Monday, June 22, 2015

Maintaining the Fleet

The Fleet I’m commuting again and that means constant maintenance of the old air-cooled cars. I was driving the ’67 Baja bug for a while until the clutch started making noise. It was a squeaking sound as if the release bearing was worn out, except that the noise was intermittent and/or dependent upon how far I had the clutch pedal depressed. I took the car out of service and started driving the ’65 stock Beetle. The ’65 Bettle runs great now that I’ve replaced nearly every moving part. The problem with that one is that I’m running the stock tires all around and so it’s top speed, with stock gearing, is around 60 mph. Any faster than that and I feel like the engine is turning too fast, like it’s reaching the maximum rpms that I want to run it at. I recently realized (duh) that, because I run stock tires on the rear of this car, the rpms top out at a lower speed than my other cars where I run oversized rear tires. Big tires equals going faster with less rpms, but it also means less power at the rear wheels for the cars with the big tires. So the ’65 with its stock tires is very zippy around town and kind of slow on the highway. That’s okay, though, since I run a smaller engine in it, the smaller tires work well with the smaller engine. The other cars have bigger engines and can handle the big tires. So, I got the dune buggy out of the garage and started driving it. There were some minor oil leak issues that I had to resolve, but with those handled, it works well for the commute. I did destroy a tire on one of my trips home, though. When I put it away late last fall, I had been running the tires at very low air pressure. This works great on the off-road trail at low speeds, but it’s not so good for the highway, so I added a few pounds to each tire. As it turned out, one of the valve stems had a slow leak. I made it out to the other side of town just fine. The car is so light that, when I got back in it to come home, I didn’t notice that one of the Goodrich T/As was nearly flat. I noticed some weird vibration while I was driving, but it just didn’t feel like a flat tire. I was thinking that the problem was more in the front suspension which is original ’57 link and king pin. I was wrong. I made it home, but the tire was ruined. An expensive mistake. When I went to find a replacement tire, I discovered that Goodrich has started making those classic All-terrain T/As in a slightly new style. Not a big problem, but the rear tires are mismatched now. Runs down the road very well, though, and since it’s not a show car, I don’t mind that one rear tire is slightly different that the other. Someone will probably mention it when we take the car up to Big Bear Lake in July, but other than car guys, who looks closely at tires? At this point, I had two cars able to handle the commute, but needed to get the Baja bug back on the road. I ordered clutch parts – pressure plate, clutch disk, release bearing, new cable – from one source. I ordered an improved version of the clutch hook-shaft from Unique Parts. I already have one of these things on the ’65 Beetle and it is a worthwhile improvement to the VW clutch system. I decided that since I was overhauling the clutch, I may as well go all the way and just replace everything. I heard from the Unique Parts guy and he was in the process of moving, so his part couldn’t be shipped right away. I told him not to worry about it, that I’d just do the cable, hook-shaft overhaul as a separate job, and to ship it when he could. When the clutch parts came, I waited until Friday afternoon to begin the overhaul, that way, if things got complicated as they sometimes do, I’d have all day Saturday to finish the job. This was the easiest clutch job I’ve ever done. The hardest part was getting the rear bumper cage off the car. That was only complicated because I’ve got the license plate light, a back-up light and the stop/running lights mounted on it. I had to get all those things out of the way before I could pull the bumper. After that it was easy. With nothing behind the engine, removing it is a simple matter of disconnecting the throttle cable, the fuel line, and three wires. After that I just put the jack under it, removed the four bolts that attached it to the trans-axle and out it came. The clutch disk and pressure plate looked fine. I replaced them anyway. The release bearing was a bit loose and had some little rust colored marks around the outside edge. I replaced that, too. That’s all there was to it. I jacked the engine back up, pushed it back onto the trans-axle, tightened up the bolts and it was done. But that time it was getting dark so I knocked off for the day. Saturday, I replaced the fuel line from the back of the body to the fuel pump since it was showing some wear. I put the bumper back on, re-attached all the lights and I now had the entire fleet up and running again. There was one other little thing that I did with the ’65 Beetle. The turn signal flasher has not worked right since I bought the car and I was never happy with the brightness of the bulbs in the front signals. I replaced the flasher with a new electronic one and replaced the old stock bulbs with super-bright LED bulbs. I feel better about those turn signals now. Unlike many drivers in Los Angeles, I actually try to use my turn signals to let people know what I am about to do. I think it helps them and I believe it makes me less likely to get hit by someone who is assuming I’m going to do something other than what I am doing, if you know what I mean. I like working on my cars. I like having three of them, so that I can work on them at my leisure and take my time to get things right. It’s rare that all three are broken at the same time, which means that I can usually get where I need to go when I want to go there. I like the idea that “car trouble” means having to decide which one to drive that day.