Bertha Update

So, Bertha has been a member of the family for just under two months.  So far, I am super happy with the decision.  She’s a GREAT truck and should bring our family years of fun.

Over the past couple of months, my focus has been on building the ‘official plan’ to get her where I want her.  The reality is that she needs some work.  We knew this going in, and are prepared.  I’m not the type to go buy a completely restored truck for the highest premium price.  Instead, I’ll opt to learn and restore it on my own time (and dime).  By no means am I a gear head, but I’m not afraid try (while making every effort to not do more damage).

To recap, here’s where we started: the engine, transmission, brakes, tires, interior, and most of the systems are in good shape.  There is a little rust (I’ll get to that later), and some of the systems need some work.  The previous owner mentioned ‘she needs a new muffler’.  OK.

I drove her around quite a bit and tried to get to know her as much as possible.  It’s different driving an SUV manufactured in 1990 vs. a 2018 Audi Q7, but not so much that it makes the driving uncomfortable.  It’s fun.  I’ve been obsessively reading the IH8MUD forum, I bought the official Repair Manual, and I started networking with other FJ60/62 owners.  While developing my Bertha plan, I started making some new friends.  FJ owners are good people.

From an official plan perspective, here’s where we are:

1. I took Bertha to a reputable muffler place, and it was quickly determined that she needed a new exhaust system.  Not a huge surprise.  After a couple of days at the shop, she was much quieter, got better gas mileage, had a bit more power, and (most importantly) wasn’t leaking CO2 into the cab.

2. There are a lot of interior systems and some electrical that need some work.  The AC compressor is bad and needs to be replaced, the door locks are super wonky, and the gauge lighting is hit or miss.  The previous owner had a full analysis done by ACC Garage back in 2017, and their original quote included quite a bit of what was I mentioned above.  I’ve got an appointment with ACC in mid-March to have a bunch of system work done.  As I mentioned – I’ve never dug deep into an old car, so right now I’m not comfortable taking off the dash/etc, but the ACC folks said it was OK if I watched (if it’s not too busy).  I’m excited to have all this done, as well as upgrading the headlights and dome/cargo lights to LEDs, straighten the steering wheel, and inspect the driver’s side power window.

3. The rust situation has been very interesting.  I have called at least a dozen places all over town, and had estimates all over the place.  It’s been a frustrating process.  At this point, I’ll say this:  I’ve found someone who is going to do the rust and paintwork, and I’m not at liberty to reveal their contact information unless given explicit permission.  I am looking to have this done in the Spring/Summer timeframe.

4. Fun stuff: All of the modification and upgrades available to FJ60s/62s is mindboggling.  Being that I’m a traditionalist, I want to keep the truck as close to the original look as possible.  I love the roof rack, but will not add a lift.  I have no desire to add a snorkel or a wench.  I am more interested in adding subtle creature comforts that make driving Bertha more enjoyable.  Here are a few things that I’m working on:

Starting at the top left:

  • I got a new leather steering wheel cover from Wheelskins.  She had some big, bulky steering wheel cover when I bought her, and we took it off immediately.  The picture isn’t mine, just a product shot.  This should be a nice upgrade.
  • She has a Bluetooth-enabled Pioneer head unit and installed microphone, but the speakers need some work.  I’m planning on upgrading these relatively soon.  The tough part here is the shallow depth of the front door speaker mounts.  This limits the options, but there is a spacer solution that might help.  The front doors take 5.5″ speakers and the back takes 6.5″.  With good speakers, no amp should be needed.  I won’t skimp on the speakers.  I like to jam.
  • I found the perfect sticker.  I ordered this one from Liquid Blue.  TBD if more stickers will be added, but right now I’m leaning towards none.
  • As I mentioned above, I got the LED upgrade from Odd Iron Offroad for the dome and cargo lights.  This should make a world of difference, especially at night or early mornings.  The current bulbs give off as much light as a gas station lighter.
  • I need to get some straps for the roof rack, and my good buddy recommended these from NRS.  I haven’t ordered them yet, but will probably get three pairs.  I’m also toying with the idea of a dry roof bag, but I may wait until there is a need.
  • One thing that I haven’t figured out is interior storage.  The Cruiser has a small glovebox and a small center console, but that’s about it.  She also doesn’t have tinted windows, so anything that that is in the truck can be seen by anyone looking in the truck.  I’m not paranoid about someone breaking in, but I would rather take preventive measures when I can.  There are some locking drawer options that I really like.  These are a relatively sizeable investment but would provide security on any fishing or hunting trips.  I also like the idea of a load-out box like this new Pelican.  I think this would work well in the trunk area, preferably locked to the frame hook.  I also like the tailgate storage modification from Hurican Fabrication.  The intent here would be to carry all the ‘Boy Scout’ stuff.  Battery jumper, rope, a quart of oil, a bottle of water, road flares, etc.  All the stuff that *might* be needed.  The good news is that these look relatively easy to install, so I’d take this project on.

Between now and the ACC visit, I’m planning on heavily cleaning the interior and all the jams.  Luckily it’s in relatively good condition, but there are some areas that need some work.  The center console lid is pretty crusty, and the door jams and kick plates are grimy.  I bought a handheld steam cleaner that should help get all the sludge loosened up, then I’ll get to work on re-greasing all the hinges, oiling the locks and handles, and WD40-ing everything I don’t want to rust.  We’ve got a hand-held carpet cleaner that we’ll use on the carpets, but only if the shop vac doesn’t get it where we want it.  I bought some good cleaning and conditioning supplies for the plastic dash, and since Bertha is going to be garage-kept I don’t expect there to be any issue around deterioration.

Some other stuff I’m working on:

  • Learning about fluids and general maintenance.  This isn’t something I’ve ever had to do before, but I’m enjoying learning.
  • I need some sort of solution to hold my iPhone.  I’ve looked at some mods on IH8MUD as well as some cigarette lighter options on Amazon.  Not sure what I’m going to do here.
  • A Pakmule.  I’m obsessed with these things.  I haven’t started shopping yet, but this makes a ton of sense.
  • I need to get new bumper corners and I’d like to add snake blinders.  I’ll try to source these via the forum.
  • Internal fishing rod racks.  Something I can attach to the ceiling.
  • I’m sure there’s more…

So that’s where we are.  I appreciate all of you reaching out and checking in…I know there hasn’t been much here or on @berthasbigadventure, but I expect that to change over the next few months.  Got any advice or ideas?  Let’s hear it!

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8 Comments

  1. Robert
    02/22/2021 / 8:23 AM

    I like originality a lot, but there are endless uses for a winch (and a wench, although the wife probably won’t approve) around hunting properties, the house, etc.. plus you can buy a bumper from ARB or somewhere else that doesn’t look too extreme.

  2. NEM
    02/22/2021 / 8:36 AM

    Good update. You asked for advice or ideas so I’ll give you a couple of initial thoughts (from over 25 years in the vintage Land Rover world). Use lithium grease paste on the door closure mechanisms. Use graphite for the internal key locks and handles. Using oil to lubricate a lock’s internal key tumbler mechanism will attract and trap dust and crap that will just make it worse. Same is true for any keyed lock. Moving on, don’t be quick to dismiss the need for a lift. Any added weight in the rear like a drawer system, bike rack, or a Pakmule hanging that far behind the rear axle is going to compress the leaf springs and result in poor ride quality and even premature tire wear if the sagging is bad enough. Spend a minute with a tape measure and see how level the truck sits and get a feel for the age/condition of the leaf springs and their bushings. Parabolic replacements (and new bushings) will make a huge difference and you can do this yourself with a couple of bottle jacks and the right tools. Measure at the center of each wheel, from the pavement to the edge of the wheel arch, and add weight and measure again to see what I’m talking about.

    Other than that, I think you’ve got a great project to keep busy with and the boys will have some fun helping you do the basics like oil changes, oiling zerk fittings, checking drivetrain for u-joint slop, etc. Having a pro sort out electrics is a smart move for beginners because that is where 90% of your stranded by the side of the road failures will come from (ignition and fuel delivery mainly). Generating enough power for your auxiliary items like stereo and lighting, charging ports might mean an upgraded alternator if not already done. Check the coolant too. I know those 1FZ I-6 engines will run forever but call for a particular coolant mixture through the head. Same with the power steering pump, it might take red ATF instead of clear power steering fluid like Land Rovers but don’t quote me on that. You’ll know when you check it.

    Again, congrats on the purchase and have fun!!

  3. Brady Collins
    02/22/2021 / 1:45 PM

    The only mount for iPhone I will use is Steelie. Works the best and don’t have to cover a vent up front (very important to me). Also get to have a neat magnet on the back of your phone which is nice for multi tasking, grilling, golf cart, etc

  4. PDB
    02/23/2021 / 10:28 AM

    I’m in no way a car guy nor do I really feel a desire to ever become one, but reading about Bertha is a total joy. Thanks for sharing the story.

  5. MSM
    02/23/2021 / 7:34 PM

    +1 for a winch and proper A/T or M/T tires. K02s and Duratracs look classic, and work great.

    Otherwise just keep putting miles on it and refining it with the advice of the SMEs you’ve identified. When old stuff sits unused, problems develop. Hoses dry out, critters take up residence etc.

  6. PCD
    02/23/2021 / 9:58 PM

    I would likely not be a bidder or buyer there due to the exorbitant prices, but spending the next ten years reading comments on previous cruiser auctions on Bring A Trailer will answer all the questions you never had.

  7. SMB
    02/24/2021 / 8:11 AM

    Great write up. The direction you are taking is the same I have taken and will continue to take with my 91 Miata. With older vehicles maintenance is key. When I brought my car home four plus years ago the first thing I did was exchange all fluids, spark plugs and filters. It made a world of difference.

    I agree with MSM above that tires are one of the best things you can do for a car. Don’t skimp there.

    I also agree with the winch. They can be installed so they don’t stick out like an eye sore and they are extremely practical.

  8. Wade
    02/27/2021 / 8:55 AM

    The NRS straps are great, used them with my old truck to haul canoes. But I grabbed some from strapworks.com a couple years ago for my Jeep. They have the same load ratings and I got them in a rainbow trout pattern, and in mahi pattern for my brother. Just in case you want a different look, and you can have them made to your custom specifications (length, loop size, cam size, etc.).

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