How to Start Your Pontiac Firebird or Tran-Am Restoration Project (70-81)
Restorations are performed on many different levels. Before you start your project, you need to have a clearly defined restoration plan. I have always said that you have two types of potential candidates when shopping for a restoration project. One is the car that demands the restoration. The other is a restoration that satisfies the owner’s personal desire for how the car should look.
This Tech Tip is From the Full Book, TRANS AM & FIREBIRD RESTORATION: 1970-1/2 – 1981. For a comprehensive guide on this entire subject you can visit this link:
SHARE THIS ARTICLE: Please feel free to share this article on Facebook, in Forums, or with any Clubs you participate in. You can copy and paste this link to share: http://www.pontiacdiy.com/how-to-start-your-pontiac-firebird-or-tran-am-restoration-project-70-81/
A Firebird that demands a restoration has rust in various body parts, damage, has been sitting for a very long time, or is just plain worn out. It would be difficult to get away with not performing a restoration given the forlorn condition of the car. The car’s appearance has simply declined to an unacceptable point, and you cannot safely or reliably drive the car.
In the case of performing a restoration for personal preference, the Firebird has been maintained throughout its lifetime and maybe has been the subject of an earlier restoration. Often, many areas of the body or interior need attention; they need to be repaired or replaced. Maybe the drivetrain is starting to wear out also, so it needs some mechanical repair. Although the Firebird may be fine, it just does not inspire the confidence you used to have in it to get you from Point A to Point B. It may constantly have minor issues or failures that necessitate repair. A full restoration also may not be needed. If you cannot afford a full restoration all at once or you restore sections as time and money allows. In this event, you may be planning to do the restoration in stages and paying for it as you go.
If you are disassembling the Firebird yourself, make sure you have ample room to work. You generally need at least a full two-car garage or workshop just to be able to have the proper amount of room to work around the car. You need an additional one-car space just for parts storage so they are accessible and safe. Throwing all of the parts on the floor or in boxes without any type of organization is going to be extremely frustrating and problematic later on. Take the time to develop an organized space, and mark bags and tag all parts with information about where they were placed on the vehicle.
Type of Restoration
Planning is a key step of restoration, maybe the most important step. You’re not going to achieve the intended results if you don’t take the time to target the final results and plan the steps to get those results. Planning not only involves choosing what parts you want to use, how much power you want your engine to produce, and what colors you want to use inside and out, but also what you want for a finished product. How do you plan to use the Firebird?
This book is not about restoring a Firebird to win at a national points judging event. Instead, this book shows you how to restore a vehicle to be a reliable, well-performing weekend driver that has an original appearance.
If you have your Firebird judged at a national level, it requires parts that match or precede the date the Firebird was built. Some of these parts include the starter, alternator, carburetor, master cylinder, engine, transmission, and rear axle.
However, it doesn’t stop there. This also includes correct appearing bolts that are plated in the original finishes, the trunk, and hood latches with unique plating characteristics. The number of different finishes used throughout your Firebird can boggle the mind. Replicating all of these finishes and locating the correct components can add tremendously to the complexity and cost of the restoration, not to mention greatly extending the time it takes to restore the Firebird.
This type of restoration means you’re not so concerned with the configuration of bolts or their plating. Although you use proper accessories, such as the alternator and starter, they are an appropriate GM part. The same applies to using a Rochester Quadrajet carburetor. The Firebird needs to look correct for its particular year, but it does not need all matching dates and numbers. The Firebird can still be completely dismantled and all components and parts stripped and renewed to appear as new, but it might not necessarily hold up under the intense scrutiny that a national points judging competition entails. This particular type of restoration is a hit at the local car show where it’s judged on how fresh and beautiful it looks.
This type of restoration generally addresses the functional and cosmetic parts of the Firebird. The exterior may look pristine, but looking under the car reveals an original or unrestored undercarriage. The interior also appears to be in good condition. All or most of the mechanical and electrical functions of the Firebird are operable. The suspension may also be restored and is serviceable. The engine and transmission may not necessarily be original or numbers matching.
Basically, a driver-quality restoration is a fully functional and operable vehicle that, from all practical aspects, looks like a restored car. It does not hold up under the scrutiny of a national points judging competition. A collector who wants to purchase the car to make it into a national points judging car would view it as being in need of a restoration.
At-Home or Professional Shop Restoration
Once you’ve determined the level of restoration for your Firebird or Trans Am project, you need to determine your personal involvement in the restoration project. In doing this, you need to honestly and accurately assess your own mechanical, body restoration, electrical, and other restoration skills.
Typically car owners have some mechanical acumen so performing some engine, rear axle, suspension, and other aspects of restoration is feasible. On the other hand, bodywork is a skill and art that many have not undertaken, and many do not have the skill or the equipment. Suffice it to say that most car owners do not possess all of the necessary skills to restore the entire car. A person needs to restore the engine, transmission, and axle assembly; repair and/ or install new body panels; replace electrical system components; reupholster seats; and work on many other systems. These different components require a specialized skill set. Therefore, most owners choose the components they can competently restore themselves and leave other component restoration to the professionals.
Another option is to leave the entire restoration to a professional shop. This decision is also dictated by your budget for the project. The average pricing per hour at a professional restoration shop could range from $35 per hour in the South to well in excess $100 per hour in the Northeast. Be wary of shops that say they do everything in house. They should be upfront with what exactly work they perform in house and what they sublet. Ask them if they guarantee the work of the shops that they sublet to. It is common for one-stop shops to farm out machine shop– related work, automatic transmission overhauls, gauge restorations, and interior-related work, but that should be about it.
You could also assume the position of a general contractor. You can have your car spread all throughout the city, state, or country and deal with all the different entities and manage their production. It all depends on what you can and are willing to do. But remember: It is very easy to think the project will take far less time than it actually does.
A typical high-end restoration for a Firebird in fairly solid condition can range between $40,000 to more than $100,000. A concours restoration can run well north of that figure, especially if there is a lot of rust and critical parts are missing. Obviously, the dollar range varies drastically depending on the starting condition of your Firebird, the completeness or lack of it, and what your ultimate goal is for the finished product.
Restoring a car presents certain challenges and complexities. Typical restorations involve many compo nent groups, so the planning, timing, and execution of each restoration process are important. A restoration shop that can handle everything in house is the most preferable way to go about getting the best restoration. When you have many different subcontractors performing many different tasks on your car and something goes wrong, they always point the finger elsewhere, leaving you with little to no recourse.
If you subcontract work on your restoration project, you have to be an involved and astute project manager. You need to accurately inspect and evaluate the work being performed so problems can be recognized and resolved if and when they crop up.
When selecting a restoration shop, you should visit it multiple times if possible. See what cars are being worked on and talk to the employees. You don’t need to go into details but just have some general automotive conversation.
Of course, you want to make sure the shop is knowledgeable about Pontiacs, especially Firebirds. As with all other makes and models, Firebirds have their eccentricities, and a knowledgeable shop is familiar with their quirks. The last thing you want is to pay for those at the shop to learn on your car. Don’t take their word for being familiar with Firebird restorations. Take a tour of the shop and see if Firebirds are in the process of being restored. If not, ask for references, especially Firebird owners. Ask if any of the shop’s customers’ Firebirds have been featured in a magazine or on a website. See if the employees are friendly and knowledgeable and if they appear to be enthusiastic about their jobs.
You want to know if the shop has the proper equipment to restore your car too. Does it have MIG welders, rotisseries, a paint booth, lifts, air compressors, and sandblasting cabinets? Is it in the backyard of someone’s home or in a proper building? Does the owner or shop manager answer your questions with knowledgeable and direct answers? Are completed vehicles at the shop so that you can judge their quality? Ask about the shop’s hourly rate and how billing works. Most professional shops work on an hourly rate.
Whether you have decided to perform the restoration on your own or to subcontract out the work, the same principle applies to whomever you are looking to do business with. You want to feel confident that whoever is going to be working on your car or parts is responsive to you and will get the job done.
Restoration Process in a Nutshell
Another aspect of planning is determining the sequence of how to proceed. If you are going into a full restoration, you need to take steps to avoid performing redundant labor. You also have to plan the necessary sequence of events to keep the project rolling smoothly.
Organization is key when restoring a car: not only to save time, but also to save money. You should disassemble your Firebird from the outside going in. Exterior trim should be the first component removed. A variety of reveal molding tools are available for efficiently removing the trim.
The first stage of actual restoration starts with the subframe, suspension, rear axle, and underside of the body. You should restore these components first so you have a roll ing vehicle because it’s much easier to work on than one that is not mobile.
In addition, the Firebird should have all four wheels and sit on the suspension because this is the foundation for restoration. This means that when you are correcting gaps or replacing welded-on panels, they are placed and gapped as the vehicle sits. There will be no further need to correct gap issues later on if you follow this approach.
The next sequence is to work on the body shell, then install and align the front fenders, bumper, and hood. Then do the same for the doors and trunk lid. Once all of the gaps have been corrected and aligned in this test fit, they need to be removed, but the hard work is done.
Then it’s time to block sand and primer the body and bolt-on parts. Engine, transmission, wiring, accessories, and all other operational systems are the next stage in the restoration process. The edging of the bolt-on body parts and the body shell need to be refinished in the correct paint and clear coat. You can now reassemble your previously aligned parts.
Once that is all done, the car is ready to go into the booth for a complete refinishing. Next is wet sanding and polishing the body. Exterior trim reassembly is next. The interior should be the last operation you do for completion.
Also, in my experience, machine shops that rebuild engines always take longer than they say they will. One of the first things you should do is get your engine ready for transport to a machine shop. I have had engines come back in several weeks and I have had engines come back after 16 months. Obviously that kind of time can seriously impact completion of your restoration.
Evaluating the Car
Evaluating a car for restoration is also important. I provide some guidance below for inspecting and evaluating a car. But it is wise to use a qualified professional to inspect the particular car. This person can recognize telltale signs of big and costly problems that can easily go undetected by someone who is unfamiliar with the cars. Bear in mind that these second-generation Firebirds are more than 34 years old. The Firebirds all have typical areas for rust and common wear areas and issues. Most have already had some work done to them as described earlier.
If you are looking at a Firebird for potential purchase, you want to ensure that it is properly evaluated for its current completeness and functionality. The better the condition of the car, the easier the restoration. This is especially true if you are contemplating a driver-quality restoration as you will not be replacing or restoring every single component as you would in a high-end or concours restoration. Completeness is still paramount when considering the higher end or concours restorations as any critical parts that are missing drive the costs up even further. This is especially important when correct numbered parts are not present. Also, it is important to have an experienced appraiser who is familiar with Pontiacs because these cars have some unique characteristics.
Take your time when inspecting and look everywhere for evidence of past and present leaks. Pay particular attention if an area is cleaner than the surrounding area as that may indicate recent repairs or an attempt to cover up a problem.
Parts acquisition is an important piece of your restoration. You must determine which parts need to be replaced, the available budget for them, and order the parts at the correct time during the restoration. You don’t need parts sitting around for long periods of time.
Although the Firebird is a popular vehicle to restore, all OEM parts are not available as reproduction parts. Hence, do not make the assumption that everything you need is available. And if an OEM part is beyond repair or restoration, you need to source a used part that can be restored.
Typical parts that are not reproduced are the one-year-only 1971 Firebird fender, the front bumper for 1970–1972, the front bumper for 1973, the 1974–1976 front and rear bumpers, the 1976 front bumper cover reinforcements and header panels, the 1977 and 1978 rear reinforcements, and the 1979–1981 rear bumper reinforcement to name a few. Taillights for the 1979–1981 Firebirds and Trans Am models are also not reproduced. The padded dash and instrument clus ter bezels with gold, silver, and wood grains are not reproduced either.
Do not throw anything away until you not only have located the new part, but actually have it in your hand and have test fitted it to ensure it functions the same as the part it is replacing. The last thing you want to do is to throw out a part only to find it is not commonly available. Finding a used OEM part can slow the progress of your restoration.
It is also important not to purchase “perishable” parts too early on. For example, purchasing a new battery at the beginning is not a good idea because it can go dead from sitting. The warranty period also starts as soon as you purchase it, not when you install it. This is especially important if you are using a reproduction restoration battery because they are very expensive.
Tires are another example. I wait until the car is painted and the drivetrain is installed before purchasing tires. This way they are not becoming flat spotted from sitting or possibly having overspray on them from the painting process.
NOS (new old stock) parts were originally manufactured either by the factory or the original parts vendor. Their intent was to be used either on the assembly line or in the dealer network as a warranty replacement or for retail sale.
Obviously, these parts have not been made for quite some time. Usually a collector hoards these parts, and when they do come up for sale, they are generally very expensive. I am not saying that you should not consider an original (NOS) part for your restoration, but you need to recognize that you will pay a premium for it.
For example, an NOS door skin simply clamps on and requires minimal fitment to sit correctly on your car. An aftermarket door skin requires much more additional work to fit correctly on the door shell. That labor difference could quickly close the gap (no pun intended) to the cost of the NOS skin. In addition, the aftermarket door skin uses thinner-gauge sheet metal and is therefore more susceptible to dings.
Most, if not all, reproduction parts start out as a copy of an original or used part. Factories generally do not release (if they still have them) original blueprints of the individual parts, and the stamping dies are usually worn beyond any further use. When an overseas manufacturer sets up dies, molds, and other tooling, they are using an existing part, so it’s a copy of a copy. As a consequence, these parts often are not pre cision manufactured and do not fit properly.
As you well know, the vast majority of the reproduction parts are manufactured overseas. Whenever you build a product to a price point instead of a quality point, there are bound to be issues. Check carefully if a particular part is supposedly made in the United States. A part can be made overseas and assembled here and the company can legally claim it as “Made in USA.”
This is not to say that all reproduction parts are inferior. It is in your best interest to ask knowledgeable restoration shops what parts they use; they know what installs easily and what takes an inordinate amount of time to fit correctly. This problem is not unique to classic automobiles. The collision industry has had a long-standing feud with the insurance companies that require shops to use aftermarket parts and do not allow them the proper amount of time to fit the parts correctly.
Bear in mind that the businesses that commonly sell these parts are simply distributors, not manufacturers. When it comes to sheet metal, only so many manufacturers of the reproduction parts exist. Stamping dies are expensive to make, so manufacturers make sure the particular panel they are stamping will sell in high numbers.
Some distributors that sell aftermarket or reproduction parts also may make their own parts. It is a good idea to call them and ask them who makes their parts and where they were made. Where can you purchase reproduction parts? A lot of places, but you may have to hunt around a little.
Ames Performance Engineering, The Parts Place, Original Parts Group (OPG), Classic Industries, Year One, Goodmark Industries, and Dynacorn are all good sources for finding reproduction parts for your Firebird. Many reproduction part sellers also can be found on eBay. Do your research.
If you buy an inferior part, don’t assume that this is the only way it comes. There might be a different manufacturer that offers the same part, which may or may not be better quality. To avoid disappointment, just assume that any reproduction part you purchase will require some degree of additional work to fit properly.
Organize Your Parts
As you disassemble your Firebird, you need to have tags, markers, plastic zip-type bags, and other containers on hand. The bags with the white writing areas on them are the best. It is important to use individual bags for each panel or component you remove. One reason is that it keeps the guesswork to a minimum as to where those bolts and associated hardware came from. Another reason, and probably the most important, is that if a bag is lost, you have not lost an entire section of your car. I also like to include a separate identifying tag inside the bag in case the outer writing is somehow blurred or wiped off.
Document the Details
Be sure to document the disassembly of your Firebird so you correctly reassemble it and avoid time-consuming hassles. You don’t want to waste time figuring out how it came apart and how it needs to go back together. Although shop manuals and this book detail disassembly and assembly procedures, they cannot cover specific aspects.
You should have a notebook in the shop and write down specific items that are needed for proper reassembly.
Photographs taken before and during disassembly are also very important. Take an enormous number of photos and download them daily into your computer. Separate them according to each part of the car and make sub-folders so they are easily found when you need to look at them. That way you are not looking through a bunch of photos when you need to find something.
It is important to designate an indoor area to hold the parts. The storage space should also be sealed from rodents. The last thing you want is to have your wiring and seats damaged. It also is important to make sure soft items do not come in contact with heavy items so designate separate areas for these. Another area should be designated for parts that are being sent out for other people to work on: the carburetor, distributor, stainless trim, interior items, and whatever other items are being subcontracted out. It should also be an area that is close by and you are able to roll heavy items in or out easily.
Never make the assumption that something, such as a molding on a door panel, can be easily replaced. If that door panel is damaged because something heavy was placed on it, you may be surprised just how difficult it could be to find a replacement or try to get it repaired so it doesn’t look as if it were damaged previously.
Also, do not throw anything out until you are sure that you will not need it. One never knows what the replacement wiring harness may be missing. It could be missing a correct connector or a sub-harness that is not reproduced. The reproduction door panels may not come with a particular piece of trim. Maybe the reproduced part is so awful that you would rather reuse the original part. Another possibility is that the reproduction part may be missing a small but nearly impossible part to attach it to wherever it goes or for it to function properly. You can, however, throw away the rubber coolant hoses, weatherstrip, and rubber components because they can be replaced. Old carpet and seat covers, along with the padding, can also be tossed as they are usually just nasty and smell awful. Air-conditioning hoses and lines should be kept as you may need them to have a pattern should those lines or hoses not be reproduced. A typical car has more than 20,000 parts. On a total restoration, you remove every part and purchase a substantial percentage of those parts as replacements. That should give you an idea of just how much space you really need and how important being organized is.
Greasy, rusty parts require cleaning for any restoration project. Properly cleaning pieces takes time and it’s a dirty job. You should clean as many parts as possible during disassembly with good old mineral spirits. All the oil and grease must be completely removed for best results. When bead blasting, grease and oil contaminate the blasting agent, plus it forces the contamination into the parts. Older mineral spirits–based wash tanks with recycling capabilities can be used.
You need a number of cleaning brushes to ease the removal of all the grime. Stainless steel bristle brushes work great on aluminum surfaces to remove corrosion and baked-on grease.
Carbon-steel brushes work well on iron castings and all internal iron engine pieces (engine blocks, cylinder heads, connecting rods, etc.).
Brass brushes work best on bronze or brass fittings. Brass brushes transfer brass from the bristles to aluminum and iron when scrubbing pieces.Nylon bristle brushes work well to loosen the grease and dirt buildup on parts. Then the correct metal bristle brush is used to do the final corrosion removal and cleaning.
Tools and Equipment
The tools required for restoration depend on the work planned for your Firebird and your skill level. Some of the more expensive tools and larger tools such as an engine hoist are usually available for rental from a tool rental facility.
A small fortune in tools may be needed to perform the restoration. Depending on your preference and wallet, you may want to use air- and battery-powered tools rather than manual tools. If you plan to do more than one restoration, you might want to invest in tools made by a high-quality (and high price point) tool company, such as Snap-on or Blue Point. Sears probably offers the best bang for the buck and its tools are good quality.
These companies offer lifetime warranties, which come in handy when a tool fails. All tools fail, so don’t be surprised when they do. Other tool companies are out there, but check their warranties. Cheap tools make the job harder and can actually damage the fasteners, which, in turn, make the restoration that much more difficult.
The same goes for materials. Using off-brand sandpapers and body supplies will come back and haunt you in a big way. I have tried all sorts of brands and I recommend using 3M or Norton for the majority of your materials. Yes, they cost more, but they last longer. Rage Gold for body filler is another recommendation. Cheap body fillers do not provide professional results so don’t cut corners when it comes to selecting them. If your body filler shrinks or cracks, you have wasted a lot of time and money.
And the same goes for paint. Name brands, such as PPG, Sikkens, Dupont, and Glasurit, provide exceptional-quality products. Bear in mind that it is important to stay within the same manufacturer family for all of the chemicals that mix with the paint.
The disassembly of a second- generation Firebird requires organization, paying attention, and, most important, patience. These vehicles were assembled many years ago; even in the best of environments, they do not come apart easily. Clips break, bolts seize and eventually snap, moldings bend, and something almost always gets damaged or lost. Add in prior work that may or may not have put parts or hardware back on and you can have a real headache on your hands.
The actual procedures may be somewhat unique to a particular model, but the process is the same as for many vintage cars from this era. Taking on a restoration project at your home or having a restoration shop tackle the job is not for the faint of heart.
Start by removing the exterior trim. Make a plan to start at one end of the car and work your way toward the other end. Which end you start at is not important. Just be methodical in your approach. Make notes as you go, especially if some part had hidden fasteners or was particularly difficult to remove and reference it in a snapshot.
Reveal moldings close the gap between the body and the glass on the windshield and the rear window. Spring clips that slide over a welded stud attached to the body hold the moldings.
You can also use a small flat-blade screwdriver to pop the molding out of its retaining clip. The technique is to insert either the flat-blade screwdriver or the reveal molding tool in between the bottom side of the molding and the glass where the clip is located. Then you slightly twist the tool or screwdriver, which, in turn, applies pressure to the molding and makes the molding pop out of the clip.
Take care so you don’t crack or scratch the glass, or bend the molding. The quality of the aftermarket moldings is not nearly as good as that
of the original equipment moldings. The aftermarket versions bend easily and are then generally unusable. The original moldings can stand repairs, but they should be sent to someone who specializes in aluminum and stainless-steel molding repair. (Hemmings Motor News, for example, includes businesses that specialize in molding repair and polishing in its Services Offered section.)
Almost all of the other exterior trim on your Firebird is held in by screws or just pops off with some pressure (similar to the technique for the front and rear glass moldings). The trim that is similar to the front and rear glass moldings is the vinyl top (if equipped) trim, or the upper door trim if your Firebird has the exterior decor trim.
The easiest way to tell if your Firebird was equipped with the exterior trim is to look at the trim on the back side of the hood and the top of the fender ears in addition to the doors. If your Firebird does not have that trim, refer to PHS paperwork to see if it is listed on the manufacturer-to-dealer invoice.
Wheel flares and spoilers are often considered trim items. Make sure they are removed. Most of the attaching hardware is specialized for that individual component and is difficult to replace. Properly label the hardware and bag it. Reinstall the nuts and bolts onto the removed parts so they’re not lost or you’re not confused when reassembly time comes.
Once the trim has been removed, bagged and tagged, relocate it to a safe and organized place for storage.
You need to remove the 1/2inch bolts securing the tracks and mechanisms in order to remove the components. The glass, inner and outer window weatherstrip, regulator hardware, door lock and handle along with the door latch mechanism are all in the door. If your Firebird has power windows and door locks, the wiring harness connectors need to be disconnected at the window motor, door lock switch (if a later-year model), and power lock actuator.
Removal starts at the glass mounts at the base of the glass. Once the glass is loose, simply grab the glass on each end and lift it out. As you lift, it may be necessary to lift the rear of the glass up to a 45-degree angle to allow the roller to escape the track.
Next is to disconnect the plug from the power window motor and power lock actuator (if equipped). Then, remove the bolts to the window regulator; they are attached to the inside of the door shell. On cars with power windows, the regulator may be riveted in. These rivets can be drilled out. Once the regulator is loose, it can be lifted out through the top of the door.
The harness can be threaded through the harness boot that goes between the door and hinge pillar. The harness boot needs to be gently removed with a flat-blade screwdriver to pop the boot out. Reproductions of these boots are not accurate and fit poorly.
Remove the doors next. Use a 9/16-inch socket and ratchet to remove the four bolts that connect the hinge to the doorjamb.The trunk lid is held on with two 1/2-inch bolts on each side. How to remove the fenders, bumpers, radiator support, and hood is covered in Chapter 3.
Be sure to inspect parts as you remove them along with the attaching hardware. If you see a problem that creates rust or another systemic problem, you need to correct it before you assemble the car.
For example, cowl side panels commonly rust at the lower triangulated portion, so use a medium-size flat-blade screwdriver to poke the side panel to see if it’s rusted. You should poke all around using a good amount of force. Leaves, twigs, and other organic material fall on top of the cowl and into the sides. Over the years, the debris builds up, clogs the drains, and moisture accumulates. Add in car washing, rain, snow, and other wet environments and over time you have the perfect recipe for rust.
Once the inner and outer fenders have been removed, you have easier access to the engine and transmission, which makes removal easier. It is a good idea to drain the engine oil and transmission fluid at this point. Do not use the same drain pan for both fluids because waste recyclers do not accept mixed fluids.
The engine and transmission are easier to remove from the car with the front sheet metal removed. This also prevents any body panels from potential damage during engine removal.
My experience is that it is a much cleaner job and takes less time to remove the engine and leave the transmission in place. The transmission can be easily removed later in the restoration process and with much less mess. However, if you have already removed the engine or you want to remove the transmission at an early stage in the process for rebuilding, you can use the following process.
To remove the transmission, you need to first remove the exhaust manifolds, head pipes, and starter. Move to the motor mounts that have 5/8-inch bolts to hold the engine to the 3/4-inch nut. It may be possible to still have access with the exhaust manifolds present, but it depends on the individual setup. In this area, oil leaks play into your favor and you can often avoid removing rusted fasteners. The engine and/or transmission gaskets and seals have deteriorated. Years of seeping oil have coated these bolts, so they are rarely rusted and come out quite easily. A couple of 1/2-inch-drive ratchets with extensions are usually sufficient to remove the nut and bolt. Once you remove the nut, you can lift the engine just slightly to take the weight off of the mount so the bolt slides through the mount ears.
The transmission mount is held in by a single 15-mm nut attached to the transmission crossmember. On earlier models, the bolt is most likely an SAE size. The transmission crossmember is held in with four nuts and bolts on each end at the subframe. It takes several steps to separate the transmission from the car.
First, loosen and remove the bolts that attach the transmission bellhousing to the engine. Next, remove the exhaust head pipe where it attaches to the exhaust manifold with sockets. Disconnect all electrical harness connectors by pressing the connector tabs or pulling them off (depending which connector is used). Use a flat-blade screwdriver to depress the tab on the fuel-line clip and pull the fuel feed and return line from the fuel pump.
Use a line wrench to disconnect the power steering pressure hose, and disconnect the return line with a flat-blade screwdriver. If equipped with A/C, remove the A/C compressor at its mounting bracket and lay to the side. Remove any vacuum lines that connect to the body. The vacuum lines are pressure fitted on which can be removed by simply pulling on the hose. Some of the larger lines may have spring clamps that can easily be removed with a pair of pliers.
Remove any engine ground straps at the engine block. Disconnect the positive battery cable at the battery end. Remove the engine.
If you have a manual transmission a few more parts need to be disconnected. Clevis pins hold in the clutch pedal linkage rods. The “Z” bar requires removal because the pedal linkage attaches to it. It just slips off once the engine is removed. Remove the nut that holds the lockout rod. The shifter handle bolts can be removed from the interior side with a socket by pushing down on the shifter boot.
I do not recommend removing the engine and transmission as a unit because there really is not enough room in the engine compartment to slide the engine forward enough to allow the transmission to clear the firewall. The front of the car would have to be lifted very high to allow the transmission enough clearance to swing. The angle that would be required to allow the transmission to clear would result in the transmission leaking substantially even if it had been drained.
Four bolts and cage nuts secure the body mount bushings to the body of a second-generation Firebird. Generally, these bolts are rarely removed, and corrosion sets in from exposure to the elements over time. As such, these bolts and nuts are often very difficult to remove. The nuts are simply thick, solid-steel square nuts through which the bolt threads. The nut is held in place by a sheet-metal cage that is tack welded at four corners to prevent the nut from spinning when loosening or tightening the bolt.
You may try to remove the bolt, and the corrosion is so solid that the weakest link lets go. When the front two cages break loose, they are easily accessible and can be tack welded. The rear two-cage nuts become more of an issue when the cages fail because they are located below the floor and are not accessible from underneath. The mount and frame rail are in the way.
If the bolts spin while you are removing them, you need to gain access to the cage nuts. Use a rotary tool with a cutting wheel to cut through the floor, peel back the sheet metal, and access the cage nut.
If the cage has simply broken loose, use a wire brush to clean the threads. Use a MIG welder to tack weld the cage back together.
If the cage is rotted, tack weld the nut itself, so you can remove the bolt. In my case, the cage was in good condition. I recommend spraying a rust penetrant onto the bolt from the cage side and allowing it to soak for a few hours. Use a socket and ratchet to remove the bolt rather than an air ratchet or impact wrench because you don’t want to strip or snap the bolt.
Once you have removed the bolt, push the floor flap back and tack weld it in place to hold it closed. Using the techniques described in Chapter 3, weld the flap fully and perform bodywork to finish the repair properly so no evidence of it having been done can be found.
Step 1:Remove Subframe
The forward bolt is located at the base of the firewall next to the rear of the front fenders. The bolt can be removed with a 1/2-inch-drive socket and ratchet. If you experience difficulty in loosening the bolt you may need to replace the ratchet with a breaker bar to gain leverage. These bolts hold in the forward portion of the subframe. It also may be necessary to lubricate the threads of the bolt, which are accessible from the other side just below the firewall in the engine compartment.
The rear frame bolt is located underneath the front seats on the underside of the body at the rear portion of the frame. Removing the rear frame bolts requires the same technique as the forward bolts. Unfortunately, you cannot access the other side of the bolts to lubricate the threads. I do not recommend the use of an air impact tool because the extreme amount of torque may break the cage nut in the floor, or even worse, break the bolt.
Step 3: Remove Subframe (CONTINUED)
The entire subframe can be removed with the front suspension still attached by removing two bolts on each side. (The front sheet metal should have been already removed.) The subframe bolts should be fully removed only after making sure the body shell is properly supported on the rocker panel ridge and the front of the subframe is supported with small jackstands under the lower control arms.
Two floor jacks under the control arms makes it easier to roll the subframe out from the underside of the body when you have finished disconnecting everything. I do not recommend using a single floor jack placed under the suspension crossmember because the subframe would be unbalanced and rock from side to side. Additionally, the underside of the suspension crossmember is thin steel and dents easily.
Step 4 :Strip Paint
The body requires additional jackstands placed under the forward portion of the rocker panels to allow the subframe to be removed as the front suspension is supporting the front with jackstands placed there previously. As far as stripping the paint off the body, you have some choices. I usually determine the method based on how many paint layers are on the car. If the car has the original paint or one repaint, it is more productive to hand and power sand along with chemically strip the paint. If there have been multiple paint jobs and a large presence of body filler, it makes sense to have the body media blasted. I prefer the 80/20 plastic media as it does not generate excessive heat and the material can be re-used. If the car is between those two examples, I use soda blasting. Bear in mind that if any of the high-pressure blasting material gets into cracks and crevices you may not even know it. It is imperative that a high-pressure blow out be performed on the car several times during the bodywork stage and before the paint process begins. I do not like to use chemical-dip processes as they are extremely caustic and get into areas that you will never be able to treat. These exposed areas could possibly start rusting from the inside out.
Step 5: Take Measurements
First, measure the distance from the head of the bolt on the underside to the inner rocker pinch weld. (The pinch weld is where the outer and inner rocker panels are joined together and the lip runs from front to rear between the front and rear tires.) Then, measure in the top of the floor and you have the location for your cage. With a magic marker, indicate where you will cut (on three sides). The size of the panel only needs to be as wide as the frame rail underneath.
Step 6: Cut Floorpan
There is no easy or convenient way to access the cage nut when the cage has failed. You have to cut through the floorpan using a metal cutting tool. A pneumatic or electric rotary tool with a small 3-inch cutoff wheel works well for this job. Bodywork or home improvement stores sell cutting discs such as the one shown. A 100-grit wheel is just fine. Use a Sharpie or scratch awl to mark the cut lines. Wear eye protection. Simply press the trigger and cut along the previously marked lines on three sides. Use the cut-off wheel on three sides. Peel back the metal flap you have created with a flat-blade screwdriver or pry bar.
Step 7: Remove Nut
After you have pried the flap up, the cage is revealed. Obviously in this case the measurement was correct. The intent is not to have to make many cuts so that closing the hole is easily done and does not turn into a repair patch. Once the cage nut has been revealed, you can see where the cage welds have failed. If you have a broken bolt, you peel back the cage and remove the nut. Often the cage nuts are rusted so it is a good idea to apply lubricant.
Step 8: Remove Steering Box
Once the subframe has been removed, you can remove the three steering box bolts with a socket. In many cases, an impact wrench or air ratchet comes in handy when removing large fasteners. But you need to take a look at the condition of the fastener before you start. If the nuts or bolts are damaged or rounded off, you may need to use a breaker bar or large ratchet with a handle extension and apply consistent and moderate force until the fastener starts to turn. In addition, you should treat most bolts with a thread lubricant, such as WD-40 or PB Blaster. Impact wrenches apply an enormous amount of torque and can easily strip bolts and nuts. Use a ratchet or impact wrench to remove the nuts on the steering linkage. Once you have removed the nuts, turn them upside down and re-install them with a few turns. With a hammer, tap the nuts to break the end loose. Once the linkage pops down remove the nut and drop the link at that point. The front suspension can be removed at this time also; the procedures are covered in Chapter 9.
Crack and Fastener Inspection
Once you have separated the subframe from the body, you need to thoroughly inspect it. A lot of chassis and suspension forces are driven through the subframe and they crack, bend, and often sustain damage over time. Visually inspect for cracks or bends from prior accident damage. If the frame is bent or cracked, I recommend replacing it rather than repairing it. Finding a good used subframe is usually not difficult or very expensive.
Body mounts typically rust and openings often become irregular or egg shaped. The subframe can be effectively repaired and the repair process is not that difficult. The procedure for repairing the mounts begins with cutting out the rust area. Obtain a large thick washer with an opening of sufficient size to allow the body mount bolt to slide through. Weld the washer into place using welding techniques as described in Chapter 3.
A multi-piece reveal molding covers the edge of the front and rear glass. This molding covers the gap between the body and the glass and is held in by clips that slide onto studs welded to the body and allow the molding edge to pressure fit onto the clip. Use a reveal molding tool, which is available from most auto supply stores, because it makes the removal much easier and helps avoid damage.
You need to take all measures to prevent bending these expensive moldings. The technique is to slide the tool between the glass and the molding until you encounter some resistance. Once you are at that point, slowly and steadily twist the tool, and the clip should release the molding. The molding pieces interlock into each other; gently remove them. Place the moldings in a secure place. A good idea is to tape them to a board such as plywood or MDF so they cannot get bent.
Now you are ready to remove the glass. Adhesive holds the front and rear glass in and is very difficult to remove. The front windshield is a large piece of heavy glass that’s not easy to hold and move. Like other parts on the car, it deteriorates and weakens over time. It’s very easy to crack it during removal.
All Firebird windshields, and those on other similar-year cars, are laminated and they deteriorate over time. This laminate is a clear plastic layer sandwiched with glass on either side. It is designed to hold the glass in shape during an impact, which minimizes potential injury to passengers from large shards of glass that would come from an unlaminated windshield.
Most windshields have been replaced from normal exposure and usage. Even if windshields do not crack, they are typically pitted from road debris, chipped, and not nearly as clear as when new. A new and correct windshield is available in tinted or clear applications. The windshield can even be ordered with the correct markings and date code if so desired. That makes the decision for keeping the original windshield not so difficult.
At the rear the glass is tempered, and it’s designed to shatter into small round pieces and not sharp shards. The tempered glass can take a fair amount of abuse before breaking. It is pretty difficult to cause the rear window to shatter when removing it.
A simple and cost-effective method is available when performing the replacement job yourself. Buy a windshield removal tool kit for about $18. The kit consists of two pull handles, windshield wire, and a tool to pierce through the glass sealant so the wire can be threaded through the sealant.
Once the wire has been threaded through the opening in the sealant, you need a helper. Attach the windshield wire to the pull handles on each end. Then, you and your helper move the wire in and out as in a sawing motion while exerting upward pressure to cut through the sealant. Do not become too eager and decide to start pushing the windshield out when you reach the last couple of inches; the glass will definitely crack.
The same technique is also used for the rear glass. If your Firebird has the optional heated rear glass, it is necessary to disconnect the connectors on each side prior to starting the removal process.
Screws hold all of the other trim panels in place and are easily removed. A Torx-head bolt holds the seat belts to the floor. The roof-mounted shoulder belts on the 1970–1973 models have a single Torx-head bolt on each side. The 1974 and later Firebirds have shoulder belt retractors mounted in the roof, which are held in by three bolts. The seat belts require a ratchet to remove the bolts.
The center console removal is covered in Chapter 12. After removing the screws in the sill plates, remove the carpet by lifting it out.
Written by Melvin Benzaquen and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks