We’ve almost completed our spring cleanup and makeover here at HQ. And couldn’t be happier!

New tempered, tinted glass in the doors, a dumpster load of junk gone, and the coup de gras’, new steel siding to match the new storage barn. That will be getting a 10×16 overhead door and a service door, I quickly realized having the front open was a mistake. Probably wait for next year for cement, the renovation budget is strained.

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When I dropped the original radiator in the DeSoto last week, I wasn’t surprised to find that it wouldn’t work.  The lower hose outlet was smack in front of the A/C compressor pulley.   A quick trip to eBay with the dimensions revealed that a ’47 Chevy truck radiator is almost exactly the same size, and, bonus, the outlets are the correct size and in the correct location, i.e., not in front of an engine driven accessory.

This was $300, it came with a beautifully fabricated aluminum shroud and electric fan, with the temp sending unit and relay kit.  It turned out I had to trim the bottom of the core support, as this has squared corners and the original had radiused corners, but it’s a good fit.  I’ll have to weld some tabs on the core support to mount it, as it’s an inch narrower, but otherwise, perfect.  I calculated, looking at the photos on the eBay sellers ad, that it’d just barely clear the water pump pulley, and, I was right.  Half an inch.

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The past couple of days I’ve been working on the exhaust system.  I’ve always taken my projects to “Maxi-Muffler” in Kalamazoo and had them bend pipes for me, but this car I wanted to try my hand at it myself.  I ordered from “Summit Racing” a U-weld-it dual exhaust kit, hangers, clams, and mufflers.  When I called the order in, the sales rep asked if I would like to upgrade to stainless steel pipes.  In the catalogue that kit was almost twice as much, but he said for just $30 more I could get stainless 2 1/4″ pipe.  I didn’t hesitate.

I was disappointed when the parts arrived that the Thrush stainless glass pack mufflers I’d ordered came in the familiar red powder coat.  I called, and that rep told me they weren’t available in stainless, despite the catalogue listing them.  Rather than send back two $28 mufflers for $30 shipping, I kept them and found stainless “Turbo” style mufflers from Jegs very inexpensively, and ordered them.  I’ll use the glass packs some day, maybe behind the Hemi that came out of the wagon…

The kit came with 4 each of 90 degree bends, 45’s, some tight “U” bends, and 4 48″ straight sections.  Because the car is so long, had ordered 2 extra 4′ straight pipes, and it’s a good thing I did.  I had a hard time figuring out how to get the pipes over the axle and around the gas tank, but I managed, and today have it all pretty much wrapped up.  I did have to lose the Explorer rear ends factory sway bar, and the massive counter weight on the right side, but the pipes are tucked neatly around all the obstacles, and look pretty good.

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After I got started, it wasn’t as difficult as I first thought to mount the hanger rods and insulators to keep the system from wiggling around.  For some reason, Summit sent some 5/15″ diameter hanger rods, which weren’t usable with the rubber insulators I’d ordered.  I do remember the rep saying that some of the ones I wanted were out of stock, these may have been the substitutes.  No big deal, I had saved a couple of 3/8″ stainless rod sections that Kim’s dad Bob had brought home from Kellogg’s when he worked there.  I cut them up and made the hangers I needed from them, they are actually better than the ones I bought.

I’d have gotten finished up today, but ran out of .024 welding wire, but it’s done enough to set it back on the floor on it’s wheels and admire my work.  The pipes look cool exiting the back of the car under the bumper, they’re straight and symmetrical, I’m proud of the job I did.

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Next week I hope to be able to wire it up enough to fire the Hemi.  I’m going to send the dashboard gauges out to be converted to electronic sending units, so we’re getting close. The A/C system from “Vintage Air” is here, the evaporator is mounted under and behind the dash, running the hoses and wiring it up will be the next project after firing the engine.

It’s coming along.

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It’s now March 41st, our 98th day of state mandated “shelter-in-place” here in Michigan, after a month of self imposed sequestration.  (Only kidding, it’s really some day in April, or maybe May, I’m no longer sure).  What I know, and appreciate more than anything right now, is the fact that auto repair has been deemed an “essential” activity, I have a Visa card, Speedway, Jegs, Summit Racing and even Amazon Prime have warehouses stocked up with ’52 DeSoto parts I need and UPS and  FedEx trucks are making deliveries.

70242021_10220759892929812_3824282547290898432_nMany of you know that our ’51 Pontiac wagon was totaled last August by some knuckle-dragger who rear-ended it while our son Craig was turning left into his grandmothers driveway.  The car wasn’t repairable (even if it had been, I wouldn’t have wanted it after that), Craig was injured, requiring surgery and the young woman he was pushed into was also hospitalized. When the dust settled and we began the search for a replacement it turned out to be more difficult than I t though.  I found lots of cool old cars that I would have bought, but Kim, rightfully, insisted on another station wagon.

81224098_487308888641585_7682498020574756864_nWe began looking at CraigsList ads, eBay, Hemmings, Bring a Trailer, FB marketplace, the HAMB classifieds, and FB friends joined in, sending me links to cool wagons they found from all over.  One of the ones a friend sent was this, a CraigsList ad from Minnesota for this ’52 DeSoto wagon.   This is the best photo the guy had on the ad, the description was vague, he didn’t respond to the first couple of messages I sent, and never sent any more photos when I asked.

The story was sketchy as well, he’d had the car for 10 years, never had it running, had gotten it from someone who’d done some work but he was unsure, or unwilling, to say what had been done, what the condition was now, and, to top it off, he had moved and the car was 5 hours away from him, in the very western part of Minnesota at his brothers place.  Who wanted it gone.

After a couple of weeks of trying to get more info and photos, continuing the search, I finally got a little response, still not what I was very comfortable with, but we decided we’d make the 660 mile trip to get it, and if it wasn’t worth bringing home, we’d simply not pick up the U-Haul trailer I rented in that MN town, come home and keep looking for the right car.

What’s a couple of days when you’re retired, right?

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When we got to New Ulm, the owner got ahold of me and said he wasn’t going to be able to drive from Madison WI, but to go ahead and meet his brothers at the property, and they’d have it ready.  Evidently his communication with them wasn’t any better, they were surprised that he didn’t make it too, but had gotten the car out of the shed it was in, washed it, replaced a flat tire that wouldn’t hold air, and helped get it up onto the trailer.

It was better in many ways than I’d anticipated, the body looked amazingly rust free, although it sports what has to be one of the worst home-grown paint jobs I’ve ever seen.  The color, brindle brown and tan, is the best part of it, and even that is awful.  Whoever did it went to a staggering amount of  work to do the worst paint job in the world, the engine had been out, and looked like it had new gaskets, everything clean and detailed but dirty from setting, and it has the original interior.  The chrome is as bad as the photos hinted, none of the die-cast, pot-metal trim is repairable, and the huge bumpers are dull under the spray bomb silver.  It had all been removed, painted and replaced though, I admired the effort if not the end result.

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I got busy as soon as it was off the trailer, and got the 276 running by simply adjusting the dual points in the dual point distributor.  They were set incorrectly, it had no spark, which is why the guy never could get it running.  I believe the engine was rebuilt, it has a new carb, starter, generator, fuel pump, all the ignition wires, coil, etc., are all new, and the engine does have new gaskets, even head gaskets, that are not painted over.  It was never run, but it fired up instantly after 20 minutes of tinkering.

Even so, it wasn’t up to what we’re going to use the car for, particularly the awful Fluid Drive and 4 speed, vacuum shift “Gyro-Matic” transmission, so out it came, and I bought the 2018 Chrysler 345 (5.7) Hemi seen above, with it’s HP70 8 speed transmission from a Challenger.  I found out that I couldn’t use the factory wiring harness from the donor car, and bought a MOPAR Crate Hemi wiring harness, and a stand alone transmission controller.  That came from an aftermarket supplier, Chrysler doesn’t support this 8 speed transmission in non-factory applications.  The workaround is expensive, but it’s out there.

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87391868_10222525239902383_54373847880695808_nI’d initially thought I’d use the cars original front suspension, add disk brakes and dropped spindles, but the power steering was huge, bizarre linkage, and would have cost more than simply replacing it.  So, that’s what I did.  The new suspension is from “Speedway Motors”, a “Heidt’s” crossmember, tubular upper and lower control arms, Mustang II style spindles with GM style 11″ rotors and calipers, a T’bird power rack.  I made my own front frame stub, had had the car up on the Salt Flat wheels I’d bought for the ’59 T’bird and never used.

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At the rear is a 2001 Ford Explorer 8.8″ rear, 3.73 gears, Limited Slip, and disk brakes.  I put it 2″ blocks, the ride height is just about perfect on the stock springs.  Those still have their factory sheet metal jackets, are greasy and look good to go as is.  The cardboard skirts are a nice touch too, don’t you think?

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One of the first things I bought after getting the car home was this ’59 Imperial grill.  The original DeSoto grill teeth are, in my opinion, awful, and the chrome was gone.  I thought this echoed the “toothy” look, the chrome is pretty nice, I like the horizontal grill bars behind it, and it fits the opening perfectly.  I also bought the missing rocker moldings and a decent driver quality chrome gravel shield for the left rear fender.  I mocked up the front sheet metal the other day to fit the grill, and make sure inner fenders cleared the new engine.  They didn’t of course, but only needed some minor trimming to make it look like the 5.7 was made for a ’52 DeSoto.

The heavy stock bumpers are not going back on, I’m thinking ’49-’50 Chevy bumpers would look much lighter and won’t break the bank.

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I picked a color called “Dark Garnet Pearl” from “Kirker” paints in single stage urethane, and got the firewall painted the other day.  The wiring is started, note the new PCM on the firewall.  The battery will move to the right front inner fender, behind the core support.  The car came with a new “Rhode Island Wire” wiring harness in the correct linen wrapping, so I’ll use that for the lighting and original parts of the car, the engine’s harness is self contained and you can see all that will show of it in this photo.  The PCM I think I’ll make a cover for to disguise it as maybe part of the original ventilation system, which actually was in the spot it now occupies.

93021960_10222949267302803_1145373975757455360_oI have a “Vintage Air” heat/cool/defrost unit that arrived yesterday, That fit up behind the dash with a little trim on the lower lip.  I’ll have to lose the factory lower dash valance panel, but the slim vent cover, seen here, occupies much of that space, and actually looks pretty good.  There’s a complete extra dash which has all the missing trim I need, a radio delete plate and prettier gauges, so it’ll all get nicely finished.

I’m very happy with the dial shifter, mounted on the dash here where the ashtray had been, and proud of the little fiberglass bezel I made for that.  I tried to make that mimic the instrument pod bezel, which will all be painted body color.  The steering column was an extra bit the guy had, it is from a ’54.  I think I’ll leave the shift lever on as a disguise.  The wheel is beautiful, translucent ivory plastic with just one minor crack.

This is how I’m dealing with my enforced social isolation.  I’d actually be doing much the same, but I am ordering things, parts, that I’d have simply run to the auto parts store for before.  I’m sure that when this Covid crisis is over, life will be different, drastically different for some, but we’ll adapt.  We’re fortunate (Kim just retired at the beginning of this crisis) to not have to worry about our jobs, financially we’re secure, but we do miss our friends and most of all, or family and grandson Milo.

This will pass, and when it’s all over, I’ll find some other project.  That Hemi under the bench is calling, it wants to be used in a hot rod, maybe a Model A couple on ’32 rails…

 

 

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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.