Posts Tagged ‘Thunderbird’

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Wow.  It’s October 3rd already.  Where did the summer go?  What happened, and why didn’t I get all the things done I thought would be childs play back in April?

To review, as shown above, I got the roadster (sort of) finished, and drove it.  A LOT.  And fixed it a little, but mostly, drove it.

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We went camping.  A LOT,  8 weeks all told, including a great 2 week trip in northern Michigan the past couple of weeks.  It was great to be away.

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We explored lots of new (to us) wineries, brewpubs and distilleries.  Here we are, with Kim’s sister Julie and her husband Ken, at “Glass Creek” Wines in Hastings, right in our backyard.  GREAT Michigan red wines, a nice surprise!

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We went to a couple of cool car shows.  Here at Gilmore Car Museum at the “Relix Riot”, being chauffeured by my grandson Milo.  Time well spent.

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Spent more quality time with Milo, still at Relix Riot, here with his dad’s wagon.  They surprised us by showing up!

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Oh, I did get the wagon painted, and a new exhaust system after it blew out one of the original 10 year old mufflers on the way to Port Crescent.  For more camping.

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Changed the wheels and tires on the ’34, and managed to keep them from falling off.  Which puts a kink in a romantic evening cruise…

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Went to world premier movies and skyped with Hollywood elite.  Originally from Flint.  As part of the crowd, but, hey, it counts.

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Bought lift tickets and rolled down a ski hill on a wheeled cart.  Doing that again!

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Saw beautiful sunsets and mastered the art of being in two places at once.  That’s me, left, and right.

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Got marooned on a deserted island with our best friends, and was rescued in time to go to a dance.

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Got a cat.

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Did manage to (almost) get the T’bird painted.  I did get it blocked, primed, and blocked again, now, one more coat, more sanding, then I think it’s possible I can get at least the dash and door jambs painted.  Or not, doesn’t really matter.

So, that’s where summer goes.  It seems like it’ll never get here in February, but before you know it, it’s October, and winter is closing in again.  The seasons fly, but they’re full of fun, family, and friends, and that’s the most important part of the whole year.

Stay tuned, there’s more to come, it’s early, and it’ll be summer again before we know it!

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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!

IMG_4173Building a custom car is not just building a giant model car kit, nor even like restoring a car back to original.  It’s taking each and every little part of the car, modifying it to suit ones own taste, and then modifying the parts so that they’ll fit back together in the form of a car.  Every little change impacts something else, or SEVERAL somethings, and every part has to be modified to work and/or look proper.  The dashboard of my ’59 T’bird is a case in point.

The windshield of the car is chopped, not by cutting the glass, but by sinking the entire windshield and it’s steel frame, down into the cowl as far as I could, a fraction shy of 2 inches. The dash mounts to a lip on the windshield frame, which moved down a like amount.  That meant that the dash was too low in the cockpit, both to see the gauges behind the steering wheel, or to get ones legs under the edge comfortably.  To remedy those ills, and to have it not look goofy, I cut the gauge and glove box pods out of the dash, moved them up and forward.  This accentuated the aircraft design of the dash, makes the pods more pronounced, the end result being that the dash still looks like a ’59 T’Bird dash, and makes it echo the design of the tonneau covers twin headrest pods.

It also meant a LOT of work.  For the past week, it seems I’ve done nothing but work on the dash.  First, I cut out some previous work I”d done that I wasn’t happy with, then hours of grinding welds.  After that, I spent hours spreading and sanding filler on the dash, spreading more filler, sand, spread, sand, ad infinitum.  I finally got the dash to the point that it looks good, and have the “eyebrows”(made of squirt can foam on the dash pads original steel morning lips) shaped and fitted to the dash.  It’s been a long, tedious project, I’m tired of working on it, and was excited to get the dash mocked up in the car.

It was at that point that I realized the original gauge pod, which fit as it was supposed to in the dash while it was out of the car, wouldn’t fit over the steering column when mounted in the body. The reason for this was two-fold.  First, while I’d raised the gauge pod, it was a little lower still in relation the steering column, which did not move in the w/s chop.  The second problem was that I inadvertently moved the pod over to the right about 3/8”, which meant the gauge panel was no longer exactly centered over the steering column, which meant the nice cut out at the bottom of the panel for the column to nestle into, was too far to the right, and too low to let the column snuggle up where it should.

I still have a little “finesse” work to do on the dash, and none of the new switches or gauges are wired.  When I built the car originally, I used the complete wiring harness from the donor ’87 Mustang GT, including the gauges and switches, and decided all this had to go, along with the crappy looking Mustang steering column and wheel.  I have a nice new stainless column, had a steering wheel custom-made, and have the wiring sorted out and labeled for light switches, turn signals, and the cruise control.  I DO have the new, old style ignition switch wired in and started the car and let it run long enough to discover that all the pieces of rubber fuel line in the fuel system to 5.0 HO engine are brittle, cracked and leak.

Once I get all that sorted out and the finish work on the dash done for paint (it’ll be body color), I still have to cut down the original vent window frames to fit the new lower windshield frame, and extend the cowl panels between the hood and windshield, because the windshield not only went down 2 inches, but back almost 2 inches as well, leaving a big gap between the glass and these panels.

Other than that, it’s almost done!

Sand, fill, sand, fill, sand some more...

Sand, fill, sand, fill, sand some more…

Aircraft inspired dash.

Aircraft inspired dash.

The gauge panel now fits around the new column.

The gauge panel now fits around the new column.

Sanding, sanding, sanding...

Sanding, sanding, sanding…

Feeling a burst of creative energy and ambition, I went out to the shop and actually accomplished quite a bit today on the T’bird. I (almost) finished up work on the lengthened tulip panel (between the trunk lid and backlight), and on the shortened tonneau cover. After I’d gotten most of the sanding done, I put the tonneau cover back on the car, set the top back on in order to check the fit and alignment of the panels, and to get a visual of how the car will look.

The result, I think, is that it looks fantastic. The shortened top and tonneau cover now meet right where the backlight (rear window) will be. The car looks SO good with the top on, with the tonneau cover inside, that may be the primary way I use the car, although it looks KILLER without the top too.

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Right side.

Right side.

In addition to that, I took a close look at the fit of the rear bumper on the driver’s side, and decided that I did NOT need to cut the bumper apart (again), but that there was enough adjustment in the brackets to take care of the “droop” at the leading edge of the bumper where it meets the body. It’s much better now after adjusting. I also took some time at the right side quarter in back of the wheel opening, where the new character line for the quarter and fender skirt didn’t quite match up. A little tweak here, and a little more ‘glass reinforced filler there, got the line right where it should be. With the car on the ground, there will be a shadow that would have made the little mis-alignment almost unnoticeable, but I know it’s there, and since I’m doing body work, it may as well be “right” before paint.

While filler was setting up on the quarter panel, I started to finesse the seam on the roof where the backlight was moved forward, and on the front bumpers weld seams. A couple more days of filling and blocking will have the car ready for primer, and I can move on to replacing a couple of pieces of rotten fuel line, get the brakes bled, and finish up the wiring behind the dash for the new, original gauges and switches. It’s coming along!

You sexy beast!

You sexy beast!

An episode of chest tightness, mild headache and general “Well this doesn’t feel quite right” last Tuesday morning at work led me to go down to the ER, which lead to being admitted, and nearly ending up on the heart cath table. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, everything ultimately pointed to no cardiac injury, the (extremely) high blood pressure I had initially was probably stress. After a stress test, which was OK, I was discharged late Wednesday afternoon and we made it to my sisters for Thanksgiving without any problem.

As part of my new stress relief program, I got a little but done on the T’Bird. The new tulip panel is completely welded in, and the shortened tonneau cover is also sporting a new lip at the rear edge. I got all the welds finished and ground down this afternoon, and am ready now to start slinging some filler on. It feels good to go out into the shop and get lost in a project for a while.

Before...

Before…

After...

After…

Tulip panel lengthened 8 inches.

Tulip panel lengthened 8 inches.

Tonneau cover shortened 8 inches and a new rear lip.

Tonneau cover shortened 8 inches and a new rear lip.

'47 Spartan Manor

’47 Spartan Manor

I moved the ’47 Spartan up from its hiding place way back in the woods, next to the temporary garage the Tini-Home is taking its long winter nap in.  Here, it’s possible to run extension cords from the shop to start pulling the panels out (I’ll save the corner panels for patterns), and it’s close to a brush pile, to dispose of said panels.  It’s exciting planning the work and the new interior.

Continuing the planning and getting ready for work, I moved the T’Bird over in the shop to the opposite side, where I can work on the driver’s side, as opposed to it being up against the junk covered bench on the other side.  In doing so, I was painfully aware of a major styling gaff I was overlooking before.  The newly shortened roof exposes what had been the old package shelf area.  This is about 6 inches now outside the rear window, and while it looks natural with the roof off, it looks wrong with the top on.  So, I think I’ll have to pull the tonneau cover off, shorten it, weld the cut off rear section the body, and create a new lip for the back edge.  I sort of hate to cut into this finished panel,  but I think it’s going to make a big difference in the look of the car when it’s painted and done.

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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!