Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Doug Nash Transmission Story

                                                The Doug Nash Transmission Story
                                       Written 2013 and revised 02/04/2016 unedited
                                                               Howard Yasgar  

      In 1984 I was fortunate enough to be able to buy a brand new Corvette.
      Several years earlier, I had owned a 1978, Centennial model, with a four speed transmission, so in 1984, when I had the opportunity to buy another one, I was anxious to find a model with a four speed manual transmission.
       I called around to the various Chevrolet dealers, in the Miami area but found that most all of the dealers that had cars in stock only had automatic transmissions.
       Now, my wife Katherine wasn’t too happy about my wanting to get a standard shift model as her job required her to wear high heeled shoes, and having to use a standard shift clutch with high heels, was not going to make it easy for her to drive the car.
       I eventually found a dealer in Fort Lauderdale that actually had a silver colored car with a four speed transmission on their show room floor, and they said that the car was ready to go.
      So we drove to Fort Lauderdale dealership and there it was, sitting in the showroom. It was a real beauty, a silver exterior and interior, and it had a four speed transmission and a removable roof.
      The salesman told us that 1984 model was a transition year for Corvette and this was the year that Chevrolet was trying out several new types of technology. One of the innovations was that the car had all printed circuits in the dashboard, and it had a completely electronic ignition and fuel injection system, and the four speed manual transmission was a Doug Nash model with overdrive.
      I knew that buying a car in a year that Chevrolet was changing all their technology was a pretty risky thing to do, as you never knew if they had really worked all the bugs. But the car was so beautiful and it was under warranty so I don’t think I worried about it too much.
      So, the very first week that we had the car, we went out for supper to a South Miami garlic crab restaurant, and I was fortunate enough to get a parking space right by the restaurants front door.
      About half way through the meal we heard an annoying car alarm going off outside of the restaurant. After a while it became obvious that no one was shutting it off.
      I could see all the restaurant patrons getting pretty irritated about the noise, including us. It wasn’t until a waitress finally opened up the restaurants front door that we knew the noise was coming from our new Chevrolet Corvette parked there.
      I got up as gracefully as I could I went out and got in the driver’s seat of the car, and
I started pushing every button and switch trying to shut the alarm off, but nothing worked. It was embarrassing, so finally I thought my only solution was to start the car up and drive it somewhere where the alarm wouldn’t bother anyone.
      Turns out, that was the trick, as soon as I put the key in the ignition and turned it, the alarm shut off. That was our first “New 1984 technology surprise.”      
       A few weeks later we were in the Florida Keys, at the Holiday Isle restaurant, hotel and bar complex at Islamorada. We had already drank a few Rumrunners at the outdoor bar and decided to try their barbecue restaurant located there called “Ripps Ribs”. It was a big mistake as their food turned out to be the greasiest food we had ever eaten.
     Fortunately our new Corvette was parked right outside, so, after eating, we got in, intending on driving to our condo which was only a few miles away, at Executive Bay Club also located in Islamorada.
     Unfortunately as soon as I sat down, I leaned out of the open driver’s side door and threw up all of my Ripps Ribs.
     As soon as my body had recovered from that experience, I went to start the car. Well that brand new Corvette just wouldn’t start.
     As lousy as I felt, I thought, that’s no problem, I’m a pretty good mechanic and I should, be able to quickly diagnose the problem.
     So I opened my driver’s side door to get out of the car, but I couldn’t get out as that was where I had thrown up.
      Luckily I had a Miami Herald newspaper in the car, I always knew it would be good for something, so I spread it on the ground, I got out of the car and opened the hood. I was looking for something like a carburetor or a distributor or any kind of linkage that I could jiggle around and adjust.
     Well, this was the first time I had really looked closely at the new Corvette 350 cubic inch cross fire fuel injected engine. There was absolutely nothing for me to jiggle. For that matter there was nothing to see as the engine had a plastic shroud over it, and I couldn’t even remove it.
     I think that hot summer evening in 1984, was my wakeup call, because at that moment I knew I was never going to be able to repair a car like a Corvette again, I didn’t even recognize anything I could fix on the engine.
     We were fortunate to hitch a ride to our condo, and in the morning I called the Fort Lauderdale Chevrolet Dealer.         
     They were real nice about it, they said that Corvette had an extraordinary amount of electronic ignition problem with all their 1984 Corvette models, but not to worry, it was all covered by the full warranty, and the next day they came and towed the vehicle away.
      When we went to pick up the car, we were assured that the problem had been rectified.
     But it happened to us again. The next time we were in the Florida Keys, and driving north on US 1, fortunately, when the car quit we were able to coast to the side of the road and park on the grass. But this time Katherine and I had to hitchhike home to Miami.
     The car was again repaired at the end of the warranty, and it seemed to run well.
     But now that the car was out of warranty, I started to get very nervous. I had heard lots of horror stories about problems with the 1984 Corvette models, I had heard that if a dashboard gauge went bad, it couldn’t be fixed, because they were printed circuits. So the whole dashboard needed to be replaced at some astronomical cost.
      Well, my worst fears came to pass about a year after the warranty ran out, suddenly the four speed, Doug Nash overdrive transmission, started to make a whining noise and the faster I went, the louder it got. I called the customer service representative at our local Chevrolet agency and he said the only way they would fix the car was by changing the entire transmission for only $2400.00 plus the labor to do it was an additional $2400.00.
       Well, hey, I was a mechanic myself, so certainly, I wasn’t going to pay anyone $5000.00 to replace the transmission.
       I was in the automotive electrical parts rebuilding business and I knew the Doug Nash transmission could probably easily be rebuilt by someone in the transmission rebuilding business, so I made several calls around town.
     A week later, after hearing all the crazy prices that various people around Miami wanted to repair the Corvette transmission, I decided that I would attempt to repair it myself in my own shop.
      I had a friend at my local corner gas station remove the transmission for me. The owner Adrian said to me, “You know that your transmission has an overdrive unit on it.” Yes, I said, I knew it had overdrive, but as long as I had owned the car I had never used the overdrive even once, so to me it was an unnecessary addition.
      Adrian brought the whole transmission over to my shop and I looked the situation over. Well, the first thing I saw was cast into the transmission housing was the name “Doug Nash”, and I wondered what the hell did someone like Doug Nash, have to do with my four speed overdrive Corvette transmission.
     Well, after looking it over, I have to admit the transmission was a strange looking thing, and with the overdrive unit attached to the back of it, it didn’t like any manual transmission that I had ever seen before.
      So that strange transmission sat in my shop for two days, with my entire shop staff of twenty five mechanics all wanting to look at it, and give me advice on repairing it. They gave me plenty of advice in both in English and Spanish.
      I knew that the smart thing to do would be to get a shop manual on the transmission and read it before I did anything, but I was a big boy and I didn’t do it. It just didn’t look all that complicated. So I just started disassembling it, like you would disassemble any other transmission.
     It turned out very easy, as soon as we separated the overdrive unit from the main transmission, I found the culprit. It was a very thin roller bearing. The bearing was burnt blue, so I was sure it was the source of the noise.
     I got on the phone and called several Miami bearing suppliers. Finally at an aircraft bearing supplier I found one for $185.00 ea. I told them that the bearing was for a car transmission not an airplane, I wasn’t going to pay $185.00.
     I went to my office to think about my next move. Since I already had the transmission mostly all disassembled, so I thought, I might just as well take apart the overdrive unit to see if there were any other bearings that were bad. I felt it would be terrible if I put the whole overdrive transmission back together, only to find out there was another bad bearing in the overdrive section, I felt it would be better to be safe than sorry.
     This is the part when I really should have read a Doug Nash transmission manual first, I don’t remember exactly what happened, but the next thing I knew I had big springs and shims popping out and flying all over the place. There were pieces going everywhere.
Some shims and springs rolled under other machinery we had in the shop. Several of my own mechanics were watching me, and I could tell by looking at their faces, they all thought that this was the end, as far as my ever putting this Doug Nash transmission back together again.
     I have to admit I was a little depressed, but all was not lost, I knew that I could call this Doug Nash guy up, whoever the hell he was, and I could order a repair manual from him.
     So I found the telephone number for Doug Nash Engineering, it was not an easy task as this was a long time before we had Google and the Internet.
     I called, and very nice fellow answered the phone. Yes, he said, this was the Doug Nash Engineering Company, and yes this was the very factory where they had produced the four plus three overdrive transmission for the 1984 Chevrolet Corvette.
     I don’t remember exactly where the fellow said he was located I think it was Detroit.
Anyway, he was very patient with me and listened to my entire tale of woe, as I explained my entire situation to him, and then I asked him if I could buy a transmission shop manual.
      The fellow calmly said to me, “Sir, I am standing behind my desk in two inches of water and there is no roof on our building.” No roof on the building? I said. “That’s right he said, our company was hit by a tornado and it took the roof off the building.”
      I was stunned, does that mean you are out of the transmission business, and I am out of luck, I asked?
      “Yes and No, he said, we sold our whole transmission business to Richmond Gear Co. Perhaps you can call them, because they already came here and got all our stuff.  He then told me the phone number of Richmond gear and told me who the guy was to ask for.
      I called the Richmond Gear Company, and by luck got the right guy first call
      Yes he said, we bought out Doug Nash transmission, company, but, we also bought out six other companies at the same time. He said, “His company, Richmond gear was on an acquisition binge and they were buying out other companies right and left.
      He said Richmond gear had bought out so many companies that he never even had the time to inventory anything, and everything from all the companies was just lying in big piles on the warehouse floor everywhere.
      He said it would take a miracle to find anything so I was ready to cry, and I told him I needed that miracle.
      The fellow obviously saw I was pretty distraught, and he said he would go to the Doug Nash parts pile in the morning and look to see if any shop manuals or bearings were laying around anywhere.
      The next afternoon he called me back. Nope, there were no shop manuals, but he said he saw a complete transmission and overdrive unit laying there at the foot of the pile, and it was the exact part number that I needed. I asked him how much he wanted for it, and I was waiting for him to give me some astronomical price like $5000.00.
       How about $375.00, he said. I almost fell off my chair. Please ship it COD I today I said. Well, he did ship it and he also put an extra ball bearing in the package at no charge. The next week, my friend at the corner gas station installed the transmission and the car ran fine.
      After driving the car around a while, to make sure the transmission worked, I decided to store it for the evening in the fenced in yard of one of our warehouses. The yard had a six foot concrete wall with concertina wire all along the top.
      The next day, when I went to get the car, and found that someone had attempted to break into it. They broke the windshield, and then tried to remove the Bose radio with a tire iron. The car was a mess with all the broken glass and damage they had done to the dashboard trying to get the radio out.
      (See the Dishonest Chevrolet Dealer Story), to find out what happened.



The Richard’s Dad, Cigar Story

                                          The Richard’s Dad and the Cigar story
                                      A true story as related by my friend Richard
                                     Witten 12/3/2013 and rewritten 2016 unedited
                                                             Howard Yasgar

      This true short and humorous story was related to me during the 1960’s by one of my good friends named Richard.
      The story is about Richard and his dad and I felt it was worth writing down for posterity.
      When my friend Richard was a teenager he worked part time in his father’s paint manufacturing facility in New York City. Because they lived in the suburbs, his dad would drive them to work and home every day in their big four door Cadillac.
      In the beginning, whenever Richard rode to work with his father, he sat next to his dad in the passenger side seat.
      Now, Richard’s dad smoked a big cigar, but most of the time he just chewed on it and occasionally he would press a button and when the driver’s side window would go down. His father would turn left and spit a big black wad of tobacco juice out onto the highway.
     Every evening as they drove home from work, Richard’s father would be thinking about the paint manufacturing business and not paying much attention to his driving ability, consequently other drivers would constantly honk their horn, some would drive up next to them with the drivers all screaming obscenities to his father. Lots of people just pulled abreast of them and just threw him a bird.
      Richard’s father was oblivious to it all, as he drove along chewing on his cigar.
      Richard was so embarrassed that he started riding in the back seat, he sat on the right side, where he could slouch down and no one would recognize him.
      As the paint manufacturing business grew, relatives started telling his father that his Cadillac was an outdated car, and people of means now drove Lincolns. They told him to get with the times and trade in the Cadillac for a Lincoln.
      Eventually Richard’s father traded in his Cadillac for a Lincoln.
      That evening, as they drove home in the new Lincoln, Richard’s dad was chewing on his cigar as usual. And Richard was in the right rear seat of the new Lincoln slouched down.
      When Richard’s dad was ready to spit out his tobacco juice, he went to press the button for his driver’s side window to go down.
       Because the window control buttons were in a different place on the new Lincoln, his dad pressed the wrong button and the right rear window next to Richard went down and his father turned to his left and spit out his big wad of tobacco juice.    


The Haiti Generator Repair Story

                                             The Haiti Generator Repair Story
                                 This is a true story that happened to me in Haiti     
                              Written 12/20/2013 and rewritten 2/6/2016 unedited
                                                          Howard Yasgar

      This story will be appreciated by anyone who ever tried having their vehicle worked on in a backward foreign country. It will also be appreciated by anyone who is familiar with what a car generator is.
     This is a 100 % true story, and when it happened, I couldn’t believe what had happened, and I am not sure I even believe it today, even though I saw it happen with my own eyes.
      It was 1971, and I was visiting Port Au Prince Haiti to call on several customers that I had there. At the time, I was in the automotive parts rebuilding business in Miami, Florida, and I had a lot of experience in overhauling and rebuilding automotive starters and generators as well as exporting them.  
      It was in February when I made this particular sales trip, and I had brought along a friend from Miami named Paul Sherlock. Paul was not only my friend but he was a parts supplier to my company, my intention was to show Paul around Haiti, and introduce him to several of my customers.
      Because most of my customers were located in the capitol city of Port Au Prince, I decided to stay at the Castle Haiti Hotel.
      To assist us in getting around Port Au Prince, we were using my favorite cab driver and friend, Toni Richmond.
    Tony owned a 1956 Dodge automobile, that he used it as a taxi cab, which was a pretty high class car for Haiti at the time.
     On this particular February morning, Toni appeared to be very nervous.
    While we were at breakfast, he discretely showed us a ballot he had in his pocket, but it appeared that he was very concerned about showing it to us.
      I watched as Toni constantly looked over his shoulder to make sure no one like the Tonton Macoute were looking at us, then when Toni was sure no one was looking, he showed me his ballot.
     Toni’s ballot was in French so I didn’t know what it said but I saw there was only one name on it “Jean Claude Duvalier.
      I later found out that is wasn’t an election it was really a plebiscite, Jean Claude Duvalier’s father, who was called Papa Doc, was electing his son to succeed him and be president of Haiti for life.
      To clarify things, Haiti, in 1971, was ruled by a Voodoo dictator called Papa Doc Duvalier, he had formerly been a Haitian back country doctor before being legally elected and then taking over the country.
      Papa Doc Duvalier employed his own private army of thugs called the Tonton Macoute, which in the local language of Patois meant Bogy man. The Tonton Macoute all wore Levi jeans and loud polyester shirts and they all carried .45 caliber chrome plated pistols in their waistbands. They were a scary bunch of characters that everyone tried to avoid if possible,
      We didn’t know it at the time, but we were in Haiti the very day that Papa Doc had chosen to hold the plebiscite.
      When we got to downtown Port Au Prince, we could see that the Haitian army was already trucking in hundreds and hundreds of peasants from the countryside all waving small black and red Haitian flags mounted on small sticks.
      It appeared that Papa Doc wanted his fake election to look legitimate, he later reported that 99 percent of the population of Haiti voted yes for his son to succeed him.
      We had no idea that so many people would be coming downtown so I asked Toni to drop us off to at one of my customer’s stores, and come by and pick us up later, after he had voted.
      The customer I wanted to see that morning was a fellow named Hermon Francoise.
Hermon came to Miami twice a year to buy used automobile starters and generators, he then shipped them to Haiti as scrap metal.
      Once he had the starters and generators in Haiti, he washed them in kerosene and then sold the parts for a lot of money calling them rebuilt. He was a pretty sharp guy and he had a good scam going.
      After Toni had voted, he came by and picked Paul and myself up, he said that there was something going on that he wanted to show us.
     We then drove towards the Haitian palace, it was difficult as the streets were just swarming with people. When we got there, I could see that a row of news cameras were all set up to film the event, and the palace lawn and front driveways were just jammed with people.
      Toni, edged his way past the palace gates and started blowing his horn, the people thinking we were foreign dignitaries or something, began getting out of our way, and slowly but surely Toni drove all the way up to within a few hundred yards of the palace.  
     When we were about 300 feet away from the Palace, there were lots of army guards pushing the people back, but from the position we were in, I could clearly see a balcony on the second floor with closed doors behind it.
     We weren’t there for more than 5 minutes when I saw a short black fellow with glasses and grey hair, step out on the balcony and wave to everyone, it was Papa Doc himself.
      A moment later this big burley young black guy, wearing a suit that seemed to shine brilliantly in the sunshine stepped out, he was standing beside Papa Doc and waved, I noticed that his hair was bigger than his head. I knew immediately this was Jean Claude, Papa Docs son who the people on the street all called “Basket Head”.
      It was hot and I had already opened the passenger side door of Toni’s car, and when I looked up, I could swear Papa Doc was actually waving to me, so I stepped half out of the car and waved back.
      Within a few minutes, both the father and son stepped back inside the palace and I saw the balcony door close.
      The crowd then started to dissipate, and Toni started up the Dodge as we slowly followed the massive crowd off the palace grounds.
      Were probably about half way to the palace gates and the boulevard when I smelled rubber burning, I knew what the smell was right away, and then I saw smoke coming from under the hood of Toni’s car, it was the smell of the cars fanbelt burning up.
      Toni stopped, I said, shut off your motor as I smell a fanbelt burning, so that’s when we all got out of the car and Toni opened the hood, and like I had said it was, a burnt fanbelt.
     Toni reached in to the engine compartment and pulled out pieces of the shredded fanbelt, so when I saw him doing that, I reached in and tried turning the cars generator pulley. I found that it was frozen solid, just as I had suspected it would be.
     To me, the diagnosis of the problem was easy, the ball bearing in the generator had gone bad, and that caused the generator armature to freeze up so it wouldn’t turn. Once the generator armature stopped turning, the fan belt instantly burned up and shredded, making the terrible burned rubber smell, and not having a fanbelt also overheated the engine. I had seen this problem many times in the past.
     I knew, that if I were in Miami, a good used, or rebuilt generator for Toni’s 1956 Dodge, could be bought in any junkyard for about $10.00 and they were plentiful. So I wasn’t too concerned about the problem, but I had forgotten that we were in a place like Haiti.
     After a few minutes of waiting for Toni’s car to cool down, Toni said he had a good friend who was an automobile electrician. Toni said that the electrician had a repair shop nearby, and we should be able to drive there once the car cooled down.
     Toni was right, we got to the shop fairly quickly, but I could see that the first problem was that the electricians shop was not actually a shop, it was just an alley way between two buildings.
     The dirty trash laden alley had a wooden work bench, with a roof built over it. Other than that, it was just a dirty empty space between two buildings.
      I looked behind the bench and there sat two fellows who appeared to be taking a nap.
Tony walked over to them, they woke up and they all shook hands.
      I saw Toni explained our problem to them in their local Patois language.
     On top of the workbench was a broken butcher’s knife, a rusty pair of pliers and a medium sized beat up Craftsman screwdriver. There was no test equipment of any kind in sight.
      Within a matter of seconds, the hood of Toni’s car was open and with the rusty pliers the guys managed to remove the burning hot, Dodge generator.
      They placed it on the bench and disassembled it using only the pair of pliers.
      Paul and I both knew the generator rebuilding business, so we assumed these guys knew what they were doing. We both thought that they would quickly find some good used parts or a good used generator and fix the problem, so we walked away to sit on a bench across the street in the shade.
      After about fifteen minutes passed, and we saw that no one had gone anywhere to look for anything, we walked over to the car. We saw that Toni was laying in his cars driver’s seat taking a nap, so then we walked over to the mechanics bench.
      We were absolutely stunned at what they had done, they had removed the frozen up ball bearing from the front of the generator, and with only using the screwdriver and broken butchers knife they had removed all the burnt out wire from the generator armature.  
      Paul and I both knew what was possible to be done to repair a generator and what was not possible to be done. We saw that both these guys were attempting the impossible.
     They were going to remove some old wire they had in a burnt out electric motor under the bench, and put that old wire in Toni’s burnt out generator, to fix it.
     When I saw this, I didn’t know what to say, I had never heard of a more crazy idea in my life, but I also knew these guys were Toni’s friends, and I didn’t want to get into the middle of a confrontation, so for a moment I just stood there speechless.
     When I looked at Paul, his brow was all furrowed up as he watched what these guys were attempting to do.
      As we both stood there speechless, a young boy appeared, Toni said he was the electrician’s nephew.
      I asked the boy if he spoke English, and he said yes. So I picked up the horribly burned out ball bearing from the generator, and I asked him if he knew what it was, he said “Yes”, so then I asked him if he knew where to buy a new one. He said “Yes”, so I told him to go and buy one right away, he took the burned out sample and ran away down the alley. I knew that a new Japanese ball bearing cost me .35 cents in Miami.
      I went back to watching the other two electricians. One was peeling the old used wire off the electric motor on the ground, and the other guy was attempting to put it in Toni’s generator armature. We could see that besides from being used wire, it wasn’t even the right size.     
     I knew at this point I had to say something to stop Toni from going any further and wasting any more of our valuable time.
     It was obvious to me that we would soon kill the entire afternoon here with no hope of ever getting his Toni’s car running.
     I turned to talk to Toni, just as the young boy returned holding the ball bearing he had found. I looked, but not only was it the wrong size bearing but it was also burned out as bad as the sample I had given him.  
     Neither Paul nor I could imagine we were standing here in Haiti, in the 100 degree heat, and really involved in this stupid situation. So I said to Toni, look Toni, I know these guys are your friends but they will never ever fix your car, everything they were doing was wrong. I said please stop them now.
     Paul and I, will walk down the street to my friend Hermon’s store, and we will get a good used generator for you.
     So, after having said that, Paul and I turned to walk down the street to Hermon’s store and buy a good used Dodge generator.
      Now, at Hermon’s store, we explained the generator problem to him, and Hermon said he had plenty of good Dodge generators, but he was sorry that he couldn’t sell me one.
     I was stunned, so I asked him how come he wouldn’t he sell me one.  He said it was because I knew how little he paid for the generator in Miami.
     He said, “Haiti is a small country, and if I sell you a generator cheap, your cabdriver Toni, would tell everyone in Port Au Prince, and soon the whole city would soon know about it and I could never sell a generator for a high price to anyone again. It would destroy my business.
     I couldn’t believe I was hearing this conversation, especially from a friend, and by now both Paul and I were very tired and worn out, we were both soaked with sweat.
     It was getting late and we had now wasted the whole afternoon fooling around with Toni’s generator.
      I said, Listen Hermon, give me a generator for free, and I will give you ten of them to replace it, next time you are in Miami. He thought about it a moment, and then gave me a good used Dodge generator for free.
      Paul and I walked all the way back to Toni’s car, I was carrying the generator on my shoulder.
     Toni was leaning against his car and smiling, the car was running with its hood closed, the two electricians and nephew were nowhere to be seen.
      Paul and I knew they could never have fixed Toni’s generator, so what had they possibly have done?
      I opened the hood of Toni’s car, and to this day I can’t believe what I saw. They had found a 12 volt Ford generator somewhere, and mounted it on Toni’s Dodge car, but because the generator was off a Ford, it didn’t fit the car right, so they wedged a big rock from the street between the generator and the engine to hold it tight.
     Paul and I were stumped, because we knew that the electrical system on a Dodge is an “A” circuit, and the electrical system on a Ford generator is a “B” circuit, they are not compatible, but here it was, Toni’s car was running perfectly.
      I think this could only have been possible in Haiti where Voodoo is practiced.