Pontiac renovations, part 7.

After removing the wiring from the engine bay, I started work on removing the old wiring from under the dash.

Spaghetti. Old, dusty spaghetti.

I removed the fuse box. Under the dash should be significantly more tidy than it is; a lot of the wires had been pulled down out of the loom and were just left to dangle. I also undid the three-set of gauges from under the dash, as there is no real reason to have them there.

Trio of unnecessary gauges.

I heated the bulb of the temperature gauge with my hot air gun to test it. Still, good, it may end up in another application. The oil pressure gauge worked fine so found a home on my lawn tractor. The ammeter, which had never really read much at all was connected incorrectly (in line from the alternator) which would explain the lack of movement.


I filled the hole from the oil gallery where the old takeoff pipe was for the oil pressure gauge, until I have a replacement pipe. This is simply so I do not empty the oil pan all over the floor when I spin the engine over.

The fuse box (and lid, found under the driver’s seat, sadly covered in paint) is quite comprehensive for the age of the car.

The dash looks better without the gauges, the engine compartment is similarly tidy. I need to investigate the wiring that goes downward under the body as all the wires destined for the back of the car run up above the driver’s head.

The amount of wires in the pile, steadily growing. This represents most of the wire from the fuse box and under the dash.

The dash cluster is held in with 4 nuts, moderately accessible from up underneath.

I clipped the wires from the back of the dash to provide better access and removed the cluster.

Not a reproduction item. January 1951, and they had built 4000-odd cars by that time. Needed to be ready for the new model year!

Further disassembly of the gauge cluster to remove the side gauges and clean the perspex lenses. Over the years they have been wiped a lot of time and have become scratched. On the inside, a fine haze was apparent.

Part the way through, to show comparison of clean versus dirty lenses.

The reason for the haze on the lens would become apparent later on.

The speedometer frame had ghostly images of the numbers, faded into the paint. A little polish saw the paint clean again.

Gently buffing the scratches out of the speedometer face with my polishing wheel in my twist drill.

All clean! The improvement is immediately visible. I still need to take it apart and redo the satin black paint where it has all rubbed off over the years.

I connected my air line up to the oil pressure gauge. It’s a mechanical, Bourdon-tube device. It still registers correctly.

I then tried connecting up the other gauges to a 6V power source to test if they were still operational. Quick testing with a multi-meter showed both had at least one failed coil. The haze on the inside of the lens was from the enamel insulation on the wire having caught fire. Previous owner had connected the dash up to 12V when they did the conversion. That must have liberated quite a lot of smoke- and will be the reason for the additional gauges.

Luckily the coils are secured to the armature with nuts and bolts. I removed one coil. The failure is easy to see.

I modified my twist drill to have a cammed section on the chuck (made from electrical tape) that would operate a microswitch every revolution. The switch then in turn operates a small mechanical counter.

Counted the number of turns of wire on the bobbin. It had burned up and split in three places.

Took my micrometer and meaured the diameter of the wire. 7.2 thou’, which is 33AWG. Being as the gauges were both inoperable due to having been burned up, I decided to re-wind them for 12V instead.

36AWG enameled copper wire, with half the cross-sectional area of 33AWG, and twice the resistance per foot. Winding twice the number of turns of this onto the bobbin will make it suitable for 12V operation.

I stripped the enamel off the end of the wire with sandpaper, then checked the end of the wire for good continuity with my meter. This end contacts directly to the metal of the coil bobbin.

Carefully wound the wire on. This was a moderately slow procedure because I was manually guiding the wire as it wrapped and the cam operates only briefly so the counter is not actuated enough to count over about 100RPM.

Tested the end to end resistance of the coil. 26 Ohms, in the correct ball park expected from this gauge of wire.

The second coil, which did not catch fire but charred significantly was also removed.

It was unwound- this side has more turns.

Again measured to make sure it was the same gauge of wire.

Carefully wound on, counting every turn, trying to make the winding even. Nearly out of space!

Tested for resistance- the number of turns being more, the longer the wire and the greater the resistance.

Fitted both coils back into the armature and soldered them to their pegs.

Through a moderate resistance, the gauge now reads properly! I need to calibrate it- the service manual provides the curve of the thermistor in the engine bay per temperature. I can take the three calibration points (at the top of the scale) and set the coils up accordingly. They are adjustable on slides to set the gauge up to read the correct deflection per current passed.

The frame the gauges connect to was a little worse for wear. It wasn’t painted very well to begin with, the brown staining from where the gauge had burned was evident and the heat from the dash illumination had made the paint in that vicinity all flaky, which was getting onto the inside of the lenses as I moved the dash about.

I rubbed the old paint back, to remove loose paint and provide a good keyed surface.

A couple of coats of Rustoleum Heirloom White later (a remarkably good color match) and the frame is looking really nice.

At the same time I heated up the paint and windscreen washer bottle holder (the evening was a cold one, not far from freezing) in prep for paint.

A nice gloss Sky Blue. The frame should have a yellow sticker on the front for screen-wash instructions. 

While that was drying I vacuumed, shampooed and generally cleaned up the back of the passenger cabin.

I was puzzling over the headlight switch. I needed to remove it from the dash as it was stiff to operate. However, I couldn’t figure out how to pull it out. The knob wouldn’t fit through the escutcheon after the mounting screw was undone.

Turns out there’s a spring-loaded pin in the back of the mechanism that presses a spring-loaded collar out of the way and allows the entire knob and shaft assembly to be pulled from the switch.

I took the switch to pieces, lubricated and cleaned it as all the old grease had dried up and was more of a hindrance than a help. Sadly the rheostat is only a few ohms, designed to dim a fairly heavy load (10 4W bulbs), and will have very little effect on the LEDs that have been retrofitted. At least it can be used to turn the dash on and off.

I polished the plastic and chrome, cleaned the grip with a brass brush and polished the locking screw as it is visible when the switch is pulled out. Not bad looking now.

Pontiac renovations, part 6.

I started working through some other items on the to-do list- plenty of little things that need to be completed. First was the air filter bolt that I’d had sitting in ascorbic acid for a couple days to remove the surface rust. After a quick cleaning with wet-n-dry paper I put it into etch primer and then gloss black enamel.

I cleaned the exterior of the carburetor down a little and noticed the instruction to “OIL INSIDE SCREWS”. I removed the lid to inspect the mechanism- the throttle pump mixture enrichment system.

An interesting set of levers and slides and springs. Oiled with regular engine oil and reassembled, clean.

Subtle colors.

I bought some lengths of fully copper cored wire. 16AWG pink (for dimmable dash lighting) and 14AWG purple (not sure which circuit yet, possibly side/tail lights).

3.9mm bullet connectors.

Also, the box of bullet connectors I ordered arrived. The car takes 3.9mm connectors mainly, which are not the standard I’m used to. Lucas used larger 5mm ones, Delco decided something smaller was good.

The connectors fit the smaller of the two sizes of bullet connectors used on the car. The brake light switch is no exception.

I removed the radio from under the dash to give a little more room to work. Apparently it’s a special model designed to fit in a standard radio hole; I find it wasn’t the right size, but that’s the way it goes. I think I’ll be hunting for a junked radio and will probably gut that and replace the innards with something a little more modern and give audio-in capability, too whilst retaining the original “Chieftain” radio look.

Original “Chieftain” radio faceplate.

I removed the original radio escutcheon and polished it up. It is pitted but responded well.

At this point I was left with the three after-market gauges under the dash. The ammeter will disconnect easily, the oil pressure gauge will also come out without too much trouble but the water temperature gauge required the engine to be drained of coolant before it could be removed. I undid the drain tap on the side of the engine block and nothing came out. So I pulled the entire assembly out- still nothing. I poked with a screwdriver and was rewarded with black rusty sludge.

Heath-Robinson pipework.

I found that the old vacuum line had the correct union fitting on it so screwed that in, attached a length of pipe and tried to put city water pressure onto it to clear it out (60psi). That did not work, so I hooked up the pressure washer (4400psi) to it. I blew the pipes off a couple times but eventually the blockage cleared.

I flushed the engine from as many different directions as I could- backwards from the drain, in from the heater takeoff on the head, in from the radiator (through the water pump).

Lots of regular iron oxide. The factory manual states to use plain water as coolant. I’m not going to go down that route- instead, it’ll be having a proper mix of antifreeze and rust inhibitor.

Finally rinsing clean, I let it drain down. 

I cleaned up the drain tap and reinstalled it.

I then turned my attention to the wiring. I removed the two clamp plates on the firewall. One has some instructions about the fuses printed on it (very faded and worn off) and the other has the spring clips for the in-line fuses and also clamps the main wire bundle and speedometer cable.

Started cutting out and undoing wires. Fought with the coil resistor as it had been done up very tightly into the metal and had rusted in.

I removed the neutral inhibitor/reversing light combo switch. Taken apart, cleaned and reassembled- it wasn’t very bad inside but the contacts were a little pitted. Reassembled and readjusted to the correct position. 

I got a little gung-ho with the cutters. None of the original wiring is in any really useable shape, particularly where it has been damp on the exterior of the car. The shellac washes off, the cotton absorbs the moisture and rots, and the rubber absorbs the moisture from the cotton and goes all hard and cumbly. Once it’s gone the water gets inside and the aluminum turns to powder, especially with an ionic charge on it from the battery all the time.

I rubbed down the metal of the firewall with a stainless steel wire brush to remove the worst of the loose oxides.

Then liberally applied rust neutralizer, which turns purple in contact with rust.

Once dry, the rust converter turns black and forms a surface suitable for paint.

The fuse-holder/wire clamp main plate was soaked in ascorbic acid for a couple days and then brass-brushed, primed and painted with gloss black enamel.

The car’s wiring calls for two, 14 Amp inline fuses. I think this is a design feature left over from before the auxiliary fuse panel was included, and these will likely have been the only fuses on the car. This is the only remaining intact one, and the steel case was in poor shape. It took a fight to undo it.

The component pieces- the cups that the fuse connects to are brass and have had the wires soldered on. I shall replace the wires. It received an overnight soak in ascorbic acid, which did not really do much (reason for this possibly later).

I took a countersunk screw and clamped the fuse holder body in the chuck of my drill.

I then spun up the holder and held low-grit sandpaper against it to remove the worst of the corrosion.

Finished up with 1500-grit wet-n-dry paper just to give it a bit of a sheen. There were traces of copper to be seen, and the corrosion on the surface look more verdigris than red iron rust. The fuse panel shows “Gray” and “Gold” fuse holders to identify which is which. I’m thinking the “gold” one was actually copper plated- maybe brass.

A quick session to electroplate the surface to try and prevent it from deteriorating too quickly.

Side by side comparison is quite striking. I wanted “careworn”.

Put together temporarily so as not lo lose the component parts, it looks much better.

It was a little cold when I painted the front of the holder, so it bloomed and went matte. I have since re-painted it, but this is the location of the fuse holder is here, both the wires just loop in and go back inside the car.

Pontiac renovations, part 5.

I started this day by attempting to jack up the car, in order to access the nuts holding the (badly made and ill-fitting) battery tray that was put in to house the new 12V battery.

Lifted up a little at the lowest point of the engine cross-member, with a block of wood to take up the slack, I ran out of jack! My little trolley jack just doesn’t have enough travel to bring the front wheels off the ground. I also discovered that the driver’s side front wheel only has five of the six studs holding the wheel on. I learned that this is common, as the driver’s side wheels have a reverse thread on them. I can see the benefit of this if the wheels had a single central hub post with a knock-off spinner but for lug nuts? Not really. So, on goes the air-gun, set to counterclockwise.. rrrTTTTTT, RRRRTTTTTTTTT. RRRRRRRRAK-whooooiEEeeeee. There goes the stud as it’s tightened beyond breaking point.

Battery tray removed.

With the battery tray removed, a lot more access is to be had on the driver’s side of the engine compartment. This was not originally much of a problem as the car was specced with a very slim 6V battery. You can see the bottom of the bracket that supported the original 6V battery, attached to the frame rail.

Old battery tray and original 6V mount.

Both pieces removed from the car- I do not intend on having the battery mounted inside the engine compartment- there simply isn’t adequate room for a modern 12V battery. 

Driver’s side frame rail.

Many, many years of dirt adorn the driver’s side frame rail. Access is poor, even with the original battery and that is compounded by any leaks from the battery drip down and collect in the grime. The suspension grease points looked rather dry, also.


I pushed the front end of the car outside and started up the pressure washer to make a start on cleaning up the old oil, grease and dirt in the area. I finished up by using my leaf blower to dry it all down.

Immediately post-wash.

The pressure washer did not get everything, but it made a significant improvement.

Steering box.

One thing I had wanted to address was the free-play slack in the steering. Wobbling the steering wheel from side to side inside the car showed that the dead zone of free movement did not turn the driver’s side wheel, but further investigation was required.

A driving menace.

I employed some assistance and had my niece turn the steering wheel to and fro while I took a look at the steering system. This showed that the free play was in the bottom of the steering box, where the shaft comes out to attach to the Pitman arm.

Filler plug removed.

Now a lot cleaner, I was happy to remove the filler plug from the top of the steering box. What I saw did not inspire confidence.

Filler plug.

As it needed doing, I wire-brushed the filler plug and cleaned it down with carburetor cleaner.

Adjustment screw and locknut.

At this point I tried to gently torque down the lash adjustment screw for the output shaft (big screw and nut on view here). That did not improve matters, so I am going to hazard a guess the lower bushing, a plain bronze item- is worn beyond limits. 

I opened up the top casing after checking the workshop manual for spring-loaded components. There are none marked.

Top bushing.

The top bushing appears to be in really very good order. There’s a lot of regular chassis grease stuck in the top…

The steering box itself is a cause for concern. A common problem is the things are filled with regular chassis grease. That is only good for items designed to use it- in this case the roller (at the bottom, vertical section) sits against the worm (dim, very bottom of the circular aperture), pushes the grease out of the way- “channeling” it. It then never returns to the surface, allowing the pieces to grind with no lubrication. The correct lubricant is a very slow oil, with a consistency similar to molasses- GM specify a “self-leveling” grease. Research shows that John Deere “Corn head” grease has these properties, it’s used in the worm/wheel gearboxes of corn harvesting machines.


Not trying to make too much of a nut-and-bolt restoration, I cleaned up the bolts that secure the top plate of the steering box. I see little point replacing bolts with dirty threads and old grease and dirt on them- all for the sake of a few minutes with a wire brush.

Buttoned up.

At this juncture I decided that the best way forward will be to work on this once the engine is out- ideally the entire steering box needs to come out but there’s a large nut holding the Pitman arm on and access is not very good from up underneath. However, I do know what the issue is and that can be rectified.

Pontiac renovations, part 4.

I decided that although the silvered paint had significantly improved the reflector, the prep I had done was not great (it was more a “let’s try this out and see” action) so it wouldn’t last, and plus, the reflector when viewed through the lens appeared very gray. Aesthetically I found this displeasing and figured I could improve matters.

I decided I would attempt to plate the reflector with a shiny metal surface. I did a bit of research and determined that nickel plating should work quite well. In order to plate nickel onto steel, it is advised first to plate with copper. This is because nickel is chemically different enough from iron not to want to adhere to, so a go-between, copper, which will stick to iron and nickel is used as a substrate.

Note that the chemicals used in this process are poisonous (copper) and toxic (nickel). If you follow this, work outside in a well ventilated area and wear gloves and safety glasses. Also wash your hands thoroughly with plenty of soap and water if you get any of it on your skin. Store the electrolyte in well-marked containers, and keep away from children (ooh, pretty colors!) and pets. 

I bought some acetic acid (vinegar), hydrogen peroxide, a source of pure copper (scrubbing pads), a source of pure nickel (welding rods), a glass dish and made a power supply from an old ATX computer PSU.

Making copper electrolyte.

To begin,I added a 50/50 mix of vinegar and peroxide to the dish and placed a copper scrubbing pad into the mixture. It began to dissolve, creating the electrolyte, copper (II) acetate.

Copper electrolyte.

Then to make the nickel electrolyte, made in a similar fashion- 100% vinegar with a pinch of sodium chloride (table salt) to boost the conductivity. Nickel does not dissolve by itself in acetic acid, the molar strength is not high enough. It is instead made by “helping” it by passing an electric current between two nickel electrodes.


After a couple of hours a modest amount of nickel had dissolved into the acid. 

Nickel acetate.

I plated a piece of bar steel with copper, then plated it with nickel. Positive to the source of metal, negative to the piece to be plated.

Nickel plating.

Although probably a little “fast”, I used 12 Volts across the nickel, which yielded good results. The copper required much lower voltage and current to plate well. The slower the process,the better quality the finish.

High gloss result.

I was pleased with the results on the test piece, so set about taking the turn signal assembly apart.

Turn signal removed.

Thankfully in good shape underneath, this area has been subject to some repairs in the past. 

Reflector and housing.

The lamp broke down into further pieces. You can see the silver painted surface of the reflector. It previously looked the same as the housing. Someone had painted it black, and then it had rusted.

Ascorbic acid bath.

I set the steel pieces into an ascorbic acid (vitamin C) bath and left them overnight for the acid to work on the oxides. As advertised, vitamin C is a powerful anti-oxidant.

12 hours’ soak.

After half a day soaking, I pulled the pieces out and scrubbed the loose oxides off with a wire brush and left them to soak again.

Dirty solution.

I probably should have left the steel in the ascorbic acid longer but I decides that the metal was very pitted from the rust and I could clean it by running current “backwards” in a bath of vinegar, which draws the surface of the steel away to the cathode, leaving it clean.

Acid bath 2 complete
Galvanic cleaning.

Using a random piece of steel rod I had laying around, I ran the reflector at 12 Volts in vinegar with a little salt.

Pitted but clean.

I then used a couple of grit wheels in my Dremel to attempt to smooth the surface of the reflector a little.

Not perfect, but better.

This improved the reflector significantly- after all the plated surface will follow every contour the metal has. The more smooth the surface, the better the appearance of the plating. I put the reflector in the copper plating bath and set it on at 3.3 Volts.

Badly plated copper.

Due to the surface area of the reflector, the current passed on the first run was too high- seen here with burgundy deposits. The copper plates too fast, forms large flaky layers that do not adhere to the base metal. Also, the impurities in the steel precipitate into the electrolyte and stick to the surface, giving poor, patchy plating. Constantly moving the object to be plated alleviates this.

Copper plating again.

Tried again but with some resistance in line to reduce the current.

Nickel plating.

With a good adhesion from the copper on the second try, I then set about plating the reflector with nickel. Nickel electrolyte produces quite a lot of gas and self-cleans its surface whilst plating.


Although not an ideal candidate, the reflector was significantly improved.


With only the parking light (5 Watts), the light thrown forwards is quite significant. A good result, in any case.

Painted the back black.

I painted the rear sides of the reflector and housing gloss black, as they would have been when new.

Reassembled and refitted to the car.

I also plated the housing, as it is visible through the lens. Previously it looked a bit out of place, black against the gray of the reflector.

Evenly lit now, compared to the other side, which really only glows where the bulb is (as this one was before I began). More visible, which is good as the lights are low down and the turn signals are the wrong color by today’s expectations (white, not orange).

Light off.

Finally, with the light off and the sunshine hitting the lens, it looks a lot more even and matches the headlight a lot better. Just the other side to do now!

Pontiac renovations, part 3.

Buoyed by the fact I got the turn signals working, which was a bad connection to the multi-plug (yes, there is one multi-plug on this car!), I decided to experiment with the front lights.

The front lights worked but were rather dim and only illuminated in the center of the glass. I started by rubbing the reflector down. Someone had painted it black- reasons unknown. I guess that it was either chromed or painted white from the factory.


A rather half-hearted effort, admittedly. However, the reflectors are very pitted and will never be perfect. 

Masked up, ready for paint.

I used some “Shiny Silver” spray paint. It is a dull aluminum color at the best of times. Still, masked the car up and painted the reflector.


A significant improvement. Pulled all the paper off and reassembled the light.


The difference is significant. I think I shall have to take it apart again and redo the rest in silver, but I may also have a go and experiment with plating.


The turn signal is now very visible from a distance. The other side is not as good, as the bulb holder has been replaced and the new one welded in place. It is slightly off-center, meaning the light does not illuminate evenly, but I think improving the reflector will help, regardless.

Pontiac renovations, part 2

I have been trying to at least do something on a daily basis to the Chieftain, even if it’s only something small. I have mostly been able to keep to this plan, and it has resulted in a few repairs being made.

Firstly, I got all click-happy on eBay and ordered a deluxe option air filter with muffler unit. It arrived in from South Dakota- looks like it had been sitting in a car, in a field for a long time.

“Suitable for rat rod etc.”

It was covered in a thick layer of oily dust. I took to scrubbing it down with dish-washing liquid.

The beginnings of clean.

Much more scrubbing ensued. Seventy years of dirt! Also, it’s interesting to receive something from somewhere else like this; the dirt I removed had a quite different smell to it, very clay-like. Quite a foreign smell compared to around here.

Cleaner still, but yet more to go…

I took it to pieces to continue cleaning. Being an oil-bath type filter, the bottom of the oil bath was full of thick, oily sludge. 

Cleaned out with gasoline it was certainly more acceptable. The wire gauze in the filter has long-since gone; presumed rusted away. I bought some aluminum mesh filter material to stuff inside but I am concerned it is a little too coarse for this application.

Prep for paint.

Work began on removing rust and old paint from the assembly. 

Buzzed down with my DA sander with medium-grit paper, rust converter applied, etch primer and finally gloss black enamel. I do have to say I like the enamel, it is very liquid and goes on well with an immediate gloss finish.

Filter in place.

Just resting in place in the above image, but that is where it is meant to reside. I then began the hunt for information on how the filter-end was supported- the back end does clamp tightly to the neck of the carburetor but there’s far too much weight acting on it in a twisting action for the alloy metal of the carburetor to support without eventual fracture.

Air filter bracket.

One of the head bolts has a threaded protrusion for a nut to screw on to. It was mounted further back on the head, closer to the carburetor (later investigation showed the car to have originally had a smaller top-hat style filter, which had a support arm bracing it from a nearby point).

Research showed there to be a bracket from the furthest head bolt, so I transposed the bolts and created a bracket from steel bar, mimicking the size and thickness as well as old photographs would show.

Entire assembly supported.

Now, with the entire filter supported evenly at both ends, I had another problem! The previous use of the threaded-head bolt was to have three springs bolted down, with their other end hooked at a jaunty angle to the throttle rod ball joint at the carburetor. With the bolt moved, these springs had nowhere to go. 

Older photograph showing the springs.

That didn’t seem to be an immediate issue because I did not see any other photos on the Internet showing springs mounted in this location. Coupled with that, the angle the springs were at did not allow the throttle to be pulled fully closed or operate smoothly. It did not seem to fit the overall engineering attitude the car has.

Further back in the mechanism there was a peg with a groove in it, as is used to hook springs to. Trouble was, I couldn’t see anywhere to connect up a spring on the other end! Turns out there was a boss missing from the flywheel housing. 

Spring boss.

I bought a suitable bolt with a shank above the threads. I cut the head off, shortened the threaded section and drilled a suitably-sized hole through the shank. It received a little bit of a polish, too.

Correctly sprung throttle linkage.

While I had nuts and bolts and screws and things in hand, I bought some stainless steel parts and a couple of rubber bungs that I cut down to make buffers for the hood. 

Hood stop.

No more bang, crash upon closing the hood, and the shut-lines are now more adjustable.

Nice and even!

Yet more to follow…

Further Pontiac restoration

Driving the car down the street showed that something was a little amiss with the gearbox. It would hold first gear for a long time and only change once I let off the gas pedal. At that point the change was harsh and jumped from first to (what feels like) third.

The gearbox is a moderately conventional hydraulic design; two epicyclic gears, each with a clutch and engagement band. The engagement band operates one ratio, the clutch locks up and engages it as a gear in itself offering a second ratio, and then that all disengages and the second set does the same thing. 

It has two hydraulic pumps. the primary pump is on the input shaft from the engine. The secondary, a smaller pump, is on the tailshaft and is only used to bring hydraulic pressure up in the gearbox if the car is to be bump-started (drag car to 15-20 MPH, engage Dr (drive) and that will spin the engine over in an attempt to get it to run).

The faster the input shaft from the engine turns, the greater the pressure it creates in the hydraulic system. Once Dr is engaged, this pressure is directed to the valve block. Once the input spins up to a certain speed, the pressure is meant to be a certain amount and the next valve opens, engaging second gear, then on and on through all four gears. The only other external influence it has is the connection to the throttle pedal, and that operates a relief to the pressure the more it is opened.

So, light throttle the gearbox should cycle through and engage 4th by 21 MPH. The more the throttle is opened, the more pressure is bled off so the longer each gear holds before it changes.

Adjusting the throttle linkage.

I adjusted the linkage, thinking that it was set too far open and was bleeding off too much pressure too early. This did not help, and further research indicated that bringing the revs up then snapping the throttle shut causes enough of a pressure spike to operate the valve block and change gears. In short, the valve block is needing re-sealing as it’s losing too much pressure past the seals to operate correctly.

Broken envelope and burned filament

I turned my attention for a while to the electrics- I had wanted to see if the non-functioning parts of the dash illumination were down to faulty wires or faulty bulbs. In most cases the original 6 Volt bulbs were still in place and had failed. Two here had failed in different ways. The one on the left had burned through the glass envelope, rupturing it and allowing ingress of air. The filament then turned to titanium trioxide (the yellow-white powder) and ceased operation that way. The other one the filament overheated and vaporized, plating the inside of the glass.

License plate light

The license plate light is sadly not original, instead an auto-parts-store generic, and the flitch panel it sits in is a little rusty. It’s been mounted in a steel plate, badly. However, all that was wrong with it was the connections were rusty. Cleaned up, it began to work.


Overall, an improvement. It since stopped working then I accidentally broke the bulb pulling the holder out. Go figure.

Dashboard light

I finished up inside by fitting working bulbs to everything. It needs a clean but overall looks very nice all lit up.

Finding out the condition of the car.

With the Chieftain home, I started to dig into assessment of the condition of the body, mechanical and electrical parts.

First up, to determine what the car is fitted with. The Fisher body plate offers a small amount of insight:

body tag

Paint code 5128, Starmist Blue. Kinda close to what’s on the body right now. Trim code 71- the “deluxe” interior. A dark gray/light gray combination, with broadcloth seats and tufted buttons on the rear seats. Someone has had the car reupholstered, and it’s been done well; they’ve kept a lot of the features, just instead in shades of blue.
The VIN shows it was built in Atlanta, Georgia in 1951. It’s an 8-cylinder car and has Hydramatic gearbox. All pretty much what I found. That’s a good start.

Wires. Frayed.

The wiring is just plain fire hazard. It’s been chopped about, the insulation is all gone in places, it’s brittle and generally in poor shape, particularly as the car has been “converted” to 12V from 6V, badly.


The interior is in really quite nice shape, just grimy. None of the electrical systems worked. The clock was halfway falling out; I set it to 5 o’clock because, well, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.


There’s been a fair bit of new metal let into the body and it appears to have been done well.


There’also a few places where it’s gone quite bad- typical muddy and wet locations on the car.

rear lights

the back of the car is in moderately good shape- I applied a little heat to the light lenses, rubbed them down with fine grit paper and then polished them. That made an improvement as they were very hazy and heavily cracked before. PMMA (acrylic) is a thermoplastic, so some of the cracks and crazing will re-melt together with a little heat.

rear lights lit

A little messing about with wiring saw the rear lights illuminate.

chief mascot

The Chief head mascot on the hood is again sun-crazed (PMMA like the rear lights). With the addition of a fresh bulb he lights up.

rusty reflectors

The front park/turn light assemblies were not working. Cleaned them up but the reflectors are very, very bad. I think a rub-down with wet-n-dry and a polish then application of bright shiny “aluminum” finish paint may save them to a workable standard.

wash glass

The glass lenses cleaned up nicely.

parking lights

Between times, the lights do still come on and are visible. I’ve seen worse!

gearshift indicator

I took apart the gearshift indicator assembly on top of the steering column. It’s a cast metal fitting with a nice shiny aluminum insert, through which the position indicator labels fit. I saw on the circuit diagram that there is a light bulb inside, so went take a look see.


Sure enough there is. A little metal container with a light window on the front, which moves with the lever arm to shine light through the appropriate position window. There were some green circular pieces of plastic stuck in the mechanism, I found two and refitted them.


The N, Dr and Lo positions are now green, with the R in white. I am not sure if all the windows had the green filters and one of them has vanished, but that made sense. The solder joint had also come off the wire. That needs redoing.

illuminated position lights

With my flashlight behind the lenses, they glow nicely.

polished up

The bezel was polished up and refitted, looking nice. It needs to be clean, it’s right in the driver’s line of sight.

jukebox speedometer

I also managed to track down a bad connection and got the turn signals working. Fitting some new bulbs to the dash indicators saw them working also.


It’s all been a bit quiet here lately. There’s a good reason, though- with a small backstory.
An interesting car pops up in the Facebook classifieds locally. A 1965 Pontiac Catalina. Running condition with a little cosmetic work needed. Sadly due to circumstances I missed out on the sale. The car was well under list price and was snapped up. As such, I had a sulk and started looking for cars (not something I often do). There was very little both affordable and interesting locally and in New Orleans, so I expanded my search and centered on Baton Rouge instead.
A few more cars show up; Baton Rouge seems to have a better following of old cars, plus sadly many in New Orleans were destroyed or moved away after the flood following hurricane Katrina.

However, one interesting vehicle pops up. A 1951 Pontiac Chieftain. The pictures show it to be in cosmetically good condition for its age, looking like it had seen a restoration a number of years prior and was in need of another now. I convinced my wife to let me go see the car, to have a poke about and determine if it was a complete basket case or not.

Pontiac at the dealership lot

The gentleman at the lot grabbed the jump pack and started it up. It sat and idled happily for fifteen minutes. I had a poke around, found a little bit of rust but mostly solid metal and my suspicions that it had seen some restoration work were confirmed. Somebody had converted it (not well) to an alternator and 12 Volt electrics. Most of the electrical parts of the car did not work. The steering was a bit sloppy but the brakes were good, and the gearbox engaged gear without slipping in Dr and R. I thanked him and I went on my way. That, however, was it. I had decided at that point, if I could afford the car, I was going to buy it. Time passed, finally some money (kinda) cleared the bank and I called back to check the car was still on the lot. It sure was! I said that I could bring cash money the next day. Sold.

Collection day set- Labor day, 2018.

coffee brewing

I organized a car transport trailer via U-Haul for the following Saturday. The weather was forecast to be rather unpleasant, but becoming worse for the following week. First things first though. Put the coffee on.


Towing weapon of choice. Our trusty Silverado.

Change Oil Soon

Oh. Well, I do know that I need to change the oil, but that timer wasn’t reset last time the oil was changed. Let’s take a look…

Pull out dipstick

Dirty and dusty Vortec hiding under the hood.. GM really got their money’s worth out of that engine.

dirty oil

Err, well yeah. It does need to be changed then. But, there’s enough in there. Checked the ATF, that’s all still pleasantly clean and at the correct level.


Coffee and muffin consumed, and we are ready to go!


Out up on Interstate 10, north of New Orleans. Trailer was a one-way deal, collect near to the car and drop off near home. The weather was already beginning to turn intermittently rainy, though traffic was heavy through the city it was flowing well. Out the other side and it was nice light traffic all the way.

Loaded up on trailer

Paperwork done, all loaded up onto the trailer and ready to go! It was a long drive home, taking surface highways. I didn’t fancy driving the Interstate in Labor Day weekend traffic at 55mph. Plus, Interstate 12 was busy and I-55 from Hammond down to Laplace is 22 miles of raised concrete bridge which is bumpy and without trailer hitched up sets the truck into a pitching wobble over all the joints in the concrete.

finally home

Unloaded it in the twilight and rain- it didn’t want to jump start due to bad connections but finally I got it running and parked up. Returned the trailer and crashed out to sleep. The following day was heavy showers interspersed with sunshine, not ideal for poking and prodding at a new car, but that’s the way it goes. I took the battery out and put it on the bench- trickle charge on a dumb charger for a day or so saw it begin to take a charge, and it now has enough in it to reliably start the car. Go figure.

More to come!

Driveshafts, bad rubber and grease

I’ve been fighting issues with the GTA for a while- the two that are persistent are the leak from the power steering and the continual habit the car has of busting up CV boots. It will split open the boot around the outer seam and redistribute all its grease all over the wheel and suspension.

old driveshaft

I started out a few weeks ago with the original driver’s side driveshaft on the bench.


It felt slack and horrible and the boot had a hole in.


The innards were horrible. The grease was a mixture of rust and gunge that had absorbed water and been mashed up into an emulsion that had the consistency of gone-off yoghurt. It smelled similarly bad, too.


Spent a good while with gasoline and brushes and cleaned it all up nice.

other end

While I was at it, I cleaned up and re-greased the other end.

new boot

Stuck a new boot on it. I bought a “universal fit” one from Auto Zone as it was exceptionally stretchy, designed to be opened up wide with a tool and fitted without having to remove the drive shaft. I figured that would assist in the longevity of the boot.

car in garage

Fast forward to today. Lo and behold, there’s a car in there still.

hub nut

First order was to remove the hub nut with the wheel on the ground, handbrake applied. It’s done up tight so a quick application of gravity, momentum and body-weight was required to undo it.

broken boot

Broken CV boot. This joint was howling and you can see why. All the grease is gone and the water’s gotten in and yuck. Irritating because that’s the correct part for the car. People have told me that these cars like to destroy CV joints, and this is likely the reason why- the design of the boot is poor and over-stretches it on full lock.

leaky jack

My jack put up a protest as I pressed it back into service. It’s enjoyed being sat about doing nothing.

wheel off

Removed the roadwheel. It was surprisingly easy to remove, having last been apart in 2016.

caliper removed

Removed the caliper. From here on the job turned unpleasant as everything was covered in a thick soup of grease and road grime.

disc off

Judicious application of large block of wood saw the disc removed from the hub. LEaving the wheel bolts on stops it from flying off and being damaged as it hits the floor.


Hub undone, everything off and out of the way.


Taking a breather, the car all up on a jack, finally being worked on again. Nice to see (relatively).

spring compressors

Reason for the wait? These evil things. Spring compressors, which grasp either side of the coil spring and compress it (adding significant potential energy to the system).

compressed spring

Spring wound up enough to take the pre-load off the suspension.

strut out

Strut removed from the car, allowing the hub to rotate out of the way and release the driveshaft. At this point the work got too greasy and dirty to take many pictures. I managed to knock the bearing off the inner tripod and spilled the roller pins out. Spent a little while trying to reassemble it but gave up. Exchanged the old tripod to the new shaft and went about it that way.

new boot

New boot in, on and turned to maximum. That’s the most stretch it’ll see, and I think this boot can tolerate it.

car down again

Set the car back down having tightened everything back up. Ideally I need to get under there and thoroughly clean it all out but I did not have any solvents available to remove the grease to hand. I think I’ll get some brake cleaner and give it a thorough wipe down under there. At least it’s unlikely to rust.
Other side has split in the same fashion, that’s up next but if you search back here you’ll see that’s a gearbox-drained thing to do. What fun.