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How owning a car has changed

In the beginning of a typical baby boomer car ownership you were expected to take on some sort of project, cars usually

from 5 to 10 years old, been driven by the first one or two or three owners until finally for your hard earned $50.00 you

got a chance to have a car. You were about to become one of the coolest kids in the school. Little did you know.

First of all a 10 year old 1950’s Chev, Ford or Dodge came with a terminal case of rust, secondly the things that made it

go all had a life cycle of about 5 years ago, thirdly fluids poured in the top, would usually with a few days appear on your

parents driveway or even more mysteriously disappear.

But you were cool, you had the money from your after school job and if you did not take auto shop at school you had a

friend who did. Wow, expertise and of course access if you were good in Auto shop.

So what could possibly go wrong with a $50.00, 10 year old car.

Where to start.

Oil consumption

Most cars of that age carried on with a slight (if lucky ) cloud of blue smoke trailing behind. Oil of course came in several

fluid consistencies, for those in the know, 30W was the lightest anyone with a newer ( less than 5 years ) would ever run,

those of us with more vintage machines, got to know the service department at your local Canadian Tire or even better

your dads favorite service station. Two wonderful options arose. One being 50W oil in 1 gallon cans ( the expensive

option) or two, access to the drain cans that other peoples oil was in after they paid for an oil change. Usually, take as

much as you want, I have to pay to have it hauled away, was the owners answer.

We all had a 5 gallon (25 liter) can that we filled regularly with used oil that of course didn’t look to bad. A trip from

Ottawa to Toronto usual consumed most of a gallon each way. Always kept a spare one or two in the trunk, right next to

the spare 5 gallon gas can.


Ahhh, the mysteries of electricity, one thing you learned real quickly was not to remove a spark plug wire with your bare

hand when the engine was running, to try and find which cylinder was not pulling its weight. Nope, found other ways.

50,000 volts makes your fingers go all numb, oh and most of your arm but just for a few minutes.

Spark Plugs

Some mornings, the brand new to you battery would turn that engine over just fine, but not a sound of running.

Assuming you had remembered to put that dollars worth of gas ( got you 3 or 4 gallons then ) it had to be an electrical

issue. Now burning 1 gallon of oil to 20 gallons of gas ( Gallons, remember this is the 1950s , no liters then but just for

the younger generation try 4 liter per gallon as close enough) means that something called spark plugs needed cleaning

and re-gaping. Your trusty 13/ 16 inch spark plug socket, your ½ inch drive handle. A piece of sandpaper and a wire

brush and a 30 thou feeler gauge. Climb up on the fender, feet in the engine compartment and take 30 minutes to

remove, clean, gap and reinstall. Try starting. OK., or nope.

Points. ( next part of Nope)

Points are a little springy piece of metal, with a plasticy thing that rubs against a metal thinghy that is under the plasticy

cap with the wires sticking out and going to the spark plug we talked about above.

Much to complicated to understand here, but inside this piece called a distributor ( distributes sparks to the different

spark plugs ) the plasticky part wears down causing the parts that have to come apart to not come apart. Ergo, no spark

to make that spark plug wire so dangerous. Again just a few minutes to take the spark plug cap off the distributor and

adjust the “gap” using your feeler gauge. Reassemble and try to start. Next steps were to confirm that you had spark,

remember not to grab on to a spark plug wire while some one tries to start it, just pull one off, put it next to the block

and look for a spark. Usually your work above has created this part of life for an engine and away you went.


Some times you had to understand how a gallon of gasoline in the tank, made the car go forward. Ahh the fuel system.

You paid your money to the attendant, he or sometime she would pump that 4 or if you were really rich 8 gallons (

Friday night ) and you were good to go. Ok, tank is as full as you can get because the rust hole at the top meant any

more would just splash out on the muffler and smell awful. Might even have been dangerous. !

So here it is Saturday noon, your headed out to pick up the guys, crank, crank, nothing.

Damn, spark is good ( remember to not hold the wire, must be no gas getting in., you were now introduced to

carburetor, fuel pump, fuel filter ( used to keep the rust from the tank from clogging the carburetor ).

First, disconnect the fuel line in front of the filter, did any come out. Yes good, no, go and spent 98 cents on a new one,

try starting again, ok good to go.

Nope, ok, any smell of leaking gas, nope, locate the carburetor, usually sits up high on one side of your Chev, Ford,

Dodge six cylinder. Take off the air cleaner and peer in, have someone pump the gas pedal but not turning the key. Any

gas squirting down the throat ( tube) of the carb. Yes, try starting again, yea good to go, Nope.

Taking a carburetor apart, careful not to tear any of the paper gaskets holding the parts together, expensive to buy a

rebuild kit about $1.97 at CTC. (Most of a weeks wages). Remember that rust I talked about in the fuel tank and the

filter that is supposed to stop it. Well with the top off the carburetor find the little metal pointy part by the brass boxes (

you the brass boxes float in the fuel and make the pointy thing allow fuel to flow to the tube that goes into the engine to

turn your $2.00 in noise and motion. Clean the rust flakes out and reassemble. Away you go.

So this story ends today with you successfully meeting the guys for an afternoon, then picking up your girl for a trip to

Burger King that evening, because you are a successful cool kid who knows how to keep a 10 year old 1950s car running.

If you want the experience of having an exciting time in a cool car that someone else keeps running contact GTRace

Experience at

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