The Gas Heater Saga

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The Gas Heater Saga

Unread postby KiltedPhoenix » Mon Jan 09, 2017 3:35 pm

In the last few week I think I may have become the leading expert in gas heaters in mid-coast Maine. I've driven from Trenton, to Bangor, to Searsport just to find someone that might know even just a little more than me on my quest to have functional heat and defrost in my daily driver this winter.

Lets start at the beginning.

I bought my 63 700 sedan (Penny) out near St. Louis and drove it home to Maine not with out issues along the way (there's a whole other story coming about that). Along the way I bought a complete set up for a gas heater (knowing the not so great heating abilities of manifold heat) for a pretty sweet price too. I was assured that it MIGHT work. Joe is a pretty awesome Corvair guy, you'll rad about him in A Penny's Journey, so is Eric, he gave me an extra combustion chamber. So, weeks after I get home and decide to tackle this heater thing, never having even seen one aside from a box of jumbled up parts. The basic concept of the install was fairly straight forward, found the little dimples for the screw holes for the combustion blower, and for the cut out for the cabin air blower. I installed the heater, and the combustion blower, thought at this point this should be easy. Few times in my life have I been more wrong, Marrying my first wife included.

Time for the fuel line. Went out and bought a 20' roll of 3/16 steel fuel/brake line and a bag of flare nuts. I had the 4 way tee (came with the whole heater package). I get smart about it, foreseeing that I might not finish this in one day, and remember this is my daily driver, I only put the 4 way on temporarily, knowing that I might have to drive the car before I finish and I dont want a fuel fountain in my trunk. So I run the line from the pump, tracing the fuel line from the tank, through the tunnel, and out and up to the heater. I tested for fuel flow and to flush out the line before connecting it to the heater. I start the car, look in the trunk, see fuel squirting out, shut off the car, clean up the mess. I connect it to the heater, again, thinking, hey this isnt so hard. I disconnect the fuel line at the pump, but the stock 3 way tee back on reconnect fuel lines, start the car to make sure I somehow didnt screw something up (as I usually do). All is well, I'm done for the day. Next time on the project I re assemble the distribution box, as I had weeks ago completely disassembled it to clean it all out, lube moving parts etc. Mounting it was, uh, fun. I got to play contortionist like I have not done in years. Upside down, feet in the air, hoping for just a few minutes where gravity might take a break for a while (no such luck). After fighting gravity, I get the 3 screws holding it up there in place, connect control lines, check for range of motion, sticking, etc. All is well. Hey this isnt so bad. Next comes the wiring.

I hate, I mean really hate automotive wiring. Mostly because, somehow along the way I have convinced myself that I dont know anything about it. Yet I have lost count of how many auxiliary lights (fog lights, emergency red flashers) and CB radios and electric fans (instead of belt driven) I've wired up over the years. I think my block is with diagnosis, I really dont understand as much as i should with that.

I skip installing the entire wire harness that came with the heater and instead figure out which 2 wires I need to plug into where, one in a 10A source and the other in a 20A source. Thankfully our fuse blocks are so well labeled. This was fairly easy after studying the hieroglyphics known as wiring diagrams and I had it plugged in in no time. Test run. I hear the combustion blower come on, I kinda hear the cabin blower come on, no whirrrry whoooosh of the heater. Sad. Then, it happened. My brain functioned a little. Most automotive fuel systems I know of have a fuel return line. Heaters run on less fuel pressure than the carbs, what happens with that excess fuel/pressure. Oh.. right... Through a series of conversations on Corvair Owners Group on FB I find out that I need a pressure regulating tee which also acts as a tee for a fuel return line. Graciously and generously, Joe sends me one. Which is good, as it probably should have come with one. I wait, impatiently, for snail mail to deliver from Ohio. The day comes when it arrives and I am ready to go. Here is where I start down a slippery slope of breaking the rules. Well, maybe being a bit of a maverick, and a touch pirate too. F the rules.. I do my own thing! Ok, calm down, I'm not that bad. I consulted with 1 of my 3 on-line heater expert friends and find I can just go from the pressure regulator too out to the fuel supply (to the engine) line. Excess fuel/pressure will just be brought back into the line to the engine. This is where everything went to shit, and fast. Due to proximity of where I put said tee, reconnecting 53 year old lines created a crack in the hard line exiting the sending unit in the tank. Fuel leak. Damn. At first I cant tell where it is leaking from. I first thought it was the stud for the fuel gauge wire. I try tightening the nylon nut down some. Drip Drip Drip... Then I try a personally proven quick fix. A gooey product call Seal-All. Nope. Still drippy. Then, with the right lighting, I see where it is coming from. Luckily I have a back up, I have a spare sending unit and how fortuitous too, as my fuel gauge didnt work. I pull the line, and let it drain into a 5 gallon gas can over night. Next day, install spare sending unit. pour a few gallons of gas in, gas is just pouring out. The sending unit shifted when putting on the lock ring (yes, I think I am doing it right, 3/8" brass rod and small tack hammer). Drain the tank, again. Reset o-ring, reinstall, pour gas in, again. Drip Drip Drip... again. Just out of frustration and high hopes that SOMETHING will go right, I turn the car on to see if the guage is working. Sweet baby monkeys it is! After more discussion on FB I learn that leaks here can be soldered. Drain the tank, remove sending unit, thoroughly clean sending unit, Solder seam (front and back) where the hard line meets the plate. Luckily my torch soldering skills are decent enough for leak free domestic pluming. First time I get to utilize that skill on a car... I'm feeling pretty accomplished here now. So after some fun torch play and then cleaning again, re-install the sending unit, add gas, again. NO LEAKS!! YAY! I finally get the plumbing all figured out, fuel is flowing to the heater at the proper pressure. No fire, no heat. Ugh.. Remember, this is my daily driver. While getting more 3/16 fuel line fittings, my generator dies. This is also in middle of the fuel leak mini-saga, as if I didnt already have enough problems. Remember the heater? This is about a heater, really it is. I'll skip the gory details of the generator fix. I'll just say that I have 2 spare motors, one has a generator, but the engine has not turned since 1974 and is a huge unknown, and the other has the alternator conversion, but the fan on the pulley is wrong and I am scared of wiring (ya, that little detail again). I have a functioning generator. Back to the heater.

After asking many questions on the FB group, and poking around like I know what I'm doing (not fooling anyone) I start trying to eliminate variables. Hey there is a relay there, I know what those do, it also looks suspiciously like my horn relay over there in the corner of the trunk. I swap it out into the horn wiring. No honk honk. Well then, the relay must be bad. SO off I go to NAPA, I have them look up a horn relay for my car, wont be in until tomorrow. Ok, I can wait.. Tomorrow comes, I get my relay, put it on the heater. No heat. Off to the Southwinds manual which some awesome person shared with me a link to. Reading over the wiring diagrams, pretending I understand them. I get a vague idea of that things are supposed to do. I get a better idea of it just by looking at it and poking around with my test probe/light and asking more questions. I pull apart the heater, again, pull the burner off the combustion chamber to do the "click" test on the solenoid. No clicky clicky. I swap it out with my spare that came with the spare comb,. chamber. It clicks! The plunger moves! Reassemble, reinstall, test. No fire, No heat. I pull it all apart again. By now I can do it with my eyes closed and half asleep. Maybe the nozzle is clogged? Well I do have this other nozzle thats been soaking in kerosene to clean it. Lets try that. Screw that, lets just replace the whole burner head, but with the good solenoid and the nozzle thats been soaking. Reassemble, reinstall. Test. No fire, no heat. WHAT THE COLD HELL IS WRONG??? I am so close to giving up. I start asking for hands on help, I'm willing to travel states away to get someone to look at this and fix it. After more reading on this I find that these are virtually the same heaters used in small aircraft. Well there is a small municipal airport near by. I go there, all the mechanics are out. I get the phone number of one of them. I call the next day, have a great, but unhelpful conversation about it with Leroy. At this point Im also questioning the purge switch. after playing with it some, if i push the switch DOWN, I can get the heater to almost fire, it makes a whoooosh and smoke comes out but the CAB stops. If I pull the switch UP the CAB goes into high speed. Whats real fun is when I push it down, and instead of the momentary whooosh I get a backfire. Oh, So fun.. Did I mention I dont have the exhaust on this yet, just that short stubby piece off the comb chamber. So ya, backfires, loud, scary, hit my head on the trunk lid. Frustration building. The day I went to the airport, I also went all over the place, nearly 200 miles of driving, going from one place to another. Every time I asked, I was given 2 more names of people who "definitely would know about these" and they were either dead, retired, or didnt actually know anything. So I was no further ahead. Then I tried something REALLY stupid. I figured I knew what was going on with the purge switch. I tried bypasing it with a jumper wire. Well, the heat lit, but.... the combustion blower didnt, so now i had a gasoline fire, in there, with no place for it to go. I shut off the car, pulled the power to the unit, smoke billowing out of the heater, no power to it so the blower wouldnt purge anything out. I quickly disconnected the CAB hose from the far end and stuck my air nozzle in there and blew it all out. No more smoke, fire is out, I wont be trying that again. In middle of all this I am still trying little things here and there, like maybe I have the blue and the green wire reversed at the fuse block. Nope. I've got power everywhere I need to, but power to the solenoid only when I push the purge switch down, but it shouldn't go down.

Days later, I'm talking this through with my friend Eric (who gave me the spare comb chamber). Sometimes, even if the other person cant really help, just talking it through with someone, helps me figure it out. I put my test probe on the relay. 2/3 posts have voltage. Why not all 3? Well maybe its the over heat switch? I pull that off, flip it over, test it. No voltage anywhere at it. AH HA! That is the problem! It MUST be since voltage goes from the relay to the over heat switch, to the solenoid. Theres no power going through it. I look closely at it and see what I think are bad connections. Soldered connections. Out comes the soldering iron, solder, flux. I'm wicked rusty with this thing but manage to put new wires on there. Plug it all back in. Nothing. No voltage there. What?? Oh, wait a minute. If it was the over heat switch, I'd have voltage at one end of it but not the other. AHHHH.... the relay. I put the NEW relay in the horn wiring, maybe I got a bad one? Horn works! Well now... I talk to Eric some more, and talking it through with him I get the idea to try something. I didnt throw away the original relay. I put it back on. Plug everything in. Start the car and I wait. I wait. I give the purge switch a nudge up.


I HAVE HEAT! IT WORKS!!! Originally it was the solenoid. That was the problem, but because I swapped out the relay, I created another problem! I have heat and it is GLORIOUS!! Noticing where certain holes are and how the over heat switch works, it suddenly occurs to me why those wires had that extra insulation on them. SO quickly put that back on the wires, plug it all back in again, put everything where it should be and only run the heater sparingly. Remember, no exhaust yet, and knowing the close proximity to the gas tank. Ya, lets not do that. A couple days go by while I am digging through my garage looking for the exhaust parts that I know I bought to put it on. Again with the rules breaking, I', using 1.5" exhaust, off the shelf stuff, because thats all i can find, I can cut/weld just fine, this will work. I dry fit a couple pieces, mark them cut them, weld them together. This gets me down through the cross member hole and not much further. I need more pipe. Out I go again, feeling confident, running the heat the whole time, and why not, its 9 degrees out! I get home, get out of the car to open the garage door and I have what I have only read about. The "brown smoke incident." This is ominous, but I carry on. I get my exhaust welded up, even made a custom bend to keep it tight to the floor because this is New England, the roads suck and I'm in a car with the lowest ground clearance of any car I have ever owned. The final weld, near the fuel lines (remember those tees?) I wrap a water soaked rag around them and have my wife standing over me with the 20 lb ABC extinguisher ready to go (she and I are both volunteer fire fighters). Final weld made, my welding over head flux core welds are ugly. Very ugly, but they hold and its under the car, who cares. I'm elated. My heater FINALLY works, the exhaust is on, I now also have my studded tires on, I am in full winter-ready mode! Lets test it out with the exhaust on!

No fire. No heat. WHAT?? Oh and what is this? FUEL? LEAKING? This is new. This is scary. I first unplug the wire to the solenoid, just to make sure it doesnt let more fuel in, I also unplug the wires from the fuse block. Just to make sure it does not try to light, and go boom. This is bad, really bad and terribly upsetting too. Now I cant drive the car because I dont want fuel continuously pouring into the trunk. Panic mode: engage.
I get on FB, again. Eric comes to my rescue, again. He calls me this time. We talk things over, I'm poking around with my test light while one the phone with him. I notice no voltage to one terminal on the coil. Strange, i've always had voltage at both. bad coil? Bad points? Points!! The points! I turn the ignition on (but not started, dont want fuel to flow) and this time I DONT hear the CAB moving, at all. This is weird. If thats not moving tha explains no voltage at the coil, the points must be stuck open. WHy? In previous videos shared on FB someone commented that my combustion air blower sounded like a table saw. Indeed it did, half the time, other times, nice and quiet. I remove the outer cover, give it power again, it starts to move but stops. Its binding up. I also notice in/out shaft play and I see why it sounds like a table saw, a couple tines are hitting the case in one spot. I pull the CAB out, points look good actually. Pull the points off. WTF? There is silicone around the whole mounting flage for the points on the back of the motor. That doesnt look right. Out comes the dental pick, pick pick pick, eventually I get all of it out, put a few drops of graphite oil in it, reassmble, reinstall, bend a few tines so no one is hitting now. Test. Quiet fan, lazy purges switch comes up.... AND WE HAVE HEAT!! SO the fuel leak was caused because the CAB wouldnt turn, but power was still going to the solenoid, and letting fuel in, with out the CAB turning, points were not opening/closing, so no spark, fuel pooled in the combustion chamber but had no where else to go but out, someway, some how.

As of now, everything is working, mostly. My purge switch still sometimes need a helping nudge but my cabin blower puts out air like an asthmatic 5 yearold blowing out birthday candles. From what i have been told the blower motor is the same as the air heater blower in the back of the car. I have 2 parts cars with blowers. First I'll take apart this one, lube it, maybe even ground it better and see what happens. If that doesnt work I can do the same with the other 2, if they even work.

After all this, I've had my grubby calloused hands on every bit of this heater. Chances are I can diagnose most problems now. Fixing them, maybe not, depending on what it is. I'm just happy I conquered this task. I have heat for this lovely Maine winter. I can defrost/defog my windshield, no more keeping a washcloth on the dash to wipe it off on rainy days. The heat is good, quick and doesnt smell. But here is a tip, if you get one, dont clean out the distribution box with anything other than water and compressed air. The first couple times the heater lit, if filled the car with smoke, from all the PB I used freeing everything up inside and not cleaning it off, instead I burned it off, also forgetting that I did that and got wicked worried about all the smoke.

That's all for now.

Happy Journeys

Eric & Penny the Corvair.
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Re: The Gas Heater Saga

Unread postby 64powerglide » Mon Jan 09, 2017 5:40 pm

Interesting read!! I have a 64 Monza coupe 110 powerglide. Found a leak on the PCV tube going into the engine block thus oil smoke from the right side heat shroud, blocked off the right side heat & the left side hose is the only one sending hot air through the system & it still drives me out. Once the interior of the car is good & warm I have to turn the fan off. I'm in Michigan & it's dang cold here too. I hope to get the oil leak fixed come spring if I live that long. Just had 2 stent's put in my heart Friday & i'm in rough shape but keeping my fingers crossed. I now have 3 stents, a mechanical heart valve & 2 bypasses. If you have a Corvair drive it all you can because you never know what tomorrow is going to bring. :eek:
64Powerglide, Jeff Phillips

Kalamazoo, Mi..
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Re: The Gas Heater Saga

Unread postby bbodie52 » Mon Jan 09, 2017 6:04 pm

:ty: I enjoyed reading your article. Thanks for taking the time to tell your tale!

If you don't have copy of the gas heater maintenance booklet, Servicing the Corvair Gas Heater, I have attached a copy...
Servicing the Corvair Gas Heater - Part 1.pdf
Servicing the Corvair Gas Heater - Part 1
(1.18 MiB) Downloaded 3 times
Servicing the Corvair Gas Heater - Part 2.pdf
Servicing the Corvair Gas Heater - Part 2
(1.57 MiB) Downloaded 2 times
Brad Bodie
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Re: The Gas Heater Saga

Unread postby KiltedPhoenix » Mon Jan 09, 2017 6:24 pm

I don't have that, thanks. I do have the original Southwind manual.

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