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Paint Fix

This car has been repainted several times from what I can tell.  The most recent paint is some version of Butternut Yellow, with black stripes, and black taillight panel.  The strange thing about it is the black stripes are done fairly well, but the overall finish is terrible.  It looked like someone had gone back and fogged some muddy dirty version of the yellow over the base yellow.  This didn’t make sense, because that would have covered up the black stripes.  The driver’s side fender was the worst offender, there were big runs and puddles on the top, pooling into the middle of the fender.

I like driving this car, and I actually kind of liked that the paint was so-so because then I didn’t have to be worried about it getting scratched in a parking lot.  But still…it would be nice if it was at least a little nicer looking.

I was discussing this with someone at the Castle car show, who suggested the dull finish was really just a very badly applied clearcoat.  Bingo…that would explain how it could be applied after the black stripes were added.  There were some spots where the yellow showed through because of poor surface prep or something, and it was obvious that a muddy clear had been sprayed over a lot of the car.  In some spots it was very thick, but in other spots it was barely fogged on.

I decided to see what would happen with some elbow grease and some aggressive paste wax.  Turns out…it shines up pretty good if you really hit it hard.  It’s tough taking a picture to show how shiny something is, but here’s my attempt.  The front part of the fender has about 30 minutes of hard scrubbing with the paste wax in a 6″x6″ area, while the front header panel is the original finish.

This needed some power to make the job go faster, so I got some 1000 and 1500 grit foam sanding blocks, and started wet sanding.

After about 3 hours of working on the top of the fender, most of the clear was removed.  There’s still some remnants of the puddles and runs that were there, but I didn’t want to sand through the paint, so I stopped for now.

One nice thing was that several black marks in the paint disappeared.  I had assumed they were chips that went down to the blue paint under the yellow, but it was actually just pieces of dirt stuck in the clear.

I got a polisher and some polishing compound, and went over the area I had wet sanded, then put some wax on it.  Not perfect by any means, but a lot better looking at least.  This is going to be a long-term project, I’ll keep doing sections until I work my way all around the car.

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Fixing the Defrost Lever: Part 2

Get the repair kit they said.  It’ll be great they said.

The kit consists of a new arm, and some screws to attach joints that were originally staked.  The new arm is much beefier than the original one, so it looks like a good upgrade.

The disassembly process is pretty simple.  The first step is grinding off the two staked pegs holding the pivot end plate.

The third point is the pivot at the end of the defroster lever.  Once that is ground off, the old lever can be removed.

At this point, the instructions say to drill and tap the two pegs holding the pivot end plate.  The supplied screws are 4-40, but it’s up to you to find the appropriate drill and tap.  It turns out that is harder than it sounds.  I hit several large box stores, none of them had anything that small.  I finally broke down and hit eBay, and ordered a Du-Bro drill and tap set, intended for model hobbies.

It was shipped and supposed to arrive in the mail on Friday, so I figured I’d be able to work on it for the weekend.  Wednesday it disappeared off the tracking, so on Friday I hit a real hardware store and found a 4-40 tap and the correct size drill to go with it.  I drilled and tapped a test hole, but it turned out that the tap was UNC, and the screws were UNF.  Friday night the package was on the tracking again scheduled for Monday.

When it arrived, it turned out to also be a coarse-thread tap.  I decided the universe was trying to tell me something, and I dug up some 4-40 coarse thread screws and used those instead of the supplied ones.

Drilling the holes.  The tape marks the correct depth for the hole.

Tapping the holes

Once past that hurdle it was a matter of putting the screws in with some locktite and reassembling it.

The hole in the end of the new lever also needed to be tapped so it can be reconnected with a screw.

Back together again…mostly.  Each cable has a loop on the end that fits on a peg on one of the levers.  The loop is supposed to be secured by a push nut, which looks like a washer with cuts radiating from the center hole that grip the peg.

I managed to lose or break all of the original three push nuts, plus a fourth one that came with the repair kit.  Someday I’ll buy some and install them, but it looks like it will work for now.  Tip: buy extras when you buy your kit.

This does actually work, and the defroster diverter valve does open and close as you slide the defrost lever, but…it’s a fix that doesn’t really show up well in pictures.  Looks about the same as when I started!

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Fixing the Defrost Lever

My father had a 68 Firebird when I was growing up.  (The dash is virtually identical to a 68 Camaro.)  At some point, the defroster lever broke, like pretty much all of them do eventually.  I remember hitting a local junkyard and pulling a replacement climate control panel from a car there, and swapping it in.  Unsurprisingly, a few years later, the defrost lever in the replacement one broke also.  I took it apart and drilled a series of holes along the side of the crack and sewed it back together with some wire, and slathered the whole thing with epoxy.  That lasted another few years before it broke again.

Fast forward to today, and…the defrost lever in our Camaro is broken.  As the control panel is at the top of the dash, everything below it has to come out to get enough room to remove it.  The aftermarket gauges, the ashtray, the radio, and the front woodgrain bezel all need to be removed.

I ordered a replacement lever (OEM brand) which is still cast metal, but it is definitely beefier than the original one.

After removing the control panel, it was a bit ripe on the top side where the mice had used it for part of their travels.

I didn’t figure it out at the time, but if you unplug the blower fan wiring (the plug at the right of the picture above) and pull the light socket out from the RH side, the whole unit can swing down between the dash and the gas pedal with the cables still attached.

I decided the first step was to give it a bath in the ultrasonic cleaner.

After a few cycles through the cleaner and a little scrubbing with a nylon bristle brush, it came out looking better.

Next step is removing the old lever.  Stay tuned…

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Refurbishing the vent ball assemblies

I don’t know why exactly, but the astro-ventilation assemblies always fascinated me.  They really seem like an important part of the dash design, and not just an afterthought.

The ones in the car had seen better days, they look like they are original pieces.  The housing was in very good shape, the chrome on the bezel was all intact and smooth, but the felt seals had turned to dust a long time ago.  The chrome on the ball parts was in pretty bad shape, probably about half of it had worn off entirely.  I purchased new aftermarket balls, and a felt seal kit.  The new pieces were not exactly like the old ones.  Most notably, the new ones had a distinct separation line around them, while the originals were all smooth.

The first step is disassembling and removing the housings.  There are two screws on the bezel, one at 12 o’clock, and another one at 6.  The bottom screw goes directly into the dash metal, but the top one goes into a short curved metal bracket that pinches against the back of the dashboard.  You don’t technically need to take the top screw out all the way, just loosen it up a lot until the bracket is loose.  If you take the screw all the way out, make sure you don’t lose track of the bracket.  The two screws are different length, the short one goes on the bottom, and the longer one goes in the top hole.

The control knob next to the housing unscrews, leaving a threaded rod.  This is the same as the door lock knob if you need to replace it.

The natural thing to do is to pull the housing out of the dash, but that leaves the threaded rod stuck in its hole in the dash, which doesn’t allow it to come out.  The trick is to pull it out just far enough that you can get the bottom of the housing to push back through the dash opening.  Once it’s there, turn the housing 90*, which will pull the threaded rod out of its hole, then you can feed the whole assembly out through the front.

There is a short plastic oval flexible tube that connects the back of the assembly to the cowl vent.  This may fall out as you take the vent assembly out, as there’s no fasteners on it,  it’s just held in place by the vent assembly.

Once the assemblies are out, mark them left and right so you don’t get them mixed up.  You can identify which goes on what side by the threaded rod lever is on.  3939616 is the RH one, 3939615 is the LH one.

There are three tabs on the chrome bezel that fit over corresponding bumps on the black plastic back half.  To disassemble these, you need to carefully separate the two halves, and gently pry up on the tabs to get them past the bumps.

In my case, the flapper valve was in great shape, and did not need any repair.  You may need to disassemble this part and add new rubber seals.

I used Permatex upholstery adhesive to attach the new felt pieces.  This is the same glue I used on the headliner.  It’s contact cement, which means you put it on both pieces, let it dry a little while, then stick the pieces together.  It’s very sticky, and you only get one shot at putting the parts together, as it’s very difficult to separate them.

I sprayed the adhesive on the felt pieces, then sprayed a bunch of it into a baggie and used a q-tip to paint the adhesive on the housing surfaces.  (Originally I had planned to spray the housing piece also, which explains the blue tape.  I decided to try the q-tip, and that worked out much better.  No tape required.)  After 5 minutes I gave everything a second coat (per label instructions) and let it sit for about 10 minutes.

Once the glue had set up and was tacky, I carefully worked the felt strips around the housing mount surface, and trimmed off the excess when I got back to the start again.

I let this sit and dry for a day (per label instructions) before doing the final assembly.

On the black half of the housing, I used scissors to trim the felt flush with the edge of the plastic.  On the chrome half, there wasn’t a good way to trim off the excess, so I just left it.  It might be a good idea to trim these to the correct width before gluing them on, but it seemed to work with only the other half trimmed, so…maybe that’s not necessary.

Reassembling the housing is straightforward, put the ball in, and carefully press the two halves together until the tabs engage the bumps.  Make sure everything works smoothly before continuing.

Putting the housings back in the dash is the toughest part of the job.

Good news: I think I have a promising second career as a contortionist.

For the driver’s side, there’s zero room to get your hand up there with the parking brake assembly in place. It can be done without removing the parking brake! The surprisingly successful installation approach was to turn it 90* and feed the assembly from the front all the way through the opening so the bottom of the bezel was completely behind the dash, then  rotate it upright again and tip the top edge back out through the opening while feeding the threaded rod through the ferrule.

The same process works on the other side.  In this picture, the bottom edge of the housing is inside the dash, the top edge is out, and the threaded rod has been fed through its hole.

Continue pulling the assembly out until the bottom edge comes out. The oval flex tube joint goes on next, then align and tighten the screws. For the top screw, thread it through the bezel and into the metal clip, but leave it loose. Once you get it into place, use the screw to rotate the clip until it’s facing the right way (longer curved end up), then pull down on the bezel to pinch the clip in place while you tighten the screw.


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Door Glass Fix – Part 1

The window on the driver’s side door hasn’t rolled down all the way since we got the car.  There was about 3″ showing when it was as far down as it was going to go.  After the mouse nest fiasco, I assumed it had something to do with that.  I was right.

Working with the door glass on these cars is awful.  I found an excellent series of videos about doing the job, that at least showed it could be done, and lots of good tips on how to do it in the easiest way possible.

Once I got the glass out, I discovered that the front guide track was corroded at the bottom, and still had the remnants of the mouse nest that I had removed from the door when we first owned the car.

A lengthy session with a wire brush followed, and the guide track was clear enough to fit over the window roller again.

I also found out that there were some missing parts.  The guide is supposed to have a rubber block at the bottom to act as a stop.  I’m guessing the mice ate it.

There are also supposed to be two guide blocks on the inside top of the door.  The rear one is missing.

While the glass was out, I got to play “How many times has this door been painted”, and I counted at least 3 different colors, in addition to the factory color.


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Winter Project 3: Distributor

The previous owner had installed an HEI distributor.  These are great units, but the install left a lot to be desired.  As I discovered when I was first trying to get the car running reliably, the wiring was incorrect, and was not supplying a full 12V to the HEI.  This resulted in it running really poorly, it would backfire and pop at pretty much anything above 1200 RPM.

My theory is that someone installed the engine and transmission, couldn’t get it running right, and never got the car on the road with the new setup.  They parked it until we bought the car.

Once the power was sorted out, the car ran much better, but it still wasn’t great.  I bought a new module for the HEI, expecting that might be the problem.  When I opened up the distributor to install the new module, I discovered that the whole distributor was in pretty sad shape.  The weights were covered in rust, the posts and the holes were very worn, and they did not move freely.  That was causing inconsistent timing, which didn’t allow the engine to run as smoothly as it could.

After looking at what it would cost in parts to rebuild the existing distributor, I ended up just buying an entirely new Accel unit for less money.

I got the 59107 distributor, which comes complete with everything…except the coil.  Oops.  I transferred the coil over from the old distributor, and will use that until I get a new one.

The challenge with changing the distributor is that it’s a little bit of a gamble on where the timing is set before you can get the engine running so you can check it with a timing light.  It doesn’t have to be exactly on the perfect position, but it needs to be at least in the general area.

As it happened, I put the new distributor in one tooth different than the old one.  It still works fine, and I was able to set the timing properly, but the vacuum can is aimed differently than the old one.  Not a big deal though.

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Winter Project 2: Rebuild Carburetor

When I first got the car running, the carb had been through a bunch of backfires and other mistreatment, including sitting for at least 18 months outside at the previous owner’s place.  While the car ran and drove okay…it wasn’t great, and still sneezed and stalled, which at best wasn’t fun, and could be dangerous in traffic.

The Carb is a Holley list 80457, which is a generic 600cfm vacuum secondary 4bbl 4160-style with electric choke.

One of the things I was worried about was how much junk from the gas tank had gotten to the carb.  The carb has a built-in filter, but when I was first getting the car to run, I added a generic inline fuel filter to trap things before they got to the carb filter.  When I removed the carb, I cut the filter open expecting to see it mostly clogged.

Amazingly, it was spotless:

That was VERY good news, because it meant the gas tank was fairly clean, and did not need to be replaced.  It also meant that there probably wasn’t a lot of junk in the carb either.

Off the car and onto the bench.  A lot of the main body was covered in soot from all the backfiring due to the badly wired HEI conversion.

After disassembling the carb, I had to find a way to clean it.  I had originally purchased a can of carb dip, but not all of the parts would fit into the can, and it was very caustic to work with.  I tried a couple of pieces in the dip, but I wasn’t impressed with the results, especially considering having to use rubber gloves to avoid chemical burns, and having to rinse everything off thoroughly afterwards.

About this time I spotted a post online about a low price for a 10-liter ultrasonic cleaner.  Usually it runs $125-150, but someone had spotted it for sale at $55 shipped.  10L was large enough to fit the main body of the carburetor, which was very handy.

I got the cleaner, filled it up with a mixture of water and Simple Green, and set the temperature on the cleaner to about 100 degrees.  It’s not very exciting when it is running, it just makes a loud buzzing noise.  No piles of bubbles, no obvious action, just the noise.

I wasn’t sure how this was going to work, so I started out slow, using 5 minute sessions with the ultrasonic cleaner on.  After a few rounds of that, I was running it for about 20 minutes (maximum time allowed by the timer on the cleaner), and that seemed to do a good job.

I experimented with the amount of Simple Green, and ended up using about 1/4 cup of it to the 10L of hot water.  When the parts came out, I rinsed them and dried them with a towel.  Because they had been heated in the cleaner, they dried really quickly.  The result was a bunch of fairly clean parts.  It’s not magic, but it did do a nice job.  Some of the tougher parts I sprayed down with carb cleaner and brake cleaner, and scrubbed with a toothbrush.

The one part that did not clean up easily was the gaskets.  These had obviously been baked on by many many years of under-hood heat.  I soaked them and ran them through the ultrasonic cleaner for many 20 minute cycles, but they just weren’t coming off.

I didn’t want to scrape too aggressively because I didn’t want to damage the surfaces.  I had some luck with plastic paint scrapers, but that was very slow going.  None of the solvents I tried had much effect on the gaskets.

I did some research and discovered there is a gasket remover product that several of the big automobile chemical houses produce.  I ended up getting the Permatex version.

It’s about the consistency of wood glue, and the bottle has a little brush built into it so you can spread it around.  This was my first attempt, and I put a little too much on.

Again, it wasn’t magic, but it did a lot of the gaskets.  I let a couple of applications soak for a while, and using the plastic scraper, I did get the gasket remains off eventually.

Almost there:

Afterwards, I gave the parts one last ride in the ultrasonic cleaner to get rid of all the little bits of gaskets, and the remains of the gasket remover.  I put all the tiny parts in a plastic bowl and put them in the cleaner as well.  It did a nice job on them, and I didn’t lose any pieces!

Next was reassembling it with new parts.  I used a Holley TricKit which came with all of the things necessary to do a rebuild.  The instructions were pretty thin on how to put it back together, so I ended up finding a guide online at

How to Assemble a Holley Carburetor: Rebuild Guide • Muscle Car DIY

It didn’t cover every detail, but it was enough so I could figure it out.

Since everything was right out of the cleaner, all of the gasoline and solvent smell was gone, so it was the perfect project to work on while watching TV in the living room.

A few shows later:

Back on the car with a new fuel filter, and…amazingly, it started right up!

Unfortunately, I hadn’t set the rear float height very well, and there was fuel pouring out of the rear bowl vent.  I shut off the car and adjusted it down a lot to stop that.  It still needed fine-tuning, but it wasn’t dripping any more.

I remembered that setting the float height was much easier (less dangerous) if you had clear sight plugs on the bowls.  I had installed them on my Nova many years ago, and adjusting the floats was simple.  When I went looking for a set, the reviews were really poor.  People reported that they dissolved overnight, or cracked, requiring taking the carb apart to clean out the pieces.  After some more reading, it seems like E85 blends are the problem, and the ethanol attacks the plugs.  No problem, I won’t leave them in I thought.

When they arrived, I installed the clear plugs and set the front float height.  The rear was still too high, and there was not enough adjustment in the screw to make it right.  So…off with the carb again, I took off the rear bowl and bent the tab on the float to lower it some.  Reassemble, put it back on the car, closer, but still not quite there.  Off again…disassemble…tweak…reassemble, reinstall.  Checking it again, I was able to adjust it to the correct level.

Great!  Now I can put the brass plugs back in and I’m done.  In the 1 minute between shutting the car off and walking around to remove the clear plugs, the rear one cracked and the head popped off, leaving the threaded part still stuck in the bowl.  It didn’t break when I tried to take it off, in fact I didn’t touch it at all.  It was just there one minute and gone the next.

Off with the carb again, disassemble, clean out the remains of the clear sight plug, and back together again…with the brass plugs instead.  I was amazed at how quickly it had broken.  They were installed for less than 3 hours total.

Moral: if you’re using these, a) work quickly, b) only barely tighten them, and c) be prepared to disassemble the bowls to get them out.  I don’t understand why someone hasn’t come up with a different plastic formula to use for these clear sight plugs.  E85 fuel has been around for a very long time, there’s no excuse for continuing to sell these ones.

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Winter Project 1: Fix Coolant Leak

I had put a new water pump on just before the July show, but I rushed the job, and there was a leak between the water pump and the block on the LH side.  The leak meant that  the coolant level was dropping, and the system would not hold pressure, so the temps climbed.  The fix was to pull the water pump back off again, clean everything up, and reinstall it with new gaskets.  While the system was drained, I decided to replace the old heater core hoses also.

I’ve switched the front accessory mounting brackets over to 1969+ style, which isn’t original, but is a much better arrangement than the 67-68 setup.  The earlier setup has the alternator on the LH side supported by a long thin flat bracket.  I always thought it looked awkward and not particularly secure.  For the 1969 setup, the alternator has a much beefier bracket that attaches on the RH side.  The water pump and power steering brackets are different also for the newer setup.

The heater hoses are attached to a bracket on the alternator bracket, then they go through another bracket on the inner fender, and then over to the heater core.  I wasn’t really concerned with originality, but as it turned out, the restoration-correct hoses were actually cheaper than the generic ones, so I went with those.

I really hate working with plumbing on cars.  No matter what I do, I always seem to end up with a big puddle of something on the garage floor.  I put a tube into the radiator and siphoned out all of the coolant into a bucket.  Then I started unbolting things, and when I got to the water pump…a bunch of coolant drained out onto the floor.  I put the hose into the block and siphoned out even more coolant.  That seemed to do the trick, until I disconnected the heater hoses from the heater core, and…more coolant drained out.  <sigh>

Once I got everything disassembled, I cleaned up all the surfaces, put new gaskets and RTV on, and bolted the water pump back on.  This time I let it sit for about a week before continuing.  Partly because I wanted to make sure the RTV was absolutely completely set, and partly because I was busy with other things.

The last part of the refit was installing the new hoses and the hose brackets.  The alternator bracket is the 1969+ design, but it is a chrome aftermarket one, so I had to drill a hole in it to attach the hose bracket there.  The other hose  bracket is on the inner fender.  I bought these hose brackets new from a restoration vendor.  The fender bracket didn’t want to stay in the square hole in the inner fender.  I did some digging and found that the trick is to open the bracket, and put the clip in the hole with the bracket flush against the fender.  Then take a pair of pliers and squeeze the clip from the inside of the bracket with some pliers.  That pinches the inside together, and forces the outside of the clip to spread out and attach firmly to the fender.

After everything was reassembled, a short test drive showed no leaks, and the temperature stayed right at 180*.  A successful fix.