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The Devil's Fuel

I have never really messed with anything with a diesel engine in it. For one thing, I am not a farm boy despite having spent most of my life in Kentucky & Texas. Secondly, although I have had a pickup truck most of my adult life, I never felt the need to go so far as to buy much more truck than I needed and commit to a bigass diesel bro-dozer. I’ll spare you the accusations of the need to compensate and so forth, personally if one has the money and desire to own a thing of certain specifications, be it a ridiculously fast car while living in a major urban environment, or a ridiculously huge overpowered pickup in a major urban environment, so be it. I ride a bike renowned for its capable handling yet I live in a city (and state for that matter) where the roads are straight, flat and straight. I’ll square off the bottom of my tires long before I can wear out the edges. Glass houses and all that.

Back on topic. My daughter recently purchased a vintage motor home with the intention of both living in it part time and using it as a daily driver. Seriously. She is every bit a millenial, her boyfriend lives on his boat and sports a tremendous beard, she does more freelance marketing and writing than anything, knows where the best coffee shops are, and rides a mid 60's Honda motorcycle (that I restored for her so yeah I am supportive of all this), as they say she has always paddled her own canoe. Sadly she lacks mechanical skills, which means dear old Dad needs to really gel with the adage “You eat an elephant one bite at a time” because this thing needs work. And if you haven’t guessed by now, its got a diesel engine.


As most of my mechanic work has been on bikes and my wife’s Jeep (so many hours in that Jeep) this RV is by far the biggest thing I’ve worked on. But it’s an interesting challenge and thus far, things are looking up. There’s rust everywhere, to be expected from a classic van built during the Reagan administration, the previous owner appears to have lived in this thing for some time so its beautiful 80's interior is more skanky than swanky, and of course there are leaks in the house. But for all that the engine, transmission and radiator are holding their respective new fluids tightly, meaning the only thing it is dripping on the ground is rust. To be honest, the rust itself seems pretty localized to just the hood and doors, all of which can be readily sourced and keep me from doing major bodywork on the cab. Oh and for the record, its based on a 1983 GMC van, the same year as the A-Team van. I smell a paint scheme...

So for all that, well its high time I learned a little about diesel. This engine is an old Detroit Diesel built unit from back before GM developed the in-house Duramax. As such its got a pretty solid following, parts and help are easy to come by, and now that I am digging in, the systems are pretty simple. Dare I say even more simple than a modern gasoline engine. No spark plugs, fuel pump & injectors are pretty common, heck with a fresh pair of batteries and some new fuel it fired right up after having sat still for who knows how long (did I mention new oil? I changed it before I turned it over). Ok the glow plugs are kind of a weird thing, but they work so long as you don’t need to hop in and make a quick getaway from the chainsaw wielding maniac that’s chasing you. All in all I am eager to learn new things and that is what I am getting from this.


At some point, I’ll need to stop playing with the engine (the best part of any machine) and drudge my way through the interior, plugging the leaks and repairing the woodwork. I really and truly hope to keep the old leather kilt that girds the engine’s doghouse in proper van style. I doubt it can stay, its not mine to own at the end of the day and the style has to match my little girl’s aesthetic. Retro-chic only goes so far when you have to live with something day to day, but maybe when this project is done she’ll let me hang it on the back of my workbench. I’ll stick a bottle of DEF in the pocket.

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