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Wayne’s Death Wobble


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Did anyone catch tonight’s “Chasing Classic Cars?”  Wayne was driving a 1932 Packard and in a traveling shot from the camera truck he was tooling down the road when the front driver’s side tire hit a big rut in the road.  The front end immediately went into a classic death wobble as the car drove out of frame.  It looked like he was lucky he didn’t lose control.  They cut away fairly quickly, but the was no doubt the front end was all over the road.

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The frightening 'Death Wobble' occasionally made a presence when my 1930 Ford pickup passed over a stretch of rough road.

After some poking around, I found that the steering gear box sector shaft bushings were well worn.

I replaced the bushings and installed a near-NOS sector shaft. 

Checked and adjusted the steering box in the usual manner, then reinstalled.

Death Wobble gone.

 

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2 hours ago, Taylormade said:

Did anyone catch tonight’s “Chasing Classic Cars?”  Wayne was driving a 1932 Packard and in a traveling shot from the camera truck he was tooling down the road when the front driver’s side tire hit a big rut in the road.  The front end immediately went into a classic death wobble as the car drove out of frame.  It looked like he was lucky he didn’t lose control.  They cut away fairly quickly, but the was no doubt the front end was all over the road.

 

Yes!   I watched it a few times.  If I recall correctly, it was right after they talked about how the car was so well sorted and drove so well.  ;)

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Death wobble is common on the Model A, steering box, drag link, king pin, wheel bearing wear, bad/no shocks and a few other areas can all either be the root cause or a contributing factor.  I am replacing steering box which seems to be the main culprit, but when we took front end apart its clear it dhould be done at least every 90 years..

I am sure parts are tougher to find on the big iron and I wonder how many of those have been gone through in that way...  

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41 minutes ago, Steve_Mack_CT said:

I wonder how many of those have been gone through in that way... 

 

50/50 chance the next one you see was cleaned and painted. With deep research done on the proper chassis color. I was busy all through the 1990's making freshly restored and original cars steer, start, and stop. Most of the restorations did not do all three.

My first experiences with the wobble were on late '60's GM trucks. The upper inner control arm bushings would cause them to dance all over. You had to bring the truck to a stop and start rolling again.

 

Steering sectors and worm gears are usually hardened on the wear surface. When you see small pits in that area the hardening has worn through and it will wear rapidly. I rebuilt the stock front end on my Buick powered 1960 Ford F-100. The worm gear-steering shaft was worn. When I found an NOS part it turned out to be a little long. The column was the same diameter as exhaust pipe. A short exhaust connector at the base got me going, but I wasn't putting it together knowing it was "good enough for government work".

 

I did watch that TV show last night but didn't see the steering incident. When he walked out of the house and said "We came to an agreement I rolled my eyes and thought "Oh, the secret price again". Green Acres was on the other channel. Mr. Haney handed over a $10 right in front of the camera. I have heard so many people in the car hobby avoid prices, either paid or received in the past 50 years it gets comical about how they evade a straight answer. I think they squirm the most when you ask "About how much would I have to pay to get one like yours?" My kids say I am easy to entertain.

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Having made documentaries all my life, I can tell you people often don’t want personal information made public.  I’m sure some of Wayne’s customers/clients request the details of their transactions not  to be made public on the show.  I, too, find it frustrating, often wondering just what the heck he paid for that car or motorcycle.  He does tell you prices in all the auction segments, which are public anyway, so you get some idea what’s going on.  And speaking of auctions, bidding was pretty flat on last night’s show.  This virus isn’t going to help things, either.

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I remember being on a Suzuki GT-750 at speed when a wobble started. At least on a bike you can back off the throttle and touch just the rear brake. Helps to 1) Know what is happening as it starts and 2) Have very fast reflexes (necessary to ride a bike in the first place).

 

Interesting thing about these shows is how often I see cars from earlier episodes in the background, looks like he still has the Davis. (record so often watch at 3 am).

 

Really strange thing is that in the Street Outlaw series, several times they mentioned "Traction Control". With that why would any car ever go "up in smoke". Of course the number of times someone just forgets to turn something on is abby-surd.

 

Suspect cable companies might be a good investment.

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Had a heck of a death wobble in one of my 1931 DB coupes. Took it around the block to an alignment guy and he found two wedges on each side between each set of front springs and the axle. One wedge on each side was broken. He took out the broken parts and the wobble magically disappeared.

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2 hours ago, 46 woodie said:

Model A Ford's are no more susceptible to "death wobble" as any other cars with poor alignment and worn out front end parts. 

 

Exactly right. 

Its just that there are more Model A's out there, so they get more coverage. 

Its human nature to twist perception into reality.

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One of the first times I drove my '21 Chevy,I went over a set of railway tracks and the steering wheel just about jumped out of my hands. It must have looked weird from the outside with the front wheels wobbling like that.

I installed a genuine Hercules shimmy chaser (and tightened the center link cups) which helped considerably., although I still slow down for railway tracks.

IMG_1617.JPG

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10 hours ago, 46 woodie said:

Model A Ford's are no more susceptible to "death wobble" as any other cars with poor alignment and worn out front end parts. 

I don't disagree, and it is likely due to Real Steel's point that large numbers means they get a lot of coverage.  Having said that not a week goes by that I hear of some A owner trying to solve a death wobble issue.  It is indeed among the top 3 or 4 is issues people encounter with a Model A.  My point is usually they are looking for a quick fix and usually the right fix is more involved.  I assume a simillar % of other makes have these issues hence the comment on bigger stuff.  I know its a more expensive prospect to redo the front end on most CCCA type cars than on an A.  We A folk are lucky to be able to get new or rebuilt components which helps..

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12 hours ago, 60FlatTop said:

 

50/50 chance the next one you see was cleaned and painted. With deep research done on the proper chassis color. I was busy all through the 1990's making freshly restored and original cars steer, start, and stop. Most of the restorations did not do all three.

I

I believe a main reason for this is no one seems to have the same idea what a restoration is. There’s no actual definition as far as our car hobby goes. What Joe might think is a full restoration, might be half of what Bob might consider a restoration. I do not understand though how those basic three that you mention, and I’ll add another, safe, aren’t a priority with anyone who restores a vehicle. If anyone looks at my restoration thread, you will see that I go completely through the front axle with all its components making all like brand new. King pins are always fully checked and even if just a tiny bit worn, replaced. Brakes checked adjusted, transmissions fully disassembled and rebuilt along with all the accompanying components, replaced when needed. Motors checked by opening up the pan, compression checks, regasketed, valves adjusted, etc. I also rebuild or replace any questionable wood, check body to frame mounts/bolts , replace gas to safety glass, add third brake lights, wire in directional switches, have headlight reflectors aluminized. Of course I suggest some of these things and  it’s up to the owner what actually gets done. 
     To me a true restoration is everything is touched, everything. Anything less i consider a freshening, repairs, updates, etc. but that’s my idea of a restoration. 

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I agree...and it is why I would rather get a well used and never been apart original car over almost any "restoration." To my mind, paint and upholstery are cosmetic. Making them work as they should is far more important. I'm reminded of Edinmass's comment on this, which if I remember correctly, was that less then 10% of the restored CCCA Classics are mechanically sound.

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9 minutes ago, chistech said:

I believe a main reason for this is no one seems to have the same idea what a restoration is. There’s no actual definition as far as our car hobby goes. What Joe might think is a full restoration, might be half of what Bob might consider a restoration. I do not understand though how those basic three that you mention, and I’ll add another, safe, aren’t a priority with anyone who restores a vehicle. If anyone looks at my restoration thread, you will see that I go completely through the front axle with all its components making all like brand new. King pins are always fully checked and even if just a tiny bit worn, replaced. Brakes checked adjusted, transmissions fully disassembled and rebuilt along with all the accompanying components, replaced when needed. Motors checked by opening up the pan, compression checks, regasketed, valves adjusted, etc. I also rebuild or replace any questionable wood, check body to frame mounts/bolts , replace gas to safety glass, add third brake lights, wire in directional switches, have headlight reflectors aluminized. Of course I suggest some of these things and  it’s up to the owner what actually gets done. 
     To me a true restoration is everything is touched, everything. Anything less i consider a freshening, repairs, updates, etc. but that’s my idea of a restoration. 

 

On the one hand, you're right, it's a terminology problem.

 

But in the real world, the number of shops qualified to actually do what you're calling a "restoration" can probably be counted on two hands. The rest are mostly cleaning and repainting parts. The problem is that most people don't really know the difference.

 

For instance, I had a 1957 Chevy come into my shop a few years ago that was festooned with every award a car can win, including AACA Grand National First Prize. I mean, it was the very definition of "trailer queen." It was certainly lovely. It had a dual quad motor that didn't seem to be as snappy as it should, so we started going through it to see if it was set up correctly. When we checked the timing, we discovered that the harmonic balancer was loose on the crank snout. And not only was it loose, but the shop that did the work KNEW it was loose and instead of fixing it, they just drilled a hole and used a set screw to hold it in place. WTF? Check it out:

 

 

As soon as we found that, we started digging through the rest of the car and discovered that almost nothing had been "rebuilt" or "repaired" or "replaced" or even "adjusted." They simply took the car apart, cleaned and painted/plated every part, then put it back together. Everything we touched, the thing next to it broke, too. The former owner, a fairly knowledgeable Corvette guy, never knew the difference because he never drove it farther than on and off a trailer. He paid six figures for the restoration that could have been done by a high school shop class, and I bet more than a few of you have heard of this shop that did the work.

 

Nobody would have known had I not started driving the car and my butt dyno decided it just wasn't right. I'm guessing that the only reason I noticed is because I'm picky and I drive a lot of cars. An average hobbyist? Meh, obviously not. We ended up spending about $12,000 to fix the important stuff on that car, including a fresh motor (it had some kind of circle track cam in it and the rear carb was disabled--no wonder it ran like crap). I offered to help him sue the restorer, but the guy was dying of cancer or something and my client didn't have the heart to go after him. I suppose there was no punishment we could visit on him that was worse than that.


Anyway, my point is that an experienced car guy paid a reputable shop a lot of money to do a terrible job, and nobody ever noticed. What's worse, I bet the shop that did the work considered themselves restorers, not hacks and certainly not crooks. I bet anyone but me driving it would have thought, "Well, it's old, that's just how they were. And boy, isn't it shiny!" 

 

Wayne Carini surely knows the difference, but he's still subject to the same problem as the rest of us: 98% of old cars are rife with issues so "good" becomes a very relative term. Great cars are rare and they're only great because someone who knew better went through and fixed it (and spent a ton of money they'll never get back doing it). Everyone else seems to not really know or care because there's just no basis for comparison. I have to believe that Wayne fixed that car before passing it on, but maybe not--he probably knows that whomever bought it at the auction is just going to put it in some mega-collection in a warehouse and they'll never have enough seat time to experience the problem. That's probably not a bad gamble at all...

 

So yes, terminology is a problem. But the real problem is that most folks just don't have a frame of reference because, of course, few of us are old enough to have experienced any of these cars when they were new. With that in mind, it shouldn't be a surprise that most old cars drive like crap--because nobody can tell the difference and most cars aren't driven enough to find the flaws. And many of the same guys who own the cars own the shops that restore them--do they know any better or do they just assume good enough is good enough? Is there a degree of difficulty where they just stop (like rebuilding a steering box rather than just filling it with thicker grease)?

 

As with many things in this life, ignorance, willful or otherwise, is the problem.

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I can't stand anything with a Mechanical flaw or overlooked part that could be fixed with a little machining, welding, or replacement. I've always been of the school that it needs to be mechanically and electrically correct first and then the cosmetics can come later. After all, Paint doesn't make anything run. But there is a large group out there that believe it's just junk if it does not glimmer and shine. My 1925 White is a perfect example. That thing will run and perform for hours and hours and it has at many shows. It just is not pretty. Oh, but the stuff I found when I went though my shiney 1915 Buick. Shall I list thy faults? Dandy Dave! 

Edited by Dandy Dave (see edit history)
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While taking a ride with friends last summer, I passed over a deep depression in the road, when suddenly the front wheels vibrated heavily  from side to side. Nearly pulled my hands from the wheel. l.After a complete stop, everything was OK for  the rest of the trip.

 

I take it that this is the death wobble mentioned here.

 

Want to mention that the end play in the steering box needs to be adjusted.  ( 1929 Packard ).

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My "Death Wobble" occurred in `62, i was 14yr old, a freshman in H.S. I`d changed the gearing on a `53 Cushman Husky and decided to see how fast it`d go. So with my cousin behind me in a `50 F-1 Ford pickup, to check my speed, off we went. I was almost to 50mph when the wobble started, i backed off the throttle and started slowing down, but the wobble got worse, i`m thinking, this is not suppose to be happening. I got tossed off just before the scooter went down, and almost got run over by my cousin in the pickup. I had a major road rash on my right leg from my knee to my butt cheek, i jumped up hobbled over to where the scooter stopped sliding, it was laying on its side still running. My cousin, up to his dying day, said that was the greatest thing he`d ever seen.

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1982 Kaw 750 gpz- brand new from the factory. you would hit 120 and the front end would go bursurk!

 

talk about unnerving!!!!!!!!  the front forks needed a stiffener-too much flex. Happened to me several times and learned to just let off the gas and not touch the brakes.......

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I also don't think this issue is driven by lack of skills. If getting cars mechanically sorted was thought of as desirable (as it is by some of us) the skills would be there or be learned. One need only look at some of the fantastic sheet metal work done on what, to me at least, are pretty mundane vehicles. People spend small fortunes for paint but are reluctant to make their car actually safe to drive. Before the advent of "trailering" cars to shows owners were forced to address at least some of the mechanical problems. With "100-point trailer queens" that is no longer needed and, not surprisingly, it has gone by the board.

 

Also, to get back to the original observation, "axle tramp" (the British term) was a problem in period even with new cars. W.O. Bentley wrecked a car as a result of it...in fact, he was trying to induce it on a test drive. What was causing it was understood. What to do about it was a bigger problem. I don't think it was completely overcome until the introduction of independent suspension. I've seen it happen in a Silver Ghost (which had very low mileage and was not worn out). My one personal experience with it was in a Phantom II when I ran over some old car tracks with one wheel while turning. I nearly flattened a local bar... I suspect the patrons would have been pretty surprised if a RR town car had crashed through the door!

Edited by JV Puleo (see edit history)
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When I and the world were young, adding a steering dampner was common. Today most cars come with one so you rarely hear of them but most were a bolt-on item. Some werr a small shock absorber that went on the drag link. For AACA would that come under "safety" ?

 

On my Suzuki Water Buffalo a light touch on the rear brake would both slow the bike and load the front tire, both would help stop the wobble.

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On 3/21/2020 at 9:37 AM, JV Puleo said:

I do not think a lack of interest in mechanics is surprising. The only aspect of restoration that is consistently rewarded is cosmetics.

I think a lot of people pick their partners the same way! Let’s face it, it’s the visual that get us interested in the first place. The problem arises when people don’t investigate beyond the flashy and well polished exterior. Cars-people, same problem!😂

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On 3/22/2020 at 10:48 PM, chistech said:

I think a lot of people pick their partners the same way! Let’s face it, it’s the visual that get us interested in the first place. The problem arises when people don’t investigate beyond the flashy and well polished exterior. Cars-people, same problem!😂

Most people really are not driving their collector cars - - perhaps due to are they live in and what their friends and acquaintances are or are not doing.  We started doing cars to show only and were very exposed to people driving - and then we shifted focus to driving.  This Auburn has had over 40K miles put on since restoration - expensive proposition though as  it has had probably and extra 20K in maintenance verses had we just loaded it on and off a trailer with occasional drives around the block or show field.

 

As a sidenote:  Everything we have goes to Performance Alignment in Cincinnati, OH ( 1359 Mosteller Rd, Sharonville, OH 45241 Tel:  (513) 489-8500 ), Bill Bill Braucksick sets up cars for race drivers and not only is probably the best skilled person using a Hunter Alignment System in US, but has the engineering mind to figure it out (ie he knows how to tweak the specs appropriately) and has the repair facilities and machine tool access to fix problems when he runs into them via worn parts and ... 

 

69072728_10157782432347189_1217167223148249088_n.thumb.jpg.36e9e073053157120fe81b9a3d3a9181.jpg

 

 

 

 
 

 

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Back in the 90's our Pierce Arrow had the death wobble.

Hit a good sized pothole or bump doing around 40mph and the front end would some times go nuts.

Having had a '72 Datsun pickup that developed the same issue that I fixed, I first looked at the king pins.

King pins on the Pierce were fine but I did find other minor things that needed attention.

And while I was in the front end working on things, I decided to have the front shocks rebuilt, adjusting slop in the tie rod ends, have new tires put on as the tires were about 20 years old and then had the front end aligned at one of the few Bear Alignment places left that did antique trucks.

 

I'm not sure if any one thing got rid of the death wobble but after going through everything it has not since returned.

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I diagnosed a death wobble in a 1930 Pierce for a friend, and the cause may be of interest to those following this discussion.  The car was restored for show in the mid-1980s with a red chassis (factory show car?) but I put 1-1/2 tubes of grease in it (can't have nasty old grease spoiling the appearance of that show chassis, can we?).  The problem was in the replacement inner front wheel bearing seals.  As I've seen on other cars since, the large metal shell seals, unobtanium for decades, had been replaced with smaller-diameter metal shell seals PLUS a National Seal red-colored soft-plastic adapter / carrier to extend to the outside of the hub where the original was fitted into a recess in the hub.  The problem was that the lip of the adapter / carrier was greater than the recess into which it was supposed to fit.  The result was that the front hubs could not seat correctly against the base of each spindle.  You could ram it home and start the nut, but the lip could not compress, and the hubs were not fully seated.  My friend the owner send it back to the dealer from whom he purchased it for repair.

 

More common, in my experience, is slop in drag link / reach rod.  Remove the plugs, clean out the recess, turn the ball studs 90 degrees to an unworn portion of the spheres, grease well, and reassemble.

 

And try running 40 psi in the (repro) tires on big cars.

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A bolt-on shock (steering stabilizer) on the drag link was a popular option (and easily removed for a show).

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1 hour ago, Grimy said:

I diagnosed a death wobble in a 1930 Pierce for a friend, and the cause may be of interest to those following this discussion.  The car was restored for show in the mid-1980s with a red chassis (factory show car?) but I put 1-1/2 tubes of grease in it (can't have nasty old grease spoiling the appearance of that show chassis, can we?).  The problem was in the replacement inner front wheel bearing seals.  As I've seen on other cars since, the large metal shell seals, unobtanium for decades, had been replaced with smaller-diameter metal shell seals PLUS a National Seal red-colored soft-plastic adapter / carrier to extend to the outside of the hub where the original was fitted into a recess in the hub.  The problem was that the lip of the adapter / carrier was greater than the recess into which it was supposed to fit.  The result was that the front hubs could not seat correctly against the base of each spindle.  You could ram it home and start the nut, but the lip could not compress, and the hubs were not fully seated.  My friend the owner send it back to the dealer from whom he purchased it for repair.

 

More common, in my experience, is slop in drag link / reach rod.  Remove the plugs, clean out the recess, turn the ball studs 90 degrees to an unworn portion of the spheres, grease well, and reassemble.

 

And try running 40 psi in the (repro) tires on big cars.

 

In my post I left out inspecting the king pins and pulling the wheels to inspect and repack the wheel bearings.

Luckily for me the wheel bearings were in fantastic shape so I just cleaned them up and repacked them.

 

When I had the shocks rebuilt the shop asked me where I picked them up from.

They asked who had them sitting on a shelf for so long.

I told him they came off my car not from someone's stash and he said they had almost no miles or wear on them.

Said they were so clean inside all he did was seals and they were fine.

 

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Not to offend anyone here, but suspension shops (and there are a couple good ones - every major city has one or two that really know their stuff, but I know they get fewer by the day) are not like the bubonic plague - stop messing with all this crap and get someone to help you get it right. It takes king pins, good wheel bearing, decent shocks,  somewhat decent steering box and ball joints, spring bushings, round wheels, balanced wheels, and non-square tires - and then you are looking at alignment and shims to play with angle on the axle. I have done it at home with some basic tools, but a professional has been able to 10 plus times get it better over me or anyone I know messing with it themselves.  I have had countless cars done with the earliest being 1911, and the latest being 1972.  And love the way each handles when finished.  The only drawback is price - I bet the cheapest I have ever spent  is $500 to solve the problem and the most expensive was about 7K to solve the problem. 

Edited by John_Mereness (see edit history)
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