Sounds Good

sounds goodI recently lost the radio in my every day Saab. I went to to look at a replacement stereo. I wanted something inexpensive that would simply replace the radio in my car. I was surprised to see the many options and reasonable prices.

For less than 200 dollars, I can fit a replacement radio, with a CD/DVD player, Bluetooth, a video screen and a touchscreen. For a couple bucks more I can add a back up camera.

A unit with all of these features and GPS is roughly the same cost as a stand alone portable GPS unit. Of course, buying the unit from a place like Crutchfield includes plug and play wiring and all hardware needed to make the installation look factory original.

I am amazed at how many features these aftermarket stereos have, and at how much the cost has come down. Now, if I can figure out how to add side curtain air bags, collision avoidance and adaptive cruise control I would never need to buy a new car again.


easy oil installation toolAnyone who has replaced oil seals without removing the shaft that seals against the seal knows what a struggle the seal installation is. Think of replacing the front main crankshaft seal in place without removing the timing cover or the crank shaft. This job requires applying equal pressure around the circumference of the seal, or it will warp or bend.I have taken several pieces of scrap PVC Schedule 40 drain pipe and cut it in lengths of three inches or so. Interestingly, the diameter of many grease seals is the same diameter of PVC drain pipe. The thickness of the PVC pipe is the perfect thickness to use as an oil seal installation tool.

I have diameters of inch, inch and a half, two inches, two and a half inches, three inch, etc., sitting on my tool shelf, standing in the ready to use for seal installation.By placing the appropriate diameter pipe over the seal the seal can be easily tapped in to place with a mallet. For larger diameter seals, and pipe installation tools, I have a piece of 2 by 4 to place over the pipe before tapping with a hammer.

I Just Can’t Stop!

Let’s face it. Old cars have lousy brakes. Model T Fords only have brakes on the rear wheels, and even those do not work very well. To be fair, the Model T seldom goes over 30 miles an hour.

In the 1950’s and through the 1960’s, cars got bigger and much more powerful. As cars were getting heavier and faster, most still had single circuit drum brakes, many without power assist. Safety standards allowed single circuit brakes through the 1967 model year in the United States. If any brake line or hose ruptured, you had no brakes. If you have an older car with questionable brakes, and you enjoy driving it, you may want to consider upgrading the brakes.

lousy brakesThere are many aftermarket suppliers offering kits to upgrade brakes. Often, the parts were manufactured for later models of similar vehicles, and the parts easily bolt on earlier vehicles.

I believe if you actually drive and enjoy your car, simply upgrading to a dual circuit brake system is an important upgrade. This usually requires simply changing the master cylinder and adding a hard line or two. You may have to also add a proportioning valve. Often, this modification can also include adding power brakes by adding a vacuum booster servo.

Adding front disk brakes is another upgrade to consider. This can also be done after upgrading the master cylinder to a duel circuit system. Adding front disk brakes may involve changing the spindles. There are many kits available with all of the hardware needed for an out of the box bolt on installation.

I recently purchased a new, duel circuit master cylinder kit for the 1959 Corvette. This car is fun to drive, but just can’t stop. This kit is designed to also work with a front disk conversion kit, if I ever decide to go that route.

If you are considering improving the brakes on your car, check parts suppliers catalogues and on line forums to see what is available for improving your brakes.

Engine Management Upgrade

1987 saab 900The distributer in my 1987 Saab 900 Turbo recently broke. Even though it is a Bosch distributer, it is no longer manufactured and parts are not available. This distributer was only used on model years 1986 and 1987. I was able to find a used one; however, several people suggested I upgrade the engine to the later fuel in-jection and ignition system.

The fuel injection and engine management electronics on this car were state of the art, in 1987. Engine management technology improved significantly since.

Saab continued to use this same basic engine right up to the end, and the engine was updated to coil on plug ignition and an improved fuel injection/engine manage-ment system. By upgrading the engine, the engine performance was significantly improved, as was engine efficiency. I have been told to expect an extra 6 miles to the gallon, and an extra 40 horse power with the change to the later components. Another benefit is OBD 2 engine management. Diagnosis and repair of problems is easily handled with a universal OBD 2 code scanner, no more dependence on a Saab Tech II code scanner.

To make the change, I can either take the components off a newer Saab, or buy a conversion kit. The process involves removing the distributer, coil, electronic control module, and the various electrical components and installing the newer components with some extra sensors. Many cars from the 1960’s through the early 1990’s have engines that continued in production through the evolution of modern engine management. Upgrading these engines to modern engine management could be a fun project, with great rewards.

What does “FG” Mean?

Dave is taking a brake this month – An email exchange with our VAE expert on Vermont number plates.

fg series vt license plateVAE member, John Sandvil, recently purchased a Vermont number plate with # FG81. John bought it because it was different but did not know the reason for its odd number.

1950s vermont license plate prefixesTo the rescue….Gary Irish. This is part of his reply: Yes, I can tell you what it is, and will probably tell you more than you want to know! It is a plate for a state owned vehicle, and more particularly for the Fish & Game department. State vehicles were first issued special plates in 1922, and through 1925 had “STATE” written out on the bottom of the plate, similar to truck and repairer plates of that era. From 1926 to about 1950, they had an “ST” prefix, and at least from 1951, only an “S” prefix (I know 1948 had ST and 1951 had S, but don’t know about 1949 and 1950). This went through 1960, and in 1961, they issued permanent plates to state vehicles with a two letter prefix designating the department to which the vehicle was issued. These plates did not have a painted border, but somewhere around 1970, new plates were issued, essentially similar except these had a painted border. These were used until the mid-’80’s, when they transitioned over to the plates in use today. I’ve attached a few pictures to give you an idea of what they looked like. The F&G plate is probably similar to the one you are asking about. The similar one without the border is Forest & Parks. I also added a sheet that gives the meaning of the letters on the 1961 version. And by the way, the picture of the 1925 state plate may look a little odd – it is a replacement plate. These were used to replace lost plates, and were embossed with only the non-unique parts of the plate. The motor vehicle department, at that time housed in a house which once stood where the state office building is on State Street in Montpelier, had a supply of these, and when a request came in for a replacement plate, they took the appropriate blank (in this case STATE, (pictured left) but they also had them for passenger, truck, etc.) and hand painted the number on the plate in a workshop in the basement of the house and sent it out.

1925 vt license plateAfter answering your note about the license plate, I got to thinking that maybe you can answer a question for me, or at least you might know someone who can. I recently got a copy of a picture, which shows a man named Clinton Abbott in the middle of what is now Route 15 in front of the park in Underhill Flats. He was the Underhill station agent for the Burlington & Lamoille Railroad. The car has a 1911 dealer plate on it, and I was told by the person who gave me the picture that Mr. Abbott, at one time, was a dealer for Reo automobiles. From anything I can find online, this doesn’t look like a Reo, and I am wondering if you or someone might be able to tell me what make of car it is. From looking at pictures online, the closest thing seems to be a Maxwell, which has a similar shaped hood, but other details of any I could find didn’t look right, such as the cowl.

Wheel Tracks was unable to reproduce the picture that Gary Irish is referring to, but….does have a beautiful picture that can be emailed to you. There is a gentleman driving the car and two youngsters around age 10 as passengers. The Underhill church can be seen beyond the green. Please ask and I will email the photo to you. email…

It’s in the Bag

When doing engine work or restoration work, organization is key to success. I recently overhauled an engine in my shop, and I was greatly aided by a careful and thoughtful organization when I took the engine apart.

I carefully catalogued the nuts, bolts, hardware and parts in zip lock bags, carefully labeled with a sharpie marker. The valve cover bolts were placed in a sandwich sized bag, labeled valve cover bolts, Left. The head bolts and miscellaneous hardware were placed in quart sized bags and labeled. These bags were then placed, in a gallon sized bag, labeled and Left.

This method continued through the engine disassembly. The oil pump bolts were bagged, and placed in the bag with the oil pump. All of the bags of parts were placed in a box with all the other parts.

When I reassembled the engine, all of the nuts, bolts and miscellaneous hardware were easily located, and the order of opening and unbagging the parts, easily gave me what I needed without wasting time searching, and minimizing the risk of placing the wrong hardware in the wrong location. When installing the left cylinder head, I grabbed the bag labeled Left, and all of the hardware was clearly labeled. When I was done, all the hardware was accounted for. There was nothing missing, and nothing left over.

I also use this strategy when I take a car apart for major work or restoration. There is nothing more maddening than not being able to find a part when needed.

Zip Lock freezer bags have an extra strong zipper, and provide a white rectangle for labeling. The next time you are in the grocery store, I would suggest buying a few boxes of sandwich, quart and gallon sized zip lock freezer bags for your shop.

Alternator Maintenance

I recently had a Subaru Outback in the shop for some extensive maintenance. I had to remove the alternator to do this work. The car had 185,000 miles on it, and still had the original alternator. I decided I would utilize the time waiting for parts to do some preventative maintenance, and overhaul the alternator while the car was in the shop. A rebuilt alternator for this car is about $200, with a new one over $400. The parts to overhaul this alternator were about $30.

How does one overhaul an alternator? Usually when an alternator wears out, it is due to the wear items reaching the end of their useful life. The wear items in an alternator are the brushes and the bearings. On this alternator, like many alternators, the brushes are part of the regulator assembly. While new brushes can be soldered in to the existing regulator, it is far easier to replace the assembly as a unit.

I ordered the parts on line. Surprisingly, I have found most parts stores do not sell alternator rebuild kits. I have to buy them from automotive electrical or electric motor parts suppliers.

An examination of this alternator revealed the brushes were well worn, almost at the end of their useful length. Both bearings rotated freely, however sounded and felt slightly “gravely” when rotated. The rebuild kit came with both bearings and a brush/regulator assembly.

Rebuilding of the alternator was very straight forward. First, I removed the drive pulley with an impact wrench. The pulley easily slid off. Next, I opened the case by removing the four bolts holding the case together. The front of the case came off after several light taps with a hammer. I carefully compared the old parts with the ones that came in the rebuild kit to ensure I had the right parts. Once the front of the case was off, I removed the four screws that held the front bearing plate on. These screws required the application of a torch to free them, but came out easily once some heat was applied. The front bearing came out of the case easily, with a gentle push from my thumb. The new bearing easily slid into position, and was secured with the four screws and the retaining plate.

The rotating assembly was removed from the case next. A careful inspection of the slip rings showed they were in good condition. There had been no arcing against them from the brushes. The rear bearing needed to be removed from the shaft in the press with a bearing knife and a drift. Great care is exercised to prevent damage to the assembly. The new bearing easily pressed on to the shaft.

The brush/regulator assembly is soldered into the case. I needed to melt the old solder connections with a soldering iron. Careful inspection showed the remaining parts of the alternator were in good condition. I carefully cleaned the alternator case while it was apart, rinsing all pieces with electrical cleaner.

I mounted the new brush/regulator assembly in to the case, and soldered the connections with electrical solder. The brush assembly came with a small wire to hold the brushes in place. It is important to leave this wire in place, and carefully thread it through the small hole on the back of the alternator assembly. It is impossible to mount the rotating assembly into the case with this wire removed, as the spring loaded brushes will interfere with the slip rings upon reassembly.

With the brush/regulator assembly installed, the alternator can be reassembled. After assembly, it is important to ensure the alternator spins correctly, with no noise or interference.

This is an easy and inexpensive preventative maintenance step.

My ’65 MGB

My ’65 MGB story started in ’83, when I was 15 years old and was looking for my first car in anticipation of my 16 birthday. My limited funds available meant that I was looking for a deal and I would have to borrow the money to get it. My father has always been a fan of auctions and decided that our best bet was to go that route to get the most bang for the buck. We attended a Cruze Auto Auction in Springfield, MA and came home with the B for a price of $1,500.00. My father spotted me the money at the auction, then co-signed a loan so I could pay him back. I had the better half of a year to get the car ready for my July birthday and did so by primarily washing and sitting in it. I drove the car summers only and found a winter beater every fall that would usually not quite make it through mud season. Upon graduation from high school in ’86, we stiff hitched the B to Melbourne Florida where I attended Florida Institute of Technology and was able to drive year round. Over those 6 years of use I put a transmission, clutch, fuel pump and gas into the car. The mechanic in Fla., who put the fuel pump in, explained to me that the reason the car wanted to shoot off the road, to the right if you let go of the wheel, was due to the dire need for some king pins and other front end work. The estimate was way more than I could afford and I decided to drive my motorcycle to school and used that to get me through the last year.

1965 mg bThe front right tire was worn down to threads on the outer half and the king pins didn’t get any better after stiff hitching the car back to Vermont after graduation in ’90. Lacking money and having student loan debt, I decided to park the B in my parents barn and get a year round car to get me through till I could afford to fix the “fun car”. The Volvo 240DL wagon was the first in a long line of B replacement cars over the course of the next 26 years. During those years I worked, had a daughter, got married, had two sons, and the B got buried by “stuff” in the barn, so completely you could just see bits and pieces poking out. As fate would have it, one of my sons likes to tinker and thought the MG was worth unearthing and fixing up. At the same time his sister was looking for a senior project to complete her high school requirements. She said that it needed to be something she knew little about, but had an interest in learning. She definitely knew nothing about working on cars and didn’t really know what she was getting into, but decided to get the B back on the road, that is if I financed the restoration. That’s where it all started, pulling the car out of its cocoon on July 9th, 2016. My son was a little miffed that he wasn’t going to be able to do the work, but Aiyanna eventually found that some help would be a good thing and relaxed her “I have to do it all with no help” stance. The car was pressure washed and pulled into a shed on my property normally occupied by my tractor. The next step was to find a mentor for A.J. to work with, senior project rules dictate that the mentor cannot be family. That’s a great rule and one that probably saved her from not graduating. I have moderate mechanical skills at best and get easily frustrated when trying to “teach”.

1965 mg b restorationMy first instructions were to pour some Marvel oil down each plug hole, to which my daughter replied,”well, where is the twisty thingy to take those things out?”. After googling “MG people in VT”, Aiyanna found the name of our savior and mentor, David Sander. This saint of a man is the chairman of The New England MG “T” Register, Ltd., President of the VT Auto Enthusiast Club , and willing to give his time freely to a stranger who is interested in fixing a B, in need of a lot of help. In late September Dave came up and met the car, we were there, too. By December we had gotten new tires on the car so it would roll and we got it into it’s garage, a 10×20 tent with a pallet/plywood floor.After Christmas, Dave began a series of weekly visits on Thursday afternoons and the part buying frenzy began. By ground hogs day I was whipping out my Moss Motors customer number so fast it was catching the customer service reps by surprise. We have made a lot of progress and are on the cusp of starting the car for the first time. It currently has all new brakes, radiator, oil cooler, king pins, fuel pump, steering wheel, turn signal switch, slave cylinder, points, condenser, voltage regulator, rotor, tires, water pump, thermostat and housing, door handle, rebuilt master cylinders for the clutch and brakes, also many hours of loving attention. The car is smiling and so am I thinking of my kids driving my first car. Coming soon…

Editor’s note…The running engine has the sweetest sound you could ever hear!

More Questions About Oil

From the Editor….

Dave, would you please keep this oil discussion going?

Questions….. Should we use synthetic in our old cars? What about the question of single-weight oil vs multi-weight oils in our old cars, which is best and why? You have mentioned the moisture collecting in our car’s oil pans, especially during winter storage, should oil types come into the conversation here? What about this whole question of 600 weight in our old differentials? What should we use and is 600 weight really 600 weight? Thanks Dave.

Gary, good questions.

synthetic oil cansThe question of synthetic oil in our old cars is a good one. Like any selection of engine oil, it comes down to the application.

The quality of engine oils has improved dramatically since our antique cars were manufac-tured. The multi-viscosity high detergent oils available today are vastly superior to the oils availa-ble when these cars were new. Not that many years ago, engines were full of sludge and varnish from engine oil deposits. Cars needed to have the engines flushed with flushing oil during an oil change.

The additives and detergents in engine oils still break down, requiring oil changes. This happens more quickly under “severe” driving conditions. Older, carbureted vehicles with open crank case ventilation require more frequent oil changes. The fuel mixture of carbureted engines is not as well controlled as the fuel mixture of modern computerized fuel injected en-gines. Unburned fuel in carbureted engines and early fuel injected engines will dissolve in to the engine oil. Modern engines have sealed crankcases. Older cars have open crankcase ventilation, leaving an opportunity for dust and dirt to migrate in to the engine oil. Because of these reasons, oil needs to be changed more frequently in these older engines than it does in modern engines.

oil leakI have had a number of people tell me they will not use synthetic oil, because they think it will leak out. If your engine already leaks oil, this is true. Synthetic oil will not cause new leaks in an engine. If the engine has sound seals and gaskets, synthetic will not leak any more than conventional oil.

Synthetic oil is superior to conventional oil for lubricating and cooling the moving parts of the engine.

If the vehicle has a fairly new engine I would be more inclined to use synthetic oil. The parts and machining cost to rebuild an engine can quick-ly pass $5,000. Synthetic oil is a relatively inexpensive way to protect this investment.

Some vehicles, like air cooled Volkswagens, were designed to use straight weight oil. I have been told multi viscosity oils can foam up in these en-gines, and only straight weight oils should be used. I use straight 30 weight synthetic engine oil in my John Deere Tractor.

Moisture will condense in the crank case as a byproduct of combus-tion. This moisture will remain there until it evaporates away due to engine heat. The engine needs to be run for a while fully warmed up for this to hap-pen. If the car is not driven much, it makes sense to change the oil before putting the car away for winter storage.

There are many factors to consider when choosing an engine oil. The type of driving, number of miles driven in a driving season, the condition of the engine, oil consumption of the engine and cost of the engine oil should all be considered.

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide if the extra protection of synthetic engine oil is worth the extra cost.

Next month I will talk about gear oils.

Editor’s notes….. Watch the monthly VAE auction, you will find some great oil deals. Much of the time the price is half or less what you would pay at the store and the items are high quality, new products.

Synthetic Oil

Hey Dave’s Garage-

What is synthetic motor oil all about? Why is it better than natural oil? How does it differ chemically? I always thought that frequent oil changes were necessary because of the build up of acid and other contaminants. Why don’t they build up in synthetic oil the same way? Wendell Noble

Wendell, great question! There is a lot of information, and a lot of strong opinion here.

There are three types of engine oil sold in the U.S. that are considered “Synthetic”.

synthetic oilGroup III synthetics are oils based upon hydrocracked crude oil. They have many qualities of “true” synthetic oils, but they are not manufactured or “synthesized” in a lab. They are refined from crude oil.

Group IV synthetics are produced from Polyalphaolefin base stocks, and are one of the two “true” synthetic oils available in the US.

Polyalphaolefin (PAO) is a manufactured ethylene chemical used to manufacture many plastics and fabrics. It also can have good properties as a lubricant. Pure PAO alone does not work well as an engine oil. It still needs additives to work as an engine oil.

Group V synthetics are almost exclusively ester based. Like PAO based lubricants, group V base oil needs additives to be an engine oil. Group V based oils are very specific application lubricants. I don’t believe they’re used as a base in over the counter synthetic engine oil.

So, so called group III synthetics are a more highly refined crude oil, with a base stock that comes out of the ground as crude oil.

Group IV synthetics are synthesized from Polyalphaolefin (PAO).

The benefit of a true synthetic is uniformity and consistency in the molecular make up of the base oil. Unlike refined crude oil, synthetic oil has consistent molecular chains. Think of crushed gravel being ground up to similar sized pieces (conventional oil), and compare that to manufactured glass marbles (Synthetic). The marbles are more consistent in size and shape. The marbles would make a better lubricant.

Cost may be the best way to determine if oil is a true synthetic. If it is under $5.00 a quart, it is probably a group III synthetic. The true answer can be found on the bottle or the manufacture’s website.

Regardless of the base lubricant, all engine oils have additives to control viscosity through temperature ranges, and additives to keep the engine clean and well lubricated. These additives still wear out or break down regardless of the base oil used. Engine oil is also diluted with by-products of combustion through use.

So why use synthetics? Synthetic oil is a superior lubricant. The oil is consistent on a molecular level, with no impurities. Refined oil has inconsistent molecular chains and still retains trace amounts of impurities. Synthetic oil maintains viscosity regardless of temperature. Put a quart of conventional oil and a quart of true synthetic in your freezer overnight. In the morning take them out and shake them. The synthetic will still be fluid. The conventional oil will be thick like honey. Remember that next winter when it is below zero and you start your car.

Synthetic oil does not sludge and varnish in the engine as conventional oils do. I have opened up engines with over 200,000 miles on them with synthetic oil, and they look like new inside.

Oil change intervals should still be dependent on driving conditions. Short distance driving is “severe” duty. It is often a good idea to do a Used Oil Analysis to get an idea of when to change your oil. A UOA may show your used oil did not need to be changed, and was still able to properly lubricate. You may find a vehicle with synthetic oil, with few short trips can go 10,000 miles or more before the oil needs to be changed.

From the Editor…. Dave, would you please keep this oil discussion going?

Questions….. Should we use synthetic in our old cars? What about the question of single-weight oil vs multi-weight oils in our old cars, which is best and why? You have mentioned the moisture collecting in our car’s oil pans, especially during winter storage, should oil types come into the conversation here? What about this whole question of 600 weight in our old differentials? What should we use and is 600 weight really 600 weight? Thanks Dave.

Tank Ooze

gas tank oozeAbsent any questions this month, I will share something interesting with you. Recently I drained and removed the gas tank on the Datsun 240Z project. This car was parked in 1982. I removed the drain plug, but no gas came out. I poked at the hole with a screwdriver, and felt a thick tar like substance. I poked through it and very dark, varnished gas began to dribble out.

After removing the gas tank, I stood it up on end. About a gallon of thick, black asphalt like substance oozed out the filler neck.

I googled it, and learned that gasoline literally turns back in to crude oil after sitting for a long time. After 35 years, it does not resemble gasoline anymore.