EL CAMINO 1983 El Camino 5.3 Swap / Build Thread

JohnIL

Not-quite-so-new-guy
Sep 9, 2020
40
18
Central Illinois
I'm new to the forum, but I've been reading through old threads as research for a build my son and I are starting. We're doing an LS swap (actually an iron block 4.8L) with an 4l60E transmission swap into a 1983 El Camino SS. This will be my son's first car when he turns 16 in just over a year. Rather than invest in a new (used) car for him to drive, we wanted something that he can use to learn about cars and take some pride in. My dad and I spent lots of time together in the garage when I was young and I want to do the same with my own son. The car/truck has quite a bit of family history, which makes it worth more to us than its paltry market value. Back in high school, I bought a 1981 El Camino from my uncle. I swapped out the blown (thrown rod) V6 and 3sp manual for a 350 SBC and TH350 auto. By the time I was done, it was 400hp street racer. I've grown up now, sort of, and my El Camino is long gone. But, I get to relive my youth vicariously through my son. The 1983 El Camino we're starting with is a gift from my dad to my son. Dad bought it from the same uncle I bought mine from. In fact, my uncle bought this El Camino to replace the one he sold to me! Fast forward WAY too many years and we're back in the G-Body business.

About the car
1983 El Camino SS
Brown on brown on brown (seriously boring!)
Factory 350 Oldsmobile Diesel (Who ever heard of a diesel SS anyway?)
Stock interior, stock suspension, stock everything else.

Our plans
Goal:
Cool old car with modern performance and reliability
Engine: 4.8L Vortec take-out engine. We plan to keep the engine stock. I'm not ready for my son to have a hot rod just yet. The 4.8 will have way more juice than the doggy old diesel anyway.
Transmission: Stock 4L60E take-out. We wanted a modern reliable overdrive transmission. Since the engine will be stock, there was no need for anything beefier than a 4L60E.
Suspension: We're starting with new stock height cargo-control rear springs and air bags (limited hauling capacity was always one of my pet peeves). Next up is a rear anti-sway bar and new poly front anti-sway bar end links (body roll was another pet peeve). The goal is to make it ride and drive more like a modern vehicle. Depending on how it handles, we might replaced the stock front anti-sway bar with something beefier and add front and rear frame braces. It's not intedended for autocross, but I want it to handle better than my old '81 did. While we're under there, we'll freshen up the brakes with new calipers & pads and cylinders & shoes. Again, nothing exotic, just fresh and reliable.
Body: There's a good bit of rust repair needed in the quarter panels and doors. Once the holes are patched and everything is smoothed out, we plan to repaint with the original light brown base color. To liven it up a little, we will repaint the below-the-beltline two tone in dark red (instead of dark brown) with bright red SS stripes.
Interior: The dark brown interior is so retro that it's actually back in style again. It is almost exactly the same shade of brown as my 2015 GMC pickup. And, my son digs the old school bench seat. So, the interior will stay pretty much stock, with a modern touch-screen sound system (of course).
Wheels & Tires: American Racing Outlaw I wheels (my son has the same taste in wheels as his old man!). 15x7 in front, 15x8 in back. Cooper Cobra tires. 235/60-R15 up front, 255/60-R15 in back. We haven't order the wheels and tires yet. If you know of any clearance problems with these sizes, please let us know!

The pile of parts
We're getting the engine, transmission, ECM, and harnesses from Tilden Motorsports. While we're waiting for the engine and trans to arrive, we've starting collecting parts.

Muscle Rods G-Body LS conversion stuff
Engine mounts
Transmission cross member and rear mount
LH8 Oil Pan
In-tank fuel pump kit
Fuel line and regulator kit
Aluminum G-body LS radiator
Trans cooler line kit
Power steering line kit
Electric to mechanical speedometer controller
Moog cc627 Variable Rate Cargo Control rear coil springs
AirLift 60733 1000lbs rear air bags
Energy Suspension poly front anti-sway bar end links
Hellwig 5815 rear anti-sway bar
Stock replacement master cylinder and brake booster (Diesel master cylinder is completely different)
Stock replacement front brake calipers and pads
Stock replacement rear brake cylinders and shoes

That should keep us busy for a while. Lots and lots of details yet to be worked out. I've done lots of engine swaps, but this is my first LS swap. I'm sure I'll have lots of questions for the forum along the way.

I'm including a picture of the car and the proud new owner.

Thanks in advance for any advice you can share. This should be a fun adventure!

John
 

Attachments

  • ElCaminoArrivalFall2019forForum.jpg
    ElCaminoArrivalFall2019forForum.jpg
    229 KB · Views: 131

5spdCab

G-Body Guru
Dec 29, 2019
834
93
Tukwila, Wa.
Is that John capital "I" L as in Illinois?
Whether yes or no, welcome to GBF.
That is quite a big list of plans, sounds like you have been putting a lot of thought into what you want to do with this project.
I know that you will like the suspension upgrades that you have planned. I put new sway bars front and back on my Caballero, new springs front and back, and added airbags at the rear. What a wonderful difference!
Before swapping out the master cylinder, ask others on the forum here. It seems that many of them feel that the diesel hydroboost brake system is superior to the vacuum brake system. Also, if I remember correctly, I believe other members have mentioned something along the lines of rebuilding the old diesel engine block as a gas engine, due to the strength of the block, so if you do pull it out don't throw it away.
 

JohnIL

Not-quite-so-new-guy
Thread starter
Sep 9, 2020
40
18
Central Illinois
Is that John capital "I" L as in Illinois?
Whether yes or no, welcome to GBF.
That is quite a big list of plans, sounds like you have been putting a lot of thought into what you want to do with this project.
I know that you will like the suspension upgrades that you have planned. I put new sway bars front and back on my Caballero, new springs front and back, and added airbags at the rear. What a wonderful difference!
Before swapping out the master cylinder, ask others on the forum here. It seems that many of them feel that the diesel hydroboost brake system is superior to the vacuum brake system. Also, if I remember correctly, I believe other members have mentioned something along the lines of rebuilding the old diesel engine block as a gas engine, due to the strength of the block, so if you do pull it out don't throw it away.

Yep, Illinois. Rural Central Illinois, outside of Springfield.

The challenge with the hydroboost brake system is that it gets pressure from the power steering pump and I plan to use the LS power steering pump that comes with the engine. I'm open to suggestion if anyone knows how to make the hydroboost work with the LS power steering pump.

We've stashed the original diesel engine in the shed with a couple of my old small blocks, just in case the rare diesel SS actually becomes valuable some day. That, and I'm a hoarder when it comes to old car parts.
 

83StreetMachine

Master Mechanic
Dec 16, 2011
351
93
Central NJ
Welcome! Can't wait to see your progress!! Reminds me of what my father did for my when I was 16.

Keep us in the loop. You definitely have great a plan in place.


On a side note, this is the absolute most perfect introductory post for a new comer to this forum!! This should be used as an example. I commend you sir!!!
 

JohnIL

Not-quite-so-new-guy
Thread starter
Sep 9, 2020
40
18
Central Illinois
Welcome! Can't wait to see your progress!! Reminds me of what my father did for my when I was 16.

Keep us in the loop. You definitely have great a plan in place.


On a side note, this is the absolute most perfect introductory post for a new comer to this forum!! This should be used as an example. I commend you sir!!!

Thank you for the compliment. Our project has been several months in the planning. I probably should have joined the forum before we started collecting parts. But, since we already have a lot of it in hand, I wanted to include as many details as I could, in case anyone might have advice about any of the choices we've made so far. This is my first time around with an LS swap and, of course, I would like it to go as smoothly as possible.

John
 
  • Like
Reactions: Texas82GP

JohnIL

Not-quite-so-new-guy
Thread starter
Sep 9, 2020
40
18
Central Illinois
Minor update

As I mentioned above, we started with a factory Olds 350 diesel. We've already pulled the diesel and the TH350 trans . Then, we ordered the 4.8L and the 4L60E trans. While we wait for the engine and trans to arrive, we have plenty of suspension work and rust repair to keep us occupied.

I have a week off work (mandatory furlough) in late September. That will give me some dedicated garage time. I hope to get some of the suspension and brake work out of the way. I'll do my best to teach my son which way the wrenches turn along the way. He helped with the engine and transmission removal. We took our time and I explained each step as we went along. I kept having flashbacks of the first engine swap my Dad and I did when I was a kid. Nostalgia...
 

Attachments

  • EngineRemoved.JPG
    EngineRemoved.JPG
    157.6 KB · Views: 84

81cutlass

Comic Book Super Hero
Feb 16, 2009
2,968
113
Western MN
Nice project!

I did a similar project with my Dad for my first car. Good learning experience and you end up with a tangible asset at the end.

That is a really oddly optioned elco. Diesel SS? Is it a factory SS or something done a few decades ago at home? I didn't know Elco's could get diesels either.

Make sure you sell the engine and the olds frame pads. Some nutcases (me) like the DX diesel blocks for high HP olds builds. If you were a state closer I'd try to buy it from you as I have been looking for a block :)

Looks like you have a good plan. My only comments are

-The Lh8, also known as the hummer H3 or GM 'musclecar' pan isn't that much of an improvement over a stock truck/suv pan. It's like 0.75" less in height and still hangs under the crossmember. If you are worried about hitting a railroad track with the stock pickup pan, the lh8 pan isn't going to really be an improvment. I have a holley 302-2 pan on my LS swap and CTS-V oil pans are also a good fit. If you havn't bought the pan yet I would not get the lh8 pan. The one guy I know that bought that kit ended up changing to a different pan as he was not happy.

-The electric to mechanical speedometer controller is very expensive. The nice thing about owning a Chev is that you can swap the speedometer from a 90ish G20 chevy van or square body blazer or suburban into the G body cluster for about $50 as those vehicles had stock electric speedometers.
 

JohnIL

Not-quite-so-new-guy
Thread starter
Sep 9, 2020
40
18
Central Illinois
Nice project!

I did a similar project with my Dad for my first car. Good learning experience and you end up with a tangible asset at the end.

That is a really oddly optioned elco. Diesel SS? Is it a factory SS or something done a few decades ago at home? I didn't know Elco's could get diesels either.

Make sure you sell the engine and the olds frame pads. Some nutcases (me) like the DX diesel blocks for high HP olds builds. If you were a state closer I'd try to buy it from you as I have been looking for a block :)

Looks like you have a good plan. My only comments are

-The Lh8, also known as the hummer H3 or GM 'musclecar' pan isn't that much of an improvement over a stock truck/suv pan. It's like 0.75" less in height and still hangs under the crossmember. If you are worried about hitting a railroad track with the stock pickup pan, the lh8 pan isn't going to really be an improvment. I have a holley 302-2 pan on my LS swap and CTS-V oil pans are also a good fit. If you havn't bought the pan yet I would not get the lh8 pan. The one guy I know that bought that kit ended up changing to a different pan as he was not happy.

-The electric to mechanical speedometer controller is very expensive. The nice thing about owning a Chev is that you can swap the speedometer from a 90ish G20 chevy van or square body blazer or suburban into the G body cluster for about $50 as those vehicles had stock electric speedometers.

Yep, it's a factory SS with a diesel. My uncle even had the build sheet. It really was a strange order. SS trim, diesel engine, and the most boring color combination available.

I didn't even know there was a market for the Olds 350 Diesel. I really don't have any future plans for that engine. How much is it worth and where would one go to sell it? Is there a forum/classifieds for that particular engine?

Thanks for the advice on the oil pan and the speedometer. I already have both of them. My son is dead set on preserving the original dash, so we'll keep the speedometer adapter. As for the oil pan, we plan to run a stock ride height, but extra ground clearance is always a good thing. I will do some careful measuring before I install the pan. I can always return the one I have and order the Holley instead.

Keep the advice coming. I have a LOT to learn about this conversion. Thanks!
 

Texas82GP

Just-a-worm
Supporting Member
Apr 3, 2015
6,311
113
Spring, Texas
I'm new to the forum, but I've been reading through old threads as research for a build my son and I are starting. We're doing an LS swap (actually an iron block 4.8L) with an 4l60E transmission swap into a 1983 El Camino SS. This will be my son's first car when he turns 16 in just over a year. Rather than invest in a new (used) car for him to drive, we wanted something that he can use to learn about cars and take some pride in. My dad and I spent lots of time together in the garage when I was young and I want to do the same with my own son. The car/truck has quite a bit of family history, which makes it worth more to us than its paltry market value. Back in high school, I bought a 1981 El Camino from my uncle. I swapped out the blown (thrown rod) V6 and 3sp manual for a 350 SBC and TH350 auto. By the time I was done, it was 400hp street racer. I've grown up now, sort of, and my El Camino is long gone. But, I get to relive my youth vicariously through my son. The 1983 El Camino we're starting with is a gift from my dad to my son. Dad bought it from the same uncle I bought mine from. In fact, my uncle bought this El Camino to replace the one he sold to me! Fast forward WAY too many years and we're back in the G-Body business.

About the car
1983 El Camino SS
Brown on brown on brown (seriously boring!)
Factory 350 Oldsmobile Diesel (Who ever heard of a diesel SS anyway?)
Stock interior, stock suspension, stock everything else.

Our plans
Goal:
Cool old car with modern performance and reliability
Engine: 4.8L Vortec take-out engine. We plan to keep the engine stock. I'm not ready for my son to have a hot rod just yet. The 4.8 will have way more juice than the doggy old diesel anyway.
Transmission: Stock 4L60E take-out. We wanted a modern reliable overdrive transmission. Since the engine will be stock, there was no need for anything beefier than a 4L60E.
Suspension: We're starting with new stock height cargo-control rear springs and air bags (limited hauling capacity was always one of my pet peeves). Next up is a rear anti-sway bar and new poly front anti-sway bar end links (body roll was another pet peeve). The goal is to make it ride and drive more like a modern vehicle. Depending on how it handles, we might replaced the stock front anti-sway bar with something beefier and add front and rear frame braces. It's not intedended for autocross, but I want it to handle better than my old '81 did. While we're under there, we'll freshen up the brakes with new calipers & pads and cylinders & shoes. Again, nothing exotic, just fresh and reliable.
Body: There's a good bit of rust repair needed in the quarter panels and doors. Once the holes are patched and everything is smoothed out, we plan to repaint with the original light brown base color. To liven it up a little, we will repaint the below-the-beltline two tone in dark red (instead of dark brown) with bright red SS stripes.
Interior: The dark brown interior is so retro that it's actually back in style again. It is almost exactly the same shade of brown as my 2015 GMC pickup. And, my son digs the old school bench seat. So, the interior will stay pretty much stock, with a modern touch-screen sound system (of course).
Wheels & Tires: American Racing Outlaw I wheels (my son has the same taste in wheels as his old man!). 15x7 in front, 15x8 in back. Cooper Cobra tires. 235/60-R15 up front, 255/60-R15 in back. We haven't order the wheels and tires yet. If you know of any clearance problems with these sizes, please let us know!

The pile of parts
We're getting the engine, transmission, ECM, and harnesses from Tilden Motorsports. While we're waiting for the engine and trans to arrive, we've starting collecting parts.

Muscle Rods G-Body LS conversion stuff
Engine mounts
Transmission cross member and rear mount
LH8 Oil Pan
In-tank fuel pump kit
Fuel line and regulator kit
Aluminum G-body LS radiator
Trans cooler line kit
Power steering line kit
Electric to mechanical speedometer controller
Moog cc627 Variable Rate Cargo Control rear coil springs
AirLift 60733 1000lbs rear air bags
Energy Suspension poly front anti-sway bar end links
Hellwig 5815 rear anti-sway bar
Stock replacement master cylinder and brake booster (Diesel master cylinder is completely different)
Stock replacement front brake calipers and pads
Stock replacement rear brake cylinders and shoes

That should keep us busy for a while. Lots and lots of details yet to be worked out. I've done lots of engine swaps, but this is my first LS swap. I'm sure I'll have lots of questions for the forum along the way.

I'm including a picture of the car and the proud new owner.

Thanks in advance for any advice you can share. This should be a fun adventure!

John
Subscribed. Welcome to the site from Houston. Thanks for the awesome introduction and a great write-up on your project. It is always appreciated when you put the effort into making a great post like that.

A few ramblings on the Hydroboost:

I bought my car (82 Grand Prix) in September of 2014. It was originally a diesel car as well. When I got it, the diesel was long gone and in its place was a SBC 400 and a four speed Saginaw manual transmission. It still had the hydroboost in it though. I took the car apart in December of 2014 and it hasn't run since. Unfortunately the guy who did the engine/transmission swap was a hack and I couldn't live with it. I'm in the process of un-f***ing pretty much everything the previous owner did.

I did drive the car some in the fall of 2014 and I really liked the pedal feel of the hydroboost. I like a I high, firm, responsive brake pedal. I do not like a soft, effortless, touchy one. I decided to keep the hydroboost. The 400 in my car just had a standard G-Body SBC power steering pump in it. The difference between it and the diesel pump is that the reservoir on the diesel pump has two return nipples instead of just one. With the hydroboost system, there is a return line from the steering gear and there is one from the hydroboost unit. The hack previous owner of my car overcame this by tying the two return hoses together with a menagerie of hose clamps, wrong sized hoses and brass fittings. It worked fine but leaked like a sieve. I'm going back with a 350 in my car and I'm running the early 90's Camaro serpentine front accessory drive. My plan is to swap a diesel reservoir onto the power steering pump that came with my GM front accessory drive kit. The point of this story is to illustrate that all you really need to do to keep the hydroboost is to come up with a second return to the pump or do a better job of joining the two return lines than the previous owner of my car did. What front accessory drive are you going to run? If you run the truck setup, it doesn't seem like it would be too hard to add a second return port to the reservoir on the pump. If you are going to run a remote reservoir, I think adding a return to it would be even easier.

Still, the hydroboost isn't for everyone. The extra hoses can look a bit cluttered I guess. FYI...I believe the diesel master cylinder has the largest bore. Also, if you swap away from the hydroboost, I think you are going to need to get a pedal from a vacuum brake car. If I'm not mistaken, the pivot point for the actuator rod is in a different location between the two. If I'm wrong, I hope one of the other members will chime in and correct me. I haven't seen a thread here with both pedals side by side so I'm not certain. I think I've read it on the Turbo Buick site though.

Hopefully this information is helpful. I'll be watching for updates on your build.

Best,

Jared
 

JohnIL

Not-quite-so-new-guy
Thread starter
Sep 9, 2020
40
18
Central Illinois
Yep, it's a factory SS with a diesel. My uncle even had the build sheet. It really was a strange order. SS trim, diesel engine, and the most boring color combination available.

I didn't even know there was a market for the Olds 350 Diesel. I really don't have any future plans for that engine. How much is it worth and where would one go to sell it? Is there a forum/classifieds for that particular engine?

Thanks for the advice on the oil pan and the speedometer. I already have both of them. My son is dead set on preserving the original dash, so we'll keep the speedometer adapter. As for the oil pan, we plan to run a stock ride height, but extra ground clearance is always a good thing. I will do some careful measuring before I install the pan. I can always return the one I have and order the Holley instead.

Keep the advice coming. I have a LOT to learn about this conversion. Thanks!

I did some quick measuring on the Lh8 pan. It is about 2 inches lower than the Holley 302-2, but the sump on the Holley is about 2" longer (further forward). Wouldn't that cause interference with the front cross member? That's why Muscle Rods recommended the Lh8 pan to begin with. They also have a "high clearance" pan that is flush with the cross member. It sells for $467, so I'd like to avoid that if I can. Is there a better alternative?
 
G-Body Performance Upgrades

GBodyForum is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Amazon, the Amazon logo, AmazonSupply, and the AmazonSupply logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates.

Please support GBodyForum Sponsors

Classic Truck ConsolesDixie Restoration DepotMike's MontesP-S-TSouthside Machine PerformanceUMI Performance

contact[email protected]for info on becoming a sponsor