Saturday, March 28, 2015

Service Engine Soon - You Get What You DON'T Pay For

Local chain auto parts stores advertise that you can come into their store and have your car "scanned" by their experts to diagnose why that pesky "check engine" or "service engine now" light is on. And they do so whole hearted, bless their hearts. Problem is, you  get what you don't pay for.

Last fall the 1996 Camaro I bought for our sons to use started running as though it had a blown rod and the ominous SERVICE ENGINE SOON light was on. I took the car to the local chain auto parts store and a tech, trusty scanner in hand, was able to quickly diagnose that there was a misfire in cylinder six.  Problem was that they couldn't tell me why cylinder six was misfiring. They recommended I change the coil pack and I did so - but $30 later the car still ran poorly. Somewhat crestfallen, I went back to the auto parts store for more "free trouble shooting". This time another "tech" questioned why the tech who told me to replace the coil pack had me do so because typically the first thing done with a misfire is to change the spark plug. At this point I'm getting a good idea why these well meaning young men are working in an auto parts store and not in a service center.

I found changing a spark plug on the Camaro to be a brutal, knuckle busting, time sucking process so I had a local, chain service center change all of them for me, not just cylinder six, to the tune of $200. It's a twenty year old car and they were the original plugs so...I thought it money well spent. Anyway, the car did run much better afterwards however, I did notice some bog and hesitation under wide open throttle acceleration. Another trip back to the service center and they told me that I needed to have the ignition wires replaced at $250. I was livid. They said I didn't ask them to put the car on their diagnostic scanner since all I asked them to do was change the plugs. So, here I am bringing my rough running car to them and all they do is what I tell them to do? My sons and I agreed that with the stumbling only happening when the gas pedal is on the floor, we could live with it until the spring when I could change the wires for an out of pocket expense of $25.

Things were fine up until about a month ago when the car started running poorly again. Another trip  to the auto parts store for another free scan revealed a misfire this time in cylinder five. Must be the bad wires, right? This time the tech, a different kid by the way, told me that it could be a bad fuel injector. What the what? Lovely. When I told him about the service center saying it could be spark plug wires, he said change those first and if it continues to run poorly then it's most likely the fuel injector. That's an expensive project even if I do it myself not to mention difficult since this car is incredibly hard to work on. I limped back home and started working on changing the spark plug wires.

It took me probably three hours to swap the wire out for cylinder 5 but much to my delight, when I fired it up, not only did the engine run smoother, the SERVICE ENGINE light was off. Oh, life was good. That was until an aggressive road test. No sooner did I floor the gas that the SERVICE ENGINE light came back on and the car started to backfire. I was quite upset and limped home believing now that the kid was right about  the fuel injector. Lovely.

As I began to do research on fuel injector replacement, it occurred to me that I was going with the recommendation of a twenty year old kid at an auto parts store. So, I took the car to another service center, my thought being that the other service center I went to was not manned by the sharpest tools in the shed,  and asked them to scan the car and diagnose why the car was running so poorly. $100 later I got all the information I needed, it was a bad coil pack. They gave me an estimate of $194 to replace it and I somewhat politely turned down their offer since I knew that I could get a new coil pack for $30 and swap it in in 20 minutes. I did so and the car runs better than it has ever run since we've had it. Money.

Bottom line as always, you get what you pay for and also, more importantly, you get what you don't pay for.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

1977 Lincoln Versailles - Fighting For My Right To Party

Ford's Lincoln Versailles was a direct response to GM's Cadillac Seville.
What's worse, arriving so late for a party that you completely missed it or being at a party that got busted by the cops and you got hauled off to jail? I'd say the former because any party that gets broken up by the cops sounds like my idea of a good time. Especially if I only get charged with a misdemeanor. Sadly, when it came to my automotive youth, by the time I could tell the difference between a hubcap and a torque wrench, the party was long over and I was left with sorry, pretentious hulks like this Lincoln Versailles to ogle.
Built between 1977 and 1981, it been discussed that Ford had a difficult time finding buyers for the Versailles because they did a less successful job of hiding the car's humble underpinnings than GM did with the Chevrolet Nova based Cadillac Seville.  
When this oddly handsome, somewhat re-skinned Ford Granada came on the market, muscle cars (the party) were verboten and the most powerful domestic car sold in this country was the 220 horsepower, Pontiac Trans Am. Admiring luxury cars was akin to drinking flat, warm diet soda left over from the party as opposed to guzzling Jack and Coke.  You can't blame me for having no idea how much fun I was not having.
Ford adding insult to injury by charging more than three times as much for a Versailles than they did for a Granada. 
I had to fight for my right to party and I did whole heartedly. While my shenanigans may never involved the po-po, well, maybe once or twice, nothing ever really came of it aside from my stomach lining getting chewed up from the stress of possibly spending a night in the slammer. The anticipation of such being in many ways much worse than it actually happening.
Ford replaced the Versailles in 1982 with the Fox bodied Continental.
Same held true whenever I would get behind the wheel of something with anything north of the power to weight ratio of something like this Lincoln Versailles, which was atypical of cars in the early years of the Malaise Era. A 220 horse T/A felt like a Saturn 5 rocket booster by comparison and I indulged appropriately. Somewhat responsibly too considering any T/A drove belonged to someone else.
The Palace of Versailles, or simply Versailles, is a royal château in Versailles in the Île-de-France region of France.
That big party did have its downside though like pollution and, at least according to insurance companies, unsafe driving due to reckless driving of over powered automobiles. The staid luxury orientated cars that followed muscle cars helped pave the way for the cars of today manage to combine even greater power not to mention far, far superior overall performance than those '60's cars with uncompromised luxury and if need be, utility. Still, must have been fun to have been at the party when the cops showed up versus only hearing about it because you showed up too late.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Greased Lightening - 1948 Ford DeLuxe

Growing up thisclose to New York City in the mid to late 1970's, we were pounded constantly by the New York TV stations playing this commercial for a faceless, '50's revival show called, "Grease!" I had little interest in seeing it; my thought was that if you needed a fix of the '50s, why go through the hassle of going into the gaddam city when all you had to do was watch "Happy Days" every week on TV?

Then the coming attractions came out for the movie version of the Broadway show starring the oh-so-lovely Olivia Newton-John. Literally in the blink of an eye, "Grease" was transformed from being nothing more than an annoying TV commercial and into arguably the most important film of my wonder years.

Thankfully, there was more to the film than just "Bad Sandy" to monopolize my interest; how else could I be able to sit through 90 minutes of dancing AND singing if only to get ending sequences of the movie? Remember, kids, this movie came out years before VCR's became commonplace in households. Had VCR's been around when I was a kid I never would have come to appreciate the subtle brilliance of the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies.

One of the more memorable parts of the film, which, again, amounted to little more than filler until "Bad Sandy" made her appearance, was the "Greased Lightening" sequence. In this part of the film, the "T-Birds" are less than impressed with the 1948 Ford Deluxe that Kinicki has purchased. Their leader, however, Danny Zuko, played brilliantly by John Travolta (Vinny Barbarino sings!) and who knew he was an eternal optimist, sees the car not for what it is but for what it can be and leads his fellow troubadours in the film's second greatest 3 1/2 minutes.

Let's give the writers of the song much poetic license as we scrutinzie the lyrics to "Greased Lightening and compare them to as much of real world automobilia as possible. Spoiler alert - it's going to be readily apparent that a little knowledge of automotive nomenclature can go a long way towards creating Broadway if not Hollywood magic.

Well, this car is, systematic, hydromatic, automatic.  Why, it's greased lightning!  (Greased Lightning )

Hydromatic and automatic refer to automatic transmissions. The term "Hydromatic", it could be argued, refers to the General Motors "Turbo Hydromatic" transmission that was originally developed by Buick in the 1940's and marketed as the Buick "Dynaflow". "Systematic" means nothing. A Buick automatic transmission in a hotrod built in a late 1950's high school chop class? Possible but highly unlikely.

We'll get some overhead lifters and four barrel quads, oh yeah.  (Keep talking, whoa, keep talking)
"Overhead lifters" is technically incorrect since the lifters of overhead valve engines are actually deep inside the block of the engine. To be lyrically correct, Zuko should have sung, "we'll get some overhead valves" but obviously the song writers needed a two syllable word following a three  syllable word to keep the cadence of the song flowing. Four barrel quads is a misdirected reference to multiple four barrel carburetors. The term four barrel quads, would actually mean four, four barrel carburetors. While multiple carburetors were quite common even on 1950's "hot rod" applications, four, four barrel carburetors would have been highly unlikely. Possible? Yes, I guess although I've never seen a set up like that, but very unlikely. Sounds very cool, though which was probably the point.

Fuel injection cutoffs and chrome plated rods, oh yeah (I'll get the money I kill to get the money)

There's no need for fuel injection cut offs on a car that is carbureted; like Grease Lightning apparently is or is going to continue to be based on earlier lyrics in this song. All 1948 Ford DeLuxes like Kinicki's were carbureted. Fuel injection, which is the norm today, was in its infancy in the late 1950's and was extremely problematic. Oh, and nobody chrome plates rods.

With a four-speed on the floor, they'll be waiting at the door
You know that ain't no shit, we'll be getting lots of tit in Grease Lightning
(Go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go)

With the advent of column mounted transmission gear selectors, floor mounted transmissions were rare in the 1950's. A floor mounted four speed manual shifter even rarer. Hurst shifters first appeared in 1958 and while its possible the one could have gone into Greased Lightning, it's highly unlikely. I've yet to see an interior photo of Grease Lighting where a floor mounted shifter was visibile. What's more, Danny already refered to the car being "Hydromatic" and therefore "Greased Lightning" would have had, or was going to have an automatic transmission. 

Go grease lightning, you're burning up the quarter mile
(Grease lightning, go grease lightning)

Well, if you say so, Zuko. You haven't made any reference to what the engine is under the hood of Greased Lightening. 1948 Fords were powered by either a 95 horsepower, overhead valve inline six or a 100 horsepower, Ford flathead V-8. The engine that is dropped into the red "fantasy" version of Greased Lightening that Zuko rides down on into the engine bay appears to be a Chevrolet 350 with two four barrel carbs or quads on top.

Go grease lightning, you're coasting through the heat lap trials
(Grease lightning, go grease lightning)

That's about right. Weighing about  3300 pounds, with 100 horsepower, Grease Lightning will be coasting, not speeding, through the heat lap trials.

You are supreme, the chicks'll cream for Greased lightning
(Go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go)

Although it was the liberal, disco crazed late 1970's, "chicks'll cream" somehow made it past sensors. Although it's hard to imagine exactly what the term was supposed to mean. Why the word "scream" wasn't used is anyone's guess. Again, the '70's.

Purple French taillights and thirty inch fins, oh yeah

Purple pitched tail lights;  it's against the law to have purple tail lights. The pitched part could refer to how they're positioned. Thirty inch fins was probably just about right for the size of the fins on the red, fantasy version of Greased Lightning. 

 A Palomino dashboard and duel muffler twins, oh yeah
Palomino dashboard might be a reference to the color, palomino which is a light brown or tan. Dual muffler twins might be a reference to four tailpipes which is possible but a highly unlikely detail on a car which is being rebuilt in a high school shop class. 

With new pistons, plugs and shocks I can get off my rocks
You know that I ain't bragging, she's a real pussy wagon
Grease lightning
(Go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go)
Replacing pistons would be part of a major engine rebuild and would probably neccessitate new connecting rods if the engine was stroked. Again, no one chrome plates connecting rods. New plugs and shocks would probably help improve the car's performance which, apparently, is quite the turn on for Zuko. As for being a "Pussy Wagon", well, the visceral appeal of "Greased Lighening" is subjective. It's lost on me.

But apparently, it's not lost on "Bad Sandy". Sigh. The good girls always go for the "Bad Guys".


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Starsky and Hutch Ford Gran Torino

The latest in a series on famous cars
From April 1975 through May 1979, detectives David Starsky and Kenneth “Hutch” Hutchinson kept the fictional streets of Bay City, California safe on the weekly ABC-TV crime drama, Starsky & Hutch. Though the show’s stars Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky) and David Soul (Hutch) gained considerable fame from the series, it was Starsky’s red-with-a-white stripe Ford Gran Torino that became, arguably, the show's biggest star as it became the most recognized car in America during the show’s run.

Starsky and Hutch were originally supposed to drive a high performance, green and white, Chevrolet Camaro. However, when production started on the pilot, the Ford Motor Company's studio-TV car loan program was the lease supplier for the shows production company, hence no Camaro since Chevrolet is part of General Motors.   

It’s not clear exactly how many such Gran Torinos were used in the filming of the series or what happened to them all. Helping to confuse matters, Ford, looking to capitalize on the show’s popularity, produced a run of roughly 1,300 "Starsky & Hutch Gran Torinos", which were sold through participating Ford dealerships . Our subject car is allegedly one of those 1,300 which is probably true seeing that this car is shod with stock Ford rims and not the 5 slot mag wheels all "Zebra Three's" featured in the TV show had. Zebra Three, you may recall, was the radio call handle for Starsky and Hutch. These cars have been, somewhat incorrectly, nicknamed "Zebra Three".
While cars that are from the actual TV show with documented histories do exist, the sheer volume of replica cars makes finding an authentic example, even a Ford factory version like this, challenging. And for the true collector, it’s a task that requires a great deal of research. If you find one, you might be inclined to knock over a liquor store; just recently, a fairly well documented Zebra Three that was allegedly featured in the TV show sold at auction for $40,000.  
While the shows producers were happy with the Torinos, the stars of the show, specifically Paul Michael Glaser, were not so pleased. In fact, when Glaser first saw his character's car, his reaction was more of disgust rather than pleasure. His initial reply was "it's red." When interviewed about the Torino, which, again, became the defacto "third star" of the show, Glaser had no qualms about saying he didn't like the car at all. He was quoted as saying "it was huge, it had no pickup, and it couldn't handle." To make matters worse, in all of the scenes where he would lock the brakes to stop at a crime scene, he'd make every effort to bump the car off a curb; Glaser purposely trying to break the Torino.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

1972 Chevrolet Kingswood Estate - Fasten Your Seatbelt, Grasshoppers

I can't imagine people who grew up with minivans having the same affection for those boxes as people of my generation have for station wagons.  
To be honest, it is a love that's hard to understand. While I look at most sedans as being nothing more than appliances, when the roof of a sedan is extended out past the C pillar making said appliance even more practical, I am its fool. However, I have little interest in SUV's, full size, mid size, cross over or whatever. I can't even figure myself out sometimes.
The allure of these things is cosmic if not magical. Speaking of magic, let's start with the magic tailgate; quite possibly the best part of these absolutely huge vehicles; the Kingswood having soul mates across the hall at Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick, by the way. Cadillac did too, technically, but it was a commercial chassis "wagon" and it was sold exclusively to the service industry.
Hinged on the left to open outwards from the right, the magic tailgate's glass also moved north into the roof while the tail gate itself could slide south into a slot in front of the rear bumper. And with power assist to boot. All at the twist of a key right above the right rear tail light. Right turn on the key opened just the window, a left turn engaged an electric motor that literally pulled the window up. Another motor moved the tailgate down. Beautiful. Ford pioneered the magic tailgate but as was with so many of Ford's innovations, GM perfected it; Ford tailgates never stowed below deck. Best for extra utility, there was nothing quite like a Kingswood driven with the tailgate down below and all the windows open at freeway speed. Great way to clean the car out too.
What seemed to be the coolest place to be in these cars quickly grew old on long road trips but what kid didn't love to be back here while Mom and Dad took a short traipse into town? Our parents all but in the next county or state when you were back here. No DVD system for these kids; all entertainment done on your own. The two seats back pushed seating capacity on these cars to an amazing 8 passengers. Problem was the seat had next to no lateral or back support and rode just in front of the rear axle. Bumpy, to the say the least. Fasten your seat belt, grasshoppers. If you didn't, let's just hope dad had the magic up completely.
Hard to say where the business ended and the pleasure begins on these cars but in front of the B pillar, this car was all standard issue, 1971 vintage full size Chevrolet. All that was good with it, bad and indifferent.
Today, the only "wagons" on the market are made by high end manufacturers like Mercedes, BMW and Audi. Cadillac had been building a CTS wagon but they have yet to announce that they are offering a wagon version of their latest CTS. What happened to station wagons? Two gas crunches in the 1970's certainly didn't do any favors for sales of these 5000 pound, V-8 gas guzzlers but it was the mini van in the '80's and the SUV's in the '90's (that market still going strong today) that ultimately did in these dinosaurs. And that's too bad.  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Little Red Corvette Brake Project Update - I See The Light


Most people say they'd rather be lucky than good. Sorry, in the long haul I believe that being good is better than being lucky. However, with this brutal brake rebuild project on our "Rockin '77", I'll take all the help I can get.

To review, my wife and I bought this car for our twentieth wedding anniversary going on three years ago. It's a beautiful car but it's burly exhaust note sums up this car perfectly - all bark, no bite. It handles poorly, is uncomfortable, noisy and most importantly - and this is endemic to 1968-1982 Corvettes, it has terrible brakes. Terrible brakes made even worse by the fact that half of them weren't even working.

That half not working being the rear half. They weren't working because this "cross over" line was cracked. The cross overline carries brake fluid from the left side of the car over to the right rear brake caliper by crossing over a cross member (frame) on the frame. There's no fixing these things if they're broken, they have to be replaced.

Removing and replacing the broken line required a fair amount of dismantling. I had to remove the parking brake mechanism, lower the exhaust, disconnect some weird plumbing. Lots of stuck, rusty old bolts but it was nothing seismic.

The first major thing to go wrong, however, was when I broke this inside bleeder valve off the right rear caliper when I went to bleed the system the first time I thought I was almost done with this project. Make plans, The Corvette Laughs.

A broken bleeder valve meant the caliper had to be replaced. After much PB Blaster, socket extensions and a make shift breaker bar, I was able to free bolts that hadn't been tampered with in almost forty years. Did I also mention that this has been one of the worst winters on record in Cleveland? That's saying a lot. The air temperature in my garage during this project has rarely been above freezing. Despite the insulated overalls my wife bought me for Christmas, my jaunts in the garage in this brutal weather have been short; 90 to 120 minutes at a time max. I've gained more respect than ever for those who have to brave the elements every day as part of what they do for a living.
The real heart breaker, though, was when I broke the fitting for the front to rear brake line behind that metal flange. It broke as I torqued the new cross over line's fitting into the brass block behind the flange. Just as well. If it broke just under the stress that I was putting on it, chances are that it was ready to go anyway. This, then, necessitated my removal of the entire brake line from the proportionating valve back to here.
A process that beat my ass every inch of the way from the back of the car here to the proportionating valve. Of course that bolt was stuck. What else did I expect?  
My luck began to change when I was able to get the line through the transmission cross member. The cross member wouldn't move separate from the car even though I had removed the two bolts holding it to the left side of the car. So, again, I was lucky that line fit through a very narrow opening. These lines got installed on the car before the body met the chassis, there's no way the engineers thought these lines would ever have to be replaced.
Ultimately, I was able to get the new front to rear line in on my first try. What's more, my first "test" of the system was successful; I wasn't able to blow through the system meaning it was sealed. Wow. Not sure if this was luck, skill, or both but I was very happy this worked out as well as it did.
More good luck; I was able to get the brass block into position with the old clip holding in securely. Three for three. Does it get any better?  
The only thing left to do now is to attach this to the proportionating valve and then secure it against the car. Hopefully, it's as simple as that. This is a braided, stainless steel line so it's not exactly easy to work with. I've had little luck working with that red handled pipe bender right there too. If I kink this thing I'm dead. I have no choice but to take my time. At least I have the experience of what to do should I mess this thing up. Wish me luck.  
I see light at the end of the tunnel. And it looks like summer. Incidentally, I estimate this job would run me at least $1,500 if not $2,000 if I had a shop do it. All the parts that I've bought for this project, and this includes the busted caliper, will run me around $250. Not bad.