Friday, September 26, 2014

Where has the time gone?

Here we are at the end of September, but I have some good news. The car is now officially road-worthy and I'm attempting to press it into daily-driver service, per the plan.

But first, there were two orders of business that had to be settled.

First was bleeding the brake system. Pretty straightforward, if not for the difficulty of getting to the bleeder screws. It's just about impossible on this car while still having a hose attached to the bleeder. With that complete, we now had a firm pedal.

The second order of business was the carb. The car would start up, run great, but then stumble and stall when warm. This was attributed to copious amounts of fuel being dumped into the intake. Clearly, a rebuild of the 2GC was in order. The original kit I ordered from RockAuto turned out to be for a marine application despite the listing. But there was a bigger problem. As Ben discovered once he got into it, the checkball for the accelerator pump was lodged firmly in its recess. No amount of compressed air, solvents, oven baking, rawhide hammering nor even hydraulic action from the port behind it would free it from its frozen cove. Luckily, Ben had enough parts on hand to cobble together something that would work. In the interim a new kit was on order from 'Chicago Corvette' ( which was the right kit, with a great price and fast shipping.

It was Thursday night and we had a deadline to get this car going before sundown. Ben did his best carb reassembly while my friend Geoff and I worked, scrubbing the door panels, wiping down the interior, putting the rear upholstery back together and generally getting things ready. Magic Erasers to the rescue (again)!

After some difficulty getting the fuel line threaded to the carb, and locating a nut for the air cleaner (you'll recall it was missing one), the Pontiac was actually drivable. The trans appeared to work, though very low on fluid. The brakes left something to be desired- essentially a power booster without any power assist. Hmm. We loaded into the car, turned on the headlights, and made a bee-line for the nearest gas station with high octane (and made it!).

However there was one small complaint- with no exhaust system and a fairly rich mixture, fresh air was at a premium! But that's another story...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sum 41

Here we are at the end of August, the heat finally upon us, and thoughts of winter’s duties beginning to clutter the frame. I must admit I haven’t done much in the way of writing nor blogging this year. That may account for my feeling of unsatisfied wheel-spinning the last several months. I can take stock of the new experiences, far-flung trips, and groundwork laid for the year ahead, but I can’t help but feel there’s an elephant in the room, silently staring me down.

To start with the most recent, my grandma has now officially moved to CF from northern MN. The movers made quick work of it when I stopped by yesterday, and the lake home has officially been sold. The weight of this should feel particularly heavy, but a) it won’t really hit me until July of next year, and b) it’s been a long-time coming. In fact, several years ago when my grandpa was still alive, they put the house on the market. When you see the for-sale sign out front for the first time, the gravity of it really hits you. And so I did what any normal person would do and snap photos, visit the haunts, consider each trip ‘the last one’. But then the market fell out, and the interest fell off and the price was reduced. And years went by. While the summer visits were still fun, the soul of the experience had moved on.  This last July I arrived and the decorative plates had been pulled down and packed, boxes were accumulating in the basement, drawers were being emptied. And I took my last spin around the lake on the aging pontoon boat. Tensions were high, minds were focused on moving forward. We pulled the boat from the lake on an untried trailer I had bought several years ago for just this purpose. Things had changed, and it was easier this way, I suppose. The remains of my childhood had long since flown, now it was only a matter of saying goodbye.

10 days ago I rode up with the parents on a Friday night with the goal of making roadworthy both the pontoon and Suburban for a solo-journey back to CF. I stayed with my grandma, the house now mostly packed up, and spent that Saturday drilling, winching and loading the pontoon and trailer. The humidity was terrible in the woods, but by afternoon the job was done. A trip into town was quick and purposeful. The dock was lonely, and the water still. I snapped some pictures, I said my goodbyes and around 9AM the next morning, set out for home.

Much had changed in those years on the lake, but the grandparents were a constant. I recall the Browns and the Kleens coming over for cards and coffee. They all moved back to the cities years ago when it got to be too much work. Snyder drug is no longer a one story 1970’s pharmacy with a fountain out front that will send your Kodak film out to be developed and sell you an ice cream cone. No, it was razed to make way for a shiny new Walgreens. The wide, 50’s style movie theater was divided into two screens, then remuddled beyond recognition into three screens in the same footprint. Dish TV has made sure that everyone on the lake has 300 channels instead of the 3 there used to be. The resort down the way was sold, and with it came a vinyl doublewide and a wide-scale repaint. No more penny candy or bike rides on the sandy roads.

My mind was on pulling the load behind a truck with 20 year old tires that saw use roughly twice a year, not thinking about the first time I got to pilot the mighty Suburban to town with the 6 of us all those years ago. And she made it home, just fine. I suppose there’s a message in that. Just remind me next July.  

Monday, July 28, 2014

P-59: Discharged

One of the more surprising things that occurred when I first looked at the car on that cold, snowy day, was that the interior light came on when I opened the door and the radio came on after flipping the key to Run. Mind you, the car hadn’t been on the road since at least ’78. Yes, the Motorcraft battery was in good shape and held a charge, and while maybe only a decade or two old, it had no trouble turning the engine over during our attempts at getting the points functional. Unfortunately, while the chemistry was in good shape, one of the internal links to the battery posts wasn’t and it went open during cranking recently. So much for that battery.

The modern replacement is a Group 24, which is what I bought. Clearly, the lower height Motorcraft wasn’t legit. With the 24 installed, I now worried about terminal height and shorting to the hood, my ground cable (recently replaced) was now too tight for comfort, and fastening the battery down to keep from bouncing into the hood, or off the battery shelf and into the belts, was now a real concern.  A universal battery hold down kit for $6 uses the factory T-holes to capture new hold down rods. Another ground cable (4 ga) but slightly longer did the trick. Despite the hood having a special stamped area to accommodate the positive terminal, I don’t plan on taking any chances. Rubber terminal covers are en-route and are cheap insurance. Likely available locally, but equally cheap and with free shipping off that e-place.

A stroke of Pontiac genius, the battery distribution point is up on the driver’s side fender with the horn relay, rather than off the main terminal of the starter. This keeps the wiring short, clean, and out of harm’s way. It also makes troubleshooting a breeze. With terminals clean and tight, the engine should spin with ease.

Friday, July 25, 2014

P59: I Brake for Vacations

It’s been a month and a half since I last posted, but don’t worry, progress has been steady.

After getting the cooling system buttoned back up without leaks, I resumed work on the brakes. You might recall I had to replace the rear drums due to heavy gouging but the fronts were okay. Well, after installing the brake shoe retaining springs, I was ready to slip the front drums on. Big problem…they simply would not fit, even with the adjusters turned all the way in. I chalked it up to surface rust/buildup on the drum outer edges, which meant they’d need the slightest of cleanup and truing. The local shop was reluctant to turn them despite the fact that my measurements showed they had never been turned, but the results look good and while extremely tight, they do fit into place. However, this meant that I’d need new bearings, inner/outer and both sides. Not cheap, and not a lot of fun (wrong bearings were shipped, new order was cancelled, etc. etc.). The Outers are B67 and the Inners are B70. Check ebay and shop around…they can be tough to find and fairly pricey unless you do your homework.

With the help of a friend and his father’s press, the new bearings went into place, lots of grease was packed in, and the drums are now on the car.

While this was going on, I was working on the master cylinder situation. The original unit was a single chamber, manual setup. The only thing worse than a car wreck is having been the cause, so any kind of safety upgrade was welcome. I had read about a dual chamber, power assist arrangement from a ’68 Chevelle (with 4-wheel drums) being a ‘drop in’ fit. When I couldn’t order the Cardone number locally, I decided to roll the dice on a ’68 Cadillac (4-wheel drum) setup that I’ve read is practically a direct fit on the 59/60 Cads. Knowing the whereabouts of both a 59 and 60 CdV, I figured if it didn’t fit the Poncho, it at least wouldn’t be a total loss.
Original on left (obviously). Chevelle booster with threaded rod on right. Note bracket.

As it turns out, the pushrod end is completely different than the Catalina; back to the drawing board.

Well then, guess I’ll pay the extra for the Chevelle unit. What was most critical about the arrangement was having a threaded pushrod for the pedal, and getting a 4-hole mounting pattern that would semi-line-up with the original firewall studs. While not “drop-in” by any stretch of the imagination, it’s a very workable solution. The booster is Cardone 50-1105 and runs just over $100. For installation, the top holes of the booster drop over the lower firewall studs, and the pushrod lines up exactly with the firewall opening. Unfortunately, you need more than 2 bolts to hold this thing down, which means (carefully) drilling a pair of holes in the firewall to accommodate the lower MC bracket holes. Use good quality hardware/washers/locknuts to keep the new hardware from coming loose. As can be seen in the pic, the bracket puts the unit at an aggressive angle which puts the pushrod far out of line (angle) with the pedal. To remedy this, I threaded two of the original mounting nuts all the way down on the top studs (one per stud) to act as spacers before mounting the MC.

The last problem was a head scratcher, especially from those that have claimed this to be a drop-in, and that is that the push rod on this MC was far too short. The solution here was to use a pushrod extension. They’re available from Jeg’s, Summit, and that ebay place. The rod is 3/8 fine thread.
Rod must be long enough to engage eyelet when pedal is
up against the brake light switch. Dust boot not installed.

There’s a couple other parts you’re likely to need. At minimum, a power booster plastic dust boot (used 64-74 at least). It’s made of semi-hard plastic and is reusable, which is why the MC’s don’t ship with them. New ones can be had for a few bucks and you’ll need it to keep the booster side from getting contaminated since these don’t use a rubber boot. You may also find the female fittings on the booster won’t match your brake lines. Brass adapters are cheap and readily available at any local parts store.
Mounted but not plumbed. Vac line is 3/8 fuel line (to avoid collapse)
connected with tee-fitting at rear of carb.

Now to bleed the system...

Thursday, June 5, 2014

P59: Getting Hosed

Part costs can add up, especially the little stuff. It seems the price of cut-to-length hose and clamps has quadrupled in just the past few years. The trouble is, unless you know for certain exactly what you need, you're not going to order this stuff online, and who would pay shipping on hose clamps?

Needing to replace all the hoses in the cooling system, I took a few section samples with me to a local box store that carries auto supplies; I also took my digital caliper. To my point above, heater hose was $1.99 a foot regardless of diameter. A store 20 miles away had the same stuff for $0.69. This I knew, but the retailers know most folks won't waste their time and gas to drive somewhere else for a few feet of hose (and they're right, I paid a 1.99 a foot). 

So maybe I can save you a few bucks in advance...Four feet of 3/4" hose is all you need to connect the heater core to the heater pipe, the pipe to the rad, and the core to the intake. No 5/8" in this car. The original hose from core to pipe was specially formed to account for the tight angle. With a little trial and error on length and twist, you can use conventional hose without causing a kink. Don't forget hose clamps when you're picking up the hose. You'll need 5.
The pre-cut length crapshoot. Occasionally cheaper than by-the-foot.
Pre-formed upper radiator hoses are available from a lot of places, that's no problem. But the lower hose isn't, and you'll have to substitute a 'bend to fit' version. The problem with this is that the lower radiator port is easily malleable brass that reduces to a 'round-rect', and the angle to the waterpump is pretty tight. To compound the problem, the hose wall is pretty thick to resist collapsing under suction. When installing, I could tell there's a lot of side loading going on at the radiator. Not ideal, but I'm not the first guy to go through this.

Note hose sections to heads (clamps not installed).
There are two hose sections that run from the WP to the heads. The elbows are interchangeable, and the sections are identical in length. On this car, the head-to-elbow gaskets were factory installed dry. I added a skim coat of blue silicone to each of the replacements for a little insurance. These gaskets are part of the timing cover gasket set Felpro TCS126811. The entire set is around 10 bucks online, not bad, even if you buy it just for these two.

With my digital caliper at the parts store, I found a sub-$10 radiator hose with the identical ID of the stubs, and with enough section length to cut two new stubs out of it. Look for Dayco 70081. For hose clamps, the uncompressed OD is 1-7/8". You'll need 4, obviously.

Now's a good time to talk about the t-stat. I bought a 180 degree replacement, but found out later the original (and the shop manual confirms) the factory t-stat was 170 degrees. I need to add a temp gauge anyhow, so I'll keep an eye on what effect this ultimately has; 170 is a tough number to find.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

P59 Update #3

So here we are, the beginning of June and the majority of parts have arrived and lots of work done. The brakes are coming along with the rears complete, the fronts waiting on return springs, new lines all around and new fuel line plumbed in and ready. The rear drums showed up and are a perfect fit. The tires came in and were mounted this weekend. Lots to report. Here are the details....

The majority of parts for this project have come from Rockauto. Can't say I like paying the separate warehouse shipping charges, but it beats the nonsense I've had to deal with at the local parts stores. 

For the brakes, cylinders were replaced all around with Raybestos (they have a terrific website with cross reference numbers for everything, including this 50+ year old car). Canadian-built Pontaics use different size brake components so order carefully. 

Here are the correct wheel cylinder numbers if you're redoing the brakes:

Wheel Cyl Front L: WC32091
Wheel Cyl Front R: WC32092
Wheel Cyl Rear R: WC7564
Wheel Cyl Rear L: WC7563

For brake hoses, the front takes two BH5433 and the rear axle uses a single BH26960. Be sure to pick up some hose retainer clips while you're ordering as the originals are sure to be a rusty mess (Dorman HW1457).  

Now take note, this might save you some running around. The hold down pins on the rear wheels are a different length than the fronts, and no hardware kit is available. What you want to do is order two of kit H4020. Each handles an axle and includes all the springs and cups. Then order yourself H1105. This is a package of 4 pins for the rear brakes. Check eb*y for stuff like this, it can be had cheaper than the local store which won't know what you're talking about anyway. You'll also need two packages of H131; these are the brake shoe return springs. With that, you should have everything but the adjuster springs, and those rarely need replacing.

My front drums were in good shape and my plan is to re-use them as is. However the rears were another story. Heavily gouged and machined to their limit. Heavy-duty cars (like wagons) used 2.5" shoes and drums but the Cat uses 2". Ames Performance came through with the correct drums: PR448W (59-64) is just the ticket.

For brake lines, I used pre-made straight sections, but with a twist. A friend loaned me his Ridgid flaring tool model 345. If you do any kind of tubing work at all, pick one up. With it I was able to shorten up a long length of the pre-made for the rear axle, and needed only a single union for the line from front to rear. This union also made it easier to bend and install the two lengths independently. Incidentally, the brake lines run along the middle of the X-frame while the fuel line runs along the LH side of the body. Self-locking clips retain the brake line and mine were reusable (which means yours probably are, too).

New cylinder, springs, shoes, hold down kit.
Front drums with integral studs in background.

The fuel line on this car was toast and I was able to replace it with 3/8 coil stock without much trouble. In a rather dubious decision, the factory line is semi-exposed in the LH rear wheel well before it makes a 90 over to the tank. It took some work to get the new line tucked in and out of harm's way as I'm sure it was installed before body-drop. The sending unit is mounted at the rear of the tank on this model and the hardline is exposed without needing to drop the tank. Since the fuel gauge is currently functional, I drained the fuel in the tank via siphon action and left the tank and straps in place. Up at the front rocker ahead of the driver's door, the factory used a small section of hose to link the steel line from the engine to the steel line mounted to the body. It's a semi-protected area so I wasn't overly concerned about doing the same. I've read that some models had continuous steel but this probably complicated body to chassis assembly. 

With a car like this you've got to work with what you have. Simple upgrades for safety's sake make a lot of sense. For $5 a pop, I upgraded all four headlights to GE halogens. The connectors were in excellent shape with no signs of corrosion so I wasn't concerned about voltage drop issues. Unlike some of the H4 conversions, these are sealed beams and are practically indistinguishable from original equipment. New top-post battery cables made sense, too. 

New Halogens
June 1st:
The tires arrived and it was time to get them mounted. I could either spring for big-buck wide-whites, cheapo black walls, or something in between. After reading reviews, I rolled the dice and ordered a set of Hankook Optimo H724's. These are 14" radials with a whitewall and available for order through wally-world or online. Best of all, the entire set with mounting and balancing cost less than a pair of the wide-whites alone. Since this is my only car with 14" rims, and it's unknown if it will even drive under its own power, this made a lot of sense.

My buddy Ben stopped out in the afternoon with the goal of changing the timing gear set. Things did not go as planned. The balancer pulley mounts to the crank flange via six 5/16 fine thread bolts. These were removed easily enough. The crank flange is then secured with one large center bolt that theoretically can be removed without too much effort. In order to keep the crank from rotating during this process, we initially bolted a length of angle strut to one of the open pulley-mount holes such that the strut would rotate, contact the frame, and prevent any further rotation. What we ended up with was a bent strut.

Next we tried a stout piece of heavy gauge door track with a c-profile and positioned it such that rotating the crank would force the track downward into wooden blocks on the ground (a pushing, rather than bending, action). The engine rose up to the extreme of its mounts and the frame wasn't far behind. we decided not to risk further damage. 

Next we bought some grade 8, 5/16 bolts and used chain. If we couldn't push, then we'd pull. With the chain fastened to the frame and bolted to the pulley mount, Ben gave it hell with a 4' pipe. Laterally there wasn't much to give, and we decided to bolt the engine down just in case. And was pretty clear we were going to break something before that bolt was going to loosen.

Short of pulling the radiator and hauling the car to a shop with a pneumatic impact, we were at a loss. At least we knew the engine ran (and sounded good) in its current state. After blowing the afternoon, we decided to at least install the new water pump, bolt on the fuel pump and call it a day.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

P59 Update #2

April 19th. After the snow had melted and the ground had firmed, it was no trick to get the car out to the Lodge, however getting it off the trailer was another matter. On the plus side, bruises eventually heal.

While rusty, the car showed a lot of potential. The dash was mint, the seats were soft and in good shape, the carpet wasn’t torn away. Yet it was obvious the mice had had their way with the headliner and the ashtrays full of firewall insulation told a similar tale. We won’t discuss the smell. One taillight worked, the radio was clear as a bell(!), dash lights were inop but the wiring was in good shape. Those things could wait. The first order of business was seeing if we could get the engine to start. So began the first of many expenditures. New plugs and wires were ordered and a new point set as well. While we knew the engine would turn freely via the battery (!) getting it to start would be another matter.

April 25th: An oil pressure gauge was setup under hood and new oil and fuel filters were bought and installed for the test. A 5 gallon can of non-ethanol was plumbed up and the work began. We had some initial trouble getting the 389 to roar to life. We knew we had fuel, but no spark. It appeared someone else may have had similar trouble as the coil resistor had been bypassed, but there was no reason it shouldn’t at least sputter with new points. After some head-scratching and electrical continuity testing, we determined the new points were inop! We tried a second set and still had an intermittent closed-circuit when the points were together. Now, these weren’t the cheapest of points, but they weren’t the gilded 30 dollar sets, either. Finally, I grabbed a set I had on the shelf (GP brand) for the ’59 Cad and the motor came to life with ease. So, word to the wise, just because they’re new, don’t assume they’ll work. Will I eventually go breakerless? Maybe. But first we need to prove out the transmission.

And so the engine ran great. Good oil pressure, a sticky lifter that cleared itself, quick revving and smooth sounding. All was well except a weeping water pump. Hey, you can’t expect everything to go perfectly. With that green light, we proceeded to pull the brake drums. The fronts looked decent but the rears were heavily gouged. No problem! How tough could it be to find some drums?

April 26th: Big Money #2. The waterpump was ordered. Herein lies a tale. This car uses, what is referred to as, a Counter Clockwise pump. Here’s a good primer on the subject: Don’t trust any websites or parts stores until you’ve confirmed the pump you have because most sources are incorrect. You can’t go off casting numbers, either, because it’s the impeller shape that’s different, not the body. Physical rotation is unchanged, too. Luckily, I did this before ordering. The CCW pump is around 2-3x the price of the CCW pump but if you watch ebay, you might catch a deal.
CCW Pump Fin Direction
Meanwhile…. I had been on the hunt for an air cleaner housing. For whatever reason, this was the one part the car was missing. I could either buy a cheapo Chinese chrome job that may or may not fit and rust out in short order, or I could hold out for a GM unit that would fit the 2GC. Nice ones were going for good money on that popular auction site, but I managed to snag one on the cheap, intended for a mid-60s Buick after confirming the bore size with the seller. While that was in transit, I found a guy that would sandblast the rims for 10 bucks a piece. If you’ve ever spent time leaning over a bead blast cabinet, you know you can’t beat that deal. However before blasting, I needed to confirm the wheel paint color and get an aerosol can mixed up. That would prove to be a challenge.

April 28: For only a few dollars, the local ag supply box store (with full tire department) would strip the cracked bias plies off the 14” rims. Stopped by after work and dropped them off. 24 hours later they were ready.

April 30: Dropped off the rims for blasting. I also attempted to match the color locally and determined the car’s paint code was Gulfstream Blue. Neither Dulux, Lucite or PPG reference numbers would work in the paint supplier’s system. Though in retrospect, fresh paint wouldn’t have matched the faded body anyhow.

May 1: Hey, check out these rims! And look at that, the air cleaner fits. With rain imminent, I pressed forward after work and got them primed, sealed and stored indoors to avoid flash rust. 

May 2: More parts ordered from Rockauto. This time shocks all around, a timing set (might as well while the waterpump is being changed), new fuel pump (more preventative maintenance) and misc cooling system parts.

Weekend of May 3-4: Time to get a few things straightened out with the interior. One, got the dash pulled and the radio removed for a recap. Two, figured out how to remove the headlight switch to fix the rheostat issue affecting no dash lights at night (with switch plunger pulled all the way out, reach up behind the dash and depress the small release button built into the switch housing. The entire shaft will come out from the front and the retaining nut can be unthreaded). These rheostats are connected via pressure to two electrical tabs in the switch body. Corrosion overtakes the entire rheostat coil and in the end it’s a lost cause. Since these oldies aren’t the brightest anyhow, I like to bypass the rheostat and eliminate the source of the problem. Few people have ever complained about a 55 year old dash being too bright.

#57 bulbs are used everywhere in cars of this era. You can either pay $4.99 for a pack of two at your FLAPS, or buy them online, four for a buck.

That's more like it!

Radio Recap: The Catalina is equipped with a Super Delux radio with front and rear speaker and an external combination fader/tone control. The fact that the radio is working and the speakers are completely intact might be the biggest surprise of all. To keep the radio going for years to come I decided a recap was in order. I had replacements on hand for the paper caps on the main board, but the oddball electrolytics would have to be ordered. Mouser to the rescue!

Drum City: In parallel with the rim blasting efforts, I took the drums to a local shop that has the capability to turn them on a lathe and true them up. While the clerk put in a good effort measuring them on my tailgate, I was lucky that he misread the dimensions of the front pair. To drive home the point of how big a chore this was going to be, he checked his books for new replacements and not a single number was listed.

Now, the Catalina uses 2”x11” drums in the rear while the wagons and HD cars get 2-1/2” x 11”.  The latter appear to be available quite a few places. The former, not so much. After more fruitless searching, I took the old drums to a FLAPS that could turn them. This time I took the measurements and found the fronts had never been turned, but the rears were at their limits. But again a problem- the machine had recently been repaired and the staff didn’t trust it to turn a set of unobtainium drums. I was advised to take a trip across town to their other franchise where the machine was in good working order. This time I got a lecture that they shouldn’t even turn the drums because, despite my providing the max dimensions, they couldn’t find a reference in their computer. The silver lining was that they wouldn’t touch them until I pulled the bearings, and a check on bearing prices was enough to convince me to run the front drums as-is.

Questionable Materials.

 I drove across town, bought shoes in stock at Autozone, and went home.