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.

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.


Bench Testing Fuel/Gas Gauge

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

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

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

Tools Needed

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

Test for Empty Tank (No Resistance, 0 Ohms)

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

Test for Full Tank (90 Ohms)

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

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

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

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

Test for 1/2 Tank (45 Ohms)

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

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

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

Body Bushings and Sub Frame Connectors for Firebirds & Camaros

BearingIf you own an f-body 1st or 2nd generation car from 1967-1981 (F Body chassis by GM found in Pontiac Firebird, Trans Am and Chevrolet Camaro first and second gen vehicles from 67-81) and are getting ready to replace your body to sub-frame bushings, you have three options: stock rubber, polyurethane and solid. If you plan on adding or currently have sub frame connectors connecting your front and rear sub-frames together, then you will most likely be required to use solid body bushings (check your sub-frame connector documentation).

Rubber Body Bushings – This is the most expensive option and was how the car original came from the factory. This is your option if you are doing a concourse restoration and/or want to keep your vehicle stock. These bushings will deteriorate over time and will need to be replaced after a period of years.

Polyurethane Body Bushings – This is the most popular alternative to rubber body bushings. They are much harder and will last longer than rubber. Polyurethane body bushings will not squeak as they age like some polyurethane A-arm bushings for suspension components sometimes do, so noise for this application is not a factor. Polyurethane may transfer more vibrations from the sub-frame to the body.

Solid Body Bushings – This is a more permanent solution using bushings typically made out of aluminum. They are solid and should last forever. Solid body bushings will transfer vibrations from the sub-frame to the body. They are required by most sub-frame connectors so body movement does not add stress to sub-frame connections.

We decided to use solid body bushings for Project Trans Am since we plan on installing sub-frame connectors in the future.

Fact: Did you know the 3rd generation F-body chassis did not use body bushings? Instead, the front frame was welded directly to the body.

Installation is straight forward and is typically performed during restoration, when adding sub-frame connectors, or when addressing body flex issues with the front suspension. Most kits come with instructions, new fasteners and torque values. For rusty vehicles, 1-2 weeks of spraying the body bushing fasteners daily with penetrating oil is recommended. Use a breaker bar (do not use am impact wrench) with a 6 point socket to remove these bolts to prevent excessive torquing and damage to the bolt heads.