Friday, June 23, 2017

"You've got the Look that I want to know Better. You've got the look that's all together!"

This was the hot "Frisco" look popular at the time. Note the lack of a  front  brake.
                                                      photo source: Choppers magazine

                                                     video source: You Tube

This Jordasche jean advertising jingle was all over the airwaves in the Eighties. Though I never did squeeze myself into a pair of designer jeans back in the 70s I wanted that "Frisco" look. Arlen Ness was the most famous proponent of the look at the time, and he was a local Bay Area builder. I found my dream bike in May of 1976.

The Frisco look led to the overwhelming popularity and desirability of the Harley Sportster. This was the golden age for this bike.  The look was long, tall in the front and very narrow. The high mounted tank, narrow buckhorn bars, cobra seat, and lack of a sissy bar were all part of the style. This was all easily achieved with the Sportster which was pretty slim even when stock. Riders of big twins were running narrowed triple clamps and ditching their beautiful fat bob tanks trying to fit in. Full dressers were disdainfully referred to as "garbage wagons." Funny how things can change, ten years later the "fat bob " look was in, and this later lead to the stripped dresser coming into vogue. Never again would the Sporster be so desirable.

I still wanted a Harley and I finally bought an incredibly beat and worn out 1970 XLCH chopper. This was really a bad move as the bike needed everything. A complete motor rebuild down to the crankcases. These even had to have some cracks welded up and a "new" kick starter boss welded on at the same time. Hard to believe now, but HDs were considered so valuable that there was an entire industry that developed to sell and install replacement crankcase sections. This lead to complete reproduction crankcases being available within a few years. Unfortunately I only performed about 95% of a complete rebuild and I experienced quite a few problems with the remaining five percent! I repainted the bike glossy black and rode it in this original configuration for several months. I found that it just wasn't up to my performance expectations. Changes would have to be made.

Damn! That thing looks better than I remember!
There's my '70 Coupe de Ville in the background.

Long and narrow. Who needs a fatbob?

The bike was reconfigured from it's as- purchased set up. First of all, I wanted to add a front brake! I had actually ridden it up to Mendocino without the brake and lived to tell. However this required riding so slowly through the curves that it just took all the fun out of it. And the laws of physics can't be circumvented, the bike just couldn't stop in a short enough distance to be safe. I added a 1973 XL glide front end, extended ten inches, with a "banana" caliper front brake laced to a 21'' front wheel. Arlen Ness's shop supplied  a fiberglass custom rear fender with the molded in tail light and license plate mount. They also supplied a trick throttle cable set up and air cleaner. For added safety and legal compliance, I added a bicycle squeeze horn. I decide to be trick and curl the visible wires leading from the generator and battery and voltage regulator, just like a show bike. I kind of underestimated the amount of vibration that all the components would be subjected to. I didn't use "Locktite," who ever used that on a Honda? I found out why the Harley guys used it, copiously!

I guess that there are a lot of guys out there reading this that wouldn't have ridden this bike around the block, but I was getting ready for my first long trip trip. To Alaska!

There was an added fiberglass cafe racer fender attached under that dirt bike fork brace.
 Outfitted like this, what could go wrong?

A few touring accessories were added. A couple of Army surplus canvas ammo bags were hung off each side as saddlebags. The handiest items for a motorcyclist were a collection of bungie cords, those double hooked elastic wonders.  These made loading the bike so much easier and secure. A smaller surplus bag was bungie corded to the handlebars The small bag actually functioned as a kind of windbreak in lieu of a windscreen. Combined with the rolled up sleeping bag it also gave a "cool" look.

To connect the front brake caliper to the handle bar master cylinder I used the popular high pressure plastic tubing that was commonly used to hook up aftermarket oil pressure gauges. Since disc brakes weren't routinely used on extended front ends at this time, there weren't any better brake lines available. I remember that I had just hooked up the brake and done my best to bleed the system on the day before I left! It was working at about half capacity, but I guess the vibration of constant running shook all the bubbles loose. By the end of the first day, it was at full strength.

I had also added a newly available accessory, a front motor mount, spin on oil filter. It replaced the left mounting plate with a chrome unit. The bike did not originally come equipped with an oil filter of any kind! This filter would increase the capacity of the oiling system by almost a quart and would dissipate engine heat into the air stream. A worthwhile addition. Harley Sportsters of this era, even in good shape, would consume a quart of oil every five hundred miles. This meant that you would have to top up the oil every day. Harley had three grades of oil available; 40, 50, and 60 weight. 60 weight was recommended for Summer and "severe duty" use. On the road, it wasn't always possible to find an HD dealer and secure the proper oil. Most service stations only carried straight 40 wt. and that went through the motor like water!

The extended forks were kind of flexible. The usual fork brace was a bar shaped rectangular clamp that slipped down the fork tubes before they were slid up into the triple clamps. The pinch bolts were then snugged down. This system relied on the friction of the clamp and the tubes and was generally not too effective. I decided to go with a dirt bike style alloy device that bolted securely to the lower fork leg's four fender mounts. This was a much stronger set up and I thought it would be more appropriate for the possible rough roads we might encounter. I remembered my trip on the SL 350 where I had removed the front fender, for aesthetics, and suffered a sloppy trip in the rain. I attached a small fiberglass cafe racer style to the fork legs over the brace.

Perhaps my biggest pre trip expenditure was for a set of leathers. Harley Davidson offered a set of "Buckskin Buckaroo" (I'm not making this up!) coat and pants through their accessory catalog. I thought that the lighter brown color would absorb less heat, and appear less menacing to the motoring public. The jacket wasn't a "Wild One" knock off like my vinyl jacket had been. It was what is now usually referred to as a "cafe racer" style. Peter Fonda wore a black version of this jacket in "Easy Rider" so the look was definitely "cool." The proper look was essential for the proper experience.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Why do I fixate on terrible old cars? Especially forgotten barn or field cars.

The abandoned car as art. 

Well this would be the dream.
photo source;

Well they are not really terrible, just in terrible shape. That's the reason that they are affordable to me.

I remember back when I was a freshman in high school. While riding the bus through Clayton Ca, right at the curve there was a little country property with several very interesting and promising to me, old cars. One was a 1951 or 1952 Cadillac. Nothing fancy, just a four door post sedan. Oh, how I dreamed about that car. I'll bet it just needs a little tuning and freshening up and it would be back on the road in no time. Of course the fact that it had been sitting for many years should have told me something, like it must have suffered some kind of calamitous mechanical failure.

The second was a 1960 or so Ford Thunderbird. That was a car to grab a young man's imagination.

Why is it that the sight of a forlorn, forgotten old car so compelling to me. Maybe I think that it needs to rescued and brought back to life, and I'm just the guy up to the challenge.

In my imagination the car would only need a plug change and a new battery to be put back in service. In reality it was probably something serious. I would guess that it was probably the transmission that went out. Not many home mechanics will try to fix or replace an automatic transmission. There's more leeway with motor problems. Unless it threw a rod or blew a head gasket most owners could tinker with it or just drive it with it a shaky idle due to bad valves or a blue smoke cloud from worn rings. Ran when parked. Famous last words.

Realistically how many times have you parked an adequately running car somewhere and just "forgotten about it"? I think that most people would use that an excuse to just sell it. Living in the suburbs there is only so many places to park an extra car, even if you don't mind ticking off your neighbors. Unless, you're lucky enough to live out in the country and you have a whole lot of room to save that car. Then you can tell anyone interested in buying it " Not for sale, I'm gonna fix that up-someday". Sure you are.

For example, look at this beauty. A very interesting car that is currently not highly sought out or highly valued. When the new XK six cylinder motor was introduced, Sir William decided to produce a few specials that could establish the performance pedigree of this power plant. The sports job, the XK120 grabbed everyone's imagination and the Company was "forced" to go into regular production.

This is the car that the new motor was intended for. The Mark VII saloon. A sleek, stylish, luxurious grand touring saloon with a top speed just north of one hundred miles an hour. Nothing less than the equivalent of a Bentley Continental. For far fewer pounds.

The tragedy is that with the continuing interest in the sports models, these cars were mined for their mechanicals, especially the motor, manual transmission and suspension parts. Kind of like buying a 1970s Chrysler Imperial just for the 440 V8, the rest of the car was discarded. Most of these lower priced Mark VIIs are usually sold minus the engine. They don't trade for much, and even then, there aren't many takers.

Where have you been all my life? There is also a hidden parts car.
This  car showed up on CL and for some reason it eluded my attention for over three weeks.

These cars were advertised locally, but I thought that they were probably located somewhere out in the Central Valley. Field cars are rarely found in the local urbanized Bay Area. When the seller sent me these pictures I was almost certain that these were out in the country somewhere. But no, they were only about a half hour away. I just had to go and see them.

This thing looks quite well preserved.

The seller told me that the car had been purchased new by his father who was a British Car fan. You can see the Morris Minor in some shots. (What you won't see is the rather rough series one E-type). His Dad drove this car everyday up into the Eighties or Nineties when he got tired of operating the clutch and switched to an automatic Bentley. This old Jag was the car used in family vacations and the one the seller learned to drive in. The car was parked and covered while his Dad, involved himself in other projects. Time passed and the seller's Dad passed away several years ago.

Look between the seats. That's a shift lever!

The upholstery is actually pretty good on the seats and door cards. It was reupholstered some time in the past in blue vinyl.  There is some damage to the front seat bottom panels, but nothing not easily fixable.

This example really caught my interest previously, because it was equipped with a manual transmission.
What really caught my attention is the same thing that the car in Southern California had, a manual transmission. A non -synchromesh first gear, Moss gearbox.  Most of these I've seen for sale have that Borg Warner three speed automatic. Those old tranny's were well known to sap the performance from the car.  A manual transmission can be relatively easily gone through by the home mechanic. Because the mechanical bits of this car are shared with the XK120 all the way to the XK-E, there are lots of upgrades available.  A five speed conversion using a Toyota Supra box is a common upgrade, though usually found in an XK-E or the smaller Mark Two sedan.

This was the motor in the parts car.
The parts car has had an E-Type gear box installed sometime in the past.

                                          This was the included parts car. If I only had the room!

Look at that motor, This was from the period that led Jaguar to five victories at Le Mans. These models are the contemporaries of the famed XK120 and XK140. The Mark VII won the overall victory at the Mote Carlo rally in 1956. Talk about heritage. Talk about history. The seller has informed me that both cars were running when parked, but that was at least twenty years ago. He has to get rid of these cars to sell his late Father's house, and settle his estate. If the cars cannot be sold they will be scrapped. I can only hope that he can find a buyer for these often overlooked treasures.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The  1970s get a little hazy for me, motorcycle-wise.

photo source: Eric Cardin World

Not for any of the reasons you might see on those cable TV shows. It was a busy time for me. School and work. This went on until the end of the decade. A lot of things occurred, but they kind of blended together and many weren't documented by any Instamatic photographs taken at the time. I recall a period of a lot of motorcycle riding and trips taken with my buddy Rick, but neither of us was fond of stopping to take many photos. In fact we weren't too fond of stopping at all. This was a time when my riding consisted of "marathoning".

This just meant that we would ride and ride all day long, passing by interesting spots without looking at or investigating them. We certainly wouldn't stop for a photo op. We would just glance at them as we passed by in a blur. A lot of our trips were "day trips' in the sense that we would infrequently spend the night anywhere. A long ride up to Lake Tahoe returning home late at night. A trip up the Coast to Mendocino.

This period was comprised by my graduation from high school in 1973 and my graduation from college in 1980. This was a busy time for me. I was attending community college and university while working part and full time during most of this time. It was also the time that I worked at General Motors on the evening swing shift. Perhaps I can clarify my recollections by thinking about the bikes that I had in this time.

As I left high school I still owned my Kawasaki Mach III.

I sold that to buy the Honda 750 Chopper project my brother lost interest in.

That was followed by a Honda Motosport 350, bought in anticipation of a trip to Baja with my brother.

A surprisingly comfortable and capable bike.  Why did I remove the front fender on mine?
photo source: pinterest

I got to use my brother's 1970 Honda 450 twin while it sat around in my parent's garage.
I had sold my bikes to buy my first car, a '66 Mustang coupe.

Kind of an underwhelming bike, even with the disc brake. But a reliable one.
photo source:pinterest
My brother bought had bought a Honda 450 as his bike for the Baja trip. Since that didn't work out he let the bike sit as he was also pretty busy. Working at GM on the swing shift, getting married, and then attending U.C. Berkeley. I took some memorable rides on this bike; Yosemite, San Luis Obispo, and Red Bluff. There's another story attached to this 450 I'll share another time.

Employment at GM meant a lot more money to play with. I purchased an almost new 1976 Honda 750. I filled my time riding. I put 20,000 miles on it in a years time.

This was followed by my first Harley.

Then I bought my first new bike, that 1977 HD XLCR. This bike was ridden and reconfigured over the next twenty years!

The summer before college graduation I took that bike on my epic four week trip around the country.

Until I bought my Mach III I had only ridden as far as the town of Marshall, in Marin county. I remember pulling over to the side of legendary Highway One, than turning my bike, the Honda 305 chopper around, and calling it quits, for now. I had read an especially compelling article in Cycle magazine entitled "Scenes of desolate beauty, riding the Coastal Highway." I became somewhat obsessed about riding the Coast highway.

With the Mach III I had a bike that opened up the entire state to my wanderings. I finally rode up to Mendocino in my Senior year, 1973. A day trip to Lake Tahoe, and the '73 California 1000 followed later that year. It became something of a tradition for me to ride up to Mendocino whenever I got a new bike.

I decided that I still wanted to build a chopper or something, so I decided to buy my brother's dissassembled Honda 750. It was only the motor and forks. The motor components were "microsealed" which was supposed to reduce friction. Therefore the motor was competently in parts. Of course I had no doubts that it would go together again.

This was in the summer of 1973.
My Dad's '63 Lincoln is right behind me. What a great car that was.

I finished up my brother's Honda 750 project, but it was built up as more of a mild cafe racer than the rigid chopper we had intended. I owned this bike during my very brief tenure at the Kawasaki dealership. I made a serious mistake when re assembling the oil pump for this motor, which resulted in low oil pressure at idle when warm. For some reason, probably that I was just sick of working on it, I convinced myself that this really wasn't a problem. This resulted in a worn crankshaft and lower end, plus damage to the rocker arm assemblies. I replaced the crank and rod bearings then sold the bike. for 800.00. I should have known better, but I learned a lesson that I would (occasionally) forget in the future: No mechanical problem ever "works itself out!"

The Motorsport 350 was never used for a trip to Baja, but I did ride it on a a very rainy trip up to Redding. Despite my misgivings about this being a much smaller bike, the upright seating, high bars and comfy seat made for enjoyable cruising. It would top out a little over 90 mph. but cruise steadily at 70 mph. It's kind of like my current V6 F-150, not really fast, but it performs well enough for most all of my needs. For the record my F-150 will top out at 100 mph, cruise effortlessly at 70 mph, (85 mph. if I put the boots to it) and return 20-21 mpg. at a steady 65 mph.

We Bad! I customized it by removing the turn signals, fork boots, replacing the huge stock tail light with a Lucas unit. I bent the bars into the "Castro Valley" pullback style ( I used the exposed framing in my folk's garage) I drilled the baffles out a bit and added that sissy bar. Perfect. Visible in the driveway was my Brother's '73 Camaro. Bought new, he put over 80,000 miles on that car in three years. That old car is a '52 Lincoln.

Real long distance riding finally returned with the purchase of my '76 Honda 750. It cost me all of 1,425.00 and had all of 5,000 miles on it. Even though I was working full time at GM and attending J.C. I still found a lot of time to ride with Rick. I put 20,000 miles on it during the year I owned it. I lived on that bike. Reno, Mendocino, Tahoe, San Luis Obispo, El Cajon. Everywhere. This bike was the beginning of a lot of good times. I still owned it and was riding it while I was building up my first Sportster. Unfortunately Rick was still riding his Yamaha 350, which at the time was considered a pretty hot little bike. Soon though, Rick made the jump to a Honda 750 of his own. The sight and sound of two CB  750 s tearing down the open highway is one of my favorite memories of this time.

My adventure on the first California 1000 was so satisfying that I managed to talk Rick into going to the second running the next year. The date had been set and publicized in the magazines but when we arrived in LA we found that it had been cancelled at the last minute due to the Arab Oil Embargo! Undeterred we decided to run our own version of a 1,000 mile event. We left LA and headed out to the road that traverses the spine of California, SR395. Big Pine, Lone Pine, Bishop,  up to Mt Lassen. Rick and I rode our 750s on this trip.

My first HD came some time after this trip, in May of 1976, and it was a peach? Like an old piece of fruit it was rotten to the core. Well, not really rotten, just thrashed and totally worn out. I should have suspected something could be questionable about the maintenance it had been receiving, when the seller demonstrated how he shut down the motor. Since the key was located under the battery and difficult to access, he just placed his palm over the unfiltered velocity stack (this should have been a clue in itself!) and choked the motor to death. Of course this would result in raw fuel flooding the cylinders and leaking into the crankcase diluting the oil in the lower end. For some reason, probably youthful naivete and optimism I convinced myself that this wreck would be the perfect choice for my first Harley Davidson. I was going to rebuild it anyway, right? And it was already chopped! Woody Ahern lives again!

More, lots more, GM money was spent on my own this chopper project, a 1970 Harley Davidson XLCH which I did succeeded in rebuilding.

First time around girder front end, no front brake, looking good.

Looks kind of like a turkey carcass after Thanksgiving, don't it?
photo source: Ebay
 There is a crankcase projection visible above the kick starter shaft that was cracked in half, and was replaced with a new cast aluminum piece, that was heli-arched while the crankshaft was being rebuilt.

So many components just bolted together, with awfully big nuts and bolts.
photo source: Ebay

I stripped the motor down completely. What I found was not surprising, but in my youthful zeal I wasn't concerned. I expected the valves and the pistons would need to be renewed. That big tapered roller bearing on the bolt together crankshaft, that needed to go.

This aluminum cage held those steel rollers and rotated on the pinion shaft pictured below. Most of these rollers were found found flattened out like a bunch of hot dogs packed in a cello package. Not good!
photo source: Ebay

This is a pristine example, mine wasn't.
photo source: Ebay

As can be seen the entire crankshaft/ flywheel assembly is just a bunch of parts bolted together. One good thing about these early Harley Davidson motors is that they are infinitely rebuildable. All shafts run in ball or tapered bearings, needle bearings or phosphor bronze bushings. None of this steel running directly on aluminum, cost and labor saving, nonsense that was employed on contemporary Japanese designs. Every part could be independently replaced, and on my thrashed example they were.

That caged roller bearing pictured above rotated on that stub shaft. I found flattened rollers and almost a third of the hard surfacing missing from the pinion shaft on tear down. My poor Sportster motor had endured a lifetime of abuse. This post wasn't meant to be a primer on HD motor building so suffice it to say that whatever needed to be replaced or rebuilt was, and the completed motor was returned to service in my newly restyled and reconfigured frame

The bike was repainted black, with a new Arlen Ness fiberglass fender and sissy bar, A new set of one piece drag pipes, throttle cable bracket, air cleaner, (no more velocity stack) were purchased from the same source, The same handlebars, ten over girder and twenty one inch spool wheel was used on the front. I rode this bike in this configuration for a while, I don't recall for how long. Plans were being devised for a trip up the Northwest coast and possibly all the way to Alaska. Some modifications were going to be needed.

Coming up soon, preparing my bike for the long trip ahead.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Should the experience be more important than the car? Should you wait until you have that special car before you embark on that special trip?

Via Corsa magazine is identified as the sports car adventure magazine. Peking to Paris! What an adventure. For some reason these old prewar Bentleys really appeal to me. There is a great Petrolicious video entitled. "Living life as a Bentley Boy," It's just beautifully shot, as are all their videos, and you get to see these magnificent cars in action.

The Enduro Rally Association puts on an amazing series of adventure runs. There are some pretty awesome activities that are going on. These are mostly popular with rich guys that can afford the time and money to participate, But I will give these guys their props. They take their awesome, expensive, cars and thrash them in rough conditions. They put on a Trans America rally that could be easily replicated by anyone living in the lower 48 states. Either way these elite rallies can give us the motivation to take our own memorable road trips.

Of course for American guys one of the bucket list drives is Route 66.

The Snow Cap waits for you.

About a year and  half ago my Wife and I made a trip to Phoenix Az. On the way back I wanted to show her the town of Sedona.  It was as beautiful as I remembered, but since I had last been there in around 1975 the amount of development was not unexpected. We continued through Flagstaff, then west to Williams and into Seligman. Stopped by the famous Snow Cap. Yes it's kind of tacky, but fun. Busloads of foreign tourists were disembarking as we arrived. Many European motorcyclists come to the U.S. every year to travel down Route 66. The road itself is nothing special. Back in the day it would have been teeming with vehicular traffic, now it's just a memory. Kind of interesting, but not challenging in any way, just a touring destination.

West of Seligman we hooked up to whats left of the original alignment. While it is somewhat interesting, I don't think it would be better in a vintage car. If you already had the car, it would be okay, but I wouldn't hold out until then! Modern A/C will be very welcome!

There is a very cool video on you tube about a group of older Porsche 911s driven by a group of younger guys making a cross country trip from San Francisco to eastern Canada. A couple of the cars have a bit of trouble but keep on going anyway. A fun video to watch.

Ther is great video on Jay Lenos garage about a pair of Land Rovers making a cross country run from the Mississippi river to the Oregon coast. What makes this especially cool is that it was run on unpaved roads the whole way!

There is another video of driving a new Jaguar all wheel drive XJ8 up to the Arctic circle. Now that's the right way to travel!

One of my all time favorite videos is on Petrolicious films on you tube. It's called "Against the Grain". It features an un restored 356 Porsche that the owner takes on back roads, fire roads and even gravel/ dirt roads. It seems pretty amazing but remember how many Dune Buggies and Baja Bugs,were built out of the humble VWs similar chassis. Even the WWII Kubelwagen shares this same basic layout.

We are quite lucky in the US to have a world of varied topography right within our own borders. You can take your choice of deserts, mountains, swamps, rain forests, and plains. There are thousands of miles of secondary and third tier, roadways. There is a nationwide system of Forest Service fire roads and trails.

I just saw a new (to me) magazine called Overlander, which covers the growing long range, back road, trail movement. It would good to put all those jacked four wheel drive trucks to good use instead of shining their blinding  head lights into your back window during the evening commute!

So should you wait for "someday"?

You can probably guess my opinion on the subject, I recently posted my experience on
the first California 1000 motorcycle rally.  There are still more posts to follow on my motorcycle trips up throughout the Pacific Northwest, the south western US, and finally my four week, solo trip around the country on my Harley Sportster.

Well I'm currently up on the Oregon Coast, a partial repeat of my last year's vacation. I would have loved to take my XJ6, but unfortunately I just hadn't had the time to get the front suspension rebuild done in time.

I am disappointed. Driving the Jag gave the trip a great "sense of occasion." I'm glad I got the opportunity  to take the Jag on the road and experience it. There will be other trips for my XJ6 and hopefully my XJS.

I considered the other available reliably running vehicles in my fleet. My '96 Mustang was up to the job. With it's front suspension just having been rebuilt, the steering was spot on.  It still runs smoothly and even with just over 200k on the clock it only uses a bit less than a quart of oil in 1,000 miles.
It might have been fun to cruise up here a bit, with the top down. The negatives are the tiny trunk, although I could load up the back seat. The cabin is comfortable enough, but the noticeable exhaust note and the rough choppy ride made me decide to pass.

The Explorer has even more miles, over 250,000! It had received pretty good maintenance and repair before I got it. It runs really well and the a/c works very well. I've driven it back and forth to Merced on a couple of occasions, once in a torrential storm and had no problems. It is kind of old and rattling, with a bouncy jittery ride. My Wife says she finds it kind of fatiguing over a longer trip. It is spacious and has great seats, but I don't want to add too many more miles on it.

So that left me with my F150. A week before the trip I went to start it up and nothing. I jumped it and got it started, I cleaned the posts and put it on the charger. The battery could only restart it one time. Then the realization hit me, that's the original battery, it's ten years old! Well that's a good run. I got a new battery and it's good to go. I just had to do the first smog check and I had replaced the spark plugs. With over 120,000 miles on them, they were as clean as a whistle.

Overall the truck is still in pretty good shape, and the cab in is extremely spacious and comfortable, for two. It is quiet and rides great, and even my Wife has trouble filling the bed with luggage. We took this truck on our trip out to South Dakota a few years back. We covered parts of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah and Nevada before we were done. Not bad. It's a great road machine.

After treating it like a pack burro last year I think it deserves the opportunity to point it's nose into the wind- and go. Just like me.

Just like the ads say: Just Do It!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Touching up the paint, on the cheap.

Grabs some spray cans and just call it an art car.
Photo source: Wide Walls

I had a middle aged guy come by the house to buy some Datsun parts, he took one look at my '70 Mustang in the driveway, and disdainfully said "Is that one of those ninety nine dollar paint jobs?" "No" I replied, "Those hundred dollar paint jobs cost five hundred dollars now."  True enough, a quality new paint job now costs so much that for most cars it just can't be justified. Plan on spending almost ten times this much, for a "show quality" respray.

So what can you do? Obviously a new paint job would be nice, IF, If you had the money, and time, IF you really liked the car and were planning to hold onto it for a few years, IF you really care what Jokers like that guy think. Still, you want to drive a nice car, a Better Beater. The goal is to improve the aesthetics of your car so that its a solid ten (or twenty!) footer. There's a lot you can do to improve the looks of your car on the cheap, which is of course the whole idea. Of course the better car you start out with, the better results you can obtain.

This was what I started with on my Explorer. Obviously the previous owner either scraped up against a pole, or something else came up to it and scratched it up. Either way the damage is only superficial and cosmetic. My goal was just to touch up the scratches and make them a little less noticeable.

You can use that almost matching "Touch up" paint, those little bottles and spray cans. I bought a spray can of blue paint to touch up some scratches on the right rear door of my Explorer. I sprayed the paint into a paper cup until I had a big enough puddle. Lacking a painter's brush I used the next best thing, a Q-tip. Actually several Q-Tips, but they're cheap and right in my bathroom. The scratches were kind of deep and the panel is dented a bit, but I just wanted to help the area blend in. A couple of coats later I was quite satisfied. After it had dried  I hit the area with an application of Meguiar's cleaner wax.

Not too bad.

At least now the scratches doesn't reach out and grab your eye.

Custom matched paint cans are available.  Not a bad idea if your car is not too faded out, or you want to paint the door jams and around the trunk and hood. These are usually matched to a paint code, so they might not match exactly. If you live close enough to the provider you might drop buy and see if they can custom match your color. This might be a good idea of you are replacing a door or another large panel. Actually most body shops can match your current paint by tweaking the formula a bit to cover for fading. A pint of real paint will probably be kind of expensive, and unless you have a spray set up, hard to use. They do sell these aerosol powered paint spray guns that can use your "real paint " if you have the skill.

Oxidized clear coat, What to do? This localized paint failure is very common. It makes your car look tired and old. Well my cars are old, I just don't want them to look so tired. Kind of like getting rid of the bags under my eyes, even temporarily!

Speaking of tired eyes here's some before and after shots of my headlights. Meguiar's to the rescue.

Tired looking eyes come with the years.

Now it looks more alert. And more youthful somehow.

The usual response to these oxidized areas is to use some polish to buff out the area and add some needed shine. The problem is that the oxidized area on newer cars is usually the clear coat. Once it's turned white and chalky it's pretty hard to blend it in to the rest of the paint. My Mustang had an oxidized area on the top side of the rear bumper and a really odd, oxidized and "thin" paint area on he left rear quarter panel behind the driver's door. Now, it was like that when I bought it. I don't know how that happened, either this area was struck by the sun when the car was parked under a carport, or maybe the driver had to squeeze through a tight space to get into the driver's seat, abrading the paint over time.

You can see the oxidation on the top of the bumper.

This is that strange thin spot. The dull area really stands out.

I would use Meguiar's cleaner wax on both spots and it used to do a pretty good job shining up these spots when I first got the car. However after five or six years even that wasn't working too well. (The car is over twenty years old!) The rest of the car is definitely faded from it's original  Laser Red hue. It's kind of fading down to a kind of persimmon orange/red color. Overall the look is pretty even. Those are actually the only real bad spots. The body shop in Fremont has a yearly bumper painting special. but then the bumpers would look much better than the body. I thought about trying to touch up these spots with matching "touch up" spray paint but I know how hard it is to get a good result. the re-painted spots would probably look like some one "tagged" my car.

So I polished these spots using Meguiar's #2 polish. The result wasn't too bad. Especially if you don't look too closely. I would usually then add a coat of Meguiar's cleaner wax. That's my "go to" stuff for polishing pretty much everything, paint, headlamps, tail lamps, emblems, etc. Not this time though.

The results are kind of like Armor All but they are supposed to last for awhile.
 The twenty dollar miracle?

I had seen a product at Orchard Supply Hardware awhile back. It was from Rustoleum, called Wipe New Recolor. Pictured on the box is an old weathered plastic patio chair. One side dull as dirt, the other side is looking almost brand new. I had seen the television commercial once, and thought it might have applications in the low buck, old car world. If you wet the oxidized areas the water causes the finish to appear shiny, hiding the paints weathering. That's why those post wash, wet shots are featured  in so many Craig's Lists ads. Remember how "Armor All" did that to interior plastics as well as make the seats slippery as ice. The problem was that the Armor All would wear off fairly quickly. This new product promised to rejuvenate the finish and last up to a year. So after polishing I applied this Recolor to the top of the bumper and the left quarter panel. The bumper looked better immediately as the weathered paint was moisturized by the product. It appeared to remain with a "wet look" after it dried. Not too bad! Because the area is now shiny it has reflections that blend in with the rest of the body. The quarter panel looks pretty good too. From ten feet away the car looks very good. The car is in pretty good shape so the whole presentation is very positive. And that is what I was looking for. I might have the car painted in the future if I decide to keep it, but for now this seems like a satisfactory repair for only twenty bucks! This material is even better suited for newer cars that have a lot of black or grey plastic trim. The entire grille and upper bumper cover of my F150 is black plastic. As are the mirror housings and bed trim. I'm sure that this would work great on those areas. I had thought about trying some acrylic floor "wax" instead of using this product, but thought I would give this a try. I will report how this material holds up over time.

The top of the bumper looks kind of shiny.

Close up you can still see the rough surface. But at least it is shiny.

Most of the area is tossing a pretty fair reflection.

Getting to be a ten footer. Maybe a stripe under that body line?

That thin spot is still there. I remember once a long time ago my Dad suggested that I could cover up a blemish on my old motorcycle's gas tank. He said "why not cover the area with a sticker or something?" Of course I immediately rejected that idea. Now almost fifty years later I can see the merit of the idea. I could put a side stripe on the side of the car that would cover the worst spot. I saw some of those stripes for sale at Pep Boys. A flat black stripe might look kind of snazzy. I still have that Saleen decklid wing I want to use. Maybe, Maybe...

Now that the spots are touched up, I polished out the head lamps, tail lamps, turn signals and third brake light. A good washing, overall waxing, tire treatment, and interior cleaning will have the old Mustang standing tall. I will usually cover my car with a cheap, Budge brand car cover. I also use one of those Auto dusters every day before I cover up the car. I do know and accept that those cheap covers combined with dust and grit will cause minor scratches to the finish. However, I will chance that over ultraviolet induced fade and bird crap and sap that can fall on my cars from the trees I have to park under. So far I've had pretty good luck.

Now what to do about those worn and cracked seats? Chain auto store seat covers ARE pretty ghastly. What to do?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Don't you ever get sick and tired of messing around with cars?

Famous cartoon by Bill Mauldin.
I will just remind you that this act was carried out as a display of mercy. 

Well, that's a complicated question. A lot depends upon who's asking, and why. Non car people would probably wonder why so much effort and energy is expended on something that they view as a necessary appliance. I can understand that. I don't spend my time cleaning and shining my stove or refrigerator. This computer that I'm using right now, never gets a thought unless I have some problem and can't write my blogpost.  My cell phone is a ten dollar burner that I picked up on sale at Walgreens. I'm not following the path of development of the latest Samsung or I phone. Flat screen TV? Don't need one, I've got a great looking Hitachi rear projection model. Don't like wasting my time watching television anyway.

I have absolutely no interest in Sports. I don't attend any games in person, don't watch any games on television, don't follow any team in the paper or magazines. Couldn't care less. Fishing? That's why they invented the Fillet O'Fish at McDonalds. My kids are grown up. I really don't have any close friends anymore. That saves me a lot a time socializing. Besides my Wife keeps me plenty busy with her activities. I do like the idea of travel, especially if I can drive there. Currently I'm not very interested in taking a cruise anywhere. Oh, I have plenty to do around the house, and I'm getting started again. I just don't care as much about the house as I used to. Deferred maintenance may not be my friend, but it is a constant companion.

 Obviously I don't have much interest in what others consider to be important or vital.

So I have some free time to fill up with a hobby. Cars is it. Used to be motorcycles.

There are many degrees of involvement. My hobby cars also usually function as my family cars. They do form my stable of usable family cars.

Taking care of your transportation car is one thing. You have to keep the car in good shape since you depend on it. You can minimize these expenditures by updating your fleet when necessary.

Seeking out avenues of automotive masochism is another thing. I must admit that I enjoy looking through the Craig's List listing of "project cars". As I posted last week, there are a lot of cars that can be cleaned and fixed up a bit and (hopefully) be enjoyed for a couple of years. There aren't many that truly deserve  the hassles and expense of a full restoration. That Jaguar XJ6 I detailed last post is a good example.

Luckily, I still enjoy turning a spanner once in a while. Now, I like having plenty of proper tools and equipment, a garage to work in, and no pressing deadline like having to drive the thing to work on Monday. It can still be a satisfying experience.

The good old days of yore. real or not.

Why can't I ever leave well enough alone? If I have a saving grace, it's that I'm not the kind of guy to be endlessly modifying a car. Changing out suspension parts, modifying the motor, etc. If I feel like making changes I will usually just make the change to another car!

Why can't I ever be satisfied? I will admit that I probably won't ever be satisfied with the ownership of any particular car. I just showed my Wife a CL listing on a beautiful Aston Martin DB7 coupe. I told her "Take a look at my dream car." She replied, "Yeah for now! You wouldn't keep that thing forever." Of course she was right, but that doesn't mean that I wouldn't enjoy it for awhile. I figure, One Wife, Many Cars!

Will there ever come a day that I'm done with cars? Well I think that like most, I will always need a car for transportation. I'm already at the stage where I have to cut back on any heroic marathon mechanical work sessions. A lower priced new car, or a late model used model can deliver a lot of usable dependable transportation value with minimum fiddling. I could always keep one "fun" hobby  car for myself.

I did close out the chapter of motorcycles in my life. I didn't see that ever happening, but I had to weigh the pros and cons. I just didn't want to risk the possibility of a disabling injury. I didn't want to chance becoming a burden to my Wife, at least unnecessarily. There were many that know me that couldn't believe it. Motorcycles had been a huge part of my life for over thirty five years.

It sounds bad, but I really don't miss riding motorcycles. I might like to build up a custom bike, but last time I messed around with an old Virago, I found it hard to get too excited by something I didn't plan on using. But I wouldn't count it out.

Last week I went to the Santa Cruz flea market and I ended up buying a whole box of Street Rod magazines. Rod Action, Street Rodder, Rod and Custom, 1001 Rodding Ideas and more. I found a couple of issues that went back to my High School days. I got the entire box with over a hundred issues for 5.00. Not a bad deal, I've paid as much as a dollar an issue at times. My Wife asked why I bought those, because I profess not to have any more interest in hot rodding. Again that is true. I never had a thirty something Ford or even a '57 Chevy. At the time that Chevy was cheap I was looking at other things, motorcycles mostly.

It was just a trip down Memory Lane. I was a car loving kid hungry for information and adventure. There was a wealth of low buck, do it yourself info in these mags in the '70s and into the beginning of the '80s. Then they transformed into a showcase of high dollar builds and expensive pre fabricated "kit" parts. Some of this is a benefit as they are usually well engineered and safer. As with many things the prices on cars of this type rose higher and higher until they were unattainable to the average hobbyist.

My feelings about vintage cars has changed with time. I almost hate to say this, but I almost can't see the point of building a hot rod or fixing up a vintage car. Especially at Today's prices. That is pretty much my attitude towards vintage Muscle and Pony cars. There are still a couple of 70's Muscle cars that I would like to own, but would I rather have a '70 Mach One or a late model Jaguar XKR or even that black Aston Martin?

Maybe I'm just a cranky old man. Probably a lot of that is true. I used to harshly judge those fussy old guys that wouldn't mess with junk, would rather buy a finished car or have it have it custom built for them. They started preferred higher end cars, I couldn't understand that at the time. It makes a lot more sense to me now.

Maybe I'm ready for a new Corvette?

Nah, Not yet!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Remembering Henry Gregor Felsen. (1916-1995)

                                                 photo soutce: front porch expressions

Who was this serious looking man and why do I consider him an Icon of automotive literature? Like most artists we remember their work instead of the artist themselves. Actually without their work, what would we remember about any artist?

Mr. Felsen was a an American Mid West writer during the 1950s.  He wrote fiction, primarily for junior and senior high school age students.

He is best remembered, by many automotive enthusiasts for the series of teen age adventure stories, starting with this book:

This is the same edition that I borrowed from my fourth grade classroom lending library.
I managed to find a copy  almost fifty years later. 

This book struck a nerve in me. I was in the fourth grade when I first read this book. I had always had a fascination with cars but I didn't have a direction or know the language to express it. In Bud Crayne I found a kindred spirit. Not so much in his personal life story. He had experienced little of a normal family life, he had been orphaned, as was raised by an older bachelor Uncle. He was a loner, and he turned to his car as an expression of his identity, his spirit, and his individuality. The following passage sums this up.

" No wonder then, that Bud felt more than a pride of ownership in this fellow-hybrid that was his car. Made with the work of his hands and the thought of his brains, it was his totem, his companion, his dog, his drawer of shells, his treasured childhood blanket and fuzzy bear."

Yes, I would say that Mr. Felsen UNDERSTOOD the bond between a youth and his machine.

Years later when Henry Felsen's daughter Holly decided to have a reprinting of this iconic first book. She posted on the H.A.M.B. (Hokey Ass Message Board) trying to gauge the potential interest before committing her money into this project. It turned out that she amazed by the outpouring of response. So many older car enthusiasts shared with her the depth that her Father's stories had meant to them. How these stories had touched their lives and helped form their concept of what a car guy is. Previously Holly had no real idea that her Father's stories had been so influential and memorable to those who read them.

His most remembered novels besides Hot Rod are:

Road Rocket ( Later re-titled to Boy gets Car)
Crash Club
Street Rod
Rag Top and
Fever Heat

There is a lot of teen angst and rebellion in these stories, and they do not always end in the happy manner we might have liked. Mr Felsen wanted his stories to have a moral. He wanted to persuade his audience to do the right thing, to behave in a socially acceptable manner. The car is often a catalyst in a teen age rite of passage.

Besides "Hot Rod", I think that my favorite novel is "Boy Gets Car" formerly titled "Road Rocket."

This edition looks like it was part of the Bantam publishing release.  The cover art portrays a more mature character than is described in the novel.

In this story, a group of young, car loving teen age boys  have formed an informal car club, the Road Rockets. They have a wonderful time holding meetings in the basement of the young protagonist, Woody Ahern. They get together to discuss exciting topics like boring and stroking a flat head Ford, multiple carburetor set ups, and performance enhancing gearing changes. They get to argue the merits of various modifications, while Woody's Mother will bring down a platter of snacks, cookies  and milk. They are having just a grand old time. It's a good thing that none of them own an actual beat up old car, it's a lot more fun to talk the talk. That's still true for me today!

Mr. Felsen captures the zeal, longing and naivete of a young teenager, especially in contrast to his long suffering Father who accompanies his son on his foray to the back row of the local, low buck used car emporium.

The Father gets into a discussion with Sid, the owner of the car lot.

Sid pulled his hat down. "You ever buy your boy anything like an electric train when he was younger?"

Ahern nodded. "I don't think any Father misses that. He was seven years old."

"How much did it cost you?"

"I got a buy on a good train set. Forty dollars for the works.

"All right. If you spent forty dollars on him when he was seven. It won't kill you to spend another forty on him now. Particularly if it's his own forty. Look at it this way, Mr. Ahern. Your boy doesn't want a car, he wants a big toy. If he wanted a car he wouldn't be looking in that back row. Believe me, sir, there isn't anything that will keep a car crazy boy off the streets better than an old car in his garage. Instead of rattling around all night with some older kid who has a car, he'll be at home, working on his own little pride and joy. I don't think it makes any difference to kids like yours if their cars ever run or not. What they want is a real car to work on, with real gears, and real transmissions and real engines. That way they can tell themselves that they're working, and not playing. And maybe they are. Maybe he'll learn more from an old car that won't run than you can ever guess. One thing, he'll find out whether he likes to work on cars, or just thinks that he likes to work on cars. Think of it like an electric train or an erector set, or some big toy like that. Let him have it."

Well that is real life for you. We all had ideas and dreams of the future when we were younger, not always based upon a realistic assessment of our situation. Still, life should be about learning, and our best lessons are usually taught to ourselves.

I like this cover art much better. It portrays a bewildered young man peering under the weirdest looking hot rod I've ever seen.

All this fun is shattered when Woody actually goes out and actually buys an old beater. The boys had
previously decided that all member's cars would be treated as "club cars" and they would all work on each other's cars as they acquired them. Standing in front of a rusty, beat up, smelly heap, they realized that it just didn't seem like as much fun as they thought it would be. Of course they were happy to ride around in the car while it was still running. In short time Woody's friends abandon him. He is left alone with the reality of a tired old car that needs a lot of time, money and labor. Maybe more than he can invest in it.

Woody is plagued by self doubt, but like young car enthusiasts everywhere he gets down to business.

I like this story because it captures the innocence of young love, well car love at least. Woody's father isn't the least bit interested in cars. They are transportation, that's all. There are more important things in life, like getting an education and later a career. So Woody, as a middle class kid, is not exposed to the reality of his father having to wrench on some old beater so that he can make it work on Monday morning. In Woody's idealism he sees himself working on cars not only as a hobby, but as a career. As a mechanic, a racing pit crew member, or maybe some day as a racing car designer. Woody's father sees all this as a dangerous distraction and even worse as a dead end. Especially for the son of a school teacher/ coach. Respectability is not to be found as a grease monkey under some old car! What middle class parent wouldn't worry that his offspring was so intent on dropping down the social and economic scale? Could Woody become a J.D. (juvenile delinquent?)

Unfortunately, this was the reality that middle class parents associated with hot rodding in the early 1950s. So many families had escaped from poverty after the Second World War. Some of those returning GIs took advantage of the GI bill and attended college or trade school and climbed into Middle Class respectability and opportunity.  Losing that, was something that these parents took seriously and feared, they knew the harsh realities of Life.

photo source: William Gedney, photos of the Cornett family
rural Kentucky 1964-1972

Digging through he spare parts pile. I guess
Paw just set his gun aside while he was working.

What Woody wouldn't and couldn't realize at this age was that cars could be an interesting hobby and pastime. There was no need to make them a career. Of course there are many types of careers in the automotive world. White collar as well as blue collar.

Mr Felsen wrote cautionary tales of just how dangerous cars could be. Not only in reckless driving as described so graphically in "Hot Rod" but how they could become a distraction to an aspiring middle class kid's social and economic development. But his stories also captured the hopes and dreams of thousands of young car enthusiasts of my generation.

Let's end on a more cheerful middle class image.

Photo source: Life magazine