Friday, July 22, 2016


Warning – no Corvair content in this post. What does follow is a missive on the frustrating follies of an amateur mechanic.

Short back-story. Our adventure began on a quiet day in early February when Victoria’s GMC Acadia had a timing chain failure. The vehicle was 3,000 miles past GM’s warranty on this issue. The local mechanic told her it’d be $5000 to replace the engine – not willing to quote just replacing the chains because he didn’t know how deep into the engine he’d have to go to complete the repair. We chose the less expensive route of fixing it ourselves. Four months of sporadic weekend and evening thrashes resulted in the car going back on the road with five check engine codes and a puddle producing transmission fluid leak. Cleaning the MAF sensor (one of the codes) and putting an o-ring in the suspect transmission line joint didn’t do a thing, so we bit the bullet and delivered the car to the local mechanic to sort out and deal with the problems.

Today Victoria retrieved her repaired car and was told a small piece of foam had become lodged between the upper and lower intake manifold pieces causing the air leak triggering many of the codes. I apologized profusely to Victoria while kicking myself over my lameness for having this happen. She was gracious in reminding me there were other issues that the mechanic needed to deal with (new transmission line seals, leaky O2 sensor, and a malfunctioning manifold control valve).

Now we wait and see what happens next. Do the codes stay away? Are all the leaks alleviated? Does the A/C blow cold (we had to have it evacuated in order to drop the engine to do the timing chain replacement)? Time will tell.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Starter Woes Go Un-fixed

Yesterday evening, I was in a huge funk after finally giving up on my unprofessional skills fixing Victoria’s car. I decided that, while I was already dressed in grungies, and the garage was already open, and Ringo was already sitting in said garage, I’d go ahead and swap in a GUP solenoid and fix the starter problem. After disconnecting the driver’s side air duct and only breaking one of the terminals on the crusty, old solenoid, I had the starter/solenoid assembly out in no time. Pulled the nicest looking solenoid off the shelf and swapped it in place of the discardable piece. Using battery cables and a jumper wire I made sure the Bendix would fire out before reinstalling the unit back onto the bell housing. Before reattaching the duct, I hooked up the battery and gave the key a twist – nothing. Irr. The switch, though, caused the starter to spin the engine just fine, so I guess it was an improvement, but the ignition switch still needs to come out and be cleaned or replaced. After I put all the tools away, it occurred to me I hadn't put the duct back on. Fortunately, the car was still up on jackstands, so the assembly wasn't too bad.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Will This Be the Beginning of Consistent Blogging Again?

My lack of blog entries in the last three months has been due to a couple of non-Corvair projects sucking all my free time away. First, I’m still working on a new kitchen for the lovely Loriann. Second, Victoria and I were dealing with her daily-driver Acadia. To summarize the latter, a timing chain slipped, intake valves hit pistons, compression was lost, engine was dropped out of the car, heads were pulled and rebuilt with new valves and machined surfaces, engine was reassembled and raised back into the car, everything was hooked back up and fluids topped off, key was turned, engine started (TYL). All that took roughly four months.

In the midst of all that, I did get some Corvair problems to solve. Since Victoria needed a vehicle to use, as did Mikhaila, Ringo became my daily-driver, while Mikhaila got the pleasure of wrestling Glinda around town.

Ringo, for the most part, has been well behaved. The only work I’ve done has been to extend the jump-start wire into the salon and insert a temporary toggle switch between it and a 12V tab on the fuse block. The starter won’t energize by just turning the ignition switch anymore (solenoid? – probably!), so I have to double up on sending voltage to the solenoid. I do this by turning the key and toggling the jump-start wire at the same time. I’m sure, in the end, it would have been more effective to swap out the solenoid which I still plan to do. Oh well. Glinda has had some issues that have sucked up some time. A couple weeks back, with Victoria’s car out of the garage, I decided to weld up her cracked exhaust pipe (Glinda’s not Victoria’s). While brushing the surfaces clean with a wire wheel on my grinder, I took a big chunk out of the air hose that runs in that space. I did the best I could to weld up the crack without removing the pipe, but figured I hadn’t gotten it all. That was confirmed when I started up the car and pulsing hot air was still coming out of the pipe near the weld. After replacing the hose with a GNP off the shelf, I sent Mikhaila on her way. She got about 3 miles down the road when the pipe broke taking out the muffler hanger with it. Mikhaila immediately pulled off the side of the road and gave me a call. I got her the rest of the way to work and then returned with bailing wire and the tow stuff to get Glinda back home. Fortunately, the Flowmaster didn’t drag on the ground – one of the clamp u-bolts did the dragging. With Glinda in the garage and her rear up on jackstands, I unbolted the broken hanger and pipe and then went rummaging for replacements. The hanger had failed at the rubber square, so I pulled a GNP square and nut and bolt kit, drilled out the old rivets, and installed the new square – job done. I then closely inspected the two pipes I found in the rafters, but one had a crack and went into the recycling can. The second one had had its muffler cut off at some point in its life, so clamping the Flowmaster onto its end was not going to happen. It was going to have to be a welded joint. Fortunately, there’s a short transition pipe installed into the inlet of the muffler that meant I wasn’t welding the muffler, but the transition pipe’s end to the exhaust pipe end. The mating areas and surrounding surfaces of the two pipes were thoroughly cleaned to bare metal with the wire wheel on my stand grinder before I climbed under the car with them. With the repaired muffler hanger in place supporting the rear of the muffler, I bolted the replacement exhaust pipe to the exhaust manifolds with copious amounts of exhaust sealing paste (no new donuts available) and slid the inlet of the muffler over the abbreviated pipe as far as it would go – only about a half-inch. Out came the welder and I laid down a bead (or what passes as a bead given my lack of welding skills) all the way around the joint. The next morning Mikhaila started the car up, and it was noticeably quieter during her commute. When she got home, I inspected my work and found the strap had
pulled out of the hanger (see circled in red below). Back into the garage went Glinda, and I removed the strap and the portion of the hanger that the strap attaches to. I then welded the two together. I’d been struggling with seeing the weld using my self-darkening helmet, so I adjusted the darkness of the lens to the next smaller number – huge difference. I could see the puddle much better. With the strap and hanger piece as one, the assembly went back together and has held ever since.

It seems starter issues are contagious, as that was Glinda’s second significant issue. For the longest time, her starter’s Bendix drive would sometimes not engage with the ring gear on the pressure plate resulting in the starter spinning, but no engine turning. Usually, it would happen once and on the second turn of the key everything spun as it should. When the clutch cable broke a few months back, I had to abuse the starter to get the car home, and the starter issue immediately got worse. It would still, eventually, work, but it would take a few tries before operating properly. Last week, while I was away on a youth mission trip with the lovely Loriann and her enthusiastic group of high schoolers, I got a text telling me Glinda would not start. Fortunately, it happened right in front of the house, so Mikhaila wasn’t stranded somewhere. When I returned the following Saturday, I roll-started the car and drove it into the garage where she assumed the position – rear-end up on jackstands. After disconnecting the battery’s negative lead, I slid under the car, disconnected the leads to the solenoid, and went to remove the two bolts retaining the starter to the bell housing. They were both loose. Odd. So, thinking I’d found the issue, I tightened the two bolts, reattached all the electrical leads, and turned the key to test my fix – nothing. Well, something did happen - the idiot lights on the dash faded. Odd. Thinking the solenoid had finally crapped out, I disconnected the wires again, and removed the starter. Using jumper cables, I then went to my milk-crate of starters to find one that worked. By the time I’d gone through a couple with anything but a few sparks to show for my efforts, I tested the battery. It had died, but not an “I’m out of juice, please recharge me” death, but a “I’ve had something bad happen inside me, and no amount of charging will make me work” death. Odd (there’s that word again). Grabbing Luna’s battery (she doesn’t’ need it), I tested the starter/solenoid that I’d just pulled out of Glinda and it looked to work fine – Bendix slid out and stayed out just as Vincent Hugo Bendix had invented it to do. Thinking the dying battery was the culprit behind the non-starting (not enough juice to engage the Bendix properly), I bolted in the “original” starter again, and, this time, after hooking up all the wiring, turning the key turned the engine. I exercised the starter at least a half-dozen times before pronouncing all was good and lowering the car onto the garage floor. The car started right up when I went to drive it out to the street, but a couple hours later, when Mikhaila wanted to use the car, the starter was back to its misbehaving ways. Odd (AGAIN!). Quite fed up with the whole thing at this point, I handed her the keys to Ringo and pondered how big a sledge hammer I’d need to destroy this royal pain in my butt. The next day, once I’d calmed down over the whole affair, I had drug Mikhaila out to the street where I taught her how to roll-start a car with a manual transmission. Once she got Glinda running, she drove her into the garage where the two of us went to work. After disconnecting the battery, we used jumper cables to test prospective starter/solenoid replacements from my cache. The first one we hooked up spun nicely and the Bendix moved properly (just like the faulty one in the car had done, so I was still leery), so she and I swapped the supposed good for the known bad. Guess what? The car has started perfectly every time since then.

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.