79 Cutlass Wagon G-machine build

SRD art

SRD art

Master Mechanic
Jun 16, 2011
421
190
43
St. George, UT
#1
Hey guys, just wanted to start a thread of my project. Meet "The Pumkinator", my 1979 Olds Cutlass Cruiser that I picked up about 5 years ago. After a bit of tweaking and wrenching I've been daily driving it as my business hauler since that time, and decided recently it's time for a major overhaulin'. Hope you enjoy, as usual any comments/suggestions land on open ears...

Here's the car right after purchasing.

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Factory Options-
140 hp 305 Chevy V8
TH250
2.41 gears in the 7.5" rear
Rally gauge pack, no tach
Olds Rally wheels
Rear air deflector
Light Blue vinyl interior
8-track AM/FM stereo (still works!)

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The car ran terrible, had absolutely no power despite the 305 had been rebuilt about 36,000 miles prior. The previous owner's wife bumping a truck in the snow sealed it's fate, and for $300 I drove it home.

First order of business after getting it home was pull out the G-tech. A whopping 21.79 @ 59 mph! The 0-60 time didn't even have a chance to register! :sick:

Checked the timing and found it WAAAAAAY retarded, in every sense of the word. Bumped it up and magically I felt some ponies again. Checked the carb and saw that the factory Q-jet's choke had been paper-clip wired open. Noticed in the process of doing that they blocked the secondaries from opening! :doh: Fixed that and with no other changes, the second G-tech run yielded an 18.67 at 74 mph. This is at 4500ft altitude up here in the Rockies, so I figured this was good enough to drive for the time being.

Next on the list was new front end to pass our state's safety inspection. After a few days of searching I found a '78 Cutlass Cruiser in a farmer's field just a few miles from my place. Body was rusty, interior was hammered, but it had a transplanted Chevy 350/TH350 and a good front nose section. The guy told me they quit driving it because the trans was slipping. "How much you want for it?" I asked, "Oh... I'll take $75." Wasn't long before it was on a tow dolly on the way home. I Installed a battery and some gas in the carb and it fired right up! Ran o.k. but was clearly a high mile motor. Pulled and sold it, kept the trans as a core, and yanked the front clip and every other usable part off it before hauling it to the wrecking yard. Got a bunch of parts and made $300 cash off it, not a bad deal.

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SRD art

SRD art

Master Mechanic
Jun 16, 2011
421
190
43
St. George, UT
#2
After a couple months the TH250 started having issues so next in order was a new trans and some hp upgrades. I picked up a decent used TH350 from a friend and pulled a small block 406 from storage that I used to have in my Suburban. It had about 60,000 miles on the rebuild-

Stock 400 bottom end with ARP rod bolts
.030 8.7:1 eutectic pistons
Factory 400 smogger heads
Crane 266 cam, lifters, springs
Ebrock Performer and 750 Q-jet.

I swapped the cam for a Comp XE268 and the Performer for a Proform air gap dual plane intake and painted it GM corporate blue before slipping it and the TH350 with a stock converter into the engine bay.

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Not a tremendous hp killer but it made decent torque and was a great daily driver motor. I installed it with Hedman shorty headers and a 3" single exhaust through a Flowmaster 40 series. On the dyno best run it made a little bit disappointing 221 hp and 282 ft lbs. The a/f ratio was pretty rich at the time and I think the altitude, low compression and junk heads were limiting it quite a bit.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsZdbnMrk4Y

Taking it to the track it ran pretty consistent 15.70's at 87mph. Consistent enough for me to win first place in points for the year in the Club Racing Series street tire class at Rocky Mountain Raceway. Overall our Utah Muscle Car Association club took 2nd place in street tire class. (Way to go boys!) My 60ft times were 2.4s, limited by the grandpa gears and stock converter. I've learned to live with it as it puts down 21 mpg highway without overdrive, but that's all changing soon.
 
SRD art

SRD art

Master Mechanic
Jun 16, 2011
421
190
43
St. George, UT
#3
After about a year of driving it was developing a bad case of loose front suspension and it was also time for a cosmetic upgrade. I picked up new ball joints, tie rod ends and a 12:1 ratio AGR steering box.

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I also scored a set of Trans Am GTA wheels off ebay for a great price and after a little rattle can semi-gloss black effort threw on a set of 225-50 and 255-50-16 BFG G-Force Sport tires. Because of the funky F-body offsets, I had to put the rear wheels on the front of the car with a 3/4" spacer and extended studs and the front wheels on the back.

Photo from the ebay ad, anybody on here?

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While I was in there I cut the factory springs to get a feel for the look of it lowered, and added a little more rattle can semi-gloss to hide some paint chips on the lower panels and hood. Here's the end result. It's dropped about 3" out back and almost 4" up front.

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Last summer I got a taste of road course and autocross when I attended an open track "Wide Open Wednesday" at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, UT. I ran the autocross several times and the road course once. Unfortunately part way through the run on the road course unknown to me a valve spring cracked. Luckily the valve got stuck in the guide and it wasn't until I got in the pits at idle the valve let go and tagged a piston. Fortunately I shut it down fast enough that all it did was scuff the carbon on the piston and bent the valve slightly. No major damage to the short block. Whew! Time for a refreshing! That about gets us caught up on the car's history.
 
SRD art

SRD art

Master Mechanic
Jun 16, 2011
421
190
43
St. George, UT
#4
I should probably intro myself a little here. I've grown up around muscle cars and drag racing and started drawing cars after I read my first "Cartoons" mag around age 12. After some time in automotive retail I got out and put my artistic skills to work and became a graphic designer. When the economy tanked the company I was working for went into the toilet and I found myself along with about 1.7 billion other graphic designers looking for work, a real joke to even get a foot in the door for an interview. At that point I started pushing my side business, Street Rod Designs, to keep $ coming in. In the process of drawing cars of course I've drawn mine. The wagon has gone through 3 different styling changes, but I think I'm finally pretty well sold on the last.

This first concept quick sketch was a pretty simple idea based on the mid 80's Hurst/Olds Cutlass. 17" Torque Thrusts and a low stance made it shout a bit.

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After a while of looking at it I felt the wagon needed a look that was a little less overdone and a little more aggressive. I really like this style stripe and a med-dark charcoal grey with some carbon fiber accents. I liked this theme but this stripe seemed like it had been done several times and I felt some flash was missing.

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During this time of exploring ideas for the wagon I finally gave up on the graphic design gig and felt it was time to get back to my roots and passion for employment. After a lot of research in schools I decided to attend a "Collision Repair, Street Rod Emphasis" program at a Utah Valley University, only about 20 miles from where I live. Turns out the street rod instructor Cris Bogges and his program have been called by many "the best in the west". I talked with him several times before deciding to hit the books again, and had no idea about his reputation until I started asking around. A real down to earth humble guy with mad fabricating skills.

Since I needed a project to work on at school and the wagon needed a facelift things fell right into place. Ultimately I'd like to work in a shop building killer pro-touring and low-rod style machines so this car is the perfect practice project. Although the grey wagon theme was cool I figured I needed something a little more loud for two reasons- 1. to draw attention to my side business and design skills and 2. to catch the attention of shop owners/ possible employers after graduation. I've always dug the look of old school Mercs and such with a satin sheen but I don't like to see newer cars painted entirely that way. To me it looks a little too much like it isn't finished, just my opinion. Gotta have at least some shiny paint on a nice pro-touring car so I combined the two ideas. I narrowed it down to two colors, new Camaro green and Avalanche orange.

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After comparing them the orange stuck and the name Pumkinator seemed a natural. In this rendering I kept details fairly simple, I just wanted to compare colors.

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This is the base art for the car, more concept sketches coming soon...
 
SRD art

SRD art

Master Mechanic
Jun 16, 2011
421
190
43
St. George, UT
#5
This past April I completed my first year of collision repair classes. We learned all the basics about body work and paint. During open lab time I was able to bring the wagon into the shop. Unfortunately it had gotten a cheap re-paint along the way, which included a poorly done filler hack. A lot of the areas around the rear wheels have been forming rust behind the bondo and by last year I had up to fist sized rust holes. Replacement sheet metal for wagons seems hard to come by, let alone a 79 Cutlass so I had to fab patch panels from sheet metal. Some photos...

Passenger side. That's 3" pipe so you can see the size of the hole. This side was pretty much limited to this area.

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Driver's side had smaller holes but was in a lot worse shape. Rust was everywhere and you can see how thick the bondo was. Looks like they just slopped it on even in the drilled holes used to pull a dent. Not welding in these areas was just asking for rust to form.

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Here's the driver side after cutting out the rust and applying Por-15 to the inner panels. Also the fabricated patch panel.

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I patched all other holes in a similar manner, welding new metal in and then applying Por-15 to hold them over until I can get back to them in when school starts up again in August.
 
SRD art

SRD art

Master Mechanic
Jun 16, 2011
421
190
43
St. George, UT
#6
Most of the guys in the first year classes are headed towards a career as a collision repair technician and focused on fixing dings and dents on their cars during open lab times. I took a little different route and started hacking, cutting and welding instead.

When the 406 was running well I could get it up to about 127mph and then it felt like the suspension started to loosen up and the car would rock around. Not sure if it was the wind getting under the car or funky aerodynamics but it definitely wasn't a smooth ride, more like driving a boat on choppy seas.

First order of business to smooth things over a bit was narrowing the bumpers. I looked on the net for ideas and saw several rear pans or narrowed bumpers that were tucked smooth with the rear 1/4. With as much real estate that a wagon has out back I didn't think it looked quite right, I think it looks better on the El Caminos I suppose. I also wanted to keep a somewhat factory look with some subtle changes so after measuring I hacked 3" out of the center with the plasma cutter.

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Prior to this I had been welding a lot of thin sheet metal. Probably could've stood to crank up the machine for a little deeper penetration, so to be safe I welded the back side too.

Here's some comparison shots...

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SRD art

SRD art

Master Mechanic
Jun 16, 2011
421
190
43
St. George, UT
#7
To add to the smooth look I wanted to ditch the generic boxy door handles.

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I think shaved handles are cool on the right car, but not on a daily driver. I'm also trying to do this car on a student's budget so I trudged around a local wrecking yard for ideas where I stumbled upon this 92 Geo prism. I want to keep the car all "GM" and these handles have a nice slope in them that sort of matches the hood line of my car. $10 for all 4. No key with them so I have to buy a new lock set but that's cool.

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Using the door from the parts car I started hacking. I had to patch the original key lock hole and open up a hole to fit the new handle.

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While at the junk yard I also spotted an 84 Regal with a factory rear sway bar. Grabbed it with the lower control arms still attached for $15. I brought them to the shop and found some scrap sheet metal that I trimmed to fit so I could box the arms. Took me two hours to knock it out, just in time to get the car back on the ground right before my professor closed the shop for the day.

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Most of the welding done...

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Bolted in. What a difference I felt in quick sharp autoX type cornering!

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SRD art

SRD art

Master Mechanic
Jun 16, 2011
421
190
43
St. George, UT
#8
Another body mod I wanted to do was some fender vents. This Nova was a great motivation for the idea.

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I looked and looked for a factory vent that I could stick in there like the second gen Trans Am or late model Escalade. Nothing was the right size or looked like it belonged on the car. Then I stumbled across this photo of a Mercedes AMG CLK and fell in love.

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I took the spare fenders from the parts car and after welding up some trim holes I started cutting and came up with this. I basically made a 3 sided rectangular cut in the fender, bent it inward, then welded in sheet metal to fill the gaps. I got all the metal work done on both fenders and that was about the end of the semester. I'll continue with getting the fenders prepped as school rolls around again.

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These will be fully functional to help relieve some engine compartment heat. I wanted some nice metal mesh to cover the holes but had a hard time finding what I wanted online or at the local metal suppliers. I ended up grabbing a couple old 6x9 speaker grilles and cut out the mesh from these. Perfect size holes and easily shaped!

Also had to do a little more rust patching and trim hole filling while in there...

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SRD art

SRD art

Master Mechanic
Jun 16, 2011
421
190
43
St. George, UT
#9
Here are some more videos I got loaded up today. You can see in these how I used some vinyl dye and changed the dash to black from light blue. Also covered the fakie wood grain with brushed aluminum vinyl.

1st try at the road course. Only got to run one lap because of troubles with the car. First off I had just installed a new Hurst ratchet shifter for the TH350 earlier that day and it wasn't quite adjusted right. You can hear in the video a couple unexpected downshifts into 1st instead of 2nd at curves and a couple times it went from 1st to 3rd. Then the cracked valve spring thing happened. When I get into the pits at the end you can hear a pretty gnarly tapping of the rocker on the stuck valve. While it was idling and I was trying to figure it out the valve dropped but I was able to shut it down before any major damage to the short block. The wind was blowing on the camera so don't turn the sound too high.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMAOQV3ZDZA

Next video was my first attempt at autocross. Kind of a wimpy course but a good way to get my feet wet. The video is my 4th or 5th run of the day. This was after pulling the 400 and putting the factory 305 back in with a Crane 266 cam and the rest of the bolt-ons from the 400. It's pretty slow off the line but gets going eventually.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TXeM3lGHek

Next is the same day from outside the car with a no sound digital camera. Woohoo! Look at the rear body roll near the end of the course. Needed a rear sway bar pretty bad at the time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RkY8CWtYhU
 
SRD art

SRD art

Master Mechanic
Jun 16, 2011
421
190
43
St. George, UT
#10
Some new parts came in...

When I first lowered the car I simply cut the springs. This works for a good visual reference and it helped handling because of the slightly better spring rate and lower CG, but really it's a terrible way to lower a car. After a time the springs settled and sagged and dropped almost another inch from where it started. I like a slight rake but right now it's about 1 1/2" difference front to rear and I'd rather have it closer to 1/2". As low as it is now it sits on the snubbers and it's got my suspension geometry all goofed up. Bumpsteer on hard turns like turning into a parking space is out of control.

To remedy the issue 2" drop spindles are in order. I did some research on g-body forums and found that folks had great success with both DJM and Bell Tech, and not so much with some of the cheaper off name brands. The DJMs were a better deal so keeping the budget tight I ordered them from Summit Racing. DJM doesn't list a part # for G-body cars but we share front suspension with 1st gen S-10's, part # DS2031-2, $149.95 + shipping. I'll be getting 1" lowered springs soon too, I'll post info on that when I get them. The goal is 5.5" of clearance at the frame just behind the front wheel, 6" of clearance just in front of the rear wheel. I currently have 4.5" / 6".

If I have my facts right our smallish 10.5" front brakes were intended to save weight. As I've researched there are many brake upgrades available out there but again keeping the cost down means being creative. I've seen a trend on g-body forums to put on either 2nd gen Camaro or 90's Caprice spindles, Problem is most folks say it creates geometry problems because of the taller spindles and tends to increase bumpsteer requiring high dollar aftermarket offset upper control arms. After doing research on S10 forums I found that a lot of those guys have come up with a better idea- keep the G-body spindles- maintaining stock geometry, have the g-body rotors milled to a hub, and with a simple bracket and some slight mods to the spindle you can mount 98+ LS1 Camaro calipers and 12" rotors. You can even re-use the factory g-body brake hoses with the F-body banjo fittings. Simple as that. There are a few different companies that make the caliper adapter brackets, but I found an engineer/machinist on one S10 forum that water jetted a bunch of sets for forum friends. Several folks said they worked great so I bought a set from him for less than half the price of buying them from these companies. I also scored a good pair of rotors free from a friend in our local muscle car club who upgraded to slotted and drilled rotors on his T/A.

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