The following anecdote played out in numerous scenes from early February to mid-April 2015 teaching me about patience and mechanical things. I compressed the story to keep the reader from falling asleep.
Cruising 60 mph down State Highway 14 in Washington State on my way to work in St. Johns, Oregon crashing cymbals, kettledrums, violins and cellos wafting from speakers focus thought. All is right in the world. Just as sudden as lightning a foggy recollection of recent engine trouble while driving comes to mind one of those that feel real but you’re not sure if it was a dream, ya know. Nonetheless, two minutes later, as if deprived of its life blood, the engine in the car I am driving looses power. Nnnnoooo! Come on, come on, I don’t want to be stranded on the highway I shout at it hoping it can hear. Stomach acid inches up the esophagus when seconds later, as if sensing my anxiety, the engine in the 1965 Ford Galaxie 500 Police Interceptor roars back to life. Was this just one time? The answer is quick in coming as the engine sputters like a lawn mower running out of gas so I leave the highway and make for a nearby parking lot, and get on the phone.
The first call is to Gary, a friend who loves working on older cars and doesn’t hesitate before saying, “I’m on my way,” then a call to work informing of the temporary setback not knowing when I will arrive. Gary is a mobile mechanic working on a variety of cars at the same time asking wages that would make a licensed mechanic blow a head gasket. He has already applied his skills to the Ford replacing shocks, a bad coil, and tuning up the engine all just outside the business where and while I work; he is the peace of mind of a AAA card. The minutes pass as cars come and go, people in and out of various shops dodging raindrops. An hour later Gary pulls in and with a twist here a tap there the Ford is running and I am off when a BANG of engine backfire echoes across the roadway, then the dying scene again, roars back, the dying scene, back to life. I steer onto a side street coming to a stop in front of a dark red ranch style house my mobile AAA card close behind. Wonderful!
The neighborhood is quiet the Ford’s hood open Doctor Gary performing diagnosis with tools scattered across the fenders, cars pass, neighbors look out windows. One hour of adjustments and engine cranking results in a verdict of a bad fuel pump and line that will take a few hours to replace. After Gary drops me off at work he is off to the auto store and by day’s end has installed a new pump and line; now, under street light illumination key is inserted, turned, the engine cranks, no ignition. Joining Gary at the front of the car I ask, “So what do you think is the problem?” “Timing may be off,” (spark plugs firing in proper sequence) Gary responds, adding “but the engine won’t run so this cannot be checked.” Darkness settles in so with the real AAA card I arrange to tow the Galaxie home with Gary, due to prior commitments, not able to stop by for three days. I could bite the bullet and take the car into a repair shop and be back on the road sooner but since money is tight and Gary is a fraction of the cost I choose the latter.
Confirming with a friend about timing Gary returns and manually turns the crankshaft aligning the rotor inside the distributor with the number one spark plug wire and timing marks then the moment of truth, a cautious hand reaches for and turns the ignition key and, the powerful FE engine roars to life then barely hangs on as Gary works fast adjusting screws on the four-barrel Edelbrock carburetor then nothing, silence. A restart is attempted but no ignition. All of this abnormal cranking drains a battery quickly so Gary has the following attached: a volt meter to monitor drain, a battery charger to keep power up, timing light and a Dwell meter. Man, I have never seen a car battery used so heavily! Frustration and fatigue have settled in after four hours and the only accomplishment, the discovery of a phantom drain but where? Giving up for the night Gary is off to look for answers and be back the next day.
When stuck on a passage a writer puts work aside shortly to return with fresh ideas the same applies with Gary recommending retirement of the battery and alternator due to old age. With these in place, hand on ignition key, a moment’s pause, a turn on the key and the mighty 390 engine fires up then dies, again the day ends with both us scratching our heads. The next day Gary calls asking, “If I walk you through it, can you remove the carburetor? Adding, “It’s very easy; I cannot make the trip due to personal reasons.” Phone on speaker and lying atop a pile of tax forms, “Why the carburetor,” I ask. “From years of use the jets inside may be clogged preventing the engine from starting,” says Gary. Needing a break from paperwork, “Ok hold on a moment let me get to the car.” Thoughts of just how easy this is going to be roll through the grey matter. At the car, hood open, and phone on speaker Gary walks me through the operation with a brief pause as I send a picture of linkage not sure of, the process takes 10 minutes. Shoulders square and confident spewing, the Edelbrock carburetor is set aside, he is right that was easy but further mechanic heroics on my part are quickly kiboshed recalling a spectacular failure of getting a car so out of tune it was towed to a repair shop. The Ford is silent with its heart removed, tires slowly deflating, and the shiny black paint and chrome wheels in need of washing. All quiet on the western front.
Ok with a new fuel pump and line, alternator, battery, and now a clean carburetor we should be able jump into this baby, fire her up, and head out cruising but no, just an engine turning over, and over, and over, and over. I need a second opinion and get one from an unrelated mobile mechanic: on top of existing concerns further problems are discovered in the form of a weak starter and a compression leak, gggrrreat. Air and gasoline are compressed by a piston in the combustion chamber with spark plug ignition producing ground shaking and air shattering power which the leak compromises. Investigating, Gary carefully removes one of the valve covers immediately discovering a milky appearance caused when water and gas have mixed with the oil meaning gasket failure. Poking around it is determined the fuel pump gasket was one and unknowingly fixed with the new pump but the water came through a worn head cover gasket, requiring major work. Knowledge is powerful and as odd as it seems the information relaxes me now knowing why the engine failed. At this moment I snap the fingers of the left hand, aha no wonder the radiator needing refilling so often!
Then, it gets worse. With one of the engine heads removed, (this covers the pistons and contains values, rods, and rocker arms allowing the gas/air mixture into and removal of combustion from the engine) Gary finds a crack in the cylinder wall but before the stomach acid has a chance to move north I am informed that boring of the cylinder wall, a sleeve insert, and bota bing bota bang all will be aok. In order to complete this task the engine must be extracted and stripped down to just the block then taken to a shop specialized in rebuilding; a mere 24 hours pass when word comes down the mechanic pipeline of a second crack stretching six inches in length only, one thing to do. One week later Gary delivers a remanufactured 390 engine and while it hangs from a hoist above the car a heart transplant comes to mind and more problems as a hairline crack on the timing belt cover is discovered and a thin piece of metal that goes under the intake manifold called a “valley pan” is damaged. These parts from the old engine could be reused however, to prevent future breakdowns it is determined to replace them.
The fuel and water pump, carburetor, new starter, and other essentials are secured to the new engine then attached to the frame and transmission in holy matrimony. Now, the anticipated moment we have strived for these past weeks starting this baby up however a turn of the key results in just the red glow of idiot lights on the dashboard. A hand crank would be handy right now. A volt/ampere meter connected to the battery reveals a well-concealed voltage regulator to be at fault which it is replaced and an electronic ignition gets installed forever removing points and condensers. Then, hopes up and fingers crossed and a turn of the switch, it’s alive; it’s alive after two months. With no more obstacles Gary gets to the nitty-gritty of fine-tuning the engine and reminding me that the oil needs changing in 500 miles. “Why,” I ask. “Because the engine is new thinner viscosity oil is used to break in the engine, to seal it.”
All goes well except one day I am driving to a local hardware store and in the one place I fear breaking down the automatic transmission won’t change into drive after a stop for a traffic light. Nnnnnoooo not in the left hand turn lane! Calmly, I get out my AAA card, call for a tow, and informed it will be about 45 minutes as well as the police will arrive for safety reasons. Next I call Gary and tell him don’t rush as the tow truck will be a while so I hunker down and, extending the left arm wave on frustrated drivers as 1965 cars don’t have safety flashers. The police push me to a nearby parking lot with the tow truck arriving minutes later carrying me and car one-eighth of a mile home where Gary fixes the linkage and also installs a brand new master cylinder for the brakes.
At 500 miles Gary drains the engine oil replacing it with standard 10-30 weight; so, after three months, multiple backfires, curbside mechanics, peeping eyes, mounting difficulties, new parts including a new, remanufactured engine the 1965 Ford Galaxie 500 Police Interceptor is back on the road sucking gas like crazy. Let me tell ya though the new 390 sure gets to humming down the road so fine I want to just keep driving on into the sunset. BOOYA!