After the Bonneville / Pleasanton trip this year I decided to take my coupe to the drag strip a few times to see how it would do and to see what areas needed some attention in preparation for the Ego-Rama. I didn’t know for sure at that time if I would get voted in but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.
The first outing at the track told me what I already knew. Traction was a big problem. I at least needed a posi, or Trac-Loc in Ford terminology. Lower gears than the 3.00’s that I used for highway runs and some tires stickier than the 235 75 X 15 WWW’s would help too. The tech guy at the track laughed at my old helmet with its SNELL 1980 sticker and he made a few suggestions as to what safety improvements I could make in the future.
I scored a rebuilt 9 inch 3.50 Trac-Loc third member from a guy who is always at the swap meet selling used race parts. He didn’t have them with him at the swap meet though so, I had to make the trip down to Garden Grove to pick them up. That’s not a really long trip from Irwindale but with LA traffic, that pretty much burned up a whole evening after work one day. My usual trick of using a wheel or brake drum as an axle puller wouldn’t work this time so, I spent another evening calling and running all over town looking for a slide hammer with the proper axle flange attachment. I finally got it in and all bolted back up and there was a terrible whine on deceleration. Something was definitely wrong with the gears. I called the guy that I got them from and he said he’d swap them for another third member and if that didn’t work, he’d refund my money. It’s nice to do business with people who will stand by their product. Al Clark is a stand up guy. The second third member went in a bit quicker and everything worked fine. Traction was considerably improved but it was obvious that the WWW radials were not going to be up to the task of hooking up at the drag strip.
I decided to try a set of the BFG Comp TA Drag Radials. It looked like the 245 60 X 15’s would fit the car. At 26.1 inches tall they would lower the gear ratio a bit more too. I took a set of ’56 Ford pick up wheels to the place that widens them for me and told them to put the centers on 7” rims, reversed with zero back spacing. I picked them up a week later sand blasted and primered for $80. Because I was in a hurry to get to the powder coaters, I neglected to check them closely. The powder coater said he could get them done that day and to come back at 1:00pm to pick them up. I got back there in time to see them coming out of the oven. They looked great but as I stood there admiring them while they were cooling, I realized the they had about 1.5” offset. Now that they were already powder coated it was too late to take them back to have the offset corrected. My fault for being in a hurry and not inspecting them when I picked them up at the wheel shop. I’ll be more careful in the future. Fortunately, the wheels and tires fit on the car OK with the extra offset. Getting the tire closer to the fender lip actually worked better aesthetically with the short rear tires.
I made a driveshaft safety loop and installed it before the second trip to the track.
The next trip to the track showed that the traction problem was solved. The car hooked right up but now it bogged off the line. Most likely this was from fuel sloshing into the vent of the primary fuel bowl of the 3310 Holley. There were a few other areas that needed to be addressed too. The TH400 didn’t have a shift kit so, it wanted to shift out of first at about 4500 RPM’s, the column shifter wouldn’t allow me to shift manually and with the small valve heads, the engine didn’t really want to pull past 4500 RPM’s anyway.
I made a list of things I wanted to fix, upgrade or change before the Ego-Rama but I didn’t
want to tear into the car until after the Rattle Can Nationals / CHRR weekend. That made
things a little tight time wise giving me exactly 5 weeks to get this list of things done.
Fresh set of big valve heads New cam and lifters
All new engine gaskets
Weld cracked front fender brackets
Modify TH400 to allow it to hold 1st gear
New NHRA approved shifter
New steering column, necessary because the column shifter was not being used any longer (it was ugly as sin too)
New turn signal switch and ignition switch, the old ones went with the old column
New dash panel, necessary to add a Tach and vacuum gauge
Re-wiring under the dash for all the new stuff
While I was tidying up the interior I decided to add some door panels and kick panels too
As soon as I got home from the CHRR on October 5, I tore the car apart to start on the upgrades. Working space and storage space for the disassembled parts was pretty tight because I lost the free storage space for my Plymouth and now it was back in the shop too along with the Cadillac, the 32 and a 56 Ford pickup cab. I removed the front sheetmetal, radiator, engine, transmission, steering column and dash. I also put the engine on the stand and tore it down to the short block that Sunday afternoon and evening.
Somewhere along the way I decided against using the Drag Radials for the Ego-Rama. They didn’t have much tread depth even when new and as soft as they are I feared they might be totally worn out before getting to Arizona. They also changed the look of the car considerably. It still looked OK but not as good as with the WWW’s. I got a set of WWW recaps at the Long Beach swap meet to replace the radials that were on it. They’re sort of like cheater slicks. They fit the car better and look better than the radials ever did and they hook up pretty good too.
My bud Frank Klein hooked me up with a machine shop that he does business with and I got a fresh set of Dart Sportsman II heads, I got a Comp Cams 280 magnum cam, a B&M Pro Ratchet shifter, SW Tach and Vacuum gauge, miscellaneous carb and ignition parts from Service Center, and the steering column, steering wheel, steering U-joint and turn signal switch from Limeworks.
I ran into another snag when re-assembling the engine. The center two holes in each head for the intake manifold bolts were drilled 15 degrees off from the other holes. To get the intake manifold to fit I had to re-drill the center holes at the new angle and then use longer bolts and 15 degree alignment washers. Jay Carnine generously made the washers for me in short order and Hoyt Martin picked them up on his way through Visalia the next day.
Hoyt helped on a lot of the other projects too. He sorted out most of the under dash wiring changes and welded up the cracked front fender brackets. Tony Waggoner gave me the instructions on how to modify the TH400 to hold first gear without putting in a shift kit. Frank Sendra came by a couple of times to help with whatever I was working on that day. RottenRodney helped out a couple of weekends by doing most of the door panel & kick panel fabrication & installation and helping with all the last minute details and Frank Klein helped with tools, answering almost daily questions, diagnosing problems and helping with the final cam break in. Without the generous help of these friends I never would have been ready. Thanks guys, I really appreciate it.
That last 3 weeks is mostly a blur as far as what was done on what day. I was working on the car after work every night until about 10:00 or 11:00pm. Someone was there almost every day helping with something. It was all back together and ready to fire for the first time on the morning of November 1.
I had a few problems during the cam break in procedure and had to shut the engine off a couple times. The first was a severe oil leak at the front of the oil pan. Even though I got rid of the cheapo chrome timing cover I still had the cheapo chrome oil pan and the front was not sealing even with the thick one piece Fel Pro blue gasket. The second problem was it ran out of gas. There were still some problems with the way I had the fuel gauge and switch wired. I got a couple wires crossed when swapping the dash and it was blowing the fuse as soon as it was turned on.
After breaking in the cam, I re-adjusted the valves but the engine still rattled like the rockers were out of adjustment and I couldn’t get it to run with anything less than about 16 degrees BTDC initial timing. I tried everything I could think of trying to get rid of the rattling. I was seriously stressed out. The car wouldn’t run right, the start of the Ego-Rama was just a few days away and I couldn’t figure out why it was running so badly. Frank Klein came over on Wednesday to see if he could help. After adjusting the valves 2 more times and swapping out the roller tip rockers for the stockers he suggested that the cam might be flat. We checked that and sure enough, we found that #7 intake was barely opening. I wasn’t happy about how much work I now had ahead of me but it was a relief to know what the problem was. Wednesday night we pulled the radiator off the car and tore the engine back down far enough to replace the cam. When I got the cam out I saw that #1 exhaust, #2 exhaust & #7 intake were all flat. Thursday after work I took the cam back to Service Center. They agreed to give me a new one with lifters, no charge. Again, it’s good to do business with people who stand by their products. Unfortunately, they didn’t have it in stock and I had to go back Friday afternoon to get it. Thursday evening I cleaned everything up and got it ready to slide the cam in and bolt it all back together. Friday afternoon when I put the 2nd new cam in one of the cam bolts broke with less than 20 ft.lbs. of torque. At this point I was almost ready to shoot myself. What ELSE could possible go wrong? Luckily (?) I got the broken bolt out pretty easily and quickly. Friday evening we got it all back together ready to break in the 2nd new cam. This time I used molybdenum disulphide break in lube (and lots of it) that has always worked for me in the past instead of the little packet of red stuff that comes with the cam. Frank Klein came over to help with the break in procedure and everything went well. After break in we adjusted the valves again and the engine ran great. Rod and I spent the rest of Saturday finishing up a bunch of the other projects.
The first road test was on the way to breakfast Sunday morning. It ran good with no leaks and it pulled hard in first gear all the way to 6000 RPM. At that RPM the PVC can’t evacuate the pressure fast enough though and oil starts coming out of the breather on the front of the intake manifold. I’m going to have to re-engineer that breather. For now the solution at the drags will be to tie wrap a shop rag around the breather to soak up the purged oil.
All we had to do Monday before heading to Burbank to meet up with the other Ego-Rama participants, was give it a thorough washing, mostly to get all the motor oil off the primer, fix a couple of rattles and buy a few supplies. I was amazed that we got it all done in time. A few days earlier I was sure that I was going to have to wimp out and call the R&C guys to tell them that I took my car apart and didn’t have enough time to get it back together. Thanks again to all my friends who helped me make it to the event on time.
Eventhough I only was able to participate in 2 days of the Ego Rama, I met some really great people and have some new friends. Several of my existing friends REALLY stepped up to show how strong the friendships are by helping me when I needed it most, both in thrashing to get the car ready and helping me when I got hurt. I'll never forget it. Tuesday night we were getting ready to leave the Bar B Que and I had the car backed in at an angle, about 2 feet from the wall of Randy Clark's new body shop. I opened the door to the coupe to fire it up and let it warm up a bit before we headed to the hotel. I must have left the car in reverse when I parked it because when it started it lunged backward hitting the wall and throwing me onto the ground.
911, cops, paramedics, emergency, x-rays, CAT Scans and then at 4:00am in the rain I was discharged. Lucky for me, RottenRodney got me to his place and took care of me for a few days until I could get out of bed long enough to go to the bathroom. Friday He got me to my doc for a quick check and then handed me off to my mon and dad. They took me home and watched after me for about a week until I was able to get up and around and take care of myself. I've weaned myself off of the prescription pain meds because I don't like the side effects. Just Advil and a muscle relaxer before bed. I still have a headache but the hole in my head is healing OK. My lower back is still sore but it gets better every day. I figure I'll be about 75% recovered by Thanksgiving. It might take a month or so to get back to 100%. The car isn't too bad. The left fender got banged up (again on the way to AZ). We left the car at Randy's shop that night. Rod picked it up and took it to the shop where he works the following Monday. It wouldn't surprise me a bit to get it back repaired, that's the kind of friends these guys are. No matter if it's not, they've already done a lot for me.
In the process of making changes I installed a B&M Pro Ratchet shifter WITH the neautral safety switch. We went through great lengths to ensure that the switch was installed, adjusted and working properly. That's what's so baffling to me. How did this happen? Oh well, I'll never trust a neutral saftey switch again. I'll run them, but I won't bet my life or health on them.
Even though I wasn't able to complete the Ego-Rama this year all the effort was not in vain. I finally got off the dime and made some of the upgrades that I've wanted to do for a while and the car is that much closer to being ready for the 2004 Ego-Rama. That's right, like the governor said "I'll be back."