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Pace

'78 Black Pearl Restoration

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I originally started this "build thread" on another forum as an archive of the 280Z's progress. But I am afraid it may not survive much longer there. So I'm bringing it over here and adapting it to be more suitable to the S30 crowd.

My SO, Noah, and I have owned an '86 300ZX Turbo for nearly a decade and it has been a fun and educational restomod project. However, despite seeing seeing the sweat, blood, and tears put toward former roommates' and friends' S30s, we decided that we wanted to pick one up as a project. With that said, we are currently renting a house with a two-car garage. So the plan was to start looking after we bought a house with room for a shop on the property. But, as I'm sure you all are well aware, things don't always work out the way we plan. 

About this time last year I had a long-term client that came into my office and told me he was looking at a new "toy" to drive. He talked about how his old Datsun had been in the shop for a number of years and he just wanted something he could drive and enjoy. Of course, my interest was piqued. He's a bit of a workaholic and therefore a busy guy. So it took me a while to find out what this "old Datsun" actually was. He stopped by once more before the holidays at which point I was able to figure out that it was an S30. He said he was on the fence about fixing it or letting it go. So I did the right thing and gave him some contact info for the local Z Car Club should he want advice on repairs. But I let him know I was interested in checking it out if he decided to sell. A few months went by again and he came back in February. So I asked if he ever got in contact with the club or fixed the Z. He said it was still in the shop and he was ready to let it go at this point. We came to the agreement that if I covered the bill at the shop - a very reasonable amount - I could have it. So I got the shop's info, checked it out, and made the decision to buy it.

It's a '78 280Z with 4-speed manual transmission in decent condition. It does have some rust in the typical places from being exposed to the elements: the floor pans and rocker panels need replacement. The frame rails will also receive some attention, along with an area of the spare tire tub where the metal is a bit thin. There are also a few small random spots on the body that could be cleaned up, but otherwise it appears to be a fairly straight body with good potential.

How we found it:

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Within the next few days I had secured a temporary storage unit for it to sit and dry out until we could finish up another project and clear up space in the garage. I was told the car didn't run due to a rusty gas tank. However, when I showed up at the shop to meet the flatbed tow truck, the 280Z was idling (poorly) and had been driven out from the shop's side lot. From there, we got it to the storage facility and unloaded it into its temporary home.

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We weren't able to do a lot with it since the storage facility rules prohibit "wrenching on" vehicles in storage. With that said, we have been able to do some basic things to get it back to a basic roadworthy status.

Mechanically it's a solid base but could use some work. The previous owner said the engine was rebuilt about ten years ago. Then he drove it for a few thousand miles before it started having some problems common to a nearly 40 year old car. So it bounced from shop to shop for various repairs for a few years. The latest invoices we received from the local import shop (which I should point out specialized in European cars), showed a replacement fuel pump, new rear wheel cylinders, and some small changes being done. The invoice recommended replacing the rusty fuel tank - a rather backwards approach, I think.

We also noticed the fuel filter had been bypassed at some point and was missing from the engine bay. This of course explained the fouled spark plugs covered in black gunk. It also has a sizable exhaust leak between the exhaust manifold and head that will be addressed later. In the meantime I ordered a few tune-up parts to see if that would help to clean up clear up the misfire and clean out the fuel system. No pics unfortunately, but we swapped in a new fuel filter, spark plugs, wires, distributor cap and rotor, and added a couple gallons of 91 octane to see if things would clear up. Fortunately those changes helped and it was happy to idle on all cylinders. We were able to pull it out of the storage unit and drive it around the back of the empty facility - only dealing with the occasional hiccup from remaining debris upstream of the fuel filter. Eventually we'll probably send the injectors off to be cleaned, but driving it more will help out.

During that short drive, Noah commented about how the brakes were super hard, ie., no assist. And after parking it, we tested it and found that neither the headlights, tail lights, or brake lights work. Upon closer inspection, I found a possible culprit: half-assed fusible links.

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Ordered some more parts: new fusible links, caps, and a brake booster check valve. Noah installed the check valve which brought back power assist to the brakes. We also peeled away the gross silicone casing someone had built and pulled plain thick gauge wires out of the fusible link boxes. After scraping the remaining silicone, replacing with proper fusible links, and installing the caps, the headlights and tail lights started working again. Brake lights are still a negative, but we think a new brake light switch should do the trick.

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We also sourced a set of 205/60/14 Federal 595 tires to replace the scary cracked and dry rotted tires that are currently on the Enkei 92s. They're cheap but will do until it's undergone some restoration and we can upgrade to a set of 15 or 16 inch wheels.

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In the meantime the previous owner has been generous enough to bring by some of the extra parts and literature he had in storage. A couple weeks ago he dropped off an old Haynes manual, a Chilton manual, and a few outdated MSA and Black Dragon catalogs. While the MSA and Black Dragon catalogs really only for nostalgic purposes at this point, the Haynes manual has the car's serial number, manufacture date, and an individual's name along with the date February 1999 written on the cover. Apparently those manuals came with the car when the PO bought it, so I did a bit of research. Turns out the name belongs to a local philanthropist that had a small car collection when he passed away in 2001. From what I found, some of the cars got caught up in the estate after his passing and were either sold off, destroyed, or left to rot. Based on the info I got from the previous owner, this car's timeline matches up to that history. He had found the car collecting dust in the corner of a nearby shop in early 2003.

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Something we didn't expect when getting this S30 was the possibility of it being a special edition model or car of any actual value. But after posting in a few groups, some people suggested it might be a Black Pearl. Since our car has been resprayed at some point, we originally weren't able to find signs of the original striping. But it does have the competition mirrors and louvers common to the SAP cars. Most true Black Pearl cars can be determined by the color code sticker on the radiator core support with the number 638. But of course after 40 years, the color code stamp on this one is worn clean. So we were left to checking paint color in places that typically aren't repainted.

One such find involved removing a small section of the body molding to reveal what looks to be original paint (under the adhesive and layer of respray). We've also confirmed the paint on the interior firewall, door jambs, and rear under carpet and spare tire is also black.

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And lastly, one small purchase compliments of a friend.

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We made a bit of progressing after getting back from Branson Z Fest in June. The goal was to get the car moved over to our house after the event. To recap: we had replaced the brake booster check valve and were rewarded with minimal power assist for the brakes. We chalked it up to rust buildup within the rotors/cylinders and the fluid needing to be bled. I had also ordered a new brake switch to hopefully restore working brake lights. As it turns out, the switch was fine (unplugged even) but the brake lights were stuck on. The small rubber grommets that go on the brake and clutch pedals had disintegrated so the switch wasn't able to make contact on anything. As a temporary solution, a spare metal interior clip was set in place to make sure the brake lights worked - success.

So we got it out to test drive around the backside of the storage facility to see if we could bring back some of the brakes by heating them up. As you can tell, it still that nasty exhaust leak.

 

Noah gave it a few accel/decel runs and said the brake feel started to come back a bit more each time. So that was encouraging. The throttle cable started sticking a bit under hard accel (hence my laughter in the video) so we'll be addressing that soon.

 

Like most 40 year old vehicles that have spent time sitting, there is oftentimes a setback to accompany that progress. We noticed the volt gauge had a habit of creeping up to 16 volts under accel - initially everything checked out and we chalked it up to a faulty gauge. But after putting it back up in the garage I noticed a burn in one of the fusible link caps. As the cap was removed, the middle of the fusible link broke off with it. That particular link was for the alternator and ignition relay, so we knew we would need to bring out the multimeter to hunt down a short and probably replace the existing internally regulated alternator. I'm wanting to upgrade to a higher amp Sentra alternator in the Z31, so it's existing Maxima alternator may make its way to the 280Z. In the meantime, I ordered a new fusible link, cap, and brake/clutch pedal grommets.

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A few days later, I received the replacement fusible links and cap and installed those. Previously, we had realized we misread the fusible link diagram and accidentally switched the higher rated black and one of the lower rated brown links on original install. So that probably explains why the one burnt up. Live and learn, I guess. Fortunately I don't think anything other than maybe the voltmeter was affected: I suspect it needs to be replaced/rebuilt anyway. We'll have that rebuilt or replaced down the road.

The next weekend I called the towing company to bring the flatbed truck and haul it to our house. The Z was drive able but the tires were seriously dry rotted and separating - no risk in chancing anything by driving it to our house. Once it was unloaded we jacked it up and pulled the wheels to get the new tires mounted. Noah also took this opportunity to remove the heavy front 5mph bumper. By the end of the day, we had the new tires on it and pulled it into the garage with the Z31.

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Sunday is when the real work started. The 280Z was backed into the driveway where we dedicated the morning and afternoon to removing the rest of the interior covering and seeing what we're up against. As expected of a 40 year old Datsun that spent some time outside, there is some rust. And honestly it looks like a previous owner's attempts to prevent water leaks only made things worse (note the foam insulation spray and still intact drain plugs). But so far it looks like we can handle it: passenger floor pan, rocker panels, and the spare tire pan are the areas that were affected the most. We might also do the driver's floor pan since it looks like someone attempted their own shoddy repair. Otherwise there's a touch of surface rust in a few small areas that can easily be repaired before they turn into a problem. Everything else looks to be in pretty good shape so far. We'll know more after chipping off the remaining sound deadening & insulation.

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The nitty gritty of it all. Good thing we were anticipating a project. 

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After cleaning out the interior, we gave it a thorough hand wash to clean off the built up dirt, grime, and lichen. This also helped to chase down water leaks in the interior. From what I could see there was a small drip from the rear hatch seal (and from the look of the disintegrated remains of the seal, it's no surprise) and what looks like the bottom right corner of the windshield that runs down to the passenger floorboard. The windshield has a crack and needs replacement anyway. I also pulled the A-pillar covers to check for rust and everything looked clean there. We'll likely be pulling the cracked dash cap and dash itself to check for rust underneath before starting any body repairs.

All cleaned up. Or at least as good as it gets for now. 

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And to finish off the day we changed the oil, lubricated the throttle linkage, and replaced a few broken vacuum lines. It's running a bit rich after getting the vacuum lines sorted out, so calibrating the MAF is next on the list. Along with finding a replacement for that nasty steering wheel.

Work on the Z slowed down in the summer months leading into fall. We've been busy with work, travel, and more recently going halfway across the country to buy a car and drive it home. So the 280Z didn't receive a lot of attention. Most of our time spent focused on it has been researching upcoming repairs and improvements. In addition to the FSM, I downloaded the 280Z "EFI Bible" to bring the ancient EFI up to spec. We don't plan on sticking with the original EFI forever, but it works in the meantime. The digital download of the Datsun/Nissan FAST for S30s has also been super useful for hunting down OEM part numbers to help in our efforts.

While attempting to replace the PCV valve, the large formed PCV hose that leads to the intake split. The original part is NLA, but there were some reproduction versions still floating around. So we ordered one along with an EGR block off kit. Someone had already cut the pipe coming off the EGR, so it was essentially an exhaust leak. Only shiny part in the otherwise filthy and messy engine bay.

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We also ran a compression test and came back with some disappointingly low numbers across the board. I'm not sure how accurate the gauge we used was, but it's evident something's not right. The engine always took a while to start when cold and had a habit of smoking once it warmed up. So we decided redid the test and noticed that the numbers improved once the cylinders got a shot of fluid. So it got a week-long Marvel Mystery Oil treatment with the occasional manual engine turnover. That improved things quite a bit on starting and eliminated the smoking at warm idle. After two of the clips in the new plug wires broke, I've been hesitant to pull them for another test until we have a better quality replacement.

Shortly after we had a friend over that wanted to see it running, so it made its maiden voyage down the street. Keep in mind that there is still a large exhaust leak at the manifold.

 

The steering wheel was also temporarily wrapped and will be getting a cheap cover from the parts store until we replace it.

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And most recently we learned that Dave Irwin is moving and retiring from switch rebuilding. So we got a last minute order in to have the turn signal and headlight switches rebuilt. The headlight switch worked, but was finicky. And the turn signal switch was destroyed: the stalk loosely moved without any up/down clicks. We got the rebuilt units back in record time along with a parking light upgrade harness. 

While cleaning various connectors in the dash wiring, I finally found proof that our Black Pearl was one with the special appearance package! Note the remainder of the stripes that were removed and painted over.

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That's it for now. I'm waiting on a couple things to come in the mail before proceeding: connector terminal pins & electronic flasher relays. We got the turn signals working, but all four of them are flashing rapidly. So I'm hoping that cleaning the sockets and switching to electronic relays should help with fault sensitivity.

 

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I wonder why it has a 4 speed?  And why the spare tire well is yellow?  Google ZAP 280Z. They were yellow with similar striping.

What's the door tag say? Date of manufacture. Could be a '77 ZAP???  Still a rare find no matter what it is.  Congratulations!

Edited by siteunseen

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2 hours ago, siteunseen said:

I wonder why it has a 4 speed?  And why the spare tire well is yellow?  Google ZAP 280Z. They were yellow with similar striping.

What's the door tag say? Date of manufacture. Could be a '77 ZAP???  Still a rare find no matter what it is.  Congratulations!

It's a 4/78 car, so it's a '78 model. Fairly late production, by my understanding. I would love to own a ZAP, but this isn't it.

I can't say why it's a 4-speed. I was under the impression that 5-speeds were still an option in 1978. Could be wrong.

The spare tire tub is yellow/orange from rust. The spare was still in it and leached residue onto it. The spare was actually stuck to the pan and took a bit of pulling to remove. 😅

Edited by Pace
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Just an fyi and why I ask, my 9/'76 was one of the first change overs to the 5 speed. It has a "5 Speed" emblem on the passenger's side of the rear deck lid.  You have a great car. I just always look for oddities in these old cars. I guess im a pessimist? LOL

Great car, carry on with the great updates and details. This is my social world, sad to say, I love reading the stories. Cliff

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No harm. I still don't have all the fine details down on these cars. So I'm eager to learn more. Especially something that is unusual on my own and I don't know.

I also like to write when it comes to cars... if you can't tell. So I'm glad someone likes to read about them. 👍

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Great story so far.  Everything, with the exception of the potential compression issues, is completely typical.

Valves are out of adjustment. Timing is out of adjustment. Wheel cylinders and calipers are frozen or leaking (or both). Power booster has sucked down brake fluid and is a rusty mess inside. Whole bunch of little vacuum leaks throughout the EFI system. Whole bunch of corroded connectors throughout the system and most importantly, the temp sensor in the thermostat housing is probably not making reliable connection to the ECU. Throttle body is worn and sticky. AAR probably doesn't work reliably. Junk in the fuel tank, and if someone bypassed the fuel filter, you've probably got clogged or partially clogged injectors. If the car had been in the hands of "experts" in the past, they may have incorrectly adjusted the AFM. Questionable fuel pressure. Leaky (or bypassed) heater core. Empty A/C system. All the tubes in the HVAC system have turned to dust (they may "look OK", but in reality they are dust still holding the shape of a tube).

Shall I go on?    ROFL    The little ray of sunshine that I am?

Not even mentioning electrical modifications from previous owners or mechanics in the past.  LOL

It may sound daunting, but all that stuff is really pretty simple. You just have to know where to look.

It appears everything is there, and you sound enthusiastic and knowledgeable enough to bring it back to the realm of reliable! The only thing that concerns me at this point is the compression... Did you remember to block the throttle wide open while performing the compression test?

 Looks like a great project to me!!

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It runs and is drivable.  You're ahead of many.

A few things I saw that I didn't see mentioned by others:  You should never see 16 volts on the voltmeter.  That's not a fusible link problem, that's a bad alternator (actually the regulator in the internally regulated alternator).  Assuming that the wires to the T plug on the alt are intact.

I think that 4 speeds were an option in 1978.  5 speeds were standard issue.  But they are direct swaps so it's possible somebody just blew up the original 5 speed and swapped in an old 4 speed.

The engine does not have a functional PCV system.  The little filter on the valve cover is a sign.  If it was tuned to stock settings it wouldn't even run with the opening to the crankcase, through the valve cover.  Unfortunately that means you probably have a tuning adventure ahead of you as you get things back to stock condition.

Overall, with the fusible link silicone and the valve cover filter, it looks like somebody has been hacking in the engine bay.  good luck.  Check out the downloads section for an official 1978 FSM.

image.png

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Good eyes Zed Head. I wasn't even looking for details yet, just big picture stuff.

That atmospheric vent on the valve cover will certainly throw off the mixture some, especially at idle. Can't see it in the pic, but I assume the hole on the rubber duct between the AFM and throttle body is capped off. There will be a small amount of air pulled out of the block through the PCV which would be unaccounted for by the AFM.

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12 hours ago, Captain Obvious said:

Great story so far.  Everything, with the exception of the potential compression issues, is completely typical.

Valves are out of adjustment. Timing is out of adjustment. Wheel cylinders and calipers are frozen or leaking (or both). Power booster has sucked down brake fluid and is a rusty mess inside. Whole bunch of little vacuum leaks throughout the EFI system. Whole bunch of corroded connectors throughout the system and most importantly, the temp sensor in the thermostat housing is probably not making reliable connection to the ECU. Throttle body is worn and sticky. AAR probably doesn't work reliably. Junk in the fuel tank, and if someone bypassed the fuel filter, you've probably got clogged or partially clogged injectors. If the car had been in the hands of "experts" in the past, they may have incorrectly adjusted the AFM. Questionable fuel pressure. Leaky (or bypassed) heater core. Empty A/C system. All the tubes in the HVAC system have turned to dust (they may "look OK", but in reality they are dust still holding the shape of a tube).

Shall I go on?    ROFL    The little ray of sunshine that I am?

Not even mentioning electrical modifications from previous owners or mechanics in the past.  LOL

It may sound daunting, but all that stuff is really pretty simple. You just have to know where to look.

It appears everything is there, and you sound enthusiastic and knowledgeable enough to bring it back to the realm of reliable! The only thing that concerns me at this point is the compression... Did you remember to block the throttle wide open while performing the compression test?

 Looks like a great project to me!!

Haha. Thanks for the input. You're correct in that all the above [probably] needs work. We've just barely scraped the surface on the mechanical part of it. I already have some replacement sensors - CHTS, water temp, cold start valve, and possibly the thermo time switch - on my list. Also going to replace a lot of the brittle/worn connectors. The timing on it is certainly out of adjustment: it wants to idle at a higher rpm. So I need to set aside a day to go through it and adjust/check things. Once that's all taken care of, I'll feel more comfortable with taking on the valve adjustment. The rest is just part of the restoration game. 

Oh, and yes. We did hold the throttle open during compression testing. Followed the outlined technique to a "T". The gauge originally read ~70psi across the board before we tried the wet test (and consequently did the MMO treatment). So I think we had a faulty loaner tester. I'm going to hold off on the next compression test until I have a set of NGK or Taylor wires and a better tester. The new Beck Arnley set we installed broke two boot clips after removing them a couple times.

10 hours ago, Zed Head said:

It runs and is drivable.  You're ahead of many.

A few things I saw that I didn't see mentioned by others:  You should never see 16 volts on the voltmeter.  That's not a fusible link problem, that's a bad alternator (actually the regulator in the internally regulated alternator).  Assuming that the wires to the T plug on the alt are intact.

I think that 4 speeds were an option in 1978.  5 speeds were standard issue.  But they are direct swaps so it's possible somebody just blew up the original 5 speed and swapped in an old 4 speed.

The engine does not have a functional PCV system.  The little filter on the valve cover is a sign.  If it was tuned to stock settings it wouldn't even run with the opening to the crankcase, through the valve cover.  Unfortunately that means you probably have a tuning adventure ahead of you as you get things back to stock condition.

Overall, with the fusible link silicone and the valve cover filter, it looks like somebody has been hacking in the engine bay.  good luck.  Check out the downloads section for an official 1978 FSM.

<photo>

I accidentally omitted this part in my original post. I checked the voltage at the battery and it is at 14V while idling and accelerating, not the 16V that the voltmeter is telling us. The gauge reads neutrally when off, but as soon as you start the car it climbs and pegs out. So unless there is something else going on or I misread it, I'm assuming the gauge is faulty.

The filter at the inlet on the intake was our temporary bandaid to get it to idle while we checked other things. The original hose was split. You're correct in that it is not tuned properly: we tried a new piece of hose and with it routed correctly, the idle rpms shoot up. Running the filter allows it to idle close to where it should until we can narrow down the culprit(s) and get things sorted out.

I've got the FSM and EFI manual on hand. Currently we're looking at adjusting the MAF and BCDD to straighten things out. But I'm sure we'll find some other fun little things to fix along the way. 

Edited by Pace
Corrected idle detail

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You should only adjust the AFM (air flow meter is more correct for the year and the car, not mass air flow [MAF] sensor) if somebody has adjusted it before you.  Otherwise, never mess with the factory setting.  There are blobs of glue that should be intact, holding the spring adjustment in place.

Any small leak in to the intake system or crankcase will cause a high idle speed.  Large leaks will cause the engine to die.  AFM or BCDD problems are possible but last resort.  

Good luck, have fun.

 

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What he said. Don't mess with the AFM until you have exhausted all other options.

But speaking of such things... I just finished my handy-dandy patent pending AFM adjustment tool. No more risk of SPROING-ing my spring anymore! Looks like this:
P1140119.JPG

And here's how it's used. The tip fits in the little hole and the tool gear meshes with the AFM gear and allows controllable adjustment without worrying about losing control. I wasn't there when they calibrated the AFMs at the factory, but I suspect they used something like this:
P1140121.JPG

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11 hours ago, Captain Obvious said:

handy-dandy patent pending AFM adjustment tool.

Very nice! Get those into production. The cog teeth, do you own a milling machine?

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I'm not sure that production is really a good idea... I worry that would just encourage people to mess with their AFM's when they probably shouldn't. My AFM came to me already messed with, and the glue blobs completely removed from the inside. Even with bright light, magnification and careful study, I could never determine where my AFM started. My PO removed all traces of the original calibration marks. All I knew was that my car ran very rich, has aftermarket injectors, and my PO messed with everything including the AFM. I had exhausted all other avenues and came to the back-hand conclusion that my PO messed up my AFM. It would certainly have fit his MO. He was after "more power", and I think someone told him that "more fuel makes more power" so he tweaked the AFM. I have since re-tweaked my AFM and it runs waaaaaay better now.

So about the tool... I do have a milling machine, but I didn't use it for the gear teeth. I did the teeth on a "shaper". I'm sure you know what that is, but for those who never heard of one, the shaper is the predecessor to the milling machine. Old school. The saying is "You can make anything you want on a shaper. Except money."

One tooth at a time and then rotate the workpiece to the next position using an indexing head:
P1140089.JPG

Here's a shot of my ancient indexing head. From the late 1800's or very early 1900's:
P1140092.JPG

Sorry for the thread-jack!

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That's quite the interesting tool, Captain.

I'm hoping we don't need to mess with the AFM. But I wouldn't be surprised if it was already "adjusted" by a previous owner. That would be the only reason for me to calibrate per factory specs.

The long-term goal is to ditch the stock EFI in favor of Megasquirt (or Micro if it can handle our needs) and ITBs. Nothing is set in stone obviously. I have a couple options saved, but currently have my eye on a set of OER 45s to go with a mild L28 build. But that's going to be down the road. So I might change my mind in the meantime.

I broke a pin while cleaning one of the connectors under the dash that the hazard switch is tied into. In lieu of replacing and repinning the entire connector, I found a set of "Ford style" replacement pins at the local parts store that looks identical. Let's see if I can avoid making things worse. LOL

Edited by Pace

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