Friday, April 27, 2012

Picking Your Knows

What’s going on? I see you’re restoring a mighty fine TR. And it looks like you’re ready to get that body fixed up and painted, right?

If you’re going to do the bodywork yourself, get to work and wait for the next post. Go on, git!

For the rest of us, we’ll need someone else to do the grunt work. If you already know where your car is headed, you can leave too. See ya.

Now, for those who need to find a shop: You should be able to find a good compromise between quality and price if you narrow your decision making process down to just a few aspects; things that you know are important to you. Make a list, prioritize that list, and revise that list as you interview would-be bodymen (or bodywomen. Bodypersons?). Revise that list as you interview would-be body shops.

I didn’t really have a tight timeline and price was more of a differentiator than a budgeted number because I really wasn’t sure what ballpark to expect. Call me a greenhorn on that front – I’ve worked on just about everything except bodywork and paint (professional quality that is). So my going-in list was:
  - Ability for soda blasting
  - Quality of past work
  - Nearby-ness

After some investigation and talking to a few shops, my final list wound up to be:
  - Ability for soda blasting
  - Quality of past work
  - Quality of materials used
  - Metalworking expertise
  - Nearby-ness

Soda blasting
There are many ways to skin this cat, but I wanted something that would take off all the paint quickly and easily. I read about chemical dipping, which sounded nice, but I didn’t like the idea of removing paint/primer everywhere. I wanted to keep 40+ year old gunk (not rust) inside frame rails and in the crevices that would otherwise remain undisturbed. I didn’t want to remove anything that would encourage new rust in places I knew would be neglected by the new paint job. So the idea of blasting seemed more promising, but with another set of options. Al-oxides, glass beads, walnut shells, plastics, baking soda – lots of different media for lots of different uses. Out of the many, one rang supreme: Baking Soda. Apparently, the uses for this stuff just keep adding up. The weight, texture, hardness, and low heat transfer all add up to a high quality abrasive when you blast painted metal with large quantities at high velocities. Who would have figured?

Quality of past work
Judged primarily from websites and secondarily in person at the prospective shops. If you’re getting this deep into a restoration yourself, you should already possess the keen eye it takes to judge good work from bad just by lookin’ at it. Trust the peepers.

Quality of materials
When it comes to paint, most of the costs are associated with number of coats and time it takes the painter to lay it on. (I’m only talking about the actual painting, not prepping, etc.) So, using higher-quality paints is not going to be the bank breaker in this equation, but a candy coat would due to layering and skill it takes to do so. So I think I’m just saying not to skimp on materials here and that a shop that uses the best paint is likely to know how to use it very well.

Metalworking expertise
Although I had limited experience with bodypersons’ body shops, I did know that replacement panels weren’t readily available nor were they cheap. So a cut-and-replace-with-panel-pieces situation was not a highly desirable option for me. I was looking for expertise to hand-craft a few bruised panels – with metal.

I targeted shops that were up to 30 miles away so I could regularly pop in for a visit and check up on things.

So you have what you know (your list), now let’s delve into what you don’t: Who’s going to do the work.

First, you should constantly remind yourself that it’s your money, your car. If you’re not pleased with the work being done, you have every right to let them know and you have every right to issue a halt work order and take your car elsewhere (assuming fiduciary responsibilities have been addressed). Luckily, I didn’t need to invoke my Braveheart speech, but there were definitely some decisions I made solely to ensure my shop knew that I had no problems packing up the circus, if needed.

Now unpuff your chest, tuck you balls back in, and proceed civilly…

Here’s a good method to choose your shop:
0. Know your preferences, as above.
1. Compile a list of potential shops. Just make a list. Use the Internet, drive around, ask friends, inquire at club events. Do what you need to get a good list of potential shops that somewhat adhere to your some of your wants.
2. Interview candidates. Contact the shops and ask some basic questions about the top 1-2 interests you have. Some you can cross off the list immediately after the first minute of a phone call; others you can inquire further and go meet the guys personally. Have them sell themselves to you, not the other way.
3. Narrow down your list. Have no more than 2-3 shops in mind before you make you final decision.
4. Weigh and choose. Don’t feel bashful about calling back or dropping in if you need further information. You may need to re-align your needs and adjust budgets or expectations. If a few shops are neck-and-neck, let them know about the competition and ask for competitive pricing.

The shop I chose, Resurrection Rods in Orange, CA actually came to my house to look at the car. I wrote them a check for a downpayment that day. As for my punch list, they scored well:
  - Ability for soda blasting (Check)
  - Quality of past work (Nice work, mostly woodies and custom fab)
  - Quality of materials used (House of Kolor reseller)
  - Metalworking expertise (Spin is the man)
  - Nearby-ness (Yep)

Another consideration that I didn't include above is willingness to work with your timeline. I had limited space in my garage and I didn't want a shiny new body delivered when I had 2 more months of dirty work to get done on my roller. Strike a balance between lower priority and higher quality with the shop early if you require added time. I also asked if they charged for storage time - they didn't. They picked up my TR on 4/25/2009 and gave it back on 10/19/2009.

As for costs, I will keep that info to myself. I will say that I’m happy with what I got for what I paid.

We'll get into breaking that rolling chassis down to a pile of parts next, so get some 2x4s, jack stands, and a floor jack ready.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I Have the Body of a 45-Year Old in My Garage

By now, you should be in the ‘showing all of your friends pictures of what your car looked like when you bought it and comparing those pictures to that partially dismantled roadster in your garage’ phase. Good for you, it is important to look back at your accomplishments occasionally – gives a sense of progress and it just feels nice.

To keep the momentum going from the ‘(Re)moving Forward’ post, this episode will be devoted to stripping the remaining parts off, culminating in one of the most important milestones of this restoration process: removing the body from the frame. So if you’ve got friends or kids, their assistance is needed; if not, go make some.

Before you get too excited, let’s check out our to-do list for today:
• Remove trim from fenders/doors
• Remove front and rear bumpers
• Remove grille
• Remove front and rear fenders
• Remove body from frame

Let’s pull the trigger on that brightwork – the stainless steel trim on your doors and front fenders, doors first:

Remember when I had you tap and gap the trim on both doors in preparation for today? Well, get on over to those doors and lay ‘em on the ground (with the trim side facing up). Depending on how much crap has worked itself into the trim channels or how damaged your rails are, removal gets progressively tougher.

Easy: Using your foot to anchor the door (and I don’t mean stepping on the door), grab the tapered end of the trim piece and lift it just enough so the pin clears its hole and see if you can push the trim forward (toward the hinged side of the door, where your foot should be). If it moves, continue to slide it off the buttons until it’s free and clear, being careful not to bend the trim past the point of common sense.

Sleazy: If your trim doesn’t move easily, try jarring it by pushing/pulling to slacken things up a bit – you may need to slide it back and forth occasionally as the trim gets hung up on the buttons. Also, you could try standing the door up on the hinged end and squirting some penetrating oil down into the trim channel. Wait and try bumbling with it again after the oil has time to work. If nothing slackens after 10 minutes...

Disease-y: If your trim is/gets jammed enough that it cannot be moved by hand or if you have significant dents/bends in your trim that prevent it from sliding off the buttons, do not resort to excessive force and do not try prying it off – you’ll need to remove the rivets from behind. From inside the door cavity, see if you’re able to use a pair of cutters to snip off the tag end of each rivet or carefully grind/cut each one off (Dremel, perhaps?). Once the tag is sheared, lightly tap the remains with a small punch until it pops free and keep working down the line until you can fully remove the whole trim piece.

The fender trim is basically the same story only longer and without an anchor pin. The end furthest forward shows the open channel and your trim will be sliding off toward the rear of the car. (Lightbulb Moment: You should now see why the doors were removed before tackling the trim – otherwise one trim piece blocks the other – good to know, eh?) Since you don’t need to hold one end up like you did for the doors, it’s a little easier, but because there are more rivet/buttons, more force is needed to get the momentum going. Once you’re able to get about 6 inches off the fender, it’s a lot easier to grab hold of the free end (where the door was) and yank. If your fender trim gets stuck, options are slightly different than above: You can use a light hammer and something less-hard-than-metal to nudge the trim from the open/front end (I used the plastic handle of a small screwdriver and tapped lightly with a hammer). You don’t want to damage the trim’s end - even though that end is hidden from view by the side light, it could get caught on the buttons if it gets chewed up at all. If the trim puts up a fight and you start working up a sweat, just forget about it and wait until the fenders have been removed to pop the rivets from behind as above. Ya dig? Cool.

So we’re left with the grille, the bumpers, and the fenders. At first, it seems pretty straightforward – just continue where we’re at and remove the fenders, right? Wait a sec. What b-hole got paid to design that rear bumper? Does it really go through the fender? How do I get to that bolt? Who the hell welded this? Is that a spider? were some of the questions I asked – please feel free to add your own colorful inquiries about British automotive engineering choices. The secret to the puzzle: go bumpers, grille, fenders.

The front bumper is the easier one and should be fairly painless to remove. Grab a ratchet and a wrench and crawl up under the front end. You can leave the overriders (bumperttes) and mounting braces on and take the whole thing off by removing the two mounting bolts at the front fascia/cowl. Once the bumper is out of the way, the two mounting brackets can be removed from the frame behind the cowl.

The rear bumper is mounted a little different and the mounting brackets go through the body in several places, making disassembly more compelling. There are a total of four brackets that go through the rear cowl and two bolts that go through the rear fenders to support that cool wrap-around bumper. I’m sure there are many ways to skin this cat, but I found the easiest way is to loosen the two side flare bolts first – don’t remove them, just loosen them up a little. Then move to the overriders; they unbolt from behind through one set of braces. Then remove the chromed bolts on each corner brace. The rear face should now just be resting on the mounting brackets. Now remove the side bolts that you loosened earlier and lift the bumper right outta there. You can then remove the rear and side brackets from the frame. Done and done.

Moving on to the front grille…the grille is secured by way of obvious, not-so-obvious, and just plain unintentional fasteners. The bolts on the top should have been removed when all of the wiring was disconnected. If not, they’ve got the ‘obvious’ label here – I trust you know what do with them. There are also two screws at the bottom of the grille in the middle there, accessible from behind via the airflow passageway (even with the hood removed, it’s easier to go from underneath the car). If your grille comes off easily now, be proud – you have a very decent grille and front end. For the rest of us, time or previous owners have conjured mysterious bonds that have unconventionally jammed that grille in there somehow. Releasing the grille from the front end’s evil clutches may take some additional investigating and manhandling. Look for any additional screws, bolts, rivets, or even damage that’s preventing its removal. If there’s nothing obvious, the grille itself could be distorted/bent, so see if you can just yank that sucka off. Then go grab a beer. Or two.

Although there’s no particular order needed to remove the fenders, you might as well start with the front ones since you’re already there. From underneath the front end, along the valence-fender fenceline, there should be a few bolts holding things together. They might be covered with muck, dirt, undercoating, rust, etc. but if you start with the bottom-most bolt, you should see progressively-increasing slack between fender and body. Work them up until you have some play on the front fender up to where the hood line is. Stop.

Sidenote: The 'beading' between the fender and body was a convenient and dressy way to hide the body seams back then. It can be secured in any number of ways so you don't need to worry about it until your fenders come off.

Now, go where your door hinges secure to the A-pillar and peek your head inside the car where the kickpanel used to be. There are three coves, each housing a bolt – remove those and relocate yourself to under the fender, just forward of the rocker panel. Three more bolts! Now follow the trailing edge of the fender up to the top – it curves out, up, and around to reveal another bolt that may have been removed when you took the windshield frame off. Inspect that area for any remaining bolts and when the coast is clear, move to the top rail of the fender. Here, you’ll find a number of screws holding the last bit of the fender to the engine compartment. Remove them all, leaving one of the middle ones for last so your fender doesn’t just fall off. Once you’re convinced that the last screw is the last screw holding the fender on, hold onto the fender and remove the screw. You should be able to wiggle the fender off. Fun, huh? Do the same for the other side.

The rear fenders are secured in a similar fashion except the top edge is concealed within the trunk spaces. Start under the rear of the car and remove the few rear cowl-to-fender bolts. That should loosen the fender up to around where it meets the tail light housing. Next, there are three bolts inside the forward part of rear wheel well, securing the fender to the B-pillar. These bolts might be covered and/or smothered, but should be fairly easy to remove. There’s also one bolt underneath, just aft of the rocker panel. You should now be left with just the top row of 8 bolts along the inside of the body. The first few can be removed easily from the interior of the car; they get progressively difficult to remove as they proceed back. The hardest bolt is in the corner above the tail light housing. Like the front fenders, leave one of the middle bolts until last – preferably one of the easier ones to get to from the outside. Again, once you are certain that the last bolt is the last bolt, loosen it while supporting the fender - it should break free with relative ease. Repeat.

Intermission Time! The fender rails are notorious for rust issues because they are not sealed, they offer a place for water to stagnate, and they’re exposed inside the wheel wells. For these reasons, you should be extra vigilant while inspecting TRs before purchasing. Look all around the wheel wells as well as inside the trunk.

This is what you should have by now
Well, that and a pile of parts.

Are you ready? I said, “Are You Ready?” Let’s get this body off that frame. All of the prepwork you’ve done leading up to this moment should make this an easy effort, but don’t call your posse just yet – there are bolts to be unbolted and nuts to be unnutted.

Going from front to back, there are quite a few…
Engine Compartment:
• At the front wheel wells, near the radiator mounts.
• Along the frame rails and along the wheel wells.
• Either side of the transmission in the footwells.
• Along the door rail (a group of four and a group of three).
• Either side of the handbrake.
• And – seatbelt eye-bolts.
Trunk (from underneath):
• Center bolt that doubles as your spare tire hook thing.
• At the rear of the frame rails (need to go through the frame to find the bolt – there’s a nutbox above the frame there).

Once you think you have all of the bolts removed, you can test lift the body at each corner to ensure it’ll part from the frame. Any amount of give will indicate it’s ready. If your e-brake cables are still hanging out in the cab, push then through and out of the way.

Now – Are YOU ready? Call the cavalry and at least four people to grab hold of each corner, ensuring they have enough strength and height to lift the body high enough to clear the engine. Heave ho! It’s surprisingly easy to lift with four people, huh?

Now – where to put it? Whether you’re doing the metal/paint yourself or sending it out, you’ll need somewhere to stash the body for some amount of time. Luckily, the TR4 bodies are fairly rigid and they can support their own weight, so there’s no need to brace the door frames like you might on other restoration projects. A couple pallets, railroad ties, or stacked 2x4’s on the ground will suffice as a temporary base until you find a more permanent resting place.

So there you have it.

My body out for shopwork
My rolling chassis, ready for homework

Congratulations – this is a major step in the resto process. Your first qualifier that this project is a true frame-off restoration.

More good things to come…

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Coventry Iron Calling?

Well, hello all. If you recall from the last post, I kiddingly posed the absurd notion of contacting Keith Martin of Sports Car Market magazine to encourage the ‘Collectability Rating’ of the 1967 TR4A to be raised. Well, I kinda did that but not really.

What I did do was submit pictures and a short description of this beautiful TR4A to Keith Martin’s TV program, What’s My Car Worth to be appraised. Their response: “Keith was quite impressed with it, he really enjoyed seeing the photos.” Although probably part of a form letter, this was good news.

The better news was that they chose the car to appear in the Mailbag section of Episode 309, Detroit Iron Calling that aired on November 9, 2011.

Although the Collectability Rating was still a ‘C’, Mr. Martin praised the quality of the restoration describing the car as ‘extraordinary’ and ‘better-than-new’ and finished the appraisal with, “your car is special; if you were to sell it I’d ask $35,000 and I’d hold firm.” A great sign of where the market is getting up to on these, huh? And a story that we’ll revisit later.

A somewhat crappy picture from the TV
Stay tuned for more restoration blog posts…

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I’ll Take Mine Rare, Please

I have been frequenting Cars and Coffee on Saturdays in Irvine, CA for a few months now. I bring my car, others do the same, and you wind up with a decent mix of cars to look at and people to talk to. Some people look at my car and wind up talking to me. “My dad owned a car just like this”, “My first car was a Triumph”, or “I’ve always wanted one of those” are at the top of the list. These little British sportscars are quite memorable and I think it’s great that mine evokes so many memories from the crowd.

Occasionally, an enthusiast steps up and talks more about the car than his recollections of yesteryore. “Are those Webers?”, “Did you do the work yourself?”, and “Is that a 4 or a 4A?” are some of the forerunners. Conversations with these dudes regularly turn into Triumph lineage discussions and eventually get to
something like, “I bet you wish this was a TR250 - you never see those around.”

If you run around with any semblance of a Triumph crowd long enough, you will invariably hear about the rare and mysterious TR250. At the most basic level, the TR250 has the body of a TR4A with the drivetrain of a TR6 and served as the segue between the two models (at least in The States). Only produced for one ‘model year’ and thought to only have been built for one calendar year (1968), most
people don’t know that there were some made in 1967. But, alas, this post is not meant to retell the history of Triumph nor list the particular specifications of their cars - I’ll leave you to your own devices to conduct further research on the subject.

I introduced the TR250 purely because of its perceived uncommonness to establish that even the ‘more common’ 1968 250s are generally considered to be rare cars. And, from that, I have come to realize that my 1967 Triumph TR4A is a rare car as well. In fact…[whispering:] even more rare. That’s right, folks! My angle is a numbers game here. And numbers don’t lie.

I was recently perusing the pages of Bill Piggott’s Original Triumph TR4/4A/5/6: The Restorer's Guide and a table identifying Triumph’s productions numbers per year caught my attention:

3,600 TR4As were produced in 1967. Huh. And over 6,000 TR250s in ’68!? That’s news to me. Here I was thinking I have some common car that I’m supposed to wishfully think is something rare? Baloney! Where were these figures before? How could this conspiracy have gone unchecked for so many years? Who is Keyser Soze? The list of questions grew. I needed to set the record straight on this extraordinary loophole in perception and… and do what?

Should I let the reminiscent know about this the next time they recount days gone at Cars and Coffee?

Or start a campaign to seek out TR250 owners and ask them if they wish their cars were 1967 TR4As?

Or write Keith Martin himself at Sports Car Market Magazine and demand he raise the ‘Collectability Rating’ of the ’67 TR4A from whatever it is now to an “A”?

All of the above?

Nah. I’d rather enjoy my news quietly, undefiantly, and respectfully. I think I’ll write a blog about it…

Postscript: The TR250 is actually an interesting car and none were harmed during the production of this blog. Rumor has it that the TR6s were scheduled to begin production but the German-styled Karmann chassis was in metric, opposed to the standard English-styled tooling and assembly plant. This created a delay and the TR250 was born out of creative necessity rather than careful planning.

We’ll continue with the restoration process shortly…Stay Tuned.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

(Re)moving Forward

Now that you’ve enjoyed Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again again and again, it’s time to move on. But first…

…an update in realtime: After a short bout with a pesky oil leak and more hours than I intend to admit rejetting/syncing my Weber carbs, all systems are go and I’ve clocked 32.7 exhilarating miles so far. (Yes Willie, we’ve made it.)

I’ll refrain from my customary routine of saying how busy I’ve been or how I intend to post more posts and just continue from where we left off. Getting back to our punch list, we’re about 2/3rds into the tear-down and sometime around April 2009 in blogtime.

Jumping right back into the swing of things, we’ve removed the top, hood, trunk lid, windshield, the entire interior, gas tank, engine/ brake/ clutch controls, wiring, and lights - you should still have your grille, doors, bumpers, and fenders intact. We’ll focus on the doors this round and strip the rest next time.

Before we delve, let’s take a closer look at those doors. From the ‘Misses Dash’ post, you should have a couple of semi-naked doors, but they should still have their innards. Depending on how much bodywork and painting needs to be done, you can leave some of the pieces in there (assuming that the parts are in good, working order). So, my fellow brethren and sistren, I submit to you a two-staged approach for your ponderance and pontification:

I. For those who would rather not rock:
So your windows work, they don’t rattle; your door skins/frames require little to no bodywork; and the various linkages link sufficiently well. Lucky you - good news is that you can get away with a partial teardown of the doors – just make sure the body shop masks everything well when painting so your windows remain see-through. Or mask them yourself before handing them over.

It’s best to work with the doors open and the windows up, so once you’re there, point your attention to the rear part of the door where the door latch loiters. Grab a pick or a small screwdriver and start removing the c-clips and rods attached to the latch device – there’s a rod that comes from the inside handle and a springy-looking connector that goes to the exterior handle.

Once the rods are free from the latch, you can remove the three screws securing the interior handle assembly. They should be large, regular-head screws and shouldn’t offer too much resistance – but since they’re screws, be careful not to strip ‘em. Use some CRC if you need to. Now you can remove the exterior door handle via two screws from the inside of the door cavity. After the handle’s out, remove the latch and other door-related hardware (don’t forget about the catches on the door jamb of the car itself).

The innerworkings of the door look more complex than they really are and you shouldn’t have much trouble remembering how to put everything back together, but if you’re worried, you can take pictures of the parts prior to disassembly. As you're removing the parts, you should also keep the left door parts separated from the right-side ones to avoid further confusion during reassembly. Now I tell you, huh?

If you have side mirrors on your doors (or even on your fenders), g’head and remove them now. Typically, two screws secure the mirror and it shouldn’t be too difficult to figure it out.

Now, go back to the inside of the door and roll the window down. The window seals are next – those weather flaps that keep water/dirt/debris out yo business. They’re held on with clips that can be a hassle to remove - but power through it, man. The inner, fuzzy one can just be pulled up and off and then a small screwdriver can be used to push the clips off and into the door. I think there are 7 clips there, just be mindful that a glass window is nearby. The outer, rubbery (or at least once-rubbery) seal is a little more advanced, but it’s secured with dumber clips. The rubber seal can be pried/pulled off as well, but if not, the clips need to be pushed down to dislodge them from the seal and door frame. Again, I think there are 7 clips, so start at the back side of the door and work your way forward, popping the clips into the door cavity until you’re able to rip that sucker off. (You don’t need to save these clips so throw caution to the wind – they’re readily available and are fairly cheap.) If the window is ominously too close to the danger zone, you can add some slack by loosening the window rails a bit and retighten them after the seals are gone. Got that? Good, you’re done for now. Take a break, grab a beer and a whiskey and come back when you’re ready to blow the doors off.

II. For those who rock:
Apart from saluting you, you’ll still need to not rock for a bit and go through those steps above prior to rocking.

You’ve made it this far, not much further to go. You should have unfettered access to the top of the window glass with the removal of the window seals. You’ll need to roll the window up about halfway, until you feel like you can reach behind those arms that are pushing the window up. Find a way to secure the window in place – keeping in mind you may need to adjust the position a little during the removal. I used wooden shims and strong spring clamps at the front and rear to hold ‘er in place – just remember that it’s glass you’re dealing with here – a lot stronger than you may think, but just as fragile as you know it to be.
There’s a metal channel at the bottom of the window glass with two slots in it - the regulator arms have pins that go in those slots. (The ‘regulator’ is the thing that moves the window north and south.) Behind the pins, there are some retainer clips that hold the window to the regulator. These clips are different from regular retainer clips in that they’re a pain in the ass. You need to blindly feel back there (in the door, not the ass) to raise a little tab on the clips and push them off the pins. Here’s a drawing I made with my mad skills in MS Paint, if it helps at all.

After you finagle the clips off the pins, the regulator should come off the channel and the window glass will be free – good thing you secured it, right? Now you can carefully pull the glass up through the door and set it aside for safe keeping. Window rails are next.

Down at the bottom of the door frame, there are a couple of screws holding a brace in place. This brace serves two purposes: it acts as a window stop and it applies tension on a rod that, in turn, holds your window rails taut. Remember that when you’re putting things back together because you need a balance between window height and tight. Just remove the screws right now and leave the tensioner-stopper there. Move on to the front (hinged side) of the door and remove the hex bolts that hold the window rail in place and then to the back (latch side) of the door and undo the bolts on that side. The three pieces that you’ve just unscrewed/unbolted will be joined together loosely by the tension rod. If you can manage to get those parts out, do it, otherwise leave them in there until the door has been disemboweled of everything else.

Back to the door frame: Using the map I’ve provided below, you’ll see a nut and bolt right about in the middle (#1) and another one nearby (#2) that looks like it’s not doing anything – it actually holds a stop in place that limits how far the window goes up. You can remove the stop first and then move back to nut in the center. This one secures the scissor portion of the regulator – loosen, but don’t remove this nut yet.

Next, go to the cranky section and remove its four bolts (#3). The regulator assembly might flop around, a little, but should be secured by the channel (behind #4), and the #1 bolt. Now, reach in there, hold onto the regulator, remove that #1 bolt and slide the assembly forward until it’s free from the channel. You should be able to move the regulator around and may need to move the crank nub to position the scissors so you can remove the whole thing from the door cavity. And viola! You should now be able to get all of those parts out and be left with a door shell on hinges. Yay.

We’re almost ready to remove the doors, so let’s get everyone back together.

I know you’ve all been wondering about your brightwork, right? What about the shiny trim on the doors and front fenders? You’ll have to leave it on there until the doors have been removed, but there is some preparation you can do right now. The stainless steel trim is basically just a channel that slides onto buttons that are riveted to your door/fender. The one on the fender, as we'll see in the next post, will slide right off with some coercion, but the door trim is held in place by a barrel clip and pin at the tapered end. It’s this pin that needs your attention now. Looking into the hollows of your door cavity (if you decided to leave the windows in, please roll them up), you’ll see the backend of the pin and barrel clip right above where your outside door handle used to be. Give that pin a swift, light, but solid tap with an appropriately-sized punch/hammer. You just want to unseat the pin, not knock the trim off and the goal is to create space between the trim and the door surface at the taper – just enough to create a foothold for later. If you want, you can loop a piece of string or zip tie through there or pop a popsicle stick in there to mind the gap in your absence. One word of advice/caution: these trim pieces are currently not available, but they are resilient and can usually be reconditioned so just be careful. Okay? Back to business…

Now open your doors wide and you’ll see a checkstrap there between your two door hinges. Well, it’s not really a strap but you get the idea. This check-thing is held to the door with a rivet pin that you’ll have to grind off or drill out. Either way, do it from underneath so it won’t fall out before you’re ready. When you’ve got the pin loose don’t take ‘er out yet - close the door slightly to push the checker into its channel to overcome the spring stop. Whenever you’re comfortable removing the rivet do so but be wary that the door is now free to swing all the way open, which could cause damage to the door or your front fender, quarterpanel, wing, or whatever you want to call it. Lastly, reach around behind your A-pillar and the checkstrap should there waiting for you to pluck it from its perch. There’s a rubber hood surrounding the strap’s trap - you can remove that now or later, whenever it feels right. If it helps, listen to the doors. (Punchline drum sound, please.)

Anyhoot. We’re now ready to take the doors off and there are a few different ways to do so: the right way, the wrong way, and WGAS (that’s ‘who gives a …’). But let me tell you a little about the hinge system on these cars first.

The hinges are adjustable on either mounting side, we’ll call them the pillar-side (the half that attaches to the car) and the door-side (no comment). The pillar-side can adjust up, down, left, and right. The door-side hinges go up and down and also do in and out. As you can tell, there’s quite a bit of freedom of movement and even more room for error with these hinges. And, since the two hinges can be adjusted independently, you could wind up with a nightmare of odd angles and weird twists in multiple dimensions when trying to realign your doors. With that in mind, here are your options:

The right way is for those of you who have decently-aligned body panels and your gaps and seams seem acceptable. You folks want to keep the realignment as easy as possible to only have some slight left-to-right or up-and-down adjustments (like trying to hang a picture on a wall). So, leave the door-side hinges attached to the doors (ask the bodyshop to leave them be, too) and figure out a way to ‘remember’ the door’s position.

One option is to mark the hinge bolts inside behind the A-pillar (you don’t want to mark the outer side because it will be repainted and you’ll lose your evidence). Since the area that we’re talking about is hidden, you could spray some spray paint in there or use a permanent marker to mark the bolts’ positions. This is a little risky because now you’re trusting your bodyman to preserve that area from overspray or any other number of perils that are not under your control. What to do? You could come up with an elaborate measurement scheme with angles and millimeters. Yuck. Or you could get some wooden shims from your local hardware store, jam one in the front bottom corner, one in the rear, and mark the shim where the door hits it. You may need to break off some of the skinny side of the shim to get it to wedge in there nice or tape a couple together to get the right thickness. After you mark the line, just label which shim goes where, put them somewhere safe, and remember where you put them. Cool? Cool.

(Drum roll, please.) You’re now ready to remove the doors. There are three bolts for each pillar-side hinge that we’ll be working, all located behind (technically, in front of, I spose) the A-pillar. For your own comfort, you can loosen and remove the bottom two bolts on each of the hinges with the door open. While you’re in there, you can also crack the top bolts loose, but just slightly – they still need to hold the weight of the door for a few moments. Climb back out of the car and close the door. Holding it closed with your legs, you can now lean into the car to remove the remaining two bolts. The door may give a little, but once the bolts are off, the door can be easily removed – it’s lighter than you may think even if the hardware and windows are left in.

The wrong way to remove your doors is not necessarily how you actually take them off, but rather how you plan to put them back on. Remember that when they go back on, they’ll have fresh and fragile new paint all over them. You’ll need a plan that significantly decreases the chances of scratches and chimps (er…chips). You’ll need to keep tools away from them and you’ll need to protect them.

To illustrate my point, let’s mentally jump ahead to the remounting process and run through the right way backwards: this presents a situation where your door is securely held in place before any tools come near the doors and any tools that are used are used in a non-visible area. Bra-vo, sir!

If you were to remove the doors via the door-side hinge (or, more to the point, if you plan on putting the doors back on in this fashion), you’d have to rely on scary jacks or elaborate hoistings to hold your precious cargo in place. Not to mention, the right way is just so much easier.

Hold on sec. What about those hinge pins? If I were to remove the pins, I wouldn’t have to align a darn thing when it all goes back together. Well, I’m glad you’re thinking and this is a viable way to preserve those door positions. What could be better? It really comes down to risk tradeoffs. I’m picturing a swinging hammer and your beer buddy holding your door in place. I’d rather spend the half hour aligning the doors. I’ve said my peace.

WGAS may sound like a quicker version of the wrong way, but it’s really just a silly name I came up that was better than “the right way for those who don’t care about their doors’ alignment when removing them from their car for whatever reason”. Pretty much 90% of us.

WGAS is just commentary on avoiding the dangers of the wrong way for my peeps who don’t want to mark a damn thing and who want to take those hinges completely off the door when everyone is looking. Be proud of who you are! You are basically going to follow the right way, ignore that shim business, and remove the hinges after the doors have been lain to rest.

Well, we’ve made quite a lot of progress here tonight and I hope that this post displays the appropriate amount of fervor to appease everyone’s anticipation and expectations. My restoration project has taken two years, one month, and thirteen days to date and I’m still as interested as the day I bought it. Granted, the car has been completed by most people’s standards for about a month, but we all know that there’s always something left to do.

Until next time…

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Not Yet, Willie

It's been entirely too long since my last post and for that, I apologize. While I'm compiling my thoughts on the next few blog topics, here's a little video that chronicles the restoration to date through pictures and song:

In real-time, the only two items outstanding are polishing the grille and adjusting the carburetors so we're pretty close to getting this guy back on the road soon.

We'll continue the restoration where we left off shortly...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Electricity Unmystified

Now that you’ve removed most of your car’s electrical system, it may be a good time to learn what electricity is. You don’t need to be a Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, or Andre Ampere (yes, that’s a real person) to pick up the basics. You just need a willingness to learn and a few minutes to read. So, if you’re game, read on…

I’m sure you’ve heard analogies to the movement of water when referring to how electricity works where voltage and current are compared to pressure and flow. Not that these methods don’t have their own merit, but I think it might be a little abstract for this forum. Although the physics of motion, gravity, fluid mechanics, and electricity all have underlying similarities, this lesson will remain relevant to your car’s electrical system and will speak to the storage and flow of electrons. But, what’s an electron?

An electron is a sub-atomic particle with a negative electrical charge (-). As you know, similar electrical charges and similar magnetic forces repel each other, so these electrons want to be as far away from each other as possible. Now here’s the catch: The electrons in non-conductive materials, say wood, do not have the freedom to move around as much as they do in materials that are conductive, like copper. It’s the atomic and molecular makeup of the matter that’s the matter. Conductive materials just have a composition that’s favorable to an electron’s freedom of movement. Taking this all in: A toothpick has a bunch of electrons in it that hate each other, but they can’t move around. A copper wire, on the other hand, has a bunch of electrons that hate each other, but they’re free to wander about. The copper has more of cloud of electrons while the wood has more of a structure of the little critters. How does that help? Since these electrons are free to move about, they can travel through conductive materials en masse. And, since they carry an electric charge, their movement creates detectable and useable forces and energies.

A little more about their charge: If these electrons were electrically neutral (without a charge), they would not repel each other and would just hang around in whatever shallows were available. If they were attracted to each other, they’d clump up somewhere and probably get stuck within the fabric of whatever matter they inhabited. But, since their charge keeps them at a distance from one another, in a conductive material they spread out as much as they can to fill every crevice and crevasse within, say, a copper wire – but no further. The electrons will be ‘bound’ to the wire until anything conductive comes into contact with it: air, wire sheathing, electrical tape are all non-conductive so it stands to reason that these repulsive electrons can only go as far as the conductive material will allow. Why is this important? The electron ‘cloud’ can build up pressure as more and more electrons are forced into the same spaces. This pressure is referred to as potential or Voltage (our first electronic buzzword).

Take a deep breath, reread what you’ve just read, and maybe read it again until you’re confident with my explanation of electrons. When you’re ready, read on.

Voltage is the measure of the relative difference in the amount of electrons in one area compared to another. In your car’s battery, if charged fully, there is an unimaginable number of electrons hanging out on the negative (-) side and a depletion of them on the positive (+) side; the difference is measured at an average of 12 Volts (12V). Your car’s electrical system provides a conductive path for the electrons to travel from the negative battery terminal (anode) to the positive battery terminal (cathode). And in that path are all sorts of things that utilize the different properties of the storage and flow of them ‘lectrons. Lights, starters, horns, radios, spark plugs, alternators/generators all use different characteristics of electrons and we’ll get into these properties next.

So, now you know that electrons are stored in your battery, that they move in conductive materials, that the car’s wiring provides a conductive path for them, and that when there’s a lot of them located in one area, a voltage can be measured. Now, what can these electrons do? Well, here are some properties that we’ll get into:

Electrons flow at different rates through different materials.
Electrons cause heat due to molecular friction when they traverse materials.
Electrons create magnetic forces when they move.
Electrons repel each other and are susceptible to magnetic forces.

It’s pretty neat that all things electrical work because of these properties – TV’s, cell phones, electric toothbrushes, the game of Operation. Now, let’s tackle the first property: Electrons flow at different rates through different materials. You already know that electrons are free to move about in conductive materials – metal is the ubiquitous conductor – and they don’t move so freely in non-conductive materials like air or plastic. Our first two uses of this property: Wires and Switches. Wires provide the path for electrons to travel and switches control that path. When a switch is ‘off’, there’s an airgap between the two wires; when ‘on’, the wires can conduct. Pretty simple stuff. We’re just talking flow / no-flow right now, but I said different rates before. WTF does that mean? I lied about non-conductors - the truth is that electrons will flow through a lot of different materials, just at different rates. Glass, wood, air, plastic are at one end of the scale and copper, aluminum, and gold are at the other. This leads to the opposite of conductance: Resistance. Resistance is measured in Ohms (Ω) and this is what regulates how much flow goes through what. The resistance of air is somewhere around 400,000,000,000,000 Ω/meter and the resistance of copper is 0.00000002 Ω/meter. So, for all intents and purposes, non-conductors have very high resistance and conductors have very low resistance – high and low enough to be negligible in calculations. Now what? Voltage, as defined earlier, is the storage of electrons; these Ohms are a measure of how much resistance the electrons encounter on their journey through stuff – we need to call the flow something: Current. Current is measured in Amps (A) and can be found through math: Voltage is Current multiplied by Resistance. If you want to know current, you need to rearrange it a bit and divide Voltage by Resistance. Math scares people, so we’re not going to be a-caculatin’ too much – just enough to do more ‘splaining.

Let’s say you have a headlamp that’s 4Ω. In your car’s 12V system, the current would then be 12V / 4Ω, which equals 3A. This provides a great lead-in to Fuses. Fuses are there to protect your wires. Since these electrons are flowing through the copper at extraordinary speeds (close to the speed of light), the more that flow, the more they bump into things and the more heat they create as they’re traversing the wire. If this heat reaches a high enough temperature, guess what? Copper melts. And as the copper melts it could cause a fire or it will just melt the plastic sheathing of it and the surrounding wires, causing a very, very unpleasant situation. At a minimum, it will cause a break in a wire somewhere - now think about all of the wires that you just pulled from your car and then think about how difficult it would be to figure out if there was a break in any one of those wires all bundled up in the harness, under your carpet, in your trunk, wherever. Wouldn’t it be easier to have a specific location that you could almost guarantee would be the weak link in this electric chain? Your fusebox is that weak link. All wires are rated at a maximum amperage that they can safely handle. Let’s say that your headlamp wire can safely accommodate 5A. In our example above, we see that only 3A will be going through the wire, so we’re at a safe level. Now, let’s say that you want to install a fog light and you decide to tap into this headlamp wire. Let’s also say that it’s a 4Ω light too and will, therefore, draw another 3A. Now, you’ve got 6A traveling through a wire that’s made for 5A of current – something’s going to give. Fuses are just like wires in that they’re rated for the maximum allowable current. The difference being that they are made to localize the break/melting in an over-current situation. As long as the fuse is rated at less than the wires, any break will be at the easily-findable and easily-replaceable fuse. So you have some wire, a headlamp, and, say, a 4A fuse all working together just fine and happily with 3A of current coursing through the circuit. Now, we connect that fog light and, all of a sudden, the current jumps to 6A, the fuse melts, and all is dark. That fuse sacrificed its happiness to protect the wires and save you a crap-load of troubleshooting and, probably, swearing. Thank you, fuse.

Getting into the more exciting electrical components of your car, we’ll talk about lights and then step up the game a bit to learn about ignition systems, motors, relays, and whatnot.

Lights: As described earlier, wires heat up when a lot of electrons flow. The heating properties, when properly harnessed, offer a great deal of benefits to humans such as stoves, ovens, household heating, and…Lights. It just so happens that degrees of heat are detectable just like colors are to our eyes. Just out of reach of our visible spectrum is infrared – this is where warm and hot (but not too hot) is ‘visible’ with specialized equipment. As things heat up a bit, the temperature creates higher and higher frequencies and the heat starts to enter into our field of visible frequencies and is seen as red then orange then blue then white. The lights in your car make use of this property and special metal is used as the wire in the light bulb: Tungsten. Tungsten is a metal with a very, very high melting point – high enough to withstand the heat of white-hot situations. So, your lights are just wires that can withstand the heat without melting (although, they eventually do fail).

Blinker Switch: Another device that uses heating to its advantage is your blinker switch (or flasher) that regulates the momentary on-and-off of your turn signals. Inside the flasher is something called a bi-metallic strip. This bi-metallic object is just what you’d think it is: a strip made from two metals. Big deal, huh? The magic lies in the properties of these two metals. I stated earlier that different materials have different resistance due to the molecular makeup impeding the flow of electrons. Well, that’s just one measurable property of matter. Another is what’s called heat expansion. You know that when things get hot, they expand – you may not know that different materials expand at different rates. So, if you take two dissimilar metals with different expansion rates and glue them together, the ‘bi-metallic strip’ will have one side that expands faster than the other side and the strip will bend when heat is applied. That’s exactly what’s going on in your blinkin’ system. You hit your turn indicator, power goes to your blinker switch: your turn signal is on. (Slow motion time.) As the current heats up the bi-metallic strip, it starts to bend and keeps bending until it bends enough to cause a break in the circuit. Current stops, turn signal is off. Since there’s no more current, there’s no more heat being generated and the strip begins to cool down and starts to bend back to its original shape until contact is made again and the current starts and your turn signal is on again. Re-peat, re-peat, re-peat, re-peat…

Spark Plugs: Your spark plugs make use of heat, but in a slightly different way. One thing I neglected to tell y’all is that non-conductors (things with high resistance) are prone to ‘dielectric breakdown’ where once a threshold of voltage is met, the material can’t take it anymore and lets it all flow. The most dramatic example is, of course, lightning. Lightning is happening on a much smaller scale all the time in your motor. Enter the spark plug. Spark plugs operate at about 30,000 – 50,000 volts and they basically supply a gap for the spark (current) to flow. The air/gas mixture within that gap is the non-conductor in this case and when that spark jumps, it heats up quick and hot - enough to ignite the surrounding air/fuel mixture and start a chain reaction that causes detonation and makes your motor run. Sounds good, but 50,000 volts? Where does that come from? Read on…

Ignition Coil: Supplying the required high voltage for your spark plugs is the ignition coil. This little device turns your car’s 12 volts into a vigorous 30,000 to 50,000 volts. Exploiting the 3rd and 4th properties of electrons, the coil is able to use electric and magnetic forces to multiply voltage on a nearby, separate circuit. Holy crap. Let me explain. If you took a piece of straight wire and put a current through it, a magnetic field is created. Much like all invisible forces, the magnetic field is mysterious in nature, but we do know that it circles the wire around and around and gets stronger as more current flows. It also works the other way around: if you could somehow create a circling magnetic field around a straight wire, you’ll create a flow of electrons proportional to the field. Bigger field = bigger current. Now get this: if you have two wires next to each other and apply a current to one, the resulting magnetic field will create a proportionate current in the other. Now, here’s the fun part: the magnetic fields are additive, meaning that if you have two wires carrying current, now you have twice the field. So, if I take that straight wire and loop it around and around into a coil, I increase the magnetic field over and over again with each loop. Conversely, if I loop a coil around a magnetic field, the more of it I will ‘capture’ and the more of that force I can harness and use. Also, if you stick an iron rod (or any conductor) inside the loops, the magnetic fields are ‘focused’ through it to help reach the field’s full potential. So, if you have 2 coils wrapped around the same axis (an iron shaft), one coil will impart a current on the other one. AND, if the primary coil (the one connected to your 12V system) has, let’s say 1000 times as many loops in it than the secondary coil (the one connected to your spark plugs), the resulting voltage will be a thousand-fold, or 12,000 volts. Sounds great, but there’s one drawback: Current only flows when there’s a change in the magnetic force, so a constant magnetic force will not really create a current, but a force that goes from zero to whatever or from whatever to zero will. It’s the ‘whatever to zero’ that packs the punch in your car. The distributor controls which spark plug gets the juice and also controls the voltage going to the primary coil. When the coil is charged with a steady 12V, everything is dandy, but when that 12V is suddenly taken away, the magnetic field collapses and BLAMMO, that high voltage is sent to the spark plug on a mission to explode gasoline.

Relays: Relays are magnetically-controlled switches typically used for controlling high-current devices without sending a bunch of current through your entire wiring harness or the controlling switch. Think about your starter: without a relay in the mix, that huge battery cable would need to come through the firewall, into your ignition switch, back through the firewall, and to the starter. A relay can be located closer to the source and can be controlled remotely with smaller, less expensive wires and switches. They’re not as mystical or exciting as the coil, but they operate in a similar way - I gave you a hint earlier in that they are ‘magnetically-controlled’. The magnetic portion of the switch is basically the coil’s kid brother. If you picture the iron rod with 2 coils looped around it from the previous pontification, take the secondary coil out of the equation and you’re left with a boring electromagnet. The more current and/or loops you have surrounding the core, the more magnetic force you’ll have. Unlike the imposed current on the secondary coil, the electromagnet will continue to produce regardless of changes in the primary current – the magnetic fields will just change proportionately. So now we have the magnet that can be turned on and off – how does that control a circuit? Contacts. This magnetic, coily device controls a spring-loaded metal plate that either makes or breaks a circuit. The plate is positioned on a pivot at a short distance from one end of the iron rod (magnet) and when enough of a magnetic field is created to overcome the spring pressure, the plate is compelled to stick to the magnet and contacts complete the connection, allowing current to flow in a separate circuit. Whoa – I think I just bored myself. On to more exciting components…

Motors/Starters/Generators: We know that if you coil a wire around an iron core, you can impart a controllable magnetic field. We also know that you can recoup current from that magnetic force by looping another coil around the same rod. But what if I had a traditional, everyday magnet? That everyday magnet produces a constant, non-controllable magnetic field with a certain polarity. You’ve played with enough magnets to know that they stick together or they push each other away. That’s what electric motors run on: Polarity. Insert new concept here: Electromagnets have polarity, too. So, if I have an electromagnet (like the one described in the Relay bit) and a permanent magnet, they too will attract or repel each other depending on which sides you put together. Another advantage to the electromagnet is that if I switch the wires on the battery, I switch the direction of current and, consequently, I switch the polarity. So now the electromagnet will attract the other side of that permanent magnet and versa vice. So now that you can control polarity, we can build upon your newly-gained knowledge and conceptualize something useful. If I were to mount a permanent magnet like a pinwheel and hold it near an electromagnet, it would be free to spin until I turned the electromagnet on – then it would move and arrange itself accordingly, based on polarity. Now, if I reverse the polarity, that magnet will flip and do a 180, aligning itself with the revised polarity. If I keep reversing the polarity back and forth, with the right timing, I can get that magnet-on-a-stick humming pretty good. Alas! The electric motor. The difference between our magnet pinwheel and, say, your starter motor, is that there are more (and stronger) electromagnets surrounding a stronger permanent magnet, making a smoother and more-powerful spin. The timing for reversing polarity is also based on the position of the axis, so the faster it spins, the faster the poles are being reversed. Make sense? Good. If you haven’t already guessed, a lot of things electrical are reversible, especially when you throw magnetism into the fray. This holds true for motors and generators alike in that electricity makes motors move much in the same way that movement makes generators create electricity. Whaaat? Remember the secondary on your coil? It turns magnetic forces into current, right? Well, what if you got rid of the primary and stuck a magnet on the end of that iron bar? It would magnetize the core of your coil and supply the same magnetic forces as the primary did. Also remember that the secondary will not receive its fix of current unless the magnetism is changing. Oh crap: how do you change the magnetic force from a permanent magnet? The answer, my friend, is to move the magnet. Since magnetic forces weaken as they stray from the source, the further away this permanent magnet is, the less magnetic forces the core will witness and the more it will feel as the magnet gets closer. So moving the permanent magnet closer to and further from the coil will change the magnetic field and will create that ever-so-desired electric current in the secondary. Taking our pinwheel example and rearranging it a bit, let’s spin the pinwheel. As the magnet gets closer, the coil is getting more and more magnetism and a current is realized in the coil. The one end of the magnet comes and goes and the other end starts getting closer. Because it’s the other end of the magnet, its polarity is reversed and the current flows in the other direction. Much like the motor example, the wires need to be reversed somehow to get the electrons coming out the right wire as the polarity swaps back and forth. Expanding upon this, it’s not a hard task to imagine power being generated from a rotating magnet. There are some differences between a motor and a generator, primarily to prevent your generator from running like a motor when the battery is connected.

Distributor: We touched upon the distributor earlier, but I felt it would have broken up the fun we were having in our adventure from lights to motors. The distributor is actually more of a mechanical switch than some fancy electrical component (I'm talking older ones here). Strictly speaking, the thing distributes high voltage to each spark plug just at the right time for proper combustion. Secondarily, it provides the contacts/switching for the coil to perform its encore performance over and over and over again. I don’t want to lessen the importance of the distributor, but I don’t see the point in expounding upon a sophisticated switch during this blog session. Too bad, distributor – you’ve been knocked down a few pegs.

I hope this has proven to be useful and inspiring in your search for understanding all things electrical. Now here’s a bonus question: If electricity is the flow of electrons, why the heck is it the positive (+) pole on the battery that powers everything in my car?

The answer involves some perspective. Since we’re only dealing with metallic conductors, we’re only looking at a small subset of materials in whole. Just as I explained about how the electrons are free to move about in metallic conductors, there are many other types of materials (semiconductors) that hold electrons and allow the flow of protons. Protons? Protons are electrons’ positively-charged counterparts (yay, team!). They act the same, except they have an equal, but opposite charge. So, given that electricity, in reality, is the flow of either electrons or protons, it stands to reason that current can flow in either direction. With the importance of semiconductors increasing throughout the years, it was necessary to come up with a convention to define current flow. As I said, metallic conductors are a small portion of material science and, consequently, represent a minority of how electricity actually flows. Majority ruled and the convention of electric flow was standardized to go from (+) to (-) and we’re left with a somewhat puzzling situation.

Understand? Great! We’ll get back to the restoration next time…