Thursday, April 27, 2017

Battleship Iowa Armed Forces Day Military/Amateur Cross-Band Operation

The Battleship Iowa will be operating with her original US Navy callsign of NEPM on 11 May 2017 from 0900PDST to 1700PDST, 1600UTC to 2359UTC.

The ARRL announcement is located here, and the official MARS announcement is located here.

Frequencies used to transmit from the ship, and the frequencies we will be listening on, are shown below.

The transmit frequencies have been assigned by Army MARS for exclusive use by NEPM, so you shouldn't have any trouble hearing use as nobody else will be transmitting on these frequencies.

We'll be using our "regular" Commercial Amateur Radio gear and the Disc/Cage antenna on the bow of the Iowa, and the Trussed Monopole located on the top of the AFFF station near the helodeck on the stern of the ship.

The "Grey Radio Gang" WILL be operating the ship's "legacy" on the 75/80 Meter and/or the 40 Meter frequencies.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Grandson Update....

The little guy is rapidly approaching SIX pounds now, and is drinking around 90% of his bottle.

Bigger and bigger, stronger and stronger as they days go by. Medical advances for premies are astounding. It wasn't that long ago his chances of survival at 10 weeks early would have been pretty slim.

We'll be seeing him in about a month, and I get to hold him.

Wonder if he'll grab at my beard......

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Happy Earth Day!

The USAF wishes all our terrorist friends a very Happy Earth Day!

Your gifts should be arriving shortly.....

Thursday, April 20, 2017

"The X-Files" Is Coming Back Again....

According to this article over at CNET, Fox has signed up for another 10 episodes.

And that reminds me....I still haven't watched the six episodes I recorded the last time it "came back"....

Something to do this weekend while the wife is visiting her friend.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Busy Day

Spent the day on the Iowa doing radio stuff, and in meetings.

Museum Ship's Weekend is coming up, so I have a few things to tinker together for the Grey Radio Gang, namely another little adapter box so they can interface a "Red Phone" with a laptop to route some audio to the Combat Engagement Center.

But before that, we have the Armed Forces Crossband Test coming up. This is a test whereby we'll be allowed to transmit on approved DoD frequencies, and listen on the Amateur Radio frequencies.

Sometime back, one of our members was able to contact the guys that do USN ship callsign assignments. He also contacted the USCG Heron, which was using the callsign NEPM at the time.

The importance of the USN callsign NEPM is that it's the callsign originally issued to the USS Iowa when she was commissioned.

The Captain of the Heron was more than willing to release the callsign, and in exchange we helped him get NHRN, an exchange that made both sides happy.

We now have authorization to use NEPM, "In Perpetuity", from the DoD, and we'll take the Iowa on-the-air, using the 1980's ship's legacy radio gear, on May 11th this year.

This will be the first time the Iowa has been on-the-air with NEPM in 27 years.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter!

To all my friends....

Cooking a big dinner today, and the wife's oldest son, his GF, and his daughter will be joining us.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Story of an Old Firebird, Part 5....

This section will cover the body/chassis, and the “weight loss program” I put the car on.

The car as delivered handled extremely well. With the 1.25” front sway bar and the .875” rear sway bar, high-rate springs, and Pliacell shock absorbers, it cornered flat. I added Koni adjustable shock absorbers, and set them about half way between very little damping, and break your teeth. The special variable-ration power steering that came with the Y99 handling package, and the small diameter fat-rimmed “Formula” steering wheel made the car steer like a Go Kart. During the course of construction, I cut a full coil from the front springs, and made some lowering blocks for the rear leaf springs. Cutting coils off a spring not only lowers the car, but also raises the effective spring rate. The “best” way to do it is to get shorter springs made, or find some others in the parts book that do what you want, but cutting a coil off is a pretty cheap, effective way to drop the car.

The rear lowering blocks were 3/4” think aluminum blocks I had made at Tubby Gallup’s (I’m pretty sure that’s his’s been almost 40 years!) place, and he also fabbed some longer U-Bolts for me. Adding lowering blocks pushes the rear axle up into the chassis, dropping the body down lower over the axle.

I also ordered some solid body mounts from Herb Adams’ “Very Special Equipment” catalog, along with some front subframe reinforcing struts. The solid body mounts eliminated any deflection caused by the big rubber “biscuit” type body mounts, and moved the front subframe about 3/4” closer to the unibody, effectively “channeling” the body down over the frame. The front struts he sold attached to the pinch-weld area of the firewall in two places, and then ran down to the forward stud for the upper control arm. You loosened the big nut used for front end alignment, remover some alignment shims, dropped the tab on the end of the strut in place, and tightened the nut back up. A trip to the alignment shop was required, as removing the wrong amount of shims had adverse effects on your front camber and caster!

With the cut front springs and the aluminum subframe mounts, the front dropped about 1-1/2 inches. Along with the 3/4” drop in the rear, the car had a pretty mean appearance. Today we’d say it had “Stance”, but back then we just said it was lowered, or had “a mean rake”.

The front and rear sway bar mounts were also changed from rubber to aluminum where the bars mounted to the frame, and the end links were replaced with new ones fabricated using spherical rod ends, or “Heim Joints”. This completely eliminated any deflection in the bar mounting, and made the bars act instantly, rather than having to take up any “squish” or slack in a rubber mount. I didn’t go “Full Race” on the suspension by replacing the front control arm bushings with solid ones, as I’d had before-and-after rides in cars that had that done to them, and it 100% completely ruined the car for street use. You can get away with that on a nice, smooth race track, but solid suspension bushings on the street are completely unlivable. These days we have polyurethane suspension bushings (I have them in my Supra), and while they’re stiffer than OEM bushings, they’re nothing like metal ones.

The only other change I did was to replace the OEM idler arm in the steering linkage with a heavy duty one made by Moog. The arm itself was much thicker, and the bracket where it attached to the frame was twice as thick as the OEM idler arm. It also had grease fittings on both pivots.

So that was it for the chassis. Pretty stock, really, with just a few carefully chosen aftermarket parts.

I already knew that the engine was going to be pretty stout, and without spending a significantly greater amount of money, it was going to make about as much power as I could reasonably expect, which led me to ponder what else could I do to make it faster?

A famous race car designer once said: “More power makes you faster on the straights; Less weight makes you faster everywhere”.

OK, I’ll make it lighter! But how?

There’s an old saying in the aircraft industry: “The best way to remove one hundred pounds is to find 1600 places and remove one ounce”.

I took both sayings to heart, and started looking for “1600 places to remove one ounce”!

Since this was going to be a one or two passenger vehicle, and was not going to be a daily driver, the back seat, seat belts, and mounting hardware could be pulled out. This saved 30 pounds, and got me thinking about how to get more weight out of the car.

Since I was going to relocate the battery out of the engine compartment for better weight distribution, I had to pull the carpet out to run the new cable. I had to pull the front seats (35 pounds each!) out of the car to get the carpet out, and I noticed all these asphalt-and-paper sound deadening pads absolutely everywhere. They were under the carpet, under the seats, under the dash, stuck to the firewall...just all over the place. After I pulled them all out and dumped them on the scale, I realized I’d just pulled another 25 pounds out of the car! This got me really going.

The F60-15 spare tire on the 15x7 steel rim, along with the jack, jack base, handle, and J-bolt and wingnut, weighed in at a staggering 75 pounds.

The new, lighter Corbeau GT bucket seats I was going to use weighed 40 pounds less then the seats the car came with.

All the reinforcing bars and struts, and the mounts and their hardware, for the “5MPH” front bumper weighed 50 pounds. I wouldn’t need them as I was already in the process of pulling a mold off the front Endura bumper so I could replicate it in fiberglass, so out they went.

The fiberglass front bumper replacement I eventually wound up with removed another 100 pounds from the car.

Removing the stock exhaust system, muffler, pipes, hangers, and hardware saved another 70 pounds.

The aluminum intake manifold was 15 pounds lighter than stock, and the aluminum brackets and smaller hardware I used for the rear bumper saved 5 pounds.

There were numerous other brackets that I fabricated out of aluminum, painted them black, and when they were on the car, nobody knew. These saved another 10 pounds.

Any place there was a non-critical fastener, bracket, strut, or other fiddly bit, I either eliminated it, made it out of aluminum, drilled holes in it, and/or used a smaller size bolt to hold it on. Nobody ever saw most of these “little things”, but I wound up with a car that was a real sleeper.

The lighter flywheel and clutch assembly was a wash because I replaced the aluminum bellhousing with a Lakewood scatter shield and block plate. I’d seen cars where the clutch let go, and it did quite a bit of damage, and I wasn’t going to let that happen. Plus, the weight was within the wheel base, and mounted down low, so I didn’t worry about it.

And what’s almost as important as removing the weight was where I removed it from. Most of the weight came off the nose of the car, as in the case of the battery. The 40 pound battery, which was located in front of the engine, and right at the top of the radiator, was moved to the floor of the car behind the passenger seat where the rear seat had been. This got that amount of weight within the wheelbase, and about 24” lower than it had been. A small thing, but “small things” like that can improve the handling of the car, making it easier to turn, and lowering the center of gravity, resulting in flatter cornering.

The total weight savings amounted to over 400 pounds, or more than 10% of the weight of the car.
I didn’t go full-on, bat guano crazy ripping things out, but I did get a significant amount of weight out of the car.

I still had windshield washers and wipers, a fully functional heater, carpeting, my center console, an AM/FM stereo radio, and the side impact beams in the doors of the car, one of the reasons the doors on a second generation F-Body weighed so much.

But it was quite a bit lighter than stock 73 Firebird, and it was worth it.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Story of an Old Firebird, Part 4.....

This section contains information about the cylinder heads, valvetrain, and intake/exhaust systems.

Heads and Valvetrain -

For the cylinder heads and camshaft, I planned on using the tried-and-true Ram Air IV combination. The parts were readily available, reasonably priced, and well understood by people I trusted.

I started with two brand-new 1970 Ram Air IV castings, casting number 614. I remember starting at the cast-in numbers “614” for HOURS as I ported the heads. I don’t think I’ll ever forget them. The valves, springs, retainers, locks, rocker arm studs, rocker arms, balls and nuts, push rod guide plates, push rods, lifters, and cam were all 100% stock Pontiac, purchased over the counter at Bert Adams Pontiac in Joliet, Illinois. The timing chain and gears were a Cloyes “True Roller”, and the cam was installed 4* advanced. When Jack installed the cam he also checked the cam timing from the published specs, and found out the cam was actually a few degrees retarded, as ground. Installing it 4* advanced made it basically “straight up” cam timing.

The first thing I did with the heads was to clean up any casting flash and “dingleberries” in the under-the-valve-cover and oil drainback areas. There was a TON on casting flash on the sides of the intake port runners, and some of it came off pretty easily. The rest took some grinding, and made me glad I’d purchased carbide cutters. High Speed Steel (“HSS”) cutters will remove cast iron easily, but they go dull quickly, after only a few hours use. Carbide cutters stay sharp, but they’re brittle compared to HSS, so be a bit careful using them. I didn’t polish any of the areas with sandpaper rolls as I couldn’t see the benefit vs the amount of time it would take. The nice, sharp carbide cutters did a “good enough” job, and after 10~12 hours, that part of both heads was cleaned up, and I started to work on the ports. I also opened up the machined passages in the heads for the pushrods. I’d read somewhere that it was pretty close with the larger diameter pushrods the Ram Air IV used, so I just “laid over” the upper end of the passage for a little more clearance.

The book I used to guide me in this engine rebuild was published by H-O Racing Specialties, and was called “Pontiac Heavy Duty Parts and Specs”, and had a wealth of information in it. I carefully studied the cross-sectional drawings of the ports in the Ram Air IV heads to see where material had to be removed, and just as importantly, where to leave material. You don’t just go wild and “Hog It All Out”, as the size and shape of the ports, particularly the intake ports, is critical to how well they function. There were a couple of places that needed careful work, like the port wall next to the passage the pushrod went through, and the area under the valve seats. You had to widen the intake port as much as possible in the pushrod area, but you had to be very careful not to break through the casting. The thickness of the casting in this area was about .125” thick (one-eight of an inch), and while H-O said you could thin it down to about .070”, I wasn’t comfortable enough with my head porting skills to go that far, so I opened it up to where the wall was about .080” thick. The book also pointed out areas that definitely needed rework, like the valve guide are of the intake ports, the “bump” in the exhaust port that was extra material for the air injection (“Thermactor”) system, and a few other spots.

The basic philosophy was again to “grind it out if it doesn’t look like it belongs there”, and to keep as close as possible to the OEM contours, opening them up where it would benefit airflow, and leaving material in other places. The valve bowls needed a LOT of work. There were huge “globs” of cast iron sticking out below where the cutters that made the valve seat and bowl bottomed out, and this area needed to be ground out to follow the “natural” contours in that area, and blend it into the rest of the port. The head/intake manifold and head/exhaust manifold flanges were matched to the gaskets I was going to be using, and then blended back into the ports as smoothly as possible, and as far as possible. Based on the 4 to 5 hours “per session” that I spent, times 16 ports, plus the ~10 hours doing the other parts of the head, I know that I had over 100 hours in the heads by the time I finished them, and Jack complimented me on the quality of the work I’d done. The final step was getting a proper “Three Angle” valve grind done, and Jack did that for me. It took some convincing to get him to grind the intake valve seats at the H-O Racing recommended 30* instead of the “standard” 45*, but when I showed him the published data in the H-O Racing book, he agreed, and ground the intake seats to 30*. It cost a bit extra because he had to buy a special cutter, but it paved the way for other Pontiac engines he built for other people.

The combustion chambers were almost “Good To Go” right out of the box, and all I did was break any sharp edges that could lead to hot spots, preignition, and detonation.

I didn’t weigh the heads before and after, but from the pile of cast iron I ground out of each port, I wouldn’t be surprised if I took almost a pound of cast iron out of each head.

Camshaft, lifters, and valve gear -

The rest of the valve train was 100% 1970 Ram Air IV. The camshaft (P/N 9794041) specs were: Advertised Duration 308* Intake / 320* Exhaust, Duration @.050 232/242, lift at valve using 1.65 rocker arms -.520”. Pontiac was at the forefront of “Computer Designed” cams way back then, and the 041 cam, along with the 9785744 (Ram Air III cam) were among the first computer designed cams released by GM. Prior to this, many cams just added duration using the “constant dwell” method, which resulted in what would be called “lazy ramps” today. I’m not a camshaft designer, and I don’t play one on TV, but from all I’ve read, you want the ramps to smoothly accelerate the valve open, and do the same as it comes down the ramp. One of the reasons racers went to roller cams was that the roller lifters allow much more aggressive ramps, to get the valves open, and then closed, right now. Roller cams and lifters were a little too exotic (read: Pricey) for me back then, so I stayed with a flat tappet cam, and what better cam to use than the one designed by the guys that knew the cylinder head flow characteristics? The Ram Air IV lifters were of a special reduced travel design, and after the engine was put together, I adjusted them ¼ turn of the rocker arm nut past zero lash. I had considered using a rocker arm nut with a separate locking screw, like a “Poly Lock”, but that would have required having the ends of the rocker arm studs ground flat to provide a proper place for the setscrew to tighten against, and I just never got one of those “round tuits”. I readjusted the rocker nuts one time after the engine had a few hundred miles on it, and they hadn’t really changed any from the initial setting, so I let it go at that.

It had a strong “rumpity-rump” idle at about 1100RPM, but I most likely had to run that idle speed due to the very light (12lb) aluminum flywheel.

Intake and Exhaust -

The induction system would be a QudraJet, something I understood very well, with a 1971/72 455 H.O. intake manifold. This manifold had “as cast” ports large enough to mate with the Ram Air IV heads, enough metal to safely allow port-matching, was a modern dual-plane high-rise design, and had a separate exhaust crossover which could be left off during warm weather, resulting in a cooler intake charge going into the engine. All I did to the intake manifold was to glue on a set of the intake gaskets I’d be using, and open the ports up to match the gasket. Then I blended that area back as far as I could reach with my die grinder. The only other thing I did was to use an aluminum “heat blocking” plate that had a fiber spacer about 1/4” thick on one side, and a gasket on the other, that went between the carb and manifold flange. I don’t know for sure if it helped any, but it looked pretty neat! This was recommended by the “Rochester Carburetors” book that I had. That book taught me more about carburation than any other book I read, including the “Holley Carburetors” book that I had by the same publisher.

The QuadraJet I used was purchased new-in-the-box through Bert Adams Pontiac, and was for a 1969/70 Ram Air IV with a manual transmission. It required one of the spring type choke coils and pull rod, which I also ordered new. Being a 1970 carb, it was calibrated a bit on the lean side for emissions reasons, and I wound up going 2 or 3 sizes larger on the main jest, along with a corresponding change in the primary and secondary metering rods. I wish I still had my notebooks, as I had extensive notes on how I figured out what a good jet and rod combination would be based on what was in a given car from GM, vs what it needed to be for better performance in various stages of tune. I re-jetted dozens of QuadraJets based on these calculations, and it was unusual that I didn’t get it “right” the first time.

Exhaust duties would be handled by a set of Hooker Headers, part number 4202, the only header available for the round port heads in a second generation Firebird. JR Headers also made a set that fit, and one of my friends had a pair on his 1973 Super Duty 455 Trans Am, but I thought the Hookers were made better, so I went with them. Mufflers were kind of an afterthought, and for years I was running Thrush “header mufflers”. They were cheap, lightweight, and worked “good enough”. Cheap was important, because the Hookers hung down fairly low, and with the lowered suspension I was always grounding them out, resulting in the muffler getting damaged enough to need replacement. I used to buy them two at a time at Sontag Speed Supplies. That way I always had one “in stock” for rapid replacement. I ran the exhaust in that configuration until I drove the car out to California, and which time I had a local muffler shop weld up some 2.5” pipes to the “Hemi” mufflers I’d bought years earlier. It made the car much quieter on the highway, an important consideration since it would be a 2,400 mile trip.

Fuel System -

The fuel system starts at the tank, and in order to provide an “unlimited” supply of fuel, I added a second 5/16” pick up and nylon “sock” filter to the existing stock pick up/sending unit. I just used a piece of 5/16” steel fuel line, bent to match how the stock pick up was made, drilled another hole into the top of the plate that mounted into the tank, and silver soldered the new line to the top plate. These two lines fed a pair of AC Delco electric pumps which were originally used on heavy-duty trucks that I bought from North Side Auto Parts on Ruby Street. If I had a part number, they could usually get what I wanted! The pumps had individual fuses, and were fed by a relay activated whenever the ignition was in the “Start” or “Run” position. The output of each pump went through an AC Delco filter, and then into a Moroso “Y Block” which was normally used to split a single fuel line to be used with a dual-inlet Holley carb. From there, a 1/2” diameter line was run to the engine compartment and connected to one of the blue Holley pressure regulators set at 6.5 PSI. One outlet from the regulator fed the QuadraJet, and the other was adapted down to 1/8” steel line which I ran to a fuel pressure gauge in the console. I know, having pressurized gasoline fed to the interior of a car is not a Real Good Idea, but I used steel line with compression fittings and checked it religiously for any signs of leakage. The fuel pressure NEVER budged from the 6.5 PSI I had it set to, indicating that the carb had an adequate supply.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Monday, April 10, 2017

Grandbaby Update....

Little guy is over FOUR pounds now, growing like a weed, and can finally wear some of the clothing everybody has been sending to his parents.

He's out of his "isolette" and into a regular crib, and is using his pacifier when he's not wolfing down food.

Say "Hi!" to the nice people, Noah....

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Story of an Old Firebird, Part 3...

This section of “Jim’s Old Firebird” will cover the engine I built for it, why I made the choices I did, the parts I bought, and how it worked out. This section covers the block and rotating assembly, commonly called the short block.

Design Philosophy -

In deciding what I wanted (It HAD to be a Pontiac engine!), I looked at what was available for my intended purpose, which was high-performance street usage, and road racing. Since I didn’t want maximum torque at minimum RPM, I went with a 400 CID engine size. This gave me what I considered the “best” bore-to-stroke ratio, allowing good torque at midrange RPM (important for exiting corners), while winding high enough to produce good horsepower for the straightaways.

Durability was to be paramount in this engine build, so I had to look carefully at certain items, namely the crankshaft and connecting rods. Good, reliable pistons were easily available from companies like TRW at very reasonable prices, along with high-quality piston rings, main and rod bearings, oil pumps, timing chain and gears, and other things, and the block was deemed suitable by several knowledgeable people. I’ll cover the crank and rods decision, and why I used those pieces, in the “Rotating Assembly” section.

My selection of parts, and this design philosophy, was guided by the wisdom of the guys at H-O Racing Specialties in Hawthorne, California. They had run a series of NHRA record holding cars, and published a book that laid out everything they’d learned about making Pontiacs run strong and last. They also knew the difference between squirting down a quarter-mile, and competing in a road race, and were great guys to talk to on the phone. My selection of a machinist/engine builder was based on reputation and recommendations from several local guys who knew what they were talking about.

Block -

All good structures start with a good foundation, and an engine is no exception. After consulting with H-O Racing Specialties in Hawthorne, California, and my engine builder Jack Waldvogel, I decided to keep the two-bolt main block that came in the car. H-O confirmed that for my intended application, the stock block was plenty “good enough”, and my engine builder confirmed that he’d never seen a two-bolt main Pontiac block fail except under the most extreme use, and then it was almost always a rod letting go, and ventilating the block. This was also a “seasoned” block, having gone 24,676 miles in a street car, and numerous heat/cool cycles which help stabilize the cast-iron in the block.

I spent many hours with my Sears die grinder deburring the block of any and all casting flash and “dingleberries” inside the block that could possibly break off and contaminate the oiling system. There were several small pockets of casting sand/cast iron mixture inside the block that I knocked out, and a ton of casting flash. My strategy was if it didn’t look like it belonged there, it probably didn’t, so I ground it down. The lifter gallery in particular had a huge amount of casting flash which I ground away. I also “radiused” all the oil drainback holes and passages, and broke all the sharp edges inside and outside of the block to eliminate any possible “stress risers” where cracks could start. I didn’t go to the extreme of polishing things inside like the NASCAR and Road Race guys do, as I didn’t see the benefit of it. It was pretty shiny by the time I was done, though. I also didn’t paint the inside of the block with either General Electric “Glyptal”, an oil-resistant electric motor paint, or Rustoleum, as I’d heard too many horror stories of the paint coming loose and causing extensive damage to the engine. Unless the surface is EXTREMELY clean, the chances of the paint peeling off were just too high for me to accept.

As soon as I’d collected enough parts for Jack to get started, I took them all down to his shop so he could get started.

Jack was a great guy, and it’s sad that he’s no longer with us. He was a first-class machinist, welder, and assembly guru, as well as being an all-around Good Guy. My Dad knew his Dad from the Navy, and my Dad sold Jack his Bridgeport milling machine, a variable speed “2J” head, and a ton of tooling; a first-class Bridgeport setup. Jack had also served in the US. Navy, and served time as a Machinist Mate on a nuclear submarine.

Jack bored the block .060” oversize, honed the cylinders on his Sunnen machine, and also decked the block to “square it up”, and align-bored the main bearing bores. He drilled and tapped one of the small press-in plug holes in the block so he could install an Allen setscrew in there that had a small hole drilled in it to squirt oil on the distributor/cam gears. This was a modification suggested by H-O Racing to keep the gears properly oiled. “High Tech” stuff at the time, and in common use these days. All other “small” pressed-in plugs were replaced with Allen setscrews, and the “freeze plugs” were replaced with brass ones. The completed short block was painted black after final assembly. I requested Jack leave the oil pan off the engine, as I wanted to get some pictures of the bottom end, with those pretty Carillo rods. Sadly, I lost those pictures many years ago.

Rotating Assembly -

Since the connecting rods are generally considered to be the most highly-stressed parts in the engine, getting “good” rods is a must. The rods alternately get stretched/pulled apart when the piston is being yanked down the bore during the intake and power stokes, and then squeezed together as the piston goes back up the bore during the compression and exhaust strokes. So, you need to make the rods out of a material that can withstand both tension loading (“stretching”) and compression loading (“squeezing”) without failing. Forged steel is the ideal material for this application, and it’s what almost all “good” connecting rods are made from.

Unfortunately, Pontiac didn’t make most of their rods from forged steel, opting instead to save some money and make them from CAST steel, which they called “ArmaSteel”. For most purposes, like the 400 2-bbl in Mom’s Catalina station wagon, it’s plenty “good enough”. For a 400 CID engine spinning 6,500RPM it’s borderline, and for a 455 turning anything more than 5,700RPM, it’s a disaster. The bad thing about cast materials is that when they fail, they FAIL, almost always by coming apart, a Real Bad Thing to happen to a connecting rod.

So, what choices did I have? Well, I could try and hunt down some 389 Super Duty rods (somewhat available), I could try and beg, borrow, and spend my way into a set of 455 Super Duty rods (chances were slim to none, and Slim just left town), I could get some aluminum rods (NOT! Aluminum lacks the cyclic fatigue strength needed), or I could bite the bullet and order some Carillo Rods. These rods were absolutely the best you could buy at the time, and had an unbeatable reputation. I was told by my engine builder that he’d sent one back that was bent due to an engine failure, and Carillo straightened it, Magnafluxed it, installed new bolts, completely checked it out, pronounced it fit for service again, and sent it back to him “NO CHARGE”. That’s about as good as it gets!

So, taking some advice from H-O Racing, I went ahead and ordered a set of rods through Sontag Speed Supplies but had them made .230” LONGER than stock. The advice from H-O was, as long as you’re paying to have these rods custom-made for you, why not take advantage of the fact that they’ll make them any way you want, and get them made longer? This way, you get the benefits of a basically indestructible connecting rod, AND you get the benefit of a “better” rod length-to-stroke ratio. The rod length-to-stroke ratio is one of those things that you never hear talked about much, especially “Back In The Day”. The benefits are lower peak piston speed and acceleration (reduces stress on the piston, pin, and rod), longer piston “dwell time” at TDC and BDC, and lower piston side loading, which is how hard the piston pushes against the cylinder wall.

Why the importance of longer dwell time? Well, for one, it lets the cylinder both fill better, and evacuate better, making the engine more efficient, and maximizing the cam timing it has.

Since I’d be using longer rods, I’d have to buy special, custom made pistons, right? Wrong! I chose the length to be .230” longer than stock, which is exactly the difference in where the piston pin hole is located between a 400 piston and a 455 piston. I was able to get a set of “30 over” 455 Super Duty forged pistons ordered through Bert Adams Pontiac. These pistons were made by TRW, and had the advantage of having a single “eyebrow” valve relief in them, rather than an “upper” and a “lower” valve relief. This raised the compression ratio slightly, and was proven to flow better than having two valve reliefs in the piston. Remember the longer “Dwell Time” I mentioned? Since the piston is now spending more time at TDC, the piston crown essentially becomes a part of the combustion chamber/intake port “system”, and things you do here can have a big impact on the “Total Flow” in and out of the engine. All I did to them was break the sharp edges with a Dremel tool. The rods needed exactly ZERO work done to them. Jack told me they were balanced as good as he could do it right out of the box. The day they came in at Sontag’s, Bill Sontag asked me if could open the box so he could check one out. He looked at it, smiled, and said “Yep, it’s a Carillo rod”. About the same time Ron Menzer came running out of the back like a kid on Christmas morning, and asked if he could hold one. He oohed and ahhed for a few minutes and then handed it back and said “THANKS”.

So, with rods and pistons covered, I moved on to the crank, flywheel, clutch, and harmonic balancer.

There were few Pontiac cranks made from forged steel that had the required 3.00” diameter main bearing journals. The 389 Super Duty had one, as well as the mythical Ram Air V engines, but that was it. Moldex was about the only company at the time that would make you whatever you wanted, but that wasn’t in the budget for me. I looked around and contacted a few people, but nobody had any 389 SD cranks for sale. SO….turning to H-O Racing again for guidance, I decided a 1970 Ram Air IV cast nodular iron crank would be my choice. It was made of a better grade of cast iron than my 1973 crank, had better heat treating, “rolled” journals, generous “fillets” on the journals, and some other nice things I forget now. Best of all, it “only” cost about $135! Jack “micropolished” the journals after he radiused the oil holes, and did some deburring of it, but that was it for the crank.

I wanted to use an aluminum flywheel because a lighter flywheel has less rotational inertia, meaning you can accelerate it faster which translates into faster acceleration once you’re moving. This means you can accelerate harder out of corners, a perfect fit for a car I planned to road race. Why do drag racers use heavy flywheels? Because a heavy flywheel can store a lot of energy which gets released when the clutch gets popped, making the car accelerate harder from a standstill IF you have the traction (Slicks) to use it. Otherwise you’ll just blow the tires away. The first flywheel I bought didn’t fit the crank, so I talked to Tony at the parts counter, and he confirmed that the early and late flywheels all the had the same number of teeth on the ring gear, so I told Jack to go ahead and machine the flywheel to fit the crank. BIG mistake! It turns out the older flywheels were “flatter” than newer ones, and the first time I tried to crank the engine in the car I was greeted with the stater going “ZIIIING!”, and not engaging the flywheel. I checked the part number I ordered with Sontag, and sure enough, it was for a very early Pontiac V8. I should have suspected something as the box it came in looked older than me, and had an inch of dust on it. Oh, well, order another flywheel, and this time make sure it fits a 1970 Pontiac!

In order to keep rotating mass small (because….Road Race!), I stayed with a 10.5” pressure plate and clutch disc. The pressure plate was a Borg-Warner “Power Brute” unit, and the disc was for an L88 Corvette. I used a Borg-Warner “Power Brute” clutch release (throw out) bearing as it had a different bearing design than an OEM release bearing, which was supposedly longer lasting when used at high RPM. I never had any trouble with the clutch, and it engaged solidly, never slipping. The pilot bearing in the end of the crank was a standard GM pilot bearing.

The harmonic balancer was for a 1970 Ram Air IV engine, and I had Jack “degree” it, cutting timing marks and stamping numbers on it so I could easily set the initial timing, and check the total timing.

Other Engine Related Parts -

I used an OEM Ram Air IV oil pump along with an H-O Racing higher pressure relief spring. I took the pump apart and brazed the pickup tube and screen into the body so it couldn’t fall out, and also checked the clearance between the gears, the gears and the body, and the gears and the end plate. I carefully sanded the open end of the pump body using some 600 grit wet-or-dry sandpaper on a glass plate, with plenty of oil, and did the same to the end plate to make sure they were FLAT, and had a polished finish. This ensured there was no gap between them, reducing any chance of losing oil pressure.

Since this engine didn’t come with one, I ordered one of the “3/4 length” windage trays listed in the Pontiac parts catalog. I used the stock oil pan as it had a baffle in it to keep the oil in the pan near the pickup, but it only worked well in left turns! The car cornered so hard that I constantly had to watch the oil pressure in right hand turns, as I could make the pressure drop just “twitching” the steering wheel hard to the right! Even running a quart over didn’t help too much, and this was an issue that plagued me the entire time I owned the car.

The water pump, was a Moroso aluminum unit that saved a little over two pounds. As I mention later, weight saving was another big item to me, and eventually the car wound up about 400 pounds lighter than when it rolled out of Norwood. The front cover was the one that came with the car. I had Jack check the timing badge to make sure it agreed with the degreed harmonic balancer, and it did.

In the end, the only parts that I used that came with the car were the block, the valve covers, the valley cover, the front cover, the oil pan, and the oil filter adapter. I had a set of chrome valve covers from a GTO, but they didn’t have the oil “dripper” rails inside. Since I read that this could cause your rocker arms to fail from lack of lubrication, I painted the stock valve covers wrinkle finish black, and put them back on the car. I also kept the Unitized Ignition distributor. I carefully shimmed all the end-play out of the gear at the bottom, and replaced the stock gear with a bronze driven gear I bought from H-O racing. This turned out to be a mistake, as about 1,000 miles after I got the car running, the teeth wore through, and the engine quit running when I was at the Car Craft Street Machine Nationals in Indianapolis. I was lucky that it was my last night at the hotel. My friend Marvin gave me a ride home, and then took me back the next day to fix the car, and get it back to Joliet.

"Car People" are good people, always willing to help a buddy in trouble!

The Story of an Old Firebird, Part 2....

The base engine that came with the car when I ordered it was a 400CID 4 barrel lump rated 230HP @ 4400RPM and 325lb-ft @ 3200. It had an advertised 8:1 compression, “Big Valve” (2.11 Intake, 1.66 Exhaust) heads, a 750cfm QuadraJet, and dual exhaust.

Heads and Cam -

Pontiac used many different heads over the years, but after about 1967, and up through the end of Pontiac engine production, the biggest changes were in the combustion chamber volume, and whether they were “D Port” or “Round Port” heads, referring to the shape of the exhaust ports. The “D Port” heads were the standard heads, redesigned for better flow in late 1967, while the “Round Port” heads were high performance only, and were first seen on the 1968 “Ram Air II” engine. The Round Port heads would go through several designs, culminating with the 1973/74 Duper Duty 455 heads, the best heads Pontiac ever released to production. There were some other differences, like whether they had screw-in rocker arm studs, or pressed-in rocker arm studs, with the 4-bbl engines almost universally getting the screw-in studs. The porting was pretty good on the “4X” heads that came on the car, and except for the large combustion chamber to lower the compression, they were very good street heads for 1973. One change Pontiac made in 1973 was to reduce the exhaust vale size from 1.77” to 1.66”, primarily to cut down on exhaust flow out of the combustion chamber, allowing them to use less recirculated exhaust gas in the EGR system.

The cam used was the “067” camshaft. This was almost a “performance” cam, as the next one up was the fabled “068” cam that was originally used in the “TriPower” GTO motors. The 068 cam definitely had a “rumpity-rump” idle, and the 067 had just a trace of it. I helped a buddy put an 068 cam in his ‘74 T/A, and he called it his “Mini Super Duty”.

The 068 cam had an advertised duration of 288* Intake, 302* Exhaust, and a “Duration at .050” of 212/225. Valve lift with 1.5:1 rocker arms was .408”/.407”, and it was rated as being good for “Idle to 5,000RPM”.

The 067 cam had an advertised duration of 273*/289*, a duration at .050” of 200*/213*, with a valve lift of .408/.407. It was rated as being good for “Idle to 4500RPM”.

One thing to note is that all Pontiac “performance” camshafts had about 10* more duration on the exhaust side. This was used to overcome the inefficiency in the stock Pontiac exhaust ports. If you look at a cross sectional view of a Pontiac cylinder head, you’ll notice the exhaust gas has to travel quite a distance inside the cylinder head from the combustion chamber to the exhaust manifold flange, almost 180*. The extra duration on the exhaust side helps to alleviate this restriction by allowing the exhaust gas more time to exit the chamber.

The first time I ran the car with open exhaust I was amazed at how freely the stock engine pulled to 6,000RPM, which is getting a bit scary with the stock Pontiac cast “ArmaSteel” connecting rods.

Intake and Exhaust -

The stock engine had a 750cfm Rochester QuadraJet carburettor on a cast-iron intake manifold. Except for the facts that it was a) cast iron, and heavy, and b) it had an EGR system, this was a “good” intake manifold, as “good” as any earlier Pontiac stock 4-bbl intake manifold with the exception of the aluminum “455 H.O” intake manifold.

The exhaust manifolds were terrible. A simple cast-iron “pipe” (a “log style” manifold) bolted to the cylinder heads. They were heavy, and didn’t flow very well. The OEM cross-flow muffler at the rear of the car was generally considered to be an effective “cork”, even though it had 2.25” pipes to and from it. A fairly quiet muffler, with a decent sound, but pretty restrictive.

Block and Rotating Assembly -

In 1973, all Pontiac 400 CID engines had two-bolt main bearing caps. Pontiac blocks were pretty beefy, and even though the main bearing caps “only” had two bolts holding them down, they also had large steel dowel pins pressed into the block that the caps mated to. This kept the caps from moving around under high RPM/high load situations, and made the blocks with “two-bolt” mains nearly as good as the ones with “four bolt” mains.

The stock crankshaft was nodular cast-iron and very durable.

The stock pistons were cast aluminum and very durable.

The stock connecting rods were cast steel (“ArmaSteel”) and not so durable. They were generally considered “safe” for ~6,400RPM in a 400, but were pretty much guaranteed to fail at that speed in a 455. The extra HALF INCH (actually .461”) of stroke in a 455 pushed the stock rods well beyond their design limits, and they’d snap.

The stock flywheel was cast-iron, and weighed about 40 pounds. The stock clutch disc and pressure plate were 10.5” in diameter, and of a diaphragm design, pretty standard GM stuff.

Drivetrain -

Muncie M-20 wide-ratio 4-speed transmission (2.52 first gear) with an OEM “Hurst” shifter. The OEM versions of the Hurst shifter were quite a bit different than the aftermarket ones you could buy from your local speed shop. The shift rods were smaller diameter (more flex), and where they connected to the transmission shift arms, and the shift mechanism at the base of the stick, had larger, softer bushings to keep them quieter (more slop). The stick was also attached by two injection molded plastic pins, rather than being a bolt on stick. I’d heard stories of the stick coming off in the driver’s hand after repeated slam-shifting, which caused the plastic pins to fracture.

The rear axle was a GM “10 Bolt” with a 3.42 ratio, equipped with Pontiac’s version of GM’s Positraction, called Safe-T-Track. Combined with the M-20 transmission, this combination gave excellent gearing for acceleration in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, with 4th gear being a great cruising gear on the highway. You could think of it as a “3 speed with Overdrive”.

That pretty much covers the engine and drivetrain the car came with. Next section will cover the engine I built for it.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Story of an Old Firebird.....

A lot of my Facebook Hot Rod friends have been asking me questions about my 1973 Firebird, so I thought I’d get this down before the sands of time drift any higher on my memories of it. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of it, so you’ll just have to Google for pix to satisfy your curiosity…...

1973 Firebird Formula 400

VIN: 2U87T3N119585

Decodes as follows:

2U87: Pontiac Firebird Formula Sport Coupe

T: 400 4bbl dual exhaust (230HP @ 4400 RPM, 325 lb-ft @ 3200)

3: 1973 model year

N: Norwood, Ohio assembly plant

119585: Unit number

4,622 Firebird Formula 400’s were produced in 1973. Hagerty currently values these cars (1973 Firebird Formula 400) from $7900 in “poor” condition, to $39,500 in “concours” condition, with stops along the way at $14,300 for “good” condition, and $26,800 for “excellent” condition examples. They have no adders/subtractors for auto/manual transmission or “rare” options like mine had.


Codes listed are GM Regular Production Option (“RPO”) codes and/or any other relevant product codes.

Cameo White Paint (Paint Code:11), Black Standard Interior (Trim Code:361), M20 Wide-Ratio 4 speed transmission (Transmission Code:36E/M20/UA), 400 4bbl Dual Exhaust Engine (Engine Code:35S/L78/WP), 3.42:1 Safe-T-Track (positraction) rear axle (Axle Code:371/G80/CM), Unitized Ignition (Code:694/K65), Ram Air Hood (Code:634/WU3), Formula Handling Package (Code:342/Y99), Variable Ratio Power Steering (Code:501/N41), “Formula” Steering Wheel (Code:464/NK3), Rally Gauge Cluster with Tach (Code:714/WW8), All Tinted Glass (Code:531/A01), Front Console (Code:431/D55), Concealed Wipers (Code:432/C24), Rear Deck Lid Spoiler (Code:632/D80), AM-FM Stereo Radio (Code: 415/U58), Front Floor Mats (Code:621/B32), Rear Floor Mats (Code:622/B33), Heavy Duty Battery (Code:692/UA1), Heavy Duty Radiator (Code:701/U01), and Lamp Group (Code: 344/Y92).

The options totaled $1240, and the base price of the car was $3270

The list price for all this Pontiac Goodness was $4582, and the other salesmen at Bert Adams Pontiac in Joliet were stunned that it was almost $4600, and “Didn’t Have Air!”, to which I replied “Yeah, but it’s got Ram Air!”.

The “Unitized Ignition” was only offered in 1973/74. It was the precursor to the GM “HEI” (High Energy Ignition), and as far as I know, was only offered on Pontiacs. The coil, cap, and plug wires were all integrated into the distributor, and it looked a bit like a “3/4 Scale” HEI unit. This was a significant upgrade at the time, and even worked perfectly after I put the rebuilt engine it. It never misfired, and worked all the way to 6800 RPM, where the valves floated. Normally I shifted the rebuilt engine at ~6500RPM, but a couple of times I goofed and went “just a bit” higher.

The Ram Air hood consisted of opening up the front scoops of the standard Formula hood, and inserting some metal grilles, and adding some rubber boots on the bottom of the hood that mated with a special air cleaner base. There was a vacuum flapper assembly in each one of the snorkels that mated with the rubber boots on the bottom of the hood, and they only opened to allow cold air from the scoops into the air cleaner at wide-open throttle. The rest of the time, the inlet air to the carburettor came through the cardboard hose that attached to a sheet metal “heat stove” bolted to one of the exhaust manifolds.

The “Y99” Handling Package included all the specific components that the Trans Am used, such as the 1-1/2” front sway bar and 3/4” rear sway bar, special mounting hardware for the front bar (it used BF Goodrich “Rivnut” inserts in the frame and cap screws instead of just large, self-tapping screws), special rate springs and shocks, 15x7 rims with 60-series fiberglass belted tires, and a few other things like different suspension bushings. If you ordered this with the power steering option, you also got the special variable ratio power steering gear box that was used in the Trans Am.

The “Heavy Duty” cooling option came with a gigantic “Four Core” radiator and a “Flex Fan”. The car NEVER overheated once, or even came close to it in traffic, after I installed the rebuilt engine, and was well worth the pittance GM charged for it, a staggering $21!

They car was delayed for “Release to Production” several times for the Ram Air components, as well as several times for the Unitized Ignition, as these were very low production options.

I took delivery of it on 26 February 1973. It came with an OEM “Hurst” shifter, and Firestone “Wide Oval 60” F60-15 white-lettered fiberglass belted tires. I didn’t order the optional styled steel wheels, as I had already purchased a set of American Racing Equipment “Torq Thrust 70” aluminum rims in the 15x8 size. The standard rims were 15x7 plain stamped steel rims with little “Dog Dish” hubcaps.

Before the car was a week old, I had the Americans installed on it, and had a set of Doug Thorley “budget” headers on it. I got the “cheap” headers because they fit very easily, and with a stock engine running into the restrictive cross-flow muffler at the rear of the car, spending the big bucks on a set of equal-length, hard to fit Hooker Headers would have been foolish.

A few weeks later I installed a set of Koni shock absorbers on it, set about half between “no damping”, and “bust your fillings loose”. The OEM shocks were actually pretty good, and were a new GM design called “Pli-A-Cell”, which used a small plastic bag full of Nitrogen at high pressure inside the fluid reservoir to reduce foaming of the fluid. It was an early attempt at a modern “Gas Charged” shock absorber, and was a hybrid between a gas shock like a Bilstein or KYB, and a “regular” shock absorber. I gave them to a buddy with a bone-stock 1974 Camaro, and he noticed an immediate improvement over his worn out shocks. He also wound up with the OEM 15x7 steel rims which he put a set of Goodyear “PolyGlas” tires on when his OEM tires wore out. A few weeks later he put a set of Trans Am sway bars on the car, and had a pretty good handling Camaro. Still had a 307 2bbl and an automatic, but he had a lot of fun with his car, and that’s what’s important.

The only other engine modifications I did to it were to increase the initial spark timing, “curve” the distributor to bring the mechanical advance in faster, and rejet the 750cfm Rochester QuadraJet carburettor. Many people bad mouthed the Quadrajet as being junk. They weren’t. They were a very adjustable carburettor, and once you understood them, they were excellent units. My car with the rebuilt engine ran a best of 13.01 @ 118 MPH in the quarter with street tires and the Q-Jet. And yes, I experimented with a 750 Holley Double Pumper and the Q-Jet on an Edelbrock Torquer intake manifold. The Torquer killed some bottom-end, which made the car hook up easier, but the ET and trap speed stayed basically the same (low 13 seconds, 114MPH headers closed, 118MPH headers open) compared to the GM OEM “455 H.O.” cast aluminum intake I preferred. This intake looked almost identical to the famed Chevrolet “Z28 Dual-Plane High Rise” intake except it was for a Pontiac, fit a Q-Jet, and had a separate cast-iron exhaust crossover under the main aluminum body of the manifold. It was absolutely the best intake manifold you could get for a Pontiac back then, and it blew the Torquer away on the street with more midrange and better throttle response.

Next: Base Engine specifications and my mods to the engine and car…...

Thanks to the magic of the Internet, the son of one of my best friends asked his Dad if he had any pictures of the car, so here you are.

Me, in full "Hot Rod Hippie" Mode:

Getting cooled off by my friend's wife:

Driving the car ON THE TRACK at Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

These pictures were taken at the Car Craft Street Machines Nationals in 1979.

Head Better, Big Automotive Post In The Works

Well, my head is no longer itching, and several big spots have "bubbled up" for lack of a better term. They'll soon slough off, and hopefully never return.

I'm working up a multipart post to satisfy some Facebook Hot Rod buddies who keep asking about my 1973 Firebird, and whatever happened to it.

It was an interesting car when I ordered it, being one of the last "High Performance" cars of the era. All too soon Federal regulations would clobber performance cars with emissions requirements causing the horsepower to drop to embarrassingly low levels for the engine size (a 460 engine with 155 horsepower??), while safety regulations would result in ugly cars with railroad iron bumpers weighing down each end.

Yes, some of the power drop was caused by dropping compression ratios down for use with unleaded gas (around 10%), and more was caused by the change from SAE "gross" to SAE "net" measurements, but after 1974, power levels seriously dropped to less than half what they had been.

True dual exhausts were replaced by a single pipe with a catalytic converter plugging things up, spark timing was cut down, and compression ratios dipped a bit more.

Things looked really bleak until modern technology like fuel injection, full. near real-time, closed-loop computer control, and better, freer flowing catalysts were developed.

The middle to late 1970's were pretty scary to Car Nuts like myself, but eventually things got sorted out and performance began to return.

Who'd a thunk it that one day we'd have 707HP Dodges, and 650HP Corvettes running around, perfectly happy on 91 Octane pump gas, and not only having straight line performance that truly blows the old Muscle Cars away, but they also have vastly improved cornering and braking abilities.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Itchy and Scratchy

I had my "Photodynamic" skin treatment today on the top of my head, and the post title is how it's feeling right now.

When I first moved to California in 1982 I was an avid, regular beach goer. And I overdid it a few times.

They were two times when I got so sunburned my first summer here that the top of my head was purple.

YEARS later, I started noticing these hard, scaly patches on my poor old bald head, and went to see the Dermatologist. He proclaimed I had "Actinic Keratosis", and proceeded to blast several spots with Liquid Nitrogen to freeze them off.

That's how I've been having them taken care of for the last 12 years or so, but the last time I saw my Dermatologist, he suggested this method, as it usually gets rid of them once and for all.

They washed my scalp with some mild soap, gave it an alcohol scrub, and then dabbed on "Levulan" topical solution, and let me sit for about 30 minutes for the affected areas to absorb it. Then it was on with the goggles, and roll this 7-tube lighting fixture over me. It puts out a specific wavelength of UV, which activates the now absorbed chemicals. I had two 30 minute treatments with a leg stretching pause in between them.

Compared to the sensation of having LN2 sprayed on your skin, this was a walk in the park!

Minor itching/stinging after the light had been on for about 15 minutes, but that's all, even after the full one-hour treatment.

It may or may not get more pronounced over the next few days before the "bad" areas slough off, but so far it's way better than getting patches of your skin taken down to -320*F!

I have a follow-up visit in 8 weeks, and if there's a few spots they missed, they'll do it again.

Hopefully this will eliminate the LN2 treatments I had been getting....

Supras and Stereos.....

 The repairs on the Fisher RS-2010 are proceeding, but a bit slower than I expected. The failed transistor is an obsolete part number, so I ...