Play me a good ol’ ‘tune’





Highways are Happy Ways is an old tune we like to relate to when touring in our beloved old LaSalles and Caddys. The tune that can make it happen is a good spring “tune tip” before the tour season starts.


This can provide you a pleasant weekend of hands-on with The Girl of My Dreams and it will probably cost you less than taking your spouse out to a nice dinner, of course, both can pay big dividends.


Don’t make the mistake of feeling that you don’t have enough miles since the last tuneup because a car that is driven regularly needs far fewer tuneups than one that spends a lot of time idle. One of the easiest tuneups is called a “highway tune” which, ideally, would happen once a month by taking the car out on the highway and run for 45 minutes to an hour at highway speeds after first letting the car warm up for 10 to 15 minutes.


When you get back, let the car idle a few minutes at a fast idle (1,000 to 1,200 rpm) before shutting it off. If it has been more than three months since the car had a good run, you should put a moisture-absorbing additive in the gas tank before you go. This will not only remove any condensation out of the tank but from the fuel lines, pump and carburetor bowl. The best time for your Springtime in the Rockies tuneup is right after a highway tune run.


Start out by draining out the hot oil and let it drain for at least 30 minutes or so. That’s right, an oil change is part of a tuneup for a car that has been sitting rather than being driven regularly, due to contamination from condensation, etc. If you think this is too expensive, just ask yourself “Would I rather buy oil I don’t need or metal I do need?” Some of that metal can be expensive.


The next item on our tuneup should be new spark plugs. They are not that expensive. Don’t do it haphazardly—do it right. If you are afraid of crossing wires, do one at a time. Before you remove each plug, use compressed air and blow out around the base so you don’t get any loose dirt in the cylinders.


You want to be sure to gap the plugs very carefully and evenly. Follow your shop manual for the gap setting…at our altitude, you will want to gap a little wide to compensate for the lower compression of thinner air. For example, if your manual shows a .025 to .030 gap, set them at 030. If it says .028, then make it a slightly loose .028. Again, it is very important that the gaps are even.


When you take the old plugs out, examine them, mark them with the cylinder number they come out of and check the gap. Use these for comparison the next time you change plugs. Proper reading of these plugs can give you a good analysis of your engine condition.


When you are ready to put the plugs in, clean them well, and if the top cap on the plug is the type that screws on, make sure it is good and tight. When you put in the new plugs, tighten down firm but do not overtighten. Again, wipe down the porcelain part well. If your car has boots on the spark plug wires, make sure you adjust them so you have between 1/2 and 3/4 inch of porcelain showing and again make sure they are even.


Now that this is done, it is time to look at the distributor. Lift the cap off and look at the inside for any signs of excess wear or spark burns or cracks. If it looks OK, spray the inside with brake and electrical cleaner and wipe down with a clean, dry rag. If it still looks OK, you probably don’t need to replace it. If you have doubts, replace it and keep the old one for an emergency spare.


Next, take the rotor out and look at it, make sure it is not cracked or shows burn signs. If in doubt, replace it. Next, you want to look at the points... open them and look at the faces. If they are pitted or have “buildup,” replace them. If they look OK, clean the faces by using the edge of a plain white business card. Don’t use a file or sandpaper. Then set the points, referring to the shop manual for exact setting and adjustment. You should be ready to put the distributor back together, making sure all the wires are tight in the cap holes as well as on the spark plugs.


This would be a good time to check out your coolant. If it is over a year old, it is best to change it. Drain, flush out and fill with a mixture of 50 percent good coolant and 50 percent purified water. Purified water you can purchase at the supermarket is better than distilled water. You should do this before you pull a Willie Nelson and get On the Road Again.


Finally,you are ready to do your “engine-running tuneup.” Let the car run and get warm and set the idle jets. It is best to do this with a tachometer to get the best setting. Most cars aren’t sharp enough to detect a 50 to 100 rpm difference.


For the final part of your tuneup, you will want to set the timing by using a timing light.  On the older flatheads, the timing mark is on the lower pulley, and will have two marks on it. One says “TDC” for top dead center, and one that says “IGN” or “IGA.” At this altitude, you will want to set the time about 5 degrees advanced or between the “G” and “N” or “G” and “A” at about 700 rpm with the vacuum advance disconnected and plugged. Check your shop manual for this procedure.


You should now be ready to get on the Highway To Heaven or even Route 66 and By the Time You Get to Phoenix, you’ll be glad you spent the time tuning up the Object of Your Affection.


Many of these old “tunes” fit our cars, but I like to quote my favorite from TV’s All in the Family. When somebody asks us “How was your trip?”, I always say “We had an Archie Bunker trip” and when they ask what I mean, the reply is “Gee, our old LaSalle ran great.”


See ya next month.