Archive for October, 2014

 “56789-Tow”… NO! I meant “Ten”….. Dang

ROAD TRIP!  The initial plan was to take a few days off between work assignments (I’m overworked).  I was to drive to see my brother in Burlington VT and check out the foliage.  I love VT and making the beautiful drive north in the peak of fall foliage with the Model A is something I’ve been planning since I purchased the car in 2011.  With the car “tweaked”, oil changed, parts lubed, and backup gear packed, I dropped my sad puppy off at my folk’s place (see photo) and set off on my drive.

Sad Puppy Photo

Sad Puppy Photo

As I left Nyack, I noted that the odometer was reading “56700”.  This means that the trip would yield “56789” in route to Albany where I was planning to go apple picking with a friend (“MD”) of 28 years.  Oh, and I was 1.5 hours behind schedule.   The phaeton had a bit of a shimmy at 46 to 48 mph and typical squeaks/creeks; however, at 50 MPH the Phaeton drove “silky smooth” along the newly repaved parts of I-87.  After about 2 hours of non-stop driving I found myself ready to pick up a coffee at the Malden rest stop near Saugerties.  As I pulled into the rest stop I was welcomed by several fans of the car who told me that they passed me driving and loved the car.  One asked how I liked the car and would I sell it to him, jokingly I told him I needed to check for oil under the car before I could answer and ducked under the car….DANG—-THERE IS OIL DRIPPING!  This is not the first time I’ve had oil leaks and won’t be the last.  As they say, if your Model A isn’t leaking oil, you need to add oil.

A look under the hood yielded the following video.

Ok, the leak seems to be by the headgasket in a spot where there isn’t really reason for there to be a leak and in an area where one would NOT expect to see oil.  This means oil was traveling along the gasket.  With this in mind, I tried to tighten the headnuts while at the rest stop.  This is EASY to do (and should be done with a torque wrench which I didn’t have on the ride).  To do this, you need to disconnect the distributor and the “timing retard/advance” lever and just tighten the head bolts carefully in a specific sequence.  So, I did just this, put the distributor back in place, and got back on the road.

…. on the road ½ a mile and got to snap a beautiful odometer reading of “56789”.  Not bad for a car that barely functioned when I got it.


Another 1.5 miles later I was on the side of the road with gas pouring out of the carburetor and no power to climb hills.  So much for an easy roadtrip.  After taking few deep breaths I noticed that I didn’t reconnect the timing retard/advance lever and therefor the car was sparking at the wrong time resulting in poor combustion (my flooding everything with gas) and all the power problems. I was still leaking a little oil.  This is when I decided to change my plans for the trip.

I made a quick call to Marv, the president of the Adirondack As who suggested I reach out to Al Clarke of Go Devil Garage (518-477-6725) who is one of the “go to” guys for Model A engines.  Al was traveling but told me that he would be in his shop on Monday after 3:30/4:00.  He let me know I could tow the car there if needed and would do whatever he could to help.  I told him I would drive there Monday with coffee and donuts.  I figured changing a headgasket with Al would be a fun change to the trip and that I would drive home after via western Mass.  I love the Berkshires (it is similar to VT) and getting to work with Al would be a blast.

Ok, back on the road.  I met up with my friend MD in Delmar a couple of hours late.  Instead of going apple picking, MD fed me homemade chicken soup, helped me retorque the engine with the proper tools (Question: What in the world was MD doing with a torque wrench?  Answer: she is just impressive that way), and then MD and I took the car for laps around town with her mother-in-law, cousins, and kids taking turns joining in and waiving at pedestrians.  As the sun was setting I went to a local hotel to hunker down for the night and plan for the today.  Sidenote— don’t bother ordering Chinese Food for dinner in Albany, it isn’t worth it.   I woke late, went to Walmart to pick up some oil and stationed myself at a starbucks about 8 miles from Go Devil Garage (which is where I wrote this and the next part of the post). With time on my hands, it is time to postulate what’s happening.


Because there is no direct path that should cause oil to leak from the head gasket, I have more than one problem and the combination of problems is causing the leak.


What do we know?

  • The car burns a lot of oil… a LOT of oil.
  • The headgasket that came with the car leaked like a sieve and needed to be replaced.
  • When Red Leitner and I changed the original gasket a few years ago we saw lots of oil in two of the four combustion chambers and a little oil in the others. We did not magniflux parts of the car or test the head/block for cracks.  We assumed that oil was primarily entering the chamber because of old/worn rings as well as a very visible damaged/burnt valve.  Red and I also saw rust on one of the bolts and had issues removing the distributor (where there was rust).  The new gasket did have a little seepage after it was installed.
  • Since I purchased the car, if I removed the oil fill cap on the car I see exhaust puff and if I removed a spark plug I see carbon and oil.
  • I overheated the car a few times in 2013 before replacing the radiator. Overheating can adversely impact a head gasket’s ability to make a seal (and even warp a head).
  • The car drives very smoothly at 50MP.
  • There are no loud clanks or bangs when I drive.



The engine is not in bad shape.  Oil is getting in the combustion chamber via the old rings/bad valve (and valve seat) and is then being forced out of the engine along weak spots in the failing head gasket.  Changing the gasket will “fix” the problem until I have the chance to have the engine rebuilt (this winter?).


Keeping in mind that I am no expert in Model As, I’ll let Al Clarke provide guidance and see what is happening.  As an engine rebuilder, Al is the guy to help.


I’m now writing from my place in Nyack.


At 4:00 Al met me at his garage (photo below) about 30 miles outside of Albany in East Schodack, NY.  His shop is packed with KR Wilson tools and it is evident by the projects he is working on that he is a guy “in the know” and with considerable experience.  He is also highly referenced.

56789 IMG_4141IMG_4142

Al listened to the engine and told me it sounded good but it looked like I needed the head gasket replaced. He also gave me the heads up that that it sounded like one of the babbets was starting to go and might need to be shimmed or re-done in the not too distant future.  Al is one of the few guys left that that can actually “pour a babbet” correctly.  With this we rolled the car into his shop and we started to remove the head from the engine with the hopes that we could change the gasket and get me on the road.




Removing the head revealed that the gasket was in fact failing in multiple locations. I can’t blame the gasket.  There was a ton of carbon buildup and lots of oil in the chambers.  You could see Al had some concerns.

Al took out a straight edge and showed me that the head was no longer flat.  This was probably why the original gasket failed and I likely didn’t improve the situation when I overheated the car.  He and I also magnafluxed the common areas where engine blocks get cracks — like by broken valves.  Yup… there was a little crack there (that thankfully didn’t appear deep).  Al also noted that the cylinders and pistons looked to be original and engine didn’t show obvious signs of ever being rebuilt.

IMG_4152 IMG_4154

Al then presented me with several options:

  • We continue change the head gasket and hope all is well enough to get me home.
  • We take time to level the head and then return tomorrow to change the gasket and put the fixed head back on and hope it gets me home.
  • We take a refinished head from his shop and put the gasket on tonight and hope it gets me home.
  • We leave the engine in his shop, find a place to store the car, and Al can take the winter to “do it right”.

I am all about “doing it right” when repairing this car… and let me again state that Al is highly referenced.  Just replacing the gasket would be asking for problems (and require that I stop several times in route home to re-torque the headnuts which would be no big deal if I had a torque wrench and a an offset attachment for the distributor).  The repair could last 1,000 miles or just 10 miles and wouldn’t fix the other problems.  Leveling the current head would require more time and would be “done again” when I have the engine rebuilt.  I couldn’t see purchasing a new head only when I was planning to have the engine rebuilt this winter.  Additionally, driving with the engine cracks COULD cause the cracks to open up more.  Then again, if the engine was performing as well as it was, the cracks were probably not bad and probably weren’t getting worse.  It is not uncommon for these cars to have cracks and be driven for years upon years.   Regardless, the engine still needs to be rebuilt.  Al was tremendously patient with my decision making process and started placing calls to some of his friends to get an idea of what storage would be available and what it would cost if I left the car — most of the Model A guys in the area were packing or already left for a big car show in Hersey PA, so Al had a challenging time getting in touch with people.   Al seems to be a “do it right” and “do right by you” kind of guy.  I could tell he really wasn’t comfortable with any patchwork repair leaving his shop.  I like this characteristic.

I hemmed/hawed over the options and hit a decision making wall.  While it could have been optimal for Al to have spearheaded the removal of the engine, its restoration, and its re-installation; I just couldn’t see myself leaving the car upstate without proper storage plans and without my being able to be “hands on” with the repair.  While the engine is out of the car, there is a lot of “other work” I can/should do to parts of the car that are not normally accessible with the engine in the car.  I also needed to flush the crud that was now permeating my partially empty coolant systems (the new radiator) and do other things before the car could be properly stored and to prevent clogging of the new radiator.   If the car was left upstate, this may have sat undone.

The option not listed above then came to mind:

  • AAA offers flatbed towing and my membership gives me the first 100 miles free.

The cost for tow overage miles to get back to Nyack (29 miles of overage) was about the same I would pay for a night in an Albany area hotel AND had if I took the AAA option I had the added benefit of getting myself and the car to my garage in Nyack.  As there was no way our timing (it was getting late) would enable us to get the engine removed tonight, I decided to go home with the car and engine.  Tomorrow will be the last day of this well-earned “vacation” and I will likely spend it figuring out the next steps.


Stay tuned….. more to follow as I figure out how to remove and ship an engine.