COAL Update: The Rest Of The Fleet – Resisting The Urge To Muck It Up

In anticipation of a new COAL subject (a ’63 Buick Riviera) coming soon, I plan to update my fleet adventures of the past year or so.  Given the propensity for my mind to wander, we’ll see how it goes.

Maintaining a small fleet of regularly-driven antique cars has a few drawbacks, and one of them is the nagging suspicion that I’m forgetting to file an extra W2 form in the spring.  Perennially, there’s a bill to pay, oil to change, batteries and tires to buy, storage areas to vermin-proof, and repairs to make.  And I love every minute of it…most of the time.  Aside from the obvious pleasure of driving old cars for the last 28 years, I enjoy the gratification of a “clean” year, where I try to find things to repair rather than their finding me.  Four cars in the fleet came close to meeting those standards in 2022, and considering that the other three most definitively did not, it’s time to share my appreciation.

The ’65 Corvair Monza was surprisingly quiet this year, given our tempestuous relationship over the past 15.  I used my chassis ears to locate some driveline noise (somewhere in the transmission I threw together with new synchros over 10 years ago), and I replaced the parking brake cables and a fuel pump.  Corvair fuel pumps are getting hard to find, and the quality is anecdotally questionable; because of this, I carry a spare in the trunk.

On a long freeway trip last year, the car used no oil, which is not in character; therefore, I suspected that the pump’s diaphragm had ripped and leaked fuel into the crankcase.  It had not, but I disassembled the old fuel pump anyway and used the factory spring to reduce fuel pressure in the new one.  Unfortunately, the new one is somewhat loud; Clark’s Corvair in Massachusetts is working on a new design that they say will be released soon.  I will buy two when that happens.

Over the summer of 2021, I decided to rebuild my spare four-speed transmission to swap into the Corvair for that time when the drivetrain noise overpowers the wind noise.  These are the inner workings of an early Saginaw four speed, if you’re interested.

It looks pretty good with a fresh coat of paint where nobody will ever see it.  I added some oil and rotated the transmission in all directions to lubricate the bearings and gears, and then closed it in a large resealable bag for future Aaron to deal with.

The 1965 Dart chugged along all last fall/winter/spring with no major repairs.  Because I hadn’t done it in a while, I played around with valve adjustments to see how the car would react.  It runs best at .012 intake/.022 exhaust (set hot and running).  This winter, I plan to replace the seeping front wheel cylinders and drain/refill the block and radiator.  I just brought it home from storage, performed my yearly carburetor cleaning (closing the choke with the throttle cracked to stall it, along with a few shots of carb cleaner down the air bleeds), and readjusted the idle mixture.  So far, it’s running well!

My longest-term member of the fleet bucked recent trends by being almost trouble-free this year.  On several long trips, it returned 19-20 miles per gallon and required few repairs.  I had to replace a pinion seal last fall, and I overtightened the pinion seal (my fault, but I WAS following the directions of the service manual).  This spring, I had the machine shop install a new crush sleeve (new ones are very hard to start “crushing”) and reset the rotational torque to proper specifications for the used pinion bearings, which were still in good shape. (I rebuilt the differential when I was 22, which was 23 years and 50,000+ miles ago.)

Aside from that, I replaced the tires, which were 10 years old, and I changed the oil.  And I waxed it.  That’s it.  Good job, little buddy!

Finally, we have “Old Reliable” itself, my ’65 Buick Skylark, the first old car I bought with my own money way back in 2003.  I added a half quart of oil and a steering wheel cover from Wheelskins this year, because my attempt at re-expoxying the cracked steering wheel was mixed at best, and it costs $750 to have a new mold made.  That’s almost a quarter of what I paid for the car, and it’s simply not that kind of car.

Regarding the oil: I’ve noticed over the last several years that it’s been using oil at higher speeds, meaning 70+ miles per hour.  As far as I know, the engine is original (I did replace the seeping head gaskets a few years ago), but it’s a Buick.  One of the reasons I like Buicks is that they’re really well-built old cars.  My guess is that someday, when oil consumption gets out of hand, I’ll be able to hone and re-ring the engine and keep driving for the rest of my life, assuming that I can still get piston rings for a Buick 300 at that indeterminate date.  The Skylark is a good car – I can’t recommend an old Skylark enough.  If you get a chance to buy one and you like them, do it.

That wraps up four weeks and seven cars of fleet updates.  I’ve already commented that I’ve finally, after years of looking, bought one of my “top-of-the-list” cars, a 1963 Buick Riviera, complete with 401 and Dynaflow.  As you may expect, it’s been sitting around for a long time and needs a lot of work, so my next update will be an overview of that car and its myriad needs.  I can’t wait to get started.