1981 Pontiac Grand LeMans Safari Wagon

P

PBGBodyFan

Master Mechanic
Mar 3, 2009
400
63
Wisconsin
About a year ago I purchased this so I figured this might be a good place to post a build thread as I go along. A little over a year ago on a Facebook g-body group someone posted it for sale in CA. I wasn't looking for another car, even a short term project but started digging wagons in recent years and being partial to g-bodies it caught my eye. I'm more of a Chevy guy but the LeMans being a little different, it being in a CA so I presumed a naturally rust free car, plus the 81' only front end and wood paneling helped seal the deal for me. First time dealing with transportation and it was a pain but the owner was very cool and understanding as he has previous experience dealing with transport companies and didn't mind keeping it at his property until I figured it out. He's a Pontiac guy and has two other LeMans wagons, plus other older Pontiacs/cars. This wagon was bought with the intent for some parts for his but he felt it was too nice to part out. Trans issues otherwise in good shape. Finally in January a company picking it up and dropped it off close to my house, due to some streets/turns they didn't want to get closer, so it got it's first exposure to salt immediately :D .

Soaking in the sun still in CA (Hesperia, west of L.A.)
Wagon6.jpg


Wagon.jpg


He was nice enough to pull and load up 5 Monte Carlo doors for me as well after telling him that's what I was into and the appreciation for clean CA metal. Definitely a car guy who understood looking for parts and hated to see things wasted. His g-body LeMans wagon collection before I plucked one. He plans to sell the 79' also in front, the one in the rear is a factory bucket/console wagon he is keeping:

Wagons.jpg




Late January it arrived just as we had some snowy/slushy roads:

WagonArrival2.jpg


WagonDayOne3.jpg


WagonDayOne4.jpg


The first things I did was put in a full set of gauges in the correct style, happened to find a set for a reasonable price on eBay and a local guy with a 78-80 GP had some very clean Rally II's. To keep with the overall look of the car I had to do whitewalls on the 14"s. Tach works but acts a little wonky, oil pressure wiring isn't figured out and I might not bother until I decide what engine ultimately will power it. Also peeled off most of the stickers on the rear window.
IMG_8477.JPG
 
TURNA

TURNA

Rocket Powered Basset Hound
Jul 24, 2009
11,010
113
Socialist NY
Nice

Love the 81 nose
 
P

PBGBodyFan

Master Mechanic
Mar 3, 2009
400
63
Wisconsin
First pics after getting it outside after winter was winding down:

WagonFrontLH.jpg


WagonFrontRH.jpg


WagonRearLH.jpg


WagonRearRH.jpg


Next up was addressing the trans issue. I was told it didn't have reverse or it worked sometimes/sometimes not. That was accurate but it also didn't have 3rd gear. So my driving was very limited to say the least until that was fixed. Thanks to 81cutlass on the board who posted about a 200C trans that was free but worked when pulled, so I made the trip and met him in Dubuque in February. Homemade wheel cribbing works great, trans swap without a lift. The trans is a 80' unit and uses a vacuum TCC solenoid, my 81' is wired for the ECM. In talking to a trans builder of my 200-4rs he stated not having lockup on these isn't a big deal. Hurts mpg a little but this isn't a daily driver and the engine/trans is a placeholder, probably for a couple more years.

WagonCribbing.jpg


Trans works great, haven't put on a ton of miles but try to take it work every other week plus other errands.

Same color/wood scheme as the 81' they used in promotional material, Jack Nicklaus approves:

81LeMansAd.jpg



Also paid for the dealer invoice and some other material from PHS, not sure what the c/o U.S.F.L. stand for, pretty sure not the defunct football league. Not many options, AC, sport mirrors, cargo light and clock(still worked!) are about it:

LeMansInvoice.jpg



The long term plan is to keep it looking original-ish with a more fun drivetrain than the 3.8/200-C provides, although it is kind of fun as is, I forgot how a totally stock low option g-body drives. Phase 1 - Suspension: stock/cheap upgrades here, not doing a pro-touring build like my SS seems to be. Eibach springs/Bilstein shocks, larger f-body hollow front sway bar, rear F-41 sway bar, GP front brace, the wagon came with the jounce bars from the factory, quick ratio steering box and replace the front control arm bushings with Del A Lums, most likely. Phase 2 - Interior: Replace the plastics that have dry rot/damage and dye them to match, convert to buckets/console using Pontiac parts so it appears factory and the stock colors. Also likely a Retrosound head unit, adding many but not all factory options such as converting to power locks, power rear vent windows(not sure yet on power front windows), adding speakers in the stock rear location and the optional "security" package, the locking doors for each compartment. Many or most of these parts have been acquired already. Phase 3 - Drivetrain: Unsure yet, I do have a 8.5" 3.73 posi from a 442, the leading thought is a LS swap but the other options are some Pontiac V8 (not a 301), Turbo 3.8 or a Caddy 472/500. After that I suppose Phase 4 - Body/Paint: Woodgrain will remain for sure, not sure if the stock beige will grow on me, I plan to keep the interior the stock color(s) so something that looks ok with that, a shade of brown or yellow, maybe a green or even blue.
 
Last edited:
8

81cutlass

Royal Smart Person
Feb 16, 2009
2,266
113
Western MN
Glad the trans works for you! Good it's out of my garage :)

Better than being in the scrap yard for sure!!
 
MrSony

MrSony

Geezer
Nov 15, 2014
5,557
113
Des Moines, Iowa
Wheelstanding 600hp caddy 500 gets my vote.
Of course....
Always an option for 3.8 owners...
20190125_152030.jpg
 
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MrSony

MrSony

Geezer
Nov 15, 2014
5,557
113
Des Moines, Iowa
Come to think of it...
You could rig up the ccc system to a 350 buick fairly easilly. Use the 3.8 dizzy with a v8 cap, tweaked qjet and chipped computer for a v8. Itd be interesting. and confuse people lol. With the v6 front drive it just looks like a longer 3.8.
 
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Reactions: PBGBodyFan
D

Doug Chahoy

Royal Smart Person
Nov 21, 2016
1,940
113
About a year ago I purchased this so I figured this might be a good place to post a build thread as I go along. A little over a year ago on a Facebook g-body group someone posted it for sale in CA. I wasn't looking for another car, even a short term project but started digging wagons in recent years and being partial to g-bodies it caught my eye. I'm more of a Chevy guy but the LeMans being a little different, it being in a CA so I presumed a naturally rust free car, plus the 81' only front end and wood paneling helped seal the deal for me. First time dealing with transportation and it was a pain but the owner was very cool and understanding as he has previous experience dealing with transport companies and didn't mind keeping it at his property until I figured it out. He's a Pontiac guy and has two other LeMans wagons, plus other older Pontiacs/cars. This wagon was bought with the intent for some parts for his but he felt it was too nice to part out. Trans issues otherwise in good shape. Finally in January a company picking it up and dropped it off close to my house, due to some streets/turns they didn't want to get closer, so it got it's first exposure to salt immediately :D .

Soaking in the sun still in CA (Hesperia, west of L.A.)
View attachment 125110

View attachment 125111

He was nice enough to pull and load up 5 Monte Carlo doors for me as well after telling him that's what I was into and the appreciation for clean CA metal. Definitely a car guy who understood looking for parts and hated to see things wasted. His g-body LeMans wagon collection before I plucked one. He plans to sell the 79' also in front, the one in the rear is a factory bucket/console wagon he is keeping:

View attachment 125116



Late January it arrived just as we had some snowy/slushy roads:

View attachment 125112

View attachment 125113

View attachment 125114

The first things I did was put in a full set of gauges in the correct style, happened to find a set for a reasonable price on eBay and a local guy with a 78-80 GP had some very clean Rally II's. To keep with the overall look of the car I had to do whitewalls on the 14"s. Tach works but acts a little wonky, oil pressure wiring isn't figured out and I might not bother until I decide what engine ultimately will power it. Also peeled off most of the stickers on the rear window. View attachment 125115
Nice wagon. I really like the Buick wagon in the background. Always liked those 2years of the Buick
 
O

oldsmobile joe

Royal Smart Person
Nov 12, 2015
1,318
113
mpls
Drivetrain: Unsure yet
Here is a challenge if your interested

 

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