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Reply to "Thunder Ranch build thread"


Old tool story.

In 1968, I was very young.

I'd just gotten my first brand new car and I intended to lavish upon it the very best service that money could buy. Which meant taking it to the dealer, right?

OK, like I said, in 1968 I was very young.

The geniuses at the BMW dealer somehow managed to screw up my very first oil change. I didn't realize it at the time, but this may have had a lot to do with me eventually becoming a cynical, bitter old man.

The gasket on the oil filter somehow got folded back on itself and the filter screwed down tight. It must have leaked, so the geniuses would have cranked down on it even harder until it didn't leak. Imagine how hard that would have been. And what it must have done to the gasket.

Miraculously, it held for a few miles. But then it didn't. And it didn't in a rather catastrophic way one winter's evening in the middle of rush hour traffic, in a Philadelphia neighborhood where you didn't stop passers-by to ask for help.

I decided then and there, I could do at least as good a job at routine maintenance as the certified geniuses at the dealership and went off to get some tools, to the only place anyone went for tools in 1968 - Sears and Roebuck. It was 'and Roebuck' back then.

Along with the basic socket sets, screwdrivers, wrenches, feeler gauges, and sundry shiny gizmos, was a gen-u-whine Roger Penske timing light. I think I've since figured out that both Sears and Roger Penske were learning the art of making money through branding. It's unlikely that Roger Penske was personally involved in the design or manufacture of my timing light.

Did I mention, in 1968 I was very young?

As it turned out, I was unable to use my gen-u-whine Roger Penske timing light to set the timing on my BMW 1600. Unlike every other car in Christendom, there were no timing marks on the crank pulley. Instead, there was, allegedly, a small ball bearing pressed into the edge of the flywheel which one was supposed to be able to see by pointing a timing light through a small cutout slot in the bell housing. Honest, I'm not making this up.

In theory, you'd point the timing light down through the slot, slowly turn the distributor, and at the proper moment, the ball would magically appear and you'd be timed. Well, maybe you would be, but I never was. Through another 31 years and two other BMW's, I never was. I never ever saw that freakin' ball bearing. To this day, I think there is a room full of technical writers in Munich laughing their asses off about the ball bearing on the flywheel timing joke.

So what about my gen-u-whine Roger Penske timing light?

Well, since everyone but Dr. Clock holds onto all their tools forever, it languished unused in a series of garages, basements, and attics over the years, in its original box. With cars being what they are today, I figured I'd never use it and someday maybe pass it on to the Smithsonian or maybe Madame Tussaud's wax museum.

And then, believe it or don't, one day about four years ago, I suddenly found this ridiculous new car in my garage with a brand new motor that had been designed in the 1930s. And it had a crank pulley that wasn't hidden behind some dumb plastic shroud. And a distributor I could adjust. And on the crank pulley were - timing marks! That I could actually see!

So, I finally discovered, after 46 years, that Roger Penske allowed his name to be stuck on a halfway decent little timing light.

Never throw away good tools.





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  • TimingLight