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.

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