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1985 Pontiac Firebird - CHP Garage


Mar 1, 2009

Back in the Jan. '09 Shop Talk, I listed a few of my personal misadventures and even inquired about a few of your own. I have to say, all of the emails were great. Most made us laugh, while a few made us cringe from the descriptive details. Here are a few we've selected to share with everyone, and if you included your address, expect your CHP plate in the mail shortly. The rest of you, keep them coming.

I was working on a '64 Chevelle with me on a creeper, and the front end of the car lifted up on axle stands. When I was under there, I noticed that the steering linkage was hitting the oil pan when the steering wheel was turned hard to the right. The oil pan had an indentation that had almost worn through the metal. At the time, I figured that I should be able to just touch that spot with the MIG welder and build it up so that it wouldn't leak.

I disconnected the negative from the battery and grounded out the MIG welder. I no sooner touched the welding tip to the oil pan when a loud and violent explosion took place. Obviously I was terrified, figuring I had blown up the motor. When I crawled out from under the car, the first thing I noticed was that both the valve cover breathers were missing, including the dipstick. Since the hood of the car was up, these pieces obviously went flying somewhere, but where? Turns out the valve cover breathers hit the hood. I was lucky on one side because it hit the framework on the underside of the hood. However, the driver-side valve cover breather put a major dent in the surface of the hood. I later found the valve cover breathers in different locations on the shop floor, but I still wasn't sure what happened to the dipstick. After looking everywhere for it, I found it embedded in the drywall at the other side of the shop.

Thankfully no one was standing looking into that engine bay when I did the welding. I guess that the gas/oil fumes that were in the crankcase exploded when the MIG wire heated the oil pan metal. Other than the dent in the hood, the car wasn't damaged and that dent is still in the hood. Of course, the story gets retold every time someone asks about the dent. Thanks for a great magazine. I have been a subscriber for many years now.
Ken Lepard
Via email

Flame On
My first real car was an '85 Firebird. It started as a bare-bones 140hp 305 five-speed combo, and after a few years and a few combinations it was sporting a decent 357 SBC backed by a TH-400 with a nice loose converter. This was my college ride, and though it was rough and aging, it was a blast to drive! However, it suffered from a hard-to-trace drivability problem. The car ran great, but I could never seem to get the jetting quite right. It was equipped with an Edelbrock 750-cfm carb, and jetting changes necessitated removing the top of the carb to access the jets at the bottom of the float bowls.

One particular night at school around 11, I decided it was time to rejet the carb yet again. Unfortunately, the only light available was from a single bulb far up on a pole in front of my trailer (yes, us automotive students had some fantastic accommodations). I pulled the car directly under the light and got to work. Though the light was fairly dim, removing the eight screws that secured the top of the carb went quickly, and I proceeded to remove the small clip attached to the accelerator pump linkage.

Unfortunately, as soon as the clip popped free it dropped into the dark recesses of the intake manifold. Not one to waste time running inside for a flashlight, I whipped out my trusty butane lighter, held it down by the intake, and gave it a flick. I searched for about two seconds, which is about how long it took for the fuel vapor from the nearly topless carb to reach my flame. A 2- foot-tall flame coming out of the carb alerted me to the fact that I had just done something very dumb. Now, the story would end here with me smothering the flames or putting them out with a fire extinguisher, but, alas, I was unprepared.

Instead, I decided that if I cranked the engine I could suck in the flames and extinguish the blaze. I hopped in the driver seat and gave it a go for a few seconds. I quit when I realized the fire had just grown exponentially. Apparently I had forgotten that the top of the carb was unbolted and not doing a very good job of keeping the freshly pumped fuel in the float bowls. Not only was my carb on fire, but the intake manifold and all the wires running across it were engulfed as well.

I made a beeline for the trailer and grabbed a cup of water on the counter. I ran back out, tossed it on the blaze, and watched the fire spread. Not enough water. Knowing that I needed a lot of liquid, and fast, I ran back inside and threw open the refrigerator. The only thing staring back at me was a fresh gallon of milk. I grabbed it and booked it back outside. The fire was now happily burning the paint off of the poor Firebird's hood.

Ripping off the cap of the milk jug, I doused the flames, with the majority of the milk being directed straight down the carburetor. The flames were finally extinguished! I assessed the damage, noting that the entire engine was now covered in America's finest 2-percent. A couple of wiring harnesses were burnt a bit and the carb was no longer shiny, but overall it looked like I had done a fair job of avoiding a catastrophe.

I finished removing the carb (with a flashlight this time), washed it out in the sink, jetted it, and plopped it back on the manifold. I went to start it and realized after a quarter turn of the engine that something was amiss. Oh yes, that gallon of milk had indeed extinguished the flames, but it had also filled my poor, poor cylinders. To make a long story a bit shorter, I did eventually get the car started (after cracking a mounting ear off the starter), but the smell of burned milk for the next few weeks was a constant reminder of my idiocy. Beat that!

I should note that I am now a high-school automotive instructor at South Elgin High School and am so ashamed of this incident I have never shared it with my students. If this is published, I will put it on a laminated poster and hang it in the classroom. Of course I will send CHP some photographic evidence!
Israel Seiter
Via email

Letters are looking a little slim these days. Give us a shout, ask some questions, or tell us how great we are. Send emails

0903chp_02_z 1985_pontiac_firebird Sean_haggai 2/5

Rooster Call
Sean Haggai
It's hard to stay motivated in this crazy world, and all one needs to do at times is look around to realize how good we've actually got things here. Sometimes though, it takes a certain individual from out of the blue to bring you back down to Earth and make you appreciate what we've got full-heartedly. Who knows? This might inspire you.

I don't know; it's probably the industry, and from time to time I find myself networking. Randomly, I almost always find myself at a new shop meeting new people in and around the Los Aangeles area late at night. I Meet new faces and gain new contacts in the world of high performance. However, my visit to Gizmoto HPM was a breed of performance I had never encountered before. Don't get me wrong-I'm a die-hard race fan and get chills at the sound of a big-block, but 15,000 rpm, 180 mph, and two wheels is just rad in my book. It wasn't the bikes with air-bag systems, reprogrammed ECUs, and wild airbrush schemes that I found awe-inspiring though. No, it was the "spill your guts" kind of conversation I shared with the 26-year-old owner, "Gizmo," that I found most interesting.

As most shops are wrought from their owner's love and passion for the industry, Gizmo built his street-bike shop from scratch. Sadly though, after a judicial system mix-up, Gizmo was launched into an undesirable situation across state lines to fend for himself and make ends meet in another country-alone and penniless. Stateside, things rapidly disintegrated. While Gizmo had been sent away and unable to make payments, he lost everything. His brand-new Chevy Silverado SS had been reposesed, his bank account dwindled on court fees, and his apartment had been emptied and also lost. Still, the shop remained, and thankfully the business survived through the help of his close associate, Alex Araiza.

Seemingly against all odds, he's back! Stronger than ever, and ready to get back to the grind. As Gizmo explained his dire situation, it was apparent he wasn't ever going to give up. It's not always seen, and it was refreshing to know that in times of need, the human spirit will strive forward no matter what the circumstances. Even though Gizmo's hobby may lie on the opposite end of the spectrum, the idea of never giving up is universal. At times we can still find comparable situations-even at a street-bike shop.

0903chp_04_z 1985_pontiac_firebird John_nelson 3/5

John Nelson
Automotively speaking, I've been getting reacquainted with an old friend over the past month or so. Circumstances have dictated that I drive my '84 Corvette on a daily basis for a little while, and that's mostly-though not always-a good thing. I had an unfortunate encounter with the back end of a Buick on my L.A. commute some time ago. Even though most of the broken 'glass got fixed fairly quickly, my affection waned and I let the car sit unused for a quite some time.

When I got back into the thing, all it took was a new battery and it fired right up. I quickly remembered why I dig this car, my first cool, high-performance ride. It's a bit loud and cramped and has a bumpy ride, but none of that bothers me too much. It has also got a torquey motor, and it's a precise handler-it does point-and-shoot driving better than a 25-year-old car has a right too.

On the other hand, it is two-plus decades old and had sat for more than a year, and at the risk of personifying the thing too much, I don't think my Vette is happy about being neglected for so long. It's sort of like one of those old friends you don't talk to for a while. You're glad to be rekindling an old affection, but it can also be awkward, as things are different than they were before.

Then again, maybe I'm just making too much of the fact that it's an old car and stuff goes wrong with old cars. The downtime didn't help the condition of the suspension bushings and tires, that's for sure. So far, my cooling system has gone haywire-I didn't know it at the time, but my cooling fan went out, and as I nursed the car into the work parking garage, one of the plastic radiator end tanks cracked wide open with a sound like a shot, then proceeded to decorate the garage floor with coolant.

My brother and I replaced the thermostat, the fan switch, and the fan relay, but not the fan, because it appeared to be working. It wasn't, and I ended up changing it during my next trip to the office. I hate working on cars in the Auto Zone parking lot, except for the fact that needed parts are conveniently located. On the other hand, it was satisfying when my '84 was repaired and I stomped the pedal and whipped it out of the parking lot. I still dig driving it, I'm not selling it, and I'll fix whatever breaks. It's the least I can do for an old friend.

0903chp_03_z 1985_pontiac_firebird Bmr_suspension 4/5

Department of Corrections
In "Turn and Run, Part 1" (Jan. '09), we printed the wrong phone number for A&E Motorsports, the company that installed a BMR suspension system in our test-bed '71 Chevelle. The phone number for A&E, which is located at 10933 S. Painter Ave., Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670, is 562.944.4300.

0903chp_05_z 1985_pontiac_firebird Head_gasket 5/5

Damage Report
When you go fast, it's inevitable. Something is going to break sooner or later. Luckily, the problem was caught before any more damage could ensue. Take for example current PSCA champ Al Jimenez's Fel-Pro head gasket-or should I say what's left of it? On the last pass of the day, the head gasket failed and was turned into scrap after 130-plus runs making over 1,500 hp to the tires! What's that good for? 7.65 at 189 mph! Currently the motor has been freshened up and put back together. Now that's some reliable power! Let's get a championship back-to-back now.



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