July 2nd, 2015. This fine example of automobile negligence came into my life. I had a perfectly good 1990 Corvette with a 383, nice paint, nice interior, 6 speed manual. The car was nice. And driveable. So it makes perfect sense that I would sell it and buy this piece of shit. No engine. No transmission. No radiator. No carpet. No rust. Just kidding–plenty of rust.
This 1978 Pontiac Firebird Esprit with a Formula 400 hood and Trans Am spoiler would some day become the world famous Fireturd, but for now it was just a sad shitbox.
A smart person would start by assessing the vehicle they’ve gotten. They’d tag and bag bolts and carefully disassemble the vehicle, checking items on the way. They’d probably soak the bolts and screws with WD40 for a few days even. But you know what’s way more fun than that? Going out and getting an engine. So that’s what I did.
Pictured above is the donor vehicle. It’s an 01 Tahoe so it has the 24x reluctor generation III small block. On a whim I took a photo of the VIN and it turned out to be one of the smarter things I’ve done. It’s been invaluable for parts lookups throughout the build. This particular Tahoe is the flex fuel version. I didn’t pick it on purpose. I picked it because I found it on Craigslist and they were open on Saturdays.
I got my grubby hands on the whole engine, cover to pan, the starter, the ECU, and the whole engine wiring harness for $500. A dirty and friendly man was kind enough to pull the motor at no extra charge. He had offered to fire it up if he could find a battery. In retrospect that would have been a good idea. But being the ramjet that I am I figured it would be fine, let’s just get that lump loaded in the pickup truck and get home.
As part of this full service salvage yard, the owner picked my motor the seatbelts of the donor vehicle tied to the exhaust manifolds. Imagine silly old me believing you needed chains and hoists when it turns out all I needed were a few seatbelts. Incidentally I used the same seatbelts and my Harbor Freight engine hoist to pick the motor from the back of the pickup the following day.
In keeping with a long history of poor choices, I kept working on the engine despite the significant amount of other work that needed done to the car. I pulled the intake manifold and cleaned everything up with Gunk, oven cleaner, wire brushes, and the hose.
For anyone keeping score on the poor choices, chalk up another one. I stuffed plastic shopping bags down all the intake ports. Much later I pulled the heads to find rust and other ugliness in cylinder #1. Free tip for everyone–if you’re going to hose down your motor leave the intake manifold on it and be much more serious about keeping water out of it.
Late September and most of October had me ripping the car apart. I pulled the whole front clip off the car, pulled the interior out and stored what was left of it in the basement. The car is rough. The car is also apparently a shaggin wagon for stink bugs. There was a literal carpet of dead stink bugs beneath the rear seats. I found a snakeskin in the trunk. There were ten or so paper wasp nests throughout the car. My wife tossed a bug bomb into the car and another under the car and then ran for her life but the bug bombs did the trick, no more wasps/stinkbugs/etc. Good times.
The picture with the front of the car shredded was taken 9/15/15, I didn’t get the pressure washer out until Halloween of that year.
Shortly before Halloween I picked up a TH400 of unknown condition for two hundred bucks. The trans was in a first gen camaro that some guy was restoring. He had purchased the car as someone else’s failed project and wasn’t sure if the trans worked or not. The guy threw in a torque converter for a first generation SBC to boot, why not if you’re not using it and not sure that it works anyway. Money was exchanged and my son and I were homeward bound with a stinky transmission in the back of our Saturn. I used lots of trash bags and old cardboard and made it home without any fluid on the carpet of the SUV.
Sharp eyed readers will notice the car has changed bays, from the middle to the end bay. It was about this time I sold the Corvette, making room in the garage for the Fireturd to flourish.
My first test fit. This is the first of four or five times I had the motor in and out of the car. The trans crossmember is out of the car and the tail of the trans is on a jack. I bought ICT Billet LS retrofit motormounts and a pair Bryke solid gen 1 SBC motor mounts from Amazon. I picked the ICT Billet retrofit mounts because they had a lot of adjustability and based on my measurements I could put the engine pretty far back and still clear the firewall.
The motor as pictured is sitting in the factory k-member holes. I have two blocks of 3/4″ MDF jammed under the mounts. Without the spacers the pan hit the k-member.
If you’re taking notes you may think the 3/4″ spacers are important but slow your roll because they’re not. During this test fit I still had the truck pan on the engine. You don’t see it in the pics but the sump of the pan is about 1 1/2 inches below the k-member. I decided that would never do and some time later switched over to an f-body oil pan. With the f-body oil pan in place I was able to go with a 1/4″ spacer between the k-member and the motor mounts.
Here’s a closeup of the MDF spacer. I make plenty of poor choices but running the motor on pieces of scrap wood are not among those poor choices. I later cut spacers out of 3/4″ aluminum.
Picture showing how much room there is to work. It looked like a lot at the time with the intake manifold gone. In retrospect I should have moved the motor a few more inches front so I could get to bolts more easily.
In this last picture I’ve taken the trans crossmember and slid it back to where it needs to be for the tail of the trans to land on it. I think I’m done when I take this picture but I am woefully mistaken.
Very exciting–the first shiny things show up. The “LS1 turbo headers” appear to be nice pieces despite what some folks on the internet say about them. I did find one pinhole by the v-band of one of the headers but decided to pretend I didn’t see it. I know there are better options available but I also know that I’m building to a budget and I’m doing this as my hobby, not my livelihood. Pictured next to the shiny header is a 38mm wastegate with an 8psi spring. I have a Mityvac that does vacuum only, so I hooked it to the dome and pulled a vacuum. It took over 20Hg of vacuum before either wastegate cracked open (about 10psi).
Here I’ve slapped on a bunch of parts that we’ll actually need for a functioning car. Minor details like an alternator, power steering pump, brake booster, coils, valve covers, etc. As you can see, nothing fits, so I quit. End of blog. Thanks for reading, see you some other time.
I didn’t actually quit here. I did some Googling here, a bit of forum crawling there, and low and behold it turned out there was a solution.
The big power steering pump problem was easy to solve. Don’t run power steering. Done. Next problem: Alternator.
Someone at GM isn’t bothered by an alternator that is at an altitude equal to an NBA center. I and my Fireturd were greatly bothered by this big ol’ wart sticking up on top of the engine. Also in order for the alternator to sit at the summit I’d need to run a cowl hood. Included in all my other bad choices was the choice to not run a cowl hood. Everybody runs a cowl hood so I decided that I would not. My friend Google pointed me toward an f-body alternator mount (part #12563327), a Gates idler pulley #38008, and a Gates belt #K060547.
The forum post is here: https://ls1tech.com/forums/generation-iii-internal-engine/1549265-lsx-lm7-low-mount-alternator-diy-how.html
I also found that the rear lip of the passenger a-arm hits the bottom of the header. I notched a bit of the lip to make room.
Last but not least our sharp eyed readers will notice that the coils are probably going to melt from the radiant heat coming off the headers. Ultimately I built little coil mounts from a piece of square tube with two pieces of all-thread running through it.
Here’s the f-body alternator mount. See how it glistens. If you read the forum post you’ll see that the boss for the bolt is on the truck engine but it needs drilled out. Public service announcement: don’t be a ramjet like yours truly–this hole needs to be straight and it needs to be in the center of where the alternator mount lands. I marked the spot less carefully then I should have, then, lacking a punch, attempted to just drill it. Not recommended. Use a punch, punch the center, use a sharp bit, do not be me. Can’t stress that enough. The drill bit walked just a little bit, but it was just a little bit too much. I got my engine all put together but I had to ream out the holes through the mount and through the alternator to get the bolts started.
If you go this route you’ll see that the bracket actually has three mounting points but the block only has locations for two spots. My original plan was to weld a nut onto the block. Once I saw how bad I screwed up the rest of this mounting bracket I decided that if two mounting points was enough for the rest of the internet it would be enough for me too. I have about 200 miles on the mount so far and a significant portion of that 200 miles is at 4000+ rpm. It has held at 6200rpm with no apparent problems so far.