Light at the beginning of the tunnel
Sometimes you just get lucky. A car that sits untouched for 20+ years is basically a jumbo-sized can of mystery. The burden of proof lies squarely on its shoulders, since pretty much everything on it is suspect and presumed bad. Often these suspicions are confirmed with a glance (gaping hole in floor), poke or prod (foot goes through floor), or attempt to operate something (brake pedal goes to floor). Yesterday I went down to Matt’s shop space where the Sprint currently resides, hoping to learn something about the condition of the motor, which I had believed to be stuck. This belief was partly based on the seller’s own description, but also on my very limited attempts to move it by tugging on the fan blades.
Matt met me at about 5 and we proceeded to remove the hood, radiator, fan, air box, spark plugs and cam cover. The only surprise here was when coolant started pouring out from the lower radiator hose. The seller said he had drained the coolant prior to storing the car, but either it wasn’t fully drained or the years had worked their magic on his memory. I was impressed by the condition of everything I saw though – rubber still pliable, nothing corroded or broken. Had the water leaked out, I might have been looking at a big swath of rusted-out valence and radiator support, as the TI had.
Once this was done, Matt armed himself with a fat socket and breaker bar and one second later informed me that the motor turned. I wasn’t opening bottles of bubbly, but definitely felt the cautious optimism taking over where suspicious doubt had been before.
The big question then became, “will it run?” We hooked up a battery, poured a few drops of 30-weight oil in the cylinders and set about testing the compression. The numbers weren’t particularly high (130-150), but definitely good enough to move on to the next step. In the meantime, I flipped most of the switches on the dash and found that just about everything works. I thought the wipers were an exception, but they spontaneously came on a few minutes later and without any provocation. I guess if I were asleep for 20 years, I wouldn’t fare much better. The headlights didn’t want to come on, but usually that’s just a matter of spinning fuses and cleaning up terminals and grounds.
The carb looked pretty clean inside, so after I went out and filled up a can of gas, we filled the bowl, reattached the plugs and wires, and said a couple of prayers to San Benedetto.
The buzzing noise you hear is the electric fuel pump trying (but luckily failing) to push ancient gas through plugged up hoses. This is also why Matt went and retrieved the fire extinguisher.
And at last, success! It took some coaxing with choke and throttle (and a dose of brake cleaner in the carb), but once it ran it sounded pretty good — no strange or scary mechanical noises and, surprisingly, nothing awful came out the tailpipe.
I’m extremely happy about this bit of good fortune. Had it gone the other way, I would be looking at many months and dollars spent to end up at the very same spot. The to-do list is still long, but knowing the car can move under its own power is a big motivator. Next, we’ll find out what it will need in order to stop under its own power…