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Cars > TomHughes’s Garage > Blog


Racing In October

By TomHughes

Filed under: /blogs/browse/t/vehicle/v//p

It's not actually racing - my wife would never let me do that. It's a High Speed Track Event. A chapter of the Corvair club is holding one of these at Summit Point's Shenandoah Circuit on October 13. For $180, I’ll get a full day’s of driving. There’s no instruction included, but I can do ride-alongs with experienced drivers and maybe get one to be brave enough to ride along with me to give me pointers. The good thing about this group is that their rules are a little less stringent than the CarGuys. The only thing I must do to my '63 before I can take her on the track is install one of the 5-point harnesses I’ve got. I found another guy racing a ’63 ‘vair, and he sent me the attached pictures of his harness mounting setup. I am SO psyched.

Bad Bearing in the '61

By TomHughes

Filed under: /blogs/browse/t/vehicle/v//p

Before Ariel left for college, she told me that he '61 was making a rumbling sound and vibrating. The other day, I drove it to work and confirmed something was amiss. With a little diagnosis, I was confident it was a wheel bearing. Starting at the front, I found that the right front wheel had some play. Cleaning off the grease and metal powder from the outer bearing exposed one of the bearing’s cylinder had pitted. All the other parts got thoroughly cleaned and the assembly was put back together with a spare bearing. All’s quiet and smooth now. I dearly love easy fixes.

Attacking the Gas Tank

By TomHughes

Filed under: /blogs/browse/t/vehicle/v//p

It's really past time for me to replace the leaking gas tank in the '61 Corvair. Every time my 18 year-old fills the tank she gets a heavy smell of gas. Fortunately, she never has enough money anymore to actually fill the tank so it hasn't been a problem. She'd already prepped a used tank by cleaning the inside and coating the outside with POR-15. A couple days ago, I got out the can of tank sealer and coated the inside surfaces thoroughly Got a bit of a buzz from breathing the fumes even though I had two fans going and the doors and windows opened.

After letting it cure for a couple of days, I installed it. Not a fun job – lying on my back, crap falling into my face, cramped quarters, hoses and fitting needing to be put on in a specific order and at a specific time (and I don’t do it often enough to remember what that sequence is). The tank I pulled out had a couple of pin-holes in the top, which is why you’d only smell gas when the tank was filled.

The '64 Is About To Be Gone...

By TomHughes

Filed under: /blogs/browse/t/vehicle/v//p

... with my eldest daughter off to St. Mary's College of Maryland.

A summer of reliable, fun driving for her - at least a couple thousand miles worth on the rebuilt engine, and it's coming to an end. She leaves for school this week. She and I came up with a list of stuff that needs addressing on my car before she drives off. She took my '63 his car to work yesterday so I could work on it. I removed the sunvisors so my seamstress wife could re-stitch the failed seams. I also changed the oil and filter, repaired the passenger door panel, re-soldered the failed speaker connection, replaced the glove-box door with one I'd pulled off another '64 Monza, removed the rear seat for upholstery repair (she'll be without it for at least a month or so), replaced the front plastic emblem, and duct-taped the rear ducting that had disintegrated (that explains the weak defroster)

It's All About Priorities

By TomHughes

I got the ’66 'vair into the garage and promptly buried it in stuff. My current car list of priorities is:

-The 64’s interior (some trim/stitching is coming loose and needs to be addressed)
-The 64’s exterior (need to do something about rust - POR-15 for now – and need to put trim back on where the bodywork was done due to collision)
-The '63 new front suspension (it’s all painted and ready to put together and install)
-The Suburban’s intake manifold gaskets (yeah, I still haven’t’ done that, but the coolant leak is sooooo slow, I haven’t need to make it a priority)
-The PT Cruiser's tune-up (the odometer’s almost at 50k)

Then I can turn my attention to the ’66.

After-Inspection Report

By TomHughes

Filed under: /blogs/browse/t/vehicle/v//p

I took a closer look at my new '66 'vair last night and found some Bondo. Mostly in the floors, but some elsewhere. I’m not complaining since it appears that the rusting has stopped for the most part. I’ll do the bodywork and shoot the paint. The color is something I’m struggling with. It’s got a tan and gold interior so that limits me. I want to paint it a light, non-metallic color, and, according to the rest of the family anything brown (including beige, gold, etc.) are NOT acceptable. I’m leaning towards Datsun 918 Orange. What do you think?

The car currently has only two hubcaps – neither showed up well in my daughter's photos. I want to stay with the poverty cap look. Here’s what the appropriate hubcap is supposed to look like.
Hope I’m lucky enough to find four decent ones. Haven’t put the call in to the Corvair Ranch yet, but I haven’t finished making and prioritizing my list.

My Youngest Corvair

By TomHughes

Went and got my new '66 Corvair last night. The Suburban flat-towed it home without incident. My 11-year-old took some pictures. It's got some rust-repair and a couple of spots of rust-through, but for the most part it's a good, solid start for my first late-model. It's going into the garage until after I'm done making the modifications to my '63. Then I'll try to get it roadworthy as quickly as possible. I'm dying to feel the difference of the Corvette-based suspension.

Another Corvair for Me

By TomHughes

Remember I blogged about the pair of late-models on the Baltimore Craigslist - the ones I couldn't afford. During last week, while I was spending the week at a camp, I got an e-mail from a fellow Corvair club member. The gist of the message was that he’d bought the two and “wanted to talk to me about them in detail.” As soon as I got home on Saturday I called his house. When his wife passed him the phone, he greeted me with, "free Corvair dot com" and he asked me if I wanted the ’66 for FREE! His son really liked the other one, and since he got a great deal, he now needs someone to get the primered one out of his driveway. He knew I wanted a late-model, so he offered it to me. Without hesitation and with great gratitude I told him I’d take it. It’s also got an automatic and the low-horsepower engine in it, but that means I can safely run 87 octane gas. From the picture I’m almost certain it’s a 500 model (entry-level = bench seat, rubber floor mat, dog-dish wheel covers). All cool stuff for me.

Odds and Ends

By TomHughes

Completed the refinishing effort on the '64 front suspension that I plan on installin in my '63. This will get me the anti-roll bar and I'm putting in the quick-steering arms I bought from a 'vair buddy.

I've got the wheels installed on my '63 now. The car has got exactly the stance and look I've always wanted for it.

A Pair of 'Vairs ....

By TomHughes

... and the price is right.

A pair of late-model Corvairs has shown up on the Baltimore Craigslist. The price is $1500 for the pair and the low-resolution pictures don't show any rust. I called the guy and one's a manual transmission and the other's an automatic. I checked the bank account, but there's not enough there to even make an offer. The seller's unwilling to separate, so it looks like some other lucky person will snag these.

Need to Catch Up

By TomHughes

I couldn't believe that the entire summer has gone by and I'm quite a bit behind on my blogging. Time to catch up. I'll be backdating these for continuity.

A weekend full of activities was highlighted by, car-wise: cleaning/fixing the EGR valve on my '94 Suburban; swapping starter/solenoid between the '61 Corvair and the '63 to fix the '61's non-starting issue - seems to work so far; installing new valve stems on the 280ZX wheels - the junkyard tires hold air. Now all I need to run the new wheels is a set of lug nuts. My cubicle-mate at work is getting me a set at a good price because his dad owns a tire/wheel business.

Sandblast Cabinet Frustration

By TomHughes

The other night I was going to sandblast suspension parts for my ’63 Corvair. I hauled out all the stuff – took me 20+ minutes to set it all up. Started blasting and got nothing. I discovered a hole had blown out in the side of the valve at the nozzle. Put it all away and pulled the valve off the assembly to replace. Irrr.

Refinishing Nissan 280ZX Wheels

By TomHughes

I’m finally completing the refinish of my Christmas present from my lovely wife – 280ZX wheels for my ’63 Corvair. This is what they looked like before I got them.

The past few nights I’ve been polishing them, and last night I sprayed them with clear acrylic from a rattle can. I’m a little disappointed the finished product is more flat-looking than I’d hoped. The upside is the one wheel that still had its clearcoat intact now looks much closer to the others.

I discovered that I really need to use stepped lug nuts like those that came with wheel. They are stepped to fit the counterbores in the wheels. The originals had a metric thread (12mm X 1.25 pitch), so they won’t go on the GM studs (7/16-20). It looks like I’ll need to buy new ones.

Can't Leave the Other Two Corvairs Out of the Fun

By TomHughes

After fixing the problems with the '61, I had to give equal time to the other two. With all the light issues on the ‘61, I decided to check the lights on the ‘64. I discovered at some point I’d removed the two front blinker lights and just left the sockets out. I can’t remember doing this, but I guess I didn’t have replacement bulbs at the time, and then forget to buy and install them. Since I was on a deadline (my daughter needed the car immediately), I walked out to my ‘63 and “borrowed” the two bulbs from her.

Then it was time to work on my ‘63. After running to the auto parts store and getting light bulbs and installing them, I decided it was time to do the cut-off front coil spring and shock absorber swap. I used my cutoff wheel to remove a coil from each of the two front springs I’d pulled off the 4-door I parted out. Thanks to air impact wrenches (those darn 45-year-old nuts and bolts), I got the front end disassembled enough to remove the coil springs without breaking a single bolt. Starting at 3:30, I had everything back together by the time B got home from work at 8 PM. The front sits lower and I like the look. The new shocks are adjustable and I set them on Extra Firm. This morning’s commute seemed slightly stiffer.

It’s Smart (and SAFE) to Read the Directions

By TomHughes

Or in this case, the shop manual. I didn’t really want to publish this account of my stupidity, but it might stop others from making the same potentially dangerous mistake. Being an engineer there are times when I shun using the manual. After this experience, that won't happen nearly as often.

About 2 weeks ago, Ariel told me that her ’61 had lost dash and dome lights. I immediately assumed it was a problem with the 47-year-old headlight switch and I performed the same fix I’d done on my ’63 Corvair – splicing a wire into a wire of the dash light circuit and connecting the other end to a switched 12V tab on the fuse block. Bingo, instant dash lights. However, every time the key was turned ON, so were the dash lights. Dash lights all the time are better than none of the time.

What I didn’t realize (and would have had I referred to the wiring diagrams) is that by powering the dash lights the way I did, I screwed up my tail light circuit. When the key was on, so were the tail lights, but as soon as the headlight switch was pulled, the tail lights went out. Not good unless you’re trying to run from the cops which Ariel would never do. So Ariel was driving around at night without tail lights. Fortunately, a Good Samaritan pulled up next to her Saturday night and informed her of the issue.

This time I pulled out the shop manual, reviewed the wiring diagrams, and discovered that there’s a separate 12V line coming into the headlight switch that powers the tail, dome, and dash lights. I tested the switch and found that, lo-and-behold, it worked perfectly. I confirmed the orange wires were in fact dead, so I moved the splice from the dash light wire to the orange wire and moved the other end’s connector from a switched contact on the fuse block to an un-switched one. All the lighting works perfectly now.

While I had the car in the garage, I pulled the air cleaner assembly and found the expected puddle (about a tablespoon) of oil in the bottom of the right-hand air filter housing. I knew the blow-by hadn’t magically gone away, but we’ll live with a losing quart of oil every three weeks (as opposed to every 2-3 days like it used to be before the seal replacements). Next I pulled the six spark plugs and found the right-hand side’s three were oil-fouled. After a thorough cleaning on the wire wheel and checking gaps, the plugs were re-installed and everything else put back in place. She started right up and idled nicely before being backed out into the driveway and put back into service.

I'm Going Through Withdrawal

By TomHughes

It's been a couple of weeks now since I've had to add oil to any of the Corvairs. Putting new main seals on the '61 has reduced its oil consumption significantly. It's still got some blow-by, but my daugther has put a couple hundred miles on the car, and the dipstick reads about a 1/4 qt above add. I can live with that.

The oil level on the '64 (new pistons, rings, seals, etc.) hasn't budged and my oldest daughter has put a bunch of miles on the engine since the partial rebuild. Now that I consider the engine somewhat broken in, I made some adjustments last weekend - idle speed and throttle linkage. She just informed me this morning that the car's never run better.

Finally, my '63 was leaving a small oil puddle occasionally. I traced the problem to the oil filter bolt not tightened enough.

All is good. Thank You Lord!

Many Hands Make Light Work

By TomHughes

This weekend I drug my dad, Ariel and Victoria (daughters #2 & #3) out to the garage to tackle main seal replacement of Ariel’s ’61 Corvair. After an early dinner, the car was in the garage and up on jackstands. By 10 PM, the drivetrain was out and the transaxle was removed. The next morning, I was in the garage early and had the front seal replaced and the bellhousing re-mounted by breakfast. After eating, my dad and I had the rear seal replaced, the transaxle re-installed, everything else bolted back on the engine, and the drivetrain back in place by lunch. Then by 2 PM, everything was hooked up and the car was back on the ground. This was the quickest engine remove, repair, and reinstall that I’ve done. The result of all this should be a significant reduction in oil consumption and puddle size.

And through it all my eldest daughter’s ’64 kept running great.

Will I Jinx the '64 by Taking the '61 Off the Road?

By TomHughes

Even though my eldest daughter continues to tell me her car (the '64 Corvair) is still running nicely and I've confirmed it's oil level hasn't changed since the rebuild, I'm scared to pull my second daughter's '61 Corvair off the road. I need to replace the front and rear seals and the gas tank. I'm afraid that as soon as the drivetrain is out, the '64 is going to have a problem. Things will get very interesting if that happens since we'll have four drivers needing to get to-and-from work and only three functioning vehicles. I guess if worst comes to worst I can ride my bike to work.

Update: '64's on the Road

By TomHughes

Just got a message from my eldest. She filled the her '64's tank with 93 octane and says all’s well. “Sounds a little higher pitch than last night” (higher idle speed). Thank you Lord – so far.

The '64's Back on the Road ... And I'm on Call

By TomHughes

Last night I poured half a bottle of octane booster into her ¼ tank of gas and bumped the timing back to 4 deg. BTDC (it was at GM's spec'd. 13). I let her idle until the chokes were fully opened and adjusted the idle speed (which had dropped with the retarding of the timing). Drove her around and still heard the dieseling sound, but it was very faint. It occurred even at idle, so I’m still not sure it was pinging. Anyway, I put my eldest daughter behind the wheel and we took it out for a longer test drive - out and onto the beltway and back home. By the time we got back into the driveway, the bad sounds were even fainter. With the timing retarded, she was down on power, so I bumped the timing up to 9 degrees and backed the idle speed down to 600 rpm. She held idle, and after one more test drive I pronounced her fit to drive (or fit to give me more fits). I asked my daughter to only put 93 octane in her for the next few fill-ups and use the rest of the octane booster in the next tank-full. I’m hoping it’s just a tight engine needing to loosen up some. Only time (and miles) will tell.

Another Possibile Explanation

By TomHughes

My cubicle-mate (another car-guy) says it sounds like the timing’s too advanced. The diesel sound I’m hearing is extreme pinging not loose bearings. The new, tighter engine is more susceptible to detonation. I’m going to get some octane booster on the way home. I'll also reduce the timing. I’m hopeful, but becoming skeptical that it’s nothing that easy.

Frustration Mounting

By TomHughes

I took a few hours this morning to finish rebuilding and installing the carbs on the ‘64. Guess what? It didn’t fix the problem. It seemed to take longer before the engine started sounding like a diesel and tightening up, but it still did. It looks like it’s a bearing issue, but gosh the carbs sure look nice. I’ve got some options now.

1. Tow the car to the Corvair mechanic this weekend and let him listen to it.
2. Don’t wait and pull the top cover off with the engine in place and inspect the bearings.
3. Say, “screw it”, and yank the drivetrain and put the borrowed one back in after replacing the main seals and o-rings.
4. Say, “screw it’, and pull my nice-running ’63 off the road and swap it’s engine into the ‘64 so my daughter can drive her convertible this summer. I’ll just drive the Suburban until I can resolve the engine issue.
5. Say, “REALLY screw all this”, and sell all the old cars and be rid of the greatest source of frustration for me.

Busy Weekend Again

By TomHughes

Saturday morning I took the ‘64 out for a test drive. She pulled out of the driveway and went down our street nicely, but on the way back up the hill, I had to floor it and then she died as I was backing her into the driveway. I was barely able to get her started (the starter was really laboring) and backed in before she died again. I went back to the engine and saw gas vapors rising from the right carb. I took a wrench and turned the engine and when a valve opened on that side lots more vapor came rising out. I let her sit for a few hours and then came out and she started right up, idling nicely and revving easily. I think the carb was flooding that side to the point of nearing hydraulic lock.

Yesterday morning I met some Corvair club guys for our caravan up to the Corvair Ranch. It rained part of the time, but finally cleared out by 2 PM so people could walk the yard. The food was great and there were some REALLY nice ‘vairs in attendance. One ’66 coupe set up for racing was up on the lift so we could check out all the suspension and drivetrain mods up close. I bought a seat for the ‘61, a bell-housing gasket (next project is replacing that car’s crank seals), and two carb rebuild kits for the ‘64. Was home by 4 and got one carb rebuilt and the second one started by dinnertime.

Found the Problem

By TomHughes

Success! It was ignition. The condenser wire was broken at the terminal. I only made the discovery because I'd left the dust cover off, and when reinstalling I discovered the break. Certainly wasn't looking for it, and I'm not sure how long it would have taken to get to checking it. It was dangling close enough that it would make intermittent contact. New condenser, and all runs smoothly and the engine revs freely. Didn’t have time to take it for a drive.

Engine Rebuild - Somthing's Amiss

By TomHughes

Actually ran the engine in the ’64 last night. Primed the oil system until the TEMP/PRESS light went off. Hooked everything up and turned the key. Since the carbs had gas in them, the engine started right up and idled, but the idle speed loped and it was louder than I'd expected. I assumed lifters needing to pump up, so I let it run. After a couple of minutes of idling, I started to rev the engine. It wasn't real responsive, and wouldn't rev very high (should have put the tach on to check rpm). Occasionally, it would backfire loudly. After running about five minutes, I shut it down.

Tests done so far: I thought vacuum leak, so I sprayed carb cleaner at the base of the carb - no change. Pulled all the plugs and checked compression getting the following readings: 1=135psi, 2=150psi, 3=140psi, 4=105psi, 5=120psi, 6=150psi. Dwell is at 32 deg. Timing varies between TDC and 16 BTDC and sometimes there's a miss.

Drivetrain Swapping

By TomHughes

Saturday morning my eldest daughter and I were in the garage by 9:30. We had the engine out by the time she had to leave for a job interview at noon. After creative usage of floor jack, tranny jack, 4X4s, and bricks, I had the rebuilt engine off the engine stand and onto the ATV lift. A couple hours later I had the front seal replaced and the differential and tranny bolted to the bellhousing. Next up was rolling the drivetrain into position and jacking it into place. That was complete when she got home at 3:30. She and I worked to finish reattaching everything on the underside before it was time for me to quit to get cleaned up to take L out to dinner. We’re down to a short length of rubber gas line, the two smaller wires to the solenoid, and one of the heater hoses and it’ll be time to take it off the jackstands.

Back in the Garage

By TomHughes

Spent some time in the garage last night. Seems like forever since I worked on a car. I pulled the bottom shrouds off of the ‘61 for the summer and manually closed the heater door since the lever inside the car wasn’t pulling far enough. Then I changed the oil in my ‘63, pulled its bottom shrouds, replaced a couple of headlight adjusting bosses, and aimed the brights. Friday night my eldest daughter and I will start the drivetrain swap on her car.


By TomHughes

Yesterday I stopped in at the local Advance Auto (FLAPS – and that’s for Freakin’ Lame Auto Parts Store) to buy another case of 30 wgt for my daughters’ thirsty cars (call them oilaholics). While I was there, I asked the counter guy if they sold wheel studs. He said, “Yes – what car?” “A 1968 Corvette,” I told him. “Nice car” he replied. If only he knew I was putting them on a Corvair, but then he would have to know what a Corvair was.

Been A While

By TomHughes

Last night was a car night. I put a replacement brake switch in the ‘64, washed and waxed my ‘63, and swapped the ‘61’s and ‘64’s tires back. Interestingly, I discovered the left front wheel hub on the ‘61 had a little play, so I tightened the castle nut one slot – the other side was fine. Then I started working on refinishing the Nissan wheels for my ‘63. Broke out the 400 grit wet sandpaper and got through phase 1 on a couple of the wheels. I’m not going to be able to make them perfect, but from 10 feet they’ll look awesome. Phase 2 is 1500 grit, then 2000, then polishing with the kit I bought at Charlotte, then clear-coating.

Putting an Engine Together

By TomHughes

On Friday evening, I changed my mind about the weekend’s project. My 18-year-old (the ‘61’s driver) needed to drive places on the weekend, and I remember I’d disabled the ‘64 the other day by removing her brake switch to replace ‘61’s failed one. So, Sat. morning I stopped by Advance Auto and borrowed their valve spring compressor. The project was rebuilding ‘64’s engine – something I’d told my eldest I’d have done before she got back so she could drive her car. I assembled the head I’d had the Corvair Ranch re-guide after lapping the valves. They did a great job cleaning the head, including the combustion chambers. I also cleaned out aluminum flashing between the fins – something GM never did a very good job of. Then it was time to remove and replace the old pistons/ring with the new pistons/rings and their bored and honed cylinders. That went pretty well considering I’d never done it before and you’re working in a confined area – the rod bolts face sideways so access for the socket wrench is pretty limited. Then getting the caps off was a pain. Not having been able to start the work until 2 PM, and with a break for dinner, I was happy to get the rotating assembly work done and the new head assembled before it was time to quit for the day. Yesterday I got out to the garage around 1. First up was cleaning the combustion bowl of the second head. It was one of the one’s I’d already torn apart and rebuilt as part of ‘64’s ring job last summer, so it only had about 1k miles on it. Got it installed on the engine. Then I discovered I’d forgotten to install the push-rod tubes. Irrr. The bottom head nuts had to come back off (two at a time), the tubes installed, and the nuts torqued back on. That set me back about an hour. After a break for dinner, I was able to get the sheetmetal installed. The only significant thing left to do is adjust the valve lash. I need the new harmonic balancer I ordered before I can do that since I’ve got to set the crank at TDC before I adjust the rocker nuts. I bought it last Monday and it should be here any day.

Cars > TomHughes’s Garage > Blog

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