1965 Buick Riviera: Trying to right the wrong.

Discussion in 'Members Rides' started by slowlane, Jul 12, 2020.

  1. slowlane

    slowlane Member

    Well it only took an under-dash wiring fire to finally get me motivated to dig back into the 1965 Riviera's janky cobbled electrical system. This time enough is enough. I'm ripping out the whole botched factory harness and rewiring it entirely with an American Autowire Highway 22 universal harness. I suppose I should give a little back story about this car. My dad got this '65 Riviera back in 2000 when I was 16 and we "restored" it over about 5 years.
    I'm not too proud to admit that in a lot of ways we really didn't know what we were doing. The wiring in the car was crap when we got it. Someone working on it previously preferred to just cut and splice wires verses unplugging connectors. To make matters worse, the resistor wire for the ignition had gotten hot at one point and melted various wires in the main harness. All this led to a lot of strange electrical issues early in our ownership.
    When we took the car apart my dad unraveled the harness and spliced in new wires to patch the burned sections. Everything worked pretty reliably for a long time, but a lot of the under-dash and console wiring was frankly kind of frightening, with plenty of crimp connectors, wires going to nowhere, and what looked like a piece of household extension cord grafted into something. Out of sight out of mind I suppose.
    Fast forward to about 2 weeks ago and all of a sudden all sorts of goofy electrical issues happened all at once. I took apart some of the console, as well as going under the dash and started tracing wires. Long story short, there was a big body pass-through connector that was half way apart so I plugged it back in and all seemed well.
    I reassembled the console, connected the battery and as I'm about to close the hood I notice smoke coming out of the two cowl vents. I look beyond the hood and smoke is pouring out from under the dash. I quickly disconnected the battery but the smoke continued to thicken. I ran over and grabbed the garden hose, turned it on, ran back and sprayed it all over up under the dashboard. In a few seconds the smoke dissipated leaving behind a waterlogged front carpet and a crispy electrical smell.
    I took out the soaked front driver's side carpet and hung it out to dry. I started to take the console back apart and low and behold it was the freaking cigarette lighter wire that had shorted to something and smoked it along its entire length leaving all sorts of other melted crap wherever it touched. It almost burned through one spot on the console.
    I decided then and there that this old crappy wiring is history. Fortunately there does not appear to be any other damage besides melted wiring but I'm sure spraying all that water up under the dash didn't do a whole lot of good. Now it's time to do something my dad and I should have done 20 years ago and rewire this thing. This will be my second time rewiring a car as I installed a new harness in my '66 VW when I rebuilt it. But the Beetle's simple electrical system is nothing compared to the Riviera, so this will be a much more complex project. As long as I'm at it, I want to take this opportunity to replace the ugly mismatched carpet and do a bit of interior refreshing as well and hopefully come out of this with a much more solid and safer wiring system.

    Here is the car this evening before I pushed it down the street to the outbuilding where I'll be doing the work.


    The interior slightly disassembled after the electrical fire. I haven't even looked up under the dash yet, but I know the situation could have been much worse.

    rmmstnr, Dano, 1972Mach1 and 2 others like this.
  2. telriv

    telriv Well-Known Member

    Do a search on fusible links. I explained how to wire them in so this DOESN'T happen again.
  3. sriley531

    sriley531 Buckle up, this could get rough....

    I'll be following this thread for updates. I intend to do the same in the future, my green cars wiring could really stand a redo, I'd love to follow along with your progress and see what I'm in for.

    Pretty Riv by the way!
  4. slowlane

    slowlane Member

    Telriv thanks for the suggestion of fusible links. I need to read up on them.

    Sriley531 I plan to document the process of redoing the car's wiring and post it up here. I am much more well-versed in automotive wiring than when we fixed up the Riv, but this will by far be the most ambitious wiring project I've tackled. Thanks for the compliment on the Riviera by the way.
  5. breakinbuick11

    breakinbuick11 Platinum Level Contributor

  6. slowlane

    slowlane Member

    Yesterday I spent part of the morning before work sweeping out and organizing the outbuilding where I'm going to be working on the Buick. This morning I got up at 5:30 to put in some time starting disassembly before I had to be at work. In addition to the wiring, I really want to better sort out the interior details which have always been a sore spot with the car. There are a number of mismatched or just plain missing trim screws here and there as well as a fair amount of squeaks and rattles when driving. I plan to repaint the black on the dashboard and instrument cluster. I also have another supposedly better console that I hopefully will be replacing the current beat-up one with. The replacement console is blue though so I'll have to get some green paint mixed up to respray it.

    The burned cigarette lighter wire that caused all the trouble.

    Things like this bare wire wrapped around a light socket is what I'm talking about with regard to the horrid condition of some of the wiring in the car.

    A little progress. I got the radio and dash top out as well as a few other odds and ends. I took all the parts down to the basement after this picture. I'm putting together a storage rack for the parts down there.
  7. slowlane

    slowlane Member

    Those look like some super nice harnesses. I never would have guessed that anyone would even make a harness for a Riviera. Unfortunately they are a bit out of my price range right now. I also kind of want the challenge of building a new harness from scratch even though I'm sure some headaches are inevitable.
  8. slowlane

    slowlane Member

    Over the past couple of days I finished taking the dash apart. I also removed the front seats and console. Man that console is in rough shape. Most of the mounting tabs are broken off including the ones for the a/c controls which are held in with some creative ingenuity. There are two holes drilled through the front on each side where big screws were attaching it to the bracing. The console also has several cracks and really crappy paint. I have another console that has been in a box for so long that I don't remember what it looks like, but it couldn't be much worse unless it's cut in two or something. I started polishing some of the interior chrome bits with super fine steel wool and waxing them. Most of the interior chrome is fairly pitted unfortunately, but it looks better after cleaning it up again. I am going to repaint the black areas on the dashboard since they are all scratched up. I found a Rustoleum dark green that is really close to the original paint from the back side of the fuse box cover so I'll be using that to repaint all the green plastic parts. The wiring harness shipped on Friday so it should be here sometime this week.

    Dashboard out.

    The pieces I polished up so far.
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2020
  9. no1oldsfan

    no1oldsfan Well-Known Member

    Looking great. I love work in progress threads. Love your car. I am sure it feels great to work on it. Makes it more yours with every touch.
  10. 1972Mach1

    1972Mach1 Just some guy.....

    Whooo buddy, that is a beauty. Love the green. I've been where you're at when I had my '63, it caught itself on fire twice from the previous owner's exploits in wiring. The Rivs are a really big, fairly complex jigsaw puzzle to take apart and put together. I've had Cadillacs that were less "insert tab A into slot B" to reassemble.
    Dano likes this.
  11. Dano

    Dano Platinum Level Contributor

    Love the colors. Don't recall ever seeing a green/green 65. Original?
  12. slowlane

    slowlane Member

    Thanks for the compliment on the Riviera. I do like working on it to an extent. I currently work at an oil/tire shop so sometimes the last thing I want to do with my free time is work on another car. I take a slower, more methodical approach when working on my own cars. It will be satisfying to finally get this wiring back in order.
  13. slowlane

    slowlane Member

    Thank you. The dark green is my favorite Riviera color. Funny thing is originally my dad wanted to paint it Sahara Mist with a tan interior to match the '65 his dad bought brand new. But he ended up liking the green so much we repainted it that color instead. I'm glad it stayed green. Yes Rivieras are pretty darn complicated for an old car. It probably was not the best choice of car for a first-time novice restoration.
  14. slowlane

    slowlane Member

    Yes the color combination is original with code JJ (green ext/green int) on the body tag. The interior should have had a green headliner and steering wheel as well but those had been replaced with black before we got it.
    Dano likes this.
  15. Dano

    Dano Platinum Level Contributor

    Very nice! I like green cars and that is striking. Good luck w/your wiring project. I wouldn't attempt to build my own under dash harness. I think I'd look for one out of a parts car to redo. but kudos for your ambition!
  16. slowlane

    slowlane Member

    I've been working on repainting the black on the dashboard trim pieces and tried out the Rustoleum dark green on the small access panel to the right of the steering column. The color of the seats is a bit more blue than the Rustoleum but I think I'm going to roll with it for now. The pictures above make the green paint on the dash/console look pretty nice but it really looks like crap in person and needs to be redone.

    Repainted stuff. The radio trim plate had already been hacked long ago for a cassette player so I didn't feel bad trimming it a bit more for the CD player a few years ago. I still have an uncut one with a broken Sonomatic AM radio.
    Dano and 1972Mach1 like this.

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