Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Seek and Ye Shall Find

For a lot of folks, especially those on the East coast, finding a suitable project car seems like a daunting task. If your like me, your bank account looks like the Sahara Desert - dry and empty. When you do happen to save up enough money to buy that project car, you want to get the most for your money. The beast in the East pretty much destroyed all the older classics out there, many of them succumbing to rust and rot, so classic cars back east usually command a premium price. For us folks on the left coast, older iron is easier to come by. Although the herd is thinning, deals can still be found. With a little bit of due diligence and preservation, you can find a deal. Here are some recent, real life examples:

1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme 2 door hardtop
Rebuilt 350 motor and trans, PST suspension, Mondello headers, Edelbrock intake and cam. Options included: Power steering, power disc brakes, power seat, tilt column, and power windows. Car was still wearing it's original paint but did have some damage on one quarter panel. Interior was original, complete, and in good condition. Owner was asking $5000 or best offer!

1969 Oldsmobile Cutlass S 2 door hardtop
400 engine with bolt-on performance goodies, factory Saginaw 4-speed, body was in primer but looked straight. Interior had bucket seats and was complete but worn. Owner was asking $4000 or best offer!

1975 Pontiac Lemans Sport 2 door hardtop w/68k original miles
400 engine and trans, 12 bolt limited slip rear end, front and rear sway bars, factory dual exhaust. Options included: Power steering, power disc brakes, A/C (working), floor shifter w/center console, and factory guage cluster w/tach. Interior had bucket seats, was original, complete, and in very good condition. Owner was asking $2500 or best offer!!

1968 Chevy II Nova 2 door coupe
307 engine mostly original, factory Saginaw 3-speed on the floor, body looked good and paint job was recent. Interior was complete but thrashed. Power steering was the only option. Car had manual drum brakes and was still wearing it's original hub caps. Owner was asking $4500 or best offer!

1979 Chevy Camaro Z/28

Rebuilt 350 engine w/aftermarket cam, intake, and carb. Body was in excellent condition, as was the paint. Interior original, complete, and in decent shape. New rims and tires. Would not pass CA smog in current condition. Owner was asking $3500 or best offer!

1974 Buick Apollo 2 door

350 engine and trans, needs minor work to get running. New exhaust, rims and tires. Paint and interior original but both need some work, as well as the body. Car appeared to be an aborted teenage project. Owner was asking $3000.

1965 Chevy El Camino

283 engine mostly original, factory 4-speed, 12 bolt posi rearend. New exhaust and some engine dress up items. Interior was original but needed to be redone. Factory bucket seats and console. Aftermarket wheels and tires. Needed paint and body work, minimal rust. Owner was asking $4300 firm. What a deal!

1967 Ford Ranchero

289 w/factory Autolite 4bbl, C-4 automatic, heavy duty rearend, dual exhaust, tow hitch. Options included: Power steering, power disc brakes, and factory A/C (not working). Interior was original, complete, and in decent shape. Body was in excellent condition, paint looked to be original and complete, and all chrome was in decent shape. Owner was asking $3500 or best offer!!

Most of these I actually looked at, so I know they were the real deal. The bottom line is that deals are out there, you just have to really look. With the exception of the '74 Buick, I probably would buy every one of these cars if I could afford it. If you manage to find a sweet deal, let me know. Best of luck with your next classic car purchase and remember: Seek and ye shall find!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

You Can Tune A Carb But You Can't Tune A Fish

Ok, so the album was "tune a piano" but the comparision is still the same. If REO Speedwagon were not muscians but rather mechanics, my title would have probably prevailed. One of the many problems that Number 2 had was it's ability to start easily. Most folks would probably assume it needed plugs or wires, or possibly a timing adjustment. In listening to the prior owners description of the problem - very hard to start, rough idle until it warms up, black smoke (sometimes) - I quickly deduced the culprit was the carburetor. More specifically, the choke. Before I started to make any choke adjustments, I made sure the engine was cold, just like it would be when you would start it in the morning. It also helped that it was a cold day when I started my adjustments.

This is what I saw when I pulled off the air cleaner. The choke was completely closed. It was a wonder the car could start at all! Let's check the choke thermostat to see what kind of shape it is in.

Oldsmobile used an exhaust heated thermostat and this one looked like it had seen better days. Don't always judge a book by it's cover...

Removing the thermostat revealed that it was still in pretty good shape. Adjusting it properly would prove weather the bi-metal spring was still working.

With the t-stat back in place, adjust it lightly until the choke plate just closes on a standard pencil.

Here is a close-up of my "pencil gauge". Notice how high tech it is.

Now that the choke was adjusted properly and the t-stat cover retaining screws tight, it was time to start the engine. There are two idle adjustments to worry about. One is the fast idle adjustment. This is the the idle speed that the engine runs at when the choke is set.

 Here is the fast idle screw. With the choke set and the engine running, I adjusted it to the manufacture's specification.

Once the engine was warmed up and the choke was completely open, I adjusted the main idle screw to the manufacture's specification. The choke opening all the way was a good sign as it told me that the bi-metal spring was working properly.

Now that all the idles are good I wanted to take it one step further and adjust the air/fuel screws. There are a few different ways to adjust these. Most manuals will tell you to hook up a vacuum guage and adjust the screw until you achieve the highest and steadiest vacuum.

Even though I have a vacuum guage, I have been doing this long enough that I do it my own way. While adjusting each screw, I will listen to the engine idle and watch the engine. Watching the engine is crucial, because I can see when it starts to run rough, and I know to reverse the direction of the screw a little.

Another item worth noting is that before I dug in with the adjustments, I made sure there were no vacuum leaks, cracked vacuum hoses, etc. I also checked the carburetor mounting bolts to make sure they were tight. You will notice in one picture my professional vacuum line plug - the air cleaner stud! Hey, I use what works. For those who are wondering why I am bothering with a two barrel, I have two words for you: Gas Mileage. Nuff said!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Real American Idol

While I was watching this year's Daytona 500 I couldn't help but wish someone would take the Toyotas out. I don't want to sound mean, but I really did not want to see a Toyota anywhere near the winners circle. In my opinion, for a Foreign car manufacture to win one of NASCAR's most coveted races is akin to Americans of European descent taking up Sumo wrestling. Shouldn't happen, ain't gonna happen. The good ol' boys need to step it up. Besides, Toyota wins enough in the truck series, that should be enough to keep their ego in check. Sure, I'm all about being fair and equal rights and all that stuff, but there is a difference between racing to race and racing to win. Take the following for example: Kyle Petty races to race, whereas Jimmy Johnson races to win. A big difference in my book. The Toyotas should just concede and race to race. Naturally we should still be fair and let the "Camrys" out on the track to do some "rubbin". That would make for good target practice for the other drivers. Lets just say I was glad to see Dodge do a 1-2 finish and Toyota finish third.

Here is a picture of Toyota's new 358-cubic inch, iron-block, carbureted V-8 race engine that will be used in NASCAR Craftsman Truck racing next year. About the only thing stock on this engine is the power steering pump. (photo courtesy of TRD)

Now compare it with GM's First Purpose-Built Small-Block V-8 NASCAR Racing Engine, the Chevrolet R07 . Is it just me or do they look similiar? I understand the Toyota engine was designed and built in the U.S. but the block is cast in Japan. Boy, nothing like building on a weak foundation! Although I also heard that because of huge 4th quarter loses at GM, their engine block will be cast in Mexico... just kidding, but you never know! (photo courtesy of race2win.net)

Let's face it, NASCAR is viewed as an American sport, but it is open to all competitors. We all
have our favorite drivers and teams. For as long as I can remember I have been a fan of Richard Petty. I use to watch him race at the now defunct Riverside International Raceway. My favorite spot was against the fence in the middle of the "esses". As a kid who couldn't afford a tele-photo lens, that spot made for some really good photos. Opinions will differ, but I have always loved the "NASCAR look". Those old cars with huge steelies on all four corners looked awesome. My dream was to take a '73 or '74 Monte Carlo and totally NASCAR it out: Adjustable suspension, sheet metal covers for headlights, painted 10 inch wide steelies, roll cage, exhaust pipes coming out by the passenger side door, the whole nine yards. Can you say: "Boogity Boogity Boogity!"?

I think I'll go watch Days of Thunder now. Better yet, I got a special NASCAR history DVD set for Christmas! Talk about vintage race cars. This DVD is chuck loaded with ideas for creating your very own "repliNascar" for the street. Remember, you read that word here first: RepliNascar. Maybe I'll trade mark it. Now I have to start searching for that Monte Carlo...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Gas Leak From Hell

One of the most dangerous and smelly things to have wrong with your car is a gas leak. When I picked up Number 2, I knew it had a gas leak. What I didn't know was just how serious the leak was. I was pretty sure the rubber hoses going to the tank had never been changed, so right after I got the car home, I put it up on jack stands and dug in.

I swear that these Oldsmobiles were designed for fuel injection. There are no less then 4 hoses going to the tank, one of which is 3/8 inch, and there are 3 more above the rearend going to the vent system. I have often thought of getting an intake manifold off of a '78 - '79 Cadillac Seville, which was factory fuel injected, to use on a 350 Olds. The Sevilles used Oldsmobile 350s that were port injected, not throttle body! I use to see crap loads of them out at Pick-a-Part, just waiting to be cannibalized. Now I believe most of them are owned by an individual who lives out by Little Rock, CA. Yes, California, not Arkansas. There must be 200 Sevilles in this person's yard. I will try and get a picture of this bizarre collection soon.

Here is what the hoses looked like after I got them off. Notice what fine shape they are in(!), and to think the previous owner drove the car like this.... scary! If you have ever seen where these hoses are located, you know it is kind of tight up there. One trick to get the hoses off is to slice each end (the direction of the hose, not across) so that the hose pulls off easily. Use the old hose as a template to cut the new one, this way you won't end up with a hose that is too long or too short.

After all the hoses were replaced I test drove the car and everything seem fine. I could still smell a little gas but it had been pouring down the tank since Nixon was President so I figured it needed to dry out. One of the problems that the previous owner had was fuel starvation at higher speeds. They thought it was a fuel pump or clogged filter, but I just knew it was the cracked fuel lines, right? The outlet hose was cracked so bad it had to be sucking tons of air. The next day when I drove it to work I noticed it was still starving for fuel, and the gas smell was just as strong. To make matters worse, after I parked the car I looked under it and saw part of the tank was still wet! Not as bad, but still there. What the heck?? A loose clamp maybe? No, I double checked them. Hole in the tank? No, it only leaks when it's running. Broken/cracked tube coming from the sender? I hope not! Shoot, am I going to have to pull the tank? Time to put it back on jack stands and do another visual inspection. After a lot of looking and a few choice words, I finally found the source, thanks in part to the gas stain that I spotted above the gas tank.

Here is what I found. This hole was on the back side of the fuel line facing inwards. The metal fuel line had been rubbing probably since Jesus was a child and was about half way through the line. I actually felt it with my fingers before I could see it. I ended up cutting out the bad section and putting in a small piece of rubber fuel line. Guess what? Problem solved! No more gas leaks, no more smell, and no more fuel starvation problem.

Here is what it looked like after all was said and done. You can see the section I had to splice on the left. I also left as much of the metal line as possible because of the exhaust pipe being close by. The dark area on the exhaust pipe is were the fuel had been leaking on it. I think I'll go buy a lottery ticket because I must be lucky!

So now all is safe (relatively speaking) and I don't have to worry about the car suddenly bursting into flames. As was the case here, you never know what you will find when it comes to gas leaks. When checking or repairing your classic car for fuel leaks, always be careful, double check your work, and remember to keep a fire extinguisher close by just in case. I guess I better start gearing up for the next project. Stay tuned for more fun stuff.

Time for a Reality Check - Assessing Your Cars Needs

Now that I have Number 2 permanently situated in my stable o' cars, it was time to take a step back and really look at it with un-biased eyes. This is a good idea to do with any project, especially one that you are going to use as a daily driver. What I do is create a check list of items that the car needs in order of importance. Usually there will be two columns, mandatory and optional. Don't worry if you don't know how to use Excel on your computer. I know how to use it but prefer not to! Nothing on my classic cars will be computerized, not even the check list! (this statement may be rescinded at any time) Here is the list that I came up with for Number 2:

Mandatory - Brake master cylinder; Rubber gas lines going to tank; Upper bushings and ball joints; Rear springs and Shocks; Rear quarter widow guide rollers; Heater core and valve; Oil change; Valve cover gaskets; Timing cover seal; Carb adjustment and/or tune-up; Drivers side door lock; Re-seal back glass; and finally a new windshield. Another mandatory item is that my wife never sees this list...

Optional - Rims and Tires; Dual exhaust; Stereo that you can hear; Recharge A/C and cross my fingers; Paint job; and probably an Interior.

Before you go out and go gung-ho on your parts list, I have some tips that might save you a few duckets. Next to my columns I usually leave enough room for 3 to 4 additional columns. In these columns I write the names of my local parts stores, like NAPA, Kragen, Autozone, etc. I then sit down and call each one to check the prices and availability on the parts that I need. Availability is important because no matter how cheap that part is, if it is not available it doesn't do you any good. Sometimes the price difference between each store is substantial. Let me give you an example from my parts list. I needed a master cylinder and wanted to buy a new one, so I called around and here is what I was quoted:

Carquest - $60.78

Autovalue - $48.25

NAPA - $37.99

Autozone - $29.97 w/lifetime warranty

Naturally I went with the Autozone part, not only because of the price but because it was the only one that offered a lifetime warranty. There is a $30 dollar price difference between the highest and the lowest. I don't know about you but that could buy me either a steak dinner, a lot of beer, or some more parts! I think I'll buy some beer...

I already did a couple of things so I could drive the car safely, like the master cylinder, so I won't bore you with the details. As I do the other items I will post them on here, with pictures, so you can follow along or maybe look at my articles for reference. You never know when something is going to break and sometimes it's kind of handy to see how it is done, so stay tuned for more stuff from Frank's Classic Car Garage.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Trend of the moment

Trends in cars are just like trends in fashion - they change constantly but some how remain the same. How, you ask? Remember those large Elton Johnish sunglasses that the girls use to wear in High School? They came back around again. I have even seen a sudden outcropping of Izod shirts. You just were not cool in school unless you had that little alligator on your shirt. Anyone remember the flipped up collar shirt? Don't look now but I have seen evidence of it coming back. Yikes!

The latest trend in classic cars seems to be Patina. What is Patina you ask? In this case it refers to the condition of the outside of the car, mainly the paint.

Here is my example of patina.

This has even affected some of the major car auctions that happen across the United States. Last October, at the RM Vintage Motor Cars Auction in Hershey PA, a 1911 Oldsmobile Limited 7-passenger Touring Car sold for $1,650,000. That's right, 1.65 MILLION! Now sure, this is kind of a rare car, but paying out that kind of dough you would expect a museum piece. This car was the exact opposite. It looked like it was dragged out of a swamp! It looked worse then the car on the Beverly Hill Billies. Original, rotted tires, waisted paint, rust, etc. This thing was a total P.O.S. Ironically, a big part of the incredible value of this car was the fact that it had never been restored. The trend seems to be moving toward buyers paying more for untouched examples, sort of like buyers of fine art do.

If patina is in, then I'm about to save a crap load of money on painting my original project car, my 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. It still wears it's original coat of factory paint. I think it's Marygold Yellow or something like that, but I call it piss yellow. My latest project is a brown 1971 Olds (see my "Tale of a modern car deal" post), so I refer to the cars as Number 1 and Number 2.
Patina comes in two different flavors, original and fake. The current rat rod trend has spawned a lot of "patina wanna-bees" - cars that didn't have patina to begin with so it was added by the owner. This is done via clever air brushing, purposing letting metal rust, and using old, weathered parts. The real McCoys are the ones that have original patina. I can see the ads now... "NOS Patina" or "OEM Patina".

True barn finds or time capsule cars are very hard to find now-a-days, even though you see a ton of ads on eBay and the like purporting to be a "true barn find". Like patina, these "finds" are also faked, right down to photographing the car in a so-called barn along with blown on dust, props, and letting the air out of the tires. Searching for barn finds to a collector is akin to panning for gold to a prospector. We both hope to find that rare "nugget".
Number 2 car was not a barn find, but rather a desert find. Desert cars are in a whole different category by themselves. Think of them as barn finds out in the open. From what I could gather, Number 2 was a high desert car all of it's life. That means not a lot of rain, lots of sun to dry things out, and wind to blow things out. The main difference that I have found between high desert cars and "low" desert cars is how bad their dried out. The lower desert gets a lot more heat and higher temperatures that tend to rot rubber and crystalize plastic parts. The high desert gets colder, stays cooler longer year round, and usually does not get quite as hot as the lower desert areas. Plus there is the wind factor. Windy conditions are good for drying out cars so moisture can't build up. Most desert cars are known for being rust free, and except for a few small exceptions, this one is too. I can hear the East coast people crying already. I'm curious if you could even find an original '71 intact on the East coast. I'm talking a daily driver, like mine, that has been driven on almost a daily basis it's entire life. No, I'm not a right-coast hater either. In fact, I have many cousins that live back East, Pennsylvania to be exact. Some day I'll make it back to St. Marys, Johnsonburg, or Wilcox... driving my rust-free Oldsmobile!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Tale of a modern day car deal

If you're like me, you have probably seen classic car prices sky rocket over the past 5 years or more. I have watched in disbelief as the prices on a lot of my favorite cars continue to go skyward. When I was growing up they use to say "convertible" was a thousand dollar word. Heck, try ten thousand now-a-days, no matter what the condition.

I can vividly remember buying my second car - a 1969 Chevelle Malibu - for $300 from a neighbor that lived down my street. When I finally got up the nerve to go ask my elderly neighbor if she wanted to sell it, she told me that the Mail Man had been asking her about it and she was thinking of selling it to him! I gave her puppy dog eyes and told her that I really needed a car to get to school. She told me he had offered $500 dollars and then asked what I would pay. I was honest, I told her all I had was $300 dollars but I had a part-time job and could make payments to her. To my suprise, she said she would take $300 dollars, as long as I promised to take good care of the car. Boy, would I ever! What can you get for $300 dollars you ask? How about an all original '69 Malibu with 28,000 original miles on it! It was Grandma tan, black interior, dog dish hub caps, 307 with a power glide. I remember it still had the original spark plug wires on it! This was my high school car. It saw many engines, including a wicked 396. I also converted it to a 4-speed. Ahh, the memories...

I must warn you, I have owned a bunch of cars. Just over 100 I believe. I could tell you a million stories about the ones that I should have kept. I think we all have at least one story like that. If only I had that car today...Does that phrase sound familiar?  Some of my "good" ones include:

1967 Ford Mustang Fastback, 390, top loader, 9 inch locker, manual disc brakes.

1955 Chevy 210 2 door post, 396 w/ hooker conversion kit, 4-speed trans.

1957 Chevy Belair 2 door hardtop, 327 tri-power, 4-speed trans.

1969 Chevy Chevelle SS 396, 4-speed, 12 bolt posi.

1967 Pontiac Firebird 400, 4-speed, posi w/ factory traction bars, radio and heater delete - basically ordered from the factory stripped for racing.

1968 Pontiac GTO, 400, 4-speed, red w/ red interior.

1969 Pontiac Firebird Sprint, OHC 6 cyl HO w/ 4 bbl carb, 4-speed, posi.

1969 Pontiac Firebird convertible, 350 HO, auto, A/C, power disc brakes.

1970 Pontiac Trans Am, 396 engine swap, automatic, 12 bolt posi.

and many more...
I guess I should get to the subject of this story. We have all heard on the news lately about how the economy is going south, business is slow, spending is down, house prices are tanking, etc. Alas, there are some positives about the national economy taking a dump. One is that classic cars prices - like stocks - tend to go down, way down in some cases. I watch car prices. Call it a hobby or just a sick obsession, but I am checking prices at least 3 times a week. So now I'm watching the prices fall on many of the cars that I would love to have, with only one small problem - I don't have any money! That's right, no money, as in zero, nada, zilch, zippo, nothing. I think you get the idea. So how can I take advantage of all these killer deals that abound? You have to get creative, that's all. Let me tell you how...

You see, I had this gi-normus SUV that gulped down gallons of Opec's finest every day. It was my daily driver that use to be the family vehicle. (now you know how I rate in the family, I get the left overs) I guess it wasn't that bad. Take a look and you decide...

So I'm stuck driving this rolling brick and wondering to myself how am I going to get some money to take advantage of this depressed muscle car market. The funny thing was, I already knew the answer. I had done it before. So if I had done it before, history dictates that I should be able to do it again, right? What was it you ask? The original way of getting what you want - trade for it. Yeah, trade, barter, swap, call it what you want, but it works. You see, I did it not to long ago by responding to an ad that I saw in Auto Trader that said: "for sale or trade". My daily driver at the time was a 535i BMW that I barely fit into. The car was fast, got good mileage, looked sharp, but it just didn't fit me. Do you want to know what I did? I traded it straight across for a 1961 Ford F-100 Pickup.

This was my Beemer.....

and this is the truck I traded it for....

Before you go saying how I got ripped off, you have to know the details. I felt like I was in a coffin when I was in the BMW, and I don't know what the heck I was thinking when I bought it. Maybe it was the fact that it was a 5 speed stick, or had the M-5 six cylinder in it. The car hauled ass, but it just wasn't me. For the peanut counters out there, the BMW booked for around $4500 and I ended up selling the Ford for $5800, so you do the math.

The first thing I do is start searching my favorite automotive web sites for folks who are interested in trading. Searching is kind of a loose term for me because I am always on the web anyways, watching prices and looking for deals that I can't afford. All I really did was modify my search parameters to find the ads with the keyword "trade" in it. I looked at a few duds before I found one that I wanted to trade for, like the 1967 Corvair Monza that I looked at. It had rust so bad in the cowl area that I swear the car was bowing between the front fenders and the doors. With todays gas prices it was kind of tough to find someone who actually wanted a gas-guzzling SUV, so my choices were kind of slim. I just knew there was someone out there. The Corvair guy would have traded for a Yugo as long as it didn't have any rust. I actually did find someone who was looking for a SUV. Do you want to know what I finally ended up trading for? I thought I would stick with something I already knew plenty about and had lots of spares. (Read: save money on parts) I managed to find a trade for a 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass "S" 2-door hard top.

Here is the grandma fresh Oldsmo-bubble that I got. Maybe the word "fresh" is being a little generous. Ok, a lot generous. The best thing about it is that it has almost zero rust. The rear quarters are cherry, as is the trunk floor, floor pans, and most of the body. There are some signs of rust at the bottom of the front fenders, and a little bit on one side of the vinyl top, but that's about it. Compared to that Corvair I looked at, this thing is in conquers condition. It has a V-8, 2bbl carb, automatic, A/C, power steering, power disc brakes, and of all things a remote trunk release. Go figure. So this is my new project, my daily driver, my subject for this blog. As I work on it to bring it back to it's former glory, you will be able to follow along. Watch and learn by my mistakes as I plod along with various projects on this beast. Even if your into Buicks, Chevelles or GTOs, a lot of the repairs will be similiar because all of them are on GM's "A" body platform. Check back often to see what's going on in Franks Classic Car Garage.