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72 Electra, aka "The Queen"

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  • 5 months later...

I am sure many of us have done this before, as have I, but just for conversation I'm going to try and document changing the timing chain on this car. I have not done this for a few years now so it's a primer for doing the same thing in my GS next.

The prime decision is if I really need to do this job at all. The car is not exhibiting any timing problems, and has gobs of power. But looking over the prior owners receipt stash it appears this is still the original set, and the car did just turn 95K. My own experience tells me 99- 110K and it's pretty much toast. So I called my mechanic shop for a quote. That came in at $600 + . So I decided to take my time and do it myself.

After draining the "newish" radiator ( metal tanks, Thank you Dan!) I found it next to impossible to get the upper radiator hose free in that pesky area on the back and underside. Trying to be gentle there was one point where I saw the neck flex. I just hope I have not opened a leak there. Time will tell. Then trying to get the air cleaner off, the breather element ( plastic ) inside the unit broke off. WTH? So much for a problem free desert car. Anyway, that's small potatoes.

After loosening the nuts for the fan on the water pump, the belts all came off without any issue. Does look like I'll need another A/C belt sooner than later. I need to verify but I though I replaced all the belts last summer when I got home. No time to look it up right now. Removal of one of the two bolts holding the shroud and loosensing the other, then removal of 3 of the 4 fan nuts, the fan wiggled loose with no problem either. Removed the last shroud bolt, and then the last fan nut, and the two pieces came out easily. I do love the space in those Big Buicks.

Considering the front of the motor has the usual build up of grease and dirt, I was pleasantly surprised to see this apparently new fan clutch.


Since this car has the AIR system I was also surprised to see the water pump pulley was actually two pulleys, although that does make a lot of sense


I also noticed the original vacuum hose to the Vacuum Advance and the fact that it has hardened on the end and is split. I won't be painting the replacement. But it adds to the total job.


As a side note, the coil wire is stuck to the coil. So I guess wires will be added to the job as well, though treated as a separate task later.

After advancing the engine to TDC, on the # 1 cylinder, I backed it up till I just saw the rotor move. Looks like the slack is about 12 degrees. This cements the decision to proceed with the replacement. With this much slack in the chain I figure it's got to be original parts inside. These things have to go!


So back to TDC and then the markings for the distributor. One to document the housing to the cover relationship. A second to document the rotor position once seated. There will be a third mark as soon as I pull the distributor high enough to free the gear. That will be the rotor starting point of reference for reassembly. I'll get to that right after some lunch...


Edited by JohnD1956 (see edit history)
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You are bringing back in time. I owned a 73 Estate Wagon with 455. 1986 it was. The chain had a lot of slack at that mileage. So much slack that every time the timing light flickered the balance appeared to be rocking back and forth instead of rotating in one direction. Don't do what I did when I assembled the entire front back together. I forgot to install the oil filter. Needless to say the underside of the car had a large puddle of fresh oil. :rolleyes:

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Memories indeed! This is a job I tried to tackle last summer on my Electra because of a broken bolt on the wrong side of the timing cover. Got everything drained, off and marked but could not budge the distributor. I could get it to turn side to side, but no amount of coaxing could get it out... so bolted back up the timing cover, put all the parts in the trunk, and on the flat bed it went! Looking forward to the rest of your pics John!

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Lucky for me the distributor came right out of this one. But didn't get much else done this PM. Just some general cleaning of the grease/dirt and loosened the harmonic balancer bolt. That and adding some " Might as well's to the project. Back at er tomorrow.

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I like your storage barn. Nice safe place for the Queen.

I had a building at my old property just like yours. My son stored his 4 wheeler in it and all was well till he had a gas leak. The gasoline spilled onto the floor and down between the plywood and ate away at the styrofoam. I had to pull up two full sheets of plywood to replace the styrofoam and the smell never really went away. My floor was painted with 3 coated of high quality latex and the floor was Tongue and Groove but the gas still got to the styrofoam. I remember using my circular saw to cut away the gas soaked floor and not being sure that it wouldn't catch fire from the saw. Be careful


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Lucky for me the distributor came right out of this one. But didn't get much else done this PM. Just some general cleaning of the grease/dirt and loosened the harmonic balancer bolt. That and adding some " Might as well's to the project. Back at er tomorrow.

I recall my distributor removal went well. I did have to replace the balancer. I was tapping on it and the outer ring that that sits on the rubber insulator spun. The rubber was deteriorated. Located a replacement at the junkyard.

When I was finished the job I took the wagon to the drag strip. Ran a 17 sec quarter mile. Not bad for a sled at 5000+ pounds. I was running the A/C also. Hot day you know. :rolleyes:

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I' fear the same thing Bill. But the floor of the shed has removable plywood, just in case it ever needs to be re-leveled. And the Styrofoam rests on cleats for correct spacing, so it should be relatively simple to fix if that happens.

Chris, a 17 sec quarter with a full sized wagon, thats haulin!!! No racing for me though.... I just like a nice quiet cruise .

Got back into it today. First , here is a picture of the two marks on the distributor. The rotor moved almost two towers on removal of the distributor. Again, this is just for a starting point on reassembly.


It's hard to see but the fuel line is still in the clip just behind that point on the power steering pump bracket. Since that means the AIR pump and power steering pump have to come off, I might as well address the dirt in this area.


And boy oh Boy is there ever dirt there. Not just here either, but the other side too.


And also underneath. The good news is it's helped protect the metal. The other good news is the four bolts for the oil pan to timing cover are completely foreword of the cross member. That was a nice surprise.


Well, I might as well do some cleaning under here while I'm at it. So after about 20 minutes,


I decided that this was not really the job at hand and I got back to the original project. Next step, removal of what appears to be an original fuel pump. Note the red paint? Imagine, 42 years old when I was gallivanting around the country last summer.


Caked on dirt on the alternator bracket just had to be cleaned. I can't leave it like this.


Then one last check to make sure I was still at, or near TDC, and the balancer was removed.


BTW, here's the engine number, right next to the timing chain cover, under the alternator. If it ever matters, I have proof that it's the original engine now.



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Also of note is the difference between the 430 and 455 timing covers. I am using my 69 Service Manual since I don't yet have a 72 Manual and the 69 manual does not show this bolt.


And, just to make sure the new chain is tighter, I measured the deflection on the loose side of the old one. about a 1/4 inch at the most. The good was that all the nylon teeth were accounted for and the nylon was not even cracked. Still, a potential road trip disaster avoided in my view.


The new one is significantly tighter.


So, it's time for cleaning parts and putting it back together. I have a whole list of new parts to accumulate too. I've decided a long time ago that when I did anything like this I was going to replace difficult to reach consumables at the same time. So reassembly will probably take a few days.

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I was always under the impression that they were the same too. I'll take another look at the manual tomorrow. But I do have a spare cover from a 69 430 motor.

It's behind the 56. When I have access I'll pull it out and see if they are the same.

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Not much progress the last few days. Yesterday Doug (redwind89) delivered a few parts from his store, otherwise I cruised with the Chapter to Utica to view a private collection. That took up the entire day. Today, after documenting the orientation of the oil pump shaft, I cleaned up the timing chain cover. The forum site won't let me up load pictures right now, maybe due to the new forum software? But anyway it took a good 2 1/2 hours to get that baked on grease and dirt off there. I am having some challenges getting the old gaskets off. Don't want to be slicing and dicing the aluminum covers.

Also, I took another look at the service manual and it does not show that extra bolt. But I can't get to my spare cover from a 430, to see if it really is different .

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So many cars, so little time. LOL!!!

Anyway, spent the time today cleaning parts. The plan is to assemble the cover and oil pump. and then paint from the backside towards the front of the cover, while it's off the car. Then when I get the cover on I will repaint the front of the cover along with the front of the engine. Just have not decided yet if I will paint the fuel pump. Slow going, but still six weeks to the Nationals so not in any rush per se.

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from this:


to this:


Right now I am working on extracting the three smaller water pump bolts on the bottom edge of the pump. Two have come out, along with all the top ones. For some reason the tops appear to have been changed to Stainless Steel bolts, while the bottom bolts are the original equipment. I plan to change them all to the stainless steel with a fresh coat of antiseize, just in case this pump needs to be replaced in my lifetime.

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Another slow day in this project. After snapping off the last water pump bolt I chose to have my mechanic extract the remaining stud.If it had broken off outside the case I might have tried to do it myself first. But it was recessed. Some things it's just easier to pay for, than to do it. Upon return I picked up new stainless steel bolts for the water pump and installed them with a coating of never-seize. Hopefully that will be enough. Then I packed the oil pump housing with the Vaseline primer, installed the oil pump cover and primered the outside for final paint. Naturally I don't have the topcoat yet. Hopefully it will be delivered soon. Other than that, there is the endless cleaning of the parts to be reused.

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Time to start putting it back together. One nice thing is the ability to align the drive shaft with the oil pump shaft:


Then it was on to the engine. At this point I discovered I had to mount the fuel pump so I could reinstall the fuel line to the carb, so I could position the clip for the fuel line that hangs on the top drivers side timing chain bolt. First a new fuel filter.


Looks like it was just in time to me. As many know, it seems very easy to strip out the Filter housing threads on the Quadrojet Carb. It seems to me that the spring that holds the filter in place tends to push the housing away from the carb leading to cross threading and ultimate failure of the part. To combat this I will gently push the housing towards the carb when installing until I have about 3/4 of the unit threaded. Even then I will keep light pressure towards the carb while tightening the housing in place.


Then onto the fuel pump and the fuel line, just so I can align the clip that holds the fuel line and finish torqueing the bolts on the cover. The instructions call for the body of the fuel pump to be packed with grease. Naturally I did not see that till the pump was on, so it's coming off tomorrow to fix that.

Then I mounted up the new points and condenser in the distributor. I bought the uni points set where as this particular engine came with the separate points and condenser. My NAPA guy says it's no problem to swap em. It does violate one golden rule though, to not change more than one thing at a time. Hopefully I won't have any problem with it though.

Here's how it sits tonight. I still need to get someone over to help lock the engine to torque the harmonic balancer.


But next up packing the fuel pump, cleaning and re mounting the coil and bracket, installing the by pass hose, then I can drop in the distributor and change out the lower radiator hose. I might just change out the alternator now too. and then I can just add the pumps back and viola'.

Edited by JohnD1956 (see edit history)
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Almost done!


The fuel pump has been packed with grease:


New points installed and distributor dropped close to where it came out.


Discovered the vacuum hoses are all dried and several were cracked, so all will be replaced.

Oil has been replaced. Right now I have the alternator being refurbished as it is also caked with dirt inside. And I need to get some 1/4" fuelhose for the return line to the tank. Then a few more details and I'll be in start up mode. Imagine, two weeks to do a six hour job.

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As of this moment it's all back together. I filled the radiator before lunch and if it's holding antifreeze when I get back out there, I'll try to start it. There are two things I might change again. That fuel filter in line before the fuel pump may have to go. It's sitting about 3 inches away from the center link. The center link looks like it stays in a stable position, but the filter looks kinda close to me and so I may pull it off. The other thing is all the vacuum lines were run with a fuel/vapor hose. I ran plain vacuum line. I may change the new lines to the original style but for now, it's test time. Hope it starts!!!

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Thankfully, no runs, no leaks, and no errors, except that fuel filter will have to come off. It started right up, and the oil pressure came right up too. On initial start the dwell angle was right on 30* after I had to eyeball the gap. Timing was way advanced, but that's back in place. There was a smudge of grease on the outside of the filter so obviously the center link hit it on my trip around the block. So I'll just go back to a straight fuel line when it cools off. If anything is disappointing it is that the paint is so far off from the rest of the engine. But that's going to be another project on a different day.




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  • 2 months later...

On the way to Springfield I was quickly reminded that the fuel gauge in this vehicle had some issues.  Mainly it was very slow to respond to a fill up.  I would top off the tank and then drive maybe a hundred miles or so and it would finally show 3/4 tank.  If I filled it before the next day it would read full by the AM, so I figured it had to be the sender, as the gauge always seemed to work right at about a half tank.  When I got back to home I figured I'd run the tank down to get that sender out.


The last two times I drove it the tank showed 1/4 full.  That should be 6.5 gallons, and I did not think of it much.  But then this past weekend I remembered that Dan ran out of gas when it was on the 1/4 mark,  so I pulled out the service manual just to see if there was anything special I needed to know before starting tank removal.


The pictures in the book showed that this tank has three vents by the rear axle end.  Those are all routed to a stand pipe attached inside the trunk, then routed to the emissions system.  The purpose is to vent the tank at any vehicle "attitude" and prevent vapor lock.  So the 72 service manual does recogonize the possibility of vapor lock!  But I don't want to digress.


It also showed I have the canister style fuel pickup/sender.  Now my good friend and mentor on mechanicals had always told me that he had repaired numerous senders.  Usually they only require a light cleaning and then alignment.  He is also a GM trained mechanic, and someone who can be absolutely trusted.  So when he told me he had never seen this style sender before I was surprised.  Thus I discovered that there are more conventional type senders and I verified that I could get one in a few days if I could not fix mine.


I took the initial photos of how things actually looked.  Note: the following picture is from the ground up.  I have not bought the hoop system yet so I can just rotate the car.




It sure looks like spaghetti.  But I noted that the undercoating was sprayed over the spring clamp on that center vent, so I figured the tank has never been out before. And I got started.  


A little blaster on the bolts, some gentle massage of the clamps and lines and voila, within a few minutes I found the holy grail:




The build sheet, dry, intact, and awful dirty.  The entire tank was awful dirty.  It was looking like I had just opened a can of worms and might have to have the tank sealed or replaced.  But after I got it up on the sawhorses, I vacuumed the pebbles



and dust and realized it was just high desert preservative.  With the wipe of a shop paper towel 44 years of dust and dirt just lifted off to reveal a like new tank!




After the initial cleaning I pulled the sender. 




What I thought I'd find was some corrosion blocking those small ports causing the canister to fill slowly resulting in my symptoms.  But not the case.  So with the knowledge that I could get something to replace this with, I dissected the canister.  This proved to be much easier than I thought.  Remove the sock on the bottom and the canister fell off.


And that revealed the stuck float.  This picture the unit is upside down, and the float is sitting in the empty position.




The float just pulls off easily and inspection showed some disfiguration on the slide side.




I'm not certain what the material composition of the float is, but after polishing the inner shaft it rides on and lightly sanding the insides where that damage is, the best I could get was the float moving up and down with a slight jar of the unit.  So this one is out, and I hope to have the new sender tonight.  I'll replace all the hoses while I'm into it. 


Be back with the button up soon...

Edited by JohnD1956 (see edit history)
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Oh, I forgot to mention, I only siphoned between 2-3 gallons out so I was lucky I never ran out of fuel.  Insides of the tank appear clean so it's going back without much ado.

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I am going to pass. I think the float is suseptible to damage from the ethanol. I noted this gauge was off when I got the car and all the way home. However for the last year I put non ethanol fuel in it all the time and it seemed to be okay. On the third tank with ethanol going to Missouri it malfunctioned again and only got worse as the trip went on. So the replacement I got today is going in. I don't know how many haircuts I have left and I don't want to spend any more of them pulling this tank again. "

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I am going to pass. I think the float is suseptible to damage from the ethanol. I noted this gauge was off when I got the car and all the way home. However for the last year I put non ethanol fuel in it all the time and it seemed to be okay. On the third tank with ethanol going to Missouri it malfunctioned again and only got worse as the trip went on. So the replacement I got today is going in. I don't know how many haircuts I have left and I don't want to spend any more of them pulling this tank again.

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I believe mine was made in California.  However I believe that the top of the tank is a common place to find them.   Now, my GS was built in Wilmington and I found build sheets in both seat backs of the front seat, under the front seat, under the back seat and behind the back of the back seat.  Of all those I only have one that was full and decent quality.  And I just found one for the Wagon under the third seat bottom a while back  plus I got one for that off the top of that tank when I had to replace it a few years back.


Meanwhile, I wrapped this project up this morning.  While I was under there I changed all the flexible lines where ever they were.  So much easier to do while the tank is out.  The gauge immediately dropped to E when I first powered it up and it immediately gave me a low reading when I put the 2 1/2 gallons back in.  So I'm off to filler up. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Pa Toohy!!!  The Holy Grail turned out to have a hole in the bottom.  It's not for my car.  Wrong color, missing option for Cruise Control and the wrong vehicle ID!!!  Back to the search!

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