“Close your mouth” and other valuable lessons from steam-cleaning a Moskvich

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Matthew Anderson

I was deeply enthusiastic about cleaning my farm-fresh 1960 Moskvich 407 from the inside out and top down. The loose change, the artifacts. There was a lot to look forward to! The underside, however, I dreaded from a place deep within my soul. What if it turned out that the only thing holding it together was packed-together dirt? The thought of ordering kilometers in welding wire was unsettling.

So up the old Soviet sedan went, hoisted up on a Gabelstaubler, er, fork lift. How much damage could 2000-psi blasts of scalding water vapor do? Only one way to find out!

Complete with barn dust. Can be sneakily sprinkled onto your next find at a cost of $20 per pound.

In the morning I had started with the “easy stuff,” like pulling out the trailer hitch, differential, and fuel tank. My good friend the angle grinder and I efficiently laid waste to all manner of rounded-off and seized Soviet fasteners. As I turned oddball thread pitches, intermediate lengths, and shanks of strange diameters into a shower of plasma, I envisioned the hardware search that was to certainly come. Nevertheless, in about an hour, everything I needed off the Moskie was out and behind the car.

A wife’s clear look of approval.

The following day, my buddy Greg came out for an inspection. For the front-end disassembly ahead of us we would need his impressive capacity for thrift, wit, and anger. We fired up the air compressor, cracked a couple of beers, and got started dropping the front subframe with every tool on the Sunday prohibition list. Supporting the motor with a strap from above, we dropped the the subframe carrying the suspension and brakes. Falling out alongside about ten pounds of pig dung were several small bones of nebulous origin. Ordinarily this is when I’d just shower and have a long think about my life choices, but there remained important work to be done.

Please don’t be human, please don’t be human, please …

Back in the garage, it was time for some analysis. Most of the parts that came off looked like they were recovered from the bottom of a hog trough. Despite their horrific, scaly appearance, a generous blasting revealed good, coatable metal. We got to it.

People will look at this shiny pile and say “Matt, you’ve changed.”

With all of the parts removed from the underside, it became clear how disgusting of an environment it was. After shopping around for dry ice blaster rentals, which seems to be pretty common here, my buddy Phillip suggested that we use his steam cleaner (and forklift) instead. For free! Such an offer is impossible to refuse.

The following Saturday, we fired up both the grill and two beasts of burden at the shop: A Gabelstaubler and a T3 VW Transporter, both courtesy of generous Phillip.

Tight spaces and wide angles.

I recognized immediately that I had made a big mistake. The motor was hanging by a strap but wasn’t supported in any other direction. Plus, it was a huge center of mass in a tiny frame with no other goodies on it. This predicament made it incredibly cumbersome to handle, strap down, and balance. It was dumb, but we pushed on anyway. After an hour of jostling, shifting, jacking, and swiveling, the Moski was somehow on the Transporter. We strapped it down minimally and slowly bump-stopped down the road to an open lot where the blasting could begin.

The colors actually match quite well. Maybe I’ll leave it like this?

Once the old beast was back off the VW and in the air, the massive diesel pressure sparked to life. While it heated up, Phillip spritzed the underside with a homemade concoction, perhaps specifically formulated to dissolve animal effluence. It definitely worked, because as soon as the steam hit the car’s underside the goo started to drop off in clumps, broadcasting in all directions a cirrus cloud of dung and hair. The grit in my teeth and the metallic and agricultural taste in the atmosphere were enough to convince me to suit up in a trash bag and safety flip-flops. Two hours later, all of the organic matter coating the underside of the Moskvich freed from its Soviet prison. Installation reverse of removal, we reinstalled the Moski the garage and allowed it to drip dry. Soon after we applied another homebrew concoction to stop further rust advancement.

Wincing keeps the poo out of your eyes … not your mouth.

So now that I have a sparkling clean Soviet sedan, but what did I achieve? An ear infection, to start. Then some mysterious bones, I guess. As far as the condition of the car’s body goes, only two alarming sections presented themselves; the buttress that ties the driver’s side floorboard to the inner rocker assembly is completely peppered and the jack points are toast. Also noteworthy is the haphazard application of undercoating applied in Gorky.

A clean and clear view of what’s been colliding and rubbing.

Now that I’ve sprayed all of the goo off of my person, destroyed all crime scene evidence, and disassembled everything, the car looks … good? And for the parts that don’t, I can learn about those via Google Translate. Assuming I don’t also develop an eye infection.

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