Project Trans Am for March 2013 – Insulation Completed, Focusing on the Interior and Wiring

March has been a productive month! The cabin is now fully insulated (minus the doors) and many other interior details are starting to come together!

Insulation Completed

Not much to go into detail about, but I have pictures, so check them out!

Insulation Insulation Insulation

Carpet Installed

Carpet is a little tricky to install, but as long as you Google search tips for your specific car you’ll be all set. For 2nd gen Firebirds, there are some tricks how to cut the holes for the seat bolts, and finding the seat belt holes is also a little tricky. Otherwise, it’s pretty straight forward. Just center the carpet, cut the necessary holes, and you’re done.

Carpet IMG_20130310_200404

Kick Panels, 1/4 Panels and Sill Plates installed

Once I had the carpet installed, I went ahead and installed the lower panels (Kick Panels and 1/4 rear quarter panels). During the process I wrapped wires with a special friction tape to prevent them from rattling.

Passenger Kick Panel 1/4 rear panels IMG_20130323_180658

The kick panel on the passenger side was quite a challenge. The kick panel doubles as the vent to allow the circulation of inside air through the HVAC system. The way the factory has this setup it is prone to leaks. There are many recommendations, including a trick using a cut in half rotisserie chicken container lid to act as a roof to shed the water away from the vent. I decided to use the sound deadener and form a roof around the hole to shed the water away. Read more about how I installed the passenger kick panel.

Oil Pressure and Water Temperature Lines

I decided about a year ago after testing the factory oil pressure and water temperature gauges that I did not want to rely on them. I then found this awesome map pocket gauge cluster adapter on the 78ta Forums.

I purchased a set of AutoMeter AutoGages that includes water temp, oil pressure and a volt meter. I’m not going to use the volt meter since I’m pretty confident with the factory volt meter, but the other 2 gauges are going in! After talking about the gauges with my buddy Joel, he talked me into upgrading the plastic oil pressure line to a braided line. The water temperature line is part of the gauge, so I had to install into the map pocket gauge adapter.

Gauges IMG_20130324_182527

Added a 4 Blade Fuse Block in Glove Box

I’ve been looking for the ideal place to put a 4 blade fuse block in the car. While preparing the dashboard, I noticed the space above the glove box is pretty much unused. I went ahead and made some measurements and figured out the best spot in the glove box for the fuse block.

4 Blade Fuse block in Glove Box Fuse Block in Glove Box

The fuse block will be used for the 20 amp always hot wire to the receiver and 30 amp always hot wire for the power window relays. Both the radio and windows will not work unless the key is in the ignition, the receiver has a 2nd wire that uses the ACC power to turn on/off, and the power window relay switches will get their power from an IGN source.

The fuse block I got uses the flat blade 1/4″ quick disconnect connectors. Each Fuse can handle up to 30 amps. I bent the connectors on the dash side to make it easier to get the glove box in and out.

T-top Headliner Cut and Glued

I used the instructions on the Trans Am Country forums how to make your own headliner out of bathroom wall board and a roll of headliner material. Pretty simple, just trace the pattern of the hold headliner on the hardboard, cut with a jig saw, then glue the new material onto the hardboard.

T-top hardboard T-top headliner

What’s Next

Seems like this project never ends, but I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Next is to install the dashboard, steering column and remaining interior (upper panels, headliner and seats) this April, followed by the final assembly and installation of the Pontiac 400 V8 motor and transmission. Hopefully sometime in May the engine will be broken in and by Fathers Day be on the road!

Project Trans Am for February 2013 – Intermediate Shaft, Floor Shifter and Dashboard

February was one very busy month, the amount of time I got in the garage shows. Sorry only one picture this month.

Intermediate Shaft Painted

On the second week of February we had one of those 49 degree winter days, so I used the opportunity to paint the intermediate shaft. It came out excellent. I used Dupli-Color etching primer followed by Dupli-Color engine enamel cast gray. It looks pretty darn close to the natural metal finish.

Floor Shifter Installed

While I finish installing the insulation on the floors, I went ahead and installed the floor shifter. I also painted the top plate, which I will install when it comes time to install the center console.

Shift Lever

Dashboard Preparation

I started preparing the dashboard for reinstalling into the car. While test fitting the dash cap I got last summer, I noticed I had a gap fitment problem. I then took the spare dash I have in the crawl space and tested the cap on that dash, and it had the same problem. I called the dash cap company and within3 days they got back to me and said they would send me a replacement cap in the coming week.

While I got the dash out and apart, I also fixed the grab handle mounting so the handle is nice and tight. I used some scrap pieces of plastic I had for other projects to reinforce the backing of the grab handle mounting tabs.

I’m currently taking measurements of the space above the glove box to see if that would be a good spot to mount my 4 port fuse box that I plan on using for both the radio constant power and power windows. This 4 blade fuse terminal will be wired directly to the battery/alternator, providing plenty of power for the windows and stereo. If my plan works, the fuses will be mounted above the glove box, so only someone who knows to look would know the fuses are there.

What’s Next

Believe it or not, I have 6 more spots I want to put small patches of insulation on the floor. Once that’s done I will be installing the carpet, kick panels dash, gauges, center console, steering column and front seats. I expect to have all of this done in March leaving April for working on the engine and transmission.

Project Trans Am for January 2013 – Dashboard, Interior and Stereo Speakers

This month was not as productive as I had hoped due to my New Media Expo / CES trip for work. I did get some things done though!

Interior Insulation and Deadener

I’ve been slowly installing the sound deadener and insulation into the car. Here are the latest pictures. The deadener is done. As for the insulation, only a few gaps remain. I’m using a closed cell foam with aluminum backing on both sides. Even in the below freezing weather, when you put your hand on it it feels room temperature. All gaps are taped with aluminum tape.

Insulation Insulation

I would say that I’m about 90% done, one good hour in the garage and I’ll be ready for carpet.

AC/Heater Controls

The AC/Heater controls were in pretty bad shape. The face plate was the worst having paint splatter on it. The controls themselves are in good condition and only needed a light cleaning. The bezel though required re-polishing. In the process of re-polishing, I accidentally polished the back side with the lettering on the bezel glass, the accident promptly made the bezel worthless.  Never the less, I finished polishing the bezel and also went ahead and polished a backup bezel I had. Here are some pictures of the before/after, you can see the one with the paint cleaned up beyond nice, I polished even the wording right off. But it did give me an idea to make my own printed label to go behind the glass bezel, something I could print at work on the color printer. The only question is if the sticker I make would be able to handle the heat on the light bulb end. The bezel backing I painted with Krylon Fusion satin black. The backing could have had more gloss to it, a semi-gloss would have been perfect, but I couldn’t find that in the Fusion paint line.

HVAC Bezel HVAC Bezel backing HVAC Bezels Polished AC/Heather controls done

 Reassembling Dashboard and Center Console

Pretty much I spent this month getting everything together to put the dash and center console back in the car. The dash is needed in order to properly mount the gauges and steering column. The dash is ready for the new cover I got to be glued on. One thing left is to cut the holes for the deluxe passenger side grab handle.

I sent my dash bezel out to get refinished. I just got an email that it is finished and should have it next week. I’ll blog a separate post with pictures when it arrives. Here’s a preview picture.

Dash Bezel Restored

The center console, unfortunately, is far from ready. nearly 3 years ago when I started taking the car apart, I unknowingly boxed up the center console parts assuming they were in good condition. I thought I had a good center console glove box, but little did I know the previous owner rigged a brass door hinge onto the glove box. Worse yet, the hinge was recessed, which meant every time you open the door the opposite side of the hinge presses into the center console.GM designed the hinge on these all the way to the edge for a reason.

Now moving onto the lid to the center console glove box. Last year on eBay I got a lid cover with all the fasteners/screws to fix my lid.  I tossed it in the box of center console parts without checking its fit and finish. I’m kicking myself for not checking the fit and finish! You can see the molding of the top and bottom mounts aren’t lined up so you can picture what this looks like when you try to mount it on the center console! Worse is the top of the cover has a round indent, which looks like crap. They gave me 2 sticker options to place there, like that will make it look better.

Armrest Cover Armrest Cover

I had a couple opportunities to get these parts in the past and I skipped on them, so I’m kicking myself now. My plan now is to buy reproduction center console glove box and padded door next month, The padded door is about $60-70, the glove box with hinge is about $40-50.

I also need to get a shift bezel. The past 2 years I’ve gone to many Pontiac swap meets, no one ever has an un-cracked shift bezel. These bezels seem to be broken in some way for everyone.. I’m now planning on ordering a new reproduction one, they are about $60-80. Luckily they reproduce this stuff.

Stereo Speakers installed and Tested

The most fun part of the project this year so far has been testing the stereo and speakers. The stereo is an old Aiwa CD/mp3 receiver with an aux input jack cranking out 52 Watts per speaker with 4 speakers total. It’s an excellent receiver for the Trans Am. I wired it directly to my battery, the remaining speaker wires and antenna I plugged into the factory wiring. The speaker combination sounded great. I installed Rockford Fosgate Prime R1693 6″ x 9″ full range speakers in the rear package tray and Polk Audio DB351 3.5″ speakers in the front dash. Installation looks great as well! Other than the rear speaker grills, you have to look closely to tell there’s a decent speaker system in the car. To top things off, I found the correct oval head screws to fasten the front dash speaker grills to the dash at West Marine! Yes, boats and cars share a lot of things including fasteners! 🙂

Rear Speakers Front Speakers

I added 6 x 9 speaker baffles to the rear speakers. I used 2″ long #6 machine screws to mount the speakers into the car. I then bought extra nuts and washers to attached the baffles to the extra stud portion of the screws that was left after mounting. The closed cell foam baffles add plenty of friction, I only tightened these nuts finger tight. The baffles should help with sound, but more importantly, protect the speakers in the trunk.

Speaker Baffle 6 x 9

What’s Next

One more good hour and the insulation should be done, so hopefully February will be the month I get most of the interior installed, at least the critical items such as the dash, steering column, carpet and kick panels.

Project Trans Am for December 2012 – Insulation, HVAC and Wiring

With the Christmas holiday and all the weekend road trips to visit family I didn’t get much done this month.


I have about 75% of the insulation and sound deadener installed so far (not including the doors, which I plan on insulating in the summer).

Deadener Deadener in package tray

Firewall and HVAC

I got the AC Delete installed! The process went smoother than I thought. Before I installed the AC delete, I decided to install sound deadener on the portion of the AC delete that was close to the opening to the HVAC system. I figure it will help keep the heat out of the ventilation system.

AC Delete Insulated AC Delete Installed

I also got the HVAC box installed. Technically the HVAC box has to be installed first, then the AC Delete can be installed. I will have to come back later and hook up the HVAC controls to the box.



It’s nearly impossible to find an un-cracked dash for these cars. They make reproduction dash boards, but they sell for crazy money. So I decided to get a dash board cover. This past summer I did a test fit, and it fit quite well. Last month I started test fitting all the parts with the dash and fixed the dash grab handle on the passenger side. The new dash cover is almost ready to glue in place, I just need to do a few more fitment checks where I filled the cracks on the old dash and come up with a procedure for clamping the cover down on the original dash.

Dash cover fitment test Dash cover fitment test

Rear Taillight Mods

I’m still moving slowly on how to figure out how to mount the rear tail lights. My plan is to mount 78 taillights on my 81. The 1979-81 tail lights are mounted differently than the 74-78, so I’ve had to do a bit of research to make it work. Not only do I need to be concerned about clearance, but I also need to make sure the wire harnesses will still fit between the tail lights and the tail panel. Next phase is to tap the studs you see in the photo for 1/4-20 inch studs to mount onto boxed stock, which will be used to locate a second set of studs with the current rear tail panel.

Tail Lights Tail Lights

As for the wiring, I’ve found the Dorman #85832 90° 3 wire tail light socket fits perfectly in both the pictured 1978 tail lights as well as the 79-81 tail lights, so the plan is to replace the aged 81 light sockets with the Dorman ones, solving both the harness fitting between the tail lights and tail panel, which solves the harness space concerns I had.

What’s Next

January should be a more productive month. The focus for next month is to finish the interior and wiring, and if weather permits, finish fabrication of the rear taillights and wiring.

Project Trans Am for November 2012 – Gas Tank, Rear Tail Panel, and Passenger Compartment

It’s been another slow and steady month working on the Trans Am. It feels like I haven’t achieved much this month, but referring to my TODO list I’ve knocked out a lot of stuff.

Passenger Compartment

I’ve done a lot of work preparing the passenger compartment for the Interior. I removed surface rust on the passenger side floor using navel jelly, then used paint scrapers and removed all of the factory tar substance they coat the floors with. Once clean, I sealed the open seams with seam sealer then painted with Eastwood Encapsulator and Chassis black. Since no one will ever see this, I rolled it on with a foam roller. This process took a very long time, but the end result is a very nice clean rust-free floor. This was the last major spot where I found rust on this car, I assume it was caused by a leaking heater core at one time.

Last week I started installing sound deader and insulation (last photo). My plans have been evolving with how to install the deadener and the insulation. Essentially I’ve decided to put 100% coverage of the deadener on the firewall and first portion of the front floors. After that, I will only apply enough deadener to cover the center of each panel with 30-35% deadener coverage on each panel. I will then follow on top of that with aluminum backed closed cell foam for insulation. The reason I decided on 100% deadener on the firewall is because of space. I originally was going to just put enough deadener (30-35% coverage) to deaden sound then on top of that put closed cell foam, but as I got into adding the deadener, I discovered that the emergency brake, brake and throttle pedals that bolt to the firewall cannot tolerate all the thickness. The deadener is pretty thin in relation to the closed cell foam, so it makes sense to just use that 100% and tape all cracks/corners. The aluminum is doing most of the insulating, not the butyl rubber. The butyl rubber’s job is to deaden the sound, so it’s a little overboard on rubber on the firewall, but that’s ok. It’s key to tape all seams though with aluminum tape, and I’m doing that.

Gas Tank, Rear Tail Panel and Rear Bumper

I got the gas tank installed, but not without a fight! I thought this would be an easy job, but it turned into a weekend job once I started having problems with fitment  under the car. After a trip to teh store buying longer fasteners, I discovered that the top of the gas tank was not fitting within the chassis because the rubber strips I purchased for insulating the gas tank between the frane were too thick. After looking at the old tank and seeing that the strips were maybe 1/8″ thick at most, the nearly 1/4″ thick rubber I got was just pushing the tank too far away from the car making it impossible to install. After talking to my buddy about the problem, he gave me a roll of thinner rubber, which worked out perfectly! With the right rubber, the tank only took about an hour to install.

While I was painting the floors I also painted the rear tail panel of the car that way when filling the car with gas there’s nice clean black paint around the filler neck. (The car is originally a gray color and you could see the gray around the filler neck. I used VHT Chassis and Roll bar Satin paint since it is an epoxy paint. It’s not really meant for body panels, but it went on smooth and looks great, so why not!

In addition  to all this, I installed the rear bumper so I could use it to help make brackets to install the rear taillights. One thing that bothered me is how the rear bumper cover attaches to the steel bumper. In 1978, they were riveted to the bumper, which was the case for the bumper I am using. Since I removed the bumper cover from the steel bumper, I would have to re-rivet these back. Modern cars, even 1979+ Firebirds, use plastic push-in rivets that make disassemble and reassembly much easier. I did some research and decided on some Ford style body rivets since they use a 1/4″ hole and can be unscrewed with a Phillips screw driver, make them reusable.  The new rivets I’m using required me to drill out the holes in the bumper to 1/4″ diameter, no big deal but another step to say the least.

Now that I have the bumper on temporarily, I’ll be working on making adapters to mount the 78 taillights onto the 1981 rear tail panel. Because the taillight housings are different, I will need to both relocate the taillight studs and also modify the rear taillight wiring. More on the wiring in the next section.

Wiring and Shift Linkage

When I have 30 minutes here or there, I spend my time on little tasks. This month I got the shift linkage cleaned and all the bare metal painted, and the CD radio dash plate cut for the dashboard. Most importantly though, I got the under dash wiring figured out and labeled. The wiring under the dash has been butchered pretty badly by the previous owner. It was a very long process because some of the wires were cut and then re-soldered onto other wires. I eventually figured out what the previous owner did with the choke and check engine lights, but why they cut up the rear window defrost harnesses is beyond me. The radio harness was cut up as well. I’m still looking for pigtails for the rear defrost harnesses, but they are not important. I have found OEM replacement pigtail harnesses for the radio, that way if someday I wanted to install a factory radio I can. Sometime in the next week I’ll be repairing these wires.

I did some work test fitting the existing 1981 rear taillight harness with 78 taillights. I quickly found that in 79-81 they used the same bulb harnesses for the side marker lights for the tail lights. These use the standard 194 bulbs. To get the 1981 harness to work with 78 taillights, all I would need to do is convert 2 light sockets (one for each taillight) to the larger light socket that combines turn signal/brake/parking lights. I did a little searching and found you can buy 194 socket leads, currently popular items for folks who do taillight LED conversions. So for $4 for 2 leads, and another $10 for 2 new Dorman tail light pigtails, I’ll be able to “plug-in” an adapter to my existing 1981 wire harness without modifying my existing wiring. This means I can easily swap the taillights/bumper back and forth without removing the wiring!

What’s Next

Finish installing insulation/deadener in the passenger compartment, repair under dash wiring, followed by the carpet, dashboard and center console. That should be enough interior parts to be able to test all the electrical as well as start the motor for break-in. The electrical will take some time to work on, but luckily most of the work I can do in the house (basement) when ever I have 30 minutes or an hour of time here/there.

Bench Testing Fuel/Gas Gauge

You just got some gauges at a swap-meet but you don’t know if they work? What do you do next? Test them!

The fuel gauge in most pre-digital cars work by pointing a needle within a sweep range on a gauge based on variable resistance through  variable resister in the fuel tank.  This resistance measured in ohms (Ω) varies for each car and manufacturer. The basic principle applies, as the resistance decreases, the gauge moves to EMPTY and as resistance increases the gauge moves toward FULL.  To test, you will need a variable resister (potentiometer), testing wire (with alligator clips preferred), a 12V source and a volt meter that can measure ohms (resistance).

The following instructions are specifically for a 1970-1981 Firebird and Trans Am fuel gauge. The same steps may be followed for your gauges, just keep in mind that the ohm range between FULL and EMPTY may be different. You will also need to identify which leads in your gauge are positive (power source), negative ground and lead to fuel tank sender unit.

Tools Needed

  • 12 Volt power source – I used two 6 Volt lantern batteries (Amazon: Lantern Battery, 6 Volt 2 needed), they are light, portable and are generally safer to use for this type of testing. You will need to link them together in series in order to get 12 volts. You do this by connecting the + positive terminal of one battery to the – negative ground of the other.
  • Various test lead alligator clips – To make testing connections (Amazon: SE Clip Test Lead Set (10 Piece))
  • Variable resister (potentiometer) – To test different ohm resistances (Amazon: 100 Ohm Potentiometer) A 500 ohm potentiometer may be necessary depending on the ohm range of your gauge. The Fuel gauge in our Trans Am reads full at 90 ohm, so a 100 ohm potentiometer is ideal for this gauge.
  • Volt Meter -that can test resistance – To test ohm resistance in potentiometer (Amazon: Digital Multimeter)

Test for Empty Tank (No Resistance, 0 Ohms)

To test for zero resistance, connect the ground lead of the gauge to the negative ground terminal on the battery with a black test lead wire and the positive lead to the positive terminal on the battery with a red test lead wire . By not connecting the lead that connects to the fuel tank sender, we are telling the gauge that there is no resistance to the tank which should make the needle move to EMPTY.

Test for Full Tank (90 Ohms)

To test for a full tank, we now need to introduce the potentiometer into the equation. The potentiometer will have three leads, the center is the ground and the left or right lead should connect to the gauge lead that would go to the fuel tank sender. Note, the other lead on the potentiometer should not be used. It does not matter which lead you use on the potentiometer, picking one side over the other just changes the direction you should turn the dial to increase/decrease resistance.

Before wiring in the potentiometer, we need to set it to about 90 ohms of resistance. To do this, turn on your volt meter in ohm reading mode and connect the center ground terminal to the ground wire on your volt meter, and the selected side terminal to the positive lead of your volt meter. Slowly turn the potentiometer until you read 90 on your volt meter. Now your resistance is setup so your gauge will read FULL.

Now connect the center ground lead terminal of the potentiometer to the negative terminal on your battery, and the previously used side terminal to the fuel tank sender lead on your gauge. Your ground and positive connections made when you tested for Zero Resistance should be in place as well. Once all connected, your gauge should now read FULL.

We also connected the positive terminal of the volt meter to the positive terminal of the battery to test the volt meter at the same time. You can see both the fuel gauge and volt meter are working.

Test for 1/2 Tank (45 Ohms)

To test for 1/2 tank of fuel, repeat the last steps, except set the potentiometer to about 45 ohms of resistance.

As you can see the gauge is very close to 1/2 full. This is good enough for a $5 swap-meet find! This time we did not test the volt meter.

A similar approach may be used to test the water temperature and oil pressure gauges. We will cover these in future posts.