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Things I Learned From The New Old Car

Posted by Tom Benedict on 07/01/2016

So far I’ve replaced the oil pan gasket, the valve cover gasket, the timing belt, water pump, timing belt tensioner, top dead center sensor, harmonic balancer, timing belt cover and gasket, the alternator, and the front brake calipers, and had the rotors turned. That doesn’t include the earlier work that included spark plugs, most of the fluids, a clutch bleed, a brake bleed, body work on the rear door handle, fixing one of the window regulators, replacing an inside door handle, etc. Having a new old car is… a learning experience. A really painful one.

Things I’ve learned so far:

1 – I hate working on cars. I really do. Despite how that list sounds, it was all an act of desperation, not love. The car needed the work done, and the total cost from a shop would’ve been at least two times the cost of the car. So I did it myself. But I really hate working on cars.

2 – This doesn’t change how I feel about building stuff, including the idea of some day building a car from a place like Factory Five Racing. What’s the difference? First, it wouldn’t be my daily driver – my transportation. It’d be a shop project. More, though, it would be the first time any of those parts ever saw each other. My new old car has seen three hundred thousand miles of dirt, abuse, grime, questionable mechanical work, and it shows!

3 – Owner’s forums are awesome! I never could’ve done the timing belt without the help of reddawnman’s DIY on the Civic Forums. He wrote it with a lot of humor, humility, and wit. It got me through some of the darker parts of the job.

4 – There’s nothing like having the right tool. On the advice of reddawnman I picked up a Honda crank pulley tool. It cost about $10 on Amazon (more about that later), and was invaluable in the job’s eventual success. Our mechanic at work loaned me a high powered impact wrench that took off the crank bolt in less than five minutes. I’m equally indebted to him.

5 – Amazon rocks for car parts. You tell it all the details about your car, and it lets you filter results for your car. Everything I got fit perfectly. First time for me.

6 – The more you dig, the more you find. I used reddawnman’s tutorial to figure out everything I would touch between the hood and the timing belt. I considered everything in that list questionable. Turns out with the exception of the motor mount and the power steering pump, everything needed replacing. I thought I was safe with the timing belt cover, but at some point in its sordid past some mechanic snapped off all the mounting lugs and left it that way. It only cost $25 to get a new one. I won’t have to touch it again for another hundred thousand miles.

7 – Order everything in advance. I did this for everything on reddawnman’s list, but probably should’ve thought about the timing belt cover, seeing as it’s plastic, it’s only $25, and not having it in-hand delayed the job by over a week because of shipping.

8 – Jobs lead to other jobs. One step in reddawnman’s DIY was to remove the coolant reserve tank from the radiator. It’s held on by one screw. When I tried to remove that screw it jammed, and eventually ripped the mounting lug off of the (plastic) radiator. Easy enough to fix: epoxy it back together. But to reach the broken lug I needed to remove one tiny plastic part that was in my way. And the only way to do that was to… REMOVE THE WHOLE FRONT BUMPER COVER! See?! This is why I hate working on cars! (I did eventually get it epoxied back together. And I replaced that crappy screw!) (Another thanks to reddawnman for including body panel pop fasteners in the list of stuff to get in advance!)

9 – Anti-seize is your friend. No, really. Just don’t get it on you. The stuff is gross. But a thin film of anti-seize on each of the fasteners I put back onto the car means the next time I do this job it’ll be about a zillion times easier. And I won’t wind up wrenching a mounting lug off of my radiator.

10 – There is something very very special about digging that deep into an engine, leaving your car disassembled for over a week, putting it all back together, and when the moment comes, having it start perfectly on the first try. No other sound on earth sends as clear a message: Buddy, you didn’t screw up. Congrats.

I drove it home this afternoon, whole and hale again. There’s still some excess road noise I’m starting to chalk up to the horrible state of the suspension bushings. But that’s a project for another day. For now, I got my car back.


P.S. This is probably the last time I’ll write about working on this car. It’s really not my thing. Just had to git ‘r done.


2 Responses to “Things I Learned From The New Old Car”

  1. James said

    Some great tips in here, Tom. Heading to California soon, and I have long had my eye on a “baja bug” as a daily driver. I’d love to build one from the ground up, but the thought of dealing with the rust of an early 70s beetle makes me want to shill out some extra cash and go for one that is already in good shape. It kind of feels like cheating, though. On the plus side, California seems to have a lot of very affordable community car shops (pay by the hour type places with all the tools and lifts you could ever need), so even apartment-dwellers can get their hands dirty. Can you tell I’ve been day-dreaming rather than working on my thesis?

    Happy new year!

    • Tom Benedict said

      Hahahaha! Yes, I can tell! But I can understand, too.

      I like the idea of the community shop. That’s kind of like what Derrick described when he went to visit another former CFHer while he was building an airplane in a community hangar. It’s not just the space and the tools. It’s the building full of expertise you can draw on.

      I think a baja bug would be a heckuvalot of fun to drive! Years ago I had the hots for a Caterham Super 7, though these days I’m a little more interested in the Arial Atom. The Super 7 never happened, and the Atom won’t either. Not realistically. But I do get the allure of the open top car.

      We had late 60’s early 70’s bugs when I was a kid. They’re not that hard to work on, but they can be finicky. For that reason alone I wouldn’t blame you one bit if you dropped more cash on the project and went with something a little more modern, rust and grease free, and not constantly in need of adjustment. I’ve seen some early model bugs driving around the island, and I can tell just from listening that they’re not stock. I don’t know what your options are, but I do know you’ve got them.

      Have fun!


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