The Chevy Tree: Do it right…twice

The doors to the truck are a mess.  The vinyl on the door panels is torn. The window guide-felts are fully disintegrated so the window bangs around in the door when it is rolled down. The springs in the door handles are worn out so you have to manually return the handle to its neutral position.  The splines in the window regulator are worn out so rolling the window up makes my left arm do a figure-8 like some sort of synchronized swimmer balancing upside down and underwater.  The arm rests are worn and browned from 50 years of sweaty hands and forearms.  I also need to replace the escutcheons.  I love the word escutcheon.  I am not going to tell you what an escutcheon is.

BUT! They are mostly rust free, they are perfectly aligned, and the outside handles work great.  They are perfect doors.

The thing is that fixing these items is a bit much to do all at once, so I am finding myself taking apart and putting back together parts that are broken or barely functional–which seems counter to the maxim “do it right or do it twice.”  I’ve taken off and put back on the same crusty torn door panels at least three times now, and I will probably need to do it three more times.  It is just something about old cars that no matter how well you do something, you will still have to do it over and over again.

I set out to take care of a few easy pieces on the truck’s doors.  And since I am taking apart the door panel, I might-as-well fix the wobbly door handles, might-as-well change the window felts, might-as-well change the bushings in the regulator, and while I’m in there, these new keyless entry kits are getting pretty cheap, I should install one of those.  And, I can apply some sound deadening to keep the rattles down, and I might-as-well spray some paint in there to keep the rust in check.

The Might-As-Wells sneak into every car project like mental gremlins, hopping in the pool at 12:01am and then driving the golf cart across the 9th green and into the pond after setting the clubhouse on fire.  The might-as-wells are a trap that will send you either to a frame-off restoration due to a blown fuse, or will keep you from working on your car at all since any one task puts you in front of twenty others, so rather than hack together a bunch of broken parts it is often easier just to sit on the couch.  QED: Sitting on the couch is in many ways more productive than actually working on your car.

Might-as-well be damned, I set out to do four easy tasks:

1. I have been living without a driver’s side sun visor for some time now.  The mounting bracket for this shattered one day as I adjusted it during a left hand turn into the sun.  The incoming sun blinded me with its now penetrant rays and left me waving around a broken sun visor like a severed appendage as I careened toward a street light.  Fixing this is as simple as sliding a new rod and mounting bracket down the old visor.

In actuality, this task was comprised of me cursing, my hands covered in silicon penetrating oil as I tried to remove the mounting bracket from the old visor.  A sun visor consists of the metal mounting bracket that screws into the roof.  A metal rod comes out of the bracket and then goes through sun visor itself. The vinyl wraps around the whole assembly, which is comprised of some cardboard and foam, and is stitched together on the bottom.  The rod itself is pressed into a metal sleeve, which provides the friction for holding the visor in the up or down position.  Removing the rod from the sleeve is incredibly difficult.  As I pulled and twisted the visor around the rod, the vinyl stitching came apart, one stitch at a time until it was flapping around like a dog’s mouth in the wind.   I installed the new rod by smacking it with a rubber mallet, out of revenge.  The stitching was a bit of an issue, but it dawned on me that since the thread itself was all still there, I could just glue it back together.  I took a little bit of gorilla glue, and I worked about three inches at a time, smearing glue in there and then holding it together with a stick on each side.  You may be disappointed dear reader, to know that this worked perfectly.

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2. The crappy O-Reilly’s seat cover had turned from awful woven fabric, as it was when it was new, into awful wispy static-y threads that would attach themselves to the back of any clothing.  I hated it the instant I installed it and I cut it out of there with glee.  The bottom of the bench seat is in terrible condition, and I didn’t want to sit directly on foam.  (Sidenote: mice have eaten away at the foam, destroying GM’s hard fought bench seat ergonomic design perfection.)  I found an old beach towel and put it over the bottom of the bench.  Problem solved for now.  I sprayed a bunch of cleaner all over the rest of the vinyl and it actually made it look…better.  Better is a relative term.  I will need to redo this all in the future, but it is improved in the meantime.

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3. I had bought some vinyl paint that I thought would match the original color of the car, so I set about painting some objects.  The arm rests, in particular, are very worn out, as I mentioned.  So I removed them, cleaned them and painted them.  I was planning on painting every object in the cab, but it turned out that the color of the paint was a bit dull compared to the original.  Facing the conundrum, I punted.  I painted the arm rests since they needed it and I’m going to give them a few days before I decide if I want to paint everything else to match.  I’m not sure where I sit on the trade off between new and very clean looking, but dull color, or old and a bit ratty, but better color.  I am leaning toward painting everything so it at least looks new.

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The nature of restoring cars is inherently inefficient.  The purpose of restoring cars, however, is not to maximize the efficiency of the time you spend working on your car, the purpose is to improve the car’s state over the time that you spend working on it.  I look at it with a very simple test: Would I rather have more or less time working on my truck?

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