Semi-Sprung

I took advantage of a lazy Sunday afternoon to finally crawl under the back end of the ‘Bird and attack the leaf springs. I’d had penetrating oil on the shackles and pivots for about a week, but it’s hard to say if that helped or not. In any case, I was able to move the bolts on the shackles with some effort using a breaker bar. (I tried an air-powered impact wrench, but it didn’t have enough power, sadly.)

The passenger side leaf spring, liberated.
The passenger side leaf spring, liberated.

The three bolts for the rear bracket—like so many on this car—are awkward to reach, but were not difficult to turn. There are four very large bolts holding the bracket at the front, and they gave me a bit of a scare—I thought I felt the tell-tale pop of a caged nut breaking free on a couple. (Always a disaster!) That was not the case, fortunately. With the last front bolt, the spring came off gracelessly, in a shower of rust and dirt.

Disassembly of the spring was pretty straightforward after a glance at the drawing in the manual.

The mounting pads: old vs. new.
The mounting pads: old vs. new.

I had ordered new bushings for this project well over a year ago (maybe two, even…) and it was quickly clear that I got the wrong type for the front eyelet and the bottom of the rear bracket. These are now on order. Unless there is a surprise waiting on the other side, I should be able to get both springs done in less than a weekend.

Before I can test drive it, though, I’ll need to swap out the fuel pump (the new pump is already on my bench) and reinstall the spacer under the carb. Hopefully, I can carve out an hour or two for that sometime this week.

Start and Stumble

Pretty sure I shouldn't be able to pull it apart like this.
Pretty sure I shouldn’t be able to pull it apart like this.

It only took a few minutes to swap out the old positive battery cable, despite the limited access on the solenoid side of things. After I removed it, I was able to pull the old cable right out of the fitting by hand, so it had clearly gone south.

The good news is that the car started fine. I drove it across town on a few errands. In the beginning, the only oddity was the Amp gauge swung way over on the charge side—where it stayed the entire time.

Sad to say, though, the engine stumble (which I thought might be related to the battery connection) was just as bad, if not worse, than before. I had trouble holding speed on the freeway (especially when the engine was hot), and on a cruise through the countryside, any acceleration or load on the motor was met with a cough and sputter.

Charge!
Charge!

Back home, I could see that there was a lot of air in the fuel line, so I suspect a failing fuel pump—probably the 4th or 5th I’ve gone through. I’ll get a replacement on order.

With the pump issue sidelining the T-Bird, I put it up on jackstands so I can replace the bushings in the rear springs. By a stroke of luck, while looking for my jackstands(misplaced when I moved), I found the studs I need to get the phenolic spacer back under the carburetor.

Jacked up.
Jacked up.

So—I’ve got a bit of work ahead of me: springs, pump and carburertor. With summer fast approaching (It was almost 80º here today!) I’ll need to move quickly.

Battery and Deception

We’ve had a break in the rain, and I’ve been driving the T-Bird with some regularity. It’s performed well, starting normally—hot or cold—and running nicely. People still point, stare and wave, which is always nice. I can’t say for sure if the starting issue I had was the carburetor or the bad rotor/cap, but I lean towards the ignition system as the cause of those woes.

The only issue I’ve experienced was an occasional surge or stutter under hard acceleration. I chalked it up to an out-of-tune motor until yesterday: I had parked briefly to do some shopping, but when I got back in the car and turned the key there was nothing—no starter, no click and no power to anything.

I popped the hood, gave the battery a hard stare, wiggled the cables and got back in the driver’s seat. The stereo was back on, in demo mode, and a turn of the key started the motor right up.

The offending cable.
The offending cable.

The drive home was an adventure. The occasional surge and stutter was now constant and I could barely get the ol’ Bird over 45 on the freeway. I left it on the street in front of my house for a while, the garage being otherwise occupied. When I went to move it that evening, I again had no power until I wiggled the positive battery cable. (The hard stare being optional, apparently.) It’s tightly affixed to the battery, but the actual wire appears to have come loose from the connector.

I new cable should fix the starting issue, but I’m not sure if an erratic connection like this is the cause of the engine stumble.

Re-Acquainting

I spent the day running errands in the T-Bird today, and it was like getting back together with an old friend.

An old friend that always seems to need money, that is.

I took the car to the self-serve car wash (still cleans up nice), a longish drive on nearby country roads, then a series of errands around town. I never had trouble starting it, no matter how long—or little—it sat, so I’m ready to declare the starting issue resolved (until proven otherwise).

Atop Sycamore Drive
Atop Sycamore Drive

It’s been some months since I drove the Thunderbird regularly, and I was a little shocked how poorly I remembered driving it.

How could I forget what a blast it is to drive? If I didn’t have one, I’d have to get one. Second: holy crap, this car needs some suspension work.

And, aren’t these carpets practically new?

It’s time to get busy.

A Run in the Rain

Earlier this week I anticipated some “Thunderbird time” coming up and put a trickle charger on the battery. In theory, the motor was ready to go—I just needed some fresh amps in case a lot of cranking was necessary.

The rain didn't help rinse the dust off the car much.
The rain didn’t help rinse the dust off the car much.

As it turned out, the motor fired up on the second try. My son, under the hood with the starter fluid when it caught, had me shut it right down though—there was a fast gas leak at the inline fuel filter. While twisting the line to pull it off the carb, it came partly unscrewed. (On a side note, it’s probably time to ditch this stupid thing. I don’t need it as a filter and it’s a potential fire hazard.) It took just a minute or two to tighten it up.

I started the motor again, fiddled with the idle screws a bit, pulled the bird from the garage and parked it at the curb. The power steering fluid had pretty much all leaked out and the windshield was opaque with dust. As I poured in some Type F, it started to rain. That took care of the windshield, so we were off.

Running in the rain, I got to test everything: brakes, steering, wipers, defroster, radio (to drown out the wipers)—the works. I thought I detected a minor hesitation once, but it didn’t recur. So far, though some minor tuning is probably in order, I was happy behind the wheel.

Back in the garage, I shut it off, waited some 15 minutes for a full heat soak, then tried to start it again. No troubles at all. I’ve seen this before, of course; the next few drives (at least one to the car wash!) will be the real test.

Cough and Sputter

The bird ran reliably for a couple of years with a phenolic space under the carburetor body. I took that spacer out earlier this year, but thought it best to return to the “last known good” setup. I searched around my shop for some 20 minutes, finally turning up the spacer and some gaskets, but not the long studs I needed to complete the installation.

Since we moved, searching around for things (and never having them turn up) has become a way of life. I gave up on the studs after looking in all the obvious places (and some not quite so). For now, at least, the I’ll have to do without the spacer.

The carb reinstallation was routine; the hardest part being the fuel line, which is getting rigid with age. I gave the carb a couple of shots of starter fluid, turned the key . . . and, well, it ran. Sorta.

Broken rotor
Not entirely sure how this could happen, but there it is.

A month or so ago, I started the car to move the it out of the garage. After an overnight battery charge, it fired right up and ran normally while I backed it out (and again when I drove it back in that evening.) Now, with the carb rebuilt, it barely ran, and as the choke opened, it ran even worse, finally sputtering and quitting.

I was able to restart it a few more times, but it coughed and backfired, completely refusing to idle, almost as if the . . . timing . . . was waaaay off. But that couldn’t be, could it?

I pulled the distributor cap, just out of curiosity, and was a little shocked to find that the rotor had somehow snapped, cocking the lead enough to point at the wrong cylinder, but not  far enough off to keep the motor from running at all.

I had run out of time for the day, but I have a spare rotor and cap. (And I’m pretty sure I know where they are, too.) If I get a chance tomorrow, I’ll install them and try the motor again.

A Ten Letter Word

Ready to rebuild
A clean place to work

Sometime around mid-summer, I took the ‘Bird for a short errand—about a mile, maybe two—parked it for about 5 minutes, then came back and tried to restart it. Frustratingly, I found myself once again cranking and cranking with nothing to show for it. Finally, I walked home in defeat. Later that evening, when the motor was stone cold, I went back, and it started up at the first touch of the key.

I can’t rely on a car that will only start when cold, so for some months now, the T-Bird has been parked, and I’ve been driving my truck, which is even older that the car. It has its issues, too, but it at least it starts reliably.

Before I forked over $300 for another carburetor—and I’m pretty sure this is a fuel-related problem—I bought a rebuild kit for the Edelbrock. Last weekend, I finally cleared a spot on the workbench, pulled the carb off and set to work.

The kit I got was very complete. It had a variety of gaskets for different Edelbrock models and included a new, metal accelerator pump

Old gaskets
Some of the gaskets in the primary circuit had delaminated and were difficult to remove.

The worst-case scenario here is tearing into the carb and finding nothing wrong. Everything looked pretty clean inside, but I found two potential issues: the wrong gaskets under the primary venturies and no clips connecting the needle valves to the floats.

I don’t think the gaskets were a big deal They’re either original or were part of the last rebuild kit I used, and the car ran fine with them for some time. The missing clips I can’t explain—I really don’t know how long I’ve been running without them.

While I doing the final adjustments, I could see that without the clips, the needle valves didn’t always release properly when the floats dropped. It’s entirely possible that the valves could stick when hot and starve the motor of fuel, so perhaps this is the solution I’ve been looking for.

The carb is ready to go—I’ll install it early this week and try a couple of test runs.

Edelbrocked Again

I swapped out the Autolite for the ol’ Edelbrock yesterday, and what a relief to have a working carburetor again. The motor fired right up, and settled into a nice idle. I’m not the greatest tune-up guy in the world, but I re-set the idle adjust screws, checked the timing and went for a test drive.

So far, so good. A hot start 15 minutes after the drive was normal. Ninety minutes later, the car started as if cold. (That is, on key-turn.)

Nice.

The coil was never the issue with the hard starting, but I'm leaving this installed. Not sure if the ugly is offset by performance gains. Maybe a coat of black paint would help.
The coil was never the issue with the hard starting, but I’m leaving this installed. Not sure if the ugly is offset by performance gains. Maybe a coat of black paint would help.

Aside from the powdery crud and varnish in the carb, I noticed that the check valve under the accelerator squirters was stuck. It’s hard to say for certain, but I think the failure in that circuit is what lead to the starting issues—pretty sure it was completely congested.

I’ll need a few more drives before I’m fully satisfied that this is the fix, but now I’m confident enough to put the car back on the road. We are moving to a new house 40 miles away, so the first order of business is to get the car to its new location under its own power.

Despite being close by, the new town gets much hotter in the summer. In swapping the Edelbrock back in, I left off the phenolic spacer I was using. I originally installed it while struggling with fuel delivery issues caused by a crushed fuel line. Fuel starvation symptoms are much like vapor lock, thus the spacer. Whether or not I really need it, the coming summer months will tell.

4100 Fail

Many people are able to run the original 4100 Autolite carb on their ‘Birds, but I’m not destined to be one of them.

Checking the float level on the 4100 as a last resort.
Checking the float level on the 4100 as a last resort.

I swapped out the phenolic spacer, replaced the studs and mounted the 4100 just as it came from the factory. The results were identical to the earlier attempts: the engine would start easily, but would only run at very high revs. It ran slightly better with the idle adjustment screws run all the way out—and not at all with them most of the way in.

All the evidence points to a vacuum leak of some sort, but after all the time and energy expended—flattening and repairing the base, repeated disassembly, etc—I still have no idea where the leak(s) might be.

The oily goo coming up out of the main jets
Oily goo coming out of the main jets

So, I’m done with it.

I’ll donate the carb to my son’s shop class where it can spend the remainder of its years as a learning tool.

Turning my attention back to the Edelbrock, I turned it over trying to remove the check valve only to discover a thick, oily substance oozing from the main jets (and a few other places). Since there’s no way this could be actual oil, I’m assuming it’s some kind of gasoline residue—how or why I don’t know.

Parts of the carb are soaking in cleaner. The seals and gaskets look good, so I’ll try a clean-and-reassemble before I fork out money for a rebuild kit.

More Carburetor Roulette

I’ve been struggling with very hard warm starts the past few months. It first, it was a fairly uncommon event, but lately I’ve been unable to start the car when it’s warm except with great difficulty. Last week, after a short 3-4 mile trip and two hours sitting in the parking lot, I cranked for 2-3 minutes with no result. I finally more-or-less flooded the carb by continuously pumping the pedal to get it running. It fired up eventually, but with enough white smoke out the back to worry the local air resources board.

Well, the car is hardly usable if I have to let it get ice cold between starts. (Cold starts are easy–go figure!) So, I took the car out of commission, pulled the Edelbrock off and—after hunting around in the garage for the miscellaneous small parts I needed—installed the Autolite I worked on a while back.

Mismatched carb stack
Phenolic spacer (yellow part in between) doesn’t quite fill the gap.

Starting it up yesterday, I found the same difficulty I had before. It runs, but only at high throttle. I sprayed a little starter fluid around the joint between the carb and the spacer, and it definitely has a huge vacuum leak there, which seemed a little odd since I just flattened and cleaned up the base.

Looking more closely, I noticed that the phenolic spacer I have under the carb is not a perfect match with the base of the Autolite. I haven’t pulled it off yet, but I’m betting that air is getting past the gasket where the carb overlaps the spacer.

Beaches in the carb
A little hard to see the details, but there are beaches forming in both bowls.

I don’t want to cut down the mounting studs I have (in case I reinstall the Edelbrock) and I couldn’t locate any replacements yesterday, so this project is still in the works. I’m hopeful, though, that I can get the Autolite working this week.

Oh, and the Edelbrock? I pulled the top off it and found bowls full of fine sediment. Chances are the whole carb is clogged up with this stuff! Given that there’s a massive paper filter in the fuel pump (or is there?), I have no idea how this happened. I’ll be installing an inline filter this week too, I guess.