Wednesday, July 30, 2014

It Rained on my Car Show!

Sunday, I drove "Nell" to a car show on the local waterfront.  Quite a few members of my Classic T-Bird club brought there cars as well, and the show organizers did a great job of keeping the club cars together.  The 20% chance of rain persuaded me to install the hard top.

 We had great spots, right near the water and a broad public walkway.  The grass where we parked was on a slight incline, and the ground was a little uneven were I parked.

When I first tried to shut the driver's side door, it refused to latch and bounced back open.  Rather than carefully investigating or lowering the window a little, I simply shut the door a little harder.  That's when I heard the sickening "pop"!

While I am not certain about what happened, I suspect that the window being slightly out of adjustment, combined with the flex of the body on the uneven ground, created just enough interference at the top of the door frame to crack the window.  Bummer!

Still, the view was beautiful and the cars looked great... at least when one of them had the windows down.  I should just relax and enjoy, right?  No use crying over a broken window!

God does have His ways of reminding us who is really in charge.  Just a few hours later, the 20% chance of rain became a certainty.  Time to roll the windows up again!

It only rained for half an hour or so, and then the sun came out for the rest of the day.  I actually had a really good time at the show, and had several great conversations with other club members.

Driving an old car means spending some time and $$ on maintenance.  A broken window like this, while annoying, is actually an easy thing to repair.  I have already removed the door panel, and made arrangements with "Ford guy" to order new glass for the door.  Nell will be back to normal in a week or so, and I expect to align the window more carefully so that this particular issue doesn't happen again.

Life always seems to go more smoothly when we can keep our disappointments in perspective.

Monday, July 21, 2014


My wife and I have just celebrated 35 years of mostly blissful marriage. We indulged ourselves by driving her comfortable crossover SUV up the Pacific coastline, and spending a week on a chartered sailboat in the San Juan islands. It was far too long a trip to take in the cramped t-bird, and I really wanted my wife to have every conceivable comfort. Here's a sunset shot from our last night on the boat.

Peaceful. Restoring. Blessed. We needed this trip, but it is good to be home. My wife is now facing the reality of hip replacement surgery in September. It will certainly make her more mobile and comfortable in the long run, but the thought of major surgery is always daunting!

Ever since I installed the beat-up dog dish hubcaps on the t-bird, I've been looking for a good deal on a better set. I was told by a judge at last year's CTCI convention that the hubcaps were the reason that Nell got third instead of second place in touring car judging. I've low bid a few ebay auctions, but I finally saw a set worth investing in. I ended up getting a good deal on a clean set of re-chromed original hubcaps, which arrived just before we left on out vacation. I spent a day last week masking and painting the centers with body color, just like the beater set I used originally. Here's a shot might show the difference between the old ones and the new ones... New on the top, old on the bottom.

The difference is less subtle in person. Besides being riddled with dents, the chrome on the old hubcaps is kind of "porous", with lots of tiny spots, and is flaking off around the edges. The flaws in the new hubcaps are much less obvious, especially from a few feet away.

Since I had to mix up some paint anyway, I decided to finish a spare fuel filler door that I had drilled for a spare V8 fender emblem. I figured that Nell should have a V8 in back, since she already had a V8 in front. Of course, I still have the plain filler door. Let me know what you think!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A More Peaceful Existence

Muffler Guy replaced the passenger side muffler on Friday.  As you can see, the hole in the top of the failed muffler is pretty dramatic!  No wonder the exhaust noise was so loud!  The rest of the muffler looks fine, and the driver side looks fine, too... no external signs of overheating.  The cause of this failure is still a mystery... it is a solid, well-made muffler with double-wall construction.  The replacement muffler (Walker 17867) is almost identical... the manufacturer of the muffler that failed was recently purchased by another company, and this model is no longer available.

Friday evening, #1 Son and I drove Nell to Cruise Night.  It was a very pleasant (and quiet) ride, and a good bonding experience.  The turnout was much heavier than earlier in the season, and there were quite a few new cars there to look at.  Nell seemed right at home, and got plenty of attention.
There are still a few minor things that I would like to do to the car... some minor wiring updates, installing the 4-way flashers, a better solution for the exhaust tips, maybe fabricate a new seat mount to gain another inch or two of leg room.  None of these things are urgent.  I'd like a nicer set of hubcaps, but that's not really important either.

What is important to me right now is just to remember how gracious God has been to me, and to let that gratitude flow out of me to the people I care about.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Near Disaster

I took Nell to the muffler shop this morning.  The passenger side muffler has a huge hole blown out of the top, just under the floor!  No wonder the exhaust noise was so loud!  Muffler Guy ordered a replacement, and I'll have it installed on Friday.

I came home and pulled into the garage, opened the hood to disconnect the battery like I always do when I leave the car for any length of time, and then noticed that the fuel pump looked a little funny. As I reached down to wipe the wetness off the fuel pump, my hand brushed against the flexible fuel line that goes between the frame and the pump.  The line cracked open a little at this slight touch, and fuel started spilling out!  I had just filled the car up with gas, and the fuel leak was below the level of the gas tank!

Thank God that this happened in my garage, and not on the road somewhere!  I quickly jacked up the front of the car, elevating the leak above the level of the gas tank, and removed the damaged hose.  Here's what it looks like... it came apart as I was taking it out:
I'll be picking up a replacement hose (or two) from Ford Guy this afternoon.  He claims that the mandatory ethanol in our gasoline has significantly shortened the life and increased the failure rate of rubber parts like this, and there is really no effective substitute yet.  Looks like I may have to stock up on these little guys, and be ready to replace one every year!  Bummer...

But of course, things could be worse.  At least Nell didn't go up in a fireball as we were driving down some mountain road, and my family and I are very much alive and healthy!

Update: I got two replacement flex fuel lines from Ford Guy.  After this experience, I think I will always want to carry a spare!  Here is the victory shot.  Nell is running again:

It seems that my experience with Nell is transitioning from "restoration" to "maintenance".  That sounds a lot less fun, and a lot less predictable.  Things break when they want to, and I have no control of that.  I still greatly enjoy driving this car, and really feel blessed in doing so, but I'm also starting to realize how unpredictable my life is, and how tenuous is my hold on it.  There may be another unforeseen 'rotten fuel line' somewhere else in my life, on the verge of bursting!

Well, the best I can do is to take life one day at a time.  At least the future should be exciting!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Another 23₵, more shrapnel in the oil pan!

Well, I replaced the Mallory Unilite distributor with the re-curved '57 Ford distributor.  Nell is running well, except for the muffler noise.  I'll take her to the muffler shop tomorrow.  My son even helped me do the distributor swap today.  I'd be feeling very good about this, if it weren't for a rather disturbing discovery about the Mallory distributor...
Yes, the rolled pin broke off... again!  I tapped it out with a drift for a better look.
About a third of the pin broke off, and is now somewhere in the engine.  I'm hoping that its in the bottom of the oil pan, in pieces large enough that they won't make it through the oil pickup screen.  I gotta get me one of those magnetic drain plugs!

I replaced the pin (again), and I'm keeping the Mallory as a backup distributor.  Let's hope that I don't have to use it.

Here's a couple of cellphone "victory shots" of the Ford distributor installed.

The resistor isn't hooked up... the Pertronix unit doesn't need it.  I kept it on the engine in just in case the Pertronix unit fails and I have to install the points and condenser.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Parade was a real "Blowout"!

A few weeks ago, my wife and I drove 'Nell' about 100 miles into the local mountains for a romantic weekend getaway.  The weather was spectacular, and the tbird was running great.  It was a much needed restful, relaxing outing.  On the way home, I noticed that the exhaust note was a bit louder than usual, but it really wasn't annoying so I thought nothing of it.

This week the exhaust noise has gotten progressively worse.  It's not an exhaust leak, more like a loud drone at certain engine speeds.  Yesterday I climbed under the car and checked for sound-shorts in the exhaust system... spots where the exhaust pipe or muffler may be touching something it shouldn't.  I ended up adjusting the right tail pipe, but the drone persisted!

Today my son and I drove Nell in a local parade, with my classic tbird club.

The exhaust noise was pretty bad!  Everyone in the club noticed it!  Something is definitely wrong with one or both mufflers... it's like the baffles have blown out, and are rattling around in the bottom of the can.  Not very attractive at all!  Glasspacks would sound better than this!

This is a disappointing development, especially since the mufflers were just installed in January!  Well, it's back to Muffler Guy next week to get this fixed.   I have to wonder what could possibly have caused the mufflers to fail so quickly?  I suppose that they could just have been faulty, but I need to be open to the possibility that it might be something else.

I have been running a Mallory racing distributor in the car for the last two years.  I had one dramatic failure with it, but that ended up being a very simple fix.  The thing about a racing distributor is that it has no vacuum advance... since it is designed to work with the throttle wide open, it doesn't need a vacuum advance.

For those who may be interested, here is a short tutorial on ignition systems:  Gasoline/Alcohol/Nitro internal combustion engines need a spark to ignite the fuel/air mixture in the cylinder just prior to the start of the power stroke.  Exactly how far in advance of the power stroke the spark should occur depends on two basic factors: 1) how fast the engine is turning, and 2) how dense the fuel/air mixture is in the cylinder.  The first factor is dictated by the fact that at its best, a cylinder full of fuel and air still takes a fixed amount of time to burn.  The engine is most efficient, both in power production and fuel economy, if the mixture has finished burning before the piston is a quarter of its way through the power stroke.  In order for this to happen, the spark has to happen sooner when the engine is turning faster.  In most 30's - 80's cars, this is determined by the "mechanical advance" mechanism of the distributor, a set of little weights and springs that automatically advances the spark timing based on engine RPM.  This is the only kind of advance mechanism my Mallory distributor has.

The second factor, fuel/air density, depends on several things that are set when the engine is built, such as compression ratio, intake & exhaust configuration, camshaft, carburetion, etc... but in practice, the only real factor determining fuel/air density in a running engine is throttle position.  More throttle means more air and more fuel, period.  More fuel and air means a faster burning mixture, and conversely less fuel and air means a slower burning mixture... when the throttle is open only a little, like when cruising down the freeway, the mixture burns a lot slower!  Why does this matter?  Well, when I am cruising down the freeway in Nell, much of the fuel/air mixture hasn't finished burning in the cylinder when the exhaust valve opens, so it flows out into the exhaust system and finishes burning there.  This not only wastes gasoline, it heats up the exhaust... a lot.  Racers don't really care, because they don't "cruise" very often.  The throttle is usually all the way open, or all the way closed.

I care because I suspect that this extra exhaust heat is damaging my mufflers... I'm on my second set in two years.  I would also like to start getting reasonable gas milage...  Nell has been averaging around 10 MPG, and I think she is capable of more like 16-18!  Most street cars from the 30's-80's accommodate this fuel/air density factor by using manifold vacuum to provide an additional way to advance the spark.  When the the throttle closes, manifold vacuum goes up (manifold pressure drops), and the distributor advances the spark to accommodate the slower burning mixture.

Back when I first had problems with the Mallory, I purchased a tbird compatible distributor that has both mechanical and vacuum advance.  I have put off getting it ready to install because the Mallory was working again.  With this exhaust problem, however, I think it's time to make the swap!  Some of the preparation of this new distributor has been easy, such as installing a new drive gear and an electronic ignition (points replacement) unit.  The hardest thing has been "re-curving"  the distributor, or changing the rate and limits to the mechanical advance mechanism, to accommodate the modifications I have made to the engine, such as the cam and high compression heads.  Based on discussions in this thread and others like it, I have settled in on 14° of initial advance and 26° of additional mechanical advance, which should all happen before 3000 RPM.  This is precisely how my Mallory has been set up, so I have confidence that these numbers are right for my engine.  However, the "stock" Ford/Mercury distributor I am using has more advance than this (about 40° on an initial advance of 6°), so I had to modify the slots in the mechanical advance mechanism to limit the advance.  Not limiting the advance risks severe engine damage at high RPM.  I used regular plumbing solder to do make the slots smaller:

The trick to soldering on steel is to get it really clean (I used starter fluid), lots of flux paste, and just the minimum amount of heat.  I got good blobs of solder and good flow on the steel.  I only needed to make the slots shorter by about 1/16".

I filed off the tops and bottoms of the of the blobs before attempting to size the slots. 

Measure twice, file just a little, measure twice more....

Continue until the slots are the right size... 0.450"

This is the completed mechanical advance mechanism.  There is another spring on the other side of the shaft... bending the tabs connected to the springs will change the advance rate.

This is the original points and condenser setup.  I will install an electronic substitute, but will keep the parts in the car as a backup.

The electronic ignition installed.  It's really just a points replacement, not a high-energy ignition system, but I did get a model with variable dwell.  This will give a better spark at high RPM.

With the rotor installed.  The vacuum advance unit is on the left.

The completed distributor.  Oh, and I had some fun with the buffing wheel.  Hey, if it's made of aluminum, I know how to make it shiny!  Note the tach drive socket below the vacuum advance unit... all early thirds have mechanical tachometers, driven off the distributor.

I'm looking forward to installing the new distributor in the next few days.  I will need to dial in the ignition timing, and maybe fiddle with the mechanical advance springs a little.  I'd like to get it running well before I take Nell back to the Muffler Guy.

Monday, May 5, 2014

First Show of the Season

Yesterday I took Nell to her first car show of the 2014 season.  It was a perfect day for a car show, and the small California beach town served as a perfect backdrop!

 There were hundreds of cars at the show, and most of them were gorgeous!  I didn't expect Nell to win anything, and she didn't.  She was built for fun, not to win prizes, and I certainly had fun!  So did this guy:
Next weekend, my wife and I are joining my t-bird club for a relaxing retreat in the mountains.  I'm planning on taking Nell, but only if the weather isn't too hot.  It's a long a drive without air conditioning, and domestic bliss is more valuable to me than another trip in the t-bird!