The Truth About Cars » Engine Swap The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 11:00:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Engine Swap Question: What Engine Swap Would Most Enrage Single-Interest Corvette Fanatics? Thu, 29 Aug 2013 13:00:20 +0000 Toyota V8 - Picture courtesy of LextremeIn my role as Chief Justice of the 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court, prospective racers often ask me questions that go something like: “I have a (car type known to be fast and/or expensive) that I got for (credulity-strainingly cheap price) and I would like to race it in LeMons without getting hit with penalty laps. How can I do this?” In most cases, the car will turn out to be a BMW M3, Acura Integra GS-R, or C4 Corvette, and I tell the questioner to seek another type of car. Still, you can get genuinely horrible C4 Corvettes for LeMons-grade money, provided you sell off some trim parts and so on, and that’s just what happened with this bunch. No problem, I said, just drop in an engine that will anger the Corvette Jihad and all will be well (it helps that the Chief Perpetrator of LeMons racing was the owner and editor-in-chief of Corvette Magazine for years, and he can’t stand the Corvette Jihad). I suggested the Toyota 1UZ V8, as found in Lexus LS400s and SC400s, but perhaps there’s an engine that would raise the blood pressure of Corvette fanatics even higher. What engine would that be?
LeMons-Phoenix10-0895In fact, we’ve seen two C4s in LeMons racing. There was this one, which was overpriced at 300 bucks, came with a very tired LT-1 350, and got stomped by a couple of bone-stock VW Rabbits and a slushbox Neon running on three cylinders.
309-LVH12-UGThen there was Spank’s “Corvegge”, which featured Olds 350 diesel power and ran on straight vegetable oil. Some Corvette guys were made upset by this, but at least the engine came from General Motors.
pickup2So, what engine would elicit the most rage from the Corvette Jihad? The team would prefer something with sufficient power to get around the track at least as quickly as, say, a Saturn SL2, which rules out my first choice (a Model A flathead four). Ideally, it should be an engine that can be purchased cheaply. Chrysler 360? BMW M50? Ford Modular 4.6? Nissan VH45?

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Want To Impress The Swells At the Country Club? Hemi-fied Custom Dodge A100 Pickup! Fri, 10 May 2013 13:00:50 +0000 02 - Custom Dodge A100 pickup - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOf all the racing venues I visit during my travels as Chief Justice of the 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court, the ritzy clubs tend to be the weirdest. We went to the Monticello Motor Club in New York a few weeks back, and twice a year the LeMons Traveling Circus rolls into the Autobahn Country Club in Illinois. The reaction of the members, who must navigate the madness of the LeMons pit scene as they drive their GT3s and Facel-Vegas to the clubhouse, runs the gamut from loathing to delight. Most of the time I ignore these guys— I always feel like we’re caddies in the pool in that setting— but as the owner of an A100 I just had to talk to the owner of this truck that showed up at the 2012 Showroom-Schlock Shootout.
07 - Custom Dodge A100 pickup - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI didn’t get the guy’s name, but I recall that his passenger was a veteran of the 1949 Indianapolis 500.
03 - Custom Dodge A100 pickup - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHe was on his way into the clubhouse, but told me to go ahead and open up whatever I wanted and shoot whatever photographs I felt like shooting. The bodywork was flawless, all the chrome was perfect, and the truck was full of custom touches like this aluminum instrument cluster.
04 - Custom Dodge A100 pickup - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinYes, that’s a modern 5.7 Hemi under the doghouse. There’s barely room for the LA-block 318 in my van, so I know some serious fabrication went into making this swap fit.
09 - Custom Dodge A100 pickup - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis setup isn’t quite as extreme as the one in the Little Red Wagon, but it would take a very brave man to stand on this pickup’s throttle.

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Looking For an Engine Donor For Your ’53 Ford? Police Impound Auction! Thu, 31 Jan 2013 14:00:47 +0000 Rich, the mastermind behind the Rocket Surgery Racing mid-VW-engined Renault 4CV, just got hired to install a daily-driver-suitable modern drivetrain in a ’53 Ford coupe. The owner wanted to keep it all Ford, EFI makes for much better real-world drivability, and so a late 1980s or newer Ford 5.0 or 5.8 (aka 302 or 351W) V8 engine looked to be the best choice. Running donor cars and trucks that fit those requirements tend to go for four figures, so it was time to hit a Denver-area police-impound auction. Here’s what happened yesterday.
I used to buy cheap Civics, Sentras, and Tercels at the San Francisco towed-car auction, and the setup here is similar: the cars are lined up in a lot, none of them can be started, and most don’t have keys. You get an hour or so to inspect them (i.e., try to guess which ones are runners and which aren’t by sniffing engine oil, studying the paperwork inside to see if they were towed off after a DUI bust, warrant-check, or some other situation that indicated a functioning vehicle when it fell into John Law’s hands). The star of this auction was a 1968 Chevelle 2-door hardtop. Lots of Bondo, trashed interior, generic-looking small-block engine, but not much rust. It went for $1,800.
I was tempted to take a shot at this ’07 BMW 335i, because its 302-horse twin-turbo six and manual transmission would have been a fun swap for my 1941 Plymouth project. However, the bidding got way into the thousands in a hurry on this car and I wandered off to go look at potential Ford Windsor donors for Rich.
This ’83 Signature Series Mark VI Continental had a 302, but it was equipped with terrible throttle-body Late Malaise Era fuel injection, so no dice. Meanwhile, some vehicles were selling for surprisingly good money, e.g., a ’97 Volkswagen GTI with an obvious history of hoonage went for $1,900. A manual-trans-equipped Nissan Altima sold for $3,900.
This Honky Chateau Econoline camper had some flavor of Windsor— probably a 302— but it was carbureted, plus the scrapper typically knocks off 1,000 pounds of value from an RV due to all the wood and other non-valuable materials within.
Another friend was considering this Dodge RV, though he felt a little nervous about the prospect of driving it home with this sprayed across the back.
So, the best potential ’53 Ford engine donor of the bunch ended up being this 1991 Ford F-150.
It was some sort of custom conversion, complete with door badges, done by the apparently-now-defunct Centurion Vehicles in White Pigeon, Michigan.
“Sedona” badging, custom paint and stripes, not in great shape but pretty solid.
The 5.8 liter V8 has the tall truck EFI setup, but the ’53 Ford has plenty of engine-bay altitude. The oil looked good, and the truck was a confiscation victim, meaning the owner who was arrested with it would be prohibited from buying it back (and that it was probably running when it got towed off by the lawmen).
There was no arrest paperwork in the truck, but I was able to find evidence of some interesting stories in other auction vehicles. Say, this impressive septuafecta bust.
This truck came with a few full bottles of Negra Modelo (frozen, thanks to the 18-degree temperatures in Denver yesterday morning) and a fairly worn-out interior. No potential bidders seemed to be paying much attention to it, since the truck shoppers were mostly looking for ready-to-roll work trucks younger than 22 years of age.
A $750 bid took it away. That would have been a lot for something like this, five years ago, but these days it’s not a bad deal. The ignition key was on the seat, but the battery was dead. A quick jump-start and it fired up and drove home under its own power. Good engine, good transmission.
Rich will yank the engine and transmission, keep the tires, and scrap the rest at $240/ton.

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Question: What Engine/Transmission Swap Belongs In the ’41 Plymouth? Thu, 29 Nov 2012 19:00:43 +0000 Since my brain threw a code and made me buy the 1941 Plymouth Special Deluxe Junkyard Find yesterday, I need to choose a suitable modern engine and transmission combo for the thing. I’ve hired a rocket scientist and weirdo hot-rodder (the lunatic who built the Rocket Surgery Racing mid-engined Renault 4CV) to execute a chassis modernization program on the old Mopar, and I need to make my drivetrain choice ASAP. Suggestions?
Much as I’d like to go with a 2,500-horse Chrysler IV-2220 engine for this project, I need to stay on a fairly strict budget, say $2500 for engine and transmission. Most likely I’ll buy a complete donor car and truck, grab the engine, transmission, driveshaft, computers, and any other goodies needed for the swap, then sell everything I can on eBay and feed the rest to The Crusher at $250/ton. It would be (slightly) nice to stay within marque and go with a Chrysler engine, but I also like the idea of enraging the purists— you know, the guys who have those creepy Time Out Kid dolls leaning on their numbers-matching Road Runners at car shows. So, before everyone starts yelling about how I should get a 440 and Torqueflite 727, problem solved, let’s go over some of my requirements and preferences for this swap:

1. This car must have a manual transmission. Sure, I’m going to drive it on the street and take it to the drag strip, but this car is going to be set up for road racing and taken to track days at my local track. You don’t need a manual transmission for that, and I’m not a sufficiently fast driver to get the extra couple of seconds per lap a manual transmission might give you, but you’ll have a lot more fun with a stick. Long-term, I plan to enter it at Pikes Peak and, if I get really crazy, the Carrera Panamericana. I’m willing to contemplate the idea of swap bellhousings, weird adapters, and the like, but the easiest solution is to get an engine/transmission combination that came together from the factory.

2. The engine must fit a narrow prewar engine compartment. There’s not enough room under the ’41 Plymouth’s hood for a typical 90-degree overhead-cam V6 or V8 engine to fit without fabrication hassles beyond what I am willing to contemplate. That means the excellent Ford Modular V8 is out, which eliminates the tempting Lincoln Mark VIII DOHC engine/Tremec 3550 transmission idea. The fairly narrow Toyota UZ engine might fit (barely), but bolting a manual transmission to one— as done by many drifters already— requires the application of cubic dollars. The BMW S62 V8 is also fairly compact, and manual transmissions are readily available in crashed E39s, but the computer nightmares with these engines are legendary to put it mildly. The most likely candidates at this point are Detroit pushrod V8s and screaming Japanese or German L6s, though the idea of a hopped-up GMC 292 L6 lurks at the edges of this discussion.

3. The engine must have potential for non-insanely-expensive bolt-on power upgrades later on. This could mean that the engine has a vast aftermarket of quasi-affordable performance add-ons (e.g., turbocharger/supercharger kits, better heads, stronger rods, and so on), or it could mean that related engines can be swapped in without cutting anything. I don’t plan to go above 400 horsepower or pound-feet (the point at which the differential I’ll be using— that’s a secret to be revealed later— becomes the weak link), and 250 horses will be fine to start with.

4. The engine must have electronic fuel injection. Even though I’ve been on this planet as long as my ’41 Plymouth has been sitting in a Colorado field, I don’t subscribe to the curmudgeonly view that carburetors are good. That means the best engine candidates come from vehicles built in the early 1990s or later. If absolutely necessary, I’m willing to apply Megasquirt to an engine, but my very strong preference is to use all the factory computers, sensors, wiring, everything. Buying a complete donor vehicle makes the most sense for this approach, which means that I need to take into account the resale value of the donor vehicle’s leftover parts.

5. No Hemis. No LS engines. The going rate for an LS with T-56 or TR-6060 transmission, yanked from a GTO, CTS-V, or Corvette, is $5000-$8000 and up. Way up. You can get early 5.7 Hemi engines out of Dodge Rams for much cheaper, but they came with slushboxes exclusively and you’ll spend your louie in a hurry getting a sufficiently beefy manual transmission attached to one.

6. I really want an overdrive transmission. I’m going to be running a fairly wild (4:1 or shorter) differential gear and I plan to take this car on highway road trips, which means screaming along at four grand at 60 MPH isn’t going to cut it. Thus, no 833, Muncie, or Toploader 4-speeds. No, I don’t want an overdrive 833 4-speed.

At this point, my top choice is the Chrysler Magnum 5.9 (aka 360) engine, descendent of the venerable LA family of small-block V8s and available in Dodge Ram 1500s and 2500s with the NV3500 5-speed manual transmission. The 360 is a great engine, it’s within marque for the Plymouth, and performance parts are cheap. The problem here is that it is virtually impossible to find a two-wheel-drive Dodge truck with a manual transmission (I’ve been beating my face against an online-search brick wall for weeks, and that’s with a willingness to bring a donor vehicle back to Denver from two-wheel-drive places like Omaha or Lubbock). NV3500s are commonplace in junked V6 Dakotas, so I could do the wrecked Ram Van + junkyard transmission + 360 flywheel + ECM from a manual-equipped 5.9 truck equation, but that’s a lot of hassle for a truck transmission that starts to get explode-y at 350 ft-lbs.

My second choice, but gaining ground in a hurry, is a GM LT V8 engine with Borg-Warner T-56 transmission. In other words, buy some hooptied-out-but-strong-running fourth-gen Camaro Z28 or Firebird Formula for $2500. This gets me a 275-horsepower motor with near-limitless hop-up capacity plus a very nice road-race transmission that can handle big power… but it also means I’ll be the 900,000,000th person to drop a small-block Chevy into this kind of project car, plus there’s the whole Optispark ignition headache. In terms of bang-per-buck, you just can’t beat this setup, and the logic of using it is the same one used by hot-rodders in 1948 who put flathead Ford V8s in everything, but I’d prefer to be a little oddball here.

I’m just beginning to research the idea of a Vortec 5300, 5700, or 6000 V8 with manual transmission, a combination theoretically— though probably not in practice— available in 2WD Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra trucks. The Vortec makes great power, but the manual-transmission options appear to be the pure-truck, granny-gear-equipped NV4500 and ZF-S6-650 and some 5-speed that I’m guessing is either the NV3500 or the even more fragile T-5. Anybody who knows more on this subject, or even anyone who has seen a two-wheel-drive/manual-trans/V8 Silverado on the street, please share your info with us in the comments.

The real wild card here is the idea of buying a bashed BMW 540i with factory 6-speed and facing the horror of turn-of-the-century BMW computers. You can find these cars in ugly-but-running condition for two or three grand, the engine is much lighter than Detroit iron-block V8s, the Getrag 6-speed is a joy, and I know the 282-horse M62 V8 engine will fit in a BMW E30 (there are two of them racing in the 24 Hours of LeMons and, yes, I hammer them with penalty laps despite being butt slow due to handling problems) and thus is quite narrow. On the downside, there is no cheap way to add power to this engine, and the hassles involved with making BMW computers behave are so severe that anecdotes about them are not mingled with ordinary stories of problems with automotive electronics.

What else? Turbo Buick V6 with absurd boost and hope-it-lives T-5 transmission? Big L6 out of a Detroit truck, equipped with centrifugal supercharger? Mercedes-Benz M104 six? Something I haven’t thought of? Rack your brains!

So, here we go! I will be reading your comments and advice closely as I prepare for a new round of donor-vehicle shopping. Mujahideen of the Mopar Jihad (I picture you driving your Oerlikon-equipped Ramchargers through the Khyber Pass while sneering at those fools in their weak-ass Toyota Hiluxes), feel free to inform me of the hair-raisingness of the fatwas to be issued on me by your warlords, should I choose to run a GM engine in a Plymouth.

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Junkyard Find: 1979 MGB, With Power By Toyota Fri, 16 Nov 2012 14:00:39 +0000 As someone who spent a few years using an MGB-GT as a daily driver, my junkyard radar is pretty well attuned to detect Crusher-bound examples of the iconic British sports car. Incredible quantities of Bs were built over a run that lasted close to 20 years, and of course you’ll want to read Ate Up With Motor‘s excellent history of the breed after you’re done here. The biggest problem with this sturdy little car (other than the Prince of Darkness) was the lack of power from its antiquated pushrod engine, so a previous owner of this car solved that problem by adding a Taliban-grade Toyota truck engine.
I own a stranded-in-California Toyota 20R-powered Austin-Healey Sprite myself, but I’m not enough of a Toyota truck (or Celica) fanatic to be able to tell the 2.2 liter 20R from the later 2.4 liter 22R at a glance. The swap appears to have been done many years ago, so I’m guessing that this is the earlier 20R. Either way, this swap should nearly double the horsepower and way more than double the torque of a black-bumper MGB, with no-doubt-pleasing results.
This car looks to have spent quite a few years sitting outdoors with no top, so it probably wasn’t worth restoring.
The Toyota R is all about grinding out the truck-style low-RPM torque, and it tends to blow up in spectacular fashion when you spin it, so the Toyota 4A is probably a more appropriate sports-car engine swap.
I was at this Denver junkyard to get a Subaru XT Turbo digital dash, but I couldn’t resist plucking the Weber DGV 32/36 carburetor from this car. I’ll trade it for van parts.

19 - 1979 MGB with Toyota 20R Engine Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1979 MGB with Toyota 20R Engine Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1979 MGB with Toyota 20R Engine Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1979 MGB with Toyota 20R Engine Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1979 MGB with Toyota 20R Engine Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1979 MGB with Toyota 20R Engine Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1979 MGB with Toyota 20R Engine Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1979 MGB with Toyota 20R Engine Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1985 Subaru XT Turbo Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1979 MGB with Toyota 20R Engine Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1979 MGB with Toyota 20R Engine Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1979 MGB with Toyota 20R Engine Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1979 MGB with Toyota 20R Engine Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1979 MGB with Toyota 20R Engine Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1979 MGB with Toyota 20R Engine Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1979 MGB with Toyota 20R Engine Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1979 MGB with Toyota 20R Engine Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1979 MGB with Toyota 20R Engine Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1979 MGB with Toyota 20R Engine Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 27
Junkyard Find: 1980 Triumph TR7 With V8 V6 Swap Mon, 20 Feb 2012 14:00:04 +0000 We’ve seen a couple of “poor man’s TR8” race cars in the 24 Hours of LeMons: you take a TR7 and drop a junkyard V8 out of a junked Land Rover into it. This works better than both the “really poor man’s TR8″ (a TR7 with Buick V6 swap), in the sense that it sounds a lot cooler, and is (slightly) more reliable than a Triumph Slant Four-powered TR7. Plenty of folks did this swap to their street TR7s as well, and I’ve found an example in a Denver self-service wrecking yard.
For a crash course in the history of the TR7/TR8, check out the latest Ate Up With Motor essay. It’s all there.
Somebody got the intake from this wrecked ’80, but the rest of the engine is still there. The junkyard next door always has several complete V8-equipped Rover SUVs, which no doubt make for easier engine extractions than you’d get with this car.
The interior in this car is in very nice shape, so let’s hope that some TR7 owner grabs the good stuff before the whole mess gets fed to The Crusher. Hey, look— manual tranmission!

Note: As several readers have pointed out, this car does not have a V8 swap. It has a V6 swap. I failed to look closely at the engine, no doubt because I was so preoccupied with mental images of angry, just-got-off-the-picket-line British Leyland workers assembling this car with pickaxes and monkey wrenches.

10 - 1980 Triumph TR7 with V8 Swap - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Lucas Electrics' Greden 01 - 1980 Triumph TR7 with V8 Swap - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Lucas Electrics' Greden 02 - 1980 Triumph TR7 with V8 Swap - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Lucas Electrics' Greden 03 - 1980 Triumph TR7 with V8 Swap - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Lucas Electrics' Greden 04 - 1980 Triumph TR7 with V8 Swap - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Lucas Electrics' Greden 05 - 1980 Triumph TR7 with V8 Swap - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Lucas Electrics' Greden 06 - 1980 Triumph TR7 with V8 Swap - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Lucas Electrics' Greden 07 - 1980 Triumph TR7 with V8 Swap - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Lucas Electrics' Greden 08 - 1980 Triumph TR7 with V8 Swap - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Lucas Electrics' Greden 09 - 1980 Triumph TR7 with V8 Swap - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Lucas Electrics' Greden Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 32
When You Need a Sensible Tow Vehicle: Cab-Over Ford With Nowhere-Near-Finished Toronado FWD Drivetrain Swap Wed, 21 Dec 2011 16:00:35 +0000 It’s always good to have friends with way crazier more ambitious vehicular projects than one’s own not-making-much-forward-progress Hell Projects. Rich, captain of the Rocket Surgery Racing mid-VW-engined Renault 4CV, has a snake pit cornucopia of such projects at his place, not far from Chez Murilee in Denver. Rich, last seen by TTAC readers helping me Nader-ize the brakes on my van, has big racing plans for 2012… and for that he needs a flatbed truck that can haul a race car and tow a camping trailer. Oh, and it also has to be a beautiful vintage machine, yet capable of prodigious load capacity. The original plan was to use the ’47 Ford pickup he bought at the amazing Seven Sons Auto Wrecking auction last winter, but then this fine vehicle danced into his field of vision.
I don’t know the first thing about non-light-duty Ford trucks, but I have a vague recollection that this is a ’46. Early postwar, at any rate. For power, it has a 1969 Oldsmobile Toronado 455 front-drive setup. The engine and suspension are installed, sort of, but the steering system hasn’t been worked out yet.
This setup worked just fine on the front-wheel-drive GMC motorhomes of the 1970s, and it should work fine here.
Another part of the project that needs some work is the rear suspension. Right now, there isn’t one. I keep suggesting a pair of early Eldorado rear axles, for that cool six-wheeler look. That’s because I don’t have to do the work.
The steering setup is going to be a total nightmare, because there’s not much room for anything up front with the Olds running gear. Rich will have to fabricate something with a lot of strange bends and joints, or else ditch the super-cool front-drive setup and convert the truck back to its original rear-wheel-drive setup. You do what you have to do.
Whatever happens, the truck will look great in the paddock with this vintage “canned ham” trailer. Rich drove the length of the Great Plains to pick it up this summer.
Then, of course, there’s the engineless Autobianchi Bianchina Hell Project and more 40s Ford truck parts in the back yard.
Not to mention the sawed-up 4CV parts donor.
And the garage full of weird VW parts, including the long-idled GTI with every possible performance upgrade and a floor full of junkyard turbocharging gear for the 4CV.
On top of that, Rich has his 289-powered ’47 Ford coupe (which we used as a Judgemobile at the ’10 B.F.E. GP 24 Hours of LeMons) and a newly-acquired ’49 Ford sedan for his wife, who is a very, very understanding spouse to allow her back yard to fill up with all those rusty old car parts. Now I feel like a total loser for not getting much work done on my Civic engine swap or A100 Hell Project this year.

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Chevy 350-Powered Lotus Elite Fails To Dominate Race, Nobody Shocked Tue, 13 Dec 2011 22:00:10 +0000 On paper, a super-lightweight Lotus with a genuine ’68 Corvette 350 and Muncie 4-speed ought to eat up a road course; just go onto any online forum full of self-proclaimed car experts and they’ll tell you exactly that. Reality, on the other hand… well, reality doesn’t always live up to the expectations of internet car experts.
24 Hours of LeMons aficionados have seen this played out many times (e.g., the terrible LeMons C4 Corvette and the even more terrible LeMons Subaru SVX), and so we all took a deep breath when we saw the B-Team’s engine-swapped Lotus Elite at the Arse Freeze-a-Palooza BS Inspection.
The B-Team goes pretty far back in LeMons history. They showed up for their first race in early 2009 with the type of car that bores LeMons organizers the most (BMW E30) and the 11th version of a way-overdone TV-show-based theme.
However, they executed their theme— unoriginal as it was— quite well, and they were reasonably clean drivers. We became accustomed to the B-Team as veteran, usually hassle-free regulars in the West Coast LeMons Region.
Then, early in 2010, they showed up to a race with a top-notch new theme: the Pussy Wagën from Kill Bill, complete with costumes. Since my street name is Phil— dating back to my days as “Warlord” for the East Side Alameda Locos— they called their team “Kill Phil.”
I liked the B-Team’s new look so much that I hung their portrait in my office, right next to the extra-unsavory LBJ campaign poster and behind the illuminated Opel Manta Leuchtbild. But still, much as I like this team, they were racing a Bavarian Boredomwagen.
Until weekend before last, that is. Sometime between the end of the Skankaway Anti-Toe-Fungal 500 at Infineon and the Arse Freeze-a-Palooza, the B-Team acquired an Elite into which some mid-70s mechanical genius had stuffed an allegedly Corvette-sourced 350 small-block and Muncie 4-speed. They managed to get a LeMons-legal cage into the thing (which is no small feat, given that the Elite has about as much substance as a gingerbread house), but they didn’t have time to get it, you know, running prior to the race.
Engines that sit for decades often don’t work so well when revived, and the small-block Chevy turns out to be particularly ill-suited to all-weekend-long road-race abuse. By the morning before the race, the B-Team had managed to get the “Chotus’s” engine fired up, sort of. All that oil smoke wasn’t a good sign, but they persevered.
They tried to take it out onto the track for some Friday prerace practice, but the car crapped out after a few hundred yards. No problem, though— that’s what all-night wrenching sessions are for!
Saturday morning came, and the green flag waved. Where’s the Chotus? Finally, the car clattered onto the track around noon. Hmmm… is it supposed to smoke that bad?
No, it’s not.
So, back to the pits for some more work.
To their credit, nobody on the B-Team was heard mentioning comparisons between the Chotus and their E30, in spite of the fact that the Pussy Wagën had been a consistent top-ten contender.
The engine was burning oil out of one bank while under load, which many paddock bystanders (myself included) told the B-Teamers was fairly strong evidence for bad oil rings on at least one piston on that side of the engine. However, the B-Team decided that the problem must be a bad intake-manifold gasket.
You know what? They were right! Once they fixed the gasket (and the distributor, and the carburetor, and the fuel pump, and probably several dozen other things), they managed to get the car onto the track on Sunday, knocking out a not-so-bad 68 total laps.
That was good enough for 117th overall (out of 131 entries), and the invented-for-the-occasion Least From The Most trophy (not to mention slam-dunk Legends of LeMons status, whenever I get around to doing the 2011 awards). You can read the B-Team’s story in their own words here. Good work, B-Team!

ChotusHell-23 ChotusHell-01 ChotusHell-02 ChotusHell-03 ChotusHell-04 ChotusHell-05 ChotusHell-06 ChotusHell-07 ChotusHell-08 ChotusHell-09 ChotusHell-10 ChotusHell-11 ChotusHell-12 ChotusHell-13 ChotusHell-14 ChotusHell-15 ChotusHell-16 ChotusHell-17 ChotusHell-18 ChotusHell-19 ChotusHell-20 ChotusHell-21 ChotusHell-22 ChotusHell-25 ChotusHell-24 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 34
Junkyard Find: 1950 Pontiac Chieftain With Flathead Cadillac V8 Power Tue, 22 Nov 2011 14:00:17 +0000 Here’s a car that, were it to roll onto the grounds of any Billetproof show, would cause a vast wave of inked-up Lemmy Kilmister and Tura Satana lookalikes to drop to their knees in captive-bolt-to-the-dome-grade stunned worship. But that almost certainly won’t happen, because this fine example of how-they-done-it-way-back-then backyard customization is Crusher bound!
Upon first sight of the engine compartment, I thought: “Hmmm. I didn’t think Pontiac ever made a flathead V8… but I’ve been wrong about so many anorakian car facts in the past that I’m probably wrong about this one as well.”
Well, Pontiac never did make a flathead V8, as it turns out, and I’m pretty sure this one came from a Cadillac.
No, penny-pinching hot-rodders, this isn’t your chance to score a LaSalle 3-speed for 50 bucks; this car has what appears to be some sort of Hydramatic, probably the one that came out of a wrecked donor Cadillac in 1958 or whenever this swap took place.
This car, which came from the factory with a “Silver Streak” flathead straight-eight under the hood, appears to have been sitting for many, many decades. My guess is that it got the engine swap in the mid-to-late 1950s, drove for a few years, and has spent the last 50 years in a field somewhere in the Great Plains (or in a back yard in Denver).
In addition to the painfully vintage engine swap, this Pontiac has some interesting custom touches on the hood. At the leading edge, we see these two “nostril” scoops.
On the sides, these funky vents. Was this setup for looks, or an attempt to aid engine cooling?
Postwar Pontiacs were on the stodgy side, but some of these design touches belong in a museum of modern industrial design.
Some bits and pieces of this car might be suitable for someone undertaking a restoration project, but the glass and trim are mostly bad.
Right next to the ’50 Pontiac is Jacqui’s crypto-lowrider ’64 Chevelle, which has this amazing Aztec-themed hood mural. I think I may have to blow up this photograph and hang it in my office.
But why mess around with photographs? I need to buy the entire hood and hang it on my office wall!

DOTJ-50Pontiac-52 DOTJ-50Pontiac-01 DOTJ-50Pontiac-02 DOTJ-50Pontiac-03 DOTJ-50Pontiac-04 DOTJ-50Pontiac-05 DOTJ-50Pontiac-06 DOTJ-50Pontiac-07 DOTJ-50Pontiac-08 DOTJ-50Pontiac-09 DOTJ-50Pontiac-10 DOTJ-50Pontiac-11 DOTJ-50Pontiac-12 DOTJ-50Pontiac-13 DOTJ-50Pontiac-14 DOTJ-50Pontiac-15 DOTJ-50Pontiac-16 DOTJ-50Pontiac-17 DOTJ-50Pontiac-18 DOTJ-50Pontiac-19 DOTJ-50Pontiac-20 DOTJ-50Pontiac-22 DOTJ-50Pontiac-23 DOTJ-50Pontiac-24 DOTJ-50Pontiac-25 DOTJ-50Pontiac-26 DOTJ-50Pontiac-27 DOTJ-50Pontiac-28 DOTJ-50Pontiac-29 DOTJ-50Pontiac-30 DOTJ-50Pontiac-31 DOTJ-50Pontiac-32 DOTJ-50Pontiac-33 DOTJ-50Pontiac-34 DOTJ-50Pontiac-35 DOTJ-50Pontiac-36 DOTJ-50Pontiac-37 DOTJ-50Pontiac-38 DOTJ-50Pontiac-39 DOTJ-50Pontiac-40 DOTJ-50Pontiac-41 DOTJ-50Pontiac-42 DOTJ-50Pontiac-43 DOTJ-50Pontiac-44 DOTJ-50Pontiac-45 DOTJ-50Pontiac-46 DOTJ-50Pontiac-47 DOTJ-50Pontiac-48 DOTJ-50Pontiac-49 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 30
1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 17: Crash Diet, Frying Tires at the Dragstrip Thu, 03 Nov 2011 18:30:59 +0000 After dropping the hopped-up 406 small-block I’d built from scratch in place of the worn-out 350 I’d swapped in 1990, I was geared up to take the car to the dragstrip and see if I could better the high-16-second ETs I’d managed in Atlanta; an important part of this process involved stripping a lot of unnecessary weight out of the car. At the same time (early 1999) I was reevaluating the Impala Hell Project’s role in my life, and thinking about how I might best realize my original vision for the car which had gone from art project to daily driver.
I decided the Pontiac Rally wheels, which I’d installed in order to clear the disc brakes I’d installed in 1992, weren’t really in keeping with the car’s hooptie/official vehicle/street-racer American car-archetype trinity, so I gave them to a neighbor who was restoring his ’72 Firebird. In their place, I got some 15×8 factory steel wheels from a junked Caprice cop car and added mid-70s Chevy van dog-dish hubcaps. I painted the dog-dishes flat black with primer-gray centers, and they looked mean.
The rear wheelwells had no problem fitting 275s, so that’s what I got.
Around this time, I was getting a little bored with my lifer job writing manuals for transit buses. It wasn’t long before I solved the job-boredom problem by crossing the Bay over to Multimedia Gulch, diving right into the frenzied maelstrom of the Dot-Com Boom (more on that in the next episode), but what I really wanted to do was write some sort of article about the Impala Hell Project and sell it to a magazine. Art magazine, car magazine, I wasn’t quite sure which, but somebody would be interested in the story, I felt. That meant that I needed some photographs showing the car in each of its three archetypal guises.
So, for the “drive-by-shooting hooptie” part, I shanghaied my sister and her boyfriend into donning ski masks and brandishing a deuce-deuce pistol for my photo session.
What I really needed was some assistants that looked like the cast from Boyz N The Hood and a bunch of TEC-9s to wave out the windows, but you work with what you’ve got.
Hmmm… not really what I had in mind. Putting the Three Archetypes photo-shoot project on hold, I decided that the car would need to lose a few hundred pounds for its new engine’s dragstrip debut.
First to go was the heavy steel heater/blower unit. Since I was no longer depending on the Impala as a daily driver by this time, luxuries such as climate control seemed frivolous.
Likewise, who needs carpeting or a glovebox?
The truck tiedowns I’d installed for my move to Atlanta back in ’95 didn’t weigh much, but every ounce counts. The bike rack on the trunk lid also had to go.
The galvanized-plumbing-pipe-based trunklid bike rack ended up getting repurposed as the carrying handle of the 91-pound Junkyard Boogaloo Boombox eight years later.
Interior trim, door panels, inner fenders, speakers, climate-control parts, and so on. If the car didn’t need it to run, stay legal, or keep the rain out, I removed it. I sold the very nice rear seat for a C-note to a guy restoring his ’66 Impala, making my car a sporty two-seater.
This experience served me well 9 years later, when I helped gut a Volvo 244 for race duty.
With a completely uninsulated interior, a high-compression engine with lumpy cam, and two-chamber Flowmasters, the interior of the car became markedly less luxurious. I never did weigh the car (the dragstrip scale was on the fritz), but I’m guessing I cut 300 pounds from the original 3,595-pound curb weight. That’s pretty close to second-gen Camaro weight, and about the same as a late-60 V8 Chevelle (or ’12 Camry).
As I went to job interviews at excessively exuberant San Francisco dot-coms (coming close to joining Mike Bumbeck at the gradual-downward-spiral-doomed Ask Jeeves), I thought about all the thousands of hours I’d put into goofy car projects. Thousands of hours I might have put into other creative projects, writing in particular; were those hours justified, long-term? I’d need to do something with the Impala story, use it to get myself some paid writing work that wasn’t instructions for bus mechanics or junk-mail copy.
It was still bugging the shit out of me that Bay Area hipsters and artist types— the majority of my friends since I’d been in my early 20s— still thought that an “art car” was supposed to be a sneer at the very concept of the automobile, reclaiming the car for the forces of peace and love rather than incorporating the canvas itself into the painting; these folks were drawn to the Burning Man milieu. The flip side of this attitude, found among my artistic-minded friends who’d drifted into the Yunnie (Young Urban Nihilist) embrace of Survival Research Laboratories and the like, involved flooring the irony gas pedal and driving apocalyptic creations straight into a really cool self-immolation. I needed to wrap up the concept of my not-particularly-ambitious art car project and package it in a way that would make the piece accessible to non-car-geek readers and, ideally, get my foot in the door of a more satisfying writing gig. For that, I’d need a complete set of high-quality photographs of the car in its final, drag-race-ready guise, so I loaded up the AE-1 with some high-buck Fujichrome Velvia and took the Impala to a parking lot with a neutral background.
The 360° circle-the-car set of photographs I shot that day in June of 1999 became the template for my photographs of street-parked cars in Alameda nearly 10 years later.
The layers of vendor-sample primer paint applied during my Mad Max In Georgia era had faded to exactly the texture and color blend I’d had in mind when I started the Impala Hell Project.
In the nine years since I’d bought the car, it had never been washed, nor had it ever spent a night in a garage. If greasy handprints, blobs of Form-A-Gasket, spilled Schlitz, or seagull poop happened to get on the car, I painted over it. Like the coating that builds up on a good cast-iron frying pan, the patina on my Impala had taken nearly a decade to achieve. Rat-rodders, take note: it takes dedication to apply the years of neglect and abuse needed to get this look.
Because I still wanted to lock tools and a jack in the trunk, I left the cross-country-move-security padlock hasp installed. The extra ounces might slow the car down 0.00004 seconds in the quarter-mile, but I was willing to make that sacrifice to keep my toolbox in my possession. Note the Stanford sticker in the back window; a friend in grad school there applied it on my car in order to, in her words, “Lower the property values of the place and make my tuition cheaper.”
In spite of the many layers of black paint on the bumper, you can still make out the Negativland “No Other Possibility” bumper sticker I applied soon after buying the car in 1990.
Even though the process ate up expensive film, I bracketed the hell out of these shots; you’re only seeing about a quarter of them in the gallery. I wanted the art directors at Car Craft, or maybe RE/SEARCH, to have their choice of images. Look, the three-year-old window numbers from the car’s last Georgia dragstrip trip are still visible!
I had to remove one of the Fiat X1/9 hood scoops I’d installed in 1993 in order to clear my dryer-duct-hose cold-air-induction system.
My plan was to saw off the underhood portion of that scoop to make it clear the ducts.
But at this point, the monoscoop look worked fine.
They say California cars don’t rust, but give a GM car a sufficient number of California rainy winters and eventually the water that gets past the leaky rear-window seal and pools in the trunk will make this happen. Air-cooled VWs have the same problem, only the water leaks past every seal and the process happens three times as quickly.
OK, enough of this artsy gibberish. Let’s go racing! The 406 was making frightening amounts of power; after putting 1,500 low-stress break-in miles on it during months of work commuting, I was finally able to really get on the gas. It became clear that traction was going to be the limiting factor at the dragstrip, with the 3.31-geared open differential sending all the power to the tire with the least traction. The Powerglide-optimized gear ratio was acceptable, and the good ol’ GM 12-bolt could handle the power without breaking, but I was getting absurd amounts of wheelspin under acceleration. It was so bad that the car would spin the right tire forever when shifting into second gear, unless I backed off the throttle. Sometimes it would get rubber going into third, which didn’t bode well for my dragstrip ETs. I’d thought that I could keep the project below two grand by omitting a limited-slip or locker differential (I’d had this crazy idea that the car’s weight coupled with fat tires and a rear swaybar would keep the wheelspin under control), but it looked like I’d be investing another few hundred bucks in the near future.
I’d heard that the dragstrip tech inspectors at Sears Point were real ball-busters, so I decided to make Sacramento Raceway Park the site of the new engine’s drag racing debut. Since the Sacto dragstrip was just under 100 miles from my Alameda home, I got a AAA roadside-service policy that covered four 100-mile tows per year; I figured I might need a tow home if I blew the fragile TH350 transmission at the strip (I’d already fried one $45 Half-Price-Day junkyard-special transmission doing parking-lot burnouts).
The Test-N-Tune crowd didn’t pay much attention to the Impala, except for a few approving nods at its evil-sounding cammy idle. Time to line up!
I’d learned from my freeway-onramp adventures with the new engine that I’d need an extremely delicate touch on the throttle to avoid a humiliating sit-&-spin one-legger non-launch my first time out. I contemplated strategies as I waited my turn.
Perhaps a super-gnarly burnout will help make that all-important right tire gooey enough to grab some pavement when the light goes green!
Well, probably not. But it’s still fun.
My plan was to baby the car off the line, then mash the pedal once it got rolling.
Here we go! The driver of the Fox Mustang next to me must have been slow on the draw, because the Impala jumped ahead even at quarter-throttle. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get any grip whatsoever off the line— it felt like I was driving on ice— and the first-to-second shift was a tirespin disaster.
Still, it felt great hearing that glorious engine roar. The result: 15.479 seconds. That was a full second-and-a-half better than my best ET with the old engine, but the lack of traction was costing me plenty.
After nearly a dozen passes, I finally cracked the 14-second barrier… barely.
Back home, I decided to toss the two-grand budget out the window and fix the differential problem before returning to the quarter-mile. I’d also try to sell the Impala’s story. Next up: My first website, return to the dragstrip.

IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15Part 16 • Part 17 • Part 18

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1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 16: Another Heart Transplant Mon, 17 Oct 2011 18:30:31 +0000 After painstakingly building a medium-hot 406-cubic-inch small-block engine to replace the Impala’s very tired 350 (motivated by the car’s lackluster quarter-mile performance), 1998 became 1999. Finally the New Engine was ready for swapping.
The old 350, which I’d bought as a long-block from a cheap rebuild shop in L.A., had served me well, but its power output probably wasn’t much over 150 horses and it was starting to smoke under heavy throttle.
While the car was getting a power upgrade, I had some other plans for it. The Pontiac Rally wheels, which I’d had in place since my 1991 Generation X couch-surfing expeditions, would be replaced by something more in line with my original artistic vision for the car.
There was no way the worn-out Turbo-Hydramatic 350 transmission I’d installed in 1990 would survive more than a couple of pedal-to-metal beatings behind the new engine (it was slipping pretty badly on the second-third shift), so out it came.
I know how to swap transmissions, but there be monsters inside them— I don’t have the faintest idea how to go about messing with the deep innards of an automatic transmission, and I wasn’t about to start learning at this point. I thought about buying a TH350 rebuilt with drag racing in mind, but the price tag on such a transmission was sort of a budget-nuker. Instead, I went to Pick Your Part on Half Price Day and bought several maybe-recently-rebuilt-looking TH350s from six-cylinder Novas for $40 apiece. That way, I figured, I could just keep blowing up transmissions and swapping in “new” ones as needed. Hey, a transmission swap in a 60s GM B Body takes about 20 minutes, even at my slow wrenching pace.
I picked up a B&M Shift Improver Kit and installed it in the first of my junkyard transmissions, choosing the “Stage 2″ U-joint-bustin’ options.
I had a patriotic Lydia Lunch portrait watching over this process. If you’re going to have a pinup, do it right!
I’d installed an Addco sway bar in the front a couple years earlier, thanks to my Year One employee discount. I’d bought a rear bar at the same time, but installation required drilling honkin’ big holes in the rear control arms and I didn’t get around to doing that job until it was time for the new engine to be installed. I figured the rear bar would help limit wheel-lifting tire spin when launching at the drag strip, plus make it easier to spin out when getting on the throttle in turns.
Unfortunately, I didn’t think to photograph the process of mounting a rear sway bar on my Impala, so you’ll just have to imagine the sight of a 1/2″ drill bit chewing through big-ass control arms.
I removed the carburetor, disconnected the headers, tied the power-steering pump out of the way, and all the other little jobs you do when pulling an engine. Hook up the chain, start lifting!
More than eight years of service from this engine, but it was time to go.
As was not the case with the rear swaybar installation, I felt the need to document the hell out of this moment. I shot the 350 extraction from many angles.
Including the view from behind the wheel.
Out! And my long-suffering parents (whose back yard I’d commandeered for this project when my own driveway on the other side of The Island That Rust Forgot proved too small) experienced a flashback to my high-school years, when all manner of horrible, parts-shedding hoopties and associated components lowered their property values. Yes, the 350 sat there for a few months prior to me finding a buyer, I’m not very proud to say.
I painted the 406 flat black, after an old racer told me that it helped with engine cooling. Actually, I did it because it looked cool.
By the late 1990s, my income had risen to the point where I was no longer forced by poverty to swill terrible piss-yellow beer while working on cars… but here’s a can of Pabst on the fender. I must have been raiding my dad’s beer stash that day; his Minnesota-ized tastes die hard.
Installed! The whole swap took just a couple of hours, an experience that Those Kids These Days with their finger-bustingly-tight Civic engine compartments will never know.
I pored over the J.C. Whitney hood scoop selection, thinking I’d rig up a seriously redneck-looking cold-air-induction system, but finally settled on the much more functional grille-mounted-ducting solution. I grabbed another air cleaner at the junkyard, grafted its snout onto the existing air cleaner, and ran dryer ducting to home-heating vents on either side of the radiator. Unfortunately, the left-side duct interfered with one of the Fiat X1/9 scoops I’d installed in ’93, so I had to remove the scoop.
I figured that this setup should be good for force-feeding a good supply of cold outside air into the Quadrajet (which I’d pulled from a ’70 Eldorado with a 500, on the assumption that the jetting for a 500 ought to be about right for a cammed-up 406). I’d also modified the HEI distributor with high-performance advance weights.
For cooling, I added a fan clutch to the factory engine-driven fan and retained the BMW 7 Series fan I’d been using for auxiliary cooling since the early 1990s.
The BMW E23′s electric radiator fan is by far the best pusher-style unit you can find in the junkyard. It forces a typhoon of air through the radiator (caveat: it also draws ridiculous power— 15 amps, if I recall correctly— so you can’t run it with the headlights at the same time if you’ve got a small alternator). I used a pair of these fans a decade later, when attempting to rig up a rear-radiator setup in a V8-ized Volvo 240 race car).
My long-term plan was to see if the car could stay cool on junkyard electric fans alone (dispensing with the horsepower-sucking engine-driven fan) so I also purchased a W114 Mercedes-Benz fan.
Yes, it ran. Oh, did it run! Next episode: Glorious return to the drag strip!

IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15 • Part 16 • Part 17

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Tastefully Modified Texas Ranchero Packs Cadillac Power, Towing Package Thu, 13 Oct 2011 13:00:36 +0000 When you’re looking at a basket-case Ford Ranchero, a Cadillac 500-cubic-inch V8 plus TH400 transmission, an ancient Mercedes-Benz hood, and a yard full of random scrap metal, do you feel optimistic? The builder of this fine machine certainly did!
Built on a budget of just under a grand, this daily-driving, super-customized, tire-melting monster gets plenty of respect in the Houston area.
The engine came from an abandoned 24 Hours of LeMons Eldorado project, and the Shorty Ranchero’s builder decided to come check out the Yeehaw It’s Texas race and see what this weird race was all about. Little did he know that his machine would be worshiped by LeMons racers the way that cargo cults worship C-47s. I’m pretty sure he’s been drafted onto a team by this time.
Little touches like this “fuel gauge” abound; there’s a mirror positioned so that the driver can see the fuel level from behind the wheel. The beer keg fuel tank was found at the side of a Texas highway.
The Excalibur-style spare-tire mount didn’t have a tire attached, but that didn’t take away from the Shorty Ranchero’s class.
Supposedly it drives just fine, quite comfortable on the highway and with ridiculous power. We can’t see a single flaw!

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1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 15: No Replacement For Displacement! Thu, 06 Oct 2011 15:00:12 +0000 Before packing up the Impala and leaving Georgia in the fall of 1996, I took the car to Atlanta Dragway and ran some semi-disappointing low-17-second quarter-mile passes. Back in California, I resolved to make some improvements to the car’s running gear. After 15 years as a cheapskate, junkyard-centric gearhead, I was finally willing to spend substantial cash for new aftermarket performance parts. The main question was: what kind of engine would I build?
My plan upon returning to California was to find a place to live in San Francisco, but the first stirrings of the dot-com boom had sent rents in non-crackhouse neighborhoods to worse-than-Manhattan levels. So, I went to the other side of the Bay and rented a Victorian in my old hometown, the Island That Rust Forgot. Though I had left Atlanta, I remained a part-time employee of Year One, going to California car shows and photographing “correct” GM and Chrysler cars, then sending the film back to Year One HQ. That meant that I still enjoyed YO’s generous employee discount, which enabled me to keep my T-shirt collection 100% Rat Fink. This was a photo I shot for a passport application, by the way.
I’d also taken full advantage of S-K’s vendor status at YO to replace my crappy Taiwanese tools with the real stuff. When I decided on what I’d be building for the Impala’s new engine, I’d be using the same discount to score parts for the project.
I toyed with the idea of building a Cadillac 500, an engine that doesn’t weigh much more than the small-block Chevy yet grunts out battleship-grade torque, but the connecting rods can be weak in performance applications, plus aftermarket parts were way too pricey for me. After endless calls to my friends at Year One HQ in Georgia (thanks to their toll-free work number) and debating the pros and cons with them, I decided to stick with the small-block Chevrolet engine family for my project.
The decision to go with an improved small-block Chevy still left me with an absurd number of options. Build a small-displacement engine with good-flowing heads and spin the hell out of it? Get a stroker crank and build a 383? In the end, I decided to go for torque. I found a dirt-track racer near Sacramento with a fully-machined, 0.030″ over, four-bolt-main 400 block and crankshaft, and that served as the starting point for my project. I decided I’d try to keep the whole thing under $2,000 total expenditure, which meant I’d be using factory cylinder heads and stock connecting rods. I wanted it to run on pump gas, so I needed to keep the compression ratio below 10:1. The heads would determine what pistons I’d get, so I started hitting the swap meets (though Craigslist was in full effect by 1996, car guys hadn’t really discovered it yet; to buy used car parts, you had to seek them out the old-fashioned way).
In early 1997, I got a job as a technical writer for transit-bus manufacturer Gillig Corporation, in Hayward. Gillig has been building excellent buses since about the time the New Testament was written, and the assembly line was manned by legions of tough old wrenches who’d been putting together Phantoms and their predecessors for decades. My job was to write all the shop manuals and driver’s handbooks for each custom-ordered series of buses. They were just getting geared up to start producing the Low Floor when I showed up, so things were quite hectic in the office.
Even though I spent a lot of time climbing around half-finished buses in the factory, the job of actually producing the manuals took place in a veal-fattening pen in the Parts Department building. I’d gotten into pinhole photography at the time, and I think this image captures the fluorescent-lit/smell-of-burned-microwave-popcorn essence of cubicle life.
In spite of a certain amount of Cubicle Ennui (exacerbated by the fact that I was forced to do my job on an elderly System 7-equipped Centris 650 running PageMangler), I enjoyed my new writing gig. Moving up from copywriter to tech writer was a positive step, and the infinitely customizable Phantoms and Low Floors meant that every customer— whether it was Seattle ordering 2,000 units or Tyler, Texas ordering four— got a set of manuals custom-written for their bus order. I geeked out on creating a modular system to speed up the process of manual creation… but thoughts of the Impala’s Big Engine sometimes preoccupied me on the job.
My coworkers were very nice, but most of them were on the normal side and I’m sure they thought I was a little odd, what with my tirades about Enver Hoxha and my hideous hooptie of a daily driver out in the parking lot. Fortunately, the guy in charge of the Gillig parts-sales team was a fellow car freak. Not just any normal car freak, mind you; this guy has several orders of magnitude more car knowledge and fabrication skill than I’ll ever possess. Yes, LeMons fans, this is where I met future Black Metal/Death Cab V8olvo and Model T GT mastermind Dave Schaible.
Dave was the only guy whose commuter vehicle gave my car a run for its money in the property-value-lowering department, and his sense of humor helped relieve some of our workplace’s Cubicle Ennui. His Cadillac 331-powered ’27 Model T was a rat rod before anyone had heard the term (sadly, this car— including the ’49 Cad engine— got destroyed in a wreck a few months back). With Dave giving me engine-build advice, I set my sights on a certain type of swap-meet cylinder head.
And, soon enough, I found them! A pair of the “Camel Hump” aka “461″ aka “fuelie” heads from high-performance Chevrolet 327s built during the 1964-66 period. Corvettes got them, Nova 327 SSs got them, they were seriously cool, but their value had dropped a lot by the late 1990s, thanks to all the superior aftermarket small-block heads that had become available. These were the less desirable heads with the small (1.94″ versus 2.02″) intake valves, but Dave assured me that they’d work just fine on a low-revving 406. $150 and they were mine. Dave recommended nearby Al Hubbard Machine Shop as the correct old-school shop to rebuild and drill my heads for the required 400-block steam holes (Al Hubbard was Vic‘s brother, for you Bay Area racing-history buffs), and I paid $465.04 to get the job done. That included new valves, springs, hardened exhaust valve seats, and a three-angle valve job.
About this time, I picked up an ’85 Honda CRX to use as a gas-saving daily driver while reworking the Impala into its next incarnation. It was cheap because the engine was bad, but that’s no big deal.
Not when Pick Your Part Hayward is having Half Price Day on New Year’s Day 1998 and you have a big Detroit car with vast trunk space. Complete D15A2 engine, air cleaner to oil pan, for about 100 bucks.
Of course, that engine had a bad head gasket, but an afternoon’s work fixed that. Now I could yank parts off the Impala and not worry about being able to get to work the next day; it was sad to end its 8-year-reign as my semi-daily-driver (I owned many other cars for brief periods during this time, but the Impala got 95% of the miles). Doubling the horsepower would make me feel better, though.
The CRX proved to be a pretty good parts hauler itself, as I found when I couldn’t resist grabbing this 200R4 transmission on another Half Price Day sale at the junkyard (it didn’t take me long to figure out that The Big Engine would vaporize a stock 200R4 in seconds, and I ended up selling it to some guy with a Camaro).
I had the block, crankshaft, and heads, which meant I could go ahead and order an employee-discount $325.91 Engine Master Kit (including L2352F forged TRW pistons and Speed-Pro moly rings, giving me 9.9:1 compression) from my friends at Year One, for whom I was still shooting car shows on weekends. I also ordered a Competition Cams 280H Magnum from Summit for $82.95. Other parts followed those (I’ll provide a complete parts breakdown with pricing later in this episode). But I still needed to get connecting rods, flexplate, harmonic balancer, and a bunch of nickel/dime small parts. The easiest way to do that? Back to Pick Your Part for a Half Price Day 400 long block! Back in 1998, you could still find a few 400s in every California self-service wrecking yard (those days are long gone), and so I had a choice between a couple of GMC pickups and this 1975 Caprice wagon. They were all two-bolt-main engines, so I went for the vehicle with the lowest mileage on the odometer.
My friend and future brother-in-law Jim, who’d accompanied me on my scouting-out-Atlanta mission a couple years before, volunteered to don his “Steal Your Face” SF Giants shirt and help with the project.
Pulling an engine from an old-time GM wagon is pretty simple, but it’s still a sweaty, filthy task.
I got under the car and disconnected the torque converter bolts, admiring the Olds sedan next door as I did so. Chevrolet small-blocks tended to leak oil like crazy, and this Caprice was no exception; the wagon’s underside had a thick coat of road-dirt-fortified oil crust all over everything.
This sort of thing goes a lot quicker nowadays, with the advent of battery-powered impact wrenches, but having four hands makes the job take less than an hour. Since I only wanted to pay for a short block, I had to remove the intake and cylinder heads before bringing the engine to the cashier’s counter. More bolts to turn!
Voila! One V8 short block, $60 out the door.
It should go without saying that a 400 short-block fits just fine in a ’65 Impala’s trunk.
We’re outta here! Note the classy red satin sunvisor covering.
The easiest way to get at the rods turned out to be disassembly with the whole mess still in the trunk. I had no problem finding a buyer willing to pay a C-note for the crankshaft and 2-bolt block, which enabled me to turn a profit on the short-block-purchase transaction. From there, the rods went to Al Hubbard for rebuilding, which set me back $79. The newly rebuilt rods and my nice new forged pistons went off to EMOS Machine Shop in Alameda, a few blocks from my house, to get the rods pressed onto the pistons. Price tag for that: 40 bucks.
The car was getting closer to getting its new powerplant, so I drove it the two miles to the home of my long-suffering parents. My rented house across town didn’t have a garage, so I managed to talk the long-suffering parents (or LSPs for short) into allowing me to build my engine in the two-story former 1870s stable in their back yard (this in spite of the LSPs having endured every manner of wretched, hooptie-ass, property-value-obliterating heap on their property during my teenage years).
The stable made for a great engine-building facility, except for the indifferently-repaired-with-cheap-plywood-in-1960 creaky 120-year-old floor, which threatened to collapse under the weight of heavy engine parts.
The last thing you want with the short connecting rods and funky balancer on a 400 (actually, a 406 in this case, due to the .030″ over bore job) is for the rotating assembly to get out of balance at speed, so I brought the crankshaft, rods, pistons, flexplate, and harmonic balancer to Ashland Grinding & Balancing in Hayward and gave them $100 to do a top-notch balancing job on the works.
I was still experimenting with my pinhole camera around this time, so the gallery for this episode is full of artsy pinhole shots. Here’s a shot of the rods in a box.
And the old valves and springs in another box.
I degreed the camshaft, hand-filed the piston rings for the obsessively correct ring gap, checked all the bearing clearances with Plastigage, and did all the geeky stuff that supposedly makes the engine fail to blow up when you beat the hell out of it at the dragstrip. The rods went in with a set of ARP bolts. The classic guide, How To Rebuild Your Small Block Chevy, became my Bible during this period.
The car was still drivable at this point, but I was getting closer to pulling the cheap rebuilt 350 I’d installed in 1990; with close to 100,000 miles since that swap, the 350 was getting very tired. Check out the Ford Escort buckets, plywood “center console,” and beige household shag carpeting in that luxurious interior!
I used Summit hydraulic lifters and a set of Crane roller-tip rocker arms ($32.95 and $109.50, respectively). Since I planned to use a Quadrajet carburetor (plucked from a 500-equipped ’70 Eldorado), I got the Quadrajet-compatible Edelbrock Performer RPM intake manifold for $149.69 at Summit (I think the intake in this photo may be an SP2P I had lying around; the Performer RPM went on during final assembly).
During the engine build, I listened to just two cassettes— which happened to be in the Impala’s glovebox when I dropped off the first batch of parts at the LSPs’ stable— on the garage boombox, over and over. One was Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and the other was the Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream. Not really my favorite albums at the time (or now), but they became the strangely appropriate theme music for 406 Building Hell.
For those of you who want to see a real-world parts-price breakdown for a project that took place 13 years ago (according to the CPI Inflation Calculator, $100 in 1998 is worth $135.98 now, though many of the parts in my build are cheaper today), here ya go; click on the gallery image (below) for an easier-to-read version. Total cost was $2,105.81, minus what I made from selling off duplicated parts and the old 350 (we’ll get to that in a later episode).
Eventually, the 406 was assembled and ready to swap. I immobilized the Impala by preparing for the swap. Next up: Engine swap!

IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14 • Part 15 • Part 16

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“We Just Like Doing Really Crazy Stuff Like This” Tue, 04 Oct 2011 14:35:57 +0000

“We” being Nissan, and “this” being shortening a GT-R powertrain enough to fit a Juke bodyshell over it. It won’t ever make production, and it will probably spin dizzy, short-wheelbase circles every time it even thinks about a corner… but even the haters have to admit that this is a clever way to highlight the Juke’s unexpectedly sporty nature. But despite the argument that “there’s a history of Nissan engineers driving the business,” let’s be clear about one thing: Nissan’s involvement in this project is all on the marketing side. Once upon a time, Nissan’s engineers might have built a little monster like this out of sheer passion, in their spare time. Today, though, the work gets outsourced to specialty race engineering shops, RML in this case. It’s not a knock, that’s just how the world works anymore.

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Super Piston Slap: The Buick-infused Fiero at LeMons Sat, 01 Oct 2011 19:56:17 +0000

Perhaps you already know a little about this car from a previous post, but let’s look a little deeper into what makes an engine swap in a Fiero so positively epic.

First off, if you don’t know about the Pontiac Fiero, shame on you! This is one of many half-baked efforts from General Motors that deserved a better fate. Let’s face it, the Chevy Corvair coulda lived to see numerous upgrades and cult classic success, sparing us from colossal money pits of premium compact car hell, like the Mk V Volkswagon Golf. The multi-cammed, custom bodied Corvette ZR-1 (with a dash) was far too excellent to die, although it has finally come back with a vengeance in a slightly less unique guise. The Cadillac Allante finally made some sense when it received the Northstar V8 in the last year of production, but the Fiero was the worst sin a neglected GM product faced. The staggering number of upgrades in 1988 and the clean “Formula” trim level made this ride a potential success…if that wasn’t to be the last year of production.

Thank goodness for people who keep the flame, and raise up the heat. The Buick “Fireball” 3.8L V6 is a fun and worthy upgrade, as seen here in this LeMons racer that we all ogled during the BS inspection. Of course, the team’s wicked Ferrari theme didn’t hurt, even the wheels looked great! Adding the hood vents from a Trans Am GTA (correct?) and an impressive roll-on red paintjob with catch phrases in Ferrari’s own font absolutely sealed the deal. Opening the hood while doing my judge-ly duties, I remarked, “wait, that isn’t right? Is that a…

…and before I could fully digest the sheer volume of awesome presented to my eyes…

It’s a 3.8,” said a team member. Well, that just made my day. The 3.8L V6 is a gutsy, durable and coarse little mill, compact and easily fitted into the Fiero’s little frame. The later model (Series II and up) mills give you way more grunt than the 60-degree pushrod motor that came in a factory Fiero, and upping the ate with the (roots-type) supercharged Buick V6 would be absolutely wicked. Too bad this one is naturally aspirated! And while this motor (and any mid-engined car) has a serious uphill battle in an endurance style, crapcan LeMons race, this type of automotive expressionism is wholly encouraged and applauded ’round these parts.

Ready for more? We have another Fiero motor swap that’s worth a closer look, coming soon. In the meantime, you know I had to drop a little LSX love, even if that won’t fit within LeMon’s $500 budget.

Yeeeee-ha! LS4-FTW and I’m headed back to the races this weekend!

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Rust, Tatts, and Brilliant Engine Swaps: Billetproof California 2011 Mon, 19 Sep 2011 23:00:54 +0000 The rules for the Billetproof show are simple: Nothing newer than 1964, no trailered vehicles, no post-1960s mag wheels, no fenderless cars with independent front suspensions, and— above all— no billet anything! I flew out to California Saturday to check it out.
I’ve been going to these shows for a few years now, and I’m noticing a couple of very positive trends. First, way more engines other than small-block Chevy or Ford Windsor engines in patina’d-out fenderless rods. Even the flathead Ford V8s were getting boring.
Like, say, a Weber-ized Pinto engine.
Or a supercharged Toyota 22R. This one would have the old dudes at a pro-billet car show clutching their chests and toppling off their ice chests. All the Time Out Kids in the world couldn’t make up for the shock of seeing a rice-burning four-banger in a classic Detroit race car.
The Maserati Rod was back, and a big hit as usual… but isn’t it time someone built a ’58 Datsun (license-built Austin A50) with an Infiniti V8?
The other trend that’s so refreshing is the large number of examples of once-shunned-by-rodders marques such as Pontiac and Dodge.
Which is cool, because Pontiacs of this era have the extremely beautiful illuminated-Indian-head hood ornaments.
Though I prefer the Plymouth sailing-ship ornaments.
And where else would you see a 1945 International delivery truck slammed this low?
Even though I longed for a Maltese-cross rear-view mirror on my fenderless banana-seat Schwinn in 1971, I think the Maltese cross thing has been way overdone by now (and we all know who’s to blame). However, this version is still acceptable.
I think I need to start a car club, just so I can design a plaque like this.
It is impossible for me to go to any car-related event in the United States and not run into someone I know from 24 Hours of LeMons racing. Here’s the Model T GT, which is not only the quickest road-race T in the world, it’s also an excellent daily driver. Really, this car gets used for everyday transportation. I ran into members of the legendary Cannonball Bandits and a few other LeMons teams as well.
You can forget about the anorexic standard of beauty outside the gates of Billetproof; once you’re in the show, Bettie Paige and Tura Satana are the models for feminine beauty.
I’m working on a gallery of patina desktop wallpapers, to go with the Junkyard Desktop Wallpaper Collection, and Billetproof provides some great material for that project.
If you’d like to see some of these images in three corroded and/or button-popping dimensions, don your 3D glasses and head over to Cars In Depth.

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And the Winner Is… Mon, 08 Aug 2011 01:15:12 +0000
While today’s Arse Sweat-a-Palooza winner on laps is indeed the same Honda-motorcycle-engined Geo Metro that won the 2008 Arse Freeze-a-Palooza, it’s really a much different car now. In ’08, the Geo Player Special (then known as the Metro Gnome) had the CBR900RR engine driving the front wheels, via an ingenious chain drive that used a toilet plunger as a grease seal. Since that time, the engine— now a CBR1000— has been moved back and now drives the rear wheels.

This car has been running the rear-engine/rear-drive configuration for a couple of years now and had been quite close to an overall win on several occasions. Today, it all came together for the Metro. Congratulations, Geo Player Special!

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Because 454 Cubic Inches Just Isn’t Enough: AMC Marlin Racer Gets Twin Superchargers Tue, 28 Jun 2011 15:00:06 +0000
The Speed Holes Racing AMC Marlin took home the Organizer’s Choice award at last year’s Colorado 24 Hours of LeMons race, because A) it has a 454 yanked from a wrecked GMC truck set back about three feet from the Marlin’s normal engine location, B) it has a Jaguar XJ6 rear suspension and differential, C) it has hundreds of speed holes punched into the body and, most of all, D) it’s an AMC Marlin. The Marlin wasn’t exactly fast (the tall Jaguar gears and very tired 300,000-mile EFI small-valve engine didn’t make for great acceleration out of the turns), but the handling was surprisingly good for such a big car. For the 2011 B.F.E. GP, Speed Holes Racing decided that more power would be needed.

The LeMons Supreme Court gave Speed Holes a generous residual value after last year’s race, allowing them to dump another few hundred bucks into the car. Changing the differential gearing from 2.75:1 to 3.73:1 will help de-dog-ify the acceleration at hilly, oxygen-poor High Plains Raceway. Adding forced induction should cause the engine to spray connecting rods in all directions alleviate the oxygen-shortage problem.

In charge of this upgrade is Speed Holes Racing team captain Cadillac Bob. Cheap junkyard superchargers are easily obtained, as long as you go for a Toyota Previa centrifugal blower or a GM 3800 V6 Roots blower. Bob went for the latter option, figuring a pair of superchargers meant for an engine of 231 cubic inches displacement apiece should be just about right for a single engine displacing 454 cubes.

The plan is to push about 5 PSI of boost down the factory throttle body, using this industrial pressure gauge to keep the driver in the know.

Bob fabricated a plenum and mounted the blowers backwards on its sides. The compressed air will come out the top, once he cuts a hole and mounts a flange for ducting.

Because the supercharger input shafts will now rotate backwards, Bob had to do some surgery to flip the internal drive gears around and keep the vanes rotating in the correct direction.

The nice part about this setup is that removal of the entire supercharger assembly should be pretty quick, when if something goes wrong with one or both of the blowers at the track.

Meanwhile, Bob’s shop has filled up with projects. In the foreground is a LeMons-bound Jetta that needed its janky cage fixed. In the background is my ’66 A100 van, which is getting new axle kingpins.

In the rafters of the shop, an early-60s-vintage rail dragster.

Beneath the dragster, a seriously chopped Coupe DeVille.

Nearby sits an old-timey hot-rodded Model A four-cylinder engine, awaiting installation into Bob’s super-slammed Ford coupe.

What sort of car should receive this WW2 military-issue Cadillac flathead V8?

The B.F.E. GP takes place weekend after next, so there’s plenty to do between now and the green flag. Still, compared to last years’ panic-stricken thrash, this time around should be a walk in the park. I look forward to hearing those blowers screaming on the race track!

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1965 Impala Hell Project Part 4: Saddam Chooses My New Engine Wed, 15 Jun 2011 21:00:46 +0000
When I bought my Impala, I knew that its 300,000-mile 283 engine wasn’t long for the world, what with the near-nonexistent oil pressure, clouds of oil smoke under acceleration and deceleration, and fixin’-to-toss-a-rod sound effects. Still, due to thin-wallet limitations, I was determined to squeeze one last year of property-value-lowering 283 driving before obtaining a junkyard replacement engine. This plan went well until I decided to seek chemical assistance for the oil-burning problem.

By the summer of 1990, I’d already graduated from college but planned on staying in UCI’s students-only trailer park until forced to leave its 75-bucks-a-month utopia by the beginning of the fall quarter. A summer of leisure and Murilee Arraiac gigs before being dumped into the no-jobs-nohow grinder of the (laughably mild by current recession standards) early 1990s recession.

I’d already found that I loved driving my ’65. Even in its worn-out state, it was comfortable and handled quite well. The four-wheel, single-circuit drum brakes were scary, but they were good enough for our forefathers.

The smokescreen behind the car when gunning it up a freeway onramp was fairly alarming; I could see behind the car, sort of, but it’s no fun driving one of the smokiest cars in already-smoggy Southern California. The 283′s thirst for oil was a bit of a problem, too: a quart every 100 miles. That meant that the car drank about three quarts of oil per tank of fuel. A mechanic friend suggested that I try some of that magical “engine rebuild in a can” engine-flush treatment. “The theory is that the stuff will dissolve the crud on the oil rings and let them expand to fit the cylinder bores,” he told me. “Most of the time it doesn’t do much, but it can’t hurt to try.” I pictured “Pop,” the crusty Guadalcanal vet teaching Intro To Auto Shop at Anaheim High in 1981, brandishing a can of Groundwater Contamination Plus™ Engine Flush at the students, including my friend, and rasping in his 4-packs-of-Pall-Malls-a-day voice: “If the Studebaker is burnin’ oil, why, ya just dump a can of this in her! Works every goddamn time, I tell ya!”

Well, “Pop” was full of shit. I added the engine flush to the oil, ran the engine for a while, then changed the oil. Disaster! It turned out that my engine’s rings were made of crud, and dissolving the stuff turned my engine from a medium-grade oil burner that could still be driven to an apocalyptic smoke machine that burned a quart of oil per mile. The billows of blue smoke were so bad under acceleration that cars behind the Impala had to pull over and stop due to lack of visibility. My girlfriend at the time lived a couple miles away, and rather than walk (unthinkable in Southern California) I took to gunning the car up to about 90 on University Drive, relying on the half-mile of completely opaque smoke to render me invisible to John Law, then cutting the engine and coasting the rest of the way to her place. Clearly, this was not a viable daily-driver situation, so I was forced to dig into my meager funds and push my engine-swap timeline forward.

In 1990, you could buy gas for just over a buck per gallon, so my plan was to find a junked GMC truck, pull its 454 big-block engine, throw a low-budget rings-and-bearings (plus headers and lumpy cam) rebuild at it, and drop it into the Impala’s big-block-ready engine compartment. This would be in keeping with the Hillbilly Street Racer facet of my American Automotive Archetypes Trinity concept, and if it got single-digit fuel economy, so what? Then, just days before I was to start scouring junkyards for a 454, Saddam’s armies rolled into Kuwait. On August 2, 1990, I was sure that the country was about to experience a repeat of the gas lines and surging prices of the ’79 Iranian Revolution energy crisis, and so I downgraded my engine plans from big-block to small-block. I’d make do with a less thirsty 350 until the inevitable couple of years of gas-station madness passed by (as it turned out, the spike in pump prices caused by Gulf War I wasn’t as bad as I’d expected, but all the war scenarios I imagined involved Saudi Arabia’s oil fields getting destroyed, which didn’t happen).

The Man had discovered that I was no longer a UCI student, having finally gotten around to cross-referencing the graduation list with the student-housing list, and— like Saddam and his tanks— was about to crush me and my trailer home. This meant that I didn’t have time to do a junkyard-engine-rebuild project, so I scrounged up a few hundred bucks and bought a long-block 350 from one of the dozens of cheapo rebuild shops in Los Angeles; a friend with an Econoline wanted a 302 long block as well, so we found a place with a discount for purchases of two or more engines. Smog heads and two-bolt mains, but I knew it would keep me mobile until gas prices dropped down to big-block levels; replacing the two-speed Powerglide transmission with a three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic 350 would give the car an off-the-line performance boost that would feel like another 100 horses, anyway.

Here we are, a beautiful summer morning behind the Orange Curtain, and I’m violating just about every regulation, restriction, and bylaw in the Irvine Master Plan. Trailer, primered-out Detroit barge on jackstands, engine sitting in the gravel. It’s good to be on California state property and out of reach of The Plan.

There are some things I remember fondly about my early 20s, but being limited to terrible beer by lack of funds isn’t one of them. Still, there’s something right about a cold Burgie on a hot engine-swapping Southern California day.

It goes without saying that removing a V8 from a 1960s full-size Detroit car is very, very easy (unless it’s a Toronado or Eldorado, of course). The 283 was out and on the ground after a couple of hours of very leisurely work.

I moved the 283′s valve covers to the 350, to keep the dirt off. Note the old-fashioned canister-style oil filter on the 283.

The Irvine Master Plan has no provisions for a scene like this.

Or this.

I was trying to do the swap as cheaply as possible, but I couldn’t resist dropping $35 on a Quadrajet and intake off a 1970 El Camino at the Wilmington Pick-Your-Part. The cast-iron exhaust manifolds would have to do until I could get to a swap meet for some low-buck headers.

Paul (aka the Chicom Junky Santa), the guy who advised me to try the engine-killing oil flush felt guilty about his advice and came by to help with the swap. We decided to dismantle the 283, just to see how worn out its innards were.

Yes, a thoroughly tired engine. 283s were a dime a dozen then (and, probably, still are), so I didn’t feel any need to save the innards. I donated the crankshaft to a trailer-park artist who wanted to use it as part of a very heavy wind-chime. Clank!

The old oil pan would be swapped onto the new engine, along with all the accessories, timing cover, distributor, etc.

Southern California trailer park tradition mandates storing all your car parts outdoors.

Ready for the heart transplant!

Such an easy swap, with all that room under the hood. Even a 454 transplant would have been no big deal. In fact, the only real snag was the flexplate-to-torque-converter spacing with the 350 and Powerglide; for some reason, the flexplate on the 350 mounted about 3/4″ forward of its location on the 283 crank, which resulted in a gap between the flexplate and the mounting bolts on the torque converter.

By this time, I was down to a few days before The Man’s deadline to leave the trailer park. Fortunately, my friend Chunky (of “Oh Lord, stuck in the Lodi Volvo again” fame) drove down from the Bay Area to pitch in. He had a good fix for the flexplate-gap issue: since I’d be installing a TH350 soon enough, using a bunch of Grade 8 washers as spacers with Grade 8 bolts 3/4″ longer than the factory torque-converter-to-flexplate bolts should hold together long enough for me to drive the car 430 miles north to Alameda. For some reason, I didn’t take photographs of this LeMons-style fix, but it looked pretty dicey. Worked fine, though!

Since the AC system was deader’n hell, I donated the components to Paul, who later used them to build the world’s most hoopty air conditioner in an F-250.

The 283 block ended up as a sculpture in the Irvine Meadows West Sculpture Garden. As far as I know, it was still there when The Man bulldozed the place 15 years later. Maybe it’s now buried under the asphalt of the parking lot that replaced the trailer park.

And that was that. The new engine ran fine, the Powerglide was perfectly happy with the increased torque, and the buyer for my trailer was ready to move in. Time to head north, for Adventures In Recession Underemployment! Next up: three speeds, two exhaust pipes.
1965 Impala Hell Project Roundup


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Twin-Engined Toyota Racer Works Fine, Confounds Self-Proclaimed Experts Wed, 18 May 2011 14:00:45 +0000
“How will you sync the engines?” whined the naysayers when they heard about the plan to weld an ’89 Corolla front half to an ’87 MR2 rear half. “How will you cool it? The handling will be terrible! It’ll never work!” If there’s one thing that 24 Hours of LeMons racing has taught the automotive world, it’s that the experts’ preconceptions can be thrown right out the window when it comes time to drop a cheap race car into the crucible of an all-weekend-long road race. For example, who would have imagined that Chevy small-block and Honda B engines would turn out to be among the most fragile in the crapcan endurance racing world? And who would have imagined that the DoubleSuck MR2olla would do so well at the notoriously car-killing Reno-Fernley Raceway?

To avoid the nightmare of trying to get a single shifter and clutch pedal to control two drivetrains, the DoubleSuck team decided to use an automatic transmission on the rear 4AGE and a manual transmission on the front 4AGE. When driving, the rear tranny goes into Drive and the driver shifts the front transmission normally.

Rather than trying to merge two electrical systems, the DoubleSuck designers opted to keep the front and rear systems separate. Two alternators, two batteries, two kill switches.

The cockpit features two shifters and two instrument clusters. To get the complete build story from the geniuses responsible for this innovative racin’ machine, check out the Verbose Beater website.

So we’ve got two 112-horsepower engines, one transmission shifting for itself and the other controlled by the driver, and weight distribution unlike anything Toyota ever considered building. How does it drive? We conned LeMons Supreme Court Circuit Judge and Index of Effluency-winning Renault 4CV racer Rich into putting on his gear and strapping himself into the MR2olla for a few test laps on Saturday; here are his impressions:

I was prepared for the worst, strange torsional stiffness, pirate-ship-under-stress creaking, disturbing bump steer, maybe a car that pulls viciously and doglegs down the road or the worst, has transition from predictable traction to some kind of wall seeking mission abort mode. Maybe it would behave like an AWD car where the center differential had just gone schizophrenic. I had no idea.

Looking at the dash was both amusing and intimidating. One set of 3 pedals, check. Two gauge clusters… mmmm ok. Two ignition switches, ha ha, and wait… what’s this? Ah, two shift levers. One has a 5 speed pattern on top, and the other has a button on the side. Oh this should be entertaining.

I was given proper flight instruction by a very generous, but slightly nervous team captain. He didn’t know what kind of yahoo was getting into the car that he had no doubt spent many sleep deprived nights putting together. “The rear engine is the loud one, we just improvised a cherry bomb exhaust. The front engine (with manual trans) is quiet, so you really have to watch the tach.” Ok, I think I’ll try to err on the side of much too high of a gear. You can usually lug a motor without hurting it.

Oh boy, the last thing I want to do is blow up these dude’s car.

So I was off.

I had the advantage at least of knowing the track, having raced there 2 years before. As I accelerated to merge with traffic I made my first mistake. I was thinking about the MR2 I had years ago and expected similar acceleration. This was wrong and I very rapidly ran out of first gear. Ok, lets go straight to 3rd.

For the first few laps I ambled around the track, generally staying to the outside and allowing the chuckleheads I had been punishing moments before to blow on by in their rat race. My comfort level with the car quickly improved and I actually started to push it a bit.

Remember 1993? Remember being broke, and having an 80′s hatch that you could only afford a couple improvements on? Remember having that hatch packed full of your friends and taking off for some party and deciding to impress them on that twisty on-ramp? Maybe you don’t, but a Corolla with an engine in the back or a Mr. 2 with an engine in the front would kinda handle like that with one notable exception. If you’re paying attention to the tach (remember that?) and you’ve been putting the quiet engine in the powerband, this baby would pull.

This car was as predictable as your beloved old hatch full of your moron friends, but it had a 3.2 liter 8 cylinder motor made into a dipole. The scary creaky machine I feared turned out to be a predictable little car that could really pull up the hill and exit corners with some gusto.

After about 5 or 8 laps I started getting a bit more brave with it and I had to remind myself: “wait, this isn’t my car, these aren’t my tires, and I’ll never hear the end of it if the guest judge gets a black flag for 2 wheels off, it’s time to come in”

With some debugging and a little more shade-tree engineering, this amazing little machine will be quite a contender. I look forward to the day when LeMons is all cars that exhibit creativity like this. Tip your hats to Volatile RAM Racing!

The MR2olla’s best lap time of 2:47 wasn’t exactly scorching (the quickest lap of the race was a 2:30), but the car is going to get considerably quicker once refinements inspired by a weekend of real racing get incorporated into the design. The MR2olla developed a rod knock in the rear engine late Saturday night, and so the team opted to avoid a track oil-down and parked it until a few laps before the checkered flag. 56th place out of 72, but all signs point to a strong performance at the next West Coast LeMons race.

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Fiat X1/9 + Alfa Romeo 164 + Plywood = Launcha Splatos Wed, 27 Apr 2011 20:23:57 +0000
We’ve seen a fair number of outstanding engine swaps in 24 Hours of LeMons racing— the Saab B Turbo-powered 300ZX comes to mind— but most such projects tend to have reliability and/or performance issues in the car-slaughtering arena that is LeMons. At the frozen Campaign To Prevent Gingervitis race a couple weeks back, the much-anticipated radial-engined MR2 ate its drivetrain after a single lap, but there was one outlandishly butchered machine that actually contended for the overall win: the Alfa Romeo quad-cam V6-powered Bertone X1/9 of Team Launcha Splatos.

The team is packed with a bunch of well-known pro Alfa builders and top wheelmen, so the LeMons Supreme Court sweats them mercilessly when they bring their suspiciously quick ’69 Berlina and race-winning GTV6 to a race. “What can we build that will make you happy?” they asked after last fall’s Chicago race. “A replica of a Group B Lancia Stratos, complete with ridiculous engine swap and Alitalia graphics!” we responded. And damn if they didn’t go ahead and do just that, finding an Alfa Romeo 164 as an engine/transmission/front-subframe donor and a Bertone X1/9 for the rest. You see, there’s nothing wrong with an X1/9 that upgrading the horsepower from 75 to 190 can’t fix.

There’s a fairly complete description of the build at Kilometer Magazine, which makes it clear that the Launcha Splatos guys know how to do some serious metal cut-n-pasting. A big gallery of build photos may be found here.

The “headlights” are actually coffee cans with photos of headlight faces glued on the fronts.

The louvers are plywood, and the paint job is all Krylon rattle-can.

Prior to the Splatos, the only cars to have been this heavily modified and still spend a respectable amount of time in the top ten at a LeMons race have been the Honda CBR1000-powered Geo Metro Gnome and the more-or-less-scratchbuilt Model T GT. How good did the Splatos look on the track?

Let’s watch a nail-bitingly close duel between the Rod Blagojevich 500-winning Skid Marks Neon and the Splatos at Gingerman Raceway, from the perspective of the Neon. The Splatos still needs some bugs worked out of the suspension, but it has great power out of the turns. The Neon corners better. Each car has a top-notch driver at the wheel. Nothing passes these two cars during their battle.

Unfortunately, the Splatos still needed some suspension refinement, which meant that it spun out and/or left the track with depressing regularity. After all that time in the Penalty Box, the Launcha finished the race in 29th place, after spending much of the first day’s session in the top three (the Skid Marks Neon, with zero black flags, came in second overall). Next race, we expect to see the Splatos behave itself… and contend all weekend.

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Molvo! Thu, 31 Mar 2011 21:00:06 +0000
When you’ve got a team of LeMons veterans who have been racing a Volvo 245 wagon since the earliest days of the 24 Hours of LeMons and you want to add a second car to the stable, you’re going to face stern disapproval if that second car happens to be a BMW E30 or a Mazda Miata. Those choices lack imagination! There must be some way to make a Miata fit Bernal Dads Racing’s Volvo-wagon ethos… but what could it be?

Here’s the Bernal Dads’ original race car, a much-scarred veteran of countless Altamont and Thunderhill LeMons events and a true elder statesman of LeMons racing.

Here’s Bernal Dads Racing’s second car, a Miata that made its debut at Thunderhill Raceway for last year’s Arse Sweat-a-Palooza. Miatas aren’t really any quicker around a road course than, say, a fifth-gen Civic or Ford Probe, so a Miata isn’t necessarily a threat to run away with a race, but we’d prefer to keep the Spec Miata-ization of LeMons at a minimum. Every Miata or E30 on the track could have been a Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz or Simca 1204— or a Volvo 240 wagon— and so the Bernal Dads weren’t able to ward off the razzing over their car choice, in spite of the Volvo grille slapped on the snout.

All that changed at last weekend’s Sears Pointless race. The Bernal Dads have made some changes to their Miata!

Yes, they’ve cut the body off a Volvo 245 and welded it atop a Miata. It’s a three-door, which makes it a Molvo 243.

At first glance, I thought this thing was just a really wonky-looking Volvo wagon; I was busy with other cars during the BS Inspection, so I didn’t grasp what lay beneath the Volvo skin until the next day.

When the Molvo came into the Penalty Box after an on-track mishap, I was puzzled by the bizarre rollcage setup. Then I noticed that this Volvo wagon had a Miata parked inside it. Molvo!

The Molvo finished 73rd out of 173, with a respectable best lap time of 2:20. LeMons HQ staff agonized over the choice of the Molvo versus the Datsun 250 GTO when it came time to pick the Organizer’s Choice award. Actually, the judges of the LeMons Supreme Court were strongly in favor of the Molvo, but it’s Chief Perp Lamm‘s race and he gave the OC to the nearly-as-amazing “Ferrari.” “Fine,” we said, “We’ll give the Judges’ Choice trophy to the Molvo.” And that’s how it worked out. Congratulations, Bernal Dads Racing!

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Engine Swap: Hoonatic Racing Integra GS-R Engine Now Destined For My Civic’s Engine Compartment Wed, 23 Mar 2011 13:00:15 +0000
Those of you who follow 24 Hours of LeMons racing know the tale of the One Lap Integra, an Integra GS-R that got knocked down to LeMons price range because it had been rolled into a ball by a leadfooted previous owner. The car was hopeless, but the 170-horse B18C1 engine and transmission are in good shape… and now I’ve bought them for my beater ’92 Civic DX.

I’m also getting the complete, un-butchered wiring harness, ECM, instrument cluster, and everything else, courtesy of Hoonatic Racing team captain John and his meticulous car-stripping skills.

I’ve owned many Civics over the years, at least one example of each of the first five generations (after Soichiro Honda died, Civics became too bloated for my liking), but I’ve never done any serious modifications to any of them. My current daily driver has been the most reliable vehicle I’ve ever owned, but the 102-horsepower D15B7 under its hood just can’t make any power in Denver’s thin air. The solution: bolt in a bigger engine, just as our forefathers did when dropping 427s in their ’55 Chevys.

The only problem with the deal is that the engine is in Texas and I’m in Colorado, but that problem has been solved by the members of the Team B League Film Society – How I Learned To Stop Whining And Love The Judges Mercedes-Benz W110 LeMons team. They’ll be hauling their car up to Colorado for the second annual B.F.E. G.P. race in July, and they’ve agreed to include the GS-R goodies on their trailer. It’ll be a long four months to wait, but so worth it! I’ll be the owner of the world’s only fifth-gen Civic with a B18C1 and no wing!

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Two Engines Equals Twice As Good: Toyota MR2olla! Fri, 11 Mar 2011 00:00:47 +0000
The crazy thing about 24 Hours of LeMons racers is that they actually follow through with their terrible ideas. Maybe it’s the urgency of the deadline, or maybe it’s the peer pressure to keep one-upping the last ridiculous project. Last month we admired the radial aircraft-engine-powered MR2, and now we’ve got another MR2-based team taking on one of the long-discussed LeMons Holy Grails: the twin-engined sub-$500 race car!

The Volatile RAM MR2 has been racing in West Coast LeMons events since the 2007-08 Altamont era, and the team must have decided that all that wrenching in the pits (the MR2 has proven itself to be one of the less reliable LeMons cars) would be more fun if they vaulted to the ranks of the Legends of LeMons and took on the twin-engine challenge.

Conventional wisdom says that a twin-engined race car with four-wheel-drive and two separate transmissions will be a spinning nightmare on the track, will blow up for sure, will overheat, and is morally wrong besides. However, conventional wisdom also suggests that Toyotas should be reliable in low-budget endurance racing, and reality has shown that Saturn SL2s and Alfa Romeo Milanos are much more reliable LeMons cars… so go ahead and throw all your misgivings about the MR2olla right out the window! Yes, MR2olla; the team will be welding the front half of a 1989 Corolla to the rear half of a 1987 MR2. What could possibly go wrong?

“Aha!” you say, “The Corolla and the MR2 both use Toyota A engines and identical transmissions, so all you need to do is rig up some kind of Rube Goldberg transmission-cable linkage and the driver will be able to drive it like a regular car.” Not so! What the Verbose Beater team is doing involves an automatic transmission in the rear and a manual up front. Feel free to enumerate all the ways this will go terribly wrong; I’m reserving judgment until I see it on the race track. Actually, I’m not reserving judgment at all; if this thing makes one lap it will be a stunning, LeMons Legend-worthy succcess! We’ll see how it all sorts out at the Goin’ For Broken race in mid-May at Reno-Fernley.

Meanwhile, I’m gearing up for the biggest 24 Hours of LeMons race of all time, at Sears Point in a couple of weeks. In fact, with 180 cars it’s possible that the Sears Pointless 24 Hours of LeMons race will be the biggest road race in history. See you there!

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Ill-Advised Engine Swap of the Week: Aircraft Radial In Toyota MR2 Wed, 16 Feb 2011 17:00:04 +0000
The thing that got me hooked on LeMons racing was the mentality that makes a statement such as “Hey, I’d like to install a 540-cubic-inch, five-cylinder radial aircraft engine in the back of a Toyota MR2, then try to make it run all weekend in a grueling endurance race” seem totally sensible. The craziest most devoted racers find themselves locked into an arms race for the Unununium, and this is the result.

The engine, which once powered a 1942 PT-22 Recruit trainer aircraft, was rated at 160 horsepower. This one hasn’t run for 65 years, but Radial Madman-In-Chief Marc assures us that it’s in good shape and should fire right up. As for the $500 limit, I exercised my authority as Chief Justice of the LeMons Supreme Court to issue a decree stating that radial engines shall be exempt from budgetary limits. You want a Pratt & Whitney R-2800 making 2,500+ horses in your Hillman Imp, and you can convince us that your hoopty-ass installation will be safe? Fine!

It’s going to sit in the back of the car, directly above a Subaru transaxle with a custom adapter flange. A V-drive, reduction gear set, and a much more reliability-enhancing gear is involved; you can follow the whole saga on this 24 Hours of LeMons Forums thread. Will it work? The real question should be: Will it have license plates?

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