Saturday, June 10, 2017


The burned wiring under the dash caused me to re-think the importance of installing a fuse panel.  The stock wiring has inline fuses randomly distributed under the dash, which is rather inconvenient.  The circuits I have added (4-way flasher, electric radiator fan, foglights, fuel pump, windshield washer pump) each need their own fuses, so I added more random inline fuse holders.

The mechanical brake light switch I installed was not adequately fused.  A short in the turn signal switch or steering column wiring resulted in the unfortunate smoky experience I documented elsewhere.   I had no problem replacing the turn signal and brake switch wiring, but with everything apart it seemed appropriate to sort out the fuses...

I established a few simple goals for designing a fuse panel for the car:
  • Don't permanently change the dash, whatever is done must be reversible.  
  • Provide fuse protection to key switched and unswitched circuits.  
  • Use standard 1 1/4" glass fuses.  These are era-appropriate for the car, still readily available, and easier to check than more modern blade-style fuses.
  • Convenient connection/disconnection of circuits without having to climb completely under the dash... which is awkward without removing the steering wheel.

With these goals in mind, I designed a clamp-on panel to attach underneath the dash, near the ignition switch, found a way to install 5 screw-type panel fuse holders, and also mount terminal strips to accommodate ring terminals to attach the wiring.

A strip of aluminum, attached to some scrap steel strap, held together with thumbscrews and clamped to the bottom edge of the dashboard under the ignition switch.  Note the headlight switch hanging in the background.
Fitting panel fuse holders.
Adding terminal strips to the steel scrap, and wiring supply side to the fuses.

If anyone is interested, here's a brief tutorial on early T-bird wiring.   

If you aren't interested, you may want to skip this part.  The headlight switch is the first stop for battery power coming into the dash.  Note that  power for heavy loads (starter, window and seat motors) don't come directly into the dash, but instead use relays.  The control circuits for those relays DO originate under the dash, however.

It should also be noted that only 3 circuits in the car have absolutely no form of over-current protection (fuse or breaker): the main starter circuit, the horn, and the cigar lighter.  To be fair, the cigar lighter has a built-in circuit breaker as part of the removable part of lighter, but nothing attached to the car.  Keep in mind that when powering other devices using the cigar lighter plug, they need to have their own internal fuse!

The headlight switch has two 20 amp circuit breakers in it: one for stopl/tail/parking lights and the clock, the other for headlights.  It also has a 9 amp fuse for the courtesy light.  None of these circuits rely on the position of the ignition switch.  Unswitched battery power (always a yellow wire) is fed from the headlight switch to terminal B of the ignition switch. Terminal C ("on" and "start" position only) is connected to the ignition and the idiot lights, and terminal S ("start" position) is connected to the starter solenoid.  All other circuits are connected to terminal A ("accessory" and "on" position).

Wiring up the Panel

I carefully mapped these circuits, along with all the circuits I have added to the car, to the new fuse panel.  I decided to take power from terminals B (yellow, unswitched) and A (red, "acc+on") of the ignition switch, and wire these through the appropriate fuses to the terminal strips.  Note that the 4-way flasher, stoplight, and backup light circuits are unswitched... I wanted them to work even if the ignition was off.

Mapping key circuits to the 5 fuses I have available on the panel.
Labeling the panel came in handy when wiring it up.
The panel detaches from the dash, and hangs down conveniently exposing the  terminal strips.
Note how each circuit is identified with silver sharpie on the heat-shrink insulation.
 I have invested in a good set of wire stripping and terminal crimping tools, and a heat gun.   This made quik work of reterminating each of the circuit wires with the appropriate lug and heat-shrink insulation.  I made sure there was room for all of the wires under the dash, and nothing would short out to the ignition switch terminals, then carefully connected it all together and clamped the panel in place.

With the panel clamped under the dash, it seems like a lot of extra wires under there... but in fact it is much easier to identify and isolate any particular circuit.  It is also very convenient to have all the fuses available in a single location!

Was it really worth the effort?  Well, probably not... the panel is completely invisible unless you deliberately look under the dash.

This effort has, however, helped restore my confidence in the car's wiring.  That is certainly worthwhile.  Just because something isn't immediately visible doesn't mean it isn't important.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Cover Girl

Nell is now a covergirl!  Thanks to the Early Bird editors for accepting my submission and my story, and to Skip O'Donnell photography for the photo shoot!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Letting the smoke out of the wiring...

Smoke coming from under the dash.  That's never a good thing!  This happened in traffic about 8 miles from home, so I quickly pulled over and disconnected the battery.

A quick look under the dash, and I knew this wasn't going to be a 'side of the road' kind of repair.  Time to use the AAA towing coverage.

With the car back home, I took some pictures under the dash.  The wiring to the mechanical brake switch is fried, but it looks like most everything else is OK.

I noticed my mistake in wiring the brake light switch... I connected it to the hot terminal of the ignition switch without any fuse!  I definitely should have known better.  The brake switch wiring was much lighter gage than the rest of the original 6V wiring, and ended up being it's own fuse.

For the last year or so, I have noticed a tendency for the turn signal fuse to blow sporadically.  Just before the "smoke" incident, the fuse had blown again... in fact, I was on my way to Pep Boys to get a replacement fuse when it happened!  I noticed that the turn lever was down (left) after the fuse blew, indicating that the short is in the left stop light wiring.

This won't take much work to fix.  I'm mad at myself for not taking care of it sooner, before it rendered the car inoperable.    This is a good opportunity to put in a fuse block, rather than have so many fuse holders hanging off of the ignition switch!  That would certainly make maintenance a lot easier.

Sometimes, I let little things go without tracing them down... things like why I'm feeling triggered, or why I'm having a moment of lust.  Sometimes I just don't have time to deal with it, or at least that's what I tell myself.   But, deep down, I know something isn't right, and will need some attention.  Something may need to be rewired... an opportunity for an upgrade.

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!