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…

Thursday, June 10, 2010

That’s Right. Keep Movin’, Pal

Well kids, you know entirely too much about CA license plates, and you’re wondering what’s next? Getting back into it, we’ll revisit our checklist:
- Top: Removed
- Hood: Removed
- Trunk Lid: Removed
- Windshield: Removed
- Interior: Removed
- Gas Tank: Removed
- Engine/Brake/Clutch Controls: Removed
- Wiring: Almost
- External Lights: Almost
- Grille: Later
- Bumpers: Later
- Fenders: Later
- Doors: Later
- Carriage Bolts: Later

I neglected to include an important checklist item: Removing the carbs/intake. We’ll take care of that lickety-split and then get started on the wiring.

Eventually, the body is going to be lifted straight up off the frame and anything in the way could either get damaged, do damage, or prevent the body from being removed. The carburetors pose a potential hazard because they ride right above the passenger wheel well. Since you have dual carbs, it’ll be better to keep them mounted on the intake manifold(s) and remove everything in one big heap. Remove the gas line and oil breather tube from the valve cover (choke and throttle linkage should already be gone) and you may need to remove the air cleaners for clearance.

Inspect the surrounding area to make sure nothing’s in the way and start unbolting the retainers around the intakes. Undo and remove the two nuts and clamps underneath first, then the four across the top (leave the two outer, lower nuts because they only hold the exhaust and don’t support the intakes). Once all the hardware’s out of the way, you can jostle, shake, wriggle, or otherwise muscle the assembly to remove it. Shove some rags in the exposed intake holes to keep debris out.

An added bonus of removing your intakes now is that it provides unobstructed access to your generator and starter. While you’re in the area, g’head and remove the wires from the generator and then move on to the starter.

Prepwork for the wiring harness should be mostly complete since the bulk of it is associated with your dash. You should be at a point now to disconnect the wiring connectors for the tail lights and license plate lights, located in the trunk on either side of where your gas tank used to be. This will free the remaining anchors on the wiring harness south of the firewall. Once the wires are free, bend the hold-down tabs along the length until you reach the bulkhead and have the rearward wires accounted for. Go to where your master cylinders were and disconnect the wires for your brake switch (if not already disconnected) and the wiper motor too. Feed those wires through the firewall and into your cockpit and then do the same for that wire connected to your started solenoid. Your voltage stabilizer, turn signal repeater, and hi/lo beam foot switch should be the only remaining connections on the inside – disconnect them. Now, you can undo the retaining tabs and collect all internal wiring on the passenger floor. The only ‘connection’ that should be left at this point on the interior is the harness passing through the pass-through hole into the engine compartment. Now move on into the engine bay.

Tip: While bending the hold-down tabs for the wiring, save the protective rubber boots for reuse. They clean up well with some acetone and provide the protection needed to prevent tabs from cutting into the wires. If you don’t know already, the Brits are World renowned for faulty electrics – we can only help to improve an imperfect situation.

Taking account of what’s needed north of the firewall can look a little overwhelming but they’re just wires, man. Starting from where your steering column is, we’ll move clockwise until we reach the harness pass-through, collecting wires as we go. The first connection we see should be the (+) connector on your ignition coil – disconnect it and move toward the front of the engine. Next will be your left horn and temperature sending unit at the water neck on your cylinder head – disconnect them. Now, there should be a grounding connection on the inner fender that’s connected to your left-side headlamp, parking, and turn lights – undo that and undo the connections for your front markers on your grille. The headlamp wires will need to be cut, so make sure you leave enough room to splice the wires later (3-inches minimum). You should now have all of the wires free for the left side of the engine bay and you can disconnect the supports going across the front grille support. Now, repeat the process for the lamps and horn on the right side – the harness should be taped to the support member – go ahead and free that up. Your generator and starter should already be disconnected, so only the fuse/regulator connections should be left.

Here’s where pre-planning helps. Mark the wires connected to the fuse block and the voltage regulator BEFORE removal. I use masking tape and a simple numbering scheme, but you can do something more elaborate. The point is to mark the wires only for a short time because once we pass the harness through the firewall you’ll want to reconnect the wires before forgetting where they go – better to store that harness for safekeeping.

Do a double check that all wires are disconnected.

Storytime: Sometimes you get impatient and do something that you know is a bad idea but, for whatever reason, you proceed. Instead of undoing all the connections under the hood (primarily because those voltage regulator connections scared me), I chose to pass the wires from the interior through that little hole into the engine bay. The interior wiring is much thicker in places and it still had gauge bulbs and other accessories attached. It was possible to get that mangled mess through, but to say the least, it was like trying to pick your nose through your ass. It is much more advisable to go the other route and pass the engine-side harness through into the interior.

That being said, do so. It’ll be a little tricky at times, but you’ll get there. Once you have the harness intact, find a safe place to store it along with the voltage regulator, fuse block, connectors, etc.

Side Note: If, during the process, you do not get frustrated, irritated, or otherwise heated, think about this: Not only do all of these wires need to go back through that teeny hole, they need to go through an even teenier one too, namely the rubber grommet that you’ll be replacing later. You may be tempted to just cut that harness, but be prepared for a much larger headache when figuring out how to reconnect those wires.

As I said previously, these cars are rife with suspicion when it comes to anything electrical – don’t tempt fate to save a little frustration. Mildly-humourous enthusiasts have dubbed Lucas the ‘King of Darkness’. Lucas is the company who made most of Britain’s automotive electrical components to include lighting and the ‘King of Darkness’ moniker comments on their perceived reliability. Oh, snap. But, if you get into any trouble, here’s a map:

While we’re talking electrics, kings of darkness, and lights, you can start removing all of the external fixtures:
Headlamps are easy enough to remove. Your TR4A should have chrome trim rings around each light – get rid of them to expose the headlamp retainer that’s affixed by way of three screws. Once the retainer is removed, the lamp should easily come out of the ‘bucket’ and you can disconnect the plug to completely remove the headlight. Each bucket includes an adjustment mechanism for headlamp alignment so it may be a little confusing, at first, to determine which screws to unscrew to remove the bucket assemblage. If you’ve made it this far, I think you can figure your way out of this pitfall.
Sidelamps need to be removed from the back, in the front wheel well via two nuts (#54 pictured below). It might be easier to turn your wheels out to create some clearance for your tinkering. Since you don’t have a steering wheel anymore, you can just manhandle the wheel. Or, if you’re not manly enough to handle it, jack the front end up and it’ll make your job easier – just be sure not spill any wine cooler on your skirt in the process. Before you remove each sidelamp, be sure to disconnect ground wires from inside the engine bay and feed the wires through into the wheel well.
Front Flasher Lights can be removed now or can be left on the grille for later retrieval. Whenever you’re ready, just remove the lens and your path will be obvious.
Tail Lamps are held in place by two small nuts (#105 in the picture) that are accessible via the trunk. Since the wiring should already be disconnected, tail lamps removal should be a breeze.
Plate Lights are integrated into the rear bumper overriders, so at this time you only need to fish the wiring from the trunk through the space between the rear fenders and the main body. There’s a grommet just above where your tail lights were – just pop the grommet through the hole and feed the wires in. We’ll get to the plate lights later when we talk bumper.

I think that’s it for now. We’ll continue our saga next time. Thanks for looking.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Work is the Curse of the Leisure Class

Hi all. It's been too long since I've posted updates on this restoration and if wasn't for my darn job, the car would be completed and this blog would only serve as historical reference.

In real-time, the car is looking good with its new paint and interior. It's been started, but runs rough and it's real hard finding a new or reconditioned windshield wiper motor - ya know anyone who's got one? The last few items to wrap up are: wiring, windshield glass, top, alignment, recondition the grille, tune the carbs, door windows, and a number of other little things.

In blog-time, the restoration is approaching the apex of the teardown phase and approximately coincides with mid-April 2009. As I am hoping for a short lapse in my workload, I expect to crank out some posts here to get everyone closer to events as they occur.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Just YOM, No Kippur

California, with all of its faults (not talking seismic), does offer a surprisingly great service through the DMV – the Year of Manufacture program, or YOM to those in the know. Basically, it allows you to legally register your classic car with vintage license plates. A few other states offer similar programs so consult your DMV to see what’s what (or check this out:

For CA, specifically, about forty years after license plate series have been retired, they are eligible for the YOM program. The older black-on-yellow tags went from 1956-62 (left - referred to as ‘56 base plate) and were eligible for YOM sometime in the early 00’s and the highly-recognized yellow-on-black plates from 1963-69 (right - referred to as ’63 base plate) have just matured enough to warrant YOM status last July (2009).

But wait, there’s more! Since we’re dealing with the DMV here, not everyone can benefit from this new-found generosity and there are some strings attached:
- Your car’s year of manufacture (hence, the name) needs to fall within the years of the plate you wish to use. A 1961 TR3 would require the ’56 series and a 1967 TR4A would go for the ’63 series. Got it? There are some exceptions, of course. Sometimes dealers made mistakes and titled cars as later models - a 1962 model sold new as a ’63 (more common than you’d think). Or people who bought used, out-of-state cars and registered them in California - my neighbor’s ’61 Sprite had ’63-series plates because he bought it in '65 from a man in AZ and registered it in CA (remember they were new-issue plates back then, not YOM). He happened to have pictures from that era, which he needed as proof to re-register for the black YOM tags after a few years off the road. Bottom line: it ain’t a perfect system.
- The license plates need to be ‘DMV Clear’, meaning that no record can exist in the DMV’s extensive database. A 35-minute call will take care of this (30 minutes of waiting for 5 minutes of business). You also need to have both plates in a matching pair.
- You will need a validation sticker that matches the year of your vehicle. A 1964 Amphicar needs a white 1964 sticker, a 1967 TR4A would need a blue one from 1967, and a 1965 Camaro wouldn’t need one at all because they weren’t made until ’67. You get the picture.

eBay has been a great source for YOM license plates and stickers – just be wary of counterfeit stickers. I was lucky enough to find a set of cleared license plates in very decent condition with the original ’67 sticker still intact. It took some looking, but they’re out there. To be as period-correct as can be, I did some research, some contemplating, and maybe a little bit of LARPing to figure out what to look for. You see, theoretically, license plate number AAA-000 was the first in 1963 and number ZZZ-999 was the last in 1969. So, I was looking for plates that began with T, U, or V for my ride. Thanking the British Heritage Trust for the info, my particular TR4A was dispatched in April of 1967. After a short spell of time on the road in Portsmouth, England (that’s a whole different story), I figured the car made its way to the great state of California in the good ole US of A about mid-year in ’67, so my search for YOM license plates targeted those starting with a “U”. A couple of weeks of searching, a few phone calls to the DMV, some lost eBay auctions, one last-second bid/win, and viola!, my new old tags.

I’ll leave it up to you to create your own adventure, but here are a couple of lessons-learned and tips for you to ponder:
- Always get your plates in pairs. Since the ’63 YOM is still relatively new, people are going ape sh!# over these old plates, selling for $300+. You could get a great bargain on single plates, but you will need both license plates to register as YOM. There are some shops out there that will make a copy of an existing plate for $50, but proceed with caution for two reasons: the dupe may not pass DMV inspection AND there’s another plate out there with your numbers – keeping in mind that these are hot right now, it’s quite possible that someone else had the same idea as you did one day earlier. In either case, you lose.
- Call the DMV. Don’t trust the seller that the plates are ‘DMV Clear’ without calling the CA DMV yourself to find out. I joked about the wait time earlier, but it’s worth your investment, I think.
- It’s no guarantee. Even though you’ve contacted DMV and they’ve told you that your plates are cleared, something can always go awry. The nitwit on the phone made a typo, someone else took legal claim to your tag numbers before you, the YOM officials in Sacramento didn’t like the cut of your jib – whatever; your application can be denied for a number of reasons, which leads to…
- Be prepared. Bring everything you think you might need and prepare yourself for a three-month wait on your application's approval. Many agents at your local DMV office are not experts on YOM – do your own research and bring guidelines with you. As outlined below, the process is just a process and regardless of how you think it should be, it is the process that will be followed, flawed or not. Keep in mind that from the day your application is submitted to the day you hear it was approved could take three months. Take the initiative to ensure everything is in order before venturing out to the DMV.
- Ugly is legal. If your YOM candidates are not the prettiest pig in the parlor, don’t worry too much about it as long as they are legible with no signs of alteration. Restored plates can be legal, if approved paint colors are used, but don’t waste the money restoring them until your application is approved. Once you have legal claim, then you can clean ‘em up.

The process, as determined by the CA DMV, appended by me:
1. Just like when you call tech support and verify that yes, indeed, your computer IS plugged in, I am going to start with the most obvious first: Make sure your car’s year, or more importantly, the title, is within the range of YOM plates you wish to use. As stated earlier, mistakes can be made and although your VIN tells you it’s a ’62, the title, registration, or other ‘official’ documentation may tell a different story. When in doubt, the DMV will refer to documentation. If you have an oddball situation, call the DMV to get their take – as with most things, if you can tell a compelling story, you’ll find someone who’ll listen.
2. Verify the cleared status of the prospective plates by calling the DMV HQ in Sacramento, CA (1-800-777-0133). The trick is that if the plate you’re calling about is in the system, there is a record, and that plate is not clear. You just need them to verify that the plate is not in their system – aka it is available for registration.
3. Get your plates and appropriate validation sticker for the year of your car.
4. Get your application here: and fill it out. Double check all info is correct, print it, and sign it.
5. Print off these guidelines here: and bring them with you to the DMV. In the likely event your DMV Window Rep is not up-to-speed on these new-fangled regulations, it will be invaluable to have the DMV’s own gospel to refer to.
6. Pack a lunch and prepare for your day at the DMV. Bring the following with you to DMV:
- YOM plates (two of them)
- One correct year validation sticker (I don’t think it needs to be affixed to the plate)
- Currently-registered plates (two of them)
- Current registration
- Vehicle title (just in case you need it)
- $45
- Proof of insurance (just in case you need it)
- YOM Application
- DMV YOM guidelines for reference

What to expect from your visit: You will be able to keep the YOM plates, but the DMV will most likely want to retain the ‘old’ plates. Additionally, they will keep your registration and provide you with a temporary registration card, valid for two months so you can still drive your classic while in wait.

What to expect in the mail: When your application is approved, the DMV will send you a new registration card, a month sticker, a new year sticker, and two ‘ears’ that you’re supposed to put the new stickers on, like this from a ’56-series:
Good luck and happy motoring.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Additional Ancillary Supplement for Various Miscellaneous Parts

Remembering for a moment that the summation of your efforts to this point has been regressive in nature, we’re going to continue down a path of disorder, from structure to chaos to help out our old friend Entropy a bit more. As if the entire Universe is acting through your dexterous hands, this l’il racecar is gunna be a pile of parts soon. And from that pile, new life will be forged. Borne from metal and built through might, the revival will be impressive.

Snap out of it, man. Checking off a few items from our list, we’ll tackle the Gas Tank and Control Pedals in this episode and get to the wiring harness next. Like, OK, Scoob?

Rokay, Raggie. Getting down to business, take a peek inside your gas tank to see how much (if any) fuel you have left in there. For anything more than an inch or so, find an appropriately-sized container and start draining. How, you ask? With a siphon, of course. Put your container on the ground and get a length of tubing that will reach down to the bottom of the gas tank all the way to your receptacle – 6 feet or so of 3/8” clear tubing works nice. You can strain yourself, inhale noxious gasses, or get a mouthful of petrol by sucking the gas through the hose like so many unfortunate slapstick saps or you can be smart about it and try your luck at any (or combination) of these favorites:
- Blow it up: Instead of pulling, try pushing the gas. Start by sticking the hose all the way in the tank and have the other end securely in your container. Take a deep breath, use your hands and mouth to seal off the filler neck of the fuel tank, and blow. As the gasoline creeps its way up the hose, it will start flowing by gravity on the way down the other side. It could take a few breaths, but as long as there’s no more air in the hose, the siphon will start and continue to move the gas without intervention until the tank is nearly empty. Neato! If you’re even smarter, you can use a rag and an air compressor in lieu of your nasty breath. Oh, and make sure gas doesn’t escape through detached fuel lines or carburetors.
- Squeeze it out: I admit it, I haven’t tried this one but it should work. In theory. Stick your hose ends where they belong and pinch the hose at the gas tank end. Now, run that pinch down the length of the hose. If the squeeze is tight enough, moving it will create a pressure difference that will bring that gas along with it. If you try this and it works – let me know: I’ll send you a cookie.
- Dunk it in: (This is the preferred method.) Just start feeding your tubing into the tank until you have about an inch left sticking out of the neck. Now, put your finger over the hole’s hose (no, the hose’s hole) and quickly move that end over to your drain bucket. If you have a good enough seal and you move quick enough, the siphon will be primed and start flowing right away.
- Drill it out: You can purchase an electric drill-driven pump at your local hardware store or online somewhere. ‘Nuff said, cheater.

There will be residual gasoline in there regardless of what method(s) you choose and that’s OK. First, store your gas somewhere safe or just put it in your other car’s tank and use it. Even though your gasoline is literally about as old as the dinosaurs, some chemical elements will evaporate over time and/or it could take on water the longer it sits idle. So, if the gas doesn’t look or smell right get rid of it.

Now you can jack up the rear and get up in there. Bring an oil drain pan with you and, carefully, loosen the fuel line under the tank (on driver’s side) until the remaining gas starts draining. Some gas will run down your arm into your armpit and it will be chilly – you can tie a shop rag around your wrist to prevent this. Also, some gas may run its way down the fuel lines and miss your drain pan but it’ll evaporate quickly enough. Move the fuel line and fitting out of the way when it’s done and go back topside.

A side note: These cars are very restoration-friendly and this gas tank deal is just about the only time you need to do anything from underneath (assuming you’re doing a complete frame-off resto).

Remove the gas cap and filler neck. They’re just secured with a couple of hose clamps – loosen the top one a little until you can work the cap free and then remove the neck. Now all that should be holding your tank on are the six retaining bolts along the perimeter. Once these bolts are removed, don’t pull the tank out just yet – tilt it to the left to drain the last bit of fuel (you still have the drain pan below, right?) and then tilt it toward you and unhook the fuel gauge sending wires from the sensor on the top o' the tank, then remove the tank. And that’s that. Retrieve your drain pan, lower the car, and get a beer – you deserve it.

Helpful Hint #29: If you have some surface rust in that tank o’ yours, put a few cups of gravel in it and shake it around for a little while. Just be sure to remove the sending unit (gas gauge sensor) beforehand.

Next up: The ABCs of foot pedals: Accelerator, Brake, and Clutch. Now go to the engine bay and locate your Clutch and Brake master cylinders, just next to the battery tray. First, unhook the wires to the brake light switch; then start undoing the hydraulic lines to each master cylinder. There will be some brake fluid dripping, so bring a rag with you. When they’re disconnected, move them aside and remove the cotter pins on the clevis pins that connect the brake/clutch arms to the brake/clutch forks. Got it? OK.

While your there, remove the four nuts just below the pedal-cylinder connections. When you have your nuts in your hand, go to the driver’s footwell (where the pedals are) and unbolt the one bolt up front between the pedals and the three bolts rearward. It’ll be a little uncomfortable being on your back and all, but you’ll get over it. The pedal assembly will be free now, it just might take a little wriggling. Set the pedals aside and go back to the cylinder housing - being careful not to spill brake fluid from the master cylinders, set that aside as well.

The accelerator pedal is next up and is easiest removed with the other pedals out the way. Go to the engine bay and disconnect the carb linkage to the pedal’s crossbar (right underneath the battery tray). Just next to the arm will be a brace mounted to the firewall - remove the two bolts holding that in place. There will be 2 sets of four bolts to the left and the right holding the whole accelerator dealy in place - only remove those on the driver's side for now. The assembly should now be loose and movable. It's then just a matter of fishing the pedal side of the contraption up and out through that hole. It'll fit, don't worry.

You should now have an empty cockpit with wires hanging about and no junk in your trunk. We’re making a lot of head way and only have a few things left before the body is ready to come off. As stated earlier, we’ll hit the wiring harness next time. Stay tuned…