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When I was 16, I had an “incident” in my car, a sweet little ’78 Datsun 280Z. And when I say “incident,” what I really mean is that I thought wailing over a raised railroad track at 90+ MPH sounded like a good idea and proceeded to go for it. I survived — fortune sometimes favors young dumbasses — but the struts on the Z never felt quite the same after bottoming out so hard. (The Dukes always made it look easier.)

New struts checked in at around $350 at the time, plus massive installation costs at the dealership. Round it to an even $1,000, or about $900 more than I had at the time. I was first-class boned.

Around that same time a Jeep-owning friend gave me a copy of a JC Whitney catalog.(JC Whitney was famous back then for carrying pretty much every part of any kind for a Jeep. My buddy joked that you could build an entire — very expensive — Jeep out of aftermarket parts from Whitney alone.) I generally flipped through it looking for cheap-ass stereo gear and CB radios, but I discovered something else: They carried strut “cartridges” for my Z, too. For about $20 each.

Doubtful but out of other viable options, I ordered a set. They arrived a couple of weeks later and I discovered (by peering at the dirty little diagrams wadded up in the boxes) that the Z’s shock mechanisms mounted inside the strut. To install the cartridges I’d need to remove the assembly, compress and remove the springs, cut apart a particular portion of the strut, then install the aftermarket cartridge in place of the original. Being too young and dumb to know how difficult/dangerous the project was, I did it. A week of evenings and busted knuckles later, I was back on the road.

Why am I telling you this? Easy: You might still think of JC Whitney as the catalog equivalent of a hub cap shop. They certainly don’t do much to dissuade you from it, packing their home page full of bolt-on accessories and questionable performance mods. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find some really cheap-ass stuff — stuff that’s not nearly as slick as the stuff it pretends to be, but slick enough to do the job if you can’t afford better.

For example, you can still get ’78 280 Z strut cartridges from Whitney. Inflation’s caused a bit of price change since the mid-’80s, but they’re still just $55. And you can still just about build a Jeep from their catalog.

I’m not suggesting you buy everything from ’em, nor am I recommending their products as awesome. But if you don’t have Whitney on your list of places to find stuff for cheap, you’re missing out.

(Sadly, the picture at the top isn’t my Z. It’s a CC-licensed photo from crazyoctopus. But it could very well be mine. Originally the same blue as the one in the picture, I painted mine red. I eventually gave it away to a friend when Florida’s buy-your-car-here-or-else tax would’ve cost me more than I had.)

 

11 Responses to Cheap-Ass Auto Parts: JC Whitney

  1. Ben says:

    Man I get all my cheap auto parts on ebay. It seems to me that since everybody builds stuff in China and then slaps their label on it and sells it a 500% mark you might as well get it from the Chinese factory your self. The flipside of taht is you never really know what you are getting. But with online junk yards and endless auto forum help/opinions I have had pretty good luck.

  2. FredB says:

    You missed the behind the scenes TV magic of the Dukes of Hazard. They destroyed acres of ’68 and ’69 Chargers at the rate of one or two per episode.

  3. flabbyboohoo says:

    Back when I used to buy parts from their b&w catalog in the 80’s, it was called Warshawski’s I think, JC Whitney came later?

  4. zoomzoomjeff says:

    Good memories! When I got my first real car, I perused the JC Whitney catalog and bought:

    a “headlights on” chime reminder
    an electric rear heater to defrost my rear window
    an electric trunk unlock mechanism
    and probably more.

    I thought I got the deal of the century. I think it was so fun and empowering to be able to spend my own hard earned money on car parts that I could actually afford, then install them myself, on my own car. THAT was what it was all about!

  5. Brew says:

    I bought a bunch of things there too in the early 90’s. I recall buying a form fitted bug deflector for my truck for like $20. When it came it was a lund that was about $45 everywhere else.

    I actually liked the cheap stuff they had, but quit checking them out since they started going to more name brand stuff, with prices that matched.

  6. Keith says:

    @ flabbyboohoo:

    I don’t recognize “Warshawski’s”, but my Dad was buying parts for his VW Bug in the late ’60’s from JC Whitney – JC Whitney’s been around a long time.

  7. Dhorvath says:

    I believe Warshwski’s was the wholesale distribution part of the company.

  8. Dhorvath says:

    Actually, the physical store in Chicago was Warshawski’s, the mail order end was called JC Whitney.

  9. Paul says:

    JC Whitney’s been around for a long time, since 1915 according to their website.
    A friend and I had actually added up all the parts available in the catalog for a Jeep and it was pretty close to a complete vehicle. At the time they still carried enough parts for the Ford model T to do a decent restoration. In the late ’60s and the ’70s Whitney and Lafayette Electronics were my favorite toy catalogs along with the Sears Craftsman tool catalog.

  10. Flabbyboohoo says:

    @dhorvath

    That’s it!

    I was there a couple times back in the day (1982 or 3) for my ’75 Chevy Nova which always needed parts.

  11. Mike Wilson says:

    Not the same company we used to deal with 3rd at best cheap products mis-represents products uses 3rd party billing you will never get your refunds customer service is in the Pillipines everybody names James but cannot speak english and has no clue

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