In the previous installments I managed to acquire and haul home a new project car, a four door 1961 Pontiac Laurentian. I find the research and buying phase the most fun and easy but now comes the hard work. When fixing up an old car it is usually a good idea to have an overall plan along with your end goal and intended use of the car. Once this is complete it drives the more detailed project plan of what tasks need done and parts acquired.
There are a number of legitimate end goals for an old car project. They can range from a light mechanical sorting to get to the “drivable beater” stage all the way to a body off full restoration in order to ply the car show circuit. The ultimate intended usage for the vehicle can drive where the goal should be. If a car receives a top of line concourse quality paint job and interior renovation you may find yourself reluctant using it to cruise for ice-cream on a summer Sunday. Mechanical upgrades aimed maximum horsepower at the drag strip quickly become a liability a long road trip or in daily driver mode. On the flip side shabby paint and a greasy engine might not yield the results hoped for at the local concours d’elegance.
For this project and car I am definitely not aiming for a high dollar, perfect restoration. The values of a Sixties four door sedans do not support that for one and secondly I want to put some mileage on it (yes mileage as the speedometer pre-dates Canada’s adoption of the metric system). My first goal is to have a mechanically well sorted family cruiser which dovetails nicely into my second goal which is keeping the budget tight and low. Mechanical work is almost always cheaper than quality bodywork outside of exotic cars. There is an annual event called the Great Beater Challenge that my sons and I have participated in before that I am hoping is the center piece of our summer automotive plans. Before then a few family ice-cream runs, a show and shine and perhaps even an auto-x event (purely for ironic effect) would be fantastic as well.
The general idea of the Great Beater Challenge is as follows: buy a cheap vehicle ($700 or less all in including repairs), come up with a team theme, drive it on a road trip while completing a scavenger hunt and, of course, have fun. In the previous years I have kept to very low priced but not terribly interesting rides with a Dodge Aries K-car and a wooden spoiler equipped Honda Civic. This year the plan is to have an older interesting vehicle by exploiting the rules for maximum benefit. The key to making this project work is that all safety items are exempt from the $700 total. So tires, brakes and suspension which is the lion’s share of what the Pontiac needs.
As with any old vehicle I tackle the first step is to give it a good clean as this does a couple thing for me. First it removes any of the icky factor when working on it later. Nothing is worse than removing ultra greasy parts. The Pontiac was actually quite clean for an older, cheaper car but often the surfaces and seats can be quite gross. A second benefit is that it forces you to take a look at the details that might have been missed in the purchase inspection. On the Pontiac the rear parcel shelf has no material covering on it for example. Additionally as a third benefit you might come across parts stashed away that might otherwise have been assumed to be missing or in need of replacement. I once bought a replacement alternator (from the junkyard at least) for a Volvo 240 when a set of replacement brushes was sitting in the trunk. As Homer Simpson would say: D’oh.
While the Pontiac was reasonably clean it did need some attention under the seats and floor mats. The glove box lay permanently open as the lid latch was non-functional but it did contain various bits and pieces including a spare but disassembled latch mechanism and the missing radio knob.
There was also a similar but not identical AM radio from a 1964 model sitting near the passenger seat. I gave it a quick clean and hope to sell it mostly to cover the budget costs of a replacement water pump.
The owner’s manual was included as well. I have scanned all forty eight pages which you can view here if you wish. For further reading Old Car Brochures has a very nice Canadian 1961 Pontiac line-up brochure.
New shocks in 1977? Hard to imagine any (automotive) company naming one of their products Pleasurizer these days.
Taking an inventory of the car as a whole I figured the car needed the following at minimum:
- New (or at least better tires). The existing ones dated at least back to 1981 when the car had last been on the road and were dry rotted. Surprisingly they all held air except one.
- Water pump. The old one had excessive play in it.
- Brakes. As bought they were completely non-functional with no fluid in the master cylinder. It made sense to overhaul the whole system including a new master cylinder.
- Shocks. I had a receipt for two new shocks back in 1977 and the mileage after installation was still within warranty period but one had a minor leak. At over forty years old it made sense to replace these as well.
- Radiator and heater hoses seemed like another reasonable age related replacement item.
- A new thermostat is cheap insurance against overheating.
- Any fluids – engine oil, coolant, differential oil, etc.
- One wheel stud was also broken on the driver’s side front wheel.
The water pump replacement required a bit of research. A replacement water pump for the 261cid version of the “Stovebolt” six cylinder is not listed anywhere I could find. But for the more common and smaller 235cid version the pumps are not only available but reasonably cheap as well. After examining too many online photos and posts I strongly suspected there were one and the same part. There were two different hub heights so I had to pull my pump to verify which I was working with. It is the 5 1/4″ version for the record.
The next bit of research and decision making involved the brakes. Given that I was going to be replacing shoes, wheel cylinders, master cylinder would it make more sense to take the opportunity to convert to disc brakes? Doing some research I found an old school hot rodder’s recipe of components that work. The chance of finding an early Seventies Chevrolet Nova among others in the junkyard with usable parts seemed unlikely. Besides re-using junkyard components like pads and bearings feels like false economy. After pricing out all the components I found an online speed shop vendor that offered a whole conversion kit for less. A win for having a mechanically common classic car (it is essentially a 1961 Chevrolet under the skin). I plan to drive the Pontiac through the mountains so front discs and a dual master cylinder should give a bit more piece of mind for only modestly more outlay than overhauling the stock drums. As a bonus the brake conversion would also fix the broken wheel stud on the driver’s side front wheel.
In the next installment I will tackle a few minor jobs while waiting on parts to arrive.
The whole Affordable Classic series:
- The Search Is On
- Landed One – 1961 Pontiac Laurentian
- Dragging It Home
- Assessment and Planning
- Little Fixes
- Shocks and Brake Removal
- Disc Brake Mounting
- Cooling and Fueling
- Back into the Brakes and Other Odds and Ends
- First Drive!
- Last Minute Fixes
I love the way you’re approaching this. While I’m generally a “keep it stock” kind of guy the disc-brake upgrade makes total sense to me.
I love it. Early 60’s Canadian Pontiac’s are my passion. Don’t get me wrong but personally I prefer the styling on the 62 model . As a kid a drove a 62 Strato Chief 2 door pillar. I briefly owned a 61 with a rusted frame, and a perfect 261. We pulled the engine, and bolted into the 62. Myself and two friends drove Oshawa to Vancouver and back in the old Poncho. The old man swore “we won’t make it out of Ontario ”
I’m just thinking here. The 61 has the identical I.P. to the 62 as I recall they were mostly blue. The glove box is an easy fix. The UV rays killed the rear window ledges. A blow by pipe in lieu of a PCV valve. The dreaded hanger bearing can be a pita.
Good plan to go with discs. Is it possible to go to an H.E.I, and convert to an alternator, instead of the generator, and stay within budget ?
Just looking at those photo takes me back to an earlier time . Good luck on the project and keep us informed.
What is the dreaded hanger? The glove box was an easy fix.
I’ll probably keep the generator if functional for now. Might be an upgrade down the road.
Pretty sure its a two piece drive shaft through the X frame. With a bearing that can be a b–
Having had extensive experience with 1962 Chevrolets with drum brakes, I heartily concur with your decision to upgrade to front discs. There are simply more cars, driven at higher speeds and more closely packed, these days. You may attempt to remain “three seconds” behind the car in front of you, but other people may not honor your attempt. And that pretty front grill is just too precious (not to mention the occupants of the vehicle itself!) to allow the potential consequences when everyone stops together. Dual circuit master cylinder too, if possible, unless you are absolutely certain that all your lines and work are good.
Looking forward to your suspension choices. Are you going to try to preserve that “Jet-smooth” ride?
Suspension is going to be stock – some new shocks and bushing perhaps. Actually outside of the brakes it will be in original, stock condition.
A word is warranted about the “three second” spacing rule. The problem with it is that some cretin in a hurry will always cut into that open space and negate any margin for error that the three seconds would normally have provided.
So, a brake upgrade on an old car intended to be driven regularly is definitely a good idea.
My God, I feel so old! I drove drum brake cars as daily drivers into the 80s and 90s and never had a single issue. Admittedly I live in flat terrain, but I continue to maintain that unless you are going to drive in the mountains or will tow heavy trailers, a drum brake car will stop you just as well as a disc brake car, at least on the first stop or two. If you get into multiple panic stops one after the other, there is a problem with your location or driving style. Since Dave will be doing some mountain driving, I don’t quibble (but even then he has a manual transmission that will take a lot of load off the brakes). The only real braking upgrade I would strongly urge is a dual circuit master cylinder.
The only time I felt my brakes were not up to snuff was on my 1929 Ford Model A – mechanical actuation was the biggest issue which made it impossible to lock up even those skinny tires. More than once I stood on the brake pedal with my butt off the seat while yanking on the separate emergency brake handle to get stopped when some idiot pulled out in front of me and stopped. An upgrade to hydraulics would have been a good thing if I drove the car with any regularity. But every 60s car with drums I was ever in is something I would have no hesitation driving in normal use today.
If I had good condition drum brakes I likely would have kept them with a dual circuit master cylinder upgrade. But given I have to do all the rubber lines, pads, drums, cylinders, etc it was almost no extra costs to with the discs.
I’ve never had a problem with my drum brakes on my F100, which are the same as on a Galaxie. I towed a trailer behind my loaded truck for several trips up I-5 from the Bay Area when we were moving up here, which includes a number of grades. That’s what lower gears are for!
Your ‘A’ Model Ford needed ‘brake floaters’ plus bushings and time taken to ensure that every mechanical joint in the brakes came to a 90 degree position *just* as the brakes took hold .
Then they were easy to lock up but the skinny tires often slid on pavement .
I’d not sell the spare radio until one was all cleaned up including polishing the plastic window and the volume pot was determined to work O.K. .
The ball joints should have zerk fittings, I’m sure the drive shaft’s center bearing and u-joints will need replacing .
I have project envy. Living in flatland USA I would not have bothered with the disc conversion, but if you plan some mountain driving I could see the attraction. I suspect that the pedal pressure will be significantly higher for non-power discs than for your current drums.
Let’s hope you have better water pump mojo than Jason Shafer had on his 63 Galaxie. Tell me, with the car having sat this long would a heater core also be a worthwhile thing to tackle in the warmth and comfort of your garage? Those always scare me after a certain amount of sitting with coolant in them.
Oh btw, love the 64 Stude pictures you used near the top. My answer is “all of the above.” 🙂
If the brake kit includes the pictured parts, a brake booster is included.
Heater core is a safety item, unsafe to not have a working defroster.
This series fascinates me greatly and the glutton for punishment in me is now wanting another car to make vibrant. Like I have time.
I certainly hope David has much better water pump mojo (and alternator and brake mojo as there’s not much else on his Pontiac) than that guy you mentioned. Rumor has it his old Ford needs another water pump and he’s going aftermarket for the next one.
Given the cool mountain mornings in Canada, a heater core would be wise. I bypassed the heater core on the Galaxie in the late 1980s as it was leaking way back then. No doubt it would still leak today. At this time, I have no intentions of replacing it as I don’t drive it unless it’s warm and unless I’m traveling in warm weather, it sits inside.
Sounds like a great plan. Pretty cool that you can get everything you need for the brakes in a kit. Brakes are important in the mountains.
I applaud you trying to be frugal and stay under the $700 limit.
BTW I’ll take the Stude on the left if it’s got a 283 🙂
I will have more than $700 in it total for sure – probably a decent amount more. But the rules don’t count “safety items” so should be ok challenge wise. Regardless the cost is low.
That’s what I figured, like lemons racing where your $500 car actually costs $10,000
Just not as bad 🙂
I imagine the modern-day Pleasurizer is shaped somewhat like a shock absorber.
Some are stiffer than others. For example Pontiac Pleasurizers should be stiffer than Cadillac Pleasurizers due to the average age of its owner.
So do you call it “kilometerage” in Canada?
Love where this story is going!
Actually we still call it mileage even though it is displayed in kilometers. Probably since kilometerage sounds like an obscure measurement of weight.
When referring to kms on our odometers, the proper term is “meterage.” And to set us apart from the rest of the world, Metrification Canada back in 1976 told Canadians we are to pronounce the word as; “kill-oh-meters.” So those of us in the broadcasting industry back then still use the (proper?) pronunciation.
But yes, many people still refer to odometer numbers as “mileage.”
+1 on the project envy! 🙂
Having been part owner of a’62 Bonneville 4 door hardtop in high school I must admit I find this Laurentian fascinating. Back then, I wouldn’t have given it a second look, other than as a parts donor.
Hopefully when you’re done, you will be able to turn a small profit and send this car back on the road for the next leg of its journey.
That is the hope. At least break even.
“Hard to imagine any (automotive) company naming one of their products Pleasurizer these days.”
I thought it was pretty out there back in 1977 much less today!
Thank you for fixing the brakes, not the “breaks”. That drives me nuts when people post about their “breaks”.
Is it original paint? From the photos in your earlier posts, I was thinking that it must be, because obviously the paint is very worn and faded… but then there’s something about the brightness of the blue in a few of the shots that made me wonder. Hard to tell from photos, of course. If it is all original — and actually, even if it isn’t — I’d be an advocate for keeping the exterior exactly as it is (not that you need my opinion! :-)). But to my eye, the patina on this car is just about perfect.
Well whatever you choose to do, I’m really enjoying following your process here. It could be the fact that my first memory is of being in the child seat of my parents’ ’62 Strato-Chief (also a 6-cylinder, 3-on-the-tree car) which they purchased new at Dickson Motors in Winnipeg in 1962. But there’s also just something about the design of these early ’60s Pontiacs, particularly the ’61 and ’62, that I think is so timeless and beautiful. Love how the hood opens up with that triangular center piece at the leading edge!
It is absolutely original paint. It got a bit brighter after being washed. I plan to keep the patina exactly as is. One of the reasons I bought the car.
Fantastic! That is great to hear. Looking forward to further instalments in your story!
In my view I see two things that really appeal to me..The Patina, and the fact that its a surviving Canadian Pontiac, or Chevyiac if you will.
This is a pretty damn cool car. Since it’s a 4-door sedan, the value is simply never going to be there to invest the money and effort to bring it back to perfect original condition. I can’t imagine anyone disparaging the resto-mod plan for such a car.
Then, as a Chevyac, it will be easier to get the mechanical bits to keep it drivable, and doubly so with a six and three-on-the-tree. Likewise, as a 4-door, well, it’s just won’t be so heartbreaking if there’s a fender-bender.
Finally, the ’61 is one of my Pontiac styling favorites, even in sedan form. Really a superb CC choice.
Now this is a story that interests me. First, you are working with a car that most people would pass on by as you said a sedan. Many times sedans and even four door hardtops are orphans. I have two four door hardtops. Second, you are going right into the mechanicals unlike some who think a aftermarket air cleaner, valve covers, colored spark plug wires and new sounds constitute a mechanically safe car.
I’m particular, I’m precise, I’m a perfectionist in what I do and fortunately I get to use those traits at work and in my hobbies. I don’t carry it overboard but simply do it to the best of my ability. Not interested in concours shows other than my local Cougar Club yearly show. I like a perfectly sound mechanical car. I like a nice clean interior since I will be sitting in it and a nice couch is always better than a ratty couch. Exterior, if body work needed, I will paint myself and if not body work I will do my best to bring out the paint.
I think you have a cool car, one off the beaten track, and after the event a definite keeper.
Good score on the brake conversion. It sounds like the aftermarket has come a long way since I rebuilt the entire brake system on the Galaxie as the disc conversion was many times more financial outlay.
Are you replacing the metal brake lines while you are at it? If so I would recommend going with pre-bent stainless steel. The stainless was, at the time, only about $20 more than pre-bent steel. A no brainer, but that was in ’09 and ’10.
I was also wondering about the u-joints. On getting an older car, a much older car, I have always replaced the u-joints to be safe. Not hard for an average backyard mechanic.
It’s hard to imagine the water pump being any different between a 235 and a 261. Same block, except a taller deck height.
It’s not the same block internally – the 261’s cylinders are siamesed in pairs to allow a 3 and 3/4 bore versus the 235’s 3 and 9/16. There are extra coolant holes above the siamesing to allow venting to the revised cylinder head from possible hot spots. The block deck height is no different – the stroke is the same but the head gasket is different of course – different bore and the extra coolant passages.
Also somewhere else you say the “261 and later 235”. The 261 didn’t arrive until ’54 while the 235 had been around since 1942. The 261 always had pressure lubrication for the shell rod bearings, which the ’53 235 also got. Prior to that the 235 had babbit bearings and oil slingers on the big ends.
The conrods for the 261 are pretty massive compared to the 235’s. Probably because it was primarily for truck duty. That engine howled to some extent due to an aluminum gear on the cam – the Canadian Pontiac 261 had a fibre gear like the 235 which was much quieter for car use and hydraulic lifters from ’58 on that heped as well.
Spent many miles in school buses with the 261 back in the early ’60s, and a lot in a ’61 Pontiac just like this featured one. Three-on-the-tree, manual steering – at 6 turns lock to lock, it wasn’t that stiff. But what it did do was that when you turned into a driveway, you had to be going about 3 mph, because of the time the massive amount of arm twirling required – like the helm on a sailing ship. On the highway, directional control was semi-approximate because the sneeze factor was high. A sixteenth turn didn’t do much! Was always amazed at how noisy the truck engine was compared to the car’s.
If anyone looks at old 4 cylinder engines from Volvo that first arrived in 1944, they are a general ripoff of the layout of the 235 down to fibre timing gear, but with a proper lubrication circuit. My B16B fibre cam gear decided at 156,000 miles to become independent from the metal insert that allowed keying it to the cam. To a certain extent, about 45 degrees each way. Interesting results. Repaired by an old country mechanic after I sourced parts including new rings. Nothing unusual inside for him who’d had dozens of Chev engines apart – but he was highly impressed at the ruggedness of the moving parts for a “tiny” four cylinder!
Memories of a moderately ancient enthusiast.
Thanks for the additional details. So the water pumps would have interchanged, eh? That was the specific thing I was addressing.
David – I Love this series, and I am very familiar with the area you live in, being from Calgary and also having a place in BC. I have seen several your earlier stories and knew you had to be in Alberta.
I had a job (insurance risk inspections) in the early ’90’s that caused me to visit, literally, almost every town in Alberta south of about Ponoka (I spent a great deal of time in Lethbridge, I might add), and many north of it. As such, I spent a lot of time driving on gravel backroads, by very rural farms which looked like the place you sourced this from – loaded with interesting old stuff. By the way, I was doing this in one of two 1970 Olds 98’s I used for the purpose – great 80-90mph cruisers for the work I did and distances I covered.
So I’m in Florida for the winter these days and was at a local event when I spied an obvious Canadian Pontiac last weekend. I looked it over (1966 convert, non-original 427 4spd), and noticed a plaque under the hood that said “Mechanical work proudly completed by Nanton Auto Parts”. I was aghast – in the middle of Florida I’d encountered a vintage Canadian Pontiac from Nanton, AB, right in our neck of the woods! What the hell are the chances of that! Guy bought it from Calgary and had it sent down, why I have no idea.
I love your beater challenge, I drove a 1968 Malibu 4 Dr 6 cyl powerglide to Cranbrook from Calgary and back on the loop you’re doing back in the ’80’s -great, simple wheels and lots of great memories. This Pontiac is truly an inspired choice, I also drove a 1961 Chev Bel Air (yet another 235 powerglide) out to the Columbia Valley one day on the inspection job, just because I had one and decided to use it instead of my other cars.
If I find myself in Alberta this summer, I may take up this beater challenge! I think i would really enjoy it, but I am normally in BC at that time of the summer. This has me intrigued though, David!
Enjoying this series as I’ve often thought it would be nice to get an older sedan or wagon back on the road again. That was achieved with my 85 Grand Marquis which I featured on CC a while ago.
Getting the urge to find something else now. David good for you in preserving a piece of Canadian Pontiac history.
I can smell, yes smell, the interior of your Pontiac! It’s that classic odor 60’s GM products take on after a few decades, like catnip to a lot of us.
Great car in great condition. You’re doing all the right and sensible upgrades that a man of, ahem, a certain age (ours) would do on an older car. But, if you were still 17 you’d make it run, chop off the mufflers, pop a chrome air cleaner on, and race that baby!!
Looking great David. I think the disc brake upgrade is a very worthwhile upgrade, especially considering modern traffic. Is that shot a picture of the kit you are getting? If so, at least it comes with an adjustable proportioning valve so you can get the front rear bias correct.
What kind of shape is the rad in? It might be worthwhile to get it recored by a rad shop. It’s usually not very expensive to do and they will keep the original rad tanks. With all the driving you plan to do, I’d make sure the cooling system is top notch.
I am looking forward to more updates.
HQ Holden disc brakes swap straight in one of the advantages of it being Chevrolet based is the readily availeable parts for early chevs no help to you I know but anything later in the Chev lineup should fit, yeah new fluids throughout and get the radiator flushed/tested for flow new hoses on the brakes and radiator and it should be good to go.
Really takes me back to when I started in aftermarket pars sales, even in middle 80’s we still had sales on 60’s Pontiacs– the easiest way to tell over the phone if the car was a CDN made car was the colour of the engine, orange for Chev, Blue for Pontiac. I really don’t remember too many 6 cyl cars, mostly 283 and 327s. Its funny if I get a call for an Acadian I think in my head Pontiac but modern ones are GMC’s. If you had come to my place with the water pump I’d use the casting number to identify it–I still have old catalogues, and if that didn’t work we’d send it to a local business that still rebuilds water pumps.
It’s fairly easy to fully clean out the entire cooling system using a mix of water and citric acid powder ~ when finished you’ll know about every pin hoe leak (if any) and there will be shiny looking metal inside, no old solder bloom waiting to do you dirt on the beater challenge, the heater will have maximum efficiency too .
Also, replace every single suspension bushing including the rear spring eyes, using polyurethane, you’ll be amazed at how much better it rides and handles plus you’ll never wear them out and they’re safety items .
Simple, basic stuff you appear to be able to do, doesn’t cost much either and transforms the average old car into a nice driver .