Around the Island

Richard’s almanac: Old cars, new tricks

Is Mr. Lomuscio an “old-car guy,” an “old old-car guy” or an “old car guy”?

I remember some years ago trying to get my students to understand the proper use of the hyphen and how it can change meanings.

It was always known that I liked to fool around with old cars. Driving them, repairing them, painting them and sometimes selling them. I am a guy who likes cars and nowadays I am addicted to the Velocity channel and inhale “Hemmings Motor News” and “Hemmings Classic Car” magazines every month.

One might call me an “old-car guy.” Using the hyphen to show that I am a guy who likes old cars. But I was much younger then. Now I could be described as old so I’d be categorized as an “old old-car guy.” Without any hyphen I’d be an “old car guy,” meaning that I am old and just like any kind of car.

What made me start thinking about this was trying to get an old car started two weeks ago. It’s a 1956 Jaguar Roadster that I put into the garage last November to stay for the winter. At the time the engine was stumbling quite a bit. I figured I’d wait until spring to sort it out. I bought this Jag in 1969. That was 50 years ago when it was 13 years old.

Throughout all those years it ran in rain and snow and took me on many memorable trips in sunny weather. And sunny weather was always the best time to drive it. The top was very difficult to put up and the side curtains did very little to keep out the wind, rain and snow. Although they did keep out cats and dogs. The longest trip I ever took in it was from upstate New York near Albany to Indianapolis one Christmas.

I should mention that those sunny days could not get too hot. Then the car would overheat. So it was a perfect vehicle for late September. Blasting down leaf-covered country roads looking through the split windshield out over the long hood. The owner’s manual called it the “bonnet” and the top, the “hood.” Never an everyday car but one that I could never part with for this past half century.

Now getting back to the starting problem. I always check for the basics — fuel, compression and spark. So my routine began. I picked up a couple of gallons of premium at Piccozzi’s. Poured it into the tank without any luck. Then I inspected each of the six spark plugs. It’s an easy task because they are all mounted on top of the motor for easy access. They all looked fine and were gapped properly.

I left one plug out and turned the engine over and saw a nice spark. So that was OK. A compression test was also positive.

So what could be wrong?

It has two side draft carburetors so I took off the air cleaners and squirted starting fluid in them. The engine came to life… then went dead. I settled on fuel starvation as the culprit and decided to look inside the carburetors. I had not touched them in 50 years. What a surprise!

The two float chambers were packed solidly with a goopy glue-like substance. No fuel could enter the carburetors. After a lot of knuckle scraping and finger banging I removed them from the car. I took them apart and soaked all the parts in a mixture of kerosene and Gunk to get rid of all the goop. I used Q-tips and wire to ream out some of the well packed orifices.

I should let you know that I did all of this outside on a work table. Too many unpleasant fumes. I’d cover items up at night to protect them from rain.

Eventually everything was squeaky clean and ready to install. Another knuckle breaking process. I was able to get the car started and have begun tuning the carburetors and synchronizing them. So far so good.

I was told by a mechanic that a great deal of the sediment is from the unleaded fuel. So I should use the car more.

But it is 64 years old. Can’t tell what’s going to go wrong next.