Chapter 5 addendum: There’s a mouse in the house/muffler

Thought I’d do a quick non mechanical post, which gives a bit of an idea of some of the weird expeiences you have when restoring a barn find car. I went out to the shed last night to have a look at what was involved when removing the tank and made a discovery. The shed floor under the car was covered in newspapers and bits of plastic. Eh

Some poking and prodding revealed the cause. Going by the age of the newspapers, a mouse in the late 80s made the vals muffler a home.

Going by his dessicated, tutenkahmen mummy like appearance he died some time ago. I gave him a belated viking funeral when I started the old girl on the weekend.

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Hey...Deng Xiaoping died

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Rip Val mouse

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Chapter 5: IT’S ALIVE…IT’S ALIVE

So finally, after working towards this moment for a month, I hooked up a heavy duty battery, turned the ignition and…the val started!

But firstly, an update from last week. I managed to get some quality time with the val over a few late nights and a weekend, which enabled me to put in the prep work required prior to turning the key in anger. Some heavy duty scraping with a razor removed most of the dessicated 47 year old gaskets from the thermostat and waterpump mounts, and they were mounted with new hoses without issue. I’m a little bit concerned about the water pump, as it did weep a little once I filled the system with water, but I had been quite conservative with the mounting bolt torques, so nipped them another quarter turn and all seems ok so far. I need to talk to a Val expert about the lower radiator hose too, which seems to foul on the fanbelt unless it is tied back.

An oil and filter change was next, and a new chrome dipstick (Ted Bullpit style) was added seeing as the original didn’t have a dust cap. I now had a dirty, oily, rusty slant 6 with some nice shiny bits hanging off it. Things had been pretty sluggish electrically when I used the jumper leads last week, so I took all the terminals off and cleaned the cables and mounting points with a wire brush, then chucked in a massive 750CCA battery. I figured that I might be turning this old girl over for a long while and would need the big capacity.

With the fuel line disconnected and the spark plugs out I gave the starter a quick test and the motor turned over strongly, much better than last week. Good. Next up was fuel. I was a little concerned about the very elderly juice that had been sitting in the tank for 30 years, and removing the cap revealed a pretty nasty varnish smell. I borrowed a handy little snake cam from a mate who builds racing engines to have a look see inside, and it revealed a pretty ugly sight. Most of the tank walls were covered in a black scaly crud, the remnants of the old evaporated fuel. Sucking fuel out of this tank was going to be a no go unless I wanted to clog the new fuel filter I just added in 5 minutes. I resolved to drop and clean the tank later, but I was itching to get the Val started, if nothing else as a bit of a moral boost after a month of not much. I figured the best course of action was to remove the fuel line at the pump, and run a line into a small container of fuel (aka, an empty beer stubby). A quick suck at the carby end of the fuel line primed up the pump and line, and I was good to go.

Just to kick things off I primed the float bowl with a cup of juice. I then made sure the 100 tools I had sitting in the engine bay were clear of the fan and belt, opened a beer, and stuck the keys in the ignition…paused a beat…then let rip.

The starter whirred strongly. I pumped the accelerator twice and…VROOOM! First attempt the mighty slant six burst into life! I couldn’t believe it, I was set for the long haul thinking a distributor overhaul was probably on the cards before I coaxed life out of the donk. But no, here she was, a motor that hadn’t even been turned over in nearly 30 years running strongly. I let out a big “WOOOO” and took a drink. 10 seconds of holding her at a fast idle and I released the accelerator, and the beautiful old donk sat there idling peacefully, maybe a bit less refined than the day it rolled off the line in South Australia, but still pretty nicely. Now for the next test, I got out and moved a few things out of the way, jumped back in the drivers seat, trod on the clutch and snicked her into first. Easing out the pedal resulted in the car moving under it’s own steam with no complaints! Heaven! Back into reverse, and I rolled her back into the shed nicely.

Youtube of startup

All in all a raging success. No rattly big ends, no noisy tappets. After a brief, light smoke smelling richly of fuel from the exhaust, probably from the excess fuel I poured down the carb, there was no noticeable smoke hanging in the shed. The start up revealed the odd expected minor issue, the flange at the base of the exhaust puffed a little bit and will need a bit of attention but all in all, very happy.

A monumental achievement for me met with little excitement from Anna,

“Oh that’s good”, was about all I could extract.

Seeking some validation I quickly rang my Val loving brother in law who was excited as me to hear that she was going.

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Got the headlamps working too. I call this my Christine shot

So I now have a car that actually runs. Now I need to stop her. The brakes are non-existent currently, mainly due to a bone dry master cylinder…hydraulics don’t work so well without fluid. Given this lack of fluid, the greenish tinge around the filler port, and the stripped paint on the firewall underneath the cylinder, I’m guessing it has a rather large leak in the seals. Given it’s age, and the fact brakes are rather important, I am going to shoot the MC off to a brake specialist to get it rebirthed with a rebuild and stainless resleeve. It’s less than 200 bucks so worth it for peace of mind. While that is going on I will probably drop the fuel tank and work on cleaning that out, and maybe whip off the drums and see what the linings are like.

Chapter 4: Awakening the beast

One of the frustrations of owning a 50 year old car,let alone one of a brand that hasn’t been manufactured for over 30 years, is that you can’t exactly go down the local Repco and pick up a water pump. I was getting itchy feet waiting for my cooling system gear in the post, so set to work on other tasks that would need to be addressed before I could fire the old girl up.

Before sticking in a nice new water pump I figured a good flush of the cooling system was in order. One of the nice things about the slant 6, is that it has a handy block drain plug to facilitate the task. Unfortunately mine was covered in decades of muck and oil, and I figured it probably had never been removed in the life of the motor. It was also a square headed plug and I had a bugger of a time finding a tool to fit. I eventually relented and pulled out the 12inch shifter, which to my amazement removed the plug with ease. A little too easy it seemed, and I was a little dismayed to see about the back half of the plug completely devoid of threads, they’d simply corroded away. I then stuck a hose in hole left by the removed thermostat housing, and was surprised to not see the a stream of water exit the block drain. A quick poke up the hole with a bit of wire met resistance very quickly, the hole was well and truly blocked with rust. A good 5 minutes of poking later, and finally I broke through and was met with a stream of water. I imagine it is still pretty nasty in there as there is only so much an external flush will remove, but hopefully it was better than nothing. Thankfully the ugly looking block plug wound straight back in with no issues, although a mental note was made to purchase another. It’s a 4 dollar part on the fantastic online Val store. They’ve thought of everything.

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The badly corroded block drain plug

Next I thought it wise to check something else that may come in handy when it came to turn the Val over, the electrics. The car came sans battery so I had well and truly gambled on them being ok. I figured the easiest way to check was to park up the Commodore at the door of the shed and hook up some jumpers to the terminal cables. This was a bit of a worry, what would I find once I introduced actual power to an electrical system that had been hibernating since “The Uncanny X men” were riding the top of the charts? Would my pride and joy spontaneously catch on fire? Or maybe almost as worrying, would absolutely nothing happen. As mentioned previously, I am not a mechanical genius by any stretch, but I know even less of the black art of electrics.

Snapping on the jumpers didn’t result in any visible smoke signals, first hurdle cleared. I figured the next thing to check would be the accessories. Unfortunately on turning the Pentastar stamped key to the on position I was met with perhaps what I dreaded nearly as much as an impromptu viking funeral, absolutely nothing. No radio, no overhead light, no headlights, no dash lights, no brake lights.

Bugger.

My first efforts at trouble shooting, wiggling the jumpers around, yielded nothing.

Bugger. Dammit, first hurdle and I had failed dismally. I was thinking of complete re wiring, new starter motor, new everything. I was going to be broke at the end of this. The one saving grace of a ’66 Valiant is the electrical system is…simple. First effort was to trace the terminals back to their connections on the car, positive to the starter and neg to the block. I then rolled the car forward a foot or so to give me the slack required and hooked up the jumpers to the connections, bypassing the somewhat dodgy battery leads. As I pulled my head out from under the bonnet I was met with a beautiful sight; near my knees was a mournfully blinking front indicator, like an automobile version of an ECG, we had a heartbeat.

Turning the key to on still resulted in… absolutely nothing, but I had an interior light and brake lights. But I had no headlights, no dash lights, no radio. Refusing to give up, I twisted the key back to off, then on, then off, then on. My old man used to have a Ford Trader truck of a similar vintage back on the farm, and that key took about 5 turns before it would work, most likely due to a dodgy connection. I was hoping this was the same. Sure enough, on the 4th or 5th turn, there it was, the oil warning light shining on the dash. Never has a warning light been so welcome. The fuel gauge crept up to a quarter, nice. Even if the car never ran I had maybe 10 dollars of 30 year old super to somewhat recoup my losses.

I’d come this far, why not see if the starter would turn over. Obviously with no spark plugs or water pump I wasn’t going to be able to fire it up, but at least I’d be able to see if the starter worked. Turning the key resulted in a loud “CLUNK”, and a shake went through the whole car. Again…”CLUNK”. It seemed the starter was engaging but there wasn’t enough juice to turn it over.

It was getting late and I couldn’t be stuffed removing the terminals and cleaning the rust off them, so I figured I’d start the commodore to get a few more amps to the jumpers. “CLUNK”. Bugger. One more time.

“CLUNK….RRRrrr”

ITS ALIVE! A full second or so of cranking, very slow sluggish cranking, but cranking all the same. I sat back happy, looking at the cheery little red oil light and feeling another step closer to success. I have put the sluggish response down to my cheap jumpers and heavily corroded leads and terminals on the Val. Hopefully with a nice new battery, leads and clean terminals I’ll have a nice strong crank.

But that’s for next time. Meanwhile my water pump and associated bits have arrived so they’ll hopefully go in this week. I’m somewhat held up as domestic duties call, in that I have been ordered to paint the nursery. Hopefully I can fit in a couple of late night tinkering sessions, aided by the nice new LED work lamp I grabbed on the weekend.

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We have a heartbeat!

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Brake lights!

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A very welcome oil light

Until next time.

Chapter 3. Something corroded this way comes

One of the hardest things to decide with a project like this is where to start. There are were so many things on the car that were screaming for a attention, so I decided to treat it like an emergency room triage. A car that doesn’t move under it’s own power is not a car, it’s a metal box with wheels an a couple of nice seats. So job one was breathing some life back into the dead donk.

I’ll start by saying that I do not have a long illustrious mechanical background. I’m an Environmental Scientist by profession whose only relevant qualifications for this project was the fact I did Home Mechanical Workshop in high school 20 years ago. But i’m always willing to have a go at anything handy, as the numerous projects of varying degrees of success around my house will testify. Give me some tools and a manual and I’ll give it a go. That said, there aren’t many manuals around that will tell you how to start a car that hasn’t run for 3 decades.

Thankfully, youtube is very much to the rescue in this regard. I was quite surprised at the multitude of various southern rednecks who record videos of themselves starting pickups that their Poppy pushed into the barn back in the 70’s. Thankfully I also learned from this research that the Slant 6 in my Val would generally start even if it had been submerged for an extended period in a swamp, my confidence was growing.

One fact that was immediately apparent, even to someone as mechanically illiterate as I, was that to start the motor I would need 4 things, spark, compression, fuel and a cooling system. The cooling system was maybe the first thing that struck me as being totally rooted, and given one of the few repair jobs i had experience in completing was changing out a water pump and thermostat, i started there.

On removing the fan belt it soon became apparent the waterpump was seized solid. But perhaps more damning was the fact the inlet pipe that attached to the radiator hose was completely corroded through. The thermostat housing was much the same, being the thickness of rice paper in the areas that were still present, and not already reduced to white powder. The thermostat? Well there was no thermostat, which i guess was removed at some stage to rectify an overheating problem, a real farmers fix. Every hose and clamp was cracked or ballooned. The radiator looked ok visually, and seemed to hold water, but contained a cupful of crap in the bottom tank. After a good flush I decided to leave it at that for now, but a rodding at the local radiator shop was probably on the cards.

Thankfully parts for these old girls are perhaps easier to come by now than 10 years ago, mainly due to a plethora of online stores that have popped up selling almost every part imaginable. 15minutes of seaching and 180 bucks netted a new waterpump, complete set of hoses, a thermo housing and a new thermostat, plus all the gaskets i’d need to complete the job. Not bad really, and at least now the rusty block would have something shiny hanging off it.

While waiting for the week or so for my parts to be delivered i decided to see if the motor actually turned over or was seized solid. Out came the plugs, and a play with the harmonic balancer pulley yeilded a very solidly locked motor. Some oil down the plug holes (thanks rednecks) and i tried again. This time using a bit more force, i noticed the bumper nudging me in the shins. Silly bastard, I’d left the thing in gear and it was trying to run me over as i turned the crank. Once neutral was engaged the crank turned over like a new one, and with my good mate Adam holding his hand over the plug holes, a good whoosh of air was felt from each pot. The motor was spinning freely and we seemed to have some semblance of compression, maybe this thing was going to run after all.

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A rather sad waterpump and thermo housing

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30 years of corrosion. Note the trick heater outlet blockout bolt. It was only when i saw that that i realised this old girl was sans heater. Heaters are for wusses anyway

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Gabs at the wheel

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Gabs calls it “daddy’s truck”

Chapter 2. Every journey starts with a single step

…or in this case a 100km drive back from Mandurah

So after shaking hands with the reluctant seller Natasha, I then tackled the next rather pertinent problems…how was I going to get this thing from it’s garage in Mandurah to my home in Bunbury over 100km’s away. Additionally, where was I going to park it up while I slowly got it back to a condition where it could be drivable?

The solution to the first problem was a car trailer, something I had had no experience in using but I guess there’s a first time for everything right? Keeping in mind I had an immobile car with a flat tire and no brakes, I was able to source a trailer with a rather impressive winch hanging off the front of it, and through my growing list of Valiant contacts managed to rustle up a spare tire and wheel to change out the flat. A week later I was in the Commodore, stepdaughter riding shotgun and a trailer bringing up the rear, all set for bringing my baby home.

Getting it on the trailer was a breeze with the winch. I simply wrapped the end of the winch chain around the enormous K frame, from which you could have dragged the Queen Mary into dry dock. In the process I was nicely covered from the elbows down in 40 years of oil and dirt. That left the job of tying it down. I’d had nightmares for the last week of my (albeit rusty) pride and joy ending up on it’s roof somewhere down the highway after coming off the trailer. I placed old tires in front of the front wheels, then tied the car on by wrapping 3 tonne tie down straps around a front tire and tying it backwards, and a back tyre and tying it forwards on opposite sides. I’ve heard this is the best way to go about it as it allows the car to ride on it’s suspension. I left the winch hooked up tight to the K frame (despite the hire guy specifically telling me not to do that as it might harm the winch ratchet. Hell if that got damaged I’d buy him the $10 part, I wanted the extra tie down point), as well as tying a spiderweb of ropes aft from the diff housing and forward from the K frame. Whatever I did worked as it stayed on the trailer solid as a rock while the 6.0L V8 in my commodore warbled along all the way home like the trailer wasn’t even there.

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50 years of Aussie motoring

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Note the tie down strap around the rear wheel tied forward. The other side had the same deal on the front wheel, tied back. Worked a charm

First job at home base was cleaning a hole in the shed for the new acquisition to live, a quite challenging task which required the removal of several moving boxes filled with got knows what. Whatever it was had generally had 2 moves without being unpacked and so was deemed expendable, to the tip it went. The Val now had a cosy little space in my shed, with millimetres of breathing room fore and aft and barely a foot either side. Working on it was going to be tight, I steeled myself for the inevitable task of rolling her out every time I wanted to do one of the million tasks that would need tackling. I was going to have to get her running soon, or end up with legs like Arnie from pushing it in and out on a regular basis.

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The old girl in her new home. A tight fit!

It was time to get to work….