Anyone who thinks that the collector car hobby is on the decline, or who at least proposes that the pre-war segment in particular is as dead as these vehicles’ original owners, was not in attendance as I was at the October 2019 two-day auction held by RM Sotheby’s in Hershey PA. As they have for probably the last 10 years, RM contracted with the Hershey Lodge to host the event, and it was scheduled to coincide with the AACA Hershey Fall Meet.
The auction results I observed made it crystal clear that the hobby is as strong as ever; and anyone suggesting that “no one is in the market for anything built before ______” (insert the post-war model year of your choice) is not cognizant of the facts.
The facts are these: the Thursday portion of the auction was the liquidation of the Merritt Auto Museum of Nebraska. No explanation was given for its closing, but the 107 vehicles on offer were all pre-war, and all were offered at no reserve. The catalog provided the auction house’s pre-sale estimates, and much of the pre-auction excitement boiled down to this: would the supposed indifference to such aged lots result in low-dollar sales? Or would the no-reserve format drive the bidding to numbers close to or above the estimates?
I stuck around long enough to personally observe 33 lots cross the block. Of those 33, 21 sold within or above their estimates; 13 lots sold below (and of those 13, two were “replicas”, and one was a sedan rebodied as a phaeton). It was an impressive performance, and with possibly very few exceptions, no one “stole” any automobiles. This chart shows those 33 vehicles (buckboards were clearly the hot attraction of the night):
Note that the indicated “hammer” price is exclusive of 10% buyer’s premium.
Thursday’s show also differed from other RM at Hershey auctions because every lot was pushed into and out of the building. In previous years, one of the thrills for me (and a reassurance to the bidding audience) was the visual acknowledgement that the cars started and ran. Whether the pushing was done for expediency or to spare our lungs was not stated; and while all the vehicles looked cosmetically fresh (I’d rate every vehicle a 3+ or 2- in condition), I did overhear the handlers state “watch out, that one has no brakes” several times.
Below are selected photos from Thursday’s auction. The vehicles below are arranged in order of HAMMER PRICE, from lowest to highest. Due to the size of this report, I will break out Friday’s auction results as a separate blog post.
Lot 163, 1902 Olds Curved Dash Replica, sold for $3,500, 42% below its pre-sale low estimate of $6,000
Lot 186, 1914 Buick Roadster, sold for $13,000, 35% below its pre-sale low estimate of $20,000
Lot 181, 1923 Willys-Knight Roadster, sold for $13,000, 48% below its pre-sale low estimate of $25,000
Lot 179, 1930 Marquette Phaeton (rebodied sedan), sold for $14,500, 3% below pre-sale low estimate of $15,000
Lot 168, 1933 Essex Terraplane, sold for $17,000, within its pre-sale estimate of $15-25,000
Lot 184, 1913 Maxwell Roadster, sold for $18,500, within its pre-sale estimate of $15-25,000
Lot 180, 1933 Essex Terraplane, sold for $20,000, within its pre-sale estimate of $20-30,000
Lot 178, 1929 Ford Model A Phaeton, sold for $22,000, within its pre-sale estimate of $20-25,000
Lot 201, 1928 Franklin Depot Hack, sold for $22,500, 25% below its pre-sale low estimate of $30,000
Lot 185, 1912 Detroiter Speedster, sold for $25,500, within its pre-sale estimate of $25-35,000
Lot 206, 1932 Pontiac Coupe, sold for $26,000, within its pre-sale estimate of $25-35,000
Lot 195, 1932 LaSalle sedan, sold for $30,000, 14% below its pre-sale low estimate of $35,000
Lot 187, 1923 Packard Runabout, sold for $34,000, within its pre-sale estimate of $30-40,000
Lot 202, 1936 Cord 810 Westchester sedan, sold for $37,500, 25% above its pre-sale high estimate of $30,000 (it was announced on the block that engine had a cracked cylinder head)
Similar to what Volvo has used for decades, the rear rotors sit over a set of drum brake shoes which apply to the inside of the rear disc “hat”. On the Alfa, these are cable-operated. It was always gratifying that my car’s hand brake worked, but it required a significant tug of the handle to engage.
First challenge was removing the two slotted-head screws holding each rear rotor to the hub. An ordinary screwdriver wasn’t getting the job done, so I resorted to one of my favorite tools: my Snap-On hammer-driven impact driver. A long time ago, Andy Finnegan, the shop foreman at the first Volvo dealer that employed me, suggested this tool to me. While I infrequently use it, it’s one of those tools that makes you glad you have it for the occasions you really need it. This was one of those occasions.
A few taps with a hammer, and the screws were loose (I also bought new replacements on the chance that I would mangle the heads during removal.). But getting the disc off also required a few heavier hammer blows. Eventually, the rotors were off, first on the driver’s side, then the passenger side.
It would not surprise me if I were the first person to expose the parking brake shoes since this car left Italy. Remember that when I bought it, the car has 54,000 original miles. I also have reason to suspect that the rear brake pads were original to the car. There has likely been little need to check or service these components.
With some effort, I removed the brake shoes on the driver’s side (access is conveniently limited by the hub). The arrangement is typical, with a star wheel for adjustment, and two springs holding the upper and lower shoes. A cable extends from the differential through an access hole in the backing plate, pulling a lever which spreads the shoes. After taking the one side apart, I decided to leave the passenger side intact for reference, and ordered all new parts from Classic Alfa.
It was also time to remove the master cylinder. With its so-called “standing pedals” hinged through the floor, my ’67 is one of the last Giulia coupes so configured. Within a year or so (varying by model), Alfa would switch to “hanging pedals” and mount the master cylinder in the conventional location on the firewall.
I desperately searched for guidance on the Alfa forums for “master cylinder removal”, but nothing I came across addressed the underfloor location. So I tackled it on my own, and really struggled with it. There are two bolts which pass horizontally through the master cylinder, and these bolts mount into a plate that also holds the clutch linkage. Said plate didn’t look removable to me – that’s from the vantage point of lying on my back, with my nose about 3 inches from the car’s underside. Without removing the plate, there wasn’t enough clearance to remove the bolts. Through sheer luck, I wiggled the cylinder and the bolts and got the master cylinder cleared. But I’ll need to investigate this plate when it comes time for reinstallation.
There was also the matter of the two brake lines, both of which thread into the top of the cylinder. There was little choice but to loosen and drop the cylinder to give me access to the line fittings, but then I lost the leverage one gets from a master cylinder firmly bolted to something.
Using my flare nut wrenches, the first fitting came out easily. The second one did not. I resorted to using a cheater bar (a length of pipe) on the wrench, and for the first time during this brake overhaul, the wrench slipped on the fitting and rounded it off. The fitting was seized. I cut the line with a pair of diagonal cutters, and the master cylinder was on my workbench. In a bit of good news, the fitting did come loose once I dropped a deep 6-point socket on it.
There is plenty to do next: finish the rebuilding of the two rear calipers, renew the parking brake parts, and rebuild the master cylinder. Parts were duly ordered and are on their way.
The last official day of summer turned out to be a near-perfect day for a breakfast drive. Pre-dawn, the air remained cool enough for a light jacket; once ol’ Sol broke above the horizon, or in our case, over the Mahwah Sheraton, the air temp quickly climbed and didn’t stop climbing until reaching the 80s.
Eleven gentlemen in nine different vehicles made the trek on the 22nd. Six of the nine rides wore German badges (I was surprised the group didn’t demand knockwurst and potato pancakes for breakfast). However, it’s a genial bunch, and we heard nary a complaint about our chosen destination, the Hampton Diner in Newton NJ.
We set out from the Sheraton at about 8:35am, with Larry leading the way in his Nova. It was a glorious drive through northern Jersey, dipping into then out of New York State. A planned pit stop was undertaken at a BP gas station in Vernon NJ. To everyone’s surprise, Bill’s Porsche did NOT need fuel, but more than a few of us took advantage of the restroom facility. One patch of rough road brought our speed down to below 30mph for a bit, but all the cars escaped unscathed.
We reached the Diner just before 10:30am, were immediately served coffee, and got our breakfast plates not long after. Thanks goes out to our young waiter who seemed to have a pot of hot java available for refills at a moment’s notice.
As is our habit, the conversations continued out into the parking lot, and it was past noon by the time the final vehicles began the return trip home. While tomorrow may be the first day of autumn, that should still give us ample time to fit in one (or two) more breakfast runs this year.
As you read in Part 1 of the Alfa Romeo brake system overhaul, the new front calipers I had purchased, through no one’s fault, didn’t get the job done. It was just as well; in an attempt to get my car ready to drive to the AROC Convention in Pittsburgh, I was hurrying through the job, which is no way to work on a braking system. If anything, the inability to make the car roadworthy gave me just the excuse I needed to do the right thing.
I had purchased this car in 2013 from my friend Pete. He bought it in 1968, drove it for perhaps five years, mothballed it for over 20 years, then took it out of long-term storage. After refreshing various systems, including the brakes, Pete enjoyed the car for about 10 years before handing over the keys. In my mind, this Alfa had been “recently” refurbished. However, once I added up the years and the miles, I realized my own miscalculation. At best, Pete worked on the brakes around the year 2003, meaning, the brake fluid alone was now 16 years old. Shame on me! Since I loved driving the car, I wanted 100% confidence in its brakes, so The Right Thing meant a complete overhaul: rebuilt calipers, new or rebuilt master cylinder, and new lines and hoses. I got all 4 wheels up off the ground, drained what little fluid remained, and brought both front calipers to the workbench.
First, the dust boots and their retaining springs had to be removed. The springs were so rusty that it was difficult to see them against the boots, but with a little urging from a dental pick, they popped off. The boot for the seized piston looked like it had been on fire (it almost was), and this early discovery reinforced that this overhaul was necessary and overdue.
I’ve rebuilt calipers before, as a Volvo tech, but it wasn’t a job we did very frequently. All 4 of my car’s calipers are of the two-piston fixed type, and research from my Alfa library led me to conclude that there was no need to split the calipers. The pistons could be removed with compressed air, and the bores cleaned up as necessary.
Starting with the seized right front unit, my technique was to start by pushing the pistons back into their bores with a piston compression tool. The reasoning is that any movement is good movement. Once they were fully retracted, I hit the fluid passage with compressed air, and both pistons moved outward a few millimeters. The cycle was repeated: retract pistons, apply air; retract pistons, apply air. Finally, one piston popped free.
But now I had a problem: the compressed air escaped from the now-empty bore, and did nothing to move the piston still in place. I reinstalled the removed piston, but the same thing happened: one piston came out, and one stayed in. I needed a way to block the fluid passages without fully reinstalling the first piston. Stuffing rags into the bore did nothing.
Here’s how I did that: lubing up the piston with brake fluid, I reinserted it just a few millimeters back into its bore, enough to block air flow, but not so much that I couldn’t pull it out by hand. I held this piston in place with a C-clamp, so the force of the air would blow out the 2nd piston. It worked! The 2nd piston shot out, and once I removed the C-clamp, the 1st piston could be worked out with my fingers. With the pistons out, the inner seals were easily coaxed out with a dental pick.
A close examination of the pistons revealed that one had a mark along its surface. My local Ace Hardware store had 3M brand emery cloth which I bought in medium, fine, and super fine grit. While I couldn’t completely remove the nick, I smoothed it out so that it couldn’t be felt. The front lips of the pistons showed marks from pliers or Vice-Grips, so someone (not me) got aggressive with a prior piston removal attempt. Thankfully, the marks would not affect the braking performance.
The bores themselves showed some minor corrosion along the outer edges, but the insides (below the inner seals) weren’t bad, and the super-fine emery cloth made them even better. While this was going on, the rear calipers were unbolted and disassembled so that I could measure the piston diameter. According to my supplier, Classic Alfa, this generation Giulia used either 30mm or 36mm rear pistons, and of course, one needed to know before ordering parts. It turned out that my car has 30mm pistons. I placed my order with my favorite Alfa supplier, knowing that I’d have the parts within 48 hours or so.
Lime Rock Park, an historic race track nestled in a valley within the verdant hills of northwest Connecticut, held its Historic Festival #37 over the 2019 Labor Day weekend. The races run all weekend except Sunday, as that is prohibited by local ordinance. Many moons ago, Festival organizers reasoned that the non-racing day could be put to great use for a car show, and “Sunday in the Park” was born.
For me, the static car show in Lime Rock has been an annual treat going back to the early 1990s. So many factors make this show special, including location, size, quality, and variety. Lime Rock delights in creating its own classes based on decade, country of origin, and vehicle type. It keeps things interesting for the spectators. Added to that is the tremendous support from marque-specific clubs, resulting in hundreds of vehicles lining the perimeter of almost the entire track.
Although the park is a 3-hour one-way trip for me, the long Labor Day weekend means that a one-day round trip on Sunday isn’t so bad, as vacationers squeezing in a last summer getaway won’t be clogging the roads until Monday. Pedestrian traffic at the track wasn’t so dense to prevent unobstructed photos, which are presented below, in semi-organized fashion. Enjoy the automotive eye candy!
Mazda Miata in 4 generations:
1st gen (NA)
2nd gen (NB)
3rd gen (NC)
4th gen (ND)
RETRO DESIGN, AND THE ORIGINAL INSPIRATIONS (or, “Oh my child, how large you’ve grown!)
Let’s get this bit of disappointing news out of the way: while this Alfista was in attendance, his ’67 Alfa GT Junior was not. Four days before the scheduled departure, the car’s right front brake caliper locked up, and although repair parts were obtained, there wasn’t enough time to effect a safe and sufficient repair. So the green stepnose stayed home.
This is what happened: Four days before we planned to leave for Pittsburgh, I drove the Alfa to my friend George’s house. George (Geo to his really close friends) lives just five miles away, and while he was excited to join in the weekend’s festivities, he had never driven my car before. I thought it only fair that he have a crack at it before we commenced on a 6-hour journey.
As soon as I pulled out of my garage that morning, I sensed that something was amiss. The car seemed a little down on power, and it pulled to the right. Other than that, it drove OK, so I pushed onward. The moment I entered Geo’s driveway and killed the engine, smoke emanated from under the closed hood. I popped the hood but saw nothing obvious. When Geo came out, I explained what had happened, and we both decided to let him drive the car, if only for 2 or 3 miles.
Once Geo got the car back to his place, the smoke returned, only this time, the source was clear: it was pouring off the right front brake. Hindsight made the drifting and low power obvious: this brake caliper was seized. I was lucky we weren’t seeing flames.
We pulled the wheel and there was nothing visibly wrong that we could try to fix on the spot. Putting the wheel back on, I reasoned that I could “carefully” drive the 5 miles back home, and work on it there. As soon as I bade Geo ciao, I started the car, put it in first, and headed down his driveway to the street, where I would need to turn left. Hitting the brake pedal, it sank to the floor. Thankfully, my parking brake (sort of) works, and I used it to stop at the bottom of the driveway. I backed the car up the drive, and started to figure out what Plan B looked like.
Geo couldn’t understand the loss of the pedal. I reasoned that the heat had caused the fluid to boil. Sure enough, 15 minutes later, a firm pedal returned. But I wasn’t driving this car home. There’s a reason I carry an AAA card. I called, they said one hour, and the truck was there in 90 minutes. In seven seasons of ownership, and in over 11,000 miles of driving, this car has never ridden on the back of a flat bed – until this brake failure. But the risk in driving it wasn’t worth it.
While waiting for the truck, I had time to calculate how I was going to get this repaired by Friday morning, just a few hours shy of four days away. My go-to Alfa parts supplier, Classic Alfa in the UK, was still open, if barely. I had always placed my orders via their website, never by phone, and this seemed like a most valid reason to spend the money for an international call. Given their stellar shipping reputation, I could have the parts by Wednesday, which I reckoned would still allow enough time to make a repair.
I called. ‘Chris’ answered. I explained my dilemma and asked him about my options. He quickly offered the choice of either remanufactured (reman) ATE calipers, or brand new ones. I asked him for the price difference, and he replied about 20 British pounds (approximately $25 thanks to the Brexit-depressed value of the pound). I figured that the small differential between new and reman made the new ones a deal, so I ordered a set. Since a core return wasn’t required, I asked Chris to include a caliper rebuild kit, thinking that I would eventually refurbish the old ones. It was now close to noon on Monday in New Jersey, and Chris said I should see the parts by late Wednesday.
Chris was wrong. The parts were in my hands at 5:30 pm ON TUESDAY. This was a miracle, and I presumed that the boys in the UK pushed the order through, having heard that I was planning on driving this thing to the U.S. Alfa convention in 4 days. So far, so good.
Opening the box, the first disappointment was to discover that while these were certainly new calipers, they were not marked ATE, and I had to conclude that they were ATE copies. I unbolted the offending caliper, and an eyeball comparison proved that the new one was identically shaped. All I had to do was swap over the pads, connect the hard brake line, and bleed the system.
With the existing pads and pad hardware installed, I knelt at the right front knuckle, held the 11 pound caliper in my right hand, and began to thread the brake line fitting into the new caliper with my left hand. The threads would not start. I tried every trick I knew; after perhaps 20 minutes, it felt like the threads had started, but I was unable to turn the fitting by hand more than half a turn. Of course, the dreaded fear is that I might cross-thread it, and ruin the caliper and/or the brake line fitting. After another 20 minutes, with blisters forming on the pads of my fingers, it felt again like it started. I picked up the flare nut wrench, and slowly, carefully, brought the fitting all the way down. It was about 8pm on Tuesday night. I was drenched, from both the 100% humidity and the nervous energy.
The next evening, I removed the (good) left front caliper, and, convinced that the previous night’s issues were behind me, went through the same routine: swapped the pads, held the caliper up to the knuckle, and began to thread the pipe fitting. SAME PROBLEM. Desperate, I removed the hard line from the car, and brought it and the new caliper to the workbench, where I wouldn’t need to struggle with the caliper’s weight. I never came close to getting the threads to start.
I rationalized: I have the new caliper on the right front, to replace the known bad caliper. Certainly, I can keep the existing left front caliper in place and drive the car a few hundred miles. The left front caliper was reinstalled. Geo stopped by to assist. We were ready to bleed (the brakes, not us). I filled the master reservoir, asked Geo to climb in, and we began the “pump, hold, release” routine of manual brake bleeding.
There was a drip at the fitting at the right front caliper.
Reluctantly, I put a wrench on it and got another 10-15 degrees in clockwise motion. The bleeding resumed, and so did the dripping. I told Geo that we were done. While I did have the rebuild kit, it was now after dark on Wednesday, and I was out of time, patience, and confidence. Working on a car under such duress only encourages poor decision-making, unnecessary shortcuts, and botched repairs. My only desire was to enjoy the AROC convention, knowing that I would resume this wrenching at an unhurried pace upon my return. The new calipers would go back to Classic Alfa as defective or unusable.
To briefly recap: Ron bought a derelict 914 many years ago, only to discover that its engine was junk. He purchased a spare motor, and invited me to join in the festivities. We’re on equal ground, because neither of us has ever rebuilt an air-cooled VW or Porsche engine before. To quote Ron: “What could go wrong?”
The good news is, we are still in the disassembly phase, and as anyone who has attempted any kind of project can tell you, taking something apart is easy, compared to putting it all back together (and expecting it to operate).
During my 2nd visit, we were able to remove the rocker arm assemblies, pushrods, cylinder heads, and cylinders (jugs). Ron kept reminding me that he wasn’t too concerned about the condition of all these parts, as he has already purchased new replacements for all of them. However, one issue that is keeping me concerned is that we started with a 1.8L engine (I think), we are now working on a 1.7L engine (I think), yet the new parts are for a 1.8L, as that’s what Ron thought he’d be rebuilding until discovering that it had been stored in a pond. Hey, we’ll figure it out. (If you have any familiarity with the similarities and differences between the 1.7 and 1.8 914 engine, please drop me a line.)
During that same visit, we had intended to remove the flywheel, but we lacked the exact tools we needed (½” drive impact sockets). During my all-too-brief 3rd visit, I brought the required sockets with me, but, even with an air impact gun, the final flywheel bolt would not budge. We worked it so hard that its corners started to round off, so cooler heads prevailed, and we left it alone until a Plan B arises from the pond….
At my urging, Ron did buy a set of snap ring pliers, and they came in handy when removing the snap rings, two per cylinder, one on either side of each piston pin. With those out, the pins were easily knocked free with a drift and hammer, and all the pistons were removed.
I informed Ron that I had a busy August coming up, so in the interim, he had some decisions to make:
If the flywheel bolt can’t be removed, what is our next course of action? Just leave it be? He was leaning in that direction.
With pistons removed, the con rod bolts are accessible, and Ron was considering replacing the con rod bearings (but not the crank bearings). He was actively mulling that over.
While he had previously purchased a complete engine gasket kit, was he certain that it had everything we needed for reassembly? He was going to inventory that kit.
Since that 3rd visit, Ron emailed me with an update: he had purchased a set of bolt extractors, “guaranteed to remove the most stubborn rounded-off bolts”, so he was engaged in that exercise. I hope to get back to wrenching on this engine within the next week or two, but I’ve got the Alfa brakes to tackle, and that’s a project (and a story) that will take me through most of the remaining driving season.