By on May 7, 2012


TTAC Commentator tresmonos writes:


I recently wrote you about my dilemma of my dying cavalier and should I purchase a ST Focus when they come out. My question is: how easy is it to convert a v belt to a standard ‘grooved’ serpentine belt? My ’84 Diesel Fox body has mostly sat since I’ve started my new job, but back when I had time and excellent southern weather to work on it, I had rebuilt the alternator, rewired the main line from the alternator to the battery (removed the high voltage line from the main loom) and was messing around with different pullies to see if I could solve the age old dilemma that plagues these diesels: thrown v belts.

The v belt drives the alternator and the water pump. Diesel Fox’s are rare as those v belts get tossed, octogenarians would limp their beloved Lincoln home, then crack their Ford meth inspired, paper thin, specific head to a BMW M21. Sad grandma and grandpa.

Rather than keeping 3 spare belts, a socket set, and my balls in the trunk of the car at all times, I’d rather be lazy about it. The rebuild didn’t seem to help. The rewire addressed my laziness of not disconnecting the battery: blown fuse links from arcing of wrenches to alternator when tensioning fresh v belt, fuse links now have ‘quick disconnects.’ I also got over the ‘let me try to replace fusible links with a in line fuse’ phase of my life. Fun times.

Do you think I should upgrade the old assed 90 amp alternator instead? I would have to ‘jumper’ the external voltage regulator, etc. This would be easy as I’ve already prepped the wiring to handle a bigger alt. Or will that further load the skimpy little v belt and make it fly off into the sunset like all the other v belts I’ve lost on my joy rides?

I’m not even sure the Ford bastardized L21 could take a serpentine belt conversion due to how the V belt sits between the serpentine belt and the engine. I laugh at the terrible service illustrations in this Ford manual. No way in hell you can get a screw driver in to ‘tension’ the v belt as they describe. But the illustration gives you an idea of what I have to work with:

I got all the other fun diesel specific manuals, to boot. The guy I bought this baby from was a mechanical genius.

Hope this gives you some cannon fodder!

Sajeev answers:

Well yes, it certainly does. You see, I’ve finally started watching this TV show that all my friends, family and co-workers believe I should know very, very well.  So I decided to finally DVR it. The show is Top Gear, and they play it on some TV station in the UK. Or something like that.

And while the show is pointless, full of Internet-grade trolling, packed with reality TV worthy drama for absolutely no good reason AND is borderline racist…well, it does come in handy when responding to questions like these.

But first…let me tell you why I’m fuming mad.

  • Son, let me tell you about the Fox Body Continental.  It was made on a unique production line in a unique factory, with a unique name not associated with the Lincoln brand. It is a Continental, and you should at least mention that once!
  • But no, you insisted on always referring to it as a “Fox Body.” Which is like referring to a $50+ steak as just another hunk of meat. It’s disrespectful. This was the test bed for so many famous Fox Body parts or models.  It’s why the SVO had a good suspension and fantastic brakes.  It’s why that other famous Mustang Fox with a V8 engine became sorta-kinda-less flimsy, had a better-ish suspension and sported a fun little 5.0 motor after a lot of testing in Continental mules within Dearborn, circa 1985. (According to a report from Car and Driver, back in the day.)
  • And when Ford had the balls to slip behind BMW and swipe a Steyr engine during the diesel rage in the 1980s, when GM pissed away so much on their terrible oil burners, they made a rather fantastic radiator for this respectable motor to live inside an, ahem, Fox Body.  That al-you-mini-um radiator so conveniently slipped into the 1993 Mustang SVT Cobra R.  That’s right: R…son!

So say it with me: this is a Fox Body Continental with a Diesel motor.

It is the best example of–what could be–the most exciting/tweakable/patriotic platforms ever to come from Ford Motor Company.  If you disagree, put some MKS badges on it, tell everyone it’s actually a Volvo under the skin and do some degrading thing that Jeremy Clarkson might suggest.

So perhaps you can see why I don’t necessarily see the problem with your car. It’s quite perfect as-is.  It, quite frankly, was Detroit State of the Art for the time. Would you go into the Lourve and paint eye brows on the Mona Lisa?

NO!  You just deal with it and enjoy a time piece that you can mess around with on weekends. That said, I do have one of those Ford-Steyr Diesel manuals you mentioned, and I agree…they are totally useless.

My Mark VIII recently developed a no-start issue and this manual was absolutely no help at all.  Sometimes I wonder why I even purchased it…to make my library look even geekier?

Send your queries to [email protected]. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

16 Comments on “Piston Slap: Stupid Question, or Stupid Answer?...”

  • avatar

    My uncle had an ’84 Continental before he died. He had been a diesel mechanic in the Navy during the Korean “Conflict,” and was thrilled that he finally had another diesel to work on. He was always a Mopar guy, but loved that Continental more than his 60s 300 2-door.

    Sajeev is right – that’s one fine piece of 1980s Detroit machinery. Although I can understand wanting to make it a little more user-friendly in the maintenance department, I don’t know much tampering I’d be willing to do.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Oolong is dead; long live Yuebing.

  • avatar

    Hahahaha! I should be ashamed. I have solved my problems with slightly loosening the v-belt. It took hours of practice, but now I think I have the ‘feel’ for the right tension.

    I didn’t realize the significance of the radiator. The packaging of this motor is an engineering nightmare. That is some cool information, where did you learn it?

    What you say about Wixom being a unique production line is pure wisdom. Lincoln used to have different production processes than Fords. Specifics about Wixom: Paint applied so thick there isn’t a chance for orange peel. Intentional clear in the door jams. Plant culture that realizes the significance of luxury production. Craftsmanship.

    I get weak when I look at the scuff plates for my doors. The attention to detail on the vehicle was spectacular, even for the 80’s. I do have the sickness – I repainted the car the same two tone grandma green that came factory and instructed the body shop to blend as much of the paint that wasn’t southern scorched by the sun.

    It does ride Woodward on the summer weekends. I love the car and have displayed the same discord to haters who think I should throw rims on it or paint it odd colors.
    I just need a spare head for it and I’ll be all set.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      So I’m guessing the guys who say that Town Cars were better built when they were built at Wixom before the move to Ca-NAD-a in 2008(?) are correct in their assertion. Good info to have filled in the old memory bank.

      I drove past that plant a few times a week while I was teaching at Downriver High School. It made me sad when I heard of the plant being shuttered.

      • 0 avatar

        Don’t know if that’s true for sure…I am just glad the Townie’s got a stay of execution by moving to Canada after Wixom closed.

      • 0 avatar

        Sajeev is correct about the fit/finish issues during the 90’s, but there are several process controls that are plant specific (think cost – so material and labor… paint quantity and fitters labor). Just examining vehicles that made the jump illustrates differences in paint and fit/finish. An easy way to see this is in belt moldings and orange peel. I’m not sure is Wixom was better than St. Thomas… there could be some truth to it. You would have to sit down and compare finish for yourself.

        I had a coworker that owned a factory fresh 5th generation Lincoln Continental Town Car. It’s paint was fluid and thick. Trim bits and the upholstery were perfect. Seating was still Ford sourced and those seats are still better than anything I could afford to put in my living room (I think they were from Chesterfield – produced Lincoln seats into the 90’s for Wixom). Attention to detail and culture helped define luxury.

  • avatar

    Ahh, you should get a V-belt tension gauge! I actually have one…and don’t have a need for it. You can email me if you want it, I will ship it to a fellow Fox Conti brother for free.

    I am still in the process of restoring my ’83 Continental, it’s on that spinning rotisserie thing. Anyone dumb enough to do this to a Continental has obviously spent decades reading every bit of information he could on the machine.

    I learned about the radiator from an SVT calendar, they just casually mentioned the radiator, and a parts guy verified it for me.

    Wixom was a pretty impressive factory, from what I see. I didn’t like the fit-finish of their late 90s-2000s stuff, but that’s probably a function of the engineering and beancounting that happened before the parts shipped to Wixom.

  • avatar

    Speaking of rabbits. A rabbit keeps falling into our basement window well. I suspect it is a neighborhood cat that’s chasing it, and the rabbit jumps into the window well for cover.

    I have taken to rescuing the bun bun by lowering a 5 gallon bucket (don’t know what that is in liters, sorry) into the well and coaxing the bunny into the bucket and scooping him out that way. I let him go by the sweet clover in the yard that he seems to enjoy eating.

  • avatar

    If you are throwing belts the problem is often the pulley alignment; if one pulley is out of line it scrapes the side of the belt and causes it to heat up and/or wear causing premature failure. If the alignment is off changing the belt style will not solve your problem. There is no reason a properly sized v-belt cannot run for over 100k miles.

    Take a close look at your belt and see if all the pulleys are perpendicular to the belt itself. I’ll bet one, probably the alternator pulley, is a little forward or behind the other two or is slightly tilted. Adjusting the alternator pulley or the entire alternator should solve you v-belt problem.

    Good luck; this should be an easy fix.

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you for the info. I did align it using a laser. Prior to the rebuild, my pully had a flat spot in the casting. So I obtained a new pully from a junk yard ranger (or bronco II, I can’t remember). I haven’t re-aligned it since the rebuild, but it passed the eye ball test. It’s very difficult to get any sort of plane reference in the engine bay.

  • avatar

    One other thing: check for worn pulleys – take a new belt and seat it in the pulley groove and see how far down it sits – the top of the belt should be just above the outside of the pulley or flush at most.

    VW Rabbit diesels had a similar problem throwing the belt from what I can tell from my years on the diesel forums, often with no visible cause.

    Now why a worn pulley would throw the belt? Possibly if worn enough the belt may get twisted in the pulley (due to the torque pulses and vibration of the belt itself, lots of fascinating dynamics going on here) and then an edge gets caught and it tosses the belt.

  • avatar

    Sajeev, you have blown my mind, never in a million years would I have thought I could purchase a “modern” Ford car with a diesel engine from the factory. Not that I’ll ever be able to find one, but one can always hope.

  • avatar

    Couple of thoughts:

    While not diesel powered, my parents owned 3 of these continentals from roughly 1988 to 1998. The first one was a gunmetal gray 1986 model with a burgundy leather interior. It was bought at an auction with high miles and while not horrible, it was the worst of the 3 we owned from a condition perspective.

    Conti number 2 was a 1987 2-tone metallic blue with a dark blue cloth (?!) interior. This car was in excellent shape inside and out, but my Father could tell that Mom missed her leather, so alas this car didn’t stay long.

    Conti #3 was a 1987 with Rose Quartz metallic paint and a taupe interior. This car had a mere 58K on the clock and was lovingly cared for by it’s previous owner. It stayed the longest and proved to be trouble free during its tenure.

    There were a lot of really exceptional details on these cars, true examples of “coachbuilt” type attention to detail. The way that both the front and rear windsheilds were fitted and trimmed out (especially the rear), for example. The extra length of the front door, the in-set hood that required pretty precise tolerances and fitting for the time…

    Back to the diesel…when I was a Ford rep, one of my dealers had a customer with a Mark VII with this engine – yes they did build them. He had around 225K on it at the time (late ’90’s) and loved the car. He was holing out for another Lincoln coupe with a diesel engine to trade in his beloved Mark VII…wonder if he still has it?

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Keep this diesel going it’s a rare breed. A 30MPG plus luxo-cruiser. Back when I owned my Fox body 87 T-Bird with the 3.8 TBI I had the 90 Amp alternator conversion done. It did improve the performance as well as keeping the lights and gauges from dimming at idle. A worthy investment for any Fox body. My 3.8 had a serpentene belt but the A/C had it’s own V-Belt. Any misalignment will cause belts to slip and lose battery charge. As far as the pulley goes just use a pulley tool for alignment. Any decent auto store sells them. I had this issue with a Olds Toronado Diesel I once owned.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • JD-Shifty: “Brandon is already working hard on making ICE vehicle unprofitable for everyone.”. Are you an...
  • JD-Shifty: “Unfortunately for Toyota, the right spec is usually sitting on a Ford, Chevy, or Ram lot” The...
  • dal20402: Seems like they’re not selling some models yet, at least in my region. I can’t configure the...
  • dal20402: “What image is that?” Futuristic, but in a dystopian way. Blade Runner. Mad Max. This is a...
  • craiger: Why don’t more people comment on the government putting its finger on the scales?

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber