July 1925 - December 1970

Gus Wilson's Model Garage

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By John L. Bellah

POB #156 La Habra, California 90633-0156  (562) 301-4507  pfmteched@yahoo.com

Returning from lunch on a rainy day, Gus Wilson, burly proprietor of the Model Garage saw a battered 1958 Ford Thunderbird sitting next to the pumps. The car was empty, however Gus spotted Silas Barnstable, the town's tightwad, pacing aimlessly about the office.

Barnstable saw Gus and ran out to greet him. "Gus, you gotta help me."

"What is the problem, this time, Silas?"

Motioning towards the old Thunderbird on the service apron, "It's that goldang car!" I took it in for a mortgage payment. Danged thing guzzles gas like I owned an oil well--or a string of them."

"What's been done, Silas?"

"Well, the kid down the street did a tune-up."

"What was it doing, Silas?"

"Well, it sputters and goes herky-jerkey on acceleration. And the dealer wants to soak me for a new carburetor. I can't sell the car like this. You gotta help me, Gus!"

Gus' practiced eyes saw new spark plugs adorned the oil-encrusted engine. "Silas, what else was done?"

"Well that "smart-alec" kid said he overhauled the carburetor, but now he thinks it needs a new carburetor or mebbee a valve grind."

"Maybe it does, Silas. That engine looks as if it hasn't been touched in a long time. You asking me to check it out?"

"Yeah, if it don't cost too much. Don't run me up a big bill, Gus."

Well if it does needs a valve grind, you may have to pony-up a few dollars. Run it in the shop, Silas."

Barnstable twisted the key and the starter ground for several seconds, the big engine failing to catch. Gus noticed the engine rolled over evenly, indicating compression was relatively even on all cylinders. "Try it again, Silas."

After several revolutions of cranking, the old V-8 in the Thunderbird finally caught, belching a huge cloud of black smoke from the twin tailpipes. Jazzing the throttle a few times to keep the engine from stalling, he put the selector in Reverse. The old car lurched backwards and trailing thick black exhaust fumes Silas guided it into a stall and unlatched the hood.

Opening the hood, Gus removed the large air cleaner assembly.

"Why are you looking there? I told you my neighbor fixed the carburetor. Can't you just make a leedle adjustment? Or, mebbee change it over to a two-barrel. I never did like four-barrel carburetors, anyway. Cost too dang much gas!"

"It doesn't quite work that way, Silas. The car is running way too rich. Maybe the float level is too high, flooding over or some other ailment. Changing carburetors will cost you a lot more and perhaps cause you some grief.

After removing the top of the shiny four-barrel carburetor, Gus decided he was wrong on his diagnosis. The float level appeared to be correct, the float in good shape, nor was it flooding over. Examining inside the float bowls of the carburetor he quickly noticed the wrong jets were in place. Whoever overhauled the carburetor placed the larger secondary main jets in the primary circuit and the smaller primary jets in the secondary circuit. After reassembling the carburetor, he called Stan to remove and clean the spark plugs.

Here’s the problem, Silas. Whoever worked on the carburetor installed the jets wrong. The smaller primary jets were put in the secondary section, while the larger secondary jets were installed in the primary section.”

“Oh fiddlefaddle,” exclaimed Silas. What’s this, primary and secondary? Four-barrel carburetors all guzzle gas. Two barrel is better—more economical.”

“Not always, Silas. A two barrel is a compromise between power and economy and often on a large engine, deliver neither power or economy. A four-barrel carburetor is basically two carburetors in one. You have a primary circuit for slow speeds, such as driving around town. The primary circuit is lean for good gas economy. When you stomp on the gas pedal, say to pass a truck, the back two barrels—or secondary barrels open up and provide the extra fuel and power you need for passing. It is there if and when you need it. As long as you drive conservatively, this carburetor should work out fine. As soon as Stan cleans and installs your spark plugs you can be on your way. Be careful and stay off the turnpike for the next couple of days.”

After Silas paid and drove away, Stan asked; “Why did you tell that old coot to stay off the turnpike, Gus?”

“Well, that Thunderbird was running on a very rich mixture for God knows how long. The rich mixture forms carbon deposits in the cylinders. Jump on it, going wide-open-throttle will “splash-glaze” the plugs.”

“And that ruins ‘em, right, Gus?”

“Yep. I don’t want him coming back demanding a free set of plugs, saying I caused it to misfire.”  

As for the two-barrel verses four-barrel controversy. I recently read where a major police department out in California ran a series of tests using economy cars against their high-performance cruisers with big V-8 engines with four-barrel carburetors. They found so-called ‘economy’ cars, even those with six-cylinder engines and ‘economy gearing,’ used as much gas—when pushed hard, as their big eight-cylinder cruisers. The end result is the big V-8 with high compression and dual exhausts breathes better and is more efficient.”

With the rain letting up, and as Silas drove off the service apron, a 1969 Chrysler Town and Country station wagon pulled up to the pumps, and promptly stalled. Gus recognized the driver as Sam White, a local used car dealer.

“Hi Sam. Need gas?” Gus innocently asked.

“Not this time, Gus. It’s this car—it doesn’t want to idle.”

“What have you done, so far?”

“Gus, the kid working for me tried to adjust the carburetor. That didn’t work, so we tried the dealer, who wanted to replace the carburetor. A new carburetor would totally wipe out any kind of profit on this wagon.”

Lifting the hood, Gus removed the air cleaner from the big V-8 engine, exposing a Holley four-barrel carburetor.

“Stan.” Gus called, “Bring me an offset standard screwdriver from my toolbox. Also bring a fender cover and a tach-dwell meter.”

A minute later, Stan, Gus’s assistant, returned. Placing the fender cover on the right fender and the requested tools on top of the fender cover, he remarked; “Loose float bowls, eh Boss?”

Gus grunted in acknowledgement. “Okay, Sam, start it up.”

The big Chrysler V-8 started up and settled into a lumpy idle, almost stalling. Maneuvering the offset screwdriver between the carburetor and air conditioning compressor, he carefully tightened the screws securing the float bowl to the body of the carburetor. Slowly the idle smoothed out. Gus snugged the back float bowl, and using his pocket screwdriver, balanced the idle mixture and set the idle speed.

“Gus, you old maestro. You got this car purring like a kitten! You sure got the touch, Gus.”

Replacing the air cleaner, Gus handed his tools to Stan.

“What’s your secret, Gus?”

No big secret, Sam. Some of these Chryslers came through with Holley carburetors. They are fine carbs—when set up properly. Heat and vibration will occasionally loosen the float bowls and fuel metering blocks, causing a rich mixture. If the metering blocks become excessively warped, then you may have to replace the carb. That can run into money as most dealers may want to replace the Holley with a Carter.

“Yes, Gus, the dealer quoted me a lot of money to replace the carburetor. What else should I know on these?”

“Make sure your exhaust manifold heat-riser is working properly. Don’t use regular oil on it if it is stuck, as the oil will carbonize, making problems worse. Only use special heat-riser lubricant, and apply it when the engine is cold. Don’t over-tighten the screws holding the float bowls to the carburetor body, otherwise you could strip the threads—and then you will have problems. Chrysler suggests using an inch-pound torque wrench for proper tightness.


©John L. Bellah, 2021