Part 4a: Do It Yourself
The 55 Ford Fairlane in 2014 missing most of its front end and drivetrain
Here we are all the way up to Part 4 in the series for restoration helps! Since the post views continue to climb (we had almost 100 in just one weekday) it does seem that these blog articles are having an impact to help a host of people along with their projects. One gentleman on social media made a post recently to say that he had followed my lead on acquiring the parts for a 3 speed Hurst shifter to mount to his T86 and R10 overdrive; I hope what we have archived here on the website blog concerning installation can certainly help him. I am continually amazed at not only how the number of subscribers continues to grow, but also where enthusiasts reside. From my Wix account dashboard I received this snapshot of where website visitors are located...
HotRodReverend website visitors as of April 2021
All that being said, let's get right into this idea of DIY (Do It Yourself). Many years ago before the internet and the easy, digital connectivity with various people we have today, I can remember learning DIY tips and tricks by experimentation or by getting around friends and relatives to see what was going on in their garages. The process to find solutions was often slow and difficult. Maybe it was a phone call to a mechanic, a visit to the body shop, or a conversation at the local car show and I would have this moment where I said to myself, "Oh, so that's how you get it done..." Later on while in community college, the brief time I spent at Brenner's Advanced Automotive brought an education to me almost every day I showed up for work. Brian, Kevin, and Ed (the three brothers that owned and operated the shop) took me under their wing to show me ASE certified work on cars and trucks. Along the way I picked up much mechanical knowledge that I still use today when I repair my personal vehicles or attempt any work at restoration. All three of the brothers owned classic cars that were either completed projects or works in progress. We even went together as a large group to the Carlisle swap meet one year!
Hot Rod Reverend's dad standing next to a relative's 1955 Ford Crown Victoria (circa 1982)
Much has improved over the years. Personally, I have grown through trial and error, what I have read in manuals and other restoration literature, and of course what I have picked up by means of the internet and social media. (More on the pros and cons of the internet and social media later...) Maybe age has something to do with it as well since I have learned from my mistakes and grown with some wisdom in such matters. I would like to think that we all do to some extent.
Daniel Jessup, the Hot Rod Reverend, at 17 years old (circa 1991)
In my opinion there is a large spectrum of automobile restoration work that has two different approaches, both seeking the same result. The first approach would be the guy who farms out all of the work after buying the project vehicle. He would be the owner who finances all of the mechanical repair, the body work and paint, the assembly, etc, but does not turn a wrench or replace any parts. For all practical purposes this is the guy that just keeps signing blank checks all the way through to project completion. On the opposite end would be the guy who does everything himself, from initial tear down, to inspection of mechanicals and other parts that needed to be replaced, handling the budget, installing all of the trim pieces after he paints the vehicle, etc. Somewhere within that large spectrum all of us can be found, and I would assume that most of the subscribers and visitors to this website lean towards the DIY approach of working on their vehicles. Depending upon your age and ability (and maybe even agility! ha!) part of the enjoyment of owning these vehicles not only is the driving but also the tinkering we do from time to time. Even a fully restored vehicle needs a little wrench-turning every now and then.
Nothing defines satisfaction more than doing it yourself!
Restoration work has many levels. When I was a teenager the trend was towards original and factory meaning that most of the cars and trucks being restored were being completed in an effort to replicate the appearance of the car as it left the manufacturing plant when new. These days the trend is obviously towards modification for modern comfort and mechanical updates. In addition to the engine and transmission swaps, it is not uncommon to see interior updates for both comfort and functionality, and to install other upgrades for safety's sake. (like seat belts, modern brakes, and even air bags!) And so, we often hear the term restomod in the classic car and truck world. Whatever form your build assumes, I encourage you to DIY as much as you are able. In the end you will receive much satisfaction through your efforts, and you will come away with more know-how than when you began. And, the bonus will be that you saved money on your project overall because you put in the time and effort.
DIY Framework. Let's remember that these vehicles were designed by world-class engineers and artists alike, but these cars and trucks were also made in such a way to expedite a large number on an assembly line to get the final product to the masses quickly. When considering the framework for doing-it-yourself, keep in mind that unless you are duplicating the factory originality of the car for a concours d'elegance show, there are a number of methods you could use for restoration work that would IMPROVE what the factory did on the assembly line; this would hold true not only in the finished sub-assembly but also in the effort you have to make to complete that work. Some of the DIY tips we have in this article (and in others to come) will show the value.
Because DIY tips can be organized in a variety of ways, I do plan to have at least two full blog articles concerning DIY. These first of which will be organized by such groupings as Useable Space, Fabrication, Grime Removal, Rust Removal, Paint and Autobody, Adhesives and Glue, etc. Hopefully the blog search engine that places each post under particular categories (see the bar at the top to search for various content) will be a help to all of us.
A residential garage can become small rather quickly!
Let's face it, if you are going to roll up your sleeves and work on your project vehicle you need space! Consider blowing a car apart, piece by piece. A fender here, a bumper there, a seat over there, an engine over here, and on it goes. You can visit my earlier blog posts in this series on restoration tips to find out more about organization, but mark it down - you will need space.
Several years ago my calling in life necessitated a move from one state to another. I had lived for 12 years at a nice 2 acre plot of land where I had built a 24x40 pole barn with a very nice concrete floor and a 10 foot ceiling. There was plenty of room to dismantle a project vehicle, store large parts, use the rafters, have specific places for shop equipment, and all the rest. Since housing was a "seller's market" at the time we moved, my wife and I decided to rent after we sold our house and moved to Ohio. A two car residential garage can become quite small in a hurry! Listed below are the ways I have tackled the DIY approach in such a tight area...
Storage Unit. For a very brief time while I was getting my legs under me I rented a storage unit month by month until I could build what I needed in our garage and basement areas. While this is obviously an expense and not necessarily "DIY" as it were, my move to a new residence made this a must in my mind. You should have seen the neighbors when the moving trucks rolled in. Yes, I said, "trucks"! One rental truck alone was used for all of the parts, tools, and shop equipment.
Basement Paint Booth. While this idea may fit into other areas of the blog, it certainly fits well here. I built a temporary paint booth from PVC and sheet plastic in our basement. The air was moved by fans that were ducted and filtered through a basement window since the basement was not a walk-out. This arrangement not only gave me space to paint, but it also allowed me to paint large sheet metal body panels and even small parts in a climate-controlled environment. My son enjoyed helping out in this project too! One word about PVC - these days it is much less expensive than buying 2x4's! Have you seen the price of lumber lately? Other bonuses would be that PVC is lighter than lumber and takes up less space.
Garage Paint Booth. The same concept behind the basement paint booth was used to build a temporary setup in the garage. Fun item here - because of the limited depth of the garage the end of the paint booth jutted out beyond the door. This made moving the rear of the booth in and out of the garage a challenge (while not damaging the finish, etc) but in the end it all worked fine. The only part of the car that gave me fits was the roof - this had to be painted outside because I could not get enough clearance above the car with the low ceiling in the garage. You can see more about that in my blog posts on paint and body work.
DIY Shelving. Nothing helps you gain more space quickly and efficiently than by moving items up and not out. Many garages resemble "urban sprawl" as clutter piles up on any available horizontal space that can be found. We recently held a yard sale in our driveway, leaving the garage door open (the 55 Ford was parked elsewhere in a warehouse out of sight from the lookie-loo's). Many comments were made by men and women alike about the appearance of my garage and how "orderly" it looked. I never really thought about it before; and to be honest when I look at it I see things out of place or pine away about how best the space could be used. My garage has two workbenches; one is 8 feet long with open storage underneath for my welder, pressure washer, sandblaster tank, and my 55 gallon trash can (on wheels no less!). Above that workbench is a re-purposed cabinet, 5 feet of peg board (4 feet tall), and my hardware storage containers (the kind with individual drawers for particular sizes, etc). Even above my blast cabinet I have a squared off 2x2 foot shelf that holds one my Shop-vacs. The garage also has two wire shelving racks (these are not only good to hold weight, but are easy to keep the dust off, easy to see items at the rear of each shelf, and with the wire design I find that it is very easy to hang drop cords and hoses with clips. Even in the basement my son and I built some wood shelving units out of scrap 2x4, OSB and plywood we had lying around. Since the basement is unfinished all of the floor joists above are open - great place to store long pieces of trim, driveshafts, and even PVC. As far as DIY re-purposing of cabinets and shelving, you can go to Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist to find many a deal. If you have the time on the weekends, yard sales or church rummage sales will often have cheap storage solutions.
Temporary Projects. If you are married then you will appreciate this next little tidbit and recognize the fact that I married a woman way above my pay grade! Look at this picture... Yes, that is exactly what you think it is - a set of 55 Ford doors, on body stands, in the living room of the house!!! Note that I placed large sheets of masking paper on the floor just in case I spilled any weatherstrip adhesive. Now granted, these were very clean doors that had only been painted a week or two before it was time to glue the seals, but my dear wife was gracious enough to put up with my use of space. She's a keeper! On the subject of temporary though, you can see that the design of scissor stands would make their long term storage quite easy - they fold up almost flat and are very lightweight. You can hang them on a wall, from a ceiling, or even store CLEAN stands under a bed! Yikes! In addition to using space that was climate controlled and very tidy like the living room, there have been a countless number of times that I have covered the kitchen table with newspaper or discarded tablecloth so that I could repair a speedometer/odometer, rework a heater control unit, or even re-assemble a carburetor.
Very few parts of a project reflect the DIY approach than fabrication. The satisfaction of planning, building, and installing a part you made yourself or designed on your own is something that will keep you going on your project - not to mention it can save you a boatload of money! Granted, if you are building a concours-correct vehicle then most probably you will have little to no fabrication involved since your plan will include much in the way of factory parts. But for the rest of us who have a limited budget and seek to keep the vehicle roadworthy and enjoyable to drive, fabrication must be one of our skillsets. Do you know what those under dash courtesy lights are bringing on eBay? The last one I saw was bidding up over $300!!! Nice accessory to have, but as they say, "I ain't paying' that much, Ethel!" I am not at the level of some craftsmen who can take a plain sheet of metal and beat out a Duesenberg fender, but along the way I have had a good time experimenting and trying my hand at fabrication. The most challenging episode I had in the project so far had to be a toss up between the 3 speed Hurst shifter installation and running a custom A/C setup in the car. Those brackets came from the manufacturer (Hurst and Vintage Air respectively) but drilling the holes, routing the lines, wiring up the back-up lights, and all the rest were surely a test of skill each time the work was attempted. I have done much in the way of wiring updates by using a modern wiring harness with blade fuses and relays. In addition, I have added such accessories as an electric fuel pump to fill the carburetor (or as a backup to the mechanical pump), fog lights, an electric cooling fan, and some other items so we will cover a few of those when we get to the section on wiring. Here are some tips on fabrication...
Visit the Clearance Section. Maybe it is the penny-pinching, budget-minded guy that I am but I often visit the clearance section of most stores in which I happen to be shopping. I have been known to frequent the Habitat for Humanity Restore or the local thrift stores as well. Why? Good deals are to be had my friend! For instance, the 12 volt light and socket that I installed under the dash was a measly $.01 - yes, a penny. Home Depot had those in a clearance section. I bought several since I eventually want to add an under hood light and a trunk light. (Ford did not install those from the factory and I think that only a trunk kit exists - it's a fortune!) Clearance sections may have items that can be re-purposed or even contain stock pieces of metal. Check for common SAE hardware in the clearance section too. I have always been an advocate of saving money on hardware. Two thoughts to consider: 1. Some hardware for your project will be length/design specific, so if you have extras from a parts car or swap meet purchase - save them! 2. Some hardware from your project can do with an off-the-shelf SAE size. Depending on where the hardware will be and its appearance with the car overall, you may just want to use a substitute since "no one will know" about it. Just do not cut corners on safety or functionality. The clearance section may contain other items you can use to fabricate - adhesives, cans of paint (for underwood or chassis items), or even de-greasers and cleaners. Sure, oven cleaner is made for the kitchen but it does a really, really good job on cleaning engine parts! While the vinyl and other fabric I used to fabricate pieces for the interior were not clearance items per se, I did use those 40% and 50% off coupons from places like Hobby Lobby or Joanne Fabrics to pick up what I needed. Yep, I'm that much of a penny-pincher!
Measure Twice, Cut Once. We've all heard this adage, but when it comes to fabrication this is especially true. Plan, plan, plan is my motto. If you look back through my blog posts concerning the interior you will find that I often made cardboard cutouts first to fit them before actually cutting the material I installed in the car as a finished product. Much of this is trial and error on the cardboard of course, but you certainly don't want to cut out or cut away more than what is needed for a proper fit. Consider the installation of the 3 speed Hurst shifter - this was an exercise in patience. Since there was no real way to know the exact footprint of the cut needed for shifter handle movement and the space required for the shifter itself, I started the cuts extremely small and worked my way out from there. You can see from the photo how many cuts I made, and while this took a longer amount of time I did end up with a very clean installation.
"Phone-a-Friend" Maybe you remember the game show, "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" with Regis Philbin. The contestant received three lifelines and one of them was the possibility of phoning a friend to get help to find an answer. My wife tells me I am a nerd, and she does her best to remind me of this as I lie in bed most nights with a book such as How to Restore Your Collector Car or even the 1955 Ford Shop Manual! You would be amazed at how many tips and tricks I picked up just by reading (and then getting in the garage and doing it!) what others have done in the industry. These days the up and coming generation of enthusiasts skip the books and manuals, skip the guys at the shop, and even skip the online forums. Social media seems to be the most prevalent way that novices find answers to their questions. What a shame. The mis-information abounds on many levels. Our fast food society who has become accustomed to a grab-n-go lifestyle believes that repairs and restoration work on their project should come the same way. Take a look at this post on Facebook last week...
Can you believe it? Miracle of miracles there is now a one-piece rear main seal for the Y block!!! Yowsa! I know what some of you are thinking, "Hot Rod, I wouldn't be on Facebook even if you..." Ok, Ok, I get it. With misinformation such as this (and yes, I could take screenshots each day if I wanted to do so) who needs a comedy channel on your TV? You have it right here! The best exchange I have had was when someone argued with me over the 55/56 Fordomatics and that they were 2 speeds, not 3 speeds. I tried to explain the principle of Ford's 3 speed automatic, how it only took off in Dr in second gear, you had to floor it or manually shift to Lo to really grab first, the Fordomatic 2 speeds were not until later and did not have cast iron cases, etc, etc. Nope, that guy wasn't hearing any of it! After all, he had owned several of these cars over his lifetime so who was I to call this into question? It got even more fun when I took screenshots of Ford's repair manuals from 55/56 on the Fordomatic where the verbiage obviously showed a bonafide 3 speed transmission. The bonus? The guy tried to double down and say I was wrong! You cannot make this stuff up!
All social media jokes aside, I have learned quite a bit over the years from others but this has always come through meaningful relationships. I am not saying that outlets such as Facebook groups cannot be a help - they certainly can be. However, there is so much in the cesspool to wade through at times that it gets downright hilarious. You have to keep a sense of humor or you will lose it.
There are good outlets for fabrication by means of social media. We could list quite a few but I would have to say that this guy and his channel on YouTube is my favorite...
This fella Fitzee really knows his stuff, but the real difference with this guy is the quality of his DIY video productions. With simple tools he does an excellent job of explaining and showing how to fabricate quite a bit with sheet metal and other materials. It would be worth your while to subscribe. I must admit I do not know him but when you subscribe let him know that the Hot Rod Reverend sent you!
Until the next installment of our Tips and Tricks series, keep at it with your project!
The Hot Rod Reverend
aka Daniel Jessup