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GCrites80s Dork
6/8/22 3:54 p.m.

Ha yeah, forgot to mention that my car had the same rust in 1997 that yours has now. So advantage -- you.

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito UltimaDork
6/14/22 5:34 p.m.

A few things:

-It's nice that I have the car running enough that I can fire it up and move it around. I needed the space in front of my garage for some Power Wagon activities over the weekend, and I moved the Trans Am like you would with any normal vehicle. That's something you take for granted with a vehicle unless it becomes a driveway ornament. 

-The car needs some tuning, desperately. I'll be doing that soon. The timing keeps changing due to the distributor still being loose, so I need to lock that down and set idle speed and all that. 

-I picked up just about everything I need to pull that rear window now. Just need to get the Rust Bullet and sealant for re-installation. 

-Shopping for some patch panels as I type this. I have line on a few places that might actually have them in stock. 

-New plates are in the mail! You know I'll be taking a spin when those show up. 

-Really need to replace that driver's door handle. It's going to be its 3rd since I've brought it home. I think I have a spare somewhere that I bought a decade ago. 

-I know it's ratty and the body panels are about as straight as a rotary, but I still love the looks of this thing, even as-is. I parked it out in front of my house while working on the Power Wagon, and I had to make a parts run. When I came home, seeing that thing just made me excited. Would ya just look at it! No wonder why I can't bring myself to part with it. 

crankwalk (Forum Supporter)
crankwalk (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
6/14/22 10:45 p.m.

Looks excellent!

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito UltimaDork
6/15/22 12:44 p.m.

Thanks! It still turns heads, as gross as it is. Not everything needs to be shiny and perfect! 

A couple more quick updates/thoughts: 

-Plates and registration showed up today! That means it's officially back on the road after a decade of being a driveway ornament! Needs a safety inspection, which will happen once I tackle a few projects. 

-Ordered up a quarter patch, window trim clips, and a can of Rust Bullet. Getting the rear window and quarter patch done will be the first projects I tackle once my Power Wagon engine swap is complete. Feels nice to start planning these projects out. 

-Another thing I forgot: I need to sort out the carb fuel lines. I found my 4150 feed line over the weekend, but it didn't fit with the intake I'm running because it interferes with part of the casting. That's going to be a problem with every set of dual feed 4150 lines, unless I make my own again. Might have to bust out the Wheel O' Death. 

-All the lights still work, which is amazing since it's been sitting for 10+ years, but the headlights have some condensation in them. Will definitely replace those. Also, the dimmer switch still needs replacement. About that...

-Ever own a project car so long that you forgot parts you bought for it in a box somewhere? While looking for that feed line, I found a bunch of parts brand new in the box for the car, like a new dimmer switch, transmission vacuum solenoid, center caps, and more. More stuff I don't need to buy! Every time I dive into my storage, it's like striking gold! 

-Oil looks like a milkshake again. Holes in hoods are bad. Sitting is also bad. It's 100% NOT coolant mixing in, which is good, but I'll need to flush the bad stuff out again. Gotta seal up that shaker! 

-Speaking of oil, trying to decide what I should run in it. I was running 15W40 diesel oil in it, but since the engine is essentially a "fresh build" with 1000mi on it, I'm not sure what it wants. Probably going to go with some flavor of Rotella again, since it has the extra dinosaurs in it. Maybe even a synthetic flavor. 

Agent98 Reader
6/15/22 9:29 p.m.

I'd use Joe Gibbs oil last thing you want is a wiped out cam

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito UltimaDork
6/21/22 10:54 a.m.

So, the past few days have been eventful. First, my plates and registration finally arrived, which means it's able to drive on the street again! 

Also, a can of this stuff showed up:

I've used this on the car before, and it works great. I'll be using this can to paint the rear window channel, the bad spots around the windows, and the underside of the floor pans so they don't rot out again anytime soon. 

Next up, I decided to change the oil. Anyone want a milkshake?

Again, this isn't coolant mixing in. This is rain water because there's a hole in the hood. The shakers on these usually have a rubber seal around them, which forces the water into a drain hose. My shaker is missing the seal AND the drain needs to be re-epoxied. On the Olds 403 and SBC-equipped cars, this isn't as much of an issue, but Pontiac V8's have an exposed valley pan under the intake that water can easily seep by if it pools up. These things will be addressed ASAP, because I can't be changing the oil every time it rains. 

While I was under there, I noticed there was a sizable power steering leak. The pressure hose fitting looks like it needs some thread sealant on there to stop that. Should be an easy fix. 

Ever own a project car so long you forgot things you did to it? Apparently, I replaced tie rods and added poly Energy Suspension end links and sway bar bushings. I do remember doing Energy Suspension poly body mounts, but not the rest of this stuff. Bonus! 

Another thing that's been driving me nuts is the misalignment of the front spoiler (yes, I know it's trivial and dumb). The side splitter is ripped at the mounting hole, and the remaining chunk is sandwiched in the lower bolt you see here. While I was under there, I took a minute to fix it for now. The temporary solution: zip ties. I'll re-attach the missing chunk or swap on my spare spoiler set when paint and body happens. 

While I was poking around at things, I decided to open the trunk to see how it's going under there. Aside from the tail panel being Swiss cheese, the trunk floor and filler panel are still great. The deck lid is still rotting away, but I have another one of those to swap on when it's time for paint. 

This is the area under the rear window. Again, most of these cars that lived in the Rust Belt and New England are severely rotted out here. This still has all of the factory paint and zero rust. Also, there's this bracket here which I believe held the bumper jack. I've noticed that when I start the car, there's a severe rattle coming from the trunk area. Yup, it's this bracket! I'll have to remove this, bag it, and put it in storage. 

With all of that done, I decided to mess with engine timing. I can't seem to get it close to what the specs should be for a Pontiac 400 between moving the distributor and adjusting carb settings, so I may have to get myself a vacuum gauge to do it right. I got it to run a little smoother, so that's a win. Still have some trouble starting it, which seems like it's far too advanced, but it wants it to idle properly. Strange. 

With that done as best as I could, I decided that it was time to take it out on the street for the 1st time in about 12 years. So, how did it do? 

Considering it's been a driveway ornament for over a decade, not bad! I was able to putt it around my "test loop", and it ran, drove, and stop. All the gears were present, and the brakes mostly worked, although they desperately need to be resurfaced. The biggest issue was that under anything but light throttle, the car would pop and hesitate. I'm thinking that's a combo of the timing being off and junk in the carb. If you recall, I was getting this same thing during idle when I first got it going a few weeks back. Might be time to get a rebuild kit for the Holley Street Avenger. Sorry for the lack of burnout videos. Other than that, the car still handles fantastic and way better than you would think for a big hunk of American steel. Steering is super tight with the WS6 fast ratio box and there's absolutely ZERO body roll. Now I remember why I loved this thing so much! It's a blast to wheel around. 

This week, I have some parts on the way to address some of the body rust and rear window situation, and I'll be addressing the shaker seal to make it functional again. Feels GREAT to have driven this thing after so long! 


SEADave Dork
6/21/22 11:26 a.m.

Such a cool car.  Love it!   

wawazat SuperDork
6/21/22 5:06 p.m.

 Congrats on driving it again!  Your timing might be off due to the rubber strip on the balancer loosing its bond to the steel hub or outer ring and it shifting.  

NOT A TA UltraDork
6/21/22 6:16 p.m.

As wawazat mentioned the balancer may have shifted.

I'd start by bringing # 1 piston to TDC on the compression stroke and checking where the rotor appears in relation to the #1 spark plug wire terminal on the distributor cap. Then rotate the distributor a little to give you a little advance. NOTE The Pontiac distributor rotates COUNTERCLOCKWISE which often throws people off who are more familiar with engines utilizing clockwise rotation like Chevys. Also double check the spark plug wires to be positive the correct wires are on the correct plug 18436572. It's easy to get certain ones swapped, forget which ones offhand, but if they are you'll be down on power and get occasional popping.

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito UltimaDork
6/21/22 9:50 p.m.

On the timing...

After messing with it again today, I realized that I am a MORON. My timing gun has the dial that allows you to set advance, and in all my excitement of getting the car ready to drive, I forgot to use the damn dial!

I did set it it by ear again before realizing that much later and dialed it back quite a bit while adjusting idle speed on the carb. That helped it out quite a bit. All of the ignition bits and the balancer itself are fine. The nut behind the wheel needs the adjusting. 

Know what else helps? Not having chunks of garbage in the carb. 

I put this fuel filter on a couple years back IIRC. Since then, I've replaced the fuel feed lines and all the rubber bits, save for the carb feed lines. Tonight, I did those and installed a new filter. The whole fuel system is now new, save for the pump and the carb. The pump was replaced when the engine went in, and the carb had a warranty claim back around 2009 due to recalled plating and was replaced then. 

I decided to take it back out tonight, and I took video this time. 

It's technically my 2nd drive, but whatever. wink It did MUCH better than yesterday. It actually drove really well! Makes me excited to keep wrenching on it. 

NOT A TA UltraDork
6/22/22 11:10 a.m.

Do not use the plastic fuel filters. Switch to something like a WIX 3/8" filter.

Because the filter is made of plastic, the material has to be thicker than one made of metal. This causes a bottleneck restriction because typically the barb on the white side of the fuel filter only has a 13/64" ID (.0324 sq in) where the hose fits on, even though it's made for 3/8" ID hose (.1104 sq in).  So the filter barb is less than 1/3 the capability of the fuel hose.  Clear plastic side is typically larger at 1/4" ID,  but is still way too small for a big V8. OK for a lawnmower but not so good for a big V8.  If you keep your foot in the throttle the car will fall flat on its face from a severe lean condition when the carb bowl runs low.

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito UltimaDork
6/22/22 3:35 p.m.

In reply to NOT A TA :

That filter was only on there temporarily to see if fuel was flowing and how gross it was. Never intended on using it long term and on the street. A metal 3/8 filter is on there now.

I learned a long time ago about the bad filters, especially those "chrome aisle at Autozone" ones with the chrome ends and the plastic in the middle. One of them fell apart right in front of me on this car! 

NOT A TA UltraDork
6/22/22 6:53 p.m.

In reply to Tony Sestito :

Good to hear you already knew! You wouldn't believe how many I've taken off cars. Maybe someone following along will read my post and learn something they might not realize, helping them. 


Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito UltimaDork
6/27/22 12:13 p.m.

Over the weekend, I kept tweaking the Trans Am. One thing that's never been quite right since the build all those years ago was the engine timing. I got it "close" but never correct. I also installed some different springs on the weights because I read it in a book I had (How To Build Max Performance Pontiac V8's). Also, back when I built the engine, I didn't have a timing gun with an advance dial or half the knowledge I have now. So, I got to work. Base timing is supposed to be set at 18 degrees at 750 RPM on a stock 400 with about 35ish degrees total. I set it there, but it still felt a little much. Then I remembered that there's a big cam in this thing, so I backed it down to about 16 base, 32 total. That made it much happier. Then, I set the idle RPM a bit higher than stock (again, big cam) and set the idle mix. With that done, it was time to test it out on a longer cruise than usual.

The result is a car that drives better than it ever has in 20 years of ownership. Remember, this thing has been a driveway ornament for the past 12 years! The transmission is coming back around too, and it downshifts nicely right when it needs to. It still needs some tweaking, though: 

-The valvetrain is a little ticky, but it has been since the build, and I need to re-adjust the roller rockers soon (I don't trust my own work from back then). It could also just be the roller rockers making noise. 

-There's also an issue with idle sometimes when I stop. It will be fine for about 10 seconds, and then it wants to stall. I did adjust the idle up, but I'm thinking this may be due to a vacuum leak somewhere.

-The hard starts are still there. The timing is correct this time, the battery and the starter are good, so I'm thinking the weak link is the starter wiring. I'll re-do the positive connection soon and inspect the wiring, as I slapped that together years ago before the Power Wagon taught me how to wire things correctly. 

-The brakes have gotten better with driving, but they desperately need resurfacing. Low speed stops are... uhh... interesting. 

Another quick project I knocked out was adjusting the steering wheel. It's been crooked ever since I bought the car. Aligning the front end didn't fix it, either. 

10 minutes later, it's not. 

That's better. Again, an easy "quality of life" fix that could have been easily done 2 decades ago! 

A chunk of driver's side rear quarter and a bag of rear window trim clips arrived recently, so I'll be tackling those items soon. Feels great to actually make progress on this car after so long! 

crankwalk (Forum Supporter)
crankwalk (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
6/27/22 12:22 p.m.

For your starting, I agree to check your starter wiring but also add a big ground. Can't hurt and might help. I've done that over the years on stuff that had little body grounds get ripped from forgetting to remove them or just being too tiny or corroded. A fat 0 gauge wire added as a ground has helped cure a couple random issues I've had with cars from starting to stereo issues. I just buy the lawn mower battery cable from HD or lowes for $6.


Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito UltimaDork
6/27/22 3:28 p.m.

In reply to crankwalk (Forum Supporter) :

Yup, that's part of the plan. I know there are at least two of them now, but I will be adding a big 0-gauge ground somewhere to help, as well as cleaning up any existing grounds. It's possible that sitting for over a decade under a cover caused things to corrode a bit. 

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito UltimaDork
7/18/22 9:59 p.m.

Not much of an update, but I did this the other day: 

I dug the center console out of storage and tossed it back in. Inadvertently, it matches the temporary Camaro seats I put in the car. Ha! 

This Dual Gate shifter bezel is made of pure unobtanium. Glad I picked one up while they were still in production. 

Also, I looked into the "hot start" issue a little more. To my surprise, when I installed the engine, I did install a number of grounds, including a big 0-gauge ground from the block to the frame. I then turned my attention to the battery cables, and there's clear evidence that "Pre-Power Wagon Tony" was here. Since owning that thing, I've gotten decent at wiring. Back when I did the wiring for the Trans Am, well... I was "less experienced". I used subpar wire ends for the positive leads on the terminal, which I will be fixing ASAP. 

Oh, and while digging around storage, I found this guy:

A rare Yamaha YCR-305 cassette deck with AUTO REVERSE! I bought this for next to nothing at a swap meet a few years back, originally intending to put it in my old CSX. That never happened, and the radio in the Trans Am is not working right, so I may slap this bad boy in there. 

And it's got the Go-Handle! Still has the pull-out cage, too! I have plenty of period-correct cassettes, and they also make Bluetooth cassette adapters now. I think this is the new Trans Am stereo, guys. 

NOT A TA UltraDork
7/19/22 10:13 a.m.

Is the negative battery cable attached directly to the engine?

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito UltimaDork
7/19/22 10:58 a.m.

In reply to NOT A TA :

Yes, on the driver's side. Passenger side has a 0-gauge ground straight to the frame. I believe the factory ground is hanging out near the firewall as well. The issue is 100% janky positive terminal wiring that I did 15 years ago before I knew better, so I'll fix that next time I'm under the hood. 

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito UltimaDork
8/1/22 12:00 p.m.

A couple of posts up, I mentioned a "hot start" issue. Well, things got REAL hot at one point. Check this out: 

This terminal has been on the car for over a decade. With the parade of old stock starters struggling to turn over the high-compression 400, coupled with out-of-whack timing and getting BBQ'ed by the headers, the starter circuit was way overstressed and it got so hot that it melted the terminal! Additionally, the secondary lead from the solenoid had a terrible connection at the battery that I did back before I knew what I was doing with electrical stuff. 

That's better. The wire on the left may not look pretty with all the electrical tape, but trust me, it's good. I used a good terminal this time, heat-shrinked the connection, and taped it up. I let the car run for a while and tested the "hot start" condition. Now, you just have to touch the key and it fires off immediately! Sometimes, it is the simple stuff. 


Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito UltimaDork
9/19/22 12:58 p.m.

Man, having two old project vehicles can be a real test of your patience! Having finished up a ton of work on the Power Wagon, it's finally in a state where I can mostly just hop in and drive it. That means I can start picking at the Trans Am again! And I have some motivation to do that. 

Recently, the state of MA decided to mess around with how they issue state inspection stickers again. The way it used to work is that you got an inspection and they give you a sticker for the month you got it. In other words, if I went today, I'd get a sticker that has a big 9 on it for September. Starting in November, that sticker reverts to whatever month you last inspected it. So, say you got a sticker in July 2021 and then got one in November 2022: you get a sticker for July 2022. And if it's been over a year (and it's been 12 years for the Trans Am), they automatically revert to a January sticker. So if I got a sticker in November 2022, I'd have to get another one in January 2023. And yeah, that car is not going ANYWHERE in January, since the roads are usually iced over by that point and covered in salt. The only reason the car still exists is that it's avoided winter driving for much of its life, and I'm not about to start now because of dumb rules. 

That said, I've started making a list of what it needs to pass inspection now. Since it's from 1979, it just has to pass a safety inspection; emissions testing is a rolling 15 or 20 year exemption. They basically check to see if the front end is loose and if you have lights, a horn, wipers, brakes, and seat belts. I also promised my nephew that he could do the inspection, as he's been bugging me to get the car up to the garage he works at. That shop is about 25 miles away, so this will be the 1st trip the car has taken out of town since I drove it to NH back in 2010. Wow, it's been a while!

Other than installing the passenger side seat belt receiver, the safety stuff seems good to go. Even the wipers, which didn't want to work earlier this year, have decided that they will work again as of yesterday. The biggest thing that needs to be repaired is the leaky power steering pump line. It's leaking at the fitting, so I'll get some thread sealer on there and hope it seals up. I'll be pointing the Bird north for this adventure later this month. 

crankwalk (Forum Supporter)
crankwalk (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
9/19/22 1:15 p.m.

Good luck on the 25 mile trip for the inspection. That will be a nice milestone

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito UltimaDork
9/21/22 4:42 p.m.

Whelp...  things are not going according to plan. Because they never do with this car.

Today, I started going over some of the checklist I had to drive it, like checking fluids. And whaddayaknow, milkshake oil is back again. 

I just changed this a few months ago. I really hate having a hole in the hood. This is partially my own fault, because I forgot to put a tarp over the engine. 

I also took a look at the power steering pump leak, and the pressure line nut wasn't as tight as it could be. Gave it a half-turn and it seems to have stopped leaking. Time will tell. 

But the big issue is the carb. When the car came up to temp, it started popping out the exhaust. It was happening on both sides, and it didn't matter if it was idling or revving. So I pulled the plugs, and they all looked like this: 

All of them were SOAKED with fuel and they stunk bad. So that means the carb is not doing carb things properly. Fun! Totally expected this, since the car has essentially been sitting for a decade. At least the fuel tank, lines, and filter are new-ish, and I'm getting clean fuel out of the tank. This is a Holley 670cfm Street Avenger, and they did have plating issues (this is actually the 2nd one I've had, 1st one was replaced under warranty for this reason), so I'm hoping it's just your standard crap in the carb situation. 

So now I'm likely staring down a carb rebuild, unless smacking the bowls fixes it. I have never successfully rebuilt a carb, and haven't touched a Holley before aside from removing the bowls. Hoping it goes easy. I have one week to get this done before the dumb inspection rules take effect.  

EDIT: the ol' Vice Grip Garage "rebuild" method of smacking the bowls with the blunt end of a screwdriver seems to have "fixed it". I still ordered up a rebuild kit, because it's likely going to do it again. But I might be able to get that inspection after all. 

NOT A TA UltraDork
9/21/22 9:05 p.m.

In reply to Tony Sestito :

Pinch off the rubber fuel line, fire the car up and let it run out of fuel. Remove plier clamping off the fuel line and fire the car back up again, then pinch off the line and let it run out of fuel again. Repeat process a few times and see how it runs afterward.

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito UltimaDork
9/21/22 9:49 p.m.

In reply to NOT A TA :

I may have to give this a shot. 

After my "caveman rebuild", everything seems ok. I don't think it's an issue with the fuel from the tank. The fuel tank, sending unit, lines, and filter are practically new, and after replacing the fuel feed line from the tank, all of the fuel is clean with zero debris. That said, this carb has been on the car since 2008, and it's done very little driving since it was installed. And up until recently, it was running off of the ancient, rusty tank and rusty lines. It's the last thing on the list to go through in the fuel system. I'm sure the floats were sticking from whatever was in there. 

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