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Chevy Bel Air hAs All originAl pArts — even the smelly exhAust

BY RAY MAGLIOZZI
Dear Car Talk:
I have a pristine 1960 Chevrolet
Bel Air. I am the second owner. It
has 95,000 miles on a 348 motor
with a Powerglide transmission.
It’s all original with no hotrod
modifications. The car runs smooth
as silk. I drive it two or three times
a month to keep it exercised. But
my daughter complains that if
she follows me in her car when we
go to car shows, the exhaust really
smells bad. I have always used
premium fuel in this car, and I drive
it often enough that the gas is not
particularly “old.”

I know this car was built well before
pollution controls were introduced,
but I never remember car exhaust
smelling remarkably bad as a kid.
I have also noticed some of my
vintage car show buddies have
this issue with their 1950s-1960s
cars. Why do the vintage cars have
“pungent” exhausts? — Joe
I didn’t remember old car exhaust
smelling bad when I was a kid,
either, Joe. But a few years ago, we
were lucky enough to take a trip to
Cuba to check out the old, American
cars there. And guess what? Most of
them stunk! I think, as the air has
slowly gotten cleaner and cleaner
over the course of our lives, we’ve all
forgotten how bad it used to be.
Nowadays, if a car drives by that’s
got visible or malodorous exhaust,
it stands out like a sore Edsel. Back
then, most cars did that. Between
1960 and today, we’ve added fuel
injection, computerized engine

controls, oxygen sensors, catalytic
converters and more, to the point
where you could put your nose next
to the tail pipe of a new car and not
smell anything — but please don’t,
unless you want to end up as dumb
as me.
The carburetor on your car, in
contrast, is the technological
equivalent of pouring gasoline into
the cylinders from a paint can. It’s
sloppy, imprecise and dirty. Now, it’s
possible that there’s also something
wrong with your Bel Air. And the
problem most likely to make your
exhaust even stinkier than usual is a
fuel mixture that’s too rich.
So, if your carburetor jets, for
instance, are all worn out after only
60 years, they could be pouring way
toomuchgasolineintothecylinders.
The engine wouldn’t be able to burn
that extra fuel, and — without any
emissions equipment — it would
all come right out the tailpipe.

And it would stink. There are other
things that can cause incomplete
combustion and a rich mixture: low
compression, incorrect timing, low
engine operating temperature or
a weak spark. It’s probably worth
checking all of them.
But my first guess would be the
carburetor. And it’s probably not too
early in this car’s life to replace the
carburetor, Joe. That may very well
improve the odor to some degree. If
that still doesn’t improve the smell
to your daughter’s satisfaction, you
start following her to the car shows.

***
Got a question about cars? Write to Ray
in care of King Features, 628 Virginia
Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by
visiting the Car Talk website at www.
cartalk.com.
© 2019 by Ray Magliozzi and Doug
Berman Distributed by King Features
Syndicate, Inc.

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