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The restoration (or “fixing up”) of an old car is a matter of repairing and refurbishing all of the worn out and/or broken parts, making them work like they should, and then, depending on your own taste, making them look like new, or as close to new as makes you happy, again.  It’s one step at a time.  Today I made several big steps forward.

The Riviera I’m building for my wife had an issue with the passenger door glass, it flopped inwards when the door closed, didn’t fit right, and the power window motor was shot.  Happily, I have an extra pair of doors, and robbed the spare door of the parts I needed.  The window motor works fine, but sadly, the die-cast arm on the window regulator that was the cause of this floppy-ness was also broken on the donor door.  Since I had an entire extra regulator, I cut one of the steel arms off it that happen to be exactly the same length as the broken die cast one, managed to save the shouldered rivet that makes the hinge pin that it pivots as the window goes up and down, and put it all back together.  It works fine, and cost ZERO dollars.

I got the new “Southern-Air” A/C-heat unit mounted on the inside of the firewall too, and adapted the shiny new dash vents to the Riviera’s original housings, on each side of the dash, and the long narrow  original one in the center of the console.  The defroster tubes are also mounted temporarily, so I’ve go all done that I can do until I get the new console (sourced from the guy who bought the parts Riviera I sold) and start permanently putting the car together.

Next up, put some butyl duct-insulation (same stuff as “Dyna-Mat” but about a quarter of the price), on the floor and insulation on top of that.  A buddy uses shiny mylar bubble wrap insulation in all his builds, so I’m going to use the same thing, with maybe a second layer of butyl duct insulation on top of that.  I want the car quiet and cool.

After that, I spent some time sorting out the wiring harness, as I need to sort out the switched and constant hot feeds to wire the new ECM for the LS engine, and I got all the windows to go up and down.  The drivers power seat needs some work to free up the mechanism, but the motor runs, so it should be repairable.  The headlight, tail-light and wiper circuits all work, so I won’t have too much wiring to do, as the original wiring is in good shape.

I’m very happy with this afternoons work, I got a lot done, and made progress on several aspects of the build.  As soon as I get my re-shaped oil pan and the air suspension stuff, the car can start going back together and get ready for paint!

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The defroster plenum will get the tubes sealed in with  my second favorite thing, duct tape.

The defroster plenum will get the tubes sealed in with my second favorite thing, duct tape.

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from the firewall

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Yesterday, on a Facebook page devoted to traditional custom cars (we know it’s traditional because they spell it with. “K”), someone posted some photos of several vintage Cadillac customs. Following suit, I posted one of our long gone ’56 convert, a car that really initiated me into the world of “customs”. The car gave me confidence in my abilities and sense of style, I was and still am, proud of it.

Several people then “shared” the photo to their pages, which is flattering. Since I’m a bit of an attention seeker, of course I followed links their pages to see them, and read comments.

Predictably, some of the comments were less than complimentary. “I don’t like the tires”, to “Painted chrome sucks”, and so forth.  Of course my feeling were a little hurt, and I thought, “Really?”  It was the 80’s, and the car was sort of cutting edge at the time.

Several witty and cutting replies came to mind, from “…and the horse you rode in on.”,  to “Let’s see YOUR car”, to some even less refined. I paused for a second before hitting “Return”, which is NOT my usual habit. I must be getting more mature.

This pause made me wonder Why it is that people feel free to express every negative feeling they have in this way? It’s not just the cloak of anonimity of the web, I’ve heard it all in person at car shows and events as well. People seem to think if it’s out in public, their myopic viewpoint needs to be heard, especially in the example of a custom car, by the owner/builder. My wife always cringes when I let these dopes have it car shows, saying it brings me down to their level.

I guess she’s right. From now on, this kind of unconstructive criticism I’ll let slide. It doesn’t matter, I do things for me, not someone else.

And besides, they couldn’t do it anyway…

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We’ve had 2 weeks of frigid weather, near or below zero every night, and rising only to the low teens during the day, with several days not getting out of single digits.  This makes it awfully hard to heat the shop warm enough to much, especially since the floor has gotten cold, but today, I decided I had to make an effort.

I went out in the morning and build a fire, then took the Riviera’s inner fenders and core support over to “Consolidated Stripping and Derusting” in Plainwell, where for the ridiculously low price of $20 an hour, one can use their huge blasting cabinets.  It took me just an hour to clean up the parts, and when I got home the shop was reasonably warm, and I got busy cleaning the firewall and frame.  Then, I dusted several light coats of Tractor Supply rattle can enamel on everything.

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Now, we wait for spring for the paint tack up!  (Actually, it was warm enough for the paint to be dry to touch in about an hour, so it’ll be fine.)

After that, I pulled the original heat/air unit out and mocked up the new “Southern Air” unit.  I’ll have to relieve the bottom of the dash to allow the unit to slide up in the correct way.  It fit rotated 90 degrees from where it should, but it’s half an inch wider than it is tall, so a little trimming is in order.  No big deal, it’ll fit very nicely once I do that, and be easy to hook up the defrosters, dash vents and floor vent.  I won’t be able to have the rear seat heat vent, (not enough outlets) but other than that, it’ll be stock appearing and supposedly has enough output for a big car like the Riviera.

Still waiting for the Air-Ride system and my pal Crafty B to weld up the modified cast aluminum oil pan, but as soon as that’s done, I can get engine in for the last time, get the air bags in, and get the car back on its wheels.

Meanwhile, I expect Babe the Blue Ox and Paul Bunyon to come strolling up the drive any day now…

Kim approves the proposed color for her Riviera!

Kim approves the proposed color for her Riviera!

My wife Kim and I visited the Gilmore Car Museum (practically in our backyard) last week, where I showed her their beautiful original ’63 Riv, in the light silver blue I’d envisioned our (OK, HER) own Riviera, and she approved.  Now, the push is on to get both it, and the ’59 T’bird done and ready for paint when the weather warms up.

To that end, I made a trip to the nearby village of Plainwell, where there’s a Do-It-Yourself media blast business.  For 20 bucks, I blasted all the front suspension bits, brought them home and got them painted.  I made a rather ingenious (I think) paint rack of two step ladders and my extension ladder, to hang parts from, it worked very well.

While the paint, rattle can enamel from Tractor Supply, dried, I pulled the front bumper off the T’bird, tack welded a small tear in the seam where the left front fender meets the filler panel between hood and bumper, hammer and dollied a few little ripples in that panel where it meets the bumper, and got a thin coat of reinforced filler on the panel.  Tomorrow, I’ll finish that, do the final work on the front bumper, the quarter panels behind the wheel wells, and the body work on that will be DONE!  Feels good.

Primed.

Primed.

Glossy black!

Glossy black!

We also made a decision about our fleet of cars, we’re going to thin the herd.  It’s tough to part with anything (and of course it’s not sold yet), but we’re going to try to sell the Diamond T 201.  I want to rehab the ’48 Pontiac convert (seen in the above photos) that’s been languishing in the garage too long, set aside from money for our rapidly approaching retirement, and finance my planned ’27 Ford roadster project.  We’ll see what happens…

Lets see if this photo ends up shared as much as the wagon and Spartan!

Lets see if this photo ends up shared as much as the wagon and Spartan!

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I was working on the Riviera today, had the wood stove cranked up, it was nice and warm, and I had spent the morning doing the unsung but necessary chores to make it a car, when a buddy rolled up.  He came inside, we talked a little, and he looked at the Vortec engine setting in the car, and asked what engine it was.

When I told him it was a 5.3 Vortec, a Chevrolet truck engine and a 4L60E transmission, he asked if I was “…keeping all the computer shit?”

I told him of course I was, that it’s possible to run a carb but one still needs an ignition system, and besides, I like these engines, they’re powerful, reliable, and much less expensive than tracking down an original 401 or 425 and the one year only Buick Turbo Hydro transmission for these cars.  It makes sense to me, as the car had no engine/trans when I got it.

“Well”, he replied, “You’ll be stuck when the gub’ment throws the switch.  All these cars with all this computer shit are gonna be useless when that happens.”   He went on to explain that (probably according to some goofy, anti-government blog or website), the government is likely any day now to disable every car and truck in North America.  For what purpose he didn’t divulge, and I didn’t press him or argue, as that kind of “logic” is impossible to argue.

After he left, I continued to work on the car, despite the imminent electronic failure at the hands of our current, or some shadowy future government conspiracy (“Well, it may not happen it OUR lifetime, but it’s coming”, he said.)  I pulled the engine and transmission, separated them and replaced the deep truck oil pan with a slightly shallower GM engine swap pan I’d bought earlier.  I then put the transmission back up against the engine and bolted the flex plate to the torque converter, reinstalled the starter (three times, it turned out because I forgot to plug-in some sensor behind the starter, and the little plastic dust shield.

With the engine back in the car, I cut the center of the steering center link out, rotated it 180 degrees (plus or minus a little), tacked it place and checked to make sure it cleared the oil pan.  After making sure it did, I pulled it out, and welded it up solid.  I’ll grind the welds down and gusset the bend, but I’m happy with how it looks, and that it clears the pan.

Now, after all this work I hope the gub’ment doesn’t throw the switch when we’re very far from home..

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Buck Boudemans '27 roadster.

Buck Boudemans ’27 roadster

Since it was so cold today, -5 yet at 1030, I wasn’t very motivated to go out to the shop,  Instead, I went to the Post Office, did some errands, filled up my “Milusion” for $1.77.9 (thank you Saudi Arabia for trying to drive US and Canadian oil producers under), and had lunch at the Gilmore Museum.  While I was there, I took some photos of my favorite things, and though I’d share what’s brewing in my head.  As if I needed another project…

Part 1.  The ’27 Highboy above was built by my late friend Buck Boudeman.  He was into Miller Indy cars and Stanley steam cars, but took time out to build this killer little roadster a couple of years ago just for fun and to drive to local cruise nights.  I like lots of things about it, and it has been haunting me for a couple of years.

Frank Mack '27.

Frank Mack ’27.

Part 2.  The Frank Mack ’27.  An Autorama winner in the early 50’s, built by then high school kid Frank Mack from junkyard Ford parts.  It’s unchanged, unrestored from its original incarnation, and it personifies a post war Hot Rod.  I’m going to blatantly steal ideas from this, Bucky’s car, and the following…

Cotton Werksman's "T".

Cotton Werksman’s “T”.

When I was in High School, in ’72,  reading “Street Rodder” and “Rod & Custom” instead of studying, Cotton Werksman’s Ardun powered T was burned into my brain.  This scooter is one of three that he built with a buddy, is now owned by a very nice guy from the Detroit area, and still lights my fire.  I prefer the swoopy ’27 body of the other two cars over the little ’17 T bucket body, but the space frame, quick-change and sprint car front really get my blood boiling.

Rumpity Rump...

Rumpity Rump…

I bought a ’93 Chevy conversion van several years ago, thinking I’d put the TBI 350 in my Diamond T.  The engine ran OK but had 175K on it, and rather than rebuild it, I bought a Vortec 6.0.  I did use the vans front suspension, gas tank, and some other stuff so I got my moneys worth, and the 350 has been sitting on a cradle since.  A couple of weeks ago, I was at my buddy Crafty B’s shop, and he had this dual quad set up and no name finned valve covers for sale.  The price seemed right, and I came home with them, and 30 minutes later, the TBI was in the trash and the Offy 360 and AFB’s were on the engine.  Another buddy noticed the carbs, and come to find out, they’re original 409 dual carbs, and despite missing the choke, needing to be rebuilt and some minor cosmetic damage, they’re quite sought after.   I sold them on eBay for enough to buy a pair of new Edelbrock carbs and freshen up the 350 with a cheap-O rebuild kit, so that’s all good.  It’ll need a conventional distributor and a 700R4 trans to replace the 4L60E, because I don’t like a stick shift, but it’ll be plenty of motor for a 2,000 lb. roadster.  And, cheap.

I have a ’36 Ford front axle and wishbones from the Fordillac, and another friend said he’d give me a Ford 8″.  Sadly, it’s not a quick change, but the price is right.  The 454 from the derelict motorhome that ate up all my spare time last summer I traded for a set of Dayton rim laced knock off wheels and hubs, with new bias ply tires.  I have a Mustang steering box, so I’ve got most of the suspension, steering, brakes, wheels and tires.  I just need a body and time.

Now, I need a pile of steel tubing and ‘glass ’27 body, and I have the beginnings of a ’27 based on, and inspired by, the three cars above.  My plan, if I can turn a pile of mild steel tubing into a “bird-cage” style frame like Cotton Workman built on his garage floor, a ’27 with a dropped, full belly pan like Frank Mack’s car,  with a deep foot well (unlike Bucks car with a flat floor) that’ll be comfortable, light, powerful with the rebuilt and mildly modified Chevy 350.  If the space frame turns out to be beyond my primitive measuring and fabrication skills, I’ll just build a ladder type frame that mimics a ’32 Ford frame and put a floor pan/belly pan on the bottom of the rails.  A little heavier, but simple and easy to build compared to the bird-cage style frame like Cotton’s car.

I’ve always loved ’27 Ford roadsters, we had a full fendered one 30 years ago, and I miss the fender-less ’36 Fordillac, so this will be a good combination and tribute to those cars.   I may have to sell something else I love, if only because really, 6 old cars, three vintage trailers and one wooden Chris Craft is all the hobby stuff one couple needs, so if anybody needs a ’48 Pontiac convert street rod with an LT1, I have just what you need…

IMG_4173Building a custom car is not just building a giant model car kit, nor even like restoring a car back to original.  It’s taking each and every little part of the car, modifying it to suit ones own taste, and then modifying the parts so that they’ll fit back together in the form of a car.  Every little change impacts something else, or SEVERAL somethings, and every part has to be modified to work and/or look proper.  The dashboard of my ’59 T’bird is a case in point.

The windshield of the car is chopped, not by cutting the glass, but by sinking the entire windshield and it’s steel frame, down into the cowl as far as I could, a fraction shy of 2 inches. The dash mounts to a lip on the windshield frame, which moved down a like amount.  That meant that the dash was too low in the cockpit, both to see the gauges behind the steering wheel, or to get ones legs under the edge comfortably.  To remedy those ills, and to have it not look goofy, I cut the gauge and glove box pods out of the dash, moved them up and forward.  This accentuated the aircraft design of the dash, makes the pods more pronounced, the end result being that the dash still looks like a ’59 T’Bird dash, and makes it echo the design of the tonneau covers twin headrest pods.

It also meant a LOT of work.  For the past week, it seems I’ve done nothing but work on the dash.  First, I cut out some previous work I”d done that I wasn’t happy with, then hours of grinding welds.  After that, I spent hours spreading and sanding filler on the dash, spreading more filler, sand, spread, sand, ad infinitum.  I finally got the dash to the point that it looks good, and have the “eyebrows”(made of squirt can foam on the dash pads original steel morning lips) shaped and fitted to the dash.  It’s been a long, tedious project, I’m tired of working on it, and was excited to get the dash mocked up in the car.

It was at that point that I realized the original gauge pod, which fit as it was supposed to in the dash while it was out of the car, wouldn’t fit over the steering column when mounted in the body. The reason for this was two-fold.  First, while I’d raised the gauge pod, it was a little lower still in relation the steering column, which did not move in the w/s chop.  The second problem was that I inadvertently moved the pod over to the right about 3/8″, which meant the gauge panel was no longer exactly centered over the steering column, which meant the nice cut out at the bottom of the panel for the column to nestle into, was too far to the right, and too low to let the column snuggle up where it should.

I still have a little “finesse” work to do on the dash, and none of the new switches or gauges are wired.  When I built the car originally, I used the complete wiring harness from the donor ’87 Mustang GT, including the gauges and switches, and decided all this had to go, along with the crappy looking Mustang steering column and wheel.  I have a nice new stainless column, had a steering wheel custom-made, and have the wiring sorted out and labeled for light switches, turn signals, and the cruise control.  I DO have the new, old style ignition switch wired in and started the car and let it run long enough to discover that all the pieces of rubber fuel line in the fuel system to 5.0 HO engine are brittle, cracked and leak.

Once I get all that sorted out and the finish work on the dash done for paint (it’ll be body color), I still have to cut down the original vent window frames to fit the new lower windshield frame, and extend the cowl panels between the hood and windshield, because the windshield not only went down 2 inches, but back almost 2 inches as well, leaving a big gap between the glass and these panels.

Other than that, it’s almost done!

Sand, fill, sand, fill, sand some more...

Sand, fill, sand, fill, sand some more…

Aircraft inspired dash.

Aircraft inspired dash.

The gauge panel now fits around the new column.

The gauge panel now fits around the new column.