87 Monte SS - Upgrades

Enter... Blue Thunder!

Once I made the commitment to restoring her, the solution was clear.  Since my SS has a "compromised" frame/body but a good power train, I concocted a plan (although hardly an original one), to find a "regular" Monte Carlo upon which to base my rebuild.  Ideally, my "dream find" would be a car with a deceased or missing drive train, (since I have those) yet have a "cherry" body and chassis.

Then, I'll use my white SS as a "parts car" for the rebuild.  As my plan took shape, (and the cash became available), I began hunting.  I figured any Monte from around '85-'88 would make the best candidate for what I had in mind.  So finally (after years of being the quintessential "it's not for sale, I'm going to restore it" knucklehead to every guy who asked if I wanted to sell it), my project was about to get off the ground.

Although I've religiously changed my oil every 3,000 miles my "original" 305 HO developed a clacking noise in the top end.  I figured this was probably a bent push rod or loose rocker arm nut.  The more I pondered my options, the more I thought the SS deserving of the type of engine it should have had from the factory.  Since the same vintage Camaro had a 350 option, my SS should have one too.  At the onset, I planned on going to a local junkyard and get one out of a wreck.

I ran this idea by my father-in-law and he pointed out several flaws to this approach.  Yes, a junkyard engine is probably the cheapest way to go, but (and it's a BIG BUT), there's no way of knowing what you're getting.  For reliability I'd have to rebuild the engine anyway, and with my free time at a premium this approach quickly lost its appeal.  That left new.  That meant money... and quite a bit of it.  I weighed the options (as I saved up my cash) finally settling on a GM performance ZZ4-350 to power my ride.

I started saving while prices kept creeping up and GM went into bankruptcy.  Finally at the end of June 2009, I called Summit and ordered my engine and the serpentine belt accessory kit to go with it.  Now if GM failed, I still had the most important parts to begin my project.

A buddy I went to high school with drove a 1971 LT-1 Camaro SS/RS.  His 350 handily shut down my 327 Impala in an impromptu street race on the way home from school one day.  When we both pulled in his yard afterwards I told him he might need to rebuild his engine in the near future.  When he asked why, I showed him my oil-speckled windshield and asked for some Windex.

   Gentlemen - Pick Up Your Engine!

So, If saving up for the engine was the hardest part, (at least from the suspense of trying to out-earn the constant price-hikes), what was the easiest?  Simple.  Going down to the local UPS hub to pick up my new power plant.

Since my own pickup still had the ARE lid covering the bed (although it looks great, it's a one-piece design and one heavy sucker to remove and store), My father-in-law and I took the line of least resistance and piled into his Dodge Dakota to bring my baby home.

Damn, and it was perfectly placed... okay, now I know there are liability issues in every industry, but is this really necessary?  I guess I'm an optimist and like to give folks the benefit of the doubt when it comes to rudimentary intelligence.  Clearly this isn't the case or this little "disclaimer" wouldn't be so prominently displayed.

If my primary purpose is to document my adventures in rebuilding my car, then I suppose my secondary purpose is to inject a little humor wherever I find it.  It helps at the end of a satisfying (albeit frequently exhausting), day of wrenching.  This was just too good to pass up!

Wheredya wannit?  My Father-In-Law may be small, but he's certainly mighty.  I snapped this shot right after he single-handedly lifted the crate engine out of the bed of his pickup and asked me where I wanted it!  Just your basic crate-engine.  

Hidden as it was beneath all the wire and wood, it's kind of hard to tell (unless you've actually ordered one of these yourself), just what's in the crate.  It sure helps to have a big bowl of Wheaties every morning eh?  This still would have been much more impressive if the engine could've actually been seen.  Oh well.

I guess I better come clean before somebody actually runs out and tries this in the real world.  In reality, what we did was make use of a couple of those ratcheting load straps that you see for sale all over the place.  We were careful to support the load from underneath, using the same lifting points as the guy running the UPS fork lift did.

I suppose you could also get by with chains or cables too, but since these straps have become so widely available (and so obviously handy), we used what we had on hand.  It really amazes me the load these straps can handle, whether lifting, or securing a load being hauled.  If you don't have a couple in your shop, I highly recommend you pick up a set the next time they're on sale.

   Design Study - Hidden Headlights?

What the...?  Don't worry this is still a 1987 Chevy Monte SS site, but I created this page to explore different ideas.  While some are definite and will be implemented during reassembly, others are simply mechanical musings of your humble author.  I've been toying with the idea of hidden headlights for the past decade or so (on again, off again Harrigan) only now am I giving it some serious consideration.

My research into hidden headlights led me to the K car Chrysler produced during the late '80's-early '90's.  The reason for the attraction to Chrysler products is simple.  The size, shape and engineering make them ideal candidates for what I'm considering.  The idea was born from the popularity of all the smoked aftermarket headlight covers I've seen on Monte's over the years.

My research found that the full-size platform will not work, as the headlight doors retract downwards towards the bumper.  This area is solid on the Monte, but there is space available above the headlights where concealed headlight doors might fit.  Hmmm...

As near as I can figure, I'll need the parts from the 1988-1991 model years.  1992 was a changeover year, with the bodystyle changing to a more "rounded" design.  In conjunction with the redesign, all 1992 and later cars retained the retractable headlight doors but... they returned to the "bottom-retracted" design.

Not being privy to the inner workings of the Chrysler engineering department, I can only speculate that Chrysler wanted to be sure that if the headlight doors failed, they would fail with the headlights exposed.  This is only a theory on my part as I have no hard evidence to back this up, but it seems logical.  Above 1990 models are illustrated.

Below is illustrated the difference between the "flat" design used in 1991 and earlier cars (which more closely match the contours of the Monte SS front end cap) and the rounded design of the 1992 and later series of cars.

The shot below illustrates a 1992 model with the doors in the open position and they clearly open down.  Obviously, this design will be unsuitable for my purposes.

Finally I decided I just had to try a simulation before hitting the salvage yards for possible donor cars.  Step one was to down load a picture of the type of car I was looking for to experiment on.

I'm not sure just where I downloaded this from, but it doesn't really matter since all I wanted was an image I could morph for my own nefarious purposes.  This example happens to be a 1990 Fifth Avenue model.

There were several shots of this car's front end, from fully closed, to partially open, to fully open... just what I needed.

The next step in my "Franken-stinian" creation was to find a picture of a Monte SS that was at approximately the same angle as the other picture to keep tweaking down to a minimum.  By blind luck, I found a picture of one parked in front of a Winnebago somewhere.

Now that I had my fictious donor car and one to operate on I fired up my Mac and got to work.

This example really didn't take very long and since I'd taken the trouble to match the angles all I had to do was a bit of scaling and filling in the color of the "patient" as needed.

Ahh, my completed "modification" to the Monte SS illustrating just how the conversion to hidden headlight could be done with parts form the proper year Chryco donor car.  While my SS is undergoing a frame-on restoration I kept noodling around with this idea, but never got motivated to actually implement it.

Retracted Closed

That is... until a fellow montecarloss website member jumped into this modification with both feet!  It was game on and I redoubled my scrounging efforts for a donor car that was in good enough shape to get parts from.  The junkyard closest to my house was a complete bust, having only newer cars.  A 45 minute safari to a second bone-yard and I hit paydirt.  They had a couple of 90 Chrysler New Yorkers within a couple of yards of each other, the front ends of both fully intact!

Having no idea how to take the thing apart, I started by removing the sheet metal access panel that runs across the top of the header panel.  The early November sun was screaming off the grille surround as I finally figured out how to pop the grill off to get to the goodies.  The grill is actually held on by 4 spring clips and one firm tug on each side and it simply popped off!

I learned several things as I squatted there, swapping between (10mm & 8mm primarily) various sockets and extensions.  First up, the guys who designed the hidden headlight setup on this car were masters at compact packaging.  You can also tell from studying the apparatus just how this option could be added to a fixed headlight model on the assembly line.

As I proceded to skin my knuckles on every sharp edge in site, (a previous owner had installed an aftermarket transmission cooler just to keep thing interesting) the headlight doors put up a valiant fight.  No matter which way I tilted or turned them, they positively refused to come out of the opening they filled in the header panel.

Finally, in desperation, I grabbed my compact hacksaw and cut several of the fiberglass mounting studs to get enough room to slide the doors over to the center grill opening for extraction.  Approximately three hours after I started, I emerged filthy, but victorious and brought home my booty.  Thankfully I wore a long-sleeved shirt which bore the brunt of the salvage yard dirt and grease.

Here's a shot of the RH side which I was able to extract with minimal damage.  While I don't plan on using these as a "bolt in" installation I hope to get the measurements I need to fabricate some custom brackets to intall these on my SS.  However, in order to do this I'll have to epoxy the piece I accidently broke off back in place, so my measurements are accurate.

The next step (prior to cutting out any of my existing SS bracketry) is to measure and hold the various parts in place to see if this is actually do-able.  The others who are attempting this mod haven't finished yet, so they may have run into an unexpected hurdle or not had the time to proceed any further.  That's okay though, as long as we share our ideas, maybe we'll come up with a method and parts list that works.

I believe the doors themselves are made out of aluminum (at least magnets won't stick to them) and I'm not sure how one would go about modifying such a piece.  Cutting, welding and other fabrication methods may not work with this material.  This means if they don't come real close to fitting initially, this whole mod will be off the rails in short order.

The fellow member attempting this mod was able to get at the wiring harness for the headlights.  Either the car he pulled his from was much more disassembled than the one I found, or he had more time to fool with the donor in the junkyard.  Since I'll be using a different dash in my SS than the one it came with from the factory, I'll also me modifying the firewall plug.  Since I'll be running new wires anyway, I wasn't concerned with getting the whole wiring loom from the donor car.

That being said, I still grabbed everything I could that seemed to be necessary for the system to function as it did from the factory.  To that end I grabbed the headlight switch, headlight door motor, huge relay box, assorted brackets as well as the doors themselves and the square connecting rod that ties the whole assembly together.  I also like the rubber bootie they wrapped the motor in to protect it from the elements.

The headlight switch looks pretty standard and with the right knob, you should never be able to tell I made this swap.  The real appeal of this setup though, is that it is all electric.  This means I won't have to deal with the troublesome vacuum operated assemblies they used in the late '60's.

Here, I'm mocking up the driver's side headlight door against the nose of my SS.  While width and height look close, I think I'm going to run into a problem with the edge of the door closest to the grille.  The headlight door openings on the junkyard New Yorker were perfectly rectangular, as are the doors themselves.  This fact alone may derail this potentially cool modification before I get much farther.

Not too bad. This could be a problem.

One of my club members is using the later (1992+) version which uses differently styled and shaped doors.  I'd considered these, but thought the flatter style would work better for this modification.  Rounding off the square corners would be child's play, but this... well... it may turn out that I'll have to go (as Wile E. Coyote might say) "back to the old drawing board."

Realizing that the one angle is obviously different, I grabbed my angle transfer tool and decided to see just how off things were.  Needless to say this did little to boost my confidence level that I'd made the right choice of donor vehicle.

Here, I've transferred the angle from my measurement tool to the actual headlight door.  All the material to the left of the blue tape would have to be removed in order for the door to fit the opening on the Monte.

Unfortunately for me, this includes the whole pivot arm.  Things aren't looking too good for our intrepid fabricator at this point.

I made another disturbing discovery while I was investigating the nose of my SS.  The headlights of my SS differ from the Chrysler in that they're actually stair-stepped.

The high-beam head light (closest to the grill) actually protrudes towards the front of the car more than the low beam light.  Or, put another way when viewed from above, the two headlights are not in the same plane.  More troubling still is the fact that they protrude past the upper edge of the headlight pocket opening.

The Chrysler in comparison had both head lamps an equal distance from the headlamp door.  You could've laid a straight edge across them.  I hadn't realized this before I began this little project.

What I hadn't figured on were all the right angles on the Chrysler.  The nose of the Chrysler is perfectly upright in relationship to the front bumper.  The SS has a sloping nose when viewed in profile and a grille that is not perfectly rectangular, but is wider at the top and narrower at the bottom.

One of the primary features of my rebuild will include this.  This was an fleabay score back when they still accepted money orders rather than strong-arming folks into using PayPal.

The previous owner had cut out the back of the unit pretty carefully, as this generation of Trans Am shaker was sealed at the factory.  I plan on installing a flapper-door setup for full functionality, so this didn't bother me.

I'd always thought this generation of shaker would look good on an SS due to the center ridge that matches the hood.  I like to stand out from the crowd, so the cowl-induction hood everyone and their brother is running quickly fell from favor.

I toyed with a dual snorkle air cleaner on the LS when I was running it around briefly.  My original thought had been to utilize the dual snorkle base with the T/A shaker.  The only problem is the dual snorkle is 15.5 inches in diameter and the T/A shaker base is about 18 inches.

Since the T/A shaker base has all the indentations necessary to clear the distributor and various other items, I may use that base and build upon it.  It'll probably be easier than fabricating a new piece to fit on the shaker that will mate to the dual snorkle setup.  At this point I'm only guessing though.

Another exterior feature I wanted were a pair of fender vents.  Naturally, I turned to the GM F-Body cars of the late '70's.  The main problem I encountered was one of proportions.  The vents used on the Camaro Z28 (and the Pontiac Trans Am) were obviously too big for my fenders.

As with the shaker, I wanted these to be functional not simply a tacked on decoration.  I found the solution was as close as the Monte's primary rival the Buick GNX.  This realization (in addition to some folks already having done this mod) clinched the idea.

Here's a shot of the vents I selected for those who haven't seen them before.  My original thought had been to utilize the fender vents for the same purpose as the GM engineers... venting underhood heat.  Once I decided to make use of headers, this consideration became even more important.

Evidently these were originally held on with adhesive foam tape.  I'm not certain if the originals had any ductwork associated with them.  At least I've never seen any.  It'd be easy enough to fabricate some if I deem it necessary once I get to that point of the build.

   Interior - Dash Re-Design

I've never been a big fan of the stock dash, specifically the instrument panel on the Monte SS.  Not that it wasn't a good effort, they did include full instrumentation instead of idiot lights after all.  But I had a couple of problems with it.  First, functionality.

When you're driving down the road thinking you're overheating then flick the gauge with your finger only to have it come back down to where it should be, there's a problem.

My other gripe was the 11th hour "tacked on" feel to the instrument panel.

I found one enthusiast who replaced the factory speedometer with one out of a Chevy Malibu cop car.  I'd been planning all along on upgrading to a 160 MPH unit, so this idea intrigued me.

But I had a couple of problems with this approach.  First, just where in the blue blazes (outside of Flea-Bay) would I ever find a similar speedo to add to my stock cluster?  Problem two...it's still the stock cluster in every other aspect.  Nice subtle approach though.

The problem with GM's mini gauges is that ordinary old-school aftermarket gauges won't fit, due primarily to a lack of room.

As I pondered what to replace my crappy gauges with, I stumbled across the Buick GNX dash.  It was love at first bite.  Of particular interest was the fact that the skunk-works responsible for the radical GNX saw fit to go old school and slap a set of Stewart Warner gauges in the thing.

The only problem with this idea was the limited production run of the Buick GNX.  When new folks were snapping them up as blue-chip investments, banking on the value of such a limited machine.  Of course this means parts of such a machine are hard to come by as well.

After studying various approaches other SS owners had taken, I reached a decision.  I summarily scrapped the whole "hybrid dash" idea and instead selected a Pontiac Grand Prix dash from the same era as my Monte.

I decided that the Grand Prix dash had a much more integrated look, like somebody took their time to create a usable layout.  What I plan on doing is adapting the stock instrument cluster, installing my Stewart Warner gauges, while keeping the stock idiot light pod in between.

Mexican Montes actually came with the Grand Prix dash as standard equipment.  Hmmmmm.

The more I look at this dash, the better I like it.  I really like the rectangular theme played off against the round instruments and A/C vents.  Much better than the dominant rectangle look of both the Monte and the Regal dashes.

Other enthusiasts have used the flat black approach to replace the wood grain.  I'm taking a different approach.  Harkening back to the glory days of Pontiac (and even further to cars of the '30's) I'm going to go with an engine-turned applique.

Or, I can flip it around the opposite way and engine turn the lower half.  I'm not sure which would look better.

Here's a close up shot of the circular idiot light pod that resides between the speedometer and clock.  Clock!  I'd like to know just who is such a slave to the clock that you need a 4 inch diameter version right in your face.  I'll be rectifying this shortly but it's one of those things that really make you wonder.

My plan is to retain this for a subtle and practical placement of those light you do need such as high beam indicator and turn signal indicators.  What I'd really like to have is a "cruise" lamp for the cruise control and a "low fuel" lamp in place of the useless "choke" and "service engine soon" lamps.  Not quite sure how to do that yet, other than scrounge what I want from another assembly.

Here's a close up shot of the four-gauge array immediately to the right of the speedo/clock assembly.  Unlike the mini gauges in the Monte, it looks like there's room here for your standard 2 1/8 inch gauges to be installed.  I'd really like to keep the stock plastic lense and trim for a subtle performance look.

Some early '80's versions equipped with gauges almost looked like quality aftermarket gauges.  That was my inspiration for using a Grand Prix dashboard as a foundation upon which to fabricate just what I want.  Granted I've only got idiot lights here, but they'll be going bye-bye soon enough.

Here's a shot of mocking up the SS radio to the GP dash.  The holes are so close, like maybe 1/8 inch away from fitting properly.  It looks as though it will fit just fine if I Dremel off the two tabs sticking out of the top of the radio.  I'll have to be careful not to screw up the radio in the process.

This model year probably had the old "twin knob" style of radio.  Which I really wouldn't object to since it would add to the retro vibe I'm going for.  But having already spent mucho dinero on this radio (with an equalizer and iPod hook up) I'd really like to keep this one.  Time will tell I guess.

A trip to the Super Chevy Show in September of 2010, netted me a nice pair of used seats out of a 2006 Pontiac GTO.  This has become a hugely popular upgrade on the montecarloss webside to the extent that some folks are working on custom adapter brackets.  I never intended this project to be a homage to Pontiac, but it's sure shaping up that way.

Of course the color isn't even close to the dove gray I've got planned, but then again the blue back seat won't cut it either.  My plan is to have the fronts and backs reupulstered together and then everything will match my new color scheme.  The only other big hurdle will be to nab a set of seatbelts of the proper model year, color and configuration.

A trip to the local Chevy dealership for some routine service on my Silverado became another source of inspiration.  While I waited, I moseyed over to the sales floor to check out the latest rolling stock.  Lo and behold, there was a new Corvette with a blue exterior (lighter that what I have in mind) but of particular interest was the interior.

Since I'm planning on a blue/grey theme, this looks like a real winner.  My plan is to have the fronts and backs reupulstered in the same material and color as this.  The advantage here is (other than GM doing the color coordination for me) the greater availability of material for a newer car.

When you're building a street-rod (as opposed to a numbers-matching restoration) the sky's the limit when it comes to custom touches.  For years, I'd toyed with the idea of converting my Monte from a bench seat/column set up, to bucket seats with a floor shifter.  I stumbled across this at a local swap-meet and since it came out of a Grand Prix (a G-Body cousin) it seemed a natural, so I grabbed it.

The deciding factor for me, was the fact that the guy who removed it took the time to include all the hardware, even going so far as to remove the mounting brackets from the floor of the GP.  My plan is to weld them into my Monte and install the console.  The shifter will have to be swapped out for one compatible with my automatic w/overdrive tranny, but at least this piece was the right color.

Reconfiguring the interior from a bench seat to a bucket seat set up requires several items.  Since I'm going to be changing over from a column shift arrangement to a floor-shift arrangement I'm really going to need one of these.

After getting burned once on Flea-Bay I bit the bullet and grabbed this in a buy it now auction.  This time however, I was only wagering around $200 bucks and was keeping a close watch on the 45 day PayPal INR (item not received) deadline.

I came home the Wednesday after winning the auction and it was waiting in my carport.  Now that is a little more like it!

   8/20/11 - Summer Head Cold... and Craig's List Score!

So... Here I am raring to go back to work on the build, and I get a stupid summer cold.  Sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, the whole 9 yards.  Lovely.  So I pop a Zicam cold tablet, some vitamin C, a few Ibuprofin, get comfy in my armchair and fire up the old laptop.

For whatever reason, I decide to surf on over to Craig's list.  Naturally, being a car guy, I started perusing the car parts section.  Suddenly I spot the holy grail (and a personal thorn in my side) of G-Body enthusiasts... the elusive GM 8.5 - 10 bolt rear end.

So I call the guy and it turns out he'd started installing it in a Monte Carlo dirt track car.  We talked a bit and it turns out it was unmolested with the exception of some steep racing gears.  That's okay though, I'll be purchasing all new parts (bearings, seals etc.) including the proper ratio for the street at a later date anyway.

So (cold and all) I drove over to his garage to check it out.  Turns out he's refocusing his efforts on a late 60's firebird for autocross events.  Saturday = "No Bank Access" here in the South, so I told him I'd take it and be back Monday morning with the cash.

The plan at this point is to go back to the stock 3.42 gears and a limited slip differential. Although Monte SS's came with a steeper 3.73 ratio, the extra horsepower and torque from my ZZ4 350 should make up the difference.

Here's a shot of the signature triangle tabs located on either side of the bottom of the differential cover.

As an added bonus, I later discovered that this rear also has the aluminum drums that were optional for a time.  I'll see how these perform before making a decision regarding a rear disc brake upgrade I had planned.

It had taken three of us (me, the previous owner, and his wife) to load this baby back at his garage. Evidently his wife helps him (hands on) with all his car projects!  Lucky fellow.  Thankfully, I was able to use my shop crane to lift it out of my pickup and onto a pair of jack stands in my shop.

Summer colds have got to be the worst, sapping all your energy in no time flat.  With the rear safely locked away, I took some more pain pills and crashed for a few hours.

So in the final analysis, the weekend wasn't a total loss after all.

One day, on the spur of the moment (sans camera of course), I attended a local car show and was naturally drawn to the cars from the '60's - '70's.  There, in the Pontiac area was a '65 GTO that was absolutely gorgeous.

The more I gawked at the restored beauty, the more I became convinced that I'd found the color I wanted for my SS.  The blue was so dark it was almost black, depending upon where you were standing and how the sunlight played over the surface of the sheetmetal.

The paint was also metalic which gave the paint a unique silver tone that I really liked.  Before I got a chance to forget what I'd seen, I hopped on the 'net to see if I could find an example of what I'd seen at the show.

I not only found several examples but also found the name of this particular shade of blue.  Armed with this crucial information it should be easy to have a batch mixed up in Urethane from my local paint supply shop.

Here's an indoor shot where the lighting makes the car truly appear to be black.  For the "stealth" look I have in mind for my SS, this color was a no-brainer.  I think that the subtle contrast between the SS black-out trim will look great against the blue.

Since I'm changing the door handles to an older chromed design, the jury is still out on whether or not I'll leave the chrome or go for a black powder coat.  The only thing that gives me pause is the chipping that exists in the factory black-out trim.

On one hand the flat-black trim is true to the SS design, while the chrome (or polished aluminum) has more of the "retro" feel I'm trying to capture.  Although I'm a long way off from shooting the paint, I'm pondering all the important options now.

A few minutes of research yielded the color code and name of the mix that Pontiac used on the car back in the day.  Nightwatch Blue.  Even the name sounds cool!

Of course, the original color chart does not appear to be metallic.  The placard next to the car at the show, mentioned original factory blue paint.  But who's to say the owner didn't specify a metallic paint?

Either way, I don't care.  When the time comes, I'm going to use a metallic paint because I feel that is what gave the silvery hue to the car I saw at the show.