1970 AMC Hornet, January - April 2004

January 2004

The first thing I did was strip the entire front of the car down to just the unibody. It's amazing how light the unibody is; I can easily lift the front of the car off the jackstands.

The suspension was shot, front and rear. The odometer said 47,000 which certainly means 147,000. It had the original riveted-in balljoints top and bottom. Brakes probably worked, and didn't leak fluid. The rubber was gone from all the bushings, metal on metal. Springs unknown, since there was no engine it sat high. One lower control arm bushing was so gone the stamped flange that retains the bushing wore a groove in the crossmember.

Here's just two shots of the crappy bushings. I had to extract some of these with needle-nose pliers. The rubber centers that were still there fell out after I took the ends off.

What's left after a few hours of pounding, peeling and chipping off old wear components. A testament to redundancy and reliability; this car actually drove with this stuff in it.

(The car must have groaned, squeaked and shuddered and shaked down the road, and what did the previous (before Ron) owner do? Put new shocks in it. They're like-new. Go figure.

The good news is the sheet metal is great. A few dime-sized door dings, a small dimple in the drivers front fender, and nothing else -- perfect.

The car was oddly-optioned; A/C, "SST" trim, but no front sway bar, 9" drum brakes (the 72 has disks), and vacuum wipers.

The engine compartment is typical; lots of sloppy spot-welds, with flash to rip your hands open (first thing I did was squat with a hammer and small cold chisel and removed all the flashing), "extra" holes from years of home repairs (cheap electric fuel pump on inner fender), stripped screw holes, etc.

In the past I would have patched, ground and filled, but instead I simply cleaned up what's there after removing the flesh-rending weld spatter.

I didn't take any photos of the engine compartment "before", but here's two of after the first pass with a wire brush on an electric drill. It seems the factory did a poor paint job on the drivers side spring tower, as it was almost unpainted with lots of surface rust, or maybe there was a chronic fuel spill or fire. The battery box (I'll be moving the battery to the passenger side) has the typical corrosion.

It took about 3 hours to clean all the crud out and ready it for primer, the electric drill/wire-brush was surprisingly effective. I did three passes with the drill/brush; after each I scrubbed it down with purple cleaner (the AutoZone cheap clone of Castrol SuperClean), a brush and a soft scotchbrite pad.

The fenders came off the next weekend (as did the rest of the suspension, since I built a spring compressor during the week), and I did a final touch-up pass to the engine compartment. I knew the chassis was in good shape but I had no idea... clean paint underneath, barely any surface rust. Looks like a year old car! The drivers side, the factory even umm forgot to put sealer on all the spot-welded flanges, the stapled rubber/canvas mudflap was missing, and the plastic dust shield was missing, and still no rust or swelling.

The cowl joints, where the front frame horns/suspension stress member meets the cowl and firewall, is a classic RamblerRust spot. The photos above are right after removing the fender, I merely brushed the dirt off with my hand.

February 2004

Final pass at cleanup before I paint the chassis and engine compartment. The "right way" to paint it would be to already have paint chosen and drag it to a body shop, but there's no way I can afford that.

Here's where the careful planning around major/minor color schemes pays off I hope: the engine compartment and chassis will be painted the minor color, grey. In this case I'm taking a further chance, using Hammerite silver grey. I've used this particular paint a lot, and it holds up really well in an automotive environment, including brake drums, where it's lasted so far over a year with only a slight loss of gloss. It should do fine in the engine compartment, it's got a lot of aluminum flake so it covers well, and it's slight texture helps hide imperfections (of which there are a lot!)

But first the final pass at cleanup:

Above is where the factory simply forgot the sill joint seal; there's no rust swell, you can see the spotwelds. Unbelievable.

As you can see here after just a touch of wirebrushing, the steel looks like new. I consider myself very lucky!

The underside of the spring towers were typically cruddy but no structural damage. They'll get painted. I removed a little undercoat from the tower itself and a bit of the frame rail in front, which will get painted, but it the rest will remain undercoated.

The area at the trailing end of the front fender, down near the lower door hinge, is as spotless as the rest.

Disassembly begins.

Right down to the unibody, everything off/out except doors (those later). Every suspension/chassis part will be inspected, cleaned, painted, detailed before assembly. Everything will be brought 100% or better condition. Other than parts and necessary machine work, it's all cheap (eg. my labor!).

I'm not really fond of aerosol paints, I find them to be porous and thin, but the Hammerite metallics are pretty good: rear brake drums done in silver-grey look great a year later; they cover solidly with few coats, and the inherent texture is practical with castings and stamped metal (I ain't polishing this stuff!). All of the hard suspension components will be painted with it, and the soft parts (bushings, etc) and bolts will get just Eastwood clear coats.

I spent about $100 on chemicals and paints, which should last the entire project (I hope):

Also from Home Despot I got a "mud tub", the big, broad shallow black plastic tub for mixing sheetrock mud, mortar, etc. About $15. I dumped the whole gallon of Zep in it, and with some rubber gloves, a putty knife, a wire brush and two heavy scotchbrite pads, degreased all of the chassis parts, including the rear axle. Spotlessly clean, flash-rust dry, no-fish-eyeing painting. It worked amazingly well, and even though it ended up a thick goo with many pounds of grease and dirt, ate more grease and crud seemingly without limit. The rubber gloves are required, as are glasses or goggles, as this stuff burns your skin.

I didn't take enough pictures of the car "before", but it's nothing you haven't seen before, a typically cruddy, rust and grease-caked undercarriage. 30 years of it. This shot of the drivers-side rear brake, sans drum, will do. Note that there are no brake parts shown -- that's what I found under the drum! The brake line to that side was hammered flat, and thin wire held the cups in the ruined wheel cylinder. Amazing.

The front wheel well areas cleaned up nicely. I used some of the ZEP purple cleaner, and some "purple cleaner" from AutoZone and scrubbed it clean, after chipping off the undercoat from the spring tower area. I sprayed the spring tower and "frame rails" Hammerite silver-grey, without masking, then brushed on Chassis Black over the undercoat and the rest of the wheel well, and Hammerite the rest of the suspension tower for rustproofing.

Most of the suspension parts got scraped then went into the degrease tub, but some parts needed extra attention first.

I decided to stick with the factory 9" drum brakes. I know they suck, but for cost reasons (and to prevent mission creep) I'm sticking with stock. Disk conversion, or possibly 10" drums from a Matador or Ambassador, can come later as a separate project.

(In fact, I almost got sucked down a side-alley, which I'll likely revisit later: drum drilling. Though disk brakes are a drop-in, and is a completely ordinary AMC upgrade, I'm thinking about big 10" drums front and rear, drilled for ventilation by C. H. Topping, which is an old hot-rod treatment from before disk brakes. I really like the retro-futuristic idea of huge, high-performance drums... I sensibly decided to leave this for a future project, after being reminded of my impending mission creep by fellow AMClisters.)

So I got new drums from Doug Galvin, not cheap, but a straightforward repair job. Of course the backing plates are very warn, grooved by the shoes. Welded these up with a friend's MIG welder, then milled flat on my Jet mill.

(Some years back I was able to afford this JET brand mill/drill. 14" table, mixed new and used collets and end mills, and hold down kit and an oversized high-quality mill vise. Set me back about $1500. Worth every dime. I can do anything on it that doesn't require a lathe, and I can do some of that.

Front brake drums have an integral hub -- or so I thought. It turns out that the drums are closely held to the hubs by peening the base of the wheel studs. You simply can't tell visually, they appear to be a single unit. Only with the application of a BFH (shown in these next two photos) did this become apparent. I drove the studs out with a BFH (4 lbs to be exact) applied to them, after threading on an old lugnut. It's tempting to re-use the studs (threads not damaged) but I ordered 20 new ones from NAPA.

It all looks so imprecise. Poor drum::hub alignment would cause runout, which would eat the shoes. And one hub shows signs of abuse; someone musta used a REALLY BIG HAMMER to install the studs, or overtightened the lugs (some gast station monkey with an impact wrench) as the casting dips between the lugs. I will check runout before I put the wheels on the ground, and replace the hub if it's indeed bad.

One of the things that's unobtainable for these cars (small chassis, 69 up) is the rubber-bushed spring perch, and they all go bad. Luckily, John Elle (yet another AMClister, hey what's with that?) worked out a (XXX GET REF) replacement (or at least that's who authored the email sent to the AMClist) using urethane bushings from (XXXX IS IT AMERICAN PERFORMANCE). It assumes the metal parts are OK, but mine were fine. We'll see how they last. Here's a photo of them partially assembled.

I decided to get all the nasty work (disassembly, scraping, degreasing, etc) done as one big, filthy job, and make a nice pile of clean parts to install. Here's the growing pile of checked out, painted and ready-to-go parts, taken about two weeks ago, the pile has doubled in size.

But progress is being made. The front of the unibody is ready for parts, and the rear cleaned up. Undercoat on AMCs is often quite good, and this one was fine, so I scrubbed it clean and painted it Chassis Black. The "frame rail" I scrubbed clean, scraped off undercoat overspray, and painted chassis color (silver). (I'll probably scrape off the black that remains on the frame rail, shown here still in black.)

There's a lot of extraneous holes from three decades as a working street car. I deemed it simply too much work to make it prettier. I'll do my best to mount useful things in existing holes before I drill any new ones!

The front suspension went together without much effort, since I removed, replaced or repaired all of the surprises in past weeks. With these ball-joint front ends there's not much subtlety or exotica in assembly, pretty much it assembles as you'd imagine, just don't over-torque bolts.

Here's a bunch of photos in no particular order, assembling the left side.

All of this stuff is just ordinary repair parts I got from ESPO and auto parts stores, and I didn't do anything exotic or expensive, just cleaning and painting.

Since it requires farming out some stuff, I worked over the rear axle. On cars this old I just replace axle bearings. They looked OK, but there was plenty of wear, butsince the car's apart, why not do it now? It costs about $100; bearings, seals, pressing the hubs and bearings off, pressing on new bearings. Hubs get reattached on the car (later). The backing plates have the usual grooving, so they get welded up and milled like the fronts. The axle cover comes off and is resealed with silicone, as it clearly had seeped over the years. I want this car tight and clean underneath, and with the axle out of the car, all this is easy.

The brake lines were of course frozen into the wheel cylinders and the hose "T", and took vise-grips to remove, so the steel lines were trash. New ones are cheap (though the new rubber hose cost $20 or so). I do have a double-flare tool, but I was able to bend stock-length line into shape. It's clear I had to do a little juggling to shorten it, but I'm happy enough with the results.

It's been raining so I've been piling up shiny painted parts awaiting installation. There's a lot of dinky stuff to clean, bolts, nuts, washers, all sorts of small parts... they get the same degreasing, then dropped into my newest tool purchase: a vibratory parts tumbler, $90 from Eastwood. Hint: degrease parts very well before tumbling.

Because it's hurry-up-and-wait due to weather, and I'm getting itchy to get things going, so I decide to take a detour and try out the SEM vinyl dye.

Never shy, I started with the dash. It's medium blue, in fairly good shape, with a little sun-warping. The foam rubber crashpad is fair, and warped, but it'll have to do for now.

It's got the usual years of stain and filth, so I soaked it down in Purple Cleaner and scrubbed with a soft brush. Repeated this a few times. Softened some adhesive spots with a little mineral spirits and scraped with a popsicle stick. (I also wash and scrub the inside of the dash, not that anyone will see it, but it means I won't transfer crud from inside to outside as I handle it, and it's nice to know the whole car will be spotless.)

Purple Cleaner is followed by the SEM Prep, a very strange water soluable solvent, strange oily stuff. Scrubbed again with the soft brush, then paper towels. (I don't like to use disposable stuff, but like an idiot I first used red shop rags, and had to repeat the cleaning to remove the red cloth dye!). Two passes of this, then left to dry for a few hours.

When dry, I sprayed with the SEM Sandfree Surface Prep, which is basically a solvent that softens the surface; the first coat of SEM color (white) follows immediately, a light dry coat from 24" away. I was able to get about three coats on with the sample can. I was worried that the white wouldn't cover, but this won't be a problem.

March 2004

Finally, it starts to look like a car to me. Though it is slightly easier to install the brakes etc with the fenders off, they're just leaning against the fence so I figured they're better on the car. The right fender is clearly a replacement, it's got that unpaintable black coating all factory replacement fenders seem to have, but neither has even the slightest bit of rust, only a faint stripe where the plastic mudshield rubbed. I washed the innards and slapped some Eastwood chassis paint on 'em.

The front portion of the fenders, behind the grille, got scrubbed, wirebrushed and sprayed aerosol flat black to be invisible behind the grille.

The left front corner tip is folded in somewhat, but body work comes later, and taking the fender off is trivial, and it's good enough for now.

For no really good reason, I stuck the rear bumper on, after scrubbing the paint underneath with white compound. Chances are that I'll be driving this thing before it gets painted due to money (lack of).

There's a thousand small tasks to do, like cleaning and painting brackets and such, I do these when I get stuck. The front bumper brackets got the usual treatment (putty knife, wirebrush, degrease vat, wirebrush, Eastwood Chassis Black). The gas pedal got the same and flat black. Hoping that it'll last a little while anyways, the power brake booster got a light cleanup and flat black.

It's very pleasing to work on the interior, it makes it seem like this project actually has a chance of completion by summer.

The interior was nearly empty when I got it, but I took the rest out (a few brackets mainly), putty-knifed the crud off, removed broken screws, scrubbed the floor and hosed out the interior, after removing the plugs from the floor plan to let the water out. The car probably lost 10 pounds in the process.

I layed in a full piece of insulation blanket I got from Eastwood (this is beginning to sound like an Eastwood fluff piece) against the firewall and started bolting the dash crap to it. No glue needed, and I haven't yet even cut the thing.

The heater box was OK, but like all AMCs this age, the foam gasketing was complete rubbish. Instead of finding suitable foam and re-cutting them, I simply used silicone rubber and "backer rod" to build up the gasket area to match the airbox in the cowl, and silicone rubber it in place. Silicone rubber seems to be replacing gaskets everywhere -- for applications like this it's actually best to not clean the surfaces spotlessly; in some cases, I wipe a thin film of silicone grease on the mating surface to guarentee it won't stick there. Applying beads of silicone and letting it skin over (30 minutes) makes for a nice compliant 100% sealing gasket. This job wasn't pretty, but it's air-tight, waterproof and removable.

It's easy to install the heater box and A/C unit when there's nothing in the way! Though it's still somewhat of a pain to start the screws on the evaporator. As you can see, all of the foam tape is long gone; I scrubbed it off and left it. The inner flaps won't seal as well, but these seemed to align well and it'll be better than factory when I'm done otherwise.

(The evap unit outlets that feed the package tray A/C ducts will be siliconed. The foam probably never worked that well in the first place. I siliconed my 75 Gremlin together, and when I had the package tray out a year later, I simply picked off the old silicone and applied new. It worked great.)

Everything going back into the car is getting hosed and scrubbed with degreaser or detergent. It's easier to work on, assemble, identify, it smells and looks better, and takes almost no time.

It was very pleasant to actually install the dash and steering column in the car. This was a column-shift automatic; I disassembled the column, removed the extra parts, hacksawed off the protrusions and filled the holes with PC-7 epoxy, filed, sanded, painted with SEM white. It also got lubed and a new lockset.

If you look closely you can see that my dash is warped on top, as is every Hornet/Gremlin I've ever seen. It's all intact though, no broken speaker grille pieces, and it's 'good enough' for a nice clean daily driver.

April 2004

I will eventually break wiring out into it's own section. For now, it's all in line here.

The wiring harness was out of the car when I got it, stuffed into a box. It's all stiff, greasy and cracked, the factory harnesses look like crap, as a electronic technician for 30+ years with high standards, the crap they pull at the factory makes me cringe (things like splices buried in taped harnesses, fusible links). They totally uglify the car under-hood.

The factory is good at producing a mostly safe car with minimal connections and fewest feet of pricey copper, but it doesn't look good. Saving a few buck on copper isn't worth it when you're making one fun project car.

I fully intended to install a Painless Wiring 12-circuit harness, but changed my mind when I found they cost $350. I spent a total of $120 or so doing it all myself. The Painless stuff is awfully nice though and it's not a bad price, but I wanted my own work here.

When I split off this section into it's own page, I'll scan my wiring diagrams and schematics, but what I did was trace out the pinouts and functions of the parts I was reusing (column switch, dash cluster, etc) and made one-section-per-sheet wiring diagrams/schematics. Rather than the huge tangle of lines required to put the whole car onto one sheet, I standardized on signal names (LFturn, Hi, Lo, Ign, etc) and did wiring diagrams. Details will have to wait scanning.

I chose standard "bakelite" barrier strips, mostly 16AWG wire (overkill for many circuits), 10AWG for the bigger circuits, 20AWG for signals (oil, temp). Expandable mesh tubing, nylon clamps, red/blue spades, crimped and soldered.

I planned out wire runs carefully. I hate tangled engine compartments. This one will be neat! I've planned out where wires will run to the motor (oil, temp, A/C clutch, choke) such that they'll come off the cowl from the fan area, along the valve cover (inline 6). Ignition on the obvious side.

All of the front lighting wiring is along side the radiator, where the battery would be in 1970 (drivers side; I'm moving it to the "1972" passenger side for better weight distribution). Shown are hi-beam and lo-beam relays; the horn relay isn't installed yet in this photo (nor is the 10AWG battery feed for them). Not only does it make halogen lights brighter (I've measured over a volt of drop through stock harnesses!) 30-year-old ignition switches are often already damaged from years of normal operating current; in my cars they switch only relays, so even worn switches will last decades. The wiring up to the dash can be lighter gauge too (though I'm using 16AWG here).

These pictures of the under-dash wiring look like chaos, but it's actually fairly orderly. All of the sub-harnesses (lighting, ignition, fan, etc) congregate here. Each area, for example ignition, has few wires, so on the wiring sheet/schematic for that area, I assign functions to the colors/barrier strip positions (IGNITION, TACH, CRANK) and tag them with tape temporarily. The tagged wires are then bundled and wired to their place under the dash; fuse block, ignition switch, etc. As I do that I note the wire color and otherwise document the final detail wire by wire so that I end up with a 100% correct document of the car's wiring.

As the wiring progresses (the under-dash work took an afternoon) you can see the bundles get a lot neater. I used spiral wrap here, it's not quite as attractive, but it's easier to make changes to, as it's really easy to leave a wire out of a bundle, and some wiring (such as instrument lighting to fuse block) I did at the last minute here, too trivial to worry about in the block-out early stages.

I also left the harness ends very long. If you've ever had a dash gauge cluster out you know how frustrating it is with the incredibly short harness. The extra few dollars worth of copper makes like much much easier.

I had ambitious plans for installing a lot more fuse circuits, but in the end I decided to go with the dead-stock six (!) circuit fuse box. I want this car on the road, and I tend to make things too complicated...

Wiring the dash stuff wasn't that bad; to make it easier I used the actual components (headlight switch, dash connectors, etc) to hold the wiring as it went along; you can see them sitting in various places in the dash.

The various connectors used for the gauge cluster, steering column, and such are all proprietary, and I ended up reusing many of them. I simply clipped them off the old factory harness with 6" = 12" of wire, and butt-spliced them onto my new harness, with a few exceptions: anything carrying more than an ampere of current was soldered and heat-shrinked. Luckily most stuff, like the column, doesn't carry much current.

The ignition switch had it's own special molded connector, but inside it are ordinary "Fast-On" connectors. Here I pitched the old connector, and crimped and soldered new Fast-Ons. There's only a half-dozen wires here, and the big ones (IGNITION, ACCESSORY and BATTERY) need to be clean, solid and reliable.

The gauge cluster guts I've had apart since January, in little bins on my workbench. Now I need to get my butt together and finish it!

Since I'm emulating parts of the import-scene look, the funky 70's post-hippy (and cheap-looking) AMC gauge style had to go. I used Adobe Illustrator to lay out new gauge faces. I stuck the old ones on my scanner, used Gimp to lighten them, and used them as guides for making the new faces. (Basically, Illustrator text on curved paths.) I picked a type face, Birch Std, that was old-fashioned enough to not clash with the Hornet, but clean enough to look modern-ish. I also removed a lot of extraneous detail and most of the digits.

Through no coincidence I laid out the color scheme so that the gauge faces would be white, so I could ink-jet print on white semi-gloss photo paper (this is why I like to plan, plan, plan...). The new faces were cut out and mounted to the gauge mechanisms with #77 spray adhesive, and trimmed carefully with an Exacto knife, to produce the contoured holes and such. Then they got a good coat of Eastwood clear to hopefully make them moisture- and UV-proof.

Though I hadn't done the tach yet, or the knobs, I really wanted to see what it all looked like, and I'm pretty pleased.

[27 February, 2005 note: the files I used to produce these gauges is available for free here; be warned it's about 42 megabytes of stuff, and you're on your own. You will need Adobe Illustrator or other program capable of processing encapsulated PostScript to use them.]