The Isetta Saga, Chapter 32: 2010’s Retirement Affords Lots More Time for Shows

December 23, 2009 was my final day of work at Volvo Cars of North America, where I had been employed for over 23 years. For the first time since college graduation, I was free of daily obligations. I had every intention of resuming my career, but with my wife’s encouragement, I decided to take some time off.

As 2010 dawned, I looked at the collector car calendar and could foresee upping my participation above what had already been a busy schedule. While the garage held both the ’68 Mustang and the Isetta, I decided to look for opportunities to get the Isetta out more. The additional time needed to load and unload the car would be less of an issue now.

In addition to attendance at the 2010 Greenwich Concours d’Elegance, I had the time to also take part in these activities:

APRIL: RAMAPO HIGH SCHOOL CAR SHOW

My friend Larry, who lives in the vicinity of this school, made me aware of this show, which sounded like fun. It was also a chance to lend support to a bunch of teenagers who wanted to experience the makings of a car show in their own back yard.

The kids of course, enjoyed my car, and I in turn enjoyed the variety of vehicles in attendance. Two young men floored me, as they showed me around their VW bus while wearing tie-dye shirts. Flashing the peace sign was their idea, not mine!

MAY: AACA NJ REGION ANNUAL CAR SHOW

I had only recently become a member of the NJ Chapter, so none of my mates in the club had seen the Isetta yet. Entering the microcar in the same class as the American iron of the ‘50s meant that it was up against some very stiff competition (it also looked like a toy next to these ‘50s gargantuans). 

My friend Ron, whom I knew from the multiple New England 1000 rallies we’ve run together, showed up in his ’55 T-Bird and parked next to me. Lo and behold, when it was time to depart, his Bird wouldn’t start! Ron knew the car became fuel-starved because of a hot soak issue, and he said that all he needed to get going was a bit of fuel to pour into the carb. But where to get that fuel? From the Isetta’s fuel tap!

MAY: NESHANIC STATION MEMORIAL DAY PARADE

We were getting good at parade participation, and this one was close enough to my house that I could actually drive the 3 miles back and forth, and I did! My stalwart friend Richard Sweeney did not miss the chance to ride in the car, and waved to the crowd as if he were the mayor.

JULY: BREAKFAST AND ISETTA RIDES AT THE REINAS

As a changeup from the typical Sunday morning breakfast drive, I emptied my garage of cars, set up a table and chairs, brought out the electric griddle and coffee pot from the kitchen, and invited a bunch of the regulars down to breakfast. (My wife said it looked like I could move in there; perhaps that was a hint….) Even Irv Gordon made it (after receiving the invite, he called me up and asked “Rich, do you think the guys would mind if I drove the C70 instead of the 1800? I want to ride in air conditioning”.)

We had something of a mini car show on the lawn and in the driveway, and for anyone brave enough, rides up and down the road in the rolling egg were freely offered.

AUGUST: DAS AWKSCHT FESCHT, MAGUNGIE PA

This show, held in the charming town of Macungie PA since the 1960s, wins the award for “car show name with greatest ratio of consonants to vowels”. I’ve attended “Macungie” as we call it (easier to say) since the early ‘80s, as it was a known gathering spot for microcar owners.

There was no contingent of micro units this year, but I did manage to secure a shady spot on what was a typical hot and humid summer day. This show has always prided itself on an eclectic variety of display vehicles, typically arranged by year, make, and model. One particular memory is of a young woman who described herself to me as an artist. Having gone through my restoration photos, she seemed to take great delight in informing me that I too, was “an artist”. I accepted the compliment!

By the autumn of 2010, I was back to work, albeit only on a part-time basis. With the show calendar quickly coming to a close, I was already anticipating more of the same in 2011.

 

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Alfa Carb Leak Lands Them on My Workbench

It’s long been a tenet in the old car hobby that cars like to be driven; they don’t do well when they sit; and as long as you’re on top of maintenance, there’s no reason not to expect some reliability from an older car.

I’ve been lucky with the Alfa Romeo (although frankly, luck has little to do with it): having purchased the car in March of 2013 with 54,000 miles on the odometer, by July of 2019, the car had just shy of sixty-six thousand on the clock. In a little over six years, I managed to drive a 1967 Italian car almost 12,000 miles, which neatly works out to 2,000 miles a year. That changed, though, when the brakes seized, resulting in a complete teardown and rebuild of the braking system that took a year to complete. The car had not sat silent under my ownership for that long before, and when I did restart it, it ran poorly. Suspecting the fuel had gone sour, I drained the tank, added fresh premium, and swapped out the plugs. Success! Except … now I had a fuel leak under one of the carbs.

So, much of September was spent reading up on Weber carburetors. At first blush, they seem unnecessarily complex. Add to that complexity the words of the late Pat Braden, as he wrote in The Alfa Romeo Owner’s Bible, a copy of which I own (and I’m paraphrasing here): “if your car is running fine, don’t touch the carbs. Everyone wants to fiddle with the carbs. If it’s running ok, leave the carbs alone”.

Well, Pat, the car does ‘run’ fine, but liquid fuel dripping onto my starter motor does not get me very excited, at least not in a good way. I did some more research, including reading some very helpful posts on the Alfa BB (Bulletin Board), and concluded that the gaskets and seals were probably old, and the float height should be measured and adjusted, but other than that, I am going to leave the carbs alone!

From bottom: plenum; carbs; intake manifold

I’ve never removed the Webers from my car before. Removal didn’t look complicated, but would certainly prove to be time-consuming. First, the upper plenum is removed (two hose clamps, one bolt, and two nuts, all easily accessible). Next, the lower plenum comes off (ten nuts and washers, four of which are totally blind). Now one has access to the carbs themselves (eight nuts, four of them blind). Once the banjo bolts for the fuel connections are undone, the carbs can be removed from the car. The carburetors bolt to 4 rubberized mounts, each of which has 4 studs. To remove the mounts, one first must remove the intake manifold, as 8 of the nuts for the mounts are only accessed if the intake manifold is unbolted from the cylinder head (7 nuts, some of them only reachable with an open-ended wrench, which only allows 1/6 of a turn at a time).

With carbs gone, rubber mounts are obvious. Note starter motor.

 

Intake manifold half off cylinder head

Back to these rubberized carb mounts: it was eye-opening to learn from the Alfa BB that side draft carbs, hanging off the right side of the cylinder head, are prone to enough vibration to cause fuel delivery issues. To combat that, Alfa employed a bracket extending upward from the right motor mount to the lower plenum, and mounted the carbs on rubber mounts which absorb vibration. But a number of the Alfa owners on the BB stated that these mounts should be considered service items: eventually, the rubber hardens and develops hairline cracks which allow air to enter the intake stream, throwing off the fuel-air mixture.

Manifold on bench, giving better view of carb mounts

 

Former owner Pete must have replaced them at one point, because I had an old set among the spares he had given me. Checking the website of my favorite (really only) parts supplier Classic Alfa, I saw that they had a carburetor gasket kit for $35, and new carb mounts for $25 each. That all seemed reasonable enough, and as usual, my order arrived from the UK 48 hours after I placed it. I was ready to get to work.

Both carbs on the bench

 

Removal of top cover exposes all jets

 

Service books clearly state to leave throttle plates and shaft in place unless obviously defective

 

It was important for me to stay focused on the goal: I wanted to clean out the carburetors, inspect them for any obvious faults, then reassemble them using all new gaskets. Perhaps it’s from a lifetime of dealing with old cars, but I do have the habit of over-repairing my vehicles. The issue with Webers is that other than setting the idle mixture, idle speed, and float height, any other adjustments involve a lengthy trial-and-error game of swapping jets. One more time: aside from the fuel leak, the car ran fine. I selected the rear-most carb (the leaker) and removed all the covers.

Screens under choke control were black

 

They cleaned up nicely with Gumout

 

Having several service manuals with exploded diagrams at my side, things didn’t look too bad. There was clearly some dirt built up, but no obvious faults or defects as far as I could see. Numerous cans of Gumout were emptied to clean things up, and I’ve been pleased with the progress. The float needs to be carefully measured and adjusted, and once that’s done, reassembly will commence, which is where I will pick up next time.

Float is attached to top cover, adjusted by bending brass tabs

 

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Turning wrenches on your old car: When things go right

My first full year as the owner of a 1968 Mustang California Special was proceeding nicely. In April of 2004, the car successfully completed a 2,200 mile round-trip to Nashville for the MCA (Mustang Club of America) 40th anniversary event.

A month later, on Memorial Day Weekend, the Garden State Region Mustang Club (GSRMC) extended an invitation to attend a Ford Motor Company-sponsored event in Flushing Meadow Park in Queens, NY, site of the 1964-1965 World’s Fair, and site of the introduction of the first Mustang. The response from club members was enthusiastic, so early on Sunday morning of that weekend a large lineup of Mustangs caravanned through midtown Manhattan, arriving at the park by 10 a.m. Besides the GSRMC, the only other Mustang club invited was the Long Island club. Estimates of the total Mustang count was close to 100. My GT/CS was the only one of its kind there.

Waiting for the parade to start

 

For Ford, this was a marketing and PR stunt, as the all-new 2005 Mustang, which would not enter production until September, was represented by a pre-production prototype. Ford was looking for photo ops, so a ’64 ½ convertible was staged across from the 2005 ‘Stang. The stainless-steel Unisphere, one of the few remaining relics from the ’64-’65 fair, loomed in the background. A photographer, hired for the occasion, perched on a 10-ft. tall ladder.

One at a time, each owner was invited to drive his/her car across the cameraman’s field of view, stop between the two posed cars, lean out the window, smile, and move on. As you might imagine, this took some time. I used the downtime to take some of my own photos as we crawled in the queue. Eventually, I had my picture taken, and headed home.

 

The official photo; cloudy all day, the rain held off until the drive home

Rally brother Steve and I had started to make some noise about possibly driving the Mustang in next year’s New England 1000 rally. With that on my mind, it seemed that the winter of 2004-2005 would be the ideal time to tackle the leaky heater core. My collector cars are usually off the road for the winter, so I would have the time I’d need to get this done.

On a Mustang with factory air such as mine, the heater core and A/C evaporator reside together in a fiberglass box under the passenger side dash. Following the factory-recommended procedure, I began the disassembly that would grant me access to said box. My A/C was inoperative, with zero pressure in the system, so no further harm was inflicted onto the ozone layer when I broke open the evaporator connections.

Much of the dashboard and instrument cluster needed to be removed, so I used this as an opportunity to replace other worn parts (more about that in a bit). Most of the wrenching was straight-forward. If there was a tricky part, it was keeping track of the various color-coded vacuum lines that operate the blend doors. I knew that new vacuum line kits were available, so that was added to the shopping list.

Heater box birthed from car; dum-dum repair at corner was dumb

With the box out of the car, my heart sank to see that it was cracked; actually, a chunk was missing from one corner. I also knew that boxes were not available in the aftermarket, so the heater box was repaired with fiberglass matting and epoxy glue.

Fiberglass fix didn’t need to be pretty

Along with a new heater core, I was able to order a new foam heater box kit. All blend doors as well as the core itself got new foam seals. Having come this far, I thought better of reinstalling the dash pad, which was warped, and the woodgrain instrument cluster surround, which had lost most of its chrome. These parts were readily available from various suppliers, so new ones were ordered and installed.

Wood and clamps hold foam while glue dries

Near the end, I worked as long as my patience would allow to line up the new aftermarket dash pieces. Of course, they did not fit as well as the originals. Eventually, I got it to the point that only I would notice any misalignment.

Repaired box about to be reinstalled. A/C evaporator was also new

Did the new heater core work? You know the drill: Add fresh antifreeze; turn on the heat; pray that nothing leaks.

Nothing leaked. The car had tremendous heat output, and anyone riding in the front seats would have toasty dry toes. This would turn out to be a huge benefit during the running of the 2005 New England 1000.

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

1993: Visiting the Arizona Auto Salvage Yards

In 1993, with seven years at Volvo Corporate under my belt, I had done my share of domestic and international business travel. Volvo generously allowed employees to keep and use their own earned frequent flyer points. In April of that year, with some of my points about to expire, I burned a bunch of them by taking a long weekend trip to Phoenix AZ.

Now, Phoenix was not exactly my first choice as a vacation hot spot. Of course, there was an ulterior motive: I had heard about the auto salvage yards in the area, mainly filled with ‘50s-‘60s Detroit iron (as rust was not an issue in the Southwest). My 1967 Dodge Dart was in need of a few components not available in the aftermarket. Telling this to my buddy John M, who owned a 1963 Buick, resulted in being given a shopping list for his car. (I sold the Dart several years after this trip was taken; John still owns that ’63 Wildcat convertible today.)

Packing little more than a weekend bag, my camera, and some cash, I was off to Phoenix. Expecting warm weather, I didn’t bother with sweaters or coats. Good thing, too, because Phoenix was having a heat wave. Temperatures reached 114 degrees F during my stay, making me very glad that my hotel’s swimming pool was open.

Finding the salvage yards was easy. I brought the Yellow Pages from my hotel room with me, and armed with a map I picked up in the airport, off I went in the rental car. While I did find my parts, the real treat was being able to stroll through these yards at my leisure. The staff was more than willing to let me wander, scrounging for parts, admiring the cars, taking photos, and generally acting like the East Coast tourist I was.

I’ve long forgotten what I purchased for the Dart and Wildcat (John, do you recall?). However, the sights of the 4 or 5 yards I visited were captured on color film, and looking at them brings me back to that busy (if blazing hot) weekend. Here is a small selection of those photographs.

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A stack of ’60s Buicks

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Another stack of Buicks, with a ’63 on top

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The evolution of the Cadillac tail fin

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1962 Chrysler 300- that’s a good quarter panel!

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Junkyard dog admires Imperial styling

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A pair of ’61-’63 ‘Jet Age’ T-Birds

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What a great instrument cluster; does anyone know the year and make of this MoPar?

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More Buicks! Was this a Buick-only yard?

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These Nash Metropolitans were among the few imports I saw

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1957 Buick with AZ mountains as backdrop

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2nd gen Plymouth Barracuda; pebbles & weeds indicate she’s been under water

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Not much left to pick off this ’58 Caddy carcass

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’65 Chevy Impala looks like it could be brought back

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Let’s not forget we’re in the (former/still) Wild West

Photos were taken with my Nikon EM camera; film info not recorded, but likely Kodak Gold, either 100 or 200 ISO. Prints scanned with Epson V500 photo scanner.

All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Welcome!

Hello Friends,

Welcome to my blog. As someone who has spent his entire adult life both working in the car business and enjoying the collector car hobby, I’ve long looked for a better way to share my experiences with friends and colleagues.

With this blog, I intend to accomplish the following:

  • Share stories and photos from automotive events I attend, whether they be shows, rallies, cruise nights, and the like;
  • Provide updates on my automotive projects (at present, that would be repair work on my 1967 Alfa Romeo);
  • Add original content in the way of stories and photos from my past;
  • Create an entertaining and informative platform for visitors who share my passion for all things automotive.

On this first day, it may be equally important to state what this blog will NOT be:

  • A compendium of links to existing websites;
  • A rehashing of information which has been covered elsewhere;
  • A place for naysayers, haters, and flamers;
  • A blog which will wander any distance from its chosen topic (automobiles, both old and new).

This will be a place where people can sign up for email updates when new content is added, and can contribute comments. The immediate goal is to add fresh material approximately once a week, more frequently if I’m attending a multi-day event (like the New England 1000 rally). It’s exciting to start this venture, and will be a rewarding challenge to keep it going!

Thanks for visiting,
Richard