My Alfa is a mostly completely original car, meaning that it’s never been “restored”, not in the sense that classic cars are restored with all-new cosmetics and completely overhauled mechanicals. Yet with 65,000 miles on it (and counting), there have been maintenance and wear items needing attention.
The car is wearing about 90% of the paint and 100% of the interior with which it left the factory. The engine, gearbox, and rear axle are likewise the same assemblies that Tony, Vito and their fellow factory workers installed. During the past 51 years, the car has gotten new tires, brakes, belts, hoses, bulbs, shocks, clutch, tune-up parts, and fluids. I’m very conscious of my role as “steward” of this car, and hope that when it eventually moves to its next owner, the preservation efforts will continue.
As you may know from reading this blog, I’m not shy about putting several thousand miles a year on it, and if the paint gets a little worn or slightly chipped from my enjoyable time behind the wheel, so be it. But I would never consider repainting the car. Likewise, should a major engine component fail, I’ll repair it as necessary, but I’m not going to seek out a larger engine from another Alfa. I’m continually striving to maintain that balance whereby I get to enjoy the car while only fixing what needs fixing.
Earlier this year, I discovered that the reverse light didn’t work. The truth is, in the 5 years I’ve owned the car, I don’t think I had ever checked the back-up light. Its inoperative status gave me the impetus to remove the light assembly (there’s only one, below the rear bumper) and get it working again. The overall goal was not to replace it, but refurbish it, reusing as many of the original components as possible.
The first challenge presented itself when two of the four fasteners snapped during removal. The clear lens was held in place by two Philips head screws, and half of one stayed in the housing. The housing itself used two studs with nuts, and one stud broke in half. Unlike the recessed screw for the lens, the broken stud projected far enough above the housing that a pair of locking pliers got it out the rest of the way.
The gasket beneath the lens had been some kind of rubber that had turned to stone. It’s likely that it had never been disturbed until now. The chrome housing was somewhat pitted, and looked like it would respond to some metal polishing. The rubber bezel, mounted between the housing and the painted rear valence, would be treated to a trick I successfully deployed during the Isetta restoration: using Meguiar’s #40 Rubber Reconditioner, the bezel would be submerged and soaked for several days, hopefully returning some of the rubber’s pliancy.
While that sat in its bath, I tackled the removal of the old gasket. This was more of a fight than I anticipated. Not wanting to damage either the housing or the lens, I started with a plastic scraper, but made little progress. Next, I tried various solvents, attempting to soften the material. WD-40 had a minor effect on it, so I kept at it with that, fearful that anything stronger would also harm the lens. The most effective removal tool turned out to be a single-edge razor blade, but this took time. Eventually, both surfaces were rid of the hardened white material.
Instead of purchasing a replacement gasket, I fashioned one from sheet cork which I keep just for such purposes. I tacked it in place using non-hardening gasket glue. Three days in the conditioning bath brought the rubber bezel mostly back to its former glory.
The broken screw was drilled out, and retapped with my metric tap and die kit. The studs were installed with a dollop of thread-locking compound. The old incandescent bulb was replaced with an LED bulb from CARiD.com. As the repair books state: “reassembly is the reverse of disassembly”.
As you can see, the back-up lamp burns brightly. There’s just one more thing to report, but before I do, I must ask you to think like an Italian. You see, when I first tested the refurbished assembly, it still didn’t work. And that’s when I remembered: in 1967, as far as the Italians were concerned, a driver didn’t need the back-up light to illuminate everytime you put the car in reverse! After all, it would provide little or no help in daylight. But if the headlampsare on, indicating it’s dark out, THEN a reverse lamp would prove helpful. So the back-up light is wired to come on only when the light switch is on. I’ll be taking a night cruise just to confirm how well I can see behind me….
I just recently came across these photos, which I had frankly forgotten about, which is why this technical procedure, performed in May, is only getting its own blog post now.
If your memory is good, then you’ll recall reading back in May’s report on this year’s New England 1000 that the Alfa’s alternator failed us in the middle of the rally. If your memory is not so good, or if you’re just joining us, you can read about it here.
The truth is, I should have been wise to an impending failure, as even with the Red-Top Optima battery on trickle charge, the car would still occasionally need a boost. Alternator output measured at the battery was barely 13 volts, a weak statistic which I rationalized to a low idle.
As mentioned in the rally write-up, the drive to our starting destination was done in a steady rain, with lights blazing and wipers flailing. It’s likely that was enough to seal the fate of the battery.
Tuesday morning, we bought a NAPA-brand battery, and leaving the Optima in its place in the trunk, we simply swapped the cables onto the new unit, using bungee cords to keep it from sliding around. The alternator wasn’t completely dead, just on life support. With the new battery, we had zero starting issues the rest of the week, and coasted home on Friday.
Once again I must give a shout to my friends at Classic Alfa in the UK. A new alternator, ordered Tuesday afternoon after they had closed for the day, arrived at my house on Thursday evening. I dare say that most U.S.-based suppliers would not have been able to get me one with such speed. So Memorial Day weekend was spent in part performing the alternator-ectomy.
Access to the unit in the engine compartment was quite good, improved by the battery’s relocation to the trunk, performed by the previous owner (PO). The PO had also removed the factory generator (which I still have) and installed this alternator plus an external voltage regulator. My new replacement alternator has an internal regulator, and it’s a so-called one-wire job.
I photographed the wiring to help with any reinstallation questions, then removed the two components. I noted that the alternator’s upper mounting bracket was at a slight angle, and vowed to focus on improving that geometry when putting it all back together.
With everything hooked up, I measured a steady 13.8 volts at the battery (yet another new Red-Top that I purchased to be on the safe side). I was able to recover the old Optima by very slowly trickle-charging it, and both that battery and the barely-used NAPA one were sold to a young man in my office who is always working on 3-4 project vehicles at a time. (And for the record, both the old alternator and regulator were put in the trash. I don’t keep worn-out parts around.)
The only issue, and it’s the smallest of nits to pick, is that the one-wire alternator needs to be ‘excited’ after initial start before it will charge (much the same can be said about me). The ammeter reads zero until I bring engine revs above 3,500 rpm (waiting a few minutes so that oil circulates), at which point, the amp gauge needle jumps to life. It’s a small price to pay to be secure in the knowledge that the battery’s got the juice to crank that 1300cc monster to life.
In my opinion, the club sometimes gets undeserved criticism for being set in its ways, an organization whose membership is only focused on perfect show cars. As evidence to the contrary, I cite the introduction of the HPOF (Historical Preservation of Original Features) award, which recognizes vehicles which are in essentially original unrestored condition. Another recent addition was the creation of the Driver’s Participation Class (DPC), which has brought many previously-excluded vehicles onto the showfields. And to battle the image of “old guys and their old cars”, great strides have been made to get our youth into the club and involved in this hobby.
Along these lines, I accidentally stumbled across something called the Mileage Award Program (MAP) on the AACA website. Seemingly started in 2012, its purpose is to reward those who actually drive their antiques. I had not heard of it before discovering it online about a year ago.
As I was putting the car away for the winter in mid-November, I recorded that the car had been driven just over 2,000 miles. I noted that fact on the MAP form, and mailed it in. Several weeks later, my “2” pin arrived, and today, I fastened it to the MAP plaque above the front license plate.
The MAP recognition awards are given out at 2,000 and 5,000 mile intervals. (It is not clear to me if the mileage segments are cumulative or not; in other words, when I drive another 3,000 miles, am I then eligible for my 5,000-mile pin? Or must I now drive an additional 5,000 miles? I need to reach out to the club and ask.)
If you’re an AACA member (and if you’re not, please consider joining this wonderful club; old-car ownership is NOT required!), check out this relatively new feature. If you regularly drive your AACA-eligible car, it’s a great badge of honor, as well as a conversation starter if your car has the Mileage Award Program recognition on it.
In 2012, the AACA published its first-ever “Membership Album and Roster”. The hardcover book is in two sections: the bulk of the book contains color photos of hundreds of members’ cars. The final third is a phone directory-like alphabetical list of every AACA member. The book runs 919 pages.
As happens every winter, the collector cars (loosely defined as the cars that don’t get driven in snow) are put away for the winter. The ritual is one that has evolved over the years and is now consistent: fill the tanks with fresh fuel, add Sta-Bil, pump up the tires at least 10 p.s.i. over normal to avoid flat-spotting, put a trickle charger on the batteries, and cover the cars with a dedicated car cover. It’s easy, takes little time, and doesn’t cost very much.
Before going further, let’s take a moment to say a few words about the brands I use, and have continued to use. (I’m a firm believer in finding good products and sticking with them, even if they cost a trifle more. As the cliché goes, ‘you get what you pay for’.)
The Sta-Bil brand of fuel stabilizer, made by Gold Eagle, has been in use in my garage since I’ve owned powered lawn and garden equipment. Many moons ago, I heard stories about lawn mowers and snow throwers, two examples of gas-engine devices which see seasonal use, failing to run because the old gummed-up gas gummed up the works. As soon as I got my first lawn mower, Sta-Bil went into its tank. The gumming has never happened to me, and I’ve stuck with the brand ever since.
Yes, I had my doubts about their ethanol treatment after it seemingly made the Alfa run worse (a conclusion which I now doubt since discovering my carbs are running rich and fouling the plugs a bit), but your basic ‘storage’ version of Sta-Bil is the way to go for any fuel tank in which fuel may sit more than 6 weeks or so.
It’s a similar story with battery chargers. I still have my dad’s Sears charger, which looks like it was made in the 1960s. It works great to jump-start a dead battery, but it ain’t no trickle charger. Long-term battery storage requires both a slow charge (the “trickle”) and a volt-sensing cut-out that won’t overcharge the thing and boil it to death.
The Deltran Battery Tender brand came onto the market several decades ago, and they found their niche for the car collectors whose vehicles are stored in the off-season. While many competing brands have since been introduced, I’ve stayed with what I know works. I think I’m up to 3 of these Battery Tenders in the garage.
Car covers are a relatively new accessory to my winter arsenal. Up until a few years ago, frankly, I didn’t believe in them. It was a combination of fear of paint damage from moisture trapped beneath the cover, and frustration with my inability to find a custom-fit cover for the BMW Isetta (my expectations were a bit high with that one).
Since working at CARiD, I’ve learned a lot about the usefulness of good quality car covers, and one thing I learned is that the Covercraft brand is my favorite. The fit is perfect, and the variety of material choices will satisfy any indoor or outdoor cover needs at any price point.
The Alfa has a Covercraft Block-It Dustop (yes, they had the ’67 Alfa pattern in stock), and the Miata wears the Covercraft Evolution indoor-outdoor cover. In the garage, both covers do more than keep dust off the paint; they also protect the interiors from sunlight, and provide some protection from wayward nuts and bolts spinning out of control off my workbench. I would never again think of storing a car without a cover. Even in the nice weather, if it’s going to be more than a week or two before one of the cars gets driven again, the cover goes on.
All this is a prelude to an announcement about my Mazda Miata: after giving some thought to selling it, I’ve now decided to keep the car. What’s more, next year, in 2018, this 1993 automobile will be 25 years old, making it eligible for AACA events. So I’m going to turn it into a show car.
The plan is to spend the winter tending to some mechanical maintenance, but also attending to some detail work in order to display the car at shows next year as a 25-year-old original unrestored car.
The mechanical list includes new rear brake calipers (one of the parking brake adjusters is stuck), new tires (tread is good, but they’re 10 years old), and a continuation of the LED bulb upgrade. The detail work involves a new convertible top (worn and dirty), an engine compartment detail, Paintless Dent Removal work on some small dings, and a complete polish and wax.
Here’s hoping for a mild winter, which will encourage me to get out to the garage! As long as the temperature is above freezing, I can spend a few hours out there. Watch this blog for updates on my progress with the Miata.
Have you replaced a fuse on one of your modern daily-driver automobiles recently? It’s likely you have not. Today’s motor vehicles have much more sophisticated electrical systems, and while your typical 2017 four-wheeled 2.5 ton behemoth still uses fuses, the days of fuses just “wearing out” are behind us.
If you have needed to replace a fuse, the first trick may have been to locate the fuse boxes. My wife’s 2017 Honda Odyssey has FIVE fuse boxes: two in the engine compartment, two under the dash, and one at the rear, containing a total of 107 fuses. It makes me pity the shop tech who needs to fault-trace an intermittent electrical problem.
My 1967 Alfa Romeo GT 1300 Junior, by contrast, has one fuse box, located in the engine compartment. Access to it is easy, as it’s mounted high up, on the right-side inner fender. There are a total of 10 fuses: one for ignition, five for exterior lighting, and three which are helpfully marked “other electric devices” (of which there are few; my Alfa lacks the power sliding doors, climate control, and ‘Lane Departure Warning’ of my wife’s minivan).
Italian cars get a bad rap for their supposed temperamental electrics. But there’s not been a lick of an issue with mine, save for a battery which died shortly after I got the car (because it was 10 years old at that point). Preventative maintenance goes a long way toward keeping the electrons flowing in the proper direction and in a complete circuit.
With any old car, I will gladly get on my soapbox and preach the ’12-Volt Gospel’: 99% of electrical gremlins are caused by poor connections. Terminals must be clean and tight; ground wires must be securely connected to clean ground; and fuses and their terminals must be clean, tight, and protected with dielectric grease. In no case should an electrical component be replaced without first ensuring that all connections, hold-downs, and crimped or soldered terminals are in the best shape they can be.
Soon after acquiring the Alfa, I removed all 10 of the European-style ceramic fuses, cleaned the spring-tensioned holders with a brass brush, and bent the holders inward to make them tighter. Next, I applied a light coating of dielectric grease. Upon reinstalling the fuses, I ran continuity tests with my multimeter to check that there was minimal (ideally, close to zero) resistance in the connections.
This dielectric grease is magical stuff. It seems counter-intuitive to grease electrical connections, but it prevents corrosion from forming. You still need to have a strong mechanical connection. It should be used on battery terminals and spark plug boots as well as fuses. Don’t waste your $1.99 buying the point-of-purchase 0.001 oz. packet at the retail store checkout counter. I bought a 5-ounce tube about four years ago, and even after multiple applications on multiple cars, I’ve only used about 25% of it.
While on the subject of fuses: I recently cleaned out an old shoe box full of automotive miscellany which had belonged to my dad. In it were several tins of glass-style fuses. While none of the cars I own today use this style, my ’68 Mustang did, and I recall how difficult it was to reach the fuse box on that car, as it was mounted above the gas pedal.
If you have a newer car, here’s hoping that you never need to replace a fuse (much less find the fuse box). If you have an older car, here’s hoping that you invest in a tube of dielectric grease, and in a half-hour of preventative maintenance. Let me know how it works out.
The Alfa Romeo Owners’ Club (AROC) held its 2017 annual convention in Montreal, Quebec, in conjunction with the Alfa Romeo Club of Canada. Billed as “Alfa Expo17”, the choice of this city was not arbitrary. This convention celebrated the 50th anniversary of the showing of the Alfa Romeo concept car at Expo ’67 in Montreal. When the car went into production a few years later, it was named after its debut city. Alfa Expo17 promised a significant showing of Alfa Romeo Montreals, as well as some special events planned around this very special vehicle.
This was my first participation at an AROC event. My 1967 GT 1300 Junior turned 50 this year, so partly in honor of the car’s birthday, we drove the car there, the decision helped by Montreal’s relative proximity. My wife accompanied me, because she likes riding in the Alfa (claiming that it’s the most comfortable collector car I’ve owned) and because we’ve enjoyed our previous visits to our northern neighbor.
When the convention’s agenda was published in the club magazine, I was somewhat surprised to see that “activities” were scheduled to begin as early as the Monday before Sunday’s concorso. Taking that much time off was not practical for either of us, so we decided to arrive early on Friday July 14. To help with that plan, we departed from home on Thursday evening the 13th, and spent the night near Saratoga Springs NY, almost exactly half-way to our destination.
Friday’s convention agenda included lunch at the Orange Julep fast-food restaurant in downtown Montreal, followed by a gimmick rally for the afternoon. We decided to aim for lunch at the Orange Julep, and take a wait-and-see approach to the gimmick rally.
Our planned lunch arrival of 12 noon was missed by almost two hours, because the combination of rain, traffic, and road construction had us crawling at 10 mph for much of our time in the city. (Oh, and this driver, unable to read street signs in French, made a wrong turn and drove in circles through a residential area for 20 minutes.) As we finally pulled into the Orange Julep parking lot, the threatening skies opened up again.
There were perhaps four Alfas remaining in the lot. We ordered our food and said some quick hellos to a few Alfa owners. As soon as we had our food in hand, the rain picked up and the temperature dropped. The Orange Julep only had outdoor seating. My wife asked if we could eat in the car. THAT was not an option. I gave her my hooded jacket, we found seating in an outdoor shed, and wolfed down lunch as quickly as possible. The gimmick rally was not going to happen for us.
With the rains continuing, we dove back into the car, and began to plot our route to the hotel. Next issue: both of our phones lost internet coverage, so, no Google maps. The filling station across the street sold me a street map of Montreal, and we were back on the highway, again brought to a crawl by traffic and construction. What should have been a 20 minute ride took closer to an hour. We were happy to arrive and get into a warm and dry hotel room. It was not the best start to our holiday weekend.
Friday night’s dinner was on site, so there was no need to get back into the car. We sat down and met all the other couples sharing our table. For the first time but not the last, we were treated to the warmth and openness of our fellow Alfa owners. Everyone was gracious, humble, and willing to make us feel included. My wife, who is not a car person, managed to gain the sympathetic ear of several of the other ladies who understood that she was not at the dinner to discuss double overhead cams, oil viscosity, or Spica fuel injection.
At the conclusion of the meal, about five Montreal owners lined up their cars along the back entrance of the hotel, and Wes Ingram, Spica guru, gave a technical presentation. All the cars had their engines started, and it was an incredible sound to hear these V8 engines roaring.
Saturday’s schedule included a number of optional events. For those who wanted to test their driving skills, autocross-type drives were conducted at a nearby raceway. That’s not my thing, especially when the car in question is also my transportation home, so we opted instead for a bus tour of Old Montreal.
With the rain holding off, the bus departed the hotel at 9 a.m. sharp, and our driver/tour guide, a pleasant local chap, was knowledgeable if a bit difficult to understand through the accent. The bus meandered through town, then parked for a 2-hour lunch break, which put us out on our own. The gloomy weather was changing over to sunshine, and it was nice to walk around. Back on the bus, we finished the tour and we returned to the hotel by 3 p.m. I didn’t mind being a passenger for the day.
By this time my wife was ready to relax in our hotel room. The sunny skies meant that this was my window to prep my car for Sunday’s big show. The hotel provided a wash station, complete with hose, soap, bucket, and wash mitts. Of course, about 50 other owners had the same idea, so there we all were, having turned the back lot of this Holiday Inn into a major preen and primp area.
But Alfa owners never miss the opportunity to engage fellow Alfisti in banter. I made about a dozen new friends in our mutual admiration society as we compared notes regarding the history and authenticity of each other’s cars. Modestly, my car garnered some significant attention because of its originality, with owners of similar Giulia coupes interested in knowing, for example, if my 3-spoke steering wheel is original (it is).
Saturday evening was another arranged dinner at the hotel, this time with speeches and awards. The winners of the gimmick rally and the time trials were presented their due. Cindy Banzer, the president of AROC, gave the keynote speech in English AND French, impressing us with her bilingual skills. Things wrapped up by 11 p.m., and good thing they did, as we would all be rising early Sunday morning.
The Sunday Concorso, arguably the highlight of the weekend, was not at the hotel, but rather in “Petite Italie”, French for Little Italy, in the city center. Planning an 8 a.m. arrival, but dreading the traffic, we departed the hotel by 7:30 a.m. Of course, we breezed right in. The weather was perfect.
The show was held in conjunction with the Fiat Club of Montreal, and was billed as “Montreal’s Official Italian Automobile Festival”. In addition to the dozens of Alfas, there were Fiats, Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and DeTomasos. All the cars were parked on Rue Dante, a main drag through Little Italy, and the locals came out in force to take in the sights and sounds. The neighborhood featured Italian restaurants, bakeries, and shops, so breakfast and lunch were closer to what you’d find in Rome rather than Paris. Given star billing at the head of the street were eight Alfa Romeo Montreals parked in a row, a sight that I never thought I’d see.
AROC members had the option to choose “judge my car” or “don’t judge my car”. I chose the latter, if only because I didn’t want to spend Sunday morning on detail alert. My plan was to relax, take in the sights, and continue to chat up my fellow Alfa owners, which is exactly what I did. At 2 p.m., the AROC judges announced the winners. As an especially nice touch, cake and champagne were served at the awards ceremony.
With that, Alfa Expo ’17 was officially over. We had decided to stay in Montreal Sunday night, and take our time driving back on Monday. We left about 9 a.m. Monday, drove through some nasty but brief storms, and once on the other side of that weather, had bright hot sunshine for the rest of the trip. We arrived home by 6 p.m. Monday night, exhausted, but pleased with our active weekend.
These were my takeaways from my first AROC convention:
Unless the Alfa in question is a non-street-legal track car, almost every owner drives their Alfa to an Alfa convention.
Alfa Romeo owners, as a group, are the most friendly, knowledgeable, yet humble car folks I’ve ever met.
The AROC Organization, which has quite of few of these events under their collective belts, puts on a top-notch event.
The “pre-convention driving tours” (the reason for planned activities starting a week before) are a Big Deal to Alfisti, who love to drive their cars.
Alfa Romeo owners like ALL Italian cars.
Alfa owners love to drive their cars (did I say that already?).
My GT 1300 Junior continues to amaze me. We drove 880 miles round trip. The car started, cold or hot, on the first turn of the key. We comfortably cruised on the highway between 70 and 80 mph. There were no unwanted noises or behaviors. With a trunk full of spare parts including plugs, wires, a coil, and a fuel pump, none was needed. (My theory is that the quantity of spare parts on board is inversely proportional to their need.) The car used no oil, and never missed a beat.
The AROC has announced that the 2018 convention will be in Olympia WA. I’m already plotting my trip out there.
The final day of official events for the AROC (Alfa Romeo Owners Club) arrived. The Concorso was held in the Petite Italie (Little Italy) neighborhood in Montreal, populated with Italian restaurants, shops, and bakeries.
The AROC show was held in conjunction with the Fiat club of Montreal. Hence, many Fiats, Ferraris, and other Italian exotics joined.
The weather was perfect, and the crowds were large and enthusiastic.
A full event report covering all three days will follow.