Sometimes you just have to wait. That’s what I found out recently when I attempted to do a few car repairs and maintenance. The first job involved fixing the brake master cylinder for the ’41 Buick Roadmaster.
The master cylinder had been leaking for a while. I would have to put new fluid into the system almost every time I took the car out. That could make for a very dangerous situation if I ever forgot to perform the pre-roll checklist. The Gaslight Repair boys (Tom Link and Bob DeGoursey) helped me diagnose the problem (place paper underneath the car to gather evidence of the leak) and to remove the old part. It is not that easy to take a master cylinder out of an old Buick. It is attached to the frame (that means way down low) and cannot be easily reached from up above since there is also a huge bulbous fender in the way. Tom got under the elevated car (supported by horses, not axle jacks) and worked the mounting studs while Bob kept the nuts from rotating by grabbing them with a wrench from above. Prior to removing the cylinder Tom had to first remove two shields to gain access and then plug the brake line with one of the 500 or so assorted rubber plugs he brought along for the occasion. The idea was to reduce the likelihood that a full system bleed would be necessary when we reattached the unit. The extraction completed, I sent the brake cylinder off to Apple Hydraulics out on Long Island, NY for the total rebuild that would include a new cylinder sleeve.
Apple sent the unit back to me within 10 days (not too long a wait). It looked new and the action was smooth. The Gasslighters once again performed their magic while I assisted as chief step and fetch it, a role I am well accustomed to. Tom and Bob were able to bench prime the cylinder and reattach it with nary a drop of air entering the system. Just a few bubbles needed to be pumped off. They then adjusted the drag at each wheel until all was perfect. I dropped the car and then started it up with the intent of performing the all important road test. Unfortunately something had happened to the transmission during the weeks that the car spent suspended above my garage floor. I no longer had reverse gear. This is not a good situation, especially when you pull your car into the garage front end first as I do with the Buick. We did a comprehensive check of the linkage from above and it responded correctly to all of my movements of the shift lever. What could be the problem? A quick look underneath was of no help since much of the transmission is obscured by more sheet metal shields. I decided to take the car to The Transmission Shop in Coventry, RI. I had good success with them in the past and I trusted them. They also have an outside lift.
I called the Transmission Shop to make an appointment. The young lady who answered was eager to schedule me until she asked the year and make of the car. When I responded with “1941 Buick” she quickly said “Just a moment, sir. I have to get one of the men to talk with you.” I explained the problem to the man who got on the line and he said that this was a job for his dad. His dad, the owner, is Phil St. Jean. Phil worked on my car once before about 15 years ago. At 75 years old he still keeps busy in the shop. I made an appointment to come on by after 10:00 am on the next day that was sunny. I live in Rhode Island so that turned out to be about 8 or 9 days later. I pushed the car out of my garage (not easy to push 4,112 pounds over a plastic garage threshold) and took off in second gear. I spent the whole ride praying that I did not get into a situation that required reverse. I completed the 30 minute ride without incident and hitched up with Phil. Phil does most of his work outside where there is a lift that he has access to. When I arrived he and I immediately went through the same check on the linkage that Tom and Bob had performed. All looked good but still not first or reverse. Phil and one of his sons removed a couple of cars that were in the way and then directed me to the lift that is in the back of the shop. You get there by way of an oval track in an old field; great for someone who can’t go backwards. Phil set up the lift and I drove the Buick on. It took about 1 minute for Phil to find the problem. The rod that controls first and reverse had become unattached from the stud on the transmission. Its cotter pin had fallen out. Phil inserted a new pin and gave it a good bend so it would stay in. I then backed out of there easily (after lowering the car). The total cost was a mere $20. I gave Phil another $20 that he put in the coffee fund. If this had been one of those big car dealerships on route 2 in Warwick I would have paid $120 for the diagnosis (non refundable but applicable to total fee if you choose to do the repair),
$50 for the specialized part (cotter pin) and $125 hourly shop fee for the 15 minute repair. You don’t believe that? Ask me about the repair Belise VW did on my wife’s car.
(Note: click on photos for enlarged view.)
What else could possibly go wrong with this car? Quite a bit, it turns out. I really think that all my recent automotive distress harks back to a breakfast I had with my wife, my son, and his fiancée back in May. It all started at the Classic Café on Westminster Street in the Federal Hill neighborhood of Providence. I’ll save that story for a future blog post. I’ll bet you just can’t wait to hear all the leaky details.