Posts Tagged ‘backyard builder’

Time slips away.

Posted: December 19, 2014 in cars
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I was out in the shop a while ago, working on the tulip panel of the T’bird, when my ancient Makita variable speed grinder wheezed to halt. Aggravated to spend time working on tools instead of the car, I pulled the OTHER non-functioning Makita grinder out of the cabinet and robbed the brushes and power cord from it to make one out of the two.

While doing this, I had some time to think about how long it’s been since I started on the T’bird, where it’s at right now, and how much work is yet to be done before I get it finished. Plus, the ’63 Riviera for Kim is calling me, and I want to start in on the ’47 Spartan Manor, and there is an ever growing pile of parts for the ’27 highboy roadster I want to build.

It seems like a long list.

I felt kind of overwhelmed for moment, then I tallied up in my head the other projects I’ve completed during the time the T’bird has been stalled. It goes like this…

1. 1962 Impala hardtop for Craig, a total repaint and minor mechanical stuff.

2. 1936 Ford roadster, total build, from a pile.

3. 1951 Pontiac wagon, total build.

4. 1948 Diamond T pickup, total build.

5. 1946 Spartan Manor, complete restoration.

6. 1954 Tini-Home, frame up build.

7. Painted Craigs ’68 Mustang convertible.

8. Major body work and repaint on a buddy’s ’59 Edsel wagon.

9. ’76 GMC dually pickup, frame off.

10. Del Ray truck camper for the GMC.

11. 2006 Ford Fusion, a total, for a daily driver.

Plus, myriad other homeowner and maintenance projects on the above, vacations, travel, life in general. It’s a long list, and I feel pretty productive when I stop and think about it. The T’bird will get done, the Rivi will get done, and the Spartan will get built.


September was spent getting ready for Nats North, the TCT Fall Rally, and selling the ’36 Special.  I put a heat/air/defrost underdash unit in the Pontiac wagon, and installed electric wipers, a long overdue job.  Then, from the end of September thru the middle of October,  we were  traveling to those events, our vacation to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and then a long weekend to Las Vegas to visit Craig.  

In between that, we took time to take a couple of rides on our new bike, and lately, getting the plow fixed up and ready for winter, as my last entry detailed.  Now, finally, I’m back on DT!

I’d bought a really nice electric fan/shroud combo in Kalamazoo at Nats North for the truck, along with individual windshield wiper motors and a couple of other little trinket items.  I figured today I’d be able to get the fan installed, get the two windshields in, and maybe even the wipers mounted. 


The fan almost, but not quite, would drop in under the hood, so, off with the hood.   With the hood off, I was able to drop the fan down in and get it up against the radiator,  and it fit perfectly against the radiator, with plenty of room to drill mounting holes through the shroud into the radiator frame.  Unfortunately, there was no way to get a drill in any further than the very top, and about three inches down.  That wasn’t going to work, so I started in to remove the radiator.

That requires unbolting the grill shell from the front fenders, dropping the sway bar, and then carefully tipping the grill shell out while wiggling the radiator up and out around the front crossmember.  This is a crossflow from the ’93 GMC van that was the donor for the front suspension, and original filler neck is at the bottom, and has to be very carefully maneuvered around various obstacles in order to let the radiator up and out.  If I had a lift, I could just drop it straight down and out the bottom, but I’ve no way to get the front up high enough here at home.

This little job ended up taking all day, and while it was time-consuming, it worked out pretty well.  While the radiator was out, I mounted the fan, and trimmed the front crossmember, which serves now only to mount the radiator horse collar (core support), to give a little more clearance for the radiator.  The radiator drops down between this and the front sway bar, and I had very little clearance before.  Now, half an inch between the tender aluminum core, the sway bar in front and the crossmember behind.  Much better.

I didn’t get the hood back on, but I’ll need help with that anyway.  I did manage to get everything else back together without scratching the paint, which is good.  The engine oil cooler, the big black thing in front of the radiator, had to be re-mounted, but that was a good thing too.  Originally, I’d mounted it with the zip-tie like things it came with through the radiator core, which I didn’t like.  Now, it hangs from the grill shell frame about an inch ahead of the radiator core.  I feel better about that, and the extra clearance around the radiator.   Please excuse the heavy coat of dust on the engine.  I also now have to make a new mount for the air filter, as it now hits the back of the fan housing and won’t fit where it did before.  No problem.








A couple of days ago I made the little brackets that attach the crank push rods and had them on the w/s frames.  The originals were pot metal, and had broken.  The new ones are 1/8″ steel flat stock, 1/2″ wide, painted “Cast Coat” silver, they look enough like the pot metal originals to be fine.  I have the gaskets on the frames, which I polished up on the buffer, so that will all go together now.  I’m excited to see it with the windshields in, that’ll be a big step.




I spent a few minutes setting on the running board trying to figure out how to upholster the fire wall and kick panels.  At first, due to the rather complex shape of the engine box,  I thought I’d have to make a fiberglass panel, laid up in place against the firewall, pull it out and upholster it out of the truck.  After thinking about it for a while, I see now how to make a fitted carpet panel, that I can bond another layer of insulation to, and fit it.  Much simpler.  Sometimes I have to let things set,  and come back to them with a fresh outlook.  This is one of those things.

It felt good to get at least part of the things I wanted to do today completed.   The  next big thing, after getting the windshields in and the cranks working, will be color sanding and polishing the paint.  I fired the truck up this afternoon, so if we get a couple relatively warm days, I can cut (wet-sand) the paint outside and keep some of the mess out of the shop. 

Stay tuned for more progress, as I get the fan actually wired up, the radiator filled with coolant, get some headlight bulbs in it, and get the glass in.  Then, there’s lots of stainless to polish, lots of paint to be sanded and polished, and the interior to complete.  Hopefully, winter will be long enough to get all that done!

…but, I am so easily distracted, it’s hard to stay focused.  So, while there are literally hundreds of things I need to do on the Diamond T, the other day I worked a little on the ’59 Thunderbird.

This car has been setting in the garage for 5 years now waiting for me to finish stripping off the remainder of the old candy paint job, after I had to fix the right rear quarter after a minor parking lot shunt “customized” it.  I got most of the color off down to the primer, and had swapped a set of LTD II front spindles and disk brakes onto the car, bought a set of 17″ “Salt Flat Special” wheels,  and work stopped cold.  First it was the ’36 that kept me from working on it, then it was Craig’s Impala, now it’s the Diamond T.  Enough, I had to do something.

I’d always loved the look of these late 50’s cars with their wrap-around panoramic windshields when they’re chopped by sinking the windshield down into the cowl.  The ‘Bird I thought would look good with a very subtle chop done this way, particularly with the tonneau cover I’d built for it originally.  Since the car has been dormant, I figured getting going on a windshield chop would get me re-enthused about the car, and inspire me to finish it up again.

I started by pulling the glass, and stripping out the dash.  The body where the glass sets, a pinchweld at the top of the cowl, I started cutting out with a cutoff wheel in the die grinder.  The idea is cut out this entire part of the body, and recess it down into the cowl, thus lowering the glass. 

I additionally wanted to keep the forward “cant” or angle of  the windshield frame,  so the profile of the car would appear stock, but different.  This turned out to be pretty easy to do, and with a couple hours of work, I had the windshield frame completely cut out of the body.  I trimmed enough metal off the bottom to let it set down as far as I could, which was 2 inches, and started tacking it back to the body. 

The result is exactly what I’d pictured.  The original hardtop, which I’d made removable when I first built the car, was painted but never used.  I’d done a folding top, using ’64 T’Bird top frame, which worked but was a little too tall, and never really liked.  The plan now, is to have the steel top “chopped” the same amount as the windshield, keep it removable, and thin up the massive rear pillar by cutting a wedge from the back of the pillar and leaning the entire rear window forward several inches.  I may try to make the steel top stowable in the trunk, by cutting the forward part of the top off and making that section hinged, like the Retractable hardtop Fords of the late 50’s.  Whether that will work or not, I’m not sure, but it’s an idea.   Thanks to James D from the HAMB board for the photoshop of the two top versions.

Anyway, I was happy to get the windshield frame dropped and the glass set temporarily in place.  Nice look, just enough to be different, but not enough to look “stepped on”.   I’m thinking of a bright Mercedes silver color, since the car has such obvious “Jet Age styling”, would look better than the dark organic candy blackcherry color it used to be.  That, and I’ve always liked the song “Silver Thunderbird”,  so that would be sort of fitting.

More updates as they happen.

So, since I’m not “settling”, yesterday when I went out to work on the truck, the first thing I thought was, “Why did I mount the base of the steering column that way?”

I’d used the bottom of the van column’s bearing and mount, just because that was the way I’d had the van column mounted. It had two “ears”, and I’d made a heavy bracket to bolt those to. It was clumsy looking, and would have made the hole in the firewall hard to seal, and hard to trim or carpet around. In addition, the column was actually a little bit too short.

I pulled the column back out, cut the jacket off, cut the inner shaft off, lengthened them both 3″ in order to get the column itself through the firewall and into the engine bay.

The new floor mount is simply a 6×6 piece of 18 ga. with a hole cut in it for the jacket to pass through, which I hammered a flare into, at an angle, which fits (more or less) precisely the jacket. This is welded to the column, and is in turn bolted to the floor and firewall.

The result is a tight-fitting, very strong lower column mount that’ll be easy to seal and to trim. I also shoved the column down about an inch and a half, moving the steering wheel closer to the dash. Much more comfortable than the “wheel in the chest” position of the original.

That part went well, but I did manage to break the little “tangs” off the inside of the steering wheel which hold the  horn button on.  I though I had it rotated around far enough to pop out, but NOOOO.  So, I have to fix that.  The  new horn button, an original that never had the original owners name engraved in it, does look pretty cool, well worth having to fix my minor gaffe.

Todays project is to pull the new engine/trans, and cut some notches in the front crossmember for the motor mounts.  I have to do this as the stock LS1 ‘Vette style mounts have a very thick oil filled biscuit, which has to have a level base, and the crossmember is angled.   So, that’s the plan.

More news as it happens.