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.)


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.

Off and On Again

I hopped in the ‘Bird a couple of weeks back for a routine trip—the store, maybe, or perhaps out to a restaurant. I left in daylight, returning after dark. All was well on the way out, but coming back, the instrument panel lights failed to come on when I turned on the headlamps.

I see this problem all the time on T-Bird forums, and the suggested fixes always center on the light switch, grounds or aging wires. I did the usual thing—twist the light switch, turn it on an off a few times, swear under my breath. No dice. They were off and staying off.

For the driving I do, mostly close to home, it’s annoying, but there’s not a lot of need to see the gauge. It is, though, difficult to to know if I’ve hit the right gear in the dark. I drove it for a while in this condition, frequently at night, surprising  myself a bit each time I turned the lights on: “Oh yeah, gotta fix that.

It’s a simple circuit: power to the switch (which is relatively new), through a variable resistor, then the fuse, then the bulbs, finally to ground.


I pulled the switch earlier this week and hooked it to an ohm meter. It worked perfectly, reading from no (or hardly any resistance) to 100%. Reinstalled it, turned it on. I was working in full sunlight, so hard to tell, but it appeared that the lights were still out.

I ran a ground wire to the negative battery terminal. (Taking a few minutes to clean up corrosion on the positive side. Wow, that stuff develops fast.)I found a blown fuse and thought “Aha!” but it was for the back-up lamps. I replaced it, for what it’s worth, and put that circuit on the “projects for another day” list. I checked for power at the correct fuse with a test lamp, and it also tested fine. It even dimmed properly when the light switch was turned.

Well, with power at the fuse, the lights should work! I put the car in the garage, pulled the switch, and sure enough, they did. At least for now. All I can figure is maybe there was a loose connection at the switch; pulling it and plugging it back in perhaps got things connected again.

Now, about those back-up lamps . . .

Solenoid? Solenot!

There was an unusual moment with the ‘Bird last week when the car failed to start. Odder still, because I wasn’t there at the time. (My son had the car, which is another story.) A jump across the solenoid was enough to get it running and home again, where I experienced the issue firsthand.

New solenoid
New solenoid wired up and ready to go.

Early on, I was going through solenoids like crazy. When they went, there would be no power to the car anywhere. This time, turning the key to start activated some systems (the seat belt warning light for one) but not the starter. Other stuff worked too—lights, radio, etc.

I replaced the solenoid; simple to do and cheap enough. I even replaced the aging connectors with new terminals, soldered in place. The result: no change. I was scratching my head until someone suggested fiddling with the gear selector.

The neutral safety switch!

The gearshift trick didn’t work, but I got a hand on the switch at the base of the column and pushed on the connector. It seemed tight, but it felt like the switch had been stuck—at least it felt like it snapped back into position while I was feeling around blindly. I also pulled the wiring out from under the carpeting and inspected it. Whether it was a stuck switch or a loose wire, when I turned the key again, the motor fired right up.

Flattening the carb
Sandpaper, glass, table saw. The metal on the base is very soft, took no time at all to make things better.

Cleaning out the garage last month, I came across the Autolite carb I had planned to use a year or so ago. Thinking I had nothing to lose, I pulled it apart and got some advice from the friendly folks on the VTCI forum. Working with them, I found that the baseplate was warped and there were serious defects around the seal for the secondary venturis.

I was able to patch the secondaries with epoxy putty, then used sandpaper on a flat piece of glass to flatten and straighten the base out. Once I dig up the ancillary pieces (linkage, choke tubes and the like), I’ll take another stab at installing and running it.

Summer Tweaking

New cigar lighter connector. I also tapped into this circuit for the "clock" feed to the stereo head unit.
New cigar lighter connector. I also tapped into this circuit for the “clock” feed to the stereo head unit.

Summertime is drive time, even here where the weather is almost always nice. I haven’t been on any really long trips with the Thunderbird, but have had numerous runs in the thirty to fifty mile range (including one to look at a 1962 F-100 I eventually bought), and the car has run superbly—no overheating, odd noises or hiccups whatsoever. I feel like I could drive it as long as I please; a nice feeling when I look back at where this all started.

However, even on short trips it was hard not to be annoyed by a few loose ends not wrapped up in the spring, so I took some time this weekend to tweak a few items.

First was the cigar lighter. When I put the dash and console back in, the push-on power lead wouldn’t stay in place. It was just worn out, I suppose. I finally cut the old connector off and soldered on a new fitting. Two screws and the assembly was back together. I don’t smoke a lot of cigars in the car, but it is nice to have a way to charge up the phone, especially if I am going any distance.

A little shocked at how easily this went back together.
A little shocked at how easily this went back together.

The second item was a piece of unfinished business courtesy of the glass company that sealed up the windshield a few months back. They left out a screw in the trim piece above the driver’s side window, which allowed the plastic trim normally hidden underneath to droop. I put this off because sometimes taking the trim apart just makes things worse. After a while, though, the sag was obvious, embarrassing and rapidly getting worse. After removing the trim, the plastic internals went on with little trouble. I was surprised to find that the trim went back on easily—I even found a decent replacement screw in my box of spares.

This coming fall I expect to tackle suspension, front a rear. The car rides ok as it is, but rattles and squeaks beyond all reason.

Rolling Again

I took last Wednesday off and devoted it to a final push. My goal, get the car back on the road. I started the morning with a helper, bleeding the brakes (yet again—more on that later) then started wrapping up loose ends: the last valve cover, engine compartment braces, hooking up the heater control cables, etc. I also welded spacers and bolts to the driver’s seat brackets to make the installation easier and a little safer.

Permanently adding a spacer and bolts to the driver's side seat brackets.
Permanently adding a spacer and bolts to the driver’s side seat brackets.

Since I was about to hide all the wiring behind the left radio access cover (necessary to support the ignition switch), I spent some time wiring up an aftermarket stereo. It requires one always-on power lead and another from a switched source. I took the hot lead from the cigar lighter and looked for the feed wire powering the existing radio. The wiring diagram says it is blue/yellow, which I found, but I couldn’t confirm that it had power. Instead, I tapped into the power feed for the heater blower motor.

To test the power leads, I had to hook up the battery. I was the first time in months the car had seen power, and it was nice to see at least part of the car come alive. The turn signal was ticking and the blower motor came on, as did the courtesy lights–all good things. (Though I spent a few minutes pondering why I couldn’t turn the courtesy lights off until I realized that the light switch must be in the on position.)

The lower valence of the dashboard on the driver’s side is probably the most puzzling part of the whole assembly. It took me a while to line everything up and get it screwed down—it didn’t help that a lot of the screw holes have been stripped over time. In the end, it was not difficult once I figured out how it all tied together.

Passenger side, all buttoned up.
Passenger side, all buttoned up.

For difficult, the clock pod takes the prize. I did that earlier in the week, and it’s a four-handed job: one to hold the pod in place (and not scratch up the newly-painted dash), two to connect the many wires that feed into it (and don’t have a lot of slack to them, either) and another to get the screws started. Four screws hold the pod on, each threaded into a blind “speed nut.” The nuts in the back holes don’t have much metal to clip to. Three times I tried to get one of the rear screws threaded on, and three times the nut slipped off its mount and fell into the recesses of the dash. Finally, I decided that three screws was plenty and another attempt was only likely to cause damage, especially in the mood I was in.

By the end of the day Wednesday, the carpet was fully trimmed and the driver’s seat was in. I only had time to sit there for a moment, contemplating, before other responsibilities called me away.

Friday afternoon, I was able to install the steering wheel, spray a shot of starting fluid into the carb and turn the key. Happily, the engine fired on the first try. I backed into the driveway where spilled brake fluid burned off the exhaust for a while. None of the new gauges registered at first, except the ammeter. Once I got down the road a block, the oil pressure gauge came to life and the temp needle crept up a bit. The gas gauge never moved, but it may just be stuck from non-use.

The shakedown run was very short and slow—the brakes were mushy and the pedal was right down on the carpet. Clearly, there is either a lot of air left in the system or something else is amiss. I am considering having the brakes professionally inspected and bled.

Duct, Duct . . .

I still figure to be about two weeks away from backing down the driveway.

The three remaining ducts, all with some problem or another
The three surviving ducts, all with some problem or another

Space in the garage is gradually clearing out as parts are being assembled, but the real change will come when the dash goes back into the car. That monster has been lurking in the garage for far too long–as has the old doppelganger, which is heading for the scrapyard when this is all done.

Moving the old dash around the garage, I managed to damage both the defroster ducts, which were made from cardboard originally, but have transformed into a brittle, crumbly substance. The new dash had one duct left on it, also damaged. Reproductions are produced, but they are about $100(!) new, about a third of that for good used, so I’m making an attempt to restore what I have. They are hidden, so don’t have to look pretty.

A little paranoid about moving the wiring from one dash to the other.
A little paranoid about moving the wiring from one dash to the other.

My initial thought was to reinforce the ducts with fiberglass and resin–which would probably work, but I was steered in the direction of epoxy instead of resin, potentially thinned down with acetone. In theory, it will penetrate the old cardboard and bond better.

The same person also directed me to TAP plastics for materials. I stopped by to get some epoxy in bulk and discovered it was a DIY candy store: full of tools and materials for projects I hadn’t even thought of yet. I left with epoxy . . . and a few “extras.”

Over the last week the new dash was painted/dyed, the instrument cluster was installed and the stainless trim was snapped back on. I also pulled the wiring harness off the old dash. I will replace the light bulbs and repair the wiring at the alternator gauge, then tap into the harness for power to a modern radio/head unit. With the restored ducts and the replaced wiring, the dash will be ready to go back in the car.

Masking, dying and painting the dash.
Masking, dying and painting the dash.

Paint and Polish

The clock pod pieces, waiting for reassembly--in the right place an correct order.
The clock pod pieces, waiting for reassembly–in the right place an correct order.

Since my last post, I’ve finished up the final bit of welding on the passenger side floor pan. There’s normally a little smoke after welding, but when I finished up the plate on the tunnel, smoke continued a little too long. Investigating, I found a nice fire going up by the transmission. Apparently, there was quite a lot of grease and oil built up in the transmission tunnel. and the heat from welding was enough to light it up. Luckily, I had the foresight to keep a bucket of water handy. A wet rag quickly doused the flames.

Completing the floorpans was a huge milestone. A day or two after they were done, I was able to pick up the dashboard, clock pod and other miscellaneous parts from the body shop where they were painted. They did an excellent job with the paint and even though the vinyl shows its age, the dash looks relatively fresh and new.

Restored Clock pod
The finished clock pod. Upside down, but you get the idea.

I set about reassembling the clock pod first. I have two of these, so I used the best parts from each, polishing and cleaning as I went. The best chrome pieces on hand still have a bit of pitting, but the finished product is far better than the original.

I was very pleased with the way the instrument cluster and speedometer came together as well. Again, it’s not perfect, but with the restored numbers, new paint, decent chrome, and  unobtrusive upgrades (like repainting inside the pods), the finished product has the feel of almost, but not quite, like new.

The speedometer and instrument cluster mated together again.
The speedometer and instrument cluster mated together again.

This week’s challenge will be removing the wiring harness from the old dash, restoring it (there are some cut wires and other issues) and installing it in the new location. After that, I’ll need to figure out what to do about the defroster ducts, which were made from cardboard. They were very fragile and were damaged while the dashboard was moved around my shop. I don’t think they are reproduced, so I will need to fabricate some kind of replacement.

At this point, it appears that I am about three weeks away from my first drive in months.