Monthly Archives: April 2011

Classic Cars and Modern Rock

I was never that big of a fan of Audioslave, but I have to give them (overdue – this video came out in 2003) credit for this seamless reworking of Vanishing Point, the 1971 cult film about a disenfranchised Vietnam veteran and adrenaline junkie who is chased across the Southwest by police as he delivers an iconic white 1970 Dodge Challenger to California.  While this motif would be echoed in a more lighthearted way later in the decade in Smokey and the BanditVanishing Point is pretty dark, reflecting the American mood of the day.

Regardless, Chris Cornell’s usually ferocious vocals are once again on display, and Tom Morello’s unique guitar work never fails to disappoint.  It’s one of the rare instances where a modern song fits a classic movie, and that muscular, menacing Challenger doesn’t hurt, either.

Tip o’ the hat to Hemmings Blog for bringing this to my attention.


As Seen on Craigslist – 1971 Maverick

It’s hard to think of a more quintessentially early-70’s car than a mustard yellow four-door Ford Maverick with a brown vinyl top.  If this car still had its original steel wheels with dog-dish hubcaps, it would be perfect.  Well, perfect as a prop in a period movie, not as anything anyone would want to own.  It’s not that ugly of a design, really; there’s a simplistic elegance to the front end design, and I always liked that the taillights were just pickup pieces turned sideways.  The overall proportions are OK, but it just ends up looking a bit frumpy.  And God, that color.

Anyway, these kinds of cars always make me wonder – why did this one survive?  This was never desirable – no one, even in 1971, was excited to plunk down their hard-earned $2000 on a brand new mustard-yellow four-door Maverick; the original buyer likely wanted a Mustang but needed a four-door or just couldn’t afford one.  And it’s not like the model has aged well or achieved some sort of cache (beyond simple antiquity) over the years – it’s still an unattractive economy family car.  So how did this one manage to survive for 40 years, when so many others, more valuable both then and now, have been sold, wrecked, or allowed to rust into oblivion?  Clearly this car (as they all do) must have a story that explains its one-in-a-million chance of lasting this long.  Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone is going to care enough about this one to find out.

Disc Brake Project – Picking up the Pace

After procuring the right piece of brake line and an adapter last week, I was ready to begin the reassembly process.  I started with this:


After some work with a tubing bender and a little tweaking by hand, I ended up with this:


That got threaded into the junction block on one side of the frame and positioned in the hose bracket on the other side.  With that accomplished, I positioned the passenger side coil spring and jacked the lower control arm to hold it in place.  The shock absorber was next, but I ran into a series of issues.  The car originally had u-nuts clipped into the control arm, into which the shock bolts threaded.  Over the past four decades, however, each of them had broken and had been replaced by a regular nut and bolt.  This setup was difficult to remove with the old spring in the way, and would be virtually impossible to install with the new, tighter spring there.  So I found a reasonably close u-nut replacement at the hardware store:

Close, but no cigar

These are similar, but too long.  So I used my bench grinder to knock about a half-inch off of the bottom of the clip and hammered them onto the control arm.  After a few minutes, I noticed a distinct “campfire” smell in the garage, different than the “hot metal” smell that had accompanied my grinding efforts.  I poked around the grinder and found that a spark had landed on a cotton buffing wheel on the bench.  It was only smoldering, but I’m glad I caught it before it potentially burned down my garage.

With that disaster averted, I slid the shock up into place, tightened the bolts down, positioned the new spindle in place, and torqued the castle nuts on the upper and lower ball joints.

Real, actual progress

Next I’m going to transfer the tie-rod bracket from the old spindle to the new one (something I wasn’t expecting to have to do), pack and install the wheel bearings, and get the rotor and caliper mounted.  Spring is coming, and I’m anxious to get the car back on the road – and it’s actually cooperating now.

As Seen on Craigslist – 1968 El Camino

Ah, the infamous “pictures don’t do it justice” caveat.  In this case, does that mean the car/truck looks MORE like something the cat in the hat would drive?  I mean, the El Camino already has an indelible trailer park air about it; can you imagine the looks you would get driving a blue one with primer polka dots and a black hood?  And I know orange is the traditional color for Chevy engines, but could that shiny tangerine lump look any more incongruous with the technicolor mess around it?  Add that to the fact that you apparently need to cut a notch in the seat in order to shift into second gear (check out the shifter knob resting against the seat bottom)… wait a minute – is that an orange ’79 Dodge Aspen in the background of the third picture?  OK, I’m done.  Any person that has a rusty polka-dotted El Camino and an orange Dodge Aspen is undoubtedly a serial killer with the most magnificent mullet you’ve ever seen.  If you call on this car and end up in a hole in this guy’s basement, slathered in shea butter, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Disc Brake Project – Slow and Steady

When I last left off, I was complaining about flare wrenches.  That apparently angered the tool gods, as I spent at least an hour shortly after that wrestling with a frozen brake line that threads into a junction block on the inside of the frame.  The location of the line is such that I had about 15 degrees of rotation on the wrench before I hit either the frame, the exhaust, or the starter motor, and there wasn’t enough room for a pair of vice grips.  Once again, my attempts at using my flare wrenches resulted in nearly rounding off the nut.  I ended up using a pipe cutter to sever the line just above the nut so I could use a socket wrench and about three feet of extensions to break it loose.  With that accomplished, I also installed the new lower control arm bushings and ball joints, and they are now reinstalled on the car.  Up next, I’m going to reassemble the passenger side springs, shocks, upper control arm, and spindle, and then I can actually install the new brake parts.  The driver’s side will have to wait, as the upper control arm is still on backorder.

Meanwhile, I needed a 12″ section of brake line to replace the line I had cut.  Of course, the original line had two different ends on it, so I was also going to need an adapter of some sort.  I stopped at Autozone after work to return some rented tools and pick up the new line, but they only had an 8″ piece and a 20″ piece in stock.  I didn’t want to bend the longer piece to fit, so the next day I ran to a small independent parts house – literally a former residence that has been converted to a store – just up the road from my workplace.  The shop floor consists of an area about the size of a porch, maybe 6 feet deep by about 20 feet long bisected by the counter.  There was a older gentleman in a rocking chair in the corner and a bearded 40-something man behind the counter, and the paneled back wall was covered with antique oil cans, signs, and specialty tools.  It was like I had stepped back in time 50 years.  I showed the counterman what I needed and he disappeared into the back for a few seconds, returning with the right length line and the correct adapter fitting.  While I was waiting, another customer walked in, greeted the elderly man by name, grabbed the only bottle of car wash on the shelf, and waited in line behind me, which meant he was nearly standing outside.  The counterman totaled up my purchase (which wasn’t any more than it would have been at Autozone) by hand on a carbon receipt and made change with a wad of cash from his pocket.

Now, a piece of brake line and a fitting isn’t a tough order, but I can guarantee that the guy behind the counter is more knowledgeable and friendly than the recently-former burger flippers that typically populate your average retail chain.  He also has the benefit of not having to sell air fresheners and stick-on plastic chrome bits.  Am I going to shop there every time I need something for one of my cars?  No, but I’m going to make a point to stop in there more often.  Is it the right place to go for everybody or every need?  Of course not.  Like all independent retail stores, it might be a dying vestige of a bygone era, but I’d like to think there’s room for both mega-chains and old fashioned, mom-and-pop stores in the marketplace.  Whether it’s a small auto parts store or your neighborhood hardware store, go there the next time you need something.  I guarantee you’ll see something you won’t see at Home Depot or Advance Auto Parts – even if it’s just an elderly man in a rocking chair.

As Seen on Craigslist – 1967 LeMans

This guy is a born salesman – between the “Time to GO – GO FAST” introduction and the “Not all original, BETTER than original” pitch, he has the wink and nod act down to a T.  Unfortunately, I fail to see how a car with faded paint, mismatched wheels, a dented rear bumper, and an engine, transmission, and rear end of indiscriminate origin make it better than original.

Of course, I could slap my wheels and bumper on this thing and have what looks to be a pretty straight upgrade from my current ride.  I don’t like the vinyl top (and God only knows what kind of rust monsters are hiding under there), and it’s considerably overpriced in the current market (I passed up a similar four-speed ’67 LeMans with perfect black paint and a 455 for $11k in 2007 – not because it was overpriced, but because I couldn’t afford it), but for a few grand less it might be worth it.  The seller’s used-car salesman vibe is still a red flag, though.

Give Me A Wrench Long Enough…

I was helping my mom clean out my grandparents’ house last weekend (they both passed away in 2008, and it’s past time to sell the house), and I stumbled across this clipping:

The man wielding a wrench approximately as long as I am tall, while atop a monstrous piece of equipment, is my grandfather.  He worked for the BF Goodrich tire company in Akron for 30-odd years, although I have no idea when this picture was taken.  Judging by his appearance, I’m going to guess it was sometime in the 1950’s.  Goodrich is now a chemical company and no longer in the tire business (the name is still used as a brand of Michelin), but at one time it occupied 27 buildings just south of downtown, using the tagline “See that blimp up in the sky? We’re the other guys!” Decades of pounding across those acres of concrete floors as a maintenance supervisor destroyed his knees, but he was proud of his time there.  Say what you will about the slow death of American labor and manufacturing and the remaining pollution and decay in the rust belt, but there’s a sense of place and identity that comes from creating something that gets lost when someone else does the creating.  Anyway, I think I’ll laminate this clipping and tape it to the inside lid of my toolbox, which contains the vintage tools that I inherited from him.  If I had that wrench, maybe I’d be farther along on my projects.

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