Posts Tagged ‘Custom Car’

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!



On what may have one of happiest days of my life, the Starcraft motor home left our driveway in a shower of sparks and cloud of debris for it’s new home in Climax. (Yes, Climax, MI, the town.). Fitting, since I was so glad to see it go. I did manage to salvage engine and trans, traded for a set of beautiful Dayto knock off wire wheels, the complete stainless exhaust system which can be altered easily to fit under the GMC, and a couple hundred feet of automotive wiring.

It was not a profitable venture.

Once that was gone, and cash in my pocket, I moved the Riviera into the shop, after a day of cleaning. Initial trials look like the engine will fit after notching the crossmember, modifying both exhaust manifolds, moving the AC compressor without swapping the Vortec intake for an LS. Which saves a bunch of work and cash. The oil pan needs to be sectioned (or replaced) for ground clearance, but either way that’s easy.

What wasn’t easy was removing the cars front fenders. I have new respect for the guys on the assembly line who hung these things on moving cars. What a job. After the passenger side, the drivers came off easily. Happily all of the fasteners came out easily, thanks to its former life spent Oklahoma.

Now that the sheet metal is off I can get the motor and trans mounts made, the steering modified and connected, and the crossmember notch boxed in. Then it can lie dormant while work on the T’Bird.

It’ll be busy winter!






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.







Oh, the humanity. New Years eve, or rather, early New Years morning we were stricken with the dreaded Noro-virus, the 24 hour bug, or in the common vernacular, the pukes. We’ll spare you the details, but the acute misery lasted from about 3 am until 3 in the afternoon. After that, some clear liquids finally stayed put, and late in the evening, a cup of soup tasted pretty good.

Called in to work the next day as well and kept a pretty low profile, and even today, we are not completely “normal”, whatever that is. Once the outside temp got above zero though, a fire was stoked up in the Cool McCool’s Garage shop, and the T’bird got some love. The front bumper is now delightfully devoid of any turn signal/park light holes, and looks great.

Look Ma! No holes!

Look Ma! No holes!

Smooth as a baby's bottom now.

Smooth as a baby’s bottom now.

While the shop was warming up, the old GMC started right up and we got the driveway plowed out. By the time that was finished, it was a balmy 50 degrees inside, MUCH better than the outside temp of 13. Brrrr.

Does that puff of white smoke mean we have a new Pope, or is the shop getting warm?

Does that puff of white smoke mean we have a new Pope, or is the shop getting warm?

Path to the Tini-Home garage.

Path to the Tini-Home garage.

Cool McCool's World Headquarters.

Cool McCool’s World Headquarters.

Down the driveway to Milo Road.

Down the driveway to Milo Road.

The might '76 GMC.  Just rolled over 20K miles.  Nicely broken in.  2wd with chains.  Who needs 4wd?

The might ’76 GMC. Just rolled over 20K miles. Nicely broken in. 2wd with chains. Who needs 4wd?

Tomorrow we’re supposed to get a little break in the weather with a high near 30, then back into the deep freeze next week with single digit temps for highs. We may have to open a southern branch office…

DSC04427 (1024x768)It’s official.  The Diamond T is a driver.  After a VERY frustrating couple of days, isolating what turned out to be an incredibly simple oversight, all is well.  I backed it out of the shop, washed it, and drove it up to my parents house without a hiccup.

It drives GREAT!  It doesn’t rattle or squeak, the steering is light and crisp despite the huge 17″ wheels and 8 ply rated Michelons, and it goes like a striped ape.  Whatever that is.  The transmission shifts properly, it goes into overdrive and at 45 mph, is idling along at 800 rpm.  Hopefully tomorrow I can get it a muffler shop for an exhaust system, and then get the front end aligned.

I am SO relieved to gotten it driving, and having all the complex electronics working as they should.  The only issue I can see is the speedometer, which simply needs to be calibrated, as it reads 1/2 speed.  That’s just a matter of following the directions to calibrate it and pushing a button.  I think I can do that.  And, the clock needs to be set, which may be the most challenging thing to do for me.

Now, just wait until it’s polished!

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DSC04357 (1024x768)In what is probably a complete waste of money and time, I put the steer horns on the GMC today.  You gotta admit, it makes a statement!  Nothing exceeds like excess, as they say… 

I made a (rather flimsy) bracket out of some scrap aluminum diamond plate,  screwed the horns to it, then to the panel behind the grill.  I may have to make a couple of little braces, as the whole thing does flex a little.  For now, it’s cool though, and certainly what little I’ll use it plowing the drive the rest of the winter won’t matter. 

Now, I’m open to any and all suggestions as to how much this thing needs to be “cowboyed up”.  I’m definitely going to put a gun rack in the back window and hang a BB gun from it, and it really needs something to break up all that white on the sides.  Some pinstripe?  Chrome 6-shooter grab handles on the cab?  Chrome horseshoe’s somewhere?  Trucker girl mudflaps?  We looked at full, hair on cowhides at Ikea, but they didn’t have any with any variation in color, or I’d have bought one to upholster the seat in.  Probably just as well…

Now, imagine it without the plow!

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Got my first “bad review” in the “Roddin’ at Random” section of this months (June) issue of HOT ROD. Bummer.

Actually, there are two, and they’re pretty funny, although I’m sure the authors, HOT ROD magazine readers, didn’t intend them to be funny.

The first one, referring first to a line in a feature about another (brown) car, says, “Brown is the new black? The Trunk Speedster on p. 35 Apr. ’10 Hot Rod is not a PT Cruiser? You got me!”

Well, Duh. He couldn’t tell it’s really a Prowler? I mean, come on dude, get yer eyes checked!

The second guy says (also in reference to the “Brown is the new black” line in another car feature), “Turds are brown, it should be against the law to paint a car brown, green, or yellow”.

OK. I’m guilty. How much is the fine?

The GOOD comment was very nice, made sense, AND the editors titled the letter “McCool Stories”. The writer says,

“I’ losing interest in feature cars that were put together by committee. You know, so and so did this, and to make this one off weet ride, only to learn the this and that is nothing more than selecting vendors and writing checks. We need more storeis liek the about Brian McCool and his Trunk Speedster (I don’t call it that, by the way, it’s the “Fordillac” to me) [April issue] stories about the guys who are acutually doing the thinking and the work. Great job, Mr. McCool. Great car, great story.”


Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the ’51 wagon is still in the midst of the rear end swap. I have axle blasted, ground reasonable smooth, primed and painted black, and it’s under the car. The spring pads are welded to it, it’s clamped down firmly, minus the 2″ lowering blocks I had on the car before. We’ll do with out them this time.
Turns out the driveshaft will work, shortened an inch with a new rear yoke to take the proper U-joint. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the axle is a little bit wider than the original, which I knew. The tires have (barely) enough clearance from the inner fenders, but the fender skirts hit the tires. I could (and may well) just leave them off, as the car looks good without, but I do want to be able to at least put them occasionally.

With a little trimming and a new bracket, I have them mounted, with half an inch between them and the tire. Close, and maybe too close to have them on towing, but we can put them on. I may modify the wheels, sort of “un-reverse” them, to give a little more backset, but won’t if I don’t have to.

So, that’s the news here from McCool’s Garage this week. Stay tuned for more progress, as it happens.

…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.

Anyone who’s built a custom car or hot rod has been asked that (or should have, if they’re doing things right, to my way of thinking) at least once. Not just by the uninformed at a show by a non car guy, but by ones buddies, and most importanly, by oneself.

I’ve only lately come to learn that I need to ask myself that when starting, again and again all the way through a build, when selecting componants, colors, interior trims and so on.

As I think back, the projects I’ve been the most satisfied with, that turned out the best, and suited me most, were the ones I really thought through and planned.   The projects that started with something I wasn’t  really in love with, used componants just because they were there, or were cheap, are the ones I wasn’t happy with, wasn’t  proud of, and didn’t like.

A buddy of mine shook his head at another local builder who asked him what the “theme” was he was using for a car. My friend couldn’t understand a car build having a theme, and honestly, at the time I really didn’t either.  It seemed “cheesy”, to me to have a “theme”, but I’ve realized it doesn’t have to be cheesy, it’s a design plan.

It’s easy to spot cars built without a cohesive design “theme” at shows. They’ve got wide whites with grey tweed interiors, or 22″ rims and rolled and pleated interiors. Every cliched and trendy accessory, pastel colors with tweed interiors, billet parts, all thrown at unlikely body styles, sort of an “If a little’s good, too much isn’t enough” philosophy.

I’ve built cars I shouldn’t have, used engines that didn’t fit well, didn’t suit the intended purpose of the car, and not had a clear vision of the style I was after when I started. These cars I haven’t been happy with, didn’t like, and not surprisingly, had a hard time finding new owners for when the time came. Nobody else “got” what I was trying to say either.

With the ’36, I was inspired by a “Sketchpad” piece in Rod&Custom magazine, by the artist Thom Taylor. I was really attracted to the idea of using a derelict body nobody else wanted (fit my finances), and building a cool car that belied the humble beginnings.

The finished car is more inspired by, than a copy of that, but I had a clear vision when I started, and I think I did a pretty good job sticking to it.

Engine choice, wheels, tires, stance, everything was pretty carefully thought out, and although I did use things scrounged and “found objects”, there was a plan and inspiration for all of them. They all work together cohesively to reflect my interpretation of the original artwork.

I’ve been thinking about this as I work on the Diamond T as well. This is a project that came from a decades old idea that a Diamond T pickup was about the coolest looking thing I’d ever seen. Kind of like the Spartan trailer, I can’t exactly say when or where I saw one, but I did at some point, and have wanted one ever since.   I knew nothing about them, and up untill last fall at a friends place, had NEVER even seen another one besides mine in person.

Happily, Kim is on board with this, and she’s been quick to point out (correctly every time) when I’ve dropped the ball in the planning and execution department. The recent change of engines, from the worn out old 350 to the “new” 6.0 LS1 is all Kim, pointing out I’d settled on the 350 from the van I bought because it was cheap.

I’ve been lucky to find some parts, like the beautiful stainless steel grill, through places like the “HAMB” message board and ebay, which have really helped out. I like to think the changes in the original plan haven’t been changes, but rather “refinements” of the original plan for a truck I’d been imagining for a long, long time.  The changes didn’t sidetrack or slow down the project, each change has actually clarified the vision, sped the project along and will make it so much better than the first choice.  It’s a fluid plan, but it’s a plan.

When it’s done, and hitched up to the Spartan, I think we’ll have a very unique combo which will meet our needs, be unlike anything anybody has seen, and when somebody asks, “Why did you want to build THAT?”, I’ll have a pretty good answer.