Drum brakes are one of the first things you notice when you start driving an older car. As previous entries have shown, I’m not a mechanic so I can’t really tell you the mechanical difference between drum and disc brakes. I will tell you there’s a definite difference. For starters, drum brakes means you’re not going to stop on a dime. You can still stop and stop quickly, but it’s nearly as precise as when you stomp on the brakes in a modern car. In fact, if you spend most of your time driving a vehicle with drum brakes and then drive a modern car, you’re likely to accidentally screech to a halt just out of habit.
Hills are the other thing you need to be aware of with a car with drum brakes. When going down a hill most drivers in modern hills tend to ride the brake down the hill. This is NOT a good idea in a car with drum brakes.
I’d been driving around a lot one day and I’d noticed that the brakes were not responding very well. I had to push the brake pedal almost to the floor to come to a complete stop. On my way home, I could barely come to a complete stop at all no matter how hard I pressed the brakes. This led to some creative driving and some shot nerves. I got home, parked the car, and hoped that once the car had cooled down, things would return to normal.
The next morning I put the car in reverse to pull out of my driveway and when I applied the brake, nothing happened. I threw the car into park and stopped it in the middle of the street. I put it into drive and idled it back into the driveway. My brakes were gone.
A few hours and a tow truck ride from my brother later, I was talking to my mechanic. His name was Larry. He was a good guy and I’d dealt with him a few times with some other vehicles. He took a look at the brakes and told me my brakes were almost entirely gone. The repairs were going to cost about six hundred dollars. At the time I remember thinking about a coworker whose car had a sensor go out and it cost them fifteen hundred dollars. Yet again I was impressed with how inexpensive things on the Galaxie were even when they were significant.
While it was less expensive than I thought, money was still tight and six hundred dollars wasn’t nothing. So I asked Larry if maybe we could make some sort of payment arrangements. He said normally he would, but he’d recently sold the shop to some other people and he was no longer owner of the garage. I asked him if he was planning on sticking around and he said, “We’re feeling each other out.”
A few days later I picked up the car and drove it down the hill from the shop with no worries at all. I felt good about the car even though it was costing me more and more money. I was still of the opinion, I’d rather pay these bills and own a classic car than a generic car and a car payment.
A couple weeks went by and the car performed well. I regularly checked the oil and antifreeze and added fluids when it needed it. I put thirty bucks of gas in it every week. I drove it to and from work and occasionally into town. It was during one of these drives that the car had a problem. I pressed the gas pedal and nothing happened. In fact, it very much felt like when I pressed the gas pedal, something had snapped. Its ability to stop was repaired. Now it was having trouble with its ability to go.
I popped the hood, pulled off the air cover and took a look at the throttle. I had mixed feelings when I saw that the throttle cable had snapped. I was happy that I could easily identify the problem. I was not happy that my car needed another tow.
After just spending six hundred dollars on brakes I really didn’t want to take the car back to the mechanic. Not only that, but it seemed to me that replacing a throttle cable on a ’65 Galaxie shouldn’t be that big of a deal.
I looked online and found a used one on ebay for fifty bucks plus shipping. I was convinced I could find one cheaper than that. I went to Napa Auto Parts and the guy looked through his computer and came back with a throttle cable. As soon as I tried to install it, I could tell it was all wrong. I took it back.
I did some more research. Finding a local replacement throttle cable for a ’65 Galaxie was looking less and less likely. Ebay was looking more and more likely. Then I had an idea. Throttle cables probably broke all the time on all sorts of cars. It’s just a cable that connects the gas pedal to the throttle so the car will go. If you really had to, you could use a good piece of string. It seemed to me that someone would have made a universal throttle cable. A quick search online found the Spectre Universal Throttle Cable. It was twenty-five dollars.
I picked it up fifteen minutes later at an Auto Zone. I got home, opened up the package and had this:
It gave no instructions. All I had was the old broken throttle cable and this new one that was supposed to work on practically any car. I made a few modifications. I cut some extra cable. I attached it the best I could, but it was clearly not secure. I called my brother and he asked if I thought it would hold long enough to get to his house, I told him I’d call him if it didn’t. I got there and an hour later we had the throttle cable installed. It was not easy, but it was also only twenty-five bucks.
Once we had the throttle cable properly installed, we decided to test it out. I put my foot on the gas and kicked gravel all over the place. All of a sudden, my car had some power. It turned out that the old throttle cable had so much give to it that it made the Galaxie perform poorly. It wasn’t until I put the new throttle cable in that I actually felt like my car was just a bit of a hot rod. A twenty-two foot six thousand pound hot rod, but it wasn’t slow.
The next few days, I played with the Galaxie, launching it off the line at green lights, racing it down the freeway at 90 mph. And it still rode very smooth. I was in love with my car all over again.
The one thing I did notice was that when I put the pedal down, it tended to stay that way. So even when I was idling, the car was still going thirty or forty. A quick look under the hood showed me that the throttle return spring was all but gone. This was the spring that made the gas pedal snap back after you took your foot off of it. Learning from the throttle cable thing, I didn’t look for a throttle return spring for a 1965 Galaxie. I found a Universal Return Spring for a couple bucks and installed it easily. It took a few tries to see what notch the return spring needed to be on, but once I got that, all was well.
I now had a classic car with good breaks and a fast throttle. And it was almost summer time. Things were looking good.
Next Week….The Bad Mechanic