Thursday, October 24, 2013

FranktoidTM No. 11 - The Missing Link

I knew at a very young age that something was not quite right. I could see that there was a difference between me and other guys my age. In my youth almost all of my friends liked a certain something that I didn't even care about. They would spend countless hours obsessing about it, talking about it, watching it, and even playing it. As I got older they would bet on it, argue about it, fantasize about it, make decisions based on it, purchase items because of it, and even change their life for it. What is this all powerful force I am referring to? Is it a super addictive drug? A hardcore addiction? Is it an extreme fetish? Some folks would think so. The influential corps that I am talking about is none other then sports. That's right, SPORTS!

I really think there is a sports gene and that I was born without it. While my classmates were playing flag football I was reading Popular Hot Rodding and drawing pictures of blown Chrysler Hemis. When the neighbor kids were outside playing baseball I was building models like the S'cool Bus and the Tijuana Taxi. When friends were watching the playoffs on TV, I was watching movies like American Graffiti, Two Lane Blacktop, and The Hollywood Knights. Some guys can rattle off batting averages or yards rushed for almost any given player. I knew engine cylinder firing orders, block codes, and spark plug gaps. My buddies wore jerseys and sweat shirts with their favorite team logo on them. I wore tee shirts with characters drawn by Ed "Big Daddy" Roth. Team jacket? Nope, NASCAR jacket. NFL, NBA, MLB, MLS follower? Nope, SCTA, NHRA, SCCA, NJBA follower.  You see, for every sports reaction, there is a non-sports counter action. But my counter action goes much deeper.

The aforementioned gene completely missed the pool in my case. Not only did I not have any interest in sports, but also fishing, hunting, camping, et al. I have know other guys who liked the car stuff along with the sports and other junk, but I have yet to meet another male who feels the same way I do. I know that there are more of us out there, but we are a rare breed, often referred to in Latin as Exterius Ludis, or "without sports". Consider the following; as I am writing this the World Series is playing out on television. I could not tell you who is winning or for that matter, which teams are even playing! Ditto for the Super Bowl when it rolls around. NBA Finals? You guessed it, clueless. We even speak a different language. Consider these popular sport terms and what they mean to me:

Grand Slam - Breakfast at Dennys
Single - Without a girlfriend
Line Drive - Engine, transmission, and rearend
Home Run - Scoring with the girlfriend
Dribbling - Too much beer in my mouth
Double Dribble - Beer coming out of my mouth and nose
Traveling - Road trip!
Unnecessary Roughness - Crappy body work
False Start - You think the engine is going to start but it doesn't
Illegal Return - Returning a used auto part as a new one
Impeding Progress - Honey do list is preventing you from working on your project car
Technical Penalty - Sounds like a DMV fee to me!

So there you have it, a gear heads take on a very testosterone laden subject. Like Popeye said, "I yam what I yam" and there is no changing me. Motor oil will forever run through my veins and my memory is no where near full. There is plenty of room left on my hard drive for the next automotive adventure. Just think of all the stories yet to come. I don't know about you but I can't wait...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

An Exhausting Situation

I was driving around in my latest purchase, a 1967 Olds Delmont 88, assessing the cars needs and trying to get a good idea of just how much I can trust this hulking behemoth on the open road. One thing I noticed was that the engine was running as though there was a major restriction in the exhaust. From my pre-purchase inspection I knew that the muffler and pipes were mostly original and in sad shape. The entire exhaust is in dire need of replacement due to rust, holes and leaking, but not a restriction, or so I thought. To exasperate the situation, the car had a major heat soak problem which was causing a hard start condition after it was warmed up. If you have ever worked on a early GM product you know that most are equipped with a heat controlled valve located at the end of one of the exhaust manifolds. The purpose of this valve is to re-direct the exhaust gasses when the engine is cold, up through the center of the intake manifold, passing them directly under the carburetor and then exiting through the opposite head and finally dumping into the exhaust manifold. Why you ask? Well, GM engineers discovered that this method not only warmed up the engine quicker but also aided in making the motor run smoother when it was cold.

The valve in question is counter weighted and controlled by a bi-metal spring. It's natural state is in the closed position, only opening when the spring heats up from the exhaust heat and starts to coil up, opening the valve in the process. GM engineers installed a counter weight to aid the spring in the opening process and also to act as a fail safe in case the spring broke. What they didn't account for was the valve seizing up, rendering both the spring and weight useless. I checked the valve on the Olds and it wouldn't budge. It was seized solid and I had the sneaking suspicion that it was in the closed position. Unfortunately there is only one way to find out for sure, you have to pull the exhaust crossover pipe down from the manifold. This sounds simple enough but consider that the bolts in the exhaust flanges have probably not been touched in over 40 years! My initial thought was to take the slow approach and muscle the bolts out using a socket and ratchet. As I started to crank on one of the bolts, something just didn't feel right. I got this sick feeling that the bolt was about to twist off and then I would really be up a creek. At this point I figured I had nothing to lose so I abandoned the ratchet and broke out the impact gun. This turned out to be a good decision as it made quick work of removing all the flange bolts - in one piece!
As you can see the bolt on the right was real close to breaking.
As soon as I removed the crossover pipe all of my suspicions were confirmed. The valve was stuck in the closed position. At this point you basically have two choices, you can either get the valve working again or remove it. I chose the latter and decided to remove it permanently, but this is no easy task if you plan on doing it while the manifold is still bolted to the engine.
A little restriction anyone?
As you can see by the photo the selection of tools available for this valves removal is very limited given the space constraints. My initial thought was to use a cut off wheel to remove the plate and just leave the shaft in place. This was easier said then done as there is just no room to maneuver the tool up to the plate. I had to come up with another way to remove this valve that didn't involve removing the exhaust manifold. Finally I came up with a plan. My idea was to use a cold chisel to break the shaft at each end and remove the entire plate. I figured the whole thing was nice and brittle from all the heating and cooling cycles over the years. I think this would have worked if I could have hit the end of the chisel with a hammer, but once again I found out that there was not enough room to swing the hammer because the chisel was just too short. While I was looking for a longer one I ran across a bit that fit my air chisel. Before you could say "Bobs your Uncle" I had come up with a new plan.

Armed with my air chisel I crawled under the car to attack the valve. In less then a minute I had the whole thing out. The shaft sheared cleanly on the inside leaving the counter weight intact on the outer piece of the shaft. It was still seized up and the inner edge was bent a little so I wasn't too worried about it falling out. What a piece of cake! I don't know why I didn't think of this in the first place.
This is what was left of the offending valve.
After the valve was out I cleaned up the flanges of the crossover pipe and buttoned it back up with stainless steel hardware. I also coated all the bolt threads with anti-seize to make future removal easier. Now that the stuck heat riser valve was taken care of, the next step is to address the exhaust, which is in dire need of replacement. I'll cover the exhaust system makeover in another blog because, if you'll pardon the pun, I'm exhausted!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

There and Back Again - An Automotive Journey

Classic cars have been in my life since I was 15. I cannot remember a time in my life when I did not own at least one old car, but most of the time it was numerous vehicles that littered my driveway in various states of repair. Classic cars rapidly became a mainstay in my life and I seemed to forever be working on a "project". I can still picture my parent's driveway the summer after I had turned twenty. This would have been at the peak of my car "collecting". They lived in an older Victorian where the garage was way in the back, so the driveway was quite long. The entire driveway was full, from front to back, with a car in the garage (a 55 Chevy if I remember right) and another one stuffed in the backyard. I probably could have started a used muscle car lot! As I started to get older and my responsibilities grew, the car collection began to shrink as my priorities shifted. Full driveways were reduced to full garages which were further reduced to single digit projects with lots of garage room.

Time went on and the cars came and went. Chevelles, GTOs, Mustangs, Impalas, Camaros, Tri-five Chevys, etc. I was never good at keeping rides, probably because I always treated them like bank accounts. Every time I got in a jam I would cash out some of my "savings" by selling a car. This became a really bad habit for me and pretty soon my garage became a revolving door for cars and trucks. It got to the point that I would literally sell or trade a vehicle just because I was bored with it. I know that doesn't sound too bad but consider this: The time frame that I would get bored was just hours after I had taken possession of the car! At the time where most people are fawning over their new ride I was already contemplating how to get rid of it and jonesing over yet another one.

 I didn't know it but the perfect storm was brewing. Take my bulimic tendency towards cars, combine it with a pay cut at work via "furloughs", sprinkle in some Great Recession (which did not "officially" end, I don't care what the media says), top it off with outrageous gas prices (only in CA) along with a side of lets raise your car, house and medical insurance and you have the perfect combination to wipe out savings accounts and car collections. I was done. I needed to survive, not drive, at least not a classic car, so I sold what I had and that was it. If you're interested in reading that story I wrote about it here.

It wasn't until I starting writing this that I realized that it had been two years since I had owned a classic car or anything that could even remotely be considered one. Heck, for one of those years I didn't even have a car I could call my own! (The Mustang is the wife's, not mine. She's just really nice and let's me drive it.) That's right, no vehicle. None. Nada. Zilch. Zippo. Two years is a heck of a long time. In dog years that would be 14 years! It was tough being in car-less prison but I survived. I think I needed that break so when I did find the next project I would better appreciate what I had. Remember that perfect storm I had mentioned earlier? Well sometimes it works both ways and just like the old saying goes, when it rains, it pours!

Do you ever wonder why things happen the way they happen? Is it fate, luck, or karma? I just happened to have a little extra money from a side job and decided to buy a "commuter car" for myself. Nothing fancy, just something to go to and from work and also be a backup car in case a family members vehicle broke down. I eagerly set out to find my new ride but was soon met with disappointment. Any decent looking cars sold before I managed to go check them out and the others that I did manage to see should have only been sold to a wrecking yard! When I finally found something decent and it got sold out from underneath me, I had just about given up. But a little flame was still burning inside of me for a classic car and it got me thinking, if I could find an older ride for the same amount of cash, why not?  Hopefully it would be one that ran and didn't come with all of it's parts in buckets. With the current state of the economy it didn't take long to locate some potential candidates and let me tell you, the classic car gods were smiling down at me because I not only got one nice car, I got two!

Even though it's a good time to by a classic car the mainstream rides are still too pricey, at least for my budget. I had 4 large which pretty much precluded me from getting any two door Chevy, Mopar, or Ford. I realized this before I started my search so I focused my efforts on non-mainstream cars like Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac. I soon discovered that Pontiacs are kind of popular and as such, also out of my range, unless I wanted to settle for a body shell or a rusting behemoth. What I really wanted was an "A-body" car but all I seemed to be finding were "B-body" rides. Now I have owned my share of full size cars, from multiple Chevy Impalas, to a Buick Electra 225 and even a Pontiac Star Chief, so I am familiar with them. I decided I was not going to be picky this time and had really lowered my expectations. During my many weeks of searching a certain B-body Oldsmobile kept popping up and I noticed the price kept going lower. I finally decided to call and make arrangements to go check it out. What I discovered was a 1967 Olds Delmont 88 with 82 thousand original miles. To make matters even sweeter it was only a 2 owner car and had every receipt and record since it was purchased new! The best part about the whole deal was that the final price was only $1000 bucks! That's right, 1G and I drove it home. Lady Luck was with me on this day for sure. Don't get the wrong impression here, the car does need a lot of work but why it hadn't sold prior to me purchasing it is beyond me.

The newest addition to the Amberlight Garage

The Olds runs and drives beautifully. With 425 cubic inches on tap, it's no slouch either. My appreciation for Oldsmobiles goes way back and this particular one reminds me of my friend Duane's grandfather's car. I rode in it just a few times but will never forget how his grandfather drove. I would watch him from the back seat and he would steer the car with just one finger as it would ooze down the street, as if it were floating on a cloud. He made it look totally effortless, like he was sitting in an easy chair flipping the TV remote. One of the first things I did when I got behind the wheel was to try and replicate the single digit steering method. I can report that it worked flawlessly as the power steering in these cars is amazing. By now you're probably wondering about the second car in this story. After all, I did mention that I had acquired two cars...

Purchase number two was a total accident. I had actually called and left a message on this particular car weeks earlier but had not received a call back. Because it was a 2 door hardtop, I assumed it had been sold. Boy was I wrong. It turned out that the owner was just really busy and had received so many inquiries about it that he gave up on returning phone calls. When I saw the ad had been re-posted with the words "must sell" in it, I decided to try again. After a few days and more then a few calls, my persistence paid off and the seller actually answered the phone! I figured my window of opportunity would be small so I was ready to leave on short notice if necessary. I turned out that he was only going to be home for an hour so if I was going to see this thing the time was now. Lady Luck smiled on me again as I discovered that the car was located less then 10 miles from my house! I grabbed my stash of cash and booked it out the door. Fifteen minutes later I was staring at a 1972 Olds Cutlass 442 hardtop. This car had been sitting for many years and looked like it, complete with a thick layer of dirt, faded paint, and flat tires. I was surprised when the seller asked me if I wanted to hear it run. After hearing the engine and checking over the entire car I just wasn't sure that I wanted to pull the trigger on this one. I think the owner noticed my hesitation because after a little bit he offered me the following deal: If I bought the car right now he would let it go for $2500! Being the cheap bastard that I am, I acted like I was mulling it over but was also keenly aware that I was in danger of overplaying my hand. As I was walking around the car I thought out loud "how am I going to get this thing home if I buy it?" and as soon as I said it the seller responded with "and I'll get it towed to your house." I only had one thing to say after that...SOLD!
My first Father and Son project car
A project for sure but I had a plan that was brewing for awhile. I had wanted to buy a Father and Son project car for years but never had the chance until now. Although my son favors Novas and Chevelles, I knew this one would be hard to resist.  How much he participates is yet to be seen but the biggest challenge now is to actually get it into the Amberlight, as it has gotten a little crowded with "stuff" over the past year or so.

So there is my latest automotive journey. To say I have been there and back again is an understatement of epic proportions. I am taking this ball and running with it. Where I'll end up I have no idea but I know one thing for sure, it will be a hell of a ride. Maybe one worth writing about!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Praise The Lowered

Slammed. Scrapin'. Dropped. Draggin'. Dumped. Bumpin'. Bagged. There are many words that all describe the same thing... Lowered! Lowering the suspension is nothing new, gearheads  have been doing it for decades. From traditional low riders to NASCAR look-a-likes, nothing quite says cool like a slammed ride, as long as it is done right. While some cars are so low they almost seem to ooze by as if they are only floating on a thin layer of air, others navigate the road a little more freely due to their perfect stance. Stance can make or break a vehicle and achieving the perfect stance on your ride is not always easy. Stance not only includes the suspension but also the rim and tire combo. Getting those wheelwells filled just right is a crucial component of stance. For most it is trial and error but there are a few that nail it on the first try.

The stance was nailed perfectly on this Mercury.
Some folks live by the creed "low and slow is the way to go" while others equate lowness with speed. With the advent of Pro Touring came engineered lowered suspensions that were designed for speed. Pro Touring replaced Pro Street (where stance played a huge part) and took off like wild fire. Now you could look good, go fast and carve corners all at the same time. Unfortunately, I think we are starting to see the beginning of the end of Pro Touring due to the fact that the cars are just getting too serious and technical. What started out as a cutting edge trend has turned into a check book writing contest to see who can one-up who. The latest crop of Pro Touring cars are basically full blown track cars that have more in common with a race car then a street car and I see them going the same route as Pro Street cars went. Remember out outlandish they got?

Who can forget Rick Dobbertin's outragous Pro Street Pontiac J2000?

 Now-a-days you can't talk about a dropped ride without mentioning air bags. "Bagged" suspensions seemed to be all the rage for awhile, complete with on-board compressors and banks of switches that allowed for full suspension adjustment. While the versatility of these systems made them a popular choice for many, I have never viewed them as a permanent component of the suspension, mostly due to the fact that the only thing between the weight of your vehicle and the road is an air bag. I'll take a good ol' set of coil springs any day over bags, but that's just my preference.

The common thread here among all the vehicle trends is ride height, or more precisely, the lack thereof. I don't think low will ever go out of style as it is just too much of a game changer when it comes to looks. So weather you like low and slow or low and go, the big question here is, how low will you go?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

God Made a Farmer

This was the official Ram Trucks Super Bowl commercial that I just saw for the first time. There was a lot of press on all the other "funny" commercials but I don't remember reading anything about this one. Do yourself a favor and watch this.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

FranktoidTM No. 10 - AC Cobra Reincarnated!

This is a must see video of a relatively unknown car. Feast your eyes on this pure American muscle that is nothing short of awesome...

Saturday, January 19, 2013

FranktoidTM No. 9 - A Wolf in Elephant's Clothing

In the automotive or racing fields, almost everyone has heard the mantra "there is no replacement for good old displacement". More cubic inches meant more power, plain and simple. Back in the day almost everyone wanted a Big Block Chevy, but big blocks commanded big bucks, even back then. You could score one for cheap if you were lucky enough to find a big block equipped passenger car at the wrecking yard, but big block trucks were far more plentiful and easier to locate, provided you looked at the one ton range and lower. The heavier trucks were supplied with a commercial vehicle tall deck version of the big block that shared almost no parts with the standard big block, and for which there were no performance parts made.

Fast forward to the present day. Tall deck big blocks have largely gone the way of the Dodo bird and the LS series small block is all the rage. GM has been stuffing the LS in all kinds of platforms for years now, from passenger cars to pickup trucks. I guess it should come as no suprise that the General also offers it in a commercial truck version, in the form of a 6.0 L (364 cubic inch) engine with a cast iron block. These are far more plentiful then their all aluminum brothers, and generally cost less also.

I never knew it, but you can find a 6 liter LS in a Chevy W4500 box truck. Certain Izuzu trucks also came equipped with the same motor. I spotted this one the other day and it was truly a wolf in elephant's clothing.
My first clue was the "6.0L" signs on the side of the cab
Look what I see lurking below the cab - 6 liters of LS power!