The Studeblogger

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Wiring Harness Replacement, Day 4 - the finale!

This weekend I finished the wiring harness project, pulling out the old taillight harness and installing the new one. Everything is brand-new wire, from headlights to taillights.

As with the front harness, the rear wiring came from Studebakers West in Redwood City, California. Nice stuff, with OEM wire colors; a drop-in replacement for the original.

The factory harness was routed under the carpet next to the driver's side of the front seat, up under the rear quarter panel trim, over the rear wheel well and past the trunk divider, where it then clips to the driver's side of the trunk, near the trunk opening, and then to the left taillight, across to the gas gauge sender and finally the right taillight. It's really easy routing; all you have to do is follow the clips spot-welded to the body.

First thing was to pull up the carpet a little, which necessitated removing the driver's kick panel and door sill plate. That's where I found the first rust hole in the floor, right at the base of the A-pillar, where the floor meets the front wheelwell. Just a little hole, about 3/8", but I was sure hoping there wouldn't be any. Guess it's a Stude trademark though, so we'll deal with it.

I also had to pull the rear seat to route the wires into the trunk. The seat bottom lifts right out; the seat back hangs on two little hooks on the package-shelf cross brace, and is then secured to the floor with sheet-metal screws through two oblong loops on the bottom of the seatback. Undo those screws and the whole back lifts right out.

As long as I was in there, I pulled off the quarter panel trim and shot as much WD-40 into the window regulator as I could, freeing up the window, which had only been able to roll down about 4 inches.

In the trunk, the only thing that required cleaning up was the connection to the two license plate lamps, which had been butt-crimped to the harness connector. I nipped them off and crimped on some bullet connectors to plug into the new harness. Everything else was easy as pie.

I vacuumed up the detritus under the rear seat, which is when I found the other little hole in the floor - this one under a pile of dried dum-dum at the front corner of the rear wheel-well. This one was larger than the first; about the size of a quarter - I could easily see daylight and pavement through the hole. Some 200-MPH tape for the time being, but we'll have to address this, too.

That completed the job, and after reinstalling the seat and door trim, I bolted the Stupid Grant Steering Wheel ™ back to the column. She's really ready for the road now - all that really needs doing is the brakes - stand by for the next installment!

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wiring Harness Replacement, Days 2 & 3.

Well, it took me a week to get back to it, but last weekend I got the time to finish installing the new wiring in Barney.

Since I'd already ripped out the half of the harness that formerly occupied the dashboard, I began installing the new harness by threading it through the firewall to the engine compartment from inside the car. The engine side of the harness is much smaller on the engine side than the dash-side bundle, which is why it makes sense to do it like this.

It was actually a little bit of work to get it through there by myself. I had uncoiled the new harness and stretched it out as far as I could, and the different circuit branches kept getting hung up on things (the seatback, the turn signal stalk, the steering column Z-bar) as I pulled it through. Finally, though, I got it all the way through and began changing connections, starting with the alternator wires (farthest point of the harness) and being careful to bend the bundle the same as the old ones to fit into the wire clips around the radiator support. Notice in the pics below that there are several clips at strategic locations to guide the wire bundle around the radiator, under the horn mounting positions, and elsewhere in the engine compartment.

Notice also that there are a few leads in the harness that are not connected. There are usually a few of these in any car; in my case, the low-tone horn and the overdrive relay. Loose wire leads are a big peeve of mine. They can get in moving parts, or arc to ground unexpectedly, so I always tie-wrap them to the main bundle, as you can see above.

I had left the engine half of the old harness in place and simply substituted the new connectors for the old at each connection along the way. Sure, you could use the wiring diagram, but why not make it easy?

Also, here's a plug for some good stuff. Caig Labs in Poway, California (right up the road from me) makes a product called DeoxIT. This stuff is magic! If you spray it on old electrical connectors, it will remove oxidation within minutes; the junk just wipes right off, without harming the connectors themselves. There's also DeoxIT Gold, which is a lubricant/connection enhancer that you spray on afterward. Lest you call BS on this, let me tell you that I've measured connection resistance myself in connectors with and without DeoxiIT Gold, and it does indeed seriously lower the resistance. You can get it at almost any Radio Shack, or Frys, or like stores. I used this on every connection under the hood, and on the dash switches as well.

Also, just to make sure that the underhood connections stay moisture-free, I used a dab of dielectric grease on every connection point. This is the stuff the factory uses in all the booted connectors to keep connectors from corroding or absorbing water.

After finishing the engine compartment, Iwent into the cabin. First thing I figured I'd do was to bolt the new fuse/flasher block to the dash, since it really locates the rest of the harness bundle. In my Lark, the flasher panel shares a mounting position with the driver's side air vent control - the vent rod bracket bolts to the bottom of the dash frame, and the same screws hold the flasher bracket to the top of the frame. I had previously installed all the connections and fuses that live in it, so I began to screw it on -- and ran into my first bit of trouble. The flasher can was too big; it interfered with the vent rod. I had read the number off the old flasher and gotten a direct replacement from my NAPA, but a check of the manual revealed that it was, in fact, the wrong flasher. How did the old one fit in there without banging on the vent control? Well, my old flasher block was busted - one fuse connection was actually broken off and was being held in place by the fuse! I think that a PO probably put in a flasher they had on hand, and when it didn't fit, he just bent the bracket forward, breaking the board! Luckily, SASCO had NOS parts in stock, and I got one before they closed down.

NEVER TRUST THE P.O.! After a hasty trip to NAPA, I installed the correct flasher and proceeded. In the pic above, you can see the difference between what was on the car, and the correct (short) can.

After that, things went pretty well. I routed the new wire bundle over the steering column support and into the clip that holds it down, and separated the pigtails for the various switches and instruments into their approximate locations.

Let me point out that while most fuses in a Studebaker dashboard are inline in their respective circuits, there are two circuit breakers as well; one 20A breaker for the headlights and a 5A for the wipers. They are located at opposite ends of the instrument nacelle. The headlamp breaker is in a holder at the lower forward left corner of the panel (think: just above the hood release, but inside the dash structure) and the wiper breaker is in a like holder on the right side, attached to the steering column Z-bar. While they are situated in such a way that you wouldn't know where to look for them if you didn't know where to look for them (figure that out!), once you know where they are, you can get to them pretty easily from below.

While the instruments were out, I took the opportunity to remove my defogger vent heads and attach new flexible ducting obtained from Studebaker International. It was nearly impossible to get the new ducts mounted properly while the vents were in the dash, but they're held on with just two small screws each. I snugged the new hose on the inlets and secured them with Zip ties, then bolted them back up to the dash.

Next step was to start hooking up the gauges and switches. I set the new guage bezel on top of the steering column and started hooking up switch wires according to the wiring chart. This is a bit tricky; first, the shift lever interferes with the bezel's direct entry to the dash; even in the "Reverse" position, you have the heater/defogger control cables attached to their levers, which must be guided through the dash structure. While these are flexible, the OEM cables are spiral-wound metal, not plastic-sheathed, and can be bent if you're careless. In fact, I managed to bend the rightmost cable but was lucky enough to try the controls while the cables were still accessible through the gauge holes, and I straightened it so that it could slide without hanging up. Also, the metal bezel can scrape up the top of the steering column pretty good; I wound blue painter's tape around the column to protect it during this operation.

After the switch and the Fuel/Temp/Oil/Charge gauge connections were made, I pushed the bezel into the dash and started installing the six #10-24 3/8" self-tapping screws that hold it in. How do I know what size they are? Because I lost one, somehow, in the dash structure. One minute it was in the socket, the next it was nowhere to be found - nowhere! This prompted a trip to Ace hardware, since I had also found a screw missing in the bracket that holds the parking brake to the dash. Ace only had 1/2" screws, so I had to shorten one to 3/8" using my Dremel.

The hardest connection to make to the left-most gauge is the oil pressure line. The gauge is a direct-reading mechanical type, so the line is a hard copper tube that attaches to the engine with a flexible coupkling, then comes through the dash and ends in a miniature double-flare that screws into a fitting on the back of the gauge. Try as I might, working through the clock and speedo holes, that danged line did not want to screw into its fitting. At this point, I'd been at it for 6 hours and decided to call it a day.

On Sunday afternoon, after a good lunch, I decided to try it again. I got into a better position ("better" being a relative term) with the help of a pillow and Mini-Mag and succeeded in getting the oil line installed, working from below. Let me tell you, it was about as comfortable as flying coach on a Delta flight!

After that, it took about 5 minutes to set the speedo in place and hook up its drive cable and the leads for the directional and high-beam indicators. Time to hook up the battery!

I crossed my fingers and put the battery cables on. Nothing sparked or leaked smoke, so I said a quick "thank you" prayer and put the key in the ignition, at which my first mistake became apparent -- the windshield wipers came on with the key; I'd installed the leads to the switch backward.

But that was no big deal. Now for the high-wattage stuff: the headlights, taillights, beam selector switch, turn signals, instrument lights. Success! All worked nicely.

I turned the key to "start" and the engine fired up after a couple of cranks - Success! But the key was turned right off as I saw, through the open hood, smoke coming from the new coil resistor I'd installed. (Studebakers West can't get the resistance wire the factory used to supply power to the coil when the key is in the "run" position, so they give you an old-style external resistor that mounts to the coil bracket.) I quickly went and pulled the cables off the battery, then checked the resistor. But the wires were cool; the smoke was coming from the resistor coil itself. I guess brand new ones just smoke a little when the current first hits them. I put the cables back on the battery and fired the engine again - sweet!

There were only a couple of small errors to fix, such as the connections to the wiper switch and the ammeter, which I apparently wired in reverse - the needle went to the "Charge" side of center when I turned the headlights on, and swung to "Discharge" when I revved the engine! But those were easy fixes, and I corrected them after work yesterday.

The one thing left to figure out is the behavior of the headlight/parking light switch. The parking lamp position of the switch doesn't seem to work - no lights on the corners in the center position, but they come on with the headlights like they're supposed to. It's possible that the switch is work out and not working right - we'll see.

The only part of the harness left to install is the back half that feeds the tail and reverse lights, but there's no hurry for this, as all those wires are in relatively good shape.  At least I don't have to worry about nightmares like the scene at left anymore!

Next project is getting the new master cylinder and brake lines installed, and she's on the road!

Click here for the final part of the wiring installation series >>

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wiring Harness Replacement, Day 1.

Well, I hadn't really planned on this job, but some things just demand to get done all on their own.

After putting the new distributor in Barney and getting him going, I was futzing around inside and was, once again, taken by the rat's nest of messed-up wiring under the dashboard. I knew that the wiring harness was going to need replacement soon after buying him; there was a bundle of wires hanging out from beneath the ignition switch that had bare ends with tape over them! And there were other things, like the fact that the heater blower circuit was open... the headlight beam selector was bypassed... the horn circuit had shorted out and melted the harness for about a foot... and the fuse block was literally broken in half.

And the thought hit me: why wait? Why not do it now, before the car's back on the road? Because once I'm driving it, I'm not going to want to take it down to do this job. Also, I don't want to be standing next to a smoldering heap of metal on the side of the road somewhere because I didn't do it!

Luckily, I'd ordered a new OEM-style harness from Studebakers West in Redwood City. Mr. Biggs on the SDC Forum had told me early on that SW were the ones to go to, since they make their own harnesses from factory loom charts. And let me say, it's a beautiful piece of work!

So, after talking it over with my wife, I plunged in last Sunday. I'd sought advice on the Forum about how best to do the job; some told me I should drop the steering column and remove the entire dashboard. But a couple of guys told me I could do it by removing just the steering wheel and the gauge cluster, and working through the gauge pod opening. Since I already had all of the gauge pods removed, I decided on this course of action.

One of the guys on the Forum told me that no matter how long I thought the job would take - it would take about double that! All I can say is, was he ever right :)

So, Saturday night I laid out my new harness on the living room floor. I'd already gone through it with a continuity tester and identified the wires, tagging them with P-Touch labels. (Yes, that's anal-retentive. I believe in being prepared.)

Just to make sure, I went through with the wiring diagram again and was glad I had - I found a couple of mis-labeled wires (one, meant for the overdrive solenoid, was labelled "To coil positive"! That would not have worked.)

By the way, if you need a wiring diagram for your car, you'll find the ones in the Shop Manual fairly useless. Go to Chuck Collins' archive instead and find the one for your car. Trust me, you need this!

You'll find a thick rubber grommet where the harness passes through the firewall. This is installed by slipping it over the engine-compartment wires and fitting into the firewall hole. The wires must be fed through the firewall from the passenger compartment; the grommet is then installed from the engine side. This means you cannot pre-install the grommet before the wires go in -- something I had to learn the hard way.

I've been collecting parts for a while, so doing the harness also means replacing the nasty old painted gauge surround with the nice chromed one I've had waiting. Seems that, along with other austerity measures, Standard gauge pods were painted silver instead of chromed! My new one won't be "correct", but it will look much nicer. I also unearthed the new headlight switch, instrument light dimmer, heater control cables and other bits and pieces I'd assembled to replace what was broken, worn or just plain old.

Before diving in, I went around the car with the digital camera and took still photos of every wiring connection, plus video of everything with narration - just in case I mess up somewhere (cross your fingers!).

Finally it was time to get into the dash, starting with removal of the crappy Grant GT steering wheel. Why is it every two-bit hot-rodder wannabe has to put one of these things on? Getting the wheel and mounting hub off instantly revealed one reason the horn never worked: about a foot of thin wire wrapped around the turn signal's cancel switch, accompanied by two crimp-on butt connectors. Hopefully, the real horn wire is still in the column and can be retrieved, but I won't know until I pull the Grant adapter and switch collar.

With the wheel out of the way, I could get into the gauge pod and access the six screws that hold the bezel to the dashboard. There are four across the top and two on the bottom. Working through the mounting holes for the instruments, they were easy to get to using a mini-ratchet and 1/4" socket. Once these are out, the bezel is loose - almost. I found two trim screws on the bottom of the dash pad, adjacent to the steering column, that must come out. Then, the bezel is free to pull forward. I put some painter's tape on top of the steering column to avoid morking the paint up. I also unscrewed the ignition switch and four rocker switches and let them remain with the harness so I could photograph their connections.

Woo hoo! I could finally get to the interior of the dash. And boy, what a mess! Wires that went nowhere. Pulled-apart butt crimps with bare ends. More melted wires and electrical tape. Unprotected power taps coming off the main battery feed. Made me really glad I decided to do this project now rather than waiting!

Studebakers have no fuse panel per se; inline fuses are scattered throughout the harness along with two circuit breakers (one for the headlights, one for the windshield wipers). You'll find the breakers at either side of the pod, clipped to the backside of the dashboard frame in little holders. Headlight breaker is 20 amps, wiper is 5 amps. Mine were both 15 amps (go figure).

At this point, I took time to document the connections to the fuse panel. Okay, flasher panel would be more accurate, since there are only two fuses on the board and the directional flasher can is mounted here too. Naturally, there were also some accessory power leads screwed on, none of which powered anything. One lead, a big white one with a black tracer, was so obscure that I took my knife and cut open the remaining plastic tape so I could find out exactly where it went!

I'd started working in the car at 11AM; it was now 6PM and I'd finally reached the place where I was ready to cut the old harness at the firewall. The plan, put forth by Mr. Biggs, was to cut the harness and leave the engine side attached, so I could thread the new harness through the hole and just swap the connectors, using the old ones as a guide.

So I went and got my wire nippers and began snicking through the bundle on the engine side of the firewall, one wire at a time. And AGAIN I became very glad I'd decided not to put this job off! It seems that the pesky horn wire meltdown, in addition to burning through the harness wrap, had also managed to scorch the thick main power lead that goes from the alternator to the ammeter.

So, after 7 hours, I finally got to pull the old harness free of the dash. It was a long, tiring day, but I'm really glad I did it, and I have a good feeling that with all the research and pre-planning I've done, the new harness will go in pretty easily. It'll have to wait for this coming weekend, but that gives me time to get a few odds and ends - fuses, bulbs, breakers and sundry other goodies.
In addition, I've sent my clock off to get rebuilt by a pro, so when it comes back next week it'll be ready to go in that hole in the middle of the dash where the blanking plate was!

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

New distributor in and working!

It's in! And working beautifully. I dropped by NAPA this morning and picked up their one (1) Champion H14Y spark plug to replace the one that cracked yesterday, and after work I popped it in, hooked up the battery and hit the switch. Presto! Or should I say Delco. A few minutes fiddling with the idle speed, dwell setting, and getting the timing set and Barney was ticking over with a nice, steady rumble. Terry said it sounded so good she thought it was my Pontiac!

Next step: Get it over to Vista Brake to have the binders gone through.

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Monday, September 07, 2009

Well... fine, then.

Thought I'd go out and install my new distributor today. So I pull the old Presto, drop in the new Delco, carefully transfer the plug wires from cap to cap, hook up my dwell meter, crank it and set the dwell. Then I turn the ignition on, crank it and... nothing.

I pull the coil wire, check for spark - got it. I move the distributor around while cranking, get a backfire through the carb. I double-check the plug wires and guess what? They're one off by one hole, clockwise. So I move everything over one hole and try it again. More backfires.

So I think "I must have put the distributor in 180 out." I pull the dist, turn the rotor to the other side, drop it in, crank it and get a BIG backfire through the tailpipe - sounded like a gun going off.

This time, I decide, let's really be SURE where the engine is. I pull #1 plug, put my thumb over it, bump the starter until my thumb gets blown off. Look at the crank pulley; the pointer is dead on the IGN mark. Great; I check the distributor and find that I had it right the first time. Pull, move the rotor back around, drop it in.

So I go to put the spark plug back in and... the insulator is missing. That's right... cracked off in the spark plug socket. Call NAPA - they have ONE Champion H14Y in stock. I'll be down, I say. Sorry, they say - closed in 5 minutes.

Guess it'll wait until tomorrow...sigh.


Sunday, September 06, 2009

How-To: Studebaker Delco Distributor Rebuild

If you've been following the past few posts, you've read of the self-destruction of Barney's Prestolite distributor, and my being gifted with a Delco distributor core (see A Drive To Perris). At first I thought maybe I'd send it off for a professional rebuild, but decided on doing it myself, mostly because I got antsy and didn't want to wait, but also because I was told what an easy job it was.

Amazingly, my searches of the Web turned up absolutely NO tutorials on how to go through a Delco distributor, so hopefully this will help others seeking this information. It's actually pretty simple. And here's a plug for the necessity of having the Studebaker shop manuals: the disassembly and reassembly instructions Studebaker provided are better documented and photographed than the procedure I found in my '67 Pontiac shop manual! If you are embarking on a Studebaker project, I strongly urge getting a set of Shop, Chassis and Body manuals for your car - they are absolutely invaulable.

Many folk associate Prestolite distributors with Studebakers, but in fact Delco spark-slingers were used on Stude V-8s through most of the 1950s and into the 60s. The advantage of the Delco is that parts are easier to come by; additionally, two model years (1960 and 1961) used the common Delco "window-type" unit that any GM fan is intimately familiar with. It's called a "window type" because the cap has a small metal "window" that can be slid up to facilitate setting the point dwell while the engine is running - a massively convenient perk. Another perk of running the Delco is that you don't have to get "the look" from the counter guy at your FLAPS* when you ask for Studebaker parts; you just tell 'em you need distributor parts for a '61 Impala and you're golden.

Bob Johnstone, the keeper of all Stude technical knowledge (check his tech site at, if you haven't already) posted the following numbers for Delco-Remy distributors with Studebaker applications. This number can be found on a stamped aluminum collar in a machined groove just below the distributor head:
  • 1110839 - All 1953, '54 and '55 V8
  • 1110864 - All 1958 & '59 V8, 1960 289 cu. in. V8 only
  • 1110869 - 1960 259 cu. in. V8 only
  • 1110969 - all 1960 cars w/V8 (except Hawk) & all 1960-61 trucks
  • 1110969 - 1961 259 cu. in. V8 only
  • 1110864 - 1961 289 cu. in. V8 only
  • 1110981- 1960 & '61 V-8 Larks, all (this is the "window-type" unit)
My Delco is a 1110981 - the desirable "window" unit. Although this is only correct for the two model years shown above, it will fit any 259 or 289 Studebaker engine. So, off we go!

My first step was to clean the sucker off. As you can see, the sucker had acquired a nice suntan of surface rust; Warren showed me a junk V8 engine he'd pulled it from. It looked like it had been outside without a cap for a while. But mechanically it was fine; the rotor shaft had no side play and runout between the drive gear and adjacent brass bushing was within the spec called for in the Studebaker shop manual (.036" - .068").

I pulled off the old points, condenser and vacuum advance, as well as the homebrew primary lead. With a little exercise and the application of some trombone slide oil, the breaker plate began to move freely, so I elected not to fully disassemble the unit by driving out the pins that hold the drive gear and oil pump drive shaft to the rotor shaft. The advance weights were hard to get off due to the light rust on their pins, but the trombone oil freed those up as well, and I stowed all the removed parts in Ziploc bags.

Since I'm the kind of guy that likes to make things look good as well as work well, I set to work with a Nyalox abrasive wheel. This is a "wire" wheel that's made of impregnated Nylon - it strips paint and rust quickly without harming the metal underneath or leaving that telltale "brushed" look on metal surfaces. I think I got mine at Home Depot, but you can buy them direct from the manufacturer, Divine Brothers.

I carefully unlocked the irreplaceable aluminum Delco tag from the machined channel and proceeded to buff off the surface rust. The Nylox wheels work with amazingly little effort, and in no time the distributor head casting was nice and shiny. The next step was to shine up the advance weight mounts, breaker plate and breaker cam.

On the advice of Jeff Rice, I used my Dremel tool with a small steel brush to clean the rust from the interior parts. The breaker plate appears to be chrome plated, so it was rust-free; the breaker cam and advance cam were another story. I cleaned up the advance parts first, getting all the rust off the surfaces that the centrifugal advance weights slide on. The advance pins had a little bit of wear on them. but not enough to render the distributor shaft useless.

I didn't want to touch the breaker cam with the Dremel wire wheel, so I used some 2,000-grit emery film to polish the rust off of it. Then, my favorite non-abrasive metal polish, Nevr-Dull, was used to further polish the cam and breaker plate. I love this stuff; it's basically a chemically-impregnated cotton wadding that removes rust and other staining from metal parts, depositing a thin layer of lubricant protectant as it works. Soon, the delicate bits were spic 'n span.

After that, I took the Nyalox brush to the two advance weights. They had sustained some pitting, but cleaned up well. Mr. Gasket and other speed-parts suppliers make replacement weights for these distributors, but I'd rather re-use than replace when possible :) With the upper bits clean, I put a small brass cup brush in the Dremel and cleaned the light rust out of the interior of the base casting using the large access hole in the breaker plate.

At this point, with everything cleaned up, it was time for paint. Using painter's tape, I masked off the moving parts and the section of the shaft housing that must remain plain metal. Note that there is a large hole in the bottom of the casting that allows the distributor primary lead to exit; you'll need to cover this from the inside to keep paint from getting into the mechanicals.

I like Rustoleum red primer because it's specifically formulated for rusty metal, and even though I'd cleaned all the rust off, there's no sense taking chances! After a couple of coats of primer, I shot it with black engine paint and let it dry overnight, followed by a second coat of engine black the next morning. By midday, the paint was hard and the tape came off. Things looked great!

I used a little dielectric grease to lubricate the advance weight pins and re-installed the weights. Note that the mounting holes in the weights are tapered; if you turn them over you can discern that the hole diameter is slightly larger on one side than the other. Slide them onto the pins with the large side down, toward the advance cam baseplate. Note that there is a small, button-like raised area in the baseplate that the weighs rest directly over and must slide upon; a little grease in this area is a good idea as well to keep them moving smoothly.

You can get replacement advance springs from a number of manufacturers; just ask for the kit for a '61 Chevy. I chose Mr. Gasket, although Moroso, Accel and others make them. I suppose your friendly GM dealer might have springs too (if he's still in business). The Mr. Gasket kit includes three different spring weights to customize your advance curve; on the advice of SDC member and distributor guru Harry "Bud" Alenik, I installed the gold OEM-weight set. Harry explains:

"Most of the aftermarket springs have more tension than the springs originally installed in stock Studebaker Delco distributors. Studebaker engineers specified full advance at 2400 rpm where most other manufacturers specified full advance somewhere above 4000 rpm. I've found that the guys at Studebaker had the advance set at an optimum point for good engine operation without detonation. I've found that by using the stock advance and setting the base timing around 8 deg. BTDC, that a stock V8 will make plenty of power without detonating. The R series engines still use the 2400 rpm full advance, but limit the amount of centrifugal and vacuum advance to keep the high compression engines from detonating."

Should you choose to play with your advance curve, I've documented the spring weights and the timing advance each set provides on this post.

 The next thing I did was to install the new vacuum advance unit (or "spark modifier", as the shop manual refers to it). I got this from NAPA, it's Echlin part #VC680. Wrong! The correct advance part is VC1765 - see this post for more. It's held on with two screws, one at the edge of the base and the other just under the edge of the breaker plate. To install it, you must rotate the breaker plate so that you can get the vacuum can's actuator rod into the hole in the plate. It takes a little maneuvering to get it in there, but once you get the rod at the right angle, it slides into the hole easily. I put in the screw that holds the unit to the rim to hold the unit in.

There is a black wire crimped to the breaker plate; this is what supplies ground to the points. I slid it under the head of the second vacuum advance attaching screw as shown in the pic to the right. If your ground wire has gone missing, you can get a replacement from NAPA; it's Echlin # LW42. It comes with two spade-lug ends; you can attach the other end under the nearby pointset hold-down screw instead of trying to crimp it to the breaker plate.

I installed a rubber grommet in the hole for the primary wire; this is just a standard 3/8" wire grommet that you can get from the bins at any hardware store.

With the advance unit in place, I installed the pointset. I opted for a "Uniset" combo unit; this is an all-in-one part that combines the breaker points and the condenser into one unit and eliminates fiddling with a separate condenser and lead. You'd think this would be an inexpensive part, but I found that as the use of points has decreased, the cost of pointsets has increased. NAPA wanted $35.00 (!) for the Uniset points; I opted instead to order them for half that price from Studebaker vendor Chuck Collins. They are Borg-Warner #A2120, although I'm sure other manufacturers have them as well. Chuck, as always, got the goods to me immediately; I ordered on Thursday and they arrived on Saturday. I also ordered two new distributor mounting gaskets.

Now that the points are installed, you've got to lube the breaker cam. This is also known as the "rubbing block", for obvious reasons: the points rub on the octagonal cam as it rotates; each time it rubs over one of the cam's corners, the electrical connection between the points is broken. Even though the bit of the pointset that contacts the rubbing block is plastic, without lubrication the block will wear. If you've never had a car with points before, you may not realize that there is a specific kind of lube for this, a silicone grease that is smeared onto the cam to protect it. This has to be renewed periodically, too, so it's good to have a tube around. My old tube of Lubricam has seen duty since the mid-'80s and still has plenty left. Bosch still makes it, as well as some other manufacturers, but you may have to go to a real speed shop to get it - the NAPA and Pep Boys near me have none in stock.

With lubrication taken care of, it was time to put on the rotor. Again, NAPA had the part, Echlin #RR1670. I opted for the Heavy Duty part, since the contact is constructed from heavier brass than the standard-duty part. In Delco distributors, the rotor fits right over the advance weights, covering them completely, and screws to the advance cam. On the bottom of the rotor are two lugs; one round, one square. They fit into corresponding holes in the cam so you can't install it 180º reversed. Once the rotor is screwed down, hold the shaft and twist the rotor counter-clockwise; you should feel some spring resistance as it rotates; release it and it should snap back. This verifies that the molded webbing on the bottom of the rotor is not interfering with the operation of the advance weights and springs.

The last bit inside the distributor is the primary lead. I threaded this through the newly-installed grommet in the base and attached the spade lug to the screw provided on the front of the pointset.If you're missing the lead or yours is boogered up, go to NAPA and get Echlin part #LW67.

After that, it's time to install the cap. Unlike the Prestolite cap, which attaches with a pair of spring clips mounted to the base, the Delco cap has a spring-loaded hold-down on each side. A notch machined in the base of the distributor body accepts the tab molded into the bottom of the cap, which positively locates it and keeps it from rotating; simply place the cap on the base and use a flat-blade screwdriver to depress the hold-down, then rotate it so its ear is beneath the locating notch underneath the cap and release it; it will clamp the cap to the base. Repeat on the other side. The cap, by the way, was also gotten at NAPA: Echlin #RR1650. This is the matching heavy-duty cap for the rotor, with brass terminals instead of aluminum.

That's it! She's assembled and ready to be dropped into Barney's engine. I'm hoping I get the chance to do this tomorrow - stay tuned for further developments.

Thanks to Warren Webb, Jeff Rice, Bob Johnstone, Bud Alenik and all the guys at the SDC Forum for their help information.

*FLAPS -- Friendly Local Auto Parts Store.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Spring has sprung.

Distributor advance weight springs are one of those things that get neglected, but should be replaced every now and then, simply because they are, after all, springs -- they will eventually stretch.

Whilst rebuilding a Delco distributor for Barney, it was obvious I'd need new springs, so I went down to Smokey's Speed Shop (Smokey as in Yunick - yes, the legend himself opened up a shop in Oceanside years ago) and got a Mr. Gasket #928G Advance Spring Kit. This kit contains 3 sets of springs for Delco distributors -- but absolutely no instructions. Checking the Mr. Gasket website doesn't help either; they have no instruction sheets online like Crane or Moroso do.

Finally, after an extensive Google search, I came up with the way to tell the 3 sets of springs apart, and am posting it here in hopes that some other poor soul looking for this info will have an easier time of it.

Mr. Gasket 928G Spring Weight Decoder:

  • Gold springs = Heavy (OEM style, slowest advance)
  • Silver springs = Medium (faster advance)
  • Black springs = Light (fastest advance)
From yet another website, here's a chart that explains when the centrifugal advance will kick in for each set of springs used (click on it to see full-size):

To Mr. Gasket and the Prestolite Corporation: Love your products, hate your documentation.

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PJ O'Rourke and the death of American Iron.

I've loved O'Rourke for years, since his days with the National Lampoon. I've read (almost) all of his books. He makes me laugh, think and, sometimes, get motivated.

His latest essay, on the death of the American automobile industry (and a romantic reminiscence on what it used to be) is posted on McLellan Automotive's site. You can read it here.

I agree wholeheartedly with P.J. I miss the days when cars were an optimistic means of propulsion to the future, instead of the gub'ment-regulation-befouled people pods they've become. Need transportation? Seating for 4 or 6? Want fries with that?

That's one reason my Studebaker will be my daily driver. First, so that I don't see myself coming down the road in the opposite direction 20 times a day... and, second, just to piss off the "pointy-headed busybodies" who control exactly how boring modern cars are. That's right, eat me, you beaurocratic bumblers!


Thursday, September 03, 2009

A drive to Perris.

Back in the day, when I spent my days spinning 45s and playing used-car commercials, I worked at a radio station whose promotions were so chronically low-budget that we used to joke amongst ourselves that (insert big-voiced announcer here) "We're sending lucky listeners on an all-expense-paid trip to beautiful PARIS! [Long pause......] California!"

Of course, this other Perris is spelled a mite different. It's in what's referred to as Southern California's Inland Empire, the cities and towns that make up Riverside County, just east of Los Angeles and north of San Diego Counties.

Tuesday, when my buddy Kirk found that my distributor was toastier than an English muffin (see Good News, Bad News...), I posted a cry for help on the SDC Forum, asking for assistance in finding a new distrib for Barney. Within an hour, I had two offers of a free unit! Dean Pearson in Murrieta offered one up but it turned out to be for a '51 V-8. But then Warren Webb in Perris said he had one which would fit my car that I could have just for coming and getting it. Woot!

So we connected by phone and I made plans to run up the next day. Perris is about an hour's drive from Oceanside - not a big deal. After dropping Reed as school on Tuesday, I hit the road and arrived at Warren's place around 8:45.

Warren is a cool guy, with cars in his blood. His dad was the body shop manager for a Pontiac dealer on the East Coast, so he grew up around cars and learned the paint & body trade. He became interested in Studebakers when the Avanti hit the news, but is first Stude was a '59 Lark VI 4-door with a straight 3-speed that came to the dealer as a trade.

With a mutual love of Studebakers and Pontiacs, we had a lot to talk about and spent about 2 hours shooting the breeze (or should I say "chasing the shade" - it was hot!). Warren has quite a few Studes - on the property he's got a '63 Avanti, '63 GT Hawk (R-2 powered!), '62 Lark Daytona convertible, '60 Lark VIII convertible, '66 Daytona 2-door, '68 Pontiac LeMans convertible, '62 Champ pickup, and '67 Barracuda notchback -- my favorite Q-body of all time!

Warren was kind enough to give me a Delco window-type distributor from a '61 engine, which I've begun to refurb. It'll go in Barney to replace the ailing Prestolite that's apparently falling apart as we speak.

It was a great visit, and Warren is a very cool guy. I enjoyed the time immensely and, after we'd said our goodbyes and snapped a couple of pix, headed for home thinking (once again!) how the Studebaker brotherhood is the neatest bunch of car guys I've ever met. Thanks again, Warren!

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