And so it begins
I first saw this Eagle on Craigslist while looking for a car to possibly replace my wife Ranjana's Toyota Tercel. Of course, unlike the Tercel, this one ate gas, was large, had manual transmission and wasn't drivable. So the idea of a replacement was somewhat ludicrous.
Still, there was an intrigue about it which is difficult to explain.
You see, we've never been interested in cars. My son, Kyron doesn't drive and I don't enjoy doing so. My son invariably falls asleep in a car, while I fortunately manage to resist that temptation. We like bicycling and find sitting in a car watching the scenery go by rather boring.
The only thing I liked about the car was that it was old and needed help. We like taking old things, be they animal, mineral or vegetable, and trying to give them a good home. However, there was no way anyone here would agree to taking a 1981 undrivable car and making it a tenant.
I watched the vehicle sit on Craigslist for several weeks and congratulated myself on having the good sense not to give the matter a second thought, even though I was giving it all these second looks.
Then one day, through a set of circumstances, I suggested that if we had a beater 4wd car just for the snow, it would solve the large problem of getting Ranjana, to her mother's each night. This was an essential trip since my mother-in-law requires considerable care.
Well the Eagle was a 4wd … and I started thinking that while I was looking at it, the car might have been looking back. So I made the suggestion to my son that he examine the possibility, warning him that we'd have to do a lot of work on the car, automechanics being a completely new area for us. The one thing the car had going for it was the $600 price tag.
I was actually surprised when Kyron spent some time looking at the photos and reading up about AMC Eagles. Then as he usually does after evalutating something, he made a firm decision - he was interested in looking at the car.
So I contacted the owner by email and received honest answers to all my questions. The owner was very helpful, didn't try to do a sell job on me, so we set up a time to look at the car. Furthermore, she gave me the link to the amceaglenest forum where she'd found everyone to be very helpful.
Looking on this really impressive forum, I stumbled upon the owner's thread: The "Rescue" Eagle. The title was a curious one and as I read it, I understood why it was so named. What amazed me most, were the 'desirous' comments by many members wanting to possess what I honestly thought was really just an interesting piece of junk.
I also experienced the best 'sales pitch' by the owner, regalwizard (aka Kirsten) which was to provide a comprehensive display of the car with a multitude of photos as well as 3 videos, linked to from within the thread. Again, there was no persuasion attempted beyond providing the true picture and a sincere wish to provide a good home for this vehicle whose worth I had apparently misjudged.
I watched the thread progress with people trying to overcome the logistics of acquiring the vehicle, of creating space for it (some had more than one Eagle already), of trying to figure out how to convince a spouse that this would be a good idea. I was fortunate in that my son and I at least held a 2:1 majority, even if my wife didn't like the idea.
Then I sensed the disappoints as no one turned up to take the car. I was amazed at the accommodation that Kirsten was willing to go to in order to find a home. The weeks turned into months with her bumping the thread at the beginning of each month.
This car just sat there from August to nearly mid-December.
The First Day
On a cold Wednesday morning, December 9, 2009, Ranjana and I went to see it overcoming the reluctance of the one hour drive. Kirsten met us in front of the storage center and then we met the car. She hoped we'd be able to fix up a few of the issues and, if we liked the car, we'd be able to drive it back.
She had brought a very basic toolkit consisting of some sockets and wrenches. I actually had brought a more impressive collection. The main difference though was that she knew how to use the tools properly and I didn't.
The first problem was that both the front tires had gone flat. I figured this was an opportunity for me to make the one contribution I was likely capable of and promptly pumped up both tires (and possibly my ego at the same time). After that, I watched with considerable fascination as Kirsten went through the process of trying to start up the engine - unsuccessfully though.
She went to get some gasoline while I examined the car in greater detail. It was very dirty … but that could all be cleaned up. It didn't work right … but may be it could be fixed. My wife wasn't going to like the car … well, may be that could be fixed too.
Kirsten returned and put some gasoline into the carborator (and here I thought gasoline was supposed to go into the gas tank), and got the engine to fire up. It sounded rough and Kirsten explained that there was likely a leak in the exhaust pipe in front of the muffler. Then suddenly she yelled to me to turn off the car!
She had noticed the alternator belt was flopping and was concerned that it might damage one of the nearby hoses. The belt had become so loose that we could practically pull it off. I suggested we tape the hose to protect it and see whether it was actually hitting the hose, but when we started up the engine again, the belt just broke.
Then we noticed that there was a steady stream of oil leaking from the engine and while watching the black stuff flow out, the engine shut itself off on its own as if to say, "I've had enough".
I was starting to think that I'd had enough too (there were after all two other vehicles we had in mind at lower prices), because we weren't just looking at a car anymore, but a series of complications. However, Kirsten was undaunted by the events or by the cold.
First she removed the remains of the belt. Then she tried to determine where the oil leak was coming from and found that the oil filter 'felt' funny. Ok so, let's replace the oil and filter and see what happens.
By now, I was motivated by her determination, though I thought it was a ridiculously cold temperature to do any work in. Off we went to the auto parts store - a 15 minute drive - to get something to drain the oil into, a filter wrench, some oil and yes, we were going to change the alternator belt, so I bought not one but two of these (I figured that if one didn't work the alternate one might because it's an alternator, right?). Kirsten would have bought all this herself, but I think it must have been too late for me. Kirsten noticed with some surprise that she had been calling it "your car" even though we had no intention of buying it at that time.
We got the oil filter off and sure enough it was banged up. After putting the new one on and putting oil in again, we started up the engine and were relieved to see that the leak was no more.
So now it was time for the alternator to have a new belt. Even though I had no idea what an alternator was, I could see that there was a place where the belt should go. The only problem was that there was this other belt in the way. Kirsten quickly undid the bolts to move that other belt so we could slip the alternator belt into position, but then we found out that it wouldn't go onto the pulleys.
I thought it was most unfortunate that these belts couldn't stretch like rubber bands and have some sort of link mechanism to them so they could go on without having to take the entire car apart. Kirsten and I tried to loosen some of the bolts holding the alternator in place, but I couldn't see how it would move in the little slot I thought was for positional adjustments.
Since we couldn't see well in the falling darkness, we thought we'd try to drive the car just a bit and forget about the alternator problem for now. Though she handed me the key, I thought kirsten should have the honor of being the first to drive it - besides, I didn't want to mess something up. as she tried to put it into gear, all we could hear was a bit of grinding.
That was it.
It was too late, too dark and too difficult to do anything else that day. There were too many obstacles. Kirsten said that she'd contact her brothers whom she had seen restore some very difficult vehicles, so they might be able to help. I said that I might try coming down the next day and may be give the belt another try.
In a surprisingly trusting move, Kirsten handed me the TSM (technical service manual) and the keys. Now the TSM is a thick book and I like books (even if I don't read much), so I thought we might be able to figure something out from this. Ranjana, who had most patiently endured several hours of sitting in our car, realized right away, that I was at least as enthusiastic about the book, as I was about the car. Somehow, having such a 'bible' made one feel more capable than one likely was.
After we got home, Kyron and I studied the alternator section of the TSM. He felt we could do something. I told Kirsten that we'd definitely have a go at it ourselves (she couldn't be there that day), provided she was ok with that. If she prefered we wait for her brothers, we'd be happy to. Kirsten's feeling was that her brothers could come into the picture if there was something that the three of us couldn't figure out.
The Second Day
Kyron, much to my surprise, was looking forward to getting to the car despite the long drive. He slept most of the way there as I expected, but once he saw the car, it became evident to me that he was going to be just as determined to make things work as Kirsten had been the previous day. In fact, Kirsten had actually made a special trip earlier in the day with the alternator belt she had inadvertently taken home, leaving it under the hood of the car.
Now Kyron knew less about cars than I did, so it really was a case of the blind leading the blind for the first part of that afternoon. However, he tends to pick up on things faster than I do and so after some fiddling, he figured out that we had to move the alternator in its housing to slip the belt on. When we started the car (and it was easier this time), the belt worked perfectly.
So, on to the shifting problem. Kyron had read the night before that the clutch was a hydraulic one and a couple of workers in the storage area told us to pump it several times slowly to make sure the fluid was topped up. We did all that, but still couldn't shift into gear.
It had gotten too dark again to work, so we headed back home, hoping we'd find some solution in the TSM.
The Third Day
On Friday, Kyron and I made the drive down and found that Kirsten was already there replacing the non-functional headlights. she had thought it would be worth trying to see if the lights rather than the circuitry was at fault.
Then we found out that I had closed the hood of the car and that we couldn't open it using the hood release. We tried getting to the locking mechanism through the grill, tried removing the grill and even contemplated cutting the release cable and pulling on it with pliers. Instead, we went and studied how Kirsten's Eagle, Pepper's hood lock worked. Playing with the lock on her car, we saw that there may be a possible way to get a screwdriver up onto the release hinge. Since I was the one who created this problem in the first place, it was only fitting that I solve it, which I did with such dexterity that I've been considering what my prospects as a safe-cracker might be.
We had to solve two major problems before we could drive the Eagle home. one was the clutch and the other was that the signal lights didn't work. Thinking that the former was the more essential, we headed under the car to examine if the pushrod mechanism for the clutch was even working. To our relief we found that it was, but the spring holding it to the throwout lever was just dangling. We all thought we'd found the solution - just connect the spring and we're off and away.
It is hard to believe that something so insignificant as a disconnected spring could create such difficulties, but try as we may, we weren't able to reconnect it. However, spending all that time and effort near the clutch mechanism reminded Kirsten that someone had said pushrods could be too short from wear. It was moving the throwout lever, but just not far enough.
Since we could barely see anymore, we decided to call it a night and ask on the nest for some advice. That night Kyron and I found out from the TSM that the spring had nothing to do with the matter. there were actually three missing pieces: the pivot, washer and seal, which would extend the reach of the pushrod probably enough so that the throwout lever moved the proper distance. The difficulty would be to get these parts - or we'd have to devise something creative 'in a clutch' as the saying goes.
Much of Friday night was spent trying to figure out some alternative to the parts (assuming that we couldn't get these) and how to seperate the throwout lever from the pushrod since they seemed to like each other too much to let anything come in between.
The Fourth Day
Saturday morning, we went around asking people at auto parts stores as well as wreckers if they had something to solve our problem. Invariably the answer was negative. One of the wreckers had some jeeps, but there was nothing useable there other than some screw-on caps that may have fit the pushrod.
Saturday afternoon, Kyron and I headed out again on the long drive to the car, our plan being to do what we can with the pushrod, but at least try to get the lights working. One of the people at a store told us that it is possible (though tricky) to do clutchless shifting. I figured that if we could at least get the signal lights functional, I might be able to try my hand at driving this way in the large storage lot and possibly even 'limp' back home with the Eagle. Of course, I realized that I'd draw a lot of attention leaving stoplights if I did try this since it would mean doing a 'jump' start, not having a clutch to work with.
We also had a concern about whether there was oil leaking from the gasket under the plastic valve cover of the engine and figured we'd evaluate that matter as well. Additionally, the headlights didn't turn on so we thought we'd check the fuse box.
A New Life
When we got there, we drained some of the oil (we'd put in too much) out of the engine and ran it. Finding no leakage, we went under the car to examine the pushrod again. It became evident that we'd have to raise the car if we were to do any work under there even though Eagles perch nice and high off the ground.
We then cleaned up some of the fuses in the fuse panel by scraping the corrosion off with a screwdriver. After installing a new flasher module, we hoped that the turn signals would work which they didn't at first because we tried them with the engine off. However, when we fired up the engine this time, not only did the signal lights come on, so did the internal ones.
In the dimming light of dusk, after four days of long trips and work in the cold, the luminous glow of the inside gave the cracked windshield a crystalline brilliance, conjuring a wondrous 'other' world, beckoning us to enter.
When we got home that night, we looked at the forecast - snow and rain all week. It would not be possible to work on the car. We made a decision. despite the cost, we'd tow the vehicle to our place. There, at least, we could look after it and even get some work done during the dry spells.
So Sunday morning, we met the tow truck and helped get loose ends tied up. within a couple of hours, the car was at our place.
Kiyreagle had at last come home.
You may wonder what is behind the name "Kiyreagle". It is a way to embed the "Kir" of Kirsten and the "Kyr" of Kyron into the car's identity. For Kirsten was the rescuer and Kyron is the restorer. Kirsten's intervention saved this beautiful car from the scrap heap and Kyron's work will be to justify her faith.
In one of our email exchanges, Kirsten had said to me "I just want to see the old bird fly again".
And again shall we fly!