Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sometimes you just have to do the work. I was still having some problems with the electrical system. All the lights and things were working but when I switched on the headlights, after about ten minutes the lights would start to flash off and on. None of the fuses blew but I couldn't leave it like this. I decided that I had to remove the entire under dash harness and inspect and test it. I didn't think that there was an actual short circuit but there must be a lot of resistance somewhere in the harness. I set up a couple of folding card tables and spread out the harness to visually check all the wires and connections. I have found that setting up a card table and chair in the driveway next to my car makes everything easier and more comfortable. I can set up the repair manual and tools on the table and inspect parts while seated.

 There were some iffy looking splices and connectors that I pulled on to be sure that they were secure. I resoldered anything that looked suspect. I had removed the light and wiper switch and the fuse box was still attached. I checked the function of the switches and checked the circuits using a test light and multimeter. It's a good idea to use a lower amp power source like a trickle charger or the two amp charge function of a battery charger, you don't want to fry the wires if you make a mistake. I also tried to loom the wires a little better to make everything neater. I ran the looms through some black plastic conduit for protection and appearance. I coudn't find anything that was shorted out and the connections to the firewall connector looked okay also. I reinstalled the harness and tried it again. Same result. For some reason the headlights were drawing too much power for the built in circuit breaker in the headlight swtch. Hmmm. Now I had seen that the headlight sealed beam sockets were pretty corroded and didn't look much better after I tried to clean them. ( My car was missing the inner fender splash shields that would have kept water off the headlamp plugs). The factory headlamp wires that fed the front part of the harness through the firewall connector were very thin, maybe 16 guage. I could imagine that it wouldn't  take a lot to raise the resistance enough to possibly cause a problem.

I had gone to the Goodguys show in Pleasanton and had seen several vendors selling wiring harness kits which might well be the next step. Still I didn't want to spend 700.00 if I didn't have to. Over the years I had read several articles in CarCraft magazine about improving the headlight function of old muscle cars. The lights were dim because they wern't receiving the full twelve volts that was needed. Over the forty some odd years these cars had been in use, the wiring harness had degraded and couldn't pass enough juice. The fix was to run a heavy wire directly from the battery to a set of relays that would supply full power to the headlight elements. the existing wires would only trigger the relays which require much less power. I decided to make up a new harness that bypassed the existing wiring to the headlights completely. I figured that if this didn't solve the problem than I would run new wires directly from the headlamp switch completely bypassing the firewall connector and related wiring. I went to a NAPA auto parts store and asked for some relays to wire up some driving lights. I bought the relay and the matching prewired plug. Not only would this look neater and more professional; but it would provide better protection of the contacts. I needed  two, one each for high and low beam, as each realy had two output circuits. I also bought two new headlight element sockets. I mocked up the placement of a 30 amp circuit breaker and the two relays using a 2in.x6in. piece of wood as a mounting plate. Using this I looked for the best place to mount the assembly under the hood. I chose to mount it on the inner fender panel ahead of the left shock tower. After I finished running the wires I routed them and formed them into a preliminary finished harness. Now another test. I fired up the car, turned on the headlights and let it idle for ten minutes, no problems. I took the car out for a test drive and a half hour later I pulled into the driveway with the lights blazing brighter than ever.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The trust issue in cars, how do you achieve it? I posted an entry on the HAMB (Hokey Ass Message Board) several years ago when one of the guys was asking about driving his old station wagon to a car show a couple of hundred miles away. He wanted to take his family and he was wondering if his car was road worthy enough to make it. Safety is always the biggest issue, but any breakdown can be a huge inconvenience and hassle. Being stuck on the side of the road with your wife and kids will be a huge ordeal. You know you will hear about it for years. You might miss a day of work if you cut it close, it might be a good idea to factor in an extra day for the return trip. You could make the trip in a caravan with a buddy or two. This way your buddies could help out or at least get your family home while you stay behind with the car. Triple A is also a good idea, especially if you have the two hundred mile tow range. (You can also string together two tows to double the range).

Preparation is always the best idea though. My 96 Mustang has around 180k and I figure it could easily run above 200k (probably around 250k ). If it can last for at least another 20k why wouldn't it do two or three thousand miles at once? The pistons and valves aren't going to wear out overnight. If the oil pressure is good then the chance of throwing a rod should be minimal. If the compression is good than the headgasket should stay together. Pulling the head, cleaning up the combustion chamber, and replacing the head gasket is not too difficult on an older car, Changing the timing chain is also good insurance.

I answered the guy's question this way:

Any long trips are just a series of shorter ones. If your car can handle a 100 mi. trip reliably, without requiring the following:adding multiple quarts of fluids, (except gas in the tank) changing fouled plugs,clogged gas filters,flushing the radiator, replacing the thermostat, fanbelts, water pump, jumping the battery,replacing blown fuses,rehanging the exhaust system, patching the gas tank,rebuilding the brakes, replacing tires worn to the cords, the clutch isn't slipping, the auto trans is still automatic, rebuilding the brakes, replacing the generator/alternator, your turn signals, headlights, signal lights, windshield wipers, heater still work, you may have a driver!

I think that it is real important that the car track as straight as possible, and that the steering have only a small amount of freeplay, (although I drove some sloppy junk when I was younger). This is important, because while you may feel that you can live with it on short trips, on a long trip, due to fatigue you might let it drift way off line and then suddenly overcompenste to pull it back in the lane. Every bad trait in the steering/suspension will come out and bite you in the ass and you could lose it! Don't take a chance with your and your families' lives, not to mention anyone unfortunate enough to be around you if that should occur. Be sure you have good seatbelts.

A final thought. If you drive the car for an hour at freeway speeds and then stop, and it idles smooth, doesn't heat up, and will start right up in five minutes, that's a good sign. Enjoy the drive.

Monday, September 1, 2014

This summer I'm taking a long roadtrip so I'm taking  one of my newer vehicles.. The first leg of the trip was from the SF Bay area to Klamath Falls Oregon, a distance of around 430 miles. The drive made for a long day after a late start and I was pretty tired when I arrived, even with working a/c. I remember I made the same trip about fifteen years ago in my 1966 Buick Riviera. The ROA (Riviera Owners assoc.) was having their annual get together in Klamath Falls so I wanted to attend driving my Riv. I was taking my wife and two kids so I was really concerned about reliability, safety, and comfort (maybe not so much). Yes the car did look kind of ugly, the paint was splotchy and rusty and the windows were sealed with duct tape, but it was slammed running wide whites with Moon discs. In a twisted way I thought it was cool in a "rat roddy" kind of way. Mechanically it was in good shape. It didn't  leak or burn much oil (no smoking exhaust). It ran cool so no overheating worries. Of course the a/c didn't work. I found that the "flow thru" ventilation didn't and my kids almost had a heat stroke before I opened the windows. The biggest problem was that the fuel gauge didn't work, so I figured at ten mpg I could go right around 200 miles. Well the odometer worked so I should have figured on only about 125 miles range but I pushed it of course. What I didn't realize that there wasn't a gas station every other block that stayed open all night. I had a couple of very tense episodes looking for gas. I only ran out of gas once, and that was in front of the hotel. The return trip was uneventful.

I had taken this car down to Paso Robles before and used it for daily commuting and local round trips of around sixty miles or so, but you never know...

The vehicle I'm driving right now broke down on me last summer on the way back from Las Vegas, over three hundred miles from home. (At least it waited until then!) The a/c compressor seized up on me with only about 79k. Still you fix it and move on.  So the question is "How can you trust your old car?"   That's a good question.

If you can't reasonably trust your car then it's nothing but a big toy. You can drive it around town but no further than you care to walk. This of course makes perfect sense. My Dad always reffered to fixed up or restored cars as "Sunday cars" because that was the only time they are ever driven. He reffered to customized cars as "homemade cars." This was not meant as a compliment. My Dad would work on and fix anything, he just didn't see the point of making more work for yourself.

I think it all depends on the condition of the vehicle. If it is clearly worn out then it makes sense to stay close to home. But the question is how worn out?  If you go to buy new tires the salesperson will always reccommend a four wheel alighnment and new shocks and struts. I asked him why, this was for one of my good cars that had only about 60k on it, this was the first set of replacement tires. He said oh, the shocks are at least half worn out and it would be a good idea. I told him that the car tracked perfectly straight so why the alignment?  If the shocks are half worn out, then why not rebuild my motor too, since it also is half worn out? Obviously I am not the ideal customer.

My old 66 F250 had a very worn motor, the oil pressure would drop enough that when hot, the oil pressure warning light would come on. I put a new oil pump in it and used 40 weight oil and this cured the problem, sort of. It would use a quart of oil every fifty miles. It didn't leak and it didn't even seem to smoke except on hard acceleration. I drove it on a 250 mile round trip to Santa Rosa to pick up a replacement motor and used five quarts of oil.That was the single longest trip I made. Still I put at least six or seven thousand miles on it driving it to the dump and to work. I fixed the brakes, and the tranny was fine. I replaced the turn signal switch and had it painted. I kept that truck for three years before I sold it to a buddy of mine with the replacement motor in the bed. Now I knew that if I put the boots to that motor with a heavy load and high speeds there was a good chance that I would blow that motor, so I kept it down to 55-60 mph. So if your car has good oil pressure,idles pretty smoothly ( indicating  fairly good compression) doesn't smoke, under normal driving, make knocking or clanking sounds  or overheat than I would consider driving it to a car show several hundred miles away. (As long as the brakes, tires and chassis are in similar condition).

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Okay now your car is looking pretty good. Maybe good enough so that your wife or girlfriend won't mind being see in it with you. One part of the equation was achieving a presentable appearance, now you need to have the car in reliable mechanical condition. Some mechanical repair and upgrading is very straightforward, rebuilding brakes, refurbishing the radiator and cooling system, getting the fuel and charging systems back up to snuff. Working on the motor and running gear. There are some problems that are not easy to diagnose and repair. Some electrical problems are hard to diagnose and repair. In my case some previous owner had attempted to fix a problem with the instrument panel and who knows what else by digging into the wiring harness behind the dash. I bought the car with the dash in place but not hooked up.  The turn signal switch was broken, the printed circuit for gauges was mangled and some wires were disconnected and some poorly spliced.

With the help of a good wiring diagram I traced each of the circuits and eventually got almost all the functions back. I'm still having some minor problems that I'm chasing down. I've been told by some guys that I should just replace the entire wiring harness. Easier said than done. A replacement harness would be anywhere from one thousand dollars for an aftermarket replacement or almost fifteen hundred bucks for an OEM type replacement. That's more than I payed for the car. I have rewired a couple of  motorcycles and one car, so I have some experience. I planned on taking my time and working on the essential systems first, the lights and turn signals, horn etc. So far so good. I had a problem with the charging system even though the previous owner had installed a new alternator and the regulator looked new also. I checked over the system and found that the alternator was not charging the battery. When I bypassed the regulator I found the alternator was putting out 14+ volts so I knew it was working. I checked the wires from the alternator to the regulator for connections and continuity and made some minor repairs. I found a really useful article in an old Musclecar Classics that covered the charging system. Using the info. I discovered that the two wires attached to the back of the alternator had been switched. Initially I had just attached them as I found them, which was wrong. I just made the assumption that they were connected right.

Generally I have not had a lot of  electrical problems with prior cars. Even my 56 Cadillac was okay. I had a 66 Riviera that had a replacement ignition switch installed. I found an original switch in a wrecking yard and took the switch and harness plug and spliced it into my car. The problem usually occurs when someone opens up the harness to find a problem. Usually the harness is best left intact unless it has been chewed up by rats or has burned up by a fire. Most electrical problems are the result of a poor connection, faulty component or switch, or a poor ground. If a circuit is bad due to an unseen break, it is possible to run a couple of new wires outside of the harness to replace the defective circuit.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Since my car was already primered it should have been ready for paint, right?  Well no. There were  a lot of "imperfections" visible under the primer. Besides dings, dents, creases and flat spots there were numerous areas where chips had been sanded but had not been properly feather edged into the existing paint surface. These were visible as very shallow "craters". There was some visible repair and filling to the front lower edge of the doors. It looked like it had been repaired  with bondo which would be a problem. The inside area of doors collects a layer of dirt and leaves which blocks the drain holes and leads to rust. I was planning to change out the door locks and also wanted to fix a loose window guide so I took off the door panels to take a look. Sure enough the front edges had been repaired with something that looked like bondo, which absorbs water and will lead to more rust if not properly sealed and painted. Luckily this area had been repaired with some kind of epoxy putty. Maybe POR 15? I've had good luck with POR 15 which dries rock hard and doesn't absorb water. I tried to fix the crease in the door which looked like it resulted from the door swinging out and striking the sharp edge of a carport support post.

Clearly this was evidence of how little this car was valued by previous owners. It combined with 45 years of abuse and  neglect it had suffered. Or maybe it was just an accident.

I pried against the inner structure and tapped lightly with a body hammer on the outside until I thought that I had leveled it out pretty good.  I filled and smoothed the rest with bondo. I left the front repair alone for now. I planned to paint the lower parts of the doors and rocker panels matte black. This way I could go back and work on this area later and easily retouch it up. I saw this idea in Car Craft. They were fixing up an early El Camino with some rust in the lower fenders and quarter panels. They stabilized the rusty areas ( sand and paint with POR 15 or another rust encapsulator) then could return and address each area a little at a time. Their goal like mine, was to get the car to presentable level of appearance. I went around sanding, priming, bondo-ing until I was pretty satisfied. Actually you get kind of tired and disgusted and decide that it's good enough.  The car ended up with multiple patches of different color primer depending on what I had around, and could get at the local auto store. Look at the pictures. As far as I was concerned I was done.

I was only going to spend so much time on prep. I didn't have the garage space available to sand the car down to metal or to guide coat and block sand it after priming. Really this is the critical point. If you have somewhere to work on the car inside, you can sand down to bare metal. This will expose prior bondo work, rust repairs etc. If you're going down to bare metal you have to protect the metal from moisture which will start rust. Also you will either generate clouds of paint dust or globs of chemical paint stripper. Neither will probably be appreciated by your neighbors. I read a post on the HAMB where a guy said he burned out three Harbor Freight electric palm sanders stripping off the paint with 80 grit paper. That would work.  You could skim coat the entire car with a thin layer of filler, then long board sand it. Actually that's a good idea. Longboard it then take it to the body shop and have them spray a couple coats of primer and bake it. Then take it home and longboard and blocksand it again. After the bake the primer will have shrunk tight. Maybe have them spray it again and repeat the process. This would cost a little more money and a lot more time and work but could result in a pretty good paint job. But I'm getting off track. No showcars here, just better than a beater.

I contacted a bodyshop in Fremont, Almost Everything Automotive, to have my car painted. I spoke to the service writer who told me that they would not warranty my paint because they had no way of knowing
what was under the primer. He was right. I didn't know what was under most of it! He said that if the different products used were not compatible then who knows how they will react when they are baked in the paint oven. Well no guts, no glory. I chose the basic acrylic enamel paint job with basic prep. I had checked out their work and saw a couple of cars that they were finishing up. The paint was glossy and smooth but you could see a couple of imperfections under the paint ( some light scratches and poor feathering ).  To cover up all the splotches of different color primer I opted for a basecoat/primer coat.

I knew that the new paint was going to fade quicker than factory paint so I opted for the UV resistant additive. ( I also keep the car under a cover at home.). I left the car and crossed my fingers. About a week later I picked it up. Pictures below. Draw your own conclusions.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

"Primered,  Ready for paint" How many times have you read those words in the classifieds or on CL?  If the car was ready for paint why doesn't the seller just have it painted? Well he might figure that the new owner can pick the color. Or maybe he has invested as much money as he was willing in the car and wants to cut his losses. Maybe. Or maybe he realizes that he won't recover enough of his investment in paint to make it worthwhile. Possibly he is just sick and tired and just wants to get rid of the old clunker without spending another penny. Any or all of the above could be true. Perhaps the car has perfect bodywork , panel alignment and surface prep but he in a financial bind as has to dump his project.

The problem with primered cars is that you don't know whats under the primer. Could be straight solid metal or could be twenty pounds of bondo and chicken wire. Could be lots of surface rust that was spray bombed over without being neutralized or sealed.  If you are considering a car like this you've got to examine it closely before you roll the dice. Try to determine if there is evidence of serious prior collision damage. Pay attention to the alignment of the front fenders, hood, doors, deck lid and valence panels. Look for buckling of the quarter panels around the wheel well area and roof pillars. Look at the door striker area to see if it looks hammered on. Look in the wheelwells and around the radiator support for wavy or hammered out panels. A lot of sellers will just hammer out the the damaged radiator support instead of replacing it. Look at the front and rear frame rails and floorboards. Since most cars will not have the trunk lining panels in place, shine a bright flashlight at the back side of the quarter panels. Any dents and buckling will be apparent. Also if you see what looks like pasta strings hanging out the back you will know that there was a lot of bondo slathered on the other side. While you can't expect perfection there is no reason to buy a piece a total piece of junk either. At any price.

My Mustang was advertised with a salvage title. That meant of course that it had sustained collision damage that the insurance company determined that the cost of repair was in excess of the car's value. The car was a "total loss" from their point of view.  So there are several factors here, extent of damage, cost of repair, and vehicle value. The extent of damage is a given. In other words, the amount of collision damage the vehicle sustained is a fact. Cost of repair is a little more flexible. It depends on the extent of the damage and the quality of the repair. Will parts and panels be replaced or straightened out? Labor is expensive and is a big factor in cost.  Vehicle value at the time of the collision is the most flexible factor. Most of the classic 50s and 60s cars had dropped to very low levels before the cars achieved collectible status. Running cars in decent condition were going for only a few hundred dollars. Combined with the rising price of gas, this relegated many of these "gas hogs" (including now coveted muscle cars) to the scrapheap.

For example. There was an article in Car Craft magazine about ten years ago about a genuine 1970 Boss 302 Mustang that had been modified to the owners specifications after 10 or 15 years of ownership. The owner had purchased  the car as a  currently finished and driving car with surprising low mileage. He had driven and enjoyed the car for years. Now he decided he wanted to go through the car and "restify" it. He took it to the bodyshop for cherrying out and paint. Upon teardown the bodyman found extensive prior damage to the front subframe and even buckling to the front of the floorboards. This required a total replacement of the front subframe and inner panels. The bodyman figures that the car had sustained extensive collision damage at one time and had been stored somewhere for years, accounting for the low mileage. As the value had skyrocketed it was now economically  feasible to fix it up and sell it for a sizeable profit. The prior owner could have done the job properly, but either way it looked good enough for the current owner to buy it and use it for years. I'm guessing that the seller didn't disclose any of the cars history. Maybe it had changed hands a couple times and the truth was lost .  The point of this discussion is that a Boss 302 is worth plenty now. It is worth the cost of proper repair but it wasn't then.
I'm sure you've seen the Goodmark ads where you see the skeletal remains of some Camaro that is undergoing restoration. Between rust and collision damage sometimes there isn't that much left or worth saving of the original. My coupe was worth next to nothing at one time, truth be told it isn't worth a whole lot now. So I can easily see how it was totalled out. Who knows the whole story? Carfax? Maybe. Or just a registration history check.

Another way for cars to be scrapped is if they sustain a major mechanical breakdown. Blown engine or transmission? Blown headgasket ?  If the cars not worth repair, Just Junk it. Blown headgaskets are the plague of later model cars. Fuel injected overhead cam motors make headgasket repair a prohibitively complex and therefore expensive repair.  Acura Legends are great cars and one of my favorites, but they are famous for blowing headgskets and transmissions. I really wanted a first gen coupe but I had to think about it logically. Here's a car with no following, no support,  no resale value and a notoriously  fragile engine and transmission. I made the smart move for once and went with a Mustang.

Sometimes cars come from estates and none of the surviving relatives want it, or think it is worth anything. Especially if its been sitting for years. Anything that hasn't run in years is probably going to be a headache. Still, if you are satisfied that the body and interior are in good shape and it's not missing any parts, it might be worth buying. If it hasn't been placed on "non op " status there will be back fees due. Past due registration fees can easily climb into hundreds of dollars. Some sellers will tell you the "it's off the computer". In Calif. the DMV will charge you the last three years reg. fees with penalties and any incomplete change of title fees. Another problem is that once the car goes into the junkyard it will be sold with a salvage title. The light and brake inspection will have to be done also. In California I believe that a salvage title cannot be restored to a clean title. Other states may vary.

Back to my Mustang. After a thorough inspection I saw that the chassis and body was in pretty good shape. Actually the front and rear frame rails and floors looked really good. Looking in the trunk, the quarter panels looked okay. However the rear of the trunk floor, the tail light panel and the rear valence had been repaired. The repair to the rear trunk crossmember had been crudely done and there was a bit of rust there and on the tail light panel. This leads me to believe that the car has sat unrepaired for an unknown amount of time then repaired and returned to service, or at least registered again. The car was currently registered in the seller's name when I bought it. This was strong point in favor of of my buying it. As you can see from the pictures I posted, it didn't look too bad. I figured that if I decided to keep the car I could always redo the repairs later. The cost of the replacement panels was only about 250 dollars.

Next prepping for paint.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Back on topic. I will share my journey getting my Mustang coupe painted. I thought the car didn't look too bad in the two tone primer and I might have left it that way except for two things: first, I was concerned about the car being out in the rain and moisture penetrating the primer layer and causing hidden rust. Rattle car primer is not water proof. There is a more expensive primer available that is waterproof. This is what you should use if you are planning to leave it as a primered  "rat rod" finish. Or if the car has a fair paint job already and the primer is sprayed to get the proper "attitude". Second, I wanted to move up to the next level. I wanted the car to be the color I wanted, and present a more finished appearance. There was a really good article in Car Craft several years ago about getting a good looking cheap paint job. They painted a 78 Nova (Disco Nova) yellow, and it was the cover car. There was a lot of good info. on prep work. Basic stuff like removing the emblems,trim, bumpers and weather stripping if you're going to do the door jambs and hood /trunk undersides. It is really important to clean all the loose dust and dirt off of the engine compartment, around the radiator. behind the grille, in the wheel wells around the front/rear suspension and under the rocker panels. vacuum out the cowl vent area, use compressed air to blow the dirt and leaves out. Why do all that? They're not painting these areas, right? Well when the painter passes the spray gun over the door, trunk and hood gaps, over the cowl vent, and around the grille and around the wheelwells the blast of paint and air will blow any dirt and debris all over, and it will settle on the wet paint. When I blew off the engine compartment of my F250 with compressed air I couldn't believe the dust storm that was kicked up!. I'm sure all that would have settled in my new red paint. A cheap shop is not going to go back and refinish these spots. It once over and done. They will try to avoid major runs and the painters there are pros, most shops will fix these if they have to, so they are careful. They will paint over decals and stickers, tape or painted pinstripes so be sure to remove or sand those down. The shop will not do any work that you haven't paid for. They will "sand for adhesion" not smoothness. They will run a sander over the car to rough up the existing finish so the new paint will stick. When I dealt with Earl Scheib they were upfront about it, the service writer points out the area on the contract where it states that the new paint will not hide scatches, dents and prior body damage. Obviously. You will probably see some you hadn't noticed before the area became shiny. It seems that the industry has gone to a "package sales program". The most basic paint job consists of sanding for adhesion, wiping off for oil and grease, and masking. They will mask the bumpers, windows and trim, mask off the wheels. Sometimes they will mask of an emblem or script badge but the results will be pretty poor. Of course they will be glad to sell you a package consisting of additional sanding and prep for around a hundred bucks more. Painting door jambs and under hood and trunk edges will run another 250 bucks  or so. Filling any dents etc will bump up the price more. It is easy to run the cheapie job to well over a thousand bucks. Well, you will only get what you pay for. A  critical customer will likely be unhappy with what he gets for a grand. There is just too much wrong with an old clunker to get a show finish for that price. So be reasonable.

When I had my 66 F250 painted I decided to go with a bright Viper red. The truck was a former U-haul service truck and it was a faded reddish orange with a white top. The interior was a combination of a red dash, black dash pad black seat and floormats, and red doors. While it wasn't an exact match it looked okay around the jambs and under the hood. The interior of the bed was sprayed with a black bedliner. I used some POR 15 paint on a rusty seam in the bed and a couple of spots above the drip rails. I removed the front chrome bumper, the Ford letters and hood ornament, the headlight surrounds and the turn signal bezels. On the sides I removed the  "F250 twin I beam" and "Custom cab" badges. I removed the tail light bezels but left the Barden bumper on. My truck had these long aluminum trim "spears" running along the sides. I decide I would do more harm then good by trying to remove them. This is an important decision. Some trim should be left on because trying to remove it will mangle it beyond any repair. Drip rail mouldings, windshield/backlight  surrounds, Be careful. Unless you have experience dealing with this type of trim, tread very carefully. I carefully cleaned the area where they met the body. Then I masked the trim edges with a double layer of tape. I carefully sanded up to the edges, If you are going to sand near any trim, mask it first! Then remask with fresh tape. If you are planning to replace the rubber windshield mounting that overlaps the body ( this is common on a lot of trucks and Japanese cars like my Z). Trim off 1/4 that the new replacement rubber will overlap the new painted edge, hiding the color change. If you are not going to replace this rubber than just leave it alone except for careful sanding. This is a common area for cheap paint jobs to chip or flake over time so give it a little extra attention. This was the only sanding that I did. I let the shop do the rest.

 The truck was in the shop for three days. I cleaned up and re attached the trim, painted the rear bumper matte black, and repainted the wheels white. The overall effect was very satisfactory. I was I had a photo of the result. The lessons I learned from this experience was applied to my preparation of my Mustang

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Everyday life and needs  will often overrule your hobby car plans. I had to do some maintenance on my daily F150.  I was going to check the rear brakes as I was pretty certain that they would need to be replaced. It is amazing how much easier it is to do this on a modern ( 2007) vehicle than an old truck like my 66 F250. Since it has rear disc brakes it is easy to assess the  condition of the  brake pads visually. The brake caliper is only held on by two bolts. Replacing the pads is much easier than disassembling the drum to take a look and then having to disassemble the brakes shoes and springs. These brakes still had some life left in them at 89k. 

 I would guess that most of us car enthusiasts,  have a later model daily driver that we usually depend on and our hobby cars aren't always used everyday. In my case the good car was the family car that my wife drove. My hobby cars have usually been what I would have called a  Better Beater. These were older cars that  I liked and could afford but they had to be up and running cars all the time. I expected to use them to drive to work and go to events like swap meets and car shows,(maybe not as a participant!), I had a 56 Cadillac Sedan DeVille (maybe not driven everyday, but often) a 1971 and a 1966 Riviera which were daily driven for years. The 71was really a nice car. Then I got a 78 Datsun Z 2+2 which was a great and practical car that I drove for about five years. I moved up to a 94 300zx  and it was driven for a few years. Some of these were pretty nice when I got them some were not. I wanted them to be as reliable as I could make them. I buffed out the paint cleaned and repaired the interior. If I could, I bought a nice set of used wheels. The point is the I had fun with my cars even though they were never going to be perfect. When you saw them you knew that I cared about them buy I was never in a position to throw money at them.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Back to the plan. It doesn't make much sense to do something that doesn't fit into the ultimate plan for your car. For example if you had decided on a complete restoration  then it wouldn't make sense to replace your seats  with later model units or to paint it a non authentic color. If money is tight just get it running and preserve what is already there and maybe look for the trim and bits your car might be missing.  It will be worth more to the next buyer if he can see that he will not have to undo a bunch of non authentic repairs. This situation could occur if you were lucky enough to score a potentially valuable and desireable  model from a hard luck seller or estate sale. Maybe you inherit or are given a really valuable model from your parents or family members. If you don't have the money available to do a proper restoration it might be better to sell it to someone with the cash to do the job right and buy a more common model in better condition. But if the car has sentimental value to you or is something you really want to keep, then keep it. You could always store it somewhere for a few years until you are better prepared financially for the project. I' m a proponent of driving old cars rather than treating them as religous artifacts but some cars are definitely  worth holding onto. If you should be so lucky to acquire something like this well worn Mach One be advised  that it might best to preserve the body and paint and interior chiefly as is, unless you are prepared to do the job right. Nothing prohibits you from doing mechanical repairs and cleaning it  up. This will be the cheapest part anyway.

These cars cars the exceptions. Well, I didn't inherit a Boss 302, I just bought a beater Mustang coupe. There isn't much I can do to my car that would ruin it's "collector" value since a serious collector wouldn't bother with a six cylinder coupe. So pretty much anything I can do to repair and improve my coupe will make it more valuable and useful to me and later on down the road to a prospective buyer.

I have finally become a supporter of the fully painted car. I know that the cost of the cheapest production shop paint job is now around 500.00. I once believed that if I couldn't have a "good" paint job then I wouldn't settle for anything less. Unfortunately a good paint job was at least a couple of grand not including bodywork. Therefore I drove a series of rusty, faded, splotched and multi hued beaters for several years. Luckily the patina craze was just starting up and for once I was actually ahead of the curve.
My first 66 Riviera was a car that I really liked and wanted. I replaced the motor and fixed up the car mechanically. I drove that car everyday everywhere for almost four years before the price of gas made me switch to a smaller car. Like  alot of GM cars from this era it suffered from rust in the windshield and backlight channels. I cured the water leaks with a liberal application of Duct tape. Yeah the car looked like crap buy I drove it anyway.

My brother in law had an old 55 Chevy pick up mounted on a later model 4x4 chasis. It only had about four different colors on it's mismatched body panels. His wife did not find it amusing or charming to have it parked infront of their house. He had an ultimatum to fix the paint or park it somewhere else. He had received a coupon from Miracle auto painting and had them paint his truck white. I must admit from twenty feet away it looked really pretty good. When I bought my faded orange 66 Ford pick up I told my wife that  I would have it ready for paint in a week. The truck was straight with only  some small dents and a little surface rust. I pulled the bumpers and emblems, cleaned and did a minor prep with a little POR 15 over the rust and took it down to Earl Scheib. They shot the body a nice Viper red and sprayed the bed with some of their cheap black bed coat.  After polishing the trim I had a pretty presentable truck for five bills. I had Earl Schieb paint a Datsun 240Z and spray the fender and bumper of my little Acura. I will say that none of these jobs was close to perfect. There were plenty of imperfections visible for the poorly prepped surface. Still they were good enough and the overall effect was very satisfactory. The cars looked a whole lt better. They looked like finished cars.

In each of these cases I was strapped for time. I didn't have a space where I could spend a lot of time prepping the surface. If you take the time and do a good job with the bodywork and surface prep you can get a very satisfactory  result.. POR 15 paint and putty can be used to successfully repair minor rust outs prior to painting.On my 72 240Z  I rebuilt a portion of an inner rear fender lip from POR putty that you couldn't tell from the metal. I should have used this on the rusty window channels of my 66 Riviera. If you think you can paint your car with spray cans, sure you can. I painted several motorcycles over the years with good results. There's just a lot of surface area on a car. You will buy a lot of cans of primer then a lot of cans of color. At a minimum of 5.00 a can, expect to spend close to a hundred and fifty bucks probably more. Not to mention sandpaper which isn't cheap. It's hard to get even coverage and spray can paint is not that durable. Paint shops will usually have specials and coupons available before Christmas and after New Years when business is slow. You could get the five hundred dollar job for maybe 350.00

Monday, August 18, 2014

Every car build should have a plan. Actually there is a plan, you're building a Better Beater, Right?  There are several ways to go with old cars. One would be the full resto. Not a bad way to go if you've got a place to keep the car out of the way for the several years and the patience to stay with it. Ultimately you will probably invest more money than you can ever  recover. Another route is the full on tricked out show worthy car. I think  a lot of us dream of having a car like that if only we could come up with the dough. This will also result in a hefty investment that may never be recovered.  An attainable goal is the driver.

I like working on cars. Turning wrenches can be therapeutic and relaxing when things are going according to plan. Thinking about and planning repairs can be challenging. How many times have you consulted a repair manual and seen  one fuzzy picture, with a caption" remove A,B, then C. Carefully remove item from vehicle." Then "assembly is reverse of disassembly" ?

After rebuilding the brake system on my Mustang I started driving it around the neighborhood as shake down runs. This was the longest period of time I had driven it in one session. ( about 40 min,) I stopped at the gas station and noticed water dripping from under the dash. The heater core was leaking. I wasn't surprised. Usually the heater hoses will be rerouted to bypass the heater, mine were still connected.  No problem, I was less than a mile from home. I twisted the key and nothing. The car wouldn't start. No problem. I pushed it away from the pumps to check under the hood. I looked under the hood and noticed that one hose fitting on the water pump was leaking also. I jiggled a little and it snapped off spraying water in my face, luckily not too hot. I borrowed a screwdriver and an emergency car jumper from the station attendant and got it started up and drove it home.

After the replacement heater core arrived from Rock Auto I decided I should replace the core while most of the dashboard was already dissasembled. I knew that it would come out from under the dash, the glove box assembly and dash pad were  already removed. I consulted my multi year "Classic Mustang" repair manual and saw the vague directions I referred to earlier. I removed the control cables, the wiring the ducting, the hoses, and some nuts from studs protruding through the firewall. I missed one nut but knew better than to force anything, I've been through the "hidden nut/screw" scenario many times in the past. After I pulled the heater box loose, I couldn't find a way to get it out from under the dash. Next step, check the Internet. Sure enough I found a video dealing with heater box removal in a 70 Cougar, close enough. Sure enough, as I suspected I would have to either remove or loosen the lower dash structure to gain the necessary clearance. I discovered that the blower fan motor cannot be removed with out removing the entire heater box. God Bless Ford, saving a nickle on initial assembly. Costing multiple headaches in the future. Ive had GM cars of this era that had the blower mounted from the  motor side of the firewall. Manufacturing economies. To be fair I'm sure that nobody at Ford ever dreamed that there would be 50 year old Mustangs be collected and driven.

I had considered changing the blower motor also. The motor was working when I connected the switch before I dissassembled  everything and I checked it outside the unit. It was quiet and smooth so I figured the bearings were still in good condition. The local auto parts store had a Chinese replacement for around 20 bucks but it was for the motor alone. At home I had loosened the set screw on the squirrel cage fan and it wouldn't budge. I did a little exploratory prying and decided that removal might damage the fan and I didn't want chance it. If I damaged the fan I would have to wait until a replacement arrived. I wanted to finish this job and put the unit back together Today.

You could say this was false economy. What I was trying to save wasn't money, it was time. I didn't want my car so dissasembled for so long. Sure I could have bypassed the heater and it wouldn't really have hurt the driveability. But I remembered one of my old 66 Buick Rivieras that had no heater and was a daily driver. I left for work at 5:00 in the morning and in the winter it was a lot of work to keep the windshield clear in the morning. So I wanted the heater to work. I figured the cheap Chinese replacement fan motor might not last any longer than the currently working original. Time will tell.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

As you can see I didn't do too bad. The car had lots of minor problems: there was only one front seat in the driver's position. I asked the seller and he told me that the front seat was broken and was going to throw it away. He said that I could have it if I wanted, Sure I did. The front windshield is cracked and not fixed yet. There was no muffler or tailpipe on the car. The ad had said that it needed a manifold. Luckily the exhaust manifold was fine, no cracks of broken pipe mounting studs, just no muffler. Wow did it sound loud and ugly! Straight sixes have a different sound than a V8 kind of unpleasant when it was that loud. The turn signals didn't work though one stop light did. The brakes seemed okay, manual drums. I hadn't driven a car like that in about forty years. Still I managed to drive it the seven or eight miles home without incident.

Lessons learned: By choosing a less desirable body style equipped with a six I found a fairly good car to start out with. Sure it's a six, but it was running and the motor and tranny seem in pretty good shape. A seized up or missing V8 would have been a lot more headaches, time and expense. The chassis and body are in generally good shape and later I can fix the shoddy body repair. The floors are really good.

Sometimes there aren't that many alternatives. Take Camaros for instance. Their early models are expensive also and there are only two body styles coupe and convertible. I don't think you will find a bargain there. The early second gen 1970 models are kind of pricey too, However the 74 through 79 
models with the chrome log bumper are not so desirable. Since this bodystyle was made up through 1982
The plastic bumpered cars can be found at some fair prices. There are a few straight six  Camaros out there somewhere but I  haven't seen many for sale. The 80s models are more likely to have 305 or 307 V8 smog motors but these car be built up into pretty good performers. There are more likely to be more V6 models in the mix also during these years.

When It comes to 1950s and early 1960's cars there are still some cheaper picks. Mostly two and four door sedan ( post ). models. Hardtops will of course be more expensive. Compacts like Falcons, Valiants, and four door Chevy IIs. Four doors will usually be lots cheaper and in better original shape. many will have been used as everyday transportation until recently. Some of these cars are really in amazingly good condition .Whether or not a four door is worth buying depends on what you plan to do with it. A clean driver with nice wheels or low buck custom can be a smart route to follow. You don't want to put too much money into one though, because it will be hard to sell. Of course you could build up a nice driver and then use it as parts to fix up a rougher two door of the same model later on down the road. I once bought a pretty nice 56 Cadillac four door hard top that the seller had originally planned to use as a parts car for a much rougher coupe.  He couldn't bring himself to tear down such a nice car and ended selling the coupe and holding onto the fourdoor instead.

Once you've got the car now you have to start fixing it up. Any project should always have it's final result in mind from the beginning.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Here are some pics of the car as I bought it.

Don't do it. Do your homework instead. When I first thought about an early Mustang I didn't know how much they cost, except that certain models were crazy expensive. I really had no idea what a starter car would go for. I started checking on Craigslist for available cars and asking prices. I saw an ad for a builder 65 coupe for a grand and the seed was planted.  Unfortunately, I also started considering wrecked and stripped cars. These cars were also going for around a grand.

 It was a really bad idea to consider these wrecked and stripped cars. I mean really bad. A cheap project car is going to have a lot of problems and take a lot of time to get into running condition. Even if you pass on bodywork, paint and interior, there will usually be problems with the running gear and brakes. Trying to figure out how to reassemble  something that was just torn apart is maddening. Unless you have a lot of prior experience with this particular model it will be a Herculean task. Just trying to figure out which screws and nuts and bolts to use (out of a big coffee can)  will eat up endless hours. There are  lots of better cars out there, you only have to wait awhile. Be patient. If you are looking for a common model like a Mustang coupe you will be surprised how many will show up for sale at some surprisingly good prices. There are rust buckets and basket cases of all types offered at temptingly low prices,

I had started doing my homework by reading up my past issues of Car craft and Mustang collector books, looking at the different years and models. I checked out  Mustang Monthly and became more familiar with the different engine, drivetrains, and brake systems. For example, I learned that six cylinder  Mustangs had a much different (and disrespected) four lug axles with smaller brakes and a lighter rear end, The most common body style is the hardtop (coupe). Because there were so many sold when new there are a lot of survivors. These are available for really reasonable prices. The fastback and convertible models are much more expensive. These are well out of my price range. There are rust buckets and basket case fastbacks and convertibles offered at temptingly low prices. Unless you are a pro bodyman don't even consider them. Heartbreak and despair are sure to follow..

So I decided on a hardtop. Like everyone else, I wanted a Boss 302 so I figured a '69 or '70 coupe was the closest I was probably ever going to get. I rationalized that a coupe was about two thirds as cool as a fastback. You can't see the roof when you're driving right?

My price point was 1,000 to 1,500 dollars. After a lot of looking, I realized there were complete running (somewhat) cars for 1,500 and up to 2,500 bucks. I had decided that I really preferred the 69/70 models the best. I looked and found my project '70 coupe at a good price. (1,400.00) It was straight,complete, with no major body damage  and almost no rust. The front subframe  was in very good condition as was the rear frame rails .  It was also currently registered. Well something had to be wrong with it or it wouldn't be so cheap,  It possessed the trifecta of undesireability. 1) It's a coupe 2) It's a six cylinder (but a 250 cuber! ) and 3) It's has a salvage title.  Another problem was that it had some electrical issues. Some previous owner had butchered the wiring loom trying to fix an electrical problem with the instrument panel. Of course nothing was repaired, it was just messed up. It appears that the car sustained some collision damage to the rear end.  From inside the trunk I can see that the tail light panel and rear trunk crossmember  had been damaged and crudely repaired. The rest of the body looked pretty good and it was painted in a two tone primer. My guess is that the car was wrecked some time in the 80s and was totalled  because it's value had dropped to it's lowest point. It may have sat unrepaired for years before it was repaired and returned to use. I may do a registration history check to determine when it was actually salvaged out.

Friday, August 15, 2014

My goal with this blog is a discussion about having fun with cars you like, not always the ones you need. The focus is on affordable, attainable, and usable cars. The point of beaters are that they are cars that you can actually use, they should be daily driveable. The term beater usually means a car on it's last legs, limping along with no maintenance and little repair, cars being driven into the ground. Nothing wrong with that as long as they are kept in a safe driving condition. A Better Beater is an car you drive because it's something you like and want. It's maintained and improved to a point where you have some pride in it, but it's never going to be a showpiece or an ego trip. It's never going to impress the gold chainer driving the new Vette or late model BMW. The street rod or muscle car guy in the lawnchair would certainly turn up his nose at your ride. But that's not the point. It's not a competition. ( at least with them). A real car guy can respect any car that has been maintained and improved.

When the rat rod phenom started I welcomed it as a real change in attitude in the old car hobby. I saw it as an emphasis on driving and using the car instead of treating it as a shrine. A guy could drive his old car that needed a little (or a lot) of work and get a little respect for his efforts. It was, and still is a bit like that but it degraded into a caricature of shoddy workmanship and poor and even dangerous execution and design. I don't advocate any modifications that are unsafe or driving a car that is unsafe due to worn out brakes,tires,steering, non-functional lights etc.

There are tons of cars available right now in every category and price range. I choose to concentrate on the affordable and attainable models that a bucks down guy can afford to buy and finish. On DIY repairs, improvement and customizing. Low buck options for paint, interiors and wheels. Creativity and resourcefulness. This all resonates with the roots of hot rodding. Early hot rodders were looking for solutions, how to improve their ride within their capabilities and budget. As they gained more experience their skills grew and their cars benefited.

I'm going to present my current project as an example and discussion point.  My goals with this car was to have a "classic era" pony car that I can actually afford to buy, finish and use. My Mustang journey follows.

My very first car was a 1966 Mustang coupe with a 289 and a four speed. I bought it in 1973 or 1974 for 300.00 after graduating from high school. Truth is, I bought it because my Dad talked me out of buying an old Cadillac Coupe de Ville I really wanted. I kept it for a year than bought a 1964 Cadillac convertible and didn't think about Mustangs again for 40 years. In 2007 I bought a new V6 Mustang coupe and after a time I came to appreciate it's virtues as a simple, basic, fun vehicle. This car was intended for my Wife and it was pressed into family car service. Later it was given to my daughter to drive. I had really wanted a convertible GT model but felt my Wife and daughter didn't need 300 hp to drive around town. A V6 would do, and I felt a hardtop would be much safer for my daughter as a new driver. So I bought a 1996 Mustang GT convertible as a hobby car. It was in pretty good shape but I've invested as much money as I paid for it so far. But it's good reliable fun to drive car that gets good gas mileage to boot. I've driven it to LA a couple of times Lake Tahoe and Reno and up the coast to Mendocino and Ft. Bragg. These cars make excellent daily drivers. They are plentiful, inexpensive, and the 4.6 motor has excellent longevity. There are tons of stock and aftermarket parts and support available. At my age expensive insurance is not an issue, as I am well past the age of 25 yrs. While I still like this car (which I still own) I started to get into the Mustang mystique and the first gen cars started to look really appealing. Part of the attraction is that these are totally depreciated cars. Their value can only go up. Improvements made to them will boost their value and it is even possible to make a buck when you sell them. As much as I like my '96, I have tracked it's declining value as I monitor Craigslist sales. Just because it's Kelly Blue book value declines, doesn't really mean much, as I will discuss later.

Like most Mustang fans I would love to have one of the following models:

1967 "Bullitt" fastback
1968/67 "Gone in 60 seconds" Eleanor fastback
1968 California Special 
1969/70 Boss 302, Boss 429,
1969/70 Mach One
Any Shelby or clone
Any early year fastback or convertible.

However a common problem occurs. lack of money. The prices of these models start at merely expensive 10-15 grand, to the stratospheric high six figures. What's a guy to do? Dream and wait for the lottery pay off? Go to Good Guys shows and drool over someone else's car? Become an armchair expert able to recite every nuance and specification for the cars they can never possess? Or should they take action?

Don't do it!