So, the ’79 Chevy custom shorty van is at tom’s place with the running gear off and the process of fabricating the mounting points for the burly upgraded gear has begin. Looks like she is gonna be running leaf springs front and back. . . I’ll post some pics soon.
And, it appears that my brother has come over to the vintage American camp. He liked my Camaro so much that he bought its younger brother — a ’77 Camaro hotrod, with a 4-speed, a very aggressively built 327 engine, and lots of period correct hotrod stuff. . . I want to steal his Centerlines. . . But, it is turning out to be much more of a project than he had at first assumed. . . I’m hoping that the engine can be salvaged, but if not excellent crate engines are amazingly cheap these days. . .
So a bit over a week ago I dropped off my custom ’79 Chevy Shorty Camper van with my buddy Tom down south of the city in wine country.
Story goes like this: Tom has had a serious crush on my late 60′s chopper ever since he first laid eyes on it — something about the vintage custom one-off nature of the thing was highly appealing to a hotrodder/gearhead/fabricator like him. He has always done right by me, and I’m not afraid to stick my neck out for my buddies. So last summer when the weather was beautiful and he was pining for something to ride, I handed him the keys and loaded the chopper into his truck, saying only that I was sure that we would find some way for him to make it a fair deal down the road. No money changed hands. No contract was written out. Just a handshake between friends, and an understanding that one way or the other he would make good.
He played with it all summer: took it to shows, flogged it through the backroads in wine-country, waxed poetic about it, and generally made me happy to have passed it into his keeping. Sometimes, watching a friend having fun with something you made is every bit as good as enjoying it yourself. . .
Well, Tom has some serious skills – he is a skilled mechanic, can build performance engines all day, is a bad-ass custom fabricator, and also is a master of building crazy off road machines. He used to own a custom 4WD shop and did high end conversions and upgrades — everything from mild mannered daily drivers, to hill climbers, to the kind of trucks that can jump, take 10′ of air and land with no troubles. So, when he offered to do a serious 4WD conversion to my camper van (with all freshly rebuilt running gear) as trade for the chopper, I knew it was a more-than-fair offer.
And so for months now he has been collecting parts and planning the conversion, and now she had been handed off to begin the process. It seems that my girl will be getting rebuilt period-correct heavy-duty 6-lug Blazer running gear, a 12-bolt rear, with Eaton positracs front and rear, and a correct transfer case attached to my existing turbo-350 trans. She will lose the A-arms and instead have leaf spring mounted hard axles front and rear, and a set of burly original 6-bolt rally wheels.
The process will take a few weeks. . . and be ready in time for my (hopefully) upcoming roadtrip. I can barely wait.
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P.s. here are pics of the chopper. I found her as a dilapidated, non-running, half-wrecked roller in Idaho, and rebuilt her myself with nothing but vintage period-correct trick parts which I found one at a time in junkyards, ebay, and Craigslist. Now she is the equal of most show bikes, and has that honest patina of age and wear that the ratrod guys try to fake.
As promised, here are some pics of my shorty camper van post remodel.
We reused the original cooler and outlet box, but other than that it was completely new. The cabinet is solid pine, and the sink is stainless steel. The hand- pump faucet is a pre-fab RV/marine unit, plumbed into a small tank in the cabinet, and draining (along with the cooler) out through the floor of the van. Instead of installing a stove unit into the counter-top I decided to go with a portable butane unit, as they are a bit safer for indoor use than the standard propane units, and it makes the space more versatile.
The addition of the sink allowed me to regain my motorhome insurance classification, which should save me over $50 per month on insurance!
Soon the van will be handed off to my buddy Tom to begin 4WD conversion with heavy-duty running gear. Stay tuned!
My old ’76 Camaro has that rarest of things — a 35 year old unmolested stock Small Block Chevrolet engine. The carb is original. The Air filter still has the snorkel on it. Hell, I’m pretty sure the valve covers have never even been removed. Probably because of this she runs amazingly well. . . although the 104k original miles no-doubt help things a bit.
Despite the constant temptation to cheaply bolt on more power, I have resisted the urge and left it stock — maybe I’m getting old. But, she definitely aint broke — and I am enjoying getting well-over 20 MPG on the freeway. Moreover, it would feel somewhat like heresy to tear into a perfect stock engine as old as this — like making a custom cafe racer out of a perfectly preserved 40-year-old stocker, it just wouldn’t be right.
That said, I have been systematically replacing worn out engine peripherals — spark plugs, distributor, plug wires, belts, hoses, and bigger pieces like the radiator, and yesterday, the alternator. The nearest new Bosch unit in NAPA’s system was in Massachusetts, and I wanted the benefit of Second Saturday pricing. So I settled for an absurdly cheap remanufactured Delco with a lifetime warrantee. I’m sure it will be adequate.
As usual, more time was spent drinking, bullshitting and smoking cigars than it took to actually do car surgery. Gotta love simple old American vehicles.
So, yesterday I picked up my ’01 Triumph Thunderbird Legend TT, which had been in the custody of the dealership for almost 3 months.
Apparently my back ordered igniter box finally showed up, was installed, and they test rode her two times just to make sure all was working well. And, after a few rides, I’m forced to concur — everything appears to be working properly. The bike runs smoothly, accelerates well, and basically does just what one would hope a low milage well maintained 885 triple would do.
Still, I’m a little worried. Even though she is running well, and even though I have now replaced the entire ignition system (which is thus warranted by the dealership), I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. . . Waiting for something expensive to go wrong, for another vital and costly part to fail. As much as I enjoy riding the bike and love the aesthetics, I worry that my fears of yet more expensive failures will prevent me from enjoying riding it. And, while I have grown to love the character and the styling of the T-Bird, I feel as if I have been rather burned by Marque.
I never had these issues when I was running Hondas.
If the smaller Harleys weren’t so pathetically crude and underpowered I might consider something in that direction. If the V-Rod was 200-300 lbs smaller. . . If Buell wasn’t a dead marque. . . If the modern Guzzis weren’t so bloody obscure and expensive they might have been attractive, but I am not interested in quests for parts and knowledgable service. If the Japanese bikes didn’t feel so cheap and boring. . . if Ducatis weren’t reliability and maintenance nightmares, and weren’t universally associated with asshats and guidos. . .
Hell, if Vincent still made bikes, that would be my Marque — philosophically and aesthetically, I feel that it has all been downhill for the world of motorcycles since they closed up shop. What I wouldn’t give for a nice shiny new Vincent Black Shadow – a simple elegant performance oriented bike designed to be maintained by a dedicated owner. . . Plus, it was literally the original blacked out bike — the engine cases were colored black with a baked on enamel — a first in the golden age (and the very aesthetic my T-Bird aspires to) But, given that I’m not in the market for a $100k+ antique collector’s bike, and I’m not sure what to think of the various short-lived and troubled reboots of the Marque, my Vincent fantasies will likely be unrealized. . .
Dammit, I like the Triumph history, philosophy, and Marque identity – -it is the closest thing left of what I see as the GoldenDays of motorcycling. I like the aesthetics both of their classically styled bikes and of their more modern offerings. And, I prefer the T-birds of the early 2000s (like mine) to the Bonnevilles which replaced them ’cause I prefer a liquid-cooled triple to an air-cooled twin. And, in many ways, mine is about the best specimen of such a bike as I have seen in the past few years.
I guess I’ll have to ponder on this some more.
So, the ’76 Camaro is fast becoming one of my all time favorite cars. It has both the simplicity and no-frill-and-gimmicks directness of classic American muscle, and the fantastic handing of a DeLorean era GMC vehicle. It looks great, runs great, handles great and sounds great.
Given its age it is remarkably well preserved (as discussed in prior posts). However, one spot has seen more wear and tear than any other — the base of the driver’s seat. Although the foam in in good shape, he original vinyl was split when I got it. And then a couple weeks back the elaborate wire underpinnings failed when I went over a speed bump to fast and suddenly the seat cushion was on the floorpan. Given how low-slung the F-body seating position is this was not far to travel. But, it was still a pain in the ass — literally and figuratively. . .
Well, I have been thinking of either tracking down a nice set of vintage Trans-Am seats with bolsters or some good Recaro or Corbeau race buckets anyway, but now my needs have become more immediate. . . However, nothing suitable has appeared on the Craigslist. . . and I’m not about to install something that I don’t really like. . .
So, I hit the hardware store and bought a roll of extra wide Gorilla Tape and some 20lb test galvanized bailing wire. Then after pulling the seat, I “reupholstered” the seat base with the incredibly burly Gorilla Tape (which actually appears to be a heaver vinyl that the original upholstery fabric), and wove a support structure out of the wire.
Despite the rather kludgy methods, the outcome was surprisingly good — so good in fact that I am more than comfortable taking my time finding just the right replacement seats. The seats are actually more comfortable and batter looking than anytime since I have owned the car. Viva la creative kludges!
So over the past week or so I have a couple of extended work sessions with a carpenter buddy who is helping me remodel and expand the kitchen/galley in the ’79 shorty camper van.
To date, we have ripped out the old galley (salvaging the built in cooler), and fabricated a new larger galley which will house not only the old cooler but also a sink, faucet, and freshwater tanks, with a power outlet extension and extra storage. The bare minimum necessary for extended camping, and to fall into a different insurance category.
Upon careful consideration, I decided not to install a propane stove, due to concerns re venting and high flames in a wood-lined box. However, I have sourced some small modular countertop butane stoves which have far fewer issues in terms of fumes, and excessive heat. They dont get quite as hot, but are more than adequate for boiling water for the morning coffee which, honestly, will 90% of the interior cooking I expect to do.
I hope to finish it next week. Here are some pics of what we have done so far.
It turns out that the little black igniter box (i.e. the electronic brain) of my Triumph is dead.
So, after a couple weeks of fruitless searching for a aftermarket “upgrade” to replace the dead brain (all of which were rejected by the dealership for one reason or another), I gave them the green light to put in a new stock part — at a cost of nearly $1000! I figured this way I would at least have a warranty on the most expensive parts of the ignition system . . .
So after another couple weeks of waiting, they received and installed a new black box sourced directly from Triumph in England.
Unfortunately, the new one was part of a “bad batch” that had somehow missed being recalled and had issues immediately upon being installed. After receiving a call telling me that my bike was ready to be picked up, I got another more panicked one telling me not to come in.
So, now they are waiting for another little black brain box to come on a slow boat from England. Unfortunately, they are on “back order” and the dealership has not been given an expected arrival date, or even a ship date. the dealership offered me a series of unsatisfactory options. My current thinking is to give them a couple weeks and if the bike is not finished by then to take it back in non-running condition, refuse to pay them anything, and sell it for parts.
This is a sad state of affairs. I expected more from the Bloor’s “new” Triumph.
I have really been enjoying driving the Camaro, and as a result have done so a lot. She is running fantastically well, but a couple weeks back I started noticing some drips on the floor of the garage, and upon investigating discovered a leak in the radiator, which so far as I can tell is the original 35 year old unit, so no surprises there. . .
At first I had some hope that it was merely a cracked hose, but upon removing the hose is question, I discovered a crack in the radiator itself right at the join between the pipe that the upper hose clamps to and the body of the radiator itself. . . to add insult to injury, there was evidence that is had cracked some time ago, and had been patched up with JB Weld or some similar product, which is a pretty kludgy fix for a radiator. . . oh well.
It was however a slow leak, so, I bided my time, avoided long trips, and kept an eye on the levels until the Second Saturday, when NAPA extends employee pricing to the general public.
On that magic day, I bought a nice new aluminum radiator, new hoses, clamps and fresh fluids — all for $200! That’s about half as much as I would have paid for them today. Then, Dale and I put some nice downtempo on the garage stereo, and proceeded to tear into the old beastie.
Honestly, I probably spent a good five times the amount of time thinking about the project than it took us to complete it. Working on these old cars is so damn easy. . . Dale, who is a die-hard BMW guy, was shocked at the simplicity of the process and the shocking cheapness of the parts. . .
I spent more on the radiator hoses for my e30 than your entire radiator replacement
Yeah, well God Bless America, buddy.
The celebratory bourbon and cigars in the garage afterwards probably lasted as long as car surgery. God Bless America.