Thursday, April 26, 2012

No Biggie, I was Already Planning on Lemonade

Continuing with our inspection of this Rootes’ roots, the teardown is complete and I’ll share a few noteworthy observations:

The Drivetrain
Going from front to rear, no parts are missing. There’s a nice rusty film in the engine compartment, indicating a prior, fairly significant, overheating.

The clutch doesn’t work and the transmission shifts as well as you’d expect it to without a working clutch. Driveshaft is decent and the rear diff is smooth with an appropriate amount of play in there. There’s a nice gouge in the pumpkin and a dent in the battery box - looks like a newer gas tank was installed as well and a 3-inch slash in the trunk floor – what the hell happened here? The driveshaft must’ve gotten loose and went on a rampage at some point.

The Front Clip
Despite the fact that the 50-year-old Alpine body seemed straight, there were some hints that something wasn’t entirely A.O.K. Where’s the hood prop rod supposed to go? What is this plumber’s putty? Why is that weld there? The evidence piled up and it looks like half the front clip was replaced at some point. About mid wheel well forward, there’s an overlap of sheet metal from underneath the wings and some dicey-looking cut marks along the wells from inside the engine compartment. All-in-all, a pretty good mating and good news for my project: I can breathe a little easier knowing I’m not gutting and cutting an otherwise pristine piece of automotive history. Some scars are good and this is still a very solid car.

The New Starter
Curiously enough, among the dishevelment under the hood, there sat a brand new starter gleaming like a diamond on a goat’s ass. “Car must run,” I presumed as I dropped a new battery in and connected up the wires. Lights? Check. Wipers? Check. Starter? Click. Starter!? Click. Starter...Nuthin’. Further troubleshooting was unproductive – either the engine was seized or the starter was.

Using some diagnostic methods obtained through careful observation of Wayne Carini’s Chasing Classic Cars, I skillfully put the transmission into second gear and rocked the car back and forth, watching the crank pulley move accordingly. “Engine’s not froze,” I surmised. Moving back to the starter…

I don’t know if starter theft was a big problem in 1962, but those Sunbeam engineers made sure nobody was getting away with removing this one easily or quietly. After f-ing around with it for a little while, I executively decided that it was time for curiosity to take the back seat and let progress drive. Afterall, I’m not going to reuse this motor and if anyone was going to buy it later on, there are other things to eyeball and ask; getting the motor to turn over while it’s still in the car would serve absolutely no purpose. So out it went.

With better access to the starter, I bypassed all solenoids and switches and connected jumpers directly to the starter motor - silence, again. For the fun of it, I swapped the Pos and Neg (could’ve been a polarization issue between car and starter?). Still negativo. No more speculation, the starter is dead.

Meanwhile, though, with the engine out and separated from the trans, I saw that the flywheel was chewed up a bit. Freshly chewed, I might add. As though the teeth on the starter didn’t mesh right and were gnawing at the base of the flywheel’s cogs. Sadly, I realized that this poor starter died fighting a battle that it could not win.

Now why am I prattling on about this stupid starter on an engine that I don’t ever need to see, hear, or otherwise know about running? What you should be asking ask is ‘why would someone go through the trouble of putting a new starter in (without any other evidence of any other recent work done) and then sell the car?’ Remember from the last post, when I said it could take some time for things to sink in, add up, connect? Well this is one of those moments.

So there I was, minding my own business, when all of a sudden a realization smacked me in the back of the head: Someone tried to pass off a lemon. A lemon, you say? Yep. Think about it: Someone went through the effort of putting a new starter in. It was either the wrong starter or not installed correctly, so it spun, but never meshed and kept grinding or stalling until it died, all-the-while making God-awful sounds without the engine even budging. The guy probably thought the engine was seized, the crank was severed, or the flywheel was a goner; he claims defeat on the project and sells the car.

Case closed!

We’ll get into making room for the 327 next time. So bring your grease pencils, grinders, and plasma cutters – it’s going to be a helluvalotta fun.

Friday, April 20, 2012

What Condition My Condition Is In

Checking in on the condition of the Alpine: the car tells more and more of its story the longer you listen, the deeper you look. Start by dicking around. You know, like a detective, a dick – ahhhh, nevermind.

Walk around the car, look at it from different angles. Does anything look odd? Are there strange lines, dents, dings, bubbles, waves, holes, colors? Does the car look right?

Without paperwork or known history to rely on, you have to piece together evidence to get your story going. It might even take a while to really get the full picture; one clue may spark a realization two weeks later - so keep an open mind and allow things to meld and convolve in your noggin.

This car was promoted as a rust-free, SoCal survivor and, from a preliminary inspection, nothing seemed off enough to doubt it:
-    Body straight; no weird, off angles; door gaps are even and true
-    Some expected dings and dents peppered throughout
-    No visible rust of consequence
-    Trunk bowed slightly
-    At least two repaints: black to green, green to blue
-    Interior showing proper signs of age and mileage

At the surface, things are legit. Some observations also seemed interesting enough to take mental note of:
-    1968 U.C. Riverside parking stickers on rear bumper
-    A new starter was installed
-    Tires seem very old but no flat spots or excess dryrot

Moving on… How much rust, Bondo, or other crap is lurking, waiting to be found? Grab a magnet and let’s see. Using a round magnet, you can roll it along the wheel arches, along rocker panels, and probe suspicious lumpy-bumpy areas:
-    Wheel arches: Good (feel up and along the inside of the arches as well - they’re good, too)
-    Rockers: Good
-    Rivets under paint on lower front quarters (patchwork?); will investigate further later
-    Bottoms of the door skins: Good
-    Random plucking at the side surfaces: Good

Again, looking OK. Now moving on to under the car, looking for rust, rot, repair, etc. You can tap around with a screwdriver handle to check for weak spots and use the business end for suspect areas:
-    Undercoating liberally applied throughout
-    Floors: Solid
-    Frame: Solid
-    Spiderwebs: Plentiful 

Consensus: At this point, it’s looking like a decent 50-year-old car. No major issues found so far; the biggest problem will probably be that trunk lid that went on a bender. The repaints would be a flag raiser if filler was found or if panels had different layers of paint underneath. We seem good to go on both counts. Also, the undercoating seems properly aged and worn to be believably original to the car.

Fast-forward a few weeks: the interior is out and I can check the floor pans from the inside. Some surface rust where moisture could hide out over the years, but no rot. The worst rust found so far is in the battery box behind the passenger seat: scales, not rot – so good again.

Some leaves and dust were found in channels and air ducts, but no significant gatherings of debris. Why would that matter? It suggests that this car spent most of its life in a dry climate or it was stored inside during its downtime. Also adding to this conjecture: that ol' sticker on the bumper and the condition of the tires, noted before.

All in all, the car is in great shape and we’ll see how many more issues are uncovered as we strip this sucka down. I'll also talk about that new starter and the state of the mechanicals next time...