Ford Galaxie Year One (Part Eight) Conclusion

My first summer with my 1965 Galaxie was almost over and things seemed to be going well. A rebuilt radiator, new gaskets, repaired brakes, a new throttle cable, and a dozen other little things had turned my classic car into a fairly reliable vehicle with a lot of style. I’d gotten used to the new ‘hot rod’ sound. Even if it did tend to wake up the neighborhood when I left for work in the morning.

Some people at work had even begun to admire the car. One of my older coworkers asked me to pop the hood one afternoon as I sat warming it up. I got out, opened it up and watched him look under the hood. After a few seconds, he said, “Are you gonna fix that exhaust leak?”

“What exhaust leak?”

“Right here. “ He pointed to the right side of the engine.  “Put your hand there.” I put my hand there and felt the exhaust hit my hand. “There’s supposed to be an exhaust donut right here between the exhaust pipe and the exhaust manifold.”

On the way home, I called my brother. He said it’d be a relatively easy fix and we should just do it at his house some Saturday. Saturday rolled around and I pulled into my brother’s driveway. We got the car onto a couple of struts and crawled under the car. Not only was this the first time I’d been under the Galaxie. It was the first time I’d been under a car. I was enthralled.

We decided to do more than just work on the exhaust pipe. We checked fluid levels, checked and replaced the spark plugs, and while we were at the auto parts store, we bought a new air filter as well. Now it was time to deal with the exhaust pipe.

The exhaust pipe did not want to disconnect from the exhaust manifold. One of the two bolts was stripped and it wasn’t in the best angle to get at anyway. By the time we were done with it, one bolt was completely unusable and the other was stubbornly hanging on. We realized that in addition to the three dollar donut part, we were going to need some new bolts. The stripped bolt would neither loosen up enough to come off nor retighten. This was going to take tools and time we didn’t really have. My brother called a mechanic friend of his. He was out fishing, but could look at it Sunday.  My brother found another bolt and we decided the best thing to do would be tighten the bolt on there and I’d bring it to his guy tomorrow.

We got the bolt tightened back on and I started up the car. My brother told me to rev it a couple times just to make sure everything was working. I hit the gas and suddenly my brother yelled, “TURN IT OFF!!!”

I turned the key and took it out of the ignition. It didn’t help. I could hear something splashing on the pavement. It turned out to be all of my water. A freeze plug had blown. My car had gone from loud but drivable to completely undrivable.

We laughed at our luck and then spent the next hour or so trying to find an auto parts store that hadn’t closed. We were not successful. We decided the best thing to do was to take it to my brother’s guy tomorrow and get it dealt with then.

My brother’s guy turned out to be a good guy, but the whole mechanic thing was sort of a weekend thing with him and he didn’t get it done on Sunday. So it was another week before I got my car back. My brother gave me a ride out to see the guy and pick up the car. He’d put the donut on with new bolts and replaced two freeze plugs. He’d checked the other freeze plugs and when he tapped on one with a screw driver, it blew out. He charged me $150 for his trouble and my car was back up and running.

The first thing I noticed was that as soon as I started it, it was back to that low hum it had before. It suddenly dawned on me that the morons I’d taken my car to a couple months earlier had probably just taken the donut off when they were replacing the gaskets and never bothered to put it back on. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that what they’d really done was put on some gaskets and then a bunch of things to make a guy who doesn’t know any better think they’d fixed up his car. The paint and the sound were just there to distract me from the fact that what they’d done probably shouldn’t have even cost half as much as I paid.

It turned out to be one of the last times I’d have my Galaxie at the mechanic’s shop. It was becoming clear to me that working on cars is just like working on websites or any other skill. If you don’t know how to do it, it seems complicated. Once you know what you’re doing, it’s fairly simple. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I was learning and I was smart enough to have people around me who knew more than me.

A few weeks later my car didn’t start. I called my brother over to help me troubleshoot it. He found that the starter was okay. We replaced the solenoid and the battery cables. This seemed to help. About a week later, I was having trouble getting it started again. My brother took a look at the battery. It had 425 cranking amps. My brother said, “Let me guess, you have trouble starting it on cold mornings.” I nodded. He said, “This isn’t the right battery for this car.”

I flashed back to the jerk at Napa who had told me I’d gotten a bad deal. The asshole had actually sold me the wrong battery. I wanted to go back and throw it at him. After making some calls, we went to a place my brother was familiar with called The Truck Shop. A hundred dollars later we had a truck battery that had 900 cranking amps at zero degrees.

We got back to the house and hooked the battery up. The Galaxie started instantly. There’ve been a few problems over the past few months, none of them major, but with the new battery, the car always turns over.

As fall turned into winter, I was afraid that something major might break on my car. I don’t have a garage and the weather is not always kind. It turned out though that I was right. The first year of owning a Classic Car is a learning experience and it’s expensive. The next year has so far been very good.

I check all the fluids at least once a week. I listen for uncommon noises. I put fuel cleaner in my gas tank every three or four tanks. I start it at least once a day. Old cars aren’t maintenance free, but that maintenance has its rewards. Every car I’ve owned before this was just a means to get from place to place. It could be any car in the world and if it got wrecked, I wouldn’t care once I got another car. When it comes to cars, my Galaxie is my first love. I don’t just drive to get from place to place. I drive to drive. When I’m driving my Galaxie, I don’t always need a destination.

-Jack

Note: Thanks for sticking with me through this. When I got my car, I’d tried to find something on the net about the first year of owning a classic car and couldn’t find anything. I promised myself I’d write one for those who were interested. On another note, I’m planning on making some significant changes to this site. I hope you’ll stick around to see them. As always, you can write me at jackcameronis@hotmail.com .

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Ford Galaxie Year One (Part Seven)

I’d had the Galaxie about seven months. In that time I’d sunk about as much money into repairs on the car as I had on buying the car in the first place. I didn’t mind though. I knew going in that there’d be all sorts of things to fix up. It’s part of owning a classic car.

Unfortunately, another part of owning a classic car is going to start it one morning and having it not start. This can be a problem when you’re doing things like trying to get to work. While it was still running fairly well, it didn’t seem to want to start as reliably as I’d like. So I thought it was time to take it in for a check up. It’d been over a month since I last had to do any work on it, maybe a fresh set of eyes might help.

I drove up to my mechanic’s garage and found that Larry, the old mechanic wasn’t there anymore. It turns out that he and the new owners didn’t get along. When I asked what shop he was working in, they said they had no idea.

The new guy at the shop had a 1969 El Camino. This gave me hope that maybe he knew what he was doing when it came to classic cars. He opened the hood and remarked about how incredibly dirty the engine was. He wasn’t wrong. I’d never washed it and I have no idea when or if the previous owner did. As he looked around at the engine, he said that most of my gaskets were going. He touched one and part of it literally fell off. He told me to go up the street to the car wash place and clean the engine, then bring it back and he’d take another look at it.

Looking back at this now, I see all sorts of red flags that I was just too inexperienced to notice. The problem with trying to learn how to do something like take care of a car is you need to listen to everyone in order to get good information. Eventually you learn to weed out the bullshit. I hadn’t gotten to that point yet. I’m pointing this out because a lot of what I write next is going to make me sound stupid. It’s not that I was stupid. I just didn’t know any better.

I went to the car wash place, popped the hood and sprayed the engine wash stuff on it followed by some water. It made a significant difference. I got into the car and tried to start it. It didn’t want to go anywhere at all. After trying for about ten minutes, I called the mechanic and said, “Dude, you told me to wash this thing now it won’t start. Get over here and help.” So the mechanic showed up in his El Camino a few minutes later. He fiddled with a few wires near the battery terminal and said, “It looks like it’s still got a spark. Do you have a screwdriver?” I had a whole set of tools in my trunk. I handed him a screwdriver. He hit it on something causing a big spark and burning off the tip of the screw driver. He handed my now mostly useless screwdriver back. He popped the distributor cap, took a can of air to dry it out, and started it right up. I then followed him back to the garage.

The guy told me that changing all the gaskets and doing a general check up would cost about four hundred dollars. I told him that was fine and to call me if anything came up. He told me the car would take about three days to finish.

Four days later I had a coworker drop me off to pick up my car. The mechanic I’d talked to wasn’t there. Some other guy was. He handed me the bill. It was five hundred fifty dollars. I understand that sometimes things get a more expensive, but a hundred and fifty dollars more than the estimate without any notification was insane. I told him I’d pay him four hundred now and the rest later because I simply hadn’t budgeted that extra money.

I popped the hood to see what work they’d done and was shocked. They’d painted the entire engine Ford Motor Company blue. It looked great. I started the car and it roared to life. Before, I’d start it and the engine would have this smooth low hum. Now it sounded like the Millennium Falcon. I smiled a little and drove out of the lot thinking yes, it had cost me more than I expected, but the results were pretty great.

I stopped by the Safeway near the shop to pick up some groceries. As I walked down an aisle I heard someone say my name. It was Larry. I told him that I wished I run into him a few days ago. I told him the whole story and asked where he was working now. He said he’d bought a new garage in the parking lot of the Safeway. Larry had moved exactly one block from these other guys. Larry told me to come by the shop anytime and that he wouldn’t be charging the sort of rates he had to charge when he did the brake job. I got his new card and decided that the next time I needed a mechanic, I’d call Larry.

To Be Concluded…

Next week is the final chapter of Year One of owning my Galaxie. You’ll learn what the new mechanics really did to my car and how a Saturday spent working on your car can turn into a week of working on your car.

Ford Galaxie Year One (Part Six)

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 CableIt 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

Ford Galaxie Year One (Part Five)

The radiator seemed to be working like a charm. It even looked good because the radiator guys had spray painted it black. A couple days after reinstalling the radiator, I parked the car and looked under it. I’ve learned in the months since that this is a good habit to get into.

There was fluid dripping from the front of the car. Not a lot, but enough to notice. I reached under the car and put my finger in it fully expecting green antifreeze and already thinking of what profanity I would be using when I contacted the radiator shop. Instead the fluid was red. I knew enough to know that was transmission fluid. It still seemed to be coming from the radiator though. I popped the hood and took a good look at the radiator. There were a total of four hoses going to the radiator: Two large ones, one on top, one on bottom, for the antifreeze/water and two small ones on the bottom of the radiator near the center. These hoses had transmission fluid in them and they were leaking. A closer inspection revealed that the hoses just weren’t fitting very well after the reinstallation. I took them off and went to the auto parts store. (In another vehicle of course)

As I’ve stated before, I’m not the most mechanically inclined individual. The only time I’d ever gone to a auto parts shop alone was to pick up some antifreeze. Other than that, I just didn’t trust myself to know what the hell I was talking about. In this case, I had the hoses I needed to replace and the hose clamps. I figured I could handle it. I found the right clamps and then asked a guy named Serge to cut some hose for me. I wasn’t sure how much I’d really need given that the hoses I’d taken off weren’t working. Maybe I should have them a bit longer. In the end, I asked for two feet of hose, figuring that was more than enough for the job.

I got back home, cut the hose, put the hose on and tightened it up with the clamps. It was just replacing hose, but I’d done it by myself. My car had a problem and I went to the store, bought parts, and fixed it. I felt good about that. And it’d cost me like five bucks. I started the car and got out and watched the engine. No leaks. Awesome.

The next few weeks, I had no problems with my car and really enjoyed driving it. I’d actually had enough experience with it that I was entirely comfortable driving the big thing. I got used to the sounds of the car. The rubber in the passenger side wing window still folded a bit letting in some air. I used duct tape to fix it. Eventually I’d probably want to replace the rubber, but not now. The next thing I noticed was that the slightest moisture caused the belts to start slipping, creating this high pitched whine.

I called my brother and said I’d like to come over and have him help me switch the belts on the car. This was both so I could get his expertise and so we could work in a garage. It was not yet Spring and still plenty cold.

We got the belts off easily enough. Yet again, I can’t stress enough how much I enjoy having a car that has such a simple engine. At the auto parts store, while checking out, the girl behind the counter asked if we had a military ID for a discount. Neither  my brother or I had ever been in the military.

My brother said, “I was in the Army, but I’m retired.”  My brother is thirty-two and looks five years younger than that.

“Really?”

“Yeah, I forgot my ID though. Can you help a veteran out?”

The girl behind the counter gave us the discount and as soon as we left, I laughed my ass off. Of course the thought did occur to me that the same girl who thought my brother was a retired veteran had given us the new belts.

We got back to my brother’s place and got one belt on easily. The other one wouldn’t quite fit. It was so close though. It just needed a little more. My brother asked for the key and said he had an idea. He turned the key just enough to turn the engine over and that cranked the wheels, causing the belt to pop right on there. We tightened a few things up and all was well. My car wasn’t only cool. Now it was quiet.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have a garage. So there were many mornings when I wasn’t so happy with the gigantic windows on my Galaxie as I scraped the ice off of them. The real problem though was that moisture was getting inside the car and so after scraping the outside of the windows, I had to scrape the inside. The solution to this was incredibly simple and entirely unexpected. I was complaining about it to my wife and she suggested I put some cat sand crystals in a dish under the back window.  It sounded crazy, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.

I haven’t had any interior moisture problems since.

To Be Continued….

Ford Galaxie Year One (Part Four)

The first year of owning a classic car, it’s going to need more work than any other. So I’m going to end up talking a lot about the various problems I’ve had with my Galaxie, but that’s not all there is to it. If that were the case I would have sold it after the first couple weeks.

Before I go any further I need to explain something about myself. I’ve been in twenty-five car accidents. It’s not that I’m a terrible driver. I was only driving in five of those and none of those were very serious. Statistically you’re safer with me behind the wheel than in the passenger seat. That said, I’ve been in cars that were cut in half, cars that flipped over, cars that sunk, and cars that caught fire and exploded. (Yes, cars can explode. I know people tell you that that only happens in the movies, but I’ve got pictures on my Facebook to prove it.) Now given, this history with vehicles, it probably comes as no surprise that in general I don’t like to be in a car. This is where owning the Galaxie means something different than it might to other people.

The 1965 Ford Galaxie is twenty-two feet long. It’s a big steel box and it’s on the road with a bunch of plastic cars with less steel in them than your average Hot Wheels. The bottom line here is that I feel safe in my Galaxie. A hell of a lot safer than I felt in my ’83 Firebird (wrecked when I was 16), my ’83 Mustang (engine died), my ’73 Volkswagen Bus (engine died), my ’89 Convertible Mustang (hit a truck), my ’94 Toyota Camry (hit a Jeep), or even my ’78 Monte Carlo (caught fire and blew up).

In addition to my feeling safe, the Galaxie has the added bonus of having more style than any car made in the last twenty years. Yes, there may be a whole thing where there are Chevy Guys and Ford Guys, but first, you’re Classic Car guy. When I pass another classic car, I wave and they wave back because we know that while we’re both probably getting less than 15 miles per gallon, we’re still recycling, because our car has been used before. And let’s not forget that unlike new cars, my Galaxie doesn’t assume I’m stupid. It doesn’t tell me when I’ve left my keys in the ignition or left my lights on or my door open. It assumes that if I’m bright enough to drive a car, I can figure out when my lights are on and that just maybe I have a reason for them being on. It’s also not going to remind me to put on my seatbelt or when I’m really low on gas. Yes, it has a gas gauge, but it’s not going to beep at me. In fact my Galaxie is incapable of beeping at me for any reason at all.

Having said all of this, I still haven’t gotten to the best part about driving my Galaxie: It is fun to drive. Driving most modern cars is almost like playing a video game. Most modern cars are so air tight you can’t hear the road. You can’t feel the engine. Hell, you could easily be in some bad car simulator.  Whereas when you’re driving a car like the Galaxie, you experience the drive. You can feel the road. You can hear the engine. There aren’t sensors to tell you when something is wrong. YOU are the sensor.

My point here is that while I’m going to talk a lot about all of the problems I’ve had with my car, the only reason I’m talking about them is because I love my car. If it weren’t for that love, it’d just be this machine that needs work all the time. It’s not though. Instead it’s this machine that needs attention from time to time and after giving that attention, it continually rewards me with something more than just a means to get from point A to point B. It rewards me with a good drive.

To Be Continued….

Ford Galaxie Year One (Part Three)

After work one day, I stopped by a Napa Auto Parts store to buy a battery. I told the bearded guy behind the counter that I needed a new battery for a 1965 Ford Galaxie. He grunted a little and said, “Ford Galaxie, eh?”

“Yeah, it’s in pretty good shape. It runs fine. It just needs a new battery. It’s been sitting for a while.”

“How long was it sitting?”

“I don’t know. I just bought it a few days ago for $1,200.”

The guy put a car battery on the counter and said, “Hmm, bad deal. Here’s your battery.”

Knowing what I know now, I would have walked out without the battery and found another place. At the time I thought the guy just didn’t like classic cars.

I got home and put the battery in the car and it started much easier. It still needed a little coaxing but I figured that was just the old car being an old car.

By late November it had started to freeze overnight and occasionally there was snow. Luckily I was driving a car weighing over two tons. Driving the Galaxie in the snow was even more like driving a boat.  One good thing about it was that the heater still worked. In fact it worked really damn well. The Galaxie could go from freezing cold to room temperature in about five minutes.

At first when I started the car on those cold mornings I thought that the car was overheating but I quickly discovered it was just the ice on the hood turning to steam. On one such morning, I noticed a bit more steam than normal as I drove to work. I checked the aftermarket gauges below the dash. The temp was closing in on three hundred degrees. The car was overheating.

I pulled into a nearby parking lot and shut off the car. I called my wife and got a ride to work. After work, I had my brother pick me up and we went back to my car. After a quick inspection it was clear that there was ice in the radiator. The previous owner hadn’t driven the car much and kept it in a garage. So I suppose it’s not all that surprising that he didn’t keep it full of antifreeze.

My brother suggested he’d follow me and I’d drive the car back to the house since working in a parking lot in the freezing cold with nowhere to go inside kind of sucks. It was a long two miles. I got the car started and within a couple minutes it was already past the 200 degree mark. By the time we got back to my house it was pouring steam out again.

We were fairly certain ice had not got into the engine block, but inspecting the radiator showed that it had at least one nickel sized hole. It was time for a new radiator.

I asked around and people said I should get an aluminum radiator. It was lighter and better. Unfortunately they were also upwards of $300. Finally I found one online for something like $280. I bought the thing and a week later the box showed up.

It was a beautiful silver and as soon as I looked at it I realized it was the wrong radiator. They’d insisted it was the right one, but not only were the hoses in the wrong spots, the radiator wasn’t even shaped right. I carefully put it back in the box and reassured myself that I had taken a look at their returns policy before buying and that they’d refund all of my money.

The bad part about that was that until the radiator company refunded my money, I didn’t have the cash to fix the car. While waiting for the refund, I looked more online. I called junk yards. I called my friend Gabe who has a 1966 Impala. He told me that when his radiator broke, he called a place down on South Tacoma Way called Northwest Radiator. I gave them a call. They said it would cost anywhere for $50 to $300 to fix it. The next day I brought the radiator down and they spent the next few days rebuilding it to the tune of just over $250.

Once I got it back, my brother and I reinstalled the radiator and my Galaxie was back up and running.

To be continued next week.