Monday, September 19, 2016


This last week/weekend was extremely hectic.  The Classic Thunderbird Club International hosted their bi-annual convention in my city, and I volunteered on the committee.  That turned out to be a pretty bold move for an introvert like me.

My job was arranging a 35 mile driving tour for the early Thunderbirds, ending at an 'interesting' destination.  I chose a route that highlights scenic vistas and then follows the coast road from the hotel to a pleasant botanical garden.  It was more work than I expected, since I had  to set up the parking with the garden staff, plan (and replan) the driving directions, train the lead drivers on the specifics of the route, make and layout the tour route signage, and then organize the drivers into groups on the day of the tour.  Fortunately, I had a lot of help!

On Wednesday the parking lot at the hotel began to fill up with about 150 baby-birds in different categories; Display (not judged), Touring (driving cars, and judged against each other in their sub-class), and Concours (intensely judged against a fixed set of rigorous criteria).  Some Concours cars have been recently restored and the owner want a check on the work of the restorer.  Other Concours cars are being judged so that the owner can get a detailed list of things to fix.  The Touring cars are there for fun and friendly competition!

As the hotel became more crowded, my introverted nature became more and more uncomfortable.  I also started to question if my planning was adequate, and started stressing out about the myriad of details that I might have forgotten!

Once again, I entered "Nell" in the "Hoods-Up Touring" class... because, well, her engine compartment is very pretty and still clean!  Plus, 'Hoods Up' is a smaller class, and the likelihood of getting an award should be good... or so I thought!

Nell is looking sharp!

Nell was looking better than she ever has!  I have made lots of subtle improvements since her last convention in 2013.  Then I found out that the other four cars in my class were owned by members of my club... I knew that their cars were very, very nice!  I didn't expect Nell to win anything.

We had two planned outings during the convention... the first was to a stylish local shopping/eating neighborhood.  The T-birds made a colorful spectacle in our reserved parking area!

The lineup at the 'dinner cruise-in'
The second outing was my driving tour to the gardens.   We managed to get almost 90 T-birds over the scenic route, past some stunning local landmarks and some very expensive real estate.  The 'birds in the garden made a beautiful sight!

I was blessed with enthusiastic compliments and affirming comments about the driving tour!  No one got lost, and the few minor breakdowns we had were quickly remedied!    I was frankly amazed that everyone enjoyed the tour so much!

While I didn't have time to participate in the Swap Meet before the tour, I contributed in my own way. Note that nothing was left when we returned from the tour... not even the box!  I'm sure the spare parts found a good home.

There were several silent auction and raffle prizes in the vendor room.  I bid on a couple, but I really wanted the aftermarket soft top provided by Prestige Thunderbird!  It's lightweight, compact design would probably fit behind the seat, even with it moved farther back than the stock position.  I figured that I might not get another opportunity like this, so I decided to make a serious bid.

I placed a bid that was about 20% less than retail, and won the auction!  Prestige still needs to send me replacement rear latches (it came with latches for a '57, which won't work on my '55), but I placed the top behind the seat... and it fits!  Once the latches are sorted out, I will post pics of the top up on the car.

"top in a box"

The top stows behind the seat.  The Prestige top is lighter and simpler than the  factory top.

It actually (barely) fits, even with the seat 2" farther back than the stock position!

The week seems to be going well for me!  At the awards banquet, I was in for another surprise...

I never expected Nell to win out over the other excellent cars in her division!  I am extremely pleased, but also humbled.  At the banquet I received still more accolades about the driving tour.  I feel totally surrounded by God's blessing and grace!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Recovery and Coolant

This car has been cooled using distilled water (no coolant added) since it's first self-propelled experience in June 2012.   I figured that water can draw more heat out of the engine than any glycol-based coolant mixture (that's one reason that racers always use water, not coolant), and since the car was designed to be cooled with water, I should avoid using coolant.   I've tried using various corrosion inhibitors, but for the first 6 months the car had only water in it.

I installed a plastic coolant recovery tank shortly after the first drive in 2012.
The white plastic thing to the right of the radiator is the coolant recovery tank.  It was clean in 2012
Last month I noticed that the water in the plastic coolant recovery tank was pretty brown. Disgusting, really.  I wondered about how much rust had built up in the engine over the past 4 years, so I opened the radiator cap and stuck my pinky in to check.  I was stunned by the quarter-inch layer of soft brown slime that had accumulated in the radiator upper tank!  I was shocked to think about how much rust had built up in the block and heads!  Time to do something about it! I ended up flushing the radiator and block multiple times, then adding a gallon of vinegar to the radiator and driving the car for three days as it broke up the sludge.  I flushed it again, and the water was still pretty brown!

One thing that helped immensely was installing a back-flush kit, and using a garden hose to flush the block and the radiator via a heater hose.  After the vinegar, this quickly got the rusty stuff out of the cooling system.

Now that the cooling system is clean,  perhaps I should re-evaluate my use of water as a coolant.  One of the frequent contributors to the Y-Block forum has a 56 T-bird, runs a 50-50 coolant mix, and drives the car in southern Arizona with no overheating problem.  Doing some more research, I find that older street cars are usually better off with IAT (inorganic acid technology, or green-colored) coolant of at least 30%, mixed with 70% water.  This provides the minimum corrosion protection, yet retains most of the good thermal properties of pure water.  Additional corrosion protection should be added every year.  Once I had the cooling system full of this "custom blend", I turned my attention to the coolant recovery tank.  The plastic thing looked a little 'cheap' compared to the rest of the engine compartment, and I quickly found an inexpensive stainless steel tank that looks much more professional.  Here are some shots of the brackets I had to make, along with the final product.

I think it looks much cooler than the plastic tank, and it's much easier to reach to fill!

Another minor improvement was my addition of a windshield washer pump.  The original manual foot pump was not recoverable, and because of the position of my brake combo valve the foot pump couldn't be installed in the original position anyway.  I managed to reconfigure what was left of the foot pump into a bracket for a momentary switch, so that the original foot pedal operates a switch instead of the pump directly.  I found an electric washer pump on Amazon for under $12, and hooked it up to the switch.  Running the lines to the washer nozzles under the dash was the hardest part, but not a problem once I had the right size tubing!  I was pretty pleased to have this arrangement work, especially since a replacement foot pump would have cost $80!
The electric washer pump hides behind the battery, and is practically invisible.  The original foot pump was modified with a momentary switch.
As I continued detailing the engine compartment for the upcoming CTCI convention, I noticed that the horn relay was looking pretty shabby... I had done nothing to preserve it in 2012.  It's located in a place where it's bound to get wet in the rain, and likely to rust.

This would never do!  When I got ready to paint the recovery tank brackets, I went ahead and painted the relay gloss black, so it matches the 'regulator' box next to it.  

I am very happy with the car, and I'm feeling quite blessed to have it and the privilege to work on it!  I had a big family party two weeks ago, and I was able to give several Cousins, Uncles, and my Aunt celebratory rides in the car!  My Aunt  had owned this car for 11 years ('61-72), and it was a special treat to be able to have her ride in this car that had meant so much to her!  She regaled me with many stories of the car, and the trips she took in it with her Mom.  What a special time!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Why a Dual Reservoir Master Cylinder isn't necessarily safer (and what you can do about it).

When considering a master cylinder for my disc brake conversion, I wanted a dual-reservoir set up for two reasons: 1. It separates front and rear brakes, so I can apply power boost to the front discs where I need it most, and 2. It provides a "safety feature" that a leak in front or rear circuit will not totally disable the brakes; the other circuit will still work.

When I installed the master cylinder, I didn't change the attachment point for the push rod on the brake pedal arm. I did't really understand the reason I needed to, even though I had read on Gil Bumgarner's blog (step 27) that it was necessary.  Here's a photo from his blog, with my notes.

So, why is it necessary to drill a new hole and reposition the brake rod bolt when installing a dual-reservoir master cylinder?  After all, it's really difficult to get to that bolt after the steering column is installed... and I mean REALLY difficult!

Well, here is the reason.  The stock 55-57 T-bird brake master cylinder has slightly less than 1" stroke.  A typical dual-reservoir master cylinder has about 1 1/16" stroke.  Re-drilling the pedal arm seems like a lot of work for a little over 1/16"... so I decided not to do it and see what happens.  For 3 years I have been driving this car, and "nothing bad" has happened (yet).  I have been playing with the brakes, changing the power booster and the plumbing, and had some exciting moments on the road.  The pedal felt low at times, but not really "unsafe".   Here's what convinced me to actually follow Gill Bumgarner's instructions:

I was driving on surface streets after a long drive and I noticed the brake pedal was lower than usual. In fact, I could push it all the way to the floor, and still not get full brakes!  By pumping the pedal, I could get the car to stop.  I was near a Pep Boys, so I pulled in and checked the reservoir... sure enough, the front reservoir was empty.  I purchased some DOT 4, filled it up, got my brakes back, and was on my way.  Running low on fluid is my fault, it is not unusual for fluid to drop (without a leak in the system) after major work like replacing a power unit.  I simply forgot to check before I left.

Still, it got me thinking... reason #2 for dual reservoir brakes should not allow the pedal to go to the floor with no brakes at all!  I recall a T-bird club member who got a dual-reservoir master cylinder on his drum brake car who had a similar "brake pedal to the floor" experience, so this is probably not unique... but why does it happen?

Back to that pesky 1/16" of stroke... it turns out that the last 1/16" is the most important!

There are two pistons in series in a dual reservoir MC.  When brakes are applied during a leak (or empty reservoir), one of the pistons immediately goes all the way to the end of it's travel.  The remaining piston now has only half the stroke to develop effective brake pressure.  The very last part of the piston stroke may well be necessary to develop this pressure!

So, how to provide more stroke to the master cylinder?  There are two options...
1. Do as Gil Bumgarner suggests, and drill second 3/8" hole in the brake pedal lever (part 2455 in the above diagram) about 1/2" below the current hole, and reposition the brake push rod bolt (part 2462) to this hole.  As mentioned above, this is a real pain to get to.
2. Remove, trim, and replace the brake bumper stop (part 7583) so that the brake pedal is higher when resting.   If this isn't done at the same time as 1. above, the push rod will need to be longer, and adjusted/replaced.  So, you will STILL need to go through the pain of removing the brake push rod bolt!

Which did I do?  Both of them.  Took a couple of hours, and I had to fabricate some tools to remove the brake push rod bolt.  Here's a pic under the dash:
Very tight in there!

Brake Push Rod & Bolt

Nut on the other side of the brake push rod bolt.
It is very, very tight under there.  Luckily, I had a crow's foot wrench set that I could modify to reach the brake push rod bolt (2462) and it's locknut (34395-S).  Removing it required tenacity, limberness, and patience.  I was then able to push out the rubber bumper stop, cut off about 3/8" of the rubber, and replace it.

Then, I carefully marked where the new hole needed to be on the brake pedal lever, making sure the pedal was all the way up (against the modified bumper stop) and the push rod was fully engaged in the master cylinder.  I used a silver sharpie...
I lined the floor with butcher paper to catch the metal shavings.

To drill the hole, I had to use a close-quarters drill ($30 at Harbor Freight):

After carefully drilling a pilot hole, I drilled the required 3/8 hole.

The brake push rod bolt has an eccentric to it, allowing up to 1/16" adjustment.  This is really just for taking most of the slack out of the brake pedal, but it is very convenient.

The result?  Well, I haven't deliberately induced a brake failure (yet), but I can check the emergency operation of the dual reservoir MC the next time I bleed the brakes.  For now, I'm satisfied that the brake pedal seems to rest about an inch higher, the pedal is about 2" off the floor under heavy braking, and the brakes feel quite firm and solid.  I declare victory!

That said, here are some glam shots of recent additions to the engine compartment... just for fun!

The decal on the heater duct makes it look more complete.  Plus, it was cheap.

The windshield washer bag fills a void space on the driver's side of the engine compartment.  And it's colorful.

Till next time....

Sunday, June 26, 2016


I got these floor mats over a month ago, and haven't had the time to update the blog.  I'm very happy with the color, which matches the stock dash and garnish rails... and my repainted steering wheel.

The script is wrong on the logo, but most people won't notice.  The mats give it a more finished appearance.

Oh, I also got new rubber for the brake pedal.  The old rubber started to crumble.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Spring Cleaning

Last Sunday I took Nell to her first car show of the year.  It is a fun, informal show in a quaint coastal beach town... this was her 3rd year at the show.  It was good to get her out, and I was once again impressed by the number of people who were attracted to her story!  She continues to be a real conversation starter.

I am gradually preparing Nell for the CTCI convention in September.  This should be a fun convention with large attendance, and I'd like Nell to look her best.  Toward that end I have replaced the rusty grille with a reproduction chrome steel one.  I have not re-installed the F100 V8 emblem on the grille, since I no longer need it to cover the rust spots!

Other minor tweaks include replacing the non-standard screws in the dash behind the steering column, applying a matte finish to the lower dash, refreshing the rear-window rubber so it fits better, and cleaning the carpets.  

Woolite carpet cleaner does a good job, but the carpet still has subtle dark areas and a few spots.  Even when I do get it clean, the light colored carpet seems to soil quickly.  I've been considering getting dark-colored floor mats that might compliment the interior color scheme.  Hopefully they would preserve the carpet, or at least cover the spots I can't get out.  Stock interiors was willing to send me a few carpet samples, and I think one of them matches the dash color pretty well.

Artificial light... the center sample on the bottom row is my choice.
Natural light.  The center sample on the bottom row matches nicely.

The same sample in in upper left, below the seatbelt in these shots on the floor.

I have ordered carpets of this "dark teal" material, embroidered with Thunderbird logos.  I'll post again when I get them.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Continuity and Tribute

My past has caught up with me today.  I am acutely aware of an insecurity that I have been carrying most of my life.  I need to lead a bunch of people in song.  I really don't consider myself a singer, I really dislike the sound of my own voice.  Yet, here it is.  I find myself in a place where I need to do this.  I remember being self-conscious and afraid when I was little; eventually I learned to escape from or medicate that feeling, but now I need to confront it.

I am confident that God can redeem my insecurity.  While I may never be a 'singer', I can be confident that God will bless my vulnerability and willingness to serve.  I believe that the image and ideas that I had about myself as a teenager can become something beautiful and unique.  Just like pitted chrome, my self-image will never be without blemish... it will always be uniquely me... but it can become attractive, and something I can get more comfortable with.

My Dad had a Triumph 2000 sedan when I first got the T-bird as a teenager.  He installed Lucas fender mirrors on it, just like the ones on his MG  (when he was much younger).   He was very vocal about how good these mirrors were, and of course I wanted a pair on my T-bird.  I even went so far as to drill holes in the fenders for these mirrors.  When I got the car back in 2011, I got another set of these fender mirrors, but then rationally decided that they would spoil the lines of the car if I installed them on the fenders.  I had the holes welded up.

The "standard" T-bird mirrors are available as inexpensive reproductions.  They mount on the doors and look pretty nondescript.

As I pointed out in a previous post, the rivet that holds the hemispherical stainless backside of the mirror head to the ball tends to work its way loose over time, and then the mirror starts to rattle.  Since the end of the rivet is inside the hemispherical stainless shell behind the mirror, it can't be  tightened without first removing the glass (and likely destroying the mirror.)  In time, the mirror rattles so much that it becomes useless on the freeway.  My previous attempts to fix the problem using JB Weld were a temporary fix (lasted about a year or so).  I was a little perturbed, and ended up purchasing an additional new set of these mirror heads.  The construction was identical, and they in turn became loose.  Ugh.  Then I remembered that I had a set of these reproduction Lucas fender mirrors on the shelf, and I began to wonder...  Half an hour with a Dremel, a hacksaw, and a file (my favorite tools) and I had a solution:

The Lucas mirror heads are much more rugged and actually easier to adjust than the "stock" mirrors, and even an expert will have trouble seeing the difference at a glance.   I feel pretty good that my original teenage desire actually found a use on this car.  I'm feeling a sense of continuity with my teenage self, a respect for the things I thought were important back then... like repositioning the fender emblems.

Another important emblem of continuity is the CTCI grille badge.  As I remember, Uncle  Packard got me this grille badge when I first got the car... I suspect he picked it up at one of the auto parts swap meets he frequented.

I kept this badge when I sold the car to Uncle Toronado (the fighter pilot).  I probably just forgot to give it to him, since it was lying around in my room.   For some reason, I kept this little emblem over the years.  I gave it a place of honor in my garage, bolted to some steel shelving.   Perhaps it was a symbol of hope, or perhaps it was just a pleasant reminder, but I couldn't bear to part with it.

It was still there bolted to the shelf, when the T-birt re-entered my life on May 6, 2011... 34 years later.

Yes, there is continuity in my life.  Even though the grille badge has been broken and super-glued back together,  I will continue to treasure it and display it with pride.

Friday, January 29, 2016


After I changed the brake plumbing between the combo valve and the booster, I spent a good deal of time bleeding the brakes, trying to get rid of the  spongy pedal.  No amount of bleeding the brakes seemed to fix the problem.  I began to question my bleeding procedures, my equipment, and then my sanity!

Worse than that, I took the car on a couple of test drives with mushy brakes.  This really wasn't very smart.  The pedal went almost to the floor... thank God I didn't really need to panic stop again!

The mushy brake issue really bothered me for a couple of weeks.  I kept going over every possible cause, and I just didn't get it... the car had a firm pedal with the old booster, and my original configuration with the new booster wasn't this spongy, so what was wrong now?  Logically, it didn't make sense to me that the pedal would be so mushy.  I started thinking that perhaps the master cylinder needed replacement, or the pedal ratio needed to be adjusted... but that didn't make sense either.

Finally, I considered taking the car to Tire Guy to have him go over the system and pressure bleed the brakes.  Sometimes, I just need help.  The idea of getting some professional help made me relax a little... then I had an idea!

It occurred to me that I might have done something dumb in plumbing in the new booster...

Here's the way the C490 came (the big guy on top).  Note the that it is configured to use the upper port on the outlet (green plastic plug), not the side outlet.  This is consistent with the C3400 below it, which uses the top port on the outlet.

When I plumbed the C490, I thought that using the outlet to the side looked  "cleaner" so I changed the configuration!  This was very poor thinking... it left an air pocket in the booster that can't be bled effectively.  Result: mushy pedal that no amount of bleeding would fix!

Replumbing the booster to use the top port, and then rebreeding the brakes (a lot) fixed the problem.  Now,  solid brakes!

I still don't know why pedal felt firmer when I first installed the C490 (between the master cylinder and the combo valve), but when I changed the plumbing around (so that it was between the combo valve and the front brakes) it must have let enough extra air into the booster that it caused this super mushy pedal.  

This has definitely been a learning experience for me.  I could say that the key lesson here is about air pockets in brake systems, but I think it is more sublime than that.  Here are some key thoughts:
  1. If what I am doing isn't working after I have given a complete and honest effort (like bleeding the brakes), then doing more of it probably isn't going to help.
  2. If I am agitated, upset, or downright mad, I am unlikely to make a good decision.
  3. Experience trumps logic.  I can think my way into all kinds of wrong answers.
  4. It is OK to ask for help... and sooner is better.  Once I come to that point, I am probably going to calm down and think more clearly
It's funny how I have to learn this lesson over and over again.