alsancle

How to Sort and Maintain a Prewar car

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This started as a tangent in Walt's interesting picture thread but really should be on its own.    For me,  the most important thing with regard to sorting a car is continuous driving and different conditions.    Making notes of issues,  hopefully you make home and can address.

 

1.  Cooling system is critical.   Nothing like stop light anxiety watching the temp gauge.

 

2.  Chassis lubrication,  Bijur, hand greased or otherwise.

 

3.  Fuel system.   What kind of fuel?   Modern pump gas can be a problem with some cars.  Vapor lock, etc.

 

4.  Tires.   Can you change a spare on the road?   Or do you have sidemount covers containing tires with no air?

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Excellent idea for a topic, AJ. A lot of ground to cover but if everyone kicks in a tip perhaps it can grow into a very useful database.

 

"Sorting" a car is a tricky proposition and can mean a lot of things to different people. My experience, now that I've laid hands on more than 1200 "collector" cars over the past 10 years, is that most people in this hobby (like 90%) don't know junk from quality. Everyone thinks they own a good (or even great) car, but statistically speaking there's just no way I happened to find the only 1200 cars with needs. So I think the VERY FIRST step should be--like an alcoholic--admitting that your car has issues. No matter how much you love it or how much you spent or how great a mechanic you think you are, I can almost guarantee your car needs something and probably something significant. Don't be offended by or resistant to advice, which is almost always well-intentioned. Always strive to make things better and to do the work correctly. Don't ever settle for "good enough" and the process will become much clearer. As you fix the big problems, the smaller ones will be easier to tackle and the car will inevitably get better and better. The sorting process can be extremely rewarding but it does take time and effort that most guys aren't willing to invest once the car is "good enough." It's why so many trailer queens drive like crap even after expensive six-figure restorations--that last 10% is as expensive as the first 50% so few guys do it once the car is "somewhat" functional.

 

Just off the top of my head, I'm willing to bet your car (the theoretical "you" not anyone in particular) has an exhaust leak, a wonky alignment, brakes that are working at maybe 70%, the wrong lube in the steering box, and some very marginal wiring. It'll run and drive just fine, go to car shows where people will love it, and it might even win awards. Nevertheless, take off the rose-colored glasses when looking at your own stuff, be honest with your appraisal of the car's condition, be willing to accept criticism, and for God's sake if you don't know how to do something get someone who does. The only thing worse than doing nothing is doing something and doing it badly.

 

I'll be watching this thread and kicking in when I can. Good place to tackle topics like those listed above, and there are literally dozens more. Everyone has thoughts, put them here and make them useful.

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Here's my half dozen:

1. Safety items come first.  Work safe during restoration. 

2. Make it stop correctly before making it go.

3. Lubricate everything that moves.

4. Replace worn suspension parts & tires.

5. Install safety glass and good mirrors.

6. Test drive before tours to avoid the trouble truck.

 

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Great topic Al and one that many owners feel " well I don't drive it that much , just to local shows, and usually not after dark, so I don't have to think about it to much" Simple things like proper tire pressure can affect steering, wear on tires etc.

One of my biggest personal topics when it comes to an old ( especially pre war II) car is that the "original wiring looks great, cloth covering is not broken or weak, so leave well enough alone" this is especially true when you look under the dashboard , lots of wire there, but hey it looks fine. Well look at that wiring in a dark garage while the car is running and you may see a spectacular light show with electricity jumping between wires.  the wiring that looks good in daylight is like seeing the 4th of July celebration with all the electricity being the fireworks! Sure to get a proper harness and rewire a car is a total PITA. And to get a new wire to to the dome light on en enclosed car - hey you have to remove the headliner. Well rewire the car and if you don't want to get into the headliner ( understandable) then just by pass that part and don't use the dome light. SO you loose a point at a show, so what.

I witnessed this first hand over 30 years ago when a friend and I rewired another friends two Pierce Arrows here on long island. I lay down under the car and he got under the dashboard and we worked together passing wires etc from the new harness that came complete with instructions/tags as to what went where. Both of the cars we did were amazing 4th of July type sparking light shows under the dashboard when in a dark garage but both were restored otherwise. Is it worth spending the $1,600 on a new harness and the effort to see it fitted or would you rather think - yeah the cars ok, and then see smoke coming out from under the car when the old wiring starts to deteriorate as you drive it down the road many miles from home?

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I shall comment tomorrow as I will need the longest post I have ever written! 😎

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1 hour ago, Matt Harwood said:

The sorting process can be extremely rewarding but it does take time and effort that most guys aren't willing to invest once the car is "good enough." It's why so many trailer queens drive like crap even after expensive six-figure restorations--that last 10% is as expensive as the first 50% so few guys do it once the car is "somewhat" functional.

 

This is exactly what I think when I hear someone say "This nineteen thirty seven eleven car drives like a truck, and is hard to start, but that's how they were back then".....the car has been either restored, or kept, "good enough".

 

I've had the chance to drive many early cars that were restored by excellent craftsmen, and EVERY PART was restored to new (or better in some cases).  I can tell you that those cars are a joy to drive, easy to start, the whole bit.  NOT like the cars that, when it comes to front end, let's say, someone says "shucks, it's good enough".....or they put in a 6 volt battery with small 12 volt cables, grounding through a rusty frame, and say "well, guess I need to convert to 12 volt, these 6 volt systems are all junk".

 

The main example I have personal experience with is my '37 Cord phaeton, which is very worn, and it's OK to drive but no picnic.  Then, I upholstered and topped a beautiful '37 Cord phaeton for the late Bill Pettit, and it was restored by the best in the business.  What a JOY to drive his car....instant start, perfect shifts, easy to steer......the whole thing a wonderful experience.  If all I'd been exposed to was my car, I might have thought they weren't that good a driver, I know better.  We're fixing a lot of mechanical issues now on the Cord, leaving it alone cosmetically.

 

As to a car that's sat for a long while:

-remove gas tank and have it cleaned

-rebuild fuel pump and carb with ethanol resistant kits

-rebuild starter and generator

-make sure all battery wiring is correct size, and run a ground directly to a starter mounting bolt

-drop oil pan and make sure it's clean, and there are no bits laying about in the oil, good clues to issues

-check and adjust brakes.  Mechanical brakes, make sure they're adjusted correctly and shoes/drums are good.  Hydraulic brakes, well, just rebuild them every 10 years, they're just temporary.

 

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1 hour ago, Walt G said:

Great topic Al and one that many owners feel " well I don't drive it that much , just to local shows, and usually not after dark, so I don't have to think about it to much" Simple things like proper tire pressure can affect steering, wear on tires etc.

One of my biggest personal topics when it comes to an old ( especially pre war II) car is that the "original wiring looks great, cloth covering is not broken or weak, so leave well enough alone" this is especially true when you look under the dashboard , lots of wire there, but hey it looks fine. Well look at that wiring in a dark garage while the car is running and you may see a spectacular light show with electricity jumping between wires.  the wiring that looks good in daylight is like seeing the 4th of July celebration with all the electricity being the fireworks! Sure to get a proper harness and rewire a car is a total PITA. And to get a new wire to to the dome light on en enclosed car - hey you have to remove the headliner. Well rewire the car and if you don't want to get into the headliner ( understandable) then just by pass that part and don't use the dome light. SO you loose a point at a show, so what.

I witnessed this first hand over 30 years ago when a friend and I rewired another friends two Pierce Arrows here on long island. I lay down under the car and he got under the dashboard and we worked together passing wires etc from the new harness that came complete with instructions/tags as to what went where. Both of the cars we did were amazing 4th of July type sparking light shows under the dashboard when in a dark garage but both were restored otherwise. Is it worth spending the $1,600 on a new harness and the effort to see it fitted or would you rather think - yeah the cars ok, and then see smoke coming out from under the car when the old wiring starts to deteriorate as you drive it down the road many miles from home?

 

 

 

I knew that could happen! I've never seen it, but know the electrical system in any car is the match in the gas tank that can destroy it. Clueless to all things electrical, will go to my grave knowing less about it than I know today. Bob 

Edited by 1937hd45 (see edit history)

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41 minutes ago, edinmass said:

I shall comment tomorrow as I will need the longest post I have ever written! 😎

 

I like the term sorting out, I picture it as being quite evolved, are dynamometers involved? Bob 

Edited by 1937hd45 (see edit history)

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54 minutes ago, trimacar said:

 

This is exactly what I think when I hear someone say "This nineteen thirty seven eleven car drives like a truck, and is hard to start, but that's how they were back then".....the car has been either restored, or kept, "good enough".

 

 

This truck comment reminds me of an issue that I swear 90% of the prewar cars have.   How many 4 corner leaf spring cars have the right lubricant between the spring leafs?   Or for that matter,  any lubricant?

 

I once drove a car directly before and after the springs were lubed.  The difference was insane.

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17 minutes ago, alsancle said:

 

This truck comment reminds me of an issue that I swear 90% of the prewar cars have.   How many 4 corner leaf spring cars have the right lubricant between the spring leafs?   Or for that matter,  any lubricant?

 

I once drove a car directly before and after the springs were lubed.  The difference was insane.

 

Rebuilding the springs on my 1929 Cadillac are on my to-do list this winter. I just thought it rode like a brick because it was heavy and needed those huge spring packs. Then I drove a different 1929 Cadillac and my eyes were opened. I will forgive ignorance in certain specific areas, but to assume that all 6-volt electrical systems "never worked right" or that shaking and shimmying on the road is "just how old cars were back then" is total BS. Hence the need for sorting, even after a decade of driving an otherwise healthy car...

 

 

Edited by Matt Harwood (see edit history)
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Great topic which I will watch closely since I just got another prewar car. I am currently in the "observe, educate and list" stage which I always do before digging in. In my experience, prewar or postwar, brakes and front suspension are the two areas almost always ignored until they are either dangerously unsafe or broken and not operable. Hard to believe!

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Great topic.   The amount of sorting that a pre-war car requires has been one of the genuine surprises to me getting into this hobby.   It's what makes me most concerned about the future of pre-war cars. If you have to expect to pay 10K to get a car running correctly even if you buy a great car, that is going to limit who will buy these cars and keep them on the road. Maybe that's inevitable.  But  he more the knowledge of what has to be done can be widely known, and the know-how shared, the more people can get their cars on the road like they're supposed to be.

 

Other than that, I defer to everything that EdinMass will say.  (Sorry, AJ!)  :)

 

 

 

Edited by 1935Packard (see edit history)

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The late Harold Sharon had much to say concerning keeping brass cars on the road but my favourite expression I learned from him is "the car owner deteriorates with the car."

 

Try to get a copy of his book "Understanding your Brass Car" by Morris Publishing, Kearney, Ne. 1 800 650-7888.  The book is full of useful tips and techniques.  Harold died Aug 25th 2007 and I miss him, he helped my plumb my gas lamps and understand my Schebler carburetor.

 

Regards, Gary

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Once a car/truck is sorted it needs to be driven, if not daily then more often than monthly and more than a few miles.

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Harold Sharon was a true treasure, his advice is great, and as mentioned, if you don't have his book, try to find one.  It's not only practical advice, but a whole mentality on owning, fixing, and driving early cars.  He knew how things worked, or didn't work, and he knew the fixes.  He also knew how to sweep the BS into a pile and throw it away....

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4 hours ago, 1935Packard said:

Other than that, I defer to everything that EdinMass will say.  (Sorry, AJ!)  :)

 

No problem Orin.  While I realize Ed is short on basic life skills,  he is a savant when it comes to sorting cars.

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23 minutes ago, alsancle said:

 

No problem Orin.  While I realize Ed is short on basic life skills,  he is a savant when it comes to sorting cars.

 

I know I’m crude and unrefined......just like petroleum...........to be honest I’m the first member of my family to walk erect.

 

At least I wasn’t referred to as an idiot savant! 🤡

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8 minutes ago, edinmass said:

At least I wasn’t referred to as an idiot savant!

Ed, you haven't been paying attention...you're half right!  🙂 Happy Thanksgiving to all, y'all (Ed is talking Suth-run yet, I don't think).

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Florida isn't really Southern, to many snowbirds...

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7 hours ago, cxgvd said:

The late Harold Sharon had much to say concerning keeping brass cars on the road but my favourite expression I learned from him is "the car owner deteriorates with the car."

 

Try to get a copy of his book "Understanding your Brass Car" by Morris Publishing, Kearney, Ne. 1 800 650-7888.  The book is full of useful tips and techniques.  Harold died Aug 25th 2007 and I miss him, he helped my plumb my gas lamps and understand my Schebler carburetor.

 

Regards, Gary

 

I just purchased this book last week. His daughter, Melanie, has a few new copies left. You can contact her at

haroldnjo@cox.net     $33 for priority or $29 media mail

It's a good book that I'm still reading through. Learning lots!

 

Ken

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Ok, here we go. A post subject that is evolved into my life’s work. Yes, my full time profession is now sorting pre war cars to drive as new, or better than new. What’s even worse is I thoroughly enjoy it, and never get tired of it. Yup.....that proves I’m insane. Now that we have that covered we can talk in general about making cars RIGHT.

 

Lots of good observations and advice already from people who have chimed in. That being said, I shall comment from my perspective. I may ramble or repeat myself. Please forgive any harsh comments, and if you recognize any particular car or owner, DO NOT post a comment, DO NOT name the owner, and DO NOT identify the car. Everything that follows should not be taken as criticism, it is not intended to be sarcastic, and isn’t trying to be negative, I just don’t want to beat around the bush. My intention is not to offend. Thanks for keeping this in mind. 
 

 

Fifty years ago, you could easily find a highly skilled and experienced CRAFTSMAN to service your car. There was no shortage of inexpensive experienced people who could fix just about anything. Today, finding someone who truly knows what they are doing is almost impossible. There is No SUBSTITUTION for spending thousands of hours in a shop, under a hood or lift, and fixing cars. Many people here ask for advice, and get it. It never ceases to amaze me that people who work in an office feel qualified to tell others how to fix something when their own car never leaves the garage. Knowing who to listen to and take advice from is very important. Most everyone means well when trying to help, and 98 percent of them have NO clue. Most people guess, use conjecture, and throw parts at a problem. That is NOT the way to fix a car. I don’t care how good your Ferrari mechanic is...........pre war cars have nothing to do with them. Got a buddy who builds hot rods? Yup, he’s a hack and can’t put something back to original........because it’s ten times harder to make it correct and original than it is to modify it and make it go down the road.

 

Most people simply have no idea what a correct starting, running, and driving car are like from the pre war era. Have you driven HUNDREDS of pre war cars? Hundreds? If not then I submit to you you really don’t know how to properly evaluate if a car is correct. Fact is there were no “bad” cars that were always difficult to start, there were no cars that always “ran hot”. There were no cars that were hard starting when hot......or cold. The car didn’t crank slow when it was new, and the steering didn’t wander, the front end didn’t shake, the wheel didn’t bind, and the brakes weren’t useless or dangerous. Fact is from about 1910 engineering was decent and most issues related to automobile reliability and performance  were well understood and figured out. Thus, if your 100 point car restored by the worlds leading expert has a problem, flaw, issue, or particular quirk.......it wasn’t restored properly. (The skill set of restoring a car for show, and making it perform correctly are two mutually exclusive talents.) You can drive a 1914 Fort T around the world when it was new......... reliably. And it was the least expensive thing on wheels.......so, if Henry could make a car that would never stop or let you down, your large, impressive, high horsepower prestige mobile shouldn’t let you down or give you headaches. 
 

Notice how far into this post I am and we still haven’t fixed anything yet? 
 

It only takes three things to properly sort a car.....from a Ford T to a supercharged Duesenberg, the same three “ingredients” are needed. Fortunately they are all available, and finding them is as easy as picking the correct powerball number. Makes you feel better now doesn’t it? And the three things are craftsmanship, time, and money. All three are required or your going to have very poor results. This is a profound statement.......read it one hundred times. Please read the definition of profound........google it.

NUMBER ONE- Time.

 

Time: There is NEVER enough time given to the shop or mechanic as the owner is always in a hurry and has unreasonable expectations on how long his car should be in the shop. EVERY job takes either a week, a month, or a year. There is NO other option. Supplies, reproduction parts, sourcing used parts, machine shop service,  and outsourcing services from other trades take time.....the better the shop, the busier they are today. Good shops are busy, and extremely talented craftsman have much more work than they can ever accomplish. A craftsman doesn’t need you business.......he has customers lined up so deep that he’s borderline burnt out, and overwhelmed with the backlog and phone calls of when is it going to be ready. Today’s world is moving at a faster pace than it ever was before..........people want and expect instant results........with a pre war car that just isn’t going to happen.  Plan ahead.......get your parts on the shelf BEFORE you start the job. Sounds simple, and it is. The only problem is no one does it. Buy spare parts, and have them on the shelf. Want your project or service to get done faster? Have everything on hand, as you mechanic will get to you car faster, and often put it first in line if he doesn’t have to figure out finding or making impossible to locate or manufacture parts. If he can start and finish it without delay and depending on others for outside service........he will get to it sooner. Do yourself a favor, plan ahead and make it easier for the people your working with.......they will appreciate it.........and IT WILL SAVE YOU MONEY!

 

Number Two - Money

 

Yup, old cars are expensive. No way around it, they cost more than they should, and it’s getting more and more costly as time goes on. To be honest, most of us in the hobby making our living in it are astonished by the cost of paint, chrome, upholstery, machine work, parts manufacture, shipping costs, never mind our overhead for the shop. We look at the bills we hand to customers and shake our heads.........most people in the antique car industry live in modest homes, drive used cars, work longer and harder than average,  most of them are just getting by, trying to live a middle class lifestyle. I have never met a “rich or wealthy” restorer. A select few do well, some do ok, and many come in and exit the industry because it’s so dam hard to make a go of it and pay the bills.  Recently I had a plumber make a house call. He showed up in an old van, with a five gallon bucket of tools and a ladder. All Home Depot stuff .......we’re not talking snap on here. He showed up two days after I called him, and didn’t have to diagnose or figure out anything as I had already done that, including sending him a photo of the circulation pump with model, part number, and an engineering schematic of the system. I spoon fed him the job, the location of the pump was clean, accessible, well lit, and it was in an air conditioned section of the building. He just had to climb a ladder, and install a flange pump (no talent required) and test it that it was working when finished. He was there for three hours, was clean and professional, and left. Labor was 800 dollars. And remember he doesn’t have a 10 thousand square foot shop with endless amounts of equipment. That’s why old cars are so expensive.........the shop, the tools, the overhead............rebuild a 540K supercharged engine or something similar.........if it blows up, the customer wants it repaired under warranty........which means yo need to make enough on the job to cover you ass in case the 80 year old engine pops for ANY reason. How much do you charge for that? By the way, recently I saw an engine where the timing chain and gears were over 40k just for the parts. Not the cam, not the bearings, not the gaskets or machine work, the timing chain and gears were 40k, you still want to build 80 year old motors and warranty them? I don’t. Simply put things today are insanely expensive. Be prepared to wright the checks, or be able to do it yourself. 

 

More to come - breakfast time out in a multi cylinder Classic.

 

See third page for the rest of my post.......

 

Edited by edinmass (see edit history)
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Agreed on all counts Ed.   One important point that might be lost in your long winded manifesto is that you really only learn from doing.

 

A side issue is that I've never understood people that watch someone else do something and then think they can estimate that task's time, repeat that task better themselves, etc.   It blows my mind every time when somebody that hasn't actually done the work (pick anything in life) seems to be an expert.

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Time, when restoring a car, is a huge factor.  One doesn't get a lot done in an hour, that's all there is to it.

 

Anyone who's done paid work on an antique car has heard the "why did it take x hours to do that simple job?". As mentioned above, unless you do it, you won't understand.  I've told people 60 to 70 hours to do a proper top on an early car, and response is "that's a week and a half, can't take that long".  Well, it does to do it correctly.  I've spent 8 hours before just getting top bows aligned, after owner states  "they're perfect"......

 

Ed is correct in so many ways.  People who truly understand early cars are getting very difficult to find, and without that understanding, mediocrity ensues.....

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