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Mechanics & Maintenance


Please note that the manufacturer of this automobile benefited from a number of exemptions from safety regulations only because of its low production numbers and not because this automobile was otherwise as safe as mainstream automobiles. Furthermore, none of the information posted here comes from a qualified mechanic. Nothing expressed, furnished, or supplied by this Website is (or implied to be) technical advice or services, or substitute for the advice and services of a qualified mechanic. Much of the information relating to Pintos and reproduced on this page was copied from Chilton and Haynes technical/shop manuals.

From August 1979 to September 1980, Ford Pinto engines and drivetrains were used on the Shay production line. Then, because Ford had announced it was discontinuing its Pinto, Shay announced in mid-September 1980 that he was switching to Ford Fairmont engines and drivetrains (end of Shay Roadster production was in March 1982). Regarding the engine, this probably has minor importance to Shay owners since its 2.3 liter engine was common to Ford Pinto, Fairmount , Mustang, Bronco II, Ranger, Mercury Capri, Bobcat & Zephyr. It is possible that small differences exist between early and late-model Shay engines. However, nothing similar can be presumed as to the other mechanical components and the drivetrain.

See the Pinto Maintenance Schedule from the Chilton Shop Manual.



It's a four cylinder single overhead camshaft unit constructed from lightweight cast iron. Displacement is 2.3 liter / 140 CID and horsepower is 88 HP (compared to 200 CID and 40 HP for the real Model A). It runs on unleaded gas (recommended octane rating is 91.) It's very reliable. A good number of London taxis switched to it in the 1990's. There should not be parts availability problems, nor of older mechanics which can fix it.

Some maintenance can be done at home using the Chilton or Haynes technical/shop manuals on 1980 Pintos or Mustangs. Those manuals are more and more difficult to find, though.


The Pinto was rated 33 MPG on the highway and 23 MPG in the city. However, these figures related to a regular Pinto weighing about 2,400 pounds, as the Shay weighs only 1,850 pounds (compared to 2,000 to 2,500 for a real Model A). However, the Shay is also somewhat less aerodynamic than a Pinto...


Since the engine compartment isn't as well insulated as a Pinto's, it does let out more engine noises than would a modern car. At idle, the engine sounds specially «realistic».


The camshaft is driven from the crankshaft by a toothed timing belt, which also operates the auxiliary shaft. (Timing belt-equipped car engines can be classified as either "free-running" or "interference", depending on what occurs if piston/valve synchronization is lost due to a failed timing belt. An "interference" engine usually sustains damage if synchronization is lost as the valves will then collide with the pistons. This could result in very expensive engine repairs. Furtunately, the Ford Pinto/Mustang 2.3 liter engine of 1974-85 is classified as "free-running". Although belt life may vary, depending upon driving and temperature conditions, usual recommendation is to change it at least every 60,000 miles.) The auxiliary shaft drives the oil pump and distributor, and operates the fuel pump through an eccentric. Tension on the drivebelt is maintained by a preloaded idler pulley which runs on the outside of the belt. A separate V-belt is used to drive the coolant pump, fan and alternator.


Firing order : 1 - 3 - 4 - 2


Capacities when used in a Pinto:

  • Engine oil : 5 US quarts with filter change

  • Coolant : 8.6 US quarts




75% of Shays have a manual four-speed transmission. The others have the optional automatic transmission.

Several owners have reported the following loose components :

2) Where the shifter arm connects to the transmission case, there is a kind of "mason jar lid" through which the arm passes. When this "lid" becomes loose, the shifter arm can simply unplug from the transmission. Check and tighten it periodically.


1) The transmission case is connected to the bell housing by 4 bolts, of which you can only see the ends as they are screwed to the case from inside of  the bell housing. These 4 bolts sometimes become loose because of the vibration. Their ends should protrude about 1/16 th of an inch (about 1 mm) from the transmission case. If they are only flush with the case or recessed, you might have loose bolts. You have to remove the entire transmission, clean them and re-torque them with Lock-Tite.

The driveshaft was lenghtened so the rear wheels could be mounted in a more realistic position. Differential is solid between the two wheels. If your differential cover has EIGHT bolts, you have a 6.75" rear end. It comes in only two flavours : 2.73 or 3.08 ratios. Shays probably have the 3.08 ratio differential. The sad part about this is that this 6.75" rear end is very rare and there are very few replacement parts available. Furthermore, you can't change the ratio with a different set of ring gear and pinion, although legend has it that a 3.55 ratio existed in the 1974-75 4 cylinder Mustang II 6.75" rear end. If Shays had a 7.5, 8.8 or 9 inch rear end, one could easily switch ratio up to 4.10 and even higher, which would lower our speed when parading on idle + allow for much faster starts.

Lubricant capacities :

  • Type C3 automatic transmission : 8 US quarts of Automatic Transmission Fluid

  • 4 speed manual transmission : 2.25 US quarts of Manual Transmission Lube

  • Rear axle of the integral carrier type (6.75 in) : 1.1 US quarts of Hypoid Gear Lube

Gear Ratios :

  • 4 speed manual transmission : 1st = 3.65  /  2nd = 1.97  /  3rd = 1.37  /  4th = 1.00  /  Reverse = 3.66

  • Rear axle (when on a Pinto) : 2.73:1  or  3.08:1



It's of the rack-and-pinion type and was moved forward, under the radiator, in order that the front wheels be in a more realistic position. Column is a Ford Fairmount/Mercury Zephyr which really doesn't look realistic. Because of the longer distance between the steering wheel and the rack-and-pinion, a few additional links and universal couplings had to be used. This makes for a little bit of slack (about ½ inch) in the steering wheel. Turning radius is 11' 5".

Lubricant capacities :

  • Manual steering gear : 7 oz of Hypoid Gear Lube

  • Power steering gear : 8 to 9 oz of Power Steering Fluid




Front suspension consists of two coil springs which might have been slightly cut down. Rear is two sets of multi-leaf springs which have been lightened to accomodate for the Shay's lighter weight. Without the driver, weight distribution is 59% at the front and 41% at the rear.



All hydraulic, of course, which is a nice improvement over the real Model A's mechanical brakes.


There are disc brakes on the front wheels. The disc brake assembly consists of a ventilated disc and a caliper. The caliper is a single piston, sliding caliper design and mounted on an anchor plate which is attached to the spindle arms. Self-adjusting drum brakes are at the rear. The rear drum brake system is a single anchor, internal expanding and self-adjusting brake assembly type. To expand the shoes, a dual piston single cylinder is used. The automatic adjuster operates only when the brakes are applied while the car is backing up. A dual master cylinder braking system is used. The parking brake operates the rear wheel brakes through the use of cables

Please note that it is possible that the rubber hose leading to the front calipers be almost stretched to its limit. Avoid turning the steering wheel all the way to the stops in order to avoid straining the rubber hose further. This rubber hose joins the steel line at a «L» bracket mounted at the frame's front end. If you think your Shay is so designed, please submit this situation to a qualified brake mechanic. It is important to relieve any strain on the rubber hose or it might become blocked resulting in loss of braking in one or both front wheels.


The frame was custom made to receive the Pinto components, the fiberglass body and the bumpers. It is well made. However, the paint is not thick on the frame and you should attend to it in order to avoid rust. Ground clearance is 7 inches.

The gas tank is not the standard rear-mounted exploding Pinto type. It was custom made and contains 10.5 U.S. gallons (8.4 imp. gallons or 38 liters). It's mounted inside the frame, under the floor beneath the front seat. The filler neck comes out the driver side quarter panel.


The battery can be found beneath the driver's feet, under a screwed plate (see right).

Each wiper has his own one speed (slow) motor. They are more amusing than efficient. Owners having had to replace wiper blades report having bought replacement blade ANCO # 20-9. However, they had to adjust the blade arm in almost as far as it will go. This seems to work better than if you just replace the rubber, being not as loose.


Standard cowl lights are not as deep as those of the Deluxe model. They are very efficient as parking lights and flashers. Tail lights also come in two varieties : Standard (black body and one-piece red plastic lens) and Deluxe (chrome body and chrome lens rim and split lens like the real Model A). They too are very efficient as parking lights and flashers.

Headlights came in two varieties : seal-beam diameter with chrome shell or enlarged variety (same diameter as the Model A) with chrome ring and black shell. In both cases, the shells are deeper than the real Model A's. They also sit slightly higher in relation to the top of the radiator shell. The reason for this is that the "knuckle" which allows the headlight beam to be ajusted by pivoting the entire assembly is on the outside of the Shay headlight shells whereas this "knuckle" is situated inside the real Model A's headlight shell allowing the latter to sit nearer to the crossbar.

Horns have a correct «ahooga» sound but are a bit less muffled than the real Model A's.

The chromed plastic reproduction gas cap on the cowl actually hides the windshield washer spouts.


The cockpit heater (as well as radio speakers) is located under the front seat. The heater has a dash operated 2-speed fan (controlled by one of the two dash-mounted black pull-switches at the left of the steering) and is quite efficient (providing the top isn't down!). Hot water cut-off is a brass screw-valve (see picture on the left) located on one of the hot water rubber hoses (5/8-inch inside diameter) going from the engine under the firewall on the passenger side. You will have the impression that this valve is never completely shut off during summer. That is because there is no insulation between it and the nearby muffler. The muffler inevitably heats up the cockpit and rumble seat floors as well as the heater and the liquid within it.

Left are pictures of the original under-seat heaters that were installed in Shays. They were custom-made and aren't available any more. But here is a company that makes hot water heaters which might possibly fit in a Shay:

Instrument packages can vary. There are two main types. Some Shays have a 1-gauge intrument cluster that seems to come from a Jeep CJ-5 dash. Others have a 2-gauge arrangement consisting of separate speedometer and gas gauges. Please note that a lot of indicator lights are integrated in both types of instrument packages : malfunctioning charging system, low oil pressure, high coolant temperature, etc. An optional and more deluxe package of instruments included ammeter, coolant temperature and oil pressure gauges. Click here to see which type instrument cluster you might expect depending on the VIN.

To get an idea what you're getting into if you plan to remove the dashboard, see right...

The fuel level sender that works with the 2-gauge instrument cluster is of the "240 ohms E - 33 ohms F" type. This sender unit is basically a coil of resistance wire wrapped around a card and a "wiper" connected to afloat moves across the winding to change the resistance. The higher the fuel level, the lower the resistance. With less resistance, more current flows and the gauge reads higher. The correct type must send a "Empty" signal at 240 ohms and an "Full" signal at 33ohms. If you have a 1-gauge instrument cluster, we regret ignoring what type your sender has to be.


                                                                             WHEELS & TIRES

The specially made spoked wheels have four lug holes and are usually painted black. Diameter of rims is 18 inches. The wheel lug nuts are modern Ford with thin chrome plate that scratch and can rust easily. The rims are not heavily painted and can also rust easily. The spokes are welded to a central hub and radiate to a ¼ inch thick outer ring to which they are also welded. This ring is then dropped in the slightly larger diameter wheel rim which, before being welded to this ring, is similar in design to a Model T rim. Keep an eye on the welds joining the outer ring to the tire rim. For esthetical reasons, they were done only on the inner side of the wheel assembly. There are reports that, maybe after 40,000 miles, those welds start to fail and the rims become wobbly. This is why you might find modern (Pinto) 13 inches rims and tires on Shays that have more mileage. As soon as you suspect such a crack in the welds, you should have all your wheels rewelded on both inner and outer sides at a shop specialized in wheel repair. The mechanic should be careful that the heat he will apply does not warp the rim. Remember that spoke wheels are sensitive to distortion & damage in sharp curves. Pinto wheel lugs are torqued to 85 lb-ft.

Tires are 5.50 x 18. Although this is an odd size, there is no worry about availability since they are also used on 1932 Fords. Those tires are wider and thicker than the ones that real Model As use. Recommended pressure is 28 PSI. Of course, handling is much more squirrely than modern radials and special care should be taken in curves when this is combined with the high center of gravity of the Shay. Tire life is only between 10,000 and 15,000 miles. Owners looking for 5.50 x 18 tires might contact Coker Tire or Universal Vintage Tires. They have new tires in black and whitewalls that are original replacements for 1932 Fords. These tires require inner tubes.

Since the Pinto used 13" rims (which gives a tire circumference of about 72") and those big 18" have a tire circumference of about 88", each turn of the wheel has to move the car about 22% farther without the transmission's gear ratios having been modified. You can understand why starting from a full stop is a bit slow. You have to be a bit more delicate with the clutch in order to avoid the engine balking. At the other end of things, you only have to shift into fourth gear if you plan to ride at more than 40 MPH on a level road.

The Shay's wheelbase is 103.5 inches and its track is 56 inches, just like the real Model A.



Mike Danielson put his Shay on the scale with a full tank of fuel. Here are the results he got :

  • Total Weight : 2148 lbs.

  • Weight Per Tire : Left Front 591 lbs.  /  Right Front 573 lbs. (Front 54.2%)  /  Left Rear 502 lbs.  /  Right Rear 482 lbs. (Rear 45.8%).



Long life lubricant (Ford #ESA-M1C75-B) :

  • Front suspension balljoints

  • Power steering control valve ball-stud

  • Transmission linkage

  • Front wheel bearings and hubs

  • Clutch cable connection (both ends)

  • Clutch pedal to idler lever rod (both ends)

  • Clutch release lever - at fingers (both sides and fulcrum)

  • Clutch release bearing retainer

SAE 10W-30 engine oil :

  • Brake pedal pivot bushing

  • Clutch pedal pivot bushing


There were recalls applicable to pertinent Pintos and Fairmounts, the mechanical parts of which were used in the construction of our Shays. However, they are no longer freely posted on the Web for us to consult. Those we had found in the early 2000s were :

Maybe that still have them? If so, it is now a paying service.

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