Saturday, June 6, 2015

Long time no post ...

After my wreck, it's been months since I was able to do even the most menial of chores and tasks around the house and the TA suffered some for it.  With the '91 Corvette in the shop getting a complete front to back checkout, an oil leak fixed, and a vacuum leak fixed (the AC only blows through the defroster vents no matter what setting), it was time to take the '86 TA out of the garage, blow the soot off of her and put some miles on her rubber.

About the second day that I drove her I noticed that the driver's side fog light had burned out and with the weather being pretty bad for a while I wasn't able to ramp the TA up and slide under it to work on it.  

One thing I always hated was seeing one of these cars (post '85) with one of the driving lights burned out ... so until I fixed mine I just cut the other driving light off.  I could fix it, no problem, even had a spare bulb in the rolling tool kit ... but I just didn't have the time or the energy.

Today, I felt like doing that and that's what I did so ... twenty minutes worth of work under the TA and I've banished the one eyed fog light monster again ... hopefully for another 29 years.  

Now it's back to normal and I can run in the early morning hours without the headlights up killing my gas mileage.

And speaking of 29 years ... 

On the day after Memorial Day, I put my '91 Corvette in the shop to fix a few problems on it and took the '86 TA back on the road as my temporary daily driver.  She did fine for a week and a half then on the way home the blower in the dash went out.  There is nothing like driving along with the windows up, the sun beating down on you through the glass T-tops on a hot day, the AC cranked to MAX and the blower set to HIGH and then to just have nothing coming out the vents in the dash.

I tried the switch a few times (because when something stops working at 65mph in cruise control that's what you do) and ... nothing.  The compressor was kicking over and cold air was leaking slowly out the dash but there was no wind coming from the dash which meant that the blower motor in the dash had just given up the ghost or something had come loose or a fuse had blown.


Power window down.

Blast furnace temp wind at 55mph.

I got home, checked the fuse and the fuse was good.  I ghosted a few threads and found that the solution was either a bad blower motor or a bad electrical connection of incredibly poor OEM design.  I wasn't too upset ... if that poorly designed electrical connection had given up the spirit after 29 years of faithful service I didn't have too much to complain about.  Since I was getting nothing at the fan motor I decided to replace that first (being 29 years old and such).  I went to Advanced Auto Parts and got a new motor.  The counter guy asked me if I wanted one with the fan cage or without.  I initially told him without, thinking I would just reuse my fan cage but then I told him to give me the one with the cage since ... again, 29 years old, I wasn't sure that if I got the original fan cage off the original fan motor if it wouldn't just disintegrate or come apart at a later time (old part hooked to a new part) so I erred on the side of caution.

The blower motor and hamster cage is located in the firewall on the passenger side of the under hood area.  It's secured by five bolts, 

I got back home, the TA was still on ramps, and I swapped out the blower motor.  It's not that hard ... in fact, the lower two bolts will cause you to use four letter words in combinations that would make Jesus weep openly if He was helping you swing wrenches on this problem.  Those two bolts will come out, it just takes a lot of time to get those two lower bolts out.  

I swapped out the old blower motor and fan for the new blower motor and fan, put everything back together and cranked the TA up.

Old blower motor - it lasted 29 years so I can't give it any real grief ...

I now have wind from the dash ... but only on the first three blower speeds.  Before I wasn't even getting that so I know that the old motor was bad.  When I flick the blower speed knob to HIGH, nothing happens.  Flick it one notch down, wind from the dash ... ice cold wind!

Three out of four speeds is still better than none ... especially in a Mississippi summer.  Not having AC in Mississippi in the summer is akin to committing suicide.

Now I've got to replace one of two (or maybe both) electrical connections (one under the hood near the passenger side valve cover / firewall) and one under the driver's side dash.   That's the connection under the hood, look for the dipstick for the automatic transmission and it's pretty much in a direct line straight back to the firewall.  Replacing it isn't hard to do ... what's going to be hard to do on the inside / under dash connector is finding it and working on it since after my accident I'm still kind of gimped up.  What I hope to do is swap out the underhood connector first and if that fixes the high speed fan setting then I'm not going to worry about the under driver's side dash connection until it fails ... but like I said, I'm still recovering from my wreck and right now I'm happy with 3/4 fan speed and cold air again, especially in a Mississippi summer ... maybe tonight or tomorrow night I'll replace the connector under the hood and if that still doesn't give me high speed fan mode I'll just bite the bullet and track down the one under the driver's side dash.

Oh, and just to add extra grief flavored icing to the cupcake of life, the left side of the driver's Recaro started splitting.  I had the left side bolster replaced about a year ago.  
I guess the 29 year old material is just wearing thin.  

Add that to the list to fix soon.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Still a head turner at 29 years old

This TA turns heads ... that much is a given.  Recently I was on a private security detail when a group of five kids walked by me, looking at my TA parked across the street.  The oldest of the kids couldn't have been much more than 11 or 12 so they were all "this century" kids.  One of the younger kids pointed across the street to my TA and said ...

"There's that neat car again!  What type of car did you say that was?"

There was a tall, bookworm type kid in the group, lanky, with glasses and he looked over at my TA.

"That's a Pontiac Trans Am Thunderbird." he said, all matter-of-factly.

"Trans Am Thunderbird!" said the first kid.  "That's a cool name for a car!"

I smiled but didn't correct them.  Hell, my TA's been called a "Thunderbird" by more kids than I can count ... or remember.

Maybe that's why I drive it, the TA and me ... we're the last of our breed.  There's a new order out there, a new America and it isn't the America that spawned us.  We're anachronisms, rolling down the crumbling highways and cracked streets of Americana ... already being forgotten, already the names being lost to pop culture and one day the TA and I will both be gone ... ghosts from a different time, maybe a better time.

She's still pretty fast for her age and she turns heads like a pole-dancing nun.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Finally fixed the slow leaky tire

I'm the king of procrastination.

I've had a slow leak in my rear passenger tire for ... years.  If I left the TA sitting up for two or three weeks I'd come back and find the passenger side rear tire almost flat.  I'd just air it back up and get on with my life.

Well, since the '91 Corvette lost one of its tires due to hitting a roofing nail in the subdivision that was heavily damaged by the December 23 EF3 tornado I decided to finally roll the TA into the shop where I got my tires and had them pull the tire to check it.  They couldn't find anything wrong with the tire and finally one of the mechanics said he'd see the problem before; a very, very slow leak at the tire stem.  He replaced the tire stem and ... guess what?  

No more leaking tire.

Take one task off my to-do list.

I'm going to miss the Pontiacs in Pigeon Forge show this year due to my wreck and injuries but next year ... I'm already planning for it now.

Friday, February 6, 2015

29 year old starter died ...

Well, this is the first time that I've updated the blog since my accident in my '89 Dodge Daytona Shelby.  I won't beat a dead horse so if you didn't know about my accident you can read about it here ...

What a waste of a really rare car through no fault of my own.

Fast forward to me being without a daily driver, unable to ride my '04 Honda CBR600RR due to my injuries and having to pull the '86 TA out of the garage to use as my temporary daily driver.

Things could be worse ... like if your 29 year old classic Pontiac Firebird decides to drop its starter in the parking lot of Toys-R-Us and strand you while you're injured from a really bad wreck and you don't have the ability to fix the problem yourself.

That kind of worse.

Not much of a story to tell here ... waiting on my '91 Corvette to be delivered from North Carolina by private transporter so I'm driving my '86 TA until the Vette gets here.  I take my TA to my chiropractor, leave the chiropractor, head to Toys-R-Us to see if any new Star Wars 6" Black Series figures have come in and my 29 year old starter gives up the ghost.

I guess as far as starters go, that's a pretty good life for a starter ... a long life.

It was just one of those things ... you park your car, you walk into Toys-R-Us, you don't find what you're looking for, you walk out, you get in your TA, turn the key, everything in the dash starts up but when you turn the key in the ignition ... nothing.

Now, I've been around cars most of my life and I knew ... deep down gut knew what the problem was.  For the miracle of internal combustion to happen you need three things; air, fuel and spark.  I turned the key off and turned it back on.  The electric fuel pump was pressurizing like it should, if the initial start-up whine from behind me told me anything.




Last time I checked there was still air outside ... so ... check.

That meant spark.

I popped the hood, checked the battery connections ... clean and non-corroded.  I wiggled the battery cables ... tight.


That meant it was only one thing ... especially since the motor wasn't even turning over let alone catching.


I sighed, hung my head all the way back, closed my eyes and asked God "why?"

I didn't get an answer so being one not to pout or sit down and go to pieces when something bad happens in my life, I looked at the situation.

I had a bad starter.  Now, how the starter went bad from the time I turned the TA off, went in TRU then came back out is probably something that involves a lot of mathematics put into the basic form of equations on entropy so I skipped that.  This was here and now, I had a perfectly running '86 TA that wouldn't start.


Since I was recovering from having to be cut out of my '89 Dodge Daytona Shelby back in November, I figured there was no way that I could call my dad to come pick me up, run me to Autozone, let me get a starter, jack up the TA in the parking lot, replace the starter and get on with my day and my life.  Right then, my back and the pain I was in pretty much told me this was going to be a tow it and pay someone else to fix it resolution to my problem.

I called my family mechanic.

He sent a tow truck.

We towed the TA into the shop.

A day later, I had it back ... and my wallet had gone on a $184 diet but ... 

Life ... what can you do? 

When you can't do for yourself you've got to pay someone else to take care of the problem for you.


All the preventive maintenance and TLC in the world won't help you if your starter gives up the ghost.  That kind of strands you ... effectively.  One piece of equipment goes out and ... you're stuck.

I can't say I was really happy seeing the guy shove an old broken ratchet into the lock hole of the tow bar.  I rode with him in the cab of the wrecker and all I did the whole trip was look in the rear view mirror expecting to see the ratchet give way and my '86 TA go swinging or rolling off into traffic.

Loaded on the tow bar of the wrecker.  We tried to get it on the rollback but the wrecker operator couldn't get the rollback under the TA ... not without doing damage ... so I told him to just bar it.

And away we go ... and away $184 goes from my wallet.  Sigh.

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!