How I spent my 42nd Birthday. 10/5/05

Yesterday’s entry ended: “I imagined a nice short day at work, followed by some analog therapy of fixing my car, and a nice drive home with the top down.”

If this were a movie those words would have an ominous sound track playing behind them. Since it is just a blog, you’ll have to imagine it. (I won’t ever put some midi track in my HTML… If I do you have permission to come shoot me in the head.)

Instead my meeting schedule got completely rearranged, and after the digital.forest traditional birthday cake in the kitchen, instead of running over to NAPA to do my alternator swap, I ended up on the second longest conference call of my life. My title says “VP, Technical Operations” but in reality I was playing Contract Lawyer… slogging through the legal language of a vendor agreement several hundred pages thick. (Don’t wait for the midi track, just shoot me now!)

I finally escaped from the office at 5:15 PM, looking at a 60+ mile, Seattle rush-hour commute, with lowering skies, in a leaky 40 year old car with a suspect electrical system. Great.

And of course, it was my birthday! The wife & kids are waiting at home to celebrate.

The car starts right up (still has that new battery smell) and I zip down the hill to NAPA. They have my alternator, but there is a glitch. I had expected a two-piece fan/pulley section and instead it has a separate fan and pulley. Of course the Jag has this oddball grooved belt, and after I did my alternator mod last year some knowledgeable guys told me I could build a “groove” with washers (semi-brilliant!) No problem, I figured I could just swap my modified fan & pulley from the old alternator and be fine. (time for you to cue that ominous sound track again.)

Insert Problem #1. The bolt on the end of the alternator shaft is metric, and an oddball metric size at that: 22mm. That is slightly smaller than the 7/8th inch socket I have in my portable toolbox in the Jag’s boot. No problem I’ll buy one from NAPA!

Insert Problem #2. The largest socket NAPA has is a 19mm. I bring it to the parts guy and tell him that. He fishes around for a socket to fit it. The best he can find is 7/8ths. However he has a power torque wrench and I just have hand tools. I figure I’ll let him remove the pulleys. (I learned all about transfer of liability in my earlier conference call!) He manages to get the pulleys off and we swap them.

While popping the pulley from the old alternator I discovered what had caused it to fail. As I picked it up off the ground a diode that had fallen out was lying on the pavement(!) It had obviously came off internally and having it sitting vertically had caused it to fall out. Go figure.

Insert Problem #3. The new alternator has a slightly different housing than the old one. The shaft is surrounded by a raised sort of bridge, and it leaves no room for the bolt at the end once my fat grooved pulley is slid over it. I had this problem before when I modified the first Hitachi I put on this car. I fixed that by cutting the bushing down a bit and using JB-Weld (the choice of mechanical kludges everywhere!) to stick the fan to the bushing to center it. The bushing from the old alternator was twice as thick as it should have been.

Insert The Solution That Saved My Birthday!

The NAPA guy didn’t have any cutting tools, (and probably didn’t want to risk any further transfer of liability), so he sent me, and the bushing next door to a truck repair place. I jogged over to System Seven and found a mechanic. I explained the situation briefly and he volunteered to cut the bushing in half. He did warn me that it may not be perfect, and I assured him that I wasn’t seeking perfection, just something good enough to get me home. He put the bushing in a vice and expertly sliced it in two, right where I had showed him to cut. KZOK happened to be playing on their shop stereo. I mentioned that the car he was helping me fix was just photographed for KZOK’s calendar, so I’d have to get him a copy when it was published later in the year. I introduced myself and he told me his name was Todd. I plan on calling Steve Slayton tonight and making sure he plays something on KZOK dedicated to Todd and the guys at the System Seven Repair for saving my ass, my birthday, and my Jaguar. Something rockingly awesome from the early 60’s, just like the E-type… Dick Dale’s “Miserlou” would be good.

The bushing in hand, I sprint back over to the NAPA (where my car was sitting, bonnet & boot up, my tools & valuables everywhere, and a half-eaten office birthday cake sitting in the passenger seat!) and pop the fan back on. It fits PERFECT! The fan has maybe 1.5mm of clearance from the housing thanks to Todd’ precision cutting, and the pulley has more than adequate clearance to put on the bolt. I put the whole thing together and bring it out to the car. I’ve removed and re-installed alternators on this car so many times I swear i could do it in my sleep… like a well-drilled soldier cleaning his rifle. The new Hitachi goes on and I tighten the belt. Remove all the tools, re-connect the battery, hop in and hit the starter button. The moment of truth…

The noise of a Jaguar XK engine is a truly wonderful sound. The deep rumble of the long-stroke big-bore six, the clatter of high notes from the dual overhead cam cylinder head, mixed with the wind of triple carbs and the whine of the timing chain and V-belt. It is often called “Sir William’s Sixth Symphony” in reference to Sir William Lyons, founder, heart and soul of Jaguar Cars Ltd. It burbles with pleasing menace at idle and emits a spine tingling roar when driven in anger. Sir William’s Sixth greeted my ears, but it was the sight of the Lucas Ammeter… yes The Prince Of Darkness himself! That Lucas Ammeter on the dash indicating a hard swing to the left. No words in the English language can describe the immense pleasure I felt seeing that needle swing towards the “C”, indicating that the Prince Of Darkness was showing current from the alternator to the battery. “Joy” doesn’t do it. “Relief” doesn’t either. Even “heights of climactic delight and waves of multi-orgasmic pleasure” don’t do the feeling justice.

Let’s just put it this way: I was feeling good!

I took the box and paperwork back into the NAPA to get my core charge credited and probably did not even touch the ground while making that 20 yard stroll. As the NAPA guy was doing the credit card work I went into their washroom and made an attempt to clean my very dirty hands and arms of car grease. Even clean cars get you dirty while working on them… go figure. As I finished up the paperwork I saw Todd outside having a look at the car and he waved to me. Finished, I went out and started packing up the car. I told Todd more about the history of it, and thanked him profusely again for allowing me to make it home on my birthday. He was happy to have helped out and graciously accepted my thanks. I fired up the car and headed home. It got dark shortly after, but I felt confident running with my lights, and watched with immense satisfaction that Lucas gauge showing a positive flow of electricity once again.

I hate driving this car at night, but I didn’t have a choice. At least it was late enough now that the freeway was merely crowded, instead of stop & go. At least it never rained, and it wasn’t too cold to run top-down.

I finally arrived at home around 8pm, and was immediately tossed into the Jetta and driven to our local Mexican restaurant for a traditional Carne Asada and Marguerita dinner. Christopher drove so I downed two stiff ‘Ritas and got to wear the birthday Sombrero. (I’ll post the pic as soon as I scan the polaroid.)

All’s well that ends well.

Sorry I didn’t take any pictures. I usually stock my blog with plenty, but I was just so focussed on getting the car FIXED that it never even occurred to me to stop and document anything by camera. That should be an indication of how stressed I was…

How I spent (the day before) my 42nd Birthday. 10/4/05

My 1965 Jaguar E-type was picked to be photographed for the 2006 KZOK Classic Car Calendar, and the photo shoot was scheduled for October 4th. The shoot took most of the day to setup and perform, so I scheduled myself to have the car in Seattle the day before, and return home to Arlington the day after – which happens to be October 5th, my birthday. As anyone who owns old cars will attest, they don’t make them like they used to, they make them better. There is a reason they don’t have mechanics at every gas station anymore, cars are just another major appliance nowadays. They just work (most of the time.) Not so old cars. There is always something that requires attention. That said, the effort is more than worth it as these old cars have a style and presence that todays econo-boxes and glorified pickup/SUV/truck/wagons can NEVER match.

The Jaguar just went through a major engine rebuild and is still in the “break-in” period, so it has been off the road for the past year. I spent the weekend prior to the photo shoot attending to little things to make it roadworthy for the excursion. For example, I replaced the brake light switch. Unlike the 1960s when small brake lights were a testament to style, drivers today are too busy yakking on cell phones, sipping lattes, watching their on-board DVD systems, and radioing commands down from the bridge of their Exxon Valdez-sized SUVs to pay attention to small cars with miniscule brake lights in front of them. They depend on the presence of a single, high mounted LARGE RED LIGHT in front of their eyes to remember to brake. No such light exists on the early 60’s XKE. In fact it had no lights at all. While out for a run to the parts store a guy in a brand new Ford pickup backed into my Jaguar’s “bonnet”… so now my gorgeous car has a dent in it!

bang!
bang!

Above: What happens when drivers of big vehicles don’t look in their mirrors very carefully. Thankfully I saw him and was backing away as fast as I could! It could have been MUCH worse.

The icing on the cake is finding the car’s battery with 10 volts of charge the day before the trip to Seattle. I take it out of the car and run the trickle charger overnight before the trip.

The trip down was uneventful, but my eyes noted the Lucas Ammeter on the dashboard never wavering, which planted a seed of doubt in my mind. Monday passed at work, and I bedded down on my office couch, eager for morning and photographic glory.

The car started fine in the morning and I navigated my way from my office near Boeing Field north towards the photo studio on Queen Anne Hill. As I made my way through SoDo past the Starbuck’s building that seed of doubt burst forth into a sprout that was rapidly reaching full bloom. All my gauges started to waver and I knew that my car’s electrical system was about to die. A block before I was to ramp onto the Alaska Way Viaduct I made a quick right, and looped back south on 4th Avenue. I spotted a Big-O tire store and a Shell station. The car expired as I came even with the gas station and I coasted to a stop in front of a pump. I filled it up, pushed it into a parking space and walked across the street to buy a battery. I knew that the battery was not the problem, but it certainly would get me to the shoot if I bought a new one. Bought, installed, and I was on my way.

I arrive at the shoot a mere 10 minutes late.

The Art Director arrived shortly after me and had me park in the middle of the parking lot while he spent at least 20 minutes looking at the car from every possible angle to find the one he wanted.

After he picked the angle (passenger-side, 3/4 rear shot) I had to back the car into the studio. I scraped exhaust on the way in… and had to find some items (paving stones) to drive over to raise the car through the door. Took a few wiggles to place the car “just right”…

I used to work in the Advertising business, so it was like being teleported back in time. In fact I met this particular photographer 10 years ago. I was partly responsible for building the first large-scale digital photo studio in the Pacific Northwest back in 1992/3 for my former employer, The Bon Marche’s (now Macy’s) Advertising Dept. He toured it a couple of years later when his studio was considering going digital. Small world.

There was supposed to be a professional detailer crew there to prep the car. They didn’t show up so I grabbed some rags and did as good a cleanup job as I could. The car was pretty dirty from the rainy ride down from Arlington to Seattle.

The crew showed a lot of respect for the car. Anytime they needed anything done to the car, they had me do it. But once they started shooting, I stood back and stayed out of their way.

It took easily two hours to light the set and car just right. The light color with the dark interior made for a challenge. They bounced light off the wall and ceiling to light up the interior and pointed a spot light at the dash. A long black curtain just off camera to the right provided a nice “horizon” reflection in the car. They took a bunch of test shots along the way, and I ended up suggesting a couple of changes (changing the gearshift position and dropping the brake handle out of sight… it looked odd peeking up over the door.)

The car looked *great*… better than it ever has!

Oh... my...
Oh... my...

That is a shot from the pro photog’s camera, a 22 megapixel Sinar. It isn’t a full-res shot (obviously) and I took the liberty of doing a quick photoshop retouch on it (removing the background bits mostly.)

My sole complaint about it is the exhaust/bumper position. Otherwise, it is stunning.

The model arrived late (they are always late) and then, once they had her hair and makeup done she had to leave(!)… (to go pick up her kid.) So we took a break for an early lunch. The photographer spent the rest of the break picking my brain about network configuration and web/FTP server setup. I was more than happy to help him out (especially if I could get some high-res copies of his work!)

Once shooting began it went really fast… maybe an hour’s worth of work. I just stood back and watched, trying to stay out of the way. The Art Director is in charge and the rest of us are just there to provide him with tools for the final product.

Here is a sample shot of how the final MIGHT look:

They shot at least 100 different poses/positions, so we won’t know until the calendar comes out in December.

Once done, we all whipped out our own cameras and took some pictures of ourselves with the car… The AD, Photog & me stood in with the model and her kid for a shot from the “big” cam. Here is why you rarely see me in FRONT of a camera:

The little girl was dying to climb in, so I let her sit in the car. Oddly enough she didn’t want to sit behind the wheel. Go figure.

Here are all my photos, complete with the occasional caption.

I shot without a flash so I wouldn’t mess up their work, so forgive the occasional… OK, FREQUENT… blurs.

Can’t want to see it in print. The only other car of interest (to me at least) among the Muscle and Custom Rods in the calendar will be a ’62 Maserati Sebring.

I drive back to my office, and stop at a NAPA a few blocks away to pick up a new alternator. I knew my problem was that my car was not properly charging the battery, so it had to be the alternator. Last year I replaced the original Lucas (aka “The Prince of Darkness”) alternator with a Hitachi, which is 85% cheaper, and supposedly more reliable. The only modifications required were swapping the pulley and fan, and wiring around the Lucas (PRINCE OF DARKNESS!) voltage regulator. NAPA didn’t have the part but would get it in tomorrow. Wednesday. The 5th. My 42nd Birthday.

I imagined a nice short day at work, followed by some analog therapy of fixing my car, and a nice drive home with the top down.