Wednesday, January 26, 2011

C3 Corvette Driver Frame Off Restoration

The article featured on this page is from the January 2011 issue of Auto Enthusiast Magazine.

C3 Corvette Driver Frame Off Restoration

A hands-on approach to bringing back a C3 chassis.

Story Chris Petris

Images Stephanie Petris

Sure, it is much easier to justify restoring, or partially restoring, a high-value Corvette. What about the 1977 Corvette? It can be a fun driver experience and the purchase price can be reasonable.

We all know that most 1977 Corvettes will never have strong resale value. Many times, we don’t consider the fun factor; and all too often, we think of the monetary value and the investment side of purchases. All the while, you could have a really great time enjoying the Corvette experience in any year Corvette.

When a customer came to Petris Enterprises to talk about his 1977 project car, we knew that the situation was precarious. If the cost was prohibitive, the customer would have to put off the project or possibly sell it. We began our estimate without even looking at the ’77, using our historical facts of what all 1963-1982 Corvettes typically require to restore the chassis/drivetrain.

As our estimate approached $10,000, all of us were thinking this project had a very good chance of never beginning. Our estimate was broken down into front suspension, steering, rear suspension/driveline, and engine bay. The ’77’s owner had previously purchased a remanufactured engine for the project. Now, we had to put all of the items together to make sense of the scope of the project.

When you’ve been involved with plenty of these 1963-1982 Corvettes, you realize sometimes it makes sense to do more work to save money for the customer. As crazy as that may sound, if all the chassis components are rusty or corroded, extra time is spent for every process. Does it make more sense to remove the body and restore the chassis? Working around a corroded chassis with stubborn fasteners can lead to a lot of extra time spent, especially if the body mounts are in rough shape.

One more meeting with the customer was necessary to cover our estimate and get his input on his expectations by making sure we understood what the customer’s expectations were. Other helpful info was how he planned to use the ’77 after we completed the project: everyday driver, short runs to local cruise-ins, or long road trips? Our conversation concerning the estimate ended with a positive note for the time being. We would include a few enhancements on the estimate to enjoy the ’77 on his planned road trips.

The next phase was a scheduled appointment to bring the ’77 in and go over the project in person, comparing our estimate to what we had in hand.

While we waited on the ’77’s arrival, we added our discussed upgrades on our estimate to really enjoy the car on road trips. The original Turbo 400 trans was tough, but an overdrive trans would make driving more enjoyable. Wiring modifications would also make the early electrical system handle the added load from other enhancements. We were ready, and our preliminary estimate at $12,000 was ready for our next meeting.

The ’77 Arrives

At first glance, the Corvette looked like it had fairly good paint on it, albeit the few spots of peeling paint on the hood and rear deck area. The ’77 had not been started in some time, requiring us to push it onto the lift for inspection. The underside was like many Corvettes of this era; some areas of restoration or repairs had been done over the years. Oddly, the front suspension had been previously cleaned and painted during what appeared to be a bushing replacement many years prior. The back half looked like it had seen better days for sure. All the rear suspension components were rusty and all bushings were worn, cracked, or just plain deteriorated. Further inspection showed severely rotted body mounts and some driver-side body damage. The condition of the underside was directing us to body removal and the possibility that our project may never get started. As much as we were reluctant to mention it to the owner, it was imperative that he understands we wanted to remove the body to do the job right.

The owner left us with some more info about what he wanted to do with the project and some of the pieces that he had purchased previously. We went to work firming up the estimate now that we had a tangible piece to look at. Our estimate would cover body removal, chassis disassembly, cleaning, and painting. All wear-sensitive suspension and driveline components would be replaced. The customer-supplied engine would be installed with a reman 700R4 O/D trans to get it through the gears. Our estimate swelled to $13,000 for the chassis restoration before any work might ever start. Two thousand dollars was put into an escrow account on the estimate for incidentals. We were really pushing the body-off job to do the project correctly and make sure the owner would be satisfied. We could certainly do the job piece by piece, but in reality, they would end up spending more money.

As we sat down for our next discussion concerning our estimate about the ’77’s fate, we felt that it was very important that the owner know what would lie ahead if we proceeded. The ’77 did have some promise. Interior-wise, it was in exceptional shape except for the carpet. In real numbers, $25,000 dollars was what we felt would ultimately be spent on the ’77 to make it a good looking, long- distance cruiser.

The owner had already purchased the engine, radiator, electric radiator cooling fans and other small items that we considered into the $25k equation. The ’77’s exterior would require stripping and some body repair before paint. If all went well, this could be done for $5k if the driven part is put into the final painted product. The final topic was the owner helping with the project. Was this smart for them or us? We made it perfectly clear that cost overruns were possible, and we had not disassembled the first piece yet. We should try to stay within the original plan as it is way too easy to get carried away with upgrades and shiny pieces. It’s important to rein yourself in and keep an eye on the budget to avoid getting out of control.

Sweat Equity

As a shop owner, this can be a good or bad thing. There is no way that having an owner work in the shop makes sense. Insurance liability is one thing, disrupting the shop workflow costs dearly. The owner had mentioned that he would paint the exterior when the time came for that. Would they consider prepping the underside of the body once it was removed? As it turns out, he said if there was a way to do it, he would. This was a win-win for us and the owner. We had planned to put the body on a cart we designed to store it out of the way. If we could secure the body to the cart and bring it to his garage, it would free up shop space. As good as this sounds for us and the owner, we felt it was important that they consider the cost of his labor and materials. Everybody’s time is valuable and should be considered when figuring his project costs. Many owners feel that the experience would not be complete without a hands-on approach, which is understandable. Now that we were all on the same page, we waited for the owner’s decision. As it turns out, his budget was $15k for our portion of the project.


How do you make sense of the cost when you can go out and buy a decent looking, running, driving 1976-1982 Corvette for under $15k? All too often, really good looking aesthetics cover a multitude of issues. This doesn’t mean that all the good looking sharks are like this, but if you revamp the car from the ground up, you know what you have. Who’s to say what year is the best looking? Many Corvette enthusiasts have feelings for particular generations, and many feel that the shark’s styling is the ultimate. On the positive side, the ’77 will be new from front to rear with handling, ride and performance enhancements. We don’t try to sway the owner, because it is his decision to make. We need to present all the options and give them ideas on what products are beneficial. One thing that we try to convey is that if we need to make a repair in a certain area, sometimes it makes sense dollarwise to do more. Why pay twice to disassemble components when we could have replaced a few more and not have to revisit the area again for many years?

Our conversation with the owner revealed they liked the look and feel of the shark. The ’77 had been purchased for $15,000 almost 20 years ago and sat in the garage for most of that time. Now that they were able to work from home, it was time to move ahead with the project. The estimate was approved for the body removal, and a plan of attack formulated.

Work Begins

There were not too many surprises during body removal, except for the previous body damage in the driver door area. There were a few odd things, though, like it appeared the driver side had been hit and repaired very early in the ’77’s life. Some of the wheelhouse panels were coming loose and fit poorly. The floor pan, concealed by the rear crossmember, had broken loose, causing major road noise. The frame was in good condition and straight but with many rusty fasteners. There was no way that we could have hammered out the trailing arm bolts. Cutting would have been the only option with the body on. But, we had the body off in about five hours. Simply cutting the trailing arm bolts can take a couple of hours. Replacing the body mounts without lifting the body completely can take eight hours, and they had to be replaced in this project. Three to four hours of the body mount replacement is just to get the bushings out and the new pieces back in place, never mind the aggravation of getting the body mount bolts loose.

Chassis disassembly went well with very few worn or damaged additional pieces found above our estimate. The only major cost was that the differential pinion gear had issues. We found the inner pinion bearing had never been seated against the shim and pinion. We knew that it would be almost impossible to place a new bearing in the exact same location. The change in pinion depth could very likely cause a whiny rearend. We decided that the smart thing to do was change the ring-and-pinion and, while we were there, upgrade to a 3.73 for acceleration. On an up note, we were able to cross some items off our estimate, bringing us just about even with the cost of parts.

We got the body on our cart ready for the owner to take it away. The chassis is disassembled, waiting on the sandblaster to clean all 62 pieces. Parts are ordered now that we have noted and checked off our estimate parts list.

Our next phase will be getting parts back from the blaster, with our new parts ready for installation after painting. Our local NAPA store has an economy paint line to save a few bucks while preserving the pieces. We chose a urethane primer and synthetic enamel to refinish the frame and all components. We hope you follow along as we move ahead with this fun, drivable ’77 project.

1 We start here, removing the lower valance panels and applying rust penetrating oil to help loosen the crusty screws. All of the screw holes were stripped or had broken screws that required repair.

2 This is the kind of stuff that is easy to forget during body removal. Our antenna ground wire must be removed, or it will be stretched to the breaking point as the body comes off.

3 The front and rear urethane bumpers must come off. We found that running a die over the bumper stud threads saves extra work later. The nuts are rusty, and cleaning the stud makes it easy to remove them with just a few turns of the wrench.

4 When we removed the bumper cover and crash bar, we found a rotted radiator A/C condenser core support. Keeping a note pad nearby can save a lot of time to list the parts that will be required during the reassembly process.

5 We decided to remove the rotted core support, radiator, and A/C condenser before the body lift to lighten the load. Removing the core support side mounting bolts allows the support to move around enough to ease shroud and radiator removal.

6 It’s easy to forget small things like this accelerator cable and the wire harness that connects the engine to the body. Check the engine compartment carefully for any connecting wires or cables.

7 Long ago, the negative battery cable should have been removed. The alternator wiring is part of the forward lamp harness that must be removed. While you’re removing forward lamp harness connectors, don’t forget to disconnect the brake warning light connector from the brake proportioning valve on the frame.

8 The steering coupler must be disconnected and the upper part of the coupler must be pushed off the connecting studs.

9 The A/C system must be evacuated of refrigerant, and the main A/C hose must be removed from the compressor.

10 On the underside, we cut the puny rear exhaust pipes out of the way. Our emergency brake cable pulley must be removed to allow the cable to be free from the frame during the lift.

11 Now the real tough work starts. This is one of the better body mount cushions. How well do you think the doors fit and work when the cushions are rotted? These number one cushions are the easiest to remove because you can access the body bolt nut.

12 This was interesting. The right-side number three body mount bolt was never tightened from the assembly line. We found the cushion and bolt in the mount area without any wrench marks or any evidence of cushion compression.

13 Ninety percent of the time, the number four body mount (behind the rear wheels) will not come loose. A captured nut is used on the top side that uses a steel cage secured to the fiberglass body panel. As soon as pressure is applied, the captured nut spins. So, we cut the bolt with the Sawzall to avoid body damage.

14 The body comes off after carefully looking for any attaching wires, cables, tubes, etc. During the lift, we noticed resistance. After we checked over the engine compartment, we realized the master cylinder brake lines had not been disconnected. This proves we are human and mistakes can happen.

15 Not much left of the original buildsheet was glued to the fuel tank shield. Either the body or the fuel tank and shield has to be removed to access this buildsheet.

16 Everywhere we look, worn parts are evident. This brake rotor is worn well below safe limits. GM says to discard the rotor when worn below 1.215. All of the rotors were below specs and will be replaced.

17 The engine and trans were left in place so we could remove the front springs a little easier. Respect the power of the springs; any contact with them can be dangerous.

18 Out comes the engine and trans for replacement. We will finish removing the front end components once the engine is out of the way. It is best to plan out each phase carefully to make the work as painless as possible.

19 The owner had driven the car infrequently in the past twenty years because of poor performance. Do you think it may be due to the pinched fuel supply hoses under the fuel tank straps?

20 More evidence that everything needs attention on this Corvette. The pitman shaft pushed out of the steering box. The steering box lube is mostly wax and all the lube has been depleted.

21 There would be no way to remove the stubborn trailing arm pivot bolts with the body in place. Our heavy-duty air hammer rattles the trailing arm bolt, knocking the rust holding the bolt in place.

22 Nice huh? Our strut rod could not be removed from the trailing arm spindle mount. Even with the spindle bearing assembly in the press, we could not remove the shock mount in order to remove the strut rod. As pressure was applied, the shock stud was collapsing. Even if it came loose, it would not go through the spindle assembly. We really wanted to save as many pieces as possible to keep costs in check. We used our air hammer with a pinpoint chisel to break the strut rod sleeve loose from the shock mount stud. This worked; the shock mount was junk, but we saved the strut rod and spindle assembly.

Twin Disc Centerforce Clutch Install S197

The article featured on this page is from the December 2010 issue of Auto Enthusiast Magazine.

Double Duty

Plates and splines to beef up your S197 Mustang’s 3650 five-speed.

STORY Dan Sanchez

Many S197 Mustang owners have found that bolting on a supercharger can lead to big horsepower gains. But the factory drivetrain isn’t necessarily designed to handle the extra stress coming from a 450-500 rear wheel horsepower engine.

This is especially so for Mustang owners whose vehicles are equipped with the Ford 3650 five-speed manual transmission. With this kind of power, they quickly discover that the factory clutch slips, and the fear of breaking the transmission’s input shaft or other components becomes a harsh reality every time they stomp on the throttle.

New Twist On A Twin-Disc: Only recently did clutch manufacturers such as Centerforce come up with some solutions for the growing number of late-model car enthusiasts using superchargers to make big horsepower and torque. Utilizing patent-pending technology, the company’s new DYAD DS Twin clutch provides enough clamping force to handle up to 1,300 lbs-ft of torque. Yet, the clutch material does not have to be as aggressive as that used on full-race style clutches, making clutch engagement much more pleasant during normal driving conditions.

According to Will Baty of Centerforce, the DYAD DS Twin system works differently than twin-disc clutch systems of the past. Instead of both clutches being driven off of the input shaft, this new design has only the first clutch disc, closest to the engine, driven off of the transmission’s input shaft. The second clutch is driven off of six drive lugs that are riveted to the face of the first disc. This technique provides full dampening of both clutches and makes for extremely smooth operation, while maximizing clamping force and improving the strength of the clutch to handle big power.

Putting It All Together: We wanted to see how well these modifications would work and opted to make them on one of our Mustangs, an ’07 GT outfitted with a Kenne Bell, 2.6L twin-screw supercharger. This car was the perfect candidate for this upgrade, as the 4.6 liter 3V is putting out slightly over 500 rear wheel horsepower and the five-speed transmission uses a racing style Centerforce DFX clutch. Upgrading the input shaft and installing the new Centerforce DYAD DS Twin clutch would smooth out the engagement and take the abuse of a high-powered street engine.

On the road, the Centerforce DYAD DS Twin clutch operates smoothly, and with its added holding capacity, it can take more power than this Mustang will ever want to produce. Baty at Centerforce mentioned the system once made a slight noise when the clutch pedal was depressed, but they have since eliminated that problem. The clutch noise was similar to but not as loud as the factory twin-disc system on the GT500. In fact, the Centerforce DYAD DS Twin clutch is actually quieter and has less pedal effort when you compare the two.
After a short break-in period, it was easy to power-shift our 3650 transmission through the gears. Most importantly, low-speed shifting on the street (especially on hills) was smooth, and there’s no clutch chatter like we experienced on the DFX clutch. The cost of a job like this, especially if you remove the transmission yourself, is definitely much less than a full TR6060 six-speed replacement and offers some added insurance that your five-speed can take some added abuse.

For any dual-purpose street and strip-type Mustang that makes some impressive horsepower, there’s no doubt that the Centerforce DYAD DS Twin clutch and the Liberty’s Gears 26-spline input shaft conversion are a great way to get the power to the pavement in a reliable fashion.

1 The DYAD clutch system uses an SFI-approved billet aluminum flywheel, two clutches and a center spacer plate. The first clutch is driven off of the input shaft and uses heavy-duty lugs to drive the second clutch.

2 This upgrade began by taking our ’07 Mustang GT over to GTR High Performance, where Ricardo Topete put the vehicle on a lift and unplugged the O2 and transmission sensors, the wiring harness, then removed the negative battery cable and unbolted the starter motor.

3 Unbolting the exhaust from the manifolds and loosening the clamps allowed the removal of the aftermarket H-pipe. Only the H-pipe needs to be removed.

4 Removing the driveshaft bolts allowed Topete to gain easier access to unbolt the performance short shifter. Then, with the transmission properly supported with a trans jack, Topete unbolted the crossmember from the frame.

5 While some of the bellhousing bolts are easy to access, the top bolts require a very long extension to remove. Once the transmission was free from the engine, it was lowered and pushed back to clear the input shaft from the clutch. It took some maneuvering to get it out, but eventually it broke free.

6 The last step before removing the transmission is to detach the hydraulic line from the master cylinder. Centerforce includes a plug in all its clutch kits to keep the fluid from pouring out of the reservoir.

7 The shift lever detents are removed, and the bellhousing can be unbolted to reveal the input shaft. The rear synchro hub hits the countershaft gear so that it can’t simply slide out without further disassembly.

8 At the rear, the driveshaft flange must be removed from the output shaft with a puller. Then, the rear case cover can then be unbolted and removed.

9 The reverse gear synchronizer assembly is at the back of the countershaft. It must also be removed. First, the fork-pin is pushed out from the internal shift lever.

10 Then a C-clip is removed from the shaft.

11 One of the top forks must also be removed from the internal shift lever. Finally using two pull bars, the reverse gear synchronizer assembly can be persuaded out from the countershaft.

12 Here, you can see the seal and race that holds the countershaft in position. Removing this gives the shaft enough play to move it out of the way and pull out the input shaft from the front.

13  They lubricated the input shaft synchros and put them in place by simply lifting the counter gear up to insert them. The same was done when installing the new input shaft. They lifted up the counter gear and slid the shaft into position. You can see how the new 26-spline input shaft fits into position with the countershaft. For reference, the transmission is upside down, so the countershaft doesn’t fall down towards the bottom of the case.

14 All the original bearings were reinstalled onto the transmission’s bellhousing. With some new sealant, the bellhousing was reinstalled back onto the case.

15 The reverse synchronizer assembly and fork were kept together and were reinserted into the countershaft along with the seal, race and C-clip. The top and bottom shift forks were then reinstalled using the expansion pins that hold them in place.

16 With the bellhousing on, the three shift arm detents are reinserted. A spring puts pressure on the detents like lifters on a camshaft, and the covers are screwed back onto the housing to hold them in place.

17 Back at GTR High Performance, Topete had bolted on the new Centerforce SFI-approved flywheel using new ARP bolts that were torqued between 65-70 lbs-ft. Then the first clutch disc is installed using Centerforce’s alignment tool. Note the six lugs that will drive the second clutch disc.

18 After the first clutch disc, a spacer plate is inserted. Then, the second clutch disc is put into position. You can see how the lugs drive the center portion of the disc, which help dampen the assembly.

19 Using the alignment tool, the pressure plate is installed. The ARP bolts are torqued between 35-40 lbs-ft.

20 Before reinstalling our modified 3650 trans, we poured in three quarts of Royal Purple Synchromax fluid. The transmission was bolted back into position, along with the crossmember, exhaust, shifter, driveshaft and wiring harness. Our Mustang’s five-speed can now handle some serious horsepower and torque.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fixing Your Muscle Car A/C


The article featured on this page is from the January 2011 issue of Auto Enthusiast Magazine.

Stop Losing Your Cool! - A/C In Your Muscle Car

Our subject 1971 Mustang had been plagued with air conditioning problems for years. When it was working, it might last two months [after being worked on] … or it might last one week. To add insult to injury, the compressor would occasionally bind up and cause the A/C belt to squeal.

Service work had been performed at various garages, including numerous recharges, a new expansion valve and removing the compressor to verify it had not been overfilled with oil. The owner had disconnected the compressor energizing wire because he was fed up that he could never flip the A/C dash switch and be guaranteed it would perform properly.

A typical A/C system works when Freon leaves the compressor through the high-pressure [discharge] side as a high-pressure gas. It enters the condenser and receiver dryer, where it transforms into a high-pressure liquid. The high-pressure liquid then travels through the A/C hose, where it enters the expansion valve [remember, as a high-pressure liquid]. From the expansion valve, it goes into the evaporator, where it exits the evaporator as a low-pressure gas. The low-pressure gas then returns to the compressor, where the cycle starts all over again. Simple, huh?

Our game plan on this car was to sort out the problems and, because the price of R-12 is through the roof or not available, convert the car to R-134A.

Tools needed for the project were safety glasses, basic handtools, a set of A/C gauges and an A/C vacuum pump. When we acquired this vehicle, it had no Freon in the system, so it was not necessary to evacuate the system. If the car would have had any residual R-12 Freon remaining, it would have been necessary to have that Freon evacuated and reclaimed by a certified service center [it is illegal to vent R-12 Freon into the atmosphere, according to the EPA].

We started our diagnosis of the problems by installing the conversion R-134A service port to the low [suction] side of the compressor and opening the valve located on the hose connection. From there, we started the engine, energized the compressor and allowed the compressor to pull in 22 ounces of Freon for initial testing [an A/C system can’t be tested for low- and high-side gauge readings if it’s empty]. Within minutes, the needle on the low-side gauge started going toward the negative side of the dial. A properly functioning system would have gone opposite of that, heading toward approximately 25 inches of vacuum. This action was an indication of a severe restriction within the system … but where?

Previous work had included a new expansion valve, so we would rule that out [for now]. The next most likely culprit was either the condenser or the receiver dryer, both located in front of the radiator. In order to access the condenser/dryer, our first step was to remove the hood latch assembly and its support brackets. With those out of the way and our newly installed R-134A reclaimed and stored, we proceeded to disconnect the A/C hose attached to the condenser and the remaining hose that was connected to the receiver dryer. With the two lines disconnected, we used compressed air to blow into the top condenser opening to check airflow which should be exiting the open dryer connection. Bingo! There was no air exiting the open dryer connection, verifying a definite restriction in one, or both, of these units. Note: never replace an A/C condenser without installing a new receiver dryer.

We knew replacing these two parts was our starting point in this project, so our next order of business was to order our new condenser and receiver dryer. While the parts were in transit, we removed the old unit [as an assembly] by extracting the four retaining bolts and lifting the condenser/dryer from the vehicle.

Our parts arrived in short order with necessary new seals and retaining screws. With our new parts assembled, a reverse of removal brought us to the point of evacuating the system and recharging it again with R-134A.

When an A/C system is evacuated with a vacuum pump, that system can be checked for possible leaks. A vacuum pump will also remove contaminants and air from the system, plus draw a negative reading on the low-side gauge to approximately 29 inches of vacuum. When our low-side gauge reached 29 inches [give or take an inch or so], all gauge valves were closed, the vacuum pump shut off and the gauge monitored for possible leakdown. A sealed system will maintain the 29 inches of vacuum for 30 minutes. Our system held the vacuum for the required time, so recharging with the required 1¾ pounds of R-134A was the next step. After a recharge and road test to verify cool air was coming out of the vents, we shut the compressor down along with the engine and performed our last inspection.

With a mixture of dishwashing liquid and water in a spray bottle, we squirted the mixture on all hose connections and watched for bubbles. None appeared, so our Mustang A/C system was being cool … and good to go.

1 After installing the R-134A service port and connecting the low-side gauge line, a ¼-inch A/C wrench was used to open the factory service valve. These valves turn clockwise to open and counterclockwise to close.

2 The hood latch assembly was the first to be removed for accessing the condenser and receiver dryer.

3 Removing the two hood latch braces required extracting four screws through the front of the grille with a long Phillips screwdriver and removing two 3/8-inch bolts under the bumper.

4 With the retaining screws and bolts removed, our hood latch braces were simply lifted up and out.

5 Care must be taken when removing or installing A/C lines connected to any part of the system.

6 It was also necessary to remove the bracket securing the A/C lines to the front clip panel.

7 The four retaining screws holding the condenser and dryer were extracted, thus allowing for easy up-and-out of the assembly.

8 After dissecting the old receiver/dryer, it was pretty obvious this A/C system had serious problems.

9 When recharging any A/C system, gauges such as these should be used to ensure refill accuracy.

10 Conversion kits, such as this one found at the local auto parts store, are readily available for bringing an older vehicle into the 21st century using R-134A Freon. This kit retailed for $44.99.

Mopar Aluminum Radiator Install

The article featured on this page is from the December 2010 issue of Auto Enthusiast Magazine
Dart Swinger Aluminum Radiator Install - Project Swing ’N Sting

Hey, everything’s cool now!

STORY John Stunkard

There are some things you need to know before you become a full-blooded Mopar man. First of all, when you buy your first Mopar – especially one that sat for a while like mine – everything that you thought wasn’t going to be a problem or wouldn’t break, will.

Right after we did our header swap and were getting ready to install some gauges, the radiator split. The top tank just simply separated from the core.

Beyond all the hard times that you will face, make sure that you have quality products to put back on your car so you don’t do it twice. That’s why when my radiator decided to puke, I wanted a company I knew I could depend on.

We turned to Be Cool radiators in Michigan. I don’t think there could be a better match than these two. The Be Cool radiator is of all-aluminum construction, so like my Hot Rod City gas tank, it saves weight (40 percent over the stock version). And, like the Mopar-engineered rad, it is a downflow design with an upper and lower tank and is a two-inch dual-core model with tranny cooler lines fitted into the lower tank. It’s hand-fabricated, with .080-inch wall tanks and a billet filler neck. But most importantly, it will take the OEM accessories and is a Direct-Fit model, meaning it was custom-made for my 1971 Swinger and bolted right in with no changes.

The model we ended up with was Be Cool Module #82283. This is for up to 700 horsepower and included everything in one package – the radiator, a recovery tank, brackets, and hardware, plus a matching electric twin 11-inch fan and shroud with wiring harness. Be Cool even includes the relays, which means we didn’t have to do anything beyond removing the old radiator and fan, bolting in the new stuff, and wiring the fans up. No trips to the parts store halfway through, either. The thing that is the coolest about it is the regulator; it only kicks on when it hits your preferred engine temperature, maintaining an optimum temperature range for your engine. The radiator has a guarantee to lower the temperature of your coolant by at least 20 degrees or your money back.

I do feel lucky because my Dart radiator split right up the road from Country Side Customs. It ended up sitting for a couple of weeks while we traveled, and Be Cool took my info and built the module for my car.

Be Cool also has a new super-duty antifreeze called Be Cool Coolant. It will not boil until 265 degrees Fahrenheit and won’t freeze until -25 degrees Fahrenheit. It will seal hairline cracks in aluminum parts and heads, and it will double the warranty on the radiator.

1 The first thing we did was drain and remove the old radiator, and then we set the new one in place to make sure it fit; everything lined up perfectly. We will bench-build the new radiator and fan assembly before installing it.

2 The old horsepower-robbing, belt-driven fan will be the next item thrown in the corner.

3 The kit has pre-bent, 90-degree, Z-shaped brackets; these will be bolted through the radiator core support and the welded-on radiator braces to support the matching fan. Like an Erector set, the fan package is added to the braces. Here is how the assembly that faces the radiator will look.

4 Before installing the fan for good, push these little bushings onto the fan support braces to keep your brace bolts from possibly stabbing the brand new radiator core.

5 Now the fan is set back on the radiator for one final test-fit. The radiator and fan is lowered into the car. Everything stays perfectly aligned since the holes in the Z-brace and the fan brace line up. The hoses are reinstalled, but we still need to wire up the fans.

6 We decided to use the area alongside the battery to mount the 40-amp relays, one for each fan. That inner fender is embarrassing; if we ever stop breaking stuff, we’ll do some bodywork! The wiring is color-coded to make this simple. TAKE YOUR TIME here, and you’ll be alright. You will trim some of it to fit.

7 Two grey wires will go to the provided sensor in the intake manifold. After the sensor was installed, we crimped on a pair of eyelets and bolted them up. These tell the relays when to turn on the fans.

8 Now the orange wires get routed though the firewall to the fuse box to prevent a meltdown. We used a hole already existing in the firewall for this.

9 For the main power to the fans, we put the wires right to the battery terminals. The red ones will go to the negative side, and the yellow ones go to the positive side. Be sure to fuse each fan separately at 5 to 10 amps above their normal operational current draw. Each application is different so the proper value will vary according to your application. The remaining connection is the final fan relay (orange) to fan (red); crimp and seal these.

10 The final step was adding the super-duty Be Cool coolant, which will double the warranty on the radiator and ensure we have no more problems.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Restoring Pontiac’s Classic Spinner Wheel Covers

The article featured on this page is from the January 2011 issue of Auto Enthusiast Magazine.

A Spin of the Cap

Restoring Pontiac’s classic spinner wheel covers

Story Jim Black

In 1964, Pontiac offered a variety of wheels, hubcaps, and full wheel covers for its popular Bonneville, Star Chief, Catalina, and Grand Prix full-size car lineup.

From standard custom discs, to deluxe discs, to wire wheel covers and the integral aluminum wheel hub and drum assembly (commonly referred to as eight-lugs), choices were made difficult for the new car buyer.

Landing squarely in the middle of these choices was Pontiac’s Custom Sports Cover option, a full-faced wheel cover with a three-eared knock-off hub, which mimicked the road-racing cars of the period. The wheel cover design actually had its roots in the Corvette’s cast-aluminum knock-off wheels offered the previous year.

Our Bonneville sport coupe came equipped with optional Deluxe discs which looked great, but when we saw a clean set of the optional spinner-style wheel covers available online, we purchased them in a heartbeat. These were a great find, but they had several imperfections, including many surface scratches, faded and chipped paint, and all four of the bolt-on knock-off spinners were in need of cleanup and rechroming. With lots of TLC, though, we can have these wheel covers looking like new, which can really showcase our all-original 1964 Sunfire Red Bonneville.

The wheel covers are made of heavy-gauge stainless steel and are trimmed and painted satin black, resembling a jet turbine. The three-eared knock-offs are made of pot metal and were chrome plated and attached to each wheel cover with three screws and a backing plate.

We started with disassembly and cleaning, and then moved on to sanding. At first, we were aggressive, using 220-grit paper and a firm hand. Then we progressed through the grits (400, 600, 800) to finish with 1,000. Polishing required a special kit from Eastwood.

The kit is designed to be used with a common electric hand drill or bench grinder and included several different types of shaped felt bobs, felt buffs and different grades of polishing compounds. The unique selection of shapes made it easier to get into the tight spots for a more professional job. Once all the scratches were removed and polishing was completed, we continued our restoration by masking and painting the wheel covers. When the knock-offs came back from rechroming, we finished the project by hand-painting the recessed lettering.

1 We found this rare set of spinner-style hubcaps for our Bonneville on eBay. Although the wheel covers are in good condition overall, they still suffer from the usual wear and tear and will need some restoration.

2 We started by separating the wheel covers from the spinner caps and washed everything with soap and water to remove any sand and dirt particles which could harm surfaces during the restoration process. This was also a good time to send out our spinner caps for replating.

3 Having a good stable working surface is paramount when sanding and polishing stainless steel. We utilized our Bonneville’s spare tire atop a work table for this purpose and simply snapped each of the wheel covers into position on the wheel.

4 The bad scratches are evident and will require extensive sanding prior to polishing. In general, any scratches you can catch with a fingernail will require sanding first.

5 Since most of the scratches are pretty deep, we decided to sand aggressively, starting with 220-grit paper on a soft sanding block. Sanding stainless steel requires a firm hand. We continued working these areas using 400-, 600-, 800-, and finished with 1000-grit papers.

6 We’ll be using stainless steel polishing kit that we picked up. The kit contains several shaped felt bobs and buffs, three different polishing compounds and instructions. The kit is designed to work with a common electric drill or bench grinder.

7 We selected one of the shaped felt bobs and attached it to our drill, then spun it across the black emery compound (coarse grit) at a low power setting. During the polishing and buffing process, lots of particles become airborne, so wear eye protection and a dust mask.

8 Using the felt bob with compound applied, we worked the areas where the scratches had been removed in an effort to remove the previous sanding marks. We reapplied compound as needed and eventually the sanding marks disappeared. Remember to keep the drill at a low power setting (under 3,000 rpm) and keep it moving to prevent hot spots.

9 Once all the previous areas had been polished with the coarser compound, we moved to the Brown Tripoli compound using a different shaped felt bob. We continued by polishing all the surfaces we could get to in an effort to get a uniform finish.

10 To achieve a mirror-like finish, we applied the final green stainless compound to one of our felt buffs and went to work. If we didn’t mention it before, you’ll notice a black residue coming off the material as you polish.

11 We applied several applications of the green compound and finally had the bright finish we desired.

12 With the polishing completed, we wiped down each of the wheel covers with glass cleaner to remove any residue and then started the tedious job of masking in preparation of paint.

13 Prior to painting, we lightly scuffed the painted areas and wiped everything down with a tack cloth and Eastwood’s pre-paint prep to promote paint adhesion.

14 We applied a couple of light coats of semi-gloss black to our wheel covers and let them dry overnight prior to removing any masking.

15 A couple of weeks later, we picked up our rechromed spinner caps, and they looked great. Each cap required lots of cleanup and smoothing prior to the plating process.

16 The shop that did our chrome plating suggested we fabricate a plate to mount the spinners into a lathe so they could replicate the brushed-metal finish in the centers. It took a few extra days, but the results were impressive.

17 A final touch to our spinner caps was reapplying the paint to the “Pontiac Motor Division” recessed lettering. We used acrylic black, properly thinned, so it would easily flow into the recessed letters applied with an artist’s brush.

18 After the paint had dried, we cleaned up the letter edges with acrylic thinner applied with a cotton swab.

19 When we were finished, we brought out the shine with some conventional glass cleaner. Now all we have to do is bolt them back on.

20 The restoration of our spinner wheel covers is complete. The whole process – sanding, polishing, painting, and detailing – took about 12 hours for the set of four wheel covers, but it was well worth the effort.

Materials List:

• Stainless steel polishing kit

• Electric hand drill

• Paint respirator

• Safety glasses

• Sanding pads

• 220-grit wet-or-dry sandpaper

• 400-grit wet-or-dry sandpaper

• 600-grit wet-or-dry sandpaper

• 800-grit wet-or-dry sandpaper

• 1,000-grit wet-or-dry sandpaper

• Masking tape – ¼-inch

• Masking tape – ¾-inch

• Scuffing pad

• Tack cloth

• Eastwood pre-paint prep

• Dsemi-gloss black spray paint

• Black acrylic paint

• Acrylic thinner

• Paintbrush – small artist’s

• Cotton swabs

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Safely Making a Double Flare

The article featured on this page is from the February 2011 issue of Auto Enthusiast Magazine.

A Flaring Situation

Doubling the safety on a custom fitted hard line

Story Earl Duty

When it comes to cutting a brake line and re-flaring that severed connection, a double flare is the only safe option. Is creating a workable double flare, in your garage at home easy? Sure it is … with the proper tools.

Buy a cheap kit and it will make your life miserable, not to mention it could create a safety hazard. Our goal is to demonstrate the proper way to double flare a brake line.

Our project started by doing some research for an inexpensive quality flaring kit. As we all know, word of mouth is good advertisement. By asking friends in the business, more than once service kits came up as a workable and inexpensive option. This kit not only offered everything needed to create a double flare, it included a mini tubing cutter and a tubing bender for making those curved bends without putting a kink in the line.

After getting our kit and briefly going over the supplied instructions, our work began by clamping the holding bar into our bench vise. Next, we measured off the length of brake line needed and cut the 3/16-inch tube using the supplied mini tubing cutter. After cutting any thin-wall steel tube, the cutting procedure will force the metal inward and leave material that must be removed. And that’s where the supplied deburring tool came in handy. After deburring the metal, it is critical that any and all metal shavings be removed with compressed air. Safety glasses are required when using compressed air.

With the brake line now ready for us to start the flaring process, we installed the tube into the holding bar and set its height adjustment using the appropriate flaring adapter as a guide [see image #4]. Our adjustment is now set, the thumb screws tightened on the holding bar, and it’s time to move on to the next step, which is to add a touch of white lithium grease to the flaring adapter. After lubricating the adapter, we inserted it into the opening of the tube with the pintle pointing down [see image #5].

Next, the yoke is installed over the holding bar so that the tapered swivel is resting into the depression in the adapter. From there, we cranked the turning bar clockwise until the adapter was flush with the holding bar. This procedure created a bubble of sorts on the end of our tube. The final step was to simply remove the yoke and the 3/16-inch adapter, reinstall the yoke and crank the tapered swivel into the bubble opening until it came to a stop. Presto … a perfect double flare the first time. No muss, no fuss.

1 We begin our project by clamping the holding bar in the bench vise. After determining the exact length of 3/16-inch brake tube to remove, the mini tubing cutter [supplied with the kit] was used to perform the amputation.

2 After the cut, excess metal must be removed with the supplied deburring tool. The deburring tool has sharp blades for easy removal of the metal.

3 The finished cut must be clean and even. We used compressed air to blow any metal chips out of the tube. Caution: Wear safety goggles when using compressed air! Before proceeding to the next step, make sure the ferrule nut is in place and pointed in the right direction.

4 We then placed the proper flaring adapter [in our case, 3/16-inch] upside down on the holding bar and adjusted the tube to the length equal to the flat on the flaring adapter. Just prior to flipping the flaring adapter over for the next step, a small amount of white lithium grease was applied to the adapter’s surface.

5 The adapter, with the pintle pointed down, was then installed onto the tubing.

6 Our yoke is then installed and positioned to where the swivel enters the depression formed into the adapter.

7 By turning the yoke handle clockwise and compressing the metal inward with the adapter until it bottoms out, the finished job should appear as a formed bubble, with the hole centrally located. If the hole were to be excessively off center, it would be necessary to start over.

8 The yoke was then reinstalled. The swivel was cranked down until the metal folded in on itself and our swivel bottomed out.

9 A correct double flare will appear like this.

10 Compare the factory double flare (right) to our double flare (left inset). See any difference? There is no difference, and that’s what we set out to accomplish. The kit works, and created this double flare on the first attempt.

11 Also supplied with the kit was this handy tubing bender. This bender makes a nice, clean, sharp bend on tubes without putting a kink in the metal.

Click here to read the free digital edition of Auto Enthusiast now.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Installing Aluminum Radiator In a GM A-Body

The article featured on this page is from the February 2011 issue of Auto Enthusiast Magazine.

Radiator Rescue

What to do if heat has gotten your Goat

Story Chris Petris

Images Stephanie Petris

We saw this 1970 Pontiac GTO at a local car show. The restoration was looking great except for the underhood area. Don’t get me wrong — the underhood area was in decent shape — it just needed some detailing.

After some discussion, the owner mentioned that he had a few issues that were plaguing the GTO. Plenty of work was required to make it drivable from its apparent drag race days. He explained that with just one summer under the GTO’s belt, overheating prevented the use of its air conditioning. Our full-service GM shop has handled plenty of these overheating issues in the past.

First order of business would be to check out the cooling system. General Motors made four versions of the A-body mid-size car of the ’70s. Buick, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Pontiac all had different engine configurations with specific cooling system requirements. Many different engine/transmission combinations were also available for each specific A-body version.

Nineteen seventy was the beginning of lower horsepower numbers and emission systems. Many things were changing besides our exhaust emissions worries; options were becoming commonplace. Large cubic inch engines with A/C pushed cooling systems beyond their breaking point. Engine coolant fans were controlled by thermostatic fan clutches. The fan clutches would cycle in the fan blade as heat blasted against the thermostatic coil.

Radiator cooling fans worked poorly at best compared to our electric cooling fans used today. Radiators of the ’60s and ’70s were constructed of copper, brass and lead. As engine cooling loads increased, radiator configurations were changed. Overall radiator size was increased and rows of tubes added. The typical radiator was two rows of half-inch tubes. Three and ultimately four rows of the half-inch tubes were used to help cool high-horsepower engines. The additional rows of tubes added more coolant capacity.

Many times, the four rows of tubes did not help cooling and, in some cases it hindered air flow. The decreased air flow could actually raise engine coolant temperatures. In those days, we got concerned at coolant temperatures above 160 degrees, while 200-plus is commonplace today. During our testing the GTO’s 400ci engine, rated at 350hp, was running 210 degrees at idle with the A/C off. When the A/C was switched on the temperature kept rising. We had to carefully inspect the entire cooling system before we considered the next step.

The radiator appeared to be an original four-row copper unit with a few minor leaks. Lead solder was used to fuse the copper tanks to the core. Over time, impurities in the lead allow corrosion to form and literally hundreds of minute leaks are occurring all along the tank solder joints. The core itself had scale and mineral build-up over many of the tubes.

Should we send the decades old radiator out for service or replace it? One major drawback to sending out the radiator today is finding someone that can properly repair it. Back in the day, we would send the radiator to the local radiator shop. The craftsman would remove one tank, then force a cleaning rod through each tube. This was a positive way to clean each and every tube. If the tubes survived, you could be assured the radiator would be fine for quite a while. The real art was cleaning the core and tank properly to solder those old joints once again. Today the majority of radiators are aluminum with plastic composite tanks that are crimped onto the core. Many shops use a chemical solution to soak the aluminum core in for cleaning.

The owner really did not want to repair the questionable radiator so the hunt was on for a new replacement. There were a couple of options out there, copper replacement or aluminum? We knew the aluminum radiator would cool better and shave off a few pounds, but it would also very noticeable.

Be Cool had just introduced their OE Series replacement aluminum radiator. This was perfect! The radiator looked like the original while providing extra cooling capacity and the die-formed cross-flow aluminum tanks mimicked the originals in every way. The only telltale sign there was something different was the perfectly welded tank to core seams. Since we were replacing the radiator with a correct looking replacement it made sense to replace all the hoses. We decided to replace radiator, heater hoses and clamps with factory OE look pieces.

While we waited for the radiator and other pieces to arrive, there were some other cooling system concerns. Remember we said the GTO had a prior life as a drag racer? The drag race info is good to know because most cars that spend their time at the strip rarely have coolant in the cooling system. Serious racers are constantly draining the water between each run down the strip. The use of water means corrosion/rust and eventually sediment forms. There is no way to avoid sediment in an open cooling system, meaning a radiator that has expansion space (air) below the radiator fill cap. The air that is above the coolant causes corrosion and tiny particles of sediment are formed.

In 1974, GM introduced the closed coolant recovery system. A coolant recovery reservoir was used to keep the radiator filled to the top. In theory, the cooling system never had air in the system. This would help alleviate the inherent corrosion as long as the system was working properly, pushing coolant into the recovery reservoir as the engine heated up. During the cool down phase, coolant is drawn back from the recovery tank into the radiator keeping it topped off.

We were relatively certain that we would find plenty of sediment in our cooling system from its prior life. The first order of business would be to drain the coolant out of the radiator. What we found looked OK except for the layer of rusty sediment that filled the bottom of our drain pan. No matter what radiator is chosen, it makes no sense to flush compromised coolant from the engine block into the new core.

We are aware that there are miraculous coolant service machines that drain, flush and fill the cooling system with simply hooking up a few hoses. Move a few levers and the miracle machine does all the hard work for you. Here is the problem, as we stated earlier: sediment builds up and you can not agitate the sediment to disperse it throughout the coolant for draining. No machine will do that by simply connecting to the heater hoses.

Manually removing the block drains is the only way to get the sediment where it lies deep within the block. The solution is to remove the block drain on each side and let the coolant flow. Once the block has drained of coolant and sediment, we can flush the system. While we’re flushing the system, the heater core will get the garden hose connected to one side and let fresh water flush the core.

We had a few other areas to check, as Pontiac engines use a separator plate between the water pump and engine front cover that can corrode. There are also a couple of O-rings that seal the cover and water pump that might be suspect. We removed the water pump and plate for inspection. This proved to be a smart move because the plate was in rough shape and the pump impellers were in fair condition.

With the water pump out of the way and the block drains removed, the engine block was flushed of any remaining sediment. The radiator is only as good as the system using it. If the water pump has reduced flow, so will the radiator. All too often, the replaced component is blamed for poor performance when the supporting pieces are to blame. We were ready for the new BeCool radiator now that the system was clean.

We set the OE black finish radiator in position using the supplied rubber mounting saddles without any issues. All the OE radiator hoses and mounting pieces fit easily. Once everything was connected, we filled the system with BeCoolant. We waited for the engine to warm up then capped off the coolant with the BeCool supplied OEM factory look radiator cap.

There are a couple of other things to watch for concerning engine overheating. Our fuels of today are lead-free and have a lower octane rating, increasing engine cylinder temperatures. Improper base and advance ignition timing affects engine performance and heat. Fuel mixture also plays a role in engine temperature as lean fuel equals higher temps.

We checked and set ignition timing and adjusted the carburetor accordingly for our testing. The GTO was a different animal as it sat and idled, the temperature needle sat at 195 degrees with our 180 degree thermostat installed. When the A/C was turned on, the temp never rose above 200 degrees. When we wrapped up the GTO, it was off to the car show. Not one of the judges spotted the BeCool aluminum radiator. They all thought that we had the traditional copper radiator in place. The BeCool OE radiator was put to the test over our hottest recorded summer ever and performed better than expected. We are very proud to say that our BeCool radiator and coolant is made in the U.S.A. You do not hear that often and it sure sounds great to me!

BeCool had also just introduced BeCoolant and when we decided on this radiator, naturally we gave it a try. BeCoolant has a 300,000 mile or seven year life span that protects down to 26 degrees below zero. The cooling system’s boiling point rises to 267 degrees at 15 pounds of system pressure with BeCoolant. Their earth-friendly biodegradable propylene glycol formula also has self-sealing capabilities to seal minute leaks. Of course, BeCoolant protects our new aluminum radiator and all other cooling system components. Using BeCoolant also doubles our new BeCool radiator’s warranty.

1 An obvious sign we had radiator leaks from the coolant stains on the A/C condenser. While the radiator is out it is a good idea to blow out the debris built up in the A/C condenser fins.

2 The coolant is draining out of the passenger side engine block drain. This is where sediment will come out. Sometimes you have to dig the sediment out to get coolant flowing. The driver side block drain is directly behind the motor mount. Unfortunately our plug was so tight we had to remove the starter to access it. All GM V-8 engines have a drain on each side. Both plugs must be removed to completely drain the system.

3 The die-cast radiator tanks are done very nicely and certainly look like OE pieces. The black finish is durable, adding to the stealth look. Nice touch: the brass radiator drain petcock comes with the radiator assembly.

4 The radiator is slipped into the factory shroud before lowering it into place. The engine cooling fan blade was removed to ease installation. We certainly do not want to gouge up our new radiator core because of a tight fit.

5 Most of the A-body GM cars have this rubber saddle radiator mounting configuration. The rubber saddle has to be slipped between the radiator core support and shroud. This is important stuff — do not let the radiator tank rub against the core support.

6 Our half-inch fitting line wrench is used to tighten the transmission cooler line into the radiator side tank. BeCool offers a heavy duty transmission cooler if you desire to upgrade your cooler when changing the radiator.12Now that looks good BeCool supplied OEM style radiator cap with an OE engine cooling system warning label. The BeCool radiator fit just like the OE piece in all aspects.

7 Coating the inside of all the cooling system hoses prevents thermal expansion leaks. We apply a light coating of Permatex aviation sealer to the connection area. This also prevents corrosion from occurring.

8 Most people do not like these OE style clamps. They work better than the typical band clamp with their 360 degree clamping load. The main complaint is how to release pressure once they have been tightened. Push down on the center screw and the band clamp will release easily.

9 In an effort to make the underhood area look factory correct we opted for the GM stamped radiator hoses.

10 New cooling system hoses throughout the heater hoses are the OE style ribbed ones. We also used the factory correct hose clamps here.

11 Here we are getting ready to button up the 180-degree thermostat installation. We know many owners would go for the 160- degree thermostat; it is not good for the engine. We want the engine to run round 200 degrees to keep the oil contaminants out. Condensation and excessive fuel will build in the crankcase otherwise.

12 Now that looks good. BeCool supplied the OEM style radiator cap with an OE engine cooling system warning label. The BeCool radiator fit just like the OE piece in all aspects.