Stories by John Harvey Oakley and Ernest Shiro, for WPC News
I was at a car show about 1,000 miles from home. I bought another car. That ought to teach my wife to let me go alone. In my personal opinion, the ’55 and ’56 Chrysler products are absolutely the best-styled cars ever built. I particularly like the ’56 because of the push button transmission selector and 12 volt electrical system. I like the 4-doors simply because I think they carry the style better with the longer roof line, especially the 4-door hardtops.
I was walking down the street, and saw this original ’56 Imperial 4-door sedan with a for sale sign. I looked it over, and noted that it was somewhat worn, but still a pretty nice original. It had factory air. The chrome was mildly pitted, but unless you are a trophy hound (I'm not), it would do. I mean whom else do you know with a ’56 Imperial?
I went in and talked to the owner. He wanted a very reasonable price. I told him I might be back. I came back the next day, and offered him 75% of what he asked - to my surprise he took it. Now I had a problem - I was alone, 1,000 miles from home, with a second car, that was 46 years old.
This is how you find out just who your friends are. One of the guys I know real well is into modified muscle cars. Nasty cams, minimal mufflers, shake your bones, lousy gas mileage, no air conditioning, and relatively small body. He is 6’6”; his wife isn’t much shorter; and he has 2 kids who demonstrate that heredity counts. She looked over the Imperial and volunteered to take it home for me.
Sunday morning, we got on the freeway together. Him in his bone shaker, with the kids aboard, she in my Imperial, windows shut, the functioning factory air going, and me in my flathead toy I came in.
From here on out, everything I relate came from the kids, because they left. When you are driving a flathead, 55-60 is about all you want to subject it to, unless you want to call for help. We were on I-64, where traffic runs about 80. They were running with traffic. Their first gas stop was about 100 miles down the road - he took 15 gallons of the high priced stuff - she took on 6 gallons of the cheap stuff. About another 100 miles, he took on another 15; she skipped the stop but raged him about it. The daughter joined her mother, because it was about 100 degrees. He tried to stretch things a little, and ran out of gas. She went off and found a gas can than came back with gas for him - and a real hard time. He took on a full rated tank, she took on about 14 gallons in the Imperial. They went on this way until they got into Illinois, where they got off the Interstate and took Illinois 1, a nice smooth 2 lane road that runs north on the eastern border of the state. It was still hot, but raining, so the road was a little slick. All that power and those big fat wide tires on his car made it slip, so she jumped ahead of him at the only stop light they saw. And she kept him there for almost 150 miles. By this time, both kids were riding with mom. She even beat him out leaving the gas station, where he took on gas, and a hard time.
I have got to tell you, this is one gutsy woman. Jumps into a 46 year old car she never saw before, that while is not too bad, is certainly no virgin; run with the big kids on the Interstate; skip gas stops; she doesn’t have a map or a AAA card, but still rags the old man.
I drove the Imperial around a little, to church, a local show, down to the DQ. Summer is my busy season. Come the end of August, the last thing I want to do is get into a car, and go somewhere. On one of these trips, I noted a little rattle coming from the engine compartment. Opening the hood, I gazed upon the sight of my fan doing a figure 8. When I was pulling the water pump, the shaft came out in my hand. Shortly after replacing the water pump, I noted a serious lack of braking power. It is a good thing I live far out in the boonies - I had to use the hand brake to get me home. I replaced the master cylinder.
He tells me I ruined his wife. She used to enjoy going to the drags, but she is no longer interested in getting sunstroke. She complains about how this “thing” is noisy, and causes back pain. She is tired of being cramped. She wants air conditioning. What is worse, she made him buy her a full sized luxury 4-door model of the brand of his muscle car.
The next year, they brought both cars to the show. I think what really frosted him is that they spent 2 hours prepping his car for the show, but it didn’t win diddly squat. She took her car to the local car wash, then took 2nd in her class, and she won’t let him forget it.
Yep, I ruined my buddy’s wife for his car.
I am always amazed at the number of people who look for cars with standard transmissions. Living in a large, heavily trafficked, city with some of the worst streets in the nation, I cannot imagine for a minute why one would opt for a standard transmission. Dodging potholes and orange barrels only to advance upon thousands of completely unsynchronized traffic lights is, for me, an everyday reality. Why then would I want to compound this aggravation with constantly stomping on a clutch and making gyrations with my right arm?
In traffic I see many drivers gyrating at traffic lights spelling out the letter H. There are many drivers who, even with automatic transmissions, electively gyrate at red lights demonstrating what I call the traffic spastic. Many of you have seen such demonstrations. This phenomenon is usually accompanied by deafening noise, rattling windows, splitting ears, and the involuntary crossing of the eyeballs. The younger set calls this accompanying noise - rap. To date I have found only one thing lacking in this noisy phenomenon. It is the letter C.
Yes, I can drive standards. Many of the cars I drive are in fact pre-synchromesh types that require greater sensitivity to shift without clashing gear teeth. My 1929 Chevy roadster and I recently completed the VMCCA East-West Nickel Vintage tour through Louisiana and Mississippi. Together we toured about 700 trouble free miles in one week.
Automatic transmissions are a reliable lot whether they are manufactured by Ford, GM, or Daimler-Chrysler. These units withstand a lot of use, abuse, give thousands of miles of trouble free service, and give me the added benefit of not having to keep squirming in my seat in traffic. I think that alongside of the engineers who invented air conditioning, the brilliant people who invented the automatic deserve a shrine in my garage.
Most beneficial to transmission reliability and longevity is the periodic fluid change and related service. Factory recommended maintenance intervals are only a guide that require the owner to use discretion if more frequent service is required. Heavy traffic, high heat conditions, go and stop driving, are hard on these units. Years ago one of my local club members made direct contact with Pennzoil engineers to learn about transmission fluids. He found that automotive oils, including ATF, have a shelf life of not more than 2 years. Beyond this these oils suffer chemical additive breakdown.
Professional transmission service can get pricey. My last professionally done transmission maintenance was over $70! Herein lies the most important point. As this was done on my ’75 Electra, which has no torque converter drain, I spent this money to change a filter and gasket, have someone else look for leaks, clean the pan, and change ONLY the oil in the transmission, leaving what was in the torque converter, cooling lines, and radiator unchanged. You can buy a lot of ATF with this $70 and have money left over for at least one filter kit.
Once upon a time I attempted my own fluid changes in my garage. The obligatory jack stands and wheel chocks were used without any assistance from any other equipment. No matter how well prepared I was for the task or how large the drain pan employed, my garage floor always ended up a royal mess. Such was the case until I realized from this hard lesson the need for some means to remove the bulk of the fluid BEFORE removing the pan.
A siphoning device was in order. Nowadays, companies such as J.C. Whitney, Griots Garage, and others sell siphoning equipment ready to perform. I am cheap and made my own using the following items.
1. Electric Drill (already had one)
2. Drill operated liquid transfer pump
3. Female garden hose connectors
4. Reducing fittings
5. Length of hard plastic tubing of a diameter compatible with the diameter of the filler neck. Note: Hard but flexible PVC tubing does not lend itself to suction collapse and you can see the fluid through it
6. Length of similar tubing or softer, clear neoprene tubing for the discharge
7. Collection bucket
Feed the hard plastic tubing into the filler pipe and bottom it into the pan. Turn on the drill and watch the dirty fluid come out. This process will take only a couple of minutes to empty out the transmission. If you do not have a drain plug on the torque converter, which is the case on my Electra, Fleetwood Brougham, and Fifth Avenue, secure the drill pump assembly with an old belt, rope, or bungee cord, engage the drill trigger lock to leave it running, start the car, and run the shift lever through the drive and reverse ranges. I usually get another pint of fluid out doing this.
Naturally, shift back to park, turn off the ignition, and remove the pump assembly. Now refill the sump. Be prepared to replace at least 4 quarts for the average transmission. My Custom, Town Car, 2 LTDs, and Mercedes have torque converter plugs. As previously stated GMs and Chrysler have none. In the case of the later mentioned cars a great deal of old fluid will remain but will be circulated with the fresher fluid.
By doing this with every 2-3 motor oil changes the fluid should be in reasonably good condition when it comes time to perform the pan inspection, filter change and shift adjustments. In over 30 years of doing this I have never burned up or “lost” a transmission. They have had varying degrees of repair with only 4 out of 8 cars requiring out of vehicle service. In all cases this was because of leaking seals. Bear in mind most of the cars are 1975 or older. The youngest is an 85.
This siphon also works well to speed up draining side tank, horizontal radiators. When finished, be sure to hang the hoses and set them over a catch pan. It is amazing just how much fluid will leak out of the hoses.
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