“Hey John, I am NOT calling about my car. I don’t want to talk about my car. There is a car show in Nyack tonight {two weeks ago}. I thought you would want to show off your new 1940 Ford”. The response from John was, “I am having a martini with lunch”. I thought to myself, “this could go one of two ways”. What did I know? It went a third.

Since the engine and transmission were removed by me (2014/2015), rebuilt by professionals (2015) who let me help, and reinstalled by me (2016), the car hadn’t felt right and kicked out of gear when going up a steep hill. Excepting for breaking in the engine and for an occasional parade, the car has effectively been off the road since my attempted Burlington VT roadtrip ended in Albany NY back in 2014. It took time to get the engine out, time to get it up north to the engine rebuilders, time to get it back, time to reinstall all the parts, time to break things in, etc. This time was rewarded with a car that couldn’t be driven.

In troubleshooting, I had amongst other things, temporarily swapped out the transmission tower with a known working one. I did this because I was told the majority of transmission related problems originate with the tower and figured that if a working one was swapped out and it fixed my problem, then the problem would be in the tower (and I would not have to take out the engine or transmission). The swap out seemed to help the problem a little but the car still kicked out of gear. This led me to conclude that the tower and its parts were ok. Having done this and in hopes to diagnose a problem instead of replacing parts randomly (and having to remove/install the engine and transmission countless times), I researched every possible cause of the kick out problem (with calls to the boys at J&M Machine, Steve Mitchell from Mitchell Overdrive, MAFCA’s technical director Jim Cannon, Les Andrews who literally wrote the book on Model A repairs, Tom Edny who is a transmission guru, and too many other people to list). What I found was that I didn’t have the time/tools/skills to do this work alone. As mentioned in the past, John Karal is our local Model A guru. You may have seen his high hit youtube video rebuild of my 1929 Phaeton’s transmission and a controversial video of him measuring warp on my rebuilt bellhousing. The car went to John’s garage in June.

Les Andrew’s book notes that a warp in the bellhousing COULD be the cause a car to go out of gear if under load (such as going up a steep hill). The first think John did was remove the engine, measure the trueness of the bellhousing, and swap it out with a new one. Using a dial indicator my original bellhousing exhibited a warp of 52/1000s (measured “on the block” and with its thick gaskets torqued tight and evenly). John is going to re-record this video at some point incorporating some of the suggestions he receive and some more of his findings. 52/1000s is well above the specified tolerance of 6/1000s. The replacement bellhousing was an original that measured a warp of only 1/1000 top to bottom and 4/1000 side to side. When installing the horseshoe shims on the reinstall, John utilized feeler gages to measure what would be the correct shim size. This was done with the dial indicator remaining in place. According to John, the new (at least to me) bellhousing was effectively perfect. John also insisted that since the engine would be going in/out of the car potentially more than once, that the original motor mounts be replaced with “float-a-motor” mounts because they would facilitate future uninstalls/installs and that I could eventually put the originals back into the car. So much for me going “all original” (I’ll change them back at some point when I am ready to do the frame off paint job). With this work completed, John took the car for a test drive. The test drive yielded a car that, instead of forcefully kicking out of gear would gently slush out of gear. So, we would likely conclude that the tower is fine and the engine is fine. He went hunting for other things.

John’s next thought was to check/measure the modern universal joint that replaced the original. The universal joint I had installed was a very well made one from Bob Drake and purchased from Brattons. I am told Drake’s parts are normally great. John reports that this “correct” part has a different design than the original one. Part of the design is a concave washer that was “captive” (it can’t be removed).  John believes this was installed backward by the manufacturer. He suspected that this might enable to the U-joint to move about 1/8th an inch which could in turn cause the transmission shaft to move and kick out. <<< Quite frankly, John lost me in his description>>>. John happened to have an original style universal joint in his room of parts, so he decided to swap out the new one with the original one. The Bob Drake part was swapped with a nearly perfect original style u-joint. I’ll be reaching out to Brattons who, as always, has stood behind their parts and did note that they stopped selling this part shortly after I purchase mine.

Before putting it all back together, John wanted to measure all the other parts (including those in the transmission) and use Tom Edny’s checklist on what causes a transmission to go out of gear as one of his guides. I was also encouraging the possible swap out of the entire transmission to a known working one this way we could definitively rule out issues with the engine and universal joint. With this all in mind, I though it wise to reach out to Jim Cannon at MAFCA so he could share his insight. Jim already knew of my car and was happy to lend his expertise. When it became apparent that my ability to relay information was going to be insufficient, I asked John and Jim if they could speak directly. After a few failed attempts, Jim and John spoke and John accepted that their might be a glitch in the transmission (the very one he rebuilt in the online video). Keep in mind, we already ruled out the tower as we swapped it with a known working one. Based on the conversation, John changed the transmission main shaft in case the clearance between the main shaft and the 1st reverse and the high gear was a problem. Apparently, when you install a gear onto the shaft, it should slowly slide down (as opposed to drop and klunk into place). John noted that on the replacement shaft, the gears slowly settled into position (after John “lapped” the shaft and a replacement 2nd high gear was used as the one in there had a 6/10,000 clearance and the new one had 2/10,000 clearance).When replacing the 2nd High gear, John noticed “witness marks” (a scratch or dent that evidences that parts were touching) where the gear and the forks meet. GUESS WHAT….THERE SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN ANY MARKS HERE. Apparently the fork was not sitting against the gears properly. The forks are part of the shifting tower – you know, the very tower we swapped out with a known working one OVER A YEAR AGO. In looking at the marks, John saw that the marks weren’t even (they were NOT true to eachother). This means that something was bent or not sitting right. As the gear couldn’t have been bent, it must have been the forks. After measuring the forks, John concluded that the forks must have gotten bent when he was installing them onto the shifting rod.

I want to stress again that I did previously swap out the tower with a known working one and it did not solve the problem…. so there was no reason to believe that the problem was in the tower (including the forks).

This isn’t where the story ends.  John and I take the car for a drive before I officially pick it up. The car seemed to drive ok.  There are a few things I noted when we got back to his shop:

  • Slight oil leak from #8 bolt (probably a touch of gasket sealant will fix this. I am ignoring it for now)
  • Slight leak from side of headgasket (I am ignoring this for now)

We quickly retorqued the engine.

John gave me a list of things he did/didn’t do to the car including telling me that the rear light wiring wasn’t right, the horn was broken, the floor boards weren’t located down (so I could adjust the brake lights), that he rewired the front lights back to the original ford-plunger style (which I hate), that he un-adjusted the brakes to make installing the engine easier, etc.

I leave for the 15 mile drive home.  After the first bump in the road, I hear a CLANK and then the sounds of what I assume was a drip pan hanging from one side and clunking up and down – the gas pedal top also came off and thankfully landed on top of the transmission and not through to the road. I decide to stop at my sister’s house which is around the half way home market to check under the car. I get to my sister’s house and there is oil now dripping steadily on her driveway. I move the car to the road. I am just hoping that the rear main wasn’t damaged as the dripping was coming from what looked like that area of the engine.

With a closer look, there is a solid drip of oil from big cotterpin under bellhousing, there is evidence that of lots of oil came out of the filler tube and the dipstick hole.  So much for a nice clean engine – actually, I am kind of pissed that I now have to clean it. I checked the dip stick and even with a car that was just driven, it is WELL above full. I called John to let him know and he thinks he may have overfilled the oil. He told me that he probably did and that it will find its own level after being driven for a bit (and I should put something under it in in the garage). If it is an overfill, this is just an inconvenience.  With the drip pan back in place (using a washer to help the cause), I drove home and placed cardboard under the car to catch the dripping oil.

That Sunday I quickly rebolted the drip pan (filing down washers so they would fit properly and make up for old tabs that are work away, visited the wiring for the brake light (which was fine), adjusted the break light switch which was set at a position where it was always “on”, and removed and brought inside the horn which I quickly rigged to work (I’ll do a “more correct” repair later). I then took the car up the biggest hill in the area. It remained in gear.

The car remains “unfinished”. I have to go through my stuff and find everything I removed and put things back. There are parts such as the felt for under the pedal plate that I have to find/order and other things such as floor board screws and cup washers that I haven’t seen in years.

It’s been years since I’ve been able to drive the car or since it has been all in one piece. It will probably take a few weeks before I have the chance to put it all back together and finish bringing the car back to where I want it. Last Monday I brought the car for the annual state inspection. Last Tuesday, I brought it to a village event in Nyack. Two days ago, I drove it 20 miles up/down hills and yesterday I went on a nice 15 mile drive.


While it is great having the car back, after the engine and transmission were “restored”, the follow up repairs to fix this “out of gear” issue (which never should have happened and seems to have been the result of multiple issues) costs me a few thousand dollars and countless hours. In this regard, I can’t help to feel a bit forked over and just warped from the process. I guess the universe just wanted to keep me off the road for a little longer. Hopefully it will be 80+ more years before I have to go through anything like this again. As the moon rises over the Hudson River, I think it is time for me to go get myself a martini — or perhaps a pint of tequila.




Gearing Up —or Out

Posted: January 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

So, I am back on the road.  Kind of but not really.  I’ve put 110 miles on my rebuilt engine and transmission and noticed that the car keeps kicking out of second gear.

John (the local model a guru) and I took the car for a drive, opened up the transmission, and saw nothing standing out as “wrong”.  So what’s going on?  Well, it can be as simple as a “new” part being “close but not close enough”.  That stated, which part might be bad is unknown.  It could also be a warped bellhousing or other part that needs to be replaced (ugh!  I just had these parts completely rebuilt). It can also be a bunch of other things — like a gasket being the wrong size. So what do I do now?  First, I try to borrow a known working “transmission tower” to swap it out with the one I am using.  (Do you have a 29 ford transmission tower you are willing to let me remove from your car?).   The problem probably isn’t in the tower, but swapping towers is an easy way to rule out the tower.  I’m hopeful it is a weak detention spring.  If the car kicks out of gear with the good tower, the transmission will need to be remove — which means removing either the rear of the car or the engine.  Yeah, I’m not so happy.

Short on everything but shorts

Posted: September 13, 2015 in Uncategorized

So I smoked some wires the other day and am now hunting down shorts.  My newly rebuilt J&M Machine Shop engine has 5 miles… yup ONLY 5 miles.  Since getting everything back together and having broken in the engine, I developed a bunch of electrical shorts.  I think the engine gremlins got angry and called in their cousins.  I’ll update you on my adventures in the headlight switch arena at another time.  Today I am taking a brake (no, i didn’t spell that wrong)… a brake light switch to be more precise

Basically, one of my shorts was in this switch.  This sucker was heating up like you wouldn’t believe.  The ammeter pegged past -20 whenever I stepped on the brake.  So, since it was already broken I decided to take it apart myself.  Here is the video.  Easy to fix!

Yes, 4 attempts were made to get the rebuilt engine into the car this AM.  They all failed gloriously.  Let me go into quick detail of the adventure that Len, Gene R, and I had.  Len and Gene arrived at 9:30 ready to have at it…. by “it”, I mean the muffins and coffee.

Attempt 1: Gene started off by suggesting we remove an engine mount to make thing easier and then reinstall it later.  I passed on this and stated that I wanted to try to do things the traditional way first.  So, we jacked up the transmission until it almost touched the firewall.  We placed the engine on a hoist with a “tilting” attachment (so we could change the angle of attack of the engine and “dial in” adjustments).  We got over the motor mounts started getting close and noted that the tilt device wouldn’t clear the coil.  We removed the coil and gained more room.  We removed the front engine mount to gain more room. The engine would not sit on the rear mounts and was hanging at a 3% clockwise…… we aborted the mission after figuring we couldn’t get the tilting attachment and hoist further into the engine compartment without doing damage.

Attempt 2: this time we used a traditional engine lifting attachment and followed the Les Andrews book in terms of placing the lifting point above the #3 spark hole…. no pitch=no good.  We scratched the bottom pan against the front frame a few times.  We bumped the guide bolts against the fire wall a few times. We aborted the attempt and had more muffins.

Attempt 3: Why not try again?  If you do the same thing over and over again, eventually shear willpower makes things happen.  I greased up the leading edge of the rear engine mounts and we put more attitude on the engine (so the front was higher and the back was lower).  After futzing for a bit, I hear a “POP”…. it is just a bolt against the fire wall and no harm done excepting a scratch on the wall — which isn’t is great shape to start.   Mission aborted.

Attempt 4:  Why not reset everything and go at it one more time.  This time with the frame spreader in place.  We lower the transmission a bit.  Install a frame spreader and give it a little crank and start hoisting in the engine.  We don’t have the angle on the transmission to make this work and can’t get the engine in.  FAIL FOUR.  It is now 2:00 and time to call it a day.

What did we learn?  NOTHING

How long did it take us?  about 5 hours

Is the engine installed?  No

In retrospect, perhaps Gene’s suggestion on removing a rear motor mount was the right one.  It was too late in the day to try it.  Tomorrow AM another attempt will be made.  John Karal, the local model a guru and mechanic will be joining me in Nyack.  As I see it, Len, Gene and I did everything correct. J&M Machine must have been feeding my engine fatty foods and not running it, as the engine is apparently bigger now than it was when I got it out of the car. (Ok, we know the engine isn’t bigger and that motor mounts may be part of the problem — regardless special thanks to Len and Gene for putting up with the nonsense.  You are both owed some beers and burgers. )

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Transmission work: REASSEMBLY

Posted: June 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

Here is a video of my transmission being taken apart and rebuilt by John Karal

Its good stuff and a GREAT “how to”.

A Model (A) of In-Efficiency

Posted: June 10, 2015 in Uncategorized

I HAVE MY ENGINE BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  It took me forever to pick it up.


Let’s go through the timeline since the last post…..

It is 4/10/15 and J&M has let me know that the babbitts are poured and the rods are balanced.  They are waiting on a clutch from the supplier.

Pour the Babbitts

Balancing Rods.  You would think the rods are balanced.  They aren’t.

Is this manly stuff?  Yes….but I have to keep myself from commenting that they are handling rods and playing “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”.

Do you know how to line bore a block?

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Machining the Thrust so there is less leakage.

It is now 4/14/15 and there has been little recent progress on my Phaeton.  Even if all the pieces/parts were magically to appear in my garage tomorrow, I wouldn’t be able to reassemble the car until sometime in May or June.  So what is going on?

1)      I’ve been busy at work and haven’t been able to get to my to do list as I am working during the weekends:  What do I need to do:

a.       Address the front cross-member.  Sand it down, weld any found cracks, replace a rivet, prime and repaint.  I figure that this will take a couple of hours to strip/sand and a few hours of my cousin’s time welding.  To do the welding I need my cousin Robbie and some rivets from John Karal.

b.      Replace the rubber in the rear engine mounts.  This is probably a couple of hours of work.  I’ll also sand, inspect, prime and paint these parts as they tend to develop cracks according to John Karal.

c.       Clean garage from the parts piles that grew over the winter.

2)      John Karal, the local Modal A Guru, is having his knee replaced.  Len and I wanted to video John assembling the transmission and we all agreed that it would be awkward to do the video at the rehabilitation center.  The reassembly will likely occur in early May.

3)      Brattons

a.       Brattons is waiting on a pre-painted exhaust manifold.  They had the unpainted on, but I wanted to go with the painted one.

4)      J&M Machine

a.       J&M are now sitting with 8 Model A engines in various stages of completion.  Mine is in the works.

b.        The clutch is ordered and pending from the manufacturer who is behind schedule in delivery.  Once the clutch is received by J&M, they can reassemble the engine and I can schedule the pick-up.

It’s now 6/1/15 and the engine is in my garage.  J&M and I had some coordination issues related to the engine.  They had a delay waiting on their clutch supplier that pushed the engine completion date to the later part of their original time estimate (they estimated 6 to 9 weeks).  When the engine was done, I had neither a vehicle large enough nor the time to pick up the engine (so it sat at their shop).  John and Mike were great to deal with throughout the process.  They send photos of their progress and were around to answer questions and make suggestions. If you are considering rebuilding your engine, you will want to speak with them.

This past weekend I was able to borrow my mother’s Toyota Highlander and took a daytrip to J&M to pick up the shiny green rebuilt engine.  It is amazing how you can really see the casting flaws now that the engine is clean and together.  I removed the engine from the car solo.  Interestingly enough, the engine was easier to transport without the stand (I used a stack of blankets instead).   The solo removal was actually a lot easier than I thought.

I actually finished the removal solo.


Ok, back to the check list from April…. Items 4 is done.  Item 3 is done.  Item 2 (the transmission) is going to be reassembled by John Karal this week.  Len Spinelli is going to film this rebuild and we will post it online. Item 1, I’ve done none of this — but hope to do some of it this week.  Rob is going to be by this weekend to weld.

6/4/15 – Went to John Karal’s place to pick up the transmission.  We still need a part.  Filmed the whole thing. Told that they filmed a part before I arrived and John thought my car was a 1928 instead of a 1929 and announced that the transmission was a 1929/1930 version.  I’ll probably do a separate post.

6/7/15—more forward motion.  So today I removed the engine mounts (front and back) as well as tried to drop the front axle to inspect the front crossmember.  The mounts came off without issue.  The front mount .  I may or may not show this as a separate post.


On March 11, I finally got around to finishing the removal of the transmission.  This was in preparation of John Karal (the NJRA Guru of things Model A) making a visit to Nyack to look over my car and let me know what needs to be done before the engine is reinstalled (and as one more “you should do X while you are doing Y” thing).  John has been in the Model A restoration business for years.  He had an automotive supply company, he was trained in aeronautic repairs (writing the field manuals for things like doing repairs to the carrier jet), and he runs a small shop which services and restores Model As and Ts.  We are lucky enough to have him as our local “go to guy”.  As my Model A isn’t able to “go to” John, John was willing to “go to” Nyack.  Len Spinelli joined as well, picking up John in route.

Arriving at 6:30, John stepped out of Len’s car, licked a finger, put it in the air, felt the wind direction, and then started to rattle of “to do” items for me based on his “I am one with the car” understanding of Model As…. ok, it wasn’t quite like that.  John, light in hand, inspected the car looking at all major areas of concern.  Here were his “big three” findings.

1) The rubber under the motor mounts should be replaced and the mounts should be inspected for cracks.  If you look really closely, you can see the old rubber between the mount and the frame.


2) The rusty rivet should be removed, the area cleaned, and a new rivet installed.  The other visible rivets looked fine.  Yes, I know the springs look rough…. They are.  I’m not replacing or repairing them this year.


3) The front cross member should be sanded down, inspected for crack(s) and any found cracks should be tig welded if needed.  It is hard to tell what is old flaking paint, new flaking paint, or possibly a crack under the paint.  I’ll admit that I’ve added a few coats of rattle can black to this part of the car every other time I took off the radiator… and no, I didn’t prep the surface first.


All in all, it sounded like John thought the car was in moderately good shape. He also made some suggestions regarding the steering column and the front springs… all of which could be addressed at a later time (like in a year or so).

We then went inside where I had the transmission and tower set up on my dining room table.  YES, I HAD IT IN THE DINNING ROOM ON MY KITCHEN TABLE AND PREVIOUSLY CLEAN PARTS IN THE KITCHEN SINK.   You can even see the foil I keep on the counter in one shot.


This is when John laughed and announced, “this is the worst worn universal joint I have ever seen!”

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Here is a video of John giving his first thoughts on his first look at this transmission.

After looking over the trannie, it seemed John was pleased with its overall condition (having expected it to be much worse), John focused on the tower.

Just for reference, here are links to “Tom Endy’s Transmission Prudence” and “Tom Endy’s Tower Restoration”.  These are GREAT writeups.  Tom has a whole bunch of tech articles he posted on http://www.ocmafc.org.  You should check them out.



John believes that some of the original bearings are better than the modern replacement ones and that, if the originals prove to be in good shape upon inspection, they shouldn’t be reused as opposed to replaced.  John suggested that he take the transmission and tower to his shop to properly clean, disassemble, and inspect the transmission and tower. Excitement was expressed by John in that this would also allow him to use a new spring tool that he purchased to specifically help him in his work on the transmission towers.

I drove John home and was privileged to hear tales of his aviation adventures and one notable mishap.  At his shop, which is adjacent his home, he provided some initial advice on what I should (and more importantly should not) be doing when reinstalling the engine.   He also showed me the tools I he suggested I borrow from him to make this all happen (including a frame spreader).  For the re-assembly of the transmission and tower, John has invited Len and myself to the shop to watch/record/help put these parts (and any replacement parts) back together.