Sunday, July 27, 2008

Another Seatbelt Upgrade...

After I added the hooks to support the convertible top when lowered to keep it from interfering with the seatbelts, Mario wanted to add another part to keep the belts aligned with the seats. He found his way to a salvage yard in Suburban Chicago and located several types of seatbelt supports. Mario spent a few hours going through many cars to find the right seatbelt supports ranging from GM, Ford and other various import makes.

One particular pair came from a mid-eighties Pontiac that are affixed to the headreast support posts and are typical black plastic.

The seats in the Clenet have removable/adjustable headrests with two chrome posts that go deep into the seatback. Also, the headrest itself has several screws on the underside that secure the mounting rods.

Mario pulled the headrests from the Clenet and was able to modify the salvage find with one simple hole drilled into the arm. This allows the seatbelt support to fit nicely between the top of the seatback and the headrest. Easy to install and easy to remove should we want to show the car without them.

These seatbelt supports combined with the convertible top supports that I installed make the car that much more enjoyable. When you get in to go for a ride, the seatbelts are right there along side the seatback. The original Clenet design merely let the seatbelts fall away from the seats and were somewhat difficult to wear in the tight cabin of the car.

Binding Sticky Seatbelts

The first time we drove the car, we found the seatbelts were difficult to operate and seem to bind when the convertible top is in the lowered position.
The upper portion of the seatbelt reel is anchored in a recess behind the seats. When the convertible top is lowered, the cage sinks low enough to where it interferes with the normal operation of the seatbelts. Once you're buckled in the car and start driving, the seatbelts slowly pull themselves back onto the upper reel. Should you try to lean forward to change the radio station or operate the lights or wipers, you find the seatbelt is too tight and will not release you from the seatback!

To solve this issue, Mario and I agreed that the convertible top cage needs to have some kind of support that will keep the lowered top high enough, away from the seatbelts when lowered. The folded convertible top also needs to be low enough so that it will not affect the boot cover when in place. We've discussed this issue for the past few weeks before I went looking for the appropriate hardware to remedy the problem. While lowering the top, I noted that we couldn't use anything along the back as it would interfere with rear window, therefore I'd have to use one support on each side of the vehicle.

I found two chrome plated towel hooks at a big-box home improvement store in the hardware department that appeared to be the correct size. I also purchased longer screws to save a future trip back to the store if the supplied screws were too short.

Once home, I took my time lowering the top several times to ensure I was happy with the placement and that the cage would descend into the curve of the hook. Taking very careful measurements, I marked the two holes and temporarily mounted the hook into the fiberboard behind the red leather upholstery. The hook looked good, however it was very weak as the fiberboard backing is about 1/8th inch thick. I had to find a suitable backing piece that would add strength to the hook.

I removed the speaker, reached into the cavity and found enough room to add a small piece of wood behind the hook. I pre-drilled the wood backing to ensure it would not split when tightening the screws. This process took about twenty minutes and the hook felt solid enough to carry the weight of the top and cage. I took very careful measurements and repeated the process on the other side of the car. Before mounting the second hook, I lowered the top again to ensure the lowered top was level and that both hooks would equally share the weight of the folded convertible top.

Problem solved. We are now able to easily move and adjust the upper portion of our seat belts while driving the car with the convertible top in the lowered position.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Clenet Gets New Sound...

About two weeks ago, Mario and I retrieved the Clenet from the local Ford service center where we had the radiator replaced. The repair was lengthy as a new custom radiator had to be created and the car sat motionless in their service facility. The day after we picked up the car, Mario and I jumped in and took it out for a test drive and a much needed wash! My oh my those mechanics know how to leave oily handprints all over it.

While driving around the area, we both noticed that one of us would turn the radio on, but then turn it off after a few minutes. The reason being that the originally installed Pioneer stereo just doesn't sound that great! We both agreed that the car needs some new sound! Together, we inspected the installation of the radio and felt a new unit shouldn't be too difficult to replace as it's a standard universal size. The radio is located in a recess that is covered in black leatherette and surrounded by the immaculate burl-wood fascia.

Mario began to pull the radio knobs from their stems while I opened the cowl cover that is under the hood. While dinking around in the cowl area, I am again impressed with the neat, orderly and clean work that went into building this car. All of the wiring is loomed and neatly banded from the fuse panel to all of the accessories, dash lights, gauges and miscellaneous components. Then...I hear Mario exclaim "oh no" from inside the car. I ask what's wrong and he immediately replies, "well, nothing is actually wrong, but we will have a major job ahead of us." I asked him to further explain.

When Mario removed the faceplate from the stereo, he discovered that the dashboard backing is one very thick piece of steel plating and the radio "cut out" is actually 3 holes. 2 small circles for the volume and tuning stems and a center opening for the cassette/tuner display. We both know that nobody manufactures the old-style stereo units anymore! We continued to remove the old unit, which came out of the car through the cowl and not from under the dash. We both knew what was ahead of us...the job just got bigger.

We had already purchased a new Sony single-CD player with an MP3 port and other various accessory ports and agreed that we would make it work. The four original speakers are in very good shape and will remain for now.

The reality set in that we'd have to cut the dash backing plate in order to install the new radio and we both knew a hand held hacksaw wasn't going to do it!

Just as a surgeon would prepare for his work, Mario and I prepared the Clenet for the face lift! We masked off the dash and the leather covered tray lip. All of the wiring behind the dash was carefully held back with ties and tape. We both sat in the car going over the plan to ensure the burl-wood dashboard fascia wouldn't receive a single blemish. Mario set up the reciprocating saw with a fresh metal blade, put his goggles on and went right to work. I didn't want to watch, but had to keep my eyes on the blade from behind the dash.

The sound of metal being cut from the Clenet while in Ken's driveway brought many of the neighbors over to see what he was doing with that saw. Mario and I continued to slowly and methodically cut into the dash to ensure precise, level cuts while Ken "entertained" the small crowd. They set up lawn chairs, a blanket and ordered in dinner while we were working.

Dinner arrived and a few bottles of red were opened just in time for us to take a break from the sawing. Several test-fittings and a few more passes with the saw gave us an appropriate opening for our new stereo. In tandem, Mario and I fitted the new unit in place and secured it with the original rear bracket. Mario then spliced the speaker wiring, ground and various switched and constant power supplies. We found matching nylon straps and rebound the wiring to original Clenet standards, keeping it neat and orderly. Mario slid a CD into the unit and we enjoyed some new sound while enjoying dinner just as the sun was setting in the western sky.

The radio-ectomy turned into another evening party out front of Ken's house where we listened to music, enjoyed a few more glasses of red and stayed up much too late!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Joans at the Acorn Theater

After rushing through a client meeting this past Thursday afternoon, I drove out to Harbor Country to meet with Mario to collect the Clenet. The servicing garage in Three Oaks took seventeen days to remove, rebuild and reinstall the radiator. The actual removal and reinstall was quite easy and didn't take more than a few hours. The subcontractor that re-cored the radiator took the most time. Last weekend was a huge let-down as we didn't get the chance to enjoy the car over the long holiday weekend. I was more than determined to get that car well before this weekend.

Photo Credit: G. Thomas Ward Photography at

Mario and I met at the service department late in the afternoon to get the car. The service manager closed out the work order from when they first took delivery of the car in early June. The total amount was nearly four thousand dollars for over twenty hours of service and repairs to get this car running correctly.

Mario and I quickly drove the car back to Ken's house and reinstalled the hood and took the car for refueling. Ken came home from his shop and we settled in for dinner. Later in the evening we decided to go see the Joans, an irreverent tribute to Joan Crawford, performing live at the Acorn Theater in bustling Three Oaks. This will be the second time we've seen the group play at the Acorn. Mario insisted on driving the Clenet and parked it right outside the front door of the Acorn Theater! Ken and I followed behind in my XK8 and were relegated to parking a good block away as the theater was filling.

The Acorn Theater is "the place to be" on most Thursday evenings with retro music videos shown throughout the night and amazing drink specials. As we entered, most of the usual Thursday night crowd were there, so we settled in with smart cocktails in hand awaiting the performance. For all of you Joan Crawford fans out there, I strongly encourage you to check out The Joans website: and see a performance! It's true camp.

After the show, I had to get my phone out of the Clenet and went outside where Dave, one of the co-owners of the Acorn Theater was standing. I joined him for a quick conversation just as the band was approaching along with their manager/photographer. They inquired about the car and asked if they could have their photo taken next to it. Of course I obliged as the car could easily be considered to be just as campy as a tribute band to Joan Crawford!

Now that the Clenet is back on the road and we are enjoying it and needs to be named. Our 1967 Cadillac has been christened "Priscilla, Queen of the Prairie" back in '94 when we found her at the Iola car show and swap meet in Wisconsin. My former Maserati that dear friend Jeff found up on Milwaukee was named "Aldo" and was equally butch in "Stormy Sky" blue/gray paint and caramel suede/leather interior.

We are soon off for a Sunday dinner at Mario's Lakeside home with friends and I'm sure after a few glasses of wine we will come up with a suitable name for the Clenet.

Happy motoring!
-Ron Zarantenello

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Waiting Room

The last time we drove the Clenet was 16 days ago after Mario and I removed the hood and drove the car to Three Oaks Ford. We were told that the radiator needed to be rebuilt and would be sent out to a fabricator in N.W. Indiana. The Service Team ensured us that the car would be ready in a week or so. That timetable worked as I would be in Michigan the entire week prior to the July 4th holiday as I usually take that week off from work.

I met with the service team on Monday the 30th to discuss the ensuing repair. They assured me that the car would be ready on Wednesday the 2nd. No problem, I thought as Mario and I found things to do together early in the week with his real estate happenings. Wednesday came and we received word that the radiator wasn't ready and Thursday the 3rd would be a definite completion.

I joined Mario at the Realty mid-day Thursday waiting for the phone call to come collect the car. A representative from the dealer phoned me at 4PM with news that the car would not be ready until after the holiday weekend. What a let-down!

Mario and I both planned on playing with the car later that day and to give rides in it on the July 4th holiday with our family and friends attending a daylong outdoor barbecue at his home in Lakeside. The bad news ruined my afternoon and I decided to delve into party prep later that evening and all morning on Friday the 4th. With the "change in plans" I chose to party the entire holiday weekend that culminated at midnight on Sunday with friends from Michiana Shores.

While driving back to Chicago Monday morning with just five hours of sleep, I phoned Mario and asked him to deal with the service department at Three Oaks Ford awaiting their call to give us news on the delivery. Today is Wednesday the 9th and they still have the car!

I'm confident we will be meeting with the service manager after it is completed to discuss the many delays. We've owned this car for six weeks as of today and it has been in our possession for only 5-1/2 days. I am frustrated because there were full weeks where nothing was done to the car and it was actually drivable, only to have the service being performed while I waited for the car on the following Saturday. We could have used those days to upgrade the windows, replace the stereo along with other wants.

As of yesterday, Mario was assured that the car would be ready tomorrow and that everything we asked the Ford dealer to find/troubleshoot/solve/repair would be completed. I have a feeling we will be keeping our future service options open.

I'll be working from home all day Friday in Michigan and hopefully the Clenet will be in my possession. Let's just hope the weather holds so that we can enjoy it on the open roads.
-Ron Zarantenello