Sourcing Parts for your Project
Used but serviceable Y Block "hard" parts lie on a table at a swap meet.
Many of the subscribers and visitors to the blog contact me with a variety of questions concerning DIY restoration work. Of all the advice that people seek, the two questions that I receive most often are 1. "Can you help me locate parts for my project?" and 2. "Can you rebuild this sub-assembly (carburetor, engine, transmission, heater controls, etc) of the vehicle for me?" Maybe in another blog post I can address question 2, but for now, let me help with the answer(s) to question 1.
Disassembly is easy; but finding the parts you need can be a chore!
Among those of us who tinker on our vehicles in the garage at home, we often find a common problem - where do we go to locate the parts we need? For our late model cars and trucks, a quick trip to the local auto parts store usually takes care of any maintenance item such as a belt, spark plug, brake pads, etc. Even the hard parts such as water pumps, internal engine parts, and all the rest can be found at larger retailers such as NAPA or even online through RockAuto. When all else fails, usually a local dealership will have the parts you need.
And if you own a vintage automobile, let's face it - you will need to purchase parts for that ride eventually. For those of us in all out-restoration work we get that, but I would dare say that even the individual who purchased a completely restored vehicle will someday need maintenance items at the very least. As our vehicles age with every passing year, finding the parts necessary to restore or to keep the project moving on the road becomes a little more difficult. If you have never read my blog post concerning shop manuals and parts catalogs, I highly suggest you read over that post before proceeding any further. New subscribers would also benefit by reading my series on "Tips and Tricks to Keep Your Restoration Moving." There are a few articles in that series that share my failures and successes along the way and lay out a game plan to help you with your project.
In the early 90's, I learned very quickly about the need for quality parts during restoration work.
In addition to being named "The Hot Rod Reverend" I am also known for my avarice in collecting parts. This all started years ago when I was 16. I worked at a local Pep Boys auto parts store behind the counter (back when we had books, manuals, and parts diagrams - no computers). In addition to that line of work, I also enjoyed patronizing swap meets such as the Spring Swap Meet at Carlisle Fairgrounds, local car shows and swap meets, and even visiting junk yards that were known for their inventory of antique vehicles. Not much has changed over the years, and with the advent of the internet during my lifetime a great host of possibilities now exist. While many of us would be considered "hoarders," I do find myself selling just about as much as I buy. Much of this includes restoration of sub-assemblies like carburetors, intake manifolds, rocker arm assemblies, etc. At times, I do move a few of the heavier, bulkier items like sheet metal body panels, bumpers, seats, and even whole parts cars. Owning and operating a website such as this is certainly not free, so all of my profit ends up going back into the maintenance of Hot Rod Reverend's online presence, projects, and Hot Rod Reverend Ministries itself.
Before diving into the wide waters of how and where to find quality parts for your ride, let me begin by categorizing the parts themselves. Any automobile is the sum total of all its parts. Those parts number in the thousands per vehicle, and it is helpful if we have some way of placing parts into categories. Ford produced quite a few divisions (and sub-categories) into their master parts catalogs in the 1950's, but for this blog post I will limit us to four: Hard Parts, Soft Parts, Maintenance Items, and Consumables. Of course, not EVERY single part on your ride will fall neatly into place for the four groups. As an example, for a water pump some would place that into the "Maintenance Item" grouping, but I would place that into the "Hard Parts" category. Gaskets could fall into either the "Soft Parts" or "Maintenance Items" depending upon the frequency of replacement. For instance, we do not commonly replace the head gaskets on our engines, but back in the 1950's when these cars and trucks were new it was not uncommon to change the thermostat each year as a part of a regular maintenance schedule. And each time you swapped thermostats the housing would require a new gasket. Therefore, listed below is my best explanation of the categories.
FoMoCo included quite a few sections in their master parts catalog in the 50's.
Hard Parts: I would classify such pieces as body panels, door handles, wheels, sub-assemblies such as the steering gear, engine, and transmission, starter, generator, stainless/chrome trim, latches, etc. to all be under this category.
Soft Parts: This section here would include weatherstripping, interior cloth and vinyl, wiring harnesses, glass, light lens, etc.
Maintenance Items: The parts in this category would be such things as spark plugs, filters, various ignition components, light bulbs, and other items that are replaced frequently in both antique and late model automobiles.
Consumables: Most of the items here may not be actual "parts" as we normally know them to be. For restoration work, you will certainly need sandpaper, masking tape, professional quality paint, adhesives, staples, and disposable hardware among hundreds of other items.
So, if you need a valve spring for that head, a u-joint for that drive shaft, or a bearing for that steering gear, where do you go? Let me give you my list of sources and relay my experiences. Nothing beats a good swap meet for hard parts that are not being reproduced in the modern day. Not only are you able to locate new old stock (NOS) or well-made assemblies ready to be rebuilt, but typically I find that vendors at swap meets tend to offer their goods at the best prices. My most recent find was an NORS (the "R" is for remanufactured) distributor for the Y Block engine. It was a Safeguard brand, sitting in its original box with the distributor body in protective plastic. The new condenser and points were included and looked like they were just taken out of the package yesterday. The price? $50! I did not even dicker on this one and gladly paid the cash as I admired the snug fit of the shaft to the body of the distributor. For this example, I will have to admit that the distributor and the box were unmarked with the application. This good deal came about because I recognized the distributor body and know the Y Block so well - no part numbers or diagrams needed here; it was easy to spot. If you have been following the latest news on remanufactured Y Block distributors lately then you know that Cardone has had a lot of trouble with their shaft not being the appropriate size and with the points and condenser failing rather quickly. (You can read more about the negative experiences a fellow enthusiast had with a foreign made points and condenser by visiting this post.)
The 57-64 Y Block distributor was a steal at only $50!
Swap meets that are brand specific (such as the "Fords at Carlisle" or the "Ohio Ford Expo") are better still because most often you find vendors that specialize in used, new, NORS, and NOS parts not readily available anywhere else. Before we leave swap meets for hard parts, one reminder needs to be given... stay away from most of the maintenance items such as gaskets or even soft parts such as weatherstripping. While there are exceptions, most often these packages have been lying out in the weather, been on the shelf for decades, or have seen quite a bit of abuse.
National swap meets are quite large - bring a hand truck or cart with you.
Swap meets usually include vendors that sell restoration tools and equipment. If the meet is large enough, such businesses as Restoration Specialties or TiP Tools will be there with quality soft parts and consumables like weatherstripping, window channel, blasting media, autobody supplies, and even electrical supplies and hardware. It is not uncommon at the national car shows and swap meets for brand specific restoration companies to have large displays set up to showcase their reproduction parts, but hardly ever do they bring parts to sell. However, if you speak with an employee at the show you may end up finding out that the company has NOS or NORS inventory back at their property. These parts are never listed in their catalogs or mentioned on their websites.
Next to swap meets, my favorite are old junk yards. Even junk yards that specialize in late model cars and trucks could have an old clunker or two that may have parts you could use. It goes without saying that across the United States many of these yards have crushed their inventory, sold off everything at auction, or otherwise just do not exist in your area anymore. Most often the junk yards that have antique vehicles are going to be found in rural areas or the dry, desert areas out west. I remember fondly my dad and I trapsing through these outdoor museums when I was much younger. We had a ball looking at cars and trucks and finding odds and ends that we needed. At times we hauled out entire doors or other body panels. Just a year or two ago I took my son to a local yard in order to find a rear seat for a late model Ford Explorer. While it was not advertised, the yard had several trucks from the 50's and 60's that had all kinds of parts available right there for the taking. It never hurts to pay these places a visit and see what may be lying around.
Social Media Platforms
In my lifetime the world of used parts and sourcing new parts has certainly changed! Much of that is due to the impact of how we all stay connected as a society. Even within the last five years, I have seen an uptick in parts availability from platforms like Facebook. Just last year, I scored big time in the arena of hard parts.
You can find great deals on hard parts through Facebook Marketplace...
With the advent of Facebook Marketplace, former stalwarts such as Craigslist do not carry quite the amount of listings they once had. One caveat about Marketplace - it is still social media so the atmosphere of the 3-ring circus still applies. This past year spring I responded to a Facebook ad for quite a few Y Block and mid-50's parts. The stash being off-loaded was roughly 3 hours drive time from my residence. On the phone I asked for what parts were available, and included in the various list of carburetors and other 1956 Ford items was a bell housing and a flywheel. I told the seller, "Since you have both of those I will make the trip up to you and bring cash." When I arrived at the appointed time, I was dismayed to discover that the seller could not find the flywheel nor the bell housing. There was an engine block and various odds and ends in the garage and shed, but even after searching for over an hour we could not locate the parts for which I traveled. I ended buying a few odds and ends but left not too happy with the results.
Within Facebook, however, are the endless "groups" that you can join. Usually, the members of respective Facebook groups can be trusted but I encourage you to only buy from those that have been in the group long enough to contribute to the dialogue and photo/video submissions. This line of thought will help you weed out the scammers.
If you own a Y Block-powered vehicle, join the forum!
One part of the social media world of parts acquisition remains largely untapped. Consider joining an online forum such as FordBarn, Jalopy Journal, or Y-Blocks Forever. Some of the forums such as the Ford Truck Enthusiasts Forum, the FordBarn, etc, are pretty simple to register and join. For sites that get constantly spammed by hackers, you will need to contact an administrator to get set up. If you want to join Y-Blocks Forever, you will need to contact my friend Ted Eaton. Simply follow the instructions at this link: Forum registration for new members (y-blocksforever.com). What does joining these forums offer you in the arena of sourcing parts? Simply stated - there are thousands of classified listings in these forums, and members can start a want ad or throw out a post asking for certain parts for their vehicles. And the bonus is that joining these online forums is absolutely free! I have acquired parts in all four categories above by maintaining an online presence in these forums.
eBay and Amazon
These two online companies get their own dedicated section in this blog post. The main tool that has driven the availability of parts for sale is their search engines. Both of these sites will carry parts for classic cars and will have a little bit to offer from each category. Amazon even sells the Y Block fuel pump that has the vacuum assist lines as well. It has been my experience that an online site like Amazon can be great for small hardware items such as nuts and bolts, but horrible for hard parts. It seems as if the market is flooded with parts made offshore that are not up to quality manufacturing in Australia, the US, and parts of South America. This is not always true of the items listed - you do have to perform a little homework. As an example, Amazon does sell quality Cloyes timing sets. Over the past several years, I have used Amazon for consumables mostly - quality 3M products for autobody work, gallons of urethane reducer or paint thinner, nitrile gloves, etc. If you are an Amazon Prime member, then you know that the real benefit here is the free shipping/returns.
I dare say that most of my online shopping in the hard and soft parts categories have indeed been through eBay. Over the last decade, this site once known for its auctions has turned to "buy it now" and has really leaned towards the buyer/customer. For 15 years I have sold on eBay successfully. The inventory of items available for classic cars and automobiles used to be quite plentiful. Everyone seemed to be clearing out their garages back then. Unfortunately, eBay kept "overhauling" their ebay Motors section of the website. Nowadays, sellers like myself are charged a high fee for each sale - not only does eBay get a percentage of the total price but also a percentage of the shipping that the customer paid. Since most of the hard parts for our vehicles are made of cast iron or some other heavy metal, this means that sellers like me lose out quite substantially if having to ship those items. 10 years ago, it was not uncommon to ship a set of heads across the country if sold on eBay - not anymore, the money you stand to lose as a seller is just too great. Every once in a while though, I find a hidden gem on eBay.
Unlike Amazon, the inventory available in eBay seems to be changing each week. Of course, much of that is due to the demographic of the seller/business. While large businesses such as Falcon Global maintain a presence on eBay in order to sell engine parts, most of the seller base is made up of DIY people like me and you who have leftovers from a recent project, want to make a quick buck on an item in the garage, or maybe even those who fund their projects by moving inventory. (That would be me, too!) Whatever the case, I have found that maintenance items, soft parts, and consumables can all be found by using this source. A few years back when I needed parts for my 3 speed overdrive transmission, I was able to locate some of what I needed by using the search box on the eBay website. Even the windshield seal that I installed on my Club Sedan came new in the package from a seller on eBay. If memory serves, that is also where I found a new heater core for the car.
Restoration and Reproduction Companies
In my lifetime I have seen the rise of a great number of companies that offer reproduction and restoration parts for brand-specific vehicles. Probably the best known among Fords would be Dennis Carpenter Ford Restoration Parts located near the race track in the Charlotte, North Carolina area. I can remember years ago when I was a teenager buying parts from them by means of their mail order catalog. About ten years ago, I had the opportunity to pay them a personal visit, receive a private, back-lot tour from one of their employees, and to meet Dennis Carpenter himself. (That may be a story for another post…)
The Dennis Carpenter Museum included Y Block overhead cam parts!
Mostly, Carpenter’s is known for their rubber weatherstripping and their reproduction plastics for Ford cars and trucks. They even purchased some of Ford Motor Company’s tooling and obtained a license from Ford to reproduce various parts. As far as I know, they are the only company that reproduces the entire grill assemblies for 1955 and 56 Ford passenger cars. While there are indeed other restoration companies that make their own parts, Carpenter’s leads the way across the US. I have noticed that when purchasing parts from other companies that said reproduction business will “re-brand” the package by placing their company logo or their assigned part number sticker over the top of original Dennis Carpenter packaging. In addition to reproduction parts, they also carry a line of NOS parts. As a matter of fact, they run this operation in a separate set of buildings on their property. Having had experience with their process of locating what they have in inventory (since it is added to quite often), customers would be wise to contact them with an original Ford part number and description.
Over the past 10 years, I will have to say that my go-to business for purchasing reproduction parts would be Tee-Bird Auto Parts in West Chester, PA. I met the owner, Bill Stratton, about 15 years ago, and even today when I call the parts department I end up speaking with him from time to time. You may wonder what I would be doing calling up a Thunderbird dealer (yes - there are plenty of them out there, Larry’s, Hill’s, and CASCO come to mind very quickly) to purchase parts for a mid-50s Ford sedan. Tee-Bird Auto Parts certainly has a plethora of parts for the 1955-57 Thunderbirds, but they also carry a line specific to the 1955 and 56 Ford passenger cars. I have sourced quite a bit from them - for items as small as the pins that secure the door check arms, to an entire fuel line assembly from the tank to the pump! They also carry some of the engine parts that are a little more difficult to find - such as the heat crossover tube that presses into the exhaust ports of the intake manifold on 1956 and 1957 applications. I have restored quite a few of those intake manifolds, both single and dual, and Tee-Bird always has what I need. They ship quickly, and they SHIP AT COST. One final word about the company: do not be fooled by the simplicity of their website. Use the PDF catalog they have online to find what you need, and then give them a phone call.
TeeBird Auto is my go-to for intake manifold restoration.
Among the businesses listed above, I have also been known to patronize Obsolete and Classic Auto Parts and Concours Parts and Accessories. If you are into price shopping, you can often find deals on clearance items, holiday specials, or even “new” parts that are added to their inventories. One word of warning: check the freight and shipping charges before you purchase!
Specialized Service Businesses
While the companies in this section would be considered small (usually just a few employees or maybe even a one-man operation) they fill a very needed niche in the industry. Whether it is Mummert Machine and John’s ever-expanding list of parts for the Y Block, Ted Eaton’s inventory of both used and new parts for mid-50’s Ford engines, or even Mac VanPelt’s expertise and rare stockpiling of early Ford transmission parts, businesses like these are a real help in locating items that would take you years to find.
Ted Eaton knows his business, I highly recommend him.
As many of our subscribers are aware, I am a little bit of a Y Block nut. I enjoy everything Y Block whether it’s the stock 239, the standard 292 workhorse in a truck, or a hopped-up 312 ready to race! In archived blog posts I have already mentioned parts that I have purchased from John Mummert. I can say that I have been very happy with what I have received both in customer service and quality. Many of you are already aware of my relationship with Ted Eaton. In addition to quality machine work, Ted also stocks some parts for Y Blocks that you cannot get anywhere else. Over the years, he has even had an influence on aftermarket manufacturers like Best Gasket and their design of the head gasket for the Y Block. Mac VanPelt has been a tremendous help in locating parts for 3 speed overdrive transmissions that have the Borg Warner tail shaft.
When you are in this deep, you will need parts!
Other outfits such as Rocker Arms Unlimited out in California have been a tremendous source in locating machined parts for rebuilding those assemblies. If you are into the racing and high performance world then you already know that Jeg’s, Summit, and Speedway tend to be the three that lead the pack in that particular market.
Mostly, finding businesses that support the mechanicals of your project is usually not too difficult if you are dealing with the big three (Ford, GM, and Chrysler). However, there are other application-specific entities that are putting out quality parts. Consider New Port Engineering if you wish to modify your wiper motor with a needed upgrade. Or maybe if you desire a modern wiring harness, contact Rebelwire, Painless, or Ron Francis to get what your project requires. Having only dealt with Rebelwire for wiring harnesses, I can tell you that their customer service is excellent and their product is quality. I have had zero issues with their kit.
Parts such as running gear, suspension, wheels, etc, would require more space than what I could allot here in this blog post, but I have been considering replacing the leaf springs on the 55 Ford. When I do, it looks as if I will go this company here: General Spring. Items such as tie-rods, ball joints, brakes and the like are difficult to find these days if you desire quality. If you need those items I highly suggest you go the NOS route. Most of what is being manufactured today will not stand up to the weather more than a few weeks. It seems that the rubber seals produced off shore are made with toilet paper substitute and break down within a matter of weeks. You are better off using rubber that has been on the shelf for 50 years than you would be for using junk.
To this point in the post we have not mentioned the common retail chains such as Autozone, O’Reilly’s, Advance, Pep Boys, etc. These all have their place, but each year their hard parts inventory and their maintenance offerings seem to decrease when it comes to vintage automobiles. In recent times, RockAuto.com has come to the forefront in parts acquisition. It is almost the “Amazon for classic car parts” and many an owner of an old vehicle has found what they needed on their website. Each vehicle is easily traceable, and of course when you navigate to your year, brand, and model, even the engine size pops up as a selection to be made. Gaskets, weatherstripping, seals, maintenance items, etc can all be found here. I even purchased valves and seats for my ECZ-G heads through RockAuto. One of the good things that RockAuto provides is brand choice; this assures you of the quality you are receiving when associated with a name you recognize. This website even has reproduction literature such as owner’s manuals, parts manuals, and other documents for sale that are specific to your vehicle! As always, check the shipping charges in your online shopping cart before you click “buy” so that you are aware of how much the total is going to be. Parts pricing seems to be good on RockAuto but because items in your cart may be shipped from separate warehouse locations the shipping charges can be a whopper.
RockAuto.com has more to offer than you might think.
Thus far we have really not touched on various parts such as the interior door panels, headliner, seat covers, carpet, etc. Back when I was a teenager first getting started into the hobby the big deal was restoration work - bringing a vehicle back to its factory appearance. Owners went as far as to be sure to have a little orange peel or other slight paint imperfections because that is how the car would appeared at the dealership. Therefore, factory-correct interior colors and trim were quite the rage. In modern times, the “resto-mod” dominates the scene. Granted, there are still owners of vehicles who desire originality, but these numbers are dwindling each day as the former generation passes from this life to the next. Another factor in a lack of availability for manufacturer-correct interiors would be that often, this work is left to a dedicated upholsterer. Not too many of us delve into the DIY work of recovering seats, installing headliners, and all the rest of the details to make the cabin what it ought to be. All this means that locating these parts can be a real chore, especially if you are after specific colors or trying to match a tutone scheme. If you own a popular vehicle such as Thunderbird, Mustang, or a tri-five Chevrolet then multiple sources exist. For the rest of us, it would be best to contact a local automotive upholsterer and have them source what you need and perform the install as well. You can read about my saga to have the visors in my 55 Ford restored by visiting this blog post.
No one reproduces the 1955 or 56 Ford passenger car steering wheel.
There are other parts for mid-50s cars that I wish were reproduced, but I guess the law of supply and demand really comes into play here. For instance, no company that I am aware of reproduces hoods, trunks, fenders, etc. There are quality businesses such as EMS that make fine floorpans, rocker panels, and other sheet metal reproduction parts. Another car part that has always has me baffled as to why non one reproduces them would be the steering wheel. They are certainly available for Thunderbirds, Mustangs, tri-five Chevrolets, and the like, but you would think with the popularity of the Crown Victoria, Sunliner, and now the 1954-57 wagons that some business would be selling new steering wheels. I know what some of our readers would say, “Can’t you just restore your wheel with epoxy?” While that is certainly true, and I have restored a couple of steering wheels, the fact remains that the Bake-lite continues to crack in the places that did not have cracks when you restored your wheel the first time. This is especially true if your vehicle sees a lot of sunlight.
Let me encourage you to be prepared to locate specific parts by using FoMoCo’s original diagrams and nomenclature. Many businesses use Ford part numbers to help organize and locate their inventory. I have a CD that I have put together that includes among other things the 1949-59 Ford Parts Identification Manuals. These are in PDF form and are easily read on most any electronic device. The bonus is that you can print what you need before you go to the junk yard, swap meet, or even before you call that business when trying to locate an NOS part. The diagrams certainly help when you are in the garage trying to re-assemble everything. And they make great stocking stuffers! You can read more about my advice on Ford’s manuals by visiting this post - it is sure to be a help.
Nothing is more helpful than a parts diagram when sourcing the items you need.
This post is going out during the week of Thanksgiving, and I do hope you have a safe and enjoyable holiday with family and friends. Of all holidays observed in the US, Thanksgiving is without a doubt one that enjoys deep-seated Christian roots and a heritage of acknowledging the grace of a higher power. This world is traveling towards its end of days. As we view world events we cannot help but wonder, “Can things get any worse?” Psalm 75:7 declares, “But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.” I cannot speak for what others do and how others act, but I can give an account of my response to a holy God. This week, I will lead our family in giving thanks to the God of heaven for Psalm 100:4 states, “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.”
The Hot Rod Reverend
aka Daniel Jessup