Part 2- The Stage 1 Riv

Discussion in 'Who We Are' started by Jim Weise, Apr 29, 2009.

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  1. Jim Weise

    Jim Weise EFI/DIS 482

    My best friend in high school was a kid named Marc Johnson.

    He is pictured in the previous thread, playing with the sun visor on my convert. And being my best Friend, he was bombarded daily with stories of my project progress on that car. We did everything together, and both were very interested in cars.. I wanted to work on them, he wanted to drive them. We had our buddies that used to sneak 5.0 Mustangs off the dealership lot that they worked for, and did plenty of cruising and street racing back in the day. So we were up and coming car nuts.

    After Marc got his driver's license, it soon became apparent that the 81 Chevette his folks gave him to drive wasn't going to cut it. I had devoured all the GS books that were available at the time, and was pretty up on the subject of Buick performance. Having ridden in the 68 Convert, he was a convert to Buick Torque, and we set about to cruise the dealership lots in search of the right car. Remember now, this is 1984, so there still was plenty of 70's Detroit iron to be had, lurking in the back rows of those lots.

    One late Fall night, after the standard movie and dinner that all of us used to participate in on a Friday night as High school juniors, Marc and I decided to cruise a few dealer lots on the way home that evening.

    On the very last stop, at Iten Chev, we spied our prize. There, sitting in the back row, next to the used car sales office I caught sight of a boattail Riv.. 73 in vintage, and all brown.. exterior, half vinyl top, and interior. And you can bet I didn't miss the "Stage 1" emblem on the grill.

    The car was not a GS, just the regular Riv that someone had optioned out with the performance stuff... Bucket seats and console, 3.42 posi rear, dual exhausts and the STG 1 engine.

    After a few intense sessions with his dad, who was a pretty conservative guy, we convinced him that Marc had to have this car. You see, in MN, you can't register a car until you are 18, and we were both 17 back then. So parental approval was required.

    That car was really cool.. The huge bucket seats were comfortable, and we outfitted it with a nice stereo and speakers, and it was just a great cruiser. I still remember Marc turning onto my street, to pick me up for school on those cold winter mornings. (of course we drove it in the winter.. these cars were just transportation back then).

    The next summer, after getting humiliated one to many times by a chic in a hopped up Camaro, we set out to improve it's performance. While it was no slouch dead stock, it was a 73 model, so it's low compression motor was somewhat less than awe-inspiring.

    In those days, I had yet to get into building up engines, I was just a engine installer.. so, we did exactly what I had done on my converts, and went out and purchased a 70 455. Actually Marc bought a whole car, he came across a $200 70 Electra, so we bought it and pulled the motor. It ran great, as I recall the car only had about 80K on it.

    So we rented an engine hoist, and on a sunny summer afternoon, went about to replacing the engine, with our freshly cleaned and painted 70 455 SF motor. Of course, in those days, if you came up and told me "hey, nice SF motor" I wouldn't have had any idea what you were talking about. It was a while before I got into the whole engine code thing.

    Now to get the whole picture here, you have to understand Marc's Dad a bit. As I mentioned before, he was a very conservative guy. They had a modest house in a northern Suburb of Minneapolis, with a single car garage, and a asphalt driveway. As his dad was a bit of an "oil leak Nazi".. it was well known if you drove your hot rod over there, and it leaked oil, you parked in the open field next to the driveway... Now don't get me wrong, Marc's folks were really great people, but Dad was just a bit nuts when it came to his tools, his driveway, and his cars. He loved those mid 70's Impala's and had a very mint on that he never drove in the winter.

    So here we are, doing a job, that to him, was a total waste of money. There was nothing at all wrong with the Riv's original engine, except of course it didn't have 370 HP, and 510 torque, which of course was a good enough reason for an engine swap for us. But to him, the whole idea was silly, and the fact that we were doing it on his driveway was a serious cause for concern. And you can bet that we were careful on that. I can still remember his face in the screen door, watching to make sure we had proper driveway safeguards in place.

    The swap turned out great, car was noticeable faster, and we picked on the chics and guys in the Camaros now.. lots of fun..

    Of course, even then, I told him to keep the original STG engine. So we bought a roller cart for it, and rolled it around the side of the garage, under the carport, and covered it with a tarp. About 2 months later, I had stopped by his house one day, and noticed the engine was gone.. Apparently the wheels of the engine cradle had sunken into the blacktop, and this was a serious issue for Marc's dad, so he made him put an add in the paper for it.. someone got that nice STG motor, in perfect running condition, for $200..

    I just shook my head.. :Dou: :error:

    We had a great time with that car, and I will relay a couple of stories that stand out.

    Back then, you had to have an auto trans that "got rubber" going into 2nd gear, and the stock Riv TH-400 wasn't really up to the task. Marc was never the main "wrench" on this car.. I was. I had already installed a shift improver kit in the TH-350 in my convert, and that sucker, with the 4.11 gears, would leave a good 5 feet off rubber going into second. So I convinced him that I could make his TH-400 do this.

    So off to the Speed shop we went, and picked up the B&M "Shift improver kit" for it. We did the work out in the grass next to the driveway, as you can imagine we weren't about to pull the trans pan on Dad's driveway. I installed the "Street-Strip" version of that kit, and put the trans back together. Keep I'm mind, this was the fist time I had ever done anything more than take the pan off a TH-400.

    So we finish it all up, fill it up with fluid, and climbed in, and started it up... Pulled the big cool "L" shaped console shifter into Reverse to back out on the street, and nothing happened... No reverse,no drive, no nothing... what the heck?

    So, of course, out came the floor jack, the tools, and the jack stands again.. after getting another half quart of trans fluid in my hair, we dropped the valve body out of it, to see what we had screwed up... took the valves out we had just put in, cleaned it with brake clean, assembled it again and put it back together.. same thing.. still nothing..

    We repeated this at least 4 times, with Marc getting more and more frustrated each time... remember, I had to talk him into doing this, and it took a good week or so.. So he's yelling at me, by about the fourth time or so, about how we would have to take it to a trans shop to get it working, and about he he never should have listened to me.

    That last time, having given up on not being coated from the waist up in Dex II, I was laying under it, just looking at it, trying to figure out what went wrong.. I had followed the instructions to the letter, and the dang thing no longer worked.. The light bulb came on, when I had Marc climb in and move the shifter lever. I watched the linkage move, and the "rooster comb" move on the detents, and noticed nothing else was happening. As soon as I saw the manual valve not moving, I noticed the pin on the rooster comb, that is suppose to be engaged with the slot of the manual valve... not engage with anything, and the manual valve not moving..

    I didn't say anything, just told him to get me the 1/2 socket wrench setup again, and I lowered the valve body just enough to engage the manual valve, and bolted it back together..

    After I was done putting the pan back on, I just looked and him and instructed him to take it off the jacks, and fill it back up with fluid. I was going inside his house to take a shower..

    He wanted to know what I did, but I didn't want to jinx it.. I knew I had to have found the problem, but your never sure till you see it work, especially after a whole Saturday of fooling with something that should have taken a couple hours.

    I had just stepped out the shower when I heard the Riv go by out on the road in front of his house, wound up tight in first gear.. and the bark of the tires when he shifted into second had to be the best thing I had heard in years. I came out of the house, and he had the biggest grin on his face you could imagine..

    To this day, some 25 years later, I remember that day every time I put a valve body on a Turbo 400... and remember to hook up the manual valve..

    The other story with this one is a look into Marc's personality.. he was quite the prankster.

    I don't know how many times this happened to me, but it was more than a few.

    We were out cruising on day, like usual, and it was a hot, humid MN day. The AC compressor on the Riv had been installed in the garage by then, we didn't need the extra weight for street racing. So we stopped into a DQ for a cone. Took off down the road, and we were talking about something, as we pulled up first at a red light. I sat there and watched him reach over with his left hand, and pull the shifter into 1st. His cone was in his right hand...

    Now, this was common practice when we were going to race somebody off the light, but I was wondering who he was going to race, as I looked over at the old lady in the 6 cyl Dodge Dart next to us. But, I really didn't think much of it, as I was focused on the last of the chocolate coating of my large DQ cone (remember when they were big?). And this was not long after the whole shift kit fiasco, and he loved to just take off at half throttle and get the Riv to squeak the tires a little going into second.

    He timed it just right... As the light turned green, he pulled away slowly, in first gear, watching me out of the corner of his eye.. just as I brought the cone up to my face for another lick, he goosed the throttle and planted the cone right square in my face..


    He was laughing so hard he almost took out the granny in the Dart..

    After we graduated from high school, Marc went away to college in Virginia. The first year he left, we were into my first cam change in a 455, in the Riv, and it wasn't quite ready.. so I let him take my car out there, and then a few weeks later I drove the Riv out to Virginia for him.. man, what a great trip that was.. 19 years old, on my first big road trip alone, behind the wheel of that Riv.. I will never forget it.

    The only thing I regret about Marc and the Riv, was that I didn't buy it from him when he sold it...

    But what a fun car, and another chapter in my Buick history.

    next up... "The Stage"...

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