Project Trans Am Transportation

Project Trans Am – 18 Months Later

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Home Tools Transportation

Pegboard in the Garage and Snags Tearing Down the Pontiac 301 Turbo

PegboardThis Memorial Day weekend I got to do some work around the house. My initial plan was to start building the Pontiac 400, but I recently discovered I needed one more part (Cam thrust plate) and it did not arrive yet, so I decided to work on the firewall and other various little parts on the Trans Am. After spending about an hour in the garage moving stuff around, I decided to switch my car project to a Garage improvement weekend. By Monday I installed 64 square feet of pegboard and enough hangers/hooks to get just about everything shy of 15 pounds off the garage floor.

On Monday I started work on tearing down the Pontiac 301 Turbo. If you’re not familiar with the Pontiac 301 Turbo, it was made in 1980 and 1981 for the Pontiac Trans Am and Formula making it a rather rare engine. Some say it was ahead of it’s time, others say it was plagued by it’s oil cooled turbo charger. It was the last true Pontiac designed V8. What ever your thoughts on this short lived engine are, once I confirmed that my Trans Am was not a special edition, I decided to swap it out with a Pontiac 400. Since last fall this V8 has been sitting in the garage just taking space. This weekend I decided it was time to take it apart to see what was wrong with it and recycle what ever parts that can be reused. Believe it or not, this engine shares a lot with it’s larger cousins (350, 400 and 455) such as engine mounts, fuel pumps and the bell housing.

During the initial tear down I ran into a couple snags. First was the flywheel bolts having 12 point heads. My plan was to use my compressor with the impact wrench attached. My plan went foul once I discovered that the impact sockets I got with my compressor are all 6 point. A run to the neighborhood home improvement stores showed me how rare 12 point impact sockets are. I do understand that a 6 point socket is better for 6 point bolt heads and that’s most likely why the 12 point impact sockets are hard to find, but come on, someone has to sell 12 point impact sockets! When you’re dealing with a 12 point bolt head, you can’t use a 6 point socket.

So after doing some online shopping, I found that only a handful of tool companies make such sockets. Sadly most all of these sockets are through brands like Snap-On, which make the tools too expensive for a weekend mechanic like myself. I did find a set of 12 point SAE impact sockets on that meets my price range. (see picture). They also have 12 point metric impact sockets.

The second snag working on the 301 Turbo came when I made a rookie mechanic mistake! I am using an engine leveler for lifting the motor, that way I can easily level the engine with the engine hoist/cherry picker. I recall today reading somewhere “Always connect engine levelers and engine hoist chains using grade 8 bolts to engine heads. Avoid connecting to bell housing or aluminum intake manifolds when possible“. Well I learned yesterday the hard way why you don’t connect your engine hoist to the bell housing! When I got ready to bolt the engine to the engine stand, you can guess the colorful language that came out of my mouth! Lesson learned the hard way, never never NEVER ever use the bell housing when lifting an engine!


Technology Tools Transportation

Torque Wrenches Reviewed

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News Podcasting Transportation

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 Transportation

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!


Thoughts on GM’s Volt Hybrid Technology

2011 Chevy VoltIf you know me really well, you know that I wrote a report on hybrid technology my senior year of high school. When the first hybrids came onto the market 7 years later, I didn’t rush to buy one. I admire the technology but up to this point, I’m not completely sold it’s the best approach to the problem. The Chevy Volt approach though has a lot more potential and if it is executed well, GM may just get me to buy a Volt type product.

GM’s Volt Hybird Technology

Back in 1994 when I wrote my report on alternative engines for automobiles, the concepts for hybrid car technology is essentially now what both Honda and Toyota have designed. Honda’s approach is to have electric motor work in tandem with a gasoline engine, thus optimizing the use of fuel. Toyota took a different approach designing a hybrid system that can use the electric motor alone, gas engine, or both together. On paper, Honda’s design makes the most engineering sense. In practice though, the Toyota approach is working out much better and is reflected by the higher mpg observed in the Prius line. The Prius can also be converted into a plug-in hybrid, making it a more diverse system.

What GM is about to release with the Chevy Volt was not discussed in the research I did back in ’94. It’s a rather simplified approach to the whole hybrid concept. The electric motor does all the actual propulsion of the automobile, while the gasoline engine’s role is simply to provide electricity when it is needed. This basic concept is not new. For example, post 1940’s locomotives, which have proven over 50 years ago how much more efficient they are to directly driven locomotives,  use electric motors do the propulsion while a diesel engine or aircraft turbine creates the electricity. Chevy is simply applying the same basic technology in the Volt.

What GM’s about to launch with the Chevy Volt isn’t revolutionary as far as technology is concerned. What is revolutionary, is how the technology is being put to use. With the combination of batteries, the Chevy Volt can run without the gasoline engine on short distances. It promises to run without gasoline on most commutes and trips to the store. For most of us, that’s convenient. On long road trips, we have to treat the Volt as a regular car and fill it up every 40 miles, and on local drives in theory we’ll never have to put gas in the car. Brilliant!

Why this is Brilliant!

Here’s where the real excitement comes into the usage of the Volt technology. If you’re a programmer, you know the importance of separating the presentation from logic. The Volt technology essentially does the same thing with the propulsion and the energy used for the propulsion. So in 10 years from now, if Fuel Cell batteries become cheap and plentiful, the gasoline engine can be replaced by a Fuel Cell. Between then and now, hobbyists will be tinkering with other energy ideas, possibly batteries, natural gas powered engines, etc… The rest of the car doesn’t have to change at all, just the energy creating portion (aka gasoline engine).

Taking all this into considering, I think GM has a home run on their hands with the Volt technology. I have two concerns though regarding the cost and how they are marketing the product.

My Thoughts on Price and Marketing

First is cost. I think the Chevy volt is just too expensive. The price point of 41k (or 33.5k after a federal rebate) is just too high. The Toyota Prius can be had for nearly 10k less than that not even considering any rebates or tax credits. Like Henry Ford 100 years ago, I think GM should take a risk and put a retail price on the Chevy Volt at 22k (before the federal rebate). The risk pricing something for less than it can be produced is risky though. This is how I propose they get to this price point.

  • Remove the extra technology in the car that lets you manage it from your iPhone. – I think it’s cool, but should be an option.
  • Optionally package less batteries in the car – Yes it may limit the car initially to 10-20 miles before the gasoline engine is required, but it would allow for a lower priced Volt.
  • Price the car based on how much battery capacity the user orders – If the buyer wants full 40 mile on one charge, then price the car at 35k before rebate. The idea here is to get the cars selling, which will drive production costs down. The battery capacity, if it’s possible, should be an option, just like in the past a customer would pick between a V6 and a V8.

I also think the Volt technology has a lot of other practical uses which are not being utilized by GM. The biggest is for commercial use. GM should build a Chevy S10 Volt (Chevy Volt-10 🙂 ), with an optional front grill harness so contractors/construction workers can use the truck as an on-site power generator to power tools. It’s a perfect combination, light duty truck that will get great mileage when using the plugin hybrid technology as well as very useful in a commercial setting. GM should also think about creating utility vehicles such as smaller versions of the Chevy Blazer (Chevy Voltzer 🙂 ), specifically for use as a utility vehicle for municipalities, shopping malls, ground keeping, etc… Imagine being able to drive to a location and instantly be able to pull an extension cord out of the front of the grill to power a fibulator or a refrigerator during a power outage.

If I was able to call the shots, this utility vehicle would look more like a modern El Camino (Volt Camino) and Nomad (Volt Nomad) car type truck than a traditional truck/SUV. TV commercials would tie together the concept of the vehicle being “green” (good to the environment) not just because it uses less or no gasoline, but because it can last longer since using electric motors for propulsion should last longer with less maintenance than a more complex gasoline engine, and that the gasoline engine that is packaged in the Volt is not the only option this car will have in the future. I’d even show lots of examples of what the car could do for camping, traveling, emergency uses, etc… Just picture a commercial where the power goes out in the house, mom runs outside, runs back in with a special green power cord from her Chevy Volt  and plugs the frig into it saving all the groceries. Talk about good for the environment, that just saved all that perishable food!

If GM was smart, they would market the Volt car technology not just as a “Green for the planet” product, but as a Swiss army knife automobile that no one should live without.

My Worries

My worry is that GM will destroy this car as fast as they destroyed Pontiac and Saturn (the last 10 years of Saturn and Pontiac set both of those brands up for failure). Hopefully they’ve learned they shouldn’t rename car models from familiar names to letter+numbers  (Pontiac) or from familiar letter+number combination’s to words (Saturn) without the consequence of disconnecting product loyalists with the newest product lines. I hope they learned not to pre-market a retro looking automobile (late model Pontiac GTO) then bring to market a car that looks nothing like a 60’s or 70’s GTO (Did you know Ford mocked Pontiac’s GTO at the 2004 Auto show when they introduced a truly retro looking Ford Mustang).

GM brass, if you’re listening, there was a reason Alfred P. Sloan in the 1930’s created the Pontiac division from the failing Oakland brand and had it share many parts/components with the Chevy division and that there was a reason why Roger B. Smith and  F. James McDonald created Saturn in the 1980’s. Please  don’t forget why you’re creating the Chevy Volt. It’s not to compete with other automakers making hybrids, it’s to create a brand that reflects your customers values.

Stay Tuned for my related blog post where I discuss my thoughts on the demise of Pontiac and Saturn.


Solution for Civic Si Burning Hot Shift Knob, a Leather Knob Sock

gal_lg18So, I absolutely love my 2007 Civic Si Sedan! There is one item though that has been driving me crazy for 2 years now: the extremely hot shift knob. You can see in the picture on the right that the shift knob is really nice and shiny. When you drive the car, it’s a great feeling to hold while going through the gears. The only problem is when you park your car out in the hot sun for a while and come to find the shift knob is hotter than a Waffle House grill, we’re talking burning hot.

Up to this point I’ve carried a hand towel in the car to use when I can’t handle the shift knob. It works, but it also sucks.

Tonight, I found exactly what I was looking for: A leather sock shift knob cover! It is available at Rick’s custom Leather, here’s  direct link to their knob-sock covers.

The product description on Ricks Custom Leather mentions the hot shift knob problem with the Honda S2000 stock aluminum shift knob. Lucky for us Honda Civic Si Sedan/Fa5 2007, 2008, 2009 owners, the S200 shift knob is identical to ours. The same shift knob is also used on some other Honda 6 speed transmission models such as the Accord and the  2006+ Civic Si Coupe.


2007 Civic Si Transmission Rebuilt!

Civic Si Transmission 6 speedThe 3rd gear problem with my car has been fixed! If you haven’t followed by blog, I was having a problem with 3rd gear since I got the car last year. When the car was cold, it was very hard to get into 3rd gear and sometimes even when hot it required extra force. The problem was more noticeable in the Winter, though this spring it seemed to have continued beyond the cold months. The transmission has been rebuilt now, and you can tell a difference. I wouldn’t say that it’s like new, but the gears are much more consistent that is for sure. The gears have a “looser” feel to them, not nearly like my last 5 speed 2000 EX but enough to notice that the transmission was previously a lot tighter when in gear. This to me is not a bad thing, as long as I can get it into gear I don’t care how much left-right play there is.

The mechanic at my local dealer was explaining to me that they rebuilt one other Si 6 speed transmission this past weekend and were starting another rebuild that day. He gave me a peak at the transmission they’re currently rebuilding. The area marked in red are the gears that they replace. He also pointed to a vertical rod and underneath where one other part is replaced in the rebuild. I’m guessing that they replaced 2nd and 3rd gear. Any transmission experts want to comment?

They received the wrong bump stops so they were unable to replace those at this last visit. I’ll post a follow up when the bump stops arrive and are installed.


Taking her in! Civic Si Sedan for 3rd Gear Problems

I’m finally taking the car into the dealer tomorrow to get the transmission looked at and the front suspension popping noise fixed. I’m starting to feel like I’m damaging the 3rd gear driving my Civic and the front popping noise in parking lots is getting quite annoying. I’ll keep everyone updated on the progress.

Technology Transportation

2008 Dodge Caliber SRT4 – The GTO of the Millennium

All I can say is, WOW! Dodge designed an awesome car!If you’re into sub-compacts like I am, this is now the leader in the group hands down.

I’ve been a sub compact enthusiast since I purchased a 2000 Honda Civic EX. The Civic was never a fast car, but the size and handling capabilities won me over. I learned quickly that my Civic EX paled in comparison to other sub compacts including the sport model of the 2000 Civic line, the Si.

Sub-compacts have always had a power limit of about 200hp. I always suspected that the car makers didn’t want a sub compact on the market that had more power than their mid size line of cars. I call this the preventing of the GTO effect. Back in the 60’s John DeLorean sneaked powerful engines into intermediate-sized cars (the Pontiac LaMans) when the GM policy was not to put large engines in cars of that size. The result sparked the Muscle Car era, which caused a flurry of performance improvements in cars that carried through for years after.

For what ever reason, corporate executives seem to fear that their smaller line of cars could be more popular then their more expensive, larger products. I always question this logic. Lee Iacocca went on a limb with the Mustang in the 1960’s, but he knew what younger customers want to consume and if you impress a young customer, you can keep them as they grow older. Today, Ford and their sport model Focus is a weak attempt to connect with young customers and the Saturn Redline and Cobalt SS Supercharged is GM’s almost well executed attempt. Dodge/Chrysler not only attempted, but they also set the new bar for sub-compacts.

The next high performing Caliber should be called the SRT4 x 4 (four by four) and include all wheel drive. Right now only Subaru and Mitsubishi have fast sporty sub-compact all wheel drive models, this would be a real alternative in that market.

I’ve always been a Pontiac fan. Pontiac styling has always been a touch better than the rest of the GM family of cars. But GM has been screwing with the sub-compact side of the Pontiac line for a few years now. The damage this is causing to the entire line may be permanent, sending Pontiac down the Buick/Oldsmobile road of extinction. I like the idea of a retro Firebird Trans Am, that product will only attract die hard Firebird owners and guys that want to remember the old days. The Mustang may be doing well with this for a few years to come, but someday someone is going to want a re-designed Mustang. I’ll bet money Ford hasn’t even thought about a next generation Mustang, outside of maybe dashboard/quarter panel changes. What Pontiac needs to do in the short term is step it up a notch with the Pontiac Vibe and the G5. The 2009 Vibe styling is great, but the performance with the sport model doesn’t even compare with the performance offered in other cars in the market including the new Caliber SRT4. The best thing Pontiac could do in the short term is create a G5 in both coupe and sedan with a GT model packed with the same engine from the Cobalt SS Supercharged model and make the limited slip differential standard equipment. At least then GM would have a well styled car that could compete with the sub-compact Honda Civic, Scion tC and Nissan Sentra Spec-V.

The first manufacturer to start thinking about sport models tied with hybrid technology is going to grab a lot of attention and maybe even sales. Especially if they offer it in the sub-compact. I know it’s possible to make a fast hybrid, Honda’s 2006 Accord Hybrid had more power than the regular Accord with a V6. Once they let the genie out of the bottle, I bet we’ll see a whole new revolution of performance parts and modifications for sport hybrids that make regular sport models look boring. History will prove if I’m right on this. Time will tell.