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  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.


So much has happened to the engine since the last post. The engine is in great shape. It has been cleaned, fluxed, machined, leveled, bored, honed, balanced and by the time I post this most likely poured, peened, balanced again, painted, and reassembled. Most of the work was done in my absence; however, the J&M boys were kind enough to send progress photos throughout the process. They also welcomed myself and Len Spinelli (President of the North Jersey Regional Model A Club, good guy, and camera man) to come to the shop for a day of fun/work/schooling. Len and I met up at the NY/NJ border at 6:30AM and hit the road to get to Southborough Massachusetts for an early AM start (targeted arrival by 10AM.  We arrived just before 10AM.

We started by leveling the head and the block. They are both placed on a level base on a milling/boring machine. The machine head then takes swipes If a swipe “shaves” off something from one part but not another part, then the head or block isn’t level. This is an iterative process. The machine takes swipes until the head is level, then the bit is exchanged for a finishing bit that shines the surface down a wee bit more.
J&M Machine Company Cylinder Head Resurface

Once the block is level, the machine is set to bore the cylinders. There is a complicated process to locate the “center” of each cylinder, as you don’t want to measure on one specific spot, as that spot may be warped or worn down. The cylinders are then subject to the same process as the head, but at specific bore sizes (which match piston sizes). All cylinders must be bore to the same size and must not have warps, rust, or groves that would impair the engine.

J&M Machine Company Engine Block Decking and Boring

Don’t forget to shape the valve seats

J&M Machine Company Cutting Valve Seats

Once all cylinders are bore and the valve seats are shaped, the cylinders are honed and finished with precision. J&M maintain that this is where many shops skip a step.

J&M Machine Company Cylinder Honing

J&M Machine Company Cylinder Hone Finish

Let’s not forget straightening the crankshaft

Here are some photos of my crankshaft that they addressed prior to the visit.  I know a bunch of cranks I would like straighted out….


(this crank in the video isn’t mine).

J&M Machine Company Crankshaft Straightening

…and then grinding it.

J&M Machine Company Crankshaft Grinding

They sent me home with the bellhousing.  They installed the pedal shaft on the bell housing and replaced/installed lower bushings plus installed new bushings in pedals.

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The block is now finished and honed.  Please note the crosshatching on the hone.

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Here are some images of the pistons once they were made ready for the rebuild.  Apparently the heaviest was 2.2 grams off from the lightest.  They are now all within .2 grams of weight.

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You remember that dirty flywheel…. Here is the a before and after of it.

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….. and in case you didn’t see it already posted on, here is a tour the Mike gave of the J&M Shop.

I’ve also decided, since spring is around the corner, that I would have J&M’s contacts rebuild the starter and the carburetor. I really wanted to do these things myself, but there are only so many hours in a day and I want to get the car back on the road this Spring.  If timing allows this Month (March), I will be taking apart and restoring the transmission with John Karal (the “North Jersey Model A Guru”).