We're tooling over to Tampa, crossing the bay on the Sunshine Skyway bridge in the wife's '50s car on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. We're on our way to a nephew's second birthday party, and we've got the full compliment of family members aboard-wife, young 'un, and mom-in-law, just to make things perfect. Everything's fine until we get to about the middle of the bridge and the car starts chugging. We've done this dance before, so at the first sign of a problem we started angling for the shoulder, more out of reflex than anything else.
We can now tell you, first hand, that the Skyway Bridge in Tampa, Florida, sways from side to side about a foot or two on center. Even on a relatively calm day. Did we mention that we're also not real fond of unstable heights?
Up until then, the car ran fine. It'd made the do-si-do to and from work more times than we can count. It'd been to Tampa twice before, and even made the nearly three hundred mile round trip to Daytona Beach and back. Never a problem. That's because we didn't have the mother-in-law along for any of those cruises.
This is just some of the crud...
This is just some of the crud that came out of the bottom of the gas tank from the wife's car. The car ran fine, and if it weren't for a couple of small pin holes that leaked when we topped it off, we'd have never dropped the tank to clean it out. It turned out that there was over 10 pounds of crud in the bottom of the tank. The pile in front of the acid jugs isn't half of what we eventually pulled out!
The gas tank in the Paddock...
The gas tank in the Paddock Project Charger was in great shape on the outside, and the low mileage car ran well. However, Mike Paremsky at Michael's Auto Body, the shop heading up the restoration of the car, agrees with us that if a new gas tank is available, always replace your existing tank. He cut open the Charger's original tank to get a look inside and this is what we found-a lot of sediment at the bottom of the tank right where the pick-up tube is. Also notice the top of the tank (in the foreground) has hardened varnish drips formed on it. There is a substantial risk of explosion involved with cutting open your gas tank, so don't do it! All it will take is one spark to ruin your whole day.
The car got to the party, eventually (and we do mean eventually). It finally got back home under its own power, too. But now the wife refers to it as The SS Minnow (think "three hour tour"), and I'm stuck driving it because she doesn't trust it. That's not all bad, but I'd really like her to be driving a vintage car on a daily basis.
We've done more than our share of little roadside repairs on the car, both before and after what's since become known simply as "That Day on the Bridge." All have been the usual things one would expect from a vintage car, and none have been a big deal. But we've got to admit we were blind-sided by what shouldered us that day on the bridge-it was the gas tank.
Purchased from the second owner, the car had only 25,000 miles on the clock when we added our name to the title. The seller told us he'd drained the gas tank and rebuilt the carb, and it ran pretty well during the test drive. After trailering it home, we did a quick inspection of what needed to be addressed for road worthiness, made the fixes, and started driving.
We're not sure what this sediment...
We're not sure what this sediment is, but after the tank dried out, it was fairly hard. However, with gas in the tank, we're certain it would be soft and pliable, just like what came out of the other tank shown previously. In all honesty, this tank could have been saved if we'd found a shop to boil it out. However, if it had any pin holes in it (a common occurrence with vintage gas tanks), it wouldn't have been worth the hassle with new tanks available.
This is why it's a good idea...
This is why it's a good idea to replace the fuel lines in a vintage vehicle. This filter plugged with rust and sediment after we replaced the gas tank in the wife's '50s car. The inside of fuel lines will rust just like any other steel component exposed to air and moisture. If your car has ever sat and the fuel lines drained, the inside of the lines could rust. You'd think this would eventually clear itself out, but consider the surface area of the inside of a fuel line that's 20 feet long-that's a lot of area covered by rust as fine as talcum powder. This filter has been cleaned and replaced numerous times.
After driving the car for a couple of months, the tank started leaking a little bit. Pin holes in vintage tanks are common, so we dropped the tank to make what we thought would be an easy repair. Thanks to the EPA, it's hard to find a shop that will "boil out" a gas tank, so not being of the nature to let a little environmental catastrophe stand in our way, we proceeded to clean out the tank in our own driveway with several gallons of muratic acid. What fun that was.
The sediment we removed from the gas tank can best be described as scary. We're not sure what it was, but there was several pounds of it, and it had the consistency of Silly Putty gone bad. It came out in chunks and sheets, the biggest of which weighed about a pound. We pulled it all out of the sending unit hole in the top of the tank with a screwdriver and a mechanic's retrieval tool, both of which died because of the acid.
We ordered a new tank, straps,...
We ordered a new tank, straps, and fuel lines from The Paddock. The original straps could have been cleaned and retained, but they aren't that expensive, and they wouldn't have looked as good against the metal of the brand new tank. It's not a big detail, especially under the car, but with the bottom of the tank usually visible from below the rear bumper on our cars, it's a detail worth considering.
This may seem obvious, but...
This may seem obvious, but the first thing Mike did after inspecting his new gas tank was to seal the inlet with tape to keep debris, dirt, or critters out. The fuel lines come with caps on their ends for the same reason, so leave them in place until you connect them. He taped the lines going into the sending unit, too.