Sunday, January 18, 2015

One of the most fun aspects of fixing up an old car is making visible changes and improvements. Rebuilding the chassis or brakes is important, but who's gonna know? It's good to mix in some mostly cosmetic improvements to keep your spirits up. One of the most noticeable changes are tires and wheels. That old bomb probably needs some new shoes and there is so much to choose from at swap meets, on the web and in the wrecking yards. Tires are expensive. I have found that used tires are selling for around 30-35 dollars at used tire stores. It's a good idea to price the tires that you want, to determine if the tires offered up are really a good deal. If you can find a nice set of wheels that still have a good set of tires already mounted then you are ahead of the game.

If your car is a popular, fairly late model or has current incarnations you will have a lot of options. If your car is older or a little offbeat you are going to have to really keep your eyes open. I thought that I would have all kinds of choices available since I had an early Mustang. While the lug pattern is shared with the current generation there are substantial differences due to the rim diameter, width and especially backspacing. Looking back at the 2005-2015 models these wheels are too wide,   (many are 8in.) too big ( 16-19 in.) and have way too much backspacing. The 1994-2004 models have similar fitment problems and don't even interchange with each other. The 1979 -1993 models had four lugs instead of five and are totally unsuitable. There weren't a lot of low cost options.

I had a similar problem with my 280Z. These were 4 lug 14 in. wheels. I already had a good set of stock steel rims and wheel covers but trying to upgrade to 14 in. or especially 15 in. alloys was a real challenge. The later 280ZX turbo models came with a couple of different 14 in. alloy designs. There is the "swastika" and "laced spoke " designs. I was also able to find a set of 15 inchers on CL. Missing the center caps, of course. I came up with a low buck center cap replacement that will work for many wheels.

First you need to determine the wheel lug pattern and spacing. There quite a few on line sites that will list the lug pattern and you can check the listing for possible interchangeble replacements. The Tire Rack  has a great site that has a tremendous amount of info.Usually there is a family of cars that will interchange. With early Mustangs platform mates such as Falcons, Cougars, Fairlanes etc. are possible sources.

The internet is a great source of information. There are enthusiast forums for almost every kind of car. Search the site for posts that discuss interchanging wheels. Using this method I learned that 16 in. wheels do not work with early Mustangs. I also learned that Ford Ranger and Explorer wheels were an inexpensive 15 in. wheel option.

Pay particular attention to backspacing. The wheel has to clear the brake drum/rotor caliper assembly and the ball joints and tie rod ends. Also pay attention to wheel lug length. Replacing a steel rim for another is straightforward. Aftermarket alloy or custom wheels will require the proper lug nut. Some of these will be difficult or expensive to obtain, best if they are included with the wheels. I found that the OEM (Ford Ranger) alloys that came on my car had the proper backspacing and used standard taper style lug nuts but the mounting face of the wheel was thicker than the original steel wheel and the lugs did not protrude far enough to secure the lug nuts properly. I could have replaced them with longer wheel lugs, but I didn't want to deal with that problem at the moment. If you are planning to run wheel spacers ( not recommended) consult a good tire store for advice.

The most obvious improvement in handling will come from the increased tire width and lower cross section. The width of the rim must be compatible with the width of the tire for proper mounting. There is usually a range of a couple of inches, but the wider end of the range will contribute to a more stable sidewall and avoid that "balooned out" look. If you select the right size tire/ wheel combo you can avoid having to roll the fender wells for clearance. Back in the day you would "jack up" the rear with longer spring shackles or air shocks. None of this made for a better handling machine and were many times unsafe. If the car is lowered about one inch handling and appearance can be improved provided that the wheel has proper clearance.

I have bought sets of wheels with good tires still on them. This can save money and headaches because you can try them on to see how the package fits. Of course you have to consider the price the seller is asking. You have to decide how much the rims alone are worth to you, then how much the tires are worth. Lots of times the tires are referred to as "rollers" and they are only good enough to roll the car around the garage or drive to the tire store. The price should reflect the value of the wheels alone. Price out the tires you want, so that you can make an informed decision.

Inspect the condition of the wheels and tires. Check for bent rims, curb rash, cracks and elongated or damaged lug holes. Roll the wheel on flat pavement and see if it rolls true or pulls to one side. I've seen tread separations that were clearly apparent, with one side of the tread surface clearly higher than the other. Look for cracking and checking of the tire sidewalls. It's also really important to check the manufacturing date of the tire. In the last twenty years of so tires have had a DOT number incorporated in the sidewall. This is not a serial number but a batch number.Tires manufactured since 2000 will have the last four digits specify the week of the year and year of manufacture. For example, 5110, 51 indicates the 51st. week of the year, while 10 corresponds to 2010. Tires manufactured prior to 2000 will have the same info conveyed in the last three numbers. For example 239. The first two numbers indicate the 23rd week of the ninth year of the decade; 1999.

Hubcaps and wheel covers are a great low cost  way to improve the looks of your car. Most standard steel rims will accommodate almost any hubcap of the same rim size. There are stores that specialize in hubcaps only, but you probably won't find the best deal there. Wrecking yards are a good choice but be sure you find a full set. You can probably find a better deal at a swap meet or on Craigs list. OEM hubcaps are very well made, usually out of stainless steel and high quality die cast chromed pieces. They can be refurbished easily and look great. After market hubcaps are made of lightweight poorly chromed steel or plastic. I don't think that these have as satisfactory an appearance. If a cheap aftermarket cap will fit, so will a much better built OEM.

One of the nice things of going the lowbuck method is that you don't have a lot of tied up in your rolling stock. Most of the wheels I've bought  are around 100 -200 dollars a set. You an always upgrade when you find something you like better and there is always a buyer willing to take them off your hands.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Well I went to Ventura on my trip down south and visited  National Parts Depot. I picked up some items that I needed and I figured I could save some money on shipping. I bought some large items like preformed steel brake lines and a steel rear seat trunk barrier panel. These were bulky items, and anyway I was just curious about the warehouse. It was located in a light industrial area. Neat, clean with some items on display. There were several guys manning the phones to take orders and to handle walk in customers. I had phoned in my order but they held back on actually filling it until I showed up.

I bought that steel divider panel after reading online about the hidden danger of the gas tank in the early Mustang. The tank drops into the trunk and forms the floor of the trunk itself.  There were some online articles and discussion of how in a severe rear end collision, the tank could rupture and send gallons of gas into the trunk then through the rear seat back into the passenger compartment. The trunk is only separated by the upholstered back cushion with a  paper type seal. If ignited the fuel would cause a horrendous fire which has been documented a few times. This resulted in some deaths and serious injuries. When you consider how many million Mustangs have been sold and how few documented cases have occurred, it doesn't seem like a huge probability. If you remember the flap over the exploding gas tanks in the early Pinto, then you suspect that many cases were settled and kept out of the media. Ford states that the Mustang complied with all current standards at the time of manufacture. I don't doubt this, as there weren't a lot of things that were covered by safety standards in those days. Any one who is familiar with the Mustang community through experience, magazines, or on line, won't have heard a lot on this subject. I myself had not even heard or thought about it until a couple of months ago.

The practice of having the fuel tank form part of the trunk structure is somewhat unusual. Most vintage cars have the fuel tank attached by straps under the trunk area. The tank is separated by the steel trunk floor and it appears that if it ruptured, fuel would spill out under the car. A lot of modern cars locate the fuel tank ahead of the rear axle where it is less likely to sustain damage in a rear end collision. Very early cars had the fuel tank mounted under the driver's seat or in the cowl area below the windshield. This was done to assist in gravity feed to the carb.

There have been several methods of minimizing the potential hazard. There is a steel cover that bolts over the top of the gas tank which puts a layer of steel between the tank and the trunk compartment. Not a bad idea, but it is bolted on and I imagine that it could be bent and become ineffectual in a serious rear end collision. You could replace the tank with a fuel cell which contains a flexible bladder within. Many types of racing cars are required to use them. This is a pretty good idea, though they are expensive. I think that the steel seatback panel is a pretty good idea. It may prevent intrusion into the passenger compartment by fuel or heavy items in the event of a collision. If it is insulated it will probably reduce noise and it may even stiffen up the structure a bit.  I have seen articles on Mustangs where the owner has fabricated a steel trunk floor cover of their own design. This couldn't hurt. I suppose someone could design a replacement system that would replace the truck floor and utilize a strap mounted fuel tank underneath. I will post some pictures when I add the steel seat back panel to my car.

 Anyone who is familiar with early Mustangs knows that there just isn't that much metal in the rear structure. The rear bumper is pretty much just decorative. I noticed that when I placed the full size spare tire in position, it nestled up very close to the rear tail light panel and the rt. side rear wheel housing. It appears to me that the inflated spare tire was possibly placed in that position to reinforce the rear structure. The inflated tire would provide a lot of resistance to being crushed and would transmit the force into the wheel well area. This is just my intuitive feeling, I don't have any way of knowing what the designers intended. My conclusion is that it is a good idea to keep the full size spare right where it is at all times, It couldn't hurt.

On a final note. Nothing that has been discussed is to imply that the vintage Mustang or any other vintage car is a particularly dangerous or particularly safe vehicle. They were designed to the standards of the day. The earlier the car, the lower the standards for safety. There weren't that many legislated safety standards until the 70s. When we are driving a forty or fifty year old car we are operating in occupant safety conditions that existed at that time. Sorry to end on such a serious note. However there is lots we can do to improve our old cars and make them safer at the same time.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Well I've had my Mustang for almost a year, eleven months to be exact and there has been a lot of progress. Once I completed  wiring up the relays for my headlights I've spent most of December  test driving the car then driving it to work and on errands. Just like a real car. As part of the New Years celebration I just took a bunch of new photos  The main visual change are the tires and wheels, The Ranger alloys were replaced by a a set of Ranger steel rims measuring 15x7 in. These wheels have the proper backspacing and have plenty of clearance with the 215 60/15s I'm running. I broke down and bought a new set of touring rated tires. The were from Pep Boy's own collection: Futura LTEs. These are made by Cooper tires,  I have used  these tires before on my mini van and found them to be excellent, grippy, quiet, and smooth riding. I have racked up lots of vacation driving at 75-80 mph. on the straights and zooming through the mountains, just ask my kids. Now the car sits level. The car is pretty low, it came with one inch lowering blocks in the rear. I assume that the front springs must have been changed or modified or it wouldn't sit level.  There had been an issue with the lug length, they weren't quite long enough to properly secure the lug nuts. maybe it wasn't a real issue but it did bother me  and I''ll describe the issue further in a future post. Now onto the photo show..

 This shot of the interior shows the Grant GT wheel that I installed. There was a few problems that I can describe and share the solution in a future post. The original dash pad is pretty beat up but the car came with a tailored carpet cover which I'll use for now. The cut out that was used for the radio was done by the former owner  and it is an improvement over the stock location of the radio above the heater controls. I painted the instrument panel and rt.side dash panel and glove box lid  a medium grey  color to coordinate with the grey sheepskin seat covers and the grey floormats. I wanted to lighten up the  inside appearance and a similar color scheme is used in my forest green F-150.

Here's a close up of the tire and wheel combo. The wheel diameter has been increased by one inch, to 15 inches. The rim width has been increased from a stock 5 inches to 7 inches. The original tire was probably a C78 14, the equivalent  of a P 175R/14 tire. The 215/60 15 sits in a7 in. rim which is almost the widest recommended for that width.(Maximum 7.5 in.) This stabilizes the side wall which combined with the 60 aspect ratio will provide better steering response. I also didn't want to overtire the car since a good ride and fuel economy were primary goals.

 This photo shows off the grille I made. Behind the black mesh you can see the driving lights. The turn signals are clearly visible  when they are used. The blacked out grille really cleans up the front appearnce.

 The side view shows how low the car sits . The stance and lack of ornamentation gives it in my opinion a serious business like look. The hardtop coupe is the least appreciated of this era's Mustangs  but still looks clean ,crisp, and sporty. If you need cred, Shelby raced coupes in SCCA sedan racing and Shelby de Mexico built notchback coupes like this that dominated their class in Mexican roadracing.

Now a shot of the "little locomotive that could" The 250 CID (4.1 litre) straight six. This was an option in 1969 and 1970. This represents a 25%  increase in displacement over the standard 200 CID six. It's like the difference between a 302 and 351 V8.  It had not yet suffered the drop in power that followed in 1971 and beyond due to smog regs. and still boasted a 9.0 compression ratio. Rated at 155 HP at 4400 rpm and 240 ft/lbs of torque at,  get this,1600 rpm. The 200 six was rated 120HP at 4400 rpm and 190 ft/lbs. of torque at  2400. The 250 six was described as  "the six that runs like an eight, but saves like a six". Yes, a V8 would be quicker but so far I think this engine will be adequate. I will also see if I can improve  it a bit. You can swap any V8 up to the 428 Cobra Jet into this chassis if desired.
I must admit that this car is growing on me. I need to drive a car so that I can build a relationship with it. Just looking and working on it aren't enough. Soon I 'll get back to working on it more. I'm planning on taking a side trip to Ventura Ca. and visiting NPD's warehouse.

Friday, January 2, 2015

It's a new year and we all look forward to doing a better job  and being  more successful. Starting this blog has been very educational and fun. And a bit of an ego trip, I get to pontificate on any automotive subject . If only someone else was reading this! I have plans to improve the content of the blog, I know that I have to post more pictures. At least enough to generate some interest. I would really like to post some DYI articles but I have realized that there is a lot of work involved. Taking step by step photos and including the narrative. Some of the areas I would like to cover are:

building your own custom grill, building a matching tail light panel, building your own console, and adding styling elements such as striping and other accents.

Detailing that cheap paint job. I still have to do something about my door jambs and under the hood and trunk lid.

Detailing and  finishing your trunk, motor and underhood areas

There are some topics I want to cover such as:

Choosing  an overall  theme for the design of your car.  Keep the looks consistent.
buying take off and used tires and wheels:  Running with the M.U.T.T.s ( mismatched, used, tightwad treads)

Six cylinder versus V8. Is a V8 swap always desirable or necessary.

Drum brakes versus disc brakes. This has been a very interesting area to research. Everybody knows that drum brakes suck, right?  Old cars couldn't stop for beans  Driving an old car with manual drums is scary and dangerous, sure, that's what everyone says. But is it really true?  My research turns up some surprising info. Even some contemporary articles on drum brake to disc brake  conversions include  stopping distances that are at odds with historical record.

Improving your drum brake system. There are options that can  make a significant improvement in drum brake performance.

Looking for a good deal on your next hobby car, There are many desirable  models that can be bought in good well maintained condition for around 5,000.00. Recently I have found  Jaguars, Mercedes Benz, Corvettes, Cadillacs, Lincolns, Lexus and Acura models at reasonable prices. These cars I've seen are in very good shape and only need minor TLC and an appreciative owner.

My posting has been spotty. I've had problems with my computer and I would rather spend money on my car instead of electronics.