21st Century Riviera



Well, the updates have been long in coming, and I apologize. Here are the major things I have done/changed/tackled/fixed in the last 3 years or so.

In the fall of 2010 I chased a nagging problem for many, many months. Under WOT when the RPMs hit right about 5000 it would stop pulling and flatten out. It wouldn't die or anything like that, but just stop pulling. It also was reluctant to rev any higher. We couldn't figure it out. I tried many different things to narrow it down:

I dropped the exhaust thinking that could be the problem.
Replaced the distributor.
Replaced the MSD box.
Swapped in a complete Stinger ignition.
Replaced the external electric fuel pump with a different one.
Replaced the fuel regulaotor.
Replaced all the 3/8" fuel line with 1/2".
Checked the alternator output.

We just couldn't figure it out. Kenny Gold (body man extraordinaire from GS Garage) mentioned he thought it could be the transmission. I told him I didn't think so as the trans was only a couple of years old, but I still logged his thoughts in case I needed them later. So we pulled the engine and took it to a dyno. It performed well. We didn't see it "lay over" at 5000 RPM, but it did hit a bit of a flat spot at about 4500 RPM. So, we assumed it was a cam issue and swapped to a TA 413 cam.  We brought the engine home from the dyno and when I pulled it apart found copper on the main bearings. Also, and the rear main cap was poorly fitting and caused the rear seal to be pinched, which is why it leaked like a SIEVE!

So I used my connections and located a 1975 455 block. I had my parts transferred to it. And I figured this was a good time to up the ante, so I went with a TA413 cam. I was still using my ported iron heads, B4B and QuickFuel 950.

Dyno day initially resulted in a max of 430HP, which was basically what it made with the old cam. Richening the jets got us 10HP to 440HP.  I wasn't too happy. But we had brought with us an SP1 intake. After switching to the SP1 and rejetting the carb we peaked at 470HP and over 530 lb ft TQ! The dyno shop had an out-of-the-box Holley 850 so we threw that on for kicks. The output didn't change but the fuel and air curves were much improved.

I assumed all was well and headed home content I had conquered my gremlins.

However... the SP1 is a much taller intake and would not fit under my hood. I didn't care. With a 30HP increase over the B4B it wasn't coming off the engine. I would just have to cut a hole in my hood and stick a scoop on it. ***SIGH*** The best laid plans of mice and men.....

Once everything went back together I had to get everything running without a hood. No biggie. I dropped the engine in and buttoned it all up, then realized I never bolted the flexplate onto the engine!!! Argh! So I was able to use a lift at Nick Serwo's GS Garage and slid the trans back enough to bolt the flexplate on.

But the instant I began backing the Riv out of the garage I noticed that the brake pedal was a lot lower than I remember. Hmmmmm.... more on that later.

It ran good, as far as I could tell, with the limited road time I could put on it without a hood. So I had Nick Serwo from The GS Garage cut a hole in my spare hood and away I went. But the feeling was short-lived.

It still nosed over! ARRRRGGGGHHHH! I knew it wasn't the engine because it would pull hard to 5800, peaking the HP at 5500. It did it with no problem or sign of laying over. What I thought was odd was that when the drivetrain was still cold I would swear it would rev fine. But after a full WOT blast it would lay over again. Was I nuts? Was I imagining it? I was leary about beating on it when it was cold, but I HAD to find the problem! So each day I could count on it running fine until after I drove it for 15 minutes. I had ruled out engine, ignition and fuel. What was left?

I was confident it was the transmission. So I replaced the transmission and took it for a drive. After 30 minutes I could still rev the piss out of it! I donated my old transmission to a friend who had it checked out. It seems there was a problem with the build. Something about a pressure relief valve that wasn't installed or something. I don't care. I can run it hard now all day long!

Here is the current build done Jan-April 2011:

455 block bored .030 over
TRW Forged 10:1 Aluminum Pistons
Ported Iron Stage1 Heads
TA 413 Cam installed 6* advanced
TA SP1 intake
TA Shorty Headers
TA Timing cover
TA 1.6 Roller Rockers
Balanced Assembly
COAN 3000 stall Converter
COAN Transmission with steeper ratio 1st and 2nd gears
External trans cooler with built in fan
MSD Ignition
Griffin aluminum radiator (installed 4/13)

I am running consistent mid 12.9's on the east coast.

My Woes...

What problems have I encountered lately?

Transmission (again)...

Well, I bought a transmission from TCI. I decided that I wanted it to live so I wanted to do things right. I bought a trans cooler from B&M. It has a built-in electric fan and thermostat. This was the first trans change I made when trying to figure out if my transmission was the cause of my "nosing over" or "stop pulling" problem. When I first pulled away from my house with this transmission and tranny cooler installed I was upset to learn the new TCI transmission wouldn't shift out of first gear!!!  ARRGGHHH!!!!!!

So I returned the transmission (thank you JEGS!) and decided to go with the same brand trans as the converter I have: COAN. I even got the steeper gear set. Imagine my surprise when that transmission also wouldn't shift out of first gear!!!!!! I figured the odds of two transmissions failing the same way from two different companies was virtually ZERO, so I figured I had to look at the only other change I had made. The B&M trans cooler. Could it really be bad right out of the box? It was a "plate" style cooler.

I bypassed the cooler but only long enough to see if I had 2nd and 3rd gear. I didn't want to drive it at all without any kind of trans cooling system. And to my surprise it shifted immediately when I pulled out of the driveway. Thank you B&M. What a POS you built.

Knock, Knock. Who's There?

I was pretty disappointed when I first started the engine in the car after the 413 cam. I experienced this issue with other BBB engines of mine, too. After it sat for 15 minutes or so it would knock very loudly 3 or 4 times after each hot start. I'm sure it did it on cold starts too, but I had to get the RPMs up pretty quickly and that left me unable to really hear the bottom end. It was the hot starts that really didn't require any gas pedal that enabled me to hear the noise. So I bit the bullet and got a new TA timing cover/oil pump setup. The problem was lessened, but still there. After a year of listening to the knocking I decided to try replacing the adjustable TA regulator with a standard spring and nut in the oil pump bypass. It made ALL the noise go away!!! But my oil pressure was now at 120psi cold. Way too high. So as I sat there thinking about what to do... (cut the spring? Get a different spring?) I picked up the TA adjustable regulator and turned it over... and noticed that right from TA the regulator is adjusted to ZERO! No additional compression of the spring! So I put it back in and kept adjusting it tighter until I got the oil pressure I want. And the knock has gone away!

So, if you are plagued by the dreaded "worn out Buick 455" knock, use an adjustable regulator and turn it up!

Brake Issues...

I looked hard at why my brake pedal was suddenly so low. I also was unable to foot brake the car at all without rolling forward, no matter how I tried. Everyone told me it was a booster or master cylinder problem. I replaced the master cylinder and it made no difference. I replaced the master cylinder with one that has a larger diameter piston (that took me a lot of cross-referencing). No diff. I replaced the booster. I replaced the calipers. All no diff. But the brakes were fine until the change to the TA 413 cam!

I finally decided that I knew what the hell was going on and installed an electric vacuum pump. People told me it would make no difference. Problem solved! Pedal is high and the brakes work great. Foot braking on the starting line is again no problem. It seems that the combination of the TA413 can and the single-plane intake caused enough of a vacuum issue to affect my brake pedal.

So, yes, between the limited RPMs under WOT, knocking, the transmission/trans cooler and the brakes I have fixed some very evasive and difficult issues.

Hood Clearance...

Here are pics of the hood scoop project in late April / early May 2011...

With the SPX giving me 30 more HP over the B4B there was no way I was giving it up! But it will not fit under the hood of a Riviera, so a hole had to be cut in the hood. But I had to pick a scoop that would look good on such a wide and low car. Of course, when I cut the hole I wasn't considering "scoop availability by size". I just cut the hole based on the size of the air cleaner I was using at the time. As it turns out, I was using a LARGE air cleaner. So, once the hole was cut (I drew the circle on the hood and it took Nick Serwo all of 45 seconds with an air chisel of some kind) I was pretty limited in scoop availability based on the size I needed to cover the massive hole I had just cut in the hood. In the end the Ford Cobra jet scoop was chosen.

I was lucky enough to have just enough Embassy Gold paint left over from when I painted the car for Nick Serwo to paint the hood for me. And as long as my 51st birthday was approaching, as a present he also squirted the underside nice shiny gloss black for me.

I was limited to where the scoop had to go by the center of the carb stud. The hole had to be cut centered over the carb. But I then had to decide where over the hole to mount the scoop because I DID have some leeway fore and aft.

As for the trim... I tried running it all the way to the hole, disappearing under the scoop, but to me it just made the scoop look too "Added On". I think by leaving the trim short of the scoop it looks more like how the factory would have done it.

Ram Air Riv

I figured that I might as well try to take advantage of the hood scoop, so I thought about how to seal the air cleaner to the underside of the hood around the hole. I tried a plywood ring and didn't like the girth or the cheezy look. So I started thinking about available options. So I got a drop base air cleaner and found a large aluminum pizza pan online. I had the two pop-rivited together and BEHOLD!

Then I found an upholsterer who has flame retardant foam and had him cut me a ring (he told me he has done this for racers before!) I used contact glue to adhere them.

I still keep the normal drop base in the trunk and a piece of foam to plug the front of the scoop in case I run into rain on the road. Works like a charm. Preliminary tests show it to be .02 quicker with the base vs base and no air cleaner. I suppose the K&N Filter smoothes out the air that is bouncing all around in the scoop. I pick up .005 using the base vs no base and just an air cleaner. I think it has more to do with sealing off the hot under hood air from the carb than anything.


In the fall of 2012 I backed in to a retaining wall in a parking lot. I know. Stupid. But the classic car insurance I carry covered all the damage.