NAMED FROM ROMAN MYTHOLOGY AND POPULAR FOR OVER 70 YEARS
In the 1930s, Ford designers began work on a vehicle that would have more features and styling than was offered on any other current Ford product. As the vehicle neared completion in 1938, Edsel Ford and Ford Sales Manager Jack Davis decided to launch an all-new brand for the premium range to set it apart from the mainstream Ford Blue Oval products and Lincoln luxury cars. And, with that, Mercury was born.
The vehicles from Mercury would compete with mid-level offerings from GM, Dodge and Chrysler’s DeSoto, but would slot in just below the Cadillac lineup. Mercury filled a niche between our deluxe Ford V-8 and the Lincoln Zephyr V-12.
Henry Ford’s son, Edsel, chose the name for this new lineup. Mercury, the winged god of commerce in Roman mythology, symbolizes dependability, speed, skill, and eloquence. Ford’s vision for the Mercury brand included improved power, ride, handling, stopping distance, internal noise, and enhanced styling.
The first model, the 1939 Mercury 8, sold for $916 and had a 95-horsepower V-8 engine. More than 65,000 were built the first year. The offerings included a two- and four-door sedan, a sports convertible, and a town sedan. Just two short years after Mercury debuted, America entered World War II and production was halted. When the war ended in 1945, Mercury was coupled with Lincoln, and the Lincoln-Mercury Division was born.
In 1949, Mercury introduced the first of its “new look” integrated bodies, which became a favorite of the hot-rod generation. Movie buffs saw James Dean’s customized version of the ’49 Mercury Series 9CM when he drove a de-chromed version of the car in the 1955 movie classic Rebel Without a Cause.
The 1950s featured even more modern styling and innovations such as the industry first fixed sunroof/moonroof on the 1954 Mercury Sun Valley, with a transparent Plexiglas top. In 1957, Mercurys grew wider, longer, lower, and more powerful with what was called “Dream Car Design.” Mercury had entered its heyday as a premium brand with models like the Montclair, Monterey and Turnpike Cruiser.
During the Ford Division’s 1960s “Total Performance” era, Mercury added performance and speed with vehicles such as the S-55 and Marauder, which found some success in racing. In 1967, the Cougar was introduced, which was Mercury’s version of the Ford Mustang. The 1970s saw the introduction of the Grand Marquis, Mercury’s best-selling nameplate. Mercury sales peaked in 1978 at an all-time high of 580,000.
The nuts and bolts that make up our beloved automobiles have not changed that much over the last 150 years. But the tools needed to maintain them? Those have changed a lot. Software has cemented itself as part of a service technician’s day-to-day regimen, relegating a handful of tools to the history books. (Or, perhaps, to niche shops or private garages that keep many aging cars alive and on the road.)
How many of these now-obsolete tools do you have in your garage? More to the point, which are you still regularly using?
Spark-plug gap tool
Though spark-plug gap tools can still be found in the “impulse buy” section of your favorite parts store, these have been all but eliminated from regular use by the growing popularity of iridium and platinum plugs. These rare-earth metals are extremely resistant to degradation but, when it comes time to set the proper gap between the ground strap and electrode, they are very delicate. That’s why the factory sets the gap when the plug is produced.
These modern plugs often work well in older engines, meaning that gapping plugs is left for luddites—those who like doing things the old way just because. Nothing wrong with that; but don’t be surprised if dedicated plug-gapping tools fade from common usage fairly quickly.
Verdict: Keep. Takes up no real space.
50 years ago, a tuneup of an engine centered on the ignition system. The breaker points are critical to a properly functioning ignition system, and timing how long those points are closed (the “dwell”) determines how much charge is built up in the ignition coil and thus discharged through the spark plug. Poorly timed ignition discharge is wasted energy, but points-based ignition systems disappeared from factory floors decades ago, and drop-in electronic ignition setups have never been more reliable (or polarizing—but we’ll leave that verdict up to you.)
Setting the point gap properly is usually enough to keep an engine running well, and modern multifunction timing lights can include a dwell meter for those who really need it. A dedicated dwell meter is an outdated tool for a modern mechanic, and thus most of the vintage ones are left to estate sales and online auction sites.
Verdict: Toss once it stops working. Modern versions are affordable and multifunctional.
When mechanics did a lot of regular timing adjustments and tuning, a purposely bent distributor wrench made their lives much easier. However, much like ignition points, distributors have all but disappeared. Thanks to coil-on-plug ignition systems and computer-controlled timing, the distributor is little more than a messenger: It simply tells the computer where the engine is at in its rotation.
Timing adjustments have become so uncommon that a job-specific tool is likely a waste of space. If you’ve got room in your tool chest, keep yours around; but know that a standard box-end wrench can usually get the job done and is only fractionally less convenient than the specialized version.
Verdict: Keep if you have them. No need to buy if you don’t.
Pre-OBDII diagnostic scan tools
Prior to the required standardization of on-board diagnostic computers by the U.S. in 1996, a single car could host a wild mix of analog and digital diagnostic methods. OBDII, which stands for On-Board Diagnostic II, wasn’t the first time that a small computer was used to pull information from the vehicle via an electronic connection; it merely standardized the language.
Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s each OEM had its own version of a scan tool. Now those tools can be reverse-engineered and functionally spoofed by a modern computer, allowing access to diagnostic info tools that, at the time, were only available to dealers. Since many pre-OBDII cars are now treated as classics or antiques and driven far less frequently, the need for period-correct diagnostic tools is dropping.
Verdict: Keep. These will only get harder to find with time, and working versions will be even rarer.
A distributor is simple in concept. Trying to balance the performance and economy of the ignition system, with the distributor attached to a running engine, and achieving proper operation starts to get pretty complicated. That’s where a distributor machine comes in.
A distributor is attached to the apparatus and spun at engine speed by an electric motor. This allows you to literally see how the points are opening and closing. You can also evaluate the function of vacuum or mechanical advance systems. These machines are still great but the frequency that this service is needed these days is few and far between, especially when trying to justify keeping a large tool around and properly calibrated.
Verdict: Keep, if you are a specialty shop or tool collector.
Even a casual enthusiast can see there is a lot more information that can be gleaned from a running engine than whatever readouts might be on the dash. Enter the engine analyzer, a rolling cabinet of sensors and processors designed to fill in the data gaps between everything that is happening in a car and what its gauges report.
An engine analyzer is essentially a handful of additional instruments packaged into a small box hanging around the bottom of your tool drawers. It can also house a lot of sensors in a giant cabinet, which was likely wheeled into the corner of the shop in 1989 and left to gather dust. Now engine analyzers can be found listed online for as cheap as $200.
The funny thing is that many of the sensors in these engine analyzers are often the same systems that come built into modern dynamometer tuning systems. In a dyno, the sensors allow the operator to see more than max power; they also show how changes to an engine’s tune affect emissions. Maybe engine analyzers didn’t disappear so much as change clothes.
Verdict: Toss. The opportunity cost of the space these take up can be tough for most home garages. Sensors went out of calibration decades ago so the information you might get from one is dubious at best.
From the Model T to the V-8, some of Ford’s best-recognized products rolled on spokes
Ford had an image problem in the twilight years of the Model T. The Tin Lizzie had gone from revolutionary newcomer to has-been in the 17 years since it was introduced. Henry Ford’s militant disregard for styling meant the T was almost a joke. As upstart makes like Chevrolet and Star started to eat up Ford’s market share, the company cast about for a way to make its cars more relevant.
One of the obvious choices was to give the buyer a bit of what was available in those other makes—luxury and looks. The basic quality of the Model T was as strong as it ever was, maybe better, but buyers were proving that they didn’t care if their car lasted forever, so long as it looked good when new.
When the 1926 cars appeared, they had plenty in the looks department. They sat lower, their bodywork looked more streamlined, and, starting in January 1926, some of them even offered those sporty elements of nickel plating and wire-spoke wheels. For the first time since the Model T was introduced, the Ford buyer had a choice of something other than wood-spoke artillery wheels.
Wire wheels had long been a popular accessory for a number of cars, and Chevrolet made disc wheels available on its Superior line from 1923. Wires had the advantage of offering a better ride than discs, and they were different from what Chevrolet offered. For 1927, Ford ramped up production of wire wheels, and late in the year they became standard equipment on closed cars.
Wire wheels, nickel plating, and even special sport models weren’t enough to save the Model T, however, and in 1928 Ford introduced its replacement, the Model A. Wire-spoke wheels were standard now and, although they still used 21-inch-diameter rims, the new spokers differed from the Model T wheels in several details, including bolt pattern: now 5 on 5½ inches instead of 5 on 5. The Model A wheel even changed part-way through 1928 production, due to a modification to the braking system. Early Model AA big trucks also received a wire-spoke wheel, although it was quickly supplanted by the more-familiar steel wheel.
When the styling of the Model A was overhauled for 1930, the wheels were not neglected. The rim was downsized to 19 inches and the hubcap was revised to a simpler domed piece. For 1932, the hubcap would grow in diameter, covering the lug nuts for the first time, and advertising the new V-8 engine, if so equipped (four-cylinder Model Bs got the familiar “Ford” script and oval). The 1932 models also received yet another adjustment in rim diameter, this time to 18 inches
One thousand pounds. Half a ton. Way more than any strongman contestant can lift. That’s how much weight Finale Speed has been able to cut out of a 1969 Camaro by replacing its steel body with carbon fiber. And the company’s aiming to bring that supercar technology to pretty much any American muscle car.
“Carbon fiber’s been around for years,” said JD Rudisill, who founded Finale Speed in Yukon, Oklahoma, in April 2022. “It’s what they use in Formula 1, all the hypercars, because it’s just a fraction of the weight of steel. Half the weight and double the strength, is what they say. It’s just that nobody had used it on the classics.”
Other aftermarket companies have offered ready-made carbon-fiber components, Rudisill noted, and a handful do offer full carbon-fiber bodies, but Rudisill said that as far as he knows, Finale is the first company to offer full carbon-fiber bodies for 1968-1970 Dodge Chargers and first-generation Chevrolet Camaros.
The latter made its debut this past week at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale auction as a complete car dubbed Viral, powered by a 650hp LT4 6.2-liter crate engine. The former has had a far more eventful few months. From the start, Rudisill wanted to work with Dodge representatives to license the second-generation Charger’s design, and even before those agreements were in place, he got an invitation to unveil the Charger’s bare carbon-fiber body at Dodge’s Speed Week event in August – the same event at which the company debuted its all-electric Charger Daytona SRT Concept.
“We just got there, and we’ve got Tom Sacoman (Director of Dodge Product and Motorsports) and Ralph Gilles (Stellantis Head of Design) crawling all over it,” Rudisill said. “I’m in shock. Then Tim Kuniskis sees it and says he wants it at SEMA, still unfinished and with a Hellcrate in it.
According to Rudisill and Finale’s Chris Jacobs, the company has been able to make such great strides in less than a year due to a number of factors. While Rudisill gives credit to the eight guys in the shop who came to the company from Rudisill’s prior venture (“The eight best guys you want working on carbon fiber cars,” he said), he also has 15 years of experience working with carbon fiber in automotive applications. Finale has also partnered with Brothers Carbon in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, which supplies the dozen or so pieces that Finale then pieces together into bodies.
(For what it’s worth, Brothers displays a complete carbon-fiber Bumpside F-100 body on its website. Speedkore has also built full carbon-fiber Dodge Chargers, but does not appear to offer the bodies separately. Kindig-It Design offers 1953 Corvettes with full carbon fiber bodies. Classic Recreations, which was already building carbon-fiber Shelby G.T.500s, also announced a full carbon-fiber Shelby Cobra body last year.)
Perhaps just as important, Finale employs a straightforward, old-school method for building carbon fiber bodies that dispenses with the time-consuming process of CAD modeling, 3D printing, and other high-tech prototyping solutions normally associated with carbon fiber. More like creating fiberglass body panels, the process starts with sourcing a body from which Finale can pull fiberglass molds, which then go to Brothers for laying up with prepreg (carbon fiber sheets with the resin already embedded in the carbon fiber weave) and curing in an autoclave. “With the prepreg, they just roll it out and trim it to fit,” Jacobs said. “It looks just like they’re installing Dynamat.
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
Despite not being a fancy, state-of-the-art set up, Mike and his team at H&H have a great thing going. The equipment does exactly what it needs to, his team is experienced and the shop has built thousands of vintage engines for customers everywhere!
It’s not every day that a photoshoot for Rod & Custom is what pushes you over the edge into engine building, but that’s exactly what got Mike Herman to begin his journey building V8s. Of course, this photoshoot wasn’t Mike’s first time being around engines, but before that moment, he hadn’t taken time to learn and understand the work.
Mike’s father, Max Sr., started an engine shop back in 1972 doing Model A work. As Mike tells the story, he was just out of college and decided to join his dad at a car show in Scottsdale, AZ where Jim Rizzo of Rod & Custom came through the booth.
“He asked if we wanted to do a Flathead article,” Herman recalls. “My dad said, ‘Sure, we’ll do it.’ He stuffed me in all the pictures. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t even know how to work a boring bar or anything. The issue took like nine months to come out, and it was like 10 pages in one issue, and then nine pages the next. The phone never stopped ringing, and I just had to learn on the fly. I shadowed my dad to learn all the tech and read whatever I could. I learned how to break everything and fix everything.”
That push into engine building was exactly what Mike needed, who said he might be working a desk job otherwise. Herman soon took what he learned from his dad and started his own shop, H&H Flatheads in La Crescenta, CA in 2003 – March 2023 will be the shop’s 20th anniversary.
At just 44 years old today, Herman has successfully built a name for himself and his shop in the vintage V8 world, focusing on Ford Flatheads, Lincoln Flathead V8s and V12s, Y blocks, Hemis, early Cadillacs, Nailheads, and others.
“I was fortunate enough to enter the industry at the right time, because within two years, I bought Navarro Racing Equipment from Barney Navarro,” Herman says. “That was perfect timing because I was up and coming and he was retiring. Since then, I’ve acquired seven other companies. I have eight vintage speed equipment companies under my H&H Flatheads brand.”
Now, Herman gets to add one more accolade to his shop’s name – Engine Builder’s and Autolite’s 2022 America’s Best Vintage Engine Shop award. H&H Flatheads is a modest shop on the surface – around 3,000 sq.-ft. of space, Kwik-Way boring bars, Sunnen hones, a Hines digital balancer, a Storm Vulcan surfacer, some hot tanks, and tons and tons of old and new engine parts.
The Mercury Eight series holds the uncanny honor of being the debut line for the upscale Ford division. It was manufactured between 1939 and 1959 over a total of three generations and sat in between the Ford Deluxe (Custom) and Lincoln.
As such, it was produced both before – when it shared its body with the sibling Ford models and after World War II – when it became the first apparition of the new Lincoln-Mercury Division, thus sharing more traits with Lincoln from then on. As such, it is not just a car but also a statement of history.
Anyway, now is your chance to grab hold of it because New York-based Motorcar Classics says it has a classy 1950 Mercury Eight Convertible for sale, with low mileage and a potential craving for best-in-show accolades. Sitting proudly in the dealership’s inventory in classy dark green over tan and dark green attire, the two-door drop-top “has been lovingly refurbished by a late owner.”
If you own a car with a generator, odds are somebody has walked up to you at some point while you’ve got the hood open and asked, “You ever think about doing an alternator swap?”
Well, of course you have—every time a car-show or gas-station expert has offered his or her unsolicited wisdom on the state of your car’s electrical system. If you’re like me, the reason you’ve never decided to swap to an alternator boils down to three reasons: 1) the generator works fine with the existing and planned electrical loads of your car; 2) an alternator is really going to harsh the period look of the engine bay; and 3) why change something that doesn’t really need changing?
My 1962 Corvair was designed and built with a generator, and it still has one (although, as I learned, not the one it was born with). Corvairs from 1965 to 1969 came with alternators (“Delcotrons” in period GM speak). Thus, it’s not that hard to put an alternator on an Early Model Corvair, and when one of the ears on the front end frame of the generator broke off this spring, I contemplated it.
The swap would have involved not only a Corvair-style alternator (which rotates in the opposite direction from most and requires at least a special cooling fan and pulley), but the 1965 to 1969 adapter plate to mount it to the 1962 block, a regulator change, and some wiring modifications. But why? I suppose there’s some weight savings (but I’m neither a racer nor that fuel-economy minded), there’s better charging at idle speeds (but I don’t live in the city or do anything where I’m idling a lot), and there’s the potential for increased amperage delivery (like up to 100 amps, but I don’t have any non-stock electrical additions to the car, and the wiring is probably only designed to handle maybe 65 amps anyway).
No, I decided that because my generator had always generated just fine (and, in fact, even once it was flopping around due to the broken ear, though it continued to do its job, just more noisily), I would simply repair the broken ear and reinstall it. Of course, that wasn’t as simple as it sounds.
Initially, I contemplated epoxying the ear back onto the end frame. Candidly, that might have been the best option, but then a friend who is an expert welder said he could stick the metal back together properly for me. That sounded less rinky-dink than epoxy, so I said okay and tore the generator down so I could send just the end plate for repair. Unfortunately, my friend changed jobs and lost a lot of his free time.
Fascinating story of the development and racing of the Cummins diesel race car at the Indianapolis 500 in 1952. Number 28, the Cummins Diesel Special, clocked a qualifying track record that year of 138.01 MPH, using a truck type Cummins diesel engine. What a story! Transferred from a 16mm Eastman Color film, with significant color fade.
In 2017 number 28 appeared at the Goodwood Festival of Speed
It’s the perfect ecosystem-come-melting-pot, therefore, for something like the Kurtis-Kraft Cummins Diesel Special to sprout. The ‘50s had to be one of the most developmentally lucrative periods in the history of motorsport. The world was shaken, battered and bruised by war, determined to forge better lives for all and blossoming economically as international trade exploded. The pot of cash and hunger for growth that was the bow-wave of post-war recovery swept all industries and with innovative products being produced in unprecedented numbers that needed to be sold, concepts needed to be proven. Where else other than the racetrack does automotive technology prove its chops?
Technical challenges forced innovation. The high centre of gravity that was the 1950 car’s Achilles heel meant that the Cummins 6.6-litre commercial engine had to be laid on its side – the happy side-effect of which was a left-hand weight bias for the left-turn-only machine. It was the first car to race at Indy to feature an exhaust-fed turbocharger, as well as the first car to be tested in a wind tunnel. Driver-activated radiator shutters were developed such that a boost of 18 horsepower could be accrued with their operation. The newly developed layout made it the lowest car on the grid, too. The car was heavy (in spite of a lightweight alloy block) but it was slippery and very powerful with the monstrous lump good for over 400bhp. Cummins had proven the advantages of diesel at Indy before in 1931 when a car went for the full 500 laps without a pit stop. They would move to avenge their fateful 1950 attempt in ‘52 with the game-changing new car.
Don Cummins had designs on San Francisco’s 32-year-old race ace Freddie Agabashian to pilot but it was a difficult sell. When approached, Freddie was sceptical of the car’s weight and overall competitiveness. On a drive out around Indy with Freddie, Don had a point to prove. He stopped the car, pulled a 5-inch Coca Cola crate out of the boot and set it on the ground outside the car upside down. He gestured for Freddie to sit, following “That’s all the farther you’ll be riding above the pavement in a new roadster”. Convinced of the innovations the new car would bring to the fight, Freddie was sold