Thursday, January 19, 2006

Your first car and the impact it had

For some, it's just a means of transportation. For others, it was their stepping stone into the world of an automotive hobbyist. As has been stated, my first car was a 1989 Firebird with a 305 V8 and 5 speed transmission. It was a fun car, one that left me wanting to learn more about cars in my quest to make it both faster and better handling. Other friends of mine also had first cars that left a lasting impression. One had 1978 Ford Fairmont with a 5.0L and 5 speed, another had a 1973 Chevelle Laguna. All three of us eventually parted ways with those cars, mine was totaled, both of theirs I believe were sold. Yet all three of us still had a love for those first cars we owned.

Within the past few years all three of us have come full circle and once again own the same models we did when we got our licenses. For me, I didn't just want the same car, I wanted the best of the best, the lightest/fastest model they made, the Formula version and it had to be the same color, Maui Blue, as my first. By choosing this model I didn't have the option of a 5 speed, as apparently the transmission couldn't handle the torque of the bigger 350 cubic inch engine. When it came down to either a 5 speed or the bigger engine, I went with the bigger engine. My ride is once again my daily driver, where as my other two friends have chosen to make theirs their toys.

The one with the Fairmont is going the whole 9 yards. He is building a 460 Big Block Ford with an 8-71 blower on top. This baby will likely pump out around 600-700 hp easily. The car will have a full roll cage installed and is currently undergoing tubbing.

The other friend with the 1973 Laguna, his too is one of his extra cars. His has a 454 Big Block Chevy pumping out around 500 hp. This baby sounds almost identical to my Camaro before I pulled it off the road, so needless to say, everytime he fires it up it puts a smile on my face.

I have my other toys, the one on par with my friends two cars would be my Camaro. It too is going the extra mile, pushing the limits of streetability in a quest for more power. Yet I haven't ignored my daily driver by any means. The suspension has been updates with new rubber bushings, I have Koni shocks up front, and MSD coil. I will continue to upgrade stuff as maintenance is needed. Eventually I will rebuild an engine for it as well. I am starting to ponder what direction I wish to head with that rebuild and just how radical I want to go. I believe I can get around 400 hp and maintain close to my current gas mileage.

In the car world, it's amazing how much you find you have in common with other people. I had another friend at college whom also had a 5 speed 305 Firebird as his first car, his was a Trans Am. To this day he still holds a strong love for these cars and will likely get another some day. In the mean time, he headed down the same path as I, the vintage muscle car route. His baby is a 1972 Olds Cutlass in which he built a fuel injected 455. The car was recently restored from the ground up and turned out beautifully! Although it sits in much the same manner as mine, still apart and not running. That is yet another aspect gearheads have in common, our inability to not finish projects in the original time frame we planned. That's ok by me though, as half the fun is wrenching on them, driving them is the reward. I purchased my Challenger to tide me over while I tore my Camaro apart, having had both set for several years now, I bought my Formula to tide me over while BOTH sit. So I remain happy, even while my other two cars sit.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Blue is back running like a champ

As if she just stumbled upon a fountain of youth, old blue is running strong once again. After getting my garage ready to go by rearranging some stuff, getting my tool box out in the garage as opposed to in the basement, getting my stereo out there, I was ready to start trouble shooting. After pondering where to start first I decided upon starting with the most difficult, removal of the spark plugs. As I had stated, I had gapped them to what they came out of the box with, .045. I didn't find out till after the fact that the factory gap was .035, it was even noted on the underside of the hood. Considering I have a higher voltage MSD coil I highly doubted that this larger gap was the problem, as the added spark should have no troubles jumping the larger gap. Still, I figured it would be best to start from the ground up and go from there.

I started removing all of the spark plug wire boots and it wasn't long before I found the problem. The porceline on one of the plugs must have cracked during installation. Something that is VERY easy to do in these cars. With all the emissions stuff, air injection lines, A/C, and other crap, it's a real pain to get to most of the wires. A universal swivel maybe would have made the job easier, but I doubt it. Most of the plugs have very little room to work with, the added length of the swivel would have caused an interference in most cases. Now that I've done it a few times I'm quite quick at it anyways, you just gotta find the right areas to snake your arms and hands into in order to get to each plug. Once you have that mapped out, its not too bad. It is still quite difficult to install a few of them without cracking them though. I broke a good 2 or 3 more during removal and installation.

Once that was complete I thought I'd still replace the dry rotted vacuum lines. That was until I found out that the vacuum line was the incorrect size. It was quite a bit smaller than the hose I needed, so that will have to wait until another day. After getting all the plug wires back on I fired it up. I knew instantly that the problem was solved as it smoothed right out and revved noticably faster. Yesterday I drove downtown to the auto show, it was the first road test, I gotta say that the power is back! What a good feeling, trouble shooting a rough running car can often be very time consuming and often discouraging. When the problem is finally solved there is a high level of satisfaction.

My time in the garage brought me to one conclusion by day's end, I'm making my garage top priority. My house needs plenty of work, though nothing really that is in dire need. My garage is brand new, I want it completely finished and furnished the way I want before digging neck deep into my house again this spring. Considering I should get a nice hefty tax refund soon, I'm gonna get a nice welder (something I've always borrowed but never owned), a workbench, a fridge, tv, and new stereo since my current one has a cd changer that acts up in colder temps. I get all that stuff and I think my garage will pretty much be set and I'll have a shop that has most everything I need.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

American Muscle is back!

Weeks ago I saw the first spy shots of the concept Challenger that would be at this year's auto show. I was truly amazed, though remained skeptical. It could have easily been a doctored up 1970 Challenger somebody was passing off as a concept Challenger. The resemblence to the original was remarkable! After reading the article and seeing the accompanying picture, courtesy of The Detroit News, "Pony up," I was truly amazed. They actually had a 1970 Challenger in the studio while they were mocking up the new concept. It is hardly any different at all, asided from looking a bit wider down the sides and having some wheel that fit the wheel wells. Comparing it to a picture of mine shows just how close they are to one another. What is hard to see is the body lines have been retained, as have the fog lights below, the grill opening, the grill shape itself, lower air opening, roofline, hood lines, and most everything else. I'm already seeing the dollar signs in my head ringing up, as if it hasn't increased in value enough. In fact, even if they weren't to build this car (though it appears they are), it would still drive the value of mine even higher. Just getting the name and style out there places it in peoples heads, next thing ya know, they want one. The downside is that rumor has it that it won't exactly tip the scales "Pony car" style. I read that it may come in at no less than 4,100 lbs. Thats quite porkly for a car that time, though my original weighs in at 3600 lbs, which by 1960's standards was several hundred pounds heavier than the Camaro and Mustang. I suppose that is where the hemi stepped in and showed them who was boss.

Not to be outdone, Chevy is also unveiling a retro Camaro concept that is suppose to strikingly resemble the 1969 from what I am told. One would assume that the powertrain would be along the lines of the Corvette, just as it always has been. An LS derived engine, likely in the neighborhood of 400 hp with a higher power version available. The good old 6 speed and 4L60 auto for the transmission. It would be great to see all three pony cars battling it out once again, two of which would be brought back from the dead. The Challenger being gone since 1974.

Tonight I'll tried to tackle my car issues. I was about to pull the distributor out for further inspection when I found I could unbolt the electronics from it for easier viewing. In doing so I didn't find anything wrong with the terminals, I was hoping to find one bent off to the side, as one harness plugged in slightly hard. What I soon stumbled upon was my cause for eratic idle! I found a dry rotted vacuum hose for the cruise control that was nearly split in half. Well, that should take care of the idle woes. Upon start up it still seems to run a bit rough, I'll find out for sure on the drive to work in the morning. I did throw my timing light on it after unplugging the wire that controls the advance. Everything checked out ok, 2 degrees higher than stock, right where I set it. I then hooked the wire back up and attempted to check my total timing advance. May have some issues here, as total advance seems to be in the neighborhood of 18 degrees or so, when it should be around 34 or so I'm guessing. More trouble shooting will follow it appears.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Post-tune up and its running worse than before

I finally got around to giving my Formula a tune up. I don't fuckin' get it, I put in new plugs, new wires, cap and rotor, 02 senso, and the thing is running worse than it was before. The plugs that came out of it were some of the worst looking plugs I have seen, they had deposit so bad that I can't see how some of them were even firing. The manual suggested that the engine was using oil and to replace the valve seals. A procedure that I was well aware of how to do on a Chevy, as I have done it two or three times before. That however is not my current cause of my troubles. I suppose first thing is first, I'm gonna pull all the plugs back out and regap them. The manual calls for a .035 gap, I left them all at the .045 gap they came with. It wasn't until later that I looked up the factory spec. I highly doubt that is the cause though, especially considering I have an aftermarket MSD coil that puts out more spark than stock, which often has you set the plugs at a wider gap in turn. I am slightly skeptical of the 02 sensor, as it was slightly longer on the external end of the sensor. I looked online and verified however that it was the correct sensor that was called for. I suppose I will first throw my timing light on it to verify the distributor did not get turned in the process and my timing is off.

If all that checks out, I may simply regap the plugs and try putting my old wires back on. Even though they had been on for 35,000 miles, they still look like new and are of high quality Taylor 8 mm wires. I've had spark plug wires in the past be the cause of such problems, though since these are brand new wires I find it hard to believe they are the cause, but who knows. I've bought parts before only to find out later they were junk to begin with.

I also think its time to recheck the fuel pressure to ensure that my regulator hasn't gone south on me. I suppose the next item of concern would be new fuel injectors. Since this car spent much of its first 16 years mostly sitting, there is no telling what may have got gummed up and be causing problems now. Car Craft magazine is currently doing a build up of a Pontiac Formula. They had a whole list of trouble shooting items where upon they spent a lot of coin before they got the car running and idling smoothly. Lets hope I can have slighly more success, as I've already dropped probably $600 or so into the trouble shooting. Even after replacing the only item that tripped a trouble code it still didn't smooth out.