All posts by Kurt Niemeyer

Kurt Niemeyer is a lifelong sports car guy with an interest in motorcycles, boats and general aircraft, if you can drive it, he likes it. A second generation sports car racer, Niemeyer races on road courses, paved ovals and drag strips along with autocrossing, in a Legends Car; 2015 marks his return to Vintage Sports Car Racing. An avid European sports car collector, preservationist and restorer he is often tapped as a Concours d’Elegance Judge for Porsche, Alfa Romeo, Austin Healey, Ferrari, Jaguar, racing cars and other marques. Part of the Car Selection team at the Ault Park Concours d’Elegance, he picks and awards the William Niemeyer Exemplary Alfa Romeo Award each year to honor his Father, and recruits Sports Cars up to 1959. A writer and historian he works as the automotive/motoring editor for Cincy Magazine, and contributes to a variety of collector car publications.

Ashley’s Austin Healey

It would be safe to say that the majority of the people reading this blog post are gearheads with a penchant for mechanical pieces whether they roll on the ground, skip across the water or fly through the air. While we get pulled in by the fascinating bits and pieces, giving hours of attention to care, recreation and research, most of us would agree that the people are what make certain events and activities more enjoyable and most memorable.

Austin Healey driverside

Every June, the second Sunday is reserved for the Ault Park Concours d’Elegance, where I recruit two seat Sports Cars up to 1959 for the Sports Classic category. These cars bring a smile to everyone’s face, Porsche, MG, Jaguar, Corvette, Alfa, Morgan, Triumph, Lotus, Ferrari, Siata, Austin Healey, all the little cars that are big fun! For 2014, an Austin Healey 100 BN2 was scheduled to appear on the field, registered by Gary Feldman from northern Ohio; the car had undergone a thorough restoration including extensive work performed in the Feldman’s garage.

Austin Healey backend

At Ault Park the cars wind down the garden paths to get onto the show field. The Big Healey drew attention as it picked it way through the gardens to take up its position amongst the other sports cars on the show field. As the 100-4, black with deep red inserts, and matching deep red interior, rolled across the lawn with the hood up to keep the morning dew at bay, one couldn’t help but notice the young lady in the passenger seat sporting an enormous grin. Ashley Feldman beamed from the right seat as her Dad, Gary, put the car on its marks; she popped out of the right side and went for the detailing equipment before Gary could extract himself from under the raised top. After a brief introduction, the Feldman’s prepared the car for the judging and spectators as I took the opportunity to look over the decidedly luscious Healey.

Austin Healey grill

Both Gary and Linda, Ashley’s Mother, took time to explain the depth of Ashley’s involvement in the restoration of the 100-4. From the day it was brought home as a used sports car Ashley developed an affinity for the car and claimed it part and parcel as “Her Car.” When the restoration process began, Ashley delved into the project alongside Gary, handing tools, reading instructions, pushing cables and pulling wires – all the fun stuff of the restoration project. Ashley faces special challenges with learning daily, vintage sports car restoration is a challenge she enthusiastically accepts and enjoys.

Ashley in her Austin Healey

A young lady proud of the car she put on the show field, as she well should be; Big Healey’s are quite the find with Concours recruiters. Few and far between, it is always an honor to have one on display. To have an exemplary Austin Healey adds immeasurably to any Concours. To have a Big Healey with such an exemplary story is very rare. A young lady restoring sports cars with her Dad and embracing the hobby is a refreshing twist from the daily grind.

Thanks to Ashley and the Feldmans for adding even more delight to our day.

Driving Tour Draws the Classics

Spring weather rolled through the Ohio Valley just in time for the annual Spring Classic Driving Tour, providing the best Saturday of the month for classic, collector and sports car enthusiasts to get behind the wheel for a day of fun. This event is an embodiment of “the Journey is the Destination.” Participants meander across southwest Ohio on roads picked more for their character, scenery and lack of traffic than the direction of travel.

Apr 18, 2015: Motoring in Focus Spring Classic Driving Tour.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Loewe

This early season cruise came complete with moderate temperatures and cloudless skies, leading to a lot of top down motoring and the associated development of “Cabriolet tans.” In total, 86 cars (mostly sports cars) drove from the east side of Cincinnati for the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains — about 60 miles to the east in Adams County, Ohio.

Apr 18, 2015: Motoring in Focus Spring Classic Driving Tour.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Loewe

The area is geographically intense. The proximity of the Appalachian Mountains and ancient glaciation make for a landscape that reminds drivers why they bought a sports car. The elevation can change dramatically as the roads flash to and fro, following creeks through the gorges as they drop toward the Ohio River Valley.

The variety of cars entered this year made for quite a scene at the start of the event. About a dozen people showed up early just to enjoy the ad hoc car show before the start of the cruise!

Apr 18, 2015: Motoring in Focus Spring Classic Driving Tour.

Photo courtesy of Scott Tengen

Porsche was the most prolific brand on the tour, with 356, 912, 911, 944, Cayenne, Cayman and Boxster models on the road. VW was represented by a Karmann Ghia, a Thing, a Baja Bug modified Beetle and a fun loving group of car lovers having a good time. Several BMWs drove, including a Z8, Z4, M5 and 2002.

Apr 18, 2015: Motoring in Focus Spring Classic Driving Tour.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Loewe

MG owners turned out in TC, TD, TF, Y-type, Midget and MGB models to experience roads similar to those found in the UK. Almost as many Austin Healey enthusiasts made the grid in 100-6, 3000 and Sprite models, along with one Jensen Healey. Triumph drivers brought a variety of interesting machines — including TR3, TR250 and TR6 — to the party.

Apr 18, 2015: Motoring in Focus Spring Classic Driving Tour.

Photo courtesy of Scott Tengen

Ferrari’s 512TR, 575, 360 and 308 Dino, along with a Lamborghini Spyder, brought wonderful sounds and ultra-exotic coachwork. Other Italians included an Alfa Romeo Milano Verde and a classic GTV with a twin plug two-litre under the hood, a Fiat 500 and a Maserati Spyder. A Gran Turismo supplied more eye and ear candy.

Apr 18, 2015: Motoring in Focus Spring Classic Driving Tour.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Loewe

Corvettes came in the guise of C-3, C-4 and C-6, along with corporate performance mate Buick’s Grand National, bringing traditional American power (and plenty of it!).

Apr 18, 2015: Motoring in Focus Spring Classic Driving Tour.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Loewe

Additional machinery from Audi, Datsun, Dodge, Jaguar, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mini, Morgan, Nissan GTR, Saab, Volvo spent the day winding along the ridges and through the valleys.  And a couple of grocery getter types tagged along with our rolling car show.

The number of entries prompted the organizers to plot two routes — one for late model cars and the other for vintage cars. The distinct routes allowed each group member to enjoy his or her car’s performance as originally intended.

The late model route went farther, faster, and included several legs on wide-open state highways, allowing the drivers to experience the strength of their machinery. The vintage cars concentrated on roads suited to smaller, lighter, ultra-nimble models. Three stops were planned for each route to allow the drivers and navigators to get out for a stretch and walk about — a necessity when traveling in cars made primarily for performance rather than comfort.

Apr 18, 2015: Motoring in Focus Spring Classic Driving Tour.

Photo courtesy of Scott Tengen

Finding facilities that can park 40-45 cars in a picturesque, rural county can be challenging. The organizers relied heavily on Adams County Convention & Visitors Bureau director Tom Cross for suggestions.

Each group visited an Amish market with a furniture outlet, bulk food store, sandwich shop, and bakeries filled with pies, cakes, breads, pretzels and other goodies. The Amish ladies will weave custom baskets too; several car owners were spotted measuring back seats and luggage racks to fit a basket that could be filled with pies for a safe journey home.

Antiquing is prevalent in the area and is a fitting breather from some of the character-filled roads; several stores in the area feature dealership, service station and other auto-related collectibles. The Rooster’s Nest Antiques and Barn Sale Antiques welcomed the sports cars and took them for a journey into the past. About this time, the folks with the grocery getter-type cars were getting very popular, those little sports cars were never known for cargo space!

The late model group wound its way along Ohio Brush Creek to the Tranquility State Wildlife Area, a scenic wooded area that is also home to the John T. Wilson Homestead, a nationally-recognized historic site. The John T. Wilson Homestead dates back to the 1820s, when it was a general store. Later, it was a station on the Underground Railroad. It has been authentically restored by Ralph and Patty Alexander and now operates as a bed & breakfast.

Apr 18, 2015: Motoring in Focus Spring Classic Driving Tour.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Loewe

The vintage car group followed the John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail around the county and visited the JZN Goat Farm, to the delight of kids (as in, baby goats) and people alike. Cheese and goat milk was sampled and many folks fed the young goats. This proved to be a popular destination. We listened to interesting commentary by Gayla Fritzhand on the making of goat cheese and milk. The goats were pretty entertaining, too.

Overall, the destinations offered a bit of diversion from the serious “car guy” stuff and provided entertainment for some of our not-as-enthusiastic enthusiasts.

The final leg of the driving tour celebrated hills, curves, twists and dales as the two itineraries merged for the final destination: the Moyer Vineyard Winery & Restaurant in Manchester, Ohio. Offering fine dining and refreshing beverages after 120 miles of four-wheeled fun, the restaurant was packed with colorful, exotic machines. Departing west for home took many on a sunset cruise along the mighty Ohio River.

Experienced motorsports photographers Jeff Loewe and Scott Tengen photographed the proceedings and offer galleries (click on their names to view) for your enjoyment.

Spring Start Up

Bring your ride up to speed after the winter.

Even though we have Sprung Ahead, the late winter weather in the northern climates is keeping enthusiasts indoors, classic and collector vehicles are still tucked away until the end of the Salt Season. Now is the time to dust off the classic and get ready for driving tours, car shows and cruise ins, and do the mechanical checks to ensure that you can have a good time in a few weeks.

My first task when putting a car/bike on the road after a period of inactivity is to make sure it will stop before I make it go. A quick trip through the braking system each spring can save a load of hassle later in the year when you want to enjoy the ride.

    • If you have drum brakes take the drums off if possible, clean and lubricate the mechanisms and inspect the linings for rivets showing through or other component failure such as coming loose from the shoe, broken springs or clips. Make sure the brakes are adjusted properly to avoid long pedal throws and unequal braking across the axle.

 

    • If you have disc brakes check pad thickness, for uneven or excessive wear, that the pistons push back freely and easily; check the disc for grooves or gouges on the friction surface.

 

    • Check the brake fluid level and look at the color/clarity of the fluid, discoloration or cloudiness indicates contamination that hamper the effectiveness of the braking system: if the fluid in the master cylinder reservoir is contaminated flush the system completely and replace the fluid with fresh.

 

    • If the brake fluid is clear and the proper color, bleeding the brakes is always a good idea after sitting over the winter. Usually contaminated fluid will collect near the wheel cylinder/caliper and can readily be bled out to assure better braking performance.

 

    • Inspect the flexible brake hoses, check for cracking, fluid leaks, corrosion etc… The internal passage of these flexible hoses will fail and restrict the flow of the brake fluid out of the caliper/wheel cylinder, effectively keeping the brake applied or dragging. If you find abnormally heavy brake dust and excessive friction material wear, the cause may be a collapsed flexible brake line.

 

    • Inspect the solid steel lines while you are under the car, look for corrosion which can indicate leaking fluid, check all the junctions.

 

While bleeding the brakes, go ahead and bleed the clutch, if your vehicle is so equipped; it is easier to get all the bleed and brake fluid equipment out only once. Standard and hi-temperature brake fluids absorb moisture, try to keep all hydraulic fluids tightly capped and sealed, do not leave the container sitting open especially in humid conditions.

Drum-Brakes

In the collector car world much of the discussion revolves around fuel; in the past it was about octane levels and who had the cleanest fuel at the pump, today’s discussion centers on the amount of alcohol in the gas and the damage it causes. Alcohol in fuel, much like in brake fluid, absorbs water and leads to oxidization of the components throughout the fuel system wreaking havoc on the older components. During periods of inactivity the gasoline and alcohol separate, the water laden alcohol lies against the metallic surfaces and oxidizes the material, etching the surface and creating tiny pieces of debris that move through the system and create issues that cause poor performance.

SU-Bowl-with-fuel-residue

Today’s gasoline starts to break down chemically within thirty days, with many collector vehicles it may take quite a bit longer to run through a full load of fuel. Even with the addition of a fuel stabilizer and alcohol counter-acting agents the various chemicals within the system create a gelatinous solution that joins forces with the bits of debris and will clog fuel lines, filters, pumps, jets, capillaries and injectors. When the fuel evaporates dried flakes are left behind in the system adding to the gelatinous ooze that restricts flow; internal components become encrusted in a varnish like substance that will clean off with brushes, steel wool and solvent.

Installing a clear in-line fuel filter between the tank and the pump will capture bits of debris, rust and congealed petro chemicals before they reach the critical and expensive components such as fuel pumps, fuel injectors and carburetors.

SU-Carb-corroded-components

The corrosive nature of the alcohol universally damages the fuel system from the gas cap to the point of induction, including the rubber fuel lines. The rubber fuel lines harden, lose their flexibility and will fail causing fuel leaks, air leaks, poor running or the greatest fear amongst us, FIRE! Carefully inspect hoses and look for cracking at the junctions, or the ends where clamped around a metal line; if the hose is stiff or it is cracked on the ends replace it with an ethanol resistant component. The damage from the corrosive nature of the fuel can be widespread, inspect fuel line clamps and replace if corroded.

SU-Carb-filter-with-flakes

If you encounter difficulty starting, due to lack of fuel, work backwards from the jet or injector to find where the flow of fuel stops; frequently we find the fuel has congealed in the carburetor float chambers and is clogging the capillaries that feed fuel to the jets. Clean the chamber with shop towels and solvent removing the ooze in the bottom of the float bowl, pour carburetor cleaner into the bowl and allow it to soak through the chemical residue and oxidization in the passages that feed the jets, in some applications a thin wire can be used to help clear the passages in the carburetor. Most pumps work with a diaphragm action, the alcohol will deteriorate the rubber diaphragm and the pump will need service or replacement. If the fuel line between the tank and the pump is clogged the pump can fail. We have been successful using a hand operated brake bleed vacuum pump to clear clogged fuel pumps, using a low pressure suction on the outlet side often will pull the contaminated fuel from the pump and allow proper operation. Metal canister fuel filters can be the source of the clog, capturing debris and contamination is their job, regularly replacing it is a good practice. Fuel lines can be easily cleared with compressed air forced through the line, we usually back flush the lines to clear clogs; be aware that filters and pumps can be damaged by reversing the flow, work around these components when performing these tasks. Check the Cap on the tank, oxidation can hinder the operation especially of older ventilated gas caps and not allow the fuel to be drawn out of the tank through the fuel line.

More solutions to the fuel problem are becoming available; the most straightforward answer seems to be to buy gas with no ethanol; the Historic Vehicle Association offers a list and map of gas stations offering ethanol free fuel. Many fuel distributors offer ethanol free fuels, a little research in your local area can highlight where to get fuel that will perform better in your classic car or bike.

With both the brake fluid and the gasoline if you should spill some on the paint or finish of the vehicle wipe it off immediately and wash the area with plenty of water, the alcohol will remove wax from the finish and start etching into the paint very quickly, use appropriate fender covers and have a supply of towels handy in case of spills. Know where to find the fire extinguisher.

Other good maintenance procedures for spring include:

  1. Lubricating the chassis and suspension
  2. Oil and filter change, check the transmission fluid level
  3. Set the tire pressures and torque the wheels
  4. Check the lights, horn and other electrical items
  5. Check the charge in your onboard fire extinguisher

 

See you on the Road, in a Classic.