Rust and the delusional seller.

(This is a car shopping post from before I bought the wagon)

I love living in new england for many reasons. The changing seasons, the ability to visit multiple states win a relatively short drive, the incredible amounts of history. But there is definitely a masochistic streak to being a car lover here. Anything you drive does its level best to rot out from under you. And classic cars shopping doesn’t involve the question “does it have rust?” but rather “How much rust does it have?

The honest answer on this car would have been “Way too much.” However as with far too many cars I’ve looked at, the sellers either lie to you in hopes you won’t catch them, or are apparently looking at a completely different car when they answer my questions than the one they show me when I get there. When I talked to the seller of this 1959 Pontiac Star Chief he made a big point to tell me that the car had been repainted two owners back, and his answer to the eternal rust question was that the driver’s floor could use some work and there was a spot behind the rear window.

With that answer I made plans for the three hour each-way trip to see it, visions of double fins dancing in my head. Upon arrival I was greeted with a very faded and cracked paint job that was starting to peel. Not a big deal I thought, I’d want to change the color anyway. So I peeled back the trunk mat to look at the trunk floor, and saw a big line of rot. Other side of the mat, more rot. Peeled up the front of the mat to find the trunk floor and the passenger wheel well were separated by a jagged gulf big enough to lob a ferret through. From there it only got worse. The rear floorboards were rotted out, the front floorboard were so bad the passenger floor brace had rusted off and was laying loose on top of the muffler. It became a sick sort of game.

Cowl? Rotted.

Radiator support? Rotted.

Rockers? Rotted.

Fenders? Rotted, then bondoed.

Doors? Rotted.

Rear decklid? Rotted.

Roof pillars? Rotted.

He wanted $3000 for what was an engine powering a decent set of seats, and some good glass and trim loosely connected by some very bad metal. I didn’t even bother to have him start it. I just snapped the pictures here and headed back home. It makes me sad to see a car in such poor shape, but it makes me intensely frustrated to have someone tell me a car is one thing, and then show up to discover it is something completely different. The same question always pops into my head, the question I have, thus far, been too polite to ask. “Did you honestly think I would be more likely to buy the car because you bullshitted me? Do you think finding out I’ve been lied to was going to make me more likely to give you my money?” One of these days  the lies will be a little too egregious and I will not be able to resist, I promise to report back whatever response I get.

New toys for the wagon!

This weekend I was able to pick up this pile of new bits for the wagon. Bright & early Sunday morning I dug the xB & my little utility trailer out of the snow and headed to CT. There I met up with a gentleman who was rebuilding his wife’s 1966 Mustang and was upgrading it to a newer Thunderbird 3.8 V6 & 5-speed. I was able to buy the original 200ci six, C4 transmission, driveshaft and a box of parts & accessories for only $250.

In addition to not having a bad valve, the motor has only 77K miles on it, and allows me to in the same package get a 60 amp alternator(instead of my 30amp generator), automatic choke, and a carb that isn’t leaking gasoline. It does need an exhaust manifold as these are prone to cracking, however the one on my old motor is good. Also the distributor bushings are worn so it slowly goes out of tune. I’ll be trying my distributor, and if that doesn’t work a remanufactured replacement is only $50.

I’m planning to stab the motor in as soon as possible, but the transmission is going to have to wait until at least the spring as going from the 2-speed Fordomatic in the wagon the 3-speed C4 requires a bit more adapting (new driveshaft, transmission crossmember and custom linkage).


Not sure when I’m going to get a chance to swap the motors, so until then everything is sitting wrapped in a tarp on the trailer. This is the joy of trying to get stuff done on a car in New England without a garage. You never know when your work area is going to be under several inches of snow.



Gratuitous wagon shots

Aside from a couple failed attempts to get the tailgate glass to go down so I can open the tailgate I haven’t had a chance to work on the wagon. So here are some beauty shots from  the weekend I brought it home.

This was once I’d scrubbed the outside clean. Eventually the car will get an exterior restoration and repaint, but for now I’m rather in love with the patina it has.

Last-minute idea, successful.

Like I promised at the beginning, this blog is going to be about more than just cars, and here is the first example.

I am a big fan of the game Minecraft, a retro-styled open world game. Among the enemies is a creature called a “creeper“. It is essentially an ambulatory shrub that sneaks up behind you, hisses & explodes(killing you if you don’t react fast enough). The game is particularly popular among geeks, who would also be in large attendance at the Arisia science fiction convention in Boston this past weekend. Well this past Friday at 8:30 in the morning I decided I wanted to build a creeper to bring to the convention, that afternoon. What followed was a frantic couple of hours of searching for images online and trying to figure out the proportions of the creeper.

This image was incredibly helpful, and allowed me to have a reference for relative sizes of the various pieces. I ended up settling on 1.5″ per color pixel, this gave the creeper an overall size of 3′ 3″, which was a decent compromise between size & portability.

Next I went parts shopping. I made a list of local sign shops, but ended up scoring at the first one. The owner of Cornerstone Signs was incredibly helpful and generous, He sold me a bunch of Chloroplast and chunks of various shades of green vinyl.

I’ve worked with Chloroplast before, it is a corrugated plastic often used for those disposable “Make money from home” or “We buy gold” signs that crop up in medians and at the end of exit ramps(if I’d had more time I’d have just grabbed those and re-purposed them).  It is strong & durable but easy to cut and bend(as long as you are doing straight bends). I measured and cut the various pieces, & shot them with krylon fusion green. As soon as the pieces were dry to the touch they and all our other costumes & props were loaded in the car and we drove up to Boston.

Once in our hotel room at Arisia, I unpacked and got to work with assembly. I’d also picked up a cheap $30 R/C car, and cut the truck body off it. All the bends were scored with a closed utility knife and a pile of zip-ties were employed to put everything together. Halfway through I realized I’d left two of the panels for his head at home, fortunately I had brought the leftover chloroplast, so I was able to piece together enough for the two panels, and use some of the vinyl to cover them. It wasn’t a very good match, but was close enough for what I needed.


Next up was the R/C base, I hadn’t had time to design or plan anything so I was simply winging it. As it turned out the Starbucks cups that came with the complementary coffee were just the right size. Another couple zip ties and a bit more tweaking and it was assembled. Next came cutting a pile of 1.5″ x 1.5″ stickers & sticking them all over the creeper. All total it took about 6 hours of work to put it together from idea to its first outing.

Driving it around the lobby it was quickly apparent that the little R/C car was hopelessly outmatched by the weight of the creeper, & the battery would last for about one lap of the (large) hotel lobby. but those laps were long enough to get all sorts of positive reactions, and once the battery was dead I left it parked near the escalators where even more people were snapping pictures.

By the end of the weekend I’d burned out the motor on the R/C car, but proved that the idea was a good one. Version two will have a more correct paint job(lighter green), a beefier R/C chassis, and a sound system to allow it to hiss like the real creepers. Hopefully with more than few hours to work on it I can make it even better.


On of the interesting things about shopping for old cars is the odd technology you encounter. Lots of cars in the early pre-war period were full of various technological or design ideas advancements that instead of taking off ended up being dead ends.

One of my favorites is the one I first encountered on the 1950 Dodge Coronet I very briefly owned. It was the “Gyromatic” M6 semi-automatic transmission. Sold variously as the by Chrysler as the “Prestomatic,” by Desoto as “Tip-Toe Shift” and by Dodge as “Fluid-matic,” “Fluidtorque,” “Gyrotorque” and the previously mentioned “Gyromatic.” For simplicity I’m going to keep calling it a Gyromatic.

The Gyromatic is a 2-speed manual transmission with a electrically-operated overdrive and a fluid coupling. If that sounds excessively complicated, that’s because it is. The car has a gear shift with reverse, low range & high range. You use the clutch pedal to shift between those three gears but due to the fluid coupling you can just put the clutch in, shift and take the clutch out without touching the gas regardless of is the car is moving or not. Once you’ve chosen high or low range you can ignore the clutch and drive around like an automatic as long as you don’t shift ranges.

When you accelerate from a stop in either low or high range you start in either low-low or high-low, then at a certain mph you lift your foot off the gas and the overdrive automatically shifts up into low-high or high-high and you continue on. As you decelerate it automatically downshifts out of overdrive. It all seems really complicated and did involve solenoids, hydraulic solenoids switches, an ignition interrupt and several other components. However apparently they were relatively reliable.

I do love that it was a complicated way to accomplish something that seems very simple now. A system that is not only unlike anything we have today, but would be utterly baffling to most drivers. I can’t help but delight in stuff like this. And looking at all these old cars causes me to run across things I would have never known existed.

Extra links:
The M6 “four-speed electro-hydraulic semi-automatic” transmission


Got the wagon home & significantly less gross

I brought the wagon home this past weekend. Amazingly with a new battery & some gas it fired up and drove out ofthe yard it was sitting in Brakes/transmission/engine all seem to work (I’m still going to go through them all). The engine runs rough and does seem to have some kind of valve issue, but it runs better than I was lead to believe

Once we had it on the trailer & strapped down I used some waterproofing tape(butyl back aluminum) to seal the roof holes for now to at least stop moisture getting in. Then it was back home with one stop to fill the tank on the wagon and another to spend $10 at a car wash powerwashing as much of the grime of the exterior & engine bay as possible.

Once home and unloaded we started cleaning it up. The seats & door cards had a massive amount of black mold on them, but bleach and scrubbing did amazing things for the seats as you can see in the half-done shot to the right. The backs of the door cards have rotted cardboard, so a winter project is going to be to try and peel off the vinyl and glue it to new backers.

The insides of the door were amazingly rust free, and will only need some minor cleanup & a few coats of Materseries to keep them looking good. The car has an old “Rusty” rustproofing sticker so maybe that is why the doors survived so well. I found some small rust pinholes in the cargo floor & spare tire well, but they should be pretty simple to weld in patches.

After bleaching & scrubbing the seats look quite presentable and I am really happy with them. I tossed the armrests as they were all some combination of stained, moldy & torn; I do have a decent set of red ones that will work for now. Once I get a new filter for my shop vac the interior will get a vacuuming, and I’ll start pulling out the old rubber mat in the back footwell. Unfortunately the power tailgate seems to be DOA, and it would require a bunch of dis-assembly to diagnose so I’m probably going to hold off on dealing with it until the spring.

In addition to the cleaning I got some small jobs done on the car(new exhaust donut gasket, new radiator cap, running some seafoam through the motor, seal tears/cracks in old 1/4 glass & windshield gaskets with RTV). I’m starting to make lists of what the car needs so I can better plan my strategy. Amazingly it runs and drives well enough that I’ve taken it on a few short drives. The next few weeks are going to be skimpy on free time to work on the wagon, but I have a backlog of car shopping posts to finish anyway.

Tattered luxury is still beautiful

This 1950 Chrysler Windsor  was found on Craigslist for only $1850. Sadly the photos here(which are from the ad, not mine) were taken a year ago, and the car had been sitting in a field for that intervening time. We drove up to see it and ended up spending at least an hour helping the seller get the car started again due to a dead 6 volt battery and no good jumper cables.

Once it did start through the flathead straight six ran nicely and the car drove well around the field. I liked the car a lot, but sadly despite a completely rebuilt engine and little serious rust it was much more of a restoration candidate than something I could drive and enjoy relatively soon. If I had a garage and would have been able to work on it over the winter I would have seriously considered it, but as it was I wasn’t ready to get into it.

It did make me rather fond of Windsors though. The car was a fascinating study in the lap of luxury circa the late-40’s, including things like a heating system that wafts heat out the full width of the dash rather than blowing out a few vents. Also it  had some really amazing art-deco touches, like the fold-away window handles. This era of Chrysler has definitely moved up my list of desirable cars.

One has been chosen.

I had absolutely no expectation of finding something this (relatively) quickly, and this car is the opposite of nearly everything I’d been looking for. But love is blind, and sometimes bloody stupid. Regardless I am now the (somewhat nervous) owner of this 1964 Ford Falcon wagon.

It is the midrange model and has a few options(automatic transmission, power tailgate window) but is still pretty spartan. The exterior still has the original white paint and the tan seats & door panels are there and decent, though the carpeting & headliner are missing. This car has been sitting under a pine tree for about eight months due to a bad valve. The battery is flat and it won’t start and the tree has left it dirty outside & moldy inside.

According to the previous owner he bought it from Iowa via ebay in 2009 and had a lot of work done(tires/radiator/starter/exhaust/new front floors) to make it a decent driver and used it regularly until “a valve went bad”. However he knows nothing about engines and couldn’t explain it any further. I’m going on the assumption the head is bad on the off chance it means I’ll be pleasantly surprised. My plan is to go out where it is still sitting with a battery & fresh gas to see if i can get it to run enough to at least make loading it on a trailer easier.

Besides the engine the single biggest problem with the car is the roof. The edge of the roof is badly rusted/rotted from above the back doors all the way to the tailgate. This is apparently common on these wagons as condensation forms on the inside of the roof and collects in the edges rotting them out from the inside. I’m going to just seal the holes for right now, and deal with proper repairs in the spring. I’ll probably weld in patches for now and depending on how that ends up looking probably look for a good roof to splice in down the line.

For now though my plan with this car is to make it a reliable beater and just enjoy it without trying to make it perfect. An old wagon with a chrome roof rack and faded original paint is undeniably cool, and should make for a great project.

Of course updates will be posted her as things happen with the wagon, I will also still be posting car shopping entries from the backlog of vehicles I looked at before I bought this.

A quick couple lessons in selling cars

A quick tutorial where you, the reader, can learn from the mistakes of the sellers of this 1950 Desoto. Sorry for the single tiny pic, I didn’t take any at the time and it was the only one of the actual car I could find online.

1) Don’t lie about the cars running/non-running status. Mostly because it is kinda easy to tell once I get there. Saying the car ‘runs well’ when you haven’t actually gotten it to start will just piss buyers off.

2) Parts/repairs done before the car say outside under a tree for three years aren’t “new”. If you advertise the car as having ‘new’ brakes and I show up to see the lines/fittings are rusty and you tell me that is just because the car sat for three years I will know that you are, once again, bullshitting me.

3) I REALLY don’t care what the sexual orientation of the guy you got it from was. No, really. It has no bearing on my interest in the car directly, and listening to two guys make gay-bashing comments will ensure I don’t want to buy this, or any, car from them.