Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Give Me a Brake

To me, the only thing worse then not owning a classic car is owning one and not being able to drive it. That's right where I am with my '62 Merc. Oh sure, technically it runs and drives, if you don't mind a leaking freeze plug, vacuum leaks, and practically being thrown through the windshield when you step on the brakes. Leaking water and vacuum I can handle, but the brakes is where I draw the line. You might say stopping is very high on my priority list and when it comes to a cars braking system, I am almost obsessive compulsive. One near death experience when you're 16 will do that to you. Heck, that probably explains why my first ASE certification was in brakes.

The previous owner of the Merc warned me that the brakes were a bit "touchy". Gee, you think? I don't think touchy is the right word here, I'd say they are more like "grabby to the point of ripping the seat belt anchors out of the floor and projecting you through the front windshield." Yeah, that's it. He also opined that the proportioning valve was the source of the problem. Yes, I could agree with that synopsis if it weren't for one minor item: the Merc's braking system doesn't have a proportioning valve! It's not that the valve is missing or anything, it's just that four wheel drum brake systems didn't use them, especially with single reservoir master cylinders. My suspicions were with the front brake shoes. I had a feeling that the shoes were installed backwards, with the smaller primary shoe facing towards the rear. This would cause the front brakes to bind or lock up with just the slightest braking pressure. Theories and suspicions are great until you have to prove them, and now I have to perform some manual labor to prove mine.

Here is the Merc Cruiser in dry dock awaiting a retrofit.

 What I thought was going to be an easy job is turning out to be a major project. It seems as though I have opened Pandora's Box. Gee, what a suprise.  I knew I was in for trouble when I discovered that the front brake drums are swedged or pressed onto the hubs, thereby making their easy removal impossible. It looks like I am forced to pull the entire hub and drum assembly in order to inspect the brake shoes. Things quickly went from bad to worse when I noticed the Merc still wearing it's original 48 year old FoMoCo drums.

Here is the front drum and hub assembly finally removed.

No suprise here, all the brake hardware looked original and wasted. It appeared as though the only thing stopping this car was dumb luck. Just as I suspected, the primary shoe was installed backwards.

Your looking at the drivers side of the Merc Cruiser.


Check out the grooves in this drum. This drum is junk and totally unsafe.

This is a prime example of a "shade tree" mechanic brake job. It's pretty darn scary to see what some people will do just to save a few bucks. A visual inspection revealed that the only item replaced was the brake shoes, and they were installed backwards! Every other item was just plain wore out, from the bearings and leaking grease seal to the rusty return springs and hold down hardware. Even the teeth on the auto adjuster gear was wore out to the point that it no longer worked. What's even scarier is remembering how the big Merc got to the Amberlight, by driving it on the freeway at 65+ MPH!

So what's next for the Merc Cruiser? A total overhaul of the entire brake system is obviously required, along with converting it to a dual reservoir master cylinder. And this car is just screaming for a disc brake conversion, but that's easier said then done. Stay tuned as I weigh the cost of replacing all the parts on the drum brake system versus converting the Merc to disc brakes. I know it sounds like a no-brainer but when you don't have a mainstream car, parts can get kind of expensive, and I'm on a budget. Hey, give me a brake!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Now That's Cool

WARNING: There is gratuitous use of "quotation marks" throughout this blog. You have been "warned"!

I work at a major University and every year I see a new crop of kids who start to forge their way through 4 years of education. Each year brings either a new trend, fad, fancy new gadget, or cause. To say I've seen it all would be an understatement. As far as words go, there is always a new catch phrase or trendy word. I noticed just the other day when I overheard some freshmen talking that one particular word has seemed to stand the test of time. The word in question that they were using so copious was Cool.

That's when I started to think about just how long I had been hearing this particular word. I realized that Cool has been with me awhile. Reflecting back, I remembered using it as far back as grade shool with phrases such as "Mr McCall is cool", "cool bike", and "that's a really cool TV show". As I got older, it was "cool car", "that cops pretty cool", and "man, that's cool!" When I became a parent, Cool was still there with stuff like "cool it!", "smoking is not cool" and "a tattoo will not make you look cool".

Cool has been represented in many forms, such as a cartoon character, Joe Cool; a music group, Cool and the Gang (ok, they used a "K" but it meant the same thing); a song, Cool the Engines by Boston; a movie, Cool Hand Luke; a dessert topping, Cool Whip and even drinks, Kool Aid (again with the "K") and Wine Coolers. My research revealed that Cool has been around since at least the 1930s, when it was used to describe a Musician's "Cool Jazz", as a difference to "Hot Jazz", which was then in vogue. Some credit Jazz Musician Lester Young for popularizing the term in Jazz circles with his style of "Smooth Jazz". It became everyday use after the 2nd World War when the Cool Jazz movement happened.

Cool has survived various spelling mutinies as well, such as kool and kewl, but in the end it always means the same thing... sort of. You see, Cool is one of those multiple meaning words. Cool can take on the same meaning as relaxed, stylish, or even excellent. So what does the foreseeable future hold for Cool? Nobody knows for sure, but whatever iteration is used it's bound to be "cool". If history is any indication, Cool will continue to be used by all generations. Now that's Cool!