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 – Month 30, Interior and Wiring

The project progress has slowed in the second half of October, but I’ve still made a lot of progress with the interior and wiring.

New Windshield

I had the new windshield installed and man it looks good! Guardian Auto Glass of Columbus did a great job!


The first weekend I had the windshield out, I went ahead and painted the dash cowl area. I took my time and it came out awesome!

Wile the weather was still in the 70’s I decided to put some of the other to-do tasks on hold and focus on painting as much as I could.  I went ahead and covered all of my interior parts with SEM Color Coat Landau Black topped with SEM Low Luster Clear. The process of prepping and painting the interior parts was easier than I originally planned, and I way over estimated on the amount of paint I needed as well. To paint everything, including the dashboard, all the interior panels, center console, metal portion of the dash, all metal trim parts, and t-top trim parts used5 cans of Landau Black and 2 cans of Low Luster Clear. I still have an almost full can of Low Luster Clear and Landau black if I need to do any touch ups. The extra cans I returned to Summit Racing, where I repurchased all the SEM supplies.  The only  things I did not paint were the steering column (already painted this past spring), carpet, seats, headliner and door panels.

Once the inside of the car is ready, I’ll be installing sound deadened, insulation, carpet and the interior. I’ll most likely install everything in phases, with the first phase including the dashboard and all the necessary gauges and steering column that way I can move forward in installing the drive train.

I also painted the wheel wells. They already had a coat of an epoxy primer from the shop I had them sand blasted at so I only needed to worry about top coating. I put 2 coats of satin black on the engine side to match my firewall and the wheel side I put a coat of Dupli-Color undercoating. They look good and are ready to go!


I spent a good few hours going through under dash wiring to investigate where some of the cut wires went to. After following every single wire, I discovered that the cut wires all went to the rear window defrost wire harnesses. There are 3 harnesses that went to the rear defrost, 2 of which were hacked up by a previous owner. The car never came with rear defrost, it appears a previous owner decided they would use some of these wires for other uses. Why they didn’t mark them with tape and a marker is beyond me! But the good news is that I don’t need these wires so the plan is to simply shrink wrap the ends and then tape them up so they don’t short out on anything.

I also had to figure out the choke light wiring. For what ever reason the owner wired the choke light to other wires, most likely so the light would only light up when the car wasn’t running. Weird hack, I’m definitely going to restore this the way it is supposed to be wired since I plan on running an electric choke with the new motor.

I did not fix these wires pictured yet, but I will once the inside of the car is painted and ready for the interior.

I did wire in the new power window wire harness with the 4 relay setup posted on forums. I didn’t test it in the car yet, I’ll get to test once I get the center console installed. I did test it with a volt meter and a battery, so I know all my soldering is solid. I did make a couple modifications to the original 4 wire relay design and posted my version on the forum thread.

4 relay power windows in 1981 Firebird

Linkage and Steering Box

I got the shift linkage and steering box cleaned. It took a bit of time to get the steering box clean, it was really covered in a lot of grime. I decided not to paint it as it has a nice finish still on it. The linkage for the drive selector only needed a good cleaning, it looks brand new now. The steering column parking/neutral locking linkage has been cleaned and is ready to paint. As soon as the weather gets back to 60+ I’ll put a coat of paint on it and it’ll be ready.

Ordered Speakers

I did my final research on speakers and decided to get a pair of 6×9 Rockford Fostgate R1693 full range speakers for the rear and a pair of 3.5″ Polk Audio DB351 full range speakers for the front. I’m pairing these speakers to my old AIWA 52 Watt x 4 CD/mp3 receiver with aux input jack. For a 70’s muscle car, it should have a pretty good sound system. I also got a pair of DEA speaker baffles for the rear, they should help sound but more importantly protect the speakers in the trunk area.

What’s Next

Main focus now is the inside floors. I found some rust in spots on the floor boards, so I’m currently in the process of scraping all the protective asphalt stuff the factory painted on the floors to uncover any unknown rust. So far most of the rust is only surface rust, I hope that either Navel Jelly or a quick hit with a rust removing 3m disc will solve those spots. Once all the rust is removed, I’ll paint and then start installing the interior and remaining firewall items.

Since I can now see the end is near, I’m going to start finishing the assembly of the motor! Hopefully mid-December I will have a good weekend available to install the motor in the car and by Christmas start the motor!

Project Trans Am – Month 29, Brakes and AC Delete

This was a big month for the Trans Am!


They’re done, but not without a fight!

At the last minute I deviated away from my original plan of running Metallic brake pads all around after reading in the service manual as well as on the popular Firebird, Trans Am and Camaro forums that the rear should have organic pads installed. What sold me on the switch was a comment that the car stops easier and the emergency brake holds better with organic pads.

I had a hard time rotating the caliper piston to align a D shaped key way for the brake pad to rest in. After struggling with the problem for a few days and researching that GM had their mechanics use a special spanner pin wrench, I decided to make my own wrench out of 1″ L stock steel and 2 button head screws. It worked like a charm.

I then had a problem with the passenger side caliper being incorrect. I found after I had it installed on the car that the emergency brake ratcheting system was reversed, it was setup for a drivers side not passenger side. This pretty much wasted a good day running around town looking for another caliper.

Once I had the calipers installed, I ran into another snag with the front emergency brake cable that runs to the emergency brake pedal. Out of desperation I promptly went to NAPA only to find their cable had the same thread issue. The mechanic at NAPA measured the thread pitch and diameter and discovered it was M14-1.25. I then went back home and searched Google where I quickly found this was a problem with almost all the popular brand brake cables. Makes you think maybe these parts are all made in the same place. I ended up going to The Right Stuff Detailing here in Westerville Ohio to get the cable, which looks more like the original cable that came off the car than the aftermarket cables everyone else sells. This is the third time The Right Stuff bailed me out due to parts I otherwise would have to order online, I’m very glad they’re located here in Columbus. The front brake cable provided by The Right Stuff came with a correctly threaded 9/16″ nut and installed in less than 15 minutes.

My car is currently using the original rusty brake cable for now, I will switch back to the Right Stuff cable once I am ready to installing the interior.

Once I got the emergency cables all connected, adjusting the emergency brake was actually quite easy. I used zip ties at the rear calipers to hold the emergency brake levers in lock position, then attached the cables. I then did the brake lever in the car a few times adjusting the nut on the front brake cable until it was where I wanted it. Then I cut the zip ties at the calipers for final testing and adjustment. Without the zip ties, it would have been hard to connect the front cable with the rear cables.

Bleeding brakes went smoothly, It took me about 3 hours to do, including a run to the store to get another bottle of brake fluid. Bench bleeding the master cylinder was a real pain. It seemed like I was finally bubble free, then another little bubble would appear out of no where. I initially gravity bled the system till there was fluid at each caliper. Then I switched the bleeders with Russell speed bleeders and used their bleeder bag system to finish bleeding the brakes. I did have 2 leaks at two connections, I was running aroudn re-tightening brake lines, but that was expected. I did not want to over-tighten and possibly damage the lines. Speed bleeders are definitely the easiest way to go about bleeding brakes.

The car has been on jack stands since December, so it’s nice to see the car rolling again!


AC Delete

I have a love/hate relationship with the AC Delete cover I got. I was chatting on the Trans Am forums about the 2 popular AC delete covers and half way through working on mine I came to the conclusion that perhaps the other style that’s made of plastic may be better than the fiberglass one that I got. There are benefits to both, regardless I always wish I have the “best” solution for the situation. I’m still not sure what’s the best AC Delete, they each have a particular purpose depending on what the car builder wants to deal with.

Since I have a fiberglass AC delete, I decided I will paint the unfinished side that way there are no fiberglass fibers possibly getting into the car’s ventilation. Other than some of the dimpled holes not quite lining up, it fit pretty well. If I had to do it all over again, I’d try the other plastic AC delete.

Just need to put a coat of Krylon Fusion satin black on it, and install.

Front Windshield Out

I had the glass guy come over yesterday to remove the front windshield. Over the next week the plan is to paint the metal dash portion black and get the firewall buttoned up, then schedule for the glass installation a week or so later.

Plan is to paint all the interior parts with SEM Color Coat landau black topped with SEM low luster clear where parts will see physical wear and/or sun.

What’s Next

Paint! The cold weather will be coming fast, so the plan is to paint all the remaining parts while I still can.  Aside from the metal portion of the dashboard, I want to paint the steering box, inner fenders, front speaker mounts, various interior trim pieces and some spots on the floor boards.

On top of painting, I also need to fix the wiring for the dashboard. There are 5 wires that are cut that appear to go no where, I will need to get them resolved before I can install interior.

Hopefully this October I will have the gas tank, steering column, steering box, linkage, front sway-bar, dashboard and necessary interior installed. If I am lucky I may finally get the V8 assembled and in the car this October, but it is starting to look like November.

Project Trans Am – Month 28, Rear Axle and Oil Pump

Another slow month with the Trans Am. Two of the 4 weekends I was out of town, for only 2 weekends I got a lot done. Here’s an outline of everything that has been happening this past August, 2012.

Rear Axle and Stabilizer Bar

Pretty much the whole month focused around the rear axle. I got new Moser 28 spline axle shafts installed with new c-clips, bearings and axle shaft seals. Before I installed the new axle shafts, I painted the ends of the axle, then proceeded to install the bearings, axle shafts, then put the pinion shaft and a new pinion lock bolt back in the rear differential, followed by installing the maintenance cover with a new gasket lightly coated with gasket sealer. I let it sit for a few hours, then I filled it up with both 80W90 gear oil and GM’s limited slip additive. The wheels turn smooth now,wild how quiet the rear axle is now.


Last weekend I painted the remainder of the rear axle and installed a thicker 3/4″ rear stabilizer bar.

Oil Pump

Per recommendation from the Pontiac How to Rebuild book and my engine builder, I disassembled my oil pump, checked it for any burrs, shavings and grit that could damage the engine then test-fit the pump on my block to make sure the oil pump lines up with the oil galley in the block. Everything checked out. I was lucky that I ordered my pump over 2 years ago, apparently more recent castings are no longer made in the USA and can be a concern both with alignment and cleanliness.

Rear Shocks

Over Labor day weekend I installed the rear shocks. The new shocks are significantly harder and better compared to the set I took off the car. They look good under the car too. I got Edelbrock ISA Classic shocks for the rear this past Spring when Summit Racing had them at 1/3 the price. I also ordered Edelbrock ISA Performer (Not Classic) shocks for the front. I wanted to go with both Performer  shocks front and back but due to the limited availability and later finding out that the shocks were discontinued I decided the mix-match front/rear was better than not having them.

Rear Brakes Started

Over Labor Day weekend I started installing the rear disc brakes.

While I was preparing the rear end for brakes, I discovered that the routing I had designed for the brake lines interfered with the rear stabilizer bar drop links. I ended up having to pull out the stainless steel brake lines I had made and replace them with easy to bend pre-flared with fittings line from NAPA. Wish I did that originally, those stainless steel lines cost me a few bucks, where these pre-flared lines weren’t even $10.

Over the weekend I got as far as installing the rotors and pre-loading the calipers. After doing some research on how to realign the brake piston’s D groove to the 6’0 clock position, I found that both the service manual and folks from the Firebird/Trans Am forums recommended to use organic pads in the rear with semi-metallic pads in the front. I am already using semi-metallic in the front, but I was about to also use semi-metallic in the rear, so now a set of organic rear pads is on order.

From what I understand, the organic pads in the rear help with the brake pedal feel and make it easier for the car to stop. I should stress “stop easier” vs “stop faster”, I would think that semi-metallic pads would make the car stop faster, but knowing how the front and rear brake lines require different brake pressure managed by the proportioning valve it may make sense that the rear brake pad material may dramatically change the proportions that were designed into the proportioning valve. Either way, I’m leaning to the side of caution and ordered organic pads.

What’s Next

Brakes!!! Hopefully the next couple of weekends I will get these brakes done! Following that, I need to paint the inner fender wells,finish assembling the firewall and heater box, install the steering column, dashboard and interior insulation, followed by the remaining assembly of the Pontiac 400 engine (currently only the short block is assembled).

Project Trans Am – Month 27, Brakes, Firewall and Rear Axle

Another busy month with the Trans Am, progress is slow but steady. Below is an outline of everything that has been happening since in June, 2012.


I got a little further with the firewall, installing the cowl vents and the wiper motor. I’m not as pleased with the paint I picked for the wiper motor cover, I may re-spray that with black, but otherwise everything is looking pretty good up front.

Gas Tank

I got the old gas tank out of the car! From reading the online forums this sounded like it could be a difficult job. Come to find out, it was easy and all the preparation I did to catch the tank from falling was needless. The tank didn’t even have a quart of gas left in it, making the tank super light.

I have a new gas tank that will be going back in, should be a pretty simple install. I’m going to leave the tank out of the car until I am done working on the rear axle and brakes. I may even hang the rear portion of the exhaust before I install the tank.

Rear Axle

Before I install the rear disc brakes I decided to inspect and change the oil in the rear axle differential. While inspecting it I noticed the passenger side axle had a bit too much movement up and down and side to side, an indication that the bearings may be worn. While I had the cover off of the axle, I took the axle shafts out to inspect the bearings. To my dismay, the axle shafts have serious damage where the bearings chewed up the axle. Unfortunately the axle shafts and bearings need replaced before I can go any further. I rented a rear axle bearing puller slide hammer from the local auto parts store and removed the old bearings. I assumed this would be hard to do, but actually they both came out quite easily.

I ordered a set of Moser 28 spine axle shafts with new bearings, seals and c-clips. This last weekend I got the axle ends painted, I figured this is the chance to paint them without the axle shafts in the way. Once I get the axle re-assembled and filled with fresh limited slip additive and 80W90 gear oil, I’ll paint the pumpkin (axle center) and axle shafts up to the axle ends with the same Eastwood Chassis black.  Then I can finish installing the rear brakes!


Not much has changed with the brakes this month. I got the remaining emergency brake lines off and repainted the e-brake brackets for the rear wheel wells. The Emergency brake lever was not ratcheting correctly, so  I started looking for a replacement and researched if I could repair it by adding a spring. I decided I would try to fix it, which lead to cleaning and lubricating it with a touch of white lithium grease on the spring mechanism, which to my excitement brought the emergency brake lever back to life. This was the easiest restoration so far! Lesson learned, clean and lube before trying to fix. 🙂

Pontiac Nationals

This last weekend I went to the Pontiac Nationals in Norwalk, OH. I got to watch some drag racing, purchase some odds and ends from vendors, and hit the swap meet. I picked up a 78′ front bumper all the reinforcement fiberglass in tact, as well as some sail panels, T-top interior panels and a cut open shaker scoop. I made out pretty well at the show, though I did not find any 70-78 wheel flares which were at the top of my list. I may have to buy reproductions, we’ll keep an eye on eBay in the mean time.

What’s Next

Hopefully August will be very productive and we’ll see the firewall finished, rear axle and brakes done, and the engine top end assembled.  September may just be the month this car get’s back on the road! I’m so confident I just ordered the exhaust system. 🙂

Project Trans Am – Month 26, Bogged down by brakes

Another month has come and gone, and progress on the Trans Am has come to a crawl. Below is an outline of everything that has been happening since in May, 2012.

Brakes – Part 2 of 3

Putting the brakes back together has become a bigger challenge than I first thought. As of this blog post, I have all of the new brake lines installed, brake booster installed, front brakes installed, and the remaining parts ready to bolt on. Once the rear calipers and hoses are installed, I can bench bleed the master cylinder, bolt on the remaining lines to the master cylinder, bleed the brakes to each caliper then re-attach and adjust the emergency brake. Then I’m done with the brakes!

Rear Brake Line Conversion

Converting the rear brake lines to use hoses between the brake lines and calipers has become quite the challenge. I put together this well thought out plan to use 3″ exhaust U clamps with brake hose to line brackets attached and painted them satin black.I then bought 12″ long run of bendable pre-flared brake line from Napa and bent it to the shape needed for how I wanted the brake lines in the back. I then took the brake line to The Right Stuff in Westerville and a couple hours later they made me a stainless steel version complete with stone guard stuff coiled around the brake line.

Two weekends ago I went to install the U clamps I made to find out that the rubber hoses I got require a special hex type key be shaped into the holes for the brake hose to lock itself into. I had to file the hex shapes into the brackets then repaint them, setting me back another couple days. Check out the before and after photos. Yes my filing technique is poor, but they work. No one will see the rough inside portion as the brake line and clip will cover my poor filing skills.

Last weekend I finally got to install the rear brake lines and hoses. It looks really sharp now and it will make servicing the rear calipers a lot easier.

Brake Booster and Calipers Painted

I painted the brake calipers and brake booster!

I was going to try to paint the brake booster gold with spots of green, red and chrome to try to replicate the look of Yellow Zinc / Gold Cadmium plating. After looking at some expensive paint kits to try to replicate the look and seeing its poor results, I decided to paint the brake booster the same cast color finish that it had out of the box. I used the same Dupli-color engine cast iron gray paint that I used for the tie rods and center link. It came out quite well.

I painted the calipers with VHT primer followed by VHT black satin caliper paint. They came out quite nice as well.

Fuel and Brake Lines Bent and Installed

In addition to installing the brake lines, I got some bendable 1/4 and 5/16 tubing and bent my own fuel return and vapor lines. I was going to buy new fuel line but after assessing the lines condition under the car, I decided to keep the old fuel line and just replace the engine bay portion. The fuel line at the engine bay side is just under 3 feet long and has some sharp 90 degree angles. I got some bendable 3/8 tube from The Right Stuff with 2 feet of rock/stone guard and bent my own fuel line for the engine bay. All the lines came out quite nice.

Installing the pre bent brake lines sadly was not as easily as I had hoped. The pre-bent kits require a lot of massaging and re-bending. I’ve walked away from the experience with the idea that next time I’m going to buy a flaring tool and bend my own brake lines.

Front Brakes Installed

On the 4th of July (yesterday) I had some time to put together the front brakes. Everything went together without a hitch and looks good too!

Other Firewall Stuff

Aside from the brakes and fuel lines, I’ve also been slowly reassembling the firewall. The wiper arms that tuck into the cowl area are installed and I also fitted a new seal to separate the fresh air side of the cowl that supplies air to the heat/AC ventilation with the rest of the cowl. The material is expensive if purchased by the foot from appropriate venders. I found that the same material is used for safety mats that you can puzzle together for your garage floor. So I went to my local Freight store and picked up a set of 4 for less than $10, and cut one up to make my seal with. It worked quite well. Here’s a picture of the seal I made bolted to the plate that divides the cowl for the fresh air ventilation side.

What’s Next

Hopefully in the next week or two I will get a good 4-6 hours to finish the brakes on the car. Once the brakes are done and the car is back on all 4 wheels, I will be putting all my effort finish assembling the motor! If I don’t run into anymore snags I have the motor assembled and in the car by August.

Project Trans Am – Month 25

Another month has come and gone, and progress on the Trans Am is slow but steady! This post is an outline of everything that has been happening since in April, 2012.

Drivers Door Done!

This was a three part project. As described in last months update, I had to rebuild the hinges as well as fix the window guide. I rebuilt and installed the remaining lower hinge, re-installed the window with the new window guide and then finally spent some time adjusting the window. I had to use the car battery directly wired to the window motor to power the window up/down. The door now closes like a new car and the window lines up with the roof line perfectly! Also good news, there’s nothing wrong with the power window motor, the window goes up and down quite fast when directly wired to the battery. Sometime this summer I’m going to wire in Bosch style relays and new ground wires to the window motors that way I can enjoy fast up/down power windows like a modern car!

Here’s a photo of the back of the window guide I replaced with the window guide nut tool above.


Like all projects it seems with this car, further tear-down and investigation leads to more work! As I got ready to install the front calipers, I discovered the calipers I got from NAPA were completely wrong. NAPA took care of me, and now I ordered remanufactured Cardone calipers instead of the NAPA house brand. I also ordered rear calipers, and pretty much everything else! Yes, I’m now replacing everything with the brakes.

I was hoping to re-use the emergency brake brackets and cables, but once I got the rear calipers off the car I quickly found that the rear rotors were machined beyond their tolerance and the caliper pistons were bottomed out, causing the emergency brake bracket attached to the top to wear and no longer engage the ratcheting system in the caliper. Basically, this car was running without rear brakes, one caliper in the rear was definitely not grabbing and the other one was questionable.

Here’s a list of all the replaced parts:

  • Remanufactured Calipers, front and rear by Cardone
  • New Brake lines by Inline Tube, plus new rear brake lines with hoses by Right Stuff Detailing
  • New brake line to hose brackets by Jegs
  • New brake hoses, 2 for front brakes plus one from brake line to rear drive shaft (in addition to Right Stuff Detailing hoses)
  • New Banjo Bolts by Dorman
  • New all wheel disc brake proportioning valve by Right Stuff Detailing
  • New brake pads and rotors by Raybestos
  • New Master Cylinder by EIS
  • Remanufactured brake booster by Cardone
  • Emergency Brake brackets for 79-81 WS6 rear disc brakes by Scarebird
  • Emergency brake cables by Dorman.

I think that covers it, other than brake fluid, anti-seize and high temp lubricant for brake calipers. I’m dropping a lot of money into the brakes, but I think it’s a good investment. All the existing brake parts are 30+ years old, so it seems only fitting to replace it all. Here’s a picture of the firewall painted and ready for the brake booster and master cylinder. I started fitting some of the brake lines in anticipation. The second picture is of the rear axle with the calipers off. The plan for now is to replace the brakes and the rear shocks. Next year I’ll replace the springs, rebuild the posi rear end and install new bushings for the springs and stabilizer bar.


Test Fit 78 Rear Bumper

Part of this project is to convert the 1981 Trans Am to look like a 1978/77 Trans Am. Not only are is front bumper different, but so is the rear. I did a test fit and confirmed that you can swap out the steel bumper from an 79-81 with a 77/78 steel bumper. The tail lights and license plate gas door are different and requires a shorter gas tank filler neck. The bumper will be painted black when I take the car in for paint.

Bumpers & Inner Fender Wells Blasted and Painted

I got the metal bumpers and inner fender wells sand blasted and painted! If you need sandblasting services, contact me and I’ll send you my contact in Delaware, OH. I got both the front and rear bumper as well as the inner fenders blasted and primed with a PPG epoxy primer for a great price!

Memorial day weekend I top coated all the parts with satin Eastwood Extreme Chassis Black so it matches the rest of the frame and under body. Everything looks good!

Steering Linkage Painted

I started painting the steering linkage with engine Dupli-Color engine enamel. I got cast iron gray engine paint for them, as well as the engine enamel primer and they turned out pretty close to the natural finish! The Tie-rod ends I got were ACDelco brand which have a really nice finish, so I decided not to paint them. All the parts you see in the photo are Moog/Federal Mogul. All that’s left is the steering box and pitman arm.

Jack Stand Recall

Last fall I bought new OTC 6 ton jack stands. I decided on OTC since it’s a brand name. Unfortunately for me, the jack stands last month were recalled. I had to buy another set of jack stands in order to ship back the ones I bought to fulfill the recall. I did a little research and decided on a set of US Jack stands, each stand is rated 3 tons, where-as most other manufacturers rate stands by the pair. These new US jack stands are nice and I feel a lot more confident with them under the car. At first the base was not flush on the floor, but once I put some weight on them they leveled out quite nice. The paw on the side has 2 teeth to hold into the gray stand portion, you can’t easily disengage them without putting forth effort, which is a good thing.

What’s Next

Brakes, brakes, BRAKES! I have to have the brakes done this June! As soon as the calipers and remaining parts arrive, I’ll be painting the calipers with VHT black caliper paint then installing the brakes, lines and components front to back. While doing the brakes, I will also be re-installing the fuel lines, steering linkage and gear box. Hopefully by July 4th weekend I’ll finally be preparing the engine and transmission for the car!

Project Trans Am – 24 Months Later

I’m now 2 years into my 1981 Pontiac Trans Am project and things are just now starting to come together! This post is a good outline of everything that has been happening since February, 2012.

Front Suspension Together Again

The front suspension is back together!  I have to thank my my friend Joel for helping me get the springs installed. It’s interesting, we spent a good 2 hours installing the drivers side spring, then a week later we installed the passenger side spring in 10 minutes. Basically don’t compress the spring too much and use a crowbar, things go a lot faster. Yes we did use a spring compressor as well as chains to keep the spring from causing damage had it sprung loose.

Only thing remaining is the brakes and the car will be rolling again! Not in the photo are the rotors, which are now installed. Read my last post about the problems I had with Raybestos Rotors from Amazon.

Steering Column Rebuilt

The steering column was an excellent winter project. I started working on it in January actually, but didn’t really dig into it further than the steering wheel till March. I spent a a few random hours in the basement taking it apart and putting it back to together. I was really pleased by how tight and smooth it steers now, there’s no more play at the tilt mechanism, and the left turn signal now works!

Aside from replacing the turn signal mechanism switch and ignition key cylinder, I also repainted the entire column with Krylon Fusion satin black and topped it with Krylon Fusion UV clear. It really looks good.

Door Hinge Rebuilt

Okay, Actually there are two hinges, I’ve only rebuilt the upper door hinge, lower is still in progress, but what a difference it’s made! once I got the upper door hinge back on the car, I was able to investigate why the window was not lining up with the gaps. I found a broken window track and I’m now in the process of repairing that. The window should be back together by the end of this week.

I cleaned and painted the lower hinge over the weekend. Once I’m satisfied that the paint is nice and cured, I will install new bushings and then re-bolt on the rebuilt hinge to the door.

Window Track Repair

The window tracks for these cars are interesting to say the least. I would have thought ball bearings on tracks would have been used, but it’s actually a more crude version of the kind of tracks found on cheap dresser drawers. Granted the tracks themselves are heavier metal, the wheels that roll in the tracks are cheap plastic intended to pivot and spin freely within the tracks.

When I got the door apart to fix the hinges, I found the reason why the door glass was not lining up with the car. The rear track plastic roller was missing, allowing the window to roll up beyond the height it was intended. This also causes the window to bow forward and up at the rear, causing fitment issues both at the rear of the door and at the front. This one broken part will turn the car from looking like it is completely miss-aligned to looking like it came from the factory! I ordered a new window roller and waited about a week for it to arrive.

To fix, I had to remove the window from the door. It’s an easy task, but once removed, removing the actual “window track roller” from the window was not so easy. At first I thought I could use my own tools to remove the nut, but after doing some research I found that there is “yet another special tool” needed in order to get them off. I ordered the tool, and a couple days later it arrived. Within 2 minutes with the correct tool I had the broken window roller off and the new window roller installed.

I will clean the tracks then reinstall the glass once I finish rebuilding the lower hinge.

Gauges Restored with Red Lighting

I’ve restored and tested the car gauges over the winter months as well. You can actually test these old gauges by using potentiometers (variable resisters). The only gauge I couldn’t test fully is the tachometer. They cleaned up nicely. I also repainted the gauge backs that reflect the light onto the gauges with a florescent red paint, which now makes the gauges glow red rather than white. It’s a popular mod some Trans Am folks do to customize their birds.

Spring Carlisle!

At the last minute I had an opportunity to go to the Spring Carlisle with a fellow car buddy. It was a lot of fun. I’ll blog about this trip later this month.

What’s Next

Much of the next 2 months will be re-assembly. First of course is the brakes (I got new calipers for the front, new pads, rotors, and stainless steel brake lines all around) and the steering linkage, followed by reinstalling the steering column, intermediate shaft, heater box and other firewall items. Then the motor will be next, including a new exhaust system. Hopefully by June, we’ll have the engine broken in and start reassembling the front body.


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!

Project Trans Am – 18 Months Later

So I’m now 18 months into my 1981 Pontiac Trans Am project and things are just now starting to come together. From April – July I really didn’t get to spend much time on the car, our new baby was coming (born June 27th) and preparing for/having him took precedence! I even had to neglect the lawn a couple weeks in July, luckily none of my neighbors complained.

Sand Blasting and Exhaust Manifolds – Blast Cabinet Blues

In August I worked on the small rusty parts for the motor. I sand blasted the exhaust manifolds before painting with Eastwood Exhaust Manifold Gray. I even purchased my own sand blasting cabinet similar to the ones sold by Summit/Jegs, but quickly discovered what a pain in the butt it is to own your own blasting cabinet. After 2 weekends using it, I decided I was better off going over to my buddy’s place rather than trying to turn my garage into a body shop. The blast cabinet I got was a table top model. Though it was technically big enough for my exhaust manifolds, it really was too small to work in, I had to open the cabinet every time I wanted to turn the manifolds to blast other sides. Perhaps if I ever had a larger garage I would get a bigger blast cabinet, but it’s just not practical for the garage I have now.

Once I got the manifolds painted, my buddy Joel baked them in his industrial oven. They came out exactly how they went in! I am pretty impressed with the Eastwood exhaust paint and will try some of their other paints in the coming months.

I also got all the other engine brackets and small parts to my core support blasted and painted.

Engine Painted and Freeze Plugs Installed – CAM PLUG ISSUES!

Painting the block and all the other parts was a labor of love. I now know why most engine builders recommend putting the engine together before painting, because it is a pain figuring out what should and should not be masked off! I figured it out though, and it sure looks good! I used Dupi-color engine paint  DE1616 Pontiac Blue Metallic. The machine shop painted the heads already with this color, so I just had to paint the block, timing cover, oil filter housing, oil pan and water pump.

I then installed the freeze and oil gallery/galley plugs. Last was the rear cam plug. This is where things went bad. The Federal-Mogul freeze plug kit I got for my Pontiac 400 came with the wrong size freeze plug. Because I had to re-install the rear oil plug a second time, I purchased a 2nd Federal-Mogul freeze plug kit, and it also came with the wrong cam freeze plug. Luckily i was looking at the cam plug in the 301 block I had (luckily I didn’t get rid of it yet) and looked at photos of other freeze plug kits and discovered the problem was with the depth of the plug. I also discovered that NAPA Auto Parts sells individual freeze plugs! So the 3rd time around I got the exact cam plug size I needed and for less than $1.50 too!

The Pontiac references I have all say the plug needs to be .03″ deep from the “lip”. The cam plug packaged by Federal-Mogul is itself just over .04″ deep, so when installed, it went in too far. With the shallow cam plug with a depth of .02″, the plug installed correctly and the cam test-fit fit without hitting it.

I learned a few things with the cam plug issue. First is I’ll never buy a Federal-Mogul freeze plug kit for a motor ever again! NAPA rocks when you’re in a pinch. Third is te importance of test fitting all the parts.  I wasn’t going to test fit the cam until I talked to my friend Tim who recommended test fitting everything and re-measuring all the tolerances of the bearings and plugs. Had I not test fitted the cam, I would have gotten much further into the build before discovering the problem, at which point would have made it a lot harder to remove and replace! Last important thing I learned is next time I’m going to buy everything from the Machine shop. I maybe saved $100 by buying everything from Summit/Jegs, but the headaches from some parts working and some not’ is not worth the savings.

Rings Filed, Rear Main Seal, Cam, Crank and Pistons Installed – ALL BUT 1 PISTON!

In September I somehow found time to file fit all my piston rings, install the rear main seal, crank, and cam! I spent one weekend just test fitting everything and using plasti-gauge to verify everything fit correctly. I actually discovered I was using the wrong main bearings in the wrong saddles during the process. Plasti-gauge is a tedious process, I never used the torque wrench so much before that weekend! IF your not familiar, you need to install the crank dry with all the bearings in and only test one bearing at a time. So if your tests go smoothly, you’re only doing this 5 total times. Unfortunately I did this 7 times because of the bearing miss-hap. After everything was said and done, all the bearings are at .002″. I also did this for all the connecting rod bearings, they are also at .002″. For the rod bearings I Was able to use a bore gauge. My bore gauge wasn’t big enough for the crank bores, so I had to use the plasti-gauge.

Rear main seal install went smoothly using a Viton rear seal. In the photo you can see it lines up perfectly, except one end came out a little bit. When the crank is installed, it presses in where it needs to be. I don’t see how this motor could leak, but time will tell!

Before I installed the crank for the final time, I installed the cam. Its a lot easier to install a cam with the crank out. Once I got the cam and crank installed, I started installing the pistons. After getting the first 2 pistons installed as pictured, I discovered that I had 5 pistons tops of one valve relief design, and 3 the other valve relief design. This stopped me in my tracks, as I should have 4 and 4 of each type. I’m now waiting for the machine shop to get the new piston top in and swap the rods. I’ve since installed the remaining pistons, so all but piston 8 are installed, torqued and ready to go.

Firewall and HVAC

In October I Decided to repaint the firewall so it would have that fresh/new look under the hood. There wasn’t any rust to worry about, and only a couple spots where there was bare metal to worry about priming, but getting all the little parts off the firewall took a lot of time. Removing the wiper motor and assembly was a monster. Once I figured out how to remove these little clips underneath the wiper arms, things started to come apart smoothly. I also removed all the seam sealer from the top of the cowl as it was pretty dried out and cracked. The seam sealer on the sides did not look bad at all, so there must be something about seam sealer being exposed to water longer that may be why it was in worse shape. Either way, scrapping and cleaning that off was a bear. Once the cowl and the firewall were clean, I did my usual prep work  (scuff with fine 3m pad and clean with paint thinner), taped off areas I didn’t want paint, and then went to work with fresh paint. I used Rustoleum Satin Black 7777. It’s not the best paint, but it’s not the worst either. Since this was going over existing paint, I wasn’t as worried about it getting damaged by drops of brake fluid someday.  The firewall turned out quite nice.

I’m also in the process of rebuilding the HVAC box. Confusing at first, Ive pretty much figured out how the entire AC/Heat system works! it’s quite interesting how much of the duct work baffles and doors require engine vacuum in order to open/close. I’m also surprised someone hasn’t figured out how to replace all this stuff with modern actuators/valves tat run on electric motors. Either way, I’m almost done rebuilding mine, just waiting on a new Actuator for switching from AC to heat (kind of important). I am installing an AC Delete panel on the firewall, but the AC option is still necessary if I want to use the vents to blow air.

Degreed Cam

My buddy Joel came over a couple weeks ago and helped me degree my Crower 60918 cam. If you’re familiar with Pontiac cams, this cam is very similar to the popular 068 cam, kind of in-between a 068 H.O. cam and a Summit 2801 cam. With the timing chain straight up the cam is at 107 degrees, really close to the recommended 108 degrees. One thing I did learn though was the importance of a good cam degree kit. I got one of those universal Summit degree kits, which worked, but a motor specific kit made by Comp Camps would have made things so much easier. Next time I degree a cam, I’m getting the Pontiac engine specific Comp Camps degree kit, as it comes with a special crank socket that the degree wheel attaches to and has the specific dial indicator attachment for connecting to a Pontiac block.

Fan shroud

The fan shroud came with a very large crack, on the top of all places. I sourced another used one that would work in the short term when I decided to research if I could repair the current one. After doing some reading I found a post that explained why glue’s typically do not work, and the best thing to do is to melt the plastic back together with a soldering iron. So with my crappy soldering iron I did just that and it worked! The stitch (if you want to call it that) looks anything but desirable though, but it works. I was thinking about running filler of some sort over it, but after spending 30 minutes sanding the plastic I decided to leave it and call it a day. I then scuffed up the rest of the fan shroud, cleaned it then threw on some Krylon Fusion plastic flat black paint. I also painted some of the intake parts and the cowl vent at the same time. It came out pretty nice!

Special Thanks!

I have to give special thanks to my friends Joel and Tim for their help this summer! With all the little complications I’ve had, I’ve almost wanted to give up and hand the motor off to a mechanic to put together for me. Their confidence and expertise helped me keep going! Thanks guys!

I also have to thank my wife for letting me spend so much time in the garage. Thanks babe!

What’s Left

If I don’t run into anymore snags and the machine shop gets me the correct piston top in the next week, I should be able to get the rest of the motor assembled, front frame painted with Eastwood’s Chassis Black and get the motor installed in the car. Hopefully by December I’ll have the cam broken into and most of the car back together!