Friday, March 24, 2017

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be, maybe it never was.

I'm not picking on Hot Rod magazine specifically, current trends are what they cover.

I just received  my latest copy of Hot Rod magazine. It only took me a few minutes to leaf through the issue. "No more boring cars!" was boldly proclaimed on the cover several years ago. For awhile this seemed to be true. I bought a multi year subscription. Then the cars became the same old "resto-mod" muscle cars, Do I really care what the Ring Brothers are doing? Does this magazine even have any relevance to my interests anymore?

Or do I need to read any more articles on someone's favorite motor build ups? No, don't really care. This months issue has a '55 Chevy on the cover, "Is the world's baddest '55?", I don't care! Yes it is trick. Lots of money spent, and I'm sure that it's fast. But, come on, "55 Chevies are old news, at least in my eyes.

On the last page Freiburger writes a column that states that there are a lot of things going on right now in the Hot Rodding community that you won't see in any of the current magazines. Why? because the cars that are involved and the people doing the work don't exist in the magazine's demographic profile. They are younger folks that are messing around with cars that are not iconic to the 60's generation concept of what qualifies as a cool car. They are doing V8 transplants into Volvos and BMWs.

I think that today's young car loving folks are caught in a tight squeeze, caused by the tough economy and the desire to break away from their Father's ideas from the past.  There are lots of real cool cars available on the market, but the cooler they are, the more expensive they are. Thirty or forty thousand dollars is a lot of money for anyone. Heck, I don't think I could afford to buy a car like that. Buying a beat up version of a Sixties Icon really isn't a viable alternative. I found out that first hand just last year.  Besides who wants to pay an inflated price for some old guy's "American Graffiti" fantasies.

Yeah, I am an old guy. But I still missed the post war Golden Age of hot rodding by almost twenty years. I grew up in the 60s' and graduated from high school in the early 70's. I never, ever, saw a real pre war hot rod on the street during those years. I did witness the end of the Muscle car era. Saw  lots of older muscle cars and Lowriders. Since I grew up in East Oakland, not too far from the Hell's Angels' clubhouse I saw quite a few chopped Harley's back in the Sixties.

In many ways the whole Hot Rod thing is for many,  just nostalgia. Guys want to have the car that they longed for in their youth. When I was in high school I wanted two vehicles: a Big Twin Harley Davidson, and a 1956 or 1960 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Never got those at the time but a few years later I did own reasonable facsimiles of these vehicles. My Japanese Superbikes and my '64 Cadillac convertible.

Have you ever seen the movie "Pee Wee's Big Adventure"? At the end, we see Pee Wee and his girl friend at a drive in watching a Hollywood movie that was made about his adventure. The movie stars James Brolin and Morgan Fairchild as the main characters. Pee Wee's girlfriend notices that he isn't paying much attention to the movie. When she mentions it, he replies "I don't have to watch it, I lived it!"

Looking back on my Motor Head Resume I've had a pretty good run. It was never comparable to the life of AK Miller, Ray Brock, or Tom McMullen. Actually it was kind of ordinary and dull, especially in comparison to those who have been immortalized on the pages of magazines. But my life has one big advantage: I lived it! 

This is the May 2004 issue of Car Craft magazine. It is one of my favorites, ever. The cover article details how there are scores of very affordable, very capable, modern, "late model"  performance cars available for peanuts. These are cars that offered pretty high levels of performance when new, and even today can be modified to almost new car levels of performance. All for much less money than the purchase price for a old Muscle car project/builder.

This is the opportunity that's available to Today's bucks down hobbyist. Camaros, Mustangs, even Corvettes! Nissan Z cars, Toyota Supras, take your pick. Miatas. Big V8 powered ex police cars and trucks. Whatever you choose, the aftermarket is brimming with repair parts and high performance equipment. There's no need to stand on the sidelines and watch others have all the fun. The time is now. This is the Golden Age of performance. Be the hero of your own story and live it!

What car would you choose?

Friday, March 17, 2017

Sometimes you just have to do the work. Where have I heard this before?

photo credit: steam

Just getting started can be the hardest part. I have posted that I had obtained a replacement transmission for my XJS last Summer. I had been putting off the job, I had things to do with my other cars. Last weekend I was going to switch spots with the Mustang which is parked at the curb, to finish the front end work. After I fired up the Jag, I found that the trans had completely given up the ghost.

I figured that now was the time. Besides, it isn't easy pushing two tons of dead Jaguar back up my downsloping driveway.

Putting the ramps under the rear wheels wasn't the best idea, I forgot I had to be able to rotate the wheels to remove the driveshaft. Back to jack stands.

I already have most of the handtools that I need to do the job. I bought an eight foot 10"x 2"  Douglas Fir board at Home Depot and had them cut it into one foot lengths. I can put those under the stands to gain some more height. Last Summer I bought a new low profile floorjack that eliminates the hassle of my old worn floor jack. Still this jack has it's uses which I'll share later. I bought some metal ramps. They only lift the car about eight inches. I picked up an engine support bar and a new transmission jack also. I bought all these things at Harbor Freight tools. Obviously, I don't get paid to endorse their products, but I know that a lot of guys buy their tools at HF. Some of their stuff is pretty good some is junk, but at least it's cheap and available. Most of it is good enough for the hobbyist but wouldn't hold up to professional use. Sometimes I wonder if their stuff is really all that low priced. I kind of wonder about their stated "compare at" price.  I do try to look at other vendors on the internet looking for comps, but I don't want to waste all my time on research. Besides there are always sales going on or coupons you can use.

Only the finest equipment is used. My new floor jack is on the right.
Having the right equipment makes all the difference.

If I need a particularly good quality tool I'll get a Craftsman tool from Sears. I needed a good fitting set of tube  wrenches since my HF set seemed a little loose. I didn't want to take a chance on damaging the trans cooler line fittings. These were some beautiful tools. Well made, heavy, polished with a mirror like chrome finish. They cost me forty bucks but are worth it. Yes, they are made in China. There is quality stuff from there.

I think that an automatic transmission removal is probably the worst job  that a guy can do at home. Unless you have a four post lift and the related equipment. The car has to go in the air, high enough to get under it and have enough room to be able to remove the transmission and jack.  Also most of the work has to be done under the middle of the car, on your back. Most other jobs are done around the outside of the car or under just the front and rear, much easier. This also introduces an element of real danger into the process, if the car should fall off the stands somehow, and you are underneath, things will become very unpleasant very rapidly! Generally the car has to be lifted much higher than can be accommodated by the usual jackstands. Wooden squares can be placed under the jackstands to gain additional height.  I put my tallest stand under the front crossmemember as an extra precaution. I will also use my floorjacks under the car while I am actually in the process of working on the removal.

Some wooden blocks under the diff, just in case.

Working on your back is probably the worst thing you can imagine, Just crawling under the car can be tough on the old back and knees. Sometimes you have to crane your neck to see up into the chassis and oftentimes dirt, oil, or other debris will fall into your face. I've definitely learned my lesson and wear eye protection.

So why am I doing this? Well, the job has to be done.  I had been quoted a range of prices for the work, anywhere from two to three thousand dollars. I don't have that kind of money to spend on what is a still a 1,200 dollar car. Even worse it seems that many mechanics start to salivate when they hear the name Jaguar linked with the word repair. While it is true that new Jags are bought by people of ample income, old Jags are bought by poor guys like me. Spend some time on the forums and you will get the idea that many owners have been taken to the cleaners by opportunistic repair shops.

Probably the biggest reason that I'm doing this is because it's what I do, or have done, for a very long time. There's no way that I can afford to have any hobby cars unless I take care of them myself. I really can't afford to have a shop do all the work. Maybe some, but not all. And for some reason I've convinced myself that if I can't do the work than I shouldn't have the car. As I've mentioned before it's getting harder for me to do the physical side of this activity. So at least I could cut back on the number of cars that I'm dealing with. I used to dream about having a house with a couple of acres where I could have a nice shop and space to house a little collection of cars. Reality has settled in and I think that fewer cars are in my future-at least owning them at the same time.

Since the car is in my garage I have the luxury of taking my time. At least my neighbors don't have to watch me crawling around under my car in my driveway. It also allows me to work out of the weather, which has been awful wet lately. My back was bothering me quite a bit last month after dealing with my Mustang's suspension and that gave me a good excuse to drag my feet. Weeks went by before I felt good enough to resume work. It is always something.

Adding a drainplug makes changing the fluid a routine event.

I have prepared the replacement transmission by changing the filter and installing a drain plug in the pan. The tranny was amazingly clean inside, I don't think that there are many miles on it. I decided to change the front pump seal as it is easily done at this time. My plan is that as the original trans comes out, the replacement will be installed immediately in it's place. It makes sense as everything is already in position, but does anything ever work out as planned?

On the other hand finishing up the work on my Mustang was almost a pleasure. First I had to jump start the car, then placed it on the battery tender while I did the rest of the work. I just had to replace the tie rod ends and steering rack boots. The biggest problem was how to support the car when I removed the wheels. I have two sets of jackstands but I'm using both on the XJS. I had considered buying a new set, but figured I didn't want to spend the money. So I jacked up the car and supported it with my big wooden block, then used a ramp under the opposite wheel. When I finished up the left side I put a ramp under the wheel, then jacked up and supported the right side. After I was finished I put the ramp back under the right wheel. Since it now had both ramps under the wheels I decided to drive the car down the ramps. It worked out pretty good. I think these will be useful for oil changes.

I tried to be as careful as I could, trying to replace the tie rod ends in the identical position. I was somewhat successful as the steering didn't pull to one side but the steering wheel isn't centered  properly. I will have take it in and get the alignment redone. I've still got to replace the rotor shield that got mangled up.

The steering is now nice, quiet and smooth,and returns after turning a corner. Best of all no more pulling upon braking. I had to wash several months of dirt, bird crap, those horrible little leaves, and general filth off the car after the deluge we had these last few months. Now that the car is fixed and clean, it's time to drive it for awhile.

Yes, I had planned to sell  it but now I'm going to wait a bit. This has been a good car. I've had it for almost five years. It has been reliable because I made the decision to make a commitment to it, and do the necessary repairs.  It's at the point where it's not worth a whole lot of money, but it is worth a lot to me. It's an easy to maintain, no drama machine. I think I'll hold onto it until I decide how I feel about the XJS. (If I ever get that car on the road!) I could do worse.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The 1973 California 1000. Epic Ride Number One.

All loaded up and ready to go! On my way to adventure.

I mentioned in an earlier post, that this was the first long motorcycle trip that I ever took, and I did it solo. It wasn't just a ride, it was a rally. For me of course, it was more than a run or rally it was an adventure. There were checkpoints, route maps, and a time limit, fourty five hours. There was that distance- one thousand miles! Hey, this was the equivalent of the Mille Miglia, and I finished it successfully. The very definition of epic.

The Rally started out at Harley Davidson of Los Angeles on Figueroa St. at midnight. The bikes were going to line up in a parking lot across the street from the shop. I got to LA so early I was the only bike in the parking lot. I felt kind of silly sitting there by myself so after an hour or so, I rode off and found a little Mexican restaurant to have dinner at. When I returned there were now two bikes waiting in line. I wasn't about to lose my place and remained there, and was now one of the first three bikes in line. The riders all chatted and many were surprised that I was only 18 yrs. old and had cut school to make the run. There was also a lot of speculation about my bike, since it was a two stroke. Among touring riders a two stroke motorcycle was considered as being inferior to a large displacement four stroke motorcycle. Well things were changing, and my Kawasaki could run with any of the 750cc and larger bikes. There was some doubts expressed as to it's suitability for this run, especially since this model had been marketed as a drag racing Superbike and not a mellow tourer. I actually took a lot of good natured ribbing from the other riders along the way. I must have heard the words "buzz bomb", "lawn mower" and "gas guzzler" numerous times that night. There were  inquires as to whether I was going to have enough fuel range in the tank to make it through the check points. I answered that last question by showing them the spare gallon can I was carrying in one of my saddlebags. It did come in handy, but not in the way they thought.

There was a photographer from Motorcyclist magazine there and he took a picture of the group and of me as I stood by my bike that evening. I had wrapped a towel around my face and neck and I had my genuine imitation leather vinyl motorcycle jacket on. This was  a great jacket, it had the crossed lapel zipper just like Johnny from the Wild One. This was a pretty good jacket. It had a quilted lining, it was waterproof, and it was windproof. I wouldn't be able to afford a real leather jacket for years.

This picture appeared a few months later in the magazine in one of the front column articles covering the event. I used to have a copy of the Magazine squirrelled away but lost track of it over the years. I was quite the budding motorcycle celebrity, with pictures in two Nationally distributed magazines within the last two years!

Harley saddlebags and a luggage rack, what more does a touring bike need?

My mount for this adventure was my trusty 1970 Kawasaki Mach III 500cc two stroke triple. This bike had been very reliable for me and I had outfitted it with turnsignals, dual rear view mirrors, and a luggage rack. The best addition was provided by my Mom. My parents used to go to the swap meet at the old Alameda drive in. One day, a couple of months before the trip, she showed up with a pair of old Harley plastic saddlebags. I think they came from a Panhead Duo Glide. I cleaned them up, painted them white after patching up some cracks and holes with some tape and silicon sealant. They came with the stock mounting hardware and I was able to modify them to fit securely on the back of my bike. Now it looked like a real touring bike! Thanks Mom!

I remember heading east on two lane back roads once we cleared the metropolitan LA area. This was quite a memorable night, hundreds of motorcycles roaring off into the night, a long trail of red tail lights leading off into the distance. This was a totally new experience for me- I was along way from home and I had never ridden down these roads before. One of the names that stands out in my memory was Redlands. I had never taken off on a ride of this magnitude and it was real rite of passage. Somewhere east of Hemet, up in some hilly territory I remember that the roadsides were covered with snow, and it was foggy and damp. I came upon a group of stopped bikes gathered around a scraped up Honda 750. The driver was standing around, looking a little embarrassed, luckily the only thing injured was his pride, and his new Honda. The bike had gone down and slid on the left side, grinding a small hole in the left casing that housed the alternator. It was weeping a small steady stream of oil, and of course we were miles away from a bike shop and it was still the middle of the night. I told the rider to lay the bike on it's right side and I washed off the cover with a gas soaked rag, then dried it off. I was carrying a tube of silicon seal and applied a thick coating over the metallic wound. I was pretty certain that this would dry and form a rubbery scab that would stop the seepage. The repair would take a least a half hour to set up, so I took off after wishing the rider good luck. I never found out if the repair had been successful or if the rider finished the rally.

I remember as dawn approached I was feeling very cold, hungry and tired. I stopped  at a diner for some coffee and food. I was feeling a bit depressed and when another rider asked how I was doing I must have sounded pretty glum. He tried to cheer me up by pointing out the obvious; that daylight was approaching and it was bound to warm up and if we just kept at it, things were likely to improve. His little pep talk made me feel that I was a part of something, a grand shared adventure. After this conversation I did feel better, I became totally invested in this rally. After eating I went outside and lay down on my motorcycle, my back on the seat, my legs on the tank, and my feet sticking out past he handlebars. I managed to sleep for almost an hour than I felt energized enough to hit the road.

Riding with two Honda 750s and a BMW. Rest stop in the desert.

Desert near Lucerne Valley.

 As is usual in most events of this type, as a solo rider  you will eventually form into small groups with compatible riders. I remember that I formed a group with a couple of older fellows riding a Honda 750 and a BMW big twin. I thought of the BMW rider as Mr. Fox, (Skunk?) because his riding vest had an embroidered fox patch on the back, I never asked what that meant.  These two were probably in their early thirties, but actually pretty much everyone was quite a bit older than me!  My Kawasaki was plenty fast and easily able to keep up with this pair, and our riding styles must have been quite compatible. I had been riding for a couple of years by this time and I felt pretty confident in my ability.

Near Lida Summit, Nevada. Elevation approx. 7,000ft.

Just out of Searchlight Nevada

I remember passing through the Twenty Nine Palms/ Joshua Tree Monument area. We came across a Honda 500 four rider who had run out of gas, funny. That bike was supposed to be much more fuel efficient than my two stroke. I gave the grateful rider the extra gallon I was carrying, since I now had confidence that I had enough range without the spare fuel.

Near Crescent Peak, Nevada.

Of course since this event occurred almost forty five years ago my memory of the exact sequence of events is kind of sketchy. Luckily I recorded some of the scenes with my Instamatic.

As it turned out, I had done a little journaling  when I put the scrapbook together. The following  narrative was included:

My first real tour- 1973 California 1000 April 14th.
1,000 miles in 45 hours or less. Successfully completed!

This was quite the ride. Rode down to LA. At midnight I was the third in line to leave. Up into the San Bernandino Mountains to Big Bear Lake. Cold extreme fog, rain,snow and frost on the road! Down to Lucerne Valley to Twenty nine Palms. Through Amboy and Goffs to Searchlight Nevada. Over Crescent Peak to Baker Ca. Into Death Valley. Shoshone, Death Valley Junction, Furnace Creek to Scotty's Castle. High Speed run with Honda 750s and 500s, Sportster  and Suzuki 500. Rode across Lida Summit (elevation 7,000 ft.) into Oasis Ca. and down to Big Pine. At Lone Pine, lots of bikes,rows and rows! Wow! Down from Lone Pine into the Panamint Valley. Trona, Red Mountain, and ended up in Adelanto. Lost my wallet on the last leg of the run. Had enough money hidden in boot. Spent night in Plamdale, rode home that Monday.

This was a ride to remember! I even got my picture in Motorcyclist magazine. Only one problem with bike, carb vent. one thousand mile range on oil tank. And I did it all by myself!

Checkpoint at Amboy.

They laughed at my "Ricegrinder", Until I gave a gallon of gas to a Honda Rider!

Most of the run occurred in the Southwestern desert of California, there had been rumors that we would end up somewhere in Nevada, but that didn't happen. We definitely didn't end the run in LA. I recall that I finished the run at around 5:30 or 6:00 in the afternoon. I must have left my wallet on top of the pump at my last gas stop, but luckily there wasn't anything of value inside except my driver's license and maybe ten bucks. I had stashed another hundred bucks in my boot, so I had plenty of money for gas, and dinner, though I decided that I had better get a place to get some sleep.

This was quite an undertaking. Riding from my home to LA was about 350 miles. Add another thousand to that for the rally, and then another 350 miles home. A total of 1,700 miles. I had left home at around 6:00 in the morning, arrived at the starting point around noon, then didn't get any sleep until I grabbed that hour nap before dawn, lying on the bike. After spending the night in a motel. I completed the ride home.

Back home! Safe and all in one piece! 

The bike? The bike ran flawlessly. Because I was touring, not racing, fuel economy was in the high twenties. With a four gallon tank, range was probably around 120 miles. This was before the first Arab oil embargo and there were plenty of gas stations open twenty four hours a day in most towns. It was pretty comfortable, and of course being a young buck of eighteen years didn't hurt a bit. Looking back at it all, it must have been a leap of faith for my folks to have permitted me to make this trip. If my Parents had objected I wouldn't have gone, at least this year.

As it turns out I revisited this rally twice more. A couple of years later my Buddy Rick and I had planned on taking the rally, but it was cancelled at the last minute. We hadn't checked to confirm and arrived in LA to find that it had been cancelled. So Rick and I did our own version of the 1,000 mile ride. We decided to ride up State Route 395, the spine of the State, through Big Pine and past Mt. Shasta.

I did participate one more time in an official California 1,000. I don't remember the exact year, but it was on my '77 Sportster 1,000. It was fun, and a bit of adventure. But like many things in life, the first time is the most memorable.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

I'll bet you wish you never sold that car! (Insert the vintage car of your choice.)

Photo source:
My own '66 was not this rough, but I'm sure many guy's first cars were.

If you are a car guy and have owned a whole lot of older cars you may have heard this statement from some well wishing person. I would say that most of these people have never purposely owned an older collector or hobby car. They may have owned an older car back in the day when it was the only thing that they could realistically afford. There wasn't anything that was especially special about that car, it was just a car.

When you have been regaling your family, friends, or co workers with some tale from your automotive crypt you probably have added a little polish to the ownership experience. It's understandable that you have forgotten some of the problems that are endemic with the ownership of an old worn out machine. Nowadays that particular model of car may have become a sought after collectible, and you wanted to lay claim to your brush with fame.

Of course you probably never thought that this car was ever going to be worth a lot of money. It wasn't worth a lot of money at the time, if it had been, you never would have been able to afford it! At this time it was just a used car. Sometimes a very well used car. Can you say Beater?

You know what that ownership experience was like. Either you had a brief enjoyable fling with an intriguing old car before the crushing reality of decrepitude descended upon you like a ton of bricks, or you bought a non running boat anchor and nursed and cursed it back to some semblance of "health".

Either way you enjoyed the car as best as you could, and truth be told, you probably did enjoy it. I know that I did. In our youthful naivete we could overlook all the problems and just appreciate the fact that we actually owned one of the "cars of our dreams."

I have owned quite a few different cars over the years and as I let one go to acquire another, I can't honestly say that I regretted moving on.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I think that a non enthusiast might form a different bond with a certain car for primarily emotional reasons. I've read a lot of articles where folks will reminisce about their first car, the car they dated their future wife in, the car they brought their kids home from the hospital in, their first car bought as Newly weds, their first new car, etc, etc, etc.  There are lots of reasons for feeling nostalgic about a car and they are all perfectly valid. We can associate a certain car with a certain period in our lives and that makes it special. Special enough to to try to regain that moment at some future time. I read quite a few stories in Car Collector magazine that were written by Thomas Murray along these lines. Usually the protagonist was trying to reconnect with a hazy romantic memory from the past, or even trying to rekindle an actual old flame in the present!

I remember a commercial where someone's adult children tried to find their Dad's old 1967 Chevy, and give it to him as a retirement present. Of course the Old Guy breaks down and cries with the first vision of the old bomb rolling in on a trailer. Maybe. I think a '67 Chevy was never anything to get too excited about even back then, and especially now- and my Dad even had a '67 Bel Air wagon at one time that I drove occasionally.

Maybe I'm just a heartless lout. If I look back in my past, what cars would I find, and what relationship did they have with my life's journey?

Many people are sentimental about their first car. I am not. Mine was a '66 Mustang coupe bought for 300.00 in 1975. 289 V8 and a four speed transmission. It's kind of surprising that the paint was totally faded after only nine years. I never really wanted this car. My Dad didn't like the idea of me buying an old Cadillac of some type so he suggested that I look for a young person's car. So I bought the Mustang but I kept my eyes open. I found a '64 Cadillac convertible on a car lot one day, and bought the car that I wanted. While I did buy another old Mustang coupe a couple of years ago, I din't buy it for nostalgia. I wanted to try my hand restoring an old Pony Car on the cheap. Turns out that it wasn't going to be cheap enough. So I sold it, and I don't miss it. Don't want another old Mustang again either. For that matter I don't find myself pining for another old Cadillac either. (Well maybe).

If there's any car that is tied to a memorable time in my life it would have to be my '77 Coupe de Ville. First of all, I bought it when I graduated from college and I had dreams of an expanding future. Second, it was actually a dream car for me. It was the peak of Cadillac evolution at this time, the best model they had ever made, in my opinion. Smaller ,tauter, more fuel efficient, but still retaining the Cadillac identity. Fuel injection was even an option at this time. Third, it was the car I was driving when I met my Wife. There were a lot of things that I liked about the car. This car was only three years old so it was in beautiful condition. It was great to drive, looked impressive, and it made me feel pretty good too.

photo source: GM advertising

But it was a product of the times. I kept the car for about five or six years and traded it in for a brand new 1984 Mercury Cougar, our first new car. A nice enough car, but I wouldn't want one of those again either.

Since I was also a rabid motorcycle fan I also had some bikes that were significant to me. My XLCR went through a lot of changes over the years and I held onto it even when I got my first Big Twin. I held onto it even after I got rid of my Electra Glide, for a total of over twenty years. My Buddy Rick, who bought a new bike every five years or so at the time, thought that it was kind of cool to have this long time "relationship" with the old Harley. Yeah, what did he know, he was riding a new Road King! I had gotten pretty tired of the old Sportster. I kept it well maintained, but the state of the art had advanced, I just didn't have the money available to move up to a newer bike. So the verdict is that it would be thumbs down on another old Sportster. (Again, maybe not!)

The biggest problem is usually how to hold onto one of your old cars. For one thing, you usually need the money to get a better car that actually runs. Lot's of times the old car isn't worth much, and you really don't have much money tied up in it. So maybe you don't really need to sell it. Then, where can you put the thing? Cars are big, do you want it taking up space in your garage or driveway? Or taking up your spot in the parking lot? Or in front of your house? I remember back when I was living at home with my folks, that someone down the street had bought an orange Jaguar XJS. I remember seeing it parked in different spots until one day it was parked at the curb, and never moved again. It sat there for a couple of years until one day, it was gone! There was even a Jaguar E type parked in a driveway about a half a mile  away. That sat there under a cover for probably ten years. (How come it's always a Jaguar, in these stories?)

Sometimes these unwanted cars end up in a sideyard, or even someone's backyard. They might stay there for a long time if your neighbors don't have a problem with that. Best of all is if you can put it in your grandma's garage or a relatives warehouse or barn. I've got a co worker who told me about his wife's Aunt and Uncle who have had a partially disassembled Model A in their garage for over forty years! (And no, they don' want to sell it to me!)

photo source:weburbanist
"Ran when parked"

Sitting around unused, partially disassembled, covered or uncovered, doesn't do the car any favors. Even sitting in covered cold storage leads to a lot of deterioration. Sometimes the mice get into it, with predictable results. Even if you keep the vermin out, you can't keep the State of California out. Unless the car was placed on non operational status, those registration fees just keep on piling up. Non completed transfer fees still have to be paid. It takes a long time for the car to "fall out of the system", no matter what those Craig's List sellers have told you. If it's out of the system the fees are computed as the last three years, with penalties, plus any uncompleted transfer fees. It can add up to quite a bit of money. Sometimes it renders the car an unsound financial venture for a future buyer. I once had to split 800.00 in past fees with the buyer of one of my old Datsun Z cars just to make the sale.

Maybe that's why we sold that old car, instead of hanging on to it!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Doing things the "right way". What is a bodge? (It's kind of what this post is about)

This is the worst rust, check out the rest of the car! Could this be fixed economically?

I've always wanted one of theses. Nice! Only 700.00 listed on Craigs List as of 2/19/17 If only I wasn't buried in other projects. 

I have lately become a fan of European cars. I bought those two Jaguars. Like quite a lot of American car crazed kids I grew up admiring the glamorous imports.

I have subscriptions to two Euro car magazines, Jaguar World, (Natch) and Octane. Octane is a beautifully produced high quality magazine, covering classic European marques. with amazing photography and lush advertising. Think of it as Rodder's Journal for the truly Rich and Famous.

There are stories of complete restorations, rehabilitation's, and recommissions. Of course in the articles everything is done thoroughly and properly. Nothing is hastily cobbled together just to get the car back on the road. Because... Cost is no object.

In what kind of world can that statement be made?

Obviously these people are in a financial position that allows them to make their decisions without the compromises that we have to make every day. This statement isn't intended to vilify those that through heredity, good luck or hard work have scaled the economic ladder. Good for them.

We, on the other hand, are in a different situation. Limited resources applied to vehicles of limited value. In this same hand is our willingness and ability to get down and dirty, turn a wrench, visit junkyards, swap meets, and Craig's List to find what we need to complete out task at hand. Roaming through hardware stores, home improvement centers,and discount auto retailers like O'Reilly's and Pep Boys looking for the solutions to our problems.

Sometimes our solutions involve, Bondo, POR 15 (great stuff!), miracle epoxy fillers and adhesives, fiberglass, sheetmetal patches, screws, rivets and  seam sealer. Universal weatherstripping, turbo mufflers, flexible exhaust tubing, cheap seat covers, floormats, Kraco stereo systems. Not to mention; sand paper, rubbing compound, Meguiars cleaning wax, WD40, Liquid wrench, PB Blaster, cans and cans of spray primer and "close enough" touch up paint.

Ask for it by name,

All of this would be looked down upon by "our betters" or by others that would assume a position of judgement on our efforts.

Do I think that all work should be properly done, using the proper tools and procedures to the best of our ability? Of course. It is extremely satisfying to complete a job properly. Doing a proper brake job, turning the drum or rotor, replacing the springs and hardware, rebuilding the wheel cylinder or caliper. These are all mechanical tasks that are pretty straightforward. But what about repairing stained, torn and cracked front seats? What about fixing the headliner, or cracked or damaged dashboard? Or how about fixing the dented, faded bodywork or rusted floorboards? There are a lot of ways to proceed, which avenue you will pursue depends on a lot of factors.

My old Explorer  is a good example. While it was in pretty good shape, it was missing a hub cap, and several badges had been "ripped off." There is a minor scrape to the rt. rear door that looks like someone rubbed up against a concrete post. The interior is pretty good except the front seat bottoms are cracked and have some small rips. After 250k the front seatbelts are no longer so eager to roll themselves up when you open the door. Last week after the storm I finally decided to visit my local Pick and Pull yards to see what I could find. Before you go it's a good idea to go online and price out some of the parts you need so you can decide if P&P's price is really a bargain. I found that the "Ford" oval on the hatch lid cost around 40.00 to replace. I already knew that new replacement seatbelts are hard to find and quite expensive.

Since Explorers have been very popular in the Bay Area I figured I would find many to choose from on the lot. I was not disappointed. Family SUVs see a lot of hard service and inside trim pieces are often pretty beat. First off, I found the Ford oval and V8 fender badges on the same vehicle. I found a few cars with grey interiors and manged to find a couple of good seat belt assemblies. They were much more energetic in rolling up, and no wonder. The odometers of both vehicles indicated 115,000 miles and the other 125,000 miles. Those were over 120,000 miles less than on my Explorer!  Now some of you may think "how can you buy such an important piece of safety equipment at a junkyard?" "Shouldn't it be replaced with a new or rebuilt unit?"  Well, have you ever bought an old used car? I will bet that whatever the mileage, if the seatbelts worked and were not frayed or torn you probably didn't think too much about it. I used to install seatbelts at the GM assembly plant in Fremont Ca. There's no magic here. As long as the inertia lock and latches work and the fabric of the belt is not damaged, they should be good to go. All you need is a torx bit to remove and install them.

On the way out, I found an immaculate set of hubcaps in the rear of another Explorer. So how much did my my little journey to the "Valley of anguished metal"  set me back? All told, three emblems, two seat belts, and a chrome hubcap cost under 75.00, replacement warranty and tax included. Not bad since a new Ford oval cost half that much. I will report on the installation of these parts, as well as the paint touch up, and seat cover installation in a future post.

So wrecking yard parts are a good alternative source of material to fix up your car. Nothing wrong with sourcing your parts from there.

Other "backyard" methods of fixing damaged body work are familiar to us. I know that I have done bondo repairs to a few cars in my time. We all seem to think that we can do a good job pounding out the dents and slathering on the filler. Sometimes body repair mesh is used to span gaps and cracks, or fiberglass or epoxy products can be used to repair rusted spots. Floorboards are often repaired with sheetmetal panels that are either affixed with sheetmetal screws or my favorite thing, pop rivets. Is there anything so terrible in doing this?

First of all, any structural issues must be addressed. If supporting members are damaged, they must be repaired. Luckily, around here, most rust issues affect non structural areas like lower fenders, doors and quarter panels. They are cosmetic repairs, if the damage is structural and too extensive for reasonable replacement or repair, it's probably time to start a new project. Then rusted areas must be stabilized. Cut back affected metal, then seal with a good rust killer or sealer. I've had good luck with POR, paint and epoxy filler. Then you can cover the repair with bondo, if necessary. Bondo is like a sponge, soaking up and holding moisture causing even more rust damage. It hides under the paint and filler until those ominous blisters and bubbles pop up.

Mill Supply has panels for Camaros and Mustangs and more.

Welding in patch panels is a much better solution and there are a bunch of pre shaped panels available from multiple suppliers. The panels are usually oversized and are trimmed to fit, which provides a lot of latitude for their attachment. One example is Mill Supply Co. It makes a wide range of patch panels. There are all kinds of affordable welding rigs available now. Just be careful and don't burn down your house or garage with an errant spark!

An alternative would be using a flush riveting rig, like the one I bought from Eastwood supply. It allows you to make a flush repair without welding or brazing. It came with a tool used to form a stepped lip that the trimmed patch panel fits into. Drill some holes around the perimeter, use the flush rivet setting tool to make an indented seat in the patch and the underlying sheetmetal. After some test fitting and "massaging" apply the rust sealer to the back of the area. Then apply the body adhesive to the joint prior to riveting. After it dries, use the rust sealer and a little filler to smooth the repaired area. Sometimes you can't even detect the repair. I used it to repair the rusted "dog leg" behind the left door on my Datsun 240z. I got behind the area, and cleaned it up first. Wow, there was a lot of dirt in there, I guess it is dust that is drawn in somehow and mixes with the condensed or leaked moisture and forms mud that sits there and causes rust. After cleaning I swabbed down every place I could reach inside with foam brushes and a sponge attached to a length of coat hanger wire. There wasn't any factory applied rustproofing in this area. My treatment was an improvement. I then rebuilt part of the left rear wheel lip with the POR putty. You couldn't even tell that it was ever fixed after painting. Of course you could also just secure it with a couple of rivets and take it down to a body or welding shop that could run a bead or braze it in. Perhaps you could develop a relation ship with a local shop that might do this between other jobs. Of course the DIY  repair is pretty good on it's own.

After a few repairs, some bondo work etc. it might be a good time to get the whole car painted. Nothing makes a car look finished like a fresh coat of paint. My favorite paint shop in Fremont still has their 399.00 special going on until the end of February. That's a good deal! Yes, it's not going to look like Chip Foose did it in his shop, but by following the proper prep work, (which I covered in some of my earlier blogposts) you can achieve a satisfactory result. I am now a big fan of the cheap paint job. I was pleased with the job done on my '70 Mustang. I was very happy with my "design" of that car. The color, stance, wheels and overall look. I used inexpensive accessories like the racing mirrors, front spoiler, steering wheel and custom built grille and tallight panel, and matte black panels to create the look I wanted. Overall, I think I did a pretty good job creating a distinctive look for a common car. Could the execution have been better? Sure, a lot more time spent on body and paint preparation would have done wonders for the quality of the finish. But I didn't have an unlimited budget, and even if I did have more money available, how much more would I reasonably have spent? A man's got to know his and his car's limitations.

The owner/builder is always part of the process, and it seems,in the the picture. No wonder this shot was an out take.
Would I like to be able to do "everything" the right way? Sure I would. My inner craftsmen would love to be satisfied for a change. That would be quite a change. It would result in my spending much more money on my projects, which would mean I would probably lose even more money when I sell them!

"Si se puede!" Yes we can, and will!

Still, we carry on doing the best that we can. If you are able to keep your everyday driver fleet moving down the road, I salute you. I know that it's not always easy. If you are working on a favored project, and making progress, good for you. If you are doing the best you can, then I respect that.

Well, I've finally launched myself into the transmission swap of my XJS. The whole messy ordeal is underway. I will document my progress in following posts. As you can see, this will entail me getting down to into full dirty grease monkey status. I know that I'm getting a bit old for all this, but I'm ready to "gird my loins" (figuratively at least) for perhaps my final battle.

Still, I wish I had a place for that MGB GT!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The latest stage of human evolution, homo sapiens non erectus.

photo source: blog,

I was having a pretty relaxing morning wasting time, perusing CraigsList. I've discovered the "project car" listings. Hundreds of sad, incomplete, forgotten or abandoned cars that were probably bought with high hopes. Either the buyer was going to fix up their "dream" car, or maybe find a cheap classic, fix it and flip it for a quick buck. Hah! Easier said than done! Lots of these cars are offered up for sale stripped and partially disassembled, Minor rust damage is a lot more minor when it's described by the seller. "Ran when parked", no explanation needed there. This is not to say that there aren't some very good deals to be found listed there.

There can be a lot of satisfaction in just "owning" the car that you've dreamed about. Going out to the garage with a beverage in your hand, squatting down and checking out the car from various visual angles. You can even sit inside, grip the wheel and daydream, as long as the interior is not too disgusting. Maybe you know deep down inside that the chances that this car will ever roll under it's own power are pretty slim. but having it there gives you a point to focus your fantasies around. Besides now you are a (insert favorite dream car here) owner and have an excuse to talk your buddies ears off with your plans. Put that decal in the rear window of your truck! You can read up about the car and become an armchair expert on the marque. You can go to shows and rub elbows with the guys that are displaying their cars, and let them know that you are part of the fraternity.

I've spent a lot of time looking at the listings to see if I can stumble across a car, maybe one that I really haven't thought of for awhile, or never really considered, that can fire up my imagination and desire. What would I like to buy and fix up? I guess that I could look at finished cars listed for sale, instead of the sorrowful hulks listed as project cars, but the high prices commanded by these cars just kind of puts a damper on my fantasies. My rational mind will put the kibosh on those dreams before they even start getting rev'ed up.

Actually Peter Egan was discussing his friend's California winery

You might ask, "Don't you have a bunch of old cars at your house that you should be messing with right now?" That is correct, and I have been making some progress. To steal a line from one of Peter Egan's columns "Es dolce far niente" which he translated from the Italian as "It is sweet to do nothing,"  It's easier to exercise my fingers on the keyboard, than to get my hands dirty in the garage. Sometimes you do need a a little break. Besides it's raining, and cold, and my back kind of hurts. If I ask myself to prioritize, then I know that I've got to finish up the '96 Mustang first, The control arms are in. The package containing the tie rod ends and steering rack boots arrived a couple of weeks ago. I was going to swap the XJS and the '96 Mustang's spots in the garage yesterday. But I dragged my feet and now it's raining. Actually, something important did come up.

 "Somebody" decided that they needed the rear license plate on my truck more than I did. So now I had to spend time on the phone, reporting the theft to the police. I didn't want them showing up at my house, thinking that I had robbed a liquor store, or something even worse! The thief wasn't just looking for the year sticker, which was going to expire next month. They wanted the whole license plate, for their own nefarious reasons. So now I'm safe, my old plate is in the system as stolen. Now I just had to drive down to AAA and get a new set of plates. Luckily, it  only set me back twenty bucks and some time. That's life, and it could have been worse, they could have decided to steal the whole truck!

I think that there will be a break in the weather and I can make the swap a little later this afternoon. Time to get a little dirty. It is sweet to do nothing, but you shouldn't make a habit of it.


 Back about four posts ago I described the process of being buried alive by your project cars. Wouldn't you know it, the sand and gravel has started sliding down the cliff. I started up the XJS to move it out of the garage and the motor started up fine and settled into a smooth idle. I put it into gear and nothing. Darn! I knew the tranny felt looser than ever when I parked it a last month, but now it's given up the ghost it seems. My driveway slopes down to the garage and I didn't relish the idea of trying to push two tons of fine British steel up the slope and maneuver it into parking position by myself. My '96 Mustang has been sitting at the curb meanwhile, and even though I would like to sell it, I guess it can sit there awhile longer. My Wife said that the car gods have spoken; it has been decreed that the transmission in the XJS will have to be done first! She does seem to have a bit of a crush on that XJS, and I know that she would like to see what it feels like to ride in it. I fired up the XJ6 and the squealing belt noise didn't even present itself. I will have to try tightening up the belts a bit and check/mark the vibration damper to verify if it is failing. It took a jump, but the Mustang started up just fine. It is filthy, covered with those annoying little leaves that drop from all those trees on my street, but there are other more troubling concerns.

There has been some very stormy weather and trees in the neighborhood have been losing limbs and a few have fallen over. It was terribly windy this morning. I have been concerned that a limb might fall on one of my cars. Most of them are too old and not worth enough to carry full coverage insurance on. Besides even if they were fully insured they are worth so little that almost any damage would result in them being "totalled" by the insurance company anyway. I was hoping to finish the Mustang and maybe take it to a consignment lot to sell. Hopefully it will not end up with a branch through the top! Or worse, something could happen to my XJ6, hopefully not, I love that car!

I looked out through bedroom window into the backyard and thought that it was odd that some huge bushes had grown up unnoticed until now. Where did they come from? I went outside and could see that one of my trees had fallen over but luckily wasn't tall enough to hit the house. Good thing. Tomorrow I'm off to Harbor Freight (with a coupon!) to pick up some equipment to use for the transmission job. I've also got a good excuse to look for a chain saw! Life goes on.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Harley Davidson number three: 1981 FLHS, kind of a disappointment.

I had wanted a Big Twin for a very long time. Even though I had bought a new Sportster Cafe Racer at one time, and could have afforded a Big Twin at the time. I still thought that a Sportster was a better fit for my type of riding.

The thing was that Sportsters just didn't get the respect that Big Twins did. "Half a Harley" was a common derisive comment.

There are some some real differences between the two disregarding the higher price of the FLH. Physically the FLH is larger, with a longer wheel base. The rider seating position is lower with the legs extended forward.  Their is more space for a passenger, and there is the option of footboards instead of pegs for the rider. Since the FLH was designed as a touring bike it is better suited to long range riding. It already comes with a larger fuel tank, bigger and wider seat, better fenders, and an option of using the factory windshield, bags, tour pack and other equipment. All of this equipment was designed specifically for the bike and fits well, looks good and is nice and sturdy.

A completely outfitted Big Twin is refereed to as a "full dresser" as in all accessories included. During the 60's and the 70's, the hey day of the homebuilt chopper, these bikes were derided as "garbage wagons", ridden by "AMA" types (American Motorcycle Association members, otherwise known as straights). These were relegated the rear of the column on a chopper run. Riding an old dresser meant that you just bought the bike and hadn't gotten around to stripping it down yet. There were always a few guys that actually liked riding on a dresser, even then.

This bike was over twenty years old by the early 1950s as this design preceded the knucklehead. I believe that this is a twin cam with grafted knuckle top end. These twin cams were considered to be superior performers. These old tuners were very ingenious.

Back after the War, guys were stripping down their bikes, mostly to make them lighter and faster. These were known as "Bob Jobs." The bike pictured above is actually a two wheeled hot rod. These old pre war bikes were cheap and they could be tuned to out run a brand new bike. Styling wasn't the main idea behind the modifications, performance was.

Initially, the front end might be exchanged for an XA model springer, this was a two inch longer front fork which had been used on a War era shaft driven opposed twin HD that had been designed for desert combat use. This would raise the boards up a bit, allowing the rider to lean the bike over a little more to take the corners faster. The 21'' front wheel was lighter and it also added a bit of lift also. This was all done before the era of the extended front end began in the 60's. 

When the British twins arrived in the Fifties, Harley realized that they needed a competitive bike and the Sportster was born. Still, new bikes are expensive and there were still plenty of older bikes around to modify. As the chopper craze developed styles were mixed and the classic fat bob chopper combined performance with styling.

A very nice Panhead Fatbob. Style is a major component.

Of course Harley Davidson was not blind to what was happening and realized that there was a market for ready made bobbers. This was the result.

1970 FX Kick start only. Sportster drum brake up front

The original Superglide FX led to a long series of "precustomized" bikes which was a gold mine for Harley Davidson. The key feature was the smaller 3.5 gallon "fat tank" with the speedo mounted in between the tank halves. This was used for a few years then HD decided to go with a modified Sprint tank with the speedo moved up to the bars. Later HD decided to cover all bases with two versions of the FX.

By this time these bikes had electric starters and dual disc brakes up front.

Harley Davidson had a way of making a few small changes to a model then declaring it was "all new." 

The introduction of the HD Lowrider, copyrighted name, showed HD the direction that their riding market was going. Instead of customizing and personalizing a bike yourself, you could buy a trick bike direct from the dealer, with a full factory warranty. This was HD's first bike to feature an extended front end, three inches. Just like an XA springer! This trend eventually led to shops that offered full custom choppers. A trend immortalized by the sit com, "American Chopper."

Now old HD knew that hey had to draw the line somewhere and it was well before they offered bikes like these. Though I would take Billy's Panhead in a second, now that, was a classic chopper.

photo from the movie, if you have to ask which movie, you are an incredible lightweight!

Harley did decide to roll out a pretty convincing Fatbob of their own, the Wide Glide. The name coming from the wide FLH style forks that cradled the classic narrow 21 inch. wheel. The bike also featured the five gallon "fat" FLH tank. It was a well designed machine, except for one little problem. Old Timey 'Bobs hung some folding footpegs from the footboard mounts just ahead of the brake and shifter pedals. Look at the peg set up on the two Easyrider bikes above. The rider had to raise his foot off the peg and move it quite a distance to activate the controls. I guess this wouldn't fly with the DOT for a production bike so Harley came up with a forward footpeg control set up used with the Wide Glide, and later adapted to the Electra Glide Sport. They were about six inches higher and a couple of inches closer  than the classic set up. It always felt awkward and uncomfortable to me. I also thought that it made the rider's posture look kind of goofy. I would have been happy to switch to the FLH footboard set up. However this was before there was a lot of repop parts available. I priced it out using OEM stuff  and it was over 600 bucks, too much for me at the time.

The early bikes were 80 inch Shovelheads
The 80 inch (1,340cc.) motor was a torquer, and it did have great roll on acceleration in fourth gear. Unfortunately it was also a shaker. The factory had set the balance to work with the 55 mph. speed limit. From 50 to 60 mph. it was smoother than my 1,000cc. Sportster. At sustained speeds from 65-75 mph. it had incredible vibration that blurred the speedo and mirrors and worse, caused my butt to itch like crazy! Riding it for a long period at 70 mph, was worse than uncomfortable, it was painful. My Sporty was much smoother at an indicated 70 mph. I only took a couple of longer trips on the FLHS, which was a poor comparison to the years of touring on my old Sporty.

So I finally got the Big Twin I wanted for so long. It really wasn't that well suited to my riding style. Cornering clearance was lacking and it was easy to ground the primary case on hard bumpy turns. The first time I did that it was quite a surprise and I almost lost it. I resented having to restrain my enthusiasm while riding my FLHS. A couple of years later I ended up selling the bike to scrape together enough money to make a down payment on a house. But I kept my Sportster.