Project Living Dead Gril AKA Dead Betty Update

Project Living Dead Gril AKA Dead Betty Update

Last time we talked about Project Living Dead Girl, our 1955 Buick Special build called Dead Betty, was in our August issue of the Magazine. We had Aileen Uebel of Stellar Designs in to do some lettering and pinstriping on the trunk lid, hood, and roof. Prior to that, we had just finished stripping the roof and patching in the rust we had up there.

Since then, we have been busy. We mocked up the car on the ground and figured out exactly how the suspension needs to go together to work. We hit up our sponsor, BOP Parts, to get a full bushing and kingpin kit for the front end of the Buick so we could get started on rebuilding it. BOP Parts is a Caddy Daddy company that specializes in new old stock, used parts, and new reproduction parts for Buicks, Pontiacs, and Oldsmobiles. Caddy Daddy does the same for all your classic Cadillac needs. If they don’t have what you're looking for, they can probably find it.

Surprisingly, when we mocked it up and took our measurements, we could get away with using the stock configuration of the suspension as long as we utilized Fatman Fabrication’s discontinued dropped uprights. We hit them up and scored one of their last couple of sets. The dropped uprights would be comparable to dropped spindles for another car, but because of the unique kingpin setup on the car (a miniature version of your big rig kingpin setup, or so I’ve been told). Using the parts from BOP Parts and from Fatman Fab allows us to rebuild the front suspension, and with a set of strategically placed bags, we should have no problem laying the car on its frame when aired out.

For the back end, the search was on for a rear end that was narrow enough to fit the widest tire possible between the rear quarter panel and the frame. I was able to reach out to a friend and do some horse trading on a Foxbody Mustang 8.8 rear end. Since I picked up the rear end, I haven't had a chance to go through it yet, but we believe it is a limited-slip differential in working order.

The plan for the rear end is to build a 4-link system to hold it in place, and we will need to swap the axles from 4-lug to 5-lug, which thankfully is a common upgrade for the Foxbody rear ends with lots of kits available and can even be done with a proper list of parts to pull from your local junkyard.

For now, though, we have been focusing on the front end. We cleaned up the old upper and lower arms and painted them with Poppy’s Patina Chassis Armour before fitting all new bushings, fittings, and kingpins. Once installed on the car, we moved over to our 2003 Yukon and started stripping it down to pull all the parts out of it that we could. This included the 6.0L LQ4 engine and the 4L65e transmission. We also decided to pull the radiators, coolers, hydroboost brake setup, steering box, arms, and linkages to hopefully retrofit into the Buick.

When Highwood Rod and Custom out of Calgary found out about our build, they offered up their services on our 4L65e, knowing that it needed to be converted from an AWD output to a 2WD output shaft and housing. They went above and beyond and went through the entire transmission and replaced anything that looked like it needed to be, including the valve body. They even snuck in a mild shift kit. The 4L65e is known to not be the strongest transmission, but we aren’t planning on putting any big power numbers through it from the engine (at least for now), so we should be just fine.

With the transmission rebuilt and ready to roll, we moved over to cleaning the engine so we can work with it to mock up our motor mounts and transmission crossmember. Setting the engine in the bay for the first time made us realize a few things. The stock steering setup was not going to work, nor was the stock steering box location. The other thing we noticed was how much room we had in front of the motor. Having removed the steering setup from the Yukon, we started mocking up moving the entire setup to in front of the control arms instead of behind.

Once that was loosely sitting there on the floor, I decided to see if I could luck out and utilize the radiator from the Yukon as well. So far, the thought of being able to utilize all these systems that ran off of or worked with the engine was exciting. With a ton of trimming to the inner fenders and the core support across the front, the radiator just barely fits. Knowing this, and that we can easily add the structure and work around the radiator with the inner fenders and the core support, it was time to fab up some engine mounts.

To be completely honest, my fabrication skills are beginner at best, but I was determined. I initially took some scrap metal and pieces I had laying around and booger welded them together to see if I could get them to work. No dice. On my second attempt, I took some ¼” thick steel plate and tried to bend it into a bolt-on shape. If I did get a piece of it to bend, I had to cut so far into the metal that it fell apart. Attempt number three, I took my bolt-on plate bending fiasco and made some more typical brackets; this worked on the driver's side and almost worked on the passenger side, but it was ugly. Knowing full well that I was not going to be the one to weld this car together, I knew I needed to redo the mounts one more time to be some form of bolt-on for now and could be fully welded by someone more talented than me in the future. I was able to take the ¼” plate and build a nice bracket that bolted to the top of the front crossmember like the old motor mounts did and then weld some triangular plates to the back of the plate to let it rest on the back of the crossmember for now and be welded later. These are strong enough to hold it in place for now and look much better than my previous attempts.

Moving on to the steering box, I took everything I learned from my 4 sets of engine mounts and built a beautiful bracket that bolts onto and clamps over the front section of the frame rail. After some mockup, it is clear that using the Yukon steering components will be ideal in this situation. I will be able to triangulate the steering box pitman arm and the idler arm on the other side with the center of the rear end to ensure proper steering angle for the inside and outside tire. And by shortening the inner tie rods from the Yukon combined with the outer tie rods from the Buick and steering knuckles that connect to the kingpin assembly of the Buick, I will have a very functional and strong steering system in the Buick.

This leaves us with building a transmission mount and crossmember which will be coming to the YouTube Channel soon, and shortly after that, we will be taking the beautiful shifter we partnered with Gennie Shifter for, and going through how to assemble it and install it on the 4L65e. Subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay up to date on the progress of Project Living Dead Girl.

Make sure to check out all of our build sponsors and show your support for them helping out on our project. FiTech EFI, Poppy’s Patina, Fatman Fabrication, Highwood Rod and Custom, and Gennie Shifter.


Keep Cruise Culture Alive,

Brian Holzli

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