Project Trans Am – Up to October 2012

My Trans Am resto-mod project is finally coming together!

October is ending up as the interior and wiring month for the project, something I’m more comfortable working on frankly. The interior parts have been refurbished with fresh coats of interior paint applied. The electrical wiring is being evaluated currently, the plan is to reuse the existing harnesses as much as possible and only repair as necessary. Check out some pics of the freshly restored interior.

Hopefully over the next 2 weekends I will have all the wiring fixed, dash installed and sound deadener/insulation with carpet installed, which will allow me to think about installing the engine this November!

Check out the work I did last month on ModAandRods.tv blog: http://www.modsandrods.tv/2012/10/02/project-trans-am-month-29-brakes-and-ac-delete

This May be a Stupid Question But…

I hear this all the time on forums and in email when helping folks: This may be a stupid question but... When I was young my mother would promptly correct me “There are no stupid questions”. If you haven’t guessed, my mom was a teacher. By college I was trained never to add that to my questions. With the constant use of “this is a stupid question but…” still happening in America, it made me think about it.

Is there a stupid question?

Applying logic, as I always do, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to have a stupid question. Think about it, you’ll find that answered questions cannot be stupid since they have answers and unanswered questions cannot be determined to be stupid.

The only one who can determine if a question is stupid is the person asking the question. Obviously anyone willing to ask questions will not value their thirst for knowledge as stupid.

There are stupid answers!

Sometimes answers are answered in a way that makes us feel stupid. If someone has the tenacity to answer a question and also claim that the question is stupid, think twice about the answer given as well as the person giving it.

Perhaps the smartest questions are those that are unanswered or cannot be answered.

What is stupid is not seeking the answer to a question.

Early Spring Home Improvements

It’s not quite spring time but the lack of snow got me motivated to fix some of the little things that have been on my honey-to-do list.

Fireplace and HVAC Vents

The HVAC and Fireplace vents were long over due for replacement. They were cracked/damaged when we bought the house, and this winter took them to their end of life. It was one of those chores I kept putting off because I couldn’t find the appropriate vents at Lowes/Home Depot when I’ve visited for other needs. This past week I went to 4 stores including The Andersons, Lowes and Home Depot specifically for these vents and had no luck. Out of desperation I went to Menards and thankfully they had them and for 1/2 the price than the dryer vents at the other stores! All the other stores sell only outlet vents, primarily for dryers. The inlet allows for fresh outside air to be drawn into the house for specific reasons, so having a dryer vent that closes when air is drawn inward is not going to work.

The great thing about the vent pictured is that it’s shallow. This means the lawn mower isn’t going to run into it and crack it like the last vent.

Screen Door Damage

The screen door has seen a lot of battles with the dog and the cat, but this past fall Ty rammed through the screen after some creature in the back yard and the screen door hasn’t been the same since. Last week I saw a repair kit at Home Depot for re-screening the screen door. I thought “I’m rebuilding an engine, this can’t be that nearly as complicated”. Sure enough, replacing the screen in a screen door is pretty easy. I would say though that patience is needed, taking your time will give you a finished product to be proud of. I was told getting a screen door re-screened can cost between $50-100. The kit cost less than $9 and took about 45 minutes to install.

LED Bulb for Front Porch

The porch light is one of those light fixtures I seem to visit way more often that I care to. Two weeks ago I picked up a Home Depot house brand (40 Watt equivelant) 7 watt LED bulb for the front porch. Even though the box says “For indoor use only”, I figured for $10, I’ll give it a try on the porch. It works great, though the light is more directional than a typical bulb, it serves the purpose of lighting up the porch perfectly. I now know why these bulbs are for indoor use only, freezing temperatures. From what I’ve observed, when the weather is below freezing, the light does not come on. As long as the light bulb lasts a few years, I’ll live without porch light on cold winter nights.

My Enthusiasm for Pontiac Continues

Trans AmIf you’ve talked about cars with me in recent months, you know I’m in the process of restoring a 1981 Trans Am. I bought the car knowing the motor needed rebuilt or replaced. Last fall I picked up a Pontiac 400 V8 (more specifically, a W72 from a 77 Trans Am with the transmission and carburetor, the W72 is arguably the last great V8 designed by Pontiac engineers).

Since about October, I’ve been doing a lot of research on Pontiac V8’s built from 1955-1982, as well as other research specific to the mid to late 1970’s Firebirds. I quickly found that I have about 30 significant web sites I now visit to read about Pontiac engine specifics, as well as about a dozen or so vendors who sell Pontiac specific parts. I also have accumulated over 200 bookmarks. the process has lead me to become rather frustrated. There’s lots of great information, but it’s all over the place and no one has a really good site map to all of these sites. Out of this frustration I am going to launch a new web site that will link to everything I’ve bookmarked. Stay tuned for an official announcement when the site is launched.

Aside from the Pontiac site-map web site I have planned, I’m also going to launch a video podcast of all the work I do on the car. Expect an announcement on that sometime this month as well.

The Details

My original plan was to freshen up the 400 I picked up last fall and drop it into the Trans Am. After stripping the top end of the motor down I discovered a lot of rust in the top of the heads and a lot of sludge in the oil pan. At this point it became obvious I would need to tear the motor down further.

In October, I finally got the motor further apart and found a lot of carbon build-up on the pistons, and I also found during the break down that an exhaust manifold stud was broken inside of the drivers side head. I reluctantly decided then I needed to take at least the heads to a machine shop. After further dis-assembly, I decided it would be worth the money to have the motor completely rebuilt.

I decided to take the heads, block and crank to Kauffman Racing Equipment located here in Ohio. They did a great job and kept me updated through the entire process.

Over Christmas I got a few books and a video on engine rebuilding. After reading the books and watching the video I decided that I (Yes I) will rebuild this motor myself! I was able to take it apart, I should be able to put it all back together, right? Following this decision, I’ve done the following:

  • Researched and purchased torque wrenches (I will have a detailed post about my research in the coming months)
  • Researched and purchased other specific tools (caliper, feeler gauge, bore gauge, plasti-gauge)
  • Researched and purchased specific books on Pontiac V8’s made from 1955-1979 (there is not much documentation for the last 3 years of Pontiac v8’s unfortunately)
  • Researched and purchased books on the Rochester Quadrajet carburetor
  • Took a welding class where I learned how to stick and MIG weld
  • Research specifics to the Pontiac V8 (350, 400, 455 cubic inch family specifically)

Last week I picked up my block, heads and crank from the Kauffman Racing and boy they look great. I have new pistons, new rods, a turned crank, 400 block bored .030 over , and new stainless steel valves and springs on 6x-4 heads. Oh, and the crank, rods and pistons have been balanced as well. Based on a compression calculator, I estimate the new compression of this motor is somewhere between 8.3:1 to 8.5:1. The head gasket I end up using will be the final determining factor of compression. Either way, 8.5:1 is ideal, that way I can run unleaded gas from any gas station in the country.

The Pontiac Community is Awesome!

I’ve met some pretty cool car guys that have been very helpful through the project. I will say that the stereotype that many folks associate with 70’s muscle car owners could not be further from the truth. It’s a pretty diverse crowd of car enthusiasts from all walks of life. What has surprised me is how many younger folks younger than I are 100% into the hobby. Another common trait seems to be hard work and dedication, which appears to not only show in their love of Pontiac but also in their careers and family life. What blows my mind is how GM not only failed to capitalize on this passion for the brand over the past years, but they completely turned this community away when they ended Pontiac.

What’s Next

The next 2-3 months will include rebuilding the motor, painting the engine bay, fixing the turn signal and the T-tops. Hopefully by summer she’ll be on the road!

Stay tuned, I’ll be posting pictures of the motor soon.

State of the House (Mandato House)

Deck GateThe past couple of months I’ve been focused on the Trans Am project. Last week I finally got the gate made for the deck. Most of the time the gate will be open, but any time we’re out and want either to keep the dog off the deck or Melanie on the deck, we can use the gate. I will stain it when we get a break in the weather.

The next house project is to insulate the garage.  I’ve been holding off on insulating the garage until I got extra outlets wired in, but now I’m just going to forgo the extra outlets and just insulate it. The extra cost of having an electrician add the outlets vs. how often we would use them in the garage pretty much sealed the deal on skipping them.

My plan is to roll-in insulation into the walls, then follow up with drywall. From there on in I’ll be learning how to tape joints and fill in gaps. I’ve never done drywall before, so it will be a good learning experience. It is a garage so I will not feel too bad if I don’t do a top quality job.

The garage door is going to be the most time consuming part of the insulation project. I’ve looked at kits, but they seem overly priced. I will most likely buy strips of foam insulation and glue them in followed by replacing the rubber seals around the door. I estimate about $180 to insulate and drywall the remaining 1-1/2 walls in the garage, and another $200 to insulate the garage door itself. It is crazy to think the door will cost as much, if not more, than to insulate the rest of the garage.

One thing I am going to do is paint a visible vertical line on the footer brick in the garage inline with the vertical studs that way when I go back to hang tools and such, I know where I can drill without using drywall anchors.

What sorts of suggestions do you have for my garage insulation project?

Project Pontiac Trans Am

Last week I purchased a 1981 Pontiac Trans Am! If you know me well, you know I’ve wanted a 1978 Trans Am for years. Even though this is not the correct year, it’s very similar to the Trans Am I wanted and with a little effort over the coming years hopefully it will look like a 78′.

This is the first time I bought a car off eBay. The experience was a good one, but I certainly learned a lot in the process. Biggest thing, ask the seller lots of questions. I was not aware that some of the dashboard components were broken including the turn signal. I did, however, anticipate some issues with things like the doors, window gaskets, etc… So even though I was initially shocked by a few of the additional problems, I still feel somewhat satisfied that I got a decent deal on the car.

Important details about this car:

  • Has no rust (came from the West Coast)
  • Any Pontiac engine from 1970-1981 will fit (I’m looking for a Pontiac 400)
  • Car has factory T-tops

When this car was new in 1981, it was originally dark gray with silver interior. It came with the Turbo Pontiac 301 (4.9L) engine, power windows, power door locks, all wheel disc brakes, posi rear end, air conditioning, cruise control, intermittent wipers, and aluminum honeycomb wheels. It currently still has all of these options except the interior has been converted to tan color, the power door locks is no longer present, and the car was repainted black. For those Trans Am enthusiasts, I am sorry to say that it does not have the WS6 performance package.

The car needs a lot of work. So far the engine needs replaced, interior panels need some TLC, drivers door mechanically  needs some TLC, the wipers are not functioning, heater/AC controls are not functioning, broken interior heater core cover, window and T-top gaskets need replaced, turn signal is broken, steering column needs tightened, and heater core molding needs replaced.

The initial plan is to replace the engine with a Pontiac 400, fix the steering column, heater core cover and drivers side door.

I’ve decided to document all the work I do to the car as a podcast. I haven’t yet decided on a name or format for the podcast, but it should be a lot of fun. Anyone who would like to be involved with the podcast and/or help me with restoring this car, please shoot me an email, angelo [at] mandato.com.