How to Install Seat Belts in a Classic Car

Well, the ’63 Comet didn’t come with seat belts.  Back in 1963, seat belts were still optional.  So, one of the easiest things a person can do to improve safety is to add seat belts.  For our Comet, seat belts are the first safety improvement we will be making.  The second will be installing headrests (you can survive a broken nose, but not so easily a broken neck and surviving the latter still might mean serious lifetime incapacity).  Both of these improvements are in addition to the brake rebuild we did and the suspension renewal we’re in the process of (as evidenced in the last post on replacing an outer tie rod).  Recently, Micah and I installed the front seat belts.  The installation of the rear seat belts will happen in the next 2-3 weeks.  For those interested in what it took for Micah and I to do this, especially if you’re considering doing this to a car of your own, read on.  For our Comet, we used lap belts from RetrobeltUSA, including their hardware kits.

The first thing we did was find the position we wanted behind the front seats.  Make sure you space your anchors at least 15 inches apart.  In our case, it was easy, due to going with the width of the bucket seats.  Also, makes sure you install the short end of the belt on the inside of the car.  Once you have your places marked, use a carpet knife to cut a crosswise pattern that can then be peeled back:

Carpet Cut

You’ll also notice the beginning of the second step, here–drilling the hole.  To do that, use a metal punch and mark/indent a spot in the center of the carpet cut.  That prevents the drill bit from “wandering” or sliding across the floorboard.  Start with a small bit and slowly work your way up to the 1/2 inch bit, in order to prevent the bit from binding.

Once the hole is drilled, place the buckle mount and bolt through the top, while the large washer, lock washer, and nut fasten from underneath.  The large washer acts as a backing plate so that the bolt (and belt) won’t pull out in the case of an accident.  Here’s Micah tightening one on the driver’s side:

Tightening Anchor

Once installed, it should look something like this:

Front Seat Belt Installed

As you can see, it is a very clean installation.  I forgot to remove the loose strands of carpet there in the picture.  It looked even cleaner once I’d done that.  This is a project that anyone with a classic car can easily do and there’s no reason to hire this out to a body shop.  Save yourself the $ and put it toward some other modification.  In our case, I just ordered some new shocks for the front😉

How to Replace an Outer Tie Rod on Early Comets and Falcons

When Micah and I were renewing the front brake system on the ’63 Comet, we noticed the boot on the outer tie rod on the driver’s side had been split open.  We had heard some occasional clunking while going around corners, so this was not a complete surprise.  Well, Macrina and I finally had a chance to get to that this week (Micah was out of town).  If you haven’t done this before but you’re interested in giving it a try, read through the steps below, with the picture from Macrina and I, and you’ll learn it’s really not all that difficult.  With some basic tools you can save yourself the $150 or so that a garage would charge you for doing it.

Here’s what we started with.  If you look carefully, you can see the split in the boot:

IMG_1094  After taking this picture, we soaked down the castle nut and the nut and bolts on the clamp with some PB Blaster and let it sit for a few hours.  Then we began.

Macrina removed the hub cap and loosened the lug nuts:

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Once that is done, jack up the car and put it on a jack stand.  I keep the jack on the car as well, for some redundancy, even though the jack stand is holding the driver’s front corner up.  Here is what you’ll then see.  Remove the cotter pin:

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Pin removed, loosen and remove castle nut.  Then use ball joint separator to pop the tie rod down and out.  Put the forks in there, and then hammer on the end of the handle [HT: Thom L for letting us borrow his forks]:

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Once out, this will be your situation:

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At this point, I had to loosen the nut and bolt holding the clamp together.  The tie rod, as you can tell from the next picture, is threaded, and screws into a threaded sleeve that is held tightly by the clamp.  It was too corroded to loosen at first, so we soaked this really well in PB blaster for another hour.

IMG_1109 The threaded portion that goes into the sleeve is pointing down in this pic.  The end with the threads and hole goes up into the knuckle and is where the castle nut and cotter pin go.  So, once the PB Blaster had soaked in, Macrina marked where on the threads the old tie rod had screwed into the sleeve:

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This will let us compare the old to the new and mark the new, so we get the alignment at least close to where it had been.  The tie rod was still a bear to get out, but with a pipe wrench and some elbow grease it came loose.  Do note:  the tie rod had a left handed thread, which meant is unscrewed by turning *clockwise* (i.e. “righty tighty, left loosey” did not apply in this case).  Here’s the old one removed and the new one, just started:

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Once screwed in to the marked position, line up the tie rod with the knuckle and gently tap it up into place.  Once done, tighten down the castle nut and insert new cotter pin:

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Now, the new tie rod came with a grease zerk to be screwed in.  Here you can see the zerk and the hole on the back side of the tie rod:

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So, with everything hooked up, screw the zerk in until snug.  Don’t overtighten.  Snug is good:

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That’s all there is to it!  We put the tire back on, removed jack and stands and were set.  Now, it is wise to add some grease to the zerk.  Our grease gun was at the farm, so we’ll be buying a second for here in town in the next couple of days and adding some in before doing any extensive driving.  The car is still in need of alignment, but at least we save ourselves the expense of an outer tie rod.  One thing to consider, is that often when replacing the out tie rod, it makes sense to replace the inner and replace them as a set.  In this case, we replaced the one with the split boot, but an argument could be made that we should’ve replaced both and if pressed, I’d have to admit that would be a good recommendation.  In that case, both ends are similar and the steps will be essentially the same.

New Spark Plugs

Back when Micah and I installed the Pertronix ignition on the Comet, we knew we should replace the plugs as well.  This past Sunday, Macrina helped change them.  “Mechanic Micah” was out with his grandparents.  We bought six autolite plugs with the copper core.  I’ve always had good luck with autolite plugs.  Here is “Mechanic Macrina” putting anti-seize on the threads before the new plugs went in and putting dielectric grease on them once installed:

Anti-Seize on PlugsDielectric Grease Plugs

New Front Brakes

Well, the same day that we tackled the horns, we decided it was time to tackle the brakes.  Already, a couple weeks back, Macrina had helped me inspect the brakes:

Brake Inspection

We did this over at Living Hope Baptist Church.  The run a “car care clinic” every third Saturday of the month, so if you show up, you can get a stall in their garage and free use of their tools–very cool ministry!  It’s made me think our own church should do some kind of an oil change ministry but there’s probably only a few of us who would feel confident enough to do that, so maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.  Anyhow, Brett was there, as was Brian, and they both worked on another vehicle and were there to answer any questions and help if needed.

They were so helpful, in fact, that Brett agreed to meet Micah and I there this past Sunday afternoon so that Micah and I could put on all new hoses, wheel cylinders, shoes, and hardware.  The drums had some life in them, so their replacement will come later.  Here’s Micah removing the cotter pin and wheel cylinder on the driver’s side:

Removing Cotter PinRemoving Wheel Cylinder

Special thanks to Brett for all his help!  There were a couple of tricky spots we ran into but he’d seen enough different ways of skinning the cat that he was able to help us through.  Boy, was there corrosion in places.  Here’s a shot of the driver’s side cylinder and the new one we bought:

Old Wheel CylinderNew Wheel Cylinder

As you can see, the old bleeder screw had really disintegrated.  We ran out of time to finish the adjustments.  We had put them on very loose.  So, we finished the adjusting on Monday.  Mechanic Micah did a great job!

Horns and Relay

The horn hadn’t worked the entire time we had it.  So, it was time to tackle that too.  This past weekend, we replaced the horns with a universal horn kit.  We knew the horns themselves were bad because we had run a wire directly from the battery to them and they remained silent.  We suspected the relay might also be bad because when a person tried to honk the horn, a rather loud click could be heard from the relay.  Well, it turned out we were right.  We put the new horns in and still it didn’t work.  We replaced the relay (which was badly corroded) with a new one and it honks very loudly.  The reason for using two horns is that one is high pitch and one is low pitch.  Here’s what we replaced and how it looks:

Old Horns and RelayNew HornHorn 2

As you can see, the new ones are much smaller than the old ones, but that’s actually nicer, as they stay out of the way better of the coolant and oil filter (though I suppose someone with an old classic and an inline six should never be caught complaining about room in the engine compartment).

Battery Tray Repair

Warning!  What we are about to show you is not “concours” correct.  It works.  It solves the problem.  It’s great for modern batteries.  It’s not “how it was done in 1963.”  When we got the car, the battery clamp was missing.  Whether this was because it had been lost or simply misplaced because it wouldn’t work with the newer style batteries, I don’t know.  Anyhow, back in the day, batteries typically had a lip around the bottom edge and our battery tray was designed to fit a battery of that style.  You can still find them, but they’re not as easy to find or track down and so we wanted a set up that would work with any 12 volt car batter that would sit nicely on the tray.  Additionally, the tray was pretty rusty (though thankfully not rotted through).  So here’s what we did.  We bought a universal kit, removed the tray, cleaned it up a bit, and drilled two holes for the long hold down bolts:

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Once it went all back together it looked just fine and will easily serve the car’s future for a long time:

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The angle of the pic makes it look like the bolts are at an angle and aren’t plumb, but that’s not the case.  Once tightened down, they’re just fine and everything is snug in place.

The 43k Original Mile F100

Well, a couple weekends back, Macrina and I siphoned all the old gas out of the F100’s tank tank and put new gas in.  We then started it up, just to make sure everything turned over fine and still ran.  The carburetor leaked, but we expected that, as that was the reason I had parked it 3-4 years ago anyhow.  So, it was time to pull it off for a rebuild.  Micah pitched in for that part, so all three of us were under that hood, taking that thing off.  I didn’t have a chance to take very good pictures, but here are a few.  As you can hopefully tell, there’s hardly any rust on this thing at all.  It is a 1974 F100, Ranger edition, with 43k original miles.  It was never driven in the winter, and it shows.  Macrina’s proud of her truck.  With the 360 V8 and rwd, it is a fun truck to drive.  I think it’ll be a good one for her as well, with the power steering and power brakes.  The automatic transmission will likely be something she’ll like as well, though personally I’d prefer a manual in this.  Won’t be making that change, though.  The whole goal here is to keep this thing as original as possible.  Here are some pics of the truck and one of the engine with the carburetor removed.

Driver Side

Interior

Carb Removed