1970 Buick Electra Convertible
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This is my convertible. It's something I bought on somewhat of a lark and had it shipped to me. A good friend of mine (Steve Shockley) who lived near the seller took a look at it and gave me the run-down on it, then bought it for me, fixed a few things (like the AC), and took care of getting it shipped to me. Since the car was in FL and I'm in WA - it was a pretty hefty bill to get it shipped. But, now I own a convertible and all the fun that goes along with that statement. These are the photos of the car that Steve took while he was out looking at the car and that he sent to me to proof before I plunked down money for the car. All in all, not bad for the price I paid - convertibles in any condition command a hefty price markup over what a non-convertible would cost. Still in retrospect, I should have bargained harder and paid more attention to the various little details that turned up later on and ended up costing me money.

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Here are the first photos of it off the delivery trailer - check out the photos for some "top-down" views. That's me in the car, and yes, if you look close, you'll see that I really needed a haircut. This was one of the last photos of me before I cut off my ponytail - long hair and convertibles are a bad combo. The other photos are of my favorite babe in the car - my wife Debbie. The car ran pretty good - though the yahoos who shipped it managed to kill the battery while it was in transit - and I was pretty happy just to be able to drive my convertible around a bit. As a bonus, all the stuff Steve sold me for use on my 1981 Toyota Corolla and piled into the trunk managed to get here just fine.

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There were projects to work on, but little did I know how many and how big they would become. The first things seemed simple enough. Steve had already replaced the AC condenser and compressor, and converted it over to R134A when he recharged the system. It's wasn't perfect, but it put out reasonably cool air. The trans needed a reseal and service, but that was expected from sitting. The brakes needed a thorough going over, again from sitting. Same with the cooling system, various other fluids, tires, etc. As it turns out, the trans was toast and needed a rebuilt, the front brakes drums were worn beyond spec and needed to be replaced (no small or cheap feat with the no-longer-made aluminum brake drums on these cars that the hot rod crowd loves to use on '30's Fords), the brake shoes all around had hardened and cracked into something worthless, and the tires were toast due to a way off front alignment. I also ended up replacing all the belts, hoses, shortly after getting it. Then the heater core went out and needed to be replaced. Sadly, it was only a hint of what was to come.

I did manage to sneak in a few upgrades like converting to an HEI distributor (see my tech page on this for more info) and adding in some aftermarket gauges under the dash so I could keep tabs on things. Note that none of this has changed the car in any way that would prevent it from being returned to stock if desired. I'm making an effort here to do things in a non-destructive way, right down to how I mounted the gauges using existing holes in the lower dash support and how I ran the wires through the firewall using some extra space in the AC harness grommet.



The Water Pump Replacement Saga

After driving my new toy around for the summer, it developed a bad water pump. It had been sitting for a long time, and the pump looked old and grimy enough to be original, so I wasn't too worried. This should have been an easy weekend job, right? Wrong. The pictures below are the story of my saga to replace it that ended up with the car off the road for nearly a year before I could get around to replacing (in addition to the water pump!) the entire front cover and oil pump assembly, the timing chain, as well as having two very rusted in place and broken off bolts removed from the front of the engine block. Life sucks sometimes, but at least I had the timing chain set, timing cover, and all of the gaskets sitting around for another project that never got done, so I could just use them here. All I ended up buying was a set of new ARP bolts for the front cover ($20), water pump ($30), and fuel pump ($30). I did need to do a small modification on the mechanical fuel pump arm so I could use the double roller timing chain set - check out the tech tip page for pictures and details. In the defense of this car, the bulk of the time delay was due to the engine going out on my tow vehicle that was needed to put this beast on a trailer and tow it over to a shop to get the broken bolts pulled. The rest of the work took just a few weekends of spare time.

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Rust Sucks

I'm kinda bummed as I write this. I knew there was some rust in the floorpans due to a leaky top when I bought the car (reasonably common on convertibles), but I found a lot more than I was expecting when I got the carpet pulled up and all the gunk scraped off the floorpans. I needed to pull out the back seat along with all of the door and side panels to do other work (grease the window tracks and replace the rear seat belts), and I also needed to pull the front seat out so I could free up the seat motor and grease up all the needed things. Once I did that, all I needed to do was pull the sill plates, front seat belts, and the carpet to get a look at the floorpans - so I did. I knew the passengers front floorpan was wasted on the outside edge when I bought the car, but I didn't know there were problems on the drivers front floorpan, the rear passenger footwell, and under the passengers side rear seat cushion. The only spots not wasted were the drivers side rear footwell and rear seat cushion area, but even they will need some cleanup and sealing work. Blech. The car has been stored dry with a cover on it for over 8 months now, and the carpet padding on the drivers side floor was still damp! The blue outlines areas on the photos are the pieces I need to buy to cut out my rusty metal and put some new stuff in. Got any for sale? The same pieces from any '70 Electra should work...

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Transmit the Power

When I bought the car, I knew the tranny was going to need help after sitting for such a long time (seals dry out, rot and generally stuff just goes bad from lack of use), so when I came across a good core TH400 transmission out of a 455 powered 1973 Centurion for free (Thanks, Jeff!), I grabbed it and had it rebuilt by a local shop. I wasn't in any big hurry (see notes above about the water pump...:-), so they took their time and got it done right. While they were under the car, they also replaced the driveshaft u-joints while they were in there - the old ones were nearly seized from the car sitting so long. Along the way I found a set of Buick Ralley wheels with brand new tires on them and had them installed before it left the shop. It was a bit spendy, but it seems to be working right, so I'm happy.

The wheel and tire replacement means the old tires and wheels went up for sale and were sold to recoup some of the cost of the new hoops. A really nice fellow from Europe bought them off me - he found me while touring the USA looking for older USA cars and parts. Now that's what I call a long-distance parts-hunting expedition! To add some insult, he found some really wild '50's era full-size Chrysler that was stored inside for years, was in mint condition with beautiful white paint and interior with red accents, had some ridiculously low mileage on it like 30K miles - and he bought it for a song. I'd hate to see the shipping fee to get that car home to Europe...


Convertible Top Details

I'm going to need these for myself eventually, but a fellow wrote me and asked it I could send him some pics to help him with his 1970 Electra convertible restoration, so I took a few shots if the mechanism, padding locations, and weatherstrip locations to help give him a visual reference for his work. Check out the completely missing nut on one of the joints - it's a wonder this thing goes up and down at all...

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Repairs, Reconstructions, and Improvements

After watching my convertible rest quietly under a car cover for many months while I hunted for suitable floorpan replacements, I also stumbled across various parts for the car that I could use. I sourced a complete disc brake setup (everything from the spindles out + the proportioning valve) and a complete automatic climate control system that are safely in storage awaiting refurbishing and installation. After a (long) while, I finally found  a donor car for the floorpans - and it was even local so I could pick up the whole car and drag it home. I originally planned to just use it for the floorpans, but once I got the parts car home, I realized that it had a number of options that mine did not have. Score! Provided I can salvage all of the required pieces from the parts car, I'll be getting a 6-way power front bench seat, corning lamps, cruise control, speed alert, trip odometer, power trunk release, and a map light integrated in the rear view mirror. I think about the only "regular production" options I have left that I would want but do not have yet are power locks and the twilight sentinel (automatic turn-on headlights).

At this point, I'm more hopeful that this project will see the road again, but the list of things to do it getting pretty long. Due to the rust repairs needed, it's very close to the point where pulling the body off the frame would make sense, and at that point, you might as well do everything. I'm tending to shy away from doing that, though, because even though it's only removing another 10 bolts or so, it makes a huge difference in the total work to be done and the amount of money involved. Why? Once the body comes off the frame, there is no reason left not to just remove every single nut, bolt, and part on the entire car - and then have it completely restored before you put it back on the car again. Also, the work involved in actually removing the body is non-trivial - it's not light and it's pretty fragile once it's lifted off the frame. You risk tweaking it out of shape if you do it wrong - especially with a convertible. Basically, it's crazy to go to all the work of removing the body and then not do the additional restoration. So, I'm going to try and do the floorpan replacement using whatever access I have with the body on the frame. It will probably be the difference between a project measured in months and a project measured in years...

Here's what's sitting waiting to be installed on the car:

  • Floorpan sections for the passengers side front and rear foot wells
  • Floorpan sections from 1969 Riviera with bucket seat attachment points
  • Trunk floor and rear trunk wall sections
  • Disc brake setup from the spindles out
  • Automatic climate control system
  • Power 6-way front drivers side bucket seat
  • Manual front passengers side bucket seat
  • Rivera center console, shifter w/ mechanism, steering column, and all associated switches, wiring, and cables
  • Dash cluster with speed alert
  • Front fenders with cornering lamps
  • New hood
  • New trunk lid
  • Cruise control
  • Power trunk release
  • Rearview mirror with integrated map light
  • Riveria grid-style rear window defroster wiring and switch
  • One express module for driver's window down
  • Automatic rear level control system (requires rear air shocks, pump needs a rebuild)
  • Ralley wheels
  • Edelbrock 4-bbl intake
  • Two option dash switch plate (needs to be converted for use with convertible top switch)

Here's the factory parts and options I'm still on the lookout for:

  • Floorpan sections for under the rear seat
  • Floorpan sections for the drivers side front and rear foot wells
  • Power door locks
  • Twilight sentinel (automatic turn on headlights)
  • Power 6-way passengers bucket seat or power 6-way 60/40 split bench seat (for passengers side power mechanism)
  • Dash cluster with speed alert and trip odometer (I have one, but it's pretty trashed)

Here are the aftermarket parts I still need to buy for use when I put the car back together again:


Options That Never Existed

All of the hunting down of various options got me thinking about the possibilities here. In particular, the parts car had a blower-type rear window defogger, which, although I can't use it directly, got me thinking about ways to create options that were never quite offered on the Electra, but were produced by Buick on other models of around the same year. That led me into thinking about options that can be added during the rebuild process using aftermarket parts. And so the idea hamster goes...

Rear Window Defogger

In 1970 the Riveria could be optionally equipped with a modern electrically heated grid baked directly onto the rear window - and that style of defogger can be made to work on a convertible. In fact, it was offered by GM on all of their convertibles that way starting in 1971. I already know that I will need to replace the plastic rear window when I replace the convertible top, and I am planning on going back to the original-style glass rear window. It should be relatively easy to get a rear defroster grid baked onto the glass when I order it, so then all I need to do it hookup the wiring and a timer to make it all work. The hardest part of that is the way the switch mounts in the dash - the 1970 Buick convertibles were never offered with a rear window defogger, so the specific trim plate I need was never actually made. The good news is that the dash plate where the switch would mount is designed to take 0, 1, or 2 switches in various combinations and the trim plate that covers the switches has various configurations to support this. The switches are physically and visually interchangeable and there is a small replaceable (with some clever work) piece that is back-lit to tell you what the switch is for. That just leaves the embossed writing on the trim panel to contend with - for example, the label on the trim panel for the convertible top switch is "Dn" and "Up". As it turns out, the 1969 and 1970 trim panels for this area are interchangeable, and in 1969, they offered a trim panel for a power antenna (labeled "Dn" and "Up") and blower style rear defogger (labeled "Lo" and "Hi"). If I can get one of these trim panels, I can replace the back-lit "Antenna" piece with the back-lit "Cvrt Top" piece from my plate, and voila - a trim plate for a convertible top and a defogger. This works out perfectly because my Electra has the radio antenna mounted in the windshield, so I don't need a power antenna switch. I'd still need to figure out how to wire the defogger so it used the "Lo" side of the switch in some useful way - I'm still pondering that one. I guess I could leave it unused or try to wire it as an "off" override of the timer.

Here are some annotated photos of the dash switches for this model run of full size Buicks. Note that the Riviera was different in some but not all areas.

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Bucket Seats

In 1970 the Riveria could be optionally equipped with power bucket seats and a long center console. A rather unique shifter (see picture below) was mounted in the center console with this option, and bucket seats are always a plus.

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The same bench seats - a full bench seat and the 60/40 split bench - were offered in both the Riveria and Electra, I'm betting the "outside" mounts (closest to the doors) are all the same and that the "inside" mounts (closest to the transmission tunnel) are shared between the 60/40 split bench and the bucket seats. This means that all I would need to do is get the inside mounts figured out on the Electra. Also, the bucket seats were only offered as 4-way power adjustable units as far as I can tell, but I should be able to adapt the seat tracks, motors, and switches from a 60/40 bench seat to create a true "40/40" set of bucket seats that are 6-way power adjustable. I've heard rumors that bucket seats could be ordered in 6-way power and the information on the power tracks swapping on directly seems to confirm this, though I've yet to see a set in person. I have had folks tell me you can easily bolt the power seat tracks onto any seat, so that should work out nicely.

The biggest problem is locating a suitable donor car with the seats and the console in them, along with the associated wiring, mounting bolts, etc. to make it all work. I would also need to fabricate the inner (closest to the transmission tunnel) seat mounts or use floorpan sections from the donor car. These mounts are usually done with reinforcing plates and small nuts welded to the underside of the floorpan - they are very important structural parts in case of a collision, so I want to be very sure to get this right! It will require some clever cutting and welding to splice the mounts I need into my floorpans. Since I'm already carving up the floorpans to replace them, this might not be such a big deal if I can find them before I get the floorpans installed.

Seat Heaters

Easy aftermarket add-on. I'll likely need to recover whatever seats I get, and these install as easily as putting the heating grid between the padding and the seat cover, running a wire back to a switch, and running power to the switch. Check out http://www.warmseats.com/ for the kits offered - figure around $100 a seat to offer this option. I might even add rear seat heaters for fun - it is a convertible and seat heaters in all seats means more top-down driving possibilities...

3-Point Seatbelts

Simple enough to understand - but how do you install them in a convertible for the front seats? Usually there is a mounting point on the B-pillar or the roof, neither of which exist in a convertible. The solution is one of two routes. You can get later model seats with built-in seat belts, or you can mount the seat belts to the side panel just behind the front doors. Both have been done by various OEMs at different times. I'll try to find pictures and post them here.

Delay Wipers

This section got entirely too long and has been moved to it's own page.

Full Instrumentation

I like gauges to keep tabs on what is happening, but I hate slapping add-on gauges under the dash in a hap-hazard fashion. If I'm going to put gauges on a car, I want to do it in as clean a fashion as possible. On this car, the best option is to replace the factory clock with a custom gauge conversion. The clock is a simple bolt-in piece (just two screws), has space around it for wiring, and can easily be replaced later if someone who bought the car wanted to return the car to "stock" - it's a "no hack" conversion, all I have to do is bring in the extra wires through the firewall for the trans temp gauge and tach, plus a vacuum line for the vacuum gauge. How? I can use a add-on warning light controller such as the Auto Meter Tri-Alert (part number 5347, apparently discontinued) that enables me to re-use the original wires for the oil pressure and temp warning lights. The drawings show warning lights in the converted clock, but that's actually not needed for anything except the trans temp gauge (if I do that in the conversion). The original dash has warning lights for generator, oil pressure, and temp - and all of them can be reused.

The minimal approach would be to convert it to a tach, but I've been thinking about going with a more complete gauge conversion using the original clock housing. It's common to tuck multiple smaller 90 degree sweep gauges into one larger housing these days, and the four corners of the clock housing are perfect to house these gauges. The large area in the center could be devoted to two 180 degree sweep gauges - a tach and a vacuum gauge - or I could use it for a 270 degree sweep tach. The actual size of the opening for the gauges is about 1 7/8" wide by 4 5/8" tall, with all of the gauges being about 3/4" to 7/8" in radius (needle length) or about 1 1/2" to 1 3/4" in diameter. It's a tight package, but it would work.

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Purchasing Order

This was Car #16. My first convertible. My first car that I had to have transported cross-country to me. My first car bought without seeing it in person - though I did have a friend handle the in-person work for me. My first experience in hunting for a desirable car online and then negotiating with the seller "cash in hand". My first car bought as a present to myself - this was what my hiring bonus at Microsoft went to.

Comments? Kudos? Got some parts you'd like to buy/sell/barter/swap? Nasty comments about my web page so far? You can email Mike or Debbie.

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