Matt Harwood

1956 Chrysler Windsor Town & Country Wagon

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I didn't really intend on this car becoming a project per se, but since I bought it for my wife, Melanie, about a month ago, there have been a lot of little things to take care of, which is probably true of any new-to-you old car. We've been chipping away at the obvious ones like fluids and brake checks, so I thought I'd add some updates here. I bought this Chrysler wagon from a dealer down in Atlanta that I work with often and who I trust. I'd been admiring it for maybe a year and obviously a pink station wagon is a tough sell (although truthfully, I would not have bought it if it were any other color). Melanie loved they way it looked and I threw them what I thought was a reasonable offer and they took it. Two weeks later, the car arrived at our shop, pretty much as expected. The chrome is a little worse than expected, the engine bay is much better than expected, and it runs and drives rather well. Someone has recently invested a great deal of money in this car detailing the engine bay, installing a new wiring harness, new interior, and new WWW radials. All the important stuff works, including the power windows and seat, although I can't get any signal on the radio. Overall I'm pleased with the car.

 

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Arrival day!


When it arrived, it had a dead battery. We did some exploring and found that the cut-out in the regulator was bad. In fact, the regulator had been adjusted so that it was just running wide-open all the time. But with the cut out so badly adjusted, the battery was driving the generator when the engine was off--hence the dead battery. You could feel the generator buzzing when it was off and I'm just glad the generator wasn't fried. Obviously the seller knew about this since the battery was brand new, but they didn't know how to fix it. Not a big deal, bought an NOS regulator on eBay for $25. In fact, the one I bought looks far more correct than the one I removed, so it was a good choice anyway. It was a bit of a hassle--one, because the mounting screws were just threaded into the sheetmetal of the firewall (and stripped), and two, the terminals on the wires broke off. With a second set of hands, I was able to secure the regulator and I installed new terminals on the wires. All good, charging system works as it should now.

 

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New NOS regulator installed

 

We also noticed that the rear end was sagging noticeably--the springs were pretty tired. Fortunately, we have a great spring shop local to us, so we ran it down to them where they re-arched the rear springs and added a leaf. Voila! Car sits right, rides beautifully, and with a fresh set of air shocks, should be able to handle anything Melanie wants to carry in back (it has three rows of seats, so we might need the extra capacity). 

 

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Before and after with the rear springs fixed. BIG difference, maybe more than you can see here

 

The car also had a rather substantial exhaust leak--several, in fact. Melanie didn't really notice, but they were driving me nuts. This car is has the optional 250 horsepower 331 cubic inch "Poly Head" V8, which includes a Carter 4-barrel and dual exhaust, and there's a generic Midas exhaust system under it with plenty of age on it. The biggest leak was the driver's side collector joint where the manifold and exhaust pipe are connected, but there were 4 or 5 other leaks where the slip joints weren't tight or there were small pin holes in the pipes. So I spent most of today chasing those.

 

First try was a standard exhaust gasket from the auto parts store, but it didn't hold--the joint was just a little too wide and while the flanges seemed flat, they just wouldn't seal. Ultimately, the driver's side collector leak was solved with some gasket material from Remflex, which is a graphite material about 1/8-inch thick but compresses to about half that when it's torqued. I cut it out with a razor knife and it went in without a fuss. On the passenger's side, I was able to use one of those donut-type gaskets with a section of pipe through the middle, which reinforces the joint. Don't ask me why the driver's side exhaust manifold outlet is smaller than the passenger's side, but the donut would only fit on the passenger side. Oh well, everything tightened up like it should. Then I got my welder out and sealed up the little pin holes and tightened the U-clamp joints. Success! 90% of the leaks are gone and the car sounds MUCH better. Instead of that snuffly tick-tick-tick under acceleration, it's just a smooth hum. This is, after all, a top-of-the-line Chrysler, right? I'm very pleased with the result. Sorry, no photos since I didn't know I'd be writing about it later. I'll keep track better in the future.

 

As long as I was under the car, I changed the oil, too. The original oil drain plug was VERY chewed up by hack mechanics using pliers on it (it's rather large) but I was lucky enough to find a replacement at the local auto parts store. I didn't change the filter, which is a canister-style on the side of the block and I figured the local auto parts store wouldn't have a replacement. I'll order one and have it ready for the next oil change in the fall.

 

I took the car for an hour-long shakedown drive and tried to make the exhaust gaskets fail. Highway driving (this sucker is effortless at 70 MPH), hard acceleration, stop/start, whatever, and they didn't give up. That's not how my projects often go, so I'm delighted with the results. The car really drives well and I told Melanie she shouldn't have any qualms about driving it anywhere, any time. It's just a joy to drive now.

 

Oh, and I just bought a set of Imperial chrome wire wheels from a fellow forum member to replace those very boring hubcaps. Should have them later this week. Of course I'll have photos when they're installed.

 

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Imperial chrome wire wheels and a similar car showing the look we're aiming for. Nice, right?

 

I also learned that the car has been used in several magazine shoots, which is kind of cool. I have a friend getting married in June and his bride has already asked for the Pink Lady at her wedding. I've long thought that there is an opportunity for someone with a cool old car to help out some brides who want such a thing at their wedding (we must get two calls a week asking to rent an old car for an event). We'll probably make the Chrysler available and see if we can make some money with it. It's certainly photogenic enough!

 

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Future plans include A/C, LED lighting, changing the heater hoses (I hate those red hoses), fixing the gas gauge, and knocking out a few other details along the way. I'd really like to find a roof rack, but I bet that's practically unobtainium. Nevertheless, I really like this car!

 

 

 

Edited by Matt Harwood (see edit history)
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A western junk yard might be your best bet for a roof rack.  When I was toying with the idea of finishing up a 56 Dodge (ironically pink and gray) wagon I had,  A whole car came up on ebay for parts and it had a roof rack.  It was out west somewhere.  You will want to find something out that way if it's on a junk car as all the uprights are potmetal and would probably cost a fortune to replate ones with any degree of pitting. 

Cool looking car. I still have an NOS tail fin light housing with nice western tail lights in it,  in my office, I never let go with the car when I sold it.

Edited by auburnseeker (see edit history)

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Oooh, look what showed up yesterday! Now I'm thinking maybe we should have matching His and Hers 1956 Mopars...

 

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Yes, I've already removed the fender skirts, they're fiberglass anyway

 

The wire wheels for the wagon arrived yesterday (Wednesday). They arrived in fantastic condition and are pretty much ready to use--just a quick clean-up and they'll be ready to go on the car. I'm soaking them in Evaporust to clean up little areas between and on the spokes that would be hard to polish, and after pulling the first one out of the bath this morning, well, I'm impressed--looks spectacular. I couldn't be happier. Big thanks to forum member Gary (dpcdfan) for selling and shipping them to me, it's going to totally transform the look of the Pink Lady. We'll polish up the wheels on Saturday and have them mounted on Monday. I'll post photos when it's done--I can't wait!

 

Here are the "before" photos of the wheels that Gary sent me. I'll take some "after" shots following the Evaporust bath. You'll be amazed how effective it is on those impossible-to-reach areas. It doesn't hurt the chrome one bit but it erases any trace of rust and corrosion. Good stuff, not snake oil!

 

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In the meantime, I bought some LED bulbs for the taillights and back-up lights, so I'll work on that as well, maybe as soon as tomorrow if it's quiet at the shop.

Edited by Matt Harwood (see edit history)
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Matt... how do the rims keep from rusting again after the treatment? Do you just wax them or something?

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They do flash rust if you don't dry them right away when you remove them from the bath and hose them off. My plan is to clearcoat the centers and spokes, but not the rims, which are in excellent condition. It'll protect and seal everything but since the rims are the actual shiny part, the effect should still be the same. The rims' chrome is in excellent shape so they won't rust as long as the chrome remains intact. I'll have some photos this weekend when I actually finish the job and clean them up all the way.

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Congratulation for your "new" car; I always had some attraction from those '56 Chryslers.

I would not add a roof rack: it can induce some air noise.

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Spent the morning finishing the wheels and getting them ready to put tires on them on Monday. I had the tire shop order some 15-inch radial tubes since the spoke wheels don't seal up well enough to go tubeless (which I would prefer). We'll peel the current radials off the steel wheels and mount them on the wires. The wheels came out extremely well after a bath in Evaporust--I soaked each wheel overnight. Looking them over, the rust is almost totally gone, particularly in the nooks and crannies of the spokes. I probably should have cleaned them up a little better before soaking them, but no big deal. I hosed them down and cleaned them with some soap and water, using a Scotchbrite pad on the inner rim and edges to get them as clean as possible. These wheels are in shockingly good condition and I feel very lucky that Gary sold them to me so reasonably. The only notable issue on any of the wheels was a small bit of corrosion on the rim, but it will be all but invisible once it's mounted on the car.

 

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To prevent flash rust, I immediately dried them with an air gun, let them sit in the sun for a bit, then sprayed the spokes and center with a high-gloss clear. I thought about masking the rims but thought that would leave a hard line that could be seen, so instead I took a rag soaked in acetone and just wiped the paint off the outer rims before it could dry. I'll wax the rims instead to seal them up. The end result was pretty nice (the fourth wheel is still soaking, but it'll look just as good as these).

 

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Next up was installing the LED taillights. Although this car is 12 volts and has big taillights, more visibility is always welcome--especially since this is Melanie's daily driver. The wagon has two little access panels at the back of the cargo bay, so I removed those and pulled the light sockets out of the housing and removed the incandescent bulbs. The right side LED went right in and wow, it's bright! With the lights off, the turn signal flashes properly, but with the lights on, it blinks rapidly. Hmmm. I'll have to sort that out. The left side was a real pain. First the bulb popped out of the socket as I was installing it and fell into the bottom of the light housing. How the heck am I getting it out of there? I suppose I could disassemble the back of the car, but man, that's a lot of work. So instead I chewed up a wad of gum, stuck it to the end of a flexible flashlight, and stuck it in there until I fished the bulb out. I installed it again, making sure that it was locked in place. Turn the lights on and this side is VERY dim. Bad ground? Bad wire? Hmmm. First step was to clean the socket and the light housing where it snaps into place to try to get a better ground. No improvement. Dang. Then I checked the wiring and saw that it was a bit frayed. So I went to the auto parts store and bought a new socket pigtail. Unfortunately, for reasons I can't explain, the bulb did not fit in this new socket. WTF? After some wrestling I got it to snap in there but before I cut out the original socket, I decided to do one last test and swapped bulbs. Voila! The other bulb is nice and bright in the left side housing. Verdict: faulty LED. I'll return it and get a replacement this week. I put the incandescent bulbs back in so Melanie can drive the car. Two hours wasted. Dang.

 

Undeterred, I decided to get rid of those awful pink heater hoses under the hood. Again, the car tried to foil my plans and I had a heck of a time getting the spring-type hose clamps off. I didn't want to chew them up with pliers, so I modified a set with some notches that would hold the clamps securely. That made it a little easier. The black heater hose I bought was covered with manufacturer markings and stripes and other nonsense, so I used some acetone to wipe it off. A little trimming and the new hoses went on without issue. I had to squeeze the clamps in my vice to make the grip tightly enough and I'm a little worried they'll leak (more on that in a moment). As long as I had the coolant drained, I also replaced the temperature gauge sending unit to try to remedy a gauge that reads much too high.

 

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Filled it with coolant and fired it up--no leaks! This car runs ice cold and now the gauge reflects that fact rather than always hanging near the top of the scale. To see if I could make any of the joints leak, I put a towel over the radiator and ran it at a high idle for about 20 minutes. Nothing. My infrared temperature gun says the upper tank is about 172 degrees and I can still lay my hand on the upper hose. Heater and defroster are blowing warm air, not hot, but that's OK. Gauge shows about 1/3 of the way up the scale. No matter what I did, I couldn't make this car get hot. I suppose that's good news and none of the hose clamps leaked. Success!

 

I also painted the battery hold-down satin black to help it blend in. Now I"m very pleased with the way this engine bay looks. Nice!

 

Tomorrow I'll put it in the air, pull the wheels, and get ready to install the wire wheels on Monday. Maybe I'll try installing the LEDs in the back-up lights while I'm at it. I feel like I put in a long, hard day but didn't really get much done. Frustrating.

 

 

Edited by Matt Harwood (see edit history)
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Does anyone else work on cars and EVERY SINGLE TIME something goes wrong. Why the hell do I even keep trying? Today I figured I'll put the wagon in the air, pull the wheels, and get them ready to go to the tire shop in the morning. Easy, right? Three of them come off easily (and yes, I remembered that Mopars have reverse-thread lugnuts on the driver's side), but when I get to the left rear, there's one lugnut missing and they're all smaller than those on the rest of the car. Uh oh... And doesn't that bolt circle look a little smaller? Pull the steel wheel, test fit the wire wheel, and $*#*(()@)^ing $*)##@) moth(!&()_!@%_)ker. 

 

Remember what I was saying about everyone's car has had at least one hack mechanic dimwit working on it in the past and you need to strive to make sure it's not you? Voila! I give you the axle and brake drum from a small-series car stuffed under my wagon by some moron in the past. $@*(&#@. I didn't throw or break anything, but the birds outside learned a lot of colorful new language as I jumped up and down in the parking lot. Again, I can't wait until someone invents a time machine because there's a growing list of hack mechanic asses I'm planning to go back in time to kick.

 

 

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Right and wrong. Goddamn it.

 

So anyone got a spare Imperial or Town & Country axle and drum laying around? $!*#@.

 

 

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Are you sure you need to change the axle? I am guessing just the drum and hub. Thats the good news... Plan on cussing a little more while you take that hub off....

 

The hub and drum are an assembly, and it needs to be removed before you can do anything to the axle. If the taper on the end of the axle matches, you wont have to do anything to the axle, unless you find the endplay in the bearings is messed up, or you choose to "repack" (add some grease to) them.

 

I'm not gonna sugar coat it, this job is a giant pain in the ass. The correct tool is a puller that attaches to 3 of the lug nuts, and has a couple of pads you whale on with a maul or sledgehammer to tighten the screw. Sometimes even that isn't enough. A former employer of mine had a "tool" that amounted to a 2-man steel battering ram and a piece of logging chain. That worked on my 55 Desoto when the puller (and torch) didn't, but still took all afternoon.

 

The axle itself (if you choose to do anything to it) has a timken bearing packed with grease, and held on with a pressed collar. There is no non-destructive way to take it apart, but you can probably add grease. There is a seal just inside to keep the gear oil out of the wheel bearing, and dust seal on the outside to keep the brake dust and other environmental contamination out. The endplay of the bearing needs to be in a certain range. I don't remember how endplay was set on these older ones (It was not the screw adjuster that adjusts both sides like a later Mopar). It was probably shims.

 

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12 minutes ago, Bloo said:

 

I'm not gonna sugar coat it, this job is a giant pain in the ass. The correct tool is a puller that attaches to 3 of the lug nuts, and has a couple of pads you whale on with a maul or sledgehammer to tighten the screw. Sometimes even that isn't enough. A former employer of mine had a "tool" that amounted to a 2-man steel battering ram and a piece of logging chain. That worked on my 55 Desoto when the puller (and torch) didn't, but still took all afternoon.

 

One thing to remember with those pullers is a little time is the best medicine for that drum to come off.  Get it on tight about as tight as you dare,  then let it sit even a day or so if possible.  You may need to come back and add a little more tension if it gives a tiny bit.

After  a while you will hear that pop.  Then you can proceed. Be sure to leave the nut on a few threads so the whole unit doesn't come flying off. 

Every old car that's been touched in the past, is a can of worms.  Remember for 20 to 30 years of their life they were used cheap transportation and sometimes the right parts were hard to find,  so some guy making minimum wage did what he had to do to get it back together to make work on Monday morning with what he had available.

Good luck.

Edited by auburnseeker (see edit history)
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8 minutes ago, auburnseeker said:

 

One thing to remember with those pullers is a little time is the best medicine for that drum to come off.  Get it on tight about as tight as you dare,  then let it sit even a day or so if possible.  You may need to come back and add a little more tension if it gives a tiny bit.

After  a while you will hear that pop.  Then you can proceed. Be sure to leave the nut on a few threads so the whole unit doesn't come flying off. 

 

Good advice. I should have mentioned that. I hope it comes apart easy like that. I think it probably will because it must have been apart semi-recently when someone put the wrong hub/drum on. Sometimes it is a little tougher. The above mentioned Desoto had puller tension on it for over a week (and a couple of tries helping it with heat) when I finally resorted to the battering ram. It was about 34 years old at the time. Maybe it had never been apart.

Edited by Bloo (see edit history)

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I had a big problem getting my 1931 DB drum off until I used a sledge hammer that was about 30" long. Popped right off after a week of waiting/tightening. One whack.

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Excellent news. I'm pouring over the shop manual now to see how to replace the hub. Are those available somewhere or are they used/take-off only? I'm not sure what it should look like. It appears in the photo above that my drum is not riveted to the hub--is that correct? Should I be able to slide the drum off the axle studs? I'm just not quite sure what things will look like in there or what I should be trying to find. I've already located an NOS brake drum for the big bolt circle--should I buy that and hope a hub shows up?

 

Your expert thoughts are much appreciated. I don't feel as frustrated now--this is a solvable problem. Thank you!

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3 minutes ago, Matt Harwood said:

It appears in the photo above that my drum is not riveted to the hub--is that correct? Should I be able to slide the drum off the axle studs?

 

No. The hub and drum are an assembly, that is why you have to take it apart with a puller even to do brakes. I don't remember how they are attached.

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3 minutes ago, Matt Harwood said:

 

If the pictures (and size) match the good side, probably. If the 1955 imperial takes the same width brake shoes (I don't know) that would be a good clue.

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A few resources I checked,  seem to show the brake drum fits 55  then some 49-54 applications but none listed it as fitting a 56.  If someone doesn't get to it sooner,  I'll try to check my parts book for a Number in a little bit and post it. 

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I just ran this through my books and it looks like your car is a C71 windsor Estate wagon as how they Phrased it. 

According to the book,  the side doesn't matter.  The part number is 1637335 for a new one as of about 1958 when the book was printed and it covers all 1955 to 1958 Cars.  It looks that it only fits 1956 Cars.  It does however fit Dodge Desoto and Chrysler models D63-D500,  which is Dodge,  C70 and C73 Chrysler,  C71 and C72 Chrysler estate wagons,  which are Windsor and New Yorker.  It fits S23 Desoto which I would guess might be a wagon. 

Good luck. 

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