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1984 325e Turbo Resurrection

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    1984 325e Turbo Resurrection

    Hi. You probably don't remember me. It's been a minute since I've checked in. Actually it's been about a decade: 11 years, 9 months, 3 days since I last logged in to r3v, to be exact. Can't believe I remember my password, which is good, because r3v had a long defunct email address on file. Anyways, you might not remember me. It's ok. I was an e30tech guy. My how things have changed.

    I'm posting today to pick up where I left off 11 years ago, and finish the project I started back in 2004. It's entirely possible this endeavor is fruitless, in which case this thread my just get pushed way, way down into the archives as another almost-was. If that's what fate has in store, so be it. I want to start this thread before it's written. I want an honest, real-time account of this build. A time capsule, of sorts.

    Let me provide some background, and how it came to be that a turbo e30 would spend 11 years sitting in a field, and what the future -might- hold for it. All of what follows is as near to my recollection as possible, some of which was documented, most was not.

    in September 2004 shortly after graduating high school and right when I started going to college (local: I was still living with my parents) I bought a pair of e30s: 1984 Lapis Blau 325e (with the sport package - the "es" designation didn't exist until 1986) with a broken timing belt and a wrecked 1986 325es Bronzit with a good motor. I paid $750 for the pair, swapped the motor, and drove the blue car as my daily driver until 2009. During those 5 years I put an estimated $10k into the car, primarily in the form of a turbo build, but also suspension bits and other various upgrades and repairs. Based on facebook posts, I apparently put 60k miles on the car in that time, 40k of which while running megasquirt, and 20k with a turbo (most of that time running 0.5bar/7psi of boost on a stock eta engine).

    In 2009 my throwout bearing failed. It was my senior year in college (university at that point, no longer living with my parents) and when I replaced the throwout bearing, I took the opportunity to make a lot of changes to turn the car into a 2.7i "stroker" build with an eta bottom end and "i" top end, and cranked up the boost and redline to 14.7psi and 6,000rpms, respectively. Naturally it makes sense that these upgrades follow the throwout bearing. Let me explain:

    The eta uses a crank position sensor setup that is not compatible with Megasquirt spark timing, so for anyone who wants to use Megasquirt for ignition on an eta build, you have to replace the flywheel with one that has the right features. Furthermore the clutch was slipping at full boost and hard shifts, so it had no more room for adding power. When replacing the throwout bearing it's a perfect time to do the flywheel and clutch since the transmission is out of the car already. So I got the correct flywheel, machined off all the extra weight, got it balanced (final weight: 12.4lbs. Stock eta flywheel is ~25lbs iirc) put in a 6-puck clutch with an e30 M3 pressure plate and voila: The car could handle much more power and I could setup Megasquirt for ignition ("Megasquirt n Spark").

    It dawned on me that since I now had ignition control, the only thing really holding back the build was the eta head: An "i" head has bigger ports, valves, and higher redline potential: 6,500rpm vs. the 4,800rpm of the eta head (I played it safe and kept it at 6,000rpm). In addition to that, the "i" head on an eta block results in lower compression (8.6:1 I think?) which allows for more boost. I put in new wastegate springs for 1bar (14.7psi).

    And holy shit the car was completely transformed. a 7psi turbo setup on an eta motor makes the car fast and fun, but not crazy, nor scary. It was very livable and reliable. (The only challenge I had during those years was cold start on days that were ~0° F. I could just never get it right.) But with 14.7psi and 25% more RPM to play with it became an unruly fire breathing monster. 1st gear to ~55mph, then breaking the wheels loose when shifting to 2nd. And 2nd took it to 95mph, 3rd to 120mph. All thanks to the 2.79:1 rear end of the early eta cars. It was dramatically faster. It was also much, much harder to tune, and detonation became a big issue. Long story short while I was tuning I blew a head gasket. Unfortunately it happened right before I was to move to Colorado to start my first job after college.

    I didn't have time to replace it (and it was further complicated by the fact that the head bolts actually stripped out of the block, probably thanks to using non-stretch head bolts and over-torquing them- don't do this), so in late 2009, before riding my motorcycle halfway across the country to start my new job, I had the car "oil undercoated" by a guy in Vermont who specializes in that procedure, parked the car at my parent's house in Massachusetts, and moved west. It still could start and run for a year or two after being parked, but I haven't tried in at least 8 years. Eventually I moved all the way to California, ending up in San Diego where I met my wife-to-be, bought a house, had a kid, and "settled down". I always fantasized about bringing my old e30 out to CA, but the emissions red tape on engine modifications was never something I had the wherewithal to deal with. For the better part of the past 11 years I haven't had the space or means to either legalize the e30 in CA, or bring it out as a track-only car. So there it sat, sinking into the dirt.

    But now times have changed: I have garage space, I have a daily driver, I have the means and motivation. As everyone in the e30 community knows, these cars are also becoming worth significantly more, and it's truly time to shit or get off the pot: I need to either scrap it or restore it. I haven't *really* looked at it in 10 years so I don't know if the oil undercoat kept the chassis solid over the last 11 years or not. My plan is to evaluate the car and if it hasn't degraded too much: haul it out to CA and start restoring it. Of course the California emissions laws certainly complicate things, and suffice it to say my goal is to keep everything legit and legal. But that's getting ahead of myself and is a conversation for another day. First thing's first: Figure out if it's even worth restoring.

    Come July, a little less than a month from now, I'll be flying to my parent's house to evaluate the car and if the chassis/rust situation checks out, I'll attempt to get the car running. So far my plan is to:
    1. Inspect overall rustiness. Hopefully not too bad with respect to the chassis, brakes, and fuel system (it wasn't perfect when I parked it, so rust repair is in my future no matter what). If it's good to go, then:
    2. Drain and replace the oil. Inspect for water
    3. Flush fuel system and replace fuel filter
    4. Attempt to start the car.
    5. IF that goes well (one or more pistons firing):
    6. remove head, inspect.
    7. If head/block are straight and not cracked: repair and replace the following
    8. stripped head bolt threads in the block (time-sert)
    9. install ARP head studs
    10. new head gasket (OEM)
    11. Timing belt and tensioner
    12. leave the car in running condition.
    Honestly it's like a 0% chance I'll be able to get through all of that, but it's my goal. Did I mention I only have three full days booked to do this? I'll be happy if I can get it to fire at least one cylinder, because that means megasquirt and really everything else isn't toast, which makes other parts of the process much easier.

    So without further ado, here's the car in it's current state as photographed by my brother a few weeks ago:

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    I think it's fair to say that only an enthusiast, and maybe only an enthusiast about this *specific* car would take on this project.

    Next month I'll upload more photos during my evaluation, including under the hood. I guess in the meantime: For anyone who's pulled a car out of a field and got it running: What parts do you wish you bought beforehand? I'm placing an order with FCP Euro for all the aforementioned stuff, but is there anything I need just in case or almost certainly as a result of sitting for so long? I assume the brakes and tires are all toast, but probably good enough to get the car on a trailer, which is that counts right now.
    Last edited by atmh; 06-11-2021, 02:37 PM.

    If she started last time she saw ya, she'll start again. I believe. Fresh battery, roll her in 5th a foot or two, crank that baby haha. Rock on. More pics dude, c'mon, not much gets me excited round here anymore.


      Here are some photos of the upgrades from 2009, basically where I left the project off:

      Original (dual mass flywheel) was 23.6 lbs:
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      And the single mass flywheel that I machined down, weighed before balancing and surfacing, so it would end up slightly lighter than this: 12.4lbs
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      And here's the state of the throwout bearing when I replaced it. I drove the car for a long time (a year or more?) with the throwout bearing on its way out. I drove it until it completely failed. Based on my facebook post from 11 years ago, when it completely failed it still sort-of disengaged the clutch, but it would stall the engine because of how much friction it caused. Supposedly I only pushed it once in this state. I recall as it was getting worse and worse, I started practicing shifting without the clutch. I vaguely remember when it failed I had to drive home a few miles, and I would shift without the clutch. If I came to a stop I would shut the engine off and then start it with the starter to get going again. Oh the silly things one does in college. These days I would replace the throwout bearing well before it gets to that point, but I'm also not a broke college student anymore.
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      Here's the new assembly of the e30 M3 pressure plate, flywheel, and a 6-puck clutch in there somewhere. Again this photo is almost 12 years old at this point:
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      So digging into old posts I see that it's not the flywheel that has the sensor/features for Megasquirt, but rather the harmonic balancer (which is at the front of the engine, rather than the rear). Quite frankly I don't remember this part. I know there's an engine speed sensor on the gear teeth for the flywheel on the eta cars. Not sure if it's present on the i cars, or if it's just the harmonic balancer.

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      Last edited by atmh; 06-12-2021, 08:36 AM.


        Here are some more 2009 pics, with a couple 2010 pics at the end:
        I had used a Saab intercooler that was cluged together for a long time. This is almost embarassing to share, but again: broke college student, and hell, it worked:
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        When I did all the upgrades I took the opportunity to make and weld on custom aluminum end tanks. I suck at welding aluminum, but again, it worked. This fit very well in the space previously used, however it's small and may have been too small for 14.7psi of boost, hence the detonation issues I had.
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        Here's the part I know everyone wants to see. When I did this build I took the philosophy of investing big money in some components, and going cheap on other components. Just look at the manifold vs. the intercooler to see what I mean. I did it this way because I figured in the long run it was better to only have to upgrade some of the components, so I had this equal length, twin scroll manifold made. I know the general philosophy with turbo builds is that lower volume spins up the turbo faster, but I was always interested in big power at the expense of turbo lag. This "header" manifold in theory should make the system run with less back pressure, creating more power for the same amount of boost. The turbo is a Turbonetics T4 (single scroll) which will be upgraded to a twin scroll turbo at some point. The wastegates are external TiAl gates. They vent to atmosphere, but as part of picking up this project again I will plumb them into the exhaust system. Speaking of which, you can see the 3" exhaust in the background. My plan has always been to replace the single 3" exhaust with a dual pipe version so it's lower profile and looks more stock. I believe I could use a dual 2.125" pipe to get the equivalent area as a 3" pipe, or dual 2.25" or even 2.5" to further reduce the back pressure. A muffler with dual 2.25 or 2.5 tips would look fairly stock, and I've always been a fan of the sleeper-ish look, or maybe a better way to put it is that I like the "resto-mod" look, where it looks plausibly stock but updated with some contemporary touches.
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        I didn't get into it in my first post, but I actually blew the head gasket twice. Both times are probably a result of overtorquing the non-stretch head bolts I used, and consequently stripping out the threads in the cast iron block. I'm sure detonation didn't help, and maybe even contributed to the head bolt thread failure. In any case, as a last-ditch effort I put on an MLS gasket. So many people on the forums have mixed reviews of these gaskets. Lots of people seem to run 14.7psi on stock engines with stock gaskets without issues, there's no reason that my 2.7i stroker motor shouldn't be able to do the same. Thus when I go out to check the car out next month, if I can get to it, I will replace the MLS with a stock gasket.
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        Here's the last photo I have of the engine build. This was apparently taken in May of 2010, so it appears my end dates were a little off. I don't remember doing this, but I might have tried to repair it again after my job in colorado (it was an intership - I was only there for 6 months) before moving out to CA (I've been in CA for 11 years now). This is presumably a photo of reassembling the engine with the MLS gasket, however I know that the final part of this story is that another one of the head bolt threads stripped out, causing the MLS gasket to fail.
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        So that's where I am today.

        The best plan I can think of to get the car ready for restoration is to repair it to the point that it's running (at my parent's house, potentially have them take it to a local repair shop after my inspection in July) and see if I can get it registered and inspected in MA while I prepare my shop space for it in CA. At some point have it shipped out to San Diego and start restoring it. As I previously mentioned, my goal is to have the car legit and legal. A buddy of mine suggests there is a path for having a BAR Referee certify the turbo build in CA - if anyone knows anything about this path I'm highly interested in learning more. I would love to have a street-legal CA turbo M20 (rather than the other options of stock M20 or M50 swap, or moving the car out of state to keep the turbo motor, or the least desirable option: track only CA car).

        Finally - yeah the engine bay and other parts of the car need a lot of love. Taking this build on I am acknowledging the fact that it's going to be years before it's "done". While my long term plan is to eventually strip it down to a bare chassis and do a full restoration (possibly to include a cage at that point) it probably makes sense to get a lot of the other details sorted out before going down that road: get it running, put on a big brake kit and go through the suspension. Get it properly documented (preferably in CA). Fix everything that's broken and install all of the final modifications so there's a good final wiring plan. re-install and modernize the A/C system. Would love to eventually clean up and organize the engine bay. Probably not a "shave and tuck" situation but definitely organize the plumbing in a much better way.
        Last edited by atmh; 06-12-2021, 10:32 AM.


          I can tell I'm going to like this thread already.
          Any of the M1.1 or M1.3 cars just have the trigger wheel on the balancer. M1.0 and L-Jet cars were that dual sensor flywheel trigger setup
          Originally posted by priapism
          My girl don't know shit, but she bakes a mean cupcake.
          Originally posted by shameson
          Usually it's best not to know how much money you have into your e30


            How to remove, install or convert to pop out windows

            Could be better, could be worse.


              I started digging deep in my old files to try and locate my old Megasquirt tune info and found a couple more old pics.

              (Side note: If anyone has Megatune .ini files for MegasquirtnSpark-Extra for 2005-2009 I would love to get my hands on those! I haven't been able to locate my old tuning data - I just sent in a hard drive to a data recovery center that might have this stuff on it, but no guarantees I'll get the data back in time, or at all)

              Anyways I found this old photo, taken July 10, 2010 of when the car was parked in it's current location:
              lapis blue bmw 325e

              And this photo, taken 3 hours earlier indicates that I parked the car under it's own power (with a blown head gasket, but still running at the time).
              tire marks on dirt

              My brother is going out to my folks' place again this weekend, might have some more pics to share from him.


                Some more current pics by my brother this weekend:

                Inside the glove box: What are the chances you think Megasquirt still works after being covered in acorns?

                Drivers' side footwell looks like a disaster. Lots of cleaning in my future. Right now I'm just hoping that the floor pans and carpet are salvageable, but both things are fixable if not. One of the reasons I want to salvage this blue car rather than getting a clean new one is that while I'm not sure of all the options, it always seemed to me like this car was optioned with most if not all of my favorite equipment, and all/most of it still worked: The curvy 3-spoke steering wheel (Not sure what it's officially called?), the On Board Computer, check control, power windows, power sunroof, blue cloth interior with sport seats. I'm crossing my fingers (but not holding my breath) that most of this stuff still functions as intended.

                Rear license plate panel: Way back in the winter of ~2009 or maybe 2008 some guy backed his truck into my car in a parking lot, immediately after I parked behind him. Apparently he knew there wasn't a car behind him when he got in his car, and then didn't check his mirrors and proceeded to back up - directly into my car. Could be worse I guess. I could have pulled straight into the space rather than backing into it. His bumper went over my bumper, and bent the license plate panel. Being a broke college student I took the $3000 insurance payment for other expenses and just chose to drive the car like it was (the trunk still latched/unlatched just fine. Anyways, I'll do a lot of the sheet metal repair work myself, but when it comes to stuff like this I'm almost certainly going to take it to a pro. I don't have the skill / patience for body work, and this car is likely going to get a full paint job when all's said and done, anyways. Will probably drive it like this for a couple years while I'm sorting out everything else in the meantime.
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                Speaking of sorting out everything else, check out this rat's nest! This is what you end up with when your turbo build is built and modified over the course of time, and never really finished. One of my major goals for taking this project on is a significant amount of planning for the plumbing in the engine bay to make it presentable. If anyone knows any sweet tips for turbo coolant line routing and crankcase breather venting, those ones appear the most out of place. Pretty sure I can clean up everything else without too much trouble.

                The exhaust manifold was built for a garrett turbo with a tangential flange housing. My turbonetics turbo had a center flange housing, pushing the whole thing closer to the strut tower/wheel well than intended. Getting the right turbo in this location should help the plumbing somewhat.
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                And last but not least: A decent front view.
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                Next pics will probably be when I pull the car out of the field/forest that's grown around it and start cleaning it up.

                Overall I can tell from the pics that the pre-existing rust locations all seem worse. Not really surprising. I haven't noticed any rust areas in any of the pics that are new, which is nice. Hopefully when I get to the car in person there aren't any major new problem spots, but regardless: everything can be fixed.


                  I like the rescue. I will say as a precautionary note, 3/3 of the cars I have revived from sitting that were parked with a blown head gasket specifically all had gross, rusty bores from water sitting where it shouldn’t have.

                  May be worth getting a borescope in there beforehand if a bad motor would change your desire to revive the car.
                  1989 Hooptie 325iS Build Thread
                  1989 Zinnoberrot M3 Build Thread


                    This is going to be quite an awesome project!

                    Congrats on getting the space and time to get back to working on it!
                    1987 - 325i Convertible Delphin Auto [SOLD], 325i Convertible Delphin Manual [SOLD]
                    1989 - 325i Convertible Bronzit m30b35 swapped [SCRAPPED], 325i Sedan Alpine Auto[DD]
                    1991 - 325i Coupe Laguna Manual [Project], 535i Sedan Alpine [SCRAPPED]


                      This should be a fun thread. Looking forward to updates.

                      Edit: Just actually read the part about wanting to register it and make it legal in CA. DONT.... Just leave it registered at your parents place because unless you know of a CARB legal M20 turbo kit and you have it all there, you wont be BAR legal.

                      Safe yourself the headache and keep it registered in the state it currently is in
                      Last edited by 2mAn; 06-21-2021, 03:23 PM.
                      Current Cars:
                      -1999 996.1 911 4/98 3.8L 6-Speed, 21st Century Beetle

                      Make R3V Great Again -2020


                        Thanks for the kind words everyone!
                        Originally posted by AWDBOB View Post
                        May be worth getting a borescope in there beforehand if a bad motor would change your desire to revive the car.
                        Good suggestion! The thought about water in the cylinders being a problem crossed my mind for sure, and I have an endoscope I can bring.

                        Needing a new eta bottom end is not an issue at all, if it goes that way. AFAIK the Eta bottom end with an i top end is an ideal setup for an M20 turbo build, so I'll keep it that way. It's more of a pain in the butt, but far from a show stopper.

                        Originally posted by McGyver View Post
                        Congrats on getting the space and time to get back to working on it!
                        Time is a funny thing. I have less now than ever before, but I have a garage and just finished paying off my student loans so I can make up for it in other ways?

                        Originally posted by 2mAn View Post
                        This should be a fun thread. Looking forward to updates.

                        Edit: Just actually read the part about wanting to register it and make it legal in CA. DONT.... Just leave it registered at your parents place because unless you know of a CARB legal M20 turbo kit and you have it all there, you wont be BAR legal.

                        Safe yourself the headache and keep it registered in the state it currently is in
                        Noted. Yeah as far as I can tell there's no way to have a turbo M20 street legal in CA. This likely means the car will live out of state, as that's the most preferable of the legal options.
                        Last edited by atmh; 06-21-2021, 09:07 PM.


                          Originally posted by atmh View Post

                          Noted. Yeah as far as I can tell there's no way to have a turbo M20 street legal in CA. This likely means the car will live out of state, as that's the most preferable of the legal options.
                          It just needs the out of state plate, it can still live in your comfy California garage.
                          Current Cars:
                          -1999 996.1 911 4/98 3.8L 6-Speed, 21st Century Beetle

                          Make R3V Great Again -2020


                            Originally posted by 2mAn View Post

                            Edit: Just actually read the part about wanting to register it and make it legal in CA. DONT.... Just leave it registered at your parents place because unless you know of a CARB legal M20 turbo kit and you have it all there, you wont be BAR legal.

                            It just needs the out of state plate, it can still live in your comfy California garage.
                            I second this about trying to make it CA legal. There is no easy legal way to make the car legal in CA. It may be possible to have it go through all the EPA tests for an exemption, but that's going to be tens of thousands of dollars. Starting this process is likely to get the car flagged in the system, which makes it not possible to register or sell in CA, forcing you to sell it out of state.

                            That leaves you with two options, both have their risks.

                            Register it out of state - the is the easiest, but CA law requires that a vehicle be registered within 2 weeks of bringing it into CA. This doesn't seem to be heavily enforced, but you can get tickets, you can get in trouble. They also have a system to reward neighbors for reporting your out-of-state vehicle. This is how I dealt with my m30b35 swapped convertible, until it got totaled. I never had an issue with insurance about it being a VA car in CA with an engine that isn't legal in CA.

                            Register it in a "no smog" county - this is a little more difficult, may be more risky, but has a big advantage. CA has 6 counties without smog requirements. You're still going to need an initial smog inspection when you register the car in CA, you're still required to maintain all of the original smog equipment, but there is no bi-annual smog check. This means that once it's registered, you can turbo it without worrying about inspections. This allows you to get CA plates and be a little more under the radar. HOWEVER, cops can refer you to a BAR station to verify your setup, you can get huge fines, and i have no idea what happens if you get into a wreck with a car that can't be legally registered in CA.
                            1987 - 325i Convertible Delphin Auto [SOLD], 325i Convertible Delphin Manual [SOLD]
                            1989 - 325i Convertible Bronzit m30b35 swapped [SCRAPPED], 325i Sedan Alpine Auto[DD]
                            1991 - 325i Coupe Laguna Manual [Project], 535i Sedan Alpine [SCRAPPED]


                              What a weekend! My travels to my parent's house started off rough: a 21hr flight delay caused me to lose a full day of work on the car: Only two days to check the car over, decide if I'm going to take this project on, and then get it in shippable condition. Let's go!

                              The very first thing I encountered was SNAKES!
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                              I lost track of how many snake skins I removed from the car, plus I encounteredat least three live ones. My suspicion is that since rodents made the car their home for many years, the snakes are attracted to the smell of the rodents. Who knows for sure, either way I've never seen anything like it in all my years of working on cars. It's hard to know what's better or worse. I think the snakes keep the rodents at bay and generally do less damage to the vehicle, but, snakes.

                              We pulled the car out of it's 11-year parking spot with the help of a tractor. Or rather, two tractors:

                              As you can see from the video, the front brakes were seized. When I got quotes from car shipping companies (~$2000 to ship across the US, for anyone wondering) they didn't seem to care that much if the car was not running (adds a little cost, but not much overall). However, they did ask if it "rolls, stops, and steers" so the bare minimum threshold is to get it to that point. I needed to get the car into my dad's shop to give it a once-over to see if it was worth restoring, and then get it into transportable condition. Ideally the car would also crank and possibly run, but that was not necessary.

                              Once the car was "pulled out of it's grave" and a bit more exposed we could get a better look, including inside the trunk. All that stuff in the trunk is a mess of boxes of spare e30 parts and parts for another unfinished project (a Kawasaki KLR 650 motor that I was going to rebuild and never did, for those wondering). All those boxes got wet and the rodent treatment over the years. It was a foul mess. Also note the passenger's tail light sheet metal was bent in - Some guy backed into my car in a parking lot 11 or 12 years ago. I never fixed it.

                              Do I look unreasonably happy to have a rust bucket project?
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                              Better view of the front of the car out in the open.
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                              Loading it up on a truck to take it to my dad's shop. Growing up on a farm has it's perks: this is my dad's truck.
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                              And finally loaded up onto the truck. Nice view of the little IC. I hear those fog light lenses are discontinued now. Glad to see they're still intact.
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                              Next up: In the shop!
                              Last edited by atmh; 07-14-2021, 12:58 PM.