Monday, June 22, 2015

Getting a Boost, part 1

Long time no blog.  I've been busy with my fledgeling consulting business, my family, and my church.  While I have been enjoying 'Nell', I haven't really made any improvements.

Earlier this year, I finally corrected a grievous oversight and had Uncle Packard drive the car.

Uncle Packard seems to be enjoying himself!
This is the man who gave me so much advice, encouragement, and resources to do the restoration two years ago, and he never even drove the car!  Well, he greatly enjoyed the experience of driving his Mother's last car.  He had two interesting and wise comments:

  • "The car seems to want to go much faster than is reasonable."  I guess that means that my engine modifications were highly successful!
  • "The car could use more assist on the power brakes." I agree... the brakes, even with power assist on the aftermarket front disks, require much more pedal pressure than a typical modern car.  If I didn't know better, I'd even say they were manual brakes.
I've been thinking of improving the power assist on the car for several years.  At the CTCI western regionals in 2013 I remember seeing Gill Bumgarner's '57 with a larger brake booster for his aftermarket front disk brakes.  He explained to the eager crowed gathered around his engine compartment that the stock Midland C3400 booster can only develop about 500psi brake pressure, but that most disk brake conversions need closer to 1000psi.  He had installed a slightly larger booster, only on the front disks, and claimed that the better pedal pressure was much lighter and more typical of modern cars.  

Since I want this car to be easy and non-threatening for anyone to drive, I have been on the lookout for one of these larger boosters for some time.  After doing some research, I am convinced that Gil was using a Midland C490 hydro-vac booster, which is available rebuilt from Cardone (stock #51-9241).  These occasionally turn up on eBay for under $250, and I finally picked one up

The C490B is slightly larger than the stock C3400, but the connections are nearly identical.  
 Since Gil had one under the hood of his '57, I know it will fit.  The next question is if I need to fabricate a new bracket.  Time to check some clearances.

The string is a reference for the hood clearance. The string is straight, but the hood is slightly arched.

5" from the bracket to the string.  

There is an additional 1 3\8" clearance over the brake booster location, for a total of 6 3/8" above the bracket.

The new C490 booster will require just over 5" clearance, once I rotate the clamp out of the way.
This gives me some confidence that I will not need a new bracket.   After I pull the stock C3400, I can dry-fit the C490 and very carefully check clearances.

Before I do, I plan on painting the C490 with gloss black enamel.  I think it will look much better than the 'rust-through remanufactured grey', and maybe even dress up the engine compartment a little.

I need to be careful about this, though, or I may end up buying stainless steel fuel and vacuum lines and chroming the throttle linkage!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Another kind of Car Show...

Nell was in a different kind of Car Show earlier this month.  The Thunderbird exhibit was intended to raise awareness of the 60th anniversary of the model.

I was certainly gratified by all of the encouraging comments about "Nell"!  Plus, I got lots of free passes to the show.

Another loss...

I just found out that Otis, the owner of the shop that did such a marvelous job painting the T-bird, died a few days ago.  Is wife preceded him into the eternal realm just last month.

Otis was an amazing and humble guy, who started this body shop in Southern California just after returning home as a WWII POW.  The shop has been around so long, and Otis was such an amiable guy, that it became a local gathering place for metalworking talent to come and just shoot the breeze.  I think I got a lot of free work on the T-bird because of this.

Otis was over 90, and got a heart valve replaced while the T-bird was in his shop.  He was back in the shop 3 days after surgery... His son Van pointed out that Otis needed to be available to talk to his friends, and that helped his recovery.

From my Uncle's email... "Otis was a decorated hero of WWII, a side gunner on a B24,   On a raid of Polisti his plane was shot down and he became a prisoner of war.  He was liberated only when the US Army reached his camp.  He was tendered a medal, but he turned it down, saying the real hero who deserved the medal was the pilot who got them down safely."

There are some people that make you just want to be more like them!

RIP, Otis.  My sincere condolences, Van.  The world is a slightly poorer place.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Advent Reflections 2014

As I have previously posted (2012, 2013), the advent season has become increasingly important to me.  As far as Christian holidays go, I used to really resonate with the desolation of Holy Week and the consolation of Easter, but I didn't understand all the fuss about Christmas.  It just seemed to be a consumerist nightmare, punctuated by too much food and too many retellings of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol".  Yes, yes, "love your fellow man" and all that.  I get it.  What's the big deal?  I felt like Charlie Brown, searching for meaning among all the commercials.  How is God really at work here, and how does this relate to my personal relationship with him?

I came to think of Christmas as a pagan festival (Winter solstice) which was co-opted by the early church oligarchy as a means of consolidating their power base.  There is plenty of evidence to support this conclusion, including a general acknowledgement by most Christian historians that they have no real idea of the day, or even the season of Jesus' birth.

Then I discovered the liturgical tradition of Advent.  Far from embracing the excesses of the season, Advent reminds me of the need to pause and reflect on my personal need for a Savior... or in other words to recognize my inadequacy to get close to God on my own, my inability to find that "way to be good again", my desperate longing for redemption, and for my life to have meaning!

The bustle of "the Holiday Season" pales completely in comparison to this primal emotional need.

Once we recognize the brokenness in our own lives, this need becomes unavoidable.  This is what makes Advent different form Easter.  Having a Savior without first feeling a desperate need for one is comforting, but not personally significant.  It is much like a child that enjoys the security of being with her Grandparents, but not truly comprehending the depth of their love or their sacrifices for her.

To me, Advent is all about longing.  And waiting.  And praying.  It is also about being expectant, holding on to faith that God will do great things, that he will deliver on his promises, and that he really does love me and wants to spend time with me.  So much so, that he is willing to build a bridge with his own body in order for me to reach him.  By immersing myself in this season, I can begin to get a glimpse of the depth of his love and his sacrifice for me.

The 5 Candles of Advent are traditionally lit sequentially every Sunday starting 4 weeks before Christmas.  The order varies in different traditions, but the meaning seems to be consistent.

  1. Hope (or Prophecy Candle)
  2. Joy (or Angel's Candle)
  3. Peace (or Shepherd's Candle)
  4. Love (or Bethlehem Candle)
  5. Christ - Emmanuel (God with us!) - lit on Christmas Eve

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Pageant of the Thunderbird

My son and I drove to the 'Pageant' on Saturday. There were at least 60 cars there.

We were shocked when 'Nell' won 2nd in the custom 55-57 class!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, August 23, 2014


Every new car sold in the USA since 1967 has been required to have 4-way flashers.  This was not a new idea; kits have been available to install this safety feature on cars since the mid 1950s.  While "parking lights" have been standard since the '20's, they really don't cut it if your car is broken down on the highway.  Flashing lights naturally demand a lot more attention from passing motorists, and are a lot more visible in the day time.

A 4-way flasher is unobtrusive device that makes sense on a vintage car.  It can be hidden away under the dash or in a glove box. "Period correct" flasher installation kits continue to be easily available for 50's vintage cars.  I got a Roberk model 800 for a very reasonable price 6 months ago, and had been waiting for an opportunity to install it.  When I had the seat out of the car (see the prior post) I figured the time was right.  I found the installation to be remarkably easy, but then I am pretty handy with electrical connections.   Here are a few pics:

The Roberk unit is installed under the dash, in front of the shifter.  I used existing factory holes in the dash, which would have been used for the overdrive selector had this been a manual transmission car.
 I had to replace the light bulb in the unit, and plug in a heavy duty 3-pin flasher.  The cost was trivial.    I also used modern 3-way automotive electrical splices, instead of the funky crimp-on clips that originally came with the unit.  Power comes from the back of the cigarette lighter, and four leads are spliced into the four turn signal wires coming from the turn signal switch.  These are easy to find if you have a factory schematic... green with white stripe, white with blue stripe, orange with blue stripe, green with orange stripe.  I made sure to connect to the dash side of the turn signal junction block, so that it wouldn't complicate removing the steering column in the future.
The unit is pretty long,  including a heavy-duty thermal flasher.   Note the dual-zone equalizer for the stereo.
While I was under the dash, I rewired power to the audio amplifiers, and installed a remarkably inexpensive 2-zone equalizer I got off Amazon.  It was labeled as a "7 band parametric equalizer", but it's not parametric and it's not 7 band.  It has 3 bands for the "rear" channel which I connected to the center dash amp, and 4 bands on the "front" channel which I connected to the stereo amp.   This has made a noticeable improvement in the sound quality, providing a better blend between the under dash speakers and the center-dash speaker.  It sounds really great around town, but it's still not the kind of stereo that can compete with big rigs on the freeway... especially if the top is off the car.  Convertibles on the freeway are definitely high noise environments.  In fact, I tend to wear earplugs on long trips.

Ford Guy replaced the driver door glass for me... it turns out that the steel frame that supports the bottom of the window glass was broken some time ago, and poorly repaired.  That could explain why the driver side glass was broken when I got the car in 2011!  The frame has been replaced with a reproduction, and the window works fine.

Nell is running and looking great!  I'm digging the increased leg room, and the improved stereo.  My t-bird club was featured at a cruise night yesterday, and my wife graciously agreed to accompany me.  It was a great time, and Nell got plenty of compliments.

Looking sharp!
One of the cars that showed up with my club looked really familiar... a Peacock Blue '56 with a supercharger, 4-speed, and lots of speed equipment...
A blown, blue '56... where have I seen this before!
Then it dawned on me... I saw it at last year's west coast y-block shootout!

This was one very fast car!  I had a great time talking to the owner and discussing the modifications he had made.  He is a tall guy, and he also modified his seat to provide a few more inches of legroom!  I guess I'm not so unique after all.

Tomorrow I'm looking forward to driving a friend to my local t-bird club meeting, and then maybe sampling a few local micro-brews with him.  Life is good!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Seeking Legroom

To what lengths will early bird owners go in order to get reasonable legroom?

As I mentioned in a previous post, these cars are rather infamous for their 'foreshortened' cockpit.  Most people 6ft or taller complain about the lack of adequate legroom, especially on the driver side.  The overly large steering wheel and the pedal placement combine to seriously degrade comfort for drivers of greater than average height and girth!  My XL son can get in the car and drive it, but the awkward right leg position causes his foot to go numb in about 20 minutes!

Why did Ford design a car with such short legroom?  Were people shorter in the '50's?  Was the t-bird intended, as often stated by Corvette owners, as a "woman's car"?  I suspect that the real answer has to do with the combined complexity of the power seat and the convertible top.

The power seat was clearly a marketing imperative, cementing the image of the Thunderbird as a 'personal luxury car', but  designing the power mechanism for such a low seat was quite an engineering challenge!  So much so that the designers may not have had time to finish the design of the lower-cost manual seat adjuster... manual seats weren't available until the 1956 model year!   The raise/lower seat mechanism requires a crossbar and motor mechanism immediately behind the seat, limiting how far back the seat rails can be placed.  Here's a pic of the bottom of the seat removd from the car.  The front of the seat is on the bottom, and the motors have been disconnected.

The hideaway soft top was also quite an engineering challenge.  I've helped a fellow club member put  his top up in the rain, and later stow it.  First we had to undo all the latches, release the toggles, unzip the rear window, carefully fold the top flat on the rear deck, then rotate it up vertical on the spring-loaded 'swing-arm' and carefully drop it down into its stowage location behind the seat.  It definitely takes two people to do this safely, and in the right order... on pain of damaging something.  The seat must be adjusted fully forward on the rails before the top can be swung down behind the seat.  And, of course, the rearward motion of the seat must be limited or it might also damage the convertible top when stowed.

Since Nell doesn't have a soft top, I am really not concerned about maintaining room for one behind the seat.  I have been eager to improve the legroom situation on this car for years, and have been looking for a complete manual seat adjustment mechanism from a '56 or '57 that might allow greater rearward motion than the power mechanism.   Since these have turned out to be very scarce and pricy, I finally came to realize that the only reasonable approach is to fabricate new, non-adjustable seat brackets that would completely replace the power seat mechanism.  Since these brackets would be designed as "drop-in" replacements for the original mechanism, the car could easily be returned to stock.

Well, at the last Harbor Freight sale, I picked up an inexpensive flux-wire welder.  I've been wanting to refresh my high school welding skills anyway.  Another trip to the local industrial metal supply house for two 2" x 1/8" bars and some 1" square tubing, a free weekend, and I'm ready to start this project!

First I remove the seat (with some help), flip it over and measure the relationship between the floor mounting studs and the seat.

With the seat all the way back, the floor mounting stud is 4" from the front edge of the seat.
Removing the the mechanism from the seat, we placed the seat back in the car to determine just how far back we can reasonably expect to move the seat.  The determining factor in how far back the seat can move is the garnish rail at the rear of the cockpit. It is covered in vinyl, but it is not padded and definitely uncomfortable to lean against!

Original position... front of the seat was 27 1/2" from the rear fender.
We slide the seat as far back as we can, positioning the seatback just under the rear garnish rail  & making sure this is still comfortable.  This is really as far back as the seat can go!
The seat has been moved 2" back from its original position.
Move the seat rearward by exactly 2"... that is a very concrete and achievable goal!  By measuring the  seat mechanism, I determine that this requires the front seat mounting hole to be even with the front floor mounting stud, and keeping it 2" to the outside and 1 1/4" above the floor rail.

I start by fabricating replacement floor rails (2" wide, just like the originals) out of the 1/8" steel stock.
All bending is done with a heavy bench vise and a sledge hammer.
Final shape.
Drilled for bolts and checked for fit.
also the driver's side
Front bolt tack welded
Welding a 1" section of square tubing, enclosing the bolt.  My welding skills improved significantly throughout this project!
Tack welding the rear seat bracket, based on measurements from the power seat mechanism and test fitting on the seat.  
The floor studs need to be 41" apart (outside dimension), same for front and back.  The diagonal measurements between the studs need to be as close to identical as possible... mine were just under 46".  Once everything was aligned and square, we put the seat in the car for a test fit.  It neatly dropped in place the first time, and fit beautifully!  We then removed the seat, removed the brackets, and painted them.

Painted with hammer tone silver Rustoleum.  Note the elongated holes on the driver's side... this was necessary in order to get the diagonal measurements to match, and the brackets to fit.
Finished brackets in position!  Note how the front studs are now about 2" from the front of the seat.  We have achieved the goal of moving the seat 2" rearward!
Side view, showing how low the seat will be.   
I ended up putting a stack of fender washers above the front of the bracket when bolting it up,  which raised the front of the seat a little.  I would have been better off using a 1 1/2" section of square tubing in the front, instead of 1".

I did some electrical work under the dash while the seat was out: installed a dual zone preamp/equalizer for the stereo, and 4-way flashers... but I'll talk about that in another post.  We re-installed the seat yesterday and took a little drive.  I find the increased legroom to be more comfortable, but my 6 foot son finds it essential for safe driving.  I'm hoping that his right foot won't be going to sleep during our next long drive!