Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Not a writer

It's a good thing this blog is about a car, otherwise I'd feel like it was a diary.

So I went to this thing called the World of Wheels at the Atlanta Congress Center, a convention center. I don't totally know the basis of it. It's like a traveling show, except 80% of the cars were from Georgia. Other than winning the lottery, this was the best thing that could have happened to me. I was able to talk to people about where they got their work done, get numbers and business cards from vendors,and see some new ideas in person.

First gigantic score of the day was when I first got there. My girlfriend and I were standing in line waiting to buy tickets when a guy who could have been a distant cousin of Willy Nelson, came up and asked if I was buying tickets. Forgetting how nice people are in Georgia, I interrupted him and pulled on my no-pandering hat and said that I didn't have any cash on me so I had to use my credit card tobuy them from the booth(which was true, I only had $7 on me and figured I'd need it for snacks). He just smiled and said "I'm gonna give you tickets for free, if you want them." I waited for the catch, but there wasn't one. He and a buddy were actually part of the show. They were in a car club and had 5-6 cars on the floor. They had 2 extra passes because their wives didn't come. We said sure and followed them in. I talked to the guy a bit and he told me where his cars were and to stop by as he raced ahead to catch up with his friend.

***Side note: Since I've been in Atlanta, I've made a lot of trips home to LA to visit my friends and family. Doing this has let me rack up a lot of points that I can turn into upgrades. Because of this, I usually fly business class and I don't have to pay baggage fees. I joke about being spoiled and whether or not I can ever fly in coach with the common folk again (which I can and still do when the upgrades aren't available. I'm no Jenny from the block...).

So here I was, again, with a free upgrade. We didn't even have to wait in the regular line to get in. With our "All-Access" passes hanging around our necks with O'reilly Autoparts sponsored lanyards, we just went in through the owners section. Boo-ya!!

We went in and started in the direction of our benefactor's car section. Again we were lucky that his cars were basically at the first corner of the room, so we had a starting point without having to back track all-over the place. We found Jim Haynie surrounded by a bunch of Chevys. He had 2 cars there that day. A 57' Belair and a 64' Vette. Great looking cars. Best part about them? They were all drivers. Not daily driver(like mine is going to be), but unlike the other show cars that probably had odometers of 150 miles or less and sat in a garage like Cameron Frye's dad, Jim drove his around. A lot. Which to me, is even cooler especially on how great of shape they were in.

I touched on this earlier, but with most of the cars being from Georgia, probably meant that most of them had the work done in Georgia too. This leads to the Second score of the day. I asked Jim where he had his engine work done. If he had done it himself, or just had it machined, or just plain rebuilt by someone else. He gave me the name of the guy who did all his machine work. Said the guy really knew his stuff and made his engine work perfectly. I'd been calling places for 2 weeks trying to find a good machinist, but the Internet doesn't work when it comes to engine repair. All I got were collision shops that didn't really do the kind of work I was looking for. Or automotive shops that wouldn't work on something so rare or old.So this was my golden ticket to finally finding someone with not only a name and number, but a recommendation that I was actually able to see proof that the guy was good.

We walked around some more and met up with some friends from work. Ziggy, who owns my shop, was there with his family and the rock star couple of my UPM and Location Manager were there with their newborn daughter. It's always nice to see people outside of the office that you actually like, and I felt like I was part of the cool crowd.
We hung out for a bit and then went on our way checking out the rest of the cars.

Score #3 was when we walked by a 65' Mustang. The interior was awesome. I've been debating on whether I should post a pic of it, making it a surprise, but I figured I'd be showing you pictures of the process and not just wait for the finished car, so why not. This is really cool. I love how the mesh allows you to make the inner part of the seat 2-toned, while letting the whole seat be more than just light on the outside and dark in the middle. Not only might this be my color
scheme, but the pattern and mesh will definitely be the inspiration for what my seats are going to look like. I can't describe how cool I think it is. When I get frustrated about trying to figure out what I'm going to do with every-little-thing about my car,I'm totally at peace when I think of those seats.

I got some business cards and advertisements for some custom upholstery guys, chrome plating guys, and powder coating guys. All great stuff that I might be using, especially since the prices aren't as outrageous as I thought they would be. Still expensive enough for me to really have to pick and chooses what gets what, but it's nice to have affordable options.
I saw one car that had a similar green that my engine compartment has, but the pics just don't do it justice. I didn't really see any of the colors of blue that I was hoping to see in person, so still can't make a decision on that (more of that later). There was one, but it was a little too dark for me. If you look at the door just below the window, the lighted part is close to the light blue I'm looking for.

So we left with my treasured phone number and websites to look at and went to eat. My mind about to explode with all the possibilities, and possible decisions one day I will HAVE to make....

Wednesday, February 9, 2011



I'm so behind on these posts, it's taking me a while to remember what to write about certain days. Luckily, my photos are grouped by days, so they help provide a guideline of where to start and what to talk about. This post is supposed to be about cleaning the engine. The day wasn't really all about cleaning the engine. In fact, not much cleaning of the engine happened.

Atlanta was blanketed in snow, and that snow turned the roads all to ice. The type of ice I've never seen before. I know if I was you and was reading this from afar, I'd say "So what? Just get the snow plows out." Well, Atlanta, doesn't really have any snow plows. It really has no infrastructure at all for snow and icy conditions. It's a major metropolitan area that just shuts down at the very whisper of snow flurries. SHUTS DOWN! Work was cancelled all week for me. It would have been a great time to get some work done on the car, except for the fact that I had no way of getting to the shop. It wasn't really until Thursday that I could get in the car and drive, and I had to go into work to process stuff so people could still be paid Friday.

Back to the engine cleaning. I was able to get to the shop on Friday. The storm was well over, but the freezing conditions remained. Because of this, the shops driveway, which slopes down hill to the shop hanger doors, was still covered in frozen snow about 8 inches thick. There was no way I was going to be able to get my jeep (4x4 and all) down that hill. Wanting to stick with the shop's safety rules by parking my car behind the gates, I had to shovel an 8x10 section out of the ice so I could back my car just behind the gate. Anyone ever shoveled snow? It's not that hard, tiring, but not too hard. Well try shoveling ice. It does not come up to easily. The top layer came off fine, but the bottom layer insanely hard to get up. After 45 min worth, I lazily told myself it was good enough and backed the car in. Guess my measuring was off a little, as I had barely enough room to back the car in before it started slipping down the driveway. Nothing bad happened, the car stopped fine with about a foot of clearance for the swinging gates to close (whew). The best part about the shoveling, was it warmed me up!

Ah, but it didn't last for long. Let's just say this old shop/warehouse isn't really insulated well. The cold quickly attacked my poorly insulated fingers and toes. Cleaning the engine and tranny means using wet cleaners and water to spray it off. Rubber gloves do nothing to protect your hands from the cold. I'd even like to say that the wet parts felt even colder while wearing the rubber gloves. I was extremely unprepared for this. I lasted as long as I could before I had to take mini breaks and start messing around in the shop. Moving this and that, here and there. Any type of movement to get my body heat flowing. I even started to shovel the ice again at one point. I would spray the engine and tranny with degreaser and let it soak while I ran sprints or did jumping jacks.

Not sure if I've mentioned this or not, but the shop has no running water. Which makes it extremely difficult to wash things off, aka CLEAN AN ENGINE. There's no hose to spray the gunk and grime off. So luckily Ziggy(the shop owner) let me borrow a pump sprayer. It's a big industrial one that gardeners, and our work construction painters use all the time. It doesn't holds about 4-5 gallons, and boy does that go quick. These sprayers don't really have the best pressure, but it's all I have for now.

I'm gonna switch to another side subject (don't worry, I'll find my way back). I'd been researching places that might be able to do some work on the tranny and engine. I finally found a place that would service the transmission for me not too far from where I work. Transmissions are a completely different animal from an engine, and I wanted more experienced hands taking it apart and putting it pack together. I've also never seen the inside of a tranny, so I have no clue how things should look. I told the guy that I would bring it to him on the next Monday.

With that in mind, and not much water left to clean, I focused my efforts on cleaning the tranny . The tranny's aluminum casing made it a lot easier to clean since there really wasn't any rust to deal with. As you can see from the pics on my Flickr, the engine's iron block and headers are hard iron that have been rusted or have had heat spars occur making the metal extremely rough and discolored. With the tranny, it was just years and years of caked dirt, oil, and any other thing the road spit at it, that was caked on it. It was just a matter of soaking, degreasing, brake cleaner, and wire brushing before it came off with noticeable results. If I'd have been able to get all the grime off of it, you would have thought it was almost brand new. I ran out of water and decided to call it a day. I had bought a tarp and placed in the back of my jeep so I could protect it from the still greasy and wet tranny from doing any damage to the cars interior. I put the bell housing in the car as well so I could send them to the shop together in case they needed it too.

That Sunday, I took the tranny and bell housing to a do-it-yourself car wash. I wanted to really get the gunk off of it before giving it to the transmission shop. Armed with a pocket full of quarters, I set the pressure washer hose to the engine degreaser setting (which is more like Simple Green) and used the full five minutes spraying over and over every little nook and cranny of both object. Another round of quarters and I turned on the high power soap. This is a million times better, maybe a billion times better than the pump sprayer (sorry little pump sprayer, but it's true). It's stripped away any loose grime with ease. The real caked stuff that I wasn't able to get to with the wire brush, still stayed in place, even with the high powered water offense I was hitting it with. I used another handful of quarter to just super-soak the tranny and bell housing to rinse it off of all the soap and degreaser. If I had let it sit in the degreaser for a half hour, I probably could have had better results, but the lines were backing up and I didn't want to have to move all the gear and go to the back of the line and do it all over. I was satisfied I had done a pretty good job and knew that the transmission shop would give the tranny it's own steam bath to clean it all anyways. Besides, I had to get going so I could make the local "World of Wheels" car show that was at the convention center.

But more on that later....

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

With the giant relief of safely pulling the engine out of my car behind me, I went back to the garage the following week to “finish” the job. After the engine pull and covering most of my mess with cat liter,I admit that I left the garage in little bit of turmoil.

The engine was still half hanging/half resting on some blocks off the ground with the transmission sitting not too far away surrounded by fluid, cat litter, and chunks of grease.

The first thing I had to do was to pull the torque converter off of the back of the engine. This is the part of taking apart cars that I hate. In mechanic speak; it was a bitch to take off. Lot’s of swearing, and scraped hands took place for the next 2 hours. Oh yeah, I said it. Six bolts took me 2 hours.

The bolt heads that connected the torque converter to the “cam shaft plate?” were extremely hard to get out for a number of reasons. The main reason it took so long (other than figuring out how I was going to attempt it) was that the access to these bolts was in a narrow gap between the flywheel back of the converter and the dust plate that butts up to the back of the engine.

The only thing that would fit in this gap was a wrench. This takes forever, especially in this case because of the limited arc range I had. You have to turn the bolt a couple of inches, take it off the bolt, rotate the wrench back and turn again. Another reason was that these bolts were tightened so tight, using the small wrench, gave me no leverage to loosen the bolts. My beloved torque wrench had to sit and watch me use every, and I mean every, ounce of strength I had. The final problem was that the torque converter, essentially being connected directly to the camshaft, had nothing to stop it from turning in the direction I WAS PULLING TO LOOSEN THE BOLTS. I liken this to the same problem people have when they try to change a tire. They usually jack the tire up before loosening the bolts. With the wheel free spinning and not having the ground to hold it in place, they just keep turning the wheel. This deflated me for 20 minutes or more as I fought a losing battle of trying to hold the converter still as I tried to wrench the bolts loose. No matter how hard I pushed the converter forward as I pulled backwards on the wrench, my pushing arm, with not really any place to put a good grip, was no match for my pulling arm.

I scratched my head and circled the engine a few times trying to decide on whether to give up. My brain finally turned on and I remembered that the torque converter is connected to the camshaft, which on the other side of the engine is connected to the damper unit. One more look at the damper unit and “Yes!” there was a big nut on the end. With a nut, comes a place to connect another wrench, giving me something to hold on to, creating more leverage. Unfortunately, with it being on the other side of the engine, meant I would not be able to hold one end and pull on the other. My wingspan is nowhere near long enough. Oh well, I may have been defeated, but at least there was a way to easily remove the torque converter with another person. But that meant I would not be able to put the engine on a stand, my soul purpose for the day. I picked up my torque wrench to start packing up, but my never-lose attitude took over, which a little ingenuity too, if I may say so myself. With the engine being straddled by the two long legs of the engine hoist, my torque wrench was just long enough to hang onto the damper nut, and reach under one of the legs. If I could somehow defeat gravity and keep the torque wrench on the nut without having to hold it, then I could focus all of my strength on loosening the converters bolts. It took a few attempts, but I was able to get the wrench to hold on as I slowly turned the bolts (and converter with them) until the torque wrench on the other side had enough tension holding it in place as it’s arm was being pulled against the under side of the engine hoist leg. Imagine a clock with its hands moving clockwise. As the second hand passes the 10 and heads for the 12, point and stick your finger on the 11. As the second hand pushes against your fingertip, it will stop. Now imagine you are on the other side of the turning bar that turns the clock hands. Eventually you will be able to keep going clockwise,while the other side is being held tight.

With an agonizing slowness and a couple muscle jerks, I was able to finally wrench a bolt free. I literally shouted, “That’s right asshole!! Huunnhhh!!!” The next 5 bolts never got any easier, but eventually I was successful.

With 2 hours of my day gone, it was finally time to hoist the engine high enough to connect the engine to the stand. I’d seen it done a million times and was halfway from putting the back plate on the engine that would slide into the stand, when I realized I didn’t have any bolts long enough to reach the engine through the plates

holding arms. I couldn’t believe it. I looked at every bolt I had and none of them would work. Normally, you use the same bolts that connected the transmission or bell housing to the engine. I had 2 that would work, but I needed two more. Unbelievable. Again it seemed as if someone was telling me not to put it on the stand. Should I just call it a day, take my torque converter victory and go home? I started to think of what I needed to do to the car. With doubts about it being too big of a project, too much money, what color to even paint the car, not enough time in the day, etc… running through my mind (kind of like a mid life crisis if you will, something that since than happens a lot haha) I decided “you know what? Who cares if the day is almost over? You’re not going to get it back, and you’re going to run out of days to get this done. DON”T BE LAZY.” So I locked up the shop (more on that later) got in my car and drove to the nearest hardware store (Lowes 20 min away) and bought 2 bolts to complete the task. I drove back to the shop, unlocked everything and finally put the damn engine on it’s stand and wheeled it into it’s own space in the garage.

With the engine out of the way, I was able to move the hoist and transmission into their own spaces, leaving the drying mess of fluid and cat litter wide open to clean up. I cleaned that space better than room I ever had when I was a kid. I broomed and dusted every little drop and spec I could, making it look better than it did before. I pushed my car into a little corner giving the shop more space, so the owners saw that I was a responsible person and wouldn’t always leave the place a mess. Hopefully this will give me leeway when I started taking apart the interior and need the space to spread everything around.

With the place looking in order, I packed up and left. To finish from earlier, the shop or garage, can be locked down like Fort Knox. It’s not in the greatest neighborhood, so there are lots of steps to take to make sure I’m safe, especially since I’m normally the only one there. First, when I drive up, there is a gate to a side driveway that leads down to the shop part of the building with its garage doors. You have to get out of the car, unlock the gate, swing open the gate, get back in the car and roll down to the shop (30ft). Then you have to walk up the slope, close the gates and lock them up. The only access inside the actual building is from the front door. Just incase there are thieves reading this, I might have said too much already, but let’s just say there are 3 more locks and 4 doors to get to the shop before you can open the hanger doors. It’s like walking into a Get Smart safe room without the lasers and eye scanners.

Whew, that was a long one.