In last month's Driving Old Cars, the subject was survivor drivers, the art of buying and bringing an old car up to a level that the driver would enjoy, without doing a major restoration and shelling out a lot of money. To add to a collection of restored cars, a fun driver.
Since that article, I have received a lot of calls and emails from readers who are looking for the same thing. The market has a lot of solid, affordable cars of all makes that could easily be preserved and partially restored by investing a few months' work and a couple of thousand dollars.
I recently bought a '51 Chevy 2-door Fleetline Deluxe, a one-owner, 81,000 mile car that had everything original, right down to the radiator cap, but there was lots of patina--actually a little too much for me! That being said, it was still a car I really liked and it had never been restored, fixed up or upgraded in any way. The only thing the previous owner had done besides maintenance, was to paint several places on the front with a brush! The good news was, all of the rest of the car's paint was salvageable and its factory Black nitrocellulose lacquer was still shiny, with some nice age cracks in the lacquer. The body was very straight with a few dings here and there, and the interior amazingly still had the aftermarket seat covers that were put on to protect the seats in 1953!
So, my Patina Control list started with:
Mechanicals. Valve job, rebuild carburetor, tune-up, resurface intake and exhaust manifolds, detail engine compartment and new torque tube seal kit.
Body. Sand, prime and re-shoot Black nitrocellulose, blending with OEM paint, leaving controlled patina spots (primer coming through on trunk and some cracking), polish stainless, replace a couple of pieces of chrome, sand blast and paint rims, add fender skirts and buff the entire car.
Interior. Clean everything, re-cover bottom cushion of driver's seat, fix radio & gas gauge.
MECHANICALS: The engine compartment was dirty, lots of grime, but the wiring harness was excellent, so I decided not to pressure-wash. We have a 2400 psi pressure washer, and from experience, I know that wouldnt remove much of the grime, but could easily shred the wiring harness! So I decided to gunkit and hand-scrub it out, then after the engine and inner fender wells were clean, we stripped the engine, removing the valve cover, side panel, distributor, carburetor, manifolds, etc. We had run a compression test and found several of the valves to be bad, so we removed the head and sent it out for reconditioning to our buddies at Dover Cylinder Heads, along with the manifolds for resurfacing.
It was a good thing that we removed the manifolds, because the heat riser was stuck partially closed and would have resulted in overheating the engine later on. Its always a good idea to check this on a car that has just come in.
With these parts at the shop, we stripped and cleaned the block and all of the parts, going through the distributor, cleaning, checking the vacuum advance, installing new points and condenser, and checking the Delco part numbers to make sure they were the correct parts for the car. The cylinders showed only minimal wear at the top and everything looked good inside. All the engine parts were primed with engine enamel and painted the correct 216 Dark Gray. Re-conditioned engines can sometimes be identified by their paint. The recons from GM were Black. We sprayed copper coat gasket spray on both sides of the head gasket and intake and exhaust manifold gaskets, let it tack, and put them back together. The push rods had been numbered, so they went back in the way they came out. The head was installed and torqued down, and then the rocker assembly, checking all oiler tubes for obstructions. When we installed the rebuilt carburetor, we sleeved the gas line from the fuel pump to the carburetor with insulation to prevent vapor lock, and installed a factory AC glass bowl fuel filter.
The car had been a little slow to start, and I decided to replace the ground cable to the battery, re-routing it to ground on a battery bolt. I made the cable out of 0/4 wire with brass ends, and that solved the problem. Six-volts must have heavy battery cables and good grounds. I have seen 12 volt cables on 6 volt cars, with the blame for slow starts going to the 6 volt battery. Next, we installed the distributor. Then everything was torqued down, hooked up and plugs and plug wires installed, we test-started the car. It started up and needed a little valve adjustment and the timing set. These 216's have a hole in the bellhousing to view the timing mark on the flywheel. It is a steel ball, instead of degrees.
The timing was set by disconnecting the vacuum advance and pointing the timing light toward the timing hole in the bellhousing, and turning the distributor with the engine running, until the light was in sync with the steel ball on the flywheel. The valves were set hot with a feeler gauge to .006 intake and .013 exhaust. New points are set to .022, and old ones to .018. The spark plug gap is .035. The vacuum advance octane selector was set to midway between advance and retard. Then we adjusted the carburetors air/fuel screw about 1 turns out, which seems to be the best setting for this engine, but we will set it again using a vacuum gauge later on. This time when we cranked it, the engine spun quickly, sounding and running great! The oil pressure was excellent and the exhaust was quiet. We put the car on the lift, greased it, and went over it front to back. The exhaust system appears to be original, even the end of the exhaust pipe has the oval shape as original, and not round (I havent seen them in a long time!). We replaced the torque ball seal and dropped the gas tank, and replaced the sending unit as well as adding a ground strap from the tank to the body. This helps the gauge give a more accurate reading. This fixed the gas gauge (see future DOC articles for details of this repair).
BODY WORK: All dings were left. We sanded all rough paint using our Dynabrade sander on all of the front and select places on the sides, with 80 up through 220 grits. The sanded areas blended in smoothly with the old paint. We used red oxide lacquer primer (this is the same as the factory used). We were amazed at how the nitro burned into the old paint with no blend lines! We left the places where the old lacquer had cracked and where the original red oxide primer shows through on a few places on the sides and on the trunk.
We will continue with Body Work and Interior next month. Enjoy your cars and keep 'em driving!