Replacing the Alfa’s Alternator

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.

Old alternator and attendant wiring connections

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.

 

Old one again. Note alignment of upper bracket.

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.)

New alternator in place, and better aligned too

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.

 

A good number

 

All photographs copyright © 2018 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

The Alfa Gets a Tune-Up

A tune-up? Who performs “tune-ups” anymore? Modern cars have spoiled us with their extended service intervals. My 2014 VW Jetta calls for an oil and filter change every 10,000 miles, and spark plug and air filter replacement every 60,000 miles. That’s about it. There are other new vehicles for which the manufacturer recommends spark plugs every 100,000 miles. You might forget they were in there if you wait that long.

It’s different, of course, with an older car. The ’67 Alfa Romeo GT 1300 Junior taking residence in my garage still uses an ignition distributor with a cap, rotor, points, and condenser (ask any person under 30, even an auto buff, what are points and condenser, but be prepared to ‘splain).

GT 1300 Junior used Bosch electrics. Other Alfas used Marelli.
GT 1300 Junior used Bosch electrics. Other Alfas used Marelli.

When I obtained the Alfa in March of 2013, with 54k on the clock, I did what I normally do with any used car that’s new to me – I attended to all the normal maintenance items as a proactive measure, no matter how meticulous the previous owner may have been. In my case, the Alfa’s 1.3L engine got new plugs, wires, cap, rotor, points, and condenser. There was peace of mind knowing the tune was good for a while.

Remove air hose (2 clamps) and all 4 plugs are readily accessible
Remove air hose (2 clamps) and all 4 plugs are readily accessible

Right now, the car barely has 62,000 miles on it, so it’s only been eight thousand miles, but it’s been three and a half years. Earlier this year, I ordered a full complement of tune-up items, just to have them on hand. My plan was to revisit the tune at the 10,000 interval, or at 64,000 miles.

For some reason, last weekend, I decided to pull the plugs. First of all, I can’t think of an engine on which it’s easier to change the four spark plugs. Yes, I need to remove the air filter hose to access the #4 plug, but that takes 30 seconds. Once that’s out of the way, the plugs are RIGHT THERE. So out they came.

The 4 old Bosch plugs
The 4 old Bosch plugs

Plugs numbers one, two, and three looked almost identical. That’s not to say that they looked good. All three of them had significant carbon deposits on them. They were not wet from gas, nor oily, nor sooty with unburned fuel, which was some good news.

The shock was the fourth and final plug, which had so much material deposited on it that I seriously questioned how this thing was firing. (The engine mostly ran fine before I pulled the plugs, with the very infrequent high-speed miss. I was still attributing the miss to a fuel issue.)

I've been working on cars for 40 years. I can't believe this plug fired.
The #4 plug. I’ve been working on cars for 40 years. I can’t believe this plug fired.

Before proceeding further, I went into the house to pull my invoices on the car. When I bought the plugs, early in 2013, I had not yet settled on an Alfa supplier which I felt met my needs. The plugs were purchased from a U.S. supplier with whom I no longer conduct business. They were Bosch plugs, and from everything I’ve since researched, no one today recommends these plugs for Alfa engines. My principal supplier, Classic Alfa in the U.K. exclusively recommends NGK plugs, and that’s what went in as replacements.

Photo documents rotor direction, for correct orientation when reinstallling
Photo documents rotor direction, for correct orientation when reinstallling distributor

While I was under the hood, I removed the distributor (one 10mm hold-down bolt), and replaced the points and condenser. I lubed the distributor in three places, put on the new cap and rotor, and put it all back together. She fired right up, of course! – unlike three years ago, when I accidentally grounded the points….

Service book recommends distributor removal for points replacement
Service book recommends distributor removal for points and condenser replacement

Taking the car for a test drive, I was not expecting any significant power improvement. I mean, we’re starting with 100 hp, so, who’s going to feel a 5% increase? What was noticeable was the difference in throttle response. Touching the accelerator pedal gave an immediate jump in RPM. The car was such a joy to drive that I stayed out for about 30 minutes, taking it through the gears, and bringing that rev-happy Italian engine up to 6 grand on the tach. Oh, and no high-speed miss.

So, lesson learned. European sports cars which get driven infrequently need to have their state of tune checked more frequently. It’s easy enough to do, so there’s no excuse. This ain’t no 2014 VW. Thankfully.

 

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

 

New Tie Rod Ends for Enzo’s Alfa

My good friend Enzo (“EC” to his buddies) bought his first collector car, a 1991 Alfa Romeo spider, last autumn. This was not Enzo’s first Italian car, as he had Fiats as daily drivers, albeit 30 years ago. But upon retirement, he decided to treat himself, and found this pristine low mileage beauty locally. Like any other 25-year-old vehicle, it needed attention to some small details, but EC has been fastidious about staying on top of needed repairs.

When I had had the chance to go over the car with him late last year, we found that one of the tie rod end boots was torn. It didn’t require immediate replacement, but over the winter he ordered parts, then invited me to his home for a day to be spent swapping out tie rod ends.

One of the outer tie rod ends, about to meet its demise
One of the outer tie rod ends, about to meet its demise

Upon arriving one day last week, I saw that he had ordered ALL SIX tie rod ends. I was under the now-mistaken impression that we were replacing only the two outer. (All 4-cylinder Alfas on the 750-, 101-, and 105 platforms use recirculating ball steering, with a center link and two tie rods. Each rod has two ball joints, one with right-hand thread, and one with left-hand thread, to allow for toe adjustment.)

One of the tie rods is out, with parts and parts bags strewn on the bench
One of the tie rods is out and is measured

We got to work. First order of business was to pull out the cotter pins, but these pins were so thin and rusted that half of them broke before we could retract them. We ended up forcing the socket over the castle nuts and using an impact wrench to remove all six nuts.

Part numbers marked on each end to keep track
Part numbers marked on each end to keep track

A trick I had remembered from doing the same repair on my Alfa was to rotate the steering wheel to bring the center nuts to an exposed position from within the engine compartment. Then, using a long extension, we could gun the nuts loose from up top, which was much easier than trying it while on our backs.

Next came out the pickle fork. Persuasion from a two-pound hammer was all it took to get the links to drop.

We were cranking the tunes in the garage!
We were cranking the tunes in the garage!

With the three links off the car, we counted threads AND measured overall length, as our best attempt to reassemble the car without changing the alignment too much. We matched up old and new parts (with EC marking part numbers on each component using a Sharpie), and had all six tie rod ends installed into their respective links within minutes.

This may have been the point when we took a lunch break. Prosciutto, Parmesan, salami, olives, and wine (!) were on the menu. Lunch concluded with a nice cup of coffee (to wake me up after the wine), and we were back to the garage.

Masking tape helps keep identification straight (wine does not)
Masking tape helps keep identification straight (wine does not)

The new parts, bought from Classic Alfa in the UK (the author’s favorite Alfa parts supplier) used castle nuts and cotter pins for the four outer ends, and locking nuts for the two inner. We did not have the correct-sized cotter pins on hand, so the ever-resourceful EC made his own from coat hanger wire. The temporary pins will be replaced with authentic pins once he gets to the store.

Much to my surprise and satisfaction, all six nuts tightened right up without giving us any trouble. I had concerns that the ball joints might spin and prevent us from reaching the proper torque, but that didn’t happen. With everything buttoned up, Enzo took the car for a test drive, and came back to report that the only issue was a steering wheel which was slightly off center. The car will need an alignment after this work anyway.

Front wheels remained attached during driveaway
Front wheels remained attached during test drive

At the rate my friend EC is moving, there is very little else that needs attention on this gorgeous drop-top. It’s running great, and he’s got the summer to enjoy it! I know that we’ll see him and his Alfa out with us on our weekend jaunts.

 

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