Posts Tagged ‘Buick Riviera’

On not settling.

Posted: March 20, 2015 in Buick, HAMB
Tags: , , , ,


I came in from the shop day before yesterday, and announced to my wife that the engine was in the Riviera for the last time, a big milestone in this build.  Then, I added somewhat regretfully, that I didn’t use the 5.3 Vortec truck motors original cast aluminum oil pan, sectioned 2 1/2″, because I ran into difficulty likewise shortening the pickup tube for the sump.  I did manage to shorten it the needed amount, but I was having difficulty making the bracket that secured the pickup tube to the windage tray, and wasn’t really happy with how any of it went.  So, in frustration after nearly all day working on this, I put the GM engine swap oil pan on the engine, and put the engine/trans in the car, even though the sump on this pan still hung down below the front crossmember about an inch and half, making the oil pan the lowest part of the chassis.  Not a good thing, on a car with airbag suspension.

She looked at me with an expression of disappointment mixed with irritation (one husbands know well), and said, “I thought that was the point of having the other one shortened?  I thought was the whole point of the air bags, to get the car really low?”  She shook her had and walked away.

I slept on this, and yesterday, pulled the motor back out, took the pan (a GM engine swap pan for LS engines with a slightly shallower, narrow sump to fit these early chassis, to replace the REALLY deep sump truck pans), and with a clear mine, fixed the recalcitrant pickup tube mounts, put it all back together with the modified truck pan, and put the whole thing back in the car.  I also “fixed” the trans crossmember, and made a nice bead rolled panel to blank out the firewalls heater box opening.

I much happier with the modified pan, it’s the same depth as the front crossmember, and I won’t have to hang my head in shame and call a tow truck when I forget to air up the bags and drive off, or catch the pan on a railroad track or manhole cover.

Thanks Kim!



I was at ALRO Steel yesterday, picking out some steel to make the air bag cups for the Riviera, when my phone rang.  It was my pal Jake Moomey, calling to tell me that he wasn’t going to come out and drop off the plates he makes for the cups, as he had to stay home for his kids to get off the school bus.  He followed that up by saying since he is currently putting an identical Air-Lift system in our friend Destin’s ’63 Riviera, he might as well make a second set of cups and spacers for mine.  Not only that, but he said he’d take photos of the job as he does it, to help me out.

I have my friend Johns bead roller in my shop right now, to make the floor pan patch panels for the car, and the block-off panels for the firewall where the original heater is.  John has lent me this handy tool before, along with his shrinker/stretcher, and Panel-Bond gun, even when it’s inconvenienced him.  He has an 8 foot sheet metal brake, which he lets me use when I need to do something that simply bending sheet metal over the edge of the bench won’t do.

My friend Kirk went to the guy I traded some parts to for a console for the Riviera, and my pal Jay brought it over from  Detroit to our place last weekend when he and his wife came to Kalamazoo for the weekend, saving me a day long road trip.  My buddy Crafty B did some welding on the aluminum oil pan for the engine, as I’m not able to do that at home.

The only reason I have the car is that my friend John sold me the car, and a second, slightly rougher one, for scrap metal prices, and then lent me his trailer to haul them home (which I unknowingly damaged slightly unloading the cars).  He was happy for me when I sold the rough one for more than I paid for the pair, which I had told him I wanted to do when I bought them.  He could have sold them himself, but he knew I liked them and wanted to build one.

We don’t do things in a vacuum.  Help, support and inspiration (and, sometimes tools)  come from our friends and family when we need them, get stuck, or run out of steam.  I hope I’m as generous and supportive to my friends, because I certainly wouldn’t be able to this stuff, or be where I am, without them.

Thanks guys, call me if you need me!

Chip Foose is my hero.

Chip Foose is my hero.

I’ll say it right now, Chip Foose is a hero of mine.  I’ve heard, and read on-line lately, lots of disparaging remarks about his latest creation, the above Impala which took the Ridler award at AutoRama, but I’m not one of those distractors.  This car is a masterpiece, and was in my head all day yesterday while I was in the shop working on my own two customs, Kim’s ’63 Riviera and my long-term ’59 T’bird project.

I don’t have the talent, vision, or admittedly the budget for a car like this, but I take inspiration for my own cars from Chip’s work, and this one spoke to me at a very visceral level.  It’s absolutely stunning.  The proportions are perfect, the car is radically modified but still looks like a Chevy Impala.  Integrated, unified, classic yet modern/  Everything flows, beautifully detailed to a level that boggles my mind.  It’s everything that I like about custom cars, and everything I’d like to be able to do.

I overheard some comments while looking at the car, and read afterwards, comments along the line of “The Ridler is bought, not earned”, “All Foose’s cars look the same.”, “F-ugly.”, and so on.  My thoughts on looking at this (and LOTS of other cars at the show) were more along the “I could do that.”

In that light, while the images of the car are still fresh in my head, I’m going to get out to the shop and try to get the bodywork on my T’bird, and get busy with the Air-Ride system under the Riviera.  Maybe someday a crowd of guys will stand around my car and mutter “It’s all about money”, “He just wrote the checks”, “I hate painted bumpers”, and occasionally, “I could do that.”

Let’s get busy.



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.



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.



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!


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..



Like the old CS & N song “Almost Cut My Hair” says, “I think I got the flu for Christmas, and I’m not feel’n up to par…”, I have been felled by the flu bug.  Started with an achy feeling in my feet driving to work on Christmas day (?), which led to an annoying but not horrible cough later that day, to feeling like I’d been worked over with a baseball bat by Friday afternoon and feeling as if I was somehow floating several inches off the floor.  I considered calling Kim and having her come and get me, but I managed to drive home, collapsed on the couch and got up only to go to bed, and spent all day Saturday and Sunday on the couch shivering under quilts.  She was going to take me into our Dr’s office this morning, but by then she too felt too sick to drive, while I, on the other hand, felt so much better (by comparison) that I deemed it not necessary.   I say “by comparison”, because I realized that I still am not up to par.  I felt like I needed to lie down and take a nap in the grocery store when I went to get Kim some Cranberry juice, and even though it was sunny and beautiful, I wasn’t even tempted to go out to the  garage and do anything.

I do have the week off (of course, I would be sick during a vacation time), but at least we are home, and I don’t have to go anywhere or do anything.  Aside from bringing Kim a glass of juice now and then and feed the pets.

Meanwhile, I can hopefully get a couple of days worth of work done on the T’bird.  For Christmas, Kim got me a Bluetooth speaker for my cell-phone, and I’ve learned how to purchase and listen to music.  This made me sorry that I’d just cut a hole in the dash of the ‘Bird for a radio/CD player.  Now, when I’m feeling up to going out to the shop, I can entertain myself by filling that hole back in and finishing up the dash, smooth and devoid of out of date tech.

In my head, I’ve also completed lots of other tasks, like, getting a decent interior and a new top on  the ’48 Pontiac convert, getting the Riviera done, fixing the blistering rear fenders on the wagon, working on the “new” Spartan Manor, and maybe even cleaning up and painting the inside of the garage.

Or, that may have just been the fever talking…


'47 Spartan Manor

’47 Spartan Manor



Gee, that looks tall...

Gee, that looks tall…

Faithful readers will recall that last week I installed the shine new exhaust headers on the 5.3 Vortec after a little creative work with a touch and ball-peen hammer to clear the steering box and right side upper control arm. The engine is now setting on mounts tacked to the frame, the transmission crossmember is done, but before I weld the mounts permanently, I figured I’d better check to make sure the hood would indeed clear the (high mounted) alternator and very tall intake manifold.

I hung the core support and right front fender, and nervously sat the hood down. In order to have it set down all the way, I had to notch the hoods inner support panel over the alternator, and for good measure, I clearanced the alternator bolt boss on the housing about 1/4″ at the front. The result is an easy 1/2″ clearance between the alternator and hood skin. Hurrah!

Now, I can relax a bit, secure that I don’t have to buy a new, low-profile intake manifold and front accessory drive set up. I do have to get an air conditioner compressor mount, but that’s easy. Now I can pull the engine, install the new oil pan with it’s shallower rear sump, clean the frame and weld the mounts in for good.

It feels good to have it working out!

Nip-tuck on the inner panel right over the alternator.

Nip-tuck on the inner panel right over the alternator.

It fits!

It fits!

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?

Trailer load of trouble...

Trailer load of trouble…

We’ve done it again.  Embarked on another entirely new project while the Thunderbird remains unfinished.  As usual this was too good a deal to pass up, so today was spent driving the GMC back and forth to Grand Ledge to haul home not one, but TWO Buick Rivera’s, a ’63 seen here on the trailer, and a ’64.  Both are sans engine and trans, having been long ago stripped of their 425’s for hot rod projects.

The ’63 here is inexplicably missing it’s left front fender, but there are two (?) right front fenders.  (Evidently, to rights don’t make a left…)  It has every option available at the time, automatic headlights, tilt, cruise, leather, wood trim on the door panels, etc.  The interior is wasted, but happily, replacement upholstery is cheap, at least in vinyl.  The trunk is filled with all the missing trim, and duplicates of all the hard to find pieces.

The body is fairly solid, great by Michigan standards, and I have a good 425 Nailhead for it in the shop that I got from another buddy.




On the ground at my buddy John's place.

On the ground at my buddy John’s place.


















Trunk full of treasure.

Trunk full of treasure.


















The '64

The ’64


This one is the ’64, and like the ’63, it’s missing it’s 425.  It has a vinyl interior, and is the “standard” trim level, which means it doesn’t have the wood grain inserts on the door panels, but it does have the correct shifter for a turbo 400 in the console, which is good, factory A/C, and tilt wheel with that beautiful fluted aluminum column.  It also has air in all four tires, which is also good, as far as rolling it around the yard is concerned.  The missing parking lamp bezel and trim are in the trunk, as are all the other trim pieces not on the car.  It has what looks like an aftermarket installed vinyl top, which is in tatters.  The rear bumper is slightly tweaked, but there’s another one in the pile of parts.









Yard art.

Yard art.


The exhaust pipe is hanging down because when I pushed it off the trailer, the resonator got hung up in the dirt and broke the rubber strap, so it’s dangling, but the rest of the exhaust system is complete and intact.  The floor pan has a little rust in the drivers side footwell, but no rust visible anywhere else underneath.  There’s a matching wheel in the trunk, and Uniroyal Tiger Paw tire has air, so who knows why the one mismatched wheel and tire, but, they all roll, so it’s all good.











Parts is parts.

Parts is parts.


In this pile of parts in the back of the truck are two complete doors, with the wood grained door panels intact, with glass and power windows.  There are three front bumpers, one rear bumper, two right front fenders, one extra door skin (they bolt on to the inner door panel), two front hubs, one brake drum, and a pair of front exhaust pipes, never installed on a car.  In the trunk of the ’63 are two grills, 4 headlights, 4 parking lights, 3 backlights (rear window glass) a pile of quarter panel trims, wheel opening trims and body emblems.  Oh, and an extra pair of side door glass and tracks.

The plan at this point is to sell the ’63, along with the extra parts, the 425 engine, and a good running Chevrolet 350 TBI engine and 4L60 trans as a Riviera “Kit” car, to fund building the ’64.  Not that the ’64 is more desirable, but it’s got the correct shifter and console for a Turbo 400 transmission, what is (happily) what’s bolted to the 454 engine in the motor home that I’m parting out, that will plop nicely into the Riv.  Which, in reality, is the reason I brought the Riv’s home, simply to have something to put the 454 in, which therefore justifies hauling IT home.

Or something.


So, stay tuned for progress on this latest project to get in the way of the Thunderbird completion.  Actually, a Riviera is a good garage mate for the ‘bird, since the Riviera was developed as a competitor to Fords 4 passenger, luxury coupe, the Thunderbird.  They’re both iconic mid-century American “performance” coupes, so it’ll be fun to have one of each.