It's a real challenge to build a decent street car for less than $3,500, even when you get
This is how it started, languishing in a side yard and looking for a new home.
Let's face it, building a semirespectable street beater that has the right look, runs decently, and doesn't leave you stranded every other time you drive it is a big challenge. The easy way is to throw money at it and see what happens. But that's not the Car Craft way. Especially when Glad draws a $3,500 line in the sand and says, "I dare you to build that car!"
The Back Story
This Olds saga didn't start with me. It began with my buddy Tim Moore. Moore is the consummate bargain hound-a true car crafter. He discovered the '64 Olds F-85 in a neighborhood near his shop looking like it hadn't moved in 20 years. He offered to perform a driveway dust-off for $450, and the owners jumped at the chance. The drivetrain was forgettable with an obscure 255ci V-6, a two-speed Olds Jetaway trans, and an 8.2-inch 10-bolt with 3.31 gears. But it was a start. On the plus side, this was a two-door sedan with bucket seats and an acceptable amount of trunk-floor rust.
Moore then went on the hunt for a donor Olds, eventually finding a '72 Olds Delta 88 equipped with a 455 and a TH400 trans. He dragged this barge home, yanked the motor and trans, and sold the bench seat, tires, and eventually the rest of the car to the junkyard, recouping almost half his original investment. It's the American way of turning one man's junk into another man's treasure.
Big Motor Mastery
Moore is the master of the budget rebuild, and when the original cylinder walls were deemed good enough to handle new rings without adding new pistons, Moore scored all the major parts from PAW, including rings, bearings, and a new SSI cam and lifters for around $350. Using a simple bottle-brush cylinder hone and a little spray lube, Moore deglazed the cylinder walls, cleaned everything, and screwed the short-block back together with a new oil pump and gaskets. We've included the cam specs in a separate chart, but Moore stayed conservative with the duration, retaining the stock valvetrain.
The Olds heads are not bad, but with a 30-degree valve seat and valve sizes not much larger than a 2-bbl 350 Chevy, there was room for improvement. Moore resurfaced the valves and seats himself with a previously owned valve-grinding machine he bought at an auction for just such an opportunity. With 1.99/1.62-inch valves, the Olds is not renowned for big airflow numbers, with peak intake flow barely reaching the 200-cfm level.
To button it all up, Moore found an Edelbrock Performer dual-plane intake manifold at a swap meet to be used with the original Q-jet carburetor. The final piece was a set of Hedman long-tube headers for an A-body that required some minor hammering on a couple of tubes on the driver side to make them fit.
The maximum output available in an Olds 455 in 1972 was 300 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque with an 8.5:1 compression, so this big-block is probably making a little more than that with the headers and cam. That's not stunning power, but on a dollar-squeezing budget, it's not bad.
This is a shot of an OE Olds combustion chamber. There's no evidence of a multi-angle valv
The original headers were a bit rusty, so after they were properly tweaked to ensure they
This is how the engine looked once it was in the car, still with the original Q-jet carbur
Moore yanked the original open differential and installed the new Auburn. In our case, for
There are only a couple of companies that offer a limited-slip differential for the Olds 8
Moore also saved the TH400 out of the Olds Delta 88, and his pal Steve Bunch resurrected it with new clutches, a TransGo shift kit, and a simple spring change to increase the line pressure at wide-open throttle (WOT). Trans guru John Kilgore also encouraged us to include the electric kick-down switch that supplies 12 volts to the trans at WOT, which increases line pressure to firm up the shifts. This is a common error on TH400 trans swaps that can eventually lead to burned high-gear drum clutches.
For the rearend, Moore decided to stick with the original 8.2-inch rear-axle assembly, and later, we popped for a new Auburn limited slip from Moser while retaining the stock 3.36 rear gears. Of course, as soon as the new Auburn arrived, Moore ran across a used posi at the swap meet for $100, so our timing was weak on that one. But the good news is we now have power to both rear tires.
Olds 8.2 axles are retained by a four-bolt flange instead of the more common C-clip used in other GM 10- and 12-bolt rearends. The information we gleaned from the 442.com Web site indicates the axle bearings are also suspect. Ours were in surprisingly good shape and did not need replacing. The big limitation on the Olds 8.2 10-bolt isn't really the gears as much as it is the 28-spline axles, which are not close to being strong enough if we ever hook all the 455's torque to the track with sticky tires. Eventually, we will need a 12-bolt to add durability. But for now, consider this a 10-bolt durability test.
This is the final assembly, all torqued in place and ready to rumble. The discs require a
After enlarging the spindle-mount bolt holes in the Olds steering arms, we torqued the spi
A common swap with these early A-bodies is to dump the rather puny 911/42-inch front drum brakes in favor of '68-'72 Chevelle disc brakes. While we considered searching for a set of used disc-brake spindles and then piecing together rebuilt calipers with used or new rotors, we made the swap much easier and went for a completely assembled disc-brake conversion kit from Original Parts Group. The kit comes with the spindles already loaded with packed bearings, new seals, new rotors, and new calipers with pads. The package also comes with new flexible brake hoses, spindle nuts, and dust caps. The only change was to swap on our Olds steering arms. This required us to drill the original 71/416-inch attaching bolt holes to the newer 11/42-inch disc-brake spindle size. This beats the hell out of chasing down those little parts all over town, and the price difference was minimal.
We also replaced the stock single-reservoir master cylinder with an orphan '70 Chevelle master we had in the garage. All we had left to do was to plumb the Wilwood adjustable-brake proportioning valve into the rear brake line and the brakes were complete. This is where we learned a valuable lesson. In an attempt to make the brake lines easier to make, we plumbed the rear brakes into the front master cylinder outlet. At the time, we didn't think this mattered, despite knowing all GM cars are designed to actuate the front brakes with the forward-most portion of the master cylinder-designated the primary piston. We immediately ran into a problem where the master would not make pressure. We tried all sorts of solutions until our pals at Stainless Steel Brakes told us to switch the master cylinder outlets so the rear reservoir actuated the rear brakes. As soon as we did this and bled the system, we had instant pressure and solid brakes. We'd rather not admit how much time we spent trying to figure it out.
This is what the interior looked like after we pulled the seats. It was hashed.
The Olds' exterior has the perfect street-racer/barn-find patina that is popular right now, and we don't plan to change it except to get rid of the surface rust and sand and primer/sealer the roof. But the interior was 40-year-old shabby and was in need of serious intervention. Tim had his buddy Jack Weimer install the OPG seat covers front and rear. We dug up a used carpet set from one of our old Chevelle projects, and with a little spitand polish, we had the interior looking decent. Tim rescued a pair of absolutely ancient Stewart-Warner gauges from his archives to clue us in on oil pressure and water temp.
Once we did all this, it became apparent the San Andreas Fault-sized dashpad cracks would have to go. Finding a used pad on eBay seemed like an exercise in frustration, so we yanked the whole dash apart and commissioned Just Dashes to rejuvenate the pad. It cost us five big ones because of the size of the job, which included recovering the glovebox door, but the result completely transformed the look of the interior into a real winner.
The Olds also came with a complete center console that was originally out of another car, and Tim found a steering column that got rid of the column shifter. We originally attempted to use the stock Olds console shifter, but the TH400 case is so close to the floorpan on these early A-bodies, the shifter wouldn't work. Our solution was a B&M QuickSilver cable shifter we bought at a swap meet. We really wanted to add a pair of repro door panels from OPG, but the budget was already reeling from cost overruns, so we erred on the side of fiscal responsibility. Damn....
We repainted the dash with a rattle can, which didn't turn out the best because we were in
We also restored the dash using the Just Dashes pad that, along with a little paint and po
Jack Weimer re-covered the seats for Tim before we bought the car, so we benefited from hi
We also needed new rubber. We found a pair of Chevy 15x7-inch Rally wheels at the swap mee
We also bolted in the new/used B&M QuickSilver cable shifter to get rid of the stock facto
The completed interior still needs better door panels, but the rebuilt dashpad and instrum
At LACR, the Olds ran a rather anemic 2.07 60-foot time on its way to an altitude-correcte
Road and Track
In typical car-crafter fashion, the Olds had perhaps 50 miles on it when we drove it to the starting gate of the Anti-Tour this year. At first, all went well. But after two bouts of full electrical-system failure, Moore discovered a weak pin at the fuse-box connection at the firewall. Later that night at the RaceLegal (racelegal.com) drags at Qualcomm Stadium, the Olds spun the tires to a 9.69/76.53 mph in the eighth-mile, comparable to a 14.80 pass in the quarter.
On the road, the Olds is fun to drive, although way soft on the springs and shocks. Mileag
A couple of weeks later, we wandered up to Los Angeles County Raceway in Palmdale, California, to get a true 1,320-foot evaluation. On its best pass with absolutely no tuning other than setting the timing at 16 degrees initial, the Olds ran an observed 14.40/94.17 that altitude-corrects to a sea level 13.94 at 97.35. This was with the rock-hard, used rear 255/60R15 tires. We tried a set of sticky Mickey Thompson ET Drag tires just for fun, but the car ran exactly the same, so clearly we have some work to do on enhancing the Olds' low-speed torque, which was exactly the opposite of what we thought we would face. This is all part of the fresh-off-the-jackstands work that any new buildup faces. Our latest theory is that it's either the carburetor or the stock converter is lame. We'll let you know what we find.
|Description ||PN ||Source ||Price |
|'64 Olds F-85 ||Used || ||$450.00 |
|Olds 88 w/455 and TH400 ||Used || ||200.00 |
|Rebuild TH400 (friend) ||N/A || ||200.00 |
|Converter,six-cylinder ||Used || ||50.00 |
|Rings, bearings, gasket set || ||PAW || 244.95 |
|SSI cam ||10334 ||PAW ||49.95 |
|Hydraulic lifter set ||PAW-951 ||PAW ||49.95 |
|Performer intake || 2151 ||Used ||50.00 |
|Hedman headers ||58150 ||Summit Racing ||75.00 |
|Radiator ||Used || ||25.00 |
|Shifter, B&M ||Used || ||25.00 |
|Coating for headers || || ||100.00 |
|Disc brakes ||CH24821 ||OPG ||549.95 |
|Wilwood prop valve ||260-8419 ||Summit Racing || |
|Dashpad || ||Just Dashes ||500.00 |
|Tires, ($30 frt., $70 rear) ||Used || ||100.00 |
|Wheels ($50 frt., $100 rear) ||Used || ||150.00 |
|Holley 750-cfm carb || || eBay ||53.01 |
|Posi 8.2 || || ||455.00 |
|Ratech install kit ||309K ||Summit Racing ||85.99 |
|Gear lube, 2 quarts 90W || || ||5.00 |
|Seat covers, OPG || || ||384.99 |
|Carpet set, used ||used || ||20.00 |
|Total || || ||$3,865.67 |
|Refund Checks |
|’73 Olds sold for scrap || || ||$100.00 |
|Tires from Olds || || ||50.00 |
|Front seat from Olds || || ||50.00 |
|Refund Subtotal || || ||$200.00 |
|Grand Total || || ||$3,665.67 |
|Camshaft Specs |
|Cam ||Dur. |
|SSI, Int. ||280 ||214 ||0.472 ||112 |
|Exh. ||290 ||224 ||0.496 || |
Flip's Tire Center
7745 Sepulveda Blvd.
Xtreme Performance Heat Coatings
Jack Weimer Upholstery
Performance Automotive Warehouse
5941 Lemona Ave.
11110 Adwood Dr.
Original Parts Group