Friday, April 24, 2020

Today I took a big step, I ordered a universal Wilwood brake master cylinder.

New and shiny, and less than 69 bucks.
What could be better?

It's time for me to do something to move the '51 Jag forward. I was outside the other day looking at it. I really do want to get the car up and running.

I've been told several times on the forums, that I should just contact White Post Restorations. They have been re-sleeving master and brake wheel cylinders for years. I was checking out the shop online and thought that I might get an estimate to rebuild my equipment. I followed up a thread from a Ferrari forum of a poster that had a beef with the shop. The poster sent his master cylinder and booster for rebuilding. He claimed that the rebuild was sloppy and dirty on arrival. He called the shop to complain and got a lot of grief from the owner, who really had a bad attitude.

What caught my eye was the price of the master cylinder rebuild, over 450 bucks. And this was a few years ago.

Let's see, I've got two master cylinders, a clutch slave cylinder, four front brake wheel cylinders and two rear brake wheel cylinders. It looks like this could really add up! It wouldn't be hard to imagine that it could cost a couple of grand.

I've also checked their website and they said to just send in the disassembled master and wheel cylinders to be re-sleeved. If I could disassemble the masters I wouldn't be having these problems!

I've already dissembled the wheel cylinders and they were gummed up, not rusted up. The masters were equally gummy, but the main thing is that I'm unable to disassemble them due to that threaded rear plug. That has to come off to replace the rear seal. Why couldn't this have been built like an American unit with spring clips?

I found a disc brake kit specifically designed for the Mark VII that sells for a couple of grand. That doesn't include the master cylinder.

Note how simple the caliper mounts are.

This would be preferable but than I'd still have the rest of the old system.

                                        The basic structure of the frame is massive.
                                          ( This is not my car, mine's still intact!)

That old frame isn't much different from a 30's or 40's car.
Can anybody say, Speedster?

Street Rodders began swapping in front suspension clips from newer cars that were already equipped with disc brakes and rack and pinon steering systems. Such as the famous Mustang II front cross member. That gave rise to the term, "clipping." This was a cheap and easy (?) way to update the chassis, as the entire unit is already engineered as a stock unit. Then they would swap in a rear axle that had the same wheel bolt pattern. This all calls for some careful and exact welding.  I thought about contacting a local hot rod shop.

Oh wait, "Where is there a local hot rod shop?


So I'm going to try the most conservative approach and just replace the brake and clutch master cylinders.

Will it work? I don't know. The bore is the same. The unit is listed as a high pressure unit that can work with disc brakes. The original system had a vacuum booster. According to the son of the owner, though, it had been running without one for many years. It might also need a residual pressure valve.

First, I'll have to figure out how to mount it. There's a two bolt vertical flange cast into the unit. Then there are two holes in the body of the unit. I'll probably be using the side mounts. I can easily make an adapter plate. Maybe I can even use one of the holes with the existing hole in the frame member.

Then I'll have to adapt the fittings to the existing hydraulic line. I know that there are lots of little brass fittings, connectors and adapters available.

Next, I'll have to adapt the linkage from the foot pedals.

My goal will be to have the original drums working effectively and safely. I would like to have front disc brakes, even all around discs. But it's more important to see if it can be a running and driving car first.

I ordered the master cylinder from Speedway Motors, they sell many items for hot rods and competition vehicles.  Real race cars use their stuff.

They have a world of disc brake kits, pedal assemblies and anything else you could imagine. But that is only if you have a mainstream car.

I've got some ideas on adapting other rear brake set ups onto the Mark. Since the bolt pattern is the same as a Chevy 1/2 ton truck, I've considered transplanting those drum brakes onto the rear axle. It might not give me better braking but it would give me a bigger source for replacement parts. I also think that I might be able to adapt a disc brake assembly designed for the truck to the rear axle. I'll explore some of my ideas later, at a more appropriate time.

Am I just in over my head? Is my cheapness, lack of knowledge, and poverty just on clear display? There isn't much more that I can do. I've got to try something that is within my wheelhouse, as restrictive and limited as that probably is! That's what car guys and hot rodders do. I'm not afraid to work on my cars brakes. I've done brake jobs and repairs for years. I even replaced all the hard lines in my '66 Riviera with universal hard line, and that came out fine.

I'll be completely honest, there's no way that I'm gonna drop any big money into that old Jag. I'll see what I can do, and make my decisions from there.

The master cylinder should arrive in a couple of weeks. Then the fun begins.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Personal Luxury Cars, (PLCs) out of production but not out of my heart.

Bill Mitchell always knew what I wanted.

One of the first of the breed was the four seat Thunderbird. It set the tone for this kind of car for many years. Although it carried a Ford nameplate it was often considered to be almost comparable in status to a Lincoln. They were often found parked alongside one another in the same garage.

Styling is 50's fussy but still pretty cool.
What kid didn't want their own Batmobile?

The Thunderbird had the market pretty much to itself until 1964 and the release of the Buick Riviera. 1966 brought the release of the Toronado and the next year the fabulous El Dorado debuted.

In my opinion one of the best looking cars ever made.

These were all clustered at the higher priced end of the spectrum, especially the Eldo.

There was plenty of room in the market to accommodate a popularly priced competitor and Chevrolet was ready to make a move. The Monte Carlo hit the market like a bomb in the early 1970's and started setting sales records.

The personal luxury car was itself a reflection of what the market wanted and it seems that other types of cars began adding the trappings of broughammy luxury items. Notably things like half landau tops, opera windows and wire type wheel covers.

History is nice but what does this have to do with me?

Personal luxury cars have always hit a sweet spot for me.

While I was always a fan of full size coupes, PLCs were what I transitioned to. They filled the bill for a distinctive, luxurious, and even sporty model.

I had originally wanted an Eldo
but got a Seville so that my kids could have their "own doors."

I've thought about an '91 and up, El Dorado as they are quite good looking. I had a Northstar equipped Seville STS. Based on that experience I would pick the more reliable 4.9 V8, 200 hp is enough. The handling and utility of the car is very good. The 1979 through '85 models are also one of my favorites but only the '79 came equipped with a good engine, the Olds 350 V8.  V8-6-4s and HT 4100s are best avoided.

The Lincoln Mark VII and Mark VIII are also on the list. I prefer the styling and interior of the VII and the good old reliable 302 engine is a good bet. They run okay but it wasn't until 1990 that the horsepower hit 200.

I find the styling of the Mark VIII too modern and the interior is too plasticky. However I do like the inclusion of IRS and the DOHC engine is very powerful.

A sporty luxury car seems to be what I need.

The entries in the lower end of the market came with a variety of optional motors. They all came equipped with V8s, though a Monte Carlo had a two barrel 350 and the 77-79 Thunderbirds had a base 302 and an optional 400.

This is the Thunderbird SC. Super coupe with supercharged V6
and a five speed manual transmission.

The Thunderbird Super Coupe is as close to a European road car as any American PLC ever got. They even included a five speed manual transmission as well as IRS. There was also a Cougar XR5. Both are very tempting.

Earlier model Eldos, Toronados, and Rivieras, and even Thunderbirds always came equipped with a version of the top of the line motor.

This meant that they were pretty fast for a standard automobile. A higher level of performance was always part of the package. Back in the day a Cadillac, Lincoln or Imperial was a real roadburner. This tradition was kept alive with the introduction of the first PLCs.

The Golden Age of the PLC spanned the decade from 1965 through 1975.

So, what would I consider to be a reasonable PLC model to purchase today?

Would I buy something from "the Golden Age?"

This would be something like a first gen Eldo, Toronado, or Riviera. or maybe a Mark III, IV. or V, or Big Thunderbird. The big T Bird was nothing but a slightly modified Mark IV. They were the same size, but the Mark was a bit plusher. There were some pretty cool decor packages available. They couldn't compare with a Bill Blass Mark V in blue and white!

Now that's what I call a car!

I don't think that I would get a 60's car like my Rivieras again. Even though my Wife liked the looks of my '66. A '67 through '70 El Dorado had always been on my wish list but they are big and very thirsty. The '71 through 76 convertible Eldos look very impressive but I'm not into the "Superfly" thing anymore.

How about a Pontiac Grand Prix?

These have got  the right attitude!

My Aunt bought a new '69 model and it got so much attention. It was a glamour car like the El Dorado. These came with the 400 V8. Later they had an optional 455. The option was continued into 1972 or '73 colonnade models. The earlier models had a more distinctive appearance. I seriously considered a  very cool three way white '76 at one time.

Mercury Cougar?

My own new Cougar was an '84 model with the base V6. It was a comfortable, quiet cruiser that was great for long distance highway trips. That was why I bought it. I was making a lot of runs up from L.A. and I didn't want to take the chance that my older '77 Cadillac would break down and make me late, or miss work. It was not  powerhouse but it was more than adequate. While they are nice, they don't seem as special as the first generation models. I have found a nice 5.0 V8 on Craig's List. Maybe.

I wanted a Thunderbird, but my Wife wanted the formal roof Cougar.
We got the Cougar.

It's fun looking for cars on the internet. More fun than actually buying them. I've got plenty of free time to kill. There has been some movement on one of my projects, I'll be reporting on that soon. Though I'm spending most of my time just keeping the batteries up.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Smokey and the Bandit, one of my favorite car movies.

                                                 Video source: YouTube

Why? Not because of Burt Reynolds' smarmy acting, or how cute the young Sally Fields was, or Jackie Gleason's over the top antics. Because of the Trans Am, of course!

Camaros, Firebirds, Mustangs, and Barracudas and the like emerged from the late 1960s as the most desirable models for a teen aged, gear head kid. Well, they had a lot of competition from the muscle cars that had their debut as the 1960's started. This was the era that I grew up in.

You can argue if a pony car with a big engine is a muscle car, but it all depends on how you define them.

In my book an intermediate model packing a large engine is a muscle car. The 1964 Pontiac GTO being the archetype.

I'll be discussing muscle cars in a later post.

In my mind, a pony car is a pony car first, no matter what kind of engine is under the hood.

I've had  lot of exposure to pony cars over the years. In fact, my very first car was a '66 V8 Mustang coupe with a four speed.

My older brother bought a brand new '73 Camaro right out of high school. He followed that up with a '76 Pontiac Trans Am which he traded after a couple of years for a 76 Camaro with a four speed. He had convinced himself that he needed to shift his own gears.  Even my younger brother had a black and gold '77 "Bandit" Trans Am for a short time.

I got several opportunities to drive each of those cars.

The second gen F body which was the basis of the Camaro and Firebird is in my opinion one of the best looking of the '70s and 80's pony cars. The designs picked up a little more gingerbread over the years but the basic lines were always preserved. The overall proportions are just so good. Just the right amount of length, and width. It looks powerful and substantial.

The earlier 67 to 69 models looked a little too tame. I hate to use the word, but "macho" does apply to the later 70's models.

These F bodies look the best as Trans Ams, or Z 28s but even the base versions look pretty fine, just ask Jim Rockford, or even the Duke himself as McQ.

                                                      video source: YouTube
                          A Brewster green decal delete Trans Am, I could go for one of those!

As much as I like my '96 Mustang it comes out looking a bit stubby and tall in comparison.

Even the Fox bodied Mustangs come out lacking in that comparison.

These cars are so well thought of that they have started to increase in price, at least the better examples.

Of course as a dedicated bottom feeder I've located several examples that "just need a little work."

I would like to have a nicer car but they just don't fit in my budget.

However these F bodies, any of them, could be built up to a pretty nice car.

These are the last of the second gen cars,
they still look really good to me!

What impressed me the most when I drove my brother's '76 Trans Am was the effortless performance. It was equipped with a 400 c.i. V8 with an automatic transmission. Though it was far from the Ram Air IV screamers of the past, it had no problem propelling the car to an effortless speed of 100 mph. That's what torque can do. My '66 Mustang with the 289,  a contemporary Camaro with the 350 V8, or my '96 Mustang and it's 280 c.i. (4.6 liter) mill can't equal that feeling. I think my Mustang can equal the flat out performance of the old '76 Trans Am, it just doesn't provide the same kick in the pants.

Of course a new Mustang, Camaro, or Challenger can easily exceed the performance of those old machines.

Would I want to get one of those old cars? They all need work, something that I've been trying to get away from. But the good ones are way out of my reach. The basic body was almost identical until 1983, There is that variation of the rear window and the adoption of urethane covered impact bumpers. Most importantly, the later models, especially Camaros are cheaper than the corresponding Firebirds.

Either way they are all easier to work on, and parts availability is very good. A lot less frustration than my XJS.

About a year ago I was at Wheels and Deals and there was a 78 Firebird. Not a Trans Am but it did have the  350 V8. As I sat inside I remembered how good it felt to sit way down in the car and look over that long hood. I smiled to myself remembering just how much fun these cars had been. Would I still enjoy it as much? Is it just nostalgia?

Yes, I can see the potential.

I've also very seriously considered a '71 to '73 Mustang. These models have not been as popular as the earlier model Mustangs. They have been called fat draft horses but they are not really that big. They are only a few inches longer than the '70 model. Though they are quite a bit wider. These Mustangs have eliminated some of the earlier car's shortcomings. The biggest improvement was to mount the fuel tank outside the body under the trunk floor, just like most other cars. Most cars from this series come equipped with disc brakes. Air conditioning was commonly ordered and even if the system is not currently working at least all the parts are there to rebuild it or replace with a modern retro fit system.

As with all Mustangs the fastback or convertible are the most coveted. This was still the era of the Mach One and Boss, these were only built on the fastback body. Open top cars always command a premium and it depends on what your plans are to determine which would be the best choice. Building a Mach one clone would require a fastback.

The base coupe is again the least desirable. This model has "flying buttress" style C pillars, very similar to the XJS coupes. These are usually derided by haters of this model but I actually like them. There is wide selection of engines available. Everything from a 250 CID straight six to 302 and 351 V8s.

With all of these differences in selected optional equipment, it would make the most sense to find a car that is set up the way I want it. Since these cars are not that expensive it makes sense that I look for a car that is in better condition.

Well, what about my existing '96? I already have it and I really like it. Can't I just be satisfied with it?

The restyling of the 2005 Mustang eliminated the stubbiness of the prior design. The slightly larger size gives a bit more presence. It's a nostalgic, retro design that features a very handsome fastback roofline. Now everyone can have a fastback! Horse power for the 4.6 GT rose to 300 hp. The same output of my Northstar Cadillac.

I have put many more miles over the years on my 2007 Mustang coupe than on my '96 GT. It is one of our family cars and we took it on many long  trips. It's a V6 car but has plenty of power and will top out at 110 mph. It is a bit bigger than my '96 where it counts, wider, with a long wheel base that gives some extra rear seat leg room and it has a much bigger trunk. It feels more planted on the highway and by all accounts is an excellent road car. Fuel economy exceeds my '96 by a few miles per gallon. I've gotten as high as 28 mpg. at freeway speeds.

I've also been looking at newer Mustangs GTs, but I still cant afford one newer than 2006. My Wife asked why I would consider buying what would be basically the same car as our '07. I told her that a GT is not the same car.

Chrysler built pony and muscle cars are the most expensive models of them all. Way above my budget.
I've also never been a Mopar fan, lucky for me. Do my two minivans count?

A sobering reality is that any old 70's pony car is not going to get very good mileage. I've been reading some old road tests and a '77 Trans Am returned an average of only 12 mpg. I was checking a website and found that a '72 Mustang with a 351 V8 also returns 11-12 mpg. My '66 Riviera would return 12 mpg. at steady 60 mph. freeway cruising. My '77 Cadillac could only get 16 mpg. on the freeway. Even my '70 Mustang with a six, barely exceeded 15 mpg.

You might say that you don't buy those type of cars for the fuel economy. But I like to drive my cars. My Explorer with the 5.0 only gets between 15-17 mpg. in mostly freeway driving. It was EPA rated at 19 mpg. freeway. In day to day use I do notice the amount of fuel it consumes. I definitely have to fill it up more.

So if I don't decide a pony car, what else is there?

Friday, April 3, 2020

I just finished re-reading the novel Hot Rod.

A book that I really connected with in my youth.

I first read this novel as a paperback, back in 1962 or '63 when I was in the third or fourth grade. I was always an "advanced" reader as a youngster. The book was in the classroom lending library of the sixth grade class that I had my reading class in.

Why did I reread this book?

Was I trying to reconnect with some fondly remembered notions from my past?

Actually I was.

One of the best things about Felsen's books is that he "gets it". He knows and appreciates how much a car can mean to a kid. How it becomes an avenue of self expression. I've never developed that deep a connection with a car, but I certainly did with my motorcycles..

What could I hope to gain from this? Am I trying to recapture something from my past?

Unfortunately I missed the hot rod era.

There are no hot rods in my past, In fact, I never saw a real hot rod on the street until I well into my 30's.

I find myself in a funny place.

My passion and interest in cars has never faded over the years. However I'm beginning to feel that my resources to deal with that passion have started to reach their limitations.

The current situation has made me refocus on just what my priorities should be.

Couldn't I find something easier and cheaper to work on?

I've been doing a lot of soul searching (as well as cyber searching on Craig's List) looking for cars that can grab my interest. Something that could satisfy that enthusiast craving that I have.

True "Classic" hot rods as described by Felsen in his books have never really figured into the picture. Though I read many books by Tex Smith and others. They had passed out of favor as I entered my teen years. That was at the end of the 1960's. Muscle cars were the new thing.

Twenty years ago I tried to enter that world with my '22 Dodge lakes roadster, but found that I lost interest in the project before I even got close to finishing it. It just didn't seem to be something that I could actually use.

At least the next guy finished it.

I guess that this type of car represents something that I never really felt a part of, even though I immersed myself in that culture for most of my youth.

Now those cars are too expensive to be able to casually dabble in. It would take a lot of financial commitment to get involved.

I had an encounter with a real live hot rod just a couple of months ago at the hardware store. I was there buying ceiling paint as I was starting in on that remodeling project that I've mentioned. Sitting there in the parking lot was a bright yellow, cut down, fender less '29 Model A coupe. A gleaming, chromed Chevy engine sat in front of the firewall and it was equipped in a manner that left no doubt about it's hot rod pedigree.

I parked my Mustang convertible a few stalls away, I wanted to take a closer look. Sightings in the wild are extremely rare. I walked up to the car and peered in through the cut down doors. Inside was a simple pleated bench seat done up in black vinyl with a business like looking dash. Every detail had been neatly attended to and the entire car was finished to show car standards, Quite an impressive machine.

As I was at the counter paying for my paint, I looked out the front window and saw the owner, an older gent ( even older than me!) walk out to the car, fire it up and drive out of the parking lot. It looked out of place, incongruous among all the other late model vehicles around it.

Thinking about it today, I realize that it was a modern recreation of Bud Crayne's hopped up coupe. Just like the one in the book. But this car was finished, engineered, and built to a higher standard that Bud could have only dreamed of.

Did I like the car? Is it something that I wished I had built and owned?

Would I be willing to make the kind of financial sacrifices that it would take for me to own a car like that?

To be honest, No.

That car, as attractive as it is an artifact, just doesn't resonate with me, and what my expectations are of a car.

I began comparing it mentally to the Mustang I was driving. Even though my Mustang is a Millenial model it is still a thoroughly modern vehicle. It was engineered and built to be a high performance  vehicle. Enhanced acceleration, handling and braking were the top priorities. Of course time doesn't stand still and it wasn't the quickest car even back in it's day. I'm pretty sure that rod could run away from my car on a drag strip, maybe even reach a higher top speed. However I'm certain that in the real world, it wouldn't be able to maintain that performance over a longer run. It's kind of like a big go-kart. It is noisy, uncomfortable, and even harder riding then my Mustang. There's no a/c, cruise control, or adjustable seating. I doubt that it could match the fuel economy of my car, or the range either. Then there's the safety aspect. While I wouldn't want to get into a collision in any vehicle, the presence of ABS, an impact absorbing steering column, effective shoulder belts and ultimately air bags, would make a big difference in my survival. Structurally, these cars and their modern reproductions were never engineered to survive collisions. In this situation, modern cars are just superior. 1920s and '30s cars just can't offer that type of security. Truthfully speaking, I wouldn't have wanted to expose my Wife and children to those types of hazards.

My Mustang is fast enough, fun enough, and practical enough to be a satisfying Daily Driver. It makes trips of any length fun, and I've accomplished many long trips comfortably in it. I haven't even mentioned that the top goes down. Convertibles are naturally fun cars.

It doesn't look like I'll be adding a classic hot rod to my collection.

But what about something else?

This is a pretty good opportunity to re cover old ground.

I have just moved my XJS out of the garage in anticipation of redoing the flooring in the house. I've got boxes and boxes of household possessions taking up all my hard won "car space." But it has to be done. I had to bring back all my stuff from Public Storage because currently the work is on hold. I don't want to run up hundreds of dollars of storage fees during these uncertain times. The Jags going to have to stay outside for a while. This whole situation is causing me to rethink my approach to old cars. I used to think that I could be the poor man's Jay Leno and have several old cars at a time. Now, I'm beginning to realize that I've forgotten the most pertinent part of that aspiration. The "poor man" part!

While I don't have any real desire to have a classic hot rod, I still have to satisfy that "car guy" urge. So I'll just pass some tome cruising the internet and see if something can capture my fancy.

Stay safe and healthy.