Posts Tagged ‘chopped tops’

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I was a kid in high school, I devoured car magazines.  My favorite (then and now) was “Rod & Custom”.  Close second was “HOT ROD”, and then “Street Rodder”.  I bought them at the grocery store, and poured over the pages, dreaming of the day when I’d be the owner of a smooth, low custom car with a chopped top, or a stripped down Ford roadster with a big engine, a 4 speed with chrome headers leading in to big chrome pipes that dumped out just ahead of the fat rear tires.  Someday, I’d have a car featured in one of my favorite magazines, and life would be perfect.

Pretty much the opposite (in both dream scenarios) of my high school ride, a dumpy ’41 Chrysler Windsor sedan.  But I digress…

I’ve been fortunate enough to have realized the dream of having had a couple of smooth, low customs, a low, loud, stripped down Ford roadster with a huge engine (although it lacked the chrome headers, big pipes and 4 speed trans), and have been lucky and honored to have had a couple of my cars featured in those childhood favorite magazines I read at the magazine rack in the grocery store.  I freely admit I’ve ruined a few cars along the way, the learning curve has it’s casualties, but the survivors of my (sometimes mis-guided efforts) have been pretty well received.

Life IS good.  But…

All these years though, one car was burned into my psyche.  A little yellow ’23 roadster I’d seen in “Rod & Custom” during those formative years, back in ’68.  It was far different from the other “Fad T’s” in the magazines of the time, spindly things with their glass bodies perched on rectangular tube frames, tall T windshields, motor cycle wheels up front and huge rubber out back.  Goofy looking, to my young eye, unbalanced and out of proportion.

This one had the glass body slung low, literally wrapped around the round tube “bird-cage” style frame, Indy rubber at all four corners, shorty windshield, with the valve covers of the Ardun Ford flat-motor ABOVE the cowl.   The seats were lawn chair pads, the body was trimmed with outdoor carpet, and the floor, about 3″ off the pavement, was the frame.   Nothing but the bare necessities, no frills, no fuss, nothing on the car but what made it a CAR.

I never built one, and my own ’36 roadster was a far cry from that one, but Cotton’s T was always there, in the back of my mind, and while I didn’t copy it, the essence of it, the DIFFERENCE, I like to think, was there.

Fast forward to last summer, when we visited the Gilmore Car Museum,  just around the corner from us, and what did I see?

Cotton Werksmans ’23 T.

Low down, stripped down, glass body wrapped around  the tubing frame (gas welded by the way) so tightly it had to be cut in half to go around it and reassembled, Ardun Ford V8 slung down between the sprint car style front axle and quick-change rear end.  My childhood vision in jet black with a red engine block and polished aluminum,  positioned no less next three Barris smooth, sleek customs.

My good friend Dennis Lesky, who put the Legends display together for the Gilmore, and managed to wrest these cars from their owners for two years was there and gave me a little back story on the car.

This one is not the car featured 40 years ago in “Rod & Custom”, but one of three cars he built along the same plan.  Originally powered by a flathead, now sporting one of his (Cotton is regarded as THE Ardun guy to this day) Ardun equipped engines, 4 speed and quickie rear, this one is black with bright flames.  It, and the entire story of the original, and Cotton’s influence in the hot rod world, are featured in the last “Rodders Journal”,  and done much better than I possibly could, so I won’t repeat all that.

 

Suffice it to say that the flame has been re-kindled, and as soon as the current, low, smooth custom in my garage, the ’59 T’Bird is done, something will be leaving Cool McCool’s Garage to finance my version of that low slung, bare-bones,  roadster.

Enjoy, and dream along.

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Well, this is better.

Well, this is better.

 

Today I made an executive decision.  The engine turned gauge panel and glove box door went “Buh-bye”, and the originals took their place.  With the help of an instrument panel schematic, pin-out diagram for the gauge plugs, and a little time, the original gauge panel is going back in.

 

The steering column install was, incredibly, a direct bolt in.  I measured correctly, it seems,  a 2″ muffler clamp fit the column, and existing holes in the brake/column mount bracket perfectly.  The dirt, bond-o dust and paint dust on the wiring makes it look worse of a mess than it is.  I do need to do a little research for the wiring in the GM style column, in order to connect it to the Ford harness for the turn signals and flashers.

 

It's not as bad as it looks.

It’s not as bad as it looks.

 

The wiring is all hidden by the gauge panel.

The wiring is all hidden by the gauge panel.

 

A trip to Auto-Zone netted a new Auto-Meter 3″ tach, and a gauge trio of voltmeter, water temperature, and oil pressure gauges, all white faced like the originals.  The tach will go in the gauge cluster where the clock is, with a little adapting.  The three little gauges I’m not sure, but they may end up in the console.  The original gas gauge should work with the newer Ford sending unit, and the speedo is mechanical, so that’ll just plug in and be fine.  I also picked up the needed new ignition switch, and floor mount dimmer, since the Mustang column had all the switch gear.    I’ve got the wiring all sorted out, and fired the car up just to make sure all was well.  Happily, it runs perfectly.

 

It’s exciting to see the original gauges in the dash, I thought I liked the more modern gauges until today.    Stay tuned for the next update, it’s gonna be GREAT!

 

The tach will get some of the face of the old clock, and little "patina" on the face so as to match the original gauges.

The tach will get some of the face of the old clock, and little “patina” on the face so as to match the original gauges.

Ugly steering wheel.

Ugly steering wheel.

Yesterday I spent all afternoon working on the dash of the T’bird.  When the w/s was sunken into the cowl, the dash mounts went with it, and of course, nothing fit right.  The dash pod and glove box pod got moved up and forward, the steering wheel mount had to be modified, the gauge panel and glove box door then got moved back into their original location, tunneled deep into the pods.

The problem is, the big, ugly, mid-80’s Mustang steering wheel and thick steering column jacket.  In the early 90’s, when I originally built the car, that stuff looked modern, but now it’s dated, worn looking, and doesn’t fit the style of the car.  Now that the car will have some style…

So, I’m trying to figure out how best to “fix” this.  I could just toss the wheel, losing cruise control, which we never used anyway.  I’d like a flat, four spoke Sprint car style wheel, which would work with the column, although it’d still have to have the awkward, bulky jacket to hide the wiring, switch gear and tilt wheel works.

Option two is to swap out the column and wheel altogether, and use a slim, original style column, again using a flat spoke Sprint car style wheel.  I’d keep the engine-turned dash panel and glove box door, but have to add an ignition switch in the dash, and rewire the blinkers.

Option three is the most work, which would be the above column and wheel, and use the T’bird’s original dash and gauges, add a tach in place of the clock, and glove box door.  This would be fine, but then the rest of the interiors machine finish panels won’t match the dash, and I’d have to come up with something different for them.  Maybe matching, machined aluminum panels?  I have friends with Bridgeport mills who’d probably teach me enough to let me do that on my own.

So, the project just keeps getting bigger and bigger…

Machine finished trim panels that match the dash.

Machine finished trim panels that match the dash.

I can't stand this wheel.

I can’t stand this wheel.

Original dash cluster and glove box door.

Original dash cluster and glove box door.

 

Addendum:  Steering wheel choice made.  Leaning towards avoiding re-wiring the whole car, and making a suitably good looking jacket for the steering column.  I can do it.

 

Righteous.

Righteous.

 

While the snow fell on my ’51 Pontiac, moved outdoors so as not to get it completely trashed by grinding dust and dirt, I got the windshield trough DONE, the rear bumpers completely welded, and got started grinding the miles of welds down on the rest of the body changes.

It’s tedious, but it’s got to be done.

I also stood back and admired the car’s new lines, and I have to say I REALLY like it. I think the profile is much improved, everything flows nicely and the new work compliments the tonneau cover. It’s going to be great.

Now, more grinding…

3/4 right rear.

3/4 right rear.

Tonneau cover flows into trunk lid.

Tonneau cover flows into trunk lid.

Windshield trough done.

Windshield trough done.

Reshaping the dash pads.

Reshaping the dash pads.

Wagon out in the cold.

Wagon out in the cold.

This morning it was -2 F, not exactly inspiring weather to go out and work in the shop. So, I relaxed, had a couple of cups of coffee, and when the outside temperature reached, 3, I went out and built a fire in the stove. Then, while that (slowly) warmed up the shop, I got the ’76 GMC fired up and plowed the driveway. By the time I finished that, visited with a neighbor and had a little lunch, it was 1:00 and the shop was 50 degrees.

BRRRR!!!!

BRRRR!!!!

Perfect timing.

Todays project was to finally finish up the fender skirts and the trough that resulted from sinking the windshield into the cowl. I started by welding 1/4″ bolts to the secondary skirts as locator pins, and then decided they might as well be bolted to the primary skirts. Initially I didn’t think the skirts would come off together, but it turns out they will. It’s a lot more secure having them bolted together, and I can still, albeit with some difficulty, get the entire skirt on and off.

When that was done, I turned my attention to finishing up the cowl and windshield trough. That was straight forward, I got the final little filler section cut, fitted and welded in. Now, a little work with the grinder and it’s ready for a little coat of filler.

My buddy John called this afternoon, and asked if there wasn’t any other work I could think of to do to the car, as every panel now has been cut, filled, chopped, nosed, decked, massaged or altered in some way. I think I’m done cutting and welding now, let the final bodywork begin!

Left side skirt DONE!

Left side skirt DONE!

The primary and secondary skirt bolt together, then mount to the body with the barrel bolts previously installed.

The primary and secondary skirt bolt together, then mount to the body with the barrel bolts previously installed.

Windshield trough DONE!

Windshield trough DONE!

A little more work on the dash pods is needed.

A little more work on the dash pods is needed.

Next up, a little filler and a LOT of long board work!

Next up, a little filler and a LOT of long board work!

A balmy 13 degrees, and she’s topless. This morning after building a fire in the stove, I plowed the driveway, the neighbors drive, and my parents drive. By the time I got done, it was warm enough in the shop that my fingers didn’t freeze to the tools, I got busy and got the top lifted of the T’bird. The reason? Not just to have it look different in the shop, but to make it easy to make the “trough” around the sunken windshield frame.

This had been just tacked together, the 2″ wide gap between windshield frame and cowl had to be filled with sheet metal. I made some cardboard patterns, the strips had to be arched to fit in the curve, cut the stops and got started welding. I was interrupted by a trip to the hardware store to get more 3″ disks for the cut-off tool and some flap disks for the small grinder, but still got it almost all finished. Picked a couple more barrel bolts so I can finish up the fender skirt project too.

It’s good to get one more thing (almost) finished. It won’t be long now until I can get to the final body work, and make it all pretty. Stay tuned!

Windshield trough.

Windshield trough.

View from the interior, over the sunken dash.

View from the interior, over the sunken dash.

I'm anxious to get some primer on this thing.

I’m anxious to get some primer on this thing.

A sleek, spotted beauty.

A sleek, spotted beauty.

I’d been thinking about the illustration I posted a couple of days ago of the ‘Bird with full skirts. Not really wanting to make a complete new set of skirts, so today I got started making a fender skirt for the fender skirt.

It turned out to be a little more complicated than I thought (like everything else I do), it ended up taking all day to get the right one roughed in. Well, not counting a trip to Tractor Supply to exchange the CO2/Argon shielding gas bottle I got the other day that turned out to be empty (Note, they exchanged it with no hassle, so three cheers for Tractor Supply!). The skirt changes its curvature from the front to the rear, and I wanted to incorporate the rocker panels little flare at the bottom at the leading edge of the skirt. This would be easy with an English Wheel, which I don’t have, so I ended up bending it over the CO2 bottle, in varying degrees, and then used a body hammer on the stump I have under the bench to stretch get the shape. The flare at the bottom I used the bench vise, my homemade anvil (a twenty inch long chunk of railroad track) and hammer and dolly to form.

It turned out pretty nice, and once I work it a little more and “finesse” it, it’ll look pretty neat. The photos show it clamped in position, roughly, with Vice-Grips, it’ll be mounted with pins and barrel bolts just like the primary skirt. I’m happy with it, and pretty proud of making this rather complicated panel with just a hammer and dolly, a stump, and bench vise.

Pull your skirt down!

This year the hemlines are below the knee...

This year the hemlines are below the knee…

It'll fit better finished...

It’ll fit better finished…

Bottom flare.

Bottom flare.

Again, flare.

Again, flare.

Small skirt roughed in.

Small skirt roughed in.

With just the primary skirt on.

With just the primary skirt on.

Inspired by my trip to the Gilmore yesterday and seeing the beautiful Barris customs, I got busy today, whacked the bottom of the left quarter panel off behind the wheel and made the new panel, and got the skirt almost done. So, the left side is now the same as the right, and we’re nearly ready to start slinging some filler on it to make everything pretty. I’m almost good enough to forgo filler for this kind of work, but not quite. Besides, I’m good at it!

So, without further ado, here’s todays progress.

Raw steel.

Raw steel.

Tacked together.

Tacked together.

Ready to go on the car.

Ready to go on the car.

New profile

New profile

Skirt beginning.

Skirt beginning.

Done for tonight.

Done for tonight.

Yesterday, I spent most of the day putting the ’63 Caddy headlight in the ‘Bird. I felt good about the job when I left the shop, but looking at the photos later when I did a blog entry, I wasn’t happy with the way they looked.

The lights are fine, the bezels are beautiful, and I reshaped fenders to fit the bezels, but even with the ureshaping, the fender and bezel didn’t look right together. The fender didn’t “roll” in enough at the top, which I did nothing with, and even the bottom, which I had rolled in further.

So, today I cut everything apart and did both sides over. I cut a BIG slice out of the front fender above the bumper, at the top, and the little ledge at the bottom, and completely reshaped the fender from wheel opening to the headlight bezel. I made new filler pieces to fill the big gap, and got it all back together in time for dinner.

So, NOW I’m happy with it, and can move on to the next job, modifying the left rear fender to match what I did on the right side. There’s more, the cowl and dash need to be finished, but I feel good about the headlight job now.

The photo below shows the problem.  There’s a “ledge” on the fender all the way round the bezel,  It just doesn’t look right,   I can do better…

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This is not right.

This is not right.

Better.

Better.

Much better.

Much better.