Let’s face it, F-bodies aren’t getting any newer, and as they continue to age, more problems continue to arise. Take for instance, our new project car. Since we’ve managed to skip a formal introduction, we’ll take it upon ourselves to use this tech story as the perfect opportunity. Our aptly named Project Phoenix, a one-owner 2002 Trans Am WS6, will be getting some love in the coming months. You might remember it from the fuel upgrade story in the April issue.
It has received some tech in the past, most notably, a set of ported 5.3L heads, a high-lift bumpstick, and pretty much every typical bolt-on you can throw at a 4th-Gen with an LS1 (nope, no truck block or LS3 here). But with time, comes the need for update and change, and before we can even get serious about what’s under the hood, there are simple items that we need to address first. Most notably, the headlight and rear antenna motors.
Why bother with something so petty? Simple, while many 4th-Gen F-body owners are quite satisfied with their cars falling apart as they go down the street, we’re not so modest. Since we have pulled this car out of a 6-year hibernation, there are some things that have apparently went wrong with it while it sat – the aforementioned electric motors being among them.
Obviously, we plan on driving this car at night at some point, and the dead headlight motors just won’t cut it. After the third time of having to manually open our headlight doors, it quickly became a nuisance. And while having a power antenna that only retracts halfway up isn’t that big of a deal, it’s one of those little things that drive us crazy. Sort of like the tag that sticks up out of the back of your t-shirt. The good thing about all of this, is that Hawks Third-Generation, a leader in new and used F-body components, had just what we needed to quell our ailing electronics.
Helping us with the install was Greg Lovell of AntiVenom Performance. The installation is pretty straightforward, but we needed the extra set of hands being as how someone had to use the camera. Tough job, but someone has to do it.
1. Knowing that our headlight motors and rear antenna were shot from an earlier diagnosis, we ordered up these replacements from Hawk’s Third-Generation. I know that sounds odd since our car is a 4th-Gen, but Hawks carries everything for third- and fourth-generation F-bodies, 5th-Gen Camaros, and even parts for GTOs, Corvettes, and CTS-Vs these days. So we ordered up a pair of a brand new brass headlight gears, a new rear antenna assembly rebuild kit, and a set of rebuilt headlight motors from Bruce Hawkins over at Hawks. Why rebuilt headlight motors? Considering that replacing our broken versions for brand new units would set us back about $530, we’ve elected to save some cash for other things—like more horsepower.
2. Greg started up front, and immediately set about removing the headlight assemblies. First we disconnected the battery: safety first, then teamwork. Then removed the headlight bezel, the steel headlight doors, and then the two 10mm bots holding each of the assemblies in place – after you disconnect the electrical connectors, of course. With those things out of the way, we were able to access the motors themselves, relieving them from the two bolts and swing arm that hold them in place. Yes, it is possible to do this entire job with the headlight assemblies still in their as-delivered locations, but we, and Greg in particular, like to have a little more arm room to work with. Unless you have scrawny arms, you’ll have difficulty doing so, otherwise.
3. Now that everything was out of Phoenix, we took the rebuilt headlight motors Hawks had sent us, and we opened up the case to allow for removal of the stock gear. The OEM piece from GM came delivered in a very lightweight but very wearable, nylon (plastic) gear. Overtime, the gear has the tendency to get worn in the center by the metal that cranks it over. Why does this happen? Because the control module senses an amp/current drain, and then kills the power going to the motor. As a result, every time you turn your headlights on or off, the headlight motor, briefly, tries to raise or lower (depending on what you’re trying to do) the headlight, even though it can’t. The brass gears we ordered from Hawks solve this problem. Why didn’t GM do this in the first place? Probably “because bean counters.” Greg used the Hawks supplied gear oil to prevent any premature wear on our new gears. Without it, we would be in the same boat we are in now in a few months time.
4. Greg used a two-part epoxy (available at any local auto parts store) to glue the housing back together, and gave it some time to dry. Once we gave the glue time to work its magic, Greg reinstalled the headlight assemblies, and put them back together. With everything buttoned back up, and knowing that we lined up the housing mounting bolts exactly where they originally were, we tightened those down bolts as well. It’s always best to ensure the bodylines match up with the hood when closed. Otherwise, they’ll rub whenever you try to operate the headlights. With that out of the way, we hit the headlight switch, and sure enough, they went up and down without a hitch. Who would have thought that having working headlights in today’s world would be so rewarding? Mission accomplished.
5. Out back, the antenna was easy to replace as well. In order to do so, you have to pop the hatch, remove the interior trim panel that houses the spare tire (remember when performance cars still came with those?), removing the spare, allowing easy access to the antenna motor. Greg loosened the bolts holding the antenna motor into place, and then pushed the top of the antenna down into the hole, in order to remove it from the trunk. Oh, and don’t forget to disconnect the antenna cable, too!
6. Out of the car, we removed the antenna and plastic gearing from the motor, and replaced it, using the new kit that Hawks had sent over. The kit includes detailed instructions – just in case you’ve never rebuilt one of these before. Apparently, it’s pretty much a universal kit, and can be used in other older GM cars like G-bodies.
7. Back at our shop, you can see that we now have a fully functioning antenna again. Was this the most exciting thing we have planned for this car? No, those stories will come in due time, as we look at upgrading our slipping transmission in a future installment. See ya then!