. . . While you Wait

I sent a photo of the brake line mis-match to the seller and got a quick response: “We’ll make it right.” All the lines, old and new, went into a box and in the mail. They should be delivered to the dealer tomorrow. Having the new ones in my hands within the week is unlikely, but possible. In any case, I have a week, probably two, with the car on jacks, brakeless.

Toys to keep me occupied.

The forced downtime and some found money mean I can play a little bit. I ordered up some replacement skirt pins and seals (Someone apparently threw the old pins away! Who does that?) and bought a car audio system.

I like the look of the car without the fender skirts, and I’ll admit to a little worry about theft in keeping the skirts on. But at the moment, the skirts have no real home and it’s just a matter of time before they go crashing to the floor from some high, teetering, “temporary” storage place. Better to have them on the vehicle.

The old AM radio in the ‘Bird still works. With an aftermarket antenna on the car, it is able to pick up exactly one station, a local news outlet. I’ve heard enough reports on local fires (“I can see smoke coming from the building!”) and am dying for something more upbeat. I don’t want to cut up the interior, so after a great deal of thought, I’m planning to mount the head unit under the passenger seat. I’ll control it, somewhat blindly, with a remote. For the speakers, I’m borrowing an idea I saw in college and used in a truck I had years ago: loose speaker enclosures.

Speaker Enclosures
Speaker enclosures, in the rough.

Most modern car stereos have removable faceplates that connect via a simple 20-pin plug and socket. I spent quite a bit of time in the last few days looking for a cable that would allow a remote installation of the faceplate from the unit itself, but no such thing exists. On-line, I saw that a few folks have soldered network cabling to both ends, but the end result looks more experimental than functional. If I can figure out a way to do a remote mount, the ideal location for the faceplate would be in the center console “glovebox.” For now, anything would be better than another local fire report, so I’ll start with the unit under the seat and keep looking for a remote solution.

Lastly, a colleague on the VTCI forum solved a long-running idle problem I’ve had. He suggested, and I completely agree, that the idle is poor when the engine is hot due to fuel vaporization in the carburetor. He used a Holley heat shield to solve the issue on his car, and I’ve ordered one as well. In addition, I picked up a good used water jacket / carb spacer to replace the clogged up one I’m using.

Fun stuff, but what I’d really like are shiny new brake lines that fit.

So Close

I opened up the left rear brakes on Sunday to replace the wheel cylinder and pull the brake line from that side. As predicted, the wheel cylinder was leaking, though not badly. Too bad, too, because of the four, this was the only brake assembly actually put together correctly.

Left Rear Brake
Well, at least one was put together correctly!

Getting the wheel cylinder and line out were straightforward. I was even able to remove the fitting from the wheel cylinder–a nice surprise. The shoes on this wheel were labeled “relined” and were a little glazed over: more proof for my theory that the rear brakes are dragging a bit.

No telling, though, when I will be able to test the theory, as the replacement lines I have are clearly wrong and completely unusable. An email sent to the retailer on Sunday has gone unanswered, so far; though they have never been quick on the reply.

Right now, I’m planning to see if I can get the lines I need custom bent by a local shop and simply return the unusable lines. If they can promise a quick turnaround on the replacements (looking unlikely) I’ll take that option.

Old vs. New Brake Lines
The old and new lines, side by side. Not quite.

Wrong Turns

It was a beautiful fall day yesterday, perfect for crawling under the car and continuing the re-plumb of the brake lines. The right front line was already replaced, and I wanted to see what the rear brakes looked like. So, I jacked up the right rear and set to work.

Right Rear Brakes, Reassembled. Correctly.

With the rear drum off, I found what I had seen in the front: brakes that were almost, but not quite, assembled correctly. In this case the parking brake link was in backwards and the helper springs were the wrong size. The springs were so loose, in fact, that I could remove them with my fingers.

Since I’ve had the car, I’ve experienced an odd “dragging” sensation when the car is cruising at speed. I blamed the carburetor for a while, thinking it must be a surge of some sort, then the transmission–who knows what ills are hidden in there? But I never had a satisfactory answer. Weak springs and dragging rear brakes could be it. Could also explain those frequent trips to the gas station.

Old vs. New Wheel Cylinders

I replaced the wheel cylinder (It seemed fine, but this is a complete brake restoration.) and reassembled the brakes, correctly this time. Like the front wheel brakes, the fittings for the brake lines were completely frozen. Since I had new lines waiting in the wings, I took a single stab at taking it apart and when that failed, just cut the lines.

The brake line distributer sits to the right of the differential, making one short and one long run to each wheel. Disturbingly the replacement short line was labeled “left” when it should have been “right.” Even worse, the long line was labeled “right” and for an earlier model year Thunderbird. (I didn’t catch that when I took them out of the box.)

Old vs. New, right brake line. Uh, not quite.


I was working on the right side, needing the short line. Sure enough, the length was right, but the line was bent as if it were feeding into the distributor from the left side. The longer line, when I tried to match it up, was completely wrong. It bent down where it should have gone up, and there’s no bend at all where it should turn into the distributer.

I ordered these lines on-line over the summer and waited over three weeks for delivery. Returning the lines and waiting for replacements left me with disturbing visions of the car up on ramps through October. Then again, I’d hate to ruin these line trying to straighten and re-bend them, then wait additional 3 weeks for lines that I would have to pay for twice.

Left brake line wants to go under the differential. Pretty sure that’s not right.


Today’s goal is to fix up the left rear brakes (I’m pretty sure they are in the same shape as the right.) and pull out the line on that side. After that, I’m not so sure yet.

Life with an Old Car

I had the unusual experience of using the Thunderbird to retrieve parts for another car yesterday. We were just doing regular maintenance, but for the moment at least, the Tbird was the only running car in the household.

For the past few weeks, the ‘Bird has been running so well that I have been loathe to tear it apart, even though there are projects ready to go–the parts are even sitting on the workbench.

“Running well” doesn’t mean that the Thunderbird has been problem free. I learned the hard way that an erratic gas gauge is sometimes worse than no gas gauge at all: I ran out of gas at the local supermarket last week. The gauge showed just under a quarter tank–a place it sometimes rests even when the tank is full.

After shopping, I was able to start the engine, but it stopped right away. I was lucky that the car was parked and I was close enough to home that I could walk there with the perishables. By the time I came back with a gas can, the place was packed, people were circling the lot looking for spaces and a restaurant right by the car had a long line of waiting customers outside the door. So, I had quite an audience while filling and starting the ‘Bird. By the time I backed out, there was a very impatient person waiting for my spot.

It wasn’t more than a day or two later that we had a brief freak rain shower while I was out driving. I was dismayed to see the wipers struggle half way up the windshield, then completely give up the task. By the time I got home, the rain had stopped. I took the wiper arms off, put them back on and they worked perfectly. Perhaps they only work in dry weather? It doesn’t usually rain here until October, so I’ll have to wait and see.

I have noticed that except for the initial purchase price, the cost of ownership is about the same monthly outlay as a car payment. There have been moments, most recently at the supermarket, when I’ve been sorely tempted to make loan payments instead of parts purchases. But, last Friday a guy walked by my house, stopped by the Thunderbird and said, “What a beautiful car! Can I walk around it and take a look?”

Yeah, it’s worth it.