I Bought a Truck

The newest addition to the ever expanding Need More Cars garage is a 1992 Mitsubishi Mighty Max. Why a Mighty Max, you ask? Let me take you back a couple of weeks. My wife and I were sitting on the couch watching I can’t remember what (probably the Mariners losing or some real housewife losing her calm because Brenda gave her a look when she claimed she had no work done to her face), when my wife showed me her phone. On it was a for-sale ad from a neighborhood Facebook page, showing a picture of a silver Mighty Max with an advertised price of $500. I was interested. Running cars valued at $500 or less make for good 24 Hours of LeMons candidates.

My wife messaged the owner, asking if she would take $300 for the truck and I set up a time to go check it out. The owner and I arranged a meeting on a Saturday morning at a local high school. She had owned the truck for about two years. She purchased the truck because it reminded her of the trucks her grandfather owned on his farm in Japan, but realized that she couldn’t maintain it and rarely drove it.

A test drive revealed the truck to be in fine working order, with a strong engine, healthy clutch and it tracked straight on the road.  I was prepared to offer her the $300, when she explained that she just wanted it gone and she would take $200 in exchange for the Mitsubishi. Before she could reconsider, I handed her $200 in cash and drove away in my 1992 Mitsubishi Mighty Max.

The Mitsubishi’s odometer reads 188,900. It is equipped with a 4G64 2.4 liter straight four engine, producing 116 hp. Its redline is a mystery as there is no tachometer. It has a smooth shifting 5-speed transmission, front disc/rear drum brakes and optional power steering. As a bonus, it came with a tool box mounted behind the cab. The bench seat is covered with blue vinyl. The floor is covered with two NOS floor mats. Thus far, operation reveals that everything on this truck works.

In just over one week of ownership, I’ve driven our daughter to her friend’s house in the country, approximately 30 miles each way, and made two trips to Home Depot to haul lava rocks, planting soil and bark. These trips have convinced me that this truck must be the best running $200 vehicle in the country. It has yet to consume a full tank of fuel, but after filling up for the first time, it has traveled over 60 miles and the fuel gage has only slightly moved left from full. I am curious to see what kind of miles per gallon the Mighty Max will achieve.

Immediate needs include an oil change and tune up, and new front turn signal enclosures, as the existing ones are damages. New tires are on the to-do list as well, though 195/75R14 means there are few from which to choose. We’ll also come up with a plan for our LeMons theme and modifications. Mitsubishi’s 4G63 engine from the ’90s Eclipse looks promising. It’s a turbocharged 2 liter twin cam engine that, while not indestructible, is known for being fairly sturdy. In the meantime, we’ll enjoy exercising the Mighty Max running errands.

Common rear bumper delete.
Fenders are a bit damaged but not too bad.
Toolbox is handy and in good condition.
Love those NOS floor mats!
No tach, but the dash pad is perfect.
Home Depot run!

What Is Wrong With My LeMans?

No car is perfect. Compromises must be made by the manufacturer or builder of a car in order to cope with the real world. A stiff, race car-like suspension, for example, might jar one’s fillings loose on the unmaintained roads of California. Perhaps the previous owner made a choice based on parts that were available to him instead of taking the time to find the ideal part. I would like to address some of the ways in which my 1972 Pontiac LeMans could be improved. These deficiencies were made more clear during a recent road trip taken to Eastern Washington.

Noise

The LeMans is a very loud car. It has a 400 cubic inch Pontiac engine that sounds like it came from a truck, a big dual exhaust, and wind noise on the verge of requiring hearing protection. One surmises that Pontiac may have designed the aerodynamics of this car to maximize wind noise so as to mask the squeaks and rattles coming from the dash (1972 was not the apogee of American automotive engineering). All of these decibels require one to increase the volume of the stereo in order to hear the music. At this point, one is traveling in the aural equivalent of a crowded night club (or so I would imagine, I confess to not spending time in clubs).

My primary strategy to suppress the sound level in the LeMans is the installation of sound deadening material on the floor, doors and roof of the car. There are a ton of products on the market. I’ll remove carpet, door panels and headliner and insulate everything. Additional efforts will include checking the alignment of the rear windows to make sure they seal properly and investigating whether sports mirrors might be more quiet than the flat-backed chrome mirrors.

Shifter

The Muncie 4-speed’s shifter is designed to be shifted by a gorilla. When this particular gorilla walks by other gorillas, those other gorillas say “Wow, that gorilla has really long arms for a gorilla”. To engage third gear, I literally have to lean forward (a task made easier with the installation of retractable seat belts) and reach with my arm fully extended toward the passenger’s knee. It’s cute when my wife is the passenger because she thinks I’m getting fresh, but it does prevent me from carrying anyone else in that seat. I was six years old in 1972, but I don’t remember anything about people from that time having extraordinarily long arms. Also, the throws on the shifter are extremely long because the shifter stick is so long.

The current shifter shies away from the driver, as if it doesn’t want to be touched. Looking at pictures of GTO interiors reveals that it is not right for the car. I believe that a corect shifter stick that bends toward the driver would help alleviate much of the problem.  Another potential solution would be installing a T56 6-speed transmission, which would move the shifter back several inches.

 Rear End

Pontiac equipped most LeManses, including mine, with their 8.2” open differential. It’s fine when mated to a weak straight 6, but a powerful 400 cubic inch V8 will do bad things to the 8.2”. Plus, as anyone who’s ever seen My Cousin Vinny can tell you, the lack of positraction means a lack of traction and only one trail down the road when burning rubber. The 275 width BF Goodrich G-Force radials have helped traction, but the car still has trouble hooking up.

Both of these issues will be solved with a new Ford 9” rear end with limited slip. The 9 inch is a bit heavier, but the added traction and confidence that the pumpkin won’t grenade on acceleration will more than make up for that.

Rear Drum Brakes

The brakes have been vastly improved with the addition of Corvette C6 front brakes. The rear drum brakes, however, are less than stellar. Look for the LeMans to get a set of rear discs that compliment those on the front. Stopping distances will tumble and seat belts will lock so as to prevent those in the seats from kissing the windshield. Braking nirvana will have been achieved.

 Lack of Overdrive

The Muncie 4-speed in the LeMans has no overdrive. With a 3.36 ratio rear end, at 70 mph it is reving like a teen leaving a theater after having viewed a Fast and Furious movie. A recent trip on the local interstate resulted in a 10.3 mpg average on flat, straight road. A fifth gear would help reduce the frequency of gas station stops as well as quiet down the din inside the cabin.

This all essentially amounts to a to-do list. I will tackle them one at a time and as each task is completed, two more will arise. Each project will improve the performance or comfort of the car which, I hope, will increase the frequency of LeMans drives. The Pacific Northwest has had a particularly nasty Fall, Winter and Spring, hampering our ability to enjoy these cars. It’s time to get back onto the road.