Posts Tagged ‘Custom Cars’

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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…

 

 

I have been stressing about whether I ‘ll have the Spartan done for this summer,  feeling frustrated that I can’t seem to get anything done.  Then, it occurred to me, as I drove the GMC to the hardware store, that I DO get things done, it’s just that some of the things I do are silly and and take up too much time, and that I may underestimate the time and expense a project will gobble up.

A case in point, and one of the reasons the Thunderbird  and Rivera aren’t  done, and that my Hot Rod Fund is now empty, is my ’76 GMC dually.  This thing has eaten up spare time, project money, more time, and more money, than I care to think about.

It started 4 years ago when I sold my rusty ’00 Silverado, and decided to unearth the GMC from the barn at my dad’s where I’d abandoned it 20 years ago.  We bought the truck, with a 23’ Diamond REO camper on the extended frame when I was selling cars in ’83.  Some guy traded it in on an Escort, and I bought it.  We camped in it, my folks drove it to Florida, but we stopped using it in the mid 90’s, and it had been driven in the barn and forgotten about.  I needed a pickup, to haul stuff in, pull things with, and here was one, all I had to do was dust it off and go

Easy, right?

When I got it out, it started on 20 year old gas, although it ran pretty poorly and smelled awful.  The camper came off, the frame was shortened, I bought a box from Texas, a new hood, patched up the cab corners and shot a unifying coat of Arctic White enamel.

This summer,  after three years of abuse, it got 6 new 16″ tires, new wheels, stainless hubcaps, a new stainless exhaust, and a 3.75:1 rear end to replace the 4.56’s (in a futile attempt to help the abysmal fuel consumption).  The 454, with 22,000 miles runs like a watch, the transmission (after a new governor gear) shifts crisply, I’ve got a plow for winter and camper for summer, so I should be all set for a hauling needs for another 2 or 3 decades.

Maybe now I’m done spending money, and it’ll last another 2 or three decades…

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In the Cadillac building, a beautiful recreation of the Cadillac approved Art Deco dealership building design from the late 30’s.

Since my hip replacement a little over a week ago I’ve been going over to the Gilmore museum every day for a walk.  I’ve graduated to being able to use a cane, rather than walker, which is good,  although it does make me rather sore later on.  Going through the museum at my forced slow pace enables me to notice things I’d normally breeze right on buy.  My visit yesterday was focused on the Model A museum.  I admit I’m not very enthused about Model A’s, particularly in stock form, but the versatility and adaptability of this humble depression era car is amazing.  From family transportation, to marine, medium duty truck, and even aircraft, the reliable little Model A kept America moving during the tough 30’s, into the 40’s and 50’s, and continues today as restored and hot-rodded little Fords are still going strong.

A break in the still open “Blue Moon Diner” was a welcome stop for a root beer float.  The museum was very busy, but I managed to belly up the much counter and get an empty stool to enjoy my float.

Stay tuned for more hip replacement recovery, rehab and fun.  I’m hoping to be able in the next couple weeks to be able to a little light work on the Spartan trailer project.  For now I still need to use a cane or walker, but as rapidly as this seems to be progressing I should be back at it, at least in a limited way, pretty soon.

Thanks for visiting, see you next time!

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A friend who lives in California emailed me the other day, inquiring whether I was OK, as he hadn’t heard from me, and hadn’t posted anything here for a while.  I assured him I’m doing fine, in fact, busier than ever, adding to the already crowded project list.  More on that in a bit.

The big news of this past summer is that Kim and I sold our ’48 Pontiac convertible.  This car has been a part of our family since 1974, before we got married.  In fact, Kim was opposed to my buying it, since we were  both in college, and a wedding was on the horizon.  Of course, I bought it anyway.

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Since getting the Diamond T finished, we haven’t been driving the car, it’s been setting in the garage, sort of covered, for three years.  It’s not that we didn’t like it, but I thought it needed some changes, and having built the car three times in over 40 years, I wasn’t enthused about the thought of rebuilding it again.  Our friends Brandon and Liz, fellow Tin Can Tourists members, learned we had the car, and after some conversation and couple of visits, we agreed to sell it to them.  I put a new battery in it, dusted it off, had a sticking front brake caliper replaced, and the car left our driveway with someone else behind the wheel for the first time in 41 years.  They’ve been busy putting their own personal stamp on it, enjoying using it to pull their vintage Trotwood trailer.  We’re happy to see the car being used and loved, not slowly going to seed in the garage.

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Of course, the empty space in the garage, and the sudden positive balance in the checking account was not destined to last very long.  I’d been talking about building a ’27 Highboy roadster for several years, and began now to look for a body and frame.  I talked to several friends, looked again at the beautiful little black ’27, the Frank Mack car, at the Gilmore Museum, and decided a ’27 wasn’t going to work for me in my old age.  I’d seen a ’31 on ’32 rails this summer, and thought maybe a Brookville body on ’32 rails would do, and started adding up the bits.  The totals soon added to more than I’d gotten for the convert, and was getting a little discouraged, when I saw an ad on the HAMB classifieds for a ’34 roadster, pretty complete minus the engine and transmission.  I called the owner, we had a good conversation, I told him I’d get back with him.

Discussing it with Kim, her concern was that I’d suddenly switched gears from the ’27 she’d been hearing (incessantly) about, to this new idea, a bigger, heavier, open car.  I assured her it’d be more suitable for us at this stage in our lives (the stage of needing to be relatively comfortable).  She gave a green light, I called the guy in Connecticut, Bill, back, we made a deal and two days later, by dad Rex, 91 years old, and I were in the Diamond T with the trailer tagging along, on the way to get a roadster.

We drove the 802 miles in one day, leaving at 6 am, arriving at Bill’s house at 10 pm.  Steady construction although Pennsylvania and New York slowed us, but we had no trouble at all.  The next morning we looked over the parts and pieces of the disassembled car, and I was happy with what I saw.  It had been a finished car in the 70’s and 80’s, running a blown flathead, and was featured in Street Rodder magazine in ’83.  Of course I have this issue, and even remembered the feature once I saw the car.  Now wearing a quickie coat of black swap-meet primer over the original burgundy paint, it still has the original lettering “Flying Flathead” on the tail pan.  IMG_6952

imageIncluded in the pile of parts are the original top and upholstery.  The flathead and original chassis are long missing, the cars builder had decided he wanted a coupe, and pulled the glass body, an early Gibbons body I think, and sold it.  Bill had bought it after it changed hands a couple of times, built a new frame, accumulated all the chassis parts to make it a roller, and for some reason, perhaps because like me has three other projects going already, offered it for sale.

Dad and I took two days to drive home after loading (almost) all the parts into the enclosed trailer.  We stopped halfway in Pennsylvania, and headed out early the next day, getting home at 2:30.  I was a little worried about the long drive in the cramped cab of the truck, but dad enjoyed the drive, and even though he’s never been a “car guy” seems enthusiastic and supportive of the project.  He remembers ’34 Fords as being sporty looking cars of his youth, so that may be part of it.

imageTwo weeks later, I haven’t yet unloaded, or even fully inventoried what all I have, mainly because I know if I get it out of the trailer, I’ll be drawn to work on it rather than the T’bird and the Spartan trailer, so, it’s still in the trailer.  I’m excited though, and have located a 700R transmission for the (tired) 350 Chevy I have in the garage, decorated with vintage Cal Custom finned aluminum valve covers and an Offy dual quad intake with two new Edelbrock carbs.  Aside from wiring, I have, I think, everything I need to put the car together.  The dropped front axle we’d left under Bill’s bench, I remembered it in the middle of the night on the way home, he shipped to me.  We’d kicked it out of the way rolling the body and chassis out.

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In other news, I’ve started stripping the interior of the ’47 Spartan Manor in the back yard.  From Brandon and Liz we have some vintage 9×9 floor tiles in a nice gray/green, and some black and red to sprinkle in at random.  I want to get the floor repaired, there a couple of soft spots under windows in the rear, and flooring down before cold weather.  Once the floor is in, and the new front windows in, the trailer becomes its own workshop, and the goal is to have the wiring, plumbing, walls and cabinetry in by spring.  Once that’s done, finishing the interior and polishing can be done by next summers camping season.

We had the boat out this summer, and found its leaking so badly that the pumps can no longer keep up.  In fact, in a two-day period in the water without being used, the battery had run down and it wouldn’t start.  Underway, the rear pump was overwhelmed, and water filled the bilge to the floor.  The problem turns out to be a loose rudder post, due to decades of over tightening the bolts and pulling them into the wood, and a bad chine plank, which I’d short planked 26 years ago.  It’s so soft I could push my finger through it (I could, but didn’t).  So, it needs to have a new bottom, which is going to have to wait until other things get done.IMG_6951

Speaking of getting things done, I finally have primer on the Thunderbird.  I had planned on having it in color by now, but summer came and went working on the car at all.  It really looks good all one color, even grey primer, and I’m enthused again.  Now the tedious job of block sanding, re-priming, blocking, guide coating, re-priming before color goes on.  And, what colors to pick?  We’ll see, we’ll see…eblackdesign_1_13 IMG_6953 IMG_6954Kim’s Riviera may be on hiatus, but we have big plans for it as too, so, keep checking in, and keep reminding me to keep up with the blog so you’ll know I’m OK!

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With help from my friend Jake who made spring spacers for another ‘ 63 Riviera he was bagging, I got started on the air suspension for Kim ‘a Riviera today.

Front is together, I hope to get the rear done tomorrow and get lines run . The goal is infinitely adjustable suspension for ride height, static display and trailer towing duty.

On not settling.

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

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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!

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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!