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Waxing the rust

Well, I blinked and another year went by. Well, almost, I am writing this in December and I am about to be a year older (non the wiser), and the fat man is fixin’ to come down the chimney soon. It is almost officially winter but the San Francisco weather isn’t gonna let go of the balmy sun just yet. This is good for me as there are last minute chores to do on the “family” cars and layin’ down a thick coat of wax on “Whitey” is one of those chores.
Whitey is my girlfriend Patricia’s beloved little ‘65 Valiant Signet. I bought Whitey at the local auto salvage yard for $700 in 2000. When I first laid eyes on her she was filthy, covered in pine needles, all original, and running like a top. Door dings were numerous and there were a few dents, an old repair here and there, and a little rust eating the leading edge of the passenger door. I cleaned her up inside and out, rubbed and waxed her old scarred up paint and I swear she looked as good as new if the sun was bright enough to bounce off the white paint and hide the dings. I brought her home to show her off to Patricia and she was smitten with the little white car and the original black California plates.

Doug and Darrell Ferguson give Whitey the juice. Bonneville, 2001. (P. Hewett photo)

We decided not to go overboard on fixing her up and keep her as a true daily driven antique. Some cheesy leaf spring helpers and a set of KYB shocks sorted out the ride. A ’65 ‘Cuda donated some 10-inch drum brakes, a dual reservoir master went in and the brakes were good to go. I just had to keep the 10-inch drums in there to keep the 13-inch wheels so we could use the killer flying saucer deluxe wheel covers off of the donor ‘Cuda. With some fresh white walls the little Signet took on a sporty appearance. The buckets got fresh phony sheepskin and Whitey was good to go.
Not that she was totally bug free. After a couple of hundred miles the old regulator gave out and in went the “modern” (read Apollo program) transistorized regulator and dual field alternator. The carb took a dump soon after that and was rebuilt. The exhaust manifold cracked and got replaced. The vacuum advance quit and that was my cue to install electronic ignition. With each improvement and subsequent re-tune Whitey ran better and better. Then she started smoking. A set of valve stem seals cured that. We couldn’t believe it. The original engine and trans had over a hundred thousand miles on them and this car just ran better and better. Even though the passenger door continued to rust and the floor was wet all winter we continued to fall deeper and deeper in love with Whitey.
Brimming with confidence and a new heater core we set off from San Francisco for St. Louis, Chicago, New York, Vermont, Texas, and the Grand Canyon. Whitey ate up the miles without a single complaint and turned heads wherever she went. Not that she is so clean or anything like that. It’s just that this innocuous little car with the rust and the dents was so far from home…how could it be possible? I brought a full compliment of tools along just in case and was mentally prepared in the back of my mind to do a full engine swap behind a Kragen if need be. I never opened the tool box for the duration of the trip. We even took her out to Bonneville for Speedweek and the guys from the Black Radon car tipped a jug of nitro into Whitey’s tank. I don’t know if it really made much difference but she did seem to have a bit more pep on the juice.
Last winter we decided we’d had enough of the wet floor and installed a new front windshield gasket. To our chagrin the floor was still wet after a rainstorm. I investigated further and found that the cowl had rusted away in the corners under the glass and around the fresh air vents. The cowl drains are miniscule on these cars compared to the vent at the base of the windshield. I smelled planned obsolescence at work. The years of being parked under pine trees had done its work. I cleaned everything out as best I could, then aluminum taped and Sikaflexed the damage.

For now the car is almost dry, but for how long? The passenger door bottom is Swiss cheese. The driver’s side of the cowl is ready to rot right off. Still, I’m out there waxin’ right over the rust, putting new brake lines in, adjusting the valves and changing the oil. I guess we’re just preserving what is left of Whitey the car. Neither of us can imagine letting Whitey go to the crusher and at the same time the repairs are beginning to go beyond the scope of our abilities and finances. It’s tough. Let the car go until it completely gives it up or intervene now? One thing is for sure, if people can drag Model A’s out of creeks and turn ‘em into hot rods then maybe Whitey’s days aren’t as numbered as I think. I better buy a mig and learn how to use it. 

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