In 2005, I began preparations to hit the road and work on a personal photography project. Titled, The Vanishing America Project, I intended to travel the country for What I originally thought of getting... about 2 years in an inexpensive ($5,000 or less) motorhome and use my skill as a photographer to document those places and ways of life that are rapidly disappearing around America.
After sharing this idea with a wealthy friend of mine, he convinced me to take the idea to the next level... a full-on project, complete with cameras, computers and a new 32ft motorhome in which to live and a 1994 Land Rover Defender to take me where the RV couldn't go.
What we ended up getting To make the trip as cost-effective and "green" as possible, I had the motorhome and the Defender converted to run on used vegetable oil that I would collect from restaurants.
The Defender came with a stock Land Rover gasoline V8. Rover Hybrids (now Ecological Vehicle Solutions) swapped it out for a used Cummins 4BT 4cyl Diesel (the same motor used in small UPS and FedEx trucks) and converted it to run on used veggie oil (read the 4x4 article here). That Cummins motor was supposed to be the perfect combination of hot rod and tractor... being fast and peppy enough to zip around while maintaining enough torque to go anywhere I felt like going.
Unfortunately, it never lived up to its expectations. It was driveable and relatively reliable, but ran hot and smoked.
The Cummins 4BT installed by Shane Ballensky at Rover Hybrids We didn't know it at the time, but it turned out that the Cummins had a bad cylinder and was only running on three. I took it to four separate diesel mechanics who ranged in expertise from expert OEM factory specs to backyard hot rods, but none of them could figure out what was wrong...
The Oswalt Factor (A horror story of redneck proportions) ;)
This is a side story, so if you aren't interested in the debacle that occurred with this genius, feel free to skip ahead to the next section titled "The decision to go gas"...
One idiot, Scott Oswalt (TN Diesel Conversions in Knoxville) actually destroyed my battery and cold air intake while he was messing around with it, then charged me $650 for my trouble... never even trying to find a solution. I tried on dozens of occasions over the next couple of months to reach him but couldn't. Email, phone, fax... nothing.
When I finally did get him to call me back, I found out that he didn't do any actual work on it at all and wanted me to pay him $650 and get it out of his yard immediatel y. That was a complete shock to me. I don't know what he had going on, but it was very sketchy. He's too fat to be a Meth-head, so he must have been in some other kind of trouble. I tried to make arrangements with him to retrieve the vehicle but he kept putting me off and threatened to take possession of the vehicle as "abandoned" if I didn't come pick it up right away. That was a giant red flag. (According to the Knoxville District Attorney, this is actually a tactic that unethical business owners use to steal property and equipment from their clients.)
The vehicle was driveable when it arrived in his hands, but it was not driveable when it left. I had to enlist the help of Luke and Mario at The Shop in Norcross to bring up a trailer and help me get it down to Georgia. My conversations with Oswalt were so full of threats from him that I actually had two Sheriff's deputies escort me onto his property to make sure nothing bad happened. I wasn't afraid of the dumpy redneck on his own, but this was his property out in the middle of nowhere, and I didn't want to be picked off by one of his hunting buddies hiding out in the woods. I also knew that if the Sheriffs weren't there to keep the peace, I probably would have sent his sorry ass to the hospital.
The entire experience was so bad that I took it up with the Knoxville District Attorney, but because the amount was less than $1000, they weren't inclined to do anything about it. I filed with the BBB, the local Knoxville Chamber of Commerce and posted an account of my experience on 4btswaps.com.
I can't wait to meet him again. ;)
The decision to go gas
I desperately wanted this veggie-oil conversion to work, but it wasn't happening, so I sold the engine as a "parts" motor to a nice gentleman in Canada (who figured out the problem right away) and Luke (remember Luke from The Shop?) swapped in a Chevy LT1 350 V8 to mate up with the transmission from the original diesel swap (a New Venture NV4500 from a GM truck - one of the best 5-speeds out there for doing anything off-road) because it was a perfect fit for the Chevy V8.
I also had a Chevy V8 in my old Landcruiser FJ40, so I was comfortable with doing field repairs on it when the time came.
The first LT1 to go in was originally from a 1995 Camaro which had been transplanted into a boat. The motor sounded good and ran great, but it was unbalanced and vibrated too much. So, Luke and Ely at The Shop made some heroic attempts to fix it, but discovered that it had probably been rebuilt with upgraded parts. And, without knowing what those parts were, there was no way to balance the motor correctly without spending a lot of time and money.
So, they picked up another LT1 and put it in last weekend. It runs great with no vibration and they are taking it for a test drive this weekend. If all goes well, I'll be back in the saddle next week. :)
Here is the video clip of the swap so far (turn up your sound... it's pretty awesome):