A tale of two men, three cars, and ten lift supports

Sajeev Mehta

It all started with a nondescript chat with our own Nathan Petroelje, as he recalled the truly horrible instructions that came with a pair of tailgate lift supports purchased for his wife’s Toyota Highlander. It triggered a flurry of memories of two cars under my care, leading to a story of two men, three cars, and ten lift supports.

I was once a lift support newbie, and I remember how installing them was a huge pain. I lacked awareness of clamping tools that eased the burden, be it universally inappropriate or a dedicated affair aimed at the professional technician. To be fair, I still only have the universal locking pliers from the slideshow above, as I never work under weak lift supports (that a customer refuses to replace to make your job easier). The more dedicated tools are perfect for a dedicated technician. The one time I worked on someone’s car with weak hood struts, I replaced them and added them to the bill. (Which is not a luxury a professional tech has with paying customers.)

No matter, on to the next point: the primary thought when a box of parts lands at your doorstep isn’t to acquire obscure installation/safety tools, you just want to slam those bad boys into your ride and get ‘er done (so to speak).

Lift supports Toyota Highlander strut
Nathan Petroelje

Nate and his new family hauler are no strangers to that. But the problem with lift supports on a massive CUV hatchback is that installing a fresh set is generally uncomfortable and/or dangerous. Bump into a broomstick and pain can follow, as he learned the hard way. Nate even had instructions from the vendor; his only mistake was choosing to read them.

Yeah, those instructions are beyond terrible in scope, organization, and clarity. See, his new struts had a retainer clip on the inside of the ball socket, rather than on the outside like the ones pictured in the instructions. Nowhere in the accompanying literature did it mention the need to remove that tiny wire clip, which was barely visible unless you knew what to look for. After multiple attempts to hammer one support on with no success, he threw in the towel—partly out of the necessity to get his wife’s car back on the road in an orderly fashion, and partly because who dreams of spending hours battling a tiny gas strut?

It’s no wonder Nate called the legendary Kyle Smith for help, and of course, our Man with the Model A installed one “in like 4 seconds.” Turns out, with a little more finesse than Nate’s frozen hands could muster, that clip can be removed and then slid back in once the socket is over the ball on the rear hatch. Humbled but with newfound hope, he headed home to complete the swap on the other side.

Don’t be too hard on yourself Nate. You’re just a few more paragraphs away from being a zen-master with these things. Soon enough you’ll have the skills to replace lift supports on a Zimmer Quicksilver, of all things. Not all of the lift supports, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Just seeing it makes me want it again. Zimmer Registry

Two lift supports down, eight more to go. Nate eventually got Highlander’s rear hatch sorted, but the 1987 Zimmer Quicksilver (ZQS) is a special vehicle with unique portals requiring gas assistance. Granted, the ZQS pictured above hasn’t been in my care for years, but I will never forget the time I was one person with no (physical) help or aftermarket support.

You may suggest that a ZQS is clearly doing all it’s intended to do by sitting there, but sadly you’d be wrong. Wrong by a long shot: the theatrics involved in opening the front trunk (frunk), the engine cover (middle), and the rear trunk become a spiritual experience to onlookers at the grocery store or to the uninitiated at car shows. I loved opening both storage compartments to expose and relish the Zimmer’s shag carpeting, a material worthy of a malaise-era Cadillac Fleetwood. It’s beyond fantastic—provided the lid doesn’t slam down on your head!

A prop rod? It’s not that hard to find new Zimmer struts! Bring A Trailer

I forgot to photograph the frunk’s magnificence, so instead I checked for relevant snaps of that super perfect example from Gas Monkey Garage, listed on Bring A Trailer. Behold, it lacks the shag carpet upgrade. Luckily, another auction came to the rescue:

Clearly, this owner understands the need to show off the shag with a functional set of lift supports. And while this white/red example was listed on BaT, I was doing what any shag carpet enthusiast should, checking RockAuto’s website for lift supports for either the Fiero or the ZQS. No dice.

Whippet good. Sajeev Mehta

Just for funsies, I checked RockAuto’s website before publishing this article: Fieros still lack lift supports, and Zimmer doesn’t even show up in the site’s massive vehicle database. More to the point, they have Zundapp? Damn you Zundapp, you made a powerful enemy in the Zimmer faithful!

Fine. I can buy what I need via off-the-shelf bits from my local parts store, right? Just take some measurements and return them immediately if they don’t match what I see under the parking lot’s sodium lights.

Ever emptied out an Autozone by parking at one? Sajeev Mehta

Going to the parts counter wasn’t gonna help, but I couldn’t resist: when I asked the guy at the counter to look up a ZQS in their system, the store pretty much emptied out to see what on earth was parked outside.

We all got a giddy little thrill out of it, and I bought two of the six lift supports needed. The staff was plenty motivated to help me, and the parts were installed within minutes of me taking the above photo, much to the delight of the shag carpeting underneath. Four lift supports down, six to go. 

This looks accommodating. Lift Supports Depot

After a few minutes of Googling, I came across Lift Supports Depot and its custom search feature. With a little measuring and math, I successfully ordered all four of the remaining ZQS lift supports. Sadly, two of them (engine cover) didn’t fit and were returned. In the box, I included an original lift support so Lift Supports Depot could try to match it for me. I included a note with my best guess as to the weight of the door in question. They called me back a few days later in a courteous and apologetic manner. Oh no, this isn’t a good sign.

Apparently, ZQS hood struts broke the collective spirits of Lift Supports Depot, as they couldn’t figure out who made them. Nor could they find a suitable replacement. Turns out the Gas Monkey Garage folks had a very fancy hood prop in their auction for a darn good reason.

To be honest, if I still attended to that brown ZQS, I’d be tempted to leave a high-quality stick (for lack of a better phrase) like that under the engine’s hood; it certainly looks classier than a hacked-off broomstick or a set of locking pliers. Giving up on a task is always deflating, but we do the best with what we got.  Six lift supports down, two in purgatory, two to go. 

Ford EXP rear three quarter
Sajeev Mehta

The fine folks at Lift Supports Depot may have forgotten about me, but I never forgot them. I knew one day I’d need their assistance once again. That day came with the addition of this 1982 Ford EXP to the Mehta fleet.

The little Ford needed many things, most notably wheels and tires to replace the hellaciously dry-rotted TRX metric tires. (TRX-tribute wheels from Late Model Restoration fit the bill.) But opening that massive glass hatchback was just as important to me, and the factory lift supports sporting date codes from 1982 proved a hard truth about originality: Sometimes being all-original includes the sins of behind-the-scenes neglect.

Rock Auto

Not the end of the world, however. I ordered a pair of lift supports from RockAuto because, quite frankly, they are usually the cheapest place and their accuracy is generally spot on. Not so this time, as the ones I got were 2–3 inches too long. In hindsight, I coulda bought some gigantic C-clips and tried to squish them down, but that seemed like a potential safety hazard.

I returned the lift supports to RockAuto on my dime and was in no mood to make that mistake again. So back I went to Lift Supports Depot in hopes of another uplifting (sorry) experience. Not only did the site have the correct part, its published dimensions were also spot on. Hooray for a well-maintained online database!

I was beyond impressed and was ready to plop them in my online shopping cart. But just for fun, I checked their eBay store. Sure enough, the same company sells them for less in a massive online marketplace, where they must fight with everyone else for customer eyeballs. I hit eBay’s “Buy it Now” button, and the EXP’s glass hatch subsequently rose to the heavens on its own accord.

Lift supports Ford EXP interior hatch
Sajeev Mehta

Lift Supports Depot’s online communication was just as fantastic as my previous phone calls about the ZQS, and the emailed instructions absolutely blew the doors off (sorry) the info provided by Nate’s vendor. The staff sent me the right instructions for the application, but if you’re more of a “find it myself” person, the site has a comprehensive rundown of the various ways to install your own supports as well.

Installation wasn’t too bad: sitting inside the cargo area with my back against the glass netted a quick install of the first one. Not an ideal vantage point, but that’s the best way to proceed after removing both to get the extra 1–2 millimeters needed to stretch in the hatchback’s hinges to accommodate the new parts. The second one went on in the blink of an eye. Eight lift supports down, two stuck in purgatory. 

Lift supports Ford EXP
Metal scrap, that’s all you’re good for now! Sajeev Mehta

I am still looking for those last two ZQS lift supports. That car only lives an hour north of me, and it’s never left my heart. My connection to that delightfully quirky neoclassic with brilliant chrome, stunning earth tones, and decadent shag carpets is still strong. (Anyone visiting the Delorean Motor Company is free to ask about the brown Zimmer on my behalf, provided you ask nicely!)

I’m still an admin on the Zimmer Quicksilver Facebook Group, and the question of replacement lift supports for the engine still comes up. Perhaps one day the last two lift supports in this story will be sourced, purchased, replaced, and documented by someone else. Until then, we must end this story on a less-than-successful note. Old cars fight new owners on a regular basis; that’s just how the world works. Eight lift supports down, two left forever in purgatory. 

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    There are times when you just have to admit that although you think you’ve seen everything, you haven’t. Not even close. Had it not been for this article, I doubt that I’d ever have viewed a 1987 Zimmer Quicksilver. I was sucked in by the title of the story, and left with a newfound knowledge (one which I’ll spring on the guys to see who might know what the heck a ZQS is. Thank you, Sajeev! 🤔

    I have two struts on my Fiero that came from the factory with none.

    I installed the Pontiac prototype Indy scoop on the rear deck lid. You know the one that looks like ET.

    The scoop came with a strut so it can tilt up so the deck lid can open and the scoop rides over the roof.

    Once installed the wing and scoop made the deck lid wand to smash into my head at the slightest of breeze.

    So we retrofitted a custom strut to support the rear deck lid.

    Now nearly 4 years later and 4 scoop struts I have decided to go to a new type strut.

    GM for decades has used a slider strut to hold up deck lids on Corvairs, Corvette hoods, vans the front trunk of a Fiero and even back to the 30’s like on a 38 Chevy trunk lid.

    This design was cheap to make and easy to use.

    I know have a Corvette support and will adapt it to the scoop as it will never leak down and I saw GM actually used it on the real Pace car.

    Sometimes old is new.

    Fun article- we’ve all been there. My latest was 8 belts to replace the shredded and un readable alternator belt on my 66 GTO because god knows what the pulley set up is off.

    Sajeev- love you articles. If you ever need a Pontiac for a shoot or article reach out. I’m in Houston and would definitely like to be involved if warranted.

    Hi Jeremy! Wow, thank you so much for your kind words! It means a lot to hear feedback from readers like you. Honestly I am going to shoot more cars for Vellum Venom next year, maybe you have something that would work for me? No matter, just drop me a line @ pistonslap@hagerty.com and we can get a “convo” started.

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