Project Trans Am – 22 Months Later

I’m now 22 months into my 1981 Pontiac Trans Am and it feels like I’ve got nothing done! But this blog post is a good outline of everything that has been happening since November, 2011.

Short Block Assembled

The hiccup with the wrong piston valve relief was sorted with the machine shop relatively quickly. After getting the short block assembled in December, I went over my notes and decided to research one of the other concerns I had during assembly. I found that I did do something wrong with the ARP wave-loc connecting rod bolts. In a pinch I called Don at DCI Motorsports and he helped me out big time! He fixed my problem without putting a dent in my wallet. He’s a real Pontiac expert and DCI Motorsports will be getting all of my Pontiac business for now on! As far as what I did wrong, I’m rather embarrassed so don’t ask! All anyone needs to know is it was my fault and it’s fixed now. Oh and I’m never ever going to build another engine with ARP Wave-loc bolts, too much hassle to deal with in a stock engine build.

The short-block is done and the cam and timing chain is installed and degreed! The remaining engine parts will be assembled within a week before I plan on starting the motor. Waiting till the last minute will allow me to inspect the internals one last time. The remaining assembly should not take too long either.

New Years Eve Engine Break-in!

On New years eve morning I went over Joel’s to help him with his engine break-in. Talk about the best new year eve ever, I got to hear a freshly re-built Pontiac start for the first time! Joel planned on doing the break-in the night before, but with all the stuff going on that night with the kids I wasn’t able to come out. Luckily he didn’t get everything setup till late that night so he delayed the break-in till morning. Between monitoring for leaks and checking for other problems, it’s a good idea to have at least one buddy around during the break-in process. It’s definitely exciting, not as exciting as child birth but its definitely a car’s equivalent!

Here’s a pic of Joel’s 400:

My 400 once assembled will looks very similar to this.

Front Chassis Ready

It took a lot of time, but I got the front sub-frame painted! I used Eastwood Rust Encapsulator as a primer and Eastwood Extreme Chassis Satin Black as the top coat. I applied it with roller and sponge brushes. It turned out great! All rust spots I ground down with the angle grinder, all other spots were roughed up with 320 grit paper, cleaned with Simple Green and then dried with paint thinner before painting.

Once the front suspension is back on the car my plan is to wheel the car out and apply Eastwood Underframe Coating to the inside of the chassis. I now think I should have done that first.

Front Suspension

The front suspension is ready for re-assembly! In December my buddy Joel helped me remove the A-arms, spindles safely from the chassis. The process rquires compressing the coil springs. Joel also had a set of chains to use as an extra level of safety in case the spring got loose. Once the arms were removed, they were sand blasted then I gave them a light coat of Rust Encapsulator. Then my friend Tim pressed out the old bushings and pressed-in new ones. I went with stock OEM rubber bushings. The ball-joints were also replaced and new lower ball joints were pressed in. Thanks Tim! If you live in the Delaware Ohio area with a classic car and need a mechanic, please contact me, I’ll give you Tim’s contact info. He knows his muscle cars!

I also cleaned and painted the spindles and brake shields with Eastwood Brake Gray. The shields were a pain in the butt, I first had to find a replacement for the drivers side since it was mangled for what ever reason. Then in the process of grinding off rust on the replacement I damaged it. I ended up buying a pair off eBay. Honestly I should have just bought the pair off eBay in the first place, the time I spent cleaning the rusty one I found wasn’t worth the time or effort when it was all said and done. Lesson learned, some stuff you restore, some stuff is easier to replace.

As far as the suspension is concerned, it is primarily stock. I went with 590 Moog springs, which are correct springs for a 1981 Turbo Trans am, but cut 1/2 coil off to compensate for the lighter engine (Pontiac 400 without AC). The 1/2 coil should help lower the front end slightly so it has a more hot-rod look. I also got Edelbrock ISA shocks for the front and rear. The anti-sway bar will remain stock, which is already a hefty 1-1/4″ thick, but I did upgrade the bushings on the links to polyurethane. All other bushings are rubber.

Steering Column

I just started working on this. I already purchased a new turn signal mechanism because the left turn signal will not engage. After taking apart the steering column I have discovered that there’s nothing wrong with the steering column turn signal mechanism, the problem is with the pivot pin that holds the turn signal lever. So now I am in the process of finding out how I can fix this, at the moment I am not finding anyone who sells a replacement “pivot pin” for 1981 Firebird. I am going to take the steering column apart completely to tighten the tilt mechanism and re-grease the bearings. I will also be painting the column black while it is apart.

What’s Next

The plan now is to start re-assembling everything! First is the front suspension, then I can paint the inside of the front frame. Once the weather breaks, I can start installing sound deadening and insulation along the firewall, followed by re-installing the heater box, dashboard, steering column and other firewall items. Once that’s all done, I can start thinking about getting the engine together and installed!

Automotive Sound Deadeners, Insulation and Anti-Rattle Products

There are a lot of sound deadening, insulating and anti-rattle products for automotive applications. The list below (as of February, 2012) is the most comprehensive list of products organized by type.

Spray on Sound Deadened/Insulation

Spray on sound Deadeners and insulation are paint-on products that can be applied in a number of ways. LizardSkin is the most popular product of this type.

  • Boom Mat (spray-on) – rattle can based spray-on insulation
  • CoolCar– paint-on ceramic based insulation
  • eDead (v3) -paint-on latex polymer
  • eDead (v5) -paint-on ceramic microsphere polymer
  • LizardSkin – paint-on ceramic based insulation
  • NoiseKiller – paint-on insulation
  • QuietCar – paint-on viscoelastic polymer based insulation

For similar products, search Google for: High temp epoxy mastic

Paint-on solutions are, for the most part, permanent solutions. If you ever think you may want to remove the product in the future, research the product you want to use to find out how the product can be removed.

Though not covered in this article, undercoatings and rust proofing products that are applied to the outside of the vehicle can also provide levels of insulation and sound deadening.

Roll based cut to fit Sound Deadened/Insulation

The most popular form of insulation, roll based cut to fit sound deadeners and insulation come in rolls and are typically cut with utility knives or scissors. Application can either be glued in place, peal-n-stick like scotch tape, or heated with a heat gun. Dynamat is the most popular product of this type. SecondSkin has the most dynamic array of options depending on how far you want to go in your sound deadening/insulation project.

  • Audio Technix – butyl (possibly asphalt) rubber based insulation with 1 side of aluminum
  • Boom Mat (Damping Material) – butyl rubber based insulation with 1 side of aluminum
  • B-Quiet Ultimate (Brown Bread) – butyl rubber based insulation with 1 side of aluminum
  • CSI Heat Shield – fiber tech padding based insulation with 2 sides of aluminum
  • Dynamat (Dynamat Xtreme) – butyl rubber based insulation with 1 side of aluminum
  • eDead (Butyl Mat) – butyl rubber based insulation with 1 side of aluminum
  • eDead (TekLite) – closed cell neoprene based insulation
  • EZ Cool Insulation – closed cell neoprene based insulation with 2 sides of aluminum
  • FatMat – asphalt based insulation with 1 side of aluminum
  • Hushmat Silencer Megabond – butyl rubber based insulation with 1 side of aluminum
  • Hushmat ULTRA – visco-elastic polymer (butyl rubber) based insulation with 1 side of aluminum
  • MegaMat – FatMat or FatMat Mega Mat, asphalt based insulation with 1 side of aluminum
  • Milla Mat – FatMat, asphalt based insulation with 1 side of aluminum
  • RAAMmat (RamMat) – butyl rubber based insulation with 1 side of aluminum
  • Second Skin (Damp Pro) – butyl rubber based insulation with 1 side of aluminum
  • Second Skin (Luxury Liner) – mass loaded vinyl based insulation
  • Second Skin (Luxury Liner Pro) – mass loaded vinyl with layer closed cell neoprene
  • Second Skin (Heat Wave) – natural fiber (better than jute) based insulation with 1 side of aluminum
  • Second Skin (Overkill) – closed cell neoprene based insulation with 1 side of aluminum
  • Thermo-Tec Cool-It Mat 146xx series – butyl rubber based insulation with 1 side aluminum
  • Thermozite – environment friendly (post consumer recycled plastic bottles) based insulation with 1 or 2 sides of aluminum
  • ZillaMat –  asphalt based insulation with 1 side of aluminum (possibly re-branded FatMat)

Butyl based insulation is the most popular cut to fit insulation. It has ideal properties to deaden sound. Depending on the quality of the butyl used, it can give off a rubber smell (should go away over time) and can be difficult to remove as the butyl may eventually melt onto the surfaces of the vehicle.

Asphalt based insinuator is a mixture of the material used for roofing and possibly butyl rubber. It has ideal properties to deaden sound. The smell of this type of material can be an issue in excessive heat conditions (avoid installing in high-heat areas such as firewalls or on panels next to exhaust systems). Like butyl based insulation, can be difficult to remove if it melts onto the surfaces of the vehicle.

Closed cell neoprene based insulation is ideal for weight saving applications, can withstand higher temperatures and is resistant to mold and mildew. This material is not as good as butyl at hushing deep sounds but it does insulate and prevents vibrations well.

Mass loaded vinyl based insulation is ideal as a top layer over your insulation. Its application would be the equivalent of achieving luxury vehicle sound deadening. It is typically applied in conjunction with other products such as butyl and/or closed cell neoprene.

Fiber (jute) based insulation is ideal for factory applications. It can absorb moisture over time and should be avoided if mildew or moisture is a concern. Jute is typically packaged with pre-cut carpet and adds a soft padded feel to carpet.

Custom fiber based insulation are typically high temperature resistant and may be the only option for specific high heat applications such as under hoods and firewalls.

Note: Project Trans Am will be using a combination of EZ Cool closed cell neoprene and Thermo-Tec 146xx butyl insulation.

Recommended tools for installing insulation

  • Scissors and/or utility knives
  • Soap, water, paint thinner – for cleaning surfaces before application
  • Carpenters square, straight edge, or other straight edge tools – for cutting straight lines from insulation rolls
  • Aluminum face tape – for attaching cut seams of aluminum facing insulation
  • Butyl face tape – for wrapping around parts that may rattle otherwise, such as hard plastic wire looms
  • Velcro strips – can be cut for specific applications for preventing rattles
  • Fleece tape – wrapping around wires for preventing rattles
  • Rollers – For pressing-in adhesive backed insulation
  • Heat Gun – for heating to shape and/or gluing butyl backed insulation
  • 3M General Trim Adhesive (08088) – for gluing non-adhesive backed insulation to metal or plastic vinyl panels

Pre-cut Sound Deadened/Insulation

Typically this type of sound deadened/insulation is model specific. Most automotive retailers carry SoftSeal, Original Parts Group and/or OER brands.

  • OER – pre-cut  jute and pre-cut carpet with jute backing
  • Original Parts Group – factory replacement padding and insulation.
  • QuietRide – Dynamat brand pre-cut solutions for specific vehicles.
  • SoffSeal – high temperature hood insulation

Note: Project Trans Am will be using pre-cut carpet with jute backing.

What the Factory Did

Most all automotive manufacturers use foam, cotton, fiber (jute) and/or vinyl insulation with butyl applied only in special locations or certain situations. Butyl in particular is usually used outside of the vehicle. A good example is butyl in 3/8″ thick rope form for insulating seams around firewall bolt-on items such as heater/AC ductwork. Auto manufacturers tend to use better insulation materials in high-end luxury vehicles. No manufacturer uses butyl backed aluminum sheets of insulation in any large scale.

Other Sound Deadening and Insulation Resources

Flare Wrenches for working on Hot Rods and Resto-mods

A flare wrench is like an open end wrench with 5-6 contact sides and/or 4-5 contact corners. As it’s name implies, the wrench is intended for use on flared fittings. A normal open end wrench makes contact on only two sides, making the flare wrench ideal for better contact in certain situations.  In many cases they can be used for the same applications, though both wrenches have specific uses. There are also flare wrenches for 12 point nuts, though rare.

Most mechanics refer to flare wrenches as special purpose tools. It’s primary use is for flare based nuts attached to piping such as brake lines, fuel lines, transmission coolant lines, and other similar lines. Even mechanical based oil pressure and water temperature gauges use flare nuts for their lines, which should be installed using a flare wrench.

Not all flare wrenches are created equal. Doing research on a number of tool based forums you will find brands have a tendency to spread, meaning under heavy usage the opening of the flare wrench spreads apart beyond an acceptable amount. Another important factor is how many corners the flare wrench comes in contact with the flare nut. The S-K flare wrench in the photo above covers 5 corners of the nut, with all sides of the flare nut getting contact on the nut’s sides. This combination of edges and corners is ideal. See the diagram below to see the difference in flare wrenches.

Budget priced flare wrenches tend to use the 4 corner pattern, were-as most quality flare wrenches use the 5 corner pattern.

Depending on your budget, Allen brand (made in USA), KD (made in USA), GearWrench (made over seas), S-K (made in USA) and Williams (by Snap-on) (made in USA) brands have good reviews.

Craftsman no longer offers a raised panel flare wrench (except on their web site, most likely until stock is depleted) and has remarked their Craftsman Professional Flare Wrenches as just Craftsman Flare wrenches. The older made in USA Craftsman Professional flare wrenches were made by S-K. The new line of Craftsman flare wrenches are now made over seas.