alsancle

How to Sort and Maintain a Prewar car

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Ed has reminded me of my problems with the Johnson carburetor on my first old car, a '27 314 Cadillac. I took the carb to a friend of a friend. He was probably in his 70s at the time – in 1971. He'd been a chauffeur and mechanic all his life, mostly working on Cadillacs. His everyday car was a 53 Cadillac. I don't know what he did to the carb...it cost me $35 and I didn't have any further problems except those caused by the electric fuel pump (which I know was stupid but I didn't know that when I was 22). Oddly enough, it turned out that he knew the car and the original owner when it was new.

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If reviving something that has not been on the road in eons it is best to drop the oil pan and clean out the muck - you would be surprised (and old oil is no where near the quality of today - even from 1970's) - that muck will quickly destroy things.  My record is a 1932 Packard Twin  Six - 17 hours start to finish - I used a hammer and a wood chisel matched to hours scrubbing via the parts cleaner to get oil out of pan and only had one hole open in the oil pick-up screen too (aka - someone prior to me tried to kill it and was smart enough to stop and glad I was smart enough to follow all the old timers advice that screamed at me to drop pans). 

 

Also, if it came with a hand crank - use it prior to hitting the starter - if it does not easily flip over then something is stuck.

 

Steps:  run for a second, then run up and down the drive for a couple hours, then around the block, then two blocks, and ...

 

You cannot break anything - if you break it then it was well on its way to being broken (correction: some people are all thumbs - they break stuff).

 

Pay special attention to mounting tube type tires and lock rings require cages or other safety means.

 

Thumb under and retard spark when using a hand crank to start.

 

Use care with starting fluid - ever seen an out of hand fire or see fire follow a stream up to the can.

 

Buy a good fire extinguisher or two or three.

 

Use Jackstands if getting under something that does not have a couple inches of extra clearance - the life you save may be your own.

 

Safety Glasses - have then with every car, on drill press, on lathe , on milling machine, and .... (also have a few pair of magnifying readers around)

 

If it is not going well, take a time out as frustration will probably not help - that being said though if you start a project then finish it. 

 

Everyone has an opinion - plenty are worthless though. 

 

I can take you to garage after garage of broken dreams - Ed is correct in that it takes some money and engineering smarts. 

 

Have a great Thanksgiving !!!

 

 

 

 

Edited by John_Mereness (see edit history)
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I know of a one man restoration shop just a few miles from my home and I feel lucky.  I even helped him 2 days a week for 3 years when he was commissioned to restore a big piece of fire equipment.

 

He still lets me bring parts to his shop for sandblasting, a while ago I had my windshield frame there and showed him a small dent.  He pulled the dent on the spot and gave it back to me, no charge.  Later one of my fenders needed a new skirt, I thought it was a quick job, it was not, and I paid nearly a grand for 12 hours of shop time.  Not complaining, happily paid up and thanked him.  He says he is going to retire when he completes his latest project, another lifelong craftsman putting away the tools.  I feel there are many young people learning their crafts and trust they have a bright future, as we did when we were young.

 

Here is a photo of my friend and his wife in their Gray Dort.  Regards, Gary

 

DSC_5515.JPG

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7 hours ago, edinmass said:

(The skill set of restoring a car for show, and making it perform correctly are two mutually exclusive talents.)

edinmass,

No other truth has been better stated.  😎😎

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1 hour ago, Brass is Best said:

Start with getting an owners manual and a shop manual.

I am always amazed at how many people buy an old car and do not do this. It's always the first thing I do, often before I even receive the car! The other trick is actually reading that manual cover-to-cover---more than once!

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7 hours ago, edinmass said:

I don’t care how good your Ferrari mechanic is...........pre war cars have nothing to do with them.

 

I laughed when I read this.

About a year ago I met a Ferrari and exotics mechanic at a social event.

A mutual friend knew I had a Pierce and wanted me to show the Ferrari mechanic a picture of my car.

He took a look at it, sort of scoffed and said, 'Something like that is so simple there is nothing to it'

The mechanic works on this other person's 2 year old Maserati so I guess he feels that pre-war classics are child's play.

 

 

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He's wrong.

About 35 years ago a friend sold a 3 Liter Bentley.

The prospective buyer brought his Ferrari mechanic with him to look at it. He was quite a sight - white coveralls and wouldn't work on any car that wasn't spotless to begin with.

They bought the car and the new owner turned it over to the mechanic to change the oil and check the mechanics.

The Ferrari guy drained the oil and put 8 or 9 quarts in it...except that a 3 Liter Bentley uses about 19 quarts of oil because the sump is a big, finned aluminum oil cooler (which is why a lot of Bentleys get away with not having a fan. They came with one but they were often removed. The Ferrari guy didn't notice this.

The car went about 30 miles before the bearings gave out.

 

Ed is absolutely right. Actually, I only have two local friends who I can talk to about this stuff. Both (they are brothers) are long time old car guys and neither worked on cars for a living most of their lives but both understand how they work - which is a big asset. It astounds me how few "mechanics" actually understand how the parts work and what they are supposed to do. You can't fix them if you don't  understand them.

 

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 I was fortunate enough to grow up around pre-war cars.

In fact, the 2 I own have been in the family longer than I have.

I spent many, many hours with my grandfather and my father wrenching on both cars.

It does take a different skill set than when I am working on my 60's cars and modern cars.

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6 hours ago, Brass is Best said:

Start with getting an owners manual and a shop manual.

 

Thats just fine is there is such a thing. I don't know about Pierce or Packard but there was no such thing for the Ghost and PI Rolls. The company sent out "service sheets" to the various service departments - most of which were thrown away long ago. The RROC reprinted the PI service sheets about 30 years ago and it's a treasure trove of information but until then you were entirely on your own figuring out how things worked and how to fix them. I've never seen a brass era "shop manual" and I doubt there ever were any. The same is probably true for most big cars right through the 20s and early 30s.

 

This is the same for machine tools. I can't say how many times I've heard people ask where they can find a shop manual...they just don't exist and never did. There were parts books which are often a big help and the occasional operator's manual. All of the brass car owners manuals I've looked consisted of telling the new owner how to drive and urging him to put oil in it. for any serious repair they are useless.

Edited by JV Puleo (see edit history)
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When servicing the springs, don't forget to properly service the spring shackles as well.

 

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The Reo Royale left front spring rear mount is a rubber dampener.    See attached picture of an original one.   Steele makes them but only sells sets of 8 for 700 bucks.   I pointed out to Steele that the Royale only needs a single one but it didn't seem to do much good.    So you need to get together with 7 of your friends or pay 700 bucks for a single piece of rubber.    I wondering how many of the 60 odd Royale's are running around with original rubber and how the car drives at 50 mph?

 

image.thumb.png.0067702b79ab0e64a0430ba4d26699ae.png

 

image.png.ebf15adc91da60fc813e5924ec3931b8.png

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My grandfather was a mechanic and machinist who got his license in the 1930's. 

Owned his own garage. I got to hang around as a kid. He let my brother and I drag an 37 Nash LaFayette from out of the group of old cars behind his shop.

But first we had to get a 36 Allis-Chalmers tractor hand crank started to haul it. I mostly watched as he spent the time to teach my brother how to take it apart properly, change the clutch, redo the carb, ignition and all that lubricating. Back then in the 60's he did a lot of hand written letters to parts suppliers in the USA, Toronto or England (we are in Canada) as long distance phone calls were too expensive. This post reminded me how much time and effort it took to keep that pre-war iron on the road!

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We recently pulled a big Classic out of a barn that had been sitting for almost fifty years. We went through the entire car, except the springs. We serviced the shackles and shocks, did all the steering and front end, including the box. On the first drive I knew right away we made a mistake of not taking the springs apart and cleaning and lubricating them......... a few hundred miles later we did service them. It took a few hundred more miles for them to settle down and feel correct. Interestingly, this is the second time I have had to learn this lesson in the last thirty years. Sometimes springs are frozen solid and don’t even move......I have seen people driving on tours with cars suffering from frozen springs, and the driver had no clue.

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Hi AlsAncle,

I had hard time to replace rear mount spring rubbers for my 1929 Chrysler 75 and 1929 Marmon 78. I live in Brazil, so these Steele prices are 4 times more prohibitive due the exchange rate, in addition to 100% of import tax, so I had to find a solution. I tried many different rubber types without much success, once they were always quickly becoming destroyed by the use. Then, I have found a solution that is working well for years in my cars:  polyurethane. I made these “cushions” from a polyurethane round rod, easily found on industrial plastic vendors. It is a little harder than the rubber, but is very functional, providing me good rides on my cars. See pictures attached of the service being done in the Marmon. Despite of being red color, they are not apparent because they fit inside the spring end housing.

Best,,

Julio Albernaz

1926 Studebaker Big Six, sport roadster

1928 Chevrolet National, touring

1929 Dodge-Brothers Six, brougham

1929 Hudson Super Six, sedan

1929 Chrysler 75, roadster

1929 Marmon 78, touring speedster

1951 Plymouth Cranbrook, four door sedan

1954 Willys CJ3B Jeep

A3BB8C36-7FE7-4EE8-AD69-F581EBEEB6A6.jpeg

8B5B8AEE-195E-47A5-89AE-777030D25631.jpeg

C3A305C5-E3F3-4DB6-880E-B19306A42B83.jpeg

A85762B8-F9EF-4344-B220-61DEABCDC9D7.jpeg

Edited by JRA (see edit history)
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All of this discussion is very good. One of the best words of advice I have read on this forum is these words from “alsancle”:


Trim it down to the few you like best and make your life easier.  Concentrate on being a curator of those.  You will in the end be much happier.

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My tip?

 

Drive it! I am not talking just a couple laps around the block. You cannot diagnose or discover all the issues or develop the motivation to fix the faults by keeping it a garage queen.

If your out enjoying your car your more likely to preform preventative measures so you can keep enjoying it.

 

All this of course is predicated on the owner actually knowing how to fix things or take those preventative measures. (something I find sadly lacking today)

 

 

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19 hours ago, JV Puleo said:

 

Thats just fine is there is such a thing. I don't know about Pierce or Packard but there was no such thing for the Ghost and PI Rolls. The company sent out "service sheets" to the various service departments - most of which were thrown away long ago. The RROC reprinted the PI service sheets about 30 years ago and it's a treasure trove of information but until then you were entirely on your own figuring out how things worked and how to fix them. I've never seen a brass era "shop manual" and I doubt there ever were any. The same is probably true for most big cars right through the 20s and early 30s.

 

This is the same for machine tools. I can't say how many times I've heard people ask where they can find a shop manual...they just don't exist and never did. There were parts books which are often a big help and the occasional operator's manual. All of the brass car owners manuals I've looked consisted of telling the new owner how to drive and urging him to put oil in it. for any serious repair they are useless.

 

There are Brass Era manuals. You have to be creative though. You need the owners manual and then a set of early mechanics education books. Reading both, having mechanical knowledge and reading between the lines helps.

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I collect the Brass era books on repairing cars and automobile engineering. They've been a big help and, of course, I like mechanical problems to begin with. I was thinking of marque specific manuals which seems to be what most people are looking for and which don't exist for the vast majority of early cars.

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6 hours ago, edinmass said:

We recently pulled a big Classic out of a barn that had been sitting for almost fifty years. We went through the entire car, except the springs. We serviced the shackles and shocks, did all the steering and front end, including the box. On the first drive I knew right away we made a mistake of not taking the springs apart and cleaning and lubricating them......... a few hundred miles later we did service them. It took a few hundred more miles for them to settle down and feel correct. Interestingly, this is the second time I have had to learn this lesson in the last thirty years. Sometimes springs are frozen solid and don’t even move......I have seen people driving on tours with cars suffering from frozen springs, and the driver had no clue.

 

/Raises hand sheepishly...

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5 hours ago, Jeff Perkins / Mn said:

All of this discussion is very good. One of the best words of advice I have read on this forum is these words from “alsancle”:


Trim it down to the few you like best and make your life easier.  Concentrate on being a curator of those.  You will in the end be much happier.

 

I said that?   It does sound smart!

 

I was just talking to a friend this morning about this thread and was basically saying the same thing so maybe it was me.   Best to learn one or two kinds of car you can be an expert on.    There are so many little idiosyncrasies with the different makes and models that  you will never get anywhere with an eclectic collection.

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Great thread as we sit here this weekend planning on the running gear (brakes, steering, front end, suspension) work on the A roadster this winter. I have a guy picked out and although I wish I had the time, I am just glad he is local and while young, has quickly earned a good reputation.  

 

I agree with Matt's assessment of car conditions in general but will say the raw numbers of "A"s out there yields some very well sorted cars.  (Our goal is to get there...) Cars one can get in and go down the road in with confidence.  I think the Europeans are onto something as they tend to be more focused on sorting and usage.  

 

I wpuld only add be patient if stuff does break, it did on occasion back in the day as well. 🙂

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9 hours ago, alsancle said:

 

I said that?   It does sound smart!

 

I was just talking to a friend this morning about this thread and was basically saying the same thing so maybe it was me.   Best to learn one or two kinds of car you can be an expert on.    There are so many little idiosyncrasies with the different makes and models that  you will never get anywhere with an eclectic collection.

I think this is a really great piece of advice. Makes it more likely for individuals to make the right decisions when repairing and restoring, and allows the choices to be as proper as possible. Not to mention it brings out higher quality work, and more likely for an individual to follow through with a project!

 

Now just to decide what make and series! Do I want to do Packard, or Buick, or Pierce, or Cadillac, or Chrysler, or....

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My contribution to this discussion is that one half of the sorting out process is THE OWNER/DRIVER.

 

Matt has good text on his web site about what to expect when operating an old car. I suspect it speaks to his experience of trying to "sort out" a satisfied customer. 

You can have the best Ed Minnie prepared car in the world, but if the driver EXPECTS it to operate like a 21st century car, there is going to be disappointments. 

 

You talk about finding a good prewar mechanic, but you gotta remember that experienced prewar drivers are just as scarce.

Somebody above talked about coming from a background in 1950s & 60s cars. That was me too. I had them, fixed them, know them, BUT when I decided to experience an 'old' car before I die, I ended up with a 1929 Cad and a 1926 Lincoln. You may be comfortable with them but to me it is like trying to learn a foreign language(!)  

 

Now 5 years later and with a lot of help and advice from Ed, I have a Cadillac that I can drive. It will never be the 50 mph car I foolishly thought that it was, but this also a big part of the sorting process that cannot be overlooked. 

 

The Cad operates, now on to the model L 

Thanks Ed. 

Edited by m-mman (see edit history)
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On 11/29/2019 at 3:31 AM, TexRiv_63 said:

I am always amazed at how many people buy an old car and do not do this. It's always the first thing I do, often before I even receive the car! The other trick is actually reading that manual cover-to-cover---more than once!


I agree, the books for my car are far more plentiful than the actual cars are so I’m  very surprised when people don’t have it.

 

My car certainly isn’t back to how it would have driven from the factory but I’ve got all the original systems working again and rewired to make it somewhat less of a fire hazard (the insulator was literally falling off)
 

GM had pretty good documentation (both the cad and Buick) that tell you how to do most stuff and what tasks you should perform at set mileage. Occasionally it will offer crap advice like “remove item” and not tell you you actually needed a special tool. 
 

I also find the reading maintenance books from the time period helpful as terminology has changed as well for some things and they tend to describe things in more detail

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