Teach me how to fish .. FOR CARS
December 7, 2005 11:30 AM   Subscribe

Mechanics: I've got a 1964 chevy bel air which is my daily driver that needs some work. I'd like to do it myself, but I'm sorta a car newbie. What online communities and resources will be useful to me? Do you have any specific anecdotes, tips and tricks for working on old cars?

First, some photos, 'cause we all love looking at cars.

Photos of the bizzler

I'd like to think I have some mechanical aptitude -- i've got no problems unbolting shit and keeping track of screws and all that crap. however, it was just recently that I felt comfortable pulling shit off my car and then starting it up. Basically, I don't know where to start in troubleshooting a problem. Repacking bearings, oil changes, general maintanence etc, I could probably do -- taking apart an engine and putting it back together with the right tolerances? probably not.

Tools aren't a problem, because I share a warehouse space with my (wrencher) buddy, who mostly has a full complement of car tools. I've also got the original service manuals for the car, which are useful, but presuppose a "common sense" knowledge about cars that I don't have yet (for example, I spent a lot of time replacing the gaskets for my heater core because I thought they were important -- i didn't find out they were just to prevent rattle until after I'd completed the work -- it would've been nice to know this).

Still, I have next to zero mechanical experience. I took a beginning auto-shop course last year, which added a bit to my confidence, and I have tons of friends who can (and have) worked on my car (doing non-trivial things, like replacing the heads and the head gasket) that I can fall back on if I fuck up big (so I'm not really looking for answers that say "take it to a mechanic"). I'm not looking to do the work myself to save money (although that will be a nice bonus), I'm looking to do the work myself for the joy of knowing how to do it.

So far I've done mostly twiddly stuff -- replaced the heater core, etc. Nothing big.

Right now, the car needs some carburetor tuning (i think). I have a bunch of flat spots in the acceleration (AND i'm running the idle real high in order to make the car drive-able). I'd like to try tuning the carburetor myself, and possibly look into working on the brakes (drum right now, although I might recruit some friends and covert them to disc) and do some basic tuning on the engine.

Information about working on cars seems mostly darknet to me at this point. What i'd like to find is a newbie-friendly chevy community that could reliably answer questions about my car, and also get general tuning tips (for example, I was talking to my gf's uncle the other day, and he suggested cleaning out the engine by running a bunch of automatic transmission through it for about 15 minutes and then draining it, which sounds entirely crazy to me (but my oil is real dirty, so hey, if it'll clean it out, i'll try it).

Hell, I bought a bunch of oil leak-stop and I'm afraid to use it, because I don't know if it'll harm my engine more then it'll hurt.

So, basically I'm looking for places I can start researching what and how I can work on my car online. I don't know if these exist. If you have any specific advice for my car, I'd love to hear it (for example, I'm naively thinking about putting a header and a new exhaust on there -- is it worth it? No? what? why?)

Any old car advice you can give is welcome. How did you learn about cars?
posted by fishfucker to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Chevytalk is exactly what you are looking for. It is an enormously helpful site. Anything you are about to do, someone there will already have done it and probably posted pics and a step-by-step. I'll post a longer answer during lunch about some of your other questions. PS. read my blog, it shows what I do to keep a 50 year old car as work transportation (url in my profile).
posted by 445supermag at 11:41 AM on December 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

Wow, 445supermag's link is pretty great. I'm a member of an online community devoted solely for the BMW R75/5 and I can tell you that an active online community is probably the most valuable resource that you will find for this type of thing. A braintrust stocked full of old timers that know your machine inside and out is a real life saver. And this Chevytalk site looks like it fits the bill very nicely.

However, don't throw that shop manual away. This way, when you get answers from your online community, you still have that handy reference at your fingertips.
posted by NoMich at 12:11 PM on December 7, 2005

Best answer: 1. Carb tuning. There's almost no such thing. You probably have an air leak or a clogged idle jet. You can check for a manifold leak or carb base gasket leak, but other than that rebuild it or get a rebuilt/new carb. Or put fuel injection on it, don't know about the chevy six, but holley makes an aftermarket fuel injection set up for jeep straight sixs that might work.
2. brakes. Good drums stop fine, but if they need alot of work, you might as well do the disc conversion. I'ver heard that the reason the feds mandated discs in '74 was that they hold the wheel on if your bearings fail, not because of braking. What is really dangerous is that single master cylinder. If you get a pin hole in a brake line (41 year old steel lines, it's gonna happen) you will have ZERO brakes. And believe me, when the brake pedal falls to the floor it'll seem like the car just picked up 10 mph. Someone on chevy talk will tell what master cylinder to buy (it'll be one for a post '67 chevy) to get a dual master cylinder. This way, if a line goes out, you'll have either front or rear brakes left.
Other projects, its not a race car, so why not improve the milage and smog. Lots of little things you can do.
For reliablity and drivabilility, I'd get an HEI distributor from a '74 up straight six chevy. It will never need points and it will let you increase the sparkplug gap for better efficiency. I can't tell from the pics, but you might have a non-collapsable steering column. Much better for safety to get a '68 up or after market column (in an accident, the solid iron steering shaft can impale you).
I'd say, figure how much money your saving by not making a car payment and spend half on the car. I've had 50+ old junky american cars and have never had a motor go bad. Its always the little stuff hanging off the motor. Luckily, this stuff is cheap. So, for about $50-100 each (and get new, not rebuilt) do the alternator (get a newer internally regulated one), starter, fuel pump, water pump, master cylinder, distributor. When the little stuff is out of the way, save up a few months worth and do the big stuff, motor, trans, rear, paint, interior.
posted by 445supermag at 12:55 PM on December 7, 2005

Response by poster: Carb tuning. There's almost no such thing. You probably have an air leak or a clogged idle jet. You can check for a manifold leak or carb base gasket leak, but other than that rebuild it or get a rebuilt/new carb.

oops! Should've mentioned that it IS a brand new/rebuilt carb. That was an important detail.

guess the next thing I should spend money on is the disc brakes.
posted by fishfucker at 1:04 PM on December 7, 2005

Response by poster: how do i go about checking for air leaks? Do i need one of those vacuum thingies?
posted by fishfucker at 1:05 PM on December 7, 2005

Best answer: Here's one thing you probably won't hear anywhere else:
To get the grease out of your skin, buy some Jergens Moisturizing Hand Cleaner. I know all the wrench jockeys use Gojo, or some relative, but the Jergens works better, and won't cause the allergic reaction that Gojo eventually triggered in me. The Jergens is in all the grocery stores.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:08 PM on December 7, 2005

Best answer: Air leaks - Well there's a couple of ways. First listen for whistling sounds. Then try spraying the suspected site with carb cleaner (a flammable one). If there is a vacuum leak it will suck the solvent in, you can see the solvent disapear and the engine should run differently for a second. Some people like an un-lit propane torch. Needless to say, watch out you don't blow yourself up. Are you sure it's carb, not the ignition? Did you use a new carb base gasket on a clean surface and not over tighten the bolts? Why did you get a rebuilt carb and did it run differently after the new carb?
posted by 445supermag at 1:14 PM on December 7, 2005

Best answer: Learn by doing. If there are two identical assemblies on your car only take one apart at a time. You'll never switch a leading and trailing shoe again after the first time.

I wouldn't recommend tackling any kind of serious carb tuning as your first project as there are so many variables even in a non smog carb that it's easy to turn a hesitation problem into never runs again problem. Lucklily your not trying to tune a solberg or something their will be Chevy guys all over that can help you out.

"Any old car advice you can give is welcome"
Old cars are temperamental and need what seems like constant fiddling with compared to new stuff.

Check your oil every morning.

Buy a grease gun and learn where all your zirks are because chassis lubrication on an old car is a task that oil change places can not get right, they invariably miss one hard to see or fill point and 10K miles later your drive shaft falls off because the U joints never got grease.

Carry spare fluids: transmission fluid, engine oil, coolant. These cars supported actual service stations on every corner when they were new, 40 years of seal hardening hasn't made anything better.

Bite the bullet and replace all the bulbs in the car as soon as two go in the same month. It's a lot easier to do the whole car in the driveway with a beer than in thirty different parking lots over the space of a couple years. Ditto rubber hoses. If you haven't already plan to spend an afternoon replacing all rubber hoses on the car (heater, gasline, vacuum advance, radiator)

Upgrade the seal beams to halogens but watch you aren't over loading your wiring and alternator. Watch also how much juice you pull with stereos etc. If your lucky you've got a 60-65A alternator and wiring that is barely adequate.

Spend some time and a little bit of cash temping your plugs. Even though the book will list an equivlent P/N remember your no longer running leaded gas. You could benift from a colder or hotter plug.

Follow your owner's manual recommendation for thermostat temps. If they recommend changing them sesonally in your climate it's a good idea to do so.

I'm a Chrysler guy I can't remember when Chevy when to electronic ignition. Points are a pain in the ass. If your engine hasn't been upgraded yet it's a good investment that will save a lot of aggravation.
posted by Mitheral at 1:16 PM on December 7, 2005

Best answer: If you do the trnny fluid trick, only do it for 15 min. If you drive, like on a date, the lowered viscosity might make your engine toss the timing chain. I know - it happened to my '70 Impala.

I learned by doing. Get the Haynes manual - it's retarded, but assumes you know almost nothing, too.

Re the carb: get a CARB certified intake manifold and a new Edelbrock carb. Them old carbs are interesting, but unless you've got a really special carb, it'll be worth it. Also, flat spots might be caused by your ignition advance.

As for the brake conversion, call up a junkyard, and have them cross reverence your spindles with 63-78 Corvette spindles. You might be able to swap out the whole shootin' match, from balljoint to balljoint. You'll likely have to use the drum brake steering knuckles, tho.

I just looked at the pics - you've got the old 231 I6, huh? I *think* Iskendarian used to make a performance intake for that thing.
(Interesting fact:231 cu in is *exactly* one gallon.)
posted by notsnot at 1:23 PM on December 7, 2005

Kirth Gerson writes "To get the grease out of your skin,"

And if you use a hand moisturizer before you start the good oils in the hand lotion will help block out the nasty oil/grease from your car.

445supermag writes "Then try spraying the suspected site with carb cleaner (a flammable one). If there is a vacuum leak it will suck the solvent in, you can see the solvent disapear and the engine should run differently for a second. Some people like an un-lit propane torch."

I like to use WD-40 for this task, it doesn't flash off as quick as carb cleaner and it's cheaper too. For god's sake don't use a propane leak, that's just asking for trouble.
posted by Mitheral at 1:24 PM on December 7, 2005

Response by poster: Are you sure it's carb, not the ignition?

no. How would I check this?

Did you use a new carb base gasket on a clean surface and not over tighten the bolts?
presumedly ... I didn't install it -- a friend bolted it on. I'm pretty sure he tossed on a new gasket, but he's the type of guy who will occasionally half-ass stuff if it doesn't belong to him in favor of getting it done faster.

Why did you get a rebuilt carb and did it run differently after the new carb?

Had a fuel leak (the fuel line went bad). I thought it was a carb problem. Either way, the idler arm on the old carb was all jacked -- the carb was wired open, I think (or closed, or whatever would've made it run right. I think closed).

The gf's uncle suggested the WD-40 trick too. I'm gonna give that a try either today (if I have time) or tomorrow.
posted by fishfucker at 1:30 PM on December 7, 2005

Best answer: fishfucker writes "no. How would I check this? "

Just assume plugs, points, condensor, wires, cap, and rotor are all bad. Replace. Unless this is a show car take 445supermag's advice and convert to HEI at this time. I'm sure every speed shop in town will sell you some mega buck package to do so but the expensive parts can all be got from the junk yard for cheap. I like to relocate the coil off the block and onto a fender or the firewall. It keeps the coil cooler extending it's life.

Mitheral writes "Watch also how much juice you pull with stereos etc. If your lucky you've got a 60-65A alternator and wiring that is barely adequate."

Oh ya and don't just dump a 150A unit in if you've got an ammeter on the dash. None of the Amp guages were shunted back then and trying to cram twice the power thru your dash is a sure recipe for a nasty car fire.
posted by Mitheral at 1:44 PM on December 7, 2005

Response by poster: This is all great advice! Thanks everyone. I feel like I'm learning a lot (like, that you can mix and match different years on engine parts. I guess this is a "duh" sort of thing for most people, but I had no idea -- that's kinda where I'm at. I'm not aware what's possible.) I'll be marking best answers after the thread dies down.

Oh i should also mention that I've got a floor conversion (from three on the tree) and whenever I've got it in neutral with the engine running there's this nasty grinding sound (and then when I try to put it back in gear it grates). Also I can't seem to put it in first unless the car is stopped (which sucks for all the rolling stops I like to do*) Any suggestions on that one?

* I'm a native Californian. That's how we roll.**

posted by fishfucker at 2:02 PM on December 7, 2005

Response by poster: also: any chevy/car irc channels welcoming of n00bs? That would be ideal.
posted by fishfucker at 2:03 PM on December 7, 2005

My first car was a '64 Impala convertable. That was a good year for cars, in my opinion.

My dad knew a lot about putting cars together and taking them apart, but for the most part, he learned most everything he knew by reading the manuals and learning by doing. He and I pulled that junker out of a yard in my Sophmore year in High School. By the time I was a Senior, it was a piece of wonder and beauty that would leave you in the dust off the line so fast you'd wonder if you were even in the race.
posted by thanotopsis at 5:03 PM on December 7, 2005

Best answer: You might wanna look for a copy of Fix Your Chevy by Bill Toboldt (ebay link). The writeups in it seem pretty straightforward & easy to follow. Clymer's and Haynes' repair manuals are probably worth it, too. Mind you, I haven't got an actual old Chevy to wrench on, so I can't vouch for the technical accuracy. At any rate, all three are written for non-mechanics, so they oughtta be easier to follow than the factory manuals.
posted by arto at 11:32 PM on December 7, 2005

Best answer: Carb tuning is a black art. My cousin, who was my go-to guy for my '65 GTO's Carter AFB, did it by the sound the engine made. I never could replicate his tweaks and he never could explain how he did them, but after he got done the car would burn rubber upshifting into third gear.

Easier and more reliable: check your timing, including the advance. Likely you have a distributor with spring advance; I agree with the above folks that if you can swap it out for an electronic ignition with a different kind of advance, preferably vacuum advance, you'll have much less trouble and smooth out those dead spots in your acceleration curve.

You'll need a timing light for this; get your wrencher buddy to show you how that works.

Don't put automatic transmission fluid into your oil. Instead, use Risloneā„¢, which is designed for what you want to do. It's a penetrating oil with de-gunking properties. Put in half the quart, drive your car 50 miles, then change your filter and oil, which will be filthier than you have ever seen it. When you put in the new oil, substitute the remaining Rislone for the half-quart of oil. This trick prolongs engine life and keeps the insides clean, but here is a caution: if your engine is so worn that it needs high-viscosity oil not to smoke, this trick may cause it to suddenly be in need of a rebuild with an overbore.

Your car's gorgeous, by the way. I wish I were riding around in it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:58 PM on December 7, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for all the help guys. To respond to some of the recent answers :

the timing should be right on or pretty close. We did it when we put the new carb on. The lines are a bit off, but I think it's accurate. I'll probably recheck it, though (or just replace it entirely.)

If I put in the HEI distributor, how many parts do I need to change out? Just the distrib, or do I need like, a new ignition switch, blah blah blah? I've got a new coil -- i just haven't installed it yet (because it said something about needing to put on a resistor or capacitator or something if my car needed one, and I had no idea whether it did or not). I'm gonna try to test the air leak potential this weekend (probably also gonna change out the coolant -- oh, that reminds me -- any tips on flushing a radiator? The radiator is new, but it got some junk in it because the heater core and hoses were totally old) and I'll let you know what I find out.

Any advice on body work? I picked up a cheap slide hammer and some bondo and am planning on pulling out some of the dents (there's a dogleg in the door and another on the rear fender, other than that it's pretty straight. There's some rust right by the door and shit which I guess I'm gonna sand down and then bondo/seal) before priming the whole thing black.
posted by fishfucker at 10:55 AM on December 8, 2005

Response by poster: oh ps. I bought that "Fix Your Chevy" book off of abebooks for $7. Thanks arto!
posted by fishfucker at 10:56 AM on December 8, 2005

Best answer: Apparently it's pretty easy.
posted by Mitheral at 12:03 PM on December 8, 2005

the timing should be right on or pretty close. We did it when we put the new carb on.

Did you check it only at idle, or did you check to see if it advances, too? It should be in the lines when it's at idle; but as you open the throttle and give it gas, it should advance (move out of the lines) briskly. If it advances sluggishly or not at all, there's your 'flat spot' in your acceleration curve.

I know I already mentioned Rislone, but I want to mention it again. There's nothing like it for smoothing out a rough idle that's due to varnish build-up.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:06 PM on December 8, 2005

Response by poster: huh; i think we only checked it at idle.

As far as the rislone -- the idea that it *might* lead to engine work has me a little scared.
posted by fishfucker at 9:54 AM on December 9, 2005

If you still have questions about your timing, you could always as Marissa Tomei.
posted by thanotopsis at 3:30 PM on December 9, 2005

Response by poster: I haven't had a chance to check any of this stuff yet, guys -- i'm throwing myself a big birthday party this weekend. But this coming week I'll try out all the suggestions. BTW, my friend managed to fix his flatspot problems in his 54 bel air by putting in an HEI, so that looks like it may be the answer.
posted by fishfucker at 3:20 PM on December 10, 2005

Response by poster: grabbed an HEI off of ebay about 2 weeks ago for $160 -- putting it in sometime this week! woo-hoo! here's hoping I don't fuck anything up.
posted by fishfucker at 3:40 PM on February 22, 2006

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