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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I have been fooling with stock Model A Fords since New Years Day 1957 but after thumbing through Hemmings Motor News, I find my interest drawn to the "flip top" Ford, more properly called a Retractable Hard Top, vintage '57, '58, and '59. I think the '59 has the best styling of the three. As I recall, the most common engine was a 312 cubic-inch V8 commonly called a "Y" block. I know that the '57's had a radiator problem with the top and bottom tanks which were repaired by the dealers, and I think that there was a camshaft problem in these years also. Are there any other chronic problems with these cars that I should know about before I start seriously looking for one?
R.A. Merced, CA

A. Obviously, you don't change vehicles very often. I had to work on lots of those old "Y" block Ford V8 engines in years gone by, and at the time, they had problems with plugging up the oil passages to the valve rockers. I think that the problem was that their engine oil wasn't changed often enough and the passages plugged up. There were even top oil by-pass kits available as a quick cure. They also knocked out rear main bearings, as I recall. I'm told that keeping the retractable top working right is a nightmare, too. By now, there are very few of these old timers around in as-is condition and their enthusiast owners don't neglect them. I'm also sure that engine rebuilding shops that specialize in vintage engines have developed a cure for them. The factory name of the flip-top is the Fairlane 500 Skyliner and only 13,000 '59s were made so it may be tough to finding one. The last address I have for the International Ford Retractable Club is Box 92, Jerseyville, IL 62052.

Q. We have a 1977 Bluebird motorhome that is mounted on a Dodge Chassis. I have had to replace the front brake pads twice while the rear shoes haven't shown much wear but I have replaced them once just as a precaution. I wonder if the rear brakes are not doing their job and if there is something that I can do to increase their performance.
B.H. Milwaukee, WN

A. The rear brakes on most vehicles only do around 30 percent of the braking under the hardest of conditions. Since your Dodge is getting pretty old, it's possible that the ancillary parts of the brakes (adjusters, shoe pull-back springs, etc.) need to be replaced. If you haven't replaced or overhauled the brake wheel cylinders, you should do so and flush out the brake system. They may be frozen and not operating. This can happen if you expose a vehicle with drum brakes to continuous wet weather or snow. Also check to make sure that rust and corrosion hasn't damaged the hydraulic brake tubing or the other parts of the brake system. As long as you're doing a complete brake fluid flush-out and replacement, you might consider using a silicone-based fluid since it is impervious to water contamination.

Q. Within the past couple of days, our '91 Dodge Caravan has started having problems with its three-speed automatic transmission. When shifting from park to either reverse or drive, it will shift with a loud thunk and a lurch. At different times, while going from a full stop through an intersection, the engine accelerates and the transmission will either not engage or the car will begin a slow crawl forward. I have contacted several dealers in our area and have received only evasive answers from them.
T.S. Eugene, OR

A. The transmission in those Chrysler minivans have had lots of problems over the years so get ready for a healthy repair bill. If you want a non-evasive answer to your automatic transmission questions, take it to an independent transmission shop but avoid the franchised chains. I'm not sure that the problem has been cured on the new versions since the folks at Chrysler don't want to admit anything ever happened.

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