People have labeled me eccentric for as long as I can remember. It’s not usually derogatory (I don’t think), but I sometimes do things that seem perfectly rational to me, but in retrospect are just weird. For example, about five years ago I made an appointment at my local Secretary of State branch so I could take the state test to become a certified mechanic of 1973 and older motor vehicles. Yes, there is such a thing, and it costs six dollars. I passed the test easily, and my license still hangs on the wall of my garage, although I never renewed it. It would be a stretch to say that I couldn’t have done it without my MOTOR manuals, but a man has to start a story out somehow.
Anyway, my day job is in public education, but as some of you know, I have what seems like a side job maintaining and driving my fleet of nine vehicles. As any veteran member of any automotive forum will tell you, the first thing you need when you buy a vehicle and plan to repair it yourself is a factory service manual, or FSM. I got my first one for Christmas when I was 14 years old. It was (and is) a reprint manual for 1965 Mustangs, Falcons, Comets, and Fairlanes, and I duly read it all the way through, which is something I haven’t done since, since my social life has picked up a little (but just a little) since then. I have, however, collected the FSMs for every old car I currently have, and a couple I don’t. Along the way, I also started collecting MOTOR manuals. Lots of them. More than any non-eccentric car man would need.
According to their website, MOTOR started out as a “monthly newsletter,” which was the brainchild of William Randolph Hearst of all people, old Charles Foster Kane himself. Over the years, MOTOR branched out into monthly periodicals, flat rate guides, and, in 1937, a shop manual. Since independent shops were unlikely to purchase a separate factory shop manual for every model every year, one MOTOR manual was good enough to get the job done. Today, I will act as a representative for MOTOR itself, and try to sell you on the fine attributes of their myriad publications.
First is the standard repair manual, published yearly. Each manual goes back at least six or seven model years; therefore, the 1971 manual offers repair instructions for models back to 1965, and the 1962 manual reaches back to 1955. My 1954 manual actually lists models as far back as 1940.
Do you need to do a quick model year check before you start working on one of those pesky Corvairs? The manual can help.
Have you forgotten how to attach the secondary vacuum diaphragm to a Holley 4160? The manual can help.
Do you need to recurve the distributor in a customer’s 1965 Chevy II? The manual can help.
Do you need to know the difference between Buick straight-eight rocker arms based on the car’s transmission? The manual can help. When my late local machinist (RIP Ted) was working on my Buick 263, what tome did he often reference? Yes sir, the MOTOR manual.
Do you need to disable, I mean repair, the emission control nightmare on a customer’s Vega? The manual can help.
If you need to rebuild an automatic transmission, MOTOR has a manual for you, and it’s well detailed with good pictures and text.
Obviously, you can learn how to adjust the linkages in your Torqueflite-equipped Chrysler.
Here’s a job I’ll probably have to do eventually, considering that my Skylark has a Super Turbine 300. I’m glad I have a MOTOR manual.
Does one of your customers have a Beetle with an automatic? After asking the customer why s/he would do that, you can reference the MOTOR manual. There’s a fluid schematic you can study, in color!
Do you work in a shop that specializes in heavy-duty trucks? Yes, MOTOR has a manual for you, too.
I love the sound of Detroit Diesels. Maybe I should buy one to work on since I have the MOTOR manual to help me.
Do you need to do a clutch repair on a big Mack? No problem – grab the MOTOR manual.
You can fix everything from Autocar to Willys, automatic transmissions from Allison to Warner.
Are you just starting out and need to learn the basics? MOTOR has a manual for you, too.
There are even review questions so you can test yourself on what you’ve learned.
MOTOR published a yearly handbook with all the basics for the new models; given my screen name, you may not be surprised to learn that this one is from 1965.
Like all MOTOR manuals, it shows you timing specs, firing orders, idle speeds, and even how to set the timing on every model.
I love this part. Like all men whom women find impossibly attractive and desirable, I find myself studying the different oiling systems for all 1965 model engines, straight from MOTOR’s Handbook.
MOTOR also published a monthly periodical aimed at the service industry.
My favorite section is “How Would You Fix It?”; it presents a real world problem and how the mechanic repaired it. Some of them are real stumpers; it’s kind of like Gus Wilson without much of a storyline. Today, I also enjoy the ads for various service parts.
The magazine also announces industry news, including updates on recalls, common problems with current models, and new models.
MOTOR is still around today. The screenshot above is straight from their website, and as you can see, they still offer manuals for current models, although those current models have gotten infinitely more complicated.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, if I can’t have a factory shop manual (which has happened exactly never), I’ll open up a MOTOR manual every time. William Randolph Hearst is perhaps best known today as a man who practiced yellow journalism and whose cinematic alter-ego uttered the enigmatic word “rosebud” in Citizen Kane, but he also introduced a line of literature that has brought me plenty of information and enjoyment, and for that I thank him.
Love these, as a kid I gained lots of automotive knowledge just by thumbing my way through them.
Motor Manuals are good since they were designed for professionals. I got one for Christmas when I was about 14. I loved the model year ID photos. I eventually put it to use and still have it somewhere. Many of the illustrations are straight out of the factory service information.
Of course I haven’t touched it in years as the models in it are not very common anymore.
However like a lot of things the internet has changed the game. Now I go online for service information and how to do something. I’m not talking about watching youtube or what someone on a forum says worked for them. (Not that I never use those as resources) I’m talking about online manuals. Of course they are designed for professionals but most of the providers have library versions available so check your local Library and see if they have a subscription as you usually can just log in at home, find the info you need and print it out if needed. No worries if it gets covered in grease, wrinkled or torn.
Forgot to add it is interesting that your state offers a certification in pre 1973 era cars. Never heard of something like that. Most states lack any sort of testing and certifications for mechanics.
Yeah, Michigan has state certifications in most of the major disciplines and areas of expertise, but by all accounts they’re nowhere near as thorough as a comparable ASE test.
Motor had a sort of high pressure sales force of foot soldiers assigned with exclusive territory. They’d make the rounds to shops, with a hard sell pimping of the latest publication. I don’t recall pricing but they weren’t inexpensive. Even aged used books were hot for a long time.
Aaron65 would have freaked – I was at an old-time garage auction a few years ago, where tables stacked with not just Motor, but Glenn, factory stuff, catalogs, etc., back to the ’40s, did not sell. No bids at all. The terms were that buyer had to take EVERYTHING, no pick-outs. I suppose nobody at the sale wanted to be buried with that much paper.
I actually picked up a few in my collection at a “going out of business” auction at a shop…nobody else bid on them, so I got my pick of the litter at $2 each.
What a deal!
Original pricing was ruthless on some books. I know that for some “heavy” books, even back in ’70s ’80s
-which is about when you could no longer get by with just a good ‘feel’ for things- we paid hundreds of dollars for some individual manuals. Now they wouldn’t even make a good door stop. LoL
The Glenn manuals are rarer it seems and very informative. I have a ’57-’67 manual. The sections cover in depth AC theory and repair, automatic transmissions and wiring diagrams.
It’s only 10″x7″ but 3″ thick! A little too unwieldy for shop use.
Glenn had a nice pro manual. Not sure what became of Glenn?
Chilton too had pro books.
Chilton sort of “dumbed down” to a retail mass-market generic diy manual.
By the way, are they still tightening that same poor old flathead’s bolts for the pictures?
In the engine section, under disassembly – cleaning – inspection, there are still a few pictures of the Ford V8 flathead and some other undetermined 6cyl. flathead!
According to the flyleaf, Harold T. Glenn was the author of the manual and was a former instructor in the Long Beach, Calif. school district. The book was published by Chilton Co.
The price was $9.95 and has 1,392 pages.
My copy is labled car owners and vocational edition.
It is quite an in depth book, that explains the theory, disassembling, inspection and assembly of all major car components.
Most manual writing style was mostly dry “all business” but once in awhile there would be just a touch of personality to it. Sorry I can’t think of an example.
Maybe it was WWII era Motor books that had a blurb saying essentially that right now it’s okay to cobble a bit.
(The same way you have been anyway for 10 years.) LoL
Wrong information in one of these manuals led to years of hard starting for an Econoline I bought as third owner. Spark plug gap was way off. The second owner didn’t have it dealer serviced. Spark plug gap was way off. I found the discrepancy when I checked the genuine Ford service manual against the Motor manual.
I’m not sure of any specifics, and it’s to be expected, so I’m not throwing any particular publisher under the bus, but there were plenty of errers.
For those who would blindly follow, there was a bolt to break off from over-torqe here, a wrong firing order there, a reversed or omitted seal, an unnecessary dozen extra steps…
Even the FSM will get you in trouble sometimes. When I was 17, I was wondering why my Mustang’s 289 would spin over like there was no compression. The FSM said to adjust the valves 1 1/2 turns down from zero lash.
An old time machinist at the local shop was nice enough to spend 5 minutes explaining how to hot lash them, and that 1/2 to 3/4 turns down was plenty. I later learned how to adjust hydraulics cold in my sleep, but I was stymied for a day or two there.
And I just had a flashback that Y-Block timing chain setting was wrong in some manual, causing much hair pulling.
Seems there was some commonly made mistake, per manual, to do with Pontiac V8 assembly, but I don’t recall exactly now.
Hmmmm, a Pontiac mistake? I wonder if it was the timing chain. If you line up the dots, you have to install the distributor rotor to point at #6 rather than #1. There’s also an order to installing the intake manifold so it seals at the timing cover crossover.
Great article, Aaron!
My ‘71 GrandVille 455 had an unusual arrangement for the timing gear marks. Instead of them facing each each other like 99.9 percent of all other engines ever built. IIRC, they both had to be at the bottom of their rotation. Luckily I had a Clymer or Chilton’s manual to keep me on the straight & narrow. I felt uneasy lining the marks up that way, but had no drama getting the engine going at the end of the job.
I still have a copy of the Auto Mechanics textbook I snagged when my high school was getting rid of old textbooks back in the late 70’s. Copyright 1960, it covers basic theory pretty well, especially carburation nd point ignition.
Yep when I worked for a boat dealer I remember another young mechanic dutifully following torque in an outboard motor FSM for some head bolts only to strip out the aluminum block. Seems there was a misprint in the manual. Very unhappy service manager that day.
I still have some marine FSM that a couple places I worked where throwing away.
Mistakes will creep into everything but especially the exact page and procedure that you are doing.
Or so it seems.
My most recent example: replacing multifunction switch on 2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser.
Factory manual says: Remove air bag, after allowing it to discharge, then pull off steering wheel…remove two plastic shrouds, remove a screw, remove switch assembly, unplug harness…WRONG!
Actually, remove ONLY the two plastic shrouds, then remove one screw…etc.
Does anyone know disc brakes were offered on some American cars from the late ’40s to early ’50s, or actually need work on them?
I still have the badly water-damaged 1949-1958 Motor manual I found in someones trash, while walking to my neighborhood elementary school in the late ’60s. I remember carefully separating all the still-wet pages so they wouldn’t stick together after they dried.
Inside were all these neat front grille photos to identify all the different car model-years, along with such obscure tidbits as detailed repair procedures for the unique Lampert 4-wheel disc brakes used on early ’50s Chyslers.
Years later, someone gave me a much better condition 1935-1953 edition, which includes service information for the tiny Goodyear-Hawes disc brakes offered on Crosleys, and originally used on Piper Cub airplanes.
Until about 15 years ago, my local main-branch public library used to carry another pretty good series of automotive repair books by MItchell. Then one day I went in to get some repair information and they were all gone. The whole shelf was occupied by computer books. The librarian explained “Oh, all the auto repair information is now here on the library computer”. For the first thing I looked up, the screen gave me “Data not available”!
Happy Motoring, Mark
Happy Motoring, Mark
1949 Crosley came standard with 4-wheel caliper disc brakes.
Just saw that you mentioned Crosley, missed that at first. D’oh!
I agree on all points. MOTOR books and magazines are immensely useful because they are produced for the professional and are at a higher technical standard than Haynes and Chilton.
I have a few MOTOR manuals from the 60’s and early 70’s that I bought at flea markets for cheap.
I also have some copies of 60’s MOTOR magazines …. including the edition pictured with the red ’65 Mercury. CC-effect at work again.
A good friend scored a van-load of MOTOR manuals from the 70’s through to jut a few years ago from a service garage that was closing. All for free. An astonishing find, and very useful.
My latest purchase, a 1989 Cadillac has ECM diagnosis procedures accessible through the HVAC controls. The relevant MOTOR book discloses many pages of relevant details that simply don’t appear elsewhere. Very useful.
I wonder about copyright. Most of the pictures and diagrams appear to be taken directly from the factory service manuals. Chilton did the same thing. I assume they paid a royalty of some kind.
Many of the diagrams or pictures did give credit to the mfg. So yeah they were factory materials so I’d assume there was some sort of compensation.
I had to graduate to the actual Helm manuals used by Mr. Goodwrench when I did a TPI swap into my ’89 Caprice back in 1996.
Not cheap but they had everything I needed, in particular, all the wiring schematics, plus a piece of priceless advice from Mike Knell at Jaguars That Run in Livermore, CA…whose TPI/TBI swaps into everything from S-10s to Volvos gave me the inspiration to try it myself…
“Make the engine think it’s in the car it came out of…”
Today I keep an All-Data DIY subscription on every vehicle in our household.
I have a couple of those in my basement along with a smattering of FSMs – a couple I bought myself and a few I was given by a friend’s father who was moving. One of the coolest is an old Dyke’s Automotive Encyclopedia from the 40s that covered stuff back to the 20s. If you need to mix up a batch of engine paint from scratch, I’ve got the book that tells you how. 🙂
One of my early jobs was at the Public Library in Fort Wayne, that used to have a great selection of FSMs available for checkout.
I used to go to our local library that has a large collection of Motor Manuals. I’d find what I needed and xerox the pages!
If your into VW’s, the manual by John Muir “How to keep your VW Alive. A step by Step manual for the complete Idiot” is required reading, in fact I would recommend every one read iteven if you don’t have a VW as it is a lot more about life as it is about keeping your VW on the road…