Saturday, October 15, 2016


Just a quick catch-up post.  For several years, I have been meaning to refresh the original florescent orange paint on the tachometer, temp and fuel gage needles.  When I had the clock rebuilt in 2012, it came back with fresh orange paint on the hands.  The paint on the fuel and temp gauges had long since faded to white, and the tach needle had faded to a very pale orange:

The aftermarket gauges I got for the radio delete panel have nice orange needles, making the faded needles on the stock gages even more pronounced.  

I purchased a small bottle of the "correct" color paint over a year ago.  Finally, a week before the recent convention, I decided to devote an evening to remedying the situation!

The gauge cluster/speedo on the '55/56 T-bird is marvelously easy to remove... disconnect the speedo cable and remove 4 nuts with a nut driver, and presto:

The fuel and and temp gages are held in the cluster with only 2 screws each:
Note the faded needle.  Some of the original color remains at the base.
A quick touch up with a brush, and it looks good as new:

The tachometer is even easier to remove/replace than the speedo/gage cluster.  I didn't bother to take pictures of repainting the tach needle.  Overall, it took me about 2 hours, working slowly and carefully, to remove, paint, and replace the gages.  It is just a small thing, but it makes me feel good every time I drive the car.

Where did the Brake Fluid go?

I've been thinking about the continuing need to refill the master cylinder for the front brakes (which eventually led me to investigate how a dual master cylinder works, and to change the push rod attachment point).  There are no visible leaking fittings or puddles anywhere, and the front pads showed no noticeable wear when I replaced them.  I've had to refill the master cylinder twice... where could all this brake fluid be going?

Well, it finally dawned on me that there was an obvious place to check.  The new power assist unit vacuum chamber.  If the seals were improperly installed (or the last rebuild done poorly), then fluid could be leaking into the chamber and collecting where it coudn't be seen.

This is easy to check.  I disconnected the vacuum hose and unscrewed the vacuum check valve on the booster, got out the brake vacuum pump, stuck the hose in the check valve hole, and pumped a little.

Guess what!  

I only have about 1000 miles on the car since I replaced the booster.  Needless to say, I am not very happy about the "Cardone rebuild" quality.  This time, I will be rebuilding the Midland C490 myself.   Luckily there are instructions available online, as well as contact info for rebuild kits.  This actually sounds like a good Winter project.

Sometimes I get self-satisfied, like things can't get any better!  God has a way of subtly reminding me that I shouldn't rely so much on myself or my own understanding.  I had a lingering conviction that something still wasn't right with the brakes, even though I really wanted them to be OK.  I figured that I had worked on them enough!

Work is still needed, both on the brakes and with my soul.  But hey, I don't need to fix everything at once.  Most of all, I need to remain deliberate and intentional.

Monday, October 3, 2016

A Tent for Nell

In spite of my original intentions for the car, "Nell" now has a soft top.  The silent auction at the convention was just too tempting!  I confess that I like the idea of having the top stowed behind the seat in case of unexpected rain, or an overly wind-distressed passenger.

The deck latches came from Prestige, and #1 Son and I were able to put the top up.  Surprisingly, it is quieter than the hard top!  It doesn't creak, groan, and chatter as much, plus it doesn't reflect other noises from inside the car.  A brief drive on the freeway proved that it is suitably tight and nothing flaps in the wind.  Overall, it is very good quality for a "replacement" top.  

While it seems easier to put up than the stock top, it still seems to be a 2-person job.  There is a lot of pushing and shoving from the outside required while attempting to close the latches on the inside.  

Overall, I'm happy with the way it looks and performs.  It compliments the car in both form and function.  I rather doubt that I will be using the hard top much anymore!

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 fire extinguisher had to be moved from behind the passenger seat, in order to make room for the soft top.  I found that it just fit underneath the dash between the glove box and the heater box.  I zip-tied the bracket to the diagonal dash support tube.  A surprisingly good fit!

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.