Project Introduction

Project Introduction

Roughly a few decades back, I purchased my first 1955 Chevy. It was a pure stock, 4 door model with a 265 cubic inch motor and automatic transmission. The purpose of the car was for my girlfriend to have something to drive back and forth to school. I think we paid $175 for the car from a used car lot, but the car had vacuum windshield wipers on it and she hated driving it whenever it rained so it didn’t stay around too long. We had some fun cleaning it up and drove it for most of that summer and there’s no doubt that it was actually a pretty decent car.

Next up was a mess of a car that was a combination of sheet-metal and attending paint colors that all combined summed up the next ‘55 Chevy we owned. This one was actually spotted by my wife who was that girlfriend in the previous paragraph, not too long after we had seen the Two Lane Blacktop movie. And of course I was just positive I could turn it into that car on the screen. This particular car had parts from just about anything and everything that you could imagine. Wood 2×4’s were used under the bucket seats that came from something unknown so that you could see out the windshield and the radio was haunted. Kind of like that Christine movie thing, it would turn itself on and off, change stations, play weird songs, all of it very strange. The motivation for this one was a 350/4 speed Muncie transmission deal. The car was actually pretty quick and we enjoyed driving it around although I am sure the seven different paint colors on it made other motorists rather nervous. My wife and I still talk about the times that we would take our baby son to the drive-in, put a blanket on the hood and set him between us. We were dead-broke most of the time, but it sure is funny how we still managed to have a good time. I enjoyed that car probably more than any other that I have ever owned. Of course sometimes those long rear views can have a touch of romantic nonsense that can make it seem better than it really was at the time but none the less, we were doing a-okay.

A bit later on I had the notion that I wanted a full time drag car and the ‘55 was going to be it. We put a hotter cam in the engine, cut two coils off the front end (no, I don’t know why!), replaced the side glass with plexiglass and that was about the extent of the modifications. I would fire up the car on Saturday morning to check it out while every lawnmower in the neighborhood was running, but within about 15 minutes I would have another visit from the local authorities, compliments of a really nice neighbor down the street. We flat towed the car to the drag strip and normally spent our day there chasing one problem or the other. Most of the time the car ran great in the driveway at home, but by the time we got it to the strip we had used up all of our luck. After about one summer of this, I had tired of the “fun” and we had also decided to sell our place and move. The real estate person suggested that we might have better luck if we ditched the weird looking car in the driveway, so I pulled the engine then towed it to a local junkyard and turned over the title. The house sold just a few weeks later, but I’ll never know if getting rid of the car had anything to do with it or not.

So that brings us up to now and how did I manage to end up with another ‘55 Chevy? Well, about 20 years ago I thought that getting into street rodding would be fun, but I wasn’t quite ready to make the jump into the really old vintage tin stuff. However, the 50’s stuff was looking like fun so I found a ‘49 Ford. The only problem I ever had with it was that I wanted it to be a ‘55 Chevy. That’s just a bit difficult as you might imagine. So after having done very little with the ‘49, I decided it was time to sell it and just let the whole street rod type deal go by the wayside. I placed an ad in the local trader paper and to my surprise was contacted almost immediately. During the transaction, I was asked why I was selling the car and I simply said that I really wanted a ‘55 Chevy, but that I also knew that anything decent was completely out of my price range. The person that was buying the ‘49 surprised me by telling me that they happened to own one and wanted to sell it too. We worked out a trade of cars at that point and I found myself owning my third and final 1955 Chevy. This one is a 210 model, 2 door post ~ identical to the model used in the Two Lane Blacktop movie (and of course American Graffiti). I cannot believe my luck in finding one of these and while it certainly is in need of work, it’s no worse that the Ford that I let go, besides, it’s a ‘55 Chevy!!

The build plans call for a large motor, automatic, decent performance that can maybe cruise to the ice cream shop yet do some fun duty at the strip on a Friday night. My wife accused me one time of being a teenager that had never grown up – she’s actually dead right and there’s no arguing the point. But she’s also that same pretty girlfriend that I bought that first ‘55 for -so I think we’re going to be a-okay.

Project Shoestring – Part 2

Well, as I previously mentioned interruptions happen and they just can’t be helped, or either I have finally given up worrying about them.

Other than trying to keep the car covered up with a car cover that kept getting blown off during the normal windy part of the Spring season, there hasn’t been very much done. We sold just about all of the front end sheet metal, the spindles and old disc brake setup plus a handful of other parts that came with the car that we are not going to use. We also had some leftover stuff that went to the recycler and I basically found out that I spent more in diesel fuel than what the metal was worth. Lesson learned.

I also came up with a novel idea of saving most of the repair panels that came with the car. As most of you know, vinegar is a really good rust remover – it just takes time. I measured the largest piece of sheet metal I had and then using some spare 2x4s and a piece of leftover 1/2″ plywood constructed a rectangle box that the sheet metal would fit in. I then took some heavy plastic and cut it so that it was larger than the box and doubled it. Using the plastic as a liner for the box, then putting the sheet metal in along with a few gallons of vinegar and then covering it with the second piece of plastic, I had a low-buck de-rusting facility. I let the sheet metal soak for about 3 days, then flipped it over and let it soak a few more days. At that point, I took it out and hosed it off. I wish I had taken photos of it but the sheet metal came out almost perfectly clean. I dried if off with compressed air, then used a can of spray rust reformer (Rustoleum Brand) and coated both sides of the sheet metal. I had 5 pieces to do, so I just kept repeating the process. These panels are going to save me a lot of money as a lot of the sheet metal around the rear wheel area is shot.

My next trick was to figure out how to get the chassis out from under the car. I admit I stewed on this problem for a number of weeks before I stumbled across another hot rodder online that is working on a Nissan 280 Z. He had constructed legs with dolly wheels and then bolted them to the Z allowing him to move the body of the car around his shop. With that inspiration I took an old piece of rectangular metal tubing I had and cut two legs that would fit at the outer parts of the firewall. I already had some very heavy duty rubber caster wheels and mounting plates. I welded the mounting plates to the tubing and put the wheels in place. I was hesitant to bolt these to the firewall as I think there might be too much flexing, so I decided to weld them in place. I am going to cut out a great deal of the firewall so a little extra grinding later on is not an issue. That took care of the front part of the car, but the rear was still a question mark. After looking things over, I decided that due to the weakness of the remaining floor that it might be a good idea to keep some of the frame under the car as additional support for the body.

I have a set of car roller trays – the type that have four casters and you put them underneath the tires of a car, then you can push the car around the garage. I took two of them and two more pieces of the tubing and tack welded the tubing to them with the idea that I can cut the frame just in front of the leaf spring shackle to remove the rear frame section and set the remaining center frame on these modified rollers. One problem is that they are a bit too short in height. I am going to have find some additional metal and add to this set of rollers before this part of the plan can be executed.

Next was moving the car to a suitable working area – which I am sure my neighbors are not totally thrilled about but I do keep the car covered up when I am not working on it. I decided that the front end of the driveway was flat and safe enough to continue. We used the remaining set of rollers and put them under the rear tires, then with the front leg rollers on the ground we were able to move the entire car by simply pushing it. It’s amazing what the power of a wheel can do for you! With it moved into place, we then supported the frame with jackstands right behind the original transmission mount. Our next move was to get out the plasma cutter and start cutting through everything that was holding the front clip to the rest of the car. It took a bit but after cutting through support pieces and then slicing through the frame just in front of the transmission mounts, we were able to separate the clip from the car. Mission accomplished! And just so you know, the “we” in my statements here is my son Phil and myself.

With the front clip off the car, it sure does look a lot shorter. The main reason for doing this is that I already have a number of parts that fit the front end clip. Tubular A-Arms, replacement bushings, ball joints, racing shocks and springs, 2″ dropped spindles, new steering arms, disc brake kit and a new manual rack and pinion from a SN95 Mustang. Switching to some other aftermarket front end would not only cost additional funds but I doubt if I could recover 50% of the money in the parts I now have on hand. Weight wise, this clip is heavier than a Mustang II replacement and certainly more than a strut front end. But again, the Mustang II front end would be in the area of a $1000 and the strut version would run about $2000 or more. I believe I can trim quite a bit of weight out of the clip and actually make it stronger than it is in factory stock form. Looking at a stock ’55 Chevy front end one has to realize that the engineers of the time had several things to deal with in the design. Starting at the front of the clip, they were providing a place for the heavy front bumper to attach to and supporting it in such a way that it could survive at least a low speed crash and protect the occupants of the car. They also provided a mounting for the heavy radiator, the radiator horse collar and the front roll pan. Moving back from there, we encounter the front crossmember which was designed to provide mounting for the a-arms, shocks, springs and front half of the engine/transmission combination. In 1955 the engine/transmission assembly was supported at the front of the engine with a mount on each side and just at the front of the transmission where it mounted to the engine – again with a mount on each side. This put quite a load on the front crossmember. Moving back again, we have the frame rail area supporting the steering box on one side and providing a mounting point for the idler on the other. We also have a mount for the cross shaft to operate the clutch.

No matter how you shake it that’s a lot of heavy lifting for the front clip of the car. My plan calls for cutting back a lot of that starting with the front rails that support the bumper and modifying a good portion of the center of the crossmember to now support the rack and pinion. The bottom of the crossmember has a very heavy plate surface that I assume was to handle any minor collisions with the road surface back in those days too. I will also be removing side mounts for rubber jounce pieces that are no longer needed, removing the radiator support piece, cutting out the support of the clutch cross shaft and then rewelding the upper a-arm supports and the frame rail where needed. I may also cut down the height of the rear part of the frame rail to match up with 2×3 tubing of the main chassis beams. A rough estimate is that I can remove about 10-15% of the weight currently in the front clip. There are also a number of areas in the front clip where pieces were hot riveted together and then some additional welding performed. I assume that on the assembly line that the rivets were intended to hold the pieces together in alignment prior to the welding operation.

The front clip is next on the carving block.

Low-Buck Starter Switch

So I was in need of a remote starter switch on a recent project I worked on – a 67 Volkswagen. I didn’t want to go and buy one – not even sure I could have found one in this day and age but it would make figuring out the car’s problem a lot easier.

I rummaged around a bit and while what I came up with works, you don’t have to come up with the same items to get the same result. The following is my list of bits and pieces that I used to make my starter switch.

Old prescription bottle
Piece of leftover extension cord
Push button switch
2 Terminals
2 Electrical clamps

I drilled a hole in the bottom of the bottle that would fit the push button switch, then drilled another hole in the bottle cap to fit the extension cord. Next was attaching the wire to the switch. The extension cord piece I had was about 5 feet long, you can make it any length you want. The cord was a 3 conductor piece and I cut the covering back about 8-9 inches. Again you can make yours longer or shorter as needed. I also cut off the ground wire as it would not be needed. I crimped terminals on the remaining wires and attached them to the push button switch with the provided screws. You can also use a toggle switch if that is what you have available.

You then place the switch inside the bottle and fasten it in place, then put the cord (or wires) through the hole in the cap and attach the cap. The last thing to do is attach the electrical clamps. I had a few that had been cutoff of some other item in the past – I constantly do this before tossing things out as it might come in handy someday. I soldered my wires to the clamps but you can also just attach them with other methods. Some clamps have a way to crush the wire to them, others have a screw on them that hold the wire.

So, using the starter switch is pretty easy. One clip goes to your positive battery post and the other clip goes to the connector on your starter solenoid that would be the “S” terminal or Start terminal. With the switch connected you can now “bump” the engine with the starter to perform valve settings, or spin a new engine to bring up oil pressure before starting it or it can be used to help you perform a compression test. You can also use it to diagnose a starting condition and determine if the battery might be marginal. It has a lot of uses and not just for the starter either. Not sure if that switch for the wiper motor is faulty or not? Connect this switch between the battery and the 12v input terminal on the wiper motor. If the wiper motor operates, there’s a good chance the wiper switch is bad.

I hope you enjoy this little item and please share the article with your friends.

Lighting Tip

Recently we found a 2000 Ford F150 Supercab for my grandson Jackson. Overall the truck is in decent shape, runs well and has the normal wear, dents and dings associated with the mileage on it. The previous owner supplied us all the repair records that he had and it appears that maintenance and repairs have been handled when the need arose.

Like any used vehicle, we found a few things that we wanted to correct and hopefully make it a bit better. We cleaned up the truck, wiping a couple of decades of dirt, lint and who knows what out of the interior and gave it a wash job. Some elbow grease and Mother’s Mag Wheel polish restored a good look to the stock rims. Inside the interior we found that the cup holder was no longer playing nicely and it appears to be a normal problem with this line of trucks. The tension spring at the back of the cup holder is only held in place with a couple of melted plastic rivets. They eventually break, the spring falls down and the cup holder refuses to work. We found the spring laying on the bottom lip of the dash, drilled a couple of 1/8″ holes and riveted it back in place with aluminum rivets. Works just like new now. We found that the electric outside mirror switch had failed too. A new switch was popped in place and another issue was resolved. One more thing we found was that the driver’s door window was making some interesting sounds as it went up and down – especially down. Even after taking it apart, we were never positive about why it made the sound. Anyway, a new window motor and track assembly took care of the problem.

Next on our list is the point of this story – lighting, as in headlights. As you can see from the picture, like most 20+ year old units they have seen better days.

Now, obviously we don’t won’t to spend crazy money for parts left and right but headlights are important and especially ones that you actually use. It’s best to be able to see down the road and for someone to see you coming. We decided on some units from Rockauto Parts. They weren’t the most expensive ones that they had but they looked good when they showed up and they will do a good job for us.

But here’s the tip and to be honest no matter how much you spend on replacement headlamps or tail lamps you can do this to them. One of the bigger problems with aftermarket headlamps is that they commonly get moisture in them a lot easier than your OEM units. Although over time, the OEM units will suffer from this problem too. The actual problem is where the clear part of the plastic mates with the rest of the light housing. When they are manufactured, there is a glue that is used to put the assembly together – it’s basically crazy glue or Cyanoacrylate. If enough of it is used the odds are that there won’t be any leaks or holes in the seam where moisture can enter the light assembly. But, if there’s not enough used or the work is a little sloppy then that could lead to a problem down the road. So what I do is a little bit of preventative care. The first step is to take some masking tape and go along each side of the seam between the clear plastic and the rest of the housing.

What you want to end up with is a space between the pieces of tape on each side of the seam of about an 1/8″ or so, it doesn’t have to be exact, but you want to make sure that the seam is totally exposed. Now here’s the tricky part – if you’re married or have a girlfriend it’s probably going to be easier but what you need now is some clear fingernail polish – preferably a quick-drying version. If that resource doesn’t work out for you, then you’ll just have to go a store and visit the make-up counter. I understand thatthis can be very unnerving for most of us, but you have to have it to complete your mission. And remember if they have a fast-drying version, that’s the one you want.

Once you have the clear polish, you can take and paint the seam with it all the way around the headlamp, you want a minimum of two coats and three is better. Allow each coat to dry completely before starting on the next coat. Once you’re done, let things sit for a good hour or so, it should be thoroughly dry by then and you can remove the tape.

As you can see from my photo above that you can’t even tell that you put polish on them, but adding the polish to the seam will help prevent getting moisture for years and years to come.

Lastly, if you have a decent set of headlamps and they have gotten some moisture in them, you can save them. It’s bit of work but noting to bad. You’ll have to remove the headlamps and you should clean them off good just to keep any debris from getting into the lamp openings as you will need to remove the lamps. You will also need a bottle of rubbing alcohol. Pour out any water moisture that has accumulated in the lamp housing. Pour a bit of alcohol into the lamp unit, swish it around and then pour it out. Try to get as much out as possible, then position the headlamp to let any remaining alcohol evaporate from the lamp holes. Alcohol has an attraction to water and usually the water will evaporate with the alcohol. You may need to repeat this several times depending on how much moisture was in the headlamp. Once you have the headlamps “dried out” you can perform the clear polish trick but look for any major separation in the headlamp unit parts. If the separation is large, you might need to fill the seam. In this case a gel-type Cyanoacrylate will work best and then you can seal them.

I hope you enjoyed this little tip and please share with your friends. Next up for the Truck is a new sound system and speakers installation. We have a couple of good tips for that installation to get the very best out of your new system.

T-Buckets & Hot Rods Plans

Simply said, I have copies of plans for T-Buckets & Hot Rods. The first set is known as the Youngster Free T-Bucket plans that are limited to the building of a frame for a T-Bucket. Actually a very good set of plans with all the detail you would need for building a chassis.

Click “Youngster T-Bucket Plans” below. 

You’re going to love this one! Nineteen chapters of information about how to scratch build a hot rod. And while the information is about the build of a “hot rod” there is a ton of information that will relate to any car build that you happen to be working on or just dreaming about building.

Click “The Scratch Built Hotrod” below.

The other sets that I have are far more detailed, going into every aspect of how to not only build a good chassis but also the body work, interior, engine and drive train. Electrical information is a bit sketchy but it’s a decent outline. This one requires your e-mail address so that I can send it to you. Make sure you provide a good email address and put “HotRod Plans” in the subject line on the contact form.

Click “Detailed Hot Rod Plans” below.

Youngster T- Bucket Plans

Detailed Hot Rod Plans

The Scratch Built Hotrod

Project Shoestring – Part 1

Wow – I just looked back and it’s been just over two years since I wrote “Project Shoestring Begins”. Where does time go? Well in my case, I, like a lot of active, older people have learned to not sit still too long as it’s a good prescription for an untimely death. And since I am not ready for that one, I keep moving. Since I wrote that post, I have completely, save for the outer walls rebuilt a 3-bedroom house and sold it. That was a 8+ month project – they take a bit of time when you are doing 90+% of the work by yourself. And before I was quite done with that I started on a deck project for an old high school friend. One of those that started off rather small in scope and grew from there. Between weather issues, getting sick a couple of times and attending a wedding in Vegas, that little project went along for about 5 months but the owner was happy and that’s what counts.

So here we are again talking about my 1955 Chevy 210 bracket car. And I am sure there will be interruptions in this project again; it simply cannot be helped but we have made some really good progress. For starters just getting the car over to were I could work on it took a bit of doing along with some weather cooperation. We are back in our wet winter conditions again so you have to pick your days to do certain things carefully. I finally hit a few days where it didn’t rain and the ground actually dried out a bit. I grabbed the golf cart and decided it was now or never getting on with this project. First problem was the car had sunk it’s tires a bit into the ground and the golf cart was having nothing of it. I could rock the car a bit but there was no possibility that the golf cart had enough muscle to pull it out. So I went and got the truck but I had a slight dilemma there as I did not want to pull the Chevy out and have it smash into the back of my truck! I had to be very careful just to ease it out of it’s stuck spot and make sure that I kept any forward motion of the car to an absolute minimal. Thankfully I succeeded and was then able to hook the golf cart to the car to make the rest of the journey up to the garage. Now I admit that sounds easy but honestly I could only move the car about 20-25 feet at a time before I would have to re-adjust the steering of the front tires. Seems that one tire would point straight ahead and the other was about 30 degrees off in a different direction. Once I got the car up to the garage, I wanted to get it cleaned out before rolling it in to a bay but I also have to take one of the race cars out to make that happen.

Front roll pan and lower radiator shield

The following day, I started cleaning up the interior and trunk space. The car came with everything from pennies and hairpins to replacement sheet metal panels. I was happy to see the replacement panels as those will save me a lot of money. And they were a surprise being buried under all kinds of other items. I also started removing the front roll pan that goes just behind the front bumper. All of these pieces are in pretty decent shape and as I get them cleaned up, you will find them for sale in my store area. There was still a lot more debris to clear out of the car but it would have to wait just a bit.

Steering and suspension – gone!

My grandson, Jackson, is now staying with us for a bit and I was happy to find out that he was a willing partner in helping get the car cleaned out. I really wasn’t too sure how it would go but he dug in and helped get not only the debris cleaned up but also got just about all the old wiring removed. The next day, we had some better weather and worked on the car again. My goal that day was to get the entire stock suspension removed from the car along with the radiator and support pieces. We placed the car on jackstands for safety, then proceeded with removing the disc brake kit that was on the car, the entire steering box setup, steering linkage and pulled the spindles off. None of these parts are going to be used by me again. Some stuff will be sold and the rest will go to the metal recycler. We then removed the radiator parts and pulled the a-arms off, top and bottom. Jackson did a lot of this work himself and learned a couple of new tricks along the way.

Next step is getting the body supported and clipping off the frontend

Right now the next steps are a bit confused. With my grandson’s help this part of the project moved along a lot quicker than I expected so as I said before, we made some really nice progress on it. I think I am at a point where I need to move the racecar out of the shop and prep that area to start constructing the new racing frame for the ’55. I am getting pumped up about this car coming together now.

New & Used Parts, Tools, Toys

We just added another page to the blog here. As most anybody that works for a period of time on automobiles, trucks and other things knows, you eventually collect a lot of items. Normally most of this is things left over from a project or a project that didn’t get finished or took a different direction. We also have collected some AFX-HO racing sets and gear over the years,

So, while it’s a touch painful on some items to let them go it’s probably time to do so. We will be photographing what we consider to be the better items and posting them up on our “Store” page for sale and even sometimes just for free. I would prefer that these items get a second chance than to just sit in a drawer or box. So check back often, you might find something of interest to you.

RV Repairs – Part II

Looking back over the previous post about repairs, I actually feel rather good. I got a few more things done, but not all of them that I had on my list. Right now in central Virginia, we are closing in on late November and the weather is getting colder almost by the day so there are some items that will just have to wait until spring time.

Lights in the basement compartments were a priority for me since it was getting to be a real headache trying to find things in the dark. All of those are finished now and it was certainly worth the work involved. Also in the area of lighting, I switched out some but not all of the lighting inside the RV to LEDs. The main reason was to provide some level of lighting but not burn the batteries down so badly using the normal incandescent bulbs. I also had to make a few minor repairs as the sprayer for the kitchen sink snapped in half and a few of the glass panels in the cabinets had started to come loose. I guess the rock and roll of the RV takes it toll on everything bolted down.

I have a few more things that I can get done this winter, but it will be limited. I have already winterized the unit for the off-season and the engine battery had to be replaced just as we entered the Fall season. On our trip out to Bristol in July, I had an issue with what I thought was the transmission shuddering but it has turned out to be related to the engine and the coil-on-plug packages. Cylinders 3 and 8 are showing quite a number of misfires so one of the things that we will be doing is replacing all of the coil packs and putting new plugs in. This is not a pleasant procedure as these engines have some issues with spark plug changes and it is a tedious process to prevent any problems with the change.

I also need to take a look at the A/C compressor as it continues to make some noise after about 15-20 minutes of operation. I think it is the clutch package and it might need to have the air-gap in it reduced. Not sure yet but I do need to find out. We also need to verify that the rest of the A/C system is in good shape.

Another item is the headlights. Like all plastic housings, these have reached the point where they need to be sanded and clear coated. I lucked out and discovered that the headlight units are actually stock units for Ford F-150 Pickups so I was able to order to new housings for about $75. The downside is that the builder of the RV used pieces of plywood to build a shelf for the light housings to mount to and these are starting to fall apart from moisture damage, so I need to take out everything build and seal new mounting platforms and then I can put the new headlights in place. As a bonus, I am also going to put in a set of relays for the headlights so that they will get as much voltage as possible and wire in a dash mounted switch that will allow me to operate the low and high beams together for better lighting on some of the dark roads we travel. I am also going to sand and clear the old headlights and put them away as spares so I can just swap out the next time when my new ones get dull.

There’s always a list of items that need attention, all you can do is keep checking them off.

Thanks Uncle Doug

When I was 11 or 12 years old my family made a trip one summer from Virginia to Texas to visit and stay with my Dad’s brother – Douglas Rutherford. This was about a 1500 mile trip in the family car and dad was doing about 500 miles a day – back then with a lot of the traveling on 2 and 3 lane roads, you didn’t make time like you do today on a clean interstate system. During one stop we made I found a car magazine and asked my dad to buy it for me. I can’t remember the name of the magazine anymore but I looked through that book so many times that I guess I was wearing the ink off of the pages.

While staying at my uncle’s house, I slept on a cot in the front room. Television was limited to a couple of fuzzy channels so I continued to look through that car magazine. My uncle noticed and asked if I liked cars – saying yes he went off for a few minutes and then returned with a large stack of car magazines, mostly high performance ones and told me I could keep them. I went to work going through those books and even though I hardly understood anything in them, I didn’t let that slow me down too much.

The first Sunday we were there, my uncle had arranged a family reunion of sorts. Various tables and chairs were put out in the backyard, meat was cooked and it appeared that a lot of Lone Star Beer was consumed. Playing cards was also one of the big activities and I finally got to meet my Great Uncle Charlie – the man that took care of my father when his mom passed away and the man that I am named after. Uncle Charlie spent most of his life as a “mustanger”, rounding up wild Mustang horses and doing the work of a cowboy. When he sat down to play cards, the first things he did was to put his money sack on the table along with his .44 Colt. I leaned over and asked my Uncle Doug if it was loaded – and he said you bet it is. He also told me that unlike the movies, when cowboys played cards you put your money and your gun on the table.

We stayed for about a week with my Uncle Doug and on the way home I continued to dig through that pile of magazines he gave me. Again, I don’t remember the name of the book but there was one that had an article about how anybody could go drag racing – all you needed was a car. I had no idea of this and re-read this article a number of times gleaming every piece of information I could out of it. When I got back home, I started asking my friends about this and some had older brothers that actually raced at the local dragstrip. This was the very beginning of my drag racing life and I owe a big part of it to one man – Thanks Uncle Doug!

Build a Crank Trigger Distributor

Crank Triggers are a very effective way to light the fire in your performance engine. So much so that auto makers adapted the idea to just about everything you have driven since around the year 1995. They use a sensor lined up with a reluctor wheel mounted either on the front or rear of the crankshaft. Timing indication from this location is far more accurate and precise that picking it up from the distributor. Now of course modern engines have either a short coil-to-plug wire or are of the coil-on-plug ignition, all electronically fired from information provided to the computer.

Crank Trigger ignitions for older performance engines have been around for years and normally when a hot rodder puts one of these on their engine, one of the steps is to lock out any advance mechanism on the stock distributor. The distributor essentially becomes nothing more than a “distributor” of the spark energy. This will work just fine as long as the distributor is in good shape and not worn out or sloppy in it’s clearances. In my particular case, I am building a new engine up from bits and pieces and did not have a distributor to start with but looking at the current prices of a crank trigger distributor will make you swoon. Average prices are running between $250 – $350 for a distributor. I will admit it is take it out of the box and drop it in – but where’s the fun in that?

So,, doing a little bit of shopping and spending a touch less than $125 I have a brand new, crank trigger distributor. And I am going to tell you how you can have one too. Now admittedly I am building a Big Block Chevy, if you have a Chrysler or Ford engine or something else, you have a bit more homework to do, but the principle idea is the same.

I started off by looking for a NEW – not rebuilt point style distributors for Chevys. I finally found what I wanted from Rock Auto Parts. A brand new, mid-60’s distributor was available for slightly less than $50. Moving over to Jegs, Summit and don’t ever forget Amazon, especially if you already have Prime membership, I started looking for a MSD Cap-Adapt setup. This certainly isn’t a requirement to build a crank trigger distributor but I prefer these as they allow you to run the larger Ford style distributor cap which spreads out the spark, plus it comes with a spark plug wire retainer system that is a simple, two screw system. The adapter also creates a larger air center which helps reduce the izonation of the air particles within the cap. Each of these items helps reduce or eliminate misfire. And we don’t like our engines to misfire do we?

The next two items on the list kind of go hand in hand but one of them might not be needed for your setup. I am running a Crane mechanical roller cam in this engine and need the bronze distributor gear that works with that type of camshaft. If you are running a standard type production cam or an aftermarket unit that is a hydraulic or mechanical flat tappet cam then you can keep the stock style gear and save a few bucks. You also want to setup the end play on the distributor and will need a shim kit – I went with the Moroso version as I had used their kit before and knew what I would be getting. I ended up setting this distributor up to .009 clearance but anything between .010 and .020 should be good. I am also getting ahead of myself a bit but that’s okay.

With all of the parts gathered up it is actually time to start tearing stuff apart. All of the following can either be deep-sixed or passed along to someone that still deals with points style distributors. The cap, rotor, points, condenser, vacuum advance canister, all of the wiring, the mounting plate for the points and condenser, the advance weights, advance springs and the advance/points cam all have to go. I didn’t bother to weigh all of this stuff but there’s bound to be at least a pound of stuff here. Now to get some of these parts off, you probably already figured out that you need to drive out the roll pin on the distributor gear, remove it, the spacers and pull the shaft from the distributor body. And this is where a welder will come in handy although it is not absolutely required. You will notice with the shaft removed that the advance plate/points cam is a separate piece. You need that piece to hold the rotor in place so I recommend that you fit it back to the main shaft and then on both sides of the oval shaped piece at the top, you tack weld the shaft and the advance plate together. Lacking a means of welding, you could also drill the two pieces and insert a small bolt/nut to lock them together. I have not done this myself so you will have to determine exactly where you can put the bolt without interfering with the rotor button attachment.

Once all the junk is out of the way, you can put a little bit of grease on the shaft, slide it back in and start figuring out how many shims you will need to tighten up the clearances. For the most part, this is a bit of trial and error, but one thing you can do is find a punch that has the same diameter as the roll pin and put that in place to hold the gear on while you check clearances with a feeler gauge. That beats driving that roll pin in and out.

With the clearance set, the next step is to install the MSD Cap-Adapt System. Rather easy as the main part of the system aligns just like the original distributor cap and and is held in place with the same type of push and turn 90 degree arms. Now you can mount the MSD rotor button in place but first check the clearance on the center part of the rotor. MSD now includes a cardboard guide that is sort of a go, no-go type gauge. I found my latest one to be bent down a touch too far. New MSD kits have a couple of choices for holding down the rotor button now, I decided to use the Allen head bolts that came with the kit. And finally the last piece is the Ford style distributor cap. Align the tab and snap the spring metal retainers in place and you’re finished.

What you now have is a fully “functional” crank trigger distributor. Which really kind of makes you wonder why they charge so much money for the darn things. When using a crank trigger setup, the distributor has one job and that is to distribute the voltage out of the coil coming into the center terminal of the cap to the terminals of the cap that are connected to the spark plugs. That’s it. No timing function, no dwell settings – nothing. When setting up your crank trigger, you will set the timing by moving the pickup in relation to the magnet on the crank mounted wheel. You will install your distributor so that you are lining up the rotor pointing to the selected spark plug terminal of the cap. A better way to determine that this is as precise as possible is using “Rotor Phasing”. Search that phrase on the Internet for additional information.

So there you have it – a quick and easy build that saves you at least a $125. Plus you probably had a little bit of fun with the build and you can be absolutely certain that you are going to get the maximum amount of power from your crank trigger setup.

Just Thinking

I was thinking which sometimes isn’t a good thing.

Back when I was a kid pumping fuel at gas stations (16,17,18) I remember Amoco was selling the only unleaded fuel at the time. But also around this time most of our engines were in the neighborhood of 9.8 – 11.1 compression ratios and there wasn’t a lot of pinging and banging going on running the stuff. So now I am wondering what were they putting in that fuel to prevent pre-ignition and why we can’t have that today?
Also, it’s been a rumor I guess for a long time but I worked a Sunoco station for a bit and if you remember there was a dial on the side of the pump that would allow you pick the octane level you wanted. Sorta foggy now but I think the pumps ran from 140-260? Anyway, the whole deal was two tanks of fuel (one hi-test and one regular) that were being mixed right there at the pump. I worked this station mostly on Thursday – Sunday nights and on Friday and Saturday night I would lock out the outer pump to pure hi-test or 280 as it was referred to; no lower octane fuel was mixed with it. I would charge an extra $1.00 per 5 gallons that was pumped and had guys lined up in and out of the gas station. I made a little extra spending money and the guy that owned the station was impressed with how many gallons of gas I pumped every weekend once the word got around. And again, why doesn’t somebody do this now?
Lastly, I was wondering what happened to all of the gasoline, motor oil, battery and anti-freeze commercials that used to be on television? I think the last thing I can remember now is Shell running some commercials about the amount of detergents their fuels contained and their cleaning ability. Other than that one, it seems like its been a very long time since these type of commercials were out there. So the question I have is have the vendors of these products simply decided that either the motoring public isn’t really all that interested in any difference between manufacturers of these products or do they simply sell so much of their product that there is no gain in advertising it anymore?