In the late 1980s, Chrysler transformed its Town & Country, and most other station wagons it produced, by reimagining them into its first-generation minivans, built on the front-wheel-drive S platform and sharing powertrain with Lee Iacocca’s ubiquitous K-cars. That’s notable because for most of the time leading up to then, the Town & Country was a massive, luxury-packed conventional station wagon with a longitudinal layout and an overall length that stretched right out of sight. The Chrysler minivans rocked the automotive world as few new cars before them had done, defining a new way to carry people and their possessions.
The redefinition of the wagon erased some of the attributes that made Americans love big station wagons in the first place: Gobs of big-block power, enough to ferry a full family across the continent with their belongings in back and whatever was left over in a trailer bobbing along behind. It’s a portrait in time that defines the postwar American dream as thoroughly as a tract house in a newly plowed suburb. A big station wagon is an iconic automobile. Given the way most of them were used hard by their owners and the owners’ hordes of kids, finding a survivor today is a definite occasion.
The exact mileage of this enormous 1973 Chrysler Town & Country nine-passenger station wagon (which means a rear-facing third seat) is unclear, though the owner thinks it’s on the light side of 100,000. Its condition is both original and phenomenal: Virtually everything, right down to the 3M woodgrain on the sides, is just as it was when the monstrous wagon rolled out of the Jefferson Avenue plant in Detroit in September 1972. All the owner says he’s had to do is gently touch up a little bit of woodgrain and one rock-chipped body piece, and then figure out its complex climate control’s vagaries.
According to widely accepted records, Chrysler built 14,687 copies of the nine-passenger Town & Country wagons for 1973, the highest total for fuselage-body wagons in that premium model range. Look inside, and you’ll find an unusual non-patterned cloth interior in prime condition, and a cargo area that’s devoid of scuffs and gouges from skidding objects and careless feet. It’s fully loaded with options, lacking only power windows, surprising for a car that was sold new in Arizona.
Again, fewer than 15,000 were built. Where are you going to find a survivor with this level of originality, options, and non-abused quality? In your dreams. Or, if you’re particularly fortunate, in the car corral at the AACA Eastern Fall Meet in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Hank Hallowell, who lives in Hershey and owns this nearly perfect Chrysler, bought it there just minutes after also buying a late “Letter Car” from Chrysler at the same sale.
“It’s my favorite Town & Country, to be truthful,” Hank explains. “I prefer the front end of the 1973; it’s the only year without the chrome loop front bumper, and it has the Chrysler New Yorker front end because the industry was heading toward a more formal, classic look. The New Yorker front looks majestic on the Town and Country. Plus, ’72 and ’73 were the only years for the fuselage-body wagon with fender skirts, which enhance the lines of the car dramatically.”
[Editor’s Note: Elmer Liimatta sent in this story of his first (full-size) car for Reminiscing in Hemmings Classic Car. Got a story about cars you’ve owned, cars you’ve worked on, or working for an automaker? Send it in to email@example.com.]
I grew up in Detroit, Michigan. My dad, with only a fifth-grade education, was a good mechanic and had a job at Packard Motor Company. During World War II, Packard had contract work building Rolls-Royce engines for the North American P-51 Mustang fighter planes and PT boats—more than 9,000 of those engines. During that time, we rebuilt used cars because the production of new civilian vehicles had ceased. It was something we still did afterwards; believe it or not, cars were still scarce in 1949. It was a problem, as I was 17 years old and had thoughts about a car of my own.
One day, my cousin—who was “bird-doggin,” or spotting cars for dealers—came over and said, “Elmer, I have a car for you.” That Sunday afternoon we went to his house, which was about 10 miles away. There sat a 1934 Ford Victoria. It was hard to miss with that front end, and it had doors that opened from the front. The car had been used as a paint truck by a previous owner and it had big hooks on the left side that were used to hold ladders between jobs. Someone had made a wood floor in the back that covered the factory recessed floor.
The Ford looked good, but it was tired. I was able to buy it for $50. When I drove it home there was a cloud of blue smoke billowing from the exhaust. Its engine had used all the oil by the time I got home. During lunch that Monday I took three buddies for a ride. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long because the engine stalled, and it was so worn it would not start. We pushed it home.
The solution was to rebuild the engine. While we were at it, we made our own dual exhaust system using 1.50-inch diameter flexible tubing. My Ford had a nice snap to it. Later, I put two Smithy mufflers on it. But now that it sounded good, it needed to look good. We found a pair of doors at Ford Salvage over in Highland Park and bough a can of metallic blue (a silver-blue) paint. Dad took the compressor from an old refrigerator, and an old army surplus air tank, and put them together to create his own air compressor. To make it portable, he made a little cart with casters. It worked well enough that we painted the Ford’s 17-inch spoke wheels yellow
Yes, novices can weld and repair sheetmetal with plenty of patience and attention to detail
Sheetmetal fabrication and replacement mystifies a lot of us because it takes talent and patience to achieve the desired results. It also takes experience. However, every skill we learn has to start somewhere, and panel replacement is something you can learn both by doing and by watching others who know how to do it well. We’re going to illustrate how to patch and replace panels yourself in your home garage. To get there, you’re going to have to invest in, or rent, tools to do the job.
Right off the top is a big one: You’re going to need a light-duty wire-feed MIG welder, which will enable you to stitch and “rosette” weld (also known as plug welding) sheetmetal components using household current. You’re also going to need the tools of sheetmetal repair, and that list can get lengthy—a grinder with a variety of discs, body hammers and dollies, aviation snips, clamps of various types, a 1/2-inch drill and drill index, and a variety of putty knives and spreaders with which to apply filler. Don’t forget eye and face shields along with work gloves to protect your hands. Of course, you’re bound to discover more needs as you go to work.
If you’re replacing entire body panels, it is strongly suggested you stick with the factory seams and avoid creating new “butt joints,” where the ends of two pieces of sheetmetal are butted together and welded. Although this is common practice for body technicians, it takes a lot of skill and experience to know how to successfully conceal a butt joint and to make sure it won’t reveal itself later. For the novice, butt joints can create problems later on, especially if they can be seen in the paint. Overlapping of the welded joints can be easier to execute during the welding phase, but this will usually require more filler work afterwards to conceal, which may also result in problems later.
Still, there are likely to be situations where a butt joint is unavoidable, as when using a steel patch panel. Patience is required —if you’re hurrying and get the metal too hot, the result will be excessive distortion (waviness) of the metal, necessitating more bodywork later, likely requiring more filler. It is best to “touch” or “stitch” weld to join the two pieces to achieve the initial bond. Then, you can go back and fill between the welds. This technique should help you achieve a better joint with minimal— or no — distortion.
Most car bodies were spot-welded together at the factory to begin with. Spot welding is a type of electrical resistance welding that joins two or more pieces of steel between two clamping electrodes —it yields a weld at the “spot” where the two electrodes pinch the pieces of metal together. When the electrodes are electrified, the resistance between them briefly creates heat so extreme that the pieces of metal fuse together in a molten puddle and the material of the adjoining pieces of metal melt together. The spot welds are around 5⁄16- to 3⁄8-inch in diameter.
Dashboard Patch Job
When you separate and replace panels at the factory seams, you can use a spot welder, or you can use the aforementioned rosette/plug weld technique. With this approach, 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch holes are drilled along the seams of the replacement panel, and then the two adjoining panels are clamped together. The holes are then welded with a wire-feed MIG welder around the perimeter of the holes until they are filled. Once welding is complete, each weld is finished with a grinder to smooth the rosette weld. This can be done so that the welds disappear (some filler work may be needed for this), or you can simulate factory spot welds by using a center punch after grinding the rosette weld.
Advanced engine design used overhead cams, an aluminum crankcase, liquid cooling
Aerial combat advanced at an astonishing rate during World War I, and though it seems unimaginable today, there were no American-designed aircraft deemed suitable for battle in the skies over Europe. There was a U.S.-designed engine in the fight however: the Liberty V-12 or L-12.
The L-12 engine was America’s greatest technological contribution to the aerial war effort. Its initial assignment was powering the “Liberty Plane”—a version of the British-designed De Haviland/Airco DH-4 bomber produced in the U.S. by Dayton-Wright in Dayton, Ohio; Fisher Body Corporation in Detroit, Michigan; and Standard Aircraft in New Jersey. In addition to powering the DH-4 and a variety of other airplanes, over its long service life the L-12 powered tanks, high-speed watercraft, and land-speed racers.
The L-12 came about because Packard’s head of engineering, Jesse G. Vincent, recognized the need for a standardized line of aircraft engines that could be mass produced during wartime. The government assigned Vincent the task of creating this engine and teamed him up with Elbert J. Hall of the Hall-Scott Motor Company. The two met in Washington, D.C., on May 29 and, with the help of volunteer draftsmen, created detailed drawings and a full report by May 31. This original design was a V-8, but in their report Vincent and Hall outlined how the engine could be configured as a four-, six-, eight-, or 12-cylinder engine.
By July 3, a V-8 prototype assembled by Packard was running, and a V-12 soon followed. Due to its superior horsepower potential, the 1,650-cu.in. V-12 was given the nod for mass production
Not only did the Liberty engine mark a great achievement for American aviation, it was responsible for creating a landmark car company: Lincoln. Henry Leland, who founded Cadillac, and his son Wilfred started Lincoln with a $10 million government contract awarded to build Liberty engines. The Lelands left Cadillac to form Lincoln because General Motors President William C. “Billy” Durant was a pacifist and initially rejected the government’s call for GM to build L-12s. (Durant later recanted and Liberty engines were manufactured by GM.) Production numbers seem to vary for output before and after the war but in total Ford, Lincoln, Packard, Marmon, and Buick produced 20,748 L-12 engines.
There’s a video on YouTube from about 10 years back that features famed rock musician Peter Frampton being handed a black Les Paul, with palpable anticipation on his face. The guitar was allegedly the very one Frampton had played on some of his most well-known recordings and in many concerts during the ’70s, including the shows recorded for his massive Frampton Comes Alive album. However, that guitar was lost decades prior when a cargo plane carrying gear for the band crashed and burned in Venezuela. It was assumed the instrument had been destroyed with everything else on the plane, and Frampton has said the crew’s loss of life made investigating the equipment further seem trivial. He accepted that his cherished Les Paul was gone for good.
In the video, when Frampton gets his hands on the guitar in question, it takes mere seconds for his expression to change as he proclaims, “It’s my guitar.” A reunion transpires that is nearly incredible, the odds of it happening so slim, but even after further investigation, there seems to have been no question that this was indeed the same customized guitar Frampton had played more than 40 years prior. I couldn’t help noting the parallels between Frampton’s guitar recovery and some of the stories of vintage car owners rediscovering long-lost rides.
Electric guitars like the ones played by most rock musicians usually begin as mass-produced items, then over time, the custom touches of their owners and the wear and tear that occurs from use can leave each one somewhat unique, if only subtly so. It’s essentially the same way for vintage muscle cars.
Chevrolet pumped out Camaros just like Fender made as many Stratocasters as it could feasibly produce each year. And just as certain Camaros are more desirable than others (trim, model year, options, etc.), so too are particular Strats more prized. But they all roll off their respective production lines and out into the world, and some lucky owner starts enjoying each one. Some changes are made consciously — a set of mag wheels, an upgraded set of pickups — and other changes are not so intentional — a scratch here, a bump there. All become part of the signature of that individual item.
Muscle cars and electric guitars are things associated with youth, and the sorts of possessions many people let go of when the next phase of life begins. Sometimes thieves or accidents make the decision for us, but whatever the case, years on, we tend to long for those once-treasured bits of our younger years. Most of the time, a reasonable facsimile of the original is the best we can muster
Everybody wants more power, and that attention has usually been paid to the romance items like cylinder heads, intake manifolds, carburetors, and camshafts. While those aspects of the engine are still essential for moving air, more engine builders are now scrutinizing the combustion space and making sure that all that air and fuel you worked so hard to get into the cylinder actually contributes to shoving the piston down instead of leaking past the rings.
Are thinner piston rings really better?
In the muscle car days of the ’60s and ’70s, production top and second piston rings measured 5⁄64-inch, and this remained the standard for decades. But with the coming of the modern engine era with powerplants like the GM LS, Ford modular V-8, and the Chrysler Gen III Hemi, piston rings began to slim down for many excellent reasons. If you don’t retain anything else from this story, just remember that thinner is better.
To get an idea of the benefits of slender ring packages, let’s start with some basic concepts. A thick piston ring, like the older 5⁄64-inch designs, presents a very wide contact face to the cylinder wall. This requires significant internal pressure exerted by the ring, called radial tension, to help seal the ring to the cylinder wall. The people at Total Seal have invested in an expensive machine that measures this tension and expresses this tension in units of pound-force (lb-f). Simply stated, this is the amount of force in pounds exerted against the cylinder wall after the ring is squeezed into the cylinder. This lb-f number is not a torque number (expressed as pound-feet or lb-ft) so don’t be confused. Nor is pound-force a sliding friction number, though clearly it is directly related to the friction generated as the piston and ring package move up and down in the cylinder
Before we get into the actual numbers, it’s important to understand why a thicker ring must exert a greater force. This force is directly proportional to the ring face area that contacts the cylinder wall. This might be best explained by using the comparison of two different shoes. When walking on damp grass, it is easier to navigate the surface in a typical flat shoe. However, if the point of the heel is narrowed, as in a high heel shoe, the situation changes: the wearer’s gait is changed and the force of the heel is concentrated in a much smaller area, which easily presses the heel into the soft ground.
A wider piston ring must use a much greater radial tension to apply sufficient load to the cylinder wall to help seal the ring against cylinder pressure. With a thinner design like a 1.0-mm top ring for example, its static radial tension can be substantially reduced because the area of the ring face contacting the cylinder wall is far less than the larger 5⁄64-inch ring.
Piston ring radial tension, sliding friction, and oil control
Again, this radial tension is not the same thing as sliding friction, like that which might be measured with a fish scale pulling a piston with rings up a cylinder wall. But these radial tension loads are still proportional to sliding friction. As a practical example, we’ve installed 4.010-inch LS pistons using a ring package with 1.5 mm top rings, 1.5 mm second rings, and 3.0 mm oil rings into a bore and then pushed the pistons in using mere thumb pressure. But similar bore-size engine using 5⁄64-inch top and second rings and standard tension 3⁄16-inch oil rings demand a hefty hit with a hammer handle to drive the piston into the bore. The difference is the amount of friction produced by the different ring packages. Another way to measure this friction would be to use a digital torque wrench to gauge the friction required to rotate all eight pistons.
A typical small-block Chevy with 5⁄64-inch ring package might require a torque reading of 20 to 25 ft-lb but an LS engine with a 1.0-mm ring package with a similar bore and stroke may require 8 to 10 ft-lbs less torque. At 5,252 rpm, 10 lb-ft of an engine’s torque output is equal to 10 hp. This is not free horsepower because thinner ring packages do cost more and may require new pistons, but other than cost, there are no negatives to this approach.
As an additional benefit, thinner rings also allow the move to higher quality ring materials. As an example, budget ring packages costing $50 most often use grey cast iron that’s rather weak and brittle. Upgrading to a ductile iron will more than double its tensile strength. Plus, many high-quality thinner rings are now made using steel alloys with high-tech face coatings to further reduce friction while improving cylinder pressure sealing capability
Great examples are common, and restoring one couldn’t be simpler
The easiest collector cars in the world to own are those you can get the most parts for. You can probably name a lot of them: the ’55-’57 Chevy, the early Mustang, the first-generation Camaro, the Triumph TR6, the MGB, and so on. As grows the hobby, so does that list (as do the criteria for being on it—which now includes complete reproduction steel bodies), but since the beginning, included the 1928-’31 Ford Model A.
The complete history of the Model A as a sensational new car – including its proven durability during the worst of conditions of the Great Depression and World War II, and its popularity as a simple and easily improved used car in the shortage-wracked postwar period – is too detailed to get into here, but suffice it to say that the historical popularity of the A translates to an extremely robust and complete aftermarket still supporting these cars on the eve of their centennial. Even in as-delivered form, the Ford Model A remains an eminently driveable car—married with some improvements developed when it was nearly new, it can traverse virtually any 21st century road with ease.
There are plenty of opportunities to do so, too. Two clubs serve the Model A hobby specifically: The Ford Model A Restorers Club (MARC) and the Model A Ford Club of America (MAFCA). They maintain technical libraries, advisors, and most importantly, communities of enthusiasts with whom to trade ideas, tribal knowledge, parts, and information. Both organizations are variously tolerant of modifications pioneered in the A’s earliest days as a used car, especially when the appearance is kept stock or made to resemble a period speedster or race car.
Many of those changes blend seamlessly into a road-ready car, ideal for participating in tours like those organized by MARC, MAFCA, and the local chapters thereof, plus multi-marque events run by other organizations. Moreover, unless you live in a really congested area, a touring-grade Model A makes a great fair-weather driver for any purpose —assuming your insurance provider and licensing authority agree.
Speedsters and more heavily modified cars will find themselves welcome at other sorts of events, including hill climbs and traditional hot rod gatherings like The Race of Gentlemen. Beware, though: Beyond a certain point, the more heavily modified the engine, the more temperamental it becomes and the shorter its lifespan.
The standard Ford closed body for all years of production was the two-door sedan (spelled Tudor by Ford, to complement its naming the four-door sedans Fordor). It also proved the most popular in original production, with 523,922 built in calendar-year 1929 alone (Ford didn’t track body-style production by model year) and 1,281,112 by the end of ’31 production in early 1932. Most in-demand today are the roadster and coupe bodies. The former is reproduced, and though repair panels are obtainable, no complete closed Model A body is. A late-1928 to 1931 Tudor makes perhaps the ideal Model A owner’s car for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the prospect of extra leg room in the front seats, attractive price point in the current market, and an all-steel body (compared with the wood-framed Fordors, built by outside suppliers). It’s on that specific model that we’ll focus here.
Engine and drivetrain
While it’s a flathead four-cylinder, and parts from the Model A engine have been made to work in the Model T block, there’s not much in common between the 177-cu.in. Model T engine and the 1928-’31 Model A engine, which displaced 200 cu.in. and made 40 hp at 2,200 rpm —twice the T’s 20 hp at 1,600 rpm. Famously, one reason the Model A is often seen wearing a quail radiator mascot is because its abrupt acceleration reminded operators of that bird bursting forth from the underbrush. The four-cylinder retained its reputation for quick starts right up through the V-8 era, when owners of “bangers” preferred to race from a standing or low-speed rolling start (the origin of the drag race) against V-8 owners. The V-8’s longer-legged nature was reflected in the popularity of the greyhound mascot on ’32-’34 Fords.
In its stock form with a heavy flywheel, the Model A engine remains a roadable unit, though it’s hard for most owners of driven cars to resist internal improvements when rebuild time comes along. Upgrades to the oiling system are popular, as are counterweighted Model B crankshafts (which permit a lightened flywheel and installation of a later clutch). Replacement of the poured bearings with modern-type inserts are frequently discussed, but probably overkill on anything but an engine regularly driven hard.
Top-end modifications, including additional carburetors (both stock-style updraft and later-style downdraft), high-compression (this is relative —stock used a 4.22:1 ratio) cylinder heads, high-performance camshafts, and free-flowing exhaust manifolds all exist and are of varying utility depending on the owner’s intended use of a Model A. Some more compression (Ford itself offered a Police head, though aftermarket heads usually boasted a superior chamber design and more compression yet—anything in excess of 6.5:1 is not advised with poured bearings), a distributor incorporating centrifugal advance (stock units are driver-adjusted from the steering wheel—not a situation favored by every modern driver), a Model B-grind camshaft, a downdraft two-barrel carburetor (Stromberg types being a good compromise between period tech, flexibility, and present-day parts availability), and a cast-iron exhaust manifold will give a healthy enough boost to any engine that you may wish to look into some of the brake upgrades discussed below.
Some A owners have gone even further than modifying the factory engine, yet without straying all the way into V-8 territory. More than one Model A has received, complete, the 50-hp four-cylinder engine originally found in a 1932-’34 Ford Model B. Aside from an external fuel pump, the Model B block looks very much like the Model A, yet it hosts oiling improvements and a counterbalanced crankshaft. Opinions diverge on whether the earliest 1932s had the balanced crank, but the real split in desirability seems to stem from Ford’s switch from sweated-on to cast-in counterweights, the latter of which aid immensely in rebuilding.
The Model B engine was originally packaged with a heavily revised transmission. The original Model A unit was scaled down from the big Lincoln transmission in use in the late 1920s — complete with multi-plate clutch. That clutch was soon replaced with a conventional disc unit, but the heavy flywheel and unsynchronized gears remained. When synchromesh was introduced to the marketplace, however, the consumer wouldn’t long stand for the necessity of double-clutching, and lighter flywheels had the added benefit of letting an engine gain rpm faster—though to the detriment of shifting unsynchronized transmissions.
For 1932, the Model B transmission was essentially that of the V-8 car, but in a gear case designed to work with the four-cylinder. In fact, gearsets from Ford passenger cars up through 1948 will fit in the Model B case, though it’s tight. Because the Model A bellhousing also mounts its pedals, many B-powered A’s will have been modified to accommodate the Model A oil pan, bellhousing, and transmission. Alternately, a variety of schemes have been worked up to use Model A pedals with later transmissions, including swaps intended for the Borg-Warner T-5 five-speed, the Ford SROD four-speed, and the 1932-’39 Ford V-8 three-speed.
Transmission choice complicates the rest of the driveline, as Ford cars built through 1948 had their driveshaft enclosed in a suspension member called the torque tube. The Model A axle, though theoretically not as strong as the V-8 units of 1933-’48, will mate with the later Ford transmission without modification to either. Adapters to fit the SROD and certain models of T-5 to the torque tube have been offered, and some enthusiasts choose to switch to an open driveline. That latter option is complicated, however, because the radius rods alone were not designed to deal with the braking and acceleration forces of the rear axle.
The Model A came with a standard gearing of 3.78:1 while V-8-era Ford axles were typically 4.11:1, so swaps to later rear axles are possible but rarely performed unless seeking added strength during a V-8 swap.
The whole process takes two hours and makes a classic car immeasurably safer
Classic cars are never quite as good as we thought they were back when they were new. That 500-hp Chevelle you had in high school really only made 260, and it handled like dump truck. Add 40 to 50 years into the mix and it is bound to be significantly worse off for wear, especially the steering. Manual steering is not awful when properly set up, but when a manual gearbox gets some age on it, the slop comes in fierce. If your steering box has more than an eighth of a turn of play, then it might be time to rebuild it.
Rebuilding a manual steering gearbox is not difficult and is much cheaper than buying a new one. Plus, if you have a valuable classic, keeping the original versus installing a replacement maintains the value of the car. This was the situation for my 1966 Corvette, as I was keeping it stock. Instead of converting to power or rack and pinion, I opted to rebuild the original Saginaw manual gearbox with a kit from Borgeson (p/n 921039). The kit comes with everything you need to rebuild a worn gearbox including bushings, gaskets, bolts, and the most important parts: the worm and sector gears.
This is a recirculating ball gearbox, which is essentially a giant double-grooved ball bearing assembly. The worm gear—the part of the gearbox that is connected to the input shaft—is a machined block that has the gear teeth on one side and two machined grooves inside the block. Metal ball bearings ride inside the block, providing the bearing surface for the grooved input shaft. As you turn the steering wheel, the bearings spiral through the worm gear block, moving the block up or down the input shaft. This movement is translated to the sector gear, which is attached to the pitman arm. As the ball bearings roll on the shaft, worm block, and each other, each component slowly wears down. This is where the slop comes from.
Eventually, you have to turn the wheel to take up the extra space that is left behind from the wear. This can become significant and that is dangerous situation. Yes, you can compensate for the play, but this also leads to lane drifting as the steering system will wander left and right without the tension inside the gearbox. The solution is a complete rebuild with a new sector and worm gear assembly.
Some of the most innovative production vehicle engineering during the Thirties came in one of the unlikeliest vehicle segments: milk trucks. Though designed for such a humble purpose, seemingly every model had some unique attribute designed to maximize a milkman’s efficiency. Take, for instance, this 1935 Twin Coach milk truck listed for sale on Hemmings.com. While the drivetrain’s relatively typical for the time, the interior makes use of every available square inch, and the cab—much like a DIVCO—allows for both sitting and standing driving positions. This one remains true to its origins, with the livery of the dairy company it originally served replicated along its flanks during its restoration and plenty of milk crates, bottles, and other ephemera stacked in the back. From the seller’s description:
This interesting and well-maintained Twin Coach vehicle was configured as a milk truck and is the last known example from the Ferguson Dairy fleet in Columbiana, Ohio. It’s easy to imagine it delivering milk, cottage cheese, eggs and butter when new nearly nine decades ago! Fully restored, this timeless classic is completely hand-painted (no decals here!).
Behind the driver are raised platforms on each side of the truck to hold original stacked Cream Crest wooden milk crates. Metal runners keep the crates in place. Included are original milk bottles, wire bottle carriers and several vintage milk cans. There are also several antique galvanized milk boxes that would have sat on the porch, where customers put their used glass bottles and received full ones from the milkman. Ample windows surround the entire truck, and there are sliding doors on each side. The unique flip-up rear door offers easy access to the dairy goods. The truck’s Hercules 199 cubic inch four-cylinder flathead engine is located in front of the driver and is accessible for servicing through a panel between the driver and the windshield
It’s got distinctive looks, great traction, and a horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine. No, it’s not a Subaru Forester—it’s a Chevy Corvair. Old-time Vermonters I keep encountering swear by the little air-cooled Chevrolets as cars that would, Beetle-like, go anywhere in the winter and get home again. The rest of the world sees Corvairs as “the poor man’s Porsche” and, you know, I like Porsches too—providing they’re the safari’d kind.
Safari cars are usually moderately lifted versions of regular street cars with knobby tires, extra lights, skid plates, and whatnot to permit them to go offroad or at least down sketchy, class D fire roads of the type that we have a lot of in the remoter reaches of the Green Mountain State. A safari car is kind of like a Group 11 or Baja Bug, just with any other kind of car than a Volkswagen Type 1.
Corvairs have their own off-road history, having made excursions both through the Darien Gap and into the swamps of Florida back when Chevrolet was pushing them as capable compacts more than sports cars. Since then, however, most builds lean in the direction of emulating the Fitch Sprint or Yenko Stinger SCCA contenders.
Still, there are a lot of Powerglide-equipped Corvairs that will never run with the four-speed cars on an autocross track but could be used for other vehicular adventures. This is a rare (unique?) case of me putting my time and money where my mouth is: I already own a near-identical car, and this is essentially the plan I have for it, though here we’ll take a look at how to safari a 1962 Chevrolet Corvair Monza listed for sale on Hemmings.com.
To start with, don’t imagine trying to replicate the New England Forest Rally in this thing. That’s a whole different car, incorporating a roll cage. For moderate driving, I envision just enough lift to deal with substantial ruts and clear oversized wheels and tires. That’s maybe an inch and a half to two inches over stock.
To accomplish that, the right way is new, taller springs and shock absorbers to match. Those aren’t something available off the shelf for Corvairs because most people want to lower their car or keep it stock height rather than go up. Spring spacers are another option, but kind of weak sauce for something intended as permanent.
It goes without saying that fresh bushings and an in-spec, adjusted steering box are mandatory before any modifications begin. You don’t want to compound deferred maintenance with weird changes.
The biggest weak points in a Corvair for long-term ownership are the rear wheel bearings. The wheel bearing for the swing-axle car was a unique design that interchanges with nothing except the ’61-’63 Pontiac Tempest. Further complicating things, the ’60-’62 design will fit a ’63-’64 car, but the slightly redesigned 1963-type bearing won’t fit a 1960-’62 Corvair. They’re not reproduced and weren’t intended as a serviceable part. The best thing to do, it seems, is to carefully drill a hole in the housing, install a plug (or a Zerk fitting—but some reports indicate that may not allow sufficient flow) and re-lubricate the bearing periodically. Having a useable spare set on the shelf also seems to be a wise mov
Brakes, Wheels and Tires
Speed is the enemy of brakes. This isn’t a high-speed build. Ergo, it doesn’t need bigger brakes. That’s good because the early model Corvair doesn’t really lend itself to brake upgrades. In the front, it’s simple enough to swap to five-lug disc brakes, but you’re pretty much stuck with four lugs in the rear unless you can dig up and shorten a pair of axles from a Corvair 95 (that’s the van/truck version, which used front suspension more like that of an Impala than the standard Corvair unit).
One upgrade that I do demand and have already installed is a dual-reservoir master cylinder. Losing one of four brake lines shouldn’t mean losing all four brakes!
I’ve never been a fan of 13-inch wheels—probably because I’ve seen too many of them wearing undersized tires. There are better options today for Corvair radial substitutes than there used to be, but 14- and 15-inch wheels are way better supported. My feeling is that a 25.5-inch diameter looks best on a car this size, so I’m running 195/75R14 Firestone Winterforce snow tires.
It happens that I had easy access to 14-inch Ford Maverick wheels, which have the same four-lug bolt pattern as a Corvair, but a slightly smaller center hole. I had our friendly local machine shop open them up for me and used ’59 Chevy dog-dish hubcaps, but a more straightforward approach would be to grab a set of 14-inch aftermarket four-lug wheels (and matching ‘56 Chevrolet-style hubcaps) from someone like Wheel Vintiques.
One caveat here is that at extremes of suspension deflection while the wheels are turned, they sometimes catch the fender lip—hence the recommendation to raise the suspension slightly. Otherwise, 185/75R14 tires might be the ticket to avoid interference.
Although the ad says otherwise, according to the crossed-flags badge on the decklid, this car has the 102-hp Super Turbo Air engine. Like all ’61-’63 Corvair engines, this is a 145-cu.in. boxer six. For 1964, Chevrolet stroked the 145 out to 164 cu.in., raising the formerly 102-hp engine’s output to 110 horsepower. The 102 is a good engine, but the 110 is an absolute stalwart.
I’ve already sought out a 110. Mine’s a ’65-vintage unit. A ’64 engine would be even better because it would come a lot closer to being a drop-in swap to the ’62 engine bay. Installing the later engine requires some parts shuffling—and a few ’64-only pieces—but is doable.
Alternately, I suppose you could have the 102 rebuilt with the 110 crankshaft inside; making a 110 completely disguised as a 102 save for the telltale harmonic balancer.