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

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Back in the day, people didn't actually restore old cars.

At least not in the way they are doing it today.

I managed to find a couple of copies of these anthologies in an old books store  years ago. I had subscribed to this magazine for several years and I still might have a box of them stored in my garage.

I found this book to be quite amusing from the standpoint of Today's attitude towards restoration. Back then almost all old cars were pretty much worth very little. Because of this, nobody wanted to invest much money in their repair, rebuilding or restoration. These cars were not seen as investments. Old Cars were a hobby. No one was going to make any money off the average old buggy. You tried to keep your expenditures to an absolute minimum. The point was to find a pristine, maintained example, an Uncle Daniel, as I once heard them referred to. I remember reading an article in one of those Old Cars Weekly anthologies about the disposal of a fellow enthusiast's estate. There were many very desirable cars that were auctioned off. For the most part his surviving friends were satisfied with their purchases, except one guy who got stuck with a "dog" a car that needed mechanical repair. It was pristine in appearance but it was an "oil burner", a real embarrassment to the buyer.

It's kind of hard to believe that in the early 1960's these pre war classic cars were only around 30-40 years old. Most of the desirable post war cars were just old used cars. The life span of these cars, and in fact, new 1950-60s cars were pretty short. Most cars would require a "valve grind" around 40-50 thousand miles and an complete "overhaul" before they reached 100,000 miles. Back then anyone that drove a car with that kind of mileage was either an eccentric or just as poor as a church mouse. Or maybe just old. Lots of older folks didn't buy into that myth of planned obsolescence. You bought a car, you kept a car, you fixed a car. None of this "keeping up with the Jonses" nonsense. A 1940 Ford was a good looking car when new and still was. You would still see many cars from the Forties and early Fifties parked in the driveways of some of the neighborhood's more senior citizens. Even better was when the garage doors opened to reveal a gleaming 1940s beauty that had been lovingly maintained by it's now elderly owner.

As always buying the best car in the best condition you can find is always the best idea. And there was lots to choose from at that time. Just keep your eyes on the Obituary column! New cars were coming on the market all the time!

Not to say that these cars were always so well maintained back in the day. Money was tight especially during the Great Depression, and many of these old worn out cars of the 1920 and 30's were consigned to the scrap metal drives of the times.

I found several copies of "Motor Service magazine" at an antique sale. This was a trade magazine sent to mechanics and service shops, not circulated to the general public. This copy was dated March 1935. Besides the well dressed motorists quizzing the master mechanic on the front page there was a thorny question posed in the article "Fit the price of the Job (repair) to the Value of the Car". When you have a prospective client with a four or five year old car worth maybe 85.00 there isn't much chance to sell him on a complete motor reconditioning job for 65.00. The article goes on to detail a less expensive job that would call only for a light cylinder hone, new rings and a spring piston expander insert. It doesn't name this reduced cost but I would figure that this could only have been priced at round thirty bucks. Maybe less.

Bill's answer to the well dressed motorists on the cover was that they needed a Ramco Overhaul. The ad claimed it could be completed for half the price of a 40-75.00 rebore job. These prices seem ridiculously low to our modern eyes but at the time you would be lucky to bring home 5.00 a day.

Even after the post war recovery and economic boom, many people were still interested in low cost methods of keeping their old beaters on the road.

photo source: pinterest

If the car was an oil burner there were inexpensive strategies to fix the problem. A ring and valve job consisted of grinding the valve seats, honing the cylinders, expanding the pistons with an internal spring steel insert or "knurling" the piston skirts to raise the surface of the metal. A set of oversized rings would complete the job. If oil pressure had been low, then a set of new replacement main and rod bearings would be fitted. Maybe even a new or rebuilt oil pump would be included if you planned on keeping the car for awhile.

If not, than a can of "Motor Honey" could be added whenever the motor was down a quart. This would probably reduce the blue cloud and quiet a few knocks for a bit. Back in the 30s and 40s and even the 50's labor was very cheap, but parts were very expensive. So there were many ways to rebuild, re-bush and resurface what ever parts in your motor were worn out. Motors were routinely "torn down" by the corner gas station mechanic resulting in an "overhauled" motor. Not a "rebuilt" or "re-manufactured" motor. Re-manufactured usually meant that precision machining had been down to restore the internals surfaces of the motor. This was often done at a factory like facility.

This was the strategy followed by the old time "restorer." Depending on what the motor needed, a new gasket set, with new main seals would reduce the embarrassing drips of oil wherever you parked. Brake shoes would be "relined" with new friction material. You could rivet this on yourself! A rebuild kit for the wheel cylinders and master cylinder only cost a couple of bucks. A set of new recapped tires and you were good to go.

And of course if the paint wasn't up to snuff, there was always Earl.