Auto-Biography: F100 Chronicles – If It’s Been Broken In Many Places For Years Maybe It’s Finally Time To Fix Them

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  I used to think that was my operating principle about many things in life, especially cars and houses. But if truth be told, it’s more like If it still functions minimally, don’t fix it. Case in point: in the last couple of years, my ’66 F100 had lost the following functions: heater and defroster, turn signals, one brake light, instrument panel lights, and any semblance of suspension damping and steering accuracy. In addition to these operating issues, rust had turned the floor boards into Swiss cheese as well as perforated the roof in two places. The windows rattled. Oh, and the battery was totally unsecured. And the windshield leaked. And…

Given that this summer involved a bit more staying at home and the rentals were fairly undemanding, I decided to break my modus (non)operandi, and tackle these issues. It’s really the first time I’ve done anything but just the bare minimum necessary to keep it running. No worries though; I’m not going to restore it. Just preserve it.

#1: Heater/defroster

Two years ago, I was greeted by the unmistakable smell of coolant when I turned the heater on, as well as a puddle on the floor. It was just heading into winter and I just didn’t feel like tackling it. So I bought a couple of rubber hose ends, yanked the heater hoses off the outlets on the engine, and plugged them.

I saw that as a temporary measure, as I was sure I’d hate not having a heater. But it wasn’t as bad as I expected. Our winters for the most part aren’t really cold, with typical January daytime temps around 40-45 degrees F. I don’t use the truck much in the winter, and when I do, they’re short runs to the transfer station, lumber yard or the yard materials outfit. And I had the dog along to generate a bit of warmth.

But when I embarked on this course of corrective measures, the heater was high on the list. So I ordered a core and yanked the old heater out. Yes, it had been leaking. And yes, this wasn’t the original, as there was lots of silicone in places where I wouldn’t have expected it to be, including where the tubes went through the firewall.

But it wasn’t just the core that needed replacing. A large quantity of organic material had found its way into the heater box.

I thought it might have been mice or rats, but it looks to just have naturally accumulated from falling in through the fresh air intake vents in front of the windshield.

I decided to do a bit more investigation, opened the floor fresh air vent (poor man’s a/c), and reached my hand down into the outlet drain in the wall cavity. It was totally plugged up. I slowly extricated a large amount of debris, and as I worked my way down lower, it was more like silt. Once I got it all out, I put a hose in there and flushed the rest out. I finally have functioning vent system drains again!

And I finally figured out why I haven’t been able to flip the lever between Heat and Defrost in quite a few years (fortunately it had been stuck in between, which is a blend of both). It was a stick in there that blocked the mechanism.

I even splurged for new heater hoses!

The original flexible ducting is starting to get a bit brittle and fragile, but it was intact enough to reuse.

The heater now works like new again, and I can actually switch between the various modes. What a luxury! I just took it out today, and it was so nice and toasty in there! I can finally retire the hairshirt.


#2: Battery Hold Down & Cable


I’ve gone through a few battery hold downs over the decades, and after the last one rusted away, I just didn’t bother. I avoid hard braking (or more like it’s incapable of that), and that applies to other G-force maneuvers. So the battery sat there quite politely. But hey, if I’m going to fix stuff, I might as well do this too. I ‘ve found these little anti-corrosion battery post felt things to work well. Oh, and I took the advice of a commenter who noticed that my positive cable had a funky clamp, and bought a nice new cable. I did replace the ground cable a few years back, so that’s got a few decades in it yet.


#3 Repair radiator:


(Some of you are going to moan and groan). Back in 2017, the slow leak in the radiator was getting worse and worse. I replaced the original with a $10 junkyard one about 20 years ago, but those days are long over. I took it to a couple of radiator shops, but their price to essentially rebuild it was shockingly more than a new one. The radiator repair business is history; in fact one of the two places shut down not long after.

So I went to Amazon and found one for under $100. Yes, the kind with plastic tanks top and bottom, with an aluminum core. If I’d looked a bit more and not just grabbed the cheapest one, I could have gotten an all-aluminum one for not a whole lot more, but I didn’t.

And sure enough, this past spring it started leaking, from a tiny crack near the filler tube. Jeez. It fulfilled all the stereotypes of cheap junky replacement parts. So I did a bit of YouTube research, and found that one can weld these. It just takes a soldering iron and some more of the right glass-bead filled nylon. So I bought a hose fitting for a couple of bucks, making sure it had the right kind of plastic. And then I ground away some of the existing material to expose the crack better, and then drilled two tiny holes on each end of the crack to help keep it from spreading. And then welded over it with material from the fitting.

There’s the end result. So far so good. But I’m realistic that it might not be a long term fix.


#4 Brake lights and turn signals


The plastic cams in these turn signals are prone to breaking over time. I had replaced them once before, with a cheap aftermarket set. And a couple of years ago, they broke again. So I found a NOS set on Ebay, and installed the whole switch, ran the wires down the column, and connected them all, which is a bit of a pain. And they still didn’t work!

I replaced the flasher itself, but nothing. So I just took to using hand signals. Perfectly legal (I think), but I strongly suspect most other drivers think I’m making some kind of rude gesture and have no clue about what they mean.

My drive to these three destinations involves very few turns where a signal is actually important, so I just got on with it. But since this was the summer of really fixing things, I decided to get to the bottom of it.

Meaning, tracing it back electrically, instead of just replacing stuff or ignoring it. And sure enough, the flasher wasn’t getting remotely enough current, due to the fuse holder being massively corroded for that particular fuse. I tried to clean it up with emory cloth, but it wasn’t going to do the job. So in the end I just jammed the bare wire around the fuse and jammed it back in.

Not exactly the perfect long-term solution, but it was so heartening to have turn signals again, all the way around. I still have to remember to use them, and not the hand signals.

Oh, the one dead brake light turned out to be another bad bulb receptacle. But they’re almost generic and cheap.


#5: Front suspension radius rod bushings and shock absorbers


My truck’s steering was never exactly what one would call precise. But it had obviously been getting worse over the years, along with the ride overall. I had this faint memory of the truck being actually somewhat fun to drive once upon a long time ago. I remember taking it out for brisk spins in the very winding roads in the steep hills behind our house in Los Gatos, imagining that I was driving a 1930’s Bentley. I have a vivid imagination, but then the reality probably wasn’t all that different.

But now the joy was all gone, and I thought maybe it was me. No; it was the front radius rod bushings and the shocks. Both had died years ago, and I was in denial.

This is what I’m talking about; the rubber bushings where the radius rod ends go through their retainer, or whatever you call it, to the left and up a bit. I’ve never done any suspension work before, so this was a bit daunting. CC commenter tbm3fan left some instructions in a comment, so I followed them. Up to a point.

Taking them out involved removing the shocks (easy) and the spring (sort of easy). The nut on the radius rod is removed, and the truck front end is jacked up, either on the cross member and/or the other side swing axle Twin I Beam.

tbm3fan‘s directions said to attach a come along to the front frame rail and the axle, and use that to force the axle forwards, releasing the radius rod end. I just happened to have one.

And sure enough, it popped out. But it did take a fair amount of force. Not surprisingly, the bushing was a mess, broken, dry and hard.

Here’s what the remnants of the old one looked like compared to the new one.

But putting it back was another matter. The come along had forced the axle forward enough to pop it out, but there was absolutely no way to reverse that process. Pushing and shoving didn’t even get it close; it was way too stiff and tight. Now what? I was a bit distraught.

That’s where I decided to stop just following directions blindly and actually look at what I was dealing with. Aha! It’s so stiff because the bolt holding the radius rod to the axle was still on, and very solidly so. Doh!

I loosened it, and of course now the radius rod swung freely. Which means I never needed the come along in the first place. Oh well.

It took a bit of juggling the jacks and jack stands to do the other side, as the driver’s side axle had to swing forwards. But it all worked out fine. There’s something satisfying about taking a suspension apart with just a big adjustable crescent wrench. Try that with your car.

The new bushings (in stock at the parts store, like almost everything else for this 54 year old vehicle) were so big and long, it was a bit of a challenge to get the washer on and nut started. I had to reuse the original washer as it was less dished than the new one. But it compressed nicely and is now snug and secured with a cotter pin.

The driver’s side rubber suspension stop bumper was missing, which had caused some ugly metal-on-metal bangs over the years when I was grossly overloaded and hit a bump. So a new one was also in the program.

And most importantly, new shocks. The old ones were completely shot, undoubtedly the biggest cause of the truck’s wallowing and wobbly demeanor.

They were all very easy to mount; just a couple of bolts each. And the difference was revelatory. It felt just like it had felt 35 years ago, when I think I put new shocks on it last. Combined with the tightened front end, the old truck now feels…dare I say it…sporty? In the 1930s definition, anyway.


#6: Instrument lights


There are several lights in the instrument “panel”, which is of course just one big round combination instrument. And just about all the numerous bulbs had burned out over the decades.

It’s conceivable that a Ford tech back in the day might have been able to reach behind the instrument cluster and pop out the bulbs and replace them strictly by feel. But I wouldn’t want to bet on it. More realistically they did what I did, and unscrewed the four exposed screws on the dash, unscrewed the speedometer cable, and lowered the unit.

That made access to the bulbs quite easy, and after buying a half dozen or so, replaced them all.

The 54 year-old clear plastic tape that was used on the assembly line to secure the two red translucent pieces of glass (or plastic; I’ve forgotten which) for the oil and alternator warning lights was finally getting old and peeling off, so I removed the speedometer and face plate to re-tape them. And give me a chance to acquaint myself with a traditional speedometer. It’s a brilliantly simple thing, with a spinning magnet inside the speed cup that sets up an eddy current, which entices the speed cup to spin along with the magnet. But the freely-rotating speed cup is retained by a hair spring, so the speed cup can only turn partially, pulling harder against the spring as the magnet spins faster.

This GIF I found is better than nothing, but a bit less than perfect.

And here’s the result: a properly lit instrument panel. What a pleasure to see the turn signal indicator bulbs flashing, and knowing that the actual turn signals are working too! It’s almost like Christmas in November!

Now that the mechanical and electrical systems were in such great shape again, it was time to think about the truck’s poor old body.


#7:  Rust repair

There were two main issues, the first being rusty floor “boards”. It’s hard to see in this picture, but the little holes were getting bigger and more numerous, especially along that channel on the left. The floor there was getting soft, and was eventually going to rupture, although at the rate rust develops here, that might well have been in another decade or so. But I was feeling generous and ambitious, and wanted to preserve the truck for the long haul.

The other issue is on the roof, on both sides right above the doors. And the two are interrelated, I’m quite sure.

The issue is not rain or salt, but condensation. This picture is about 15 years old, but it shows what’s been happening for decades. Our climate is moist, and overnight the steel roof cools off and the moist air condenses, and runs down the curved sides, where it gets trapped in a channel above the door. Over time that trapped water has finally rusted through. And the excess water runs down the door pillar or such, and sat in the channels of the floor, trapped under the rubber mat.

Here’s the passenger side, which was even a bit worse. It was starting to get serious, and needed to be arrested before it got out of control.

I found someone who would weld in some new steel in the roof as well as weld in some reproduction floor tubs I bought. Here’s the driver’s side.

And the passenger side.

And from the inside.

It was on me to prime the repair and reseal the joint between the roof panel and the rain channel.

I wire brushed it to get it perfectly clean, then applied a couple of coats of self-etching primer. And used some body seam sealer in the joint.

It’s going to need a bit of filler to smooth out a few rough spots, but at least it’s well protected now. As to what I’m going to do about paint, that is a good question. One step at a time. I’m really not interested in repainting the whole truck, so I might try to match the paint reasonably well and just rattle can those areas.

It’ll have to be an eyeball match, as this is not the original paint, which is a much paler shade, as seen here on the door insides. But it doesn’t have to be perfect; the goal is preservation, not restoration.

I also sealed the seams of the floor tubs, primed and painted them black.

I also wire brushed the raised center section, to remove the rust, and painted it. The hole in the floor for the Hurst floor shift conversion is visible here.

I bought a reproduction rubber floor mat, but it doesn’t fit perfectly. But I had already cut the hole for the shifter before I realized it. Turns out that Dennis Carpenter Ford Restoration Parts has better stuff than LMC Truck. I found that out too late. Next time.


#8: Door seal, window channel, and door panel replacement

The rubber seals on the doors were getting quite bad, so I ordered some from LMC Truck. I tried a rough fit before I got out the black 3M cement, but I simply couldn’t get them to fit, especially the areas where the door curves and the seal has to be custom molded. Impossible. I couldn’t see how. So I found some discussion on forums that pointed me to Dennis Carpenter, and ordered a set. Yes! Day and night difference. But that’s not to say gluing them into place was easy, by a long shot. It was actually the most frustrating and challenging job of all of these.

Very tricky, as one has to be careful not to stretch it, because then the custom molded areas won’t fit where they’re needed. And how do you get the glue on in the front of the door, because when the door is open, there’s almost zero access to it.

It was a pain, it was messy, and they didn’t come out perfect (by far), but they’re on, and the noise reduction in the cabin from them and the solid floor and floor mat has made a huge difference.

I also replaced the bottom window channels, and that really helped with the noise too, as now the panes don’t rattle like crazy.

When I got the truck in 1987, the door panels were already butchered from someone having installed speakers. Part of the hole they cut was in the replaceable panel and part in the actual door. So I just screwed on a piece of plywood scrap I had and slapped on a couple of coats of polyurethane.

#9 Shifter Boot

I also replaced the shifter boot, as it was torn. The “choke” pull is for the overdrive, since it was a retrofit. That activates it, and a little switch on the dash engages or disengages the overdrive manually, as it’s not set up for automatic operation. In case you missed it, here’s a video that shows how it operates, including splitting gears and shifting without the clutch.


What’s Left to do: Reseal and Polish Windshield

The one thing I didn’t get to as planned was to replace the windshield rubber, as it split decades ago at the top and the gap has only gotten wider. It’s also added to the water in the cab and floor. I have the rubber, but other things intruded. I do need to get the installation rope.

One of the reasons was because I also need to deal with this bad scratch, from a bad wiper blade ages ago. I know it’s possible to polish scratches, but I haven’t yet found anyone in town who does it. I might have to get a kit and do it myself. If so, it’ll probably be easier to do when the windshield is out. And of course now it’s winter, and raining. It might have to be a 2021 project.



I’m a procrastinator like everyone else, but it felt good to finally plunge in and deal with these issues. It’s made me feel better about the ol’ gal, both in the way it drives as well as in its preservation for the long haul. The goal is for it to outlive me; now I just gave it a bit of a head start.



Auto-Biography: 1966 Ford F100 – Thirty Years of hauling Shit, Cheaply