Dash Knee Pad

I had mentioned in a previous post that I had accidentally damaged my original dash knee pad. This post is to document what replacement pad I found and how I refinished it in preparation for installation. While it seems straightforward to me right now, by the time I have to refinish another vinyl part I most likely won’t remember what steps I followed.

My first step was to find a replacement. I searched the Mustang vendors’ catalogs and eventually found one at National Parts Depot. The description said the quality was poor. I thought, how bad could it really be, and went ahead and ordered the part. When it arrived, I opened the package and inspected the part. It was just as described. The embossed stitching was uneven and crooked, and the grain was wrong. I decided it was better to keep the damaged original rather than replace it with this new part. I dropped the whole idea of replacing the pad since no suitable new parts were available at that time.

Several months later I saw a post from Rick Schmidt on the Vintage Mustang Forums that he was having reproduction dash knee pads made to his specifications and that they were much higher quality than the other pad I had purchased. I went ahead and ordered the part. It came in any color you want, as long as you want black.

When the part arrived, I could see it had the correct grain and the stitching was even and straight. I stored the part away until I had an opportunity to refinish it in red and install it. I was in no hurry as I had bigger things to worry about and the original pad would work for the time being. Recently I decided to take a shot at refinishing the black reproduction pad in red.

I had some difficulty remembering the steps I followed in the past for refinishing vinyl parts. Luckily, I still had all of the products I had used on a shelf in my garage. I’m not positive as to what I had done in the past, but the steps I followed this time are:

  • Clean the part using a vinyl prep spray. The instructions on the can said to spray the part and wipe it off in one direction.
  • Treat the part with an adhesion promoter spray. The instructions on the can said you can apply multiple coats 10 minutes apart. I used two coats. After that the can says to dye the part within 10 minutes of applying the final coat of adhesion promoter.
  • Spray the part with vinyl dye in the desired color. I used thin coats. The first coat didn’t completely cover the part, but that was OK as I planned to use additional coats. I ended up with 3 coats, applied 10 minutes apart.

Roller Bearing Idler Arm

I decided it was time to install the roller bearing idler arm I had purchased from Opentracker. My old idler arm was actually in good shape, but I was hoping that the roller bearing version might help with steering effort and maybe tighten the steering up a bit. It should be an easy install and I was feeling motivated, so I jumped right in.

Here is a picture of the idler arm ready to install. Notice that there is a castellated nut and cotter pin where the idler arm attaches to the frame bracket just below the lower mounting hole. This became a minor issue which I will discuss later in this post.

For comparison, here’s what the old idler arm that I removed looked like.

The first step was to remove the old idler arm. I was afraid I would have issues removing the tie rod end from the idler arm, but when I unbolted it the tie rod end slipped right out without the need for the tie rod end puller tool I had purchased. The frame bracket bolts also came out without a hitch. So far so good.

When I attempted to install the new idler arm, I was unable to put the nut on the lower frame bracket bolt. The castellated nut and stud attaching the idler arm to the frame bracket was partially blocking the hole in the frame bracket. My first instinct was to grind down the stud that was protruding through the castellated nut just enough for everything to fit. I decided against this plan as I was concerned that I might get metal bits in one of the roller bearings or weaken something. For plan B, I chose to install the lower bolt backwards since the head of the bolt was able to clear the protruding stud and castellated nut. This is backwards from how it would normally be installed, but I didn’t see a good reason why it wouldn’t work.

Once I had come up with this plan, the new idler arm bolted into place with no issues. I will be getting a front end alignment in the next few days, weather permitting, and then take the car for a test drive. Hopefully all this work will make a noticeable difference in how the car rides and handles. Since I only made a couple of changes (Arning drop and roller bearing idler arm), I should be able to get a good handle on how much the Arning drop affects handling.

Arning Drop Part 2

Between the weather and health issues it’s been a full month since my last installment. I’ve finally gotten back to good health. The weather has prematurely turned warm, so I decided it was time to get back to the Arning drop project. I’m guessing that most people finish this modification in a weekend. Certainly longer if they are working on a big block car with the engine installed (like me). I’m taking an exceptionally long time to get the job done.

Since I was able to see and actually touch both upper control arm bolts on the passenger side, I felt that side would be less difficult than the driver’s side. That was my thinking, but I might have been wrong. Removing the shock and upper control arm were definitely not as challenging as the driver’s side. Drilling the new holes in the shock tower presented no issues. The studs on the new upper control arm slid right into the new holes I had drilled. After that is when the wheels fell off of the wagon.

I was able to start the new washers and nuts on the control arm studs by hand more easily than the driver’s side. But the position of the new holes moved the upper control arm attachment point extremely close to the passenger side exhaust manifold. Too close to get a socket on the bolt, no matter what combination of ratchets and swivels I tried. The trick with the offset box end wrench I used on the driver’s side didn’t quite work either. Eventually I had to crawl under the car and use the offset box end wrench to tighten the nuts from below. There was just enough room to turn the wrench about 1/4 turn at a time. It took a lot of wrench turning, but I eventually got both nuts tightened down. The rest of the passenger side went together without a problem.

With new ball joints I wanted to make sure they were well lubricated. I pumped away with my trusty grease gun in an attempt to fill the ball joint with grease. I eventually gave up, decided my grease gun wasn’t working, and ordered a new grease gun. This is the grease gun I purchased. LUMAX LX-1152 Black Heavy Duty Deluxe Pistol Grease Gun

Now that I had my new grease gun, I lubricated both upper ball joints. The Arning drop and upper control arm project is now finished. I need to align the front end, and I may decide to install the roller bearing idler arm I have in stock while I’m working in the area. My EPAS kit has also finally arrived. Depending on how ambitious I feel I may install that before the show season starts, or I may leave it for later. I’m undecided at this point in time.

Arning Drop

It’s been two months since I ordered my EPAS conversion kit. The vendor says they are waiting for the tilt column I ordered with the kit. They told me that they expect to receive more tilt columns in January and should be able to ship my order after that. My current expectation is that I won’t receive anything until February at the soonest. With that delay in mind, I decided to switch gears and find another automotive project to occupy some of my time. One thing that has been bothering me for quite some time is a squeak in the driver’s side front suspension. I’ve been pretty sure that the squeak comes from the upper control arm inner shaft. So sure, in fact, that I had already ordered a set of replacement upper control arms from OpenTracker Racing about two years ago. I decided it was time to install them.

Since I was replacing the upper control arms, it made sense to do a modification to the control arm mounting point that should improve handling. The objective was to lower the control arm mounting point by one inch by drilling new mounting holes in the shock tower. This modification was developed by a Ford engineer, Klaus Arning, and was done to the early Shelby Mustangs. It improves handling by lowering the center of gravity and also providing a better camber curve as the suspension travels. The modification is proven and well documented, with many write-ups and references to this modification on the Internet. Here is a link to one article on the DazeCars web site. Similar to my already having new upper control arms in stock, I also had the template and 17/32″ drill bit I needed to make the modification stored in the same box with the control arms. At this point in time, I felt that that I was ready to proceed with the modification.

The first thing I did was take a look to ensure I could reach all the fasteners I need to remove and replace. The upper control arm bolts go through the shock tower into the engine compartment. You have to remember that this Mustang is a big block car, so engine compartment clearances are all extremely tight. It appeared that there was just enough room on the passenger side to remove the control arm. The driver’s side looked very tight, but I thought it was doable. I was correct, but just barely correct. I’m certain a small block equipped car would be much less challenging. It might have almost been easier to remove or at least raise the engine for clearance.

I chose to begin with the driver’s side since I was certain it would be the more difficult than the passenger side. I removed the shock absorber and inserted my spring compressor. I tightened up the compressor just enough to hold it in place as I removed the upper control arm bolts. It was quite a struggle to remove the bolts that go through the shock tower into the engine compartment. I was not able to actually touch the nuts with my hand, but after a lot of trial and error and juggling of tools I got it unbolted. For the upper ball joint, I got to use the ball joint removal tool I had built. I posted about building that tool here. I loosened the bolt for the ball joint, inserted my tool, and put some pressure on the ball joint stud. A sharp hit with a hammer on the spindle caused the ball joint to pop right out. At that point I was able to remove the upper control arm and coil spring.

Ball joint removal tool
Ball joint removal tool

Next I began preparations for the Arning drop modification. The first step was to install a metal template I had purchased to guide me in drilling the holes. I usually manage to mess up my measurements when drilling so I was glad to have a template. I had a really difficult time bolting the template into place due to limited clearance between the engine and the shock tower. I ended up using an extending magnet retriever to hold the nut and washer in place while I inserted the bolts and screwed them down. Here is a picture I borrowed off the Internet of a template bolted in place.

Arning drop template bolted in place

I started trying to drill the holes using some brand new titanium coated drill bits I had purchased at Harbor Freight. After trying these bits, as well as bits from several other drill bit sets I had on hand, lubricant, and about an hour solid with little to no progress I decided to take a break for the day, research, regroup, and try some more tomorrow.

After some research on the Vintage Mustang Forum I learned a few things that I believe helped. First was to not run the drill at maximum speed. Apparently it cuts metal better at a reduced speed. I had been using the maximum speed of my drill because I thought that would make it cut faster. I also purchased a set of cobalt drill bits at the local hardware store. I don’t think this was absolutely necessary, but I wanted every advantage I could get. I ended up only using the 1/8″ cobalt bit to get the hole started. After that my other bits worked fine. Another recommendation was to use a step drill bit. I already had one, and I did find that it cut pretty well after the hole was started with the cobalt bit. The issue I had was that the shock tower metal was thicker than the steps on the bit. This meant that the next larger size hole would start cutting before the prior size had completed. Once I got to the size I wanted, I needed to finish up the hole with a regular drill bit to prevent starting the next size hole.

Armed with all this information I gave it another try. This time I was able to drill the two 1/8″ pilot holes using the cobalt bit, plenty of lubricant, and a medium speed on the drill. After the pilot holes were drilled, I removed the template. After some time and effort were applied, I was able to use the step drill and my standard drill bits to get the holes to 1/2″. From my reading the hole needed to be 17/32″, but a number of people said that they were able to get it to work with a 1/2″ hole. Knowing this, I test fitted the new upper control arm to see if I needed to enlarge the hole to 17/32″. The control arm studs would start in the holes, but I felt the fit was too tight and could damage the threads on the control arm studs. I grabbed my 17/32″ drill bit and went to put in my drill chuck. Unfortunately for me the bit had a 1/2″ shank and my drill had a 3/8″ chuck. I searched all the drills I had on hand, but none had a 1/2″ chuck. That meant another trip to the hardware store to purchase a drill with a 1/2″ chuck. I decided to let that wait until the next day and went to lunch with my wife instead.

The next morning I went to the local hardware store and purchased a drill with a 1/2″ chuck. Once I got back home, I went back to work finishing drilling the holes. I finished in no time and upon test fitting, the control arm fit with no issues. Now just one more difficult part to complete, getting the washers and nuts on the control arm studs and tightening them down. This was challenging and required some creativity. A small block car would probably not be nearly as challenging due to the additional clearance between the engine and the shock tower. Using a combination of my extending magnetic parts retriever to hold the nut and washer, a 3/4″ offset open end wrench, swivel ratchet, and a lot of sweating and swearing I managed to get the control arms bolted back in using the new holes I had drilled. I hope I never have to replace that control arm again and that the passenger side is not as difficult to replace.

Once I had the control arm securely fastened, I proceeded to install the coil spring and shock. Then I replaced the wheel and tire and lowered the car to the ground. I bounced that side of the car up and down a bunch of times and there was no more squeaking. I didn’t measure the car’s height before doing the drop and I can’t really notice a difference between the side I dropped and the other side which I haven’t dropped yet.

Unfortunately, a combination of weather, driveway repair, COVID, and surgery will delay my replacing the control arm and doing the drop on the other side of the car. But I feel good knowing I have already completed the more difficult side of the car. I’ll post back when I complete the other side, but it might be a few weeks before I can work on it again.

Power Steering Upgrade

I have owned this Mustang since 1974, and in all that time I always said I much preferred manual steering to power steering. I got much better feedback from the manual steering, and once I got used to it, I found the steering effort to be fine the majority of the time. Now that I have aged a bit, I find the steering effort required for parking to be more challenging for me as I don’t have the same upper body strength that I used to possess. This led to my decision to add power steering to the car.

In researching power steering systems for the Mustang I found several solutions. I immediately ruled out anything that required what I consider to be larger modifications to the car. This eliminated things like a Mustang II front end swap. I also decided to rule out any rack and pinion steering upgrades as my current steering system was in good shape and didn’t warrant complete replacement. This left me with three viable alternatives. They were factory power steering, a Borgeson replacement power steering system, and electric power assist steering.

  • Factory Power Steering: This has the benefits of being a direct bolt in swap and providing a faster steering ratio. The downsides are that it is a complicated system and would require me to add a power steering pump and pulleys to the engine.
  • Borgeson Power Steering: This system would also give a faster steering ratio and is a much simpler system as the assist mechanism is contained within the steering box. This system is also less expensive than the other two solutions. The downsides are that I would need to add a pump and pulleys to the engine and the steering box is known to have clearance issues with the clutch linkage.
  • Electric Assist Power Steering: This has the benefit of being electric not having a pump that mounts to the engine, so no new pulleys or engine modifications are required. It attaches to the existing steering box and utilizes the existing steering system, so no modifications to the steering system are required. The amount of steering assist is easily adjusted with a potentiometer mounted under the dash. Since the entire system mounts to the steering column, the steering column would require either modification or replacement with a pre-modified column. Also packaging under the dash could get tricky as there is limited available space. For a decent fabricator, junkyard parts would provide a low-cost version that is less expensive than the other two systems. If you purchase a pre-modified steering column this becomes the most expensive of the three systems.

In the end I chose to go with the electric power assist steering. Rather than attempt to roll my own I chose to purchase a kit that included a pre-modified tilt steering column, which now gives me the luxury of tilt steering in addition to the power steering. The downside is the cost of the kit plus the additional cost of the Ididit steering column. If I later decide I want a faster steering ratio, I can replace my existing steering box with a faster ratio steering box. I may choose to make that change at some point down the road.

There are three choices for the new Ididit steering column I’m ordering, paintable steel, chrome, or black powder coating. I chose the paintable steel, as I plan to paint the new column to match the existing dash color. With my decision made, I placed my order and am now just waiting for the new power steering system to ship. I plan to provide pictures and updates when I perform the actual installation.

Replacing the Vent Window Frame

Recently I drove the Mustang to Ocean City, Maryland for the Cruisin’ Ocean City car show. This is a huge 4 day long show with 3,000 cars officially entered. Plus many more not entered. While driving around town I noticed my wife was struggling to close the passenger vent window. Eventually the handle came off in her hand. The shaft that goes through the vent window frame had been pulled out of the frame. After doing some research online I determined that the best fix was to replace the window frame.

Broken vent window handle

In order to replace the window frame, I first needed to remove the vent window assembly from the door. That means I had to remove the inside door handle, window crank, and arm rest. Then I used a plastic pry bar to carefully remove the door panel. This exposed the interior of the door so that I could remove the four bolts that hold in the vent window assembly. Two of the bolts are actually adjusters that need to be removed before I could pull the entire assembly out of the door. I used some painters tape along the door edges to prevent me from scratching the paint around the windows.

Painter’s tape on door

Once I had removed the assembly from the door I could remove the window frame and glass. These pictures were taken after I had removed the frame and the glass from the old frame. You can also see that the chrome is pitted. I chose to polish it up rather than replace the chromed portion of the assembly. I will probably regret this decision later.

Vent window assembly with window frame removed
Vent window and frame

I took the vent window glass and frame to an automotive glass shop that advertised that they repaired antique car glass. After I arrived at the glass shop I learned that they do not work on antique cars. Luckily for me, Iron Mike’s Garage was located next door to the glass shop. Iron Mike’s is a full service repair shop that specializes in classic cars. I went inside and asked if they could recommend a glass shop that could work on the vent window. Not only did they provide a recommendation, but they ended up removing the glass from the old frame for me right there on the spot. Mike then gave me some tips for both removing and installing the glass myself. In my opinion they went above and beyond for me. I highly recommend this shop.

Glass removed from frame

At this point I felt confident enough to attempt installing the glass in the new window frame I had purchased. I chose to order the glass tape I needed to complete the install and attempt to do it myself. The install wasn’t particularly difficult. I wrapped the glass tape around the edges of the vent window glass and pressed it into the frame. Then I placed the glass on a piece of carpet and put my weight on the frame, which seated the glass in the frame. Then I used a razor blade to trim the glass tape even with the edge of the frame.

Installing the frame back into the assembly proved to be the most challenging part. While the old frame could be inserted and removed fairly easily, the new frame wouldn’t let me push it far enough down in the assembly to engage the pivot pin at the top of the frame. I eventually managed to insert it by using the old spring and retainer to pull it into place. I had to purchase some longer screws and washers to space the retainer far enough away from the assembly to provide sufficient clearance. But after that I was able to get the frame into place.

Once the frame was installed into the vent window assembly I carefully lowered the completed assembly back into the passenger side door. Then I reinstalled the adjuster screws and loosely put in the other two bolts that hold it in place. Now it was a matter of getting the adjustment of the assembly just right and tightening up all of the adjusters and bolts. Then I reinstalled the door panel, inside door handle, arm rest, and window crank handle. Everything is aligned, the window and vent open and close, and the door opens, closes, and locks. I’ll call this one a win.

Vintage License Plate Frames

My Mustang was originally sold at Academy Ford in Laurel, Maryland. I had manage to find a few dealer logos from the 1960’s, but never was able to locate any dealer license plate frames from that time period. Eventually I learned about Brad Barrie and Old School Automotive License Plate Frames. Brad is able to create vintage license plate frame replicas.

I contacted Brad about making me a pair of vintage license plate frames. Neither of us was able to locate an image of actual Academy Ford license plate frames from that era, but Brad had the knowledge to recreate a pair as they most likely would have appeared back in 1967. That included using a period correct font and the Academy logo with the mortar board over the letter A.

Here is one of the completed license plate frames.

And this is how it looks on the back of my car.

Vintage Air Wrapping Things Up

What I thought would be an easy buttoning up of the dash turned out to be more work than expected (just like everything else with this AC install). The first issue I ran into was that I couldn’t find the antenna connector on the back of the radio or the connector for the glove box light. I ended up removing the console once again to gain better access to the wiring. I eventually did manage to find the connectors and got them both hooked up. Believe it or not it took me about an hour to locate them both. Then I reinstalled the console, hopefully for the final time.

I returned to installing the ash tray and glove box. The duct hoses for the AC system managed to interfere with both the glove box and the ash tray liner. Moving the hoses around to make clearance caused them to interfere with the windshield wipers again. I spent some time repositioning hoses and everything is clear now, but opening and closing the glove box still rubs on one of the hoses a bit. I’ll revisit that sometime soon, but I just really needed to be able to button everything back up and drive the car some.

My previous mounting holes for the under dash lighting were now being used by the under dash AC vents. I found a suitable hole under the driver’s side dash and mounted the light there. On the passenger side I chose to use one of the glove box mounting screws. This worked, but the light bulb is exposed more than I like. I’m leaving it there for now, but I may have to either drill a new mounting hole or create a bracket that mounts the light in a less exposed location.

For now I’m declaring the job complete, even though I still have a few issues to iron out. This AC installation turned out to be more involved and time consuming than I expected based on just reading the instructions. The most difficult part for me was routing the “behind the dash” duct work. There isn’t much room back there to work with. The installation also turned out to be more expensive because I needed to purchase a bead lock crimping tool to make the hoses. That was unexpected as I thought the kit came with pre-made hoses rather than a make your own hose kit.

I’m now officially taking a break from working on the car for a while. I still have a few small (as in 1 hour or less) projects I might tackle. Since I have extra wiring loom I may clean up some non-AC related wiring in the engine compartment. I also purchased a Wagner adjustable PCV valve I can install and adjust. I had planned to rebuild the brake distribution block and residual pressure valve over the winter before I found the blown heater core. But if the brakes don’t give me any trouble I may save that for next winter.

I need to get the car cleaned up inside and outside so I can just enjoy driving it for a while. When the weather gets hotter outside I should now be able to stay nice and cool in the Mustang. If I feel comfortable with the pandemic situation I may even decide to attend some shows. I’m still undecided on large public gatherings at this point in time.

Vintage Air Charging the System

After sitting overnight, my gauges showed that the system had held vacuum with no issues. That meant I was finally ready to charge up the system. I made a trip to the local auto parts store and purchased an adapter so that I could use my piercing can tap on the newer style self sealing refrigerant cans.

After returning home with the adapter, I started the car up so I could start charging the system with refrigerant. I did notice that the electric choke was working now that I had replaced the fuse. At this point I connected the first can and started charging the system. After a couple of minutes the compressor engaged and continued to cycle on and off throughout the process. I considered that a very good sign. Once the first refrigerant can was emptied I connected up the second can and continued with the charging process. Once that can was empty I attached the third and final can. I only needed to use about 1/3 of that can to get the system up to 1.8 lbs. of refrigerant. Once that was completed the system was fully charged.

I placed a thermometer in the center vent to see what temperature the A/C was blowing. It was about 80 degrees F. outside and the A/C was blowing 45 degree F. air. That was inside a garage, with the car windows open, and no airflow through the condenser beyond what the engine fan was pulling through the radiator. The Vintage Air documentation recommends testing with the windows up, the engine at 2000 rpm, and a fan placed in front of the condenser moving air through it to simulate the car driving on the road. In theory the Vintage Air test should result in an even colder temperature at the vents. They say to look for a temperature of 46 to 36 degrees F. This all also depends on the ambient temperature and humidity, but at least I’m in the correct range.

At this point I’m considering this installation a success. I still have some cleanup to do in the engine compartment. I still need to reinstall the ash tray liner, console, and glove box. I also need to replace the fuse for the interior lighting that I managed to blow during the process. While I had quite a few fuses laying around, the fuse I needed for the interior lighting was not one of them. A quick check with a coupe of local auto parts stores failed to turn up the proper fuse. I ended up placing an order for fuses online and they should be arriving in the next few days.

It’s really a relief to be able to wrap up this A/C installation. Once the dash is back together and the interior lighting is fixed I can clean the car inside and out and get back to driving the car instead of spending time wrenching on it. I have to admit that I have a few more little things to do. But I plan to save any jobs until next winter that would put the car out of commission for more than a few hours.

Vintage Air Coolant and A/C Leak Test

I’m in the home stretch now as it’s time to leak test everything and then hopefully charge the A/C. I filled the radiator up with coolant and then started up the engine for the first time in months. It started right up and ran at a very fast idle. I spotted some coolant leaks so I shut things down, tightened some clamps. and then started it back up again. I let it warm up until coolant flowed from the engine through the radiator. My IR temperature gun said the temperature at the thermostat was about 165. The choke refused to open so I manually moved the fast idle cam so that the engine could idle. It ran fine and there were no coolant leaks. I shut the engine off and proceeded to diagnose the electric choke not working.

I checked the electric choke wiring and found that the wire connected to the choke was disconnected. I plugged it back in and started the car back up but the choke still wouldn’t open. I checked for voltage at the connector and there wasn’t any. I checked at the stator connection at the alternator and there was voltage. Next I checked the fuse and it was blown. While I was getting a new fuse out of my toolbox I heard a loud pop and saw a geyser of coolant spraying around the garage. One of the radiator hoses had come loose and was spewing burning hot coolant all over. I placed a catch can under the hose and waited for everything to cool down some. Then I fixed the hose and poured the coolant from the catch can back into the radiator. Now the choke and cooling system were both working again.

Next I turned my attention to the A/C system. I connected up my gauges and vacuum pump and pulled a vacuum for 45 minutes. When I turned off the pump to see if the system would hold vacuum it was obvious that it had a really bad leak. I tightened up all the fittings I could get to and vacuumed the system down again. The leak was still there. I removed the hose ends one at a time to make sure I didn’t lose any O-rings. I found that one of the fittings had the nice new shiny O-ring I had installed along with an older one that had come out of the hose end cap that Vintage Air used for shipping the system. I removed the extra O-ring, tightened down all the fittings again, and pulled another vacuum. It was much better this time but still had a slow leak.

At this point I decided to call it a day. I removed my gauges and noticed that several of the gauge hoses had a lot of excess material hanging off of the O-rings for the gauges. I cleaned up the gauge hose ends and tried one last time. Amazingly the system held vacuum. I would have charged it after an hour or two of holding vacuum, but I discovered that the refrigerant can tap I had was the piercing type of tap and my cans of refrigerant were all the self sealing type. I needed to get either a new tap or an adapter, but at this point all the stores were closed. So I was forced to let it sit overnight. While it is a good test, I hope it is OK to leave the system under vacuum for that long of a time.

My next entry should be about charging the system once I have the correct can tap.