LeBaron--a name synonymous with beautifully designed, custom-built automobiles prior to WWII, was started in 1920 by two designers: Thomas L. Hibbard and Raymond H Dietrich. They sold their low-slung, racy designs to New York coach builders who were building sports cars as well as limousines. By 1922, their work was so well-received that Edsel Ford ordered designs for his newly-acquired Lincoln Division. In 1924, a merger was arranged with Bridgeport Body Company, enabling LeBaron to build the bodies they designed. Hibbard and Dietrich left to pursue other design interests, and by 1926, LeBaron was purchased by Briggs Manufacturing Company--the company that built bodies for Packard, Ford, Graham-Paige and for Chrysler, which would eventually buy Briggs and LeBaron in 1953.
Several years ago, we were fortunate enough to find a 1941 Packard Custom Super 8 LeBaron Sport Brougham. The car was a rusty Boston car, needing complete restoration, but was in running condition. We named it "Canoli", because it's the same kind of car used in the "leave the gun...take the canoli" scene in the movie The Godfather. Our car is style number 1452-2071, #71 of 100 built. It has Packard's 356, 9 main bearing, straight 8 engine, introduced a year earlier. It is equipped with an R-9 overdrive unit designated as Aero-Drive by Packard. The power windows are hydraulically operated by an electric pump, and are surrounded by wood garnish moldings inlaid with mother-of-pearl. This car does not have the $1080 factory air option (Packard was the first car manufacturer to offer air conditioning). Ours has sidemounts, but not the running board option, giving it a very streamlined look.
The most obvious design changes from the standard production sedan were the roof and doors. The Sport Brougham roofline had blind rear quarters and a special flat "B" pillar with a symmetrical front and back door greenhouse area. The door glass was framed in stainless steel, contrasting with the conventional steel upper window framing. All in all, this car had one of the best designs of the 1941 lineup!
The first thing we did when we bought the car was to tune it up so we could move it around the shop while doing the body work. We didn't run a compression test at that time, because we knew we would go through the engine in detail later. Time passed and we finished the metalwork, so with the front sheet metal off, we thought it would be a good time to test out the engine. We didn't expect too much trouble, since it ran okay a year ago. We started with a compression test and were surprised to see the readings very low: 40-60 psi, then 0 psi on #7 cylinder! We screwed an air fitting into the spark plug hole of #7 cylinder and connected the air hose to find air blowing out of the carburetor, mimicking a bad intake valve. We pulled the valve cover and found a valve keeper lying in the lifter galley, under the #7 intake valve! When we removed the head, we found this valve to be hung open. Upon removal of the spring, the valve was extremely hard to get out, because of the old gas that had turned to shellac, creating a thick film on the valve and causing it to stick open. The valve stem was cleaned in mineral spirits and put back in. With our Sioux 1630ES vacuum tester, we checked all of the valves. This tester is easy to use, working on the principle that leaks are detected by a drop in vacuum. The larger the leak, the greater the drop in vacuum. To test valve sealing, mount the appropriate size disc to cover the valve port, press the disk firmly over the valve port and pull the trigger. The reading is taken in inches of vacuum. For cylinder testing, remember there will be some small leakage to allow for ring gap, but large amounts of leakage indicates broken rings or worn parts (see Press Release, Page 18). Our intake readings were 19"-22" of vacuum. Great news! The exhaust readings were 14" -22", telling us that our problem was in the exhaust guides or seats. After removing all of the springs and cleaning off all of the shellac, we found most of the exhaust guides to be bad. Knowing we needed to do a valve job, we decided to test our cylinders with the vacuum tester. The cylinders ranged from 13"-19". This told us that the rings were worn and needed to be replaced. Most machine shops vacuum test valves after a valve job, but by doing a valve and cylinder test before the engine is torn down can help pinpoint the problems, and better and more efficient engine repair will be the result.
See you next month, when we will start machining this engine. Keep 'em driving!