One Goodguy’s Roller Coaster Ride to Puyallup
Buick Skylark’s LS2 Engine Swap:
Most car guys make like-minded friends, and Jason Rushforth is proud to know car guys all over the world. Take a half-dozen of his friends who live close by him in the Pacific Northwest, throw in some emotional roller coaster moments, one ’64 Buick, a high-tech engine swap and a few late nights. From there, subtract proper nourishment and numerous hours from the daily schedule, and you get the story of some of the best friends any guy could hope for… And collectively the reason his car made it to their big, local Goodguys show.
The following tale comprises all of the above, and makes for the memories we all share in late-night benchracing sessions, and throws a decidedly modern twist on the engine swap gone- bad-but-brought-back-from-peril-by-good-pals tale. It’s one of those MyRideisMe-style blips in hot rod history, where the car brings the big picture together, and all seems right in your high octane world. In Jason’s words:
Every car guy has a story about a late night thrash getting a car ready for a show whether it’s debuting a million dollar piece of rolling art at the Detroit Autorama to contend for the Ridler Award, unveiling a car at SEMA or just getting your ride to this week’s cruise night. This is our story and I think it’s a good one.
About 6 weeks ago, I drove the Rushforth Wheels company car, our ’64 Buick Skylark, into Chris Holstrom Concepts,which belongs to my long-time good friend, Chris Holstrom. This would be the last time the Buick ran with the 300 c.i. V8 it left Detroit with. The car only has 98,000 original miles and ran like a top but the little 2 barrel 300 and Powerglide weren’t getting it done, if you know what I mean, so we commenced to swapping them for an LS2 and a Keisler 6 speed. The little Buick mill came out ninety minutes later and went to it’s new home in a T-Bucket the next day thanks to Craigslist. All along, the plan was to finish the car in time for the Goodguys 23rd Annual Pacific Northwest Nationals in Puyallup, WA… right down the hill from Chris’ shop. We knew it would be kind of close, but we were up to the task.
Things were going very smoothly and we were knocking out the punch list, one item after another, and the car was looking good… And then, the day before the show (while hooking up the last bit of the miles of wiring harness to the drive by wire Corvette gas pedal) I found that the connector from the ECM did not match the pedal. The computer was from a C5 Corvette and the pedal was from a C6! I thought for a second and called my friend John Annon who has owned Corvettes for the entire 20 years I’ve known him, so I figured he might know someone with one at a local Corvette shop or extra parts or a wreck or some kind of Corvette source and told him what I was up against. What does this guy do? He climbs his 6’7″ frame under the dash of his Lingenfelter Twin Turbo C5 and yanks his gas pedal out and runs it across town for me!
On the same day, one of the things on the punch list is an alignment because we swapped to L&H Kustoms tall billet spindles, Hotchkis upper control arms to match the new spindles’ geometry and Baer T4 calipers (as if we didn’t have enough to do before the show) so I called Luke Mau from L&H Kustoms to get the alignment specs for his billet spindles, which correct the factory geometry flaws and allow for increased camber gain… without dangerous and annoying bumpsteer. Luke sees that it’s Thursday and knows the show starts Friday, and starts picking my brain to see what else is left to do and knows there’s no way we’re going to get it all done… so he jumps in the car with a few extra parts, tools, an alignment kit and some shims and drives two and a half hours from Oregon to align it! Unbelievable.
We couldn’t align it at Mike Sader’s American Muffler shop at quitting time when it came off the lift (after receiving a complete MagnaFlow system under it), so Mike threw us the keys to his dually, and we loaded it back in the trailer that Chris dropped it off in. We hauled it over to Jared Hancock’s shop, J-Rod and Custom, where we rolled it out and Luke began double-checking the suspension install that Art Stohrmann and I had performed (Mostly Art), while Jared’s crew and I started to try to figure out why the car wouldn’t stay running.
It would fire for a few seconds and then die every time. Fuel pump? Check. Ignition? Check. MAF clean and hooked up? Check. O2 sensors threaded in and wires attached? Check. What the hell? One of Jared’s main guys is Howard Wolf who works for a Ford dealership by day so he doesn’t flinch at the snake pit of wires and tubes associated with a new EFI computer-controlled motor the way analog old-school car guys like me do. Howard also carries a scan tool in his truck, so he hooks that up to the data port and there’s still no red flags.
Once Luke finishes up the alignment and the punch list he came up with all on his own, we tried in vain to start it again and again, and I finally said to Hell with it and just pushed her out in the midnight darkness and set about to washing the car and have a zen moment alone with the car. When I finally left at 3AM defeated, I just told Jared I’d be back for her on Monday and figure it out then.
The next day, I had accepted the fact that I’d be attending the car show on foot, so I wouldn’t grind my teeth all weekend and went to the show with as positive of an attitude as you can have while suffering from malnutrition and sleep deprivation while retelling the same damn sad story all day when someone asks; “Hey Rushforth, where’s your Buick?”
Around 3:00 in the afternoon, I’m enjoying the show with my daughter, Carly eating ice cream and visiting with friends in the Summer sun on the opening day of the show when my phone rings. It’s Jared exclaiming that he and his right hand man, Justin had loaded the car in his trailer and taken it to his computer tuner; Horsepower Ranch who plugged it into their laptop and found that an anti-theft code for the column lock had been left in the new aftermarket computer! The tuner eliminated the code so the computer stopped thinking we were stealing the car and it fired right up and idled away like it had wanted to do all along. Unbelievable! We had just about all but eliminated every variable and assumed it was something in the computer but I had personally given up the notion it would be resolved on Friday since we didn’t have the ability to hook up a laptop and I was too exhausted to mess with it again so my friends did it!
I dropped my daughter off at home and Chris and I head over to Jared’s to button up the last couple things like bolting the seat back down over the computer, bolt the newly acquired C5 pedal to the firewall and a few of those last minute things that come up on every project and take it for the maiden voyage which is completely surreal. The car sounds killer with the lumpy Comp Cams bump-stick aggressively burbling through the MagnaFlow system as you hear the idle smoothing out while the computer and the motor figure each other out.
On the drive, I lift off the throttle and hear the unmistakable sound of driveshaft smacking trans tunnel as the rearend tips upward and angles change ever so slightly. We pull back into Jared’s and jack it up, slide under and see that the little balance weight attached to the driveline is in perfect alignment with the underfloor brace that runs through the tunnel so Chris takes a cut off wheel to it and removes every part of the brace that touches and Jared expertly welds it back in 3/8″ further up into the tunnel without setting fire to the carpet all while laying on his back, effectively chopping and channeling the brace to gain the required clearance at Midnight. Unbelievable.
Chris and I drove the car home at 1AM and finally get some sound sleep. I woke the next morning with a whole new attitude and outlook on the weekend and drive straight to the fairgrounds without even dusting the car off. That can be done when I get parked at the show! Once there, I lovingly give it a quick clean up while friends and strangers and people who followed the build on online forums all come up one after another to see how we did.
Coming off that emotional roller coaster, I wouldn’t have cared if there were 100 cars and it rained all weekend but that was not the case. Like most Goodguys events around the country, it was absolutely packed with great cars, over 2500 to be exact, lots of vendors and tons of spectators flooding the gates all weekend long with perfect 85 degree sun and 9:30 PM sunsets all three days. We get a bad rap here for our rain but the Summers are hard to beat!
In addition to great cars and great weather, Art and Craig Morrison from Art Morrison Enterprises here in Tacoma, WA are responsible for the Builder’s Choice Awards which are killer billet trophies given to only the 10 very best cars in the entire show and I’m proud to report, my good friend Brett Anderson, whose car I designed and put wheels on got one of the coveted awards despite the fact he built his car himself in his two car garage!
Do you have a similar story about a late-night thrash, some good friends and having it all come together in the eleventh hour? Perhaps you’ve got some tips and tricks you learned along the way and would like to share… Feel free to post in the comments below or shoot us an email: moc.emsiedirymnull@nimda