COAL Updates: A 2023 Fleet Discussion – The Iron Door Of The North Clangs Open – (1963 Riviera Content & More)

Another year of old car driving has fundamentally come to a close.  Yes, the Dirty Dart is still ready to go on dry winter days, but the steady diet of crankcase fumes that heal my mind while harming it will go into late autumn hibernation with the bulk of my fleet.  As one might feel a heightened zest for life as it draws to a close, the waning months of the year bring an increased focus on driver’s seat time as I squeeze in the last few dozen (hundred) miles of the year.  Here’s what I’ve been up to in the garage and on the road.

The Riviera has expectedly taken up the most time in the garage and on the road this year, as the fulfillment of my decades-long goal of early Riviera ownership is everything I hoped it might be.  It’s been a lot of work, and there’s still a lot of little things to do as I become more confident in its reliability.  An early-year driveability issue has been solved, and the moral of the story is to never trust new parts.  A second bad coil had me second guessing my abilities as a mechanic before I realigned my focuses and relied on my self-training.

I also did something I try not to do by replacing the original Carter AFB with a new Edelbrock AVS2.  The Carter was inconsistent in its AFR readings, and after about five times disassembling it, I realized that there’s no shame in buying a proven new part when it’s a good one.  After a little tuning, the AVS2 runs just about as well as a stock Carter would.  Maybe someday I’ll keep trying to suss out the Carter, but for now, I’m happy with the Edelbrock, which did require my wiring in the electric choke and using a different adapter for the Dynaflow’s “kickdown,” which in reality just changes the stator angle in the torque converter.  As a side note, I have an open air cleaner on the car not only because of the new carburetor, but also because new air filters for Riviera air cleaners are unavailable right now, and that may not ever change.

With that being said, the Riviera sounds pretty cool when the Dynaflow changes its stator pitch and the secondaries come open.  I had a new exhaust system installed this year, and I’ve made a lot of little improvements such as headlight relays, polyurethane track bar bushings, a new glove box, new trunk trim, and so on and so on.

The Thunderbird’s been pretty reliable, and I did an update on it earlier this year.

Aside from the aforementioned oil leak, I pulled apart the back seat to repair an annoying squeak and to lube the rear power window tracks.  The squeak is gone, but I also had to replace the idler arm bushing for the second time in two years.   I installed the upgraded 1964 idler arm back then, but I learned the hard way that it should be torqued to the upper value in the service manual.  I hope this one lasts a little longer, because it drives much better with a good bushing.

I’ve updated the Firebird this year as well, but it’s been doing a great job at being not just a car but a bitchin’ red Firebird.  The old alternator began to flake out, so I replaced it with a remanufactured unit from O’Reilly’s.  Aside from that and the front header panel replacement (in the link), all I’ve done is basic maintenance and a starter swap (that I already had lying around).  I tried my hand at rebuilding the original starter, but the inconsistent engagement it had beforehand remained, and it honestly looked like I had found it lying in a swamp.  The remanufactured high torque unit is flawless, and I only engaged in my own rebuild for the experience.

The Dirty Dart doesn’t get much action during the normal driving season, but I pressed it into service to carry home some antique furniture from a local warehouse sale.  Aside from basic maintenance and a new set of shocks to replace the super-stiff KYBs that were in there when I bought it, it has so far proven the old adage that the last thing on the road when stuff hits the fan will be an old Dart.  It will eventually need a pitman arm, but it’s just barely loose right now.  It’s on my Christmas list.

The Corvair had been reliable this year up until the very end of the season.  A lower control arm bushing failed (one that I replaced when I bought the car back in 2007), so I had to replace that to alleviate a very prominent squeak as the suspension articulated its way down the road.  Additionally, the last few times I have driven it, first and second gears have intermittently engaged very poorly.

I don’t know if it’s the linkage or something in the transmission, but I rebuilt the original transmission a couple years ago because the one that’s in the car (that I disassembled to replace third gear and the synchros about 15 years ago) is a little noisy.  I didn’t replace the bearings back then, but I’ll look into the problem next year.   If it’s the transmission, I’ll swap this one in.

Big Blue, my ’53 Special Riviera, has required almost no work this year.  It’s still gliding down the road, leaking some oil from almost everywhere like the grand old dame that it is.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I love Big Blue more than almost anything.  It’s such a great car.

I celebrated my 20th anniversary with my ’65 Skylark this year, and it’s been trustworthy as always this year aside from a few small hiccups.  The driver’s side rear wheel was bent, which a tire technician discovered when I took the car in for wheel balancing.  I bought a couple used Buick Rally wheels from eBay and replaced the bad one, and the ride is better than ever.  Just the other day, I replaced the heater core, as it was dripping down the firewall onto the ground.  This only happened on cold days, so I didn’t notice it all summer.  It looked like there was a crack at one of the hose nipples, so I could have probably soldered it up, but I bought a new one because at some point in the car’s past, someone had deformed that particular hose nipple fairly badly in an effort to remove the heater hose.

Photo courtesy of Rocker Arms Unlimited


The Skylark is at home this winter for a repair job that will require little effort from me.  The engine has begun using a bit of oil at highway speeds, so the easiest potential repair is one that I would have to do even if I rebuilt the engine.  Buicks of this vintage did not use valve seals, and when the rocker arms and shafts wear, they allow more oil to drain from the shafts onto the valve guides, potentially increasing oil consumption.  I’m going to ship them off to be remanufactured, which may solve some of the oil consumption issues.  To put this into perspective, however, I add one-half to one quart of oil per year.  This is not a big emergency.

My OG old car, my family heirloom ’65 Mustang, has required nothing but fuel this year.  I flushed the brakes for maintenance and that’s it.  Several highway trips yielded 17-20 miles per gallon, and it’s probably the quickest old car I own (although that’s not saying much).

Here’s Dad and the Mustang at Gilmore Car Museum, a six-hour round trip from home.  The Mustang’s a pretty good long trip car if you don’t mind not having air conditioning.  Indeed, as of right now I’ve driven it almost 87,000 miles since I started driving it in high school back in 1994.  That might not sound like much, but it’s only been my primary car for about six months of that time, and you can see how many cars I’ve collected in the meantime.

It’s tucked away in the garage now, too, as the county road commissions had to salt the roads last week due to slippery conditions.  Although some rain is washing away the salt so that I soon may be able to drive the Dart around, the rest of the fleet will unfortunately be inactive until March or April.  That’s OK in some ways, as the excitement of that first start of spring is something that is hard to describe to people who don’t share my hobbies.

Yes, autumn is a lovely but bittersweet time of year for those who know that their cars must be put away only to be replaced by warm clothes and flannel sheets.  Still, it’s a good time to reflect on how much fun one has had and how much work one has accomplished.  For those who love literature as I do, here is a link to Stanley Kunitz’s “End of Summer,” an appropriately bleak look at this time of year, and the work that influenced my title.  It’s probably not solely a discussion of the changing of the seasons.