1972 Buick Electra
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1972 Buick Electra Limited 2dr Hardtop

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.

Specs

  • 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 and intact.

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Basic Cleanup

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.

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AC System

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.

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Tunes

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.

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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. 

Part 1971-1972 Electra 1973-1974 Electra 1975 Electra
Steering Box GM #7825371
Pitman Arm GM #7828285
Spindle (Left) GM #3961261
Spindle (Right) GM #3961262
Outer Tie Rod Ends GM #7816950
Inner Tie Rod Ends GM #7816949
Center Link GM #7811835 GM #7814340
TRW D2780 (discontinued) Meuvotech #MDS809
Rare Parts #25831 Moog #DS809
Idler Arm GM #78111071 GM #7817317 GM #7818386
Moog #K6106 Moog #K6149 Moog #K6153

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.

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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 efforts.

 

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 trash removal.
  • 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 out.
  • 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 fixes.
  • 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 either.
  • 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 set.
  • 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 lock rod.
  • 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 rear speakers.
  • 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 solve.
  • 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 done.
  • 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 the 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" standards. :-)
  • 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 light available.
  • 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 working...
  • 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 basis.

  • 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 soon.
  • 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 sometime soon.
  • 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 goes.
  • 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? There is 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 this time.
  • Fix whatever else I find that's busted, non-functional, or in need of an upgrade from parts I have laying around.

 

Purchasing Order

This was car #25. There was nothing particularly special about this car.


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Page last updated 01/02/2009 01:51:39 PM