Saturday, February 28, 2015

Junkyard Adventures: 1973 Pontiac Grand Am

Project 1973 Pontiac lands in Alabama.

Getting there is half the fun.
Junkyard Life guys – hearts of gamblers with none of the instincts. That’s us!
An ongoing obsession with 1973 Pontiacs is taking place at Junkyard Life. We have never seen a green 1973 Grand Am. So, having one became mandatory. We obtained possibly the coolest of Colonnades... a 1973 Pontiac Grand Am. In a rare color called "Golden Olive."
  A little background on "Olive," as we have named her. She is a shapely 1973 Pontiac Grand Am in mostly original condition. Her drive train operates nicely, though she does have a dead leg rear end. A NACA hood (added by us, soon after purchase), and several other tasty Grand Am things like a rear sway bar and reclining "horse collar" seats will earn her a permanent parking spot in the Junkyard Life stable.
Smoke show
  Olive has a bit of a smoking problem from her 400 engine, fed by a 2-barrel carburetor, but we are convincing her to quit. We have big engine plans in the near future... More, more, more! She has the finned hubcaps that Pontiac purest hold so dear. The GM A-body drives great, stops true, and feels tighter than a 42-year-old car should. But was Olive up for a trip to T.S.U.S.F. (Top Secret Undisclosed Storage Facility)? Dare we? The rain had no intention of letting up and we needed to put the car inside, right? Okay, lets go.  

Shotgun seat for a junkyard adventure in a 1973 Pontiac.
Keith Lively takes the shotgun seat in the ’73 Grand Am adventure. Miss Olive needs a nose job but the NACA hood addition was a must.

Ride along
  We called a Junkyard Life brother, or two, to ride along (and "push” if needed). What could go wrong? For added safety, we decided to follow along in an even older car! Somehow, Junkyard Life brother, Keith Lively fell for this malarkey and rode shotgun.  

The ‘Golden Olive’ green 1973 Pontiac Grand Am heads toward the Junkyard Life storage facility.
I wish we could say that was tire smoke. That 35 MPH limit won't be a problem.

>>This was Keith’s version of the event: 

How a Car Guy spent his weekend
  I received a call from the staff over at Junkyard Life asking if I wanted to go with them to take a barn find 1973 Pontiac Grand Am to their “Top Secret Undisclosed Storage Facility.”  
  Yes, you guessed it, I met up with the guys and, wow... What a car, and what an adventure, and what was I thinking?
  A normal person would have just put it on a trailer and made the trip. Not these guys. After some debating, it was decided to see if the Grand Am would run and make the trip under its own power. I was voted co-pilot on this adventure mission.  

Proving that a mothballed 1973 Grand Am is road worthy in the rain.
This picture was taken as a door decided it was not going stay shut. We thought Keith was making a break for it.

  We get the car started and (kinda) running. The old 400-V8 might have six working cylinders, and none of the dash worked. Also, no defroster during what was going to be a heavy rain and an hour-long drive with little-to-no window seals.  
  Believe it or not, the trip started out OK. After 20 minutes of driving in heavy rain, we had to pull into a gas station. YES, WE HAD to DRAIN THE FLOORS THAT WERE FULL OF WATER to keep our feet from going under. 
  Was this the Junkyard Life aquarium? (editor’s note: This may be the first time the word "aquarium" has been used in a Junkyard Life story. Thanks, Keith!)  
Visibility was limited during the rainy drive in the 1973 Pontiac.
Keith wasn't kidding about the fog.

Lost Power, can’t see a thing
  Thirty-five minutes into the drive and the Grand Am lost what little power it had, so over into the emergency lane we go. After a few minutes it came back to life and we were moving again.
  Tail pipes billowing smoke and exhaust fumes starting to buildup inside the Grand Am. The windows are rolled down (yes, still raining) and I can't see a thing. My driver assures me we are getting close to the Top Secret Undisclosed Storage Facility, which sounds to me a bit like the Bat Cave.  By now, I'm thinking we just might make it. 

Fuel leak!
  With only 10 minutes left until we reached our destination, we had to go up a hill. That is when we found out the car must have a bad gas leak, because we are running out of gas when we go uphill. So, with two guys rocking the car back-and-forth, trying to get it to pick up enough fuel to make the last hill, we make it to the top. Victory is ours! 
  The chase rig, a green 1972 Vista Cruiser Wagon, loaded with tools, is hard to see through the smoke. We pull up to what looks like the longest building ever built. The door opens and with what little headlights we have left, I was not able to see the end on the building. We drive down the main lane to the rear of the building and see rows of really cool, old Hot Rods waiting to be rebuilt and brought back to life.

Leaning, gunning and sliding sideways in a 1973 Pontiac.
Pilot, Anthony Powell, and co-pilot, Keith Lively test the limits of the new Firestone tires on the Grand Am. New rubber rocks!

1973 Pontiac Grand Am is smoking heavily and idling outside undisclosed storage facility.
We made it! Keith wasn't kidding about the smoke either. We shall drop something roller-cammed in this one soon – stay tuned!

Trip summary  
  The ’73 Grand Am had no working electrical, except the engine. No defrost, and every window leaked heavily. The engine kept trying to die, and we had to stop and drain the water from the floors to keep our feet somewhat dry, but we made it. Overall, it was a fun trip with a bunch of great friends. I can’t wait to rescue the next barn find and start the next Junkyard Life adventure.

Ron Kidd & Keith Lively
— Junkyard Life

Fuel filler is below bumper and behind tag on 1973 Pontiac Grand Am and Grand Prix,
One-year-only 1973 Grand Am trunk lid. Tag/fuel filler door moves above bumper in 1974.

Strato bucket seats recline and offer lumbar adjustment in 1973 Pontiac Grand Am.
  Pontiac designers continued to offer the buying public beautiful, mid-sized cars even with the government said not to. Bless ‘em. Those reclining Strato bucket seats are a 1973 Grand Am feature. Pontiac Grand Prix and the Trans Am/Formula offered the same seats but without the recline or lumbar support feature.  

Full compliment of gauges standard on 1973 Pontiac Grand Am
Miss Olive has a complex nervous (wiring) system. Previous owner added several toggles on the console, more accessory switches on the dash, air horns, and an apparent alarm system under the hood.

Trunk and tail lights taper to a point on the 1973 Pontiac Grand Am.
42-year-old, Miss Olive, shows off her curves.

Sweeping, sculpted lines of 1973 Pontiac Grand Am mark the end of an era in automotive design.
First generation Grand Ams (1973-1975) were GM’s new breed of luxury, performance, and handling, built to compete with European corner carvers.

Front nose is missing on the 1973 Pontiac Grand Am in Golden Olive paint. New soft Endura nose is needed.
Miss Olive deserves proper cosmetic dentistry and the best rhinoplasty available. A fiberglass version of the soft Endura nose may do the trick.

Know a junkyard that we need to visit? Got a car story?  

Send emails to Jody at or Ron at

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Reader’s Rides: Trio of 1976 Buick Free Spirit Indy Pace Cars rescued for restoration

Flock of Free Spirits. Len L'Heureux has gathered a trio of 1976 Buick Free Spirit Pace Cars at his shop in Canada. Len, no stranger to automotive restorations, located the rare (only 1,290 built), pace car replicas and negotiated their purchase.
  Despite their junky, as-found appearance, two are driveable. I was also surprised to learn that two of the slab-sided, silver Buicks were bought from original owners who had squirreled them away for decades. 

Attention-getting graphics on one of GM’s popular A-Body Colonnade beauties were not a recipe for success, but these overlooked, limited-production Buicks should soon skyrocket in value.

Fly again?
  Plans to restore the lone, t-top-equipped Free Spirit are underway. Once the restoration is complete, Len plans to sell the Free Spirit wearing the best graphics. He hopes to recoup some of the t-top Buick’s restoration costs by selling off the hard top swan. The ugly duckling of the bunch will likely be stripped of Free Spirit-specific parts. Those unobtainable, crown jewel items will be needed for Len’s parts stash or retirement fund. 
  Try finding a 1976 Buick Free Spirit aluminum roof halo or deck lid spoiler. I hate to say it, but I will. Len’s collection may be worth more, sold in pieces and parts. Let’s hope these three Buicks hit the road again.

  We will keep you posted on Len’s progress but if you get a wild hair and want to buy Len’s collection, he may consider leaving the Buick business. You can reach him at:

Jody Potter  
— Junkyard Life

The interior 1976 Buick Free Spirit Pace Car replica features bucket seats, console shift, tilt, A/C, and Rallye steering wheel.

Free Spirit spotter’s guide: Aluminum accent strip tops the squared roof.

Rare flock of three 1976 Buick Century Free Spirit Pace cars.

Only the best Colonnade-era Buicks featured a stunning, sweeping console.

Len L'Heureux plans to sell this Free Spirit replica, which has the best decals.

Len’s favorite t-top-equipped 1976 Buick Free Spirit is flanked by two hard top models.

A red Buick Rallye steering wheel frames the pace car’s gauges.

The Buick’s silver paint has dulled to a shade of grey that is often mistaken as primer. Spotter’s Guide tip: Pace car replica striping makes the lengthy hood look longer.

Cloth or vinyl interiors were option on 1976 Buick Free Spirit replicas. I’ve seen black cloth in person, see that previous Free Spirit find here.

1976 Free Spirits featured reddish-orange painted wheels.

1976 Free Spirit Buicks spotter’s guide: Blacked-out tail panels.

Read more 1976 Buick awesomeness!

Do you know where a classic or muscle car is parked in the weeds, send photos and an address. We’re on the way!?  Send emails to

Monday, February 2, 2015

Junkyard Emergency: 1969 Olds Cutlass S convertible rescue mission

Keith Lively of Morris, Alabama discovered a rare 1969 Cutlass convertible on the chopping block at a local scrap yard and jumped into action. He bought what is normally unobtainable at scrap yards - an entire car. 
Junkyard emergency of biblical proportions! Junkyard Life brother, Keith Lively, has done the impossible. Forget flying or time travel, this guy BOUGHT an entire car from a scrap yard! The official records will read that he did not buy a car, he bought every single part of the car. How many times have we tried to do that and got the obligatory negative head shake and a hand pointing at the door?   

All hands on deck
  “Junkyard Emergency!” an excited voice yelled on the other end of my phone. I knew this was serious business. So, I dropped everything and bee-lined to the scrap place. And look what I found. Keith Lively sitting on, guarding if you will, his bounty and new thing to do. A 1969 Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible! 
  Keith’s father, with trailer in tow, and I arrived at the same time. It was my turn to stand guard while they sealed the deal. My hands were plastered against the convertible as they made it all official with the scrap yard. Sold!
  Consider this baby rescued. Good finally wins over evil. Finally, the car guys triumph over scrap prices. 

Keith Lively rescued this 1969 Olds Cutlass convertible from an Alabama scrap yard. He plans a total resto-mod on the rough-but-complete, Crimson Red rag top.
What does he have here, really? 
  Keith has what I suspect to be a triple red Cutlass S convertible with an Oldsmobile 350-cu. inch V-8. The drop top is well-optioned with power brakes, power steering, air conditioning, bucket seats, with (dig this) no console. That’s right, it has a column shifter and buckets. Keith and I refuse to believe someone simply added buckets and didn’t have a console to install. No, the seats appear to match perfectly to the back seat. Almost forgot to mention the solid, rust-free frame and 12-bolt rear end out back.
  The treasure chest gets heavier when you consider a very unusual 3-spoke Sport steering wheel optioned on the Oldsmobile. You find a lot of “base model” steering wheels, which almost appear to be upside down or you may be lured to the sporty appeal of the famous 4-spoke Sport Wheel. The Oldsmobile dorks over here at Junkyard Life have not seen many of these way cool, 3-spoke steering wheels in Keith’s ’69 Cutlass. 
  The red rag top has the upscale Cutlass S trim on the fenders extending all the way down the royal sides of this drop top. It seems to have the original paint (code 52 Crimson Red). The hood? Oh, my. It has the “S” or Supreme hood that also made an appearance on the 442’s of the 1969 model year. We love that hood. How many of the 13,498 Cutlass convertibles built are still around?

Red on red 1969 Cutlass S convertible interior has seen better days when discovered at an Alabama scrap yard.
Peek at the rare 3-spoke wheel. Note the column shifter and the bucket seats.

What doesn’t he have here?
  The drop topper has no radiator and does not have the original wheels. Boo-hoo. We can take care of that in short order. The frame for the convertible top and the mechanisms appear to be in good shape, although the material is long gone. 

Loaded up and trucking home with the latest project. Junkyard envy?

Get out there and build something
  We welcome this addition to the family of Junkyard Life Oldsmobiles we have rescued and played with. This rare Olds has fallen into good hands and the end of its life story is about to be rewritten. Good stuff. Great negotiating skills and a real life, “I can’t believe this!” story. We will start on this car after we can finally stop high-fiving each other. 

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life

Keith Lively, left, and Ron Kidd, right, assume the “hands-on-don’t touch-my-car” position while guarding the prized, scrap yard ’69 Cutlass convertible.

Big dent in the Cutlass passenger door is the result of a forklift moving the car at the scrap yard.

Original 350-cu. inch Olds engine under the hood, we think.

A new convertible top will make a huge difference in the appearance of this neglected ’69 Cutlass.

Keith Lively proudly stands by his latest hot rod project, a red 1969 Cutlass convertible,
Keith Lively stands proudly beside his latest hot rod project. See his 1966 Chevy Impala, LS 6.0 AWD project here.

1969 Cutlass S hood with rear louvers, also used on non-Ram Air 4-4-2s.

A vintage 95 Rock tag adorns the ’69 Cutlass. 95 Rock was ”the” Birmingham, Alabama rock station in the 1980s.

Bright Cutlass S trim runs the length of the 1969 Olds convertible.

A bit more air in the replacement rubber before she rolls off the trailer and the scrap yard treasure lands at its new home.

Last time this 1969 Cutlass had a new tag – 1987.

Would you have the guts to rescue this 1969 Cutlass? A lot of work ahead for Keith Lively, but he gets it – this is a dream car. 

One-of-13,498 V8 Cutlass convertible built in 1969.

The journey begins again for this scrap yard refugee. 1969 Olds Cutlass S convertible in the new “before” picture.

Know a junkyard that we need to visit? Got a car story?  

Send emails to Jody at or Ron at