1963 Ford Galaxie Country Squire

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1963 Ford Galaxie Country Squire

Stunning. This is what I thought the first time I laid eyes on this wagon. It is remarkable how cool vintage wagons truly are. For many of us, these beasts were the mainstay of family transportation. To see one in remarkably unused condition, such as this one, is pretty rare.

Weatherstripping doesn’t last the test of time, and the doors and tailgate needed some attention. The door parts were easy to source, as they are shared with the four-door sedan. The tailgate posed some more complex issues. No one makes ready-made rubber that you simply order by year, make and model. Fortunately, much of the tailgate rubber is in serviceable shape. The beltline rubber scraper was non-existent. Considerable time was spent with universal rubber catalogs and a few products tried before a compromise solution was found. The beltline “fuzzy” and the window channel linings were also replaced. There is an additional rubber lip seal that lives in the base of the window frame that also needed to be sourced and replaced.

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Old Window Frame Seal

It is somewhat amazing how little thought went into rust prevention on early cars. Perhaps this was an intentional move to encourage future new car purchases. The interior of the tailgate had a fair amount of non-structural rust damage that needed to be treated with POR-15 to arrest further development.

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Interior of Tailgate with POR-15

While the front doors were apart, the vent window regulators were found to be damaged. The housings are pot metal and the mechanism uses a worm and sector gear similar to some steering boxes. What appears to be a design weakness is that the main door window opens by turning the window crank one direction and the vent window opens by turning its handle the opposite direction. It is pretty easy to start putting pressure on the vent window handle in the wrong direction to open it or to attempt to close the vent window tightly by exerting extra force on the handle once the window is closed. What all this action does, however, is force the backing plate that retains the worm gear right off the back of the housing. The plate is retained by two soft pot metal posts that are peened over like rivets. The backing plate ends up pushed off the posts and lands in the door cavity and the regulator ends up with sloppy action due to the back end of the worm gear shaft no longer being supported by the backing plate. Oddly, one of the backing plates was missing and I had to fabricate a replacement from sheet metal. I drilled and tapped the housing to accept machine screws. I also found one of the worm gears to be in rough shape and I had to carefully re-profile it to overcome a spot where it would skip and stop moving the sector gear and thus the window.

The doors now close solidly and there is only the faintest of highway wind noise from the windscreen itself. At cruising speed one really appreciates this car. The abundance of windows coupled with the tiny A, B, C & D pillars gives the impression of being in a fishbowl with infinite visibility. It is extremely comfortable and just begs one to load it up and head off into the sunset.

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Wood Paneling and a Roof Rack!

1963 Pontiac Le Mans – Repairs

The Le Mans is in nice shape, which is a bonus for me as my primary focus here is mechanical. As such it needed a few immediate mechanical repairs. The first of which was the radius rod bushings. There was a healthy clunk under braking and I’d discovered that the right side was missing a bushing and one of the bolts holding the radius rod to the lower control arm was gone. Replacing the bushings was a straightforward job and solved the clunk.

There was also a wicked exhaust leak at the cylinder head. I ordered a Percy’s Seal-4-Good header gasket and quieted the racket. The previous owner had a lovely post-header exhaust system made, however he selected some ridiculously quiet mufflers. I can hear the exhaust pulses through the, relatively, thin-walled tubing of the header over the sound out the tailpipes! That is too quiet.

The more complicated issue was the driveshaft. The car exhibited a pretty loud whine that sounded like it was coming from the driveshaft and/or the gearbox. There was also a decent vibration around 75-80 MPH, too. As explained in another post, the Le Mans has a specialized driveshaft enclosed in a torque tube. The driveshaft rides in two bearings that each ride in their own special rubber support that sort of just sit inside the torque tube’s cross section. The bearings are not load-bearing support bearings. They are there to discourage the driveshaft from certain vibrational motions. This setup was only used on the Tempest series of cars for three years and only by Pontiac making sourcing replacements a tricky arrangement. You can’t just go down to the parts store and obtain the necessary replacement parts for fixing this. Fortunately, I discovered this post and contacted Jeff Key in MI who had the parts reproduced from an NOS example he had. The parts are dead ringers for the originals and are made with modern materials, to boot. I had him ship me a set.

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Reproduction support & bearing vs. failed original

When I pulled the torque tube from the car, I discovered that the tube had cracked and been repaired at one point. I wasn’t keen on the repair that had been done to it and sourced a replacement tube from Ken Freeman at East West Auto Parts in OK. The replacement tube is in nearly new condition – remarkable.

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Cracked and poorly repaired torque tube

1963 Pontiac Le Mans

Around here, the unusual is highly favored. As such, this 1963 Pontiac Le Mans joined the stable. What makes this car unusual is its extremely unorthodox driveline design, undoubtedly so for an American car in its day. Four distinctive components contribute to this: First, the engine is a 195ci four cylinder that is, pretty literally, one half of Pontiac’s solid performing 389ci V8. Second is the driveshaft, which consists of an enclosed torque tube with a flexible torsion bar driveshaft. Third is the rear mounted transaxle, consisting of the transmission and differential mated as one unit. Finally, fourth, is the independent rear swing axle suspension design.

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The engine, known as the “Indy Four” (it is frequently misrepresented as the “Trophy 4”), was a compromise engine design that came about as a result of budgetary constraints along with a need for an economic (MPG) small engine configuration. The Tempest (the Le Mans was a trim level for the first two years of production that morphed into a series for ’63, but is a Tempest) was Pontiac’s answer to the compact car market along side Chevrolet’s Corvair, Buick’s Special and Oldsmobile’s F-85. As such it was meant to be an economy car. The Indy Four was able to be constructed on the 389 assembly line as it shared many components with its V8 sibling. When viewed from the right side, the engine really looks like a V8 as the cylinder bank’s 45º angle is identical to that of the V8, as is the head and valve cover. However, when you walk around and gaze at it from the left it presents a massively different picture. If the half-of-a-V8 engine design wasn’t unusual enough, the displacement absolutely was. Since the four cylinder we think of today was mostly popularized by foreign automobile manufacturers, we usually think of them in metric sizes. At 3.2 liters, this four cylinder is massive. To put it in perspective, a VW Beetle, built the same year, had a 1.2 liter four, and VW/Audi currently offers a 2.0 liter turbo four in some of their models. Both of those engines put together equal this one’s displacement! Inline four cylinder engines have some inherent vibration properties that become more pronounced when their displacement exceeds 2.0 liters. This can be counteracted by the use of balance shafts, however the Pontiac did not utilize them and vibration was a given. If you Google these cars or this engine, there are many contemporary articles written about the engine and it appears that a certain mythology has been cast upon it. This seems to have fed upon itself, finally culminating in the stuff of legends. I don’t know how many people who have written of its “agricultural sounding four” or how it “would rattle the fillings out of your teeth with vibration” have actually driven one of these cars, but first-hand experience dictates this car is smooth, powerful and its lack of exhaust burble is the only real giveaway that it doesn’t have a V8. Road & Track said as much in their original 1961 road test. This particular example is equipped with the high performance version of the Indy Four complete with 10.25:1 compression and a 4-barrel carburetor along with an aftermarket 2 into 2 header. Rated stock at 166 HP, it isn’t crazy powerful, however its healthy 217 ft lbs of torque makes for a deceptively potent street driving experience. It really is easy to forget it’s “just a four cylinder.”

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Indy Four – Half of a V8

Aiding in the reduction of its inherent vibration is the unique torque tube driveshaft assembly. The torque tube, essentially a long rectangularish box-like tube, is bolted to the engine and the rear-mounted transaxle tying them together into one unit. This allowed the vibrations of the engine to be distributed throughout the driveline to reduce their intensity. Contained inside the tube is a solid torsion bar-like shaft that runs in a slight downward arc, rather than in a perfectly straight line. Somehow, this arrangement earned the non-Pontiac moniker of “rope drive.” Evidently, the nickname stuck, but it couldn’t be more inaccurate. The shaft is nothing like rope, nor is it even like stranded cable, which sort of resembles rope if you squint. Torque tube designs were used by Porsche in their 924, 944 and 928 series automobiles to power their rear-mounted transaxles.

Le Mans Drive Shaft
Does this solid steel shaft look like rope?

That brings us to the rear-mounted transaxle. Transaxles are transmissions and differential units merged together into one unit. This car has a four-speed manual version, however there was a three-speed manual and two-speed automatic. Putting the gearbox in the rear of the car encouraged an optimal 50/50 weight distribution across the chassis for handling purposes. Similar concepts were utilized in the 1950s by Italian manufacturers such as Lancia, Cisitalia, Maserati and others – particularly in early grand prix car designs. The aforementioned Porsche models employed the rear-mounted transaxle for the same reason.

In the day, contemporary VW, Porsche and Corvair automobiles had a rear-mounted transaxle just ahead of their rear-mounted engines. All three of these vehicles had swing axle rear suspension systems and, thus, the Tempest followed suit. Endless pontificating has been done on the properties of a swing axle design. Ralph Nader made it the basis of his Corvair-damning book “Unsafe at Any Speed.” However, VW cranked out millions of automobiles through the 1967 model year using this design and uncountable swaths of us who drove and/or rode in those cars are alive and well to tell the tale. Yes, there are undeniable handling characteristics of the swing axle that one ought to understand prior to operating a car equipped with one, but then I’d argue that we all ought to understand the handling characteristics of any automobile we drive – sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Anyhow, Google “swing axle” if you want to join in on the fun.

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The wacky angle of an unloaded rear wheel

The Le Mans is a big hit here because its unusual driveline configuration is so similar to the Italian cars from our past. Moreover, according to a 2004 Hemmings Motor News article, there are roughly 600 Tempest/Le Mans cars in drivable condition today. Considering GM produced somewhere around 370,000 of these cars, their current scarcity is remarkable.

1965 Ford Thunderbird

The Specialist loves Thunderbirds. It could be that someone around here’s father had a 1957 T-Bird when he was in college, or it could be that the new for ’64 body style was featured in the movie Goldfinger and someone around here saw that movie at a young and impressionable age. It could even be that someone around here just loves Fords and the Thunderbird is a pretty great Ford.

Whatever the case, this 1965 Thunderbird has been here for various repairs, the latest of which was replacing the rear quarter window electric window lift drive gears. After it left, the Thunderbird section in Hemmings was rather dogeared…

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