The original "Cool McCool"

The original “Cool McCool”

Let me start by saying that I’m a sucker for a bargain, so when my friend Butch said, “I don’t know what I’m gonna do with that old motor home, I can’t even give it away for scrap.”, he got my attention. When he elaborated, and said it was on a GMC chassis, had only fourteen thousand miles on the clock, had a 454, and would give it away if someone (me) would get it out of his yard, where it had sat, unused and not driven, for 12 years, he reeled me in.

With my dad riding shotgun, and to follow me home, I went to Butch’s place with a battery and little expectation that it would fire up and run. I figured it wouldn’t start, that the 454 was probably seized, or there was so much damage from the tree he said had fallen on it, that it wouldn’t be worth the effort (of course it wasn’t, but I didn’t see that then!).

To my complete amazement, when we hooked up the battery, it turned over about 5 times and fired right up. Of course with the 12-year-old gas in it didn’t run GOOD, but it ran well enough move under its own power, the trans shifted gear, and it rolled forward and back, on three flat tires no less. The tree that had come down in it during an ice storm last winter had poked a small hole in the fiberglass body over the windshield, and cracked the driver’s side of the huge windshield. True, there was a serious leak even though Butch had tried to patch it up as best he could, but there was a dish pan on the sofa to catch the drip that was overflowing, the cabinets over the sofa were already rotted, and there were mushrooms growing in the carpeting. It smelled like homemade sin, mice and squirrels had moved in, filling drawers and cabinets with walnuts and smelly nests of insulation. Black mold clouded the fabric ceiling, and water dripped from places suspiciously far from the damaged on the roof.

We have a ’47 Spartan Manor trailer project in the wings, and while the motor home was a mess, it was FILLED with stuff we could (I thought) use. A nice 8 cubic foot RV fridge that fired right up on propane, a 3 burner stove and oven, microwave, two roof air conditioners, water and waste tanks, lighting fixtures, and beautiful walnut raised panel cabinets that I thought I could re-purpose and put in my enclosed car trailer, which needs storage. Not to mention the 454 which rumbled to life so quickly after its long slumber, belching skunky exhaust, popping and farting trying to run on varnished fuel.

I headed for home with it, actually excited, head full of dreams and all the fun it would be tearing into it. I’ve always used complete cars or trucks for donor vehicles for hot rods, and this would be just a little bigger, but with more useable stuff. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, this wasn't supposed to happen.

Well, this wasn’t supposed to happen.

The first thing to wrong was that only one of the A/C units worked. No big deal, we only need one. The second, and what has really killed this thing was that the fiberglass and foam body was, and is, not recyclable, and not easy nor cheap to dispose of. Kim decreed that she doesn’t want modern looking appliances, we don’t need a big microwave/convection oven, and the fridge, which did work on propane, didn’t on the electric side, and was deemed by an RV fridge service guy, who fixed the faulty relay and got it working fine for only $40, to be leaking ammonia, and fixing it would cost as much as a new fridge.

Rats.

In addition, in my excitement to find a use for the 454, which runs really well on fresh gas, I initially thought I’d build a cool COE transport truck, based on our friend Diana’s awesome ’39 Diamond T 509 she had built to haul her restored orchard tractors to shows. Kim was against this idea, despite her going with me to see the Diamond T COE cab I found, and while I discounted her lack of enthusiasm, when all my hot rodder pals said they thought it was a dumb idea (“But Brian, what are you gonna DO with it?”, was the universal response), I eventually gave up on that plan, and conceived good plan (or, Bad Idea #2) to put the 454 to good use. I bought not one, but two ’63 Buick Rivera’s, to have one be a home for the engine. My plan was to sell one immediately to recoup the purchase price, then drop the 454 between the frame rails, get it running and driving, and sell it as a “rat” semi-custom, and let the happy new owner do the cosmetics, or not.

Bare naked lady.

Bare naked lady.

The Riviera, patiently waiting for it's new heart.

The Riviera, patiently waiting for its new heart.

Anybody see a problem here?

So here we are. It’s mid October, there’s a Riviera project car that Kim is actually enthused about, and wants as her own. Great, except we all know a late 80’s carb’d 454 in today’s world is a poor choice for economy or power, so I spent all the money I got for the 2nd Riviera on an LS 5.3 and 4L60E to put in Kim’s car. Since we’re keeping it, that means bodywork, paint, interior, and having it nice, with A/C, cruise, all the stuff that makes a car comfortable to drive, and expensive to build. Sigh…

The Rivieras new power plant!  5.3 LS and 4L60.

The Rivera’s new power plant! 5.3 LS and 4L60.

The motor home chassis is STILL here, I haven’t been enthused enough about tearing into it to get the engine out. I did move it yesterday from the side yard (where everyone driving down our busy rural road could see it, and probably soon start complaining to the township), to the front of the garage where I’m slowly getting ready to disembowel it. I salvaged a couple hundred feet of stranded 12 and 14 gauge wire for future projects, miles of black plastic wire loom, and whatever else I could.

I’m going to drive it over to my dad’s shop this morning, 34 feet of bare chassis and motor home floor, and pull the engine there (it’s too wide to nose into my shop and use my cherry picker) with the overhead crane. Then, I’ll drag the chassis to the metal recycler, where all that cool stuff that would make a killer ramp truck (hydraulic level system, air bag suspension, A/C that still blows cold, cruise that works, 19.5 wheels and tires etc) and recoup a little for the labor involved. The body I’m cutting up into little pieces and putting in our garbage can a few at a time, we’re about a third of the way to getting rid of all of it, and the walnut cabinetry, which turned out to be not useable either, is on the brush pile.   At least we’ll get an evening’s entertainment later this fall on a chilly night as a bonfire.

The 454 a buddy wants for his ’55 Chevy gasser project, and is going to swap a set of beautiful 15″ Dayton knock-off wire wheels and tires for it, which of course means I will have to build a car around them.  They will be perfect for the car I’ve been planning and building in my head for a while, a ’27 highboy roadster, track style, dropped floor, fenderless, track nosed.  At least with the 454 gone, I’ll be forced to use a sensible engine for that!

Maybe something like this?

Maybe something like this?

In my youth, I’m sure I’d still be enthused about the entire deal, and it has been sort of fun, although I admit the amount of work was, and still is, sort of daunting. Now, my 60th birthday is right around the corner, and it’s a bit more difficult to keep the enthusiasm up, even though we’ll come out OK, and have a really cool Riviera for Kim to park beside my chopped T’bird (OK, two if count the ’27 highboy modified style roadster those Dayton’s are the foundation for…).

It never ends!

The crew here at Cool McCool’s Garage has had a VERY busy October, but we haven’t gotten anything done on either the Riviera or the T’bird. Instead, we’ve been camping, soaking up art in Grand Rapids at “Art Prize”, and took a trip to Las Vegas to visit our son Craig and his family. He and Kathleen recently got engaged, and we are excited to have our family grow!

While we were with Craig and his family, we drove to Burbank California, and visited our niece Meghan and her husband Ron, and got to meet their daughter Maren. She’s beautiful, and we got to hold a baby! As luck would have it, their home is only a mile from two great hot rod shops, “Hollywood Hot Rods”, and “Old Crow Speed”, so Craig and I took a few minutes and got great tours at both shops. Sadly, for me anyway, the ’59 T’bird under construction at Hollywood Hot Rods, inspired by the same artwork by Eric Black that got me to chop the top and cut up the quarter panels on mine, was out for paint, so I didn’t get to see that.

We’re back home, and today got some long overdue fall household maintenance chores taken care of, and I fired up the motor home chassis, pulled it around to the garage and stripped it of some wiring and am going to (finally) pull the 454 and Turbo 400 tomorrow at the shop at my dad’s place. It’ll be good to have that thing gone, I’m planning scrapping the chassis to help generate some cash to replenish the Hot Rod Fund, which was depleted with the purchase of the 5.3 LS motor and 4L60E trans we just picked up for the ’63 Riviera.

There are plenty of warm sunny days ahead (I hope) this fall before snow flies and the woodshed is full, so we’re ready now to get back at the T’bird, get started on the Riviera, and keep busy during the winter months. It’s gonna be a busy winter!

Stay tuned!

On the road to Milford and the Tin Can Tourists Fall Gathering, late in September.

On the road to Milford and the Tin Can Tourists Fall Gathering, late in September.

 

Joe Dirt meets Dog the Bounty Hunter.

Joe Dirt meets Dog the Bounty Hunter.

 

I picked up this hot chick!

I picked up this hot chick!

 

My favorite from "Art Prize"

My favorite from “Art Prize”

 

Bellagio in LV, where we got a private VIP tour to the cupola!

Bellagio in LV, where we got a private VIP tour to the cupola!

 

Hot Rod heaven.

Hot Rod heaven.

Of course, we found a brewpub, this one in Boulder City,  a favorite of ours when we're out there.

Of course, we found a brewpub, this one in Boulder City, a favorite of ours when we’re out there.

 

Old Crow belly tanker.  These guys have the coolest stuff...

Old Crow belly tanker. These guys have the coolest stuff…

Our beautiful great niece, Maren.

Our beautiful great-niece, Maren.

 

Craig and Kathleen, at Getty's Center in Hollywood.

Craig and Kathleen, at Getty’s Center in Hollywood.

 

The Rivieras new power plant!  5.3 LS and 4L60.

The Rivera’s new power plant! 5.3 LS and 4L60.

 

The Riviera, patiently waiting for it's new heart.

The Riviera, patiently waiting for its new heart.

Yesterday I got groceries, hitched the Spartan to the Diamond T and got all packed and ready to go when Kim got home. The forcast called for rain, but it was a very pleasant fall day under partly cloudy skies.

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We landed, got set up and had great evening, fixed a nice thick Porterhouse and roasted vegetables for dinner. Still no rain.

During the night however, the odds caught up with us and we got rain in buckets. We awoke to the awning down, and somehow rainwater ran in the rear door frame and wet the floor by the bed.

The awning is back up, the puddle at the foot of the bed mopped up and clothespin in the rain gutter above the back door is diverting a stream of water away from the door frame. All is well.

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Plans change.

Plans change.

When I bought the Rivera home, I’d initially planned on using it as a home for the 454 from the motorhome which I’d drug home, getting the car running and driving, and then flip it, letting the happy new owner finish it. That plan changed when Kim surprised me by saying she liked the car (actually, she was looking at the parts car, which I’ve already sold) and wanted me to build it for her.

I got excited about that, and the rush then to pull the motorhomes engine/trans seemed not so urgent, and I immediately decided an LS engine and 4L60 would make the car much more enjoyable if we were going to actually DRIVE it, so the plan morphed again. My pal Brad at Morris Rose Auto Parts here in Kalamazoo scored a 5.3 from an ’04 Avalanche for the cause, and it’ll be united with a 4L60 trans, along with the complete under hood wiring harness, fuse panel and PCM from the Avalanche. With a minimum of effort, that gets us a stand-alone harness to make the engine/trans work in the Riviera, with money left over from the parts car sale.

I also decided right away that the car would get a ’65 grill and hidden headlights. The ’63, with its clunky headlights plunked in the grill were a stop-gap design from Buick originally, and since the car is a custom, I didn’t care to use ’65 clamshell lights, which means a complete front sheet metal swap, or tons of work. I saved the headlamp buckets from the Thunderbird, which is now wearing ’63 Caddy lights and bezels, and these fit perfectly in the Rivi fenders, simply stood on end. The lights are visible behind the grill and lens, but no more so than the original park lamp reflectors, so it’s a natural.

Headlamp behind the park lamp grill/lens.

Headlamp behind the park lamp grill/lens.

The ’65 grill, which I got from the guy who bought the other car as a direct swap for an extra ’63 grill/headlamp assembly, doesn’t quite fit in the ’63 front, but a few minutes with a cut off tool to open up the fenders, and some whittling on the lower corner of the new grill with a flap disk (it hit the core support) let it slide right into place. I have to make a new lip on the fenders to fit the grill, but it won’t take long at all, and the difference is dramatic.

This is what the Riv SHOULD have looked like to begin with.

This is what the Riv SHOULD have looked like to begin with.

To say I’m enthused about the project is an understatement, I’m excited, and eager to get going. The ‘bird again has taken a back seat, but I’ll make myself do the little remaining body work on that along with the Riv. It’ll be fine, I’ll get them both done, and, what’s the rush, anyway?

The only drawback thus far is that now that we have the car, every event I now go, there are ’63 Riveras! Why is it that I never noticed them before we had one?

Dear readers,

A longtime follower of “Cool McCool’s Garage” recently posted a comment here, which consisted solely of a link to her Craigslist ad for her vintage trailer.

I am all for entrepreneurship, free enterprise, the American way, and flattered that this person believes our blog is widely read enough to help sell her trailer, but…

My blog is my “Happy Place”, not a place to link ads, post stuff for sale, or try make a buck. If it were, I would be doing it.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled nonsense….

Using our I-phone, with poor texting skills, we will the photos speak. In no particular order, Summer, 2014…

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Well, this wasn't supposed to happen.

Well, this wasn’t supposed to happen

Or so I’ve heard.  Yesterday I decided it was a good to remove the slimline roof A/C units from the derelict “Luxury Traveller” motor home I dragged home earlier this summer.  (Ah, those heady, dream filled days…)  That soon lead to the thought that since I was tearing into it, I might as well keep going, and so, 7 hours later, this was the result.

As it turns out, the thing was built both much worse than I thought motor home construction was done, and much better at the same time.  I thought the thing was stick and staple framed, and simply cut through the body in what I though would be manageable chunks, leaving the roof intact to cut up once it was all down.

Great plan.  But…

The “but” is that the framing (?) of the coach was very thin wall aluminum tubing,  every 2 feet, around the windows, roof vents, down the center of the roof and at the tops of the walls/roof joint where were two stacked together.  Sturdy, and yet flimsy, all at the same time.  Between the framing is 2″ blue foam board, bonded to luan with a vinyl face on the inside, and luan bonded to very thin fiberglass sheeting (brand name, “Filon”) on the outside.  A leaky roof had led to water running down the left front corner and right rear, to the point that the luan inside and out, was completely rotted away, along with a few scraps of lumber where it was evidently too difficult to cut and from aluminum for structure, and a colony of carpenter ants had turned about a third of the wall at the right rear to a giant ant farm.  It was awful.

The Sawzall, with new demo blades, didn’t notice much difference in resistance to the very thin aluminum (I thought I was cutting through 2×2’s), and at the top, behind and above the driver seat, my roof cut and upward wall cuts didn’t quite meet.

I thought this would simply tear apart, not knowing it was really aluminum I was cutting though, and when I tugged on the pull strap with the GMC to pull down the house, the cab, still attached to the roof, came with it.  The  “welds” (if you want to call them that) on the aluminum tubing “studs” were so poor where they met the one laying down at the floor, that they simply popped off, and the cab pulled completely loose all the way to the front.

This complicates the rest of the destruction a bit in that now I have to  work under the partially collapsed cab to remove the gauges and enough of  the wiring loose in order to keep it operable (it still starts up and runs) so I can get it moved close to the shop (where the tools are) in order to pull the engine/trans and strip the rest of the stuff off it I can use.  Like  the “Onan” generator, air suspension, and leveling jack system.

So, that’s what happened yesterday.  Today I’m going to try to cut up the big chunks of wall and roof so I can stack them up, and so they won’t kill the grass in the back yard, and get ready to attend the “Relix Riot” this weekend.

Stay tuned for more progress on the motor home demo, and on the (hopeful) sale of the yellow Riv today…

Mural cut out of the left side.

Mural cut out of the left side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This'll look real good framed and hung over the couch in the living room!

This’ll look real good framed and hung over the couch in the living room!

That looks like...

That looks like…

A huge ant farm!

A huge ant farm!

1, 2, 3, now PULL!

1, 2, 3, now PULL!

Oh my.  That wasn't supposed to happen.

Oh my. That wasn’t supposed to happen.

Might as well keep pulling...

Might as well keep pulling…

And,she's down.

And,she’s down.