Thursday, May 19, 2016

Road trips Part 2

Highway 20 in Oregon on the way to Newport.

Driving your Better Beater on a road trip should not be just an act of faith, it should be the whole point. Your car should be reliable enough to drive anywhere with a little preparation. Sometimes the obstacles are a lack of maintenance or looming needed repairs. Some times the obstacles lie within ourselves. A lack of confidence  can be hard to address. I guess if you  have always driven brand new, or newer vehicles it may be hard to overcome your suspicion of an older vehicle's trustworthiness. That's whole the reason you buy new cars to replace your older ones, before something bad happens.

Still catastrophic failures generally do not occur with out some warnings. For example, cooling system failures. The motor can blow a head gasket if it overheats. If you ignore leaking hoses or fail to replace them when needed you are are just asking for trouble. A leaking water pump is telling you that it's internal seals have been breached and coolant is mixing it up with your pump bearings, an imminent failure mode. Dried out and cracked fan belts, visible leaks or seepage from the radiator is a harbinger of potential doom. These should be addressed as they occur unless you are so broke that you don't have an alternative. Heater hoses, bypass hoses, thermostat housings usually will start a slow leak before they blow. Sometimes there are these sneaky little bypass hoses hidden away under the intake manifold. My '96 Mustang V8 had one that ran under the manifold from the back of the motor to the water pump in front. It took some finagling to replace it without removing the manifold but I did it. I knew that it would always be time bomb waiting to go off if I didn't replace it, so I did. As it turned out I had to replace the leaking plastic intake manifold a couple of years later. But it was the right decision and it gave me a lot of confidence in the car.

Cooling system failures are probably the biggest concern. If the battery or alternator dies that's easy to fix. If the starter goes out there is usually some warning. I had the electric fuel pump going bad in my '96 Dodge Caravan, the symptom was that it was hard to start some times and it got worse. The fuel pump in my '96 Mustang gave up the ghost one night at 3:00 am on US101. No warning at all. That's what triple A is for. I had my 2007 Ford F150 with 70,000 miles seize the a/c compressor without warning, well it did quit working for a while before it died. I was on my way back from Las Vegas via LA. Luckily I was only a couple of hundred miles from home. Stacked up two triple A tows and got it home. Okay, enough hand wringing, anything can happen, that's just a fact. On to the next subject.

The nice thing about taking a road trip as an adult is that you run your own show. You pick your destination, route, and stops. Go solo or with your chosen companion. Now that my kids are grown it's just me and the wife. This is really nice and relaxing.

Right now I'm on a two week road trip on the Oregon coast, about 700 miles from home. From Newport we plan on going up into Washington State. I'm driving my XJ6 and it's been great. I'm really starting to love driving that Jaguar. I have made it a point to drive this car a lot. For one thing it gives you a good indication of the shape the car is in. Most cars, and especially Jaguars, run better the more they are used. All the later models are depreciating so fast that higher mileage isn't really going to hurt their value. I guess if you plan on keeping your car "forever" that it might be a good idea to keep those miles down. But think of all the fun you're missing. Why "save" the car for the next owner?  A lot of guys on the Jaguar forum hardly ever drive their cars. They are focused on "preserving" them. Their cars are special to them so they are very protective of them. I like my car too. I wanted to overcome the idea that this car is too special and should be saved for special occasions. It also felt a little odd to me drive such a fancy car, it made me a little self conscious. I used to feel that way with my '94 Cadillac Seville STS when I first bought it. However that car was only three years old and looked exactly like a new '97, it even had chromed take off wheels from a '97. My Jag, although a beautiful car, is not going to be mistaken for  a new car, or even a late model. I received a compliment on my car from a guy who actually thought that it was older than it was. I'll take that as appreciation of it's classic design.

There was a post on the Forum from a guy who wanted to take his 2004 XJR on a 1,200 mile trip across Washington state. But he was unsure if he should. His car only had around 50,000 miles and he said that his work commute was only five miles. He had only put on 1,200 miles since he bought the car a year ago. He was worried that something might go wrong, or his car might need service? I replied and advised him to take the car, enjoy it, put some miles down. Geez, his car has a third of the miles mine does and it's seven years newer. I told him about my planned trip. He decided to drive his Jag and is having a ball. I posted an update with some pics of my trip so far. I plan to post an update at the end of my trip. This is why we drive.

Driving past Mt. Shasta on Interstate 5.

Here I am in Depot Bay Oregon. This is a great state!

Road trips. A term that brings to mind so many recollections, good and bad. Like most people of my generation, growing up in the 1960s, the term brings back memories of family vacations. Crammed in the back seat with my two brothers, no a/c of course. My Dad was still buying new cars and wagons at this time, so mechanical breakdowns were luckily not part of the experience. Except when he bought that three year old Corvair van. I remember that it had a small table in the second seat which he removed before our trip to Guadajara Mexico. We made many trips to Guadajara to visit family. He figured that it would be great for the trip, spacewize it was very comfortable. It did have a penchant for throwing fan belts, they had to make a very awkward bend and twist to power the cooling fan, unlike a VW with a straight shot. If you replaced them with the specified GM replacement part they were reliable enough, if you sourced a low cost generic belt you could expect it to fly off in short order. We made it as far as San Diego before my Dad took the word of a mechanic and stuck with the proper belts, which alleviated the problem. My baby brother got sick on the trip so Dad sent Mom and Baby home on the Greyhound, no problem. I just can't see that flying with my wife nowadays, though I don't really recall any drama over it at the time. I bet that my Mom really didn't want to visit the in laws that much anyway. Besides she got a two week vacation from us, which I'm sure she appreciated.

The thing about these childhood road trips was that as a kid you weren't in control of anything; lunch breaks, potty stops, sight seeing breaks etc. My folks were the thrifty types, so visiting roadside attractions or restaurants or diners generally wasn't on the agenda. A loaf of bread and a package of baloney would take care of lunch nicely. At least we always, always, slept in motels. My Mom refused to sleep in the car, so we were spared that indignity. My brother and I once took a vacation with my Uncle Nacho who was really a tightwad. We spent several nights on the way to Mexico parked on the side of some highway. My folks weren't into spoiling their kids but I never again complained about our traveling arrangements.

After my familial road trips I then moved into the period of my motorcycling adventures. I traveled all over the state, up north into Canada, the Southwest and points in between. My defining trip was a four week solo trip around the 48 states. I road my customized HD Sportster over 9,000 miles on that trip. I'll save these stories for another entry.

The next era was family road trips with me as the Dad. These will be the shared memories of my three kids and I'm sure these will be told and retold.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Getting down and greasy, not exactly the kind of thing I enjoy the most anymore. Especially when I combine that with working on my back, with the car jacked up , giving me maybe 18 in. of working room. Add the final touch of working in my sloping driveway in the full view of my neighbors who probably wonder why they paid darn close to a million dollars to buy a house next door to a greasemonkey. My neighbors haven't commented on the situation, which is good because local municipal regulations prohibit doing car repairs in public, that disable the car for more than twenty four hours. My newest neighbors are all nice, middle class, tech industry Indian immigrants who probably don't relish doing a lot of their own physical labor. Back home they probably had servants who would do that kind of work for them. While I come from a different background I sometimes also find myself wondering about why I am doing it.

It's because it is part of who I am, and how I see myself as a car guy. When I was young I was pretty broke and I worked on my motorcycles and cars to keep them running. I always wanted to own something that was bigger and better in my eyes than what I could comfortably afford. So I would always buy something that "needed work". That way I could "stretch " and have something that I thought was really cool. Luckily I was always interested in things that were a bit out of the mainstream so they weren't commanding the big bucks. Then, as now, I believe in looking for the low hanging fruit. This is not to say that I have never had something that was nice or seen by others as desirable, I mean I'm old, I've been messing around with cars and bikes for over forty five years. So I've had a few nice things over the years. But I've never been in a situation where cost is no object, believe me cost is always an object, even with all my scheming to find those odd ball objects of my desire. Right now, my financial circumstances are mildly put, kind of tight. Paying off my kid's college expenses as well as keeping everything up and running means I am quite limited in my choices. Still it's not that bad, or I wouldn't be messing around with any kind of hobby/project vehicle. But choices have to be made, and one of those is that I have to do the work.

Doing the work means just that. Fixing what goes wrong and then catching up on items that have been the victims of deferred maintenance. Then finally restoring the cosmetics and interior or making some custom modifications. I think that an enthusiast should learn the ins and outs of his favorite vehicle and become something of an expert. I like to learn the history, development, and current situation of my hobby vehicle. I like to learn the common problem areas, and how to effectively repair them. The internet has been a real boon to the enthusiast. There are forums that cover every car and every aspect of the vehicle. There is so much valuable information from knowledgeable members and there is the fellowship of belonging to a like minded group of people.

I do the work because that is the only way that I can afford to have the car I want. If I had a lot of money I would just buy a new or later model car. Maybe even an already restored car. I don't play the game that says: "it's not really yours if you didn't build it". Hell, I didn't build my house either, but it certainly is mine. I do the work because how can any car guy not be a wrench? How can you have a hobby car and run to the mechanic for every little repair? If you're going to spend that kind of money, why not just buy a new car? I do it for the challenge. I like the satisfaction of overcoming the obstacles and driving a car that needs my involvement to survive.There is an undeniable satisfaction in being "hands on" with your machine, especially when it rewards you by working properly afterwards.

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. It all sounds so noble. Most of the time it can, and will be, a real pain. When you find yourself in the middle of a repair that is frustrating, taking much longer than you anticipated, or  you find that you need a specific tool or part that you neglected to buy before you started. We've all been there.

Be Afraid, Be very, very Afraid! Thank God that is not my car!

So what did I accomplish? I pulled the vacuum modulator, tested it with my Mity Vac. It worked okay. I pulled the modular valve out, cleaned it and reassembled it. It appeared to move freely. I wanted to pull the governor but there is no way to remove it without dropping the transmission. Kirby's book relates that there is an access panel on the rt.side of the transmission tunnel that can be removed from the inside of the car. Not so for my car. I had a good view from underneath and it's all solid metal. So I dropped the pan to check the pressure control valve on the transmission pump. I even cobbled together the tool described in the Session's book. It worked. I removed the valve and cleaned it off. It was already pretty clean looking. Actually the whole tranny seemed pretty clean inside. I reassembled the valve using the tool, which was still kind of difficult, then added a new gasket and filter. I added a drain plug to the pan, this should make things easier in the future. Jaguar has a wonderfully complicated rear transmission mount that involves a large spring, a rubber spool and a bracket that connects to two rear pan bolts to the rear extension housing. This bracket has to come off every time you remove the pan. Why? Why not?

General Motors, the company that designed and built the transmission itself,  just uses a solid chunk o' rubber which bolts to a conventional crossmember. Jaguar engineers this complex little number for their pride and joy. It seems like overkill but there appears to be a valid reason. The XJS is capable of a top speed of between 145 - 150 mph. In Europe this car would be able to cruise at an easily maintained speed of one hundred miles an hour, or more. In the event of a severe frontal collision, the mount is designed to allow the rear of the transmission to drop down and allow the motor to be driven back beneath the car, hopefully giving the passengers a little better chance of surviving the horrific event. At least that is what some people believe.

Maybe. " Can you hand me that 12mm and 13mm wrench?"

Friday, May 6, 2016

Well I've really been enjoying driving my "new" XJ6L.  I drove it back from LA and I've been driving it to work every day, Livermore, Sacramento, San Rafael, and up to Windsor. I've put on well over two thousand miles since I've bought it. Driving it back from LA was the big confidence builder. Some little problems, yes, but it runs great. This car has allowed me to be a Jaguar driver, not just a guy working on an old Jaguar. Now I can see what the fuss is all about, there is a definite mystique to the car. It is immensely gratifying to look over that broad, curvaceous hood and see that leaping cat eating up the miles. Okay, But what about the XJS?

I haven't forgotten about the car. I started looking for a shop to repair/rebuild/replace the transmission. I've gotten several estimates that vary widely in price, from approx, 3,500.00 to 1,800.00. At one shop I could swear I detected a barely visible eye roll when I told them that my car was a Jaguar. At a very nice shop in Los Gatos the owner was very friendly and personable, we talked for almost an hour about the cars and other things going on in our lives. He showed me his motorcycles and other cars in restoration. A really nice very knowledgeable guy. I would be glad to pay him the three grand if I had the money. I went to check out a shop in San Jose which had been recommended by someone on my Jaguar forum. The shop seemed okay. I tried to get an estimate on a complete rebuild, labor and all. This would be the worst case price. Well they didn't want to quote me that price, as if they didn't know what the flat rate would be! "We can't tell you that, We don't know what it needs, maybe just a modulator or governor replacement that would only run a couple of hundred bucks."  I told them I needed a worst case scenario price, that this is a hobby car and if it costs too much, I would just have to wait and save up some more money. They just wanted my car in their shop where I would be likely to hand over the credit card so they could do the job. I had even called AAMCO for a quote, and they were even worse, I never seriously planned to go there. I found a shop on Craig's List that specializes in European car transmissions. I went by the shop and found a small 1,200 ft, bay, shared by a couple of mechanics. The tranny guy worked out of the back third of the shop. I saw a couple of units that were in the teardown stage on clean stainless steel topped work benches. The proprietor wasn't there and the other guys told me he really preferred to work on loose transmissions because of the space limitations. that made sense.

I even looked into buying a used transmission from a wrecker. I called three places and they weren't particularly cheap. Prices ranged from 750.00 to 600.00. The good news is that a core is not required. Also there is a 90 day warranty. The bad news is that if there is a problem you have to remove the transmission a second time to take it back. That is either double the work, or double the cost. A shop is not going to guarantee their installation unless the transmission was fully rebuilt by their own shop. That is reasonable. One wrecker informed me that they would only honor the warranty "if" the tranny is professionally installed by a shop. Hmmm. I'm buying a used transmission because I can't afford or don't want to spend the cost of a full rebuild. But I'm supposed to pay around 500.00 or more to have a shop do the remove and replace. Wouldn't it make sense that I might want to do the grunt work myself if I'm too cheap to do the job the right way, and have the pros do it?"

The last transmission I pulled came out of my 1956 Cadillac and that was probably almost twenty years ago. I had pulled the motor and tranny out of a Honda Civic, my 1966 Buick Riviera, and out of a bunch of Datsun Z's I was parting out. That was not too long ago, though I was only yanking them out, not concerned with re-installation.  Several months ago I pulled the pan to change the fluid and filter on my XJS while I replaced the transmission mount. Changed the motor oil too. I added a can of transmission magic fluid and drove the car around the neighborhood hoping that it was only a little varnish and sludge that would "melt away, like magic" returning full operation to my unit. I must have put on at least thirty miles. I wasn't just fooling myself. This had worked on my late Father in law's 80's Cadillac Fleetwood, that had the same transmission. That one loosened up in just a long afternoon. The pan in my Jag had been pretty clean, there wasn't a lot of sludge and there didn't appear to be a lot of metallic particles that I could see. Certainly not the"teaspoon full" that Ron Sessions had warned of.

Running down the symptoms:  When placed in "Drive" and giving it throttle, the motor would pick up revs and the car would barely move. There was slippage. If I allowed the car to idle in Drive on level ground it would start to creep forward. Eventually reaching about 5 mph. If I placed it in "First" (low) it would pull away pretty normally. I would shift it manually to "Second" and it would pull normally. Shifting it into "drive" which would be third gear, it would slip again. Downshifting manually into second would provide engagement and engine braking. Manually downshifting it into low it was evident that it was engaging as the car slowed under engine braking. Reverse worked fine. I never drove it fast enough to force an upshift from low to second which I believe would have occurred around 45-50 mph. So...

Maybe the transmission is just worn out, makes sense. Placed in "Drive", if the front clutch is too worn to engage than there's no first gear. Okay, but if I place it in "Low" it engages first gear. How can that be? The front clutch must be working. There has to be a difference in "how" the clutch is engaged in these two different shift positions. Actually there is. I mentioned the name Ron Sessions. He wrote a very good book on understanding the function, repairing and rebuilding the Turbo Hydramatic 400 transmission. There are fluid flow charts that illustrate the various parts and systems that engage and inter- relate to provide proper transmission function. There are numerous videos on U-Tube that illustrate the tear down and rebuild of these transmissions. These have been invaluable in helping me understand what these parts and systems really look like and how they fit together and function. I think I'm really beginning to understand how these things actually work. Automatic transmissions have always been a voodoo mystery box to me, and to a lot of drive way Mechanics. They shouldn't be. They are just mechanical units that are hard to understand, difficult to access and work on without a lift, and full of many, many quarts of oil that makes a mess of everything when you eventually spill it.

Next post I will describe how I descend into full dirty, grease monkey mode. Why the hell I even want to do that. Even as I ask myself the question, "Aren't I too old to be doing this -- stuff?"