Chapter 10: From little things big things grow

Well yep, it’s once again been a long layoff since the last post, and that is mainly due to uni being a time theif and taking up all my available val time (which is pretty limited as it is). But the good news is that uni is finished for another semester and I have a bit of time to mess around with the car again.

One of the things that has been annoying me is the valve cover, its the first thing you see when you open the hood and it (and the air cleaner)  just look really daggy. Given i basically had zero time to do anything recently I figured I would have a crack at restoring them, and use the skills on the various other parts of the car that needed a bit of a renew. The valve cover was probably in the worst shape, I figure the seals at the back of the bonnet must have been letting in rain for a long time as the back of the cover was pretty rusty. Just a quick rub with some sandpaper wasn’t going to do the trick here, so I bought a 80 grit flap disc for the grinder. Those things are great, I can see myself using them a lot in future on this car. They took the rust off with ease, and while the metal still was pretty badly pitted, it came up well enough. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the underside of the valve cover was pretty clean with not too much gunk buildup, I’ve heard stories of taking off the valve cover and still having a solid mass of goop remaining, like a goop sandcastle or Jelly mold. A quick clean in the parts washer at work had it looking like new, well, clean anyway.

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My natty valve cover and air cleaner

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Chapter 9: Release the beast

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White walls all fitted up

Well, it feels like something monumental has happened, a milestone reached, the summit of the hill scaled. The Val finally had it’s first spin on the open road for nearly 30 years, and went flawlessly.

After sticking on Karls tyres I figured a little squirt down the back roads was in order, just to make sure that there wasn’t something obvious that I had missed. Was the gearbox going to shift gears? Was the motor going to cough and rattle under load, was the diff going to let out an almighty whine? Well thankfully none of those things happened. I drove the car smoothly about 5km down the road, and came back with not a worry. Even the speedo worked and showed  that I managed to get the old girl up to 50 mile an hour before I backed off and realised that I still didn’t really have enough confidence in the steering or brakes to be travelling at such speeds.

Everything went very well: The temp needle climbed to 1/3 of the gauge and steadied nicely, and no coolant was seen to be squirting from anywhere, so everything is ok in that regard. The steering seemed nice and tight with no wandering. The brakes…worked, I think that’s the best thing you can say about 4 wheel drum brakes with no power assist. They slowed the car to a stop (eventually) when a large amount of force was applied, which is all this car, which will be treated as a nice sedate weekend cruiser, really needs to get by on. There were no major rattles, whines or creaks anywhere so I don’t think there is much to do in the way of driveline and suspension work. I think I might replace the tie rod ends, which have rotted rubber dust boots, the shocks obviously (which are originals) and maybe replace the rear spring bushings but that is about it. The rear springs have sagged an inch or so, but I think I might just wind down the front ride height (an easy job with torsion bars) to compensate and bring her back nice an level.

 

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Much better stance with the larger tyres

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Gabs enjoying the old girl

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Can’t keep her out of it

Things are a little tight budget wise at the moment with Anna still on maternity leave, so the big jobs required for rego will need to just hang 5 for a couple of months. That said, there are lots of little cheap jobs that I can get started on in the meantime. So far the list reads:

  • Get a temporary transport permit and drive her to the car wash to de-grease the engine and tranny. The leaky valve cover and spark plug tube seals have resulted in a nice thick coating of goop and dirt over the motor. I’m hoping the car wash de greaser soap and a high pressure wash will fix that. Don’t really want it on my lawn/drive.
  • Pull out the old buggered vinyl floors and clean up the floorpan. It still has the beautiful mouse poo smell, and a bit of surface rust. It just needs a good wash out, rough up with some sandpaper and an application of rust inhibitor. Nothing fancy, will all be hidden with carpets.
  • Replace rear spring bushings
  • Replace tie road ends
  • Service universal joints
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First pictures in her natural habitat

That should keep me occupied for a while, and then I need to look into getting a replacement exhaust and muffler. The current equipment is holier than Jesus and makes the old girl sound a bit rugged. I would like to lose the fencing wire exhaust mounts too that rattled every time i went over a bump. Then its new shockies time (maybe gas ones in the back so i can support the saggy leaf springs a bit), and finally just getting the little rust spots fixed up.

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Looking sharp

Now that I know for certain that the car is running nice out on the road, it feels like everything else is easy (even though as a whole it seems a lot of work.)

I took a couple of shots of the old girl down the local beach carpark, which was basically the point at which I decided enough was enough and turned for home. Something that was nice was that I got a few admiring glances while i was out and about. I can’t wait to have her on the road and have that all the time. The other nice thing is that my 3 year old daughter Gabriella loves the car to bits and always wants to just sit in it and play with dad. Unfortunately she won’t be able to come for a ride, even when it’s registered, for years given she needs child restraints by law and the val is sadly lacking them. The time will come though

Chapter 8: The serious stuff begins….soon

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Out in the sun to wash off some accumulated grime

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A nice little touch, the last time the car was rego’ed, well, when it expired anyway

It sorta surprised me when getting into this project how long it takes people to complete car restos. Often you hear numbers like 2 years, 5 years, 10 years….more sometimes, and you think, “Christ, what are these guys doing, turning one bolt a month?”

It’s not until you start one of these things that you understand why. Of course there are the critical path things like waiting on parts, which can be a few days if you’re buying off a parts website and waiting on delivery, to a couple of weeks waiting for an ebay auction to end for that little fiddly bit that you need and is either not available/crazy expensive, or sometimes longer for really difficult parts that need to be fabricated/hunted down.

But, that sorta time spent is nothing for me compared to the time it takes for me to actually get some quality time on the car, and not just an hour or so, a good solid day of work where you can get heaps done. I just don’t get the opportunity to do that. I have 2 great young kids under 3, including my youngest, Nicky at only 5 months old. They always, always have to come first. Then I have to spend quality time with the wife, outings, birthdays, friends visiting out of town, work (obviously), and now, at this time of year uni semester has started (which I have been doing part time for 6 years…seems like forever).

Long story short, it has been 9 months since I bought the car. In that time I have turned it from an old, rusty, oil stained inanimate object that had to be pushed around, and stopped with chocks of wood/bricks due to lack of brakes, to what it is today, and old, rusty, slightly less oil stained object that can actually move under its own power and be stopped by a foot on the brake. I have no doubt that a decent mechanical shop could have done in a day and a half what I have achieved in 9 months.

But, that is the life of the amateur restorer, I work when I can. When the kids are napping, or late at night. After which I sneak in smelling of grease and oil, and grab a late night shower in the guest bathroom, where i can scrub the muck from my hands and under my fingernails so I don’t get divorced from staining the sheets with 40 year old val grime.

So if you ever read this and think “This guy never seems to get anything done” well, that’s why.

Anyway, enough self flagellation, what’s been going on? Well the brakes are done! After starting what i thought would be a couple of week job in October (well actually August, if you count sending the MC off to get rebuilt “brake work”). Here I am nearly 5 months later with operating brakes. The upshot was, after trying to salvage as much of the original equipment as I could, the only real original equipment in the brake system are the shoes (good old asbestos ones, they’ll kill you but they work good) and the metal lines. everything else is new or rebuilt. It’s probably a good thing, the single circuit brakes don’t give you second chances if something pops, so best that what is there is solid and newish.

The work list:

  • Rebuilt master cylinder
  • 3 new flexi lines
  • 4 new wheel cylinders.
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New lines and wheel cylinder installed

Now i haven’t taken her on the road yet, but a push on the pedal will stop the old girl rolling forward after a quick squirt in the backyard, I’m calling it a success. I have now fixed my mind on a “danger ride”, basically a good test drive to try and highlight what needs attention before licencing (lots), and see if there is anything I haven’t already accounted for (I haven’t tried the gearbox out of 1st and reverse for example). In prep for a drive, I changed out the tranny oil. The box was supposed to hold 2.3litres and had about 1 litre left, hopefully some of that has just seeped out the seals while it was in storage so it hasn’t done too many miles half full. I threw some quality penrite stuff at it so hopefully the old girl appreciates my efforts. I also topped off the diff, which belying its oil stained appearance and only took an extra couple of hundred ml, good result. (btw, if you look at one of these old mopar diffs and wonder how the hell you will get the odd looking star shaped plug out, the drive of your 1/2 inch ratchet will fit perfectly). I also chucked some new (er) wheels and tyres on that my VF owning bro in law lent me. While I have those i will rip mine off and get the old tyres peeled off so I can clean the rims up and repaint em the factory white.

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White wall loaners courtesy of my B in Law and fellow Val enthusiast, Karl

The other job i tackled was changing out the 30 year old spark plugs. It was pretty cool to see the old ones were KLG’s. I haven’t seen them for years, and Dad was pretty happy to see them and tell some old spark plug war stories. I replaced them with NGKs, give the old girl some oriental flavour. While i had them out I decided to change out the plug tube seals as well. The slant 6 plugs go down through the head, and are sealed with a little rubber oring, much like the 426 hemi. I like the thought my little 6 banger shares some heritage and design aspects with that beast. I changed them out as they are apparently a big source of top end oil leaks, and my old girl seems pretty typical of that. Hopefully a new set of plug seals and a new valve cover gasket will solve 90% of my oil leak issues. As one of the below images show, the old ones had red paint on them and were probably original equipment.

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The old plugs, installed in the late 70’s most likely

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The plug tubes, new seal and old stuffed one

Now I am working on getting a temporary movement permit this weekend and go for my first spin. Basically in WA you can pay 22 bucks and drive your unlicensed car on the road (for the purposes of going somewhere for repairs, I think i may overlook that bit for now). I must say i am a bit excited, I hope it all goes well and there are no disastrous hidden surprises (3rd gear sounding like 3 nuts being rattled in a can for instance.)

Good show for mopar fans, Graveyard Carz

As a bit of an aside, I’m loving a show called Graveyard Carz at the moment. Follows a bunch of guys who fastidiously restore classic mopars to exact factory specs. It’s great because they go into minute detail on how they do certain bits of the resto which is handy if you’re currently doing one yourself. They’re doing american versions of course rather than aussie vals, but they are essentially the same in many aspects, torsion bar suspension, same electrics etc

These guys do it right, down to getting the correct finish on each bolt and nut, and replacing under bonnet stickers a bit crooked because that’s how they were slapped on in the factory.

Their work speaks for itself

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Has the usual fake melodrama associated with many american auto shows, but it almost seems like a parody in this show. It doesn’t detract from the good work they do. Worth looking up

Chapter 7: Them’s the brakes

Hmmm, No posts in 3 months is a bit slack, sorry about that.

So the brakes on the old girl have been a bit of an ongoing saga. Firstly the fronts got the same treatment as the rears. The drums were again in pretty poor, rusty shape cosmetically so they got a good wire wheel and satin black treatment. The interior again looked reasonably sanitary however I was sceptical the wheel cylinders would have survived in working order after 28 years of sitting idle, and they did look pretty ordinary on the surface. Before buying too many new parts unnecessarily I decided to mount up the reconditioned master cylinder and have a go at getting fluid to the system. I figured anything that was stuffed would leak like a sieve and I would go from there.

The manuals I have are all pretty clear when it comes to bleeding the air from the brake system:

  • Fill the master with fluid,
  • go to the furthest wheel from the master (the right rear) and attach a clear hose to the bleeder,
  • have someone step on the brake,
  • crack the bleeder until fluid comes out,
  • close the bleeder,
  • foot off the brake,
  • rinse repeat until all the air is gone from the clear line.
  • Do this for the rest of the wheels

Which in theory, yes, is the way to do it. But in an empty system you really have buckleys of getting the fluid through the system this way, or at least if you do, it will take forever. I also didn’t have the luxury of a brake monkey to step on the pedal for me. After a few hours of frustration, which resulted in exactly no fluid being exuded from the bleeders, I gave up, thinking either my new master was borked, or I’d need to invest in a fancy vacuum bleeder, which sucks the fluid through the system from the bleeder.

Talking to a mate at work, who is basically the car whisperer, he said to stomp on the pedal about 50 times, or at least until you feel some resistance before even touching the bleeders. Sure enough, a bit of rapid stomping gave me a bit of pedal, and using a bit of pipe wedged between the seat and the pedal (redneck style), I was able to start going back to the bleeder and actually getting some fluid to flow…wooooo! It was a tedious process stomping the pedal, crawling under the rear to crack the bleeder, closing the bleeder, crawling back out to work the pedal again and repeat, however it worked and I soon (after an hour of pretty hard work) had all the air and chocolate coloured ancient fluid out of the rear lines. Even better, seemingly no leaks!

Onto the fronts and I immediately realised I was going to have issues when the first fluid to come out was not the nice thin fluid expected, rather a thick black ooze that came out in popping spurts. Investigation revealed it was deteriorated rubber in the fluid. The cause? Maybe the deteriorated seals out of the old master cylinder? Or more likely, the old rubber flexible lines had started collapsing internally and needed replacing. Sure enough, with some more bleeding the flexible hose developed a pretty nasty leak where the hose fitting met rubber.

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The leaky front brake line. Also highlights how rusty the fittings were. The flare nut wrenchs did the trick on all of them though

No drama really, I was expecting to have to replace them anyway, and a quick ebay got me a complete set of Aussie made lines for under 100 bucks delivered, front and rear. I figured I better have an internal inspection of the wheel cylinders given they were most likely full of crap and old rubber too big to pass through the bleeder. I was half confident the wheel cylinders would be salvageable with a clean out, hey they weren’t leaking fluid right? As soon as I took the first one out however I knew they were all toast. The cylinders weren’t leaking because they were all basically  solid lumps of corroded metal! Brake fluid is unfortunately hygroscopic, so if a car sits for any length of time the brake fluid becomes pretty corrosive and this is what happens. As you can see from the pics there was absolutely no coming back for these babies. In the bin, more ebaying, 4 new wheel cylinders for about 80 bucks delivered.

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A typical example of the corroded wheel cylinders

At least now I have a basically new master, new flexi lines, and new wheel cylinders. The only thing retained is the hard lines, and they seem pretty ok. The braking system should be almost as good as new. I had a few issues replacing all this gear, which is probably expected on a car this old (and it all looked like original equipment). The first issue was disconnecting the old flexi lines which were pretty solidly rusted to the hard lines. There is no way you can undo these with a normal open ended spanner so don’t even try if you need to do it yourself. You’ll round off the bolts (and probably bark a knuckle or 2) before you move them a millimetre. Do yourself a favour and get a set of line wrenches, otherwise known as flarenut or crows foot wrenches. They are an open ended spanner but have a bit more thickness to them, and they are more like a ring spanner in shape (with only a small notch cut out to allow them to fit over the line). This gives you a bunch more grip on the nut, and while it still took a bit of wiggling back and forth, I eventually got all the flexi lines out. Using an open ender would have been absolutely hopeless.

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A nice new rear flex line installed

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Flare nut wrench…buy them before touching your brake lines!

Removing the old wheel cylinders was pretty straight forward, although it did result in my first semi serious valiant related injury. I was removing the brake shoe springs to spread them wide enough to remove the final cylinder. The tool of choice here is usually a pair of vice grips, grip onto the spring, pull it past the retainer and off she comes. Except stupidly on one of the springs I didn’t lock the grips, which resulted in the grips flying off the spring and my hand flailing up into the wheel arch, tearing the quick on my thumb, and gashing the knuckle to the bone on a bit of trim. Ouch. There is now a little bit of me in the val.

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War Wounds!

So that brings us to now. I’m just waiting on the rear wheel cylinders and I can bolt it all together, put on some wheels and go for a test run! Which going on my current slow progress (I rarely get to play with the old girl) will probably be months away haha. We’re slowly getting there though and I learn every day.

Oh, one other thing I did was pretty up the chrome bumpers on the old girl. There’s a few methods out there, including super fine steel wool, but that really can cause some permanent swirl marks and should only be used on the very worse rusted stuff. The safest and most effective method i found was aluminium foil and water. You just spray a bit of water on the bumper then lightly rub back and forth with a bit of foil folded over a few times for strength. The aluminium begins to oxidise leaving a aluminium oxide paste, which is a very soft abrasive that is effective at removing rust and leaving chrome. A bit of a wipe down and a wax afterwards for protection, and the bumpers came up pretty sweet. They certainly aren’t as good as new, but good enough to avoid an expensive rechroming.

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Shiny

Brake work and uncovering the lost mouse city

It’s been tough finding time to work on the Val lately. The young fella being born, exam time coming up for uni and a heap of carbon tax crap at work has meant a lot of late nights and no free weekends. Just being able to get a couple of hours here and there to work on the old girl is a blessing, so I took the opportunity while everyone was asleep on a lazy Sunday to have a look at the rear brakes.

After driving her out the shed (oh its great not to have to push it) I jacked up the bum and dropped the back wheels off. Interestingly the left hand wheels on the VC have left hand wheel studs. I’d heard it as a rumour a while back so didn’t spend too much time looking like an idiot trying to wind them off anticlockwise before I flipped the wheel brace over.

Man the brake drums looked pretty ugly from the outside, but they popped off reasonably easy with some work with the persuader tool (hammer). The insides were a bit grooved but I will give them a shot before getting them machined/replaced. If they stop the car ok I’ll leave em on for a while. I was expecting the shoes to be worn down to the metal but they still had a fair bit of meat on them. The rest of the mechanics also looked pretty sanitary, down to the red paint being still on the retainer springs. I stuck on the dust mask (yay asbestosis) and brushed the brake debris off the internals and the whole thing looked pretty solid. If the wheel cylinder doesn’t leak when I fill the system I reckon I’ll leave the rears be.

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The sight i was greeted with on removing the rear wheels

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The interior looked pretty solid though

A quick bit of wire wheel work and a can of kill rust later, and the drums were looking pretty sweet. Back on the car, job done in under an hour.

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Wire wheels and rattle cans, a restorers best friend

Looking for another quick job I turned my attention to a bit of interior work. The cabin had smelt a but musty from day dot so I wanted to freshen it up a bit. I’ve been watching a lot of a Hot Rodding show called Fast n Loud on Discovery where they turn barn finds into beasts, and one of the most common issues they run up against is rats building nests in cars. One car they did, an old ’59 Rambler Wagon was an absolute nightmare, the time was rat city and stunk the whole garage out. Given the mouse nest I found in the muffler, I was starting to think they may have found their way inside the car as well, ergo the smell.

A small hole chewed in the side of the back seat seemed to support that theory, so out it came. Wow…it wasn’t Rambler bad, but it was pretty rank! You could tell the car came from a farm because the mice had dragged in a bunch of wool scraps to make their nests out of. I pulled two garbage bags of the stuff out along with a couple of hefty piles of dirt and turds. A liberal application of Simple green and a good scrub later had the floor looking clean again. Little bastards.

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The lost mouse city of Atlantis

Anyway, next on the agenda is to pull the front drums and inspect those, then hook up the new master to see if this brake system will hold fluid. Fingers crossed.

Movement via internal combustion

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New tank in place

Well despite me saying in the last installment that I was hopeful of getting the new tank installed within a week, it has taken a month. I did have a the small matter of my first son being born in that month, so I’ll cut myself some slack on that account. A bit of a holdup was my decision to give the tank a once over with rustproofing paint prior to install so I didn’t have to take it out again. Hopefully that sees the newy last another 50 years.

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The new tank slotted in pretty easily after some contortions by myself

Installing the new tank took a bit of manoeuvring solo. I ended up jacking the car up, laying on my back and resting the tank on my knees as i did up the mounting straps. Resourceful! Once the tank was in all there was to do was gas her up with fresh juice, prime the carb, hook up the battery and turn the key.

Its been nearly 3 months since I last turned the motor over but it started within a couple of seconds. This old girl is a dream! The fuel pump seems ok as the fuel filter filled nicely and the motor idled nice and smoothly. I snicked the transmission into 1st, let out the clutch and the old girl eagerly drove out of the shed and into the spring sunshine. The clutch feels awesome and I doubt i’m going to even think of touching it.

The motor seriously sounds amazingly smooth and I haven’t even touched the timing or dizzy. Annas only comment was “It still sounds like a tractor”, although that is fair enough given the muffler currently has a hole the size of a fist in it.

Next job is to see about these brakes