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Update on the DeSoto wagon project:  The front suspension is DONE.  The 5.7 and 8 speed transmission are bolted down, and the car is setting on wheels.  The stance is PERFECT, everything clears, there’s plenty of room for steering, exhaust and all the bits that’ll make it a car.

I found a guy in Washington state, “Sound German Automotive”, who makes a controller for the Benz built 8 speed automatic, a stand alone system, which will work perfectly with the MOPAR crate Hemi engine management system and wiring harness I bought.  It will be here tomorrow, and, once I get a fuel pump, which I will order tomorrow as well, we’ll have smoke and noise.

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The engine and transmission came from “Morris Rose Auto Parts” in Kalamazoo, from my pal Brad Rose, from a 2018 Challenger R/T with only 19,000 miles on them.  These cars have a keyless entry and ignition system, which doesn’t lend itself well to swapping into an older vehicle, hence the need for the stand alone systems.  On the plus side, the milage is so low that they’re brand new, so, it’s a wash money wise.

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The front end was fun to build.  I bought a complete set up from “Speedway”, which uses a “Heidt’s” crossmember patterned after the venerable Mustang II design, with tubular control arms and GM 11″ disk brakes.  It was a little scary cutting the frame, but I took careful measurements, and everything went well.  I also purchased a new power brake booster and master cylinder from them, and had to modify the firewall to make it fit, but it’s mounted, and the pedal assembly is hanging in the cabin.

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One of the things I wasn’t aware of, and didn’t even notice after getting the engine, is that there was no power steering pump.  These cars have electric boosted power steering, built into the rack, with torque sensors on the steering column, that talk to the PCM, that talks to the servo motor on the rack, that gives varying levels of assist depending on vehicle speed.  Not having any of that stuff, and not wanting a bulky steering column booster (which Toyota uses), I bought a pump from a RAM pickup and made a spacer to bolt it to the engine.  The spacer is needed because this engine is a VVT (variable valve timing) engine and has a different, deeper, front drive and timing cover than the older ones like the pump came from.

Nothing is easy…

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I bought, hoping they’d work by just looking a photos, a set of beautiful polished stainless steel exhaust headers on eBay, designed for a RAM pickup.  The Challenger engine’s stock cast iron ones dumped out directly on top of the frame rails,  My hunch was correct, they fit perfectly, although it was difficult to install them on the engine, even with it setting on the shop floor!  They’re never coming off though, so no worries.  The engine mounts I had to fabricate, as the original cast aluminum ones and huge vibration insulators just wouldn’t work in the relatively narrow DeSoto frame.  These use early Ford flathead rubber biscuits, same principle just not as refined, but we will accept a level of NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness) in this car as opposed to a 2018 Challenger.

 

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The car has been here exactly one month  now, I’m happy with the progress so far.  It feels good to stretch my muscles as a designer and fabricator, and to reassure myself that I still have the chops to take on a big project like this.  The body is by far the nicest one I’ve ever started with, aside from the HORRIBLE brindle brown repaint, but that is just a few sheets of DA paper away from gone.  This DeSoto will be a vey worthy replacement of the Pontiac wagon.

As an added bonus, the original 276 Hemi (peeking out from under the bench) will be a good foundation for another hot rod project down the road.  I’ve got a couple of cars left in me, this will be a good base for another uncomfortable, noisy, leaky, cramped car that only I can fit in.

Retirement is great so far!

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Well, it’s over.  The search for an early 50’s station wagon to replace the wrecked ’51 Pontiac wagon ended with this ’52 DeSoto.  A friend in Windsor sent me the link to an old CraigsList ad from Wisconsin for this car.  Several fruitless attempts to get a responses finally ended up with a phone call from the owner.  A deal was struck, and this weekend Kim and I are going to New Ulm, Minnesota (not exactly in the middle of nowhere, but you can see it from there) to pick it up.

We’ll decide what the mechanical upgrades will be for sure once it’s here, but at this time the (tentative) plan is for a late mode 5.7 or, if I can justify the extra money, a 6.4 Chrysler Hemi and transmission, disk front brake conversion, and modern rear axle, probably a Ford Explorer.  That would give me disk brakes all around, the same 5 on 4 1/2 bolt pattern so we can keep it looking original on the outside, and all new under the skin.  The little 276, while it’s nostalgic and very, very cool, would be great to display with the hood up at car shows and cruise nights, but now what we want to be traveling with towing our Spartan.  Maybe a new roadster…

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The car has its original 276 “Firedome” Hemi, which, according to the owner, hasn’t been started in the 10 years he’s had it, but was purported to be a “good runner” when he got it.  (I dunno, I think I’d have gotten it running, but that’s just me)  It does turn over and, he says, has compression.  The brakes he said he had rebuilt and replaced all the lines, so it at least has brakes to help load it safely.

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He has the missing headlight rings, the only missing bit is that right park lamp housing.  The chrome is unknown, having been painted over with silver paint by the previous owner, but we can see original chrome under the paint on the grill teeth and bumper guards, so I’m throwing caution and common sense out the window and hoping for the best on the big heavy bumpers.  The paint is also claimed to be original, with no body work evident aside from some uncomfortably vague reference to “some work” having been done to the pan under the tailgate, but it raises and lowers with out issue (he says) and the crank-down rear window works.

I guess I’ll go with all that for now.

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I am not crazy about the dark mustard-brown color, but it’s supposed to be the original finish, and it looks intact and pretty good, at least in blurry photos.  I do like the tu-tone treatment, the ivory roof and window frame panels both Kim and I like.  She’d like it done in a Honduras Maroon, so that can be done as we’re going to hot-rod the car anyway.

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These cars, and slightly fancier cousins the Chrysler wagons, have really lovely interiors with ribbon grain mahogany rear panels and floors, accented by polished stainless rub rails.  We both really like that treatment, which I’d copied in our own Pontiac wagon.  This is the car as it sets now, it’s worn and you can se the panels need replacement, but that’s simple.  I think I’d like to do the door panels to match, with a vinyl insert for accent as opposed to all upholstered.  The seats I vision in an alligator print vinyl, in a tobacco color, which is how the Chrysler wagons were done.  Should be pretty.

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I found this NOS “Car-Pac” wood and aluminum roof rack.  They’re still made, and I’ve talked to the company that builds them.  I can buy this one for half the cost of new, including the clamps and pads, but I have to get the car here to measure, because these are NOT universal fit, but a tailored to the specific car they will be used on.  I’ll get dimensions of the roof when it’s here, contact the company, see if this one will fit, and if it does, buy it, if not, probably buy one new, as these guys have been so helpful with information.  It’d look great on the car, and match the interior perfectly.

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The Riviera project, which I was working every day on, suddenly became a chore.  I put some feelers out, and the guy who bought the other Riviera I got with mine stepped up and is buying it as a project.  He has a restored but wrecked one that needs a frame, so his plan is to pull that body, put on the chassis under mine with the Air Lift suspension and LS drivetrain, and probably the nice under dash A/C unit as well.  I offered it at less than I had in those components.  If I’d finished it, I’d still lose money, and more of it, so now is the time to let that go and clear the decks.

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I also sold my ’76 GMC Dually pickup, to some friends from Finland who have a vacation home in the states.  After I got the Ram done, there’s no need for it, and I don’t want to see it just set around.  They’re happy, I’m happy.  Everybody wins.

So, everything changes, retirement marches on.  Winter is more than half over, we’re excited for the changes and new adventures.  Stay tuned, there’s lots more to come!

Barn Raising.

Posted: November 29, 2019 in Uncategorized

With a little, well, a LOT, of help from my friends, we’re getting our new barn raised. This will let us keep the Spartan, a car or two, our lawn equipment under cover and out of the weather.

My pal Butch Starner, a retired builder and finish carpenter, had his hands full keeping us monkeys on task, my son Craig, friends Phil and David and I managed to get the trusses set and building braced without falloff or nailing ourselves to anything.

I’ve got the new truck straightened out, and getting ready to do the little bit of bodywork it needs in between pretending to be a carpenter.

So far, retirement has been busy!

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“What are you going to do with your time when you retire?”, was a question I heard over, and over, and OVER from my co-workers and friends before I retired, 12 days ago.

What indeed?

So far, there hasn’t been a dull moment.  I literally now do not have time for a job.  The first project was starting a storage building, a 24 x 40 foot pole building with 12 foot eves that we can store our Spartan trailer in.  My pal and fellow retiree Butch Starner, a builder in his working career, is helping.  Actually, I’m the helper, since he’s the one who knows what he’s doing.  I am good at handing him tools and following directions.  We’ve got the poles set and most of the framing done, waiting now on the trusses to be delivered and the snow and cold (which arrived early yesterday).

It’ll be great to get the Spartan in under cover, there’s room for a couple of cars and the lawn equipment, we’ve wanted this for a long time.

Speaking of cars, there’s been a big change in our car collection as well.  Just before I retired, I laid awake at 3 AM and thought, “What do I need the roadster for?”  I got up and put an ad on the H.A.M.B. classifieds, and had a deal on the car by 8 AM.  That one ultimately fell through (a funny story in itself), but one of the guys who was interested came through, and bought the car.

74479442_10214728859951523_6434928828472098816_oWe delivered it to him last weekend, to Lexington Kentucky, and made it our first “retirement trip.”  I had loaded the car in the trailer as soon as the guy bought it, we hitched up the Diamond T and headed south.  We had a great weekend, the guy is super happy with the car, and is building a ‘glass bodied ’34 5 window, so our car has a great home and stablemate.

We did some bourbon tasting, touring Woodford Reserve distillery…

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…we drank some bourbon…73341307_10221380868613816_5245163685650890752_n.jpg

…we did some driving…

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…we did some dining out, which I don’t have a photo of.  You get the idea though.

Knowing that my ’06 Mercury Milan is on it’s last legs, I also was thinking that I was going to have to buy another car.  We’d (well, I) had been shopping for a late ’40’s through late 50’s wagon to replace the recently deceased ’51 Pontiac.  That was getting to frustrating, everything I found was too much money, too far away, too original or didn’t appeal to Kim.

I ended up buying a wrecked (lightly but still totaled) 2019 Dodge Ram 4×4.  It had been rear ended, bending the rear bumper, tailgate, and last foot or so of the frame horns.  Go-Go Auto Parts had a section frame, box, bumper and tailgate for it, and the price was right.  In addition, it has only been driven 5,000 miles and still smells brand new.

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I was hooked.

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Yesterday I pulled the bent bumper and box, sectioned the frame and got the “new” frame section tack welded in.  It’s going fine so far, and I found I can heat the shop with the new pellet stove (another retirement present to myself) enough to paint.  Which is good because all the parts are different colors.

The truck will be a good investment for us.  I paid exactly 1/3 the retail price, which I priced on the Dodge website, so it was affordable.   Back when I was rebuilding wrecks, I figured getting in a current or one year old car for half or retail was good deal.  Since I’d just sold the ’34, I was able to buy it without getting into our “cushion” money or financing it.  We can pull the Spartan comfortably.  It drives great, and with the 400 HP Hemi under the hood, it’s fun and fast.  Stupid fast. I don’t really care for the black wheels, but since it has chrome otherwise anywhere, it does make a statement.  I had a ’94 Ram pickup that I bought new, so it’s a bit nostalgic in that way too.

So, retirement thus far has been a blur of activity.  One of my friends pointed out that I don’t have to get everything done in the first week, a good reminder.  I’m enjoying myself so far, and looking forward to being able to relax sometime in the next 20 or 25 years.

Posted: September 12, 2019 in Buick
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Wrecked.  That about sums up summer here at Cool McCool’s Garage.  Life is like a car crash, you’re rolling along without a care in the world, things are great, and the next thing you know, you’re on the Tilt ‘O Whirl, thinking about throwing up over the side.

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Our ’51 Pontiac wagon was destroyed by an idiot (said idiot seen the upper left corner leaning on his weapon, er truck)  in a moment of inattention (he said he wasn’t on a cell phone, but admitted  he wasn’t looking at the road ahead) who slammed into the car while we were waiting for traffic to clear turning left into my mother in law’s drive on M-43 in Delton.  The impact pushed the car head-on into oncoming traffic.

Losing the car, which we’ve had and loved for the past 12 years, was blow that is only slightly softened by the great service from Hagerty Classic Car Insurance.  Ultimately, we’re thankful  no one was killed, it was after all, just a car.

So, what does one do after that?  For me, it’s been difficult to get going on anything.  I suppose there was a bit of depression involved (my mom passed away July 9th, a week after her 89th birthday, and we’re dealing with the aftermath of that and my elderly father), so it’s been rather hard to feel enthused.  I have the T’bird nearly ready for paint, but the need to replace the car that we use to pull our Spartan trailer with seems more urgent than anther fair-weather cruiser, so I’ve pushed myself into action on the ’63 Riviera that’s been gathering dust in the back of the shop.

That seemed like a better plan than spending the insurance money immediately on a car similar to the Pontiac, with retirement looming, and five other old cars taking up space.

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The car has a 5.3 LS/4L60 combo, the wiring is done, the suspension is done, the gas tank is in, the interior is started, and the simple custom work I did hiding the ugly headlights and removing the front bumper is roughed in.  It should be a great tow vehicle, although my wife Kim is not certain she’s going to like it in front of the trailer (it’s admittedly a completely different style), it should be a very comfortable and competent tow pig.

Plus, TV Tommy Ivo towed with a ’63 Riviera, it was good enough him it ought to be good enough for us.

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A couple of hours had the front clip off, the car reduced to several big piles of parts.  Look at all that wiring!  Yikes.

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The engine hadn’t been cleaned before I  put in, mostly because my drive is gravel overgrown with sod, it’s impossible to roll an engine on a dolly or hanging from the hoist out to degrease and clean, so with having it in the chassis, up on wheels, makes that possible.  A couple cans of “Gunk” degreaser and the power washer (which amazingly started right up), had the engine clean enough for a car the  hood will never be open on.

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A seemingly simple chore I wanted to do after the front sheet metal was off was to align the sagging passenger door.  These cars have incredibly heavy doors, with removable out skins for access to the window motors and regulators, the right hand one dropped at the rear, hanging up on the striker, and the gap wasn’t even.  I thought it’d be easy, thinking it needed to have the hinges adjusted at the cowl, but it turned out someone had broken three of the six bolts holding the hinges to the door (where all the adjustment is), taken a fourth one out, leaving the remaining two only finger tight.  So, the door moved around on the hinge, putting it out of alignment.

I was able to drill all the broken 5/16th bolds out of the hinge plate with the door in place on the  hinges and re-tap them.  It was a bit of a challenge, and they may not be perfectly aligned as the drill couldn’t quite be square because the hinge was in the way, but it’s now adjusted properly, all six bolts are in and torqued down, the door didn’t have to come off, and we’re moving forward.

I’m going to give the wagon’s visor to my pal Jake Moomey, who’s going to lend a hand with running the brake, fuel and A/C lines, which will be a big help, and boost my enthusiasm.  We’d been talking about selling one or more of the cars as we move into retirement, so the way to look at the wagon is that we’ve sold one.  We wouldn’t have sold THAT one, and it isn’t the way we WANTED to sell one, but, that’s the bottom line.

We’re moving forward.

 

At the base of the sunken windshield the resulting gap had me in a quandary. Honestly I was kind of nervous that I wouldn’t able to make these precise pieces, but with new confidence in my sheet metal skills after doing my son’s wagon, I set to it.

I made some fancy cardboard patterns from a handy Amazon shipping box…

Cut some 20 gauge pieces, clamped them to the wood stove, bent the flange…

…and welded them to the existing valance panels.

A skim coat of reinforced filler over the welds is waitto be blocked down and a final coat of light filler will finish the job.

Having that two inch gap filled visually extends the hood, the windshield moved back shortens the cockpit and helps balance out the tonneau cover and deck lid.

I like it.

Ranch Wagon DONE!

Posted: May 6, 2019 in Uncategorized

Back in January, on a day when the ground was snow free and frozen, I decided to pull our son’s ’65 Ford Wagon out of the ShelterLogic tent and into the shop to start the bodywork. I’d be able to leisurely get it ready for paint and ready by mid May.

Good thing I started early.

It’s finally done, although some of the things I thought I’d have time to do, like replace the too long squealing alternator belt didn’t get done.

It looks great, we didn’t paint the roof to safe on material and time, the color match is good. I’m happy to have gotten it done for them, they’ve got a summer of camping fun booked using it.