Posts Tagged ‘Street Rods’

The original "Cool McCool"

The original “Cool McCool”

Let me start by saying that I’m a sucker for a bargain, so when my friend Butch said, “I don’t know what I’m gonna do with that old motor home, I can’t even give it away for scrap.”, he got my attention. When he elaborated, and said it was on a GMC chassis, had only fourteen thousand miles on the clock, had a 454, and would give it away if someone (me) would get it out of his yard, where it had sat, unused and not driven, for 12 years, he reeled me in.

With my dad riding shotgun, and to follow me home, I went to Butch’s place with a battery and little expectation that it would fire up and run. I figured it wouldn’t start, that the 454 was probably seized, or there was so much damage from the tree he said had fallen on it, that it wouldn’t be worth the effort (of course it wasn’t, but I didn’t see that then!).

To my complete amazement, when we hooked up the battery, it turned over about 5 times and fired right up. Of course with the 12-year-old gas in it didn’t run GOOD, but it ran well enough move under its own power, the trans shifted gear, and it rolled forward and back, on three flat tires no less. The tree that had come down in it during an ice storm last winter had poked a small hole in the fiberglass body over the windshield, and cracked the driver’s side of the huge windshield. True, there was a serious leak even though Butch had tried to patch it up as best he could, but there was a dish pan on the sofa to catch the drip that was overflowing, the cabinets over the sofa were already rotted, and there were mushrooms growing in the carpeting. It smelled like homemade sin, mice and squirrels had moved in, filling drawers and cabinets with walnuts and smelly nests of insulation. Black mold clouded the fabric ceiling, and water dripped from places suspiciously far from the damaged on the roof.

We have a ’47 Spartan Manor trailer project in the wings, and while the motor home was a mess, it was FILLED with stuff we could (I thought) use. A nice 8 cubic foot RV fridge that fired right up on propane, a 3 burner stove and oven, microwave, two roof air conditioners, water and waste tanks, lighting fixtures, and beautiful walnut raised panel cabinets that I thought I could re-purpose and put in my enclosed car trailer, which needs storage. Not to mention the 454 which rumbled to life so quickly after its long slumber, belching skunky exhaust, popping and farting trying to run on varnished fuel.

I headed for home with it, actually excited, head full of dreams and all the fun it would be tearing into it. I’ve always used complete cars or trucks for donor vehicles for hot rods, and this would be just a little bigger, but with more useable stuff. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, this wasn't supposed to happen.

Well, this wasn’t supposed to happen.

The first thing to wrong was that only one of the A/C units worked. No big deal, we only need one. The second, and what has really killed this thing was that the fiberglass and foam body was, and is, not recyclable, and not easy nor cheap to dispose of. Kim decreed that she doesn’t want modern looking appliances, we don’t need a big microwave/convection oven, and the fridge, which did work on propane, didn’t on the electric side, and was deemed by an RV fridge service guy, who fixed the faulty relay and got it working fine for only $40, to be leaking ammonia, and fixing it would cost as much as a new fridge.

Rats.

In addition, in my excitement to find a use for the 454, which runs really well on fresh gas, I initially thought I’d build a cool COE transport truck, based on our friend Diana’s awesome ’39 Diamond T 509 she had built to haul her restored orchard tractors to shows. Kim was against this idea, despite her going with me to see the Diamond T COE cab I found, and while I discounted her lack of enthusiasm, when all my hot rodder pals said they thought it was a dumb idea (“But Brian, what are you gonna DO with it?”, was the universal response), I eventually gave up on that plan, and conceived good plan (or, Bad Idea #2) to put the 454 to good use. I bought not one, but two ’63 Buick Rivera’s, to have one be a home for the engine. My plan was to sell one immediately to recoup the purchase price, then drop the 454 between the frame rails, get it running and driving, and sell it as a “rat” semi-custom, and let the happy new owner do the cosmetics, or not.

Bare naked lady.

Bare naked lady.

The Riviera, patiently waiting for it's new heart.

The Riviera, patiently waiting for its new heart.

Anybody see a problem here?

So here we are. It’s mid October, there’s a Riviera project car that Kim is actually enthused about, and wants as her own. Great, except we all know a late 80’s carb’d 454 in today’s world is a poor choice for economy or power, so I spent all the money I got for the 2nd Riviera on an LS 5.3 and 4L60E to put in Kim’s car. Since we’re keeping it, that means bodywork, paint, interior, and having it nice, with A/C, cruise, all the stuff that makes a car comfortable to drive, and expensive to build. Sigh…

The Rivieras new power plant!  5.3 LS and 4L60.

The Rivera’s new power plant! 5.3 LS and 4L60.

The motor home chassis is STILL here, I haven’t been enthused enough about tearing into it to get the engine out. I did move it yesterday from the side yard (where everyone driving down our busy rural road could see it, and probably soon start complaining to the township), to the front of the garage where I’m slowly getting ready to disembowel it. I salvaged a couple hundred feet of stranded 12 and 14 gauge wire for future projects, miles of black plastic wire loom, and whatever else I could.

I’m going to drive it over to my dad’s shop this morning, 34 feet of bare chassis and motor home floor, and pull the engine there (it’s too wide to nose into my shop and use my cherry picker) with the overhead crane. Then, I’ll drag the chassis to the metal recycler, where all that cool stuff that would make a killer ramp truck (hydraulic level system, air bag suspension, A/C that still blows cold, cruise that works, 19.5 wheels and tires etc) and recoup a little for the labor involved. The body I’m cutting up into little pieces and putting in our garbage can a few at a time, we’re about a third of the way to getting rid of all of it, and the walnut cabinetry, which turned out to be not useable either, is on the brush pile.   At least we’ll get an evening’s entertainment later this fall on a chilly night as a bonfire.

The 454 a buddy wants for his ’55 Chevy gasser project, and is going to swap a set of beautiful 15″ Dayton knock-off wire wheels and tires for it, which of course means I will have to build a car around them.  They will be perfect for the car I’ve been planning and building in my head for a while, a ’27 highboy roadster, track style, dropped floor, fenderless, track nosed.  At least with the 454 gone, I’ll be forced to use a sensible engine for that!

Maybe something like this?

Maybe something like this?

In my youth, I’m sure I’d still be enthused about the entire deal, and it has been sort of fun, although I admit the amount of work was, and still is, sort of daunting. Now, my 60th birthday is right around the corner, and it’s a bit more difficult to keep the enthusiasm up, even though we’ll come out OK, and have a really cool Riviera for Kim to park beside my chopped T’bird (OK, two if count the ’27 highboy modified style roadster those Dayton’s are the foundation for…).

It never ends!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ready.  Set.  Go.

Ready. Set. Go.

 

Since November, I’ve been worried about what the weather, and roads, would be March 6th, after I made the decision to show the Diamond T and the Tini-Home at Autorama.  Blizzards, weeks of sub-zero temps, icy roads, high winds, slush, even keeping the driveway plowed so we could get the trailer and get out were challenges that we faced right up until last Thursday.   It was bitterly cold  at 7 degrees when we got the trailer hitched up and pulled out at 10:30 in the morning, but sunny and clear, and the roads were clear and dry.

The trip over was a breeze, with Kim following in her car (so we’d have wheels),  and we rolled up to the basement entrance on the riverfront at around one in the afternoon.  We had to wait only a few minutes on the street until there was room to pull in, and our little parade rolled into the basement of Cobo for set up.

I had no idea where the show officials had placed us, considering our slightly unusual set up, and was a bit concerned about where we’d be, and how we’d be able to stage the rig.  Turned out, we had the back corner to ourselves, right across from Gene Winfield’s display, which, between the two of us, had to be the busiest spot in the show all weekend.   The downside, if there was one, was that it was directly in front of the restrooms, but the upside was that EVERYBODY walked by, even if they hadn’t intended to come by and look at the truck and trailer.

Ready.   Set.  Show.

Ready. Set. Show.

 

Our rig seemed to be a popular attraction, as we had a line of people at least ten deep all weekend long.  I had to wait in line to get in and get our lunches ready, and Kim kept busy all weekend answering (the same) questions from spectators.  We saw lots of our Tin Can Tourist friends, lots of our hot rod friends, and made lots of new ones.  The trailer is a huge draw, and seems to be an attainable, achievable goal for folks of all walks of life, especially in contrast to the seven-figure show cars upstairs,  the period hot-rods and customs downstairs, and un-driveable art-cars that I tried to ignore.  People are drawn to it, many people related happy childhood memories of family camping in one “…just like this one, except it was a Shasta, and a ’65, and blue…”.

Typical line of people to see in the trailer.

Typical line of people to see in the trailer.

 

Kim noted that people walked right past the truck to see the trailer, which would have made me feel bad, if they both didn’t belong to us.

There are lots of different things to do at Autorama besides people watch and look at cars.  I took the opportunity to get my hair cut by Jason from “Berkley Chop Shop”, and got my rockabilly on a little.  It was fun, and I thought it turned out good.  I tried to keep it “high and proud” all weekend, and did pretty well, although I’m not dedicated (or vain) enough to spend a lot of time combing a Pompadour.

 

You got your hair did!

I get nervous with clippers.

 

You got your hair did!

You got your hair did!

 

Being right across from Winfield’s boys cutting the lid off a ’61 Ford Starliner was fun, although it meant frequently cleaning the paint dust, grinding wheel dust, metal, and acetylene soot off the truck all weekend.  It was just like being at home, with the smell of burning metal, welding, smoke scorched under coating.  The noise made a little hard to talk on Saturday, but we managed.  Watching the 85 or 86-year-old Winfield bouncing around, directing work, showing the crew what needed to be cut, from where, and how much, reminded me of my own father, who at 89, acts just the same.  It was indeed almost like being at home.

The legendary Gene Winfield, still playing with cars.

The legendary Gene Winfield, still playing with cars.

 

If you want it done right, do it yourself.

If you want it done right, do it yourself.

 

To create, first you have to destroy.

To create, first you have to destroy.

 

After the grinding, cutting, hammering and mayhem across the aisle, answering (over and over and over again) the same questions from people about the truck and trailer, it was fun to get around and do some gawking of my own.  I find that I’m increasingly disinterested in the glamourous, over-wrought Ridler contenders upstairs and drawn to the simple, traditional cars I remember seeing in the magazines of my youth.  I still like to look at a car and think, “I could, and should, build that.”, and came home with lots of ideas for the next build.  Of course, I still have to finish the four projects I have going right now, but a guy can dream, can’t he?

Following are some photos of things that I liked.  See if you can guess what car is brewing in my head now…

IMG_1291

 

Small.  Light.  Simple.

Small. Light. Simple.

 

A REAL Olds J2 in our friends Chris and Jan's '29 roadster.

A REAL Olds J2 in our friends Chris and Jan’s ’29 roadster.

 

The quintessential chopped Model A sedan.  Perfect.

The quintessential chopped Model A sedan. Perfect.

 

Normally, I don't care for cars so low the rear tires are taller than the belt line, but this is an exception.  Ricky Bobby's chopped sedan.

Normally, I don’t care for cars so low the rear tires are taller than the belt line, but this is an exception. Ricky Bobby’s chopped sedan.

 

Tone on tone paint.  Subtle, classy, and perfect on this '62 Chev.

Tone on tone paint. Subtle, classy, and perfect on this ’62 Chev.

 

Smooth Chev. Fleetline.  Understated, simple, and clean.

Smooth Chev. Fleetline. Understated, simple, and clean.

 

My good friend Crafty B putting the wheel spats on his outstanding "Crafty B '32"

My good friend Crafty B putting the wheel spats on his outstanding “Crafty B ’32”

 

Showtime!

Showtime!

 

Old trucks.  I like them too...

Old trucks. I like them too…

 

Old Cadillacs.  Love 'em.

Old Cadillacs. Love ’em.

 

OK, I'm embarrassed to admit I like this too.

OK, I’m embarrassed to admit I like this too.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, your Ridler winner.  And answer to the question, "How do you make a '64 Riviera ugly?"

Ladies and Gentlemen, your Ridler winner. And answer to the question, “How do you make a ’64 Riviera ugly?”

 

Well, that’s all for this years Autorama for me.  It’s too much at both ends of the automobile spectrum, but it’s fun, and it IS important.  There’s something for everyone, and if I don’t personally care for this years winners, (or ANY of the Great 8 for that matter), lots of people did, and the work is inspiring.  Even if the result doesn’t appeal to me.

I’ve also come to grips with the inclusion of the “art-car” invasion downstairs.  I understand the aesthetic, even if I don’t like it, and while it irritates me that some of the uneducated public think that these things represent hot rodding, I hope enough people look at them, see whats wrong, and then turn and look at REAL car and grasp the difference.  I also understand that both styles draw people to cars in general, keep people interested in car culture, and hopefully will inspire them to build their own car.  It’s all OK.

I’ve already decided that my goal for the ’59 T’bird is to have it done and debut at Cobo next year.   I think I’d like to have it downstairs, and hopefully have it stand out, an example of what someone can do on their own, with the help and inspiration of their friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s probably even more boring looking at photos of welds, than it is running dozens of feet of weld on one panel, and then grinding them down, but it’s this monotonous work that makes a difference.

Today I finished up the welding on the much modified front bumper, and then ground all the welds down. I spent about 6 hours at it, enough that now, my back aches from hunching over the bumper, and my hands are achey from holding the grinder. The bumper however, looks great!

Tomorrow I’ll pull the bumper off and straighten out the lip on the valance panel between the hood and bumper, It has some damage I didn’t get all worked out the first time around. Now, with the bumper tucked up close, the imperfect gap is quite apparent. I’ll make it right this time.

Imperfect gap from damaged valance panel is very apparent here...

Imperfect gap from damaged valance panel is very apparent here…

IMG_1056

IMG_1058

One of my friends from the HAMB did a photoshop image of my T’bird a couple weeks ago, with the bumper fitted flush to the body, gapped like a door or deck lid. This, you may recall from an earlier post here, but if not, it got rid of ugly, 3/4″ gap the factory thought was acceptable between body and bumper. I’d trimmed the bumper in an attempt to make it fit better, but it was still wrong.

After, courtesy of James D.'s photoshop skill.

After, courtesy of James D.’s photoshop skill.

A false start yesterday towards accomplishing this feat of metal magic left me with no cut-off wheels, no shielding gas for the MIG welder, and no 02 in my torch set. That left me with plenty of time to plow the drive, my folk’s drive, and gas up the GMC, but I got nothing done on the ‘Bird other than set on a stool and stare at it, trying to figure out how to do what had seemed so easy in photoshop.

Today, I made progress. A trip to Tractor Supply re-stocked my gas and hardware, and I got busy cutting up the bumper.

I cut the top lip off, all the way along. The bumper was then hung on the car, leveled and centered. I decided the bumper needed to tilt forward a bit more than stock, to better match the new headlight eyebrows, so I simply let it fall forward and down about an inch on the mounts. They have slotted holes for adjustment, so this part was easy.

Bumper mounted, sans top lip.

Bumper mounted, sans top lip.

I cut some reliefs in the corners, and at the rear, so as to allow me to bend the metal to fit the body, and to follow the line of the wheel opening. Which it didn’t before. Then, I cut the top lip, now a separate piece, into six sections. Each end, the transition curve from end to the center, and two center sections. I started tacking the lip onto the bumper, with spacers of the same gauge steel, back onto the bumper. The gap ranged from half an inch at the rear of each bumper end, to an inch and an eighth at the center, the result of tilting the bumper down and forward.

A little gap to fill.

A little gap to fill.

Fitting the bumper back together.

Fitting the bumper back together.

Gap filled.

Gap filled.

When the pieces were all fitted and tacked in, I ground the welds down the right side, to see how it’d look, and compare it to the artwork that inspired all this work. I think the end result is great, again subtle, but very different from how it came from Ford in 1959. A few hours welding up the seams, then a few more grinding disks to cut the weld beads down, and little skim of filler should have it looking like it should have to begin with.

What do you think?

Looks like an Angry Bird.

Looks like an Angry Bird.

This fits MUCH better.

This fits MUCH better.

The bumper now completes the wheel opening, flush fitting.

The bumper now completes the wheel opening, flush fitting.

Looks like James's rendering now!

Looks like James’s rendering now!

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.

You’d think I’d have gotten ALL the bodywork done by now, but I’ve taken several days off to play lumberjack with my Dad. He’s 89, you’d think I wouldn’t be too tired, but if I NEVER have to split up a truckload of firewood again, it’ll be too soon.

There was a giant Ash tree in our yard that died which I’d cut down and cut into blocks a year ago. All the wood was loosely piled around the stump in the backyard, and not only was I tired of mowing around it and looking at it, it was needing to be split and stacked. Dad borrowed his neighbors log splitter, and over the course of the last several days, for 3 or 4 hours each day, we got that split and stacked in my woodshed, and 4 truckloads split and stacked at his place. That time also included several trips to the local Tractor Supply store for parts for the splitter, as it chose to break as soon as we started using it.

Anyway, that’s finally done, the mess is cleaned up, and I got a little bit done on the ‘Birds fender skirt this afternoon. The bottom tail of the right hand skirt didn’t fit the body very well, so I cut that off and re-shaped it, and hammered a little lip on the flange on the top for the secondary skirt to rest against. It’s now DONE, and I can focus on getting the driver’s side secondary skirt made, and then it’s time to grind all the welds down and start slinging some mud. That’s the fun part!

All that's left of the beautiful Green Ash tree that once graced our backyard.

All that’s left of the beautiful Green Ash tree that once graced our backyard.

Notice the bottom line of the skirt is now the same as the quarter panel.

Notice the bottom line of the skirt is now the same as the quarter panel.

MUCH better.

MUCH better.

I'm happy now with how this fits.

I’m happy now with how this fits.

Skirt finished 4