Saturday, December 8, 2012

FranktoidTM No. 8 - Elcar, The Electric Passenger Car

Some of the least desirable American cars were made in the mid-70's. From eye sore designs to sluggish performance, there was not a lot of good coming out of Detroit. There was however, innovation. A good example of this was in the form of an all electric passenger car from the Elcar Corporation of Elkhart Indiana. The Elcar was completely street legal and featured an all fiberglass body, three-point seat belts, windshield wiper and washer, safety glass, side and rear view mirrors, horn and running lights, and a battery charger. Optional equipment included a radio, heater, courtesy lamp, wheel covers, spare tire with jack, and even a single car trailer! The motor was a 48 volt energized excited with a rear axle drive and featured a driving range of approximately 45 miles with a top speed of 25 MPH. A faster model was available that could reach 35 MPH but it had a reduced driving range of 30 miles. Given that these vehicles used eight 6 volt tar top batteries (like the Trojan T-105), that driving range would have been typical. Some reports state that the Elcar used 12 volt automotive type batteries but the model that I serviced many years ago had 6 volt batteries in it from the factory.

Because of the Elcar's size, it was often referred to as a "golf cart for the street". I am sure this scared off more then a few customers, given the majority of the other cars on the road at the time were nothing short of hulking behemoths. In reality, the Elcar was only slightly smaller then a new electric Smart Car. Elcar is 84 inches long, 53 inches wide, and 63 inches tall. A Smart For Two is 106 inches long (which includes the bumpers), 61 inches wide, and 61 inches tall. Dimensions is the only thing that is similiar in these two vehicles as the electric Smart Car is miles ahead in everything else, including the batteries which are lithium-ion.

So what happened to the Elcar? In a word, safety. Even though other passenger cars had to conform to Federal Safety Standards, the Government granted temporary exemptions of most of these standards to electric vehicle manufacturers to spur the development of zero emission vehicles. Unfortunately, most of the end results were disastrous. From suspensions that collasped during hard braking, to lead acid batteries located in the passenger compartment, not to mention no roll-over protection, the Elcar was an insurance company's nightmare. I wonder if you could even find one intact today?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Summer in San Francisco

Here at the Amberlight Garage I receive all kinds of email, mostly spam, but all kinds. Every once in awhile a gem shows up in my inbox. I received the following video today in an email from Ian M. The car is the star and in this case it is a 1964 Ford Falcon Futura. Watching this brought back a flood of memories of my '64 Falcon Sprint that I use to own. Man, I wish I still had that car...
Summer in San Francisco from Pre-Future LLC on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hidden Gremlins

One of GM's engineering marvels in the 60's were hidden headlights, or more specifically, hide away headlights. Starting in 1963, Chevrolet used them on their newly restyled Corvette and they more or less became a styling fixture on the car. Then, in 1966, GM designers decided to grace the front end of the Olds Toronado and Buick Riviera with hide away lights also. Next up to use these unique lights was the 1967 Camaro, which is the subject of our story here. The main difference between the '67 and '68 systems is that the '67 systems were equipped with electric headlight door motors, versus vacuum operated for '68 on up. A lot of work went into engineering these early systems, as anyone who has ever worked on them can attest. I can now put myself into that latter catagory, as I recently had the pleasure (?) of diagnosing and repairing a hidden headlight system on a '67 Camaro.
They look great all closed up which is the way these wanted to stay - permanently.

The first thing I had to do was track down a wiring diagram for the Camaro's headlight system. This is easier said then done. Wiring diagrams or schematics are essential in helping to diagnose problems and locate components. After some heavy duty searching I managed to locate a really nice schematic drawing of the 67's unique hide away headlight system. Pouring over the diagram I discovered that it contained no less then four relays and two breaker type fuses. These "fuses" are unique because instead of blowing out like a conventional fuse, they act more like a circuit breaker in a house electrical panel. When the load across them becomes too great it heats up a bi-metal spring contact which separates and breaks the connection. After some initial testing for voltage at the headlight motors, I decided I would start with these fuses, as it seemed to be a power problem (or lack of) that was keeping the Camaro's headlights from working.

As it turned out, one of the fuses was bad. These puppies were rated at 30 amps so they can usually handle a load pretty well. I took it apart and it looked like it got really hot on the inside, almost like it was shorted out. Because these are a stud type breaker you can't exactly find replacements at the local parts store, so I had to get creative. I used a heavy duty, weather tight, 30 amp spade type fuse holder and crimped an eyelet on each end to go over the studs on the breaker. The breaker might not be any good anymore but it would serve as a mount for the inline holder. I ruled out a short in the system so what could have drawn over 30 amps to cook the original breaker? The only component capable of doing that was the headlight motor, but the owner told me they were both brand new. Now what?

More testing was needed to determine what caused the breaker to fail. Plus, after installing the new fuse, only one headlight motor started working. Well, at least it was half way fixed! After I applied 12 volts directly to the non-working motor it still wouldn't work, so I had no choice but to remove it. The only problem is that in order to get to the electric motor you have to take out the entire headlight bucket assembly. Now I know why shops charge so much for electrical work! I also realized that I don't charge enough...

Once the motor was out and on my work bench, I took it apart to see if maybe one of the brushes broke or something. Everything looked good inside the motor but I knew it didn't work so something had to be wrong. I decided to test the armature and that's where I found the problem. The motor was either shorted out or got stuck while under power and it burned up the thin wires going from the commutator to the armature windings. With the breaker taking the brunt of this it's no wonder it failed. A new motor was ordered and on it's way, but would that solve all of this Camaro's headlight problems? In a word, no!

Once the new motor was hooked up I quickly discovered what burned up the other motor. You see, on the 67's headlight system there are limit switches, two per side. Their purpose is to kill the voltage to the motor (via the relay and aforementioned fuse) when the headlight door is in either the open or closed position. On this particular side the limit switch for the closed position was out of adjustment causing the motor to run continuously. The original motor probably overheated and the resulting amp draw damaged the breaker and fried the motor's armature. After the limit switch was properly adjusted, the Camaro's headlight system worked perfectly - well, almost. In my experience, electrical systems usually have more then one problem and this one was no exception.

 The last item the car suffered from was a dim headlight, one that I was told had plagued the Camaro for awhile. Changing out the headlight did not work, so I had to go back to the drawing board, literally. After pouring over the schematic and double checking all the connections, I discovered a ground lug that had been cut from the headlight harness. Apparently someone was in a hurry when they removed it at one time or another and never bothered to hook it back up. A word to the wise - grounds exist for a reason! Hook them up and don't feed the Gremlins!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

FranktoidTM No. 7 - Ford Had The Better Idea

Did you know that the first child safety seat was made by an auto manufacturer? It looks like Ford was first out of the gate in early 1968, designing a seat equipped with a molded plastic shield fitted with a foam pad to protect young passengers. Ford dubbed it the "Tot-Guard". GM soon followed suit with it's own infant seat, and cleverly called it the "Love Seat for toddlers". GM is also credited with designing the first rear-facing child restraint seat. These early child safety seats are rarer then rare, and next to impossible to find a photograph of.

There are plenty of examples of earlier "child seats" but these are not to be confused with actual safety seats. These non-safety seats usually hung over the back of the front seat facing forward, with no restraints whatsoever. Franks Classic Car Blog has actually obtained a grainy, black and white photograph of the Ford safety seat, which I believe was a press handout back in the day.
Ford's first car seat. Too bad the child can't see forward.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ode To Jay Leno

What can be said about Jay Leno that hasn't already been said? The man is a great comedian, businessman, philanthropist, and most of all, a great "car guy". I can remember when he took over for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. I always thought he was the perfect choice to fill those shoes. Years ago, I read an article somewhere that said he was a collector of classic cars. It went on to list some of the cars that he owned at the time, complete with pictures. All of a sudden I had a whole new appreciation for the guy. To me he now seemed even cooler, if that was even possible. Heck, it was his now famous garage (who's kidding who here, it's a warehouse) that was the impetus for me to build the Amberlight Garage. Make no mistake, these two garages are light years apart in both size and contents, but both are equal when it comes to appreciating old cars and mechanical things in general.

I have never had the pleasure of meeting him, but when you hang around classic car venues and talk with the folks there you tend to hear stories, and the story I always hear on Jay Leno is that he is really knowledgeable and easy to talk to, basically just like any other car guy. Of course the obvious difference is that he has one of the coolest vehicle collections in the world. So cool that I would gladly give my antique, glass faced Valvoline shop thermometer just to photograph it! Yea, I know he's famous and all that, but it's really his cars that are the stars.

So what can a guy like me do to see this incredible car collection? That's the million dollar question. I suppose I could just go up and ask him, but I would have to almost stalk the guy to get that opportunity and that is just a bit creepy. I'm sure most folks ask for Jay's autograph or a photo with him, and here I am asking to see his cars and photograph them! It probably seems wierd to most people but I know car guys get it. They know how it feels. They know the rush, the excitement, the absolute sheer awe of gazing upon a virtual cornucopia of mechanical marvels. It is basically the automotive equivalent of the The Rockettes; all beautiful bodies, lots of bright colors and lights, and it leaves you wanting to see more!

Do you think a regular Joe like myself even stands a chance of ever seeing Jay Leno's car collection, let alone photograph it? Let's face it, Jay's garage is the Holy Grail of garages, probably the coolest one on the planet. What's a garage junkie to do? And what about my fasination with garages? My garage fetish has been well documented on these very pages, from The Garage Mahal and Of Garages and Men to If You Build It They Will Come. I can think of no one more qualified to peruse this automotive labyrinth then myself, or maybe me and my buddy Duane, who is basically a walking automotive encyclopedia. One things for sure, at least I can add it to my bucket list.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ghosts of Detroit

I ran across this video of Alan Hill, the man who lives in an abandoned Packard Automobile Plant in Detroit. This place would be a pickers paradise...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

FranktoidTM No. 6 - California Cadillac Graveyard Discovered!

Deep in the vast wilderness of California's high desert is a rather odd ball collection of Cadillacs that you almost have to see to believe. Somebody seems to have a fetish for 1978-79 Sevilles and certain Eldorados, with a few Sedan Devilles thrown in for good measure. It looks like there is acres of them and this does not appear to be a business! Is this an automotive hoarder? A Caddy collector? A Seville stasher? Your guess is as good as mine but as they say, the proof is in the pudding, so here are a couple of photos to put your suspicions to rest.

This is one extreme Cadillac collection!

Now why can't these be Chevelles? Actually, I have heard of a similar hoard of vehicles but consisting of all mid 60's Chevys. I'll be sure and fill you in when I find that one... yeah, right.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Picture is Worth Two Thousand Words

Times are tough. Everything is getting more and more expensive and my paycheck seems to be getting smaller and smaller. All of my dollars now have permanent stretch marks and I can't even afford to pay attention anymore! The Amberlight Garage is currently devoid of any vehicles right now but I hope to remedy that situation soon. It really sucks when you start getting car show applications in the mail for the upcoming summer season and you don't even have a cool car! I mainly go to these shows to photograph cars, so obviously I can still do that, just without the premium parking.

 It's also nice to take a trip down memory lane once in awhile and there is no better way to do this then by perusing classic car pictures. Do you know that old saying "a picture is worth a thousand words?" Well, I discovered a site where the pictures are worth 2 thousand words! It has alot of the stuff I like; old cars, patina, cool outdoor locations, and expertly taken photos. Check it out here. If you like Andrea Kelley's photographs as much as I do you should also point your mouse to Nebraska Sky, the home of Nebraska landscapes and vintage car art. Remember, if you like what you see be sure and spread the word, or in this case, two thousand words!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

It's All In The Details

Details, details, details - they can drive you nuts. If you want your classic to stand out in a crowd, pay attention to the details. From suspension to engine, there is always something that could use some extra attention. One major detail on any ride is the engine and the compartment that it resides in. I can remember as a teenager one of the very first things I would do to any car that I had was detail the engine compartment. I went through cases of Plasticoat paint. Semi-gloss black was my color of choice. I know what you're thinking, that it was just "spray bombed", but let me tell you that there was a lot of prep work involved. I've seen some crude spray jobs also, but mine could have been considered works of art.

Technically, it's not about just painting either. A good detail on the engine should include new plug wires, holders, distributor cap, vacuum hoses, water hoses, clamps, etc. Also, removing these components allows for a better detail on the engine itself. Don't let the lack of chrome valve covers stop you either. With careful masking and sanding you can two-tone an engine and achieve excellent results. A lot of my tricks were learned from my good friend Jim. He was the master of detailing an engine. Jim even made up special tips for the spray cans that could get into hard to reach areas without making a mess and when he popped the hood on his Camaro it would always attract a crowd. Like my friend Jim, I am also a stickler for details. I guess that makes me sort of a nitpicker, or maybe even a fussbudget, but definitely not obsessive - compulsive. Just don't ask my wife...

For your perusing pleasure, here are some pictures of a detail job I did on my '62 Mercury. Enjoy!
This is what the engine compartment looked like before the detail

Painting the engine block gloss black

Prepping the valve covers for paint

Painting the valve covers and being careful about the overspray

All done and detailed

Was the detail job worth it? You bet! Afterwards I was able to lift my hood at the car shows and feel proud of what I had accomplished. The gloss black on the block went well with the flat black engine compartment and semi-gloss pulleys and brackets. The gold valve covers, gold flames and red plug wires really made the whole thing pop.

So there you have it, all the details! Sorry, I couldn't resist. Just be prepared to use a lot of elbow grease, newspaper, and tape. Also remember that overspray can ruin your day, so when it doubt, mask it!