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Restoration Advice

Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,549
This topic is to discuss your planned restoration or a project you are working on at the moment.

Maybe you're a "rookie" and need some advice on how to proceed in general...maybe you're already knee-deep and wondering if someone has some better ideas.

Let's hear about your plans or your progress!




  • nosirrahgnosirrahg Posts: 870
    Thanks for the link!

    In general, with a vehicle like this that hasn't been driven daily (or probably even weekly) for several years, what should I do prior to jumping in it and driving it home (a distance of approximately 60 miles)?

    I went down this weekend and put a new set of tires on it, and filled it with fresh gasoline. The oil level looked fine (but dirty), so that'll probably be one of the first things I do when I get it home. The coolant looked to be mostly water, so I thought I might take some antifreeze and siphon out some of the current coolant and add in some antifreeze to try to ward off any overheating problems as best I can. Driving it yesterday to get the tires put about 25 miles on the truck, and it seemed okay; of course it has no gauges other than speedo/fuel, so I won't know if it's overheating until the idiot light comes on.

    I've mapped a route that follows secondary roads, so I can keep speeds well below those of the Interstate. I'm planning to go get it early one morning next weekend before things heat up too much (and my wife will be following me, just in case). What else am I forgetting?
  • fintailfintail Posts: 33,568
    How about a car like my fintail...which realistically needs everything to be perfect, but does pretty well as-is.

    The brakes and tires both on it are now maybe 7-8 years old...those'll need to be done sometime. I had the coolant flushed this year and the transmission serviced a few years ago. It's got some kind of small oil leak, but it's so minor I won't bother spending what will surely be a grand to fix it. When it gets hot it smokes some, but not enough to notice on the dipstick, so I just ignore it...I suppose she'll need a valve job sometime. There is barely any rust and the body is a good 10-20-footer, so I am not too concerned there. The interior is also pretty sound.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,549
    Well you might want to check over the hoses and belts very carefully. Also as soon as you can, flush the brake system out and put in fresh fluid. I know that's a pain but it's really important.

    But for the trip, carry some water at least in case you bust a hose. You can drive home on battery power if you break an alternator belt but you'll need water if you have a leak.


  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,902
    does your El Camino have? IIRC, that year you could get the 229 V-6, 267 V-8, or 305 V-8, all of 'em Chevy units. I know you could get the 350 in '78-79, but I dunno if it was still offered in 1980, as GM really started cutting back their larger displacement engines around that time. And I'm guessing it's not an Olds Diesel, because, well, it probably wouldn't still be running if it was. :P

    The Chevy smallblock is a pretty good engine, fairly durable. I'm not suggesting you test this out, but they'll survive overheating much better than most modern engines will!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,549
    You could run that engine without OIL for half a mile I bet. They are tough and not sensitive to overheats either.


  • nosirrahgnosirrahg Posts: 870
    It's the 229 V6. According to the owner's manual there was also a 231 (Buick) V-6 offered, but from what I can tell those were only offered in California (probably to meet that state's emissions requirements, and since the 231ci/3.8l engine was probably already cleared for car use, it was easier to drop that engine into the El Camino than to make the 229 compliant.

    From a little more research I've done on the Web, it sounds like my bigger concern will be if the truck rusts in half before I get it home! :)
  • Got the El Camino home in one piece; the only major problem I've noticed thus far is a coolant leak (probably the water pump from what I can tell). Once I get the coolant problem fixed, it looks like I'll have plenty of other things to keep me busy: shocks, water leaks around all the glass (I discovered at the car wash on the way home), valve cover gasket leak, etc. But overall the truck is in pretty good shape. The AC cools just a little, but is clearly low on freon; I'd love to get that fixed first so it would be more comfortable to drive, but I figure I'm better off getting it in good running condition before I burden the engine with the AC running.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,902
    with the 229 V-6. Its water pump went out in the summer of 1989. My Granddad replaced it for me. I don't think it was really that major of a job. The 229 sits back pretty far from the radiator, so there was plenty of room for him to work as I recall.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,549
    Probably the front and rear windshield gaskets are all hard and dry. You can often cure this type of leak by buying some black LATEX caulk and spreading it on with a wet finger...and then just sponge off the excess....don't use that horrible black silicone stuff, it just makes a mess.

    Water pump is easy, valve cover is easy (don't use sealant, just buy a new gasket and spread some white grease on the gasket, then apply it...and don't tighten the valve covers very tightly or you'll bend them (maybe someone has already) and it'll never seal. Shocks are easy and cheap and the AC should be dealt with by a shop specializing in AC. They'll test for leaks as there is no sense putting expensive R12 in a system that's going to vent it in two weeks.

    You're only $500 bucks away from a great ride sounds like.


  • My folks came up for a visit today and my dad and I took a closer look at the El Camino. There does appear to be plenty of room to get at the water pump, but I want to get it up on my ramps and look underneath to see if I can tell for certain that that's where the leak is. Hopefully that's the case; if so I'll probably replace the radiator/heater hoses as well just to elimate problems down the road.
  • I'd actually thought about caulk, but I absolutely would have gone with silicon instead of latex; thanks for the tip on that!

    When I backed it into the garage this morning, I noticed a trail of red fluid as well...thought it was transmission fluid at first, but my dad and I checked it out and it's power steering fluid. Don't know if that's an easy fix or not, but for now I'll just make sure to keep the fluid topped off while I tackle the more pressing items.

    I posted a few photos on my CarSpace page, but I'll try to post one here to give you an idea of what the truck looks like:

    imageSee more Car Pictures at
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,549
    Hmmm...I actually like the lines of that car! Why is it riding so high in front? That should be corrected.

    Red fluid? Well before you tear into anything, check the RETURN hose (the low pressure hose) on the power steering box. That's a simple fix.


  • Riding high in the front could be due to the truck sitting on an incline in the photo, poor front shocks, OR more likely the air shocks on the back could have gone bad. I haven't tried putting any air in them yet, so it's possible they could be faulty and riding lower than normal.

    When my dad was up yesterday he watched under the hood while I started the truck and turned the wheel from side to side; he said the fluid was leaking out of the top of the steering box, like maybe there was a seal or something on top of it that was leaking.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,549
    Ewwww...that's not a good sign...this could be your biggest problem that you might save for last.


  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,902
    just make sure you get it fixed right away, and don't do like what I did with my '68 Dart and drive it for a few years with it broken! :blush: By the time I finally had some money saved up to get the pump fixed, the steering box itself was pretty shot, so I had to get 'em both replaced. I think it cost about $150 for the box and pump (out of the junkyard, from a mid-70's Dart) and another $150 for my mechanic to put it all together. Considering I let it go like that for about 45,000 miles, I guess I got off pretty lucky.
  • fintailfintail Posts: 33,568
    I am sure it is a completely different system, but my fintail used to leak from the top of the power steering box, and over time the leak got pretty bad. The seals were wasn't a terrible job to have done by my old MB specialist, I am pretty sure no more than $200.
  • I live in S. Calif. the exterior of my 75 SL is in mint condition. However there is oil leak and the engine is running like a 4 cylinder. Anyone knows a place to overhaul the engine and whatever needs to be done so it can return to its prime time. Thanks.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,549 might need to think this over. Overhauling a 450SL engine would cost more than the entire car is worth ($10,000--$12,000). I don't mean to be discouraging but only want you to know what you're getting into.

    Maybe all you need is a good tune up and valve adjustment?

    First off, I'd have a cylinder leakdown test performed on the engine. Using those results, if it indicated dead cylinders, you can decide if you just want to do a "top end overhaul" (just the cylinder heads), which would be okay if the bottom end (rings) were holding compression....or...if the top end and bottom end are worn out you could consider a lower mileage USED engine installed...

    But if you let some Mercedes shop start taking apart your engine and you have to bore the cylinders, etc., you are going to be shocked at what this will cost you.

    So get the "facts" first...that is HARD DATA...not someone's opinion....and then let us know what the leakdown test says (it will be expressed in "leakdown rate" for each cylinder, and the mechanic can interpret, from the test, where the primary problem is).

    good luck with it...


  • fintailfintail Posts: 33,568
    I'd do an engine transplant if the unit really is bad. A good used 450 engine would certainly be much less than an overhaul. Or be really smart and drop a M103 in there...there was a Euro W107 with the M103 so I am certain it would be very easy, and then you'd get longevity, economy, and maybe even better performance.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,549
    there are a lot of 450s being salvaged right now, since when they are damaged in collision they are immediately totalled by the insurance companies (too expensive to fix relative to their value). I just appraised a 450SLC that was rear-ended, and it's being totalled. It only had 74,000 miles on the engine.

    So get that leakdown test and if it's bad news, start looking for a good used engine asap, would be my advice.


  • Considering my El Camino is leaking oil, coolant, and power steering fluid, I'm wondering if there is a generally accepted plan of attack when bringing an old vehicle "back to life" that has been sitting in storage (or used sparingly) for an extended period of time. It occured to me that if I simply go after the "biggest leak first" I could waste time doing some things twice. For instance, my inclination is to replace the water pump, belts and hoses first; but are there other things I should simultaneously (of before)?

    I'm just looking for the most efficient/logical way to approach this to avoid doing things twice. I realize this is a very broad question, so if anyone can direct me to a resource (book, website, etc.) that could get me going in the right direction I'd appreciate it.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,549
    If you want to be really efficient, I'd throw out this idea, which at first might sound horrifying: pull the engine and just keep in on the can reseal it (front and rear engine seals), do the pump, etc, and then the power steering and front end is such an easy shot. You'll learn a lot, too.


  • The only way I could do that would be if I was single, and as I'm married I'd quickly become single if I did that (at which point I could probably only afford to drive the El Camino, since I'd have to sell my good car to maintain my ramen noodle supply)!! :D

    Seriously though, you're absolutely right, that would not only make working on the engine much easier/efficient, but would also make dealing with the power steering and such easier too. To go that route I'd have to find somewhere else to store the body, since I don't think my wife would give up her side of the garage, and I don't have any place outside to store it. My lot is terribly sloped too; I could probably erect a storage building of some type in the back yard and work on the engine out there, but I'd have to have some type of powered crawler to move it out there and back.

    So assuming for now I'd probably be better off (both financially and maritally) having some of the big jobs done professionally, and taking on some of the smaller stuff myself, would there be a logical list of things to have a shop knock out first/at one time?
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,902
    it was leaking oil from the front seal, valve cover gaskets, and rear seal. Looking back I don't know why I did this, but I took it to a different place from where I normally went. I think it was because they were open on Saturdays and I wanted it done fast. Well, they came back with an estimate of $1700 to fix all the leaks! :surprise:

    That was enough to shake me back to reality. I ended up taking it to my regular mechanic who checked it out. I remember he did the valve cover gaskets and front seat, plus put on belts that I had bought (this sucker had 4 of them) for about $230. As for the rear seal, the mechanic simply said it wasn't worth fixing. Not leaking enough. He didn't give me an estimate on it, though; he just said "A lot" :sick:
  • I've got to take the El Camino in at some point when the weather cools down and get an estimate on getting some things like that done to it. My former 1982 F350 had the same rear seal problem; I never got it fixed because I had receipts from the previous owner which showed they'd spent a relatively huge amount of money to get the seal replaced (and of course it didn't last forever). It didn't take too long to do the math and determine it was cheaper to add a quart of oil every now and then than it did to get the seal replaced again. But if the front seal can be done without pulling the engine, and I could get the water pump and valve cover gaskets and such done all at once, that's probably the best way for me to go.

    If I had a stand-alone shop somewhere I'd love to tear into it myself, but at this point in life I just need to get it in good driving shape as quickly as possible.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,549
    You can do the front seal without pulling the engine, but you will have to pull the radiator, etc. and without air tools it could be *real* fun in there....


  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,902
    You can do the front seal without pulling the engine, but you will have to pull the radiator, etc.

    Actually with a 229 there might be enough room to work in there without pulling the radiator. At least, I remember my Granddad doing the water pump in my Malibu and having plenty of room. Now a couple years later when I did the water pump in my '69 Dart, I pulled the radiator for more room, because the slant six took up a lot of fore/aft space.

    I'm guessing though, that if you can get the water pump without pulling the radiator, you can get the front seal? When the mechanic did the front seal on my '89 Gran Fury, I dunno if he pulled the radiator or not. Considering that it was around $250 or less to do the valve cover gaskets, front seal, and the labor for the belts, I'm guessing it wasn't TOO labor intensive on that car.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,549
    It's so easy to pull the radiator, I can't imagine why you wouldn't do it. It makes the whole thing much easier and it's a perfect opportunity to have the radiator checked out, and a good time to inspect the hoses outside AND inside for deterioration.


  • Actually I'm thinking I should probably pull the radiator and send it out to have it checked/cleaned, and will need to replace all the belts/hoses anyway. With the radiator, fan and such out of the way I can probably more easily attack the power steering box too. I'll still take it in to my mechanic to get his opinion on the condition of the vehicle before I put too much time/money/effort into things, but assuming he doesn't find any problems I'm not already aware of, I think I may at least give it the old college try! I can also get an estimate of what they'd charge to repair it, so if I do go it alone I can convince my wife that I'm saving money (it seems to work when she buys shoes)!! :D
  • jbt66jbt66 Posts: 1
    I inherited a 1966 Chevy pick-up and plan to restore it. It has not been started in years and I am still in the information gathering stage. Any way to find out if the hydraulic dump bed it has was a dealer installed option, how many others like this may be around and how to initially start the process?
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