Friday, March 11, 2016

My First Car

While not Corvair-related, it does give you, the reader, a sense of why I bleed 30 weight Rotella.

The local AACA club has been asking for “first car” stories to put in their monthly bulletin. Just finished the following. Enjoy.

I’ve had a couple first cars. The first first car was not really mine. It was purchased by my dad in response to my trying to buy a sixty-something Dodge Polara. I was a junior in high school back in ’78 and had been working as a bag-boy at the nearby grocery store for a few months. Even though the store was an easy walk from school and a doable walk from home and most work days my mom would let me take the family car, I still felt I needed a car of my own. I scoured the classifieds for few weeks and settled upon the aforementioned Mopar. I shared this decision with my dad, and he immediately started talking me out of it.

At this point, a little background is in order. Back in the day (prior to marriage and children and a need for a backseat), my dad’s daily-driver was a Triumph TR-3. He loved that car and has the stories to prove it. Along came the TR-4 and he had to upgrade. He bought one of the first to come to Maryland back in late-1960. He and my mom made this decision even though, at that time, she was a few months pregnant with me, their first child. I was brought home from the hospital in a bassinette that sat, untethered, behind the bucket seats of that awesome automobile. There’s a photo somewhere of me, at about two, standing behind the steering wheel with a huge smile on my face. They kept that car until my sister’s impending birth in early-’63 forced them to get a real, family car– a VW Beetle. From then on it was just normal, non-fun cars, but the fire within my dad for fun driving never burned out.

Back to my story. To appease my persistent, perceived need for a set of wheels to call my own, my dad proposed something that would make me the envy of most high school boys who’d just gotten their license. He’d buy a used sports car, and it would be mine to drive as long as I do all the maintenance. Of course, it had to be a Triumph. At that time, the only used Triumphs that were feasible choices were the TR-6 and the Spitfire. The former was out of his price range, so the hunt for the right Spitfire began that day.

It was a few weeks before the first viable candidate showed up in the newspaper. We went and checked it out. There were a few issues, and our mechanic (a very close friend of the family), advised us to pass on it. The second one, a ’74, popped up a few days later and the phone conversation with the young woman selling it was favorable, so we drove to the next town over to have a look and take a test drive. It needed a muffler, but, other than that, appeared to be in great shape and ran nicely. We had our mechanic check it out, and, once he gave us the thumbs up, a deal was struck. A usable used muffler was purchased from an all-British junkyard in nearby San Jose, and, after its installation, I was good-to-go.

My new daily-driver came equipped with a smog-choked 1500 cc engine, a four speed manual transmission with electric overdrive, a Blaupunkt AM/FM radio, a tape-wrapped roll bar, and lapbelts that looked like they’d come out of WWII bomber. The first accoutrement I installed was a windshield decal with TRIUMPH emblazoned in big, black letters. That was followed by cassette deck that we hooked to cheap Radio Shack speakers that lay on the floor behind the seats.

Just like my dad had done with his Triumphs, I drove this car everywhere. Back and forth to school and work, of course, Friday night cruising, dates, etc., but the best drives were the top-down summer excursions up over the Coastal Range on highway 17 for days at the Santa Cruz beach. Another noteworthy trip was when my girlfriend (now wife of 34 years) packed the Spitfire to the hilt with camping gear and drove out to Yosemite National Park. Some of the roads we drove on were quite the challenge for a car so low-slung and the heat taxed the cooling system designed for mild UK summers.

While I never got a speeding ticket in the car, there were a couple brushes with the law. First, a city cop pulled me over and lectured me on the danger of driving with one of my buddies sitting on the folded down roof holding onto the top of the rollbar – he had to endure the last few blocks of the ride to school sitting in the space behind the seats (my other buddy and I did slide our seats forward so he wasn’t too squished). The other time I was late for work and was moving (weaving) through traffic at an excessive rate. As I pulled into my parking spot, a Sheriff’s car pulled up right behind me. I got another lecture, and was told if he’d been able to write me a ticket, it would’ve been a big one.

This photo of my dad behind the wheel of his Spitfire was taken a few years back. Recently he decided to sell the car since the demands of caring for my mom don’t leave him any time for the demands of maintaining a British car.

My second first car, the one I can truly call MY first car, was a ’65 Buick Skylark, but I’ll leave that tale for another time.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

It's Been A Quiet Winter

Between house projects (new kitchen) and other car projects, I haven't been able to tackle any of the projects I'd hoped to. Thankfully, gas is cheap since Ringo is slurping it up like crazy. I'd really love to try harder to improve on the 16 mpg he's been providing as my daily-driver, but I don't have time. If he weren't so reliable, things might be different. But he gets me to and from work without issue, so I just leave well enough alone.

Friday, January 29, 2016

All Quiet on the Snowy Front

I was able to get the replacement clutch cable installed last Friday before the snow came. The car, however, still safely sits in the garage. It probably won’t come out until Spring.

The cable install was pretty straightforward. I measured the distance from the end of the cable to the link for the clutch lever on the old and matched it to the new so there was no adjustment necessary. I checked all around the area where the previous cable broke to make sure nothing was rubbing and couldn’t find any issues. Just not sure what caused the failure.

I’d noticed that Glinda was a little louder than normal and confirmed a leak in the exhaust pipe where the right side meets the crossover. I’m toying with the idea of dual exhaust, but it’ll be simpler, faster, and cheaper to just weld the crack shut, so that’s what’ll probably end up happening.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Garage Sees Three-Quarters of the Fleet

Got to deal with three of the four fleet members over the weekend.

Friday evening, priority one was to get Ringo back on the road, but that changed with a phone call from Mikhaila. “Daddy, the clutch pedal’s not working – it’s very loose and I can’t shift into first gear.” Busted clutch cable, so off I went in the truck with the towing gear still bouncing around the bed. Upon arrival at the breakdown, I confirmed the cable was at fault by finding the pedal end loose and completely disconnected from the pedal linkage. Since we were less than three miles from home and it was late enough that traffic shouldn’t be an issue, I chose to save time and just drive the car home without using the clutch. With Mikhaila driving the truck, I figured if this adventure failed, we’d revert to towing. Since the engine was still warm, I put the shifter into first, checked traffic, and turned the key. The starter got us moving and the engine turning. I kept it going until the engine was running and we were moving down the road. Upshifting into second was a matter of letting off the throttle, pulling the shifter into neutral, and, once the rpms had dropped sufficiently, snicking the shifter into the next higher gear. I negotiated neighborhood streets and only had to blow through one stop sign. I did, however, catch one red light forcing me to shift into neutral, turn off the car, and coast up to the line. Once the light went green, I repeated the first gear starter thing and was parked in front of the house a few minutes later. This feat of clutchless motoring impressed the lovely Loriann (not an easy thing to do). I tried to convince her that we should go out and try it on her Challenger, but she forbade it.

Saturday morning came and went with yard projects taking my attention, but I was able to get out to the garage in the afternoon. Mikhaila had put the rear wheels on Scarlett and lowered her to the garage floor. Then son-in-law Nicholas (Mikhaila had to go to work) helped me push Scarlett out into the driveway to her winter parking spot where I covered her with a heavy-duty tarp.

Into the garage went the noisy Ringo for a muffler transplant. I had found a complete EM exhaust system (pipe and correct round muffler) up in the rafters, but had failed to turn up any exhaust gaskets. Since most of the old gasket material was still in place on the pipe ends, I was planning on a liberal application of exhaust sealer paste from NAPA to fill in any gaps. The old pipe and muffler came off together rather easily and without any fastener breakage. The hanger, however, had rusted away enough that I wouldn’t trust it to hold the strap on a new installation. I removed it from the engine, cut out a patch, and welded it on to the cleaned-up hanger to give it new life. Back on the car went the hanger and then I supported the muffler with the loosely installed strap. I squeezed a nice bead of sealer over the gaskets and mated them to the exhaust manifolds. After coating the manifold stud threads with anti-seize, I put on the four nuts capturing the flanges against the manifolds and tightened the strap before pushing the car off the ramps to let the sealant cure overnight.

The next day, after getting home from church, I fired up Ringo’s engine and thankfully the exhaust system sounded quiet again. It was interesting to see how much fluff got blown out of the muffler – one less cozy mouse-house in the garage.

With Ringo now parked at the curb, I finagled Glinda in to the garage to investigate the clutch cable issue. Two jackstands got the entire left side up off the floor so I could slide under and, after confirming the engine end of the cable was still in place, remove the two tunnel covers. Once the forward one was on the floor, it broken end of the cable presented itself. It appears it broke right at the pulley wheel. I checked and the wheel still turned so I’m not sure what caused the failure of a less than two-year-old part. Thankfully, Clark’s Corvair Parts stood behind their product and agreed to send me a new replacement for just the cost of shipping.

The rest of yesterday was spent working with Nicholas on replacing a couple pulleys on his Dodge Caliber. I was quickly reminded why working on older cars, Corvairs included, is much, MUCH easier than the newer ones, especially those with transverse engines. Thanks to YouTube and more body flexibility than I’d expected, we were able to complete the job and get their daily-driver back on the road.

This morning Ringo was back on daily-driver duty and performed admirably. No backfiring or hesitation on the street or highway.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Baby, It Was Cold Outside

With Scarlett still occupying the garage, work on getting Ringo back on the road had to take place in the twenty-something degree discomfort of the driveway. I had quick to point the finger at a carburetor, but a Facebook posting by my Corvair-buddy Geoff reminded me of the saying, “95% of fuel problems are electrical.” So, the first thing I did after donning layers of grungies was hook up the dwell meter and crank the engine. Dwell was still reading 32, but I went ahead and put back on the previous point’s plate with a GUP set of points with the contacts slightly sanded. Since the cold battery didn’t have enough oomph left to set the dwell by cranking with the starter, I went old-school and set the point gap. As I was turning the engine with a wrench to get the point’s rubbing block on top of a cam, I noticed gas dripping from the fuel pump. Irr. I pulled off the offending part and replaced it with the newish-looking one off Scarlett. After a little gas went into each carb, the engine fired right up and settled into a nice idle … for about a twenty seconds before dying. Irr. Figuring the supposedly functional fuel pump wasn’t so functional, I cracked open one of the fuel line fittings and cranked the engine – sure enough, no gas. Off came that pump and I immediately marked it BAD. On went the next newish-looking pump from the
stash. After attaching the inlet tube, I poured a little gas down each carb, started the engine, and crossed my fingers that I’d see pulses of fuel come out of the outlets. Nothing. Another pump gets BAD written on it. The final pump from my stash was seized, so I had no choice but to put the original back on. With all the fitting tightened, I started the engine and tightened the pump’s screws to stem the drops to just a slow ooze. The dwellmeter indicated my gap-setting, while good enough to get the engine running, wasn’t quite where it needed to be. A tweak or two with a screwdriver and dwell was back to about 32 degrees. That was followed by a re-setting of the timing to 12 degrees BTDC.

At that point my fingers were too cold to continue. Replacing the muffler had to wait until another evening – hopefully one with temps at least in the thirties.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Two Steps Forward; Blah, Blah, Blah

Yeah, I like making strides forward, but I abhor going backwards. That, however, is how the last couple days have been.

Yesterday, Mikhaila and I spent an hour or so in the garage adjusting Scarlett’s valve lash. With the low compression ratio in cylinder number two, I was hoping maladjusted valves would be the cause. We started by lowering the front end off the jackstands and onto wheels for the first time in quite a while. We then put a wheel on the right rear and lowered it to the ground. Up went the left side as high as the heavy-duty jackstand and jack would put it. Mikhaila wielded the wrenches while I directed the removal of the valve cover and the checking of the valve lash. All valves seemed to be too loose (meaning probably not the cause of low compression). We got them up to spec and then repeated the same procedure to cylinders one, three, and five. We were going to move on and begin bolting shrouds back onto the engine (being the optimist that I am), but that was stymied by the fact that I’d forgotten we hadn’t yet riveted the rubber seals to the side shrouds, or the front shroud for that matter. With the hour heading towards nine PM, we decided to turn out the lights and heaters and head into the house.

On to Ringo’s and his frustratives (see sidebar).

About a week ago, I went out to the driveway to tackle two issues. First, the maddening driver’s door. It took a few minutes to remove the fresh air grill and carpet from the left front footwell exposing the door-hinge bolt heads. I loosened all six of them, but not so much as to let the door move. A rubber mallet provided the impetus to adjust the door in its opening. I was trying to bump the lower hinge slightly forward, but all I accomplished was knocking loose some rust from the bottom rear corner of the door. With each hinge bolts a turn looser I was able to get the door moved where I wanted it. I screwed the latch plate back into place and now the door closes without slamming. We’ll see how long that lasts. Out came the power grinder with a wire brush on to clean up the rust mess I’d just made. After getting rid of all the loose stuff, I liberally applied a coat of POR-15 to stem the rusty tide.

On to the second issue – no choke on the left carburetor. I backed Ringo’s rear up onto the ramps and, after exhaustively (pun intended) trying to get the coil and rod out, I ended up having to lower the left exhaust manifold to provide passage. A spare head gave up a new rod and the stash gave up a set of three GNP exhaust donuts. A few minutes later, the engine was running and I was listening to make sure the exhaust was leak-less. With that confirmed I reinstalled the dangling lower shroud, rolled the car off the ramps, put away the tools, and called it a day.

Now, jump to this morning – the first time I’ve driven Ringo in a week and a half. While his engine started right up and settled into a proper idle, pulling on to the beltway a few minutes later seemed to require more effort than usual. As we neared the end of my ten mile commute, the engine started stumbling, and as I made my last turn into the parking lot a steady stream of backfiring ensued. I dropped the transmission into Low and matted the gas pedal to ensure I’d make it into a parking spot. That maneuver was rewarded with a very loud backfire, but I did barely make it into a spot. As soon as I braked to a stop, the engine died. I got out and surveyed the damage – yep the entire seam of the muffler had been blown out. I quickly pulled the tops off the two air cleaners to see the state of fuel. The right side seemed okay, but the left side seemed to have two problems. One, the throat had a cloud of gas in it (stuck needle and seat perhaps – running rich = exhaust backfiring), and two, I couldn’t see a shot of gas when I blipped the throttle. Good thing the towing equipment’s in the bed of the truck.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Holidays are made for Car Work

Yesterday, Mikhaila finally had a day off from work, so we went out to work on Scarlett. I told her the primary goal was to get her engine running, and that we needed to borrow some stuff from Ringo in order to make that happen. With me directing and her turning the wrenches, we removed the carburetors and linkage as an assembly and bolted them onto Scarlett’s engine. After transplanting the battery and rigging up a gravity feed for filling the carbs with fuel, we were ready to go. First check was dwell. I hooked up the meter and had Mikhaila turn the key to on and energize the purple wire to get the engine to turn. It took a few tweaks of the points, but I was finally able to get the meter to point at 32 degrees. Next, we rotated the crank until the groove on the balancer was lined up with 8 degrees on the engine block scale. With the timing light now connected, we twisted the distributor trying to get a spark, but were unsuccessful, so I had Mikhaila aim the timing light with the engine spinning by the starter and we turned the distributor until we could get the groove to show anywhere on the scale. With the timing somewhere within reason, I poured a little gas down each carb’s throat and had Mikhaila start the starter cranking. It took a few tries, but we finally got the engine to fire and run. The strange thing was, that even after twenty-plus years of sitting, there was no lifter clatter and not a whole lot of smoke. We went through a few refills of fuel before calling the exercise a success and I Mikhaila out to the driveway to clean engine shroud pieces while I did a compression check on each of the six cylinders.

Last October we did the same test on the engine and came up with the following results: one @ 160 psi, three @ 150 psi, one @ 120 psi, and one @ 60 psi. This time, with engine warmed up, testing showed two @ 140, one @ 135, two @ 130 and cylinder number two at 45. I squirted some oil down in the spark plug hole and did another check. It went up to 60, so there are still issues. All-in-all, though, the test run was a success since nothing banged, clattered, or untowardly spewed fire. My next move on this will be pulling the left valve cover and checking the rocker arm adjustment on the two valves to that cylinder.

#1 #3 #5
#2 #4 #6

The testing complete, I returned the carburetors and battery to Ringo’s engine compartment. By this point, Mikhaila had finished separating the engine seal retainers from the shrouds, so I released her from working. I, however, still had another project to attend to – this one on Ringo’s distributor. When I’d previously checked the dwell, I’d noticed that it would change with the revving of the engine. In my experience, this indicates a loose pivot pin on the points’ plate. At that time, I’d just plugged the vacuum hose, verified the dwell was holding steady at 32 degrees and moved on. Yesterday, I decided to replace the points’ plate with one that I had removed from Glinda when I’d installed the Ignitor II ignition system a few months back. After the swap, I hooked up the dwell meter, set the dwell to 32 degrees, hooked up the vacuum line, and fired the engine. It would start, but barely and wouldn’t idle. It took me a few minutes to discover my error – I’d neglected to tighten the fitting where the fuel line enters the fuel pump. Sucking air was never going to re-fill the carburetor bowls. With the fitting tight, it only took a few cranks of the engine to get gas in the carbs and the engine running smoothly. Sadly, the dwell still wouldn’t sit still as I revved the engine, so it looks like the distributor shaft bushing gets put on the list for replacement. With a golf tee securely plugging the vacuum hose, I checked the timing – still sitting at 12 degrees BTDC.

At that point I called it a day, put away the tools, and locked up the garage.