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

A warm Indian summer heat wave that day broke up the chilliness of the mid-autumn season. As things were slow at the Model Garage, Gus Wilson, the burly proprietor, recovering from a cold, stayed in the office making out invoices. A blue Mercury Cougar XR-7 entered the shop, reeking of burned brake linings. Gus recognized the middle-aged driver as Daisy Allen, one of the Model Garage’s wacky and off-beat customers.

“Morning, Mrs. Allen, What seems to be the problem?”

“Can’t you smell it, Mr. Wilson? The brakes feel funny and there’s this awful smell.”

“Sorry Mrs. Allen, I’m trying to get over a cold.” Standing by the left-front wheel he could feel heat welling up from the brakes. “Where are you coming from?”

“Well, I’ve been driving down Bell Road, which is pretty steep.”

“I’m guessing you have been riding the brake pedal, Daisy.”

“Well only a little bit—just to take up the play in the brakes. I just bought this car and I’m not familiar with it.”

Looking inside the Cougar, Gus remarked; “Daisy, your car has disc brakes—in the front. The pads ride on the surface of the brake disc. There is no free-play on disc brake systems. Any amount of pressure on the pedal will cause the brakes to overheat, and prematurely wear the pads out, that’s why you smell something burning and the funny feeling when you stop. You might have warped the rotors or boiled the brake fluid. I’ll have Stan pull the wheels and inspect the brakes to check to see if there is any damage. In the future, don’t rest your foot on the pedal.”

“Thank you, Gus. My husband will pick me up in a few minutes. Please give us a call when the car is ready.”

“Will do, Mrs. Allen.” Looking over at his assistant, Stan Hicks, Gus called. “Stan, you need to pull the wheels and do a brake inspection on Mrs. Allen’s Cougar.”

While Stan was working on the Allen Cougar, an immaculate 1968 Corvair convertible drove up to the pumps. Gus walked over to the driver, who stepped out of the car.

“How can I help you sir?”

“Name is Larry Kennedy. My Corvair is impossible to start when it’s cold. And it doesn’t have the performance it used to have.

“What has been done to it?”

“Mr. Wilson, I have been to three different shops. The first shop replaced the starter—which was burned out by repeated cranking. The second shop did a complete tune-up, plugs, points, condenser, rotor, wires, and overhauled the carburetors. The third shop replaced the coil. I like the car, but it’s no good to me if I can’t make it run right. And lately, performance is soggy.”

“Mr. Kennedy, you’ll have to leave the car overnight and we’ll see if we can duplicate the conditions and troubleshoot what’s wrong. Just park it over next to the office.”

“That sounds fair, Mr. Wilson. I’ll pay any reasonable amount—as long as it’s fixed.”

The next morning, which was chilly, Gus went to start the Corvair. While the starter turned the engine over, the flat six-cylinder engine refused to start. Removing the air cleaner assemblies, Gus noticed that fuel was getting to the carburetors, the chokes operating properly and the accelerator pumps gave healthy squirts of fuel down the carburetor throats.

“It doesn’t seem to be a fuel problem,” Gus said to himself. Grabbing a test light, Gus called to Stan. “Crank the engine over and let’s see if there’s spark.”

With Stan cranking the engine over, Gus pulled the high-tension lead from the middle terminal of the distributor and held it near the engine block. As expected, there was no spark. Taking the test light, he had Stan again attempting to start the engine while he touched the probe to the primary terminals of the coil.

“Crank it over, Stan,” Gus called out.

Gus noticed the test light failed to light, however, when Stan released the key the test lamp lit up. “Okay Stan, let’s check it the in the start mode as it seems there’s no 12-Volt kick.”

Gus checked the wiring harness over the left-rear fender. Pulling it out he noticed a connector which wasn’t fully pushed in. “Aha, found it,” Gus remarked.

“Stan, repair this bum connector and hook it up to the scope to see if everything is up to spec.”

Later that afternoon Kennedy walked into the shop. “Is my car ready, Wilson?”

“Yes it is. You’re all set. It should fire up at the first turn of the key.”

“What was wrong with it, Wilson?”

“Two problems. First there was no 12-Volt kick.”

“What is 12-Volt kick?”

“In today’s 12-Volt ignitions there is either a resistor or resistor wire which drops voltage to the coil to about 7-Volts. This is so your ignition points don’t burn. However, when you crank the engine over, the draw of the starter will drop your available voltage to the ignition. There is a bypass circuit which will supply full voltage to compensate for what the starter draws. Your previous shop had the right idea in replacing the starter, but they just didn’t follow through. We found a corroded connection in the bypass circuit going back to the engine—which Stan repaired. We also found the coil polarity was reversed. Reversed coil polarity reduces available spark to the spark plugs. Probably explains why your car wasn’t as peppy as it was.

“How did you find that, Wilson?”

After we repaired the electrical issue, we hooked the ignition scope to your ignition system. The pattern was upside-down, an indication of reversed coil polarity. And by-the-way, the scope showed the ignition to be in good shape and timing was on the nose.”

Three months later Gus ran into Kennedy at the Post Office. “How is your Corvair running, Mr. Kennedy?”

 “Wilson, you and your Model Garage screwed up, he heatedly replied.”

“I don’t understand, Mr. Kennedy. And why tell me now? We guarantee our work. If there was a problem, you could have brought it back.”

“Well, the car ran fine—fired up at the first turn of the key—just as you promised. The problem was some scoundrels broke into my garage a week later and stole my car. It was never recovered. The detective handling the case thinks it was cut up into some kind of dune buggy. Your work was just too good!”


©John L. Bellah, 2021