Spanner Works: Wenstley Wicomb

A regular feature outlining the activities of FMM’s workshop personnel who are responsible for repairing, renovating, refurbishing and restoring the museum’s large collection of vehicles. This month we feature Wenstley Wicomb’s revival of a Strato Chief…  

Once in a while the workshop gets the chance to take a non-running classic out of storage to see what might be the reason it was left to rest by the previous owner. Wenstley Wicomb recently did just that with a 1964 Pontiac Strato Chief that was in FMM’s storage unit. The car is a real time warp – completely original and with only the slightest patina from the usage of a bygone era.

With the team’s help, the car was rolled into the workshop and work started by establishing a base line understanding of the parameters required to start the car. The spark plugs were removed and the compression tester was inserted into each cylinder to get a reading. Initially, the measurements were haywire, with some even reading 0 kPa! This led Wenstley to checking if there were any valves stuck open in these cylinders, and the culprits were gently persuaded into motion with a mallet. With the valves free, another compression test was done on each cylinder and a much more promising average compression was measured. Then the spark plugs were refitted.

With a car having stood for such a long time, a big concern is the fuel supply. The fuel tank may have drawn water, rusted and become blocked from all the years of disuse. So, to test, a temporary fuel can was set up to gravity-feed the carburettor to try to start the car. After a few tries the car started, but there was a bad leak from the carburettor, which was then removed, cleaned and a new gasket kit fitted.

Then the car was treated to a major service. New spark plugs were fitted; all the oils were drained and refilled with new lubricant and filters. A new fan belt was also fitted, as the old one looked the worse for wear.

Another big concern of a car that hasn’t run in a long time is the cooling system. Water and metal left over time is always a bad idea. So, it was decided to cleanse the cooling system with radiator flush, while the old hoses were still on the car. After this, the water and flush chemicals were drained and washed out by cycling water from the reclaimed water system at the workshop. New hoses were then fitted and more modern, corrosion resistant coolant was added to the radiator. A new fuel line with an in-line filter was made up to run to the fuel tank at the back. The fuel pump was also refurbished with a new Hypalon diaphragm.

With the car now starting and idling nicely, it was time to inspect the brakes. Upon removing the brake master cylinder, it was found that the piston had completely disintegrated due to corrosion. All the wheel cylinders, along with the brake master cylinder, were sent away for refurbishment. Once back from the specialists, the brake system was refitted and bled.

Time to test drive! On 5 November 2020, the 1964 Pontiac Strato Chief cruised the tree-lined lanes of L’Ormarins with a very proud Wenstley behind the wheel. Commenting on the driving experience he says: “Yoh, this car surprised me with how smooth it drives!” Later that month, Wenstley successfully completed the annual Oily Rag Run event in this car, which had not seen the open road for years. On the Run, the Strato Chief, with its vast interior, became a rescue vehicle for the crew of another entrant after their car broke down and had to be abandoned.

Well done Wenstley!