Saturday, October 25, 2014

Car show - Petal Fall Festival

Had a car show at the Petal Fall Festival.  I was one of four '80's high tech muscle cars there ... the other three consisted of a '89 Fox body Mustang GT (blue hardtop) with aftermarket wheels, a 1986 Buick Grand National (black hard top) with aftermarket wheels, and a bone stock 1982 Collector's Edition Corvette with Crossfire Injection engine.  Still like that Corvette.

Once again, it became a contest of not what you had or what it represented but how much you had spent.  Car shows lately have turned from individual effort to how much an individual is willing to spend on a car.  It's hard (nigh on impossible) to compete with a bone stock (albeit restored) 1986 Pontiac Trans Am that you've got close to $20 grand invested in over 8 long years when the guy two cars down has almost that much invested in the just paint job on a brand new Challenger.

I'm going to quit going to car shows, or more likely quit going to car shows that don't have a more tiered judging layout.  I already avoid any car show which has a category which includes "1980 to present" as one of the judging lines.  I'm also getting tired of the "Buy it on Friday, show it on Saturday crowd" that is appearing with their super modern cars and expecting those cars to be taken in the same type of respect as the older cars.  Sure a brand new Hemi Challenger is cool, but it isn't as cool as an original 1971 Hemi Challenger.  The problem, of course, is that the people who judge these events are locals (yokels) who don't know jack about cars other than the "oooh" and "aaah" factor.  I go to car shows to see old cars, not brand new ones.  If I wanted to go to a show with brand new cars I'd walk into the local dealership and put a plaque on the windshield of a Hemi SRT8 Challenger sitting there in the showroom.

That's kind of what it's become lately, at least locally.

Anyway ... here's pics of the '86 TA on display.  I got a lot of compliments on the car but sadly she didn't place.  You have to wonder about the IQ of the judges when a bone stock 1977 Chrysler four door hardtop (with the engine bay "detailed" with black Krylon rattle can using a liberal amount of overspray) places and gets a plaque and none of the meticulously restored and kept '80's cars even get a mention.

Oh, well ... once burned twice wise.

If you're going to a car show and taking your toy, make sure you understand the way that judging will take place and if it's stacked against you from the start just head on back home and save the money on the entry fee.

This was the first (and probably last) Petal Fall Festival car show that I'll attend.  Next year, I'll take the TA somewhere else.  There were, in fact, three shows that day.  I picked this one because it's my old stomping grounds.

Car shows and club meetings are winding down now for the winter.  Maybe the TA will have better luck next year but if the current trend in judging gets worse I doubt it.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Life with the Trans Am

With the Daytona in the shop (again) I took the '86 Trans Am to work today, tops off, windows down, it was a good drive.  If you've never driven in an American V8 powered GT class sports car with T-tops, you need to add that to your bucket list.

I went to Krystals for lunch and ran into two Harley riders and their girlfriend.  The parking lot striping has long since faded so I tried to line up my TA as best as I could then got out and walked in.  As soon as I walked in the Harley girl turned around in her chair, looked at me and loudly said ...

"Hey!  I really like your Camaro!"

It took every bit of my poker face not to cringe or wince when she said that.  Camaros are for plebes and trailer park trash.  The Firebird was always the higher end choice of the F-body crowd, not the gold chain wearing IROC-Z driving yokels, but the young, the restless and the guys who both graduated high school and went on to college.



I've long since given up on trying to correct (or educate) people so I just thanked her and walked on up to the counter, taking her enthusiastic outburst for what it was ... she liked my car and that's one of the reasons why I drive it; it turns heads and invites comments.  

I was placing my order when I again heard her shout out at me "Firebird!  It's a Firebird!  I'm sorry!"

I smiled, laughed a little and shook my head.  I had no more poker face for that one.

"Well, I didn't know!  I thought it was a Camaro.  Either way, it's fine as hell so kiss my ass." I heard her say in a barely hushed whisper to one of her two male companions.

I sat near the Harley riders and we talked about the TA for a little while.  When they left they all three walked around the TA, gestured and took a good look at the TA before leaving.  

While I was eating, I had to contend with two white guys sitting about two tables from me and every other word out of one of their mouths was some four letter word or other bit of profanity.  Now, I like to think of myself as somewhat of a master of profanity, I like to be creative with it but I try not to use it in public unless I'm with people I know and then never loud enough that someone else might hear it and get offended.  Not so with this guy.  His vocabulary clearly indicated that he was the posterboy for having a GED or some trade school certificate.

I like profanity, it has its use, but using it as a replacement for common adjectives, especially when your voice carries clear across the restaurant, just really both disappoints me and lowers my opinion of you.  This guy was trash and it took a lot to ignore him because I don't think he was trying to get ignored.

Eventually he and his friend left, went outside and walked around my parked TA.  I watched them from my table as he gestured and pointed out features of my TA.  If he knew as much about Trans Ams as he knew about all the things he had been talking about then my guess was half of what he was telling his friend about my TA was being made up on the spot.  Probably something like ... "Yeah, but the 350 with the carburetor on top was faster than that tuned port injection shit that they put on some of them damn motors ..."

Like I said, the guy was a job, pure and simple.

While I was eating lunch, three other people, two older men and an older woman, all walked around the TA, talking, pointing and gesturing.  One of the older guys placed his order and while he was waiting on it he walked outside and strolled around the TA, looking in and all around it.

It's nice to own and drive something that no one else has and something that you hardly ever see again.  It's also nice to keep it factory stock so that everyone can see just what it looked like when it rolled off the assembly line way back in 1986.

Later that night I stopped by Hardee's to get dinner.  The girl at the drive-thru handed me my drink, did a double take, looked my TA slowly over from one end to the other and said ...

"I really like your car!"

I thanked her and took my drink from her.

"Is that a "Smokey and the Bandit" edition?" she asked.

Like I said, I long ago quit trying to correct or educate people about my car (I figured that was kind of an asshole thing to do all the time) so I just nodded to her and told her it was.  It wasn't worth arguing the point for something that really didn't matter to anyone but me and a few other elitist purists.

"I knew it!" she said excitedly and ducked back into the restaurant's drive-thru window.

She was young.  

She had to be all of 18 years old which meant that my TA was already ten years old when she was born and that "Smokey and the Bandit" was in theaters a good 19 years before she was even an itch in her daddy's pants.  Still ... the fact that someone as young as her recognizes both the iconic black and gold color scheme of a Trans Am and (wrongly) puts my model year with the 1977 movie amazes me.  I mean, every now and then you realize just how big of a pop culture phenomenon that "Smokey and the Bandit" really was ... and what long lasting memories it created in patchwork quilt that is both Americana and the American psyche.

Yeah, I'd say it was a pretty good day, all in all.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Passenger side driving light replacement - half a decade late

Well, the TA was purchased in 2006, driven for about a year then pretty much put into storage from 2007 to 2011 when it was restored.  Sometime during that time the passenger side driving light went out ... and instead of investigating the cause, what little I drove of the TA, I just turned the driving lights off and used the main headlights only.  Procrastination and all that.  After the TA was restored, old habits died hard and one night I flicked on the lights, remembered that the driving light had been burned out for the better part of about half a decade and decided to finally fix it.

I guess I'd tried (or thought about) fixing it years ago because I found a set of Blazer driving lights in the garage ... purchased at Walmart with the intention of just yanking out the factory driving lights and replacing them with aftermarket, higher capacity units (since I had priced replacement driving lights and OEM parts had a price tag like they were made out of solid gold).  I had inspected the lens of the failed driving light and found it to be intact so no moisture or rust, it had just burned out.

Being the first 3rd Gen F-body Pontiac that I've owned with driving lights, I thought the whole light was one unit ... I didn't realize it was a semi-permanent mount with a replaceable bulb (you can't replace the bulb in the headlights, you just replace them as they burn out) so you can understand why I was approaching this ass backwards.  I was in Walmart one night and looking at new headlights for my '89 Daytona Shelby when an itch got me to look up and see if there were actually driving light bulbs for the '86 TA.  Sure enough, I found bulbs listed and that's when I knew that the driving lights weren't disposable but rather reloadable.  I went home and looked up in my shop manual the exploded diagram of the front fascia and sure enough, bulbs were shown going into the housing.


I've procrastinated almost half a decade on this fix and it's a whole lot easier than I thought it was going to be.

I got up one Saturday morning early, drove the TA up to Advance Auto Parts, buy two bulbs, came back, ramped and chocked her, and proceeded to replace the driving light bulbs in both sides.  It's a lot easier than I was led to believe and the end result is that the TA now has a functioning passenger side driving light in the spoiler and she's got her smile back (instead of a snaggletooth grin) when the lights are turned on.

Hooray for shade tree mechanics and bad form, procrastination.  Bad form.

It's a sad, snaggletooth lit 1986 TA.

Sylvania H3 bulbs to the rescue.  Take two and ... you know the rest.

Getting to the driving lights is a chore.  It's not hard, it's just tedious.  Have some bungee cords available and some zip ties as well.  The two black bands are zip ties used to make loops through the fastener holes so that the hooks of the bungee cords can be used as a third and fourth arm to hold the flexible plastic back so you can have both of your hands free to unhook the driving light from its wiring harness, remove it from its mounting bracket, etc.  When you're done, just clip the zip ties and put everything back together.

The factory driving light assembly, with its mounts removed.

The bulb is held in with a simple three point wire latch that looks suspiciously like a paper clip that's been unfolded.  You have to remove the light from the front spoiler and then the mount from the light.  Tedious.

The new bulb fits in and is somewhat loose.  Once the wire clip goes back in place, it's secured.

I tested the bulb once I installed it just to make sure it was the bulb and no some other weird electrical gremlin.  In this case it was the bulb.  Yay!

Once everything was back together and refastened I checked the driving lights.  They worked!  Perfect!  Total labor time, about an hour if this is the first time that you've ever done this ... I guess if I had to do it again, I could do it in about 30 minutes.  The first time is a learning experience, mapping out how everything is put together and how to take it apart.  The second time you'll know and it will go a lot faster / smoother.

It's a happy 1986 TA!  No more snaggletooth grin!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Radiator replacement

The TA developed a small leak in the radiator and it was in one of the plastic tanks on the side so I just decided to replace the whole thing.  Advanced Auto Parts had a 25% discount online so I ordered a new radiator, bought a new thermostat and two new hoses.  I figured it would be a two, maybe three hour job.

Hilarity ensued.

I started Saturday morning, early.

I didn't get finished until Sunday night around sundown.

Basically, the radiator swap went well.  Some trouble getting the lower radiator hose on just because I'm under the car, on an incline, and it's a real step-bitch to get that hose on the water pump but I finally got that done.  Install everything, change out the thermostat, gasket, upper hose, start the car and ... she's leaking, no, gushing out the thermostat housing.

I take the thermostat housing off, check the seal, put it back on.

Still gushing.

I changed the seal.

It got better.

Then the rear bolt wouldn't seat all the way.  In fact, the rear bolt would thread down to about three quarters of its length then stop.  I cleaned out the bolt hole, tried the bolt and it would never seat all the way.  Something was wrong with the threads down in the hole.


I eventually fixed the problem by going with a quarter inch shorter bolt and using a chemical gasket.  I let it set overnight, drove it the next morning and zero leaks.  I drove it the next week, all week and zero leaks.

I top off the coolant that I've lost since the leaking thermostat housing and run the car all around Columbia, take the long way home, run the air conditioning and the car never gets above the thermostat rating, even with spirited driving.  The TA is actually running cooler now than it ever did before.


Ready for a complete coolant transplant.  The '89 Daytona is, of course, in the shop getting stuff fixed.

The bone stock, all original 5.0 liter LB9 TPI V8.  It needs some cleaning and detailing but ...

Here's where the radiator started leaking, about the third rib down from the top.  High pressure coolant was just blowing out of it.  The "gator skin" upper coolant hose is also going to get replaced.  Once the radiator is out I'll clean out the area under and around the radiator of any and all accumulated road debris.

The patient ... almost ready for invasive surgery.

That's a lot of ... stuff ... in that engine bay.  I remember a time when you could actually see an engine in a car.  Modern cars have so much crap under the hood that the factory usually just puts panels over it to hide it all and gives you a stern warning that you aren't smart enough to touch anything under those panels so take it to the dealer and let them bend you over the fender to check your oil or change your air filter.  No thank you.

Air cleaner removed, upper radiator hose removed.

Prepped for surgery.  I thought this was going to be easy.  Murphy had other ideas.

Donor parts ... new radiator, new thermostat, new thermostat gasket and a replacement kit of gaskets for the throttle body.  Might as well rebuild it while it's off the car ...

Spotted this well worn and partially torn coolant bypass hose on the throttle body.  I grabbed some spare coolant hose from my overstock and replaced it as well.

This lower coolant hose I replaced as well.  The clamps were rusted pieces of junk.  I replaced those as well.  Every hose I could find, every clamp I could throw away.  Heavy scoring on the throttle body from years of faithful service.  I tried to clean that up as much as I could as well.

A slight break while I let some PBBlaster loosen some stuck bolts.  Spray.  Wait.  Try.  Repeat.

I hate these kind of clamps.  I replaced every single one that I could find with the tractor type clamps.

The original throttle body.  The more I got to looking at it the more I decided not to fool with it.  I've got a spare throttle body on the shelf.  I'll just rebuild that (it's a lot cleaner) and put that on the car.  I'll use this one for my TPI display unit that I'm going to mount on a nice stained wood base and put on show in my office.

Each part labeled and sorted.  Those clips at the top are GOLD.  Don't lose them, they lock your throttle body and cruise control cables to the throttle body.

Parts starting to come off.  I thought I might just drop in my dual electric fan setup from a 1987 Formula 350 but ... not this time.  Maybe next.

The old radiator, removed.  It's a veteran but it's not the original meaning that the radiator has already been replaced once in this car, before I ever took ownership of her.

The radiator cradle, looking down.  It was surprisingly clean of debris.

The new thermostat and permanent thermostat gasket.  That didn't work worth a damn.  $20 and it blew coolant out like a geyser.  I put on the $1.50 paper gasket and it sealed.

Taking a lot longer than I thought mainly because that lower radiator hose is a real step-bitch to get on.  Maybe not on a full rack but on this setup with limited leverage and limited range of movement, yeah.  That tarp is to let me slide up under the ramped TA.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, feels quite as ... icky ... as still warm coolant running down your arm, going down your back, going down your ass crack all the while you're lying there just having to deal with it and using words that would make a pastor faint while trying to get the (expletive ad infinity) lower radiator hose on.

Lower radiator hose and new clamp installed.  Finally.