1972 Buick Electra Limited 2dr
This car was acquired on somewhat of a lark to get a Buick Electra I could
use as a basic driver. All my other Buicks have turned into huge projects that
never get driven, and this one is intended purely to drive and enjoy. I don't
particularly care what it looks like or if it's rough around the edges. It just
needs to run, drive, and stop reliably, plus have some basic tunes so I have
something to listen to.
- Basic Specs:
- 455 cid V8 engine
- 4bbl carb
- TH400 transmission
- Factory options:
- Power Steering
- Power Brakes
- Power Windows
- Air Conditioning (Manual, not working when I got the car)
- "Limited" Interior and Exterior Trim Package
- AM Radio (and it actually worked when I purchased the car!)
- 60/40 split front bench seat (6 way drivers side with armrest mounted
controls, manual passengers side)
Purchase, Drive Home, and Cleaning
For the princely sum of $400 I was able to drive this rolling monument to
Detroit Steel home and call it my own. It ran OK on the drive home with no major
surprises. The brakes, lights, turn signals, wipers, and ventilation system all
worked acceptably. I even managed to coax the drivers seat into adjusting into a
sane driving position, though the tracks really needed some cleaning and greasing
to work properly again.
The story I got from the seller is that the car had been sitting for about a
year for no particular reason, and that they needed to get rid of it because
they had too many cars and their landlord said something had to go. Based on the
weeds under the car when we pulled it out, I'd believe it had been sitting for a
year, so that seemed legit. They said the windshield had been replaced, and it
looked pretty clean/new, so I'd tend to believe that. It started up a little too
readily to not have been started recently, but I'd expect any seller worth his
salt to at least see if the engine would fire before advertising the car for
sale. The seller I bought the car from said that it had been purchased from a
previous seller in the Puyallup area and that he claimed the interior had been
re-done shortly before he sold it. Again, the pristine condition of the interior
led me to believe it was true. The drivers seat was just "too perfect" for a car
with some 114,000 miles on it.
The basic once-over I gave it before buying it indicated the car was original
with no butchering having been done to it. Many things were suffering from a
typical case of old age and neglect, but everything was there and nothing was
broken. The body had more than the usual case of "parking lot rash", and showed
signs of one of more low speed collisions in the rear, but nothing was mangled
terribly badly and the car presented acceptably from 20 feet away. Not great,
but it was acceptable, especially after being cleaned up.
Here is the car as it arrived in my driveway. Grimy, but basically functional
Here's the car after a basic exterior wash to clean things up. It's amazing
how much better things look when they're not caked in moss and grime. Hint to
sellers: Break out the hose and the car wash gear and have at it. A mere 30 to 60 minutes of
work netted a much nicer looking car than I started with.
Here's the AC system after I swapped the correct dual groove pulley onto the
alternator and installed a belt on the AC compressor. Close observers will note
that, yes, the evaporator inlet pipe is frosted over - indicating at least a
partial refrigerant charge in the system. I need to get the system serviced, but
everything appears to basically work, so that's a good thing.
I added a basic AM/FM/Cassette shaft style receiver in the dash to get some
bearable tunes. It required no cutting or hacking, but I did have to file a few
millimeters off the sides of the dash trim plate around the radio to get it to
slide around the Sanyo receiver I bought. Things have changed a lot since I last
went shopping for car stereos - the Sanyo receiver I got was basically the only
shaft style receiver sold in any of the "mainstream" stereo stores -
local or mail order. One measly low end model. Other than the specialty stuff
for restorers and such, this was it. Everything else was flat-face units that
would have required cutting up the dash.
Here's the speakers I installed into the dash to get some semi-bearable
tunes. I built a small bracket for each speaker so I could mount it to the
underside of the dash, unfortunately there simply was not enough room on the
drivers side for even these tiny 3.5" speakers. To make it work, I had to mount
the drivers side speaker to a part of the instrument cluster and have it
recessed down a bit. It's kind of hacky, but there's literally so much crap
there that the speaker has zero chance of falling, though I am worried about it
moving around wile driving (thunk, tap, clunk, etc.) and about it moving around
enough to negatively affect the already pitiful sound it will produce. Only time
will tell if my dash is coming back apart for more work. The downside to this is
that while trying to reinstall the dash pad, I managed to dislodge 2 and break 1
of the 4 mounting clips that hold the front of the dash pad to the area below
the windshield. It can't move around much as-is, but it may rattle on the
highway and over rough roads. As with the speaker, only time will tell if the
dash needs to come back apart for more work.
The Center Link and Idler Arm Saga
Replacing the center link and idler arm on this beast was way harder than it
should have been. First, I found out the center link and idler are were in need
of replacement - OK, it was a high mileage car, and stuff wears out. No big
deal, right? Well, Les Schwab quoted me a seemingly insane $140 plus labor
for the center link and $55 plus labor for the idler arm, so I decided to
do the work myself and find the parts for a more reasonable cost. I ordered new
wheel bearings (it needed those too) and the idler arm through
RockAuto.com because they are generally
very good on price and it's all name brand stuff. They did not have a
listing for the center link, though, so I called up my local B&B Auto Parts for
that and they quoted me $38 for the center link - Meuvotech #MDS809 - and said
it should fit just fine. The price was very right, so I ordered that
right up and then waited for everything to arrive.
After I got all my parts, I did the install. Other than some excessive
persuasion that was required to separate the old center link from the pitman arm
(which was not being replaced), the job went pretty smoothly and the car was
back on the road after an afternoon of work. The drove much nicer - the steering
was much tighter than before, which was a good thing. So, I scheduled my
alignment and took the car in - only to find out that the center link and idler
arm were not fitting each other correctly. There was about 1/8" of play in that
particular joint - you could move things around by just reaching under the car
and yanking on the center link. Huh? This was all new stuff that was for my car
- what gives? Ever better, I had already tossed my old parts in the trash
because the car drove well and I had not checked for play in all of the joints -
I never thought to do that with brand new parts. Live and learn, but now I had a
problem to solve.
After much parts hunting, calling various places, emailing
RockAuto.com, and pouring over various
parts catalogs (including my GM parts books for this era), I've learned a lot
about the steering system on the 1971 through 1975 full size Buicks. I also
learned that the MDS809 center link is technically not correct for my 1972
Electra - it is for the 1973-1975 Electras - but it appears it can be made to
work by using the matching idler arm. Even better, the "correct" center link is
no longer made by any mainstream parts sources, and what is available from
places like Rare Parts is incredibly
expensive - even higher than the $140 that I was originally quoted. One place
I called, Hagen's, wanted $220 plus shipping
to get the center link to me. They also had atrocious service and refused to
answer interchange details, even though it was abundantly clear they knew them.
They basically wanted to sell me the expensive part with the $50 markup (profit)
instead of the $40 part with the $5 markup. Real slick guys. Bad service and the most expensive? Well,
let's just say that you're not getting my business.
Anyways, in the
end, it turns out the price quote I got from Les Schwab wasn't all that insane. Go figure.
The chart below is a list of all the part numbers I found along with what
years each thing fits.
|Outer Tie Rod Ends
|Inner Tie Rod Ends
|TRW D2780 (discontinued)
|Rare Parts #25831
From this part numbers I know that the spindles, tie rod ends, steering gear
and pitman arm are all the same between the 1971-1972 Electras and the 1973-1975
Electras. From experience, I also know that the track width is the same on these
cars so the frame didn't change in overall dimensions. To verify this, I dug up
some frame numbers in my GM parts books and verified that the frames on some of
the LeSabre models were the same between 1972 and 1973. Since I know from
experience and my trusty Hollander manuals that the LeSabre and Electra share
the same front sheetmetal in any given year during this period, this confirms my
understanding that the frame dimensions did not change between 1972 and 1973. I
also know that the LeSabre and the Electra use the same idler arm, so the frame
being the same in some cases tells me that the mounting location for the idler
arm did not change between 1972 and 1973. I also know that the Electra and
LeSabre used the same steering box in some cases, so the frame interchange also
tells me that the mounting location for the steering box did not change. The
steering gear and pitman arm being the same tell me the input to the steering
system did not change, and the tie rod ends and spindles tell me that did not
change. I also know that the center links on the 1972 and 1973 Electras are
virtually identical - a visual comparison of my original 1972 center link
and the 1973-1975 Meuvotech #MDS809 I had bought showed no visually detectable
differences. Based on all this, the only thing that appears to be different is
the idler arm and the connection on the center link for the idler arm.
Everything else matches. I even know that the locations of the various parts are
all the same relative to one another.
The only odd point here is that the 1973-1974 idler arm is visually different
than the 1971-1972 idler arm. The later version contains a built-in brace - I
believe it's there to prevent over-steering. It should work fine - and may even
be a functional upgrade from the 1971-1972 part - but it will look noticeably
different than original. That's fine for me, but the restoration folks out there
may not like it if they take their car to be judged in a show and a sharp-eyed
judge catches the change. I belong to the Buick Club of America plus two local
BCA chapters, and I know a lot of folks who do enter their cars into judging, so
I thought I'd mention it since I noticed it right away.
Here's some comparison pictures of the two idler arms side by side. The
1973-1974 idler arm is on the top in the first two photos and on the right in
the second two photos. Other than the protrusion (I'm guessing it's a steering
stop of some kind) on the newer arm, they are identical in all external
dimensions. The intended difference is shown in the last photo - the tapered
hole for the ball joint on the center link is smaller on the 1973-1974 idler
arm, which is what is needed to mate up with the 1973-1975 center link that I'm
attempting to use.
Based on the research above, I bought an idler arm from a 1973
Electra (Moog #K6149) to see if it would work on the 1972 Electra using the 1973-1975
Meuvotech #MDS809 center link I already installed. The 1973 idler
arm (only $40 brand spanking new!) installed without incident and everything looked good and worked
just fine. The car drove great and had no detectable loss in turning radius. An
alignment went without a hitch. It appears that this "swap" works, and it means I saved almost $200 on
parts here. I also have an easy way to replace these parts in the future if
they should fail. Since this difference in cost and availability is so dramatic, I'm posting it here to share and for others to learn from my
Stuff I've Already Fixed/Improved
When cars get old and sit, stuff needs to be repaired before you can push
them back into daily driver service. This list is what I've done to the car since getting it home. I'm just keeping
track of it so I can remember what I have and have not done on the car. It
pretty amazing all of the "little things" and "not so little things" that need
to be dealt with after a car sits for a while and/or is not well taken care of.
Luckily, most of them are cheap and easy to do - it just takes some time and
patience to get to them all.
- Cleaning 101. Exterior wash and de-griming session. Interior and trunk
- Detailed cleaning of the steering wheel - for some reason all GM wheels
of this era seem to get grimy and sticky after they sit, and this one was no
exception. Some focused attention with a can of foaming interior cleaner, a
soft bristle brush, and a roll of paper towels made a major improvement in
the look - and more importantly the "feel" - of the steering wheel.
- Safety check of the front end. Jack up under each control arm and check
the ball joints, etc. They were OK, though the drivers side feels as if the
upper ball joint or the upper control arm shaft bushings are loose. I'll
have a better check done when I get the front end aligned. For now, I've
deemed it "car guy safe" - good enough to drive around to get repairs done
and maybe get to work and back a few times.
- Safety check of the front brakes. Since it was up in the air already, I
pulled the tires and checked the brakes. They were fine - plenty of pad left
and no grooves or other problems with the rotors. They were GM rotors, and
seemed to indicate a good brake job was done on it not long before it was
parked. Maybe by the same owner who put in the new upholstery? Who knows.
Both spindle nuts were a bit loose so I snugged them up. That would help
explain some of the wandering I experienced on the drive home.
- Safety check of the rear brakes. Jack it up, pull the tires, pull the
drums, see if they are intact and functional. The brakes were fine, but I
found some gear oil residue on the left rear indicating a leaking axle seal
- that adds one more item on the to-do list below. :-)
- Tire replacement. I had a set of perfectly good nearly new BF Goodrich
Radial TA tires sitting on the correct steel rims from my
1973 Electra, so when I pulled
the tires to check the brakes, the nicer tires went right on - they were
laying around doing nothing, so I might as well put them to good use. The
tires on the car when I bought it had been sitting and were low on tread -
legal, but low - so I took the chance to replace them. I did know one tire was a bit low on
air, and the restrained speed on the drive home helped ensure that the word
"blowout" did not become an entry on this page. :-) The tires and
wheels that were originally on this car hold air pretty well and have legal
tread left on them, so can be used on my 1973 Electra until it's
ready to be used as a regular driver again.
- Passengers side high beam headlight. The wiring was a bit loose, and
simply unplugging the headlight and plugging it back in appears to have
gotten it working again. If it persists, I'll have to clean the contacts and
put some battery terminal good I have (it promotes better connections) on
the terminals in the connector.
- Transfer title, register car, and get new tabs - one can't very well
have a "daily driver" that isn't legal.
- Replace drivers side seatbelt assembly. The original one looks to have
gotten stuck in the latched position, and someone cut the belt - I can
only assume it was done to get themselves out of the car. I have some black
and brown belts laying around, but not green. I used a brown belt from the
1969 Riviera I parted
- Get extra keys made. Little, but important when you only have one set of
keys to the car. Unfortunately, the place that cut the keys cut the key for
the ignition + doors wrong - on every copy. It opens the door just fine, but
won't start the car. I guess I need to go visit a real locksmith... *sigh*
- Clean windows. On the inside, various tapes, decals, and such have been
on the glass leaving sticky - and thus dirt attracting - residues behind.
Some careful scraping with a razor blade got the bulk of it off, followed up
with a liberal dosage of whatever window cleaner I had handy in the garage
to clean them up. It's better, but still needs more cleaning.
- Get new door + ignition keys cut that actually work. It pays to visit a
real locksmith sometimes. Of course, he charged me $10 for three keys, so
the price is way higher than the local Home Depot is, but sometimes you get
what you pay for.
- Real safety check of the brakes and front end.
Les Schwab (a local tires, brakes,
suspension, and alignment repair place) does these for free. My local store
did the check and found pretty much what I did, plus a bit more. The rear
axle seals, front wheel bearings, idler arm, and center link are all in need
of replacement. The rear brakes ought to be replaced because they got some
oil on them, but seem to be OK for now so I'll do that myself later if
needed. I had Les Schwab order
everything but the center link - it's too expensive for right now, and I'm
betting the front end will align OK without replacing it. I'll have them put
all of the parts in once they arrive. Also, replacing the rear axle seals
will also net me a full fluid change in the rear axle at the same time - you
have to drain the fluid so you can pull the axles so you
can change the seals - so that's one more item that'll come off the list.
- New wiper blades. Another classic "need to replace them because the car
has been sitting" item. $20 to my local B&B Auto Parts store, and a few
minutes of time to replace the blades, and this was done.
- Fix under-dash lighting. These are the lights that come on under the
dash when the
doors are opened - Buick's version of courtesy lights. One was missing a
bulb, and the other bulb was there but burned out. A few dollars to my local
B&B auto Parts store, and I was able to put two new #89 bulbs in and they
worked perfectly again.
- Ordered new center link. Les Schwab
said it needed replacement and can get it for $143 - installation charges
are extra, of course. That's way too expensive.
CARS lists them for $105, plus
shipping. RockAuto doesn't list them
for 1972 Electras, only back to 1973, and those are $77 plus shipping. My
local B&B Auto Parts store says they can get them for $39 - and it'll be
here the very next day. I guess is does pay to shop around! :-) B&B claims
the center link should fix all 1971-1976 Electras, but my GM parts book
lists a different number for 1971-1972 Electras (#7811835) vs. 1973-1975
Electras (#7814340). Maybe the later unit supersedes the earlier one, or the
aftermarket figured out the differences were not enough to warrant different
parts. This is one of those "it could be interesting" types of jobs. And it
was. See the section above on the center link for details.
- Replaced the driver's side lock knob with an original style one. The
cheesy "anti-theft" replacements didn't fit right and often got "hung up" on
the chrome trim ting they are supposed to slide through in the door panel -
this rendered locking the car from the outside with the key nearly
impossible. Yeah, that's a nice anti-theft device. They were also rather
pointy and stuck up very high, so they were always jabbing me in the arm as
I drove. Why replace only the driver's side lock knob? The parts store only
had one, so the other one is on order.
- Ordered new front bearings and seals, and an idler arm. They were about
$60 plus shipping from RockAuto -
way less than the $130 I had been quoted for the same parts from my
local Les Schwab. $70 difference on basic parts like bearings and seals?
Yikes! Now that's what I call a markup. The labor was pretty high on these
too - $48 to install the bearings and seals, $28 to install the idler arm.
For that kind of price difference, well, let's just say that it's a vivid
reminder of why I do so much work myself. The costs that most places charge
to do it are simply outrageous. If the parts were competitively priced,
great, I'd be willing to pay some reasonable shop labor costs to get the
work done. But not when they're marking the parts up to more that double
what I can get them for and socking me with labor rates that are at least
$40/hr, it gets out of control really fast...
- Returned badly cut keys to Home Depot. It may only be $5 worth of keys,
but I wanted my $5 back - that's lunch.
- Alternator pulley replacement. The current alternator looks new (which
is good) but the pulley is an incorrect single groove pulley so I can't put
an AC belt on the system to try out the AC system. I should had a correct
double groove pulley I could remove from the alternator I took off the engine
in the 1969 Riviera I
parted out - the alternator itself was toast due to an engine fire, but the
pulley on the alternator was still fine. (One more reason I save
everything. :-) Replacing the single groove pulley with a
correct double groove one let me install a belt on the AC compressor and try out the AC system.
The AC system did seem to come on OK and the evaporator inlet hose got
frosty, but the interior air vents were still putting out 70 degree air on a
75 degree day. Low charge, perhaps? Looks like I can add "service AC system"
to the list of projects.
- Parking break. Lubricated pawl return spring, pivot assembly, and cables
with graphite. I also cleaned the
parking brake warning switch contacts a bit so the light comes on dependably
when the parking break pedal is depressed. The end result is that the
parking break and light works correctly again - it was even still in
adjustment and holds the car fine.
- Fix blower. Originally the "Medium
2" fan speed did not work - since the blower motor is wired to be in
"Low" whenever the car was on, putting the switch in "Medium 2" just left
the blower in "Low". The problem? A bad connection at the blower resistor. I
removed the connector at the blower resistor, and tested the wiring with a
voltmeter to be sure the wiring was OK, and removed and inspected the blower
resistor to be sure it was OK. Everything checked out, so I just cleaned the
contacts on the blower resistor assembly, put some battery anti-corrosion
goop on them, and plugged the wiring harness back onto the blower resistor.
Voila - a properly functioning blower on all speeds. I love cheap and easy
- Fix wipers. When I got the car, they didn't park correctly, though it
did work otherwise. A careful inspection showed that the wiper motor was
loose on it's mountings and one of the three mounting nuts was spinning
inside the plenum when I tried to tighten it down. That was easily solved by
pulling back the plastic covering on the cowl opening, reaching in, and
holding the nut while I tightened the wiper motor down. After that, it
worked perfectly. Another cheap and easy fix.
- Tighten drivers door outside handle, lubricate drivers door window
mechanism, and install new drivers side lock knob guide plate. I figured if
I was going to pull the inside door panels, I might as well do everything at
once. The door handle was easy to do, if a bit hard to reach, and a can of
spray lithium grease handled the window mechanism. For the lock knob guide
plate, the one that came with the new lock knob had a nice felt anti-rattle
guide on it, so I replaced the original/existing unit. Even better, I
managed to get the door panel off and back on again without wrecking any of
the mounting clips. How? Instead of just yanking on it, I actually used the
correct removal tool for a change. Whoda thunk it - the tool designed for
the job actually worked like a charm.
- Engine oil/filter and transmission fluid/filter change. A quick visit to
the local Jiffy Lube took care of this. The guys down there are very helpful
and even let me take a peek under the car to double check on some other
things. That kind of customer service is why they get to handle all of my
cars. Also, the trans filter and fluid change netted an immediate and
noticeable improvement in shift firmness and quality.
- Replace air filter, PCV filter, and PCV valve. The filters were both old and dirty, and
all of these are good "basic tune-up" items to take care of,
especially since they are pretty cheap items and the mileage on them was
unknown. Better to start fresh than take chances.
- The gas gauge was stuck sitting below E even when I
knew the gas tank is full. The seller said the gas gauge worked intermittently in the
past, and in the end the gauge itself turned out to be the problem. Once I
removed the gauge and manually moved the needle a few sweeps, if started
moving more freely and worked acceptably after that. At least so far.
Replacing the gauge with a spare from another cluster worked fine, so I know
the wiring is OK, and the gauge itself probably just got gummed up somehow.
If it finally dies, I'll replace it with a spare from another instrument
cluster from one of my parts cars.
- Fix AC control panel lights and interior lights. The light in the AC
controls had some funky ground problems, as did the part of the headlight
switch controlling the courtesy lights. The AC controls light only worked if
the door was open (!) and rotating the headlight switch all the way to
"bright" did not turn on the courtesy lights. The cause? The biggest one was
that the ground wire clip that was supposed to go onto the metal support
brace that connects the AC controls to the headlight switch was instead
connected to the brake medal support. This left the headlight switch and AC
controls ungrounded, and thus the weird problems. Also, there are two upper
mounting screws that hold the top of the instrument cluster to the top of
the firewall, right in where the defroster duct is at, and only one has a
metal plate on it to help connect the various bits and pieces to ground.
Guess which screw was missing when I pulled things apart? Yep, the one that
held the grounding strap in place. A real genius went into this dash to try
and fix things and made them worse. The instrument cluster was cracked and
busted at the main mounting points from the force someone had applied to it.
I'll need to do some gluing together to make it all happy again - yay. The
only bad part of all this is that the headlight switch was a bit dodgy to
start with, and I managed to break it completely while trying to get things
put back together again after I had figured out the problem - that's one
more part added to the list of things to replace. Ugh.
- Replaced headlight switch. I managed to break the one that was already in the car
by acting like a gorilla. It was a cheap replacement unit, not OEM, so I
should have known better than to treat it so roughly. That's what I get for
getting impatient and rushing things. I bought a replacement from the local
parts store for $20 - it turned out to be a made in China piece of junk -
it's going back for a refund. I scrounged through my parts pile and found
one from a parts car that works way better than either of the two
replacement units ever could have. It's not perfect - the dash lights are
either full bright or off, but I always leave them at full bright anyway, so
no big loss for me.
- Re-install AC duct to upper left dash vent. When I bought the car, the
duct was sitting
behind the vent and not connected, so it tended to fall down and you would get no airflow out of
that vent. Since the dash was apart for other work, this was a no-brainer to
fix while I was in there.
- Attempted to fix the original clock. It'd be nice to know what time it is and I
thought I should be able to
cough up a working clock from at least one of my parts cars or maybe
even repair it myself. I'd read that a simple cleaning of the works is
often enough to get things working again, and opening up a spare clock can't
do much worse than trash an already junk clock. Well, I managed to open up
two clocks, verify the works were generally OK, but was unable to get either
of them working again. I just put one of the non-working clocks back into
the dash and called it good. Now it works for about 20 seconds after I hit a
big enough bump to jostle the mechanism.
- Radio and speaker shopping. I wanted a basic AM/FM/Cassette radio so I
could get decent tunes while I drive. AM-only just wasn't cutting it for me.
Since the dash pad is off, this is the perfect time to do it. I wanted to
spend about $100 on the whole thing, and I succeeded. I ordered a Sanyo
MAR-B1021 receiver and a pair of Pioneer Tsa878 3 1/2 Inch 2-Way Speakers
for the dash through Amazon.com for
about $110 after shipping - a much better deal than any of the local stores
were offering, and definitely a lot better than my experience at Car Toys,
which was bad enough to require an addition to my
customer service complaint page.
The synopsis is that I won't be
spending any money with them anytime soon, and I think no one else should
- Install new center link and idler arm. The inner tie rod ends came off
the center link without incident, and the idler arm unbolted from the frame
with little drama. The pitman arm, was another story. I ended up removing
the pitman arm from the steering box and taking the whole greasy center link
and idler arm assembly to the workbench to work on it there. An hour with
the air powered pickle fork was futile - it just dinged up the pitman arm
and helped get everything greasy and nasty. The pitman warm on this car is
not considered a "wear" item, so no one reproduces them, and I had to get
this one off the old center link - and it had to be intact. When I was
calling around trying to find a replacement pitman arm, the guy at B&B Auto
suggested that I use a Sawzall to cut the ball joint off between the center
link and the pitman arm. Since the center link was toast anyway, I decided
to do it and it darned near burned out my Sawzall - the metal the ball joint
is made of is pretty tough stuff, it's solid, and it's about an inch in
diameter. After separating them, the remaining bit of the ball joint popped
right out of the pitman arm using a puller - the same one that failed to
work earlier. Go figure. Re-installation was pretty straightforward - get it
installed, torque everything to spec, put new cotter pins in all the nuts on
the steering system, and re-grease things with my handy grease gun.
- Installed new front wheel bearings and seals. Wheel grease is always fun
to play with. Yay. It was a pretty straightforward job except for the fact
that I couldn't find my seal puller and I had to go buy another one to get
the job done. The new bearings are great compared to the old ones that were
worn and loose. I'm sure my neighbors really appreciated me sitting in the
driveway after 9pm, pounding the old bearing seats out of the rotors, and
pounding the new ones back in. The old ones were surprisingly hard to
remove, though the new ones went in nice and smooth with my spiffy driver
- Attempted to replace passengers side lock knob with original style so it can be locked properly with the key. The
ones that came on the car sat a bit
high out of the hole in the door panel, and tended to get stuck "up" when locked with
the key. The new one is a bit better, but it's not the "right" one like I got
for the driver's side. I did replace the guide plate while I was in there - the
replacement had a nice anti-rattle felt guide on it, same as the driver's
side. Now all I need to do it get the correct knob and thread it onto the
- Fixed the third brake light. Someone started to install one and the
wires from the light were hanging into the trunk. I figured I might
as well fix it so it works since it's already there and fits the rear window
reasonably well. I just ran a power wire from the output of the brake switch
to the light and grounded the other wire to the rear seat support.
- Run wires for rear speakers. With the seats out for greasing and the
carpet pulled back to run a wire for the third brake light, I figured I might as well
run a pair of speaker wires for later use. There's no sense in pulling
things apart any more than you need to. They're taped up in the trunk right
under the third brake light with the ends taped off so they can't short out.
Under the dash, they're hanging loose near the radio - I'll connect them to
the radio when it goes in so that later on all I need to do it connect the
- Clean and grease front seat tracks, cables, and solenoid/gearbox
assembly. The 6-way drivers seat was barely
moving and needed a good cleaning and greasing of all the mechanisms. I had
to remove it anyway to run the wires, so I did the cleaning at the same
time. While it was out, I found out that one of the cables to the rear
height adjuster was completely off, resulting in only one side moving up and
down until it took up all the slack in the various pieces. Other than the
disconnected cable, the biggest issue was that all of the grease in the
solenoid/gearbox assembly had dried up resulting in a very hard to turn
input shaft, even when nothing was engaged. I disassembled it, greased
everything, and put it back together. I also sprayed some cable lube down
each cable, and put some spray lithium grease on the six adjuster screws.
After doing that and re-installing it, the seat works like a charm again.
Unfortunately, I cross threaded the drivers side seatbelt mounting bolt when
trying to re-install that, so I need to go get an appropriate tap and die
set to try and clean up the threads and get the seat belt installed again.
It's always something...
- Install new speakers in dash. Required s custom speaker mounting bracket
on the passenger's side, and on the driver's side I ended up bolting the
speaker to a nearby part of the instrument cluster - there simply was not
enough room to put it on the underside of the dash and still have the dash
pad fit back into place. :-(
- Re-install drivers side seatbelt after re-doing the threads on the bolt
and in the mount. $70 for my spiffy new Craftsman tap and die set, then 10
minutes of work - and voila! I have a seatbelt again.
- After some fresh gas and driving around a bit, the secondary side of the
carb has come back to life. It now makes the appropriately glorious noises
form the engine compartment when you depress the throttle fully. Tire
barkage is now highly probably on fast starts. Cool.
- Attempted to get the alignment done and the rear axle seals replaced
since I had replaced various stuff in the front end and the place that had
ordered the seals called and said they were finally there. First up I found
out that the alignment was a no-go because the idler arm doesn't fit the
center link properly. Then I found out that they ordered the wrong rear
axles seals - the parts book they have lists a Buick style axle and a Chevy
C-clip style axle - and they had ordered the seals for the Chevy C-clip
style axle. Wrong. Buick used it's own axles back in this era. So this was a
complete waste of part of my day and it put the center link/idler arm back
on my todo list. Ugh.
- Installed new AM/FM/Cassette radio in dash and wired it up. I need tunes
- and the Sanyo unit that I ordered, finally arrived, and installed fits the
bill. It's not going to win any awards, but it works. Oh, and the stereo has
a clock in it, so now I can tell what time it is - the factory clock is a
lost cause for me. Even after taking it apart and lubricating it, it's still
sticky in operation.
- Re-installed the ashtray after the radio was installed. Other than the
trim plate below the steering column - which was off when I bought the car -
I now have a complete dash again, and nothing is overtly broken or missing.
That's a nothing short of a miracle for any of my cars. I tend to be
endlessly working on stuff under the dash, so various things end up removed
for months - sometimes years - on end. :-)
- Spent a lot of time on the phone tracking down the right center link and
idler arm after my initial attempts to get more information failed. See the
dedicated section on this for more details. It's a joyous problem to try and
- Installed later model idler arm to match center link - see notes above
about the center link and idler arm replacement.
- Replaced fuel hose from the frame to the fuel pump. While I was under
the car working on the center link, I noticed that the fuel hose was very dried
out and cracked. It would also dribble fuel if the hose was pushed sideways -
something I did to get to a nut on the center link and that got me to notice
this. Fuel leaks are generally an un-cool (read: highly
dangerous) thing, so this needed attention before I drive the car again.
$2.35 for a foot of 1/4" fuel hose and two matching clamps later, it was
- Removed dual exhaust system from my
1973 Electra in preparation for
attempting to swap it onto this car. It's sitting going to waste otherwise,
and it's not a great exhaust system, but it is a nice upgrade over stock, so
it's perfect for this car. This is especially true since I plan to upgrade
1973 Electra with all sorts of
go-fast goodies like headers, and this dual exhaust system is set up to
connect to the factory exhaust manifolds. I will need to replace the
mufflers, though. I ended up having to cut them apart to separate the
exhaust system from the
1973 Electra - it had all been
welded together and a Sawzall was my only choice. They were too loud anyway,
so this is not a big deal.
- Swapped on the H4/H1 headlights and bulb assemblies from the
1973 Electra. The existing
headlamps were badly aimed and weren't even halogen bulbs. Yes, they really
were a full set of ancient incandescent headlights - I don't even think you
can buy them anymore without really hunting around for them. Driving at
night before this swap was an unpleasant and borderline dangerous
experience. Now, it's drivable at night. The headlights still need to be
aimed, and the driver's side high beam has some clouding inside the lens
(rock chip + water + time, perhaps?) so it's not perfect, but it's at least up to
the minimum "Car Guy Safe"
- Fixed the intermittent/flaky connection to the high beam headlights.
While I was doing the headlight swap, I also took apart the high beam
connectors, cleaned the terminals, crimped the terminals a bit so they'd
make better contact with the headlights, and coated them in some battery
anti-corrosion gel for good measure before I reassembled the terminals into
the headlight connectors. The headlights all work correctly now - the inner
high beams always come on right away and stay on - and I have much more
- Alignment. On the drive home there was some vibration in the steering
wheel above 50mph and it pulled to the right. After cleaning things up and
driving it some more, it still pulled to the right on braking - sometimes quite
noticeably. I only got it up to ~70mph - and even then only briefly - since
I didn't want to push my luck before giving the suspension, brakes, and
tires a more thorough inspection. The tires that were on the car when I
bought it could simply have had a flat spot in them, the alignment could
have been wonky, or stuff could have needed replacement in the front end.
It's was OK to drive around town but this needed addressing
before I started driving the car on a regular basis. To get to the point
where I could get a successful alignment I replaced the center link and
idler arm (see above notes in a dedicated section for the details of the
work on this), replaced the front wheel bearings, put "new" tires on it, and
checked the suspension and brakes for obvious problems or play. After all
that I was finally able to get the car aligned, and it went pretty smoothly.
It drives nice and straight, but there is still some pull to the right on
braking. That's either a brake hose issue or it could be related to the rear
axle oil leaking into the left rear brake drum.
- Bought new mufflers for the dual exhaust system. I stopped by my local
B&B Auto and they recommended Thrush mufflers for good sound without being
too loud and without paying an arm and a leg. For $75 I got 4 clamps, a pair
of hangers, and a pair of mufflers with the correct 2 1/4" inlet and outlets
in the correct "fully staggered" position that the old mufflers had used.
Not too bad. We'll see how they sound once I get the exhaust on the car and
- Replaced left rear axle seal. Actually, I just yanked an axle (complete
with bearing and seal) out of a complete rear diff assemble I had saved from
the 1971 Electra I had
parted out and put it into this car. They were identical axles and it went
in seamlessly. I even avoided draining the rear diff by jacking of the rear
axle at an angle and letting the oil flow to the other side of the axle.
After deciphering the axle codes off this car (QP O288) and the axle codes
off the rear axle from the
1971 Electra I had parted out (QP 0253), it turned out that both of them
were "standard" 1972 axles with a 2.73 ratio. QP = 2.73 ratio, O =
Oldsmobile built axle, and the last three numbers are the day of the year
the axle was built. I guess the parts car axle was a replacement - or that
car was a really late production vehicle for 1971. Why? Day 253 of
1971 is Friday, Sept 10th - right when the new models come out, Since QP is
a 1972 axle code, it's not 1970 and Day 253 of 1972 is a Saturday. So, it
just might be the original axle from the 1971. For the 1972 axle, day 288
means it was built on Friday, October 1st 1971. So, lots of fun data aside,
I have hopefully solved my rear axle leak for zero dollars and about 2 hours
of messing around with parts I already had. If it works, that's pretty cool.
Especially since Les Schwab wanted $300 to do the same work with new parts -
the bearing needs to be pressed off the axle to replace the seal, and when
you do that, you need to replace the bearing too. Now I look pretty darned
smart for hoarding all those spare parts, don't I? :-)
- Rear brake replacement. Now that I have (hopefully) fixed the rear axle
leak, I needed to replace the rear brakes since the left rear brakes are oil
soaked, and you need to replace both sides at the same time to ensure even
braking performance. I also replaced the springs along with the pads, though
what constitutes a "hardware kit" for drum brakes seems to be getting
smaller these days than what I remember. I had to reuse the self-adjuster
arm "support" springs and the springs on the center "arm" between the shoes.
They don't do much but hold stuff in place, but it was annoying to have to
sort out those four springs from the pile of nasty old ones.
- Ordered new front brake hoses to (hopefully) correct the pull to the
right on braking.
- Fixed the kickdown by adjusting the switch on the gas pedal. The pedal
and linkage were making full travel, but the switch the was supposed to make
contact at about 3/4 throttle and supply power to the kickdown solenoid in
the transmission was never making contact. Manually cycling the switch lever
worked, and there is no adjustment provided on the switch, so it appeared
the bracket holding the switch was somehow messed up. I applied some
corrective force to the bracket and the switch now works. I may need to fine
tune my "bracket adjustment" at some point - it may have been too much or
too little "adjustment" - but for now, it works, and I'm happy.
- Got my new front brake hoses in. Now I just need to install them.
What Needs Fixing
When cars get old and sit, stuff needs to be repaired before you can push
them back into daily driver service. This list is what I still need to get done
sooner or later so I can get to driving and enjoying this car on a regular
- Do the
headlight relay mod. I
know from experience on the 1973
Electra that the
headlight relay mod is needed to prevent overloading the original
headlight switch when you use the H4/H1 headlights.
- Get headlights aligned. The existing headlamps are badly aimed and
driving at night is currently an unpleasant experience.
- Exhaust replacement. The muffler is rotting out, the exhaust pipe is
cracked/leaking leading into the resonator (rear muffler), and a nice set of duals would really help this thing
breathe. Luckily, I have a set of custom duals on my
1973 Electra that aren't being
used and should fit this car perfectly. I will need to replace the mufflers,
though. The ones on the system from the
1973 Electra are a bit too loud
for my tastes these days, plus I ended up having to cut them apart to
separate the exhaust system from the
1973 Electra - it had all been
welded together and a Sawzall was my only choice.
- Fix pull on braking. Now that I have the front end aligned, the car
drives nice and straight, but there is still some pull to on braking -
usually to the right, but sometimes to the left. One possibility is a soft
spot or restriction (read: gunk) in one or both of the front brake hoses.
I've replaced the rear brakes, so I don't think it's related to the rear axle oil leaking past the bad rear axle
seal and into the left rear brake drum. The theory was that if the left rear
brake is "slick" and the right rear brake is normal, this will tend to slow
down the right rear tire faster, and thus cause the car to pull to the
right. Other odd braking issues could be caused by the left rear brake
"grabbing" under various conditions and that could cause pull to the left.
The oily brake pads can be alternately slippery or sticky depending on the
exact situation and how hard the brakes get applied. Since the rear axle is
(hopefully) no longer leaking and the rear brakes are brand new, that sort
of rules out oily rear brakes as the source/cause of this problem. That
leaves the front brakes and hoses as suspect at this point, and I'm leaning
towards the hoses. I had the exact same symptoms on my 1975 Suburban a
number of years ago, and replaced every single part of the front braking
system chasing it, and nothing helped one bit. It wasn't until a local brake
shop said the hoses needed to be replaced that it was instantly and
completely solved. So, I'm going to price out some front brake hoses and see
how that goes.
- Replace passengers side lock knob with original style so it can be
locked properly with the key. Even the sort-of-right replacement one I found sits a bit high out of the
hole in the door panel, and tends to stick when locked with the key.
- Fix hazard flashers. The hazard flasher runs way too fast and the exterior
lights don't flash. I have no idea on this one as of yet.
- HEI conversion. It's been sitting, so some kind of tune-up is in order
here, An HEI conversion
covers pretty much the same basic stuff (plugs, cap, rotor, and
spark plug wires) and the cost isn't that much higher than a
full tune-up - especially since I can grab the HEI distributor and coil off
of the original motor that came out of my
1973 Electra - why let a
perfectly good HEI distributor sit in an engine that's on the engine stand
when I can put it to good use? The cap and rotor on there are fine, and I
might even re-use the plug wires and such from the engine on the stand. That
leaves me with needing to buy new spark plugs and get a new power wire run
to the distributor. That's not too bad.
- Replace right rear tail light assembly. Some previous dolt had routed
the exhaust too close and high to the rear bumper, so the hot exhaust was
flowing up and around the tail light, warping and melting it. The same thing
happened on my 1973 Electra, so
I'm already familiar with the problem and solution. For now, it appears to
be bright enough to work OK after a thorough cleaning of the lens. It still
looks a bit odd and is questionably legal (you can see a bit of white light
from some angles - that's a no-no) so it needs to be replaced. The exhaust
needs to be fixed first, though.
- Clean interior. I did a basic cleaning of the steering wheel already,
but everything needs a going over with some cleaner, rags, a soft bristle
brush, and maybe even some Q-tips. The seats are in decent shape, but
everything else is somewhat dirty and grimy from sitting for so long.
- Clean windows. Again. They're still not perfectly clean - years of grime
doesn't let go with a simple swipe of a rag. They need more cleaning, inside
and out until they are really clean.
- Valve cover gasket replacement. This is typical for these engines when they get
older - the valve cover gaskets leak. The oil drips onto the heads and exhaust manifolds and
makes a smelly - and sometimes smoky - mess. Cheap and relatively easy to replace, but a bit
of a pain to do the work. I think I even have a spare set of gaskets laying
around in the garage somewhere.
- New belts. God only knows how old the ones that are on there are. A
replacement is easy to do and is cheap insurance to be sure things are
happy. For now, they're working OK, but they should be replaced sometime
- Cooling system service. Install new hoses, a new thermostat, and a
backflush kit. Perform a backflush on the system and fill it with fresh
antifreeze. For now, everything is working OK, but this should be done
- Carb rebuild or clean out. Depending on what I find after driving the
car for a while, the carb may need to be rebuilt or simply have a few tanks
of fresh gas + fuel system cleaner run through the system. We'll see how it
- Install tilt steering column from one of the parts cars. The current is
a non-tilt unit, and my wife can't drive this car without a tilt steering
wheel. I might as well replace the rag joint while I'm at it - it pretty
much has to come out anyway to do this work.
- Rear window leak. Like many of the GM cars of this era, the rear window leaks
and water gets into the trunk. I'd have to take the car
somewhere to have that done, and the cost could be prohibitive. Why?
almost always rust hiding in the rear window support channel and it would
need to be cut out and the bad metal replaced. I'm not
super-interested in doing it right away - it's pretty dry out here in the
Seattle area in the summer.
- Trunk seal replacement. It's old, brittle, and not doing much.
- Replace drivers side seatbelt assembly with a dark green one. I have a
brown one in there now so it's legal to drive, but it looks really ugly.
Maybe I can find some green belts on eBay for reasonably cheap. Yeah, right.
- Service and charge AC system so it works.
- Glue cracked/broken pieces of instrument cluster support. I'll probably
never go back into the dash to do this, but if I do, this is here to remind
me to go do this. It's working for now, so I'm not bothering with this at
- Fix whatever else I find that's busted, non-functional, or in need of an
upgrade from parts I have laying around.
This was car #25. There was nothing particularly special about this car.