Project Trans Am for June 2013 – Interior and Engine Done!!!

June was a very productive month, though I did not get as much done as I hoped, some major milestones have been knocked off the list including the engine assembled and the interior finished!

Interior Done

Well I shouldn’t say it is completely done, but it is done for now. I will have to go back and permanently hang the door panels, I am waiting to do that until after I get the power windows, door locks tested and working, and the drivers door is going to be replaced as soon as I find a good replacement for it. At this point though, the interior is done as far as being able to drive and such.

Dash Done Interior Done

Melanie and Nicholas love playing in the car, and they both have figured out the seat belts!

Engine is Done! But not without a fight!

Assembling the remainder of the engine actually went smoothly, here are some pictures.

Oil Pan Installing Heads Liftere Installed Valley Pan Intake Engine Ready

My buddy Joel came over to help me install the engine and transmission into the car, we got as far as the flywheel and ran into an issue. Not even 20 minutes into installing the motor and we ran into a roadblock. The TCI Flywheel I got had a sticker that said “this side toward engine”. No matter how we turned the flywheel, the bolt holes just never lined up. We tried flipping it over as well, but our assumption that the sticker was right led us to put the engine back on the engine stand. The following day I called up TCI. After describing them what happened, they did their own research, then called me back about an hour later suspecting the sticker was on the wrong side. I flipped it over and lined it up on the old factory flywheel and the holes did line up. Long story short, the sticker was on the wrong side. The other stickers were also on the wrong side, so they went ahead and replaced the flywheel for me. The replacement arrived the last wee of June, unfortunately with birthdays and 4th of July coming up, I will not get a chance to install it until after the holiday.

While waiting for the flywheel to arrive, I went ahead and installed a few other non critical engine parts like the fuel pump. While installing the fuel pump, I accidentally stripped the thread in the timing cover while bringing it to the recommended 25 ft/lbs. I had that feeling in my gut this seemed like too much torque and then instantly it just stripped out. This lead me to take the timing cover off and tap the hole with a Heli-coil tap and repair kit. The Heli-coil repair is quite easy actually, I just wish I had a drill press big enough to have drilled it with. My hand drill I just went in at a slight angle. Luckly his is just to hold the oil pump on and the angle is so minute I’m not worried about it. The lock washer has much more angle than this drill job. Anyway the engine is back together with the fuel pump installed ready for the flywheel.

Heli-Coil Kit 5/16-18

Interesting, the “How to rebuild Pontiac V-8’s” book says to use 25 ft. lbs torque for the fuel pump, I found a couple other sources on the web that said to use 10 ft.lbs. After doing some research, the aluminum cannot handle more than 18 ft. lbs., and 15 ft lbs is what is used for the water pump that is also bolted to it. The service manual makes no recommendation on toque for the fuel pump, I assume because it is a non-critical engine part. The heli-coil instructions say that a minimum of 7.5 ft lbs is required for the fastener to hold, so I decided on 12 ft lbs, which is also what the oil pan uses into the aluminum timing cover. That is still less than 1/2 the torque from the “how to rebuild” book.

What’s Next

Get the engine and transmission installed! Everything but the drive shaft is ready for installation, so next week I will investigate getting the drive shaft rebalanced and getting the u-joints replaced. Even without the drive shat, I should be able to install the engine with the transmission very soon, pretty much just waiting until I can get a buddy to come over and help me (Installing an engine is not a 1-man job). Once the engine and transmission is in the car, I have a couple weeks of installing the drive shaft, exhaust system, radiator, coolant hoses, transmission lines, wiring and throttle cables. The plan now is to have the car ready to fire by the end of July.

Project Trans Am for May 2013

May was not so productive, between family plans and work, not much got done. Never the less I did get a few things done.

Interior and Wiring

The remaining interior trim is now installed, including the t-top trim, pillar trip and such. I also installed the center console while I replaced the center console gauges (more on that below). This leaves the steering column, seats, and seat belts.

Center Console and Wiring

Replacement Center Console Gauges and Oil Pressure Line

While test fitting the center console gauges I discovered the gauges I got would not adapt to the 1/8″ NTP hose that I ran through the firewall. While searching for a replacement oil pressure gauge, I discovered a brand called ISSPro, which look nearly identical to the factory gauges. I ordered both an oil pressure and water temperature gauge. They look sharp!

I also decided instead of running a 4′ long braided line from the gauge to the engine, I decided to get two 2′ braided lines and a firewall elbow. This gives me more clearance at the firewall and it also looks much more professional.

Gauges with red lighting IISPro Gauges

Engine Work – Measure Head’s CC, Made Throttle bracket adapter, Painted Intake

I learned how to mesure the cylinder head CCs using a kit from Jegs. I made a few measurements in a few cylinders and they avreeage between 93-97 CC’s. I was conservative on my measurements as well, so they are more than likely 2 CC’s more than actual measurements, so 91-95 CC’s.

Painted Intake Throttle Bracket Adapter

What’s Next

Finish the interior and get the motor with transmission in the car, all hopefully by Fathers day!

Project Trans Am for April 2013 – Interior and Wiring

April was a very productive month! Thanks Bryan for coming down to help me install most of the interior!!!


Dashboard Covered and Installed!

In March I started working on the dashboard, my original plan was to cover it with a dash cap made by AccuForm. I got the dash cap last year, at the time I did a quick fitment test and thought it was going to work. When I finally got ready to glue the dash cover, I quickly found gaps and fitment issues, mostly around the top left drivers side corner of the cover. The cover not only didn’t fit my 81 dash, it also didn’t fit the 2 other dashes I have, one from an 80 and another from a 79. After contacting the manufacturer, they sent me another cap to try. The replacement was identical to the first one I had, with maybe 1/16″ adjustment, not nearly enough to fit well. I promptly called them with measurements of where the cap was off, with 1 spot as much as 1/4″ misaligned. A week later they told me they can’t help me any further with the fitment issue.

I then did some research and found another dash cap made by Palco. When it arrived I quickly noticed that the plastic was thinner than the AccuForm version. Upon test fitting, I found it fit my dash perfectly. Lesson learned, if you have a 79-81 Firebird and are looking for a dash cap, get the Palco brand cover.

IMG_20130407_111615 IMG_20130408_163300

Interior Almost Done!

The interior is coming together quickly !The window columns, rear sail panels and headliner and trim are now installed and look great! I also got the rear seat belts, seats and the inner front belts installed.

The headliner was the biggest challenge installing, though not technically difficult, you do need 2 people to install it. Luckily my wife had some free time to help me hold it in place while I got the trim pieces installed.

IMG_20130402_200839 IMG_20130411_184550 IMG_20130408_170117 IMG_20130408_170122 IMG_20130408_170134 IMG_20130408_170140

Dash Gauges, Switches and Wiring

The dash installed quite smoothly. Unfortunately, installing the gauges was not so easy. There is absolutely no room when working under the dash, pretty much each gauge, cluster and switch needs to be installed in a particular order, otherwise you’ll make things harder for yourself, screws become harder to access, etc…  The only wire harnesses not hooked up at this point plug into the steering column.


Center Console Gauges

The center console was to be installed promptly after installing the dashboard. When it came time to install the console, I found the 4-AN to 1/8 NPT threaded adapter I got for my oil pressure gauge did not match the thread output on the AutoMeter gauge itself. After doing some research, I found that the AutoMeter “AutoGage” gauges are budget gauges, designed to compete with the low end gauges like SunPro’s or Harbor Freight’s gauges. The connectors exclusively use pressure fittings, which cannot be converted to NPT (pipe fittings). The process lead me to purchase another set of oil pressure and water temperature gauges.

I already decided I wanted black gauges with white lettering and white needles, with black bezels. This combination would match the factory gauges perfectly. Unfortunately, most brands use either chrome bezels and/or needles with red pointers. After doing a lot of research, I discovered a brand of gauges called ISSPro, which are very popular in the diesel / trucking industry. They are a perfect match to my gauges! Not only that, the fittings on the back of the gauge was the correct 1/8 NPT. They are now on order ad should arrive in early May.

IMG_20130422_205618 (AutoMeter AutoGage gauges)

Painted Hinges and Air Cleaner Base

When the weather broke 60 degrees, I took the opportunity to paint the parts I had sand blasted over the winter. The hood hinges I painted with Dupli-Color etching primer topped with Dupli-Color cast iron coat engine enamel. The air cleaner got Rustoleum clean metal primer followed by Rustoleum Semi-Gloss black.

IMG_20130408_170445 IMG_20130412_172509

Transmission Ready To Go

I took my transmission, a TH-350 that came with the Pontiac 400 I bought 3 years ago, to a buddy of mine to clean it up, install new seals, filter and a TransGo shift kit. I went with the stage 2 of the stage 1-2 shift kit. Tim went above and beyond cleaning the transmission, it looks brand new! When the motor is done, I will bolt this onto the motor right before installing into the car. The shift kit should work great with the built-in ratcheting shifter in the Trans Am. Not too many folks know about the ratcheting feature, it’s not as fancy as an aftermarket ratcheting shifter, but it’s factory and works quite well.

What’s Next

In May, the plan is to finish installing the interior and assemble the motor. Hopefully over Memorial day weekend I can get the motor with transmission mounted in the car, leaving June for wiring up the engine, installing the remaining hoses and lines to plan on Father’s day to test run the motor!

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!

Passenger Side Kick Panel Installation for AC 70-81 Firebird / Camaro

The 1970 through 1981 Firebird, Trans Am and Camaro’s have a special passenger side kick panel for air conditioning. It incorporates a special vent door which recesses into the cowl area of the firewall. Installing the cowl requires the use of butyl rubber to seal the gap between the kick panel and the body panel.

Inspired from this thread Kick Panel Leak Fix from Trans Am Country Forums, I used sound deadener around the opening to create a roof about 2″ deep around the top and 1″ border around the sides and bottom to help direct water flow around, rather than in, the kick panel hole. I used about 12″ x 6″ of aluminum faced deadener (ThermoTec, but any brand would work), cut into strips. I overlapped the sections like shingles would be over lapped so water would run down the deadener like a roof. I also made the horizontal side closest to the firewall curved in about 60° inward to compensate for the angle of the vent door in the kick panel.

IMG_20130323_170728  IMG_20130323_170712

IMG_20130323_170654   IMG_20130323_170721

I then used 3m strip calk butyl rope around the perimeter of the opening, as the factory used before installing the kick panel.

I got the fasteners from my local hardware/fastener store (The Andersons), they are special screws with a floating washer. I believe they are 5/8″ long with a #8 thread. The actual vacuum vent used I believe two #14 machine screws.


Two of the screws were nearly impossible to get to with the HVAC box already installed. I did a little research and found a special offset ratcheting screw driver made by  General Tools tool number 8075, it worked well for the tight situation. There is a Craftsman version of the same tool, I suspect it is made by General for Craftsman. It’s definitely a tool to have around for tight situations like these. Only thing, you need to be very careful how much you ratchet down, you can apply a lot of force that you otherwise would not apply when using a normal screw driver.

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.

Snap Retaining Ring (Lock Ring) for GM/Chrysler Steering Column

During the disassembly of the steering column from the Trans Am the retaining snap ring that holds the lock plate got damaged. One option is to bend it back into shape. The other option is to replace it. Unfortunately, you’re not going to find an auto parts store that knows what a continuous retaining snap-ring is, let alone have one in stock. Most snap rings today are either internal, external or have a specific shape for the application. This simple snap-ring used for the lock-plate is one of those “caught in limbo” fasteners that no one seems to stock.

The solution?

Fabricate yourself one out of a spring!

The diameter of this retaining snap-ring is 3/4″  (0.75″) with 1/16″ (0.0625″) thick round steel. The gap at the end is approximately 3/32 to 1/8″ (0.09375″ to 0.125″).

Find a quality 3/4″ diameter spring with 0.062″ thick steel at to your favorite hardware or home improvement store. Then use either a saw, dremmel cutting wheel or wire cutters (if you’re really in a hurry) and cut one coil out of the spring. If your cutting wheel is 1/8″ thick, you can simply make a straight cut across multiple coils and you should have the exact ring with the gap you need as the result. Depending on the coil of your spring, you may need to bend it slightly to straighten it. A quick press in a vice between blocks of wood should do the trick.

The following solution should work for all Saginaw steering columns from the 60’s through the 90’s that are commonly found in GM and Chrysler cars and trucks.