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.

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