RichardSIA HalfDork
6/27/21 3:32 p.m.

How to live happily ever after with your pre-OBD classic car.

Not a comprehensive guide to living with a Classic Car, just a primer.
But should help to make those considering their first classic more aware of what they are contemplating getting into.
Perhaps a reality check for some who are frustrated that their classic car seems to need more attention than expected.

First off, understand that your car is "Classic" for reasons related to the mechanical systems in addition to the body styling and year made.
It does not really matter who made it or which country it was assembled in.
All classics will require some patience and commitment from you as the owner-driver.

You will need to learn new things, this is good, several studies have concluded that continued learning is an excellent tool to avoiding cognitive disabilities such as Alzheimer's disease!
The alternative is a healthy cheque book and trusted mechanic.

BEWARE! Actual Mechanics as opposed to "Technicians" who depend on OBD readers and parts swapping for repairs are a vanishing breed so you really should learn at least the basics.

If you expect your forty-plus year old car to behave just like a current model you either have the wrong vehicle or are going to heavily modify it to no longer remain a classic mechanically .

Classics discussed here are nearly all made before 1980 so are not blessed/cursed with modern engine management systems.
They do not have electronic ignitions, electronic fuel injection, ECU's, in-tank fuel pumps or OBD 1 - 2.

They do probably have one to six carburetors, possibly mechanical fuel injection, at least one distributor or magneto, ignition points, a separate ignition coil, a fuel pump mounted on the engine or chassis, spark plug leads, and a timing system that requires adjustment at regular intervals.
Many have manual transmissions and a clutch to be looked after.

They also do not require a Scan Tool or Code Reader to understand their mechanical health.
They do not "Self adjust" to compensate for wear or environmental factors.

Back when these cars were new they were traditionally checked over and adjustments made once a month, often a Sunday after church.
This was routine and not considered an undue chore.
Many owner actually enjoyed the task and self confidence of doing their own minor mechanical work.
Routine upkeep kept any pending issues at bay and prevented failures due to parts being allowed to get too far out of specification.

All done by simply following the manufacturers maintenance schedule as listed in the owners manual along with a little hand-eye coordination.

Usually this meant monthly checks of Ignition Points and Timing, Fan-Belt adjustment, Electrical connections, Fuel and Vacuum Hoses. For some cars a valve adjustment might be a monthly task but most went at least three months between adjustments.

Carburetor adjustment varied a lot with the type, operating conditions and road or track use.
Once properly adjusted most carburetors were best left strictly alone unless a real issue cropped up.
This is particularly true of Weber/Dellorto!

Three month checks usually go a little deeper including an oil change.

Six month inspection may include examining and adjusting the brakes and clutch plus chassis lubrication.
All of the usual monthly task are also performed at the longer intervals.

Most routine maintenance can be done with no more than a few basic tools.
Many cars up to the late 60's came with a set of tools for routine adjustments.

Basic tools.

1. An owners manual at the least.
A workshop manual is better as it goes into more detail and usually has pretty good illustrated instructions.

2. Two test lamps.
One to confirm voltage is present, usually just a simple light bulb housed in a transparent holder with a probe and ground wire. 
The other is similar but battery powered to check electrical continuity. 
A Multimeter may be used if you have one and are comfortable with it.

3. A set of Feeler Gauges, used to check point gaps and valve clearance.

4. A timing light. A magnetic pick-up and Dial Back are simpler to use but usually not required.

5. A set of wrenches and sockets to fit the task at hand.

6. A set of screwdrivers to fit.

7. At least one grease gun.

8. Oil filter wrench if your car does not use a canister type filter. We no longer need an oil-can spout since oil now comes in screw-cap bottles.

9. Vacuum gauge. For cars with more than one carburetor a "Uni-Syn" type tool makes adjustment much easier.

10. Other tools may be required for your specific vehicle, by example, Overhead Cam engines may need a special timing gauge to set the cam timing.

11. Forethought!
Decide what task you are going to perform then gather the tools and parts ahead of time.
If you are adjusting the valves you will probably need a new valve cover gasket, a tune-up may need new points, condenser, rotor, distributor cap and spark plugs. Ignition wires are a wear item too.

This may seem overwhelming but in truth it is (Arguably, according to some folk.) much simpler than working on newer cars with all the computer (ECU or ECM) controlled sensors, injectors, regulators, coil on plug, etc.

By example, I recently fought an intermittent issue with a Buick Century mysteriously dying and refusing to restart.
I spent many hours trying to figure it out with the help of newly required tools, manuals, and web forums.
A local repair shop had it for a month with no result and returned it to me still undiagnosed.
Finally, the faulty fuel injector failed completely so was easily detected.

On a classic car a fault at one cylinder, such as a fouled spark plug, leads to an annoying miss in the normally steady beat of the engine.
On the Buick one bad injector stops the engine from running at all, as the ECU detects a lean condition and will not allow spark to any cylinder!
Similar issues plague all modern cars once they begin to age, many recalls are based on early failure of these complex systems.

If you really want to reduce frequent maintenance modern tech now offers retrofit systems for some of the most routine classic car maintenance items.

There are points elimination kits available now for most cars.
These do not drift off specification easily or become "Pitted" as points may do.
They are not a visible alteration and I use them on most of my own cars with no regrets.

Original Carburetors may be replaced with newer models or aftermarket fuel injection.
A Fuel Injection retrofit is NOT a simple task as so often advertised and WILL alter engine compartment appearance to a greater or lesser degree depending on the system.
Many buyers of retrofit fuel injection go back to carburetors as they find the fuel injection MORE difficult to fine tune.
"Self Tuning" is pretty much a myth, it may provide a basic tune but manual adjustment is still required for best performance.
You will learn many more new acronyms than for a carburetor.

Computer controlled ignition.
Yes, it is possible, no it is NOT simple no matter how earnest the salesman may be.
Computers require inputs that classic cars were never designed to provide, so they have to be added.
This will not be cheap, simple, or quick.
It will alter the appearance of your engine compartment.
It will also put an end to the simple diagnostics your classic car started out with.

Just one more opinion/advisory, in a sea of them.

loosecannon SuperDork
6/27/21 4:57 p.m.

Great write up. I've been doing a Covid induced side gig at a restoration shop and have been working exclusively on old cars with points and carbs. I have to admit that I love driving around in these old cars and I'm obsessed with their dashes, here's some pics:

03Panther UltraDork
6/27/21 9:57 p.m.

I learned pullin' wrenches on points, carbs and generators. But being into wrenching, and running into very few mechanics that took the time to look for problems (just throw parts at it till it works, even then!) I learned the "new" systems as they came along. Albeit, always years after they were out. Must have been blessed to not have the apparent lemons that you have had to deal with. A '92 Buick 3800 (my grandma bought it with less than 30k on the clock) was one of the most trouble free cars I ever owned. I stopped trying to hot rod my appliance cars years ago, so I don't know all the computer stuff needed to hop new stuff up, but maintenance has not been an issue. 
I haven't daily'd a car with points since the 80's. But your post (although not what you intended) makes a good case for NOT trying to daily an older car!

For a toy, I still prefer older stuff, but the stuff newer than 96 has a lot of definite advantages in the dependability department. 

frenchyd UltimaDork
6/27/21 11:17 p.m.

In reply to RichardSIA :

As a mechanic schooled in those cars working on that stuff is like breathing. Totally thoughtless, simple, part of life.  Working on OBD2 cars is nearly the same except concern at how to get plastic covers off without breaking the tabs or something. 
   To me the nightmare is the tweeners EFI before OBD2.  Bosch, Lucas, even GM,  aw heck you know what I'm talking about.    

MiniDave New Reader
4/17/22 7:09 p.m.

My kryptonite is classic Mini Coopers......which BTW came with carbs and points well into the 90's tho they were changing over to EFI by 94-96, some still came with carbs even then!

Almost all the points in the OP's post apply to my challenges as well, and yes you must either be "owner involved" or have a fat wallet to own and drive classic cars - of ANY brand!

I might add that if you're going to attempt anything more involved than routine maintenance there will be special tools required......for example, getting the flywheel off a classic Mini's tapered crank end requires a special puller, not one you can borrow from the local auto parts store, and even then it might be an *ahem* challenge to get it off!

frenchyd MegaDork
4/18/22 11:59 a.m.

In reply to RichardSIA :

You neglected to mention the variances & tolerances in vintage cars as compared to today as well.  
     Especially in England People working on the assembly line  were paid piecemeal not hourly rate so they learned the little tricks and techniques to quickly assemble cars from a wide variances in tolerances. 

     Bodies were far from standard. Windshields were made in 2 different sizes with 5 different seals to install them.  Bending a mount over to get the engine in was dealt with by a steady bar meant to adjust to the variations in MG 
 Engine parts were measured and set into sets of similar sizes.  Coarse files were on the engine assembly line to quickly scrape the blocks to take parts. A few quick swipes to clearance the shavings going? Someplace in the block.  
Watch those assembly line movies sometime.  
  Hand assembled had a whole new meaning back then,  when production was often less than 100 a month. 
 Parts  suppliers were similar.   Sir William Lyons was a real skin flint normally buying the lowest grade of parts like SU or Lucas while Rolls Royce purchased the highest.  Yet they all came off the same assembly lines. 
      In fact the famous fire at the Jaguar factory was started from carpet scraps Sir William ordered his trimmers to cut off from under the seats  with the intention to use later.  
     Several factories  weren't above recycling used parts from test cars  into new cars.   
Jaguar was a high volume producer compared to smaller ones like Daimler, Lotus,  or Sunbeam.   Heck some years they built more than a 1,000 XJS's while the 4 door sedans struggled to get over 3,000 and that was in the 1970's.  

Automobilist New Reader
6/3/22 3:24 p.m.

In reply to frenchyd :

Like the Bosch D-Jetronic on my '73 Mercedes 450SL...

RichardSIA Dork
6/4/22 1:29 a.m.

Gas prices have forced me to re-prioritize.
So the 1970 MG Midget is moving to the top of the list in place of my 68 El Camino hot-rod.
People keep trying to sell me 'Cheap' or even give me newer cars, I refuse them all.
70 Midget is among the last of the real MG's, 1275 engine, disc front brakes, and light weight bumpers.
Old enough to avoid all electronics so still easy to work on.
Rebuilding the SU's since the car sat for so long is not difficult.
Looking forward to it as the DD.

The argument over whether or not pre-OBD cars are more fun has been settled by the open market.
Their prices are escalating at an unheard of pace.
Newer cars are being scrapped before the warranty runs out.


03Panther UberDork
7/26/22 10:52 a.m.
frenchyd said:

In reply to RichardSIA :

As a mechanic schooled in those cars working on that stuff is like breathing. Totally thoughtless, simple, part of life.  Working on OBD2 cars is nearly the same except concern at how to get plastic covers off without breaking the tabs or something. 
   To me the nightmare is the tweeners EFI before OBD2.  Bosch, Lucas, even GM,  aw heck you know what I'm talking about.    

Like you and Richard, I'm a better old school mechanic, than newfangled stuff, but can hold my own with OBDII. 
Wife just got a tweener. (Perfect word!). 
94LT1. All the "modern " systems with  no diagnostic port! It's a keeper, so I'll be learning'

03Panther UberDork
7/26/22 10:53 a.m.

Sorry, didn't notice the necro thread boot, but it is applicable in my life today!

frenchyd MegaDork
7/26/22 11:50 a.m.

That period from carbs  to OBD2  when everybody was trying to trouble shoot their failed EFI with little more than an ohm meter.  I hate that. Regardless of brand unless you know all the identifier tricks, Tap in at H3 and the junction of lhs8and qzu71.  Should read .06 ohms. Unless solenoid   D3. Is activated.  
     That's why I'm converting my Lucas system to MegaSquirt. The Lucas system is fixed,  no memory.   X value = so many volts. Blah blah blah . Not only that but solder joints on a nearly 50 year old board can be pretty badly corroded. 
     When I first kludged my Lucas system  I soldered triggers into the board so that at  2 stages it turned on extra fuel.  Starting out rich. ( the first system used 3 VW Rabbit units ) it sorta worked enough to not go too lean.  The Gold Palladium plugs kept from fouling out. 
      The mega Squirt system allows me to add fuel as boost increases. Much better and adjustable with a key stroke.  
 The Stock Lucas system works if nothing is changed. No compression increase, nocamshaft alternation, no boost. No fuel change.  And all the solder connections are still good.   In short,  no Racing.  

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