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.