Changing Spark Plugs

One thing that everybody noticed on this car is how little room there was between the engine and the shock towers.  The shock towers are a part of the body where the front suspension attaches.  It is an integral part of the body and isn’t something that is removable without performing major modifications to the front suspension to go along with the shock tower removal.  On Mustangs they are located in the engine compartment on either side of the engine.  They take up valuable space in the engine compartment, and in the case of a big block Mustang there is very little room to spare.  This lack of space interferes with the owner’s ability to reach the spark plugs for maintenance.  And for a 60’s muscle car routine maintenance needed to be performed much more frequently than for the cars of today.  Even today, anybody who looks at this car asks how in the world I change the spark plugs.  And nobody believes my answer that I can do it without much trouble.  Of course until I learned the proper technique and had acquired the proper tools it seemed to be almost impossible.

It was the first time to change my spark plugs and I knew I was in big trouble.  I had driven the car over to me friend Pete’s house to work on it in his driveway.  Pete was the younger brother of Charlie who had rebuilt the motor in my friend Jack’s Dodge Coronet RT I mentioned in an earlier post.  Charlie owned a Camaro with a 350 small block engine.  He had built pretty much everything on the car himself.  He even painted the car in his garage.  He seemed to be able to do just about anything automotive.  Too bad he wasn’t helping us with this job.

Pete and I proceeded to start working on removing the spark plugs.  A few of the plugs came out fairly easily.  Then I moved on to the more difficult to reach plugs.  Pete and I tried all sorts of extensions, swivels, and sockets.  I had a swivel tool my father had bought me that would fit on the plugs, but I couldn’t get them to turn.  Finally we managed to break a few insulators.  We were both getting frustrated and about ready to give up.  That’s when another neighbor, Fred came to our rescue.  This is a different Fred than the one who owned the 454 Nova I mentioned in a previous post.

Fred was a long time Ford mechanic.  He had motorcycles and tools in his garage.  He had sports cars parked in the yard along the street in front of his house.  He had a boat and trailer that he took out fishing on occasion.  And he also owned a Ford muscle car.  It was a 1966 Ford 7 Litre. You are probably thinking around now, just what is a Ford 7 Litre?  Here’s the definition per the web site

In 1965 Ford Motor Car Division decided to introduce a new engine, using the FE block from the 352, 360 and 390 ci engines. This new powerplant would sport 428 ci, and would be a high torque, streetable big block. It was dubbed the “Thunderbird 7-Litre ” and was slotted to appear on some of the 1966 models. Fords executives decided that what better way to introduce the engine than to create a special marque to showcase it. Using a Galaxie 500, with an XL Interior, some added features and some custom badges, the FORD 7-Litre was born. It was available in either Hardtop or Convertible, in either automatic or 4 speed transmission. Marketed as the “Quietest Quick Car, or the Quickest Quiet Car”, the car offered a combination of comfort and muscle. It had available options like Power Steering, Air Conditioning, Power Windows, Power Seats Cruise Control and AM/FM Radio. Available one year only as a separate model, it was also available as an option package on the 1967 model. It is interesting to note that a 1966 XL could be ordered with the 428 for several hundred dollars less, making the 7-Litre that much more rare, as you were paying extra for the badges.

Fred’s car was a 1966 hardtop with a 4 speed.  It was black with a red interior.  I remember the bucket seats, wood grain steering wheel, and console.  Fred rarely drove the car and had it mainly to tow his boat.  It sat for months in his front yard.  When he was ready to take his boat out he would tinker with the car to get it running.  Next he would run it around the neighborhood a couple of times to blow out some smoke and make sure everything was working.  Finally he would hook up the trailer and take his boat out.  At the end of the day he would park the car back in his front yard until the next time he wanted to take the boat out.

None of us realized how rare these cars were at the time.  According to the 7 Litre web site in 1966 there were approximately 1717 of these cars built as a hardtop with 4 speed transmission.  Automatic transmissions were far more popular in those cars.  I remember when Fred finally decided to sell the car.  I would have been interested if I had known, but another neighbor, John, jumped on the chance.  He said he wanted to get the car before I did.  Unfortunately John failed to take into account the fact that after you purchased a car you needed money for things like tags, registration, gas, and upkeep.  I think he thought the car would run by itself or on the beer he purchased.  So he never actually registered the car or had a legal set of tags on it.  Being a clever sort of guy, he would save up enough money for some gas or collect donations from friends for beer and a joy ride.  He would then “borrow” a set of tags from another car in the neighborhood, put them on his car, and take it for a ride.  At the end of the night he would put back the tags so nobody would be the wiser, or so he thought.  The flaw in his plan was that he would get pulled over by the police and the tags wouldn’t belong to his car.  He usually borrowed the tags from Dave’s car and Dave found out when the police contacted him.  Dave took out his revenge by using a pellet gun and shooting the windshield and body of the car full of holes.  Eventually John sold the car for beer money to another friend whose name I can’t remember.  This guy went around buying old Ford Galaxies and had a collection of them in a barn.  I don’t know whatever happened to the Galaxie collection or to this particular car.  I would love to find out and see the car again.  If anybody finds a Ford 7 Litre that matches the description above and has what looks like bullet holes in the side of the car you found the one I’m talking about.

Here’s a picture of a 1966 Ford 7 Litre hardtop.

But back to the spark plugs.  Fred saw us working on my Mustang and came over to take a look.  I think he liked the car, especially when he saw it had a big block engine, the little brother to his 7 Litre.  He also saw the distress Pete and I were in.  He said “I know the secret to getting the plugs out on that car.  Wait here a minute”.  He went home and grabbed a few tools out of his tool box.  He came back with a 1/2″ drive ratchet, a spark plug socket, and his secret weapon, a 1″ extension.  He said with the 1″ extension we should have no problem removing and reinstalling the plugs.  And we were amazed when we tried it and he was right.  The next day I ran over to Sears and purchased my very own 1″ extension.  I still have it today and I could never change the spark plugs on that car without it.  Fred, if you are out there reading this, I owe you a huge thanks for that tip.  You were a life saver to this dumb rookie kid who had very little clue as to what he was doing.