Out With the New, In With the Old - My New Winter Beater

The Disco Creep is dead. There will be no more velour pant suits. No more crystal pistols. No more late nights at Studio 54. Exactly 10,368 miles and 28 months after I bought it for $1,000, my 1992 Buick Riviera winter car – an obnoxious, smarmy, wheeled creature - has been replaced by a 1963 Dodge Dart GT. I made the switch a few weeks ago after pulling the Riviera out of summer storage now that the winter season has arrived. During the initial test drive to make sure it was ready for another winter slog, the heater failed to produce heat. No amount of prodding, jabbing, or swearing at the dumb push buttons would trigger the automatic “climate control” into action. Mice had eaten the wiring and set up nests inside the heater housing. After a few miles I noticed the aroma of cooking meat… mixed with burnt wiring.

But the final straw was how the entire rear suspension cage was about to drop out due to massive structural rust. Truth be told, I became aware of this problem last winter when a new sound was added to the driving experience any time the big Riviera hit a pot hole or rough patch of roadway. The car would shudder and clunk as if a large percentage of its mass was out of synch with the rest of the car. A quick peek under the rear end revealed that both of the driver-side suspension cage mounts were rotted away where the mounting bolts used to secure it to the unibody. The passenger side unions were rusty – but semi-solid. Gravity was the only thing trapping the driver-half of the structure beneath the Buick’s stuffed pig body shell. It was painfully obvious that one single moment of airborn driving would dislodge the 300-pound rear suspension cage – with messy results.

Rust had also invaded the fuel tank – anything over a half tank attracted shouts and jeers from others that “your car’s leaking gas!” Worst of all, this development effectively halved the tank’s former 18 gallon capacity. At 17-mpg (average), trips to the gas station were all too frequent.

The ABS system was also afflicted with rust. You know that little lever that spans between the body and rear suspension control arm on most ABS-equipped cars and light trucks? You know, the one that reads vehicle pitch angle (i.e. nose-diving under severe braking) so it can then trigger the anti-lock brake motor to pulse the brake pedal? Well the anchor point had rotted off the rear suspension so the arm was dangling in the wind under the chassis. The effect totally confused the ABS system and triggered the brake warning light on the Riviera’s cheesy “Tokyo By Night” digital dash.

A side effect of the rusted out ABS link was how the Buick’s automatic leveling air suspension was constantly triggering the compressor motor/air shocks to jack the ass end of the beast off the tires. Yep, the tires had literally become part of the suspension. Part of me marveled at how the Buick kept on going through it all. Any time I thought “maybe it’s time to weld some caps over the rust and repair this thing”, the sadistic half of my mind said; “Hang on, this is fascinating. The car is adapting to the neglect… let’s see how far it’ll go”.

Then a pal came over and told me about a ’63 Slant Six Dart GT he’d seen locally on Craigslist. Back in high school, my buddies drove countless Darts into the ground as winter beaters. So I had a vision of transforming this Dart into my winter car – minus the flagrant abuse.

So I bought it.