disgustang runs

Disgustang Runs for First Time in 38 Years

It’s Alive! Disgustang runs well!

Well, that’s a thing that happened.  Today, after several fits and starts, after playing whack-a-mole with random crap, I finally started the motor for the first time on my 1966 Mustang.  The Disgustang runs…really…really well.  It’s taken more than three years and spending almost double what I’d planned to get to this point.  I would call it cathartic, but I’m too tired and frustrated.  Despite the accomplishment, it was a hard-fought victory, and in the end it was bittersweet because I still can’t drive the car on the street (or move it under its own power, for that matter).

Getting to the START-ing line

I spent months preparing for this day.  And despite all that preparation, there were still some nasty hurdles standing in our way when Mark came over this morning to help me get the engine running and broken in.  First we had to bleed the power steering system with the new pump installed.  While working through that, we discovered some errant brake fluid (with no obvious leak point).  Pouring in the coolant was the next step, which was relatively straightforward and uneventful.  After that we started filling the tank with 5 gallons of gas, but I only got about half of the fuel in the tank before gas started leaking out at the sender.

Fixing the fuel leak took some time.  Initially it seemed like the lock ring wasn’t on tightly enough, so Mark pounded it further toward “locked.”  Unfortunately that didn’t help much.  So then we had to drain the tank, pull the sender, and take a look.  The gasket looked like it was the right size, but it also appeared to have been pinched.  Plus the lock ring didn’t quite fit like it should.  A new gasket from my Edsel stash and a quick wire wheeling of the OEM Ford lock ring, and we’d knocked that problem back down.

One of the last steps was priming the oiling system, and while that initially went according to plan, it ran off the rails when I tried to check the oil pressure on the gauge cluster.  The gauge didn’t read anything.  Did I have oil pressure?  Had I connected the gauge incorrectly?  The engine had run at the engine builder’s shop, so I suspected it DID have oil pressure, but I wasn’t about to take a chance without knowing for certain.

I can’t handle the pressure

I tried looking at the back of the cluster from under the dash, but that was a big fail. Upon pulling the cluster, we determined I’d connected the gauge correctly.  A continuity test of the wires leading to the sender passed muster, but Ohm-ing out the sender itself showed a fault.  The resistance of the sender started decreasing (from infinite) as soon as the priming tool started spinning, but the resistance started erratically increasing then decreasing once the drill motor sped up a little.  I tested the gauge again (even though I’d tested it when I rebuilt the cluster a few months ago), but it was fine.   $15 at CarQuest later and I was the proud owner of a new replacement sender and a ferrule to fit the direct-reading analog oil pressure gauge.

With the direct-reading gauge temporarily installed, I was able to verify I had oil pressure and go ahead with my checklist.  Many, many checks later, and I cranked the engine for the first time.  It didn’t start right away like it should have.  I added a little more gas.  Still nothing.  Knowing it should fire off right away, I didn’t bother cranking for more than a few revs.  That’s when I realized I hadn’t reconnected the Pertronix power lead from when I’d pulled the distributor.

And suddenly, a heartbeat

I pressed the button on my handheld starter switch for a split second.  The engine literally roared to life, so quickly I wasn’t even sure I’d pressed the starter at all.  Without wasting a moment, I began breaking-in the cam.  I raised the revs to 2,000 RPM and took a seat in the cockpit, reveling in the deep bass of a Ford 302 piped through open headers as it hammered away.  In less than four minutes, the temperature gauge had nearly pegged itself.  Not good, but also not entirely unexpected.  I shut the motor down to let it cool off.

Oddly, though, my infrared temp gun showed the manifold outlet connection at only 156 ºF.  The coolant in the radiator was 140º.  It wasn’t even fully warmed up!  Once I’d convinced myself the car wasn’t actually overheating, I cranked the motor back up and finished the 20-minute break-in process.

All good, right?  Nope.

So, yeah, the Disgustang runs.  It sounds great, idles nicely, and barks proudly.  But…

  • I’ve got a coolant leak somewhere up front (I suspect a pinhole in the aluminum radiator)
  • The temp gauge never got to the H while the engine was running but always stayed near the top of the range.  However I couldn’t find a temp higher than 180 ºF anywhere.  I’ll need to do more investigation.
  • I need to replace the temporary auxiliary gauge sender with the correct new oil pressure sender before I can drive the car
  • And, most importantly, I can’t get the car to go into gear, which means I need to re-bleed the hydraulic clutch system for the sixth time.

So, while the Disgustang runs — I can start the engine— that’s basically all I can do.  I couldn’t even move it back into the garage under its own power.  We have a long road ahead, and lots to do before this car will see the road.  But that’s for another day.  Maybe even for another weekend.  I’m tired.

2 thoughts on “Disgustang Runs for First Time in 38 Years

  1. Congrats Andrew on your success so far, I felt the same way when the motor in my Roadster was first fired up. Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks, Paul. Last night I was just plain tired and a little frustrated that there were so many “wrong” things uncovered yesterday. But I woke up this morning cautiously optimistic once I realized I couldn’t have known these things were going to be an issue until I ran the motor. It’s a puzzle, and I’m gonna solve it!

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