NOTE: We have decided to rename the ‘clutch master cylinder’ to ‘clutch primary cylinder’ and ‘clutch slave cylinder’ to ‘clutch secondary cylinder.‘
↠ SEEK THIS VIDEO EPISODE ↞
↠ SEEK THIS FULL STORY ↞
I worry that many of you reading and watching our 1965 Clark Cortez motorhome overhaul envision this beautiful tale of a classic vehicle being restored by a couple who is deeply in love with each other and that the work on our RV goes (relatively) smoothly and merrily.
I’m here to tell you this is not the case at all.
Well, Andy and I do deeply love each other, but there are times when our steel beast does more than test us, which means we either have the patience of saints or the stubbornness of mules to continue.
And there is no proclamation here that we are ever saints.
“I’m done! I’m done with this Cortez!”
This was Andy — in what I can only call a full-blown outburst as he cussed out our retro ride, dropping tools that clanged loudly on the cement floor and hurling all he could find at our RV.
“Everything we do with this hunk of **** metal just leads from one disaster to another one. It’s never going to be done! As soon as we fix one thing, something else breaks and it’s just going to be that way. It’s a ****ing — ****. I’m done with it!”
I tried to warn you. It was a full-blown cussing outburst.
But did our Cortez deserve the vehement hatred?
Let’s pick up where our story last ended with the carburetor …
I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure what to do as I sat in the area where our passenger seat should have been, looking at Andy.
I saw his lips purse and heard his deep inhale — one of those that actively forces an extraordinary amount of patience and suppression. Then his fingers pinched the bridge of his nose as if warding off a severe migraine and an exhale followed in one long, heated breath.
“It’s okay,” I said unsure how serious both he and the new job at hand were. “Now you just have to do what?”
For a moment, he didn’t move — no breath, no action. Nothing.
I waited. This was the first time I had seen Andy visibly annoyed with our antique RV.
Suddenly his hands flew out in front of him — an exasperated shrug — before he let his arms fall — harshly — onto his legs.
“I don’t know,” he said.
For those new here, I want to welcome you and also point out that Andy is never at a loss of what to do on our 1965 Clark Cortez motorhome; and for those who have loyally stuck by our side, you can imagine how terrifying his three words were because of this. Basically, if Andy didn’t know, I sure as hell didn’t know and there was definitely no one coming to save us because everyone else also didn’t know.
However, before I focus on the only job that had Andy ready to celebrate setting fire to our antique RV, I need to recap where we were in December 2020. Take a seat, take a moment, and let’s hope you stick around because he almost didn’t …
To start, Andy and I have been on a rollercoaster ride trying to diagnose why our V8 engine consistently sputters to a sad death.
After he was forced to rebuild our carburetor, the good news is the rebuild was successful and helped our V8 engine roar to life. The bad news is our clutch suddenly stopped working. (What I call ‘Cortez Logic’ still surprises me — and for those that may be a bit confused, the important take-away is the engine and clutch are two entirely different systems that do not impact the other so the engine dying should in no way impact the clutch.)
This is where I will pick up our story again …
Something was wrong but what ‘something’ was — It was undetermined by both me and Andy so he started listing what it could be …
The primary cylinder could have failed.
Or the secondary cylinder could have failed.
Or the hydraulic line could have failed.
“Or something more catastrophic could have gone off in the clutch or gearbox.”
Catastrophic. In all the jobs we had faced, this was the first time Andy had used the word ‘catastrophic’ to describe a Cortez issue.
That’s because he became concerned our problem involved the transmission (or set of gears in a casing, making the word ‘gearbox’ an alternate nickname): Our Cortez has a unique, delicate transmission that cannot be found anywhere else except on another Cortez.
If our transmission is gone — at any point in time — our Cortez’s life is over.
Panic set in as I instead tried to welcome any problem and any amount of labor as long as it did not involve the transmission, and this how how we began our investigation …
I pushed the clutch pedal down again and again as Andy crouched outside the driver’s side door then bounced inside to hunch over our engine.
“TTTHHH!” Air hissed between the clutch line and secondary cylinder.
“That’s really bad,” Andy announced, but I made a mental note that air being pushed from a clutch fitting was in no way equal to transmission failure so for that, small victories.
The noise, however, did prove air had incorrectly gotten into our clutch line … and this was confirmed when we unscrewed the top on our primary cylinder only to discover there was no fluid inside. Undoubtably, we had a leak; yet, without obvious puddles anywhere, we were forced to find the mysterious leak by pushing fluid through the clutch line, and that meant bleeding the clutch system.
This was a familiar task because we had already bled the brake system when we got the Cortez in 2019 and then bled the clutch system a short time after that. Therefore, I understood my role before Andy even explained — I would sit comfortably in the driver’s seat filling our primary cylinder with fluid while also pushing down the clutch pedal and maintaining the fluid level at the same time.
Filling the cylinder with fluid, I waited until Andy had a hose and cup in place.
“Down,” he ordered and our clutch pedal’s squeals confirmed my action while black goo flooded from our rubber hose. Because the fluid coming out should have been the pretty golden color I was pouring in, regardless what our problem was, this proved bleeding the clutch was a worthwhile venture.
“Up,” Andy followed and so we continued this “Down … Up … Down … Up” game as our cup filled with black sludge.
Once we had a full black-sludge cup and golden fluid coming out instead …
we checked for leaks and felt successful when we didn’t spot any.
However, this is when our job quickly went downhill …
↠ PROBLEM COUNT ↞
When we returned the next day, we found this upsetting sign: a puddle on the cement floor.
Andy said he could assume two situations occurred: Either there was a magical brake-fluid-drinking fairy — well, he actually said “pissed it up a wall” … or there was a leak in the clutch secondary cylinder.
Going with the second option, we thought, No problem and removed the part to order a new one.
Along with this, we figured it would be in our and our Cortez’s best interest to also replace the primary cylinder, too. That way we could avoid possible future issues if this old part malfunctioned later.
However, installing the new parts would mean repeating what we had just done (re-draining our fluid and re-bleeding the system to remove any air).
“Hopefully, there will be no leaks and everything will come apart fine,” Andy told me as we prepared to re-drain our fluid a second time.
Looking back, we were naive and continued forward with those rose-tinted Clark-brand glasses, and at first we had no issues. We re-drained the fluid. Then Andy removed the secondary cylinder without a problem, allowing us to see the horrible state it was in — The seal inside had failed, which caused the leak and our clutch not to work.
Next, I removed the primary cylinder without issue.
With the parts out, we were able to order replacements and continue forward installing each cylinder.
With primary and secondary cylinders installed, I filled the primary cylinder with fluid again so that we could began the process of removing air and re-bleeding the clutch system.
↠ PROBLEM COUNT ↞
Down, up, down, up, I pressed the clutch pedal again and again.
Each time, the action released air bubbles … and apparently fluid from between the primary cylinder and its fitting.
“I thought I got it tight too — That’s the worrying thing,” Andy said as he used all muscle to retighten our fitting.
However, even with the double tightening, fluid continued to spurt from the fitting the moment I pushed my foot down again.
By now, Andy’s use of cuss words was increasing and the sun was gone so we stood in darkness.
“We just need to stop,” he determined so we set forth a plan that entailed getting a crush-washer to put between the primary cylinder and bolt.
↠ PROBLEM COUNT ↞
We also opted to get a new braided clutch line to replace our old, brittle rubber one…
and I want to pause here to picture our clutch system: There’s our primary cylinder full of fluid under our dashboard … then our old metal clutch line and that connects to our old rubber clutch line … and that connects to our secondary cylinder.
It was this old rubber clutch line we tried to remove and in the process sheared, which then made us expand our replacements further to — why not — the entire clutch line.
Removing and replacing our old lines meant we would have to re-drain and re-bleed our clutch system for the third time.
“If it still leaks then … ” Andy started and as his brow furrowed, his eyes rolled, and his inhale deepened, I could see the problems reproducing in his mind.
“We’ll handle that then,” I told him, pulling him back to where we stood together — a cold, dark shed in the middle of my aunt and uncle’s farm. “It won’t leak again,” I reaffirmed. Here I should point out a beautiful lesson we have learned with the Cortez: I am a pessimist; Andy, an optimist. However, in moments of concern or struggle, we swap sides — without hesitation — to better support the other person. Therefore, thank you, Cortez, for allowing us to learn there can only be space for one pessimist at a time in a relationship.
Back to the job: We started to bend all of our metal lines accordingly then install the metal lines and our braided clutch line.
What should have taken about an hour though turned into the entire agonizing day so that by the time we were done shaping our new line, darkness enveloped us.
Remaining both positive and focused, Andy insisted on re-bleeding the lines — and I was for this plan too because we were so close to successfully completing our clutch work.
↠ PROBLEM COUNT ↞
However, when we went to re-bled the system (for now the fourth time), our new braided clutch line leaked.
And leaked at both ends.
No problem, we thought again. It is a simple job of tightening both ends.
Dear reader, if this thought hasn’t occurred yet, I want to make sure it is known: Sometimes, working on classic vehicles is a never-ending saga of jobs that go wrong. Here, we reached that level because despite whatever tightening Andy tried, our line continued to leak.
“Oh my God!” Andy yelled under our RV before every frustration, anger, and bitterness he had was expelled upon our antique beauty. “I really am ****ing starting to give up on it — Everything we do turns into a ****ing nightmare. I cannot remember the last job we started and it just worked. Nothing ever ****ing goes to plan at all. Insane. What the **** are we doing?”
At this point, I’m not going to lie, I did what any normal person would do — I sat quietly and continued to document his rampage for you all here and for our YouTube channel.
But seriously, what else could I do? Rarely does Andy have angry outbursts, and I’m pretty sure Temper Tantrum 101 says to provide a positive space for the explosion of feelings and to essentially ignore the craziness. What I’m saying is I knew he needed to release whatever it was inside of him.
And there was a large amount of this inside of him …
“The line’s ****ed!” I heard him continue to yell. “We’re going to have to take it off and waste more ****ing fluid! *******s to it! ****! ****ing — Whatever!”
From here I heard huffs and puffs and tools dropping as he shuffled from under our steel beast and stood before me.
“I’m done! I’m done with this Cortez!” he angrily confessed to me, to the cows, to anything that would listen.
“I’m so annoyed with it. Everything we do with this hunk of **** metal just leads from one disaster to another one. It’s never going to be done! As soon as we fix one thing, something else breaks and it’s just going to be that way. It’s a ****ing — ****. I’m done with it!”
At this point, Andy had launched rags, wires, and whatever else over my head and into the Cortez then walked off camera into the absolute darkness of the farm.
This is when we had to have a heart-to-heart in the hay field.
The result of that discussion was to take some time, go home, get some sleep, and return the next day …
This lead us to Day Four of work on the clutch.
Armed with a second — yes, second — new braided line, Andy and I headed to the Cortez. I should note here I could tell he felt apologetic for his outburst because I saw him post this gem on our Instagram account …
I considered telling him, “Listen, we’ve all been there”, but I certainly hadn’t so I remained quiet, supportive, and positive.
First mission: looking over what went wrong the day before and triple-tightening both ends of our first new braided line.
“I’ve got a feeling that this could literally be — ” and there was a dramatic pause, “five seconds of tightening stuff up.”
I’ll let you imagine how a five-second fix would have felt.
Yet, Andy seemed to have an overwhelming amount of positivity now as we moved forward to re-bleed (the fifth time) our system.
Up, down, up, down, I pushed the clutch pedal as Andy checked for leaks in the engine bay, under the dash, and under our RV.
“This is looking good!” I heard him hum after confirming — finally — zero leaks were found!
Topping off the fluid one more time, we prepared for the moment we aimed to reach: a test drive.
Keys in the ignition, we turned our engine over a few times before hearing it roar to life. Our steel beast was alive once more!
The happiness, the smiles, the laughter — If our Cortez could have been fueled off of that alone, it would have run for months; and it is in these moments I wonder, How could we be anything but in love with our steel beast? How could we ever think of leaving her?
I’m learning antique vehicle restorations are addictive … in both the worst and best way.
Heading down to the garage, we smoothly moved off-path, circling the building before heading back to the shed.
“WE DID IT!” I hollered over the engine.
“Should we go for third gear?!” Andy asked me.
Turns out we not only went for third gear, but we also went for fourth before coasting our way back inside of the shed.