Friday, October 30, 2015

1969 Ford LTD - Custom Ordered

It's only fairly recently that when you wanted to buy a new car with certain options you could find almost exactly what you were looking for on dealer lots. Cars come pretty loaded these days so there's little need to custom order. Custom ordering, though, is the only way our 1969 Ford LTD here could have been built for certain no dealership would ever order this car without someone specifically wanting or needing it.


It's not that Ford's optional 429 cubic inch, "Thunder Jet" V-8 was so unusual in a 1969 LTD but the lack of other options is. No air conditioning, power windows, locks or brakes. Dog dish hub cabs.  

It even has a manual transmission. Who would order such a beast like this? Well, I would for one but not in green with a black vinyl top. Horrible. Gauges are all aftermarket. By the way, look where the radio is.

Back in the day, many options were a la carte and they were not bundled together like they are today. Customers willing to wait weeks if not months for their new car could literally custom order it. On older cars like our '69 Ford LTD here, it's not unusual to find them equipped with power windows but not door locks and vice versa, tilt columns and AM radios, leather interiors with manual seats. Still, finding something like this that's a bone stripper LTD, except for its monster engine is quite unusual.

Custom orders also meant no two cars would be, in theory at least, the same. Sounds great but the problem was custom orders led to assembly issues since the factory was not building any two cars alike and that led to myriad build quality issues. Today, options are limited to packages and there aren't many permutations of cars save for color, interior trim and perhaps wheels and tires.

1964 Munster Koach

Happy Halloween! Since this is (mostly) a car blog, let's take a minute or two and take a look at one of the coolest, or should I say "ghoulest" cars ever. From one of my favorite TV shows ever, it's "The Munster Koach" from the "Munsters". 

The Munster Koach was designed and built by famed Hollywood custom car builder George Barris. Mr. Barris also designed and built the Batmobile, the Beverly Hillbillies car, which I always felt would have made a more appropriate Munster Koach than this thing, Starsky and Hutch's Gran Torino, Knight Rider and more. 

The Munster Koach had a 133 inch long ladder frame that was made by hand. 

The 18 foot long "Koach" was made from 3 Model T bodies. Using Model T's  might sound quaint today but in the years following World War II, old Models T's were still in abundance and were used by hot rodders frequently to fabricate "hot rods". They were light weight and easy to work with too. 

Munster Koach was powered by a 289 Ford engine rebuilt with Jahns high compression pistons, ten chrome plated Stromberg carburators, an Isky cam, and had a set of Bobby Barr racing headers. Imagine keeping this thing in tune. 

"Blood red", velvet interior. 

The studio gave George Barris 21 days to complete the car at a cost of $18,000. A fiendish amount of money in 1964.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

1972 Buick Estate Wagon - Affordable Classic or Old Mom Mobile?

Beginning in 1970, the Buick Estate was General Motors top of the line luxury station wagon. 

As time marches on and we move farther and farther away from the "Golden Era" of the American automobile, a stretch of time that stretches, and this is debatable, from - at its earliest 1940 to it's latest say, 1979 - affordable "classics" are becoming harder and harder to find. That's because the "classics" that everyone wants and are most valuable, the convertibles and the coupes, have over appreciated past the point where anyone who really loves them for what they are, as opposed to being a trophy or investment, would want to buy them. With that in mind, have you ever considered buying an old station wagon?

For 1971, GM moved the Estate to the C body platform. It shared interiors with the Electra.
In comparison to convertibles and coupes, old sedans, or cars with four doors, have little to no value and sorry, they never well. Meanwhile, the precursor to the sport utility vehicle of today in all of its vestiges have huge upside. Many available in pristine condition can be had for relatively little, again, compared to convertibles and coupes, and solid examples in need of some TLC can be found for far less than that. They make great drivers too - like this 1972 Buick Estate. Any self respecting "car guy will tell you, station wagons are far "cooler" than any sedan will ever be.

The interior trim of the disappearing magic tailgate and three seat jumper.

Mom's weren't fond of station wagons back in the day and for a number of reasons. For starters, the big ones like this were very hard to handle. They were fine in a straight line but changing lanes and doing parking lot maneuvers were challenging. Regardless of whether or not you were a man or a woman. Also, many younger women of "The Greatest Generation" and many older female baby boomers rebelled against the stereotypical "mom image" that those cars parlayed; not every woman was happy being "Suzy Homemaker".

Buick built the C body based Estate through 1976.

They also ate gas like teenagers rip through groceries. The 1973-74 gas crisis demolished sales of big thirsty cars like this and then the great downsizing came; that was the end of these big brutes. The Buick Estate wagon lived on in some fashion through 1996 but the slow, steady vice grip of disdain and the influx of the minivan and SUV took over the lane where station wagons once ruled.

This car was for sale on ebay with a reserve price of $14,500 which was absurd. The highest bid was for just under $6,800 which seems fair. Maybe the the owner will be willing to negotiate. Here's the listing. Good luck!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Brake Job On Our 2006 Chevrolet Tahoe - Light A Candle

Last weekend, my wife complained about something "dragging" when she'd apply the brakes on our 2006 Chevy Tahoe. Sure enough, the right rear brake was making that all too familiar tell tale grinding sound that it was time to "do the brakes". Lovely.  

Quick call to the chain service center we go to for oil changes would have us out the door for $378. Just for the rears. No doubt the fronts would have to go too seeing these are the original brakes on the old beast that has now just shy of 100K on her. So, all in, we're looking around $750 give or take.

Having replaced the rotors and pads on my 2002 Monte Carlo, all the pads not to mention rebuilding the rear brake system on my 1977 Corvette not to mention doing similar rear brake work on my 1996 rear drum brake equipped Camaro in the last year I wasn't intimidated by the project. I picked up everything I needed at Autozone for $242. That included a can of brake cleaner, brake fluid and packet of bolt grease. Such the deal. 

Replacing pads and rotors on full size SUV's is not complicated work but it is physically demanding. Just getting the lug nuts loose was a bear wrestle; I swear the darn things were tightened down to 100 foot pounds if not more. Then there's the exercise of jacking the thing up with the bottle jack the Tahoe comes with, my little trolley jack wasn't big enough to get the Tahoe in the air, and then I put jack stands underneath on the main frame rails.

Again, this is straight forward work. For the rear, remove the two 12mm bolts holding the caliper on and it comes off with a tug or two. The front calipers use a T-55 Torx bolt or star bit. Why they're different is beyond me. Pry the pads out with a screw driver and then remove the caliper bracket by removing its two 18mm bolts. Pull the retainers off the lugs, if they're still on there, and the rotors comes off...well. If only life was that simple.

Save for a slight wiggle, the right rear rotor was all but frozen on. Only after nearly two hours of pounding it with my five pound sledge hammer did it finally and mercifully come loose.

Kicker was that in order to get at different spots on the back of the rotor I had to rotate the spindle. To do that I had to put the transmission in neutral which meant I needed to put my apply the brakes. Without the pistons compressed back into their housings on the right rear caliper they came out of their housings all but ruining it. Great. $50 later for a new caliper and twenty minutes of bleeding the line with the help of my wife we were good to go. On the right side. Left side comes next weekend. Hopefully that will go much more smoothly. Hopefully. I also have to do the fronts. Light a candle.

At the end of the day I'm left wondering sometimes if all this is worth it to save money - in this case around $400. These projects are really time consuming and my wife complains that all I do lately is work on our (aging) fleet of cars when I'm not at work. This is true but the savings do add up. All told I've probably saved at least $3000 in the last 12 months doing repairs on our cars. Also, you really can't put a price on the feeling of accomplishment and personal satisfaction you get from doing something you didn't think you could do. Or could have done. That's the best. On to the left side and then the fronts!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Lexus SC300 - An Old (Car) Crush

My senior year of high school I dated a girl I had a crush on when we were in the 9th grade. I told her "I liked you in the 9th grade" after several cocktails at a house party we were both attending and, apparently flattered, she insisted almost immediately that we "go out". We did - and it started out deliriously intense but settled into your typical on again, off again teenage "romance" thing that didn't live up to either of our expectations. Especially mine. She was a pretty girl but horribly insecure and needy and I, surprise, was a lot more than she could handle. I start this essay off on this delightful Lexus SC, a car that I had a serious crush on years ago and still do knowing full well there's no way it can live up to my expectations.  
Toyota introduced the SC 400, a 4.0 liter, V-8 powered smoothie in 1991 that offered the refinement and style of a Mercedes Benz or BMW coupe at a fraction of the cost. It knocked me sideways. Her simple beauty is timeless and that's saying a lot since I typically do not find Japanese cars to be that interesting looking. They're great cars but lacking stylistically in my opinion. It all came together when I found out the SC was styled not by Toyota stylists in Japan but by Toyota's Southern California design studio, "Calty". Designed exclusively for buyers in the United States, it checked all the right boxes on what coupe lovers like myself love about them.  Like a song that you feel was written with you in mind, sometimes it seems as though car designers penned a car with you in mind. 
In 1992, a lesser SC, the "300" appeared with a 3.0 liter in line six. Making 25 horsepower less than the V-8 in the SC400, the 300  at least had the availability of a manual transmission; the SC400 came only as an automatic. A less powerful car that is more fun to drive than the big brother and is less expensive? Where do I sign?  
A relationship with this old Lexus SC might be everything that I could ever hope it would be but like many things in life it's best to hold onto a fantasy rather than risk ruining it by finding it's not what you hoped it would be.
My disappointment in this car says a lot about how far American cars have come in the last twenty plus years.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

1996 Red Camaro - My Creeper Is At The Ready

The Red Camaro's latest problem? Leaking power steering lines. This on top of the struts, brakes and anti roll bar she already needs. Not to mention an alignment. It's what you get for using a twenty year old car as a daily driver. 

I spent last weekend getting at the leaky line; there's another that might be leaking but I took care of the one that I was pretty sure was leaking first. It was a difficult and messy job. Something tells me "The General" didn't intend for the power steering lines on 3800 V-6 powered Camaros and Firebirds to ever need replacing since they made getting them out to be damn near impossible. I can only imagine how bad the V-8 cars are to work on. BTW, there's no youtube video on how to replace power steering lines on these cars so I was on my own.

My little girlie hands are good for something and that's working in confined spaces like this. It took a while but I did get that leaky upper line out but not before I broke it. Lovely. With power steering fluid leaking worse than before I had to get that thing out or pay a shop a handsome stipend to do it for me. What's more, I'd have to get a tow truck since with the engine running, what was left of the power steering fluid would gush out with the force of a fire hose. Ever steer a power steering car with power steering that's not working? Makes "manual steering" cars feel like overboasted old Buicks in comparison.

In the two years we've have had this car a lot has gone wrong with it. Save for having a shop change the spark plugs for $200, an incredible amount of money, I know but they're impossible to find let alone wrench them in and out, I've made all the repairs myself saving us thousands. If it wasn't for my mechanical ability and inherent frugality there's no way we'd still have this car. Then again, if I didn't have those traits I don't know if we would have bought this thing in the first place.

Last spring it was the rear brakes. The rear cylinders needed replacing, yes, this thing has drums out back, and I broke the cross over brake line on the back axle when changing the right rear. Great.

That lead to my breaking the line that went down the left side of the car. Holy smokes what a job that was to replace. Not to mention finding the replacement parts in the first place too. By the way, watch out for those chain parts stores. The people behind the counter mean well but many of them really have no idea what they're talking about. Oh, they may act like they do but more often than not, when it comes down to heavy duty work like this, I've found they don't. At the end of the day, for us DIY'ers, you're really on your own. Good luck.

Last winter it was lingering engine performance issues because two of the three coil packs were bad. Again, bad advice from Autozone had me chasing my tail. Not fun.

Over the summer the driver's door lock stopped working.

There's been power window issues as well.

Let's not forget that she still needs struts up front, shocks all around and the front brakes need to be redone.

There's going to come a time when something will go wrong that I can't fix and The Red Camaro will be toast. Until then, my creeper will be at the ready. Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Bye, Bye, Sedans. We Never Liked You Anyway.

The death of the sedan is like that person you didn't like at work who leaves the company. You respected their ability but you're ambivalent about their leaving. 

Need proof the sedan is slowly disappearing? In a booming new vehicle market, one that projects to be the biggest since 2005, sales of the Toyota Camry are down just under 15% August 2014 to August of this year. The Honda Accord actually outsold the Camry in August but year to year sales are down 20%. Those are big numbers. The Nissan Altima is the only one of the top three that held steady gaining just .5% this month over August 2014.

These lower sales numbers aren't an anomaly either. For the year sales of the Accord are down nearly 15% and the Camry is down nearly 5. Altima sales up just over 1%; why is Altima up? Incentives? Rebates? It's not like the Nissan Altima does anything any better than Camry or Accord and styling is subjective. I'd be hard pressed to believe that anyone could tell the difference between the three cars at ten feet. No one is pounding their chest because of a 1% bump up anyway but being up in a down market is something to take note of.
So, if this year is so big, where are the sales coming from?

From the sale of trucks, SUV's and CUV's. The Ford F-Series sales are up nearly 5% and the Chevrolet Silverado is up 12%. The Nissan Rogue, a cross over, is up 29%, the Ford Explorer  is up 22%. The Ford Edge, which I'm not sure is a CUV or minivan is up 36%.  At this rate, in the next 10 years we won't see a sedan in the top 5 on a list of best selling vehicles.

The popularity of pickup trucks still escapes me but I get what SUV's and CUVs have to offer; practicality and style. When you can combine both you've got a winner. CUV's are quite car like in how they ride and handle too. Factor that with being practical and looking good and you have the hottest vehicle segment in the market today. What's killing sedan sales? CUV's.

With CUV's offering literally everything you could ever ask for, why would anyone buy a sedan these days?

When my wife and I replace our Tahoe someday, no doubt we'll replace it with some sort of super cool, hip CUV. Maybe even a hybrid. Meanwhile for myself, I'm thinking this tomato soup tinged Mustang when it's time. You like? As for sedans, well. Forget the ambivalence; we never liked them anyway.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

American Graffiti - The Wolfman Gonna Get Ya

The big, white, Chevrolet Impala featured in American Graffiti is about to be sold at auction for what experts some say could be more than $1 million. That's an amazing amount of money for a car that was cast for the film by accident.

"American Graffiti" is a study of the cruising and rock and roll cultures of post World War II baby boomers coming of age in Modesto, California in 1962. What there is of a "story line" is told in a series of vignettes about a group of teenagers and their adventures over a late summer evening just before two of them head "back east" to college. One of many things that makes the film interesting today is that while it's set in 1962 it was made in 1973,  and unwittingly, neatly bookends one of the most tumultuous periods of time in American history with but one mention at the end of the film about Curt Henderson meeting President Kennedy. George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola knew exactly what they were doing in making the film about as "apolitical" as possible. It's also a great car movie.
There are six perfectly cast modes of transportation in American Graffiti that are as centric, if not more so, than the actual cast or setting.

There's the 1955 Chevrolet than Harrison Ford's character, Bob Falfa, drives. Could Ford's arrgoant, hickey, dim witted Falfa have driven anything else but a hopped up '55 Chevy? For the record, thanks to a not-period-correct, somewhat modified 454 Chevrolet V-8, Falfa was beating Milner in the drag race at the end of the movie before he crashed. Note the fuzzy dice hanging from the rear view mirror.

Hot rodder John Milner, played by Paul LeMat, drove this 1932 Ford "Deuce Coupe" with a 383 stroker V8 (which would have been highly unusual in a 1962 vintage car),     Man-A-Fre intake with four two barrel Rochester carburetors, Muncie M21 4-Speed transmission and 9-Inch Ford rear end. Much like the car, Milner is a one dimensional softie who knows his relevancy is limited and the only way for him to get noticed is to drive a car like this. A car that just looks cool and really can't do much of anything.  This '32 Deuce was originally a full-fendered, red, street rod and was purchased by the film crew mainly because it had the chopped top the film's original script called for. 
Note the THX 138 licence plate or tag. Director George Lucas carried something from his previous films into his next ones as  a good luck charm. THX 138 refers to  "THX 1138", a sci-fi movie he filmed in northern California prior to American Graffiti. BTW, if you look very closely in Star Wars, you'll see some fuzzy dice hanging in the Millenium Falcon; they're the dice from Falfa's Chevrolet. 

Suzanne Sommer's character, who is simply known as "a vision" to Richard Dreyfuss' "Curt", drives a 1956 Ford Thunderbird. Could such "a vision" drive anything less than such a delicate, feminine automobile?  All we know of the car was that the producers of the film found the car on a street in Pentaluma, CA and left a note on it asking the owners to call them to ask if they could use the car in a movie. Legend has it the car was originally painted red and the owners of the car painted it (historically correct) white sometime after 1960.

Richard Drefuss' "Curt Henderson" drives a 1967 Citroen 2CV. It's a 1967 model, which like the 454 engine in Balfa's '55 Chevrolet and to some extent Milner's 383 powered Duece Coupe, is historically incorrect. Doesn't matter, though; it fits Dreyfuss' studious, diligent "Curt" to a tee. You don't have to be perfect to be great.

While not a car, the 1959 Piaggio Vespa GS 160 that Charles Martin Smith’s, "Toad" toils on is pivotal to any conventional plot that "American Graffiti may have. When Steve offers Toad his Chevrolet to take care of til Christmas, part of Toad's glee is that he doesn't have to ride the Vespa any longer. At least for a little while.


Which brings us to the 1958 Chevrolet Impala Sports Coupe that is about to be sold at auction.

The casting of a 1958 Impala in American Graffiti wasn't because of the Impala's handsome good looks or it's 348 V-8 engine - although it's far out sheet metal certainly couldn't have hurt. The film's original script called for the character of Steve Bollander to drive a car that had a "tuck and roll" interior. Tuck-and-roll refers to hand-stuffed channels that are used to form decorative panels in automotive interiors. It's a time consuming and expensive process but the results are quite  dramatic especially on a big automobile with a large, expansive, cavernous interior like a '58 Impala has.
Apparently, after the filming of American Graffiti, the car was sold at auction for $325. Understand that there are many films filmed that do not become hits and their props, which producers want to get rid of, become all but worthless. Also, seeing this film was shot in 1973, a 1958 Chevrolet was not exactly a hot commodity back then. More than likely the most "valuable" car from American Graffiti at the time of the filming was probably Milner's Deuce Coupe. Honestly, although I'm a big fan of this car, it's appreciation recently escapes me even if it's a famous "movie car". Perhaps it won't sell for nearly the million that is projected. We'll see.
All I know is, if you have an old car that you bought years ago, don't think it's all of a sudden going to appreciate through the roof like "Steve's Impala". I'm hard pressed to find '58 Impalas in great shape going for more than $50,000. Let's see what happens.
And while we never find out what kind of car "The Wolfman" drives or if he drives at all, there's no denying how important a part he plays in all of the cars in "American Graffiti".
Hey, I got a dedication here that's for a friend of the ol' Wolfman. And he wants me to play the next song for a blonde young lady in a Thunderbird. A white T-bird, you understand? Now my friend's name is Curt and he wants to talk to you out there, baby. So you meet him at Burger City, or you can phone Diamond 3132. Now he's a friend of mine, you hear, and little girl, you better call him, or the Wolfman gonna get ya.