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.

Project Trans Am – Focusing on the Engine

To update on the progress of my project 1981 Trans Am, the Turbo motor has been successfully pulled and I’m now in the process if getting it sold. So if you’re looking for a Pontiac Turbo 301 from a 1981 Trans Am to rebuild or for parts, please contact me!!! I’m going to keep some of the core parts for the Turbo just in case I need them for the other motor.

Pontiac 400 W72 EngineIn late August I acquired a Pontiac 400 V8. It is a Pontiac 400 from a 1977-78 Trans Am with the W72 option. Click here to read details about the motor. What makes this engine special is the heads, which are 6x-4 higher compression. Even though this engine does not have the same compression as some of the older Pontiac 400’s, it should be just right for the desired mixture of performance and economy I’m looking for in a car I can drive on an almost daily basis. The motor included the TH-350 automatic transmission with the original torque converter as well as the original carburetor, which helps out tremendously with the swap.

My initial plan was to just go ahead an use the motor right away in the car. After spending a good month trying to clean the motor and do some light dis-assembly, I came to the conclusion that I really need to take the engine down completely and have a machine shop do their thing to the crank, block and heads. This weekend I plan on taking it apart and taking it to a reputable machine shop known for Pontiac motors to do the valve job and let me know what sort of condition everything is in.

I’m recording video of the process, though I am on the fence if I should release all the work I’m doing as a podcast or not. What do you think, should I post all the video as a podcast? My only reservation is, I’m no automotive mechanic expert and I don’t want folks to watch thinking I am an expert.

I have to thank Mr. Yuhnke for all the help acquiring parts for the motor and Chris Goetz for coming down to helping me with the engine swap and for putting up with going to Greaters for Ice cream, I know it’s hard!