Rich’s Repair Ramblings #1: Basic Hand Tools

We are starting a new series with this post, all entitled “Rich’s Repair Ramblings”. What is this about? Way back during the summer of 2019, I was approached by the editor of The Road Map, which is the newsletter for the NJ Region AACA. He asked me if I would author a monthly technical column to be published in our club newsletter. I agreed to take on the task, and I have been writing the articles ever since.

The Road Map is only distributed electronically and is available without charge and without a password requirement. You can find an archive of all The Road Maps back to 2015 at this link here. For multiple reasons, including my desire to give these articles a more permanent home with easier access, I have decided to reprint them here. For the most part, they combine automotive technical history with some basic DIY instructions; keep in mind my need to be somewhat general, as I am addressing owners of vehicles as disparate as Ford Model As, ’57 Chevy Bel Airs, and Hemi Cudas. I plan to add about one article a week; I hope you enjoy them, and let me know of any comments or questions.



Hello, and welcome to the initial installment of “Rich’s Repair Ramblings”. You may know me as the Region’s Properties Chairperson: the guy who stores and sets up our PA system, tents, and signage. I’ve also dabbled as our unofficial IT assistant, and in that role I’ve traveled to the homes of several members to help with PC and printing issues.

So what qualifies me to write a column about auto repair? What you may not know about me is that I’ve spent almost my entire professional career (41 years and counting) in the automotive business, mostly on the service and technical side. I started as a dealership technician, moved to Service Advisor, and then to Service Manager. After seven years of that, I jumped to the corporate side, spending 23 years employed by Volvo Cars North America, the official importer of those “boxy but safe” cars from Sweden. Since taking early retirement from Volvo, I’ve taught auto technology at a community college, and have spent the past 8 years working for the company that runs the website, where we sell aftermarket car parts and accessories.

While all that was going on, I was also fully immersed in the old car hobby. I’ve owned a 1957 Ford Skyliner, 1967 Dodge Dart GT convertible, 1972 MGB, and 1968 Ford Mustang California Special. My proudest achievement was completing a full restoration on a 1957 BMW Isetta. All of these collector cars had most of their maintenance and repair work done by yours truly, right in my own garage.

Between wrenching for a living and performing restorations as a hobby, I’ve collected quite an accumulation of tools. Let’s start our ramblings on that topic. Presuming that you either want to learn how to work on your own classic cars, or that you want to improve your skill level, you need tools. Most folks have a few screwdrivers, hammers, pliers, and maybe a drill with a bunch of drill bits, along with an adjustable wrench. That might help you fix a loose doorknob or stuck window inside your house, but you’ll need a little more if you want to perform your own fixes on that ’62 Corvette or ’72 Triumph.

Having said that: you do NOT need to own one of every tool you see in Home Depot (or in that Harbor Freight catalog). For basic automotive repair, let’s outline the minimum necessary tools, all of them common and readily available.

Screwdrivers: Most everyone has “flat” screwdrivers, for slotted screw heads. You will want a good assortment of thin and thick tips, and short and long shanks (shafts). Phillips-head (cross-head) fittings are much more common on cars. Phillips-head sizes are noted by number, from small to large: #1, #2, #3. The #2 is the most common, so have a variety of those, including a “stubby” (the first time you need the stubby you’ll thank me). For now, I would hold off on the other sizes.

Phillips screwdrivers top to bottom: #2 stubby, #1, #2, and #3

Wrenches and sockets: If your collector cars are American, you’ll need SAE (inch) sizes; most imported cars use metric-sizes. It’s a rookie mistake to own SAE tools and expect them to work on metric fittings, or vice-versa. Always use the correct size, or risk doing damage to the fitting. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Wrenches: Basic wrenches, whether SAE or metric, are either “box-end” (enclosed) or “open-end”. Box-end are stronger, but can only be used if the box end can slip over the fitting. Open-end are more versatile, but not as strong. My own preference is the combination wrench: box on one end, open on the other, both ends the same size.


My metric wrench collection, arranged (mostly) in size order
  • Sockets: Sockets are attached to a ratchet wrench (more about that shortly). Aside from the nut or bolt size, the square end that snaps onto a ratchet wrench is either ¼”, 3/8”, or ½”. For starting out, stick with the 3/8”. You can add the others later. Sockets are also described as either “6-point” or “12-point”, which refers to the number of edges (points) which fit around the nut or bolt. The 12-points allow you more finesse if making very small turns with a ratchet, but the higher strength of the 6-point sockets make them the preferred choice for automotive work. Finally, there’s “regular” depth and “deep” sockets. Deep sockets give you access to recessed fittings, and are good to have.
Top row: deep sockets, 6-point (L) and 12-point (R). Bottom row: regular sockets, 6-point (L) and 12-point (R)
  • Your starter set should consist of 6-point sockets, 3/8” drive, in both regular and deep sizes. The SAE range should be 3/8” to 1”; the metric range should be 8mm to 24mm.


  • Ratchet wrenches: The drive end is on a ratchet, which allows you to swing the handle in an arc as small as 25 or 30 degrees and rotate the socket. The ratchet also makes quick work of running a fastener on or off. A lever in the head allows you to reverse the ratchet direction between clockwise (tighten) and counter-clockwise (loosen). Get two or three handle lengths in 3/8” drive to match your sockets. The shorter handles are handy in tight quarters. The longer handles give you leverage for stuck fittings.
Ratchet wrenches and corresponding sockets, L to R: 1/4″, 3/8″, 1/2″


  • Extension bars: these fit between the socket and ratchet to give you extra reach. Get several in various lengths; you’ll need them. Be sure the size matches your ratchet and sockets.


Pliers are necessary, but for starters, three or four will do. Besides the standard pair of pliers, get a pair of needle-nose, slip-joint (adjustable opening size), and locking pliers (known by the Vice-Grip brand name).

Pliers (L to R): regular, needle nose, diagonal cutters, locking, and slip-joint

Hammers should include ball-peen (rounded end) and plastic or rubber headed mallets, which deliver blows without marking or denting the surface.

If you’re building a tool collection from scratch, the above list covers over 80% of what you should have on hand for common tools. When shopping, you can look for “mechanic’s starter kits” but be wary of kits which contain tools you may never use. It might cost a bit more, but purchasing a la carte will guarantee that you get what’s on your list, and nothing more. My final comment about tools: quality tools are worth it. It’s a sad waste of money to buy a cheap tool that breaks the second time you use it. You don’t need to buy from Snap-On; Craftsman, Matco, NAPA are good and even some of the big-box brands are not bad. Avoid the “no-name” stuff that’s priced too good to be true, because it is.


All photographs copyright © 2023 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.




The 2012 AACA NJ Region Annual Car Show

In 2012, the NJ Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) held its 59th annual car show on its traditional date, the first Sunday in May. The show was held in the parking lot of the Automatic Switch Company in Florham Park, NJ. The Region had been using this location as far back as anyone could remember, possibly since the 1960s. However, just a few years after these shots were taken, the Automatic Switch lot was no longer available and the Region was forced to find a new locale.

These photographs were taken with a film camera, and since I don’t have any record of digital pictures from this event, the ones below are the only photos I have of the show (see sidebar if you’re interested in details about the camera and film used).

At its peak, the NJ Region’s annual show was known to attract between 250 and 300 automobiles. Without knowing the time of day my photos were snapped, don’t be too judgmental about the ‘gaps’ in the parking lot. It may well be that I took my photos in the morning as cars were still arriving. Since I was in charge of setting up and running the PA system for the club at these shows, I had work to do and did not have the luxury of wandering the show field all day.

As the scanned photos are smaller than the digital photos you’re used to seeing here, you many find it especially helpful to click on each photo, then click on it again to enlarge it to fill your screen.


From this vantage point, we can see mainly cars from the 1960s and ’70s.


I don’t exactly recall the point of the doodled-up truck, but it may have served as an attraction for any children in attendance.


This out-of-focus shot features what look like Ford Model A’s.


1967 Buick Wildcat convertible


Mercedes-Benz 190 SL roadster


Alfa Romeo 1750 Spider


Detail of 1958 Mercury tail light


Detail of wood on a Chrysler Town & Country


Jump seats in what I recall was a stretched-wheelbase early ’50s Chrysler


Huppmobile (note the “H” on radiator shell and as hood ornament), early ’30s?


My friend Ron with his 1936 Packard convertible


The trophy table, awaiting the announcement of the day’s winners


SIDEBAR: The Ciro-flex 120 film camera and Kodak VC160 film

I’ve been collecting film cameras for about 15 years, and I actually take pictures with the ones in my possession. This Ciro-flex camera, made in Delaware, Ohio, is the only non-Kodak U.S.-made camera I own, and luckily, it takes the readily-available 120 film size, rather than the 620 film that Kodak forced consumers to use (Kodak made out because they were the ones producing the 620 film).

I bought the camera at the Rose Bowl flea market in California, I think in 2009, and paid $25 for it. It’s a dual-lens reflex camera. The top opens, and one gazes into a ground glass while holding the camera at about waist level. It can be manually focused, and both the aperture and shutter speed are adjustable. The focal length is set at 85 mm.

For these shots, I used Kodak’s VC160 film. “VC” stands for “vivid color” (as opposed to “NC” film, or “neutral color”). It’s a bright film, and while I’ve read that some photographers find the colors to be over-saturated, I like the look. The 160 in the film name refers to the film speed. When I was shooting 35mm almost exclusively, most film I used was either 100 or 200 speed, so the 160 is almost exactly in between.

Focusing the Ciro-flex is tricky. The ground glass is hazy, and you get a clear image in it only in the brightest lights. As you can see, the focus is better in some photos than in others. In a perfect world, I’d use the camera often enough to become more accustomed to it, when in fact I use this one sporadically. Overall, though, I greatly enjoy shooting with film, because it forces me to slow down the process, think before pushing the shutter button, and delivers photos with that old-world quality look which I just don’t get from digital.


All photographs copyright © 2023 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

My Alfa’s 1st Judged Event: NJ AACA Car Show, May 2013

My musk green 1967 Alfa Romeo GT 1300 Junior had barely been in my possession for two months in 2013 when I entered it in its first judged show. This was the annual event conducted by the NJ Region of the AACA (Antique Automobile Club of America), held by tradition on the first Sunday in May. In 2013, the actual show date was May 5, and also following tradition, it was held in the parking lot of the Automatic Switch Manufacturing Company in Florham Park NJ. (Long-time club members simply referred to the location as “Automatic Switch”.)

The drive from our home in Neshanic Station was only 30 minutes, but it was a good test for the much longer 2013 New England 1000 classic car rally, coming up two weeks after this outing. When I had purchased the Alfa from my good friend Pete, it had already earned its HPOF (Historical Preservation of Original Features) award, and by AACA Judging Rules you cannot switch classes back and forth willy-nilly, so it was dutifully entered into HPOF. As the photos attest, there’s always an eclectic assortment of vehicles on either side of you in this class.

Arriving and parking early gave me the chance to grab my camera and walk the field, looking for other interesting cars to photograph.  I was not disappointed by the fine mix of pre-war and post-war, dometic and import, all glistening under the bright spring sun.

All cars are judged (unless an owner expressly requests to be excluded), and NJ Region judging loosely follows National’s rules. By the end of the show (around 3pm), the parade of vehicles driving up to the ‘viewing stand’ to receive their trophies from the Region’s President arrived three abreast. My Alfa received a special award, considered only for cars owned by club members: it won the “Best Unrestored Vehicle” in its age group. I was pleasantly surprised at the recognition, not expecting much of anything for the car at its first outing! Aside from a battery and a set of tires, I had also not done anything to it yet. The Alfa got me home without incident, and back into the garage it went as I patiently waited for this year’s NE1000 to begin.


1963 Split-Window Corvette Sting Ray


Lotus Elan


1968 Ford Mustang


Alfa Romeo Coupe


Alfa Romeo Spider


AMC Spirit


Kaiser Darrin


Sting Ray convertible


Lancia Zagato


Porsche 928


Dual Ghia concept car


Big, green, and Eldorado


Pre-war show winners


’30s Ford show winner


Two Packards astride Ford




A trio of Mustang winners


The winning Alfa and its proud owner


All photographs copyright © 2022 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.