather large truck - and I do. F350, crew cab, long bed, the works. Attach a long trailer to it, and it’s far longer. Park it in the midst of semis, and it just looks like a toy.

I’ve slept in the cab of my truck before, across the back seat, and it’s not terribly comfortable. I just don’t quite fit - I have to curl up some, even with just me in the truck. With my wife and two kids, that wasn’t going to work, so we tried something different this trip. My wife slept across the front seats (which are a bit uncomfortable, but she fits). The kids slept in back (one in a car seat, one eventually on the seat with the car seat tossed in the bed). And I spread out a sleeping pad and sleeping bag in the bed, laid out a pillow, and was able to stretch out very nicely, to the occasional tune of other trucks pulling in and out next to us. Pick a less obvious spot, I suppose…

A decent 4-5 hours of sleep later, it was morning, and time to keep rolling!

Good Morning, Oregon!

With the sun up, we continued rolling west, through some wind farms…

Lined up with Mount Hood…

And through some nice forested bits of interstate.

We bypassed Portland proper (morning rush hour), instead taking 205 down and around, and then to the Evergreen Museum, which I talked about in great detail last week. The big parking lot in the back was closed for some arriving helicopters, so I found a spot where I could.

Afterwards, we went to the hotel, placed a medium sized logger statue on the truck, walked somewhere for dinner, and called it an early night.

Getting The Car

After a decent enough sleep, we rolled into where the car was. At this point, the kids still had no idea what we were picking up - we still had the trailer and nothing on it, had seen airplanes but weren’t bringing one back, etc. So, after I found the place (back in a little industrial park), we went over, and the kids figured it out pretty quickly that we were getting an old car!

Both of them are quite familiar with the concept - my wife’s parents have several old Willys, and if any of them are out and about, the kids ask to go for a ride (which frequently happens, though I think they prefer the bouncing Jeep trips around the hillside and down to the canal - the driveway is the “smooth path” and the off road path is the “bumpy path” they prefer). Our oldest has ridden in old Willys at car meets, and they knew we wanted one. But they were both very excited that this was ours!

And, hey, you know? I was too! Photos, auctions, and working out payment aren’t nearly as fun as actually getting the car!

The car drove onto the trailer under its own power. A bit of work with a handyman jack after that, we even had the trailer latched back down properly (it’s a tilting trailer - super convenient for stuff like this, but if you don’t watch the latch it will jam). Figure out the tie down straps, and we’re ready to head back east!

And, yes, to answer your obvious question, my wife and I did consider driving it back. Had it just been the two of us, we might have even tried it. But if we were going to have a truck and trailer in case it didn’t make it (which is quite likely with a 91 year old car that hasn’t run much in years), it just made more sense to trailer it back. There were quite a few grades, and (I didn’t realize it at the time we planned the route) a long chunk of wildfire recovery sections with plenty of one lane roads and flaggers. So, trailer it is.

The Drive Back

On the way out, we took the interstate. Straight, direct, and even though I don’t cruise past about 65mph with the truck, it was a decent cruise out.

Coming back, we decided to take the back way, on slower highways. I don’t like to roll past 55mph or so with an older car on a trailer (old roofs and all). Unfortunately, the route started out with an awful lot of 40mph miles through wildfire recovery sections, of which I have no photos. Imagine the standard burned out areas with a lot of logging of timber going on (they pull the dead stuff out for processing) and you’ve got the idea.

Eventually that cleared, and we were on our way through some nice forested roads.

These eventually turned into my preferred sort of country, two lane blacktop through nothing. I love it!

The trip back took a long while - rather longer than expected. Part of this was the wildfire recovery zones (low speed limits, waiting for one lane roads to be going our way, etc), and part was that I don’t climb hills very fast in my truck. On any good grade, I’ll typically end up in 3rd, turning 2500 RPM, at about 45mph. Boost is up around 15psi, EGT is around 1100F (I really don’t like to run EGT past 1200), and I get to the top, eventually. I’m probably not going to come down too much faster, either.

At some point, I should put a more modern tuner in the truck and gain a bit of power for the hills, but I really need an enclosed trailer for the car first. That’ll be the next purchase.

As it became apparent that we weren’t going to get back before dark, the right option would have been to overnight somewhere. However, I needed to get the trailer back the next morning, so we just kept going. Sometime around 7PM (typical bedtime), the kids hit the “We’ve been in the truck all day” wall, and proceeded to drive everyone nuts until they fell asleep. So, try to avoid all day with them in the truck. Got it.

The next morning, I ran the trailer back after unloading the car, which went fine. I also ran down this chunk of road, which is a public road, and people do live on it. Next time you hear some of the self driving car hype about how they’re “almost there,” just remember that roads like this exist. If it looks a bit narrow, it is - you just pull to the side to pass someone. There’s not much traffic on it ever, so it’s rarely a concern.

And I took a rock to my windshield on the way back from dropping the trailer off, so I suppose I’ll go about getting my windshield replaced.

A 1930 Willys 8-80D Deluxe Sedan

All this, to buy a 91 year old car. What did we get for our time and money?

It’s a nice luxury sedan with a large (245ci/4L) straight 8, and mechanical everything else. The steering is manual with a large wheel, the brakes are drum brakes actuated by rods and levers, the windows are manual, the hood has no support struts, etc. But it’s got wire wheels (versus the more common wooden ones of the time), the interior is in good shape, and while there are certainly some project aspects, it’s a nice condition running old car we can chase around in, take to meets, parades, etc.

If you’ve never driven anything like this, it’s really not that much different from a modern car. You can read my writeup on driving a Willys Knight (linked earlier) for a general overview - they’re almost identical, in terms of driving, beyond this one going faster if you prod it. There’s certainly a bit more muscling the car around at low speeds than with a more recent car, and you’d better figure out double clutching in a hurry, but once you’re rolling down the road, it’s a car. It wants to run. Roll the window down, stick your arm out (actually, you probably should have the window down because that’s the only turn signal you have), and just drive it how it wants to be driven. It’s reasonably smooth, road noise isn’t that bad at 45mph, you can have a conversation in it… this is a nice car!

Oh… Right… Old, new-to-me cars…

And, on the third trip I attempted to take, it more or less stopped running. I can’t say this surprised me. Just about every new-to-me vehicle I’ve purchased has, fairly rapidly, put up some little tests. Work on them a few times, and they start behaving more reasonably, but cars seem to be able to tell they’ve got a new owner (and will then demand parts).

In this case, I set out up the driveway for a trip that ended up being a very long drive to mail a postcard (none of the other stuff I’d planned on ended up being possible). Part way up the driveway, the car started running very lean. Popping, backfiring, dying out. Fine. Fuel tank might be low. So I rolled back down, put a few gallons in, and… hrm. same thing. An attempt to roll down the road (downhill) didn’t improve things. I had fuel - just not a very good flow of it. If I idled for a bit, I had enough to get going, and then it would lean out in a quarter mile, which is consistent with a restriction coming into the carburetor bowl. I limped it back to the house (involving creeping up a decent hill), consulted with the local expert on old fuel systems, and set to troubleshooting.

The core of the old Willys fuel system is the vacuum tank - the large black cylinder on the firewall. This sucks fuel forward from the gas tank in the rear and delivers it down the carburetor (an updraft carburetor down at the bottom of the intake manifold). There’s a fuel shutoff valve at the bottom, and then it’s just gravity into the carb bowl.

The problem was either in the “fuel tank to vacuum tank” path (annoying), or, more likely based on symptoms, in the short path between the vacuum tank and the carburetor. The K&N filter down there was borrowed from one of the motorcycles until something actually manages to ship…

I removed the copper line and tested the flow out of the vacuum tank - strong and clear. Blasting out the line to the carburetor, I blew out some brownish gunk… which is never good in fuel systems. On my 9N, the elbow into the carburetor is a filter, so I pulled that out and discovered that on this system, it’s actually the needle valve! When the carb bowl is full, the float presses the round end of the needle into the seat and stops fuel flow. When I blasted this fitting out, though, I got a hand covered in all sorts of interesting little grit. Plenty to stop up the flow of fuel into the carburetor!

With that cleaned out, I put things back together, drove the “test loop” (a few-mile loop around the local area that happens to be within reasonable walking distance of the house from any point) successfully, and set out to go mail the postcard. With great success! Except for everything we planned to do that didn’t involve mailing the postcard.

Expect More Old Car Posts!

I do still plan to finish my solar posts. Just, more interesting things keep happening.

Expect plenty of more “Fun with old cars” posts in the future, because this sort of vehicle is a never ending project!


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