How Much Should an Oil Change Cost?

To help support our racing habit, I sell Amsoil products on my other site – Superior Motor Oil. Sales on the site are spotty at best as it has gotten difficult for small websites like mine to get to the first 1 or 2 pages of a major search engine unless you are willing and able to spend a considerable amount of money advertising with them. So I was wondering about a different angle and the idea of “how much does the average synthetic oil change cost” came to mind. I searched on that idea and what I found was eye opening. Depending on your location in the county the average runs $55 – $100 for a normal 4-5 quart change with filter. Coupons and special promotions can knock that price down a little bit. There is no mention of brand names pertaining to the oil or filter but one has to assume that the oil would at least be one of the national brands as would the filter, so if you can find a local shop at $55 and you loath the idea of changing oil yourself then this appears to be a reasonable deal.

Amsoil oil products are what I like to refer to as a “Boutique Oils”. In comparison to the national brands, it’s rather expensive but right in line with other similar oil products such as Royal Purple, Redline or Mag-1. While a 5 quart jug of 5w30 Mobil-1 will run you about $30 at most auto part retailers, $30 is only going to buy you about 3 quarts of Amsoil 5w30 Signature Series oil. Five quarts of Amsoil 5w30 Signature Series is going to cost $46.00. The best upside to this is the change interval length. While most of the car manufacturers are now recommending oil changes at 10,000 miles, Amsoil Signature Series is designed to go 25,000 miles. Going the same length of mileage on the national brand oils is going to cost at least $75 so the cost of $46 for Amsoil is a savings of $29 plus you’re also be saving the cost of the additional filters, installation labor and the lost time you incur while waiting for your vehicle to be serviced. Now I realize that a lot of people are going to frown on the thought of going 25,000 miles on an oil change and I have to admit that it is an unusual idea. You should  consider the fact that not so very long ago, oil change interval recommendations were at 500 miles. Then as oil, filters and the technology in engines improved, those change intervals began to lengthen to where they are now in the 10,000 mile range. Amsoil has simply taken it to the next step before anyone else and their Signature Series oils are now ready to go 25,000 miles. One other thought is even if you decide to stay with your manufacturer’s recommendation, should you run into a situation where you go beyond that recommendation, with Amsoil in your crankcase you have nothing to worry about.

So going back to our original question, “How Much Should an Oil Change Cost?”, I believe it simply depends on the vehicle, the normal use of that vehicle and the confidence of the owner in the products that they are purchasing to maintain their vehicle. If we can say that the average motorist puts 12,000 miles a year on their vehicle then $46 and the cost of an oil filter over a 2-year period looks like a good savings to me.

 

 

RV Repairs

Along with getting a variety of projects done, both large and small plus getting “Project ShoeString” moving along, there is also the need to get ready for next season. That’s where some work on the RV is essential. Our rig is a 2008 Forest River unit that is 32.5 feet long, uses a Ford chassis and Ford V-10 engine. Towing our 28 foot race trailer, the RV actually does a good job of it although our excursions into the mountainous areas has been limited to a few runs out to Bristol, Tennessee. Over the years that we have owned it, a number of things have happened. Small accidents have left it marked with damage, bits and pieces have failed and at times it has been neglected for long periods of time. I have a short list of items that need repair and a separate list of items that need maintenance. With the recent nice weather, I have tackled a couple of items that include repairing the fresh water tank and re-working the water supply system so that it is easier to maintain and hopefully a bit quieter. The water tank developed a small leak that took quite a bit of time just to discover it’s location. Unfortunately it was on the bottom of the tank so the entire supply system had to be removed, the cover door for the basement bay had to be taken off and then the tank was pulled out. This is a 75 gallon tank that rests on a plastic supporting framework with a piece of OSB between them. The OSB didn’t stand a chance against a long term water leak and was thoroughly soaked and rotted. I repaired the small leak I found in the tank with a soldering iron, melting some plastic into the small hole and then covering the entire area with a generous coating of clear silicone. To help the adhesion of the silicone, I roughed up the area around the leak with 220 grit sandpaper. A new piece of plywood (not OSB) coated with two coats of oil based porch paint on both sides should hold up a bit better should we have any leaks in the future. My next move is to put the water supply system back in which includes the water pump in a fashion that makes a bit more sense than the helter-skelter version that was factory original. I also wanted to find a method of isolating the vibrations of the water pump and am searching for a large piece of dense rubber.

The next item is the electric steps. These have been repaired in the past when they suddenly popped out on a two lane back road and caught the side of a bridge piling. It wiped out both steps and bent the arms badly plus broke the plastic trim piece around the steps and damaged some of the lower body work on the coach. I was able to find the repair parts I needed for the steps and put those back together, but I had to purchase the trim piece from the dealer and have yet to do the body work. That is going to take a small amount of fiberglass work along with some touch up painting. This time around the connection between the step slide mechanism and the motor came loose and the electric motor actually cracked into two pieces. I find it almost funny that the various RV repair part vendors online wanted hundreds of dollars for a replacement motor when it is nothing more than a power window motor from a car or truck. The trick is to find out which car or truck matches your step motor. A really good source for this information is Bob’s Guides. I was able to find out that for my steps, the power window motor from a 1992 Ford Bronco was a good fit. I had to drill the mounting holes out to the next larger bit size and mount the GM style connector to the wiring harness but it was a bolt-in after those mods. And, it only cost me $32 including the shipping plus the motor is brand new, not a rebuilt one.

Another RV item is basement lighting and by that I mean 12 volt lights in the basement compartments. I only had one compartment that had a light in it and when I needed to find something in the others at night, I had to make sure I had a flashlight with me. I purchased four plastic lights with on/off switches from Amazon for about $20 and plan to run them off of the engine battery. I have additional compartments on the RV but I put them in the compartments that I normally use for storage items and I also put one in the power bay. It will be nice not having to fish around in the dark for a power connection in the future. I plan to simply string all the lights together, run the power side of the circuit through an inline fuse and connect it directly to the engine battery. The engine battery tends to stay in better condition than the coach batteries so I can count on having light available when I need it.

A few other items that are going to be addressed before winter is a good wash and wax job, the yearly roof inspection, clear coating the headlights, and replacement of the vinyl strip that covers the roof binding connection. It just looks ugly. Hopefully before the weather catches me, I can get that body work done and maybe shoot a little touch up paint.

And lastly – that’s Theo in the lead picture, one of our Yorkies riding shotgun as we left Galot Motorsports Park in N.C. and headed home last year.

 

Project “Shoestring” – 1955 Chevy 210 Sedan Begins

Project “Shoestring” – 1955 Chevy 210 Sedan Begins

 

Project Shoestring has been in the works for so many years now that it was beginning to be an unbelievable idea. As I noted in the project introduction – Project Details, the line on this car has changed over time and whether that is good or bad remains to be seen. The car was never a good candidate to be restored and while I like looking at restorations, my heart has never been in putting the labor and money into them. The one attempt that I made with an early Corvette caught so much flak for having an aftermarket part on it from the snobs of that world that I lost all interest in ever attempting it again.

So currently I am finishing up a house flip with a few minor details that should be accomplished within the coming week – which is another reason I am writing this – as that major project concludes it will allow me the time and resources to finish up a couple of other vehicle issues and move on to this project for the coming fall and winter months. My goal is to have a running vehicle ready for the first test and tune sessions come mid-March. I work slowly so that is a major commitment on my part. I will turn 65 in January of the coming year and while I plan to drive my dragster for at least another 5+ years, I see the ’55 as my retirement ride for the coming future. Slower yes, but consistency is the key and getting back to the drag strips in a heavy dose is extremely important to me. I feel like between weather issues and the house flip that I completely lost this current season which was certainly not my plan last winter. I guess we have to see what happens this coming year but I am going to do everything I can to make this happen.

First issues with any vehicle project is finding the room to work on it. I am fortunate to have a 3 vehicle garage that honestly can only house 2 cars at time for all of the other bits and pieces in the way. The upside is that my youngest son moved to his new house so that is freeing up a lot of space that I have not seen in about 2 years. As I mentioned I have a couple of other vehicles to take care of first but one is an on-going slow project that runs and moves under it’s own power and the other is simply shooting some paint on my dragster body panels. Now that the weather is improving a bit, that should become a reality soon.

So with an open space available now, and the ’55 sitting at the edge of my property it’s time to move it inside. I don’t want to see snow on it again this year and the only thing I need to wait for is to get the ground dried out to where I can pull the car up to the garage and get it in place. At that time, I will probably question my sanity about starting another project but what the heck, it’s the last one and the one that I have been planning for a very long time. Another plus on this project is I have probably 90%-95% of what I need to complete it. That’s a big, big plus in itself.

 

 

Converters, Measurements and Dial Calipers – Oh My!

Converters, Measurements and Dial Calipers – Oh My!

It’s a bit funny but I have probably explained the following procedure to a few friends a half-dozen times in the last few weeks. And honestly unless you too are a diehard drag racer using a GM style automatic transmission and converter setup, the information here is probably worthless. But then again, to a lot of those that do use that setup there seems to be a huge mystery to this procedure. Actually it’s all rather simple. Why this might apply to some of the latest GM stuff, I am specifically talking about Powerglides, TH350s and TH400 transmissions. And this procedure should be used every time you have the transmission serviced or maintenance on the converter performed. You should also use it if you are changing the flexplate for the engine or the bell housing/transmission case.

First things first. The convertor has to be seated properly in the transmission before anything else can happen. I like to call it the  “3-step drop”. What needs to happen is that as you place the converter in the transmission, you need to make sure that the splines of the transmission are engaging the internal splines of the converter and that the converter hub properly seats within the drive tangs of the transmission fluid pump. It’s actually pretty easy although some converters can be a real bear getting them to make that final seating. What you will feel is that the converter “drops” or moves back further on the input shaft as you rotate the converter back and forth. The first drop is almost negligible and is simply the converter hub aligning itself with the outer portion of the transmission pump. The next drop is significant and typically moves the converter back about 1/2″, this indicates that those splines have now engaged each other. The last and final drop again is about 1/2″ and will be the hub engaging the fluid pump tangs. Now at this point, the converter is completely engaged in the transmission but if you were to run it this way, you would find that you will destroy your transmission pump in quick order. This brings up the procedure that needs to be used. With the transmission installed in the car and bolted up properly to the engine, it is time to take a measurement. Depending on the combination of flexplate, the thickness of the converter mounting pads, the bell housing or transmission case and whether a rear engine plate is used, this measurement needs to end up being somewhere between .125 and .187. With the converter still pushed back into the transmission, we want to measure the distance between the flexplate and the mounting pads of the converter. The easiest way I have found to do this is to take a set of feeler gauges and insert a stack of them until the stack is just snug between the measurement points. One you have that measurement, you can then take a dial caliper and measure the thickness of the stack or lacking a dial caliper, you can add up the feeler gauges. This measurement will be the distance between the flexplate and the mounting pads of the converter. As an example, let us say the measurement is .234 – well that is a little bit too much as if we were to pull the converter forward and simply bolt it to the flexplate, we would run the risk of pulling the converter hub out of the drive tangs for the fluid pump and in turn we would have an inoperable transmission. What we need to do is a little bit of math. If our desired minimum clearance is .125, we deduct that from the measured distance, which in this case is .234. That leaves us with .109 as the excess distance. We now need to find some hardened washers or spacers to take up the extra clearance. Using the dial calipers again, we should be able to find washers that come close. Again as an example lets say we find 3 washers that are .090 in depth – three are required for the GM transmissions and we want to make sure that they are all the same. That still leaves us with .019 extra clearance but if we add that to our desired .125, we come up with .144 which is well within the maximum amount of .187. We can now bolt the converter to the flexplate with the .090 washers between them and we have the proper clearance for the transmission to fully perform its job function.

The Joys of Hot Rod Wiring

The Joys of Hot Rod Wiring

There’s nothing like rebuilding your hot rod save for that wiring job you now have to take on. In my case this is Elvira right now and with the circuits that I am changing, adding and deleting all at once, the wiring looks like a colorful pile of spaghetti – and I don’t like spaghetti, just ask the missus. I cannot remember really which car was the first that I even worked on as far as the wiring but an early one that I remember was my mom’s car. I was slowly taking the car over and had added a couple of gauges to the car, one of those oil and ammeter combination deals. Everything worked just fine until she was shopping one day and the car refused to start. After getting a mechanic to look at the car, it seems that one of the wire connections I had made to the ammeter had failed which cut all of the battery power to the car. Not long after this, I learned how to properly crimp a wire connector – squeezing it with a pair of pliers just doesn’t get the job done.

 

Over the years I have added different electrical items to cars including gauges, ignition systems, stereo units, speakers and fuel pumps. I have wired hot rods from the ground up; they didn’t have the first piece of cable in them and when I finished there was an operational vehicle with all of it’s electrical functions functioning. One car that I am still a little proud of was a NHRA/IHRA stocker. It was basically a complete wiring job from front to back but just to throw me a curve ball, the owner wanted his power windows to work. They still do. I am lucky in that I grew up in the phone system so Basic Electricity was actually a course I took at one time and that as the job situation required, I became very familiar with different kinds of electrical components. I learned that assembling things in certain ways, connecting the circuits and using special bits and pieces as you needed let you customize a solution to obtain the results that you want. I was also trained to read electrical schematics and can normally follow the flow of a circuit from A-Z. One of the most recent wiring jobs I performed was on the Monza. If you have looked at any of the photos of the car when it was first purchased, you can tell that the wiring job in it was more of a miss than a hit. The car had everything from 110v light switches in it to solid house wiring. Grounds were simply holes drilled in any roll cage pipe that was close by. Simply put, electrical wiring in a vehicle, whether a race car or not escapes a lot of people. These same people can assemble a race engine, weld a complete chassis together and tune the daylights out of a race car but tell them they have to wire it and they will give you every excuse in the book not to do it.

So back to Elvira. Right now I have about 99% of her wiring completed right now. I have moved some components around a bit which has resulted in shortening the wiring to them and in other cases I am making improvements in the way I connected something before. I have also run a total copper ground system in the car to reduce the amount of electrical resistance that might have been in the frame. While the chrome moly frame was a convenient point to make ground connections, I have learned that it is certainly not the best route to take. I have also added additional grounding to some components in an attempt to reduce any resistance in those particular circuits. I am not sure any of this is going to make the car perform better but at least I will know that each circuit will be at it’s best. There is also some additional items that I am adding that I did not run before and of course these needed wiring connections too. I hope to have all of the wiring completed over the coming week and once everything is tested I will be ready give Elvira her final test firing.

Le Mans

Le Mans

I just finished watching a documentary on Steve McQueen and the making of his movie – Le Mans. The name of this is Steve McQueen & Le Mans. As anyone who is familiar with the movie would know, I paraphrase one of the most moving lines in the movie as the tag line for my site –

“racing is life, everything else is just waiting….”

During the documentary, Steve’s wife of the time Neile Adams makes a comment that during the making of the movie, Steve lost everything, his soul, his family and friends,  maybe so. Steve never raced again after the movie was completed; the desire to do so was gone and without that you endanger not only yourself but others around you, so I respect him greatly for his decision. What he might have never known and I wish there was a way to tell him, was that he created a legion of men who understand, who really understand that “When you’re racing, it’s life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting.….”

I attended the movie “Le Mans” the very first weekend it was shown in 1971, the movie and Steve changed the way I thought and felt about motor racing. My career, what there was of it, my family and friends, all the things that make me – me ~ all move to a little place somewhere else in my psyche when I step into my racing car. At that moment and until I step out, it is only man and machine. It always has been and it always will be like that for me. Thank you Steve

From the Ground Up

From the Ground Up

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The thoughts and ideas around the chassis of the car are another item that has changed over time. When I first acquired the car, the thought was a simple rebuild of the stock suspension, a back-half job with a 9″ Ford and some wide meats. Along with the back-half, a 6-point roll bar would be part of the package too. A bit later, the stock front suspension build moved to a 2″ lowered spindle deal with a stocker style disc brake setup on the front. Things were making good sense, we lower the front of the car a touch and get some decent brakes on the front of it. I then found a disk brake kit for the rear for little more than the price of the caliper mounting brackets so now we had disc brakes on all four corners.

And of course this is not the end of it yet either. The next step was replacing the upper and lower A-Arms with tubular ones to lighten things up a bit. It was at this point that things really changed up a bit. I had been looking at the chassis kits that Chris Alston offers and while I wasn’t totally interested in doing the whole deal, the idea of lightening things a bit more by going to a 2×3 chassis along with improving the roll bar to a roll cage had a lot of appeal. Unfortunately the shipping cost on the kit was killing the deal – I couldn’t see spending almost the same amount for shipping as what the kit cost. I then found out that the kit Jegs sells as the Jegster is actually the Alston kit – interesting. But the problem was still the same, the shipping was crazy. That’s when I found Jegs selling Jegster chassis kits on Ebay with free shipping. But the kit I needed wasn’t listed so I called them to find out if I could get the same deal and as it turned out, it took a bit of talking but I got free shipping too. So with this we are getting closer to a full race car but part of me doesn’t really want to go there. I have a race car, a nice dragster but I do want to race the ’55 at times in the Modified class, footbrake style. So there has to be a small compromise. I have decided at this point that the car will have a combination of the back-half, the chassis rails will be 2×3 tubing, the full roll cage and I will graft the stock front clip to the rails. Now the front end will get some serious modifications but will retain the mounting for the A-Arms but the center section under the engine pan will disappear as will all of the stock steering stuff. The new steering will be a Ford Mustang manual rack and pinion mounted in front to a new crossmember. My idea and hope is that I will be able to flip the stock steering arms and tie the rack and pinion to it. If not then it’s Plan B time although I have no idea of what that one is at the moment.

Rear tires are going to be something around 32×15-15 and the fronts will be a narrow tire about 28-30 inches tall. Wheels are a basic Weld Wheel, Pro-Star type – sort of old but brand new in the box. Fuel tank is a narrowed early Mustang unit with a fuel sump added to aid fuel pickup by the pump. Most of the fuel system will be equipped with Magna Fuel items and will be capable of handling both regular fuel and methanol.

That about wraps up the chassis layout, at least until something else changes.

 

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 Details

Project Details

Over a period of time the project objectives for this car have changed in my mind, sometimes flowing back and forth. Should it be an all-out drag car or should it be a street/strip car or even something in-between? I am not sure I will really know until the car is about done but obviously some choices are going to dictate how the car will be used.

Another item is while I reference the car that was featured in the movie “Two Lane Blacktop”, I am not building a clone of that car but rather a car that was maybe inspired by the movie car and the movie itself. I am not sure how many times I have viewed the movie since it originally came out but I can say that I know most of the details about the movie. The other piece of that is that the movie actually says a lot more than one might notice at first glance. It might look like a B-movie made for the drive-in theaters of the time but to me it actually shows a microcosm of life back in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Things were a real mess back then, a bad political war and youthful unrest were just the tips of the problems. Driving a car across the country with a few bucks in your pocket and making a couple of dollars racing it along the way – just motoristic escapism? I am not sure but it didn’t seem like a bad idea at the time.

So yes, now at a later stage of my own life, the ’55 represents something maybe missed, longed for or at the very least, some fun that I think I should have had back then. It’s my last build, that I am sure of and how it turns out is yet to be seen. My hope is that I finally finish a build somewhat quickly as I feel that time is not exactly on my side anymore, so there is some urgency in it but with a dollop of wanting to enjoy it too.