Q and A with 2nd Chance Garage

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Installing Hemi Spark Plugs

Question: Is there some sort of "universal" tool that can help install spark plugs into deep depressions in cylinder heads? My 1955 Chrysler Imperial has holes in the valve covers that are about 5" deep and I can't get my fingers down there to start screwing in the spark plugs. I used a socket wrench and extension to remove them, but am afraid I might "cross thread" the plugs if I use the wrench to re-install them. Also, I always find a little oil pooled in the bottom of those holes when I get ready to remove the plugs. Is this a problem that I should get fixed? -- Dan, Lancaster, PA

Answer: First, the easy part of your question: the simplest tool for such hard-to-reach plug installations is an old piece of heater hose that has an internal diameter slightly smaller than the plug's outer dimension. Just push the plug into the hose and it will hold the little devil snugly to allow you to start the threads without stripping anything.

Many engines of that type tend to leak some oil from the gasket surface between the cylinder head and valve cover. Generally I wouldn't worry about a little pool of oil down in the plug channels, but if it gets worse you'll have to remove the covers and put in a new seal or a bead of RTV sealant.

Pressure Gauge Sending Mixed Signals

Question: I have a 1964 Ford Falcon with a stock 260V8. Oil pressure is varying from 10 to 50 pounds while driving. I changed the oil pump and it ran normal oil pressure for about a month and has started to vary in pressure again! Also changed gauge; no difference. Engine has about 12,000 miles on it since being rebuilt. Any ideas as to what could be causing this problem?

Amswer: Many things can be the cause, but the first thing I'd look at is the gauge's oil line and fittings (it's a mechanical gauge, isn't it?). These things can clog and give weird readings. Electrical pickups (if applicable here) are notorious for doing this. If the pressure really is changing, you could have leaking lifters or a clogged oil gallery. The early Ford 260 cubic inch V8 motors had oil return problems that were redesigned for the later 289 and 302 versions.

Old Enough to Smoke

Question: I have a 1964 Chevelle Malibu with a later 327-cubic-inch V8 engine. It's been pretty reliable, although it has close to 200,000 miles on the odometer. The engine doesn't burn oil all the time, but it does puff out blue smoke when I decelerate down a hill and hit the gas, or when I pull off from a stoplight. Otherwise it doesn't smoke. Are the rings worn out or is it something else? I assume I should get a new engine if the rings are gone, since the cost would be less than having everything rebuilt. -- Bill, Sante Fe, NM

Answer: Well, Bill, there's good news here. Your engine is exhibiting the classic symptoms of worn out (or stiff) valve seals. These are little rubber collars that sit on the valve stems inside the springs. They act as umbrellas to prevent too much lubricating oil from being sucked down into the cylinder through the valve stem. Over time and usage these seals harden up and crack and lose their ability to effectively seal oil, especially when the engine is in high-vacuum conditions like deceleration and idling. They can be replaced without taking the engine apart, for about $200 in parts and labor (mostly labor, since the seals cost around $4.00).

As far as the engine itself, small block Chevy replacements are so common that it probably would be less expensive to buy a rebuilt one than paying to do yours, barring doing it yourself. Replacements usually come with a 2-year warranty and make lots of sense.

Off with the Heads!

Question: I have a 1974 XKE V12 Roadster, and I'm trying to get it fully roadworthy again. My mechanic is trying to fix a leak in the freeze plugs, but he has to remove the head gasket and the bolts are frozen. He has been soaking them for almost a YEAR and he says he can't pry it off because he will ruin the heads. Does this sound correct? Should it take a YEAR to get this thing off? Please help with advice or point me in the right direction if you can.

Answer: Your engine has the distinction of being one of the worst automotive engines ever designed and built, but the head bolts shouldn't take a year to come off. Jaguar had a habit of using nuts on studs that were screwed into the block, extended through the water jacket and then through the head. Removing the nuts didn't release the parts because of corrosion on the bolts. The solution for that was to stuff cotton clothesline rope into the cylinders and then hit the starter. The pistons drove the head up and over the bolts. (Note: this won't hurt the pistons or rods)

Whatever the reason for the frozen fasteners, they have to come off. Tell your mechanic to get out the impact wrench and start cranking. Some will come off and some won't, but all can be replaced. Your engine probably needs a complete rebuild, about a $5000 operation, and used V12s are available all over. Unless you are in love with the 12 cylinders (anemic though they are in the horsepower category), and 900 lbs. of drivetrain weight, consider a conversion kit to a Chevy small block engine. You won't believe the difference in acceleration and handling. Good luck.

Pointless Advice

Question: I have the original OEM points type distributor from my car and want to convert back to from an Accel unit. I'm cautious to use it because I don't know if it's any good. What should I look for? Or should I bring it to a professional shop and have them check it out? There is only one spacer and the shaft seems to have a little up and down movement, less than 1/8", no side play, and the vacuum advance operates when I supply vacuum. All in all, to me the old unit looks and feels much sturdier and better made than the Accel unit.

So the mystery: why the change? I like to keep it as original looking as possible, but would like to go the electronic route. I know the conversion units are much cheaper than replacing the whole distributor and would allow me to keep some originality, but are they as good? The car is driven as much as possible, and by no means is it a " Trailer Queen."

Answer: The amount of play you describe and the overall condition of the distributor sounds good to us. Many owners have replaced points-type ignitions with aftermarket, high-energy units over the years. The chief advantage of electronic ignitions is consistency of spark, especially on cars driven infrequently. If your old distributor's shaft is tight and the vacuum advance works, go ahead and install an electronic conversion unit (Pertronix, etc.) into it.

My First Welder

Question: I want to get a welding machine but have no experience at doing any welding. Some friends say to get an arc welder and others say to get a gas (oxy-acetylene) setup, and of course there's the MIG stuff. Which is the best way to go for an inexperienced person? I want to learn how to weld panels and other stuff like brackets, etc. I don't want to spend more than $500. -- Steve, Racine, WI

Answer: This is an easy question because you've told us the type of work you intend to do with the welder. Since you (and most other hobbyists) don't plan to cut metal in a large-scale way, forget the torch welder. Gas bottles and regulators are expensive, dangerous and the skills necessary to operate the apparatus are hard to learn.

Arc welders (stick welders) are inexpensive but also require substantial practice before you can get predictable results. They can also be cumbersome to work with in tight places.

That leaves MIG welders, our overwhelming choice for your needs. MIG welders are the easiest of all to learn to use and are incredibly versatile. You can choose from gas-fed models, flux-cored wire models and others that convert to both, and you can get a decent one within your budget. Buy the model that offers the greatest duty-cycle and flexibility of control settings for the money.

Sew What?

Question: I would like to learn to sew my own upholstery, like seat covers and side panels, etc. I have used our sewing machine to make drapes and pillow covers, as well as repairing jeans and shirts, but have never tried to sew leather or vinyl. What are the tricks for doing so and where can I get some information on this skill and obtaining materials? -- Pat, Alexandria, VA

Answer: Since you already know how to sew, you're a prime candidate to become a do-it-yourself upholstery expert! As you know, sewing is all about measuring, cutting and seaming fabrics in a consistent way to end up with good-looking seams and articles that fit properly.

The other important part to sewing is the machine itself. If you own a “homeowner” type of machine, it probably can’t perform heavy-duty work (thick, tough materials). Machines that sew leather and vinyl are powerful and utilize the “walking foot” instead of the more common stationary foot.

Walking foot machines (commonly referred to as “industrial” machines) have the ability to feed material with far less bunching-up, wrinkling or jamming, not to mention broken needles. They can sew upwards of 1" thicknesses, which means they can sew seams with beading, so common on car upholstery. They can also handle the thick, heavy-duty threads needed for automotive upholstery. Look into getting one if you don’t already own one.

Believe it or not, here at the Second Chance Garage we use a 1922 Singer Leather Patcher foot-treadle machine! It weighs as much as an engine block but sews up a storm.

As far as materials go, the Internet will provide you with several suppliers for bulk vinyl, leather or automotive cloth. Your local auto upholstery shop has reference books so you can look up the proper materials for your project, and they can order bulk goods for you at discount prices.

Beating the Drums

Question: I have my grandfather's 1959 Ford Galaxie Fairlane 500. The brakes have tied up on this vehicle and I'm wondering how to take them apart once they have set up. I really didn't want to throw a lot of heat on them if not needed. Can I undo the bolts on the wheel cylinders and use some kind of a puller? I was going to use Kroil and see if I can work it around the brake shoes and drums. Any ideas would be appreciated. Thanks for your time. -- Billy

Answer: Like most older cars with "frozen" brakes, we have to assume your Ford's shoes have worn a channel in the drum, leaving a ridge at the back that prevents pulling them off. Your idea about removing the brake line and bolts holding the cylinder is correct, but you have to also remove the shoe hold-downs. These are the shafts that hold the little springs holding the shoe to the backing plate. They are inserted from the back side of the backing plate and it should be easy to grind (or drill) off the head. Once you do the entire "guts" of the brakes will be free. For front brakes, of course, you have to take off the wheel bearing retainer to pull off the drum. For rear brakes, you should be able to pull everything far enough off to remove the parking brake cable.

Keep the Kroil® for other projects. It won't do much good in this one.

One Dim Bulb

Question: One of my tail lights runs dim. I've replaced the bulb several times and it does no good. What could be the problem?

Answer: This is a classic example of a poor ground connection. Most light fixtures are connected directly to the metal of the car (by screws or other fasteners) because the car's body is the ground. Take your fixture out and use steel wool or sandpaper to clean up the metal which contacts the car's body. That should do the trick.

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