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.

Luggable overhaul: Part 2

I placed an order for some more tantalum bead capacitors a while back and they finally arrived in from China. 10uF, 25V so rated at a higher breakdown voltage than the originals (16V). I’m not a huge fan of tant beads but they are compact and this is preserving a moderate amount of originality.

Tant beads

I started removing the old capacitors and soldering in new. Three layer boards are awkward enough to work with through-hole, but this went smoothly enough.

back of video board

Worked my way through, this is the multifunction card (RAM, serial, clock, parallel ports etc).

multifunction card

You can see where the tantalum beads are failing- they crack open in some cases and vent. The mark on the top of this one is just visible.

broken tant

I also wanted to change the LED on the board. Not because it didn’t work, but because Compaq used a very pale red epoxy cased LED that looked cheap. It spoiled the look of the board.

LED comparison

Side by side the old one and its replacement. The replacement one is older by a few years, but it from the era where the packages were nearly clear but much darker red plastic.

on the board

It’s a better contrast to the color of the board. Lights up a very deep red compared to the newer LED.


A pointless aesthetic? Yes. But it makes me happier to look at the board.

Luggable overhaul: Part 1

I had set my Compaq portable up on the table in preference to the Macintosh, with an idea to use it more regularly. It started up okay but made a rather unpleasant burned smell after about twenty minutes so apart it came.

expansion slots

Nothing particular showing up, so lifted all the expansion cards out and then removed the motherboard.


There’s a couple tantalum capacitors with cracks in, so they’ve gassed up and are not long for this world. The video output has been a little wobbly since I got the machine, particularly in low resolution mode. It’s all packed in fairly tightly.

vdu and psu

So, out came the VDU. Picture tubes always look so forlorn when they don’t have any cases or bezels fitted.

picture tube

There’s always one part that makes a bid for freedom. Tonight’s candidate was this washer:


The power supply is all plugs, making a note of what goes where as there are quite a lot of them..

power supply plugs

Everything all lifted out quite easily.

all boards

These are the two boards that need the most attention. The power supply (the highest power most compact board designed to date at that time) and the video board, powered by the power supply on the 12V rail.

vdu and psu

The connector was showing signs of high current draw so it’s definitely time for a rebuild. The power supply is marked “upgrade” on the back, so that’s positive.

Cycle rectification

I had pulled all my test equipment out to align my radio again;

test bench

So, I started my bike up and checked the output of the generator with my oscilloscope.

scope on bike

The output was rather spikier than hoped for into the negative, so redoing the rectifier was in order. Possibly the vibration was too much.


I finished up the latest revision of the regulator board, with a new Zener to bleed off any excess input voltage, a resistance across the input capacitor to bleed off any stored charge, a mechanically better connection to the board and some adjustment pots.

More generator issues

Checked the output of the generator with nothing connected.


With no load it was causing the capacitor to saturate at about 46 Volts. Not so good!


Also, the main voltage regulator chip had vibrated loose and fractured off. I made a bracket to secure it to the board better.


Bolted down securely, and relocated the capacitor; however with only the rectifier in place I’m reading a fairly significant AC component on my multimeter. I’m going to hook my oscilloscope up to it and see what the output looks like. I have a feeling possibly one (or more) of the diodes have failed.

House renovation

Took some time out whilst my parents came to visit and fixed a few things up around the house.

red shutters

First, the shutters were painted a real deep red (called “Old Mahogany”). This is a significant improvement over the battleship gray that they were; now the house is all reds, oranges and browns and it all comes together nicely.


Next up, the flower bed out the side of the house was completely redone and some plants were added to the front of the house in pots.


Finally, some vegetables were put in pots. Tomatoes, squash, blackberries, some herbs, eggplant and cucumbers.

Summertime beckons!