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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
For two months now, I've been searching for an older domestic RWD car so I could live out my own personal Roadkill fantasies. Unlike old RWD cars of my past--where I thought I'd have to do a concours restoration just to feel good about driving them, thus ensuring my lack of satisfaction with them since I couldn't do such a restoration--this time around I am ready to embrace the rough edges and imperfections. They call it patina now? Fine by me. I'm just here to have fun. :)

I initially told myself I wanted an '80s G-body. They are relatively compact, relatively lightweight (3600 pounds for an all iron small block model), and relatively plentiful. But after weeks of searching, I began to get disappointed. For the pittance I wanted to spend, they are all rusty, have destroyed interiors, have been ruined with hydraulics and/or other poor lowering techniques, or some combination of these three scenarios.

So I started looking at other options. I'd love a late '70s F-body (who wouldn't?) but they tend to be in even worse condition while simultaneously commanding even more money. I thought about the larger cars, but I kept shying away simply due to the added bulk and mass. Less weight feels great, as we used to say. Can't I just find something?

Right when I was about to give up and choose something I really didn't want, I found this 1980 Pontiac:

(seller's CL photos)




Yes, the paint is baked off the horizontal surfaces--that just adds to the appeal. The sheetmetal is surprisingly straight (dude is the second owner) with no significant rot anywhere. The interior is pretty nice and has no rips anywhere; the power seat even works. It runs and drives, though it needs a tune-up and some other little touches of TLC. It's only a 3.8L V6, but that doesn't matter since I'm planning to toss the OEM engine anyway.

Thus began a flurry of text messaging last night. This morning, I finally got the guy to agree to take a grand for it. Without further ado, I fired up the ol' 8.1L Suburban, hooked up the trailer, and headed north for a 3 hour drive to Pocatello. Everything checked out--and the seller had removed that awful chain steering wheel, thank the Lord--so I traded the guy some bills for the title and keys, loaded up my prized find, and headed back.

I did have to stop for a beverage and a snack, at a convenient Maverik station:



And that's how I came into possession of what my wife says is the worst car buying decision I've ever made. :laugh:


Plans? Oh, yeah, I've got plans.

First: get a plate on the thing so I can take it off the trailer and--more importantly--park it on the street. This thing doesn't get to grace my concrete driveway until I fix the power steering fluid leak.

Second: spend a few dollars doing some general tune up and TLC. I don't want to sink significant money into it (like I said, this engine's days are numbered) but I will be driving it as is for a period of time while I assemble a replacement engine and transmission.

Third: get rid of those horrible little wheels! I want to install some sort of Pontiac factory wheels on the car. I could go period-correct and mount some 15" Trans Am snowflakes on it. These were an actual factory option on the Grand Prix in 1980:



As another option, I am considering some black lace 16" wheels off an '89 Trans Am GTA:



I could score a set of either of these for $200. The larger wheel would help ensure tire availability, but I don't know that the wheels would look right. I figured the polished rim would 'flow' with the chrome on the car... but maybe I'm loopy. Should I do something else entirely? What say you, TCL?


Finally: I need to decide on the exact engine hardware. While searching for the car, I had told myself I'd find a Vortec 350 shortblock. I planned to upgrade the cam and heads, top it with a Performer RPM and headers, and thus have about 400 crank HP at my disposal. Easy peesy.

But then literally within the last week, my co-worker with the 64 El Camino found himself a complete Vortec 454 longblock for only $250. (The lucky bastard!) He then found some used chrome long-tube headers for cheap, he bought a new cam, and had the heads rebuilt. Long story short, he now has a 454 that will produce at least as much power as my hypothetical 350 and a lot more torque, and he's into it less than a grand. I want to hate him, but he keeps telling me, why not do the same thing?

So now I need to decide: small block or big block? They'll both fit into the engine bay, and they'll even bolt up to the same engine mounts. I'll need a different transmission either way, so it's not like that would sway me in any particular direction.

Hmm. What to do, what to do?
 

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I don't think you ever pass up the chance at a big block. Especially true in today's small turbo engines. Dying breed those mammouths. Our kids will think a big block is a 3.5L V6.
 

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  • Vortec, so EFI ?
  • are you staying automatic?
  • how often are you thinking it will be driven/long road trips?
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Vortec, so EFI ?
No, I will convert back to 4bbl carb. I want to start with a Vortec shortblock since it is set up with an OEM roller cam.

are you staying automatic?
Yes, definitely. I would want to go with a 4spd unit to gain an overdrive... so I'm trying to research which transmission I would want to hang off the 454 if I go that route. I need something that can handle significant torque that is hydraulically controlled.

how often are you thinking it will be driven/long road trips?
Long trips would be uncommon, I expect. I already mentioned the overdrive (which is what I bet you are getting at with this question), and I'd want overdrive either way if I can get it.
 

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Win :thumbup:
 

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No, I will convert back to 4bbl carb. I want to start with a Vortec shortblock since it is set up with an OEM roller cam.



Yes, definitely. I would want to go with a 4spd unit to gain an overdrive... so I'm trying to research which transmission I would want to hang off the 454 if I go that route. I need something that can handle significant torque that is hydraulically controlled.


Long trips would be uncommon, I expect. I already mentioned the overdrive (which is what I bet you are getting at with this question), and I'd want overdrive either way if I can get it.
TH400 with a used aftermarket overdrive would be affordable and nigh-unbreakable, although a lock-up torque converter kit is $3k+. Not sure what later trans is 4+ speed, durable and non-computerized; someone else will.

Since you won't be driving a lot, definitely get a 454. :cool:

How do you want the suspension set up? Max handling, max straight line, comfortable for touring, slammed, or just leave it loose and floppy so it's easy to lose traction and do crazy drifts and doughnuts? :D
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
TH400 with a used aftermarket overdrive
This is a thing? I didn't know that was a thing.

How do you want the suspension set up? Max handling, max straight line, comfortable for touring, slammed, or just leave it loose and floppy so it's easy to lose traction and do crazy drifts and doughnuts?
Probably the last option... yeah. :D
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
The trick is finding one used for cheap.

The lock-up kit is made to order by some race shop.
Yeah, I just went googling to learn a bit about it. For all that, maybe I should just find a 4L80E and buy a $600 TCI EZ-TCU controller for it. Hmm, I'll look around and see what that trans might cost me.
 

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Yeah, I just went googling to learn a bit about it. For all that, maybe I should just find a 4L80E and buy a $600 TCI EZ-TCU controller for it. Hmm, I'll look around and see what that trans might cost me.
http://lentechautomatics.com/products/ hydraulic with no controller needed for the Lockup clutch, although you'll need an adapter for you Vortec.
$2595 for 700 hp with lockup, or $1995 for 400hp without lockup.

http://hughesperformance.com/4l80e/ Manual valvebody option with no controller required. Their lightest duty one (no price given) is rated at 850 hp, so a stock used one may just hold up. Sounds like they want you to call them.
 

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Just keep an eye out for '96 to'99 2500 Suburbans. You can source your engine and transmission all at one time.
 

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454 sounds enticing but what's the weight difference between that and the 350? This may be the case where the small block is a better overall choice.
 

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http://lentechautomatics.com/products/ hydraulic with no controller needed for the Lockup clutch, although you'll need an adapter for you Vortec.
$2595 for 700 hp with lockup, or $1995 for 400hp without lockup.
Lentech is 10 minutes from my house, and he builds some badass AODs.
this 1100hp camaro runs a Lentech AOD


http://www.hotrod.com/how-to/transmission-drivetrain/hrdp-9903-ford-aod-transmission/

as for engine choices, I would go with the small block. The rear end might live for a while with a small block. Probably not as long behind a big block.
 

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If it were my car I'd be more tempted to find a cheap 4.8 to drop in there. :thumbup:
 

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That steering wheel :laugh: Yeah, it's great for when you escape and you're still in handcuffs, but otherwise....yeesh.
 
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