A Simple Tune-up

by Ron Springer

Here’s a quote for ya.

“ That guy has probably forgotten more about cars than you will ever know!”
That phrase came out of the mouth of a friend of mine recently (not that he is the one who coined the phrase) in reference to long time drag racer and automotive engineering wizard Dan Griffin as he was tuning on car in our shop one day. Dan has campaigned his ’50 Olds Race Car, Wasted Childhood, for many decades and is somewhat of a folk legend with followers and admirers worldwide.

It all started when I spoke to Dan about the trouble we were having getting the engine to run right in a little 440 Dodge we were working on. It loaded up, overheated, idled rough and had a big fat dead spot off idle. Any number of people had made attempts to solve the issues, but to no avail. Dan took a brief look at it and listened to the engine run. He was convinced that the issues were in the Holly Double Pumper that sat atop the air-gap intake. Dan’s not a Holly guy. He suggested we let him find a good Carter AFB and rebuild it for us. I was a little reluctant since I was convinced we were already under-carbureted and what he was suggesting didn’t seem to fit that theory. But I liked Dan, and I agreed to accept his offer.

A week or so later, Dan swung by the shop one afternoon with the Carter. We bolted the newly refined unit to the intake and fired her up. Dan grabbed a screwdriver and went to work adjusting the idle mixture. Before long, the headers began to glow red and great explosions were taking place in the tubes that sounded like Cherry Bombs going off. There were several fellows standing around the car (including our Chief Mechanic) watching…or in this case, leering at Dan as though he was performing backwoods heart surgery on their prize Heifer. (The average age of the onlookers was about 35.)

After a couple minutes he signaled us to shut down the engine with a highly exasperated hand-slash across the neck gesture. Without saying a word he whipped out a wrench from his back pocket and started pulling the carb. “Anyone know what the total timing is on the piece of junk?” he growled.

He tossed the Carter on a makeshift bench and proceeded to pull it apart. In about four minutes (no exaggeration here) it was a pile of parts. Dan had brought a couple of small cardboard boxes with him, and he began to unload them onto the bench. There was one container which looked like something you’d see in a tackle box with dozens of carburetor jets in it. Another container had needle valves and accelerator pumps. There must have been enough parts in those boxes to rebuild dozens of carbs…springs, screws, gaskets…you name it. As he began to pull parts from the box I realized that this was most certainly NOT his first rodeo.

He fumbled around in the containers for the parts he wanted and without consulting a guide or a chart he made his decisions on the fly. He didn’t just change the jets, he changed everything; So much for baby steps. He called for a certain size drill bit, and using the diameter of the bit as a guide, he bent the float arms so that when he rolled the drill bit under the floats they just touched. Within a few more minutes he had the thing back together and we were bolting it onto the intake. We fired the engine and Dan grabbed the timing light. After readjusting things he leaned in under the hood spinning his hat around and cocking his head to the side. He closed his eyes and began twisting the mixture screws again. (Picture the same group of guys standing around the car, with the same scrutinizing expressions on their faces.)

As I sat in the driver’s seat monitoring the gauges and watching him through the gap between the hood and the cowl, I could hear subtle changes in the exhaust note, but Dan didn’t seem to be paying any attention to that. His ear was pointed toward the middle of the engine block. I listened more carefully trying desperately to hear what he was hearing. Deep inside the engine, I could detect all kinds of mechanical clicks and whirrs. But as I focused more closely, I could also hear a kind of deep hum, maybe even a kind of rumble. As Dan twisted the screws in and out the rumble-hum would change pitch and I could actually hear a kind of harmonic discord. What I was hearing was downright musical…like the sound a base string on a guitar makes when plucked out of tune. I continued to listen and the pitch would change moving up and down until it finally settled in a pleasant “in tune” place. There were no Cherry Bombs and the headers were fine. Then he blipped the throttle, and I mean blipped it! The sudden rush of sound startled me and it was then I discovered that I too had my eyes closed.

Dan stood back from the engine bay and motioned for me to shut her down. “Well…it’s a little better…I think,” he proclaimed.

I was stunned. The rest of the onlookers were slack-jawed. We all felt the simultaneous urge to bow as Dan walked past us with a grin on his face.

We all saw it happen! We all witnessed every step, but there was no explaining it. How did he know what to do? Why did he do what he did? What was going on in that obviously fertile and well plowed brain of his the last hour? We all wanted to question and grill him, but nobody said a word. We all just stood motionless staring at the engine as though we had just witnessed Jesus calming the storm.

Before Dan started tuning, there was no blipping the throttle. Opening the throttle yielded a magnificent roar, but you wouldn’t have called it a “rush of horsepower.” It was more of a crescendo. Now the engine idled contentedly in its own big cam kind of way but when you jammed your foot to the floor the response was nothing short of insane. It was genuinely instantaneous and the engine popped from idle to redline before you could pull your foot back.

We took the car out on the deserted road that runs along our property and made a couple of passes. I swear, the car felt as though it was going to leap out from underneath me; All this from a “simple” tune-up. That’s the power of experience!

et ita abscedit  Ron

Drive that Kustom

As seen in CKD#57-by Ron Springer

Anyone who knows me knows that there are certain things I believe in and certain things I don’t…and if I believe in something or someone I stand by it or them to the end…if I don’t, the same applies, only in reverse. (I’m not a grudge holder though…just believe in learning from experience.) When it comes to building a car and then draggin’ it around the country on a trailer; well, that’s the sort of thing I just don’t believe in doing.

Now, I can understand the desire to pull your car to a show if you’re going to be competing for the top prize at the G.N.R.S. Although, when I view the cars vying for America’s Most Beautiful Roadster the first thing that goes through my mind is, “Man, I’d like to take that baby out and see what she’d do.” I can understand trailering a car when the weather is so bad that driving to the show would mean arriving with a car that would take days to prepare for the event. But even that premise can be challenged. Last year Bo Huff took the Rockabilly Hound Dog to Darryl Starbird’s show in Tulsa. It was the dead of winter and snow was flying all the way from Carbon, Utah to Oklahoma. Bo couldn’t get an enclosed trailer so they hauled the Hound Dog on an open trailer all the way there. When they arrived in Tulsa, the Rockabilly Hound Dog was coated with road grime and the salt spray was half an inch thick on the front fenders and radiator. And you know how many magazines that car has been in.

I can understand folks who trailer their cars to events thousands of miles away, as long as they drive them when they arrive. For me, however, that thousand mile drive would be the reason for going to the show in the first place. I can even wrap my mind around folks who trailer their cars because (for health reasons) they are unable to endure the epic of driving a vintage car cross country. But other than that, it just doesn’t make sense to me to put something on a trailer that was meant from Detroit conception to be D-R-I-V-E-N.

The experience of driving your car is the penultimate motivation and reward for the thousands of hours and stacks of cash you’ve invested in building it. Not to mention a badge of honor. Sure, it’s fun to park your car at a show and watch people slobber all over themselves in admiration and envy. But getting into the driver’s seat and piloting your ride down the road is in my book, the ONLY reason for doing what we do

Give me a deserted back-road somewhere in rural America with a full tank of gas, air in my tires and no place to be for six or eight hours and I’ll be in Hog Heaven with a full bucket of slop. (Arkansas Euphemism)

 
I climb in the seat and take in the aroma; I can usually tell you which car I am sitting in blindfolded with the motor off. But when I turn the key and bring the engine to life the adventure begins to unfold. Whether it’s a 440 shakin’ the rafters, a Flathead burblin’, or a 235 a-hummin’ the sounds are like the sweetest overture I’ve ever taken in. Sometimes I just close my eyes and listen to the idle note. Then I put her in gear and let her loose. No plan… No left or right out of the drive… Just go. As I start down the road I take in all of the squeaks and rattles, all of the groans and mutters. I roll down the window summer and winter so I can feel the rush of air as we wind-up to speed. I gaze out over hoods long and lean to the asphalt beyond, over open engines with air cleaners whistling or chrome hood ornaments gleaming in the sun and I settle in. Now the scenery begins to rush past and time begins to move more slowly. A little vibration here and there, the smell of oil and gas and spent exhaust all blending together with the country air. I revel in the exhaust note. Before long, I feel one with the car and a peace comes over me. Whatever troubles, cares or worries I had when I slipped into the driver’s seat are gone. I scarcely notice other cars and people save for the ones I occasionally have to avoid. The sites, the smells, the sounds, the sensations…This is Heaven. And it always ends before I am ready.

Maybe it’s not like that for some people. And if not, I think they are missing the whole reason for doing what we do. Even if the drive doesn’t come off without a hitch, it’s still worth doing. I remember a story about Bob Hirohata driving his Merc. to a show in the rain with ankle-deep water in the floorboard because (at that time) the windows didn’t seal properly. And if memory serves, the story was fondly recalled; even though he had to take off his shoes and put them on top of the back seat to keep them dry.

So your car isn’t 100% roadworthy…just make sure you take along the number of a buddy who is willing to rescue you when you leave the barn. If you’re afraid of chipping that high-dollar paint, drive a little slower. If you’re worried about getting dings in the parking lot, walk a little farther. There just isn’t any good excuse for not driving your car.

I say, if you’ve got a Kustom Car or a Hot Rod…drive it! Drive it to the grocery store. Drive it to the kids soccer match. Drive it to work. Drive it in the spring, summer, fall and winter. Drive it all alone on a deserted back-road now and then…but most of all…drive it to the show!

et ita abscedit  Ron

Everest without Oxygen

As seen in CKD Magazine – by Ron Springer

From time to time I have been accused of being somewhat opinionated. I think I know a whole bunch more than I actually know, or so my brethren tell me. They are a group of folks whose opinion I value and a touchstone for me when I occasionally stumble across something I really have no idea about. This realization brings me to the subject of this month’s ramblings.

My Clan and I have embarked upon a new adventure. We are trying to build and race a “Vintage Style” Super Stock Drag Car.

The car is a 1963 Dodge Polara 440. It was originally put together by a veteran Drag Racer as a toy to play with in his retirement years. It is equipped with a late 60’s 440 Wedge Motor, a beefed up 727 transmission with a B&M Ratchet Shifter and a 8.75” rear end. The chassis is tied-in and the body is rock solid. It rides on Police Rallys, the front two being 4.5” X 15” custom made by Wheel Vintiques and the back being original. We mounted Hurst Front Runners and Pie Crust Slicks on the rims for traction and looks. Then we added some Caltracs, a loop for the 5 point belts, and a Purple Hood with a hole cut for the Hilborn Style Scoop to stick through and trekked to the H.A.M.B. Drags.

At the races, the car ran well considering that this was our first outing and my first time at the wheel on a “Real” Drag strip…(for the record, I didn’t have any idea what I was doing – and – I admitted it.)

We ran 13.36 @ 100 M.P.H. our first run and my reaction time was respectable. But as the day wore on, we began to garner some unsolicited advice and critique of our car. Most of which was appreciated and well received, but it raised some questions and some concerns I just have to address. First of all; Why is it that most of the performance advice we received had to do with upgrades and modifications that would tarnish, if not outright kill our goal of fielding a “Nostalgia” car. Second; What exactly constitutes “Nostalgia?”

Now, here is where the opinion part of this thing kicks in.

I have come to the conclusion that few people remember what it was actually like to build a race car, or any car for that matter in the 1960’s. I’ll even go a bit further to say that includes pre-1960 as well. There are some notable exceptions here, and I will quickly give a nod to those reading this who actually built cars back then or are trying to put together something authentic. (Nod)

In 1963 the Ramchargers, a group of Chrysler Engineers, with no factory backing and very little money were able to build and race a Super Stock Car that ran 130 m.p.h. in the quarter mile. That mark is impressive even today. And here’s the kicker; They did it without fuel injection, N.O.S., four link suspension, wrinkle wall tires, aluminum wheels or any of the things we consider “standard fare” on the track today. Take away all of this modern tech. and what you are left with is creative engineering and hard work.

I am not interested in going as fast as is technologically possible. I am not interested in pushing the limits of the quarter-mile time-slip boundary. I find it far more interesting and infinitely more challenging to try to go as fast as possible within the limits of 1963 tech. (OK, before you go off on the Caltracs, I know they didn’t have those in 1963…the Super Stock Springs are on the way as we speak.) If we could somehow approach 130 m.p.h. in the quarter I would feel as though we had just summated Mt. Everest without oxygen. If we slapped all the 2011 goodies on the car and ran 130 m.p.h. I would feel only lighter in the wallet.

“Nostalgia” means doing it the way they did it back then, with the stuff they had back then and trying to achieve what they achieved…back then!

It means that you will have to make choices in the way you do things and limit those choices to better emulate and honor the builders, racers, owners and cars that actually roamed the streets and tracks of the period you are shooting for. That means “not doing” more things than you could. It is damn hard work, and requires a ton of research, networking and most of all…humility. You’ve gotta say, “I don’t know how they did it, but I’m gonna find out, and I’m gonna do it their way.”

It also means you are going to have to explain your car to almost everyone you meet in the “go as fast as you can” crowd (that’s the real racers), the “make everything shiny” crowd (the guys who powder-coat their chassis) and the “Mr. Fuelie contingent” whose mantra is (small block Chevy, small block Chevy, small block Chevy.)

If you happen to be a member of one of these contingents, let me just say that I love your cars, they’re just not “Nostalgia” cars.

I think it is admirable…no, downright Nobel to try to do a thing within limits. The results are always full of symmetry and purpose. So if you’re going to build a “Period Kustom” then don’t use Bondo, don’t powder coat, don’t use three stage paint, and don’t run a Small Block Chevy under the hood, unless that was available “back then.” If you’re building a “Traditional Rod” then make it as authentic as possible. Build it so that people approach you and say things like, “I haven’t seen it done that way since Heck was a pup.” If your goal is to run down the track in a haze of “Nostalgia” then forego the Wrinkle Walls, Line Locks and Drag Lites. Slam the door, push the brake pedal to the floor at the line and stand on it when the flag drops.

I guarantee; When you pick up your timing slip, you’ll be on the top of the mountain…or at least scaling it without oxygen…and your sense of purpose and accomplishment will far outweigh any trophy.

(Update) With the Super Stock Springs from Mancini Racing we Broke into the 12′s.

et ita abscedit Ron

Lowriders -VS- Kustoms

As seen in Car Kulture Deluxe Magazine by Ron Springer

 

So tell me, why is it that a bunch of guys and gals spanning multiple generations and multiple ethnicities who share a common passion for all things four wheeled cannot put aside their petty differences and “make nice.”
I can hear the notification tone on my Android going nuts even as I peck on the keyboard of this computer.
Easy answer is that we all think whatever we are doing is better than whatever someone else is doing and that “WE” have it right and “THEY” have it wrong.

 
Take the rivalry between the Lowrider crowd and the Kustom group…not that either of these examples show any signs of gelling into a cohesive group…but the basic idea is still sound – These are two groups of enthusiasts who share a love for all things “Low and Shiny.”


At the core of it a Traditional Lowrider or “Throw Back” is a cultural icon for a group of highly dedicated and skilled car lovers who design and build cars that… 1. Have a low to the ground stance. 2. At the pinnacle of the genre’, have insanely beautiful paint jobs. 3. Have interiors that are highly modified and expertly crafted. 4. Have drive-trains that lean toward reliability as opposed to horsepower. 5. Typically utilize Custom Wheels and narrow white wall tires. 6. Have numerous accessories added to enhance the exterior of the car including chrome, stainless and one off hand-made items.

 
The fundamentals of building a Kool Klassic Kustom or Traditional Kustom Car are fairly easy to identify as well. A Kustom has…1. A low stance relative to the ground. 2. A paint job that is very nearly perfect in execution and appearance. 3. An interior that is expertly crafted and unique. 4. An engine and transmission that will carry the car down the road reliably without sacrificing appearance or function. 5. Very Kool and often unique Wheel Covers wrapped in wide white wall tires. 6. Numerous body modifications including but not limited to chopped tops, shaved door handles, and frenched head and tail lights.

 
On the face of it, both groups of car enthusiasts would seem to be headed in the same direction. Aside from opposing preferences for Wheel Covers –vs- Custom Wheels and Modified Sheet Metal –vs- Accessory Additions, the goals are virtually the same.

 
The Kustom crowd has always tended to sacrifice the under hood and chassis areas of the cars in favor of spending their time and money on the body and interior. The Lowrider owner tends to shy away from the sheet metal work and instead concentrates on minute details and elaborate designs over the existing shapes and mechanisms. Why one prefers wheel covers and the other prefers wheels (aside from trying to achieve period correct status) is a total mystery; however that bias seems to be breaking down of late in both groups.

 
And why can’t a Kustom Car have a decent stereo system? For that matter, why can’t a Lowrider have a chopped top?

Just imagine for a moment if folks from both camps got together and collaborated on their builds. What kind of cars would come out of such an alliance? Here’s my take: Kustoms with:Chrome Wheels,Highly detailed engine bays,Paint that speaks to the “Art of the car.” Chassis and undercarriage detail that makes you want to lie on the ground for hours staring at the frame. Sophisticated suspension schemes opening up new avenues of possibilities…i.e. NO SKIRTS NEEDED because the car can be raised like an early Citroen to change the tires. Interior modifications that rival the best and most luxurious Coach-built cars ever conceived…and decent stereo systems.

 
Lowriders with:Body and sheet metal modifications that enhance and improve overall appearance.Insanely hand-built, one-off wheel covers sparking a resurgence of interest in creativity and workmanship.Wide white wall tires.Elaborate vintage engines and unique induction systems.

 
If I am wrong about all this, then by all means tell me. But don’t ring in to say that small tires just don’t look right, or that Subwoofers have no place in the trunk of a Kustom. Don’t drone on about how Lowriders don’t get awards at car shows unless it’s at an “all Lowrider show.” And I don’t want to hear about the time some “Hispanic Male” flipped you off on the parkway either. Put all that aside and tell me why the best things from both groups can’t combine to create even more creative presentations in iron, glass, rubber and cloth. Tell me that…or forever hold your peace…please!

 

et ita abscedit  Ron

Star of the Starbird Show – Bill Weickert’s 1958 “Sledsel”

Alright, so you drive hundreds of miles to a big car show, in this case the 2013 Darryl Starbird Show in Tulsa, and when you get there you are surrounded by literally a thousand cool cars and trucks, motorcycles, vendors and the whole “dog and pony show.” All this is what I expect from a big indoor car show.

I also expect, in the case of the Starbird Show, that there will be 10 to 20 really over-the-top cars on display competing for the Top Cash Prize in Carshowdom… $20,000.00 for the winner of the “Fine Nine.”

And I was not disappointed. All the cars displayed “center stage” were the epitome of craftsmanship and detail. There were cars from top builders like Dakota Wentz of Star Kustom Shop, Keith Dean and Oz Welch just to name a few. All of them deserving the attention that was being lavished on them.

But then there were the other 981 cars and trucks that took up the vast majority of the space in the cavernous Quick Trip Center. There were entire clubs that brought out their Gassers that hey run at the Tulsa Strip as often as possible. There were the Lowriders that roam the streets of Tulsa, and the Muscle cars that line up down at one of several favorite street racing locations around town and in the burbs. There were Rods whose owners have spent countless hours blending together new and used parts  to create their visions…and on and on and on…

But as Jill and I roamed the Great Hall, we came upon one car…parked over in a dimly lit corner of the complex that caught our attention and spoke to us in a way that only certain very special cars will do…you know what I mean…you can’t just give it a glance and walk on. You have to get closer. You have to linger and take in all the details. Then, out comes the camera because you don’t want to forget what you’ve seen, or because there was some little almost imperceptible detail that you discovered and you want to catalog for the future. Whatever the case is, you are drawn to the car like a Hummingbird to Nectar.

So it was for us with Bill Weikert’s Kustom 1959 Edsel he christened “Sledsel.” As we were smiling and commenting about how cool it was that somebody had done a Kustom Edsel, (The Edsel being one of Jill’s favorite Cars…along with Turnpike Cruisers and any late 40′s-early 50′s Truck with a toothy grin) we looked over along the wall and noticed a group of people, three generations, riding their folding chairs and looking in our direction with deeply satisfied expressions. We asked them if “this” was their car and one gentleman literally “sprung” to his feet. Bill dashed across the twenty or so feet of concrete separating us and we shook hands. “Love the car,” I told him. And without hesitation he began to tell me all about it…How he had actually gone through 4 cars…to get all the letters he needed…(Picture Bill with a big grin on his face). “Letters?” I thought to myself…that was an odd thing to collect parts cars for, but I politely ignored the comment the way a person does when they don’t really understand but don’t want to expose their ignorance by asking for clarification. You see, what I had missed was the little detail of all the badges on the car that had been changed using original emblems to spell   “S-L-E-D-S-E-L” instead of Edsel.

Then Bill began to point out all of the Kustom Details of his creation. Pie sectioned center on the hood, Kustom Headlights, Bumper Setback, Center Grille mods and on and on. When he popped the hood the “Sledsel” theme continued with a Kustom Air Cleaner made from one of the extra grills he had gathered…also with the word “Sledsel” spelled out across the top. Then he pointed to the underside of the hood where sheets of shiny Stainless Steel with diamond patterns rolled into them filled the indentations of the under-hood structural supports. “Those came off of the door of a Semi Trailer,” he proudly exclaimed. They looked great, and I never would have guessed it.

The whole car was done in details so small, that they might escape the casual observer were they not pointed out. Things like the Bucket Seats and Custom Center Console with it’s hidden Automatic Transmission Shifter…that looked so natural I would have said they were original to the car…(Not an Edsel historian here…obviously.)

We spent more time with Bill and his family than we did with any other car or person at the show…and we came away from the encounter with the one thing that we wanted more than anything else when we came through the door…a feeling of satisfaction and contentment that the trip to the show and the time spent wandering around were worth it!

You can drop Bill an email at bpweickert@gmail.com and I am sure he would be delighted to hear from you. And be sure to ask about those headlights too! You’ll never guess where they came from.

et ita abscedit - Ron

“Cones” on a Darryl Starbird Show Car!

Sometimes we just have to “Pinch” ourselves! We got a call a few days ago from Darryl Starbird…cool enough right there, but then he asked us to overnight a set of our new “Cones” hubcaps to him…even cooler eh? Now, here’s the best part; This was just two days before the opening of the 2013 Darryl Starbird Car Show in Tulsa! Naturally, we were hoping that those hub caps would end up on a car in the show. So, we hoped in the car and  headed for the show on Friday.

When we arrived, we immediately began scanning the thousand-plus cars for a set of “Cones.” Well, it didn’t take long to find them. Right there in the “smack-dab-middle” of the arena was one of Darryl’s beautiful Bubble-Top Creations, the X2000 show car built by Darryl and his Grandson, Dakota Wentz (Star Kustom Shop). And on that car was the set of “Cones” we had sent out a couple of days before. “Pinch me again please!”

You know, hocking car parts for a living is not nearly as glamorous or exciting as some would like to make it out to be. Long hours of deadly dull work divided only by taking orders over the phone and processing orders placed via our website. Now, don’t get me wrong here…we love to talk to our customers. Really, that is the only thing that keeps us going most of the time. Hearing about what you are doing with your cars, and how you intend to use the parts you buy from us is the “Sweet Fruit” that gives us the reason to keep on doing what we do. But, when we get a call from one of these people we have seen in the magazines, whose cars grace the pages and about whom books are written…well, it all seems a little surreal sometimes but it’s a Real Bonus too! Guess we’re just like everyone else and we get a little star-struck.

Anyway, seeing those “Cones” on that car and remembering when we were fighting to get them made a year ago…makes it all come together a little more. Now if we can just start seeing them on our “REAL CUSTOMER’S” cars….perfect!

Oh, and by the way…when I met Darryl and Donna at the show to thank them for the passes they provided for us, we spoke a little bit about the show and the cars that were there. I told him that the cars in his “Fine Nine” were certainly beautiful, but he really needed to take a look at Bill Weickert’s ’58 Edsel Kustom over in the corner. Out of all the cars in the show, that was the one that got my blood moving. You see, “Bill is one of us,” I told Darryl, ” He built that car himself, out of whatever he had laying around and added sweat and blood”…”He is the guy that keeps us (Kustom Car Parts) alive”…”If we had to rely on selling parts only to guys like you (Darryl), we would have gone out of business long ago.”

et ita abscedit – Ron