Friday, May 8, 2009

The Pasadena Reliability Run 2009 ( Part 3 )

I know, it seems impossible that I still have material for this but I do. And if you think this is crazy, let me tell you, I'm just scratching the "traditional hot rodding" surface. My head is so fully in that zone it's hard to see any other form of vintage motorsport at this time. This is a good thing, as I'm just putting the final touches on the Bronco build for my boss and am hyper over-anxious to pull that truck out of my shop, deliver it, and start wheeling in all of my roadster parts to finally get back on that project. But that is another story for another time. 

As I hope I've been able to get across, I had a pretty good time at the old Pasadena Roadster Club Reliability Run. Again, the people and cars in attendance, combined with a wonderfully "in tune" feel that I had with any and all of the folks I met and spoke with, was beyond compare. But what I haven't arrived at until now is the actual hands-on experience that I had as a real live participant. 

I arrived into Burbank on Friday mid afternoon. This was the soonest I could get there because of some work I had in Nashville that week. I would have loved to have been able to get in sooner for a number of reasons. For starters, I always enjoy my visits with my friends Tom and Laura Sparks and they always race by and are over before I know it. But more importantly to the task at hand was preparing Tom's old roadster pick-up for the run on Saturday. You see, as well built and sorted as that vehicle is, it has been sitting in hibernation for several years. Tom does have a schedule where he starts all of his cars every month or so and brings them up to temperature, moves them around a bit, and makes sure the brakes etc. are still fairly happy. But with a collection like he has, you can only do so much. And the roadster pick-up doesn't exactly get called out onto movie sets like the other cars oftentimes do, so it sits unused more than possibly any other car he has. Again, I'm absolutely confident of the build of the car, but anything will get cranky when not given proper attention. So, I felt like every minute would count from the time I got there...  and I was right. 

The first thing I did when I arrived was check all the fluids throughout the car. Fortunately our good friend and fellow flathead roadster owner, Vic Cohen, had spent an afternoon with the car earlier in the week and a lot of this stuff had been checked off. The brakes were topped off and the fluid looked OK. The clutch needed a touch of adjustment and the coolant was a bit low. After we felt like everything we could think of in the garage was checked off we headed out for a test drive. 

The car started right up as if it had just been shut off. No kidding. I've heard this car run a lot over the years and am always impressed with how responsive and eager its little flathead always sounds. We got it out of the garage and headed down the driveway and before we made it half way down Tom's block the front end took off in a terrible rhythm. The king pins were clearly loose and the front tires were rocking back and forth violently. This wasn't exactly a surprise to me, as the car had done this on our way back from the Throttler's annual car show and picnic a year and a half ago. What was a surprise was how immediately it would take off and at such a slow speed. This was not good. We had no way of doing the king-pin repair before the morning. It was now getting dark the night before the event after all. So, back to the garage we went to see what we could do. 

Tom had an old So-Cal steering dampener kit that he suggested we try. I agreed of course and got to work trying to fit it to the car. The kit was made for split hairpins and not for the split Ford wishbone that the roadster pickup is running. This caused me to have to modify the bracket supplied with the kit, and cut some aluminum plate to size that the new bracket/clamp could mount to on either side of the wishbone. After a good hour and a half of setting this up we hopped in for test drive number two. We never even made it out of the shop. The front lower crank pulley, which I knew was close to the dampener mounting point on the center link of the front end, was rubbing on this new clamp when the wheels would turn. Even though I jacked it up from under the i-beam axle to load the front end so as to constantly check for clearance, the front end settled even more when put on the ground. Just enough to make it impossible to run this dampener. Onto plan B. 

Tom suggested adjusting the front end toe to maybe get the car to stop its violent front wheel shake. I first tried towing it in, test drove it, and it was worse. So, back at the shop, I toed it out. This helped a bit but it was still taking off, though now I knew I was going in the right direction. A little more toe out and it got better still. I kept going until it was completely gone at any speed but without having the front end crab walking. This was all done old school, in the driveway with a tape measure. My throwback hot rodding experience was starting early on this trip. Vic and I took the car down to Bob's Big Boy to see how it would behave and also to see if anyone was still hanging around down there. Of course the place was still pretty full at nearly midnight and we got some thumbs up from the folks hanging out. 

Now we were all feeling pretty good about the car and its chances of having a good following day. That is until Tom started trying to figure out when the last time was that the car really driven a good distance. He thought back farther and farther, so far that I was getting scared, and finally came up with something like 15-18 years ago. 15 or 18 years ago!!!??? And we're about to set out on a 130 mile reliability run and that's not including the 20 or so miles to get from north Hollywood to Pasadena just to get to the start of the run! Well, apparently the only person concerned about this was me because both Vic and Tom just sat there saying over and over that it would be fine, and saying it with confidence. I know I heard Vic say in several different ways,"You don't know how tough these things are." Well, I guess we were going to find out. After all it is a "Reliability" run...  it's right in the name. 

The following morning showed up quickly, with Tom and I meeting Vic at 6:15 am in front of Tom's house. Vic has a super bitchin' '27 roadster pickup that runs a full house 59AB flattie, stroked with original Eddie Meyer heads, two pot intake with 97s, Winfield SU-1A cam, '39 trans and a 3.78 banjo. Very cool and extremely well built car. Vic is quite the machinist and takes great pride in his work. It shows throughout his entire car. Speaking of, a little skinny on Tom's roadster while we're at it; 

Tom built this car in either '42 or '43 and had it sorted out enough to run at one of the rare lakes meets that happened during the war in '45. After the war Tom got a job at Eddie Meyer Speed equipment as a machinist and engine builder. Sometime around '47 a customer had Tom and fellow Eddie Meyer employee Ray Brown build up a hot flathead for a race boat. For some reason the guy didn't want the engine when it was done and Tom scraped enough dough to buy it in long-block form. It was a 59AB, 3/8 overbore, fully balanced, ported and relieved, with a Winfield cam. Oh, and built with care by Tom and Ray Brown. Once Tom took ownership of the engine he needed heads and an intake to complete it so that he could get this new mill set down into his roadster pickup and give some new life to it. The problem was that Tom had spent every penny on the engine and had nothing left over. He went to his boss Eddie Meyer and asked if there was a way he could get a set of Meyer heads and a two-pot intake and be put on some kind of payment plan. Old man Meyer came back at him with the following proposal; Tom had two weeks of vacation time coming up and Meyer needed someone to paint his house. The two struck a deal... Tom would spend his vacation time painting the entire Meyer house in exchange for a new set of heads and intake. And so it was done. 

As I said before, that little engine, still sporting its famous Meyer equipment, still resides where Tom placed it all those many years ago. It has never been apart and still runs like a top, or at least like you'd think a flathead built by Tom Sparks and Ray Brown would. 

( Well, I've done it again. I suppose it's probably time to invest in an editor. See you on Monday for the conclusion of the story of the Pasadena Reliability Run '09 ) 

No comments: