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Project Raider

My son needed a car. Years back we bought my dad’s old Mercedes, a 1996 C280 that he bought new in Corpus Christie, TX. The old man put 200k on that car and took immaculate care of it over the course of 15 years, but he finally decided to stop chasing electrical gremlins and let it go. At the time, my daughter needed a car so I bought it from him, helped her get the A/C working again and off she drove. Three years ago she sold it to her brother and after a few years under his care it has finally, at 275k miles, cashed in its chips. I honestly considered taking it back from him (I paid for it once and I’ve never bought the same car twice) and trying for some reason to build an autocrosser or Lemons racer out of it. I mean, inline-6 with RWD, there’s some virtue in that. But sense prevailed and we are hauling it away, leaving us with a hole in our list of driveable vehicles. Note that we do not lack for un-driveable ones.

Naturally we didn’t want to go overboard and get something too nice because he had mechanically neglected a good car that ran fine when he got it, and we wanted something reasonably fuel efficient and safe but the gearhead in me just couldn’t get over all of the Meh-cars that those criteria and our price range were showing us. I kept an eye out for something more unusual and lo and behold I came across a car (or rather a truck) that I hadn’t seen an example of in years; a Dodge Raider. This particular example was a 1989 and had both the 3.0l V6 and the 5 speed manual, the only year that combination was offered. The Raider as a model line was only offered from 1987 to 1989 and that drivetrain was considered the best available, meaning this one had panache. Spray bomb black, Toyota 4-Runner wheels and a pair of Hella lights on an aftermarket roof rack were all there. The seller knew all of the magical craigslist terms like Runs, Drives, A/C works and Clear Title, we had to go take a look and despite a little body rot and a loose hood hinge we knocked a couple bucks off the asking price and drove it home.


Crawling up underneath affirmed my fears that the suspension would need some attention before long and sure enough the long drive to our house drove the point home. We were shaking and shimmying all over the road. This has a solid rear axle with a torsion bar front suspension, same setup as my old Mazda B-series truck I used to have so not too difficult to deal with. I ordered up some new shocks and sway-bar bushings and after installing them as well as cleaning and re-greasing every zerk fitting I could find, things were definitely better. I don’t think the shocks were original however, as evidenced by a bodge one of the previous owner’s managed. The forked cross bar on the front lower shock mount SHOULD anchor by two bolts into blind nuts welded inside the lower control arm, and sure enough this was the setup on the passenger side. However on the driver’s side someone had drilled small holes in to the bottom of the control arm with a bolt driven through from below and captured with a nut. They had also wrapped safety wire around the bolt itself to keep it from spinning while tightening it as the drilled hole was too small for a socket to fit on the bolt head. I managed to get a new flanged bolt in there and torqued everything down to spec, but new upper and lower CA’s with ball joints are on the menu.

The next step was to tune up the engine. All of the fluids looked pretty good, but pouring a couple quarts of fresh oil into an abused engine just prior to selling it is an old scammers trick so I wanted to make sure I dug a little deeper. Once the oil was out I ran a magnet through it which came back clean so I was pretty happy there, then in went some fresh semi-synthetic and a new filter and on I went to other tasks. BTW the filter in this thing is huge and in a terrible spot, so its a royal pain to replace. Next up was to replace the timing belt and water pump because again, with no maintenance records this was a cheap way to gain a better level of confidence in the longevity of the engine. I mentioned above that there was some rust on the truck, and the radiator mount was no exception. The shroud is metal and took kid gloves to remove without destroying it, but just about every mounting bolt up front snapped and had to be gotten out by other means and the threads chased & cleaned up. Hey it just means I avoided a future catastrophe using new bolts. The water pump and timing belt were surprisingly simple to do once the fan was gone. The main seal was not leaking, so once everything was cleaned and de-greased reassembly was the reverse of disassembly. All new belts and radiator hoses went in, as well as plugs and plug wires, fresh coolant and I am happy to report there were no leaks!


Time to start driving this thing, I forgot how much I enjoy a manual transmission.  Updates will continue!

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