Welcome to the inside of my head
C'mon in...wipe your feet
The interior swap went relatively well last fall. Since then the Roadmaster has been languishing in the garage waiting for the weather and free time to finish up the last of the work. One of the big hurdles for me has been the colouring on the steering wheel. Like most of these beautiful B-Bodies, the interior lacks quality both in engineering and installation. The colouring on the steering wheels is known to rub off making for quite an ugly mar on the interior. You can see the black marks on the wheel where the dye had rubbed off as part of normal wear and tear.
I spent the winter trying to find an appropriate paint to recoat the steering column. I didn’t expect that I would be able to find supplies suitable to recoat the flexible plastics of the steering wheel itself so I planned to leave that for another day. I had heard that SEM products were the best way to re-colour an interior but I had some difficulty in finding a supplier here in Canada that carried SEM. Thinking that Duplicolor’s Fabric and Vinyl paint would do the job I picked up a can in what I though would be a close enough colour. Unfortunately the colour was so significantly different that I just couldn’t accept it. Since the Duplicolor paint was intended for vinyl surfaces I tried it out on a spare airbag that I happened to have. You can see here that, while this is a really nice tan colour, it was far from a match for my wagon’s factory tan interior. It’s possible that I simply chose the wrong colour, but none of the retailers in my area carried anything other than a few basics.
Seeing this, I gave up on Duplicolor and moved on to just trying to find any paint that would let the steering column blend even a little bit with its surroundings. Unfortunately that turned out to be far more difficult than expected. It’s really surprising just how many different shades of tan there are out there. Not a one of the 13 different paints I tried out were close enough for me to live with.
After a little more digging, at long last, I discovered D&W Auto Body Supplies (www.dwautobodysupplies.ca) and managed to get in there for a look. As it turned out, D&W carries SEM paint products and even had Saddle Tan SEM Color Coat on hand right on the shelf. It’s pretty staggering how very nearly exact that SEM Saddle Tan paint turned out to be. It was so incredibly close that I went ahead and prepped the steering wheel once the column was done.
This turned out to be quite a project, and one that I never expected to have to undertake. Much like any project the right answer was perseverance, tinkering, and a little trial and error to find exactly the right solution to the problem. I’m extremely happy with how it turned out and that’s exactly the sort of result that provides the drive and motivation to move to the next project.
Part of changing the interior colour of my wagon was to change the plastic moulding on the steering column. Since those parts aren’t particularly easy to swap, I figured it would be simpler to swap the entire steering column. While that’s not a simple process for us neophyte car guys, it’s not a terrible task to perform either. I’ll write up a how-to on removing the column itself later. What I want to cover here is the snag I ran into after moving the column from my wagon over to the donor car.
As everyone is probably aware, there is a security system in most cars that ensures that the key inserted in the ignition switch matches the one that is supposed to go with the car. These ‘91-‘96 GM B-Bodies are no different. The key is both cut to match the ignition cylinder as well as configured with a resistor the value of which is matched to the Pass-Key security module. Since I swapped out the steering column along with the ignition cylinder but not the Pass-Key module, the key to my wagon now fit in the ignition of the donor wagon but the resistor in the key wasn’t the correct value to permit the wagon to start. I had two options; replace the Pass-Key module, or swap out the ignition cylinders. The Pass-Key module is located well up under the dash so as to be difficult to reach. I thought it would be easier to swap out the steering column. While the web appears to be flush with folks who’ve done this, I had a lot of trouble finding a definitive set of instructions for it. My factory service manual covers the process but it cross references several other sections and an end-to-end process of how to do the swap isn’t something the book can do. I’m working on different steering columns so my pictures jump around a little between different cars but the information is consistent. I don’t recommend that anyone try this repair without a GM Factory Service Manual. The book contains a lot of assembly details that are really important. Many screws and nuts need to be torqued to specified values in order to assure proper fit and function and the book provides those specs.
To get at the ignition cylinder, we need to remove the steering wheel along with a surprising amount of equipment. Make sure that the front wheels are pointed straight ahead, the ignition cylinder is in the locked position and let’s get started!
Before beginning any work on the steering wheel it’s important to remember to take some safety steps and disable the Supplemental Inflatable Restraint (SIR) system. The early 90’s B-Body cars have two airbags as part of the SIR system. One is located on the top of the dash on the passenger side of the car and the other is mounted directly on the front of the steering wheel. Obviously if we’re going to remove the steering wheel, we need to make sure that the airbag doesn’t go off. Having something trigger that small explosive and make that airbag slam you in the face at close range is dangerous and can be fatal! We can disable the airbags either by disconnecting the battery before starting work or by disconnecting the airbag connectors on the steering column under the dash. The factory service manual recommends doing both. I’ll assume we all know where the battery is located so I’ll consider disconnecting that to be a no-brainer. The airbag connectors are made to be easily identifiable and therefore are made of bright yellow plastic with large labels on them identifying their function as SIR equipment. After disconnecting the battery, disconnect both of the two yellow connectors under the dash by the steering column.
With the battery and airbags disconnected we’re good to go.
Start by removing the hazard light switch.
Next locate the two Torx head bolts on the back of the steering wheel. These two bolts hold the airbag onto the steering wheel.
Take care when removing the airbag. Take care when handling the airbag in general. For all intents and purposes, that airbag is an explosive and can pose a danger if mishandled. When removing the airbag, do so gently and slowly both to ensure that the airbag is handled correctly as well as to avoid damaging the connectors underneath. If the airbag is allowed to drop, the horn connectors can be damaged (…as I learned from experience). Once the airbag is removed from the steering wheel, disconnect the horn switches and the airbag connector and put the airbag aside.
Remove the large nut holding the steering wheel onto the column shaft. Remember that a torque wrench will be required to tighten down that nut later. Check to see that one is on hand now to avoid having to get it later. The ground wire for the horn switches is just a copper clip that inserts into the threaded holes on the wheel that are used for the steering wheel removal tool. The positive horn connector passes through the steering wheel. Simply grasp the plastic shaft surrounding the red wires, gently press it into the wheel and twist to remove.
Even though the steering wheel mounting nut is now removed, the wheel is still firmly mounted on the column. Do not try to pull or lever the wheel off as it is possible to damage the internal mechanisms that handle some of the numerous functions of the steering column. In order to remove the wheel a Steering Wheel Puller is required. This is a handy little tool that is an absolute necessity for removing steering wheels. It’s only a $20-$30 item at the local parts store but many local auto parts stores will loan them out for free.
Assemble the puller using the center bolt and the two threaded bolts that are correct for this wheel. A puller kit will have a small collection of bolts that vary bo vehicle make. Don’t thread the two outer bolts in too far, just thread them in a few turns so that they have enough grip to let you pull the wheel off. Before removing the wheel, put a small mark on the steering wheel and the column to assist in getting the wheel back on correctly later. Using a wrench or socket, steadily snug down the tool to extend the center bolt against the wheel center and the steering wheel will slip off of the column shaft.
The steering column assembly gets a little more complex from here out but, like any project, if we tackle it one step at a time it will go pretty smoothly. The next step once the wheel is removed is to extract the SIR Coil Assembly. This unit is held on with a snap ring so a snap ring removal tool will be instrumental in getting this part out properly. Once the snap ring is removed, the coil will slide out. Pull the coil gently. The yellow connection cable is stretched tightly down through the column to the connection point that was disconnected at the beginning of this process. if the SIR coil is pulled gently that connector will snug up against the base of the column assembly and give just enough slack to let the SIR coil dangle by it’s cable while the rest of the work is completed. Note the arrows circled in red. It’s important not to let the SIR coil rotate during the process. I marked the two arrows with a marker to remind me to not let them turn.
With the SIR coil removed and dangling free by it’s connection cable, we’re faced with removing the steering shaft lock plate. Slide off the Wave Washer to start working on the lock plate. This piece requires another one of those specialized tools. Much like the Steering Wheel Puller a Steering Lock Plate Removal tool will run you around $20-$30 or can be borrowed freely from most auto parts stores. Thread the center shaft of the tool onto the steering column shaft and snug down the wing nut to compress the lock plate. Once the lock plate is pressed down far enough, the retaining ring will be exposed and can be removed. GM recommends that this retaining ring be replaced after removal so it’s wise to have another one of these on hand during reassembly.
Using the Lock Plate Removal Tool
Removing Retaining Ring
With the Shaft Lock Plate removed the Turn Signal Cancel Assembly can be simply slid out of the steering column along with the Upper Bearing Spring and the Inner Race.
Unfortunately, in order to get at the Ignition Switch we still have to dig a little deeper. Now undo the mounting switch to remove the Signal Switch Arm. Make note of the greased area where the Signal Switch Arm seats into the switch assembly so that it gets reinstalled correctly.
It seems that my photo of removal of the turn signal switch assembly didn’t turn out and now that it’s all reassembled I’m loath to take it apart again for one picture. I presume that you’re now looking at a naked turn signal switch and can see the screws circled in the below photo that I’ve cleverly re-used. Accessing the top screw may involve manipulating the turn signal switch somewhat but it’s pretty easy.
After removing the turn signal switch, it can be left dangling from the steering column much as the SIR coil is. It may require disconnecting the turn signal connector mounted on the steering column under the dash (shown below) in order to gain enough slack on the wiring to pull the signal switch out over the column shaft.
The next piece to remove is the Buzzer Switch Assembly as its plastic flange directly covers up the ignition cylinder locking screw. The Factory Service Manual is very vague on this part. It advises only that the switch be removed but doesn’t explain how that is done. It turned out that the piece can just be pulled straight out. I gently wiggled it a bit while pulling on it with a pair of long nosed pliers. There seem to be a few different models of these switches so the picture below might not be accurate.
With the Buzzer Switch Assembly out the Torx screw that holds the cylinder in place can now be accessed. The wiring from the ignition switch runs directly down the shaft to a connection point under the dash. Since the cylinder is being removed, that wire will have to be replaced when the new cylinder gets installed. Disconnect the ignition cylinder wire under the dash and tape a wire to it before pulling it out. Leaving that wire in place will make the process of installing the replacement cylinder one heck of a lot easier. Once the cable is out the cable management connector can be removed to free the cable up. Unscrewing the ignition cylinder screw is the last piece and the cylinder can be slid out cable and all.
Ignition Cylinder screw
Now you should have an ignition switch in your hand and one heck of a lot of parts laid out nearby. The reassembly process is just as easy as the dismantling was. Start with the ignition switch and reinstall each piece in the reverse order of how they were taken out.
While this can be a pretty intimidating procedure for those of us who are newbies, it’s really quite simple once you get started and tackle it one step at a time.
I’ve been doing a lot of work on the wagon’s interior this summer. Back in August a friend of mine and I decided to pick up an old Roadmaster and split the parts. He needed the powertrain and I was shopping for some interior parts. While my seats were in great shape, the carpeting was very tired and all of my door panels were beyond repair and in dire need of replacement.
I’ve decided that, since I’m looking at swapping most of the interior to freshen it up anyway, it might be worthwhile to change the colour altogether. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a wagon with the same exterior colour as mine and a tan interior. I really like the tan interior that came with these B-Bodies and I think it would look great with my blue paint and really set off the woodgrain trim well.
The wagon that my friend and I found was in very rough shape from having been sitting in a field for an undetermined amount of time. Despite that, the interior was nearly in mint condition. The seller sent me some photos and I was very anxious to pick up the car and get started. Unfortunately someone showed up at the seller’s place and picked up the car before I could get to it. I went back to watching the classifieds for another wagon to donate parts to my project. Fast forward a couple of months and I found another donor. After seeing photos of the interior this time I didn’t hesitate and agreed to buy the wagon sight unseen. Upon picking up the beast, I discovered that it was the exact same wagon that I had missed out on earlier and it still had the same beautifully preserved interior.
I had the wagon dragged home and we began the process of hollowing out the two wagons to begin the swap.
It was close to a 50 hour process to get both wagons hollowed out and the new tan interior installed. It rained off and on throughout the entire installation process and ultimately started raining hard enough that we had to pack it in. Most of the interior is installed now with only a few pieces left to go. Stay tuned for more photos and updates.
The weather got a little bit warm last week so I decided to fire up the A/C in my wagon. It wasn’t necessarily warm enough that I needed the car to be ultra cool, but I like to turn it on every now and again to keep the seals from drying out and just to run a general test.
As many of you are aware, I had the A/C system rebuilt a couple of years ago after the compressor clutch came loose and threw the whole works out of whack. That repair included a new compressor, evaporator/dryer, refrigerant, etc. It was not a cheap repair but since I expect to drive the wagon throughout the summer it seemed like a required one. Imagine my surprise when I turned on the A/C and found only warm air coming from the vents! Took a look under the hood and discovered that my A/C fuse had blown but putting in a new fuse didn’t do me any good. From what I could see, the compressor wasn’t pulling in when the HVAC called for cooling. I contacted the garage that did the installation for me on the off chance that the compressor had a warranty as it certainly looked like I was in for another compressor.
The garage was good enough to book the car in very quickly and gave me a loaner to drive to work for the day. Strangely enough the final resolution was simply a recharge. Apparently the A/C system has a slow leak. The system holds a charge just fine once it’s refilled but here I am two years later with an empty A/C system and no sign of a leak anywhere. For those of you who own one of these B-Body cars, bear in mind that the compressor will not pull in if the refrigerant doesn’t have sufficient pressure. That’s what prevented me from having to put in another compressor, but it’s cold comfort really. A fresh dose of refrigerant, some dye in the hopes of finding the leak, and a hefty bill had me on my way again. Hopefully I’ll get lucky this time and it will hold but I think it’s more likely that this will repeat in 2 years time.
This seemed to be a particularly long winter from a car guy’s point of view. I tried very hard not to bring the Roadmaster out before I was absolutely certain that there was no sign of snow. The Great White North was a precocious mistress this year and each time it looked like Spring was well and truly here we would get hit with another mess of snow.
Yesterday I finally got the wagon out and drove it to work. There’s no better feeling than cruising in a much beloved car. The entire drive seemed over in a heartbeat and yet absolutely nothing about it seemed rushed. My Roadmaster eats up road like nothing. There’s almost no sensation of speed or movement, it’s simply a paused moment in time. While I had to take it out of the garage twice for pickup trips this year, yesterday was really the first drive of spring and it was a good one! My buddy Silverfox puts the joy of getting into a station wagon best in his terrific dialogue on “What a wagon means to me” over at stationwagonforums.com Here’s a quote from his thoughts.
When I walk up to my wagon, look at its beauty, touch it, I swear, it’s like it’s alive and knows I’m there. It smiles with appreciation and I can feel its loyalty. When I turn the key and hear the soft rumble of power it’s like…….well………it’s like that dog you had that was your best friend that smiled and wagged its tail with love and affection, his only mission in life was to please you. It’s like that. I sit there inside and hear the blub of the dual exhaust and the purr of the engine just waiting to please. Drop it in gear and it responds with anticipation and I drive sealed in that space of time gone by.
I couldn’t agree more. It’s like driving with a good friend. I couldn’t resist popping outside to take a photo of the Roadmaster’s first day outside in months.
Snowy times are imminent here in The Great White North so my wagon has been packed away in the garage awaiting the warmth of summer. Part of the allure of driving a station wagon for me is being able to strap a Christmas Tree on the roof Chevy Chase-style. Last year I foolishly forgot my tie down straps and had to bring the tree back inside the wagon. The couple who were parked beside me at the tree lot were having considerable amounts of difficulty finding a way to get their tree into the trunk of their tiny little Honda. While there was a certain satisfaction in simply opening the back of the wagon, sliding the tree in, and driving off while they continued to struggle it wasn’t what I was looking for. This year I was well prepared. I had my straps ready so I dragged the wagon out of the garage and shined up the rims for one last mission. I was even able to ignore the strip of trim that had fallen off of the rear fender.
After driving around for a little while with the new Magnaflow’s installed, I wasn’t entirely certain that I liked the sound. It wasn’t quite as deep as I was hoping for. I wondered if it were possible that it might sound better outside of the car than it does inside. I decided to make some video clips of the car at a few different throttle levels to see what the sound was like. Ultimately I found that I’m quite happy with the exhaust note as it sounds from the outside of the car. I’m still not a huge fan of how it sounds from the inside of the car, but I think I can live with that. I’ve shared some video files with the gang at StationWagonForums.com as a number of them have FlowMaster muffler’s installed. From what we’ve discussed, the FlowMaster mufflers wouldn’t have sounded as good as these Magnaflow’s do.
Below are some links to the video files that I made of the car.
Click here to watch a video of the car starting up.
Click here to watch the car driving off at low throttle (At the end of this video the car can be heard rounding a nearby corner)
Click here to watch a drive-by at low throttle
Click here to watch a drive-by at higher throttle
Click here to watch a video of the car reversing into the driveway
I’ve been looking forward to replacing the exhaust on the wagon for a while. It hasn’t risen to the top of the list of importance so I’ve just been doing planning and researching.
As usual, my wagon decides what it wants and when it gets it. A hanger on the drivers side tailpipe broke some time ago and the previous owner must have caught that hang-down tailpipe on something and loosened the intake pipe on the drivers-side muffler. I’ve been tuning it out but it’s been getting steadily louder for some time. Last week it started to get raspy enough that it was pretty obvious that the volume level wasn’t by design and was actually a hole somewhere. I adjusted my priorities and went ahead with the exhaust replacement. I found a guy in town who does brakes and exhaust and was the only guy with a listing for custom exhaust. I told him what I wanted and he agreed to tackle the wagon the next morning. I had planned on 2-1/4″ pipe and a pair of Flowmaster 40′s. Pete recommended Magnaflow’s based on my description of how I wanted it to sound so I went with his judgement. I desperately wanted the long rectangular exhaust tips that he had on hand. Unfortunately they were best suited for rear exit as they just didn’t look right at the sides of the car. Fortunately I read the recent exhaust thread over at StationWagonForums.com and opted to keep the exhaust exiting at the side to stop CO from building up in my back window. I went with a set of oval chrome tips instead.
The set that they had on hand were double ported but I had it cut in half and used one port on each side. The twin pipes on each side wouldn’t have looked right in my opinion. I quite like the way it looks now. I managed to stroll in and get a few pictures of the installation while no one was actively working on the car.
For the last few weeks the brakes on my wagon have been giving forth an unholy howl. It became pretty obvious that some brake work was in order. This worked out well as I’ve been very frustrated since installing my aluminum rims. The openings in the new rims allow the brake drums to be seen, and those are really rusty. This picture is sort of poor, but it’s pretty obvious that these rusty drums don’t exactly improve the esthetic of the car at all.
I was unable to find drilled and slotted rotors in a reasonable time and I really wanted to see this cleaned up and doing a brake job was really the only way. I picked up some OEM equivalent rotors, pads, calipers, drums, and shoes. Having everything on hand ahead of time allowed me to put a coat of black caliper paint on the drums and calipers so that a more reasonable colour might show through my rim spokes when I was done.
It was sunny and hot outside today and those conditions aren’t particularly suitable for us computer geeks. Given that, I opted to tackle the rear brakes today and leave the front brakes for another day. The swap was pretty uneventful apart from my car’s brakes deviating slightly from the ones depicted in the service manual. I had to play a little trial and error to determine how to get everything reassembled correctly once I had done the teardown. I completely forgot about having purchased a drum brake spring kit until I had reassembled one wheel. I wound up tackling that wheel again to get all of the springs replaced with new hardware. Apart from keeping me out in the sunlight a little longer this wasn’t a major issue.
By the end of it all, I was hot, sweaty and immensely pleased with myself. So much so that I cleaned up and totally forgot to finish torquing down the lug nuts. That made for some tense moments once I got the car a few blocks from home but no real harm was done. I got the nuts torqued down properly and all was well. I’m really quite pleased both with the look of the car with it’s new black drums as well as having finished up my very first brake job.
I haven’t done a great deal of work on the wagon recently. Work and household projects always seem to get in the way. After working around the house for a week during my holidays I decided to take a day off and entered my Buick in it’s first car show. The downtown core of my hometown has hosted an annual car show for a number of years. For some reason, the show hasn’t been held for a little while and the Lions club is trying to resurrect it and give it a little momentum. The rain and limited advertising kept many of the cars away, but the weather cleared and the crowds were there. There were around 80-90 cars there in total and loads of people enjoying the Elvis and Johnny Cash impersonators. I was really impressed by the number of people who were really excited to see my station wagon. There were a lot of car guys who wanted to talk engine and powertrain as well as lots of folks marveling at it’s size and faux-woodgrain while showing their kids the super-cool rear facing seats. I didn’t get a lot of time to prowl the rest of the car show due to the traffic around the wagon, but I managed to get pictures of almost all of the cars. Enjoy!
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