Merkabah: MB 2626 AK 6x6 tipper to expedition truck conversion

When I took out the thermostats cover I realized that there were no thermostats at all, and who knows for how long. The water and the temperature had corroded the cover itself and the borders were in bad condition. I asked the official dealer but it costed a little less than € 500. When I could catch my breath again I examined Spare's piece and to my horror it was even worse. I made a search in many wrecking yards and I could not find the bloody cover. € 500 was a lot of money for a cover, so Eduardo and I took the piece to a very experienced alluminum welder for him to refill the borders. He did it well at the second attempt and I then adjusted and sculptured the borders by hand and using the mini grinder. Not bad in the end after many hours of labor.


I grabbed both hydraulic pumps to clean them and, as the one from Spare was the original german part and the pump from the Merkabah had been replaced by a brazilian-made spare, surely newer, I decided to put it back on the engine. Both were different internally, and for none of them there were repair kits available at that moment.


The air compressor from the Merkabah had been badly repaired at the cylinder head and it looked very ugly, with a pretty odd looking gasket and, of course, lots of dirt. The air pump from Spare was clearly in better shape, but it had also lots of dirt all over it. I disassembled them and the one from the Merkabah looked even dirtier in the interior, with lots of carbon from many hours of use and abuse with no servicing. It was clear why it took so long to fill the air pressure system. The guts of the pump of Spare looked better, but not too much.


I cleaned all the pieces and reassembled a combined compressor with the components in better shape from both trucks.


Got a new oil pump, under Eduardo's strong suggestion, of course. The older one looked perfect to me.


The rear cover of the block was covered with tons of grease and dirt; it took me centuries to clean it up and subsequently paint it.


I was about to leave one afternoon when suddenly I felt an odd and strong but characteristic smell. I have a damn terribly developed sense of smell. I followed the odor to the source and I found that the piece of cloth that covered the block had some stains different from the oil stains that were there since the assembling of the crankshaft and the pistons. I took off the cloth and realized that a cat had pissed on the block, and a couple of little pools of cat urine filled the 4th and the 6th cylinders! I immediately cleaned the urine with dry pieces of cloth and inspected the surface of the cylinders and the pistons; they were a little stained but not corroded so the cat had been there only one or two days. I cleaned again, made the crankshaft spin, put a lot of oil, cleaned the whole thing until no urine appeared over the oil satured surface of the cylinder.

Eduardo came and examined the situation, calmly as usual, smiled a little (to my despair) and told me to buy some kerosene and fill the cylinders with it and not to worry. It was done and then the block was covered again.


Missing spare parts, broken tools, many hours of labor, and finally cat piss on the engine. That was a little too much for a week. I decided to go out for the long weekend to take some fresh air, so Carmen and I went to La Serena, a pretty nice city 350 km. north from San Felipe by the coast. We made a lot of kilometers, went to the mountains near the border and made a long promenade along the beach by the dunes. The gearbox of the Terrano, though, seemed not as happy as I was and with a bang it obliged me to pull over on our way back; it broke, 240 km. from home in the middle of nowhere.

The crane of the highway took us to the nearest almost ghost town and Eduardo came to pick us up. He is used to as often his help is needed to take me out of trouble, sometimes stuck in the snow, sometimes on a steep hillside.

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We went home and returned the next day with a proper towing bar and took the Terrano back to the workshop. I removed the gearbox and found out that one of the bearings broke and the metallic debris went in the middle of the pinions making a lot of damage. The box had suffered two years before from running empty of oil because of a crack on the shelve and it had been extensively repaired, but finally it decided to say “enough!”. I ordered a second hand gearbox; there was no possibility to fix it.


After applying some high temperature resistant paint on the faces of the cylinder heads that would be hidden after assembling I got all the valve springs and the new pieces and washed them; it was pretty annoying and time consuming but necessary. After a while I assembled properly the springs, the retainers and all the stuff. I ended up pretty tired.


The rains came those days. It was late as usual and, by chance, I realized that there was a leak on the roof of the workshop, and guess where the water was coming into? Yes! Right into the 4th and the 6th cylinders of the heavy covered engine block of the Merkabah. Unbelievable but true. I made some quiet amazing moves to bring the stand winch near the block through the stiff bunch of cars that crowded the workshop and lifted the block up and moved it to a dry location. At inspection there was water, oil and kerosene and a bit of rust on the surface of the sleeves.

Too much. Eduardo helped me and we took the pistons out of the block that hung from the winch and I worked again with the grinding paper on the sleeves. There was no damage but only stain. The pistons were a little dirty and needed minor grinding, the rings needed only some cleaning, but better safe than sorry.


I spent a few weeks putting the Terrano back to work. I found a used gearbox and put it in with the aid of Eduardo. It went everything straight and we went out to test the vehicle on the mountains near San Felipe. The “new” gearbox was smooth and precise, and the 4x4 traction was also O.K., but on the way back to San Felipe, after a delicious dinner, a sudden bang! and the front left wheel passed along and ended in a ditch aside the road. The Terrano bent and something metallic hit the pavement soundly. With an odd feeling, calmly thanks to the low speed we were traveling, I pulled over and the Japanese 4x4 stood still, hurt, the mudguard dented. The idiot forgot to tighten the wheel knobs before taking the Terrano from the workshop. Hmm…

Eduardo came like the cavalry to assist, as always does, and inspected the damage. The 4x4 leaned on the lower ball joint and the knob consumed itself against the ground, a little, but the brake disc did not touch it. I recovered the wheel from the hitch and put it back in with a borrowed knob from each other wheel and drove home as if nothing had ever happened.


I went to the cattle many days before and covered the cabin of the truck with a big spread. The spread did not stand the water nor the wind and it ripped off badly, giving the Merkabah the saddest look. You cannot imagine how bad I wanted to take the truck to the workshop, safe from the elements. The frame, without its natural clothing of grease and dust, was beginning to rust.


Following an idea I saw in a truck prepared for the Dakar rally I thought to use the towing spear as the rear bumper, bolted to a pivoting dual arm. In off-road mode obviously the bumper would have to go up, probably obstructing the rear lamps a little, but when you go off-road you also go off-protocol a little so I do not think that it could be a serious inconvenient.


I polished the rocker arms, replaced four of them that were partially worn, cleaned and painted a lot of parts and pieces, assembled the rear distribution cover, cleaned and polished once again the sleeves at my best, and put the 4th and 6th pistons back on the block.

After some laborious afternoons the rear distribution cover was in place, the new flywheel and the front cover as well, and it seemed that, finally, the assembly of the engine had seriously started. A few busy days later I could take the winch from the mecanicians of the workshop (almost fist-fighting) and bolted the block on the polished carter and sealed it all.

Finally the block and the carter were assembled and then the “engine” was ready for the next steps. I desperately wanted to put in the disc and the pressure plate so I took the bell housing and spent the next days refurbishing it. Cleaning, replacing of retainers, o-rings, ruffs and main bearings, the usual.


The time was about to come to bring the truck to the workshop and with the bent cabin it would be impossible. At a given moment Eduardo and I went to the cattle to lower the cabin. We helped ourselves with the fork-lift mounted on Eduardo’s old John Deere tractor. We almost broke one window and our backs but in the end the cabin was on the right position after many, many months.


Next, I sealed all the holes and critical surfaces in order to accomplish the final cleaning and to paint the block. Of course it was easier to say than to do. I worked for many hours with solvents and hand and power brushes, and the block still had many details that needed to be retouched before even thinking of painting. Pretty hard, this little engine.

Eduardo passed by at some moment and pointed out a few tiny holes, oil holes, that I had not sealed (horror!) and he asked me why the hell was I so bloody-minded with the poor V8. I could not answer.


I cleaned everything and pressure-blown the engine many times and then I grabbed the paint can and sprayed until it was empty. I then took the clutch disk and the pressure plate and installed them. The iron-sex picture shows a mishap: when tightening the plate the disc moved and the parts misaligned not allowing the axle to go all the way through. I had to loosen the thing and realign the disc. Do you know how many bolts and how much they weight these things?


The next day I dedicated myself to inspect and to clean the bell housing. All the retainers and bushings for the lever shaft were O.K. so I installed a new huge bearing that arrived from Santiago. Then I bolted the bloody heavy bell housing back in and everything seemed to fit perfectly. I was finally happy and some of the bolts were already tightened when Eduardo came by to see how was the thing going, and for a change he pointed out that I missed something: I forgot to put the locking spring for the throughout disc, whatever its name was. There was none when disassembling so I assumed that the system was just like that. Mistake.

I had to go out shoping, take the bell housing out again, modify a couple of a O352 locking springs (the only available), install them and put the f…cking heavy bell housing back in. Pretty annoying.


I spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning the bell housing and before going home it was sprayed with the heat resistant paint as well. Ahh… I liked very much the final look, even if black hides the details and the pictures show only a graceless dark and menacing shape.


The next task was to install the cylinder heads, but before the bolts needed to be cleaned. Six bolts per cylinder head, eight cylinder heads, nearly three minutes to wash and brush every bolt…ahh! After that I took the cylinder heads, one by one from under the cloths that covered them, and cleaned them again in many ways.


I took off the masking tape and paper from the block, one cylinder at a time to avoid dirt to get into them again (unnecessarily, of course), put the new gaskets and gracefully put the cylinder heads of the left row. I was a little concerned about the stability of the engine but the tremendous mass did not even notice the extra weight.

Big emotion when the row was completed! I tightened the head cylinders by the manual and without loosing any second I continued with the right row but, the mythical “but”… I found that one of the guiding rings for the cylinder heads was missing, and, of course, I realized it only when I was putting the last one. Always at the last possible moment!


I took an almost-similar piece from the block of Spare that was still around, but did not fit in. That was the end of the happiness. The next day I had to order one to be turned.
I masked where needed, painted the rest of the engine, put away the tools and went home.


Those days I was thinking about how to repair the inner cover of the roof of the cabin and one afternoon I had another kind-of vision. It was about a truck, a wreck one but in good shape, and I could get from it the floor lining and other pieces and parts that were suited for the Merkabah. I was also concerned about where to find the pommels of the heating and other minutiae that were almost impossible to find. I looked in the internet and found a very promising (the only one) advertisement. I contacted the guy and he said: “Of course, the cabin is complete, don’t you worry!” Of course, I started worrying.

The next day I drove past Santiago to a little town very known because of the many truck wreckyards and the very high prices that they charge for the used parts and pieces. At the place the man in charge told me that it was already sold and that he was waiting for the new owner to pick it that same day. I was not surprised at all, even if I talked with the former owner the day before. The truck looked, well… pretty used and rusted so my disappointment was minor.

But… there was another old MB that looked pretty bad and, surprise!... the tapestry of the roof was in pretty good condition. I got in the cabin and more surprisingly the dashboard had not even a scratch and the pommels were all where they were supposed to be. It was truly an extraordinary finding.


There were some rough treatises, more and less money, and I ended up helping the man until the cover, the dashboard parts and the pommels were aboard the Terrano.


Back at the shop, as soon I as I could dedicate some time to the project, I cleaned, serviced, painted and assembled some other parts of the engine like the compressor and the hydraulic pump and mounted them in.


Many days passed and no news about the head cylinder guide ring nor about the water pump on the third attempt to find the right one. It was very frustrating but I tried to make some progress in other aspects in the meantime.

Among all the stuff in the box of Spare’s pieces I found the oil pressure sensor. If you remember, the Merkabah had an extemporaneous goggle under the steering wheel and a little tube that went straight to the engine, connected to a home-made perforated bolt that, though functional, did not rise to the occasion. I cleaned the sensor and put it in. Looked good.


I spent a lot of time cleaning the pieces, particularly the intake manifolds, but it was worth the time and the efforts.


Finaly Eduardo arrived from the machinist carrying the guiding ring just turned. I grabbed it, cleaned once more the remaining two head cylinders and installed and tightened them. I put the rocker arms assemblies and their respective handspikes in and also put the valve covers. I masked where needed and before hanging the worksuit the engine was finally painted, full black. Well... almost.


The overhauling of the engine went on the next days, slowly and carefully and a little boring. All I wanted was to finish it and put the engine back in the frame and move on.

I was finishing with the painting after installing the collant piping when the water pump, the right one after a couple of months trying to get it, finally arrived. I then hurried to unpack and clean it from the sticky packing grease and prepared it also for painting. Could not wait to see it installed!

Once the paint dryed up I put the water pump in place and put both thermostats, the ones that the truck used to work without prior to his final trip to San Felipe. The cover was secured with pretty much love and tons of gasket filler, just in case.


I then went for the exhaust manifolds and cleaned them with the power grinder with a big brush because the amount of rust was considerable. I ended up pretty late and covered by rust powder.


At that time I no longer owned my BMW 650 GS, a sad and long story, with no motorbike in the end. The thing is that I went to a meeting by the coast in a well known and beautiful place, and the idea of having again a bike was turning in my head for quiet a few weeks. On arrival, guess what was waiting for me? Exactly. A short test tour, some brief treatises, a necessary period of reflection (some like 15 minutes), a clear signal from the good Lord, and the next morning I owned again a bike, a classic one. It weighted a little more than 210 kg. so the rack for the spare wheel and the bike would have to be well designed and built and the reinforcement of the rear panel of the living cabin would be critical.


Searching and searching on the web, always uneasy and wanting to make the 3D model of the Merkabah the most realistic possible, I found a Feuerwehr Mercedes NG model with a much more detailed cabin than the one I used in the primary Merkabah. I borrowed some bytes and made a little cosmetic surgery; well… maybe more than cosmetic. Anyway, the interdimensional (diesel powered) ship saw its cabin replaced by the newer one.


Then it was the turn for the viscoelastic fan. The one from Spare was in better shape externally, but it was completely blocked. Its preparation and painting took me two days, from the light initial unearthing, through the removal of the hard dry mud and oil from the myriad of holes and grooves that Mercedes engineers had put on the fan (for a good reason, I guess), the solvents, the metallic brush, the masking and finally both hands of paint. I decided not to paint the blades and leave them with a polished termination, just to break the monotony of the black of the whole engine.


The engine looked pretty well, at least to me, and the metallic touch gave it an exotic look, less serious than the black of the background. Well, that was my personal high, which anyone is allowed to desagree with.

Eduardo showed me how to regulate the valves of the first cylinder, with a helping and quiet magical 1978 Mercedes trucks specs handbook that I was given by another rust-lover as a very appreciated gift.

When making the cranckshaft spin to regulate the valves cylinder by cilinder (the slowest and hardest but the more secure way for me) the air flowed and sissed through the circuits and made me think of the power that the engine would generate and the paths that it would take me to, taking me out of who knows which sand dune or mud pond.

I verified the measures and repeated the procedure at least three times for each valve to make sure that there were not errors and of course I ended pretty late. I put the caps in with the proper gaskets and a little amount of filler and painted the bolts. Eduardo saw me and smiled; he remembered me that it would be necessary to recalibrate and tighten the things after the first 1.000 kilometers. I replied that I would repaint the bolts if necessary, but the engine had to look impecable at every moment.

Then I took out the fan nozzle from the radiator to prepare the pieces for painting. Even after power washing there still was a lot of dirt coming from the grill of the radiator so I spent another half an hour blowing it out. When finished, I found that the cooling fins were marked and distorted at some points, like tracks of ancient strikes. No, I could not leave the radiator marked that way! I took the screwdriver and I did not finished until all the fins were satisfactorily straight, later, much later. Yes, I know… but there is not a cure for this.

After a pair of baths with soap the hoses were clean and the clamps were recycled so the radiator was complete and ready to assemble when the time comes.


Do you remember the long shift gear tube that bent when I pulled up the cabin? Well, nobody seemed to care much about when taken to fix it so, as practicaly always, I ended up fixing it myself. I took it to the machine shop of my friend Verardo, applied a little heat and straightened it up slowly and carefully with the hydraulic press.


I had already ordered the repair kit for the sway barr of the damping system of Spare, the one that should replace the zero-damping pivots of the cabin of the Merkabah, so I disassembled its parts for cleaning and painting. They were pretty rusted. The official dealer charged minimum 600 euros for the repair kit, a little expensive I thought. A follower of the story bought the kit in Germany for me and sent it to San Felipe for a tenth of the price.


One of the spring leaves was partially fractured and I had to repace it with a Brazilian-made spare bought from the official dealer, but for a convenient price this time.


When the repair kit arrived, to my surprise and joy it included both hubs. With the stabilizing help of two of the mechanicians of the shop I hammered until both old hubs were out not caring even a bit for them. When the pieces were apart I prepared them for painting and the day after I assembled the whole thing.


Even if I knew that the fractured leaf spring could not be trusted I spent a little time to weld it and let it apart for who knows when or what kind of emergency. You never know.

I took the recently straightened gear barr and removed all the rust of the aft portion and cleaned the less exposed and less damaged front part and put three hands of Chilco46 and then two hands of enamel on it. It ended pretty well to my taste.


As the Merkabah was going to need towing from aft and front I remembered the truck’s Rockinger, alone and forgotten in the attic since the beginning of times. I went up and found it between a lot of dust covered boxes filled with used parts waiting for a second chance. When examined it showed a little bit of rust only where it stood I contact with the floor. I disassembled it and filled the mechanism with new grease; then I brushed the metal for good and applied Chilco46 over the primer and over anything.


I ordered the oil for the engine and the oil for the transmission and for the axles. Christ… they were so many liters!

Time passed by and I had to take the rest of my vacations so I left the engine, the truck, the shop, the work and everything behind and spent two weeks with Carmen on the “new” Africa Twin and scoured the mountain streams of the biggest rivers of the south-central Chile. We made some 3.500 kilometers and had a hell of a good time, met a lot of good and friendly people, gained three kilos at least, took more than a thousand pictures and learned a couple of lessons.

Allow me to put some of the pictures to show you a few places of my country that are not quiet easy to reach. The first is from the Laguna del Laja, high up in the Andes mountains. The second is the Nahuelbuta range, near the coast. The third picture shows that every trip can have inconvenients, even if prepared to deal with them, and the fourth that there is always someone to help you for nothing. Next, one shot of a secret place of the world reknown lava formation of El Radal, Siete Tazas (seven cups) park; but don’t get it wrong, even if the air temperature was 32ºC the water was nearly freezing.


One of the lessons learned is that I never had to stop riding bikes: I really love it! I quit at 19 when I went to the university.

The second lesson has to do with the need to have a powerfull bike to travel where the allrad wohnmobil will not be able to reach because the road is too narrow or too low or the bridges will not stand the weight of the truck. Of course you can walk or take bicycles with you, but if a motorbike is the choice, the more power and comfort, the better the bike, IMHO.

Returning by the coast from the holydays we passed by a truck that I had identified before in October 2011 as a wreck. It was still there but the rear axle and other parts had been removed since then. The diesel tank was huge and the cabin was not so bad so I insisted and got the number of the owner who answered late in the afternoon and agreed to sell me “some parts”.


Well, the next sunday, after a partial telephonic agreement, I borrowed once again the Mitsubishi from Eduardo, took my pseudo-mechanician gear and drove back almost three hours south where the unfortunate truck sitted.

To shorten the story, under a sun just a little more benevolent than the one of San Felipe I took off the 520 liters diesel tank, the whole front grille and the sun shade from the saddly looking truck. Some bolts were so badly rusted that he had to use the power grinder. The guy gave me one of the lateral air deflectors that he kept at his house as a “gift”. Of course the deflector was the right sided, not the one that I needed but I thanked him anyway.


Well, my vacations were over and it was supposedly the time to arrange things to take the Merkabah to the workshop. I arrived to the shop that afternoon and Carmen gave me the first of the bad news: the recently overhauled Isuzu truck that occupied half the place came back with a major leak from the engine after some hundreds of kilometers. I did not enjoyed the news but neither did Eduardo nor the senior mechanician who put his soul in the job.

The second bad news were that the venerable Ford needed urgent servicing before the harvest season ad portas so, soon after repairing the never-ending truck, the place would be occupied by the old truck for at least one week. Ahh…


The white Isuzu truck was finally fixed and it left the shop a few days later (for good, we all hoped) but there was so much work that even the old Ford truck could not be taken for servicing yet.

Many things happened during the holydays and not a single car could be properly repaired despite the efforts of Eduardo and his mechanicians. Those were truly strange and tough days and I badly wanted them to finish the cars, fix the old Ford truck and take the Merkabah to the shop. I was late at least by four months according to my schedule, and the truck in the cattle claimed for a shelter from the sun, the dust and the malicious children.

Then, one day of specially intense frustrating feelings, when Eduardo had to accept to fix the truck of one of his best clients and occupied the scarce place of the shop, Carmen asked why did I not take the Blazer out and park the truck where the unconcluded 6x6 and the big V8 stood, and forget about wasting time and sorrow waiting for others and the stars to be aligned to go on with the Merkabah.

At first I said that there was not enough space but I then though it twice and took the measuring tape, measured the working place all over and took note of every millimeter that could be cleared to make the truck fit in, including some not structural parts of the attic that could be chopped if needed. Then I went (almost flew) to the cattle on the Africa Twin and measured, again, the cabin and the whole truck. It could work. I spoke to Eduardo and we agreed about the idea so the next job was to get a safe parking place for the Blazer for at least one year. The day after the place was available and soon the unfinished 6x6 project would sit in the storehouse of Eduardo’s uncle, near the cattle. At work the next couple of days I just waited for the time to get out and start to gather the pieces and assemble the Blazer, just enough to allow us to tow it out of the workshop.

As everything in this project, it was easier to think it than to do it. To collect, to clean and to put all the pieces of the Blazer inside it was a very hard task and it took me more than one week to get it ready and put some order to maximize the space available. I almost filled the entire Blazer with boxes. Then I made order and cleaned the working place for good.


There are only two species of spiders in Chile that can be dangerous for humans, and there were a lot of these in every dusty corner; big, nasty creatures that unfortunately came under my feet.
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Glad to know you like it that much, Jnich77! It is the whole point!

Well, I made three appointments with different crane operators and every time I heard the same words: “Don’t you worry! I will be there for sure!”. Well, they never showed up nor they called to say sorry or anything. Carmen and Eduardo helped to calm me down and persevere. I wasted a week waiting for these guys.

As I did not want to spend more money in a expensive big car cover I got a big roll of plastic film and wrapped with it the bodywork. The cocoon-making consumed the whole big roll. I hoped that the covering would keep dust, animals and water out of the Blazer for as long as it stayed parked in the country. Wrong.

At the fourth attempt one of the crane operators showed up with a pretty old and almost broken 1972 Ford F100 and we took the Blazer to the countryside. We parked the odd looking vehicle in the storehouse and went to take a look at the Merkabah that was very near. The driver shook his head and said that it would be better to take his Ford 9000, but he had some appointments already scheduled so he could only tow the truck to San Felipe some five days from then on. Hmm...


At the shop, the place was now free and I moved the heavy covered engine towards the back wall waiting for the truck to be parked at ease.


A friend of a friend operated a crane, I remembered suddenly, so I went to make my friend a visit and after a few calls he arranged an appointment at the workshop next Saturday. Roberto Maack and I shook hands that morning, loaded the tool box and chatted a little on the way to the cattle.

At the first sight of the truck he twisted his mouth and said that there was no possible way for his crane to take the Merkabah out with that kind of terrain. Anyway, we did a ridiculous attempt only to see the rear wheels spin fruitlessly throwing clouds of dust to the wind.

I took one of Eduardo’s tractors, parked just a block away, and Roberto smiled widely showing both thumbs up when I came back driving the yellow Valmet. He took charge of the tractor and I got up into the cabin. As you can imagine the steering wheel was heavy as a rock. When Roberto urged the throttle the pulling chain tensed and the big wheels of the Valmet started to dig into the dirt but no movement was perceptible aboard the cabin. Then, very slowly, the Merkabah broke its long standing inertia and began to move. I had to manoeuvre between a big wooden box and the old truck of Eduardo’s father, and that made my arms ache a little. God… it was hard!


Roberto had a severe lumbar ache so I did all the heavy hooking work and I guess that it contributed to keep his natural southern german good humour.

We pulled the Merkabah out of the cattle and left her on the asphalt so the crane may have optimal traction. Finally the old truck was back on the road, even if it had no engine of his own. I swear that I could see something like a smile on her face.


The trip to the shop was uneventful and both vehicles caught the eyes of everyone that crossed ways with us. We made a couple of braking tests and stopped once to check the temperature of the axles and at a steady speed of 20 km/hr it took us half an hour to reach San Felipe
I need to point out that without the weight of the engine the truck’s suspension was almost zero and my kidneys barely stood the trip. Air suspension seats, cabin suspension and upgrading of the frame suspension were on my mind all the time.

Once at the workshop Alejandro helped us with the traffic, Roberto pushed the truck backwards and I managed to pass through the doors with only a few free centimetres on each side. Finally, after nine days of waiting and frustration, the Merkabah could rest at the shop. Alejandro was almost as happy as I was.


When I went to the shop after my regular work next Monday the truck had already been moved by Eduardo because it impeded other cars displacement at the shop. He moved it with the help of five and they could only move it a little, not without some minor lesions and back pain. Weaky people!

I then went directly under the cabin and began to prepare the area for the next step that was to put the engine on as soon as the injection pump and the injectors arrived from the diesel lab in a very near future.

At first I was not sure about the amount of things that should be removed to achieve a good level of cleaning of the frame. It looked like it would be no big deal. I loosened some wires and removed some supports for the radiator and for hoses, but when it came the time to loosen the bundles of tecalan the thing began to get every time more complex.


I removed some pieces to see how things looked like and soon it was clear that I should have to take it all out. There was some superficial corrosion, dust, grease, dry mud and a lot of filthy mixtures down there. Everything that could be removed should be removed; there was no scape.


Anyway, I was the happiest man of the world remembering the sun, the heat and the thirst when working on Spare at the cattle. It was like heaven in comparison, with Carmen taking me some cold drink from time to time. Great.

Going under and getting out from under the Merkabah every five minutes looking for tools or anything was easy at first, but after a couple of hours the reflexes became slower due to the tiredness and I hit my head soundly more than twice against the protruding pieces of steel. It hurt, pretty bad. So I decided to work a little on the front and take out the lower protection bar, the bumper and the rest of the pieces that were bolted to the frame that limited the access from the front.


I fought against rusty bolts and nuts taking every piece off and I found everywhere more dust and more dry mud. Slowly, the Merkabah was finally getting into its path for resurrection.

The idea was to move the Merkabah towards the left and make it go under the attic for the other vehicles to have free access and exit to and from the worshop.

I worked non-stop in every hour available until I removed everything from the front part of the frame. I marked every tee and every connecting knob and every tecalan and took dozens of pictures, as always, in order to have a hint on what to do when the time of reassembling arrived. I washed the exposed frame with grease remover and the result was pretty nice but the work was far from being concluded.

I was really concerned about the timing because it was supposed that the injection system of the Merkabah would arrive in a few days and the engine should be assembled completely and put on the truck as soon as possible. I did not want the injection to get stuck, as usually happens with recently serviced diesel injection components.

The pressurized air circuit and the little air tank were removed. The tank was almost full of water! I left the big steel tray because it would soon be necessary to put the batteries on it to make the engine run and I left both big air tanks underneath only because it was getting late.

I got the power drill and removed the rivets of the cornice of the attic and I cut with the power grinder the non-structural beams that supported it. Alejandro helped me to remove the cornice but to move the truck we would have to wait for many more hands to handle the 8,5 tonnes of the truck.


Finally, one day I gathered all the helping hands I could and went up into the cabin of the Merkabah. Then, seven grown up men including the people from the paint shop next door began to push the truck back and forth to park it properly. The steering wheel felt as it was bolted to the floor and I do not remember to have ever sweated as I did then, turning the wheel from one side to the other endlessly with all my strength. Everybody laughed at me when I got out of the cabin, soaked and dripping sweat, trying to catch my breath. God, I was exhausted!

The calculations were tight right; the horns missed the beams of the attic for scarce 3 centimeters. I moved the wrapped engine and some boxes and the final layout was set. I had enough room to work comfortably and, if necessary, the truck could be moved frontwards to make any repair, cleaning or whatever.


While I was making order the injection pump arrived from the lab. The engine was now almost ready for finishing and to be put back on the frame, but there was a lot of things to finish first and some decisions to make.

Initially I wanted to use the hydraulic pump connected to the PTO to power the winches that I planned to install both in front and at the rear of the frame, but I discarded the idea when I did the proper research regarding the prices, the occupying space and all the work that doing such an arrangement implied. The pump had to disappear and two heavy duty electric winches had to be bought.

I removed the hydraulic piping and the electric bundle from the frame. It was pretty hard because they were firmly encased by a mixture of sand, dirt and stones as hard as concrete where they passed through in between the frame and the cross members.

With the power drill I managed to take almost all the superficial rust using the wire mesh. I removed every single support and washed again the frame with oil remover and then power washed everything again

After swiping the water that menaced to drown everybody at the shop I power blown the frame and let all dry up for good a couple of days thanks to the hot summer weather. Remember that I only wanted to prime and paint the portion where the engine goes, just that.


One of those days, two heavy boxes arrived by bus from Santiago and I went to pick them on the workshop’s little Fiat known as Fiorella, the beloved red italian lightning bolt. The 20.000 lb. winches were there. A friend installed two 15.000 lb. Warn winches on his 4x4 Atego and they worked well in the field, but I thought that it was not enough power for the projected 12.000 kilograms of the Merkabah.


Of course these were not Warn winches but of chinese make instead, but the specialized store was co-owned by a friend of mine. I felt much more comfortable as he backed me up and told me that his winches were O.K.; any problem he personally would respond. I hoped he would not have to travel to Uganda to replace a burned out winch.

I went on with the cleaning of the many pieces, supports, etc., almost around the clock. The grease remover was so strong that it made me cry and cough more than once. After cleaning a little session of power brushing completed the preparation.

The owner of the paint shop next door convinced me to buy a special washprimer to increase the adherence of the enamel to the steel of the frame. Under the threat of suffering a very slow and painful death he assured that it was the best way and sold me the amount that he judged enough to cover the whole frame. I also got from him a black catalyzed heat resistant enamel of who knows how many microlayers of who cares which kind of crap that was the top of the line product they now used for painting the landing modules for Saturn, or something like that. Hmm...

When the frame and all the pieces were ready he prepared the washprimer and started to apply it to the loose pieces first. I did not like the look of the thing but I took the paint gun and sprayed all the pieces again and gave many hands to the frame to get a good covering, but the consumption rate of the thing was terrific. He gave me another amount of wasprimer at his own expense.


Finally the injectors arrived, the last pending issue for the assembling of the engine. Good. We asked ten of them to be repaired to leave two as spares when travelling. They looked a little hit but clean, and the points were new and shining.


One afternoon, between hands of paint, the harvest, and all the work on the workshop, Eduardo stared at the massive V8 with a worried look and said: How this damn thing timing was done? He asked more to himself rather than to me. I had a german written manual with the instructions for timing but it was useless, my long forgotten german and the translations were useless.

He made me take the rocker arms covers off and he removed a little cover to inspect the flywheel. He aligned some marks of the flywheel with others on the cover while I turned the crankshaft and made sure that the pistons were in the right position and said: That’s it! I then grabbed the heavy injection pump and carefully put it in place aligning the marks on the gears. One little final adjustment and that was it, just a matter of faith, and you must know I have a lot. And Eduardo is a genius.


The next day I gathered the rest of the pieces of the injection system and decided that the tecalan hoses were not in optimal condition, so I took the Honda and went to buy rubber hoses to replace them. The result was a little bulky but I prefered to go out to the unknown like that.


While I was dealing with the hoses the new engine supports arrived from Santiago. I was quiet anxious but when I opened the boxes and saw that they were the good ones I could breathe with ease.


I had ordered them from the option B store at one eight of the price the official dealer asked for the supposedly original ones. I feared that I could end with some Volkswagen Golf engine supports in my hands.

I remember those were pretty busy days, working every afternoon and on Saturdays the whole day, and Carmen came to make me company when she was able to. We used to order some delivery food and ate at the shop.

With the injection pump set and the engine closed I installed the injectors. I took two injector nuts from Spare and welded them together. With careful grinding I made the brand new “socket” match perfectly with the head of the nuts of the engine of the Merkabah. A guy had offered to borrow a special tool, but he never showed up, so I put the eight injectors using the new made up tool and the previously modified socket wrench.

I stayed long working at the shop, putting in the injection pipes, the pipes of the hydraulic circuit and the air intake tube. When I realized that it was pretty late and I was alone and hungry I left.

The next day it was the big day, the day that I was going to paint the frame and then I could think of putting the engine in. I was pretty excited.

I bolted all the plates and supports that needed to be there when painted and prepared the catalyzed high temperature enamel. I applied several hands at the reccomended intervals and waited for the paint to dry and acquire the matt finition that I asked for. And waited... and waited. After three hours the paint was still “shining”. The guy sold me not a matt enamel but a brilliant one. It was awful!


The paint shop owner excused himself, again, and offered to bring me another product, but I would have to wait untill the next day. I had not choice so I accepted and went with Carmen to have a cup of tea. The engine seemed as disappointed as me to have to wait another day before beeing installed.


I got the matt finition lacquer the day after, for free, of course, and dedicated the few hours available to apply it to the frame and to wait to see how the black paint got a semi gloss finition. Not perfect but good enough.

I went to Verardo’s machine shop and borrowed the same crane that I used to remove both engines from Spare and the Merkabah at the cattle many months before. At the shop I struggled to assemble it, with some aid this time, and after a couple of hours of a little dangerous and heavy work the thing was ready to work. I bent the cabin using the winch and… it was time to go home, again.


And, finally, the day came when I hung the old/new V8 from the winch with the aid of Alejandro and Tito. After a few manoeuvers and a lot of pulling chains, we managed to put the engine at its very place while Carmen taped the whole process, harsh words included.


The engine was where it belonged, at last, and it felt pretty well. The old machine looked extraordinary to my eyes. Unfortunately the rest of the truck still had its ancient and rusty look, and the engine did nothing but to enhance its oldness. Nevertheless, soon it would come its time of renaissance too.


I invited Carmen to dinner out that evening and I took a bet from Eduardo: if the engine started at the first attempt I would pay a barbecue for everybody. The true thing was that I would have happily paid half a dozen barbecues if the engine started even at the fiftieth attempt, but I did not tell so.

More relaxed, the next days I dedicated the available time to check and re-check everything. I washed all the hoses, secured every connection and bracket and filled the engine with oil. The electric connections were made at the very basic level and the rest of the wires were left hanging around. I went out and filled a plastic jerrycan with diesel for I did not want to use the fuel stored in the tank, probably contaminated with water, algae, sharks and who knows what other filthier elements. The last thing I did before leaving was to put the recently charged batteries on the tray and menaced Eduardo with painful reprisals if he ever dared to make the engine run when I was not there.

When I arrived to the shop the day after I replaced the old air filter element, unbelievably full of dust. I grabbed the hose and filled the cooling system with fresh water and connected the batteries. It is all different with 24 volts; the current is pretty strong! Eduardo burned himself when a wrench made inadvertently a shortcut.

While I pressed the start button in short rounds Eduardo purged the injection system. When everything was ready and the piping was tightened I made the trully first attempt to start the engine, and it started easily at once. Oh, God it sounded great! Carmen and everybody around were very excited, and they all reminded me of the barbecue.


After a few seconds Eduardo stopped the engine and we checked everything. There were some leaks of pressure from the injectors and a little water came out from somewhere.

We started the engine, easily again, and identified the injectors that leaked. The engine felt pretty strong and the sound was the best part, with only a little amount of smoke, judged normal for the size and temperature of the engine.

We discretely celebrated and I had to leave for I had to work that evening. You cannot imagine the size of the smile on my face when I left the shop.

I edited a short video and uploaded it but soon was banned in every country on earth except in the Vatican City and Gambia; someone did not want me to use Coldplay songs as background. So I took out the music and the result is what you can see bellow.

When I got back to the shop I dressed up and rushed to fix the pressure leaks. It was only dirt. I had to clean four of the injector grooves very carefully not to let the dirt go down to the cylinder chamber. I checked everytime if the leaks were okay, and every time the engine cranked at the first attempt. Ah... good!

Then I left the engine at idle for half an hour. The initial water leak stopped spontaneously and I identified an oil leak from the hydraulic pump that was fixed by tightening a loose bolt. The amount of exhaust smoke diminished notably when the engine warmed up. All in all, it seemed that all the faith and work was rewarded.

I checked the oil level and poured in three more liters. Eduardo told me that it was normal to see the level drop that way at first. I started the engine again, always at the first attempt and pretty smoothly. What a feeling!

In the next days I fixed some minor details and left the engine at idle for long periods, as much as the people at the shop allowed me because of the exhaust gases. I re-checked the oil level and inspected every milimeter of the engine with a little but very powerful flaslight looking for anything suspicious, but I found nothing. When I was sure that I had checked everything I asked Eduardo to do a professional inspection; he laughed at me and looked superficially the engine and the ground underneath. Okay,- he said -, Good job!... and resumed his work.

At some moment one of the pipes of the coolant circuit leaked. It was corroded and there was an ugly hole on its side. I made a try with the MIG welder and it ended pretty good to my feelings, knowing that probably it would be a transient fixing.

I put back in the pipe and filled the circuit with the proper mix of water and coolant (that is faith!) and crancked the engine again. After half an hour of smooth running there was no leak at all so I forgot about the issue. Naïve me.

One of the things that I was most interested in was to take off the diesel tank, bumped and mashed until the unspeakable by rocks, trunks and who knows what else. The truck look was pretty much affected by its state.

I had calculated that there were still fifty liters of diesel left in the tank. The thing is that the diesel was clean and pure and not contaminated as I initialy thought, and I collected two jerrycans full with 22,5 liters of fuel. Despite the preparations, almost four liters ended on the ground during the pretty dificult process. Calculations were pretty close.

Once empty, the tank was easily removed after a short but successful fight against the usual rusty bolts. Comparing it with the 520 liter tank it was light as a feather.


After removing the tank supports a little Blop sound called my attention. I checked and found out that the welding of the pipe of the water circuit was not one of my best jobs, and there was an ugly track of rust on the side of the frame. Soon after, another pipe broke and the mixture of water and antifreezing liquid went down to the ground. Ops.

I ordered both pipes to be fabricated and forgot about running the engine for a while. The next steps were dedicated to remove all the useless or ugly stuff bolted or welded to the frame as the air actuator of the PTO, the hydraulic pump, the improvised supports of the air valves, the valves themselves, all the tecalan, the battery tray, remnants detritus of ancients weldings and so on.


A special mention for the moment I cut the poor-looking pieces of the pseudo-stretching work of the tail of the frame. Oh… I wanted to do it, so bad.


The idea was to take it all out, clean and paint, reorganize, mount valves and tanks and only then put in the air circuits orderly distributed. Good plan, I just wished it worked.

I then removed the rest of the pieces of the PTO. And so, after a couple of afternoons of work, the frame was as bald as it could be.


The next thing I did was to set it all to begin with the disassembling of the power train. I jacked the bogie to remove the rear axle, from now on the third axle. Getting the bolts of the axle struts loose was a very hard task because they were pretty much stuck, and the manoeuvres to remove the axle from under the frame were not easy neither for one person.


The amount of dirt hidden in the corners of the frame was pretty considerable and the rust, though superficial, promised to give a hard time.

Once the axle stood on its ad hoc-made supports and the wheels were removed, I proceeded to the careful inspection and disassembling of its components. The braces for the leaf springs clearly had been repaired before, maybe more than once, but they were again in an extremely poor condition and had to be repaired, again.

I removed the right brake drum without trouble (after I got loose the brake regulator, ops) but when I tried o remove the hub it seemed to be blocked by some kind of obstacle. When we turned the hub we realized that there was little dent. A reminder of the heavy working days of the truck.


Switched side and took the left side brake drum out. It was in very good shape and the brake shoes were O.K.

Looking good! Thank you for taking the time to share your build with us.

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