Quite a few of my ramblings in this space generate phone calls and emails from people who remember and revere what happened “back in the day,” but I never expected my dissertation about my first Corvair to bring so many out of the woodwork. I’d rather these folks comment on the website, but I’m glad to hear from them regardless of how they do it.
One caller asked if I had any trouble with clutch cables. Corvairs were infamous for breaking clutch cables, some of them lasting only a couple thousand miles. I can remember breaking only two of them – one at 5,000 miles and the second at 9,500 – and after the second one my favorite racing mechanic figured out the problem.
Sitting at Harry Hyde’s transmission shop in Louisville one afternoon, somebody asked if I had experienced the problem, and I told him I had just replaced the second one. Harry overheard us, and said, “Let’s put it on the lift.”
We discovered that the clutch “cable” itself was only a foot or so long, running from the clutch pedal assembly, around a pulley wheel, and then attaching to a rod which went to the rear. Harry pointed out that the pulley was exposed, and after a while it was going to lock up with dirt and road grime, and the cable was going to rub. Sooner or later it would rub all the way through. He took the cable loose, lubricated the pulley, reattached the cable and rod, then fabricated a dirt shield out of sheetmetal. No more clutch cable problems.
Funny General Motors didn’t think of that.
In a related experience, on a trip to Indianapolis while the car was fairly new, a well-known road racer saw it and asked if I’d had cable problems. He then said I had to learn how to shift without the clutch, then got in the car and took me out in the infield and showed me how to synchronize the gear speeds between shifts.
Starting it wasn’t a problem if you had a good battery and it was in tune. The car was light enough that you made sure you had room, put it in first gear and cranked it up.
Incidentally, those things were also hard on speedometer cables sometimes. I think I’ve already told the story about a police officer friend of mine pulling me over and saying, “Do you know how fast you were going, Potts?”
I said, “To tell you the truth, I was hoping you knew.”
Another call I got after last week’s column came from a friend in my ARCA days, who asked why I didn’t tell anybody about the “party trunk.”
Oh dear, the party trunk.
It didn’t take us long to realize that the trunk (in front, of course) had a sprayed fiberglass or some such lining, and thus was watertight. There was also a rubber plug in the bottom.
Aha!!! Pull the plug, dump two cases of beer in, then fill it up with ice, and head for the next race. By the time the race was over, all you had to do was open the trunk and let the party start (after selecting a designated driver, of course). If I recall correctly, Benny Parsons’s crew was one of the first to catch on. I even had the honor of opening the trunk and offering Curtis Turner a beer after a race at Dayton.
The only side effect of this deal was the fact that as the ice melted, the melt-off dribbled out the open hole in the bottom. More than once I had somebody pull into the racetrack behind me and say my radiator must be leaking, because they were getting water on their windshield. Naturally, it was even more noticeable on the way home, as there was more water to drain out and we would often leave a little trail down the highway.
My first response to somebody’s question would be, “What radiator?”
“Well, you’re leaking water from somewhere.”
“Hmm, maybe windshield water reservoir has sprung a leak, let’s look.”
They caught on as soon as we opened the trunk.