Reader Qs (July 14, 2017)

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Here are the latest Reader Qs, along with my answers:

Jay asks:

I have a 2004 Saturn Ion which still runs well but the body and plastics are falling apart. I would like to buy and old, circa ’60’s early ’70s, car or pickup and have it repaired to running condition; not customized and detailed. It appears I’ll have less in that approach than buying a new car.
I’ve had a lot of suggestions on what I should upgrade – electronic ignition, e.g. I grew up tuning a car with a screwdriver and ignition files, so that doesn’t bother me. What would you suggest and recommend?
My Reply: 
Most ’60s and many early-mid ’70s cars will still have contact points ignition systems; these are simple and very inexpensive but the downside is having to adjust the point gap pretty frequently (assuming a regular/daily driver).
A really good – simple and cheap – upgrade is to drop in a transistorized conversion (Pertronix, etc.) that retains the stock distributor and coil but replaces the point plate/points with a modern/transistorized module. It all but eliminates routine ignition adjustment (you will still want to check timing every six months or so) and makes the car much more everyday drivable.
I’ve made this modification to several of my own vehicles. Money well-spent.
Another modification that makes these older cars much more everyday drivable is to swap out the  factory non-overdrive transmission for a more modern transmission that has an overdrive gear and (if it’s an automatic) a lock-up torque converter. Big improvement in gas mileage as well as reduction in wear and tear on the engine as a result of lower operating RPMs.
There is usually a bolt-in transmission available and it will not require a computer, usually.
I have such a transmission in my ’76 Trans-Am. I installed a 2004R automatic (four-speed, with overdrive and lock-up converter) in place of the original non-OD tranny. No cutting or adapters were needed. It bolted right in. The car cruises at about 2,200 RPM at 70… with a 3.90 ring and pinion. With the factory transmission, the engine would be screaming at about 3,300 at 65.
Despite being more than 40 years old, my TA feels and drives very much like a modern performance car.
Other worthwhile upgrades include: More modern brakes (especially if the car originally had drums at all four corners) and minor suspension tweaks such as replacing the factory rubber bushings with less squishy polyurethane.

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  1. Replacing shifter bushings in a manual transmission is a good upgrade, as you said. Booger Bushings makes solid poly shifter bushings that improve shifter action quite a bit. On the brake pads/shoes, replacing them with Centric brand pre-scorched is a big improvement as well, if your application is in their lineup.

    • I looked up Centric and the sound like the ticket. Recently the wife’s car started in with brake sounds so I stopped at NAPA and got a set of front pads, the only ones they had. After installing them I still had the sound so a couple days later I go back for rear pads and can’t find any except for OReilly’s. After installing them I noticed smoke boiling off one brake so I stop and use a screwdriver to pull the pad away and drove home without using brakes. Well, it was part my fault and part O’Reilly’s. Only one pad for each wheel had the springs to keep the pad pushed away from the rotor and I hadn’t noticed putting the “one” with the spring on the wrong side. First brake pads I ever bought that didn’t have the springs on each pad.

      I mentioned it to my neighbor since he’s a well-pumper and has to go through some bad swamps every day and changes brake pads every couple months or less. He said he had used the big O’s pads once and that was good enough to keep him away from their door. It’s damn near impossible to buy brand name pads now since every chain auto store has their own brand and nobody carries aftermarket or OE pads(except for the stealerships). The Centric’s look like the ticket and I’ll try them next on the pickup. I have never tried ceramic pads but they might be just what I need in the mud, deep sand and generally very dirty surfaces I commonly drive.

      • 8. though some may disapprove because of Jeffy Bezos’ other activities, I still buy almost all my parts from amazon. Centric pads are kind of hard to find elsewhere, at least around here, so I get them shipped, 2 days included in the prime membership, and ignore the guys who say I’m a traitor for lining Jeff’s pockets.

        The first time I did all 4 wheels on my first PT cruiser, I got the Raybestos Pro AT rotors and centric pads from amazon and it was about $280 all in. I can’t do as much wrenching as I could back then, but pads are still doable for me.

  2. Seems like ’72 or ’73 GM began using HEI and nearly all their pickups had an HEI logo somewhere on the body. Seemed like a good idea since feeler gauges, spare points and other parts were in my tool box. 30 years later with all the cars and pickups I’d racked up millions of mile with I had replaced ONE ignition module. It was hard to believe the 454 that had huge underhood heat never ate one. I was happy as a pig in mud and never looked back.

    Recently a friend of a friend texted me explaining his daughter and boyfriend had bought a ragged out ’78 3/4T 4WD Suburban and it just quit. They had replaced the distributor cap but still no starty or runny. They were wondering if it might be a sensor on the crank and all sorts of stuff.

    Not being there I could only guess from what he said the module had quit so when he tossed the old cap he tossed the very thing that was wrong along with it. After I explained to him he relayed the info to said 30 something year old children. He bought them a new module, the guy installed it and I guess the Surburban still runs but it did start up and run fine after that. I thought HEI was THE best automotive thing to ever happen till TBI which I have never had to touch a wrench to that either. Keep a quality fuel filter changed often and those systems and their pumps run forever.

    • I converted my ’76 Kz900 as well as my ’64 Corvair to the points-free set up. Never regretted it. I’d do mu Kawa triple, too… but that beast is a challenge because it has three sets of points…


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