You can take the boy out of the junkyard, but you can’t take the junkyard out of the boy. Despite modern-day catalog conveniences, some, like yours truly, stick close to our roots. Since all classic trucks run on used parts anyway, why not support our local junkyard—or the “bone yard” where old cars and trucks rust in pieces? Why not? Because the kinds of good, used parts we crave ain’t generally there anymore. Those yards full of front-wheel-drive foreign jobs don’t have much to offer the classic truck-o-haulic.
About a month back in the previous episode, we found a place that fills our area’s used parts void. It took a couple trips, but we now possess the necessary bits and pieces to put together a reconditioned 8-inch Ford rearend for our customer-friend, Danny Stinson’s second-series 1955 Chevy pickup. At this stage the axle housing is already installed with fabrication and cosmetics completed. Now it’s time to seek professional assistance with chores outside my own personal skillset. I’ll need help with the inner workings. That’s where my friend, “Guardrail” Willie Martin comes in.
As third-generation proprietor of Riverside, California’s Ed Martin Garage, Willie has seen his share of exploded rearends. As the story goes, he was personally responsible for several such explosions—as a street-racing teen. Willie’s father, John, fixed the first few, but when that got old he said, “I’ll do one more for you. You pay attention. You’ll do them all after this.” Fortunately for us, Willie is still rebuilding rearends at Ed Martin Garage today.
From here let’s ease on into the technical portion of our story. Along the way we’ll see some specialty tools, which aren’t so commonly found in the homebuilder’s garage. On the flipside, we’ll see tools we’re quite familiar with and others cleverly fashioned from items within our own reach. As long as we’re here, let’s take a tip or two as our guru of gears prepares us a pumpkin for our 8-inch Ford rearend.
Established in 1934, Ed Martin Garage is Riverside, California’s second-oldest auto repair shop. It’s well outfitted and well kept. Notice the shine on the floor? How about the cleanliness of that drain-equipped bench top? You could eat off either one of them, and I should know. I actually do so on occasion, but that ain’t very technical.
At this point our overhauled 8-inch Ford rearend is buttoned up and pretty much finished with the exception of brakes. We’ll cover that in an upcoming brake-related story, but before we end this one there’s a detail I’d like y’all to see.
Here’s a little trick I wish I’d learned sooner. Axles are a heavy handful. They’re cumbersome, I’m clumsy, and one wrong wiggle could send a new seal’s garter spring deep into the housing where it might not be retrievable. As an ounce of prevention, let’s pack the new seals with wheel bearing grease.
Back at the home-based shop the reassembly chores are pretty straightforward. The factory-original locknuts have already been painstakingly restored, but let’s also consider new Nyloc-type nuts. Used in conjunction with proper copper crush washers the nylon may function as a backup seal of sorts.
Satisfied after scrutiny, Willie pronounces our pumpkin “prepared.” Now I don’t know about y’all, but that kind of talk makes me hungry. Here in Riverside there’s good food right down the road, so let’s do lunch. By the time we return our axles might have new bearings installed.
Having been there so long, Ed Martin Garage is well equipped for working on older cars and trucks. This pintsize container of real, General Motors 1051196 marking compound is all of 50 years old, so obviously, a little goes a long way.
In order to double-check backlash, a magnetic-based dial indicator comes into play.
Next a spanner wrench is used to set carrier bearing preload and ring-to-pinion backlash to manual specifications.
Torqueing the carrier bearing cap bolts to 1968 National Service Data manual specifications is a task for two hands.
Sadly, our fumbling photographer has missed the shot I’d hoped for. If you’ll just take my word, this professional-grade 3/8-drive speed handle is a blur when Willie twirls it with one hand.
Much like we would for main caps, rod caps, and so on, these carrier bearing caps were thoughtfully marked before initial disassembly. With the caps now back in position, Willie prepares to snug the bolts with a particularly cool tool.
Just as we’ve seen before, Willie applies another liberal application of 80W-90 gear lube to new bearings.
Some Ford ring-and-pinions come with visible timing marks, which our parts do have. In line with factory timing marks, Willie has transferred marks of his own to the outside of the ring gear. As a visual aid, this eases the ring gear installation.
As assembly progresses, Willie is now torqueing the pinion carrier to the prepared carrier housing. Again in accordance with manual specifications, he works in a star pattern, like we would when torqueing wheels.
Here we see a new pocket bearing in place, but let’s not forget this new pocket bearing retainer. As Willie tells us, this part can be easily forgotten—especially in a busy shop with distractions from ringing telephones, fumbling photographers, and so on.
For this step Willie uses an inch-pound dial torque wrench. With the tool pre-set to 25 in/lb, he’s now pulling back to 0 to confirm that rotating drag is in accordance with manual specifications.
For final installation of the pinion nut, the hole in the side of this impact socket is helpful as it enables Willie to visually gauge tightening progression.
Throughout his career, Willie Martin has overhauled more rearends than you can shake a dipstick at. Even so, he’ll still employ a consultant. For double-checking assembly specifications, this well-used 1968 National Service Data manual is still the go-to guide.
Before further assembly, our new pinion bearing receives a liberal coating of 80W-90 gear lube.
As assembly progresses, it’s nearly time to set pinion bearing preload. First Willie installs a new crush sleeve. The crush sleeve works like a collapsible spacer—and oftentimes it’s called just that.
While we’re at the press, we might as well install some new bearings. At times like these an old inner race is a valuable tool. For this purpose an assortment of various sizes is kept handy.
This used part is showing some wear. Using the supplied collar-like installation tool, a stainless steel repair sleeve is pressed onto the sealing surface of our companion flange, or “yoke” if you prefer.
Where seals are involved, dry assembly is a definite no-no at Ed Martin Garage. Here Willie uses wheel bearing grease to lubricate the new pinion seal.
By this time, obviously, the cast-iron pieces are shiny black, but this ain’t about paint so we don’t want to talk about that. Instead let’s talk about driving in a new pinion seal with a proper seal driver.
Welcome to California—where parts must be cleaned in a California-compliant manner. Here on the radar, this Mega-Mate cabinet washer is necessary equipment.
Here’s a better view of the fixture, which swivels and locks in most any desired position. Taking a tapping in Willie’s left hand is another specialty tool. This repurposed wristpin works well for driving out the pocket bearing.
Here Willie is preparing to remove the carrier side bearings. As an extra added precaution the puller is firmly clamped in the vise, which helps keep it engaged on the bearing.
With our road-tested pumpkin firmly secured to a bench-mounted fixture, disassembly is well underway. This factory pinion-depth shim will be retained and reused later on.
Rebuilt vs. New
So, how about that cost comparison? OK, according to our catalog, the leading brand’s comparable rearend would have set us back about $2,100. Considering that rearend is comprised of brand-new components, the price ain’t bad at all.
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In doing things our way, we sometimes choose the path of most resistance. Here we started with a worn out, used rearend, less brake drums for $150. At the end of the overhaul, before leaving Ed Martin Garage, I took a stool at the counter. At my own request a tally was taken. We have a total of $1,325 invested in the third-member overhaul, which includes new axle bearings, seals, and a gasket to go.
Now we ought to talk about parts and labor in our home-based shop as well. Let’s not count the cosmetics as new rearends don’t come painted our way, but let’s do factor in our own fabrication, assembly, earlier disassembly, and so on.
According to my calculations, we’ve saved our customer-friend some dough. In the end it’s not as much as we’d hoped, but since this particular old truck ain’t made of new parts, we’re pleased. With Ed Martin Garage nearby, we’d do it the same way again. If there’s no Ed Martin Garage near you, consider your options.