It's running reliably now! Opted to replace the water outlet going to the water pump, just in case, and no more coolant leak AND the new one was 1.25" like the rest of the connections (old water outlet was 1.5" as you may recall)
I believe most of the air is now out of the cooling system, fan kicks on when it should, coolant is circulating, however temp gage in the cluster reads high - could just be off or damaged. Regardless, put a few miles on it today, and it runs smooth and feels good going down the road.
Need to swap out the blower motor for the interior, and finish redoing the driver door card. Thinking of doing a factory screw-into-the-roof roof rack.
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