Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Well, the subframe is in for sandblasting.  The guy estimated about a week or so.  I'll do a quick mini-review as soon as I get the frame back, and get 'em paid.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Time Stands Still

My apologies to those of you following the blog.  I have not been able to make any significant progress on the car for a week or two, although I have been able to do something on it just about every day.  Mostly I've been scrubbing old undercoating off.  That stuff is gnarly.

I have decided to wait on the sandblasting guy, since he came recommended from the feller over at Mustang Ranch.  I quite like the shop over there--I walk past it on my way to/from work just about every day--it seems like there's some new project afoot over there every time I go by.  I may have to troll around for a Mustang to accompany this Camaro.  It would be cool to have the two competitors side by side. . .

Once sandblasting is done, I will be very close to the first big expenditure, which will be the disk brake conversion and rebuilding the suspension.  On the list will be:
  • coil springs
  • shocks (adjustable)
  • front disks/calipers, etc. . .
  • tie rod ends
  • ball joints (upper/lower on both sides)
  • sway bar
  • steering box (???)
  • poly body bushings
Steering is a big question.  I can swap in a much faster-ratio box from a number of old Chevy models, most of which will be direct bolt-ins.

I already have the poly bushings on the existing suspension components, so that will save me a little money.  Pretty much every rubber bushing in the car will be replaced with poly.

One thing to note:  Chevy, for some ungodly reason, riveted the lower ball joints into the A-arms.  I really have a hard time seeing how that could ever have been a good idea from any standpoint.  Removing them involves cold-chiseling the rivet heads out.  Honestly, did Chev just figure everyone would get tired of banging on a chisel and just buy a whole new A-arm?  I really don't get it, because their service technicians would've been just as inconvenienced as anyone else.  It's pretty darn stupid.

But then, the list of stupidity from automotive engineers is a long and ugly thing.

Revision:  I made a mistake in my rant--the riveted-in ball joints are on the upper A-arms. . .

Monday, July 11, 2011

Just confirming that I still cannot weld. . .

I spent a little time scrubbing the old undercoating, grease and dirt off the subframe.  Looks like I'm going to have to wait awhile on getting the sandblasting done.  The shop I want to use is backed up and moving--and won't be able to do much for another 2 weeks.  So I'll probably have to call around and get it in somewhere else.

I also welded up the transmission crossmember.  This may be premature, because it's highly likely the crossmember will have to be modified to accomodate the 4L60E tranny that would be going in with the 4200 Vortec.  But, take a look at the next pic, and you'll see why these things should be welded up.

You can see this big gap on the end (both ends are the same).  There are only a few spots along the seam that are actually welded from the factory.  So I clamped it down, tacked and welded the whole thing up.  And it looks like hell.

But that's why the Lord, in his wisdom, gave us angle grinders and flap disks.  I'll grind it all pretty, get it painted and throw up a couple more pics when it's done.

A quick note on the subframe:  The thing has about 1/8" of undercoating in places, and it's a bear to get off.  I finally found some very nice biodegradable paint stripper that does the job fairly well.  Spray it on, and leave it, then come back and scrub with a little soap and water.  It still takes a bunch of elbow grease, but it eventually comes off.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

More fun with Subframes

This weekend was a busy one.  Not only did I finish stripping and cleaning the subframe out of the car, my kitchen sink decided to fall in.

For those of you contractors, or DIY'ers, just a quick note.  A blob of Liquid Nails is no substitute for a proper bracket.  Especially on big heavy things that become bigger, heavier things filled with hot soapy water.  Besides, a handful of correct brackets are actually cheaper than a whole tube of Liquid Nails.  So all that proves is you're a lazy S.O.B. who cost me a whole day on the restoration project.  Shame on you!

Anyway, I was able to get the decades of road gunk scraped off the subframe.  I scrubbed it down good with some softscrub to get all the grease and grime off that I could.  It still looks like hell, but it's ready to go to the sandblaster's.

Once it's down to bare metal, I have some small, hopefully easy repairs to make.  I'll weld up all of the open seams left by the factory, and clean up some of their welding as well.  I'm going to re-inforce both of those connection tabs (the ears halfway up the side), as they look a little thin due to rust.  I don't know, but it may pay off to remove and replace them.  We'll see.  They don't seem that bad, just one of those things you don't want to have to re-do after the whole car's back together.  I'll research parts, and see.

That's where I'll start having to spend some real money.  From here on out, progress will probably be much slower.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Subframe Removal and Cleanup

I have the subframe out, and most of the crap taken off of it.  This part of the process is very simple, and fairly straightforward.  There are only 4 large bolts/bushings holding the subframe to the unibody.  Really, the big thing to watch is how you have the unibody supported while you unbolt the subframe.

I jacked the car up slightly, to take some of the load off the front suspension, and placed jack stands in a couple strategic spots.  From there it was a simple matter of winding out some big bolts.

I had a scare on one of the subframe mounts:  There was a nice rusty crunch and grind, and the bolt was simply not coming out.  It really looked like the whole subframe mount had rusted completely out.  Which luckily wasn't the case.  The bolt was pretty rusty, but after it was all apart, the mount didn't look bad at all.  I am most likely going to reinforce the front subframe mounts with some extra sheet metal.  Care needs to be taken, because any change in the position of those mounts will have an effect on the alignment of the subframe.  I'll have more on that later.

I simply cut the emergency brake cable and fuel lines from the subframe, as they will all have to be replaced anyway.  I will be doing a 4-wheel disk conversion, and virtually all of the stock brake hardware will have to go.

Removal of the steering box, steering assembly (tie rods, idler arm, etc. . .) and sway bar was very simple.  All you need is a pickle fork and  a few whacks on the hammer.

Once again, this was a great opportunity to see just how solid this car is under all the dirt and crap.  Most of these parts are still in excellent shape, and once I break the bolts free, they almost all turn the rest of the way by hand.  Very encouraging.

I was a little careless with the A-arms, and just unbolted the top spindle until the spring popped it loose.  I don't recommend doing it this way, although it is very quick.  The lower A-arm will pop with considerable force, and you could end up with some kind of nasty injury.

See the pic below for an idea of the kind of gunk that collects underneath.  It's pretty nasty.  I have to scrape it off with a putty knife, then wire brush and then scrub with some good soap (a little softscrub gel or laundry soap).  The parts I'm keeping will go down the road for some sandblasting. 

A note on the suspension:  I had planned to mostly stick with the stock parts on this, but I am reconsidering.  I may have to save some pennies and do some upgrading.  Hotchkis has what looks like a great old-school suspension setup.  The only trouble is that it would be right up there cost-wise with the disk brake conversion--somewhere in the $1,000 to $1,500 range (give or take).  I do think it would be worth it in the long run.  Hotchkis linky: Hotchkis TVS

One other thing to take note of:  The shims on the suspension are also very important.  Even though considerable adjustment will have to be made down the road, knowing where everything started out at is very important.  I shot pictures of all the shims, for future reference.

I ended the day with the one half of the suspension removed.  Tomorrow morning I'll get started on the other side.  Once that's done, I'll have to take off the transmission cross-member.  Then scrape off some crud, and get these parts off for sandblasting.  Once the subframe is cleaned, I'll be able to finish up welding all the open seams left by the factory, cleaning it up and coating with POR-15.

One last thing, poly bushings will be used throughout.  I actually already did much of the work with the poly on these A-arms several years back.  I'll need bushings for the rest of it, though.  Poly is a huge upgrade over the stock rubber stuff.  It's stiffer, and should last much, much longer.

I gotta say, this is a both exciting and scary time in the build.  There's really no turning back from this point.  But that's the beauty of it too, because this is progressing much faster than I planned for.
An actual 4200 in an F-body!

While I've heard some unfounded rumors of F-body 4200 Vortec swaps, this is the first one I've actually seen pictures or verifiable documentation of.  In the August 2011 Car Craft, there is a spread on a '69 Firebird with a turbocharged 4200 swapped in.  The owner/builder's name is Jeff Wieser, and I'll be making an effort to find out more about his car.

There don't seem to be much in the way of links or pics out there. :(

I really hope Car Craft has a bigger story planned for Wieser's car.  It deserves a full-on look.  Given the amount of play given to the usual (insert yawn) V8 Camaros, it would really be nice to see something different.

(For those of my friends who don't have any clue what an F-body is: All that means is it's either a Camaro or Firebird--easy, right?).

The writeup is very short, and only covers some high points.  But it's extremely interesting, and encouraging.  Jeff's car had the Pontiac Sprint straight six, which was a 250 cubic-inch OHC motor that was actually quite ahead of its time--as far as American car companies were concerned.  The Sprint came with a factory 4-barrel carb, and a split manifold for a true dual exhaust.  From what I've read, the '69 engines were rated at 250 horsepower (gross, not net), which wasn't giving up much of anything to the base 327 Chevy V8.

One other thing to note is that there was some talk of making the Sprint the base engine in both the Camaro and Firebird.  Although that could've been a healthy batch of B.S. some inliner came up with. . .  It would've been a much more appropriate base engine than the Turbo-Thrift.

I actually have entertained a Sprint swap versus the 4200 Vortec.  The Sprint would be period-correct, and more than a little hare-brained.  It would be a direct bolt in, with little or no fabrication necessary.  And it would certainly raise some eyebrows.  The only thing is that the Sprint would never deliver the trade-off in power and efficiency that the 4200 can.

I guess if I saw a '69 Sprint 6 sitting there ready to drop in, I'd probably put the 4200 idea on hold.  I know that many of the Sprint engines were dumped for V8 swaps in those Tempests and Firebirds.  But I've never run across one.  I'd really like to take a close look at one, and think it over.  A Sprint with a little Clifford 6=8 rebuild kit, maybe some homebrew TBI and electronic ignition, could be pretty fiesty.  And almost wierd enough to be worth it.

Yes, I realize that a simple small-block swap would deliver more power for less money.  Yes, the LT and LS engines rock.  I've driven a couple of 94-2000 F-bodies, and they were fun as hell.  The trouble is, first-gen Camaros with 350's are as common as dog shit.

I only want to hear two questions from the guys doing a double-take at the car show:
1. "What is that?"
2. "Why would you do such a thing?"

There is some significant interest in the 4200 in the 1st Gen Nova crowd, and there seem to be many swaps into other platforms, like Toyota Land Cruisers, some Jeeps and other wierdness.  There's one guy with an awesome, exhaustively detailed thread on a 4200 swap into a Toyota Supra.  But what I'd like to see is detailed photos of a 4200 swap into a first generation Nova or Camaro/Firebird.  Still looking.  I know they're out there.

I Can't Weld Part 3

This is a short look at the second patch I welded in on the dash panel.  This was a much longer, thinner strip of rust.  I began by wire-brushing the entire dash panel along the leading edge, to identify any spots that were weak or rusted through.  I found a couple smaller spots in addition to this larger one.

In a perfect world, I'd probably be better off just replacing the dash panel.  But as I said before, this is a learning experience as much as anything.  And I can always replace this panel without having to completely gut the car.

As before, I cut a cardboard pattern for my patch.  This patch matches up much better than my last one.  I left no significant gaps, and the only "extra" filling I had to do was where I overran with the cutoff wheel.  I think next time I may use a smaller cutting wheel for these smaller spots.  I'll have a much finer level of control, and the smaller, thinner disks will make for less collateral damage.

I held the patch in place with a pair of magnets (good old cheap Harbor Freight), and tacked one end.  I then had to make a few adjustments in the patch, and tacked it as well.  Then just for fun, I cleaned and tack welded the tabs that hold the dash panel at the front.  If you've ever had one of these apart, you'll see that this panel is basically glued in.  A quick wire-brushing removes the adhesive, and a quick hit with the welder tacks it down solid.

One other thing I want to add here:  I did get the 0.023 wire to feed in this welder.  And yes, I am an idiot.  I don't know that it was a huge improvement over the 0.025, but what the heck.  Also, I'm using next to no gas.  I may turn it up to 30 or so CFH and see if it has any impact at all.

After tacking and fitting, I simply bounced around making small tack welds until they all blended together.  I did burn through some thin spots at one end--due to some rust I missed.  But those areas filled in very nicely once I knew they were there.

Grinding and more spot welding, and a touch more grinding finished it off.  I let the metal cool, and then de-greased it with some alcohol real fast.  Then I applied some "Bondo Hair" fiberglas filler over the patched areas.  This was a mistake.  I got the long-hair stuff, when I should've been using the Eversmooth short fiber stuff.  I will sand this down smooth, and take a look.  If it looks OK, I'll leave it.  But I may have to hit it with a dash of the Eversmooth.

Important Note:  The only filler I'll use on this project is for minor smoothing and reinforcing seams/patches on the bodywork.  There's nothing worse than slathering bondo on with a trowel and watching it crack and flake off.  Yuck.  But the use of some filler simply cannot (and should not) be avoided.