V8 Staff

As the summer came to a close, I had transferred to Illinois State University to be in their Mass Communication program. I had plans to take the Riv, but it was just starting to develop a knock down low. I really didn’t do a lot of burnouts or abuse the car, but it was becoming louder. Good thing I had the spare 455 I had bought for the Skylark laying around.. I figured I’d rebuild the spare, then just switch ‘em out one night and be off to school. Easy-peasy, no?

Again, I blew all my summer job cash on car parts. Sent $450.00 to Wayne’s Mail Order Engine Parts (who remembers their ads in Car Craft?) for a rebuild kit. Spent a couple hundred more with my local machine shop on block work. More for the crank polishing and installing the pistons on the connecting rods. Spent a couple hundred more on rebuilding the heads. Had a cracked head and had to find a replacement and have it rebuilt. I had never rebuilt an engine before, although I’d been “around” many rebuilds. This time, however, it was for my daily driver, so it had to be right. Thankfully, my buddy Jim assembled the short block as I handed him tools, and it went together smoothly. I installed the heads, intake, manifolds, and all the other stuff, and got it painted up and ready for install.

Time was not on my side, as the install process began on a Friday, I’m guessing around August 14. My buddies were moving into the apartment at school on Thursday the 13th. This was going to be an epic weekend of partying, but I had an engine to install. Class started Monday the 17th.

All I know is that I worked my ass off that weekend installing the new 455 into the Riv, and I was having some troubles. By Saturday afternoon, it was ready to run, but I missed one key detail with 1970 Buick fuel systems. These cars had and electric fuel pump from the factory, the first of it’s kind. They also had a sneaky little switch on the side of the block… it was an oil pressure switch, but it also controlled the fuel pump. If the car had low oil pressure, the switch would kill the fuel pump and try to save the engine from catastrophic failure. However, I had used that oil pressure switch port as a place to connect my mechanical oil pressure gauge, so the fuel pump never had a signal wire to turn on. The ironic part is that even if the switch did its job and killed the fuel pump, carburetors have enough fuel to run for a while, allowing the damage to occur anyway. I spent hours trying to figure that one out… I could trace the fuel pump wiring and all looked good, but I somehow missed the switch circuit. Then, once I figured it out, I needed to cobble together some brass adapters to allow me to run both the switch and the gauge, as I was not going to start a new engine with no oil pressure gauge in the car.

After much toiling, battery charging, Ether spraying, and other tomfoolery, I finally got the car to light off about 2:00 AM Sunday morning.

Did I mention that in just a few hours, I was moving out of my parent’s house for the first time? My mom was pretty uneasy, as I had done NOTHING to prepare for the big move. When my older sister moved away, there were weeks of planning, shopping, packing, more planning… you get the idea. This time, I don’t even think I did laundry. I put the tools away, took a shower, and crawled into bed. A couple hours later, I remember throwing my clothes (dirty as they may be) into plastic garbage bags and stuffing them into the car. My Dad had a ‘92 Buick Roadmaster wagon as a company car at that point, and we disassembled my bed and threw it in there along with the my stereo and some kitchen stuff. I had an Amiga 500 computer at the time (always been a computer geek, another story) and I crammed that into the Riv, along with several hundred CDs I bought at my buddy’s pawn shop. Add a suitcase full of toiletries, a couple bags of groceries, some towels and sheets in the Roadmonster, and we were off. I think we left the house around 2:00 in the afternoon or so.

Illinois State University was about 150 miles from my home, and my folks drove in the Roadmaster and I in the Riv. The engine was fresh, the tune was OK, but it ate up the miles. We arrived after dark and unloaded my junk into an apartment I shared with 4 of my buddies, including Paul. They were mostly ½ in the bag and were finishing off a barrel from the party the night before when I got there. The move was smooth, and I had plenty of time (hours) before class the next day.

Remember that pesky little oil pressure switch? It made an appearance the next day. It was my first day of classes, so I drove to campus and parked the Riv at a local bank trying to avoid a $2.00 parking ticket on city streets. I went to the bookstore to get my books, hit the first class, did a little BSing with others, and headed back to the Riv to discover an oil slick below the car reminiscent of the Exxon Valdez. That crappy little switch housing had decided to let go and spew all 5 quarts of 300-mile-old break-in Valvoline 10w40 all over the bank parking lot. What a mess. The near-miracle, however, is that the switch housing didn’t break 24 hours earlier on I-55 going 70 MPH and wipe out my new 455.

I mopped up the spill as best I could, bummed a ride from a buddy to get a new switch, installed it in the bank parking lot, and counted my blessings. That was a close one, man.

The Riv did pretty well that year, but the winter months and salty roads revealed tons of rust bubbles. I landed a job at an Oldies radio station in town, and the station manager always complemented me on the car. There were many stories from that year of school, and the Riv played a big part in a bunch of them.

The Riv was not an economy size car in the early 1990s, and parking was at a premium on the campus of Illinois State University. The town of Normal, IL, also had unusual time intervals for parking meters which always seemed to be a few minutes shorter than it took me to park the car, go to class, and come back.

For example, it seemed like $.25 for ½ hour was not enough, but $.50 was far too much for an hour when you had a 40 minute class. When you don’t have any money, you want to put as little coin in the machine and hope you don’t get nailed before the time expired. I was not very good at this, and I soon amassed quite a collection parking tickets.

Note the $2.00 fine… but this increased rapidly when you didn’t pay it… as you can imagine.

My dad, being a recently retired police officer with extra time on his hands, found it entertaining to communicate with the law-enforcement officials in Normal, Illinois, where I was going to school. These communications resulted in special gifts like this fine Christmas card I received from the Normal Police Department.

There was one other little example of a run in with the law while driving the Riv. I was heading back to school with a friend, and admittedly and driving far in excess of the posted speed limit on interstate 55. This came on the return trip from a weekend visit to my Folks. The plan was to sleep as late as possible after a big Saturday night out in Chicago, and leave my Folks’ house near Chicago and get downstate to school on Sunday afternoon with about five minutes to spare before I was supposed to be delivering a newscast on WZND Radio. What could go wrong?

Unfortunately, I did not account for additional time that might be required should I have a social call from a member of the Illinois State police department on the way.

The trooper claimed he clocked me at 93 mph in a 55 zone, but we all know I was probably going faster than that. As you can imagine, this delayed my trip and I was late for my air shift on WZND, the ISU student (non-paid) radio station. I was also faced with raising the necessary funds to finance a $180 speeding ticket.

This forced me to take any work I could find, which included very short stint working in a Taco Bell. I’ll never forget the kindness and support I received from my roommates when they visited me at Taco Bell. Between the laughter, they provided numerous colorful comments about my uniform and my place of employment. I knew at that point that food service was not for me, and the humiliation powered me into pursuing a paying job at WIHN radio. Motivation comes in strange forms.

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