Sheryl, Can I Borrow Your Red Fingernail Polish?   Leave a comment


“Do you know what you’re doin’?” came a voice over the riffs of Iron Maiden (which seems to be pretty good music to work on a truck by). I immediately recognized the voice of my self-described red-neck neighbor and lifted my head out from under the hood. “Nope,” I said, “I’m just trying to look like it. How am I doing?” The response was not encouraging. “Not very good. What are you trying to do?” he asked.

JP had developed a nasty little habit over the last few days. He would really bog down as I tried to go from a standing stop in first gear. Then he would buck, backfire, and sputter as he gained speed. JP hadn’t misbehaved like this on his first ride home or when I went to get the new tires. My first thought was that I had messed something up while I was cleaning up the carburetor or that I had some water in the fuel system. Dad told me he thought it sounded like the timing needed adjusting so that was going to be the first thing we would try. Unfortunately, we had run out of time because he was going out of town for a week.

We had just enough time for Dad to show me how to connect the timing light and what to look for. He told me I would need to find out the firing order, check the plug wires to make sure they were connected to the correct position on the distributor cap, and research what the timing should be on a Ford 390 FE. Fortunately, I found a link to the chart below. This gave me the correct connection from the distributor to the plugs. Wouldn’t you know three of the eight wires were connected to the wrong plug. The test drive that followed revealed this was not the only problem because JP still wasn’t running right.

Back at home under the hood, I decided now was the time to learn to set the timing and that was the moment that my neighbor showed up. “I’m trying to adjust the timing but I’m having a hard time seeing the marks even after I cleaned them up,” I told him halfway hoping he would take over so I wouldn’t really tear something up. “Do you know what the timing is supposed to be?” he asked. I told him from the research I had done it appeared that the stock timing was 6 degrees BTDC (before top dead center) but that most people in the forums seem to run them at 10-12 degrees BTDC. That’s when he told me to go get Sheryl’s red fingernail polish, crawl under the truck and mark the timing line so I could see it clearly with the timing light. “I’m headed to Wal-Mart. You need anything?” he said as he headed back to his truck but he had already given me what I needed. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would need my wife’s fingernail polish to restore an old pickup.

After making the mark with the polish, I hooked the timing light up and sure enough I could see my target. A small adjustment of the distributor and even I could tell JP was feeling better. I set the timing at 11 degrees BTDC and tightened the distributor back down. The test drive revealed that the timing was indeed the problem. There was still some slight bogging down from a standing start but the sputtering, backfiring, and rough running was gone. A few days later Dad was back and adjusted the electric choke on the carb and JP was really running pretty well for a forty year-old truck that had been sitting idle for a couple of years. Dad test drove it and also thought it ran pretty well which made me feel pretty good. It’s amazing how learning something new can give you such a big sense of accomplishment.

We’re off to a pretty good start with JP. He’s up and running pretty good now. However, we have a clicking noise that sounds like it’s coming from under the driver’s side valve cover. Hopefully that won’t be something major and we can fix it relatively simply. If not, the motor is 40 years old (its plate says it was built in 1970) so it’s probably about time for a complete rebuild anyway. But maybe we can postpone that for a little while.

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Posted October 10, 2010 by jglee920 in Engine

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