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Lincoln Highway Centennial Caravan:
The Ride

This page covers acquiring and preparing a 1963 Valiant for the trip. The latest entry is at the top.
June 16, 2013
It's been exactly a year since this page has been updated and departure is just days away. Here's a quick catch-up. In late fall, I had the car back at Dane Upholstery to get the seats and carpet done and I replaced the heater core over the winter. As spring approached I installed a solid state ignition and that led to a pretty good scare.

I'm not much of a mechanic but, since what I was putting in was essentially just a points replacement, I figured I could handle it. The distributor wasn't moved at all during the installation so I was surprised when the car ran like the timing was off but I learned through a query to the Plymouth-Valiant Yahoo Group that this was to be expected. That whole group has been a lot of help on several things but extra big thanks go to Ed, CJ, and K2HAT. Timing the car turned out to be a bit more challenging than it should have been. There were some false starts and missteps before I got the car back to Dave Forste's Car Care Center where they discovered that two plug wires were reversed. Straightening that out made things a whole lot better. They also repacked wheel bearings and installed a temperature gage. I guess we're ready.

June 16, 2012
The Valiant spent part of the early spring at 3D Auto Sports in Wilmington, Ohio. The main reason for the visit was to get a pair of subframe connectors installed. The brake master cylinder was also replaced and a few other items attended to while she was there. Unibody construction, where a car's body partially makes up for the absence of a full ladder frame, has been around since 1923 but it didn't catch on until after Rambler used it for all their models in 1960. The Valiant was Chrysler's entry into the unibody world. Without a rigid top, Unibody convertibles require a little extra bracing. 1963 was the first year for the Valiant convertible and it apparently contributed to learning that little fact. The connectors welded into place by 3D were supposedly something that factory engineers wanted but bean counters ruled out. I had intended to get some pictures while she was in the shop but that didn't work out. I'm sure she'll be back here before the big cross country drive but as I passed through Wilmington on the way to the 2012 Lincoln Highway Conference, I stopped by to get a picture of the building.

March 7, 2011
And now she's house broken. The Valiant was a bit incontinent as regards oil but the fellows at Dave Forste's Car Care Center traced that to a leaking rear main seal and it has been replaced. Dave was recommended by other car folk and by friends who have known him since high school days as a guy who knows how to work on fairly aged cars as well as the new ones. And so do the mechanics he employs. I understand that Brandon, the guy under the car, did most of the work on the Valiant but the fellow in the second picture, Brian, also had a hand in things. That's Dave, who had a hand in and an eye on everything, backing the car out of the garage. Dave's wife, Nancy, usually handles things in the office but occasionally steps into the garage area to hold up a car or something. When that happens, I'm pretty sure Binky is left in charge.

I took the car to Dave thinking it might need a front end rebuild but he says it looks pretty solid. He did do an alignment which helped tremendously. The car drives a whole lot better now though it still drives like a 48 year old car. Mental adjustment by the driver has also helped. They also replaced the fuel line which was badly rusted and brittle and could have led to some truly undesirable excitement. I believe the critical stuff has now been addressed and the car is at least safe to drive. Many things remain to be done before tackling the Lincoln Highway and, in driving the car, I'm certain to discover more. But I think I can pause the repairs for awhile.

As I looked over the elevated car in Dave's shop, I thought of the words of a certain four-wheeled sheriff, "Get a good peek, city boy?". Yes I did. And don't call me city boy.

February 8, 2011
She's no longer topless. That's not always what you want to hear but it certainly was in this case. She, of course, is the Valiant and she now has a new white top. That's Bob Dane standing beside her. He runs Dane Upholstery in Morrow, Ohio, and is the guy who put that new top on. Not only did he do the work, Bob sent me some pictures as things progressed so I could see it stripped to the frame, with just the new pads, and with a rear window. Bob is definitely a good guy to work with but I was pretty sure of that when I saw his office furniture. The shop is right on US-22 which was once the 3C Highway but it's not easy to find Route 22 upholstery. That Route 66 pattern works just fine.

January 11, 2011
If you've read the trip prelude entries or talked to me for much more than half an hour during the last few years, You know of my plan to drive a car half of the Lincoln Highway's age over its entire length during its centennial year. In other words, drive a 1963 model car from New York City to San Francisco in 2013. I'm a big car-guy but I'm not a big-car guy so the various land yachts of the day didn't interest me. I'm also not a big money guy, no matter where you insert a hyphen, and that ruled out some of the year's true icons. I'd love to have an inaugural year Stingray or Riviera or a second (and last) year Avanti but, even if I could somehow purchase one, its care and feeding could easily shred my travel budget. Fortunately, some Americans were downsizing in the early '60s and a rather impressive variety of "compact" cars was available.

That downsizing was, to some degree, in response to small imports; in particular the rear-engine VW Beetle. There were Renaults and Fiats here and there but there were Beetles everywhere. I thought seriously of targeting a Beetle for my Lincoln Highway car but decided that I ought to drive the American road in an American car. I also ruled out the only rear-engine domestic, the Corvair, early on despite it being the first car I thought of when the idea of driving a fifty year old car in 2013 first formed. I've owned two Corvairs, a 1964 and a 1965, and liked them both. The Corvair was neither unreliable nor unsafe but it was, and is, uncommon. The car's unique mechanicals means that both parts and expertise are tougher to find than for its more main stream contemporaries. Limiting my shopping to conventional front-engine rear-drive American made compacts may have eliminated a lot but there was still plenty to chose from.

Even without the Corvair, Chevrolet was in the running with its Chevy II and General Motors also offered the Oldsmobile F-85, the Pontiac Tempest, and the Buick Skylark. From Ford Motor Company came the Ford Falcon and the Mercury Comet while Chrysler Corporation turned out Plymouth Valiants and Dodge Darts. The "Big Three" were honestly big in those days but they weren't alone. Studebaker and American Motors were still around and the Studebaker Lark and the Rambler American fit my basic criteria. Several listings for both drew some attention and a Rambler convertible earned a phone call but both lost out to the perceived relative ease of finding parts and smarts for cars from the "Big Three".

I guess the preceding serves mostly to explain why I ended up looking primarily at Falcons/Comets, Valiants/Darts, and Chevy IIs. It was intentional and, to my mind, logical. That I ended up with a Valiant was mostly luck. That it's a convertible is even more luck; some good, some possibly the other kind. I'm not certain that this particular vehicle was ever 100% water tight but, if it was, it seems unlikely that it ever will be again. Fifty year old rag tops are just like that. The name "rag top"? It's a common slang term for all convertibles but it seems especially fitting in this case. The car needs lots of things before it is truly roadworthy but the top is the easiest to see and, in some regards, the easiest to fix. Arranging for a new top was my first step in restoring the Valiant.

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