Starting Our Vintage RV Restoration: Our Steel Beast is Alive!



I’m aware that when working on vehicles, you don’t always have successful days.

Andy often tells me stories of refitting brakes on his 1994 Audi 80 — He replaced all the brakes, brake lines, and brake fluid before spending days trying to make the brakes bleed; still though, his brakes never worked.  Begrudgingly he gave up and towed his car to a mechanic . . . only for that person to tell him — half an hour and £100 later — that a rear caliper was upside down.

He also tells me of the time when he had a temperamental 1994 Citroen AX GTI — Here, he replaced a heater matrix but the engine refused to fire up.  He spent hours trying to determine the issue . . . only to find late in the day he needed to change the spark plugs, which still baffles him.

Oh, and there’s the day he was working on his 1998 Nissan 200SX — He starts this tale saying, “It was about 180 degrees out” when he replaced all the exhaust gaskets from the head of the engine to the back of the exhaust.  Hoping to move along more quickly, he asked his father to help.  Dad stepped in and fitted the turbo; then together, they put back the car — exhaust refitted, bumper back on, and intercooler about to go on when they realized — Dad incorrectly fitted the turbo to the exhaust manifold, which essentially meant it was the wrong way.  Andy finishes this story saying proudly, “So this was actually my dad’s fuck up — not mine.  For the record.”  Record noted.

But my point is he is filled with a plethora of stories detailing his lack of success — stories of really bitch days working on cars.

So I’m fully expecting to find myself typing a future post after one hell-of-a day where things just didn’t work out.  It is a 1965 Clark Cortez after all.

But this day?  Well, this day was not one of those bad days.

Earlier, Andy had identified all visible issues in Our First Inspection, which proved for the most part, our motorhome was as advertised — There was rust (which will be a constant problem due to the Cortez’s all-steel body), two broken window panes, damaged or missing window and door seals throughout, and faulty brakes.  Two surprises thrown our way though were a dead starter motor and way-too-thick corroded power wire.

Andrew’s testing the starter motor voltage here.

That meant we were headed to an auto parts store to replace our starter motor and power wire.

While the power wire is a common part, the starter would be more tricky — The only number visible on it was not an identification number and even worse we still have been unable to identify our engine, which at minimum level is needed for a starter replacement.

However, we weren’t to be put off so in we walked into the auto store, dropping our heavy starter onto the counter.  The force released caked dirt and who-knows-what-else, which crumbled off and fell onto the surface.

The employee behind the counter didn’t even flinch.  It was obvious that he had many a’times been in that position where his customers came in with caked-dirt and corroded parts and wanted his help in replacing them.

Employee A: “How can I help you today?”

Andy: “We’ve just removed this off our motorhome and need it replacing but we don’t have a parts number.”

Employee A: “Alright, what make and model is the vehicle?”

Andy: “It’s a 1965 Clark Cortez — but I doubt it will be in your system.”

Employee A: “Okay well, we will have a look.”  His fingers flew over the keys, punching in the year but when he got to the ‘C’ then ‘L’, there was suddenly no results.  “That’s really strange,” he whispered, utterly perplexed and staring frozen at the ‘No Results’ screen.  “It’s not pulling up.”

Andy: “We believe the engine is a Chrysler 5.2 V8 but we aren’t sure — Maybe that helps?”

Employee A: “Okay so what make and model is it again?” He was adamant — He didn’t want to dilly dally with the Chrysler information.  Clicking in a different window, Employee A felt sure information would pop on this screen.

Andy: “It won’t be in your system — It’s a Clark Cortez,” and here Andy paused to let the weight of that sink it.  When it didn’t, he continued, “From 1965.”

Again Employee A tapped the keys — tap tap tap — and again no results.  “Oh, it’s not in our system,” he announced, flabbergast.  “Let me see if I can get someone to help” and he darted off to grab a co-worker.

Soon we were introduced to Employee B so Andy patted the starter motor, releasing more dirt onto the counter.  “We’ve brought in this starter motor and want to replace it.”

Employee B: “What’s the make and model of your vehicle?”  His fingers hovered over the keys, ready.  I refrain from sighing.  They are trying help after all.

Andy: “Well, we were just telling the other guy — It doesn’t pull up in your system but it is a 1965 Clark Cortez.”

Employee B’s hands flew over the keys — just as Employee A’s had — all for the same outcome: Zero results.  “Strange,” he whispered as equally baffled as the other guy.

Andy: “It came from a Chrysler engine — We think it is a 5.2 V8 but we’ve looked at the engine numbers and they don’t match up at the moment so we are still unsure.”  This was code for “We still cannot find a casting number that makes sense so we have no idea what our engine is.”

Employee B: “No problem — Let’s check that” and his fingers dash from mouse to keyboard, opening numerous windows and typing in each.  “Nothing’s pulling up.”

I wish I could say that Andrew and I were also perplexed but I guess we went into this without expectations — We figured parts would be near impossible to track down and we knew finding help would also be problematic, but we are stubborn and willing to try at least.

The good news is Employee B was just as tenacious us so while he took over computer searches, both Andrew and I moved to our phones, scanning Chrysler and Dodge websites, reading Cortez forums, and pulling up product numbers in Cortez files.  After about an hour, we got there.

“Wait — This is it!” Andy cried, enthusiastically.

“Are you sure?” both Employee B and I asked as the three of us mushed our heads over Andy’s phone.

“Let me pull it up,” Employee B said, typing the website faster than I could read it to him.

“500 DOLLARS?!”  Now it was Andrew’s and my turn to speak in unison.  Or shriek in unison.  The fact of the matter was while we were expecting to pay a pretty penny for some parts, we had hoped it wasn’t on our first part replacement purchase . . . and mainly for a part that we shouldn’t have needed to replace in the first place as we were told our Cortez did run.

“Let me see if I can get it in,” Employee B did not seem concerned by the amount, which I secretly thought was because he figured we would spend that money in his store.  However, I was wrong.  Very wrong.

“Got it,” Employee B finally announced and both Andrew’s and my eyes shot to the screen.  Turns out, our starter was not from an engine we thought it would be — It’s from a Dodge V8.  “$79.99 — and we take $10 off for a core return!”  He sounded as overwhelmingly happy as we felt.  I wanted to hug him.  I wanted to kiss with him.  I was so so so excited.  $69.99 for a part to get our engine running?!  Buy it now!

“Yep, we’ll take one.” And clearly had the same idea as me.  “When can you get it for us?”

“I can get it for you . . . ”  Andrew and I froze, waiting with bated breath.  Surely it would be a month — maybe two.  I had no idea what to expect.  ” . . . How about tomorrow?”

I wanted to hug Employee B.  I wanted to kiss him, and I still cannot get over how quickly we’ve been able to get replacement parts . . . that have no identification numbers . . . that are for a fifty-four-year-old motorhome.  Thank the auto gods!

So ‘tomorrow’ came and that’s where this story picks up because we were heading to pick up the starter motor, among other bits.

Confirming our starter motor would work, we made an enthusiastic walk to the electrical aisle where we dashed for the power wire replacement and negative battery cable.  (Our negative battery cable — for whatever unknown reason — was red instead of black so we wanted to correct this to prevent us or someone else from mixing the negative and positive terminals in the future.)  Then we paid for our parts and — hand-in-hand with massive smiles — we walked out of the store feeling as if we robbed it.

Arriving back at the farm, Andrew worked to put a tarp under the Cortez while I jumped inside to put on sunscreen.  We would be spending a day in direct sun in almost 100-degree temperatures so —

“L!” Andy called in alarm so I ran out of the Cortez only to see him pointing up the drive.  “L!  Oh my God — There’s a goat loose now!”

“What?!” and sure enough, I looked at one of the white-with-black-spotted goats that was running along side the fence as if taunting his brother who was still trapped.  “Oh no — I cannot believe this!”  At this point, my mind was racing, wondering how we could prove we had nothing to do with the escaping goat.  I mean, it seemed more than coincidental: Andy was here the first day and a bull got loose.  We were here a second day and a goat escaped.  Surely at some point, someone was going to blame us and we would be kicked off the farm, unable to return.  “I’m going to call my aunt!”

But the phone rang and rang, and I didn’t have time to leave a voicemail — The matter was urgent so I called my uncle.

The phone rang and rang again.  No voicemail.  No time.  The daggon goat was gonna run away.

“Andy!  What are we going to do?!  No one answered!  They’re never going to believe that we didn’t let this goat out!”  Then — right on the verge of a breakdown — I came up with an idea.  “And — We have to get the goat in ourselves.”

“WOT?!”  He was as much disbelief in his voice as I had in my own idea.

“Yep.  We just have to get that damn goat in ourselves so that no one will know about this and we won’t get in trouble.  It is us and the Cortez staying here — or it is that goat running wild.  You have to choose but I say we really need to be here and cannot risk that goat running away.”

By this point it did appear the goat would run away, too.  Off he bounded and jumped on the freed side of the fence, happy as a — well, happy as a wild goat.  His brother looked on forlorn and without hope but tried running up and down the fence on his wired side.

“Let’s do it then,” Andy huffed, marching towards the released goat.  “Let’s just get on with it.”

I’m not sure what overtook me in this moment of panic — I suppose I am turning into what this generation is turning into — but my next thought was I need to film Andrew trying to get this goat back through the fence.

“Wait!” I cried to Andy and he literally halted in his run.

“WOT?!” he yelled, looking around in alarm as if worried another animal had escaped — one, no doubt, equivalent to his ‘proper hench bull.’

“I need to get a camera!” I yelled and darted back to the Cortez only to hear “For fuck’s sake!” in the background.

“Okay, I’m ready,” I huffed trying to catch my breath when I returned.

“No worries!  Just tryin’ to herd a goat — by meself!”  Clearly he didn’t appreciate my efforts to save him from accusations of being goat-free-er.

“Alright, go — Herd him in!” I shouted behind my phone, recording him.

Realizing how this story would go, with one swift nod and pursed lips, he tersely replied, “Thanks for helping” before setting off to run after the goat.

“And!  Don’t run after him!  He’s timid — You’re scaring him!

Here, Andrew stopped as the goat rushed ahead.  “Really?!” he asked, clearly exasperated at the goat, at me.  “If you know how to do it — You herd the goat!”
IMG_4608.jpgBut I knew my advice was helpful so I continued to direct behind the camera.  “Why don’t you open the fence because he looked like he was ready to go back but he couldn’t figure it out.”  Sure enough, Andrew agreed — or least I thought he agreed as he went to open the fence.
IMG_4609.jpg“And!  The other goat is going to get out!” I called as we watched the brother-goat try to escape too.  This one seemed on a dose of adrenaline — bouncing every time his hooves hit the ground.

“Don’t you run for it — You li’le bastard!” Andrew shouted at the goat, arms out, blocking his gateway to independence like a goalie blocking the net.  No sooner had he moved from the opening, the wild goat raced back in as if overjoyed at knowing he was safe once more.

“Look at you — you farmer!” I cheered, running up to Andrew.

“Goat herder extraordinaire!” he announced before giving me a high-five.  “Right, now I’m going back to work on the Cortez because stupid goat — Should have stayed where it was in the first place,” he mumbled while pulling the gate closed and wrapping the chain around it.  “First the bull, then the goat — If something else escapes, pretty certain we’re going to get kicked out’ere” and off he went — not waiting for me — back to the Cortez.

“Don’t come out again!” I hollered at the goats who trotted away, casting glances at us over their little goat-shoulders.  “You can’t get us kicked off — He’s right!  We don’t need that, okay?”  They just stared at me as if I did something wrong.  “Okay?!” I shouted.  Their understanding was important — They weren’t in charge.  We were . . . and that was only because my uncle and aunt were and I knew they didn’t want those daggon goats to roam.

In understanding, they bolted to their shelter and hunched over their hay, close together.  I smiled, feeling successful — feeling a damn good goat herder too . . . or a damn good goat photographer.

“Right, so what’s the plan?” I asked when I got back to Andy at the Cortez.

“Let’s fit the new starter,” he said, moving it next to the Cortez before sliding under the engine.
“Hold on one second!” I shouted at his feet as they stretched out the side.  “Remember I want to learn!  I don’t want to sit around while you’re under the Cortez installing parts — I want to actually get dirty and learn what these parts do and where they go too.”

This, I’ve reminded Andrew continuously because it has been an on-going worry for me since we got the Cortez.  That’s due to multiple reasons:

  • First, I truly want this to be our venture, which means I don’t want other people to do all of the repairs and I don’t want other people to interject every second with what they would do instead — It is Andrew’s and my vehicle and I trust Andrew.
  • Saying that though, the pressure to do this overhaul cannot be solely on Andy.  It’s a lotta work, and I fully believe we will get it done and get it done together.  I think the feeling of accomplishment would be hard to describe when we look back — post-renovations — and think of all the sweat and emotions we put in.
  • Third, another reason I want to learn is because I want to be knowledgeable in the realm of vehicles.  This desire started when I was itty-bitty — My father has always had a passion for cars and since I was a daddy’s girl, I prided myself on going to car shows with him.  There, he would talk to me about the vehicles as if I understood and months after, he would mention specific ones as if I remembered.  I slowly gained an appreciation of cars too so that today I enjoy driving fast cars and I like looking at classics.  Still I don’t know much when it comes to the mechanics so when I’m around car groups consumed of predominately — if not all — males, I feel insignificant and unintelligent; and, to put it bluntly, I hate that feeling.  As a female, I’ve been talked down to by males when it comes to vehicles, and I openly exhibit the largest sigh and eye-roll if someone tells me to “Get Andrew” to fix or call about my car.  I don’t want to need a man to know how my vehicle runs and how to repair it; as a strong, independent female — I can do it myself.  I like getting dirty and sweating and learning so vehicle mechanics seems meant for me . . . and lucky enough, I finally have a great (and patient) teacher.

“Alright, get under here then,” Andrew announced before warning of the little ground clearance.  In seconds, I found a way to squeeze myself under the Cortez beside him.

“This is where your starter motor was,” he said pointing to an empty space beside our enormous engine.

“Right,” I said.

“So this is where we need to get our new starter.  That means we have to undo these bolts — ” and he pointed again ” — and install the new starter there then bolt it back in.”

“Right,” I said again, still waiting for more information.

“Right — so that means get out from under the vehicle so we can get our tools and undo the bolts.  I can’t get out until you do.”

“Oh,” I responded in surprise as I shuffled out the front narrow-way.

Once we were out, Andrew handed me a cranked-angle ring spanner, which by the way, means an off-set wrench so I’m learning all of my vehicle mechanics apparently in British terms. Go figure.  “Alright so go back under and take out those bolts,” he directed.

“Fine,” I told him, sure that he was testing me so I crawled back under and began to undo the bolts . . . or tried to but the combination of fifty-four-year-old dirt and rust made it near impossible to move.  “Andrew!” I hollered at him from under the Cortez while still trying to turn the damn bolts.  “I — can’t — get it!  You’re going to have to do it!”

“You need to come out then!” he directed.

“Nope.  I’m staying under to learn so you need to find a way to squeeze in!”

There was a fair amount of grumbling and showing displeasure but soon Andrew was under the Cortez with me.  “You know there’s zero room under here for both of us?” he said, which in my mind meant we should spend less time talking about how much room there was while under the Cortez, but if he wanted to have the conversation there, I would.

“I know but I’m learning.  I don’t want to crawl in and out, crawl in and out.  Plus — look at you!  You got in!  We both fit under here!”

“Barely!” he touted.  “This is the smallest amount of space I’ve ever had to work on a vehicle.”  Guys, he’s had some low rides so this last sentence translates into “I’ve never had another person this close to me under a car, making it the smallest amount of space I’ve ever had to work on a vehicle.”  I understood what he was saying but I still wasn’t moving.

“Get it undone so you can get out then, my Padawan” I directed.  This Star Wars reference is what he had been calling me and I found it greatly amusing to use it now.  However, Andrew’s facial expression proved this was not the time for jokes so ignoring me, he set to work.

“Right, there you go — I loosened them” and out he went again, giving me the chance to undo all of the bolts.

IMG_2068“Now the starter?” I asked as I displayed my handiwork in front of him.

“Yep, it’s heavy though,” he said as he bent to pick up our ten-pound starter.

“I know,” I responded.  I had briefly lifted the old one before Andrew, as a well-mannered Englishman, took it from me.

Here, he cast the starter into my hands . . . only for me to fall to my knees trying to take the weight.

“How am I supposed to pick this up and hold it above my head — with one hand — while putting in the bolts with the other?!”  It was clear I was struggling to hold it standing upright so squeezing under the Cortez to hold it — not happening.

“Figure it out” was the advice I got.

“Fine,” I told him again, not to be outdone and I dropped the starter onto the tarp, wedged myself under the Cortez once more, and then rolled it towards me.  However, despite my best efforts, there was no way I could lift the ten-pound sucker long enough to screw in the bolts.  “ANDREW!” I yelled while it was precariously placed above my head.  “I NEED YOU TO HOLD IT SO I CAN SCREW IN MY BOLTS!  HURRY!!!”

I heard sigh and maybe a couple cuss words but Andrew’s face was behind mine in seconds.  “Here,” he said holding the starter firmly in place.  “I thought you didn’t need a man?” he asked, as he likes to ask often.

“I don’t — I only need one for half a second while I get in a bolt . . . ”  I worked quickly, ready for this moment.  ” . . . so now I don’t need one.”  It was true though, he no longer needed to hold the starter because I had secured two bolts in that time.  “You are free to go, sir!”  I said.

“Good,” he declared, shuffling to go out.

“WAIT!” I hollered, suddenly realizing my next steps.  “Let’s review what I’m supposed to do once the starter motor is in” and here, I pointed to the solenoid and wires, confirming their locations.

“Right,” he told me. “Now tell me when you’re done.  I’m going to replace the negative battery cable while you do that” and then he was gone.

So I did just that — I put in all bolts around the starter motor and got them as tight as I could . . .
IMG_2088IMG_2085then I placed the solenoid and little bitty wires on the starter motor too before tightening those nuts.

“DONE!” I announced.  “Now come back to confirm my work.”

“Nope, I trust you,” he said, which made me incredibly nervous because I didn’t trust myself.  However, despite my pleas of this, he still refused.  “Let’s put in this power wire now.”

Within moments our power wire was back in place, and that meant our work for the day should be done.

“Are you ready?” Andy asked me as we stood in front of the Cortez and I knew what was next: Determining if our work proved successful and the only way to do that was to start our Cortez.

“Ready,” I said as we slid into the Cortez.  “It’s a moment of truth,” I told Andrew.

“Right.  Let’s do this” and with that he placed the key in the ignition and turned.

Immediately the Cortez fired up — loud and hot — and I screamed and cheered, clapping my hands . . . until it shut off two seconds later.

“Was that you?” I asked.

“It died,” Andrew said.  He had waited to celebrate and seemed to anticipate this happening and so he tried and tried again to get it started without success.  Grabbing starter fluid, he sprayed it into the carburetor.

“How do you get it to work without that?”

“Persistence,” Andrew muttered, not put off, as he sprayed until fumes filled the air.

“Come on, come on,” I said barely over a whisper, hoping beyond a hope that this worked . . . and it did!  A roar of the engine erupted through the cab — stronger than before — and Andrew threw his arms into the air as I clapped and cheered again.

“BABY, YOU’RE RUNNING!” I screamed, laughing — sheer joy escaping my lips — as I rubbed my hands over our Cortez’s dash, already feeling so emotionally-charged and attached to the vehicle.

“AHHHHH!!!” I screamed again as Andrew laughed and we both bounced — literally bounced in our seats.

“LET’S DRIVE IT AWAY!”  I yelled over the roar of our beast’s engine, pointing straight ahead to an unseen spot in the future where we would be traveling down some backcountry dirt road, following the Milky Way.  Andrew honked and honked and honked the horn because IT STARTED!!!  IT STARTED!!!  IT STARTED!!!

These shots, taken from our video, show our zeal because with the running engine, that meant the close to our first Cortez repair!  It also meant that on this day — our first real day working on the Cortez — I learned many lessons: First, I learned what a starter motor is, where it goes, and how to install it.  I also learned what a solenoid does, along with where it goes and how to attach it to the starter motor; and I learned about the power wire and the importance of having red and black battery cables.  Oh, and I learned that when you can smell gasoline in a 1965 Cortez that is running for the first time in who knows how long — That means our motorhome is ‘running rich,’ which also means it’s burning a lot of gasoline and that’s code for it needing to be tuned so that’s a job for another day.

I learned more too: As an auto-fledgling, I realize now there is no room for pride when it comes to working on vehicles and that may be jobs where a male is needed, such as taking off stubborn bolts and holding ten-pound starter motors in precarious places.  

More importantly though, I learned that with a bit of effort and hope, you can get anything started — even a fifty-four-year-old rare and rusted steel beast.

Packing to go, I felt like the badass female mechanic I desire to me.  I had a dirty rag tucked under my sports bra strap, grease under my nails, and mechanical dirt covering my arm.  And you know what?  It felt damn good.

“We should take our Cortez on a quick drive around town to celebrate!” I cried, giggling as Andrew twirled me in front of the Cortez. We were dancing — literally dancing in the green farm grass to celebrate.

“L,” he paused in his moves.  “We can’t — Remember?  The brakes don’t work!”

Oh yeah . . . so onto our next venture . . .


* * * * *

For more on our celebration and work to get our Cortez running, check out our YouTube channel and be sure to subscribe!  Also, if you’re curious about our starter and other parts, visit A Breakdown of Costs for Our Cortez’s Overhaul — This will be continuously updated with part numbers (and their prices) as we get them.

Author: L

Hi there! I am the impulsive do-er, the jumper, the one tugging to move past comfort zones to embrace a life of sheer surprise. I am a writer -- a pursuer of stories -- because I believe in the destination over the journey. I am a chaser of sunrises and sunsets and cherisher of the moments between. I have an overwhelming curiosity, an insatiable desire travel, and an obsessive yearn to turn dreams into realities. For all of these reasons, the word that best summarizes who I am is "seeker" -- I am forever a seeker.

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