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    1. #1
      Join Date
      Nov 2004
      Location
      Orlando, FL
      Posts
      110
      Country Flag: United States

      '68 Firebird Convertible - Still Evolving

      This thread is to document (and seek input) as we continue to evolve our '68 Firebird Convertible.

      A little history on the car:

      It was restored 25+ years ago to a '68 400 H.O. Firebird, and it was driven / shown around the country. It has been in numerous Muscle Car and Pontiac books - just last week I found yet another book with the car in it. (I promptly bought 2 copies!)

      Here's the pic that shows up most commonly...(someone uploaded it to wikipedia...)



      After owning it and showing it in factory form for a number of years, he got the bug and started swapping out factory parts until it was highly modded with a chromed-out, lumpy 455 with a Richmond 6 speed and a 12 bolt with some wide 15" torque thrusts.

      I bought the car in 2004 as the previous owner was selling off his toys to go move to live with his children and grandchildren on a farm in North Florida. He clearly didn't want to sell, but there were other forces involved, and I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. (Frank at Prodigy tried to buy it from him several months earlier and was told no...so I got lucky...) I'd been looking for a Chevelle convertible, and but really liked the size of the Firebird when I found it, so I grabbed it. The fact that it was already modded meant I didn't have to worry about "molesting" an original car.







      Here's my boys (now 9 and 12!) from a car show not long after we purchased it...



      Later, I started modding the car further, not fixing things as much as doing them as I would have done them. For example, I replaced this strange half-ass routed hard fuel line with some decent braided line, a proper filter, and carb inlet. I'd previously owned a 75 camaro, an 83 camaro, and an 82 vette, so I'd done my share of basics, up to an engine build / swap and a full suspension upgrade on the '83 camaro.

      One day the clutch started acting up, and the more I looked, the more I realized I needed a pro to look over driveline angles, etc - so the car went to Frank at Prodigy where we installed a new clutch setup, built a proper crossmember, redid the exhaust, added an ignition box & MSD distributor, some good wires, replaced the body bushings (which were pretty non-existent), changed to a DSE steering box, etc. These mods made the car WAY more enjoyable (lots of slop that I attributed to old design were simply poor implementation of the previous mods, and some missing rubber on the body bushings!)



      The Torque thrusts were too wide and rubbed in the rear, and I didn't care for the 15" any more - AND I wanted to change the look of the car a bit (People knew the prior owner since he was at local shows on a regular basis, and I needed to make the car more visually "mine") - so I grabbed some inexpensive Hot Wheels Sixty Eights. My boys LOVED the fact that the car had "Hot Wheels"






      Later, the car went into storage as I remodeled my house (and added another garage!) - and somehow in getting in back from storage, I wiped a cam. Still don't know what happened, but I replaced the cam, lifters, pushrods, timing set, and put it all back together. I fixed lots of small stuff (the wiring harness was badly hacked by the prior owner and always causing issues...) and took it to the Daytona Turkey Rod show in 2009 along with my youngest son, who was 7 at this point - He's my little gear-head...




      It was 35 degrees as we drove to the show that day - and for a Floridian, that's too cold. I had no heat (it had never worked, I'd never really cared), and the hacked up firewall let cold air in (and hot air in the summer!), so I decided to start sealing things up. I pulled out the heater box, which was a hacked mess, and I found more hacked wires (this was getting to be a familar story!), so I started pulling things out to replace them. Next thing I know, the interior is out, the steering column is out, all wiring is removed, the front sheet metal is off, I've ordered a DSE firewall plate, and a vintage air setup. I then bought a welder and a plasma cutter and set out to learn to weld. This was mid 2010.



      I've been busy with work, some local non-profits I work with, and a variety of other things. My boys are now 12 and 9, they are begging me to work on the car, so it is time to make some decisions about the end-point of this evolution, and get busy.

      I purchased a copy of "How Cars Work" - and I've been taking them through each major part on the car - showing them in the book, then letting them go see it on the car. They had some general knowledge before, but it is time to let them actually get dirty and learn the real way. At the same time, I need to improve my own skills. I'm good at buying / bolting - but my fabrication skills need a LOT of help. The firewall welding scares me a bit, but I'm willing to try it, and then call in a pro if I make it worse

      We cleaned a path to the car this past Saturday and I told the boys we'd accomplish something...my 12 year old says "let's pull the driveshaft!"...and so we did. It was a little thing, but they got excited and I felt like I'd begun. The engine / transmission will be coming out July 7th / 8th, and then I'll parallel task on the firewall closeup and the stock suspension rework next.

      I'm currently reading "How to Make Your Muscle Car Handle" by Mark Savitske for the 4th time in as many weeks, and will be making some decisions soon. I'll post my thoughts / logic here for comments soon. The front suspension mods are a given at this point. I'm still trying to keep myself from getting into the rear suspension this time around if possible, its a rabbit hole (mini-tub, wheels, axles, brakes, etc), and I think I'd rather get the car running again, then do that as a future project - even if the future is soon

      Along the way, I'll be rereading this to remind myself of a few things:
      • Learning is a primary goal - for me and my boys. This means that putting things together can be more rewarding than buying things assembled - but if something takes too much time, or is too far beyond my skills, it could be discouraging if I get stalled.
      • I need to find ways to keep the boys excited about the project. One loves to design, the other is more hands-on.
      • I need to get the car running again by next summer - and drive it. Power Tour?
      • My older son wants to build a Jeep (or something) after this project. See the "complete by next summer" line, and remember there is another project waiting!
      • The car will never be "done" - remember that, and save something for the next evolution...
      • I don't plan on doing Autocross or other racing - but it sure looks like fun, and in a few years might be something my boys would enjoy doing, so I want to leave my options open - without specifically building the car for any specific purpose other than safe, fast & fun street driving.
      • I have other things in my life - this can't take over, but it can get lots of focused time if the boys are involved.


      Big thanks to everyone that posts here, I learn quite a bit in my late night reading sessions!
      Last edited by digitalman2112; 06-26-2012 at 07:21 PM. Reason: Grammar fix...


    2. #2
      Join Date
      Nov 2004
      Location
      Orlando, FL
      Posts
      110
      Country Flag: United States
      The current list that is in-scope for this phase:
      • Close up / repaint firewall
      • Clean / re-finish (paint / powdercoat) stock subframe
      • All new front suspension
      • Likely a brake update (might wait until the rear suspension is done to upsize brakes with wheels)
      • New wiring harness (likely something of my own design...)
      • Open richmond transmission to check internal parts
      • Fix transmission tunnel from prior hack job, increase shifter linkage clearances
      • Relocate battery to trunk
      • New steering column
      • Vintage Air system (already purchased)
      • March Serpentine set (have most of the parts)



      Other likely items:
      • Hydroboost
      • Remote reservoir power steering pump
      • Interior metal prep for sound reduction
      • Subframe connectors



      On the fence:
      • Rear suspension, part of me wants to just get it all done & over with at once...but this leads to minitubbing, and brakes, and wheels, and, and, and...
      • Hydraulic clutch


      Suggestions by others:
      • Solid body mounts


      I know I'm forgetting things, I'll come back here & update as I remember...

    3. #3
      Join Date
      Jun 2010
      Posts
      200
      Loving the build, definitely radical starting witha clean vert I am doing my 68 now (Lolla), and darn I need to update teh thread

      Kepe it coming I like the direction this is going

    4. #4
      Join Date
      Feb 2005
      Location
      Sydney, Australia
      Posts
      1,896
      Country Flag: Australia
      With that sort of power, consider solid body mounts and subframe connectors....it'd really tie the car together.
      I have that pic of your car (top one)....saved for reference when I was going to restore a 67 convertible.
      Alas, a friend talked me out of the convertible....so he got to restore it.
      I love the black, with the red factory stripe.
      Regards,
      Leigh

      Sydney, Australia
      1971 Firebird 455

      https://www.pro-touring.com/showthre...Project/page27

    5. #5
      Join Date
      Nov 2004
      Location
      Orlando, FL
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      Quote Originally Posted by LeighP View Post
      With that sort of power, consider solid body mounts and subframe connectors....it'd really tie the car together.
      I'd planned on subframe connectors, but not solid body mounts, I'll have to look into those, especially since I'm pulling the front subframe off soon anyway... thanks

    6. #6
      Join Date
      Nov 2004
      Location
      Orlando, FL
      Posts
      110
      Country Flag: United States
      Today's progress:

      Shifter Handle removed
      Throttle cable disconnected
      Clutch mechanism (Z-bar, etc) removed
      Fuel Line disconnected from carb
      Transmission unbolted from transmission mount
      Exhaust unbolted
      Starter removed

      At this point, to remove the motor, it is just the motor mount bolts, jack up the engine, push back the car - which should fit right in the kids attention span


      I also got sidetracked today trying to identify the rear axle flanges - I'm closer, but still not a positive identification... I need to just pull off the drum brake assembly and be done with it...

    7. #7
      Join Date
      Sep 2011
      Location
      Southern Ontario
      Posts
      640
      Country Flag: Canada
      I'm following along now!

    8. #8
      Join Date
      Aug 2004
      Location
      Amsterdam,The Netherlands
      Posts
      881
      Country Flag: Netherlands
      subscribed!


      Cliff
      1968 Firebird
      Project Cheyenne Pro Performance

    9. #9
      Join Date
      Jul 2005
      Location
      Den Helder, the Netherlands
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      1,149
      Country Flag: Netherlands
      Quote Originally Posted by digitalman2112 View Post
      I'd planned on subframe connectors, but not solid body mounts, I'll have to look into those, especially since I'm pulling the front subframe off soon anyway... thanks
      You can't go subframe connectors w.o. solid Body mounts (I believe you can verify that in your copy of How to make your Muscle Car handle). Don't go for the cheapo Energy Suspension ones but interlocking like DSE, Hotchkis, Global West, etc.

    10. #10
      Join Date
      Nov 2004
      Location
      Orlando, FL
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      After intending to pull the engine for over two years, it is finally out.

      Name:  IMG_0964.JPG
Views: 2583
Size:  112.1 KB

      And some notes for the "I should have known better", and the "remember next time" categories:

      - Transmission fluid - have a plan in advance
      - Coolant - there is still some in there, and it will come out after you've tilted the engine a few times
      - Would be much easier if headers were unbolted from the heads and came out separately
      - Removing the distributor cap would add more clearance
      - Removing the Transmission crossmember isn't an option
      - Motor mount plates need to come out if the headers are coming out with the engine
      - If I'm planning to remove the subframe soon anyway, why didn't I just lift the body off the front subframe? (This dawned on me shortly after finishing)

      All in all, it was only a few hours, but it felt far more difficult than it should have been.

      I'm still waiting for the engine cradle to arrive (annoyed) but we braced it well enough for now. If it doesn't arrive soon, I'll go back to the original plan and fab one. My welding sucks, so I could use the practice anyway.

      We also rotated the car so that I can get the subframe out of the garage once it is removed. More on that later...

    11. #11
      Join Date
      Nov 2004
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      Orlando, FL
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      One of my next things to decide - disassemble suspension while subframe is attached to the car, or go ahead and detach the subframe and then disassemble. I can't think of a reason it matters, but I've never done it.

      Any opinions?

    12. #12
      Join Date
      Feb 2005
      Location
      Sydney, Australia
      Posts
      1,896
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      get an internal spring compressor...forget about the floating top hooks, just feed the treaded rod through the shock hole and wind the spring up into the subframe...I've found this to be the easiest way to disassemble/assemble the suspension wihout the weight of the engine to help you jack up the lower control arm.
      Don't forget a safety chain through the spring while you're disassembling.

      It does help to have the subframe back on the car when you're assembling the suspension.....and not having all the weight of the springs, stubs and arms sure helps when you're fitting and aligning the subframe.
      Regards,
      Leigh

      Sydney, Australia
      1971 Firebird 455

      https://www.pro-touring.com/showthre...Project/page27

    13. #13
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      Nov 2004
      Location
      Orlando, FL
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      I removed the headers this week. 6 bolts on the driver's side, 4 on the passenger side. All the hands / eyes (including mine!) on this engine in the last 8 years and no one noticed 2 missing header bolts

    14. #14
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      Nov 2004
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      Orlando, FL
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      Today we removed all the steering components, the master cylinder, proportioning valve, and calipers...we will have a bare subframe shortly

    15. #15
      Join Date
      Nov 2004
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      Orlando, FL
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      Yesterday we removed the shocks, swaybar and the front springs. I'd never removed springs before, so I did a bunch of reading, and went very slow.

      My 9 year old got in the on the action yesterday - he helped remove the shocks...




      When I was reading about removing the springs, I saw a comment about not having enough weight to compress the springs for removal...they suggested sandbags. I decided that I needed a good arm / shoulders workout... I know this is wrong on a few levels...but it worked



      I used a heavy cable to attach the springs to the frame, and lowered with the jack. I took my time and it worked out well.

      My 12 year old and I then did something awesome - we cleaned and put away all the handtools. I'm really bad about leaving them near me since I usually work alone and it is a pain to get fetch them every time. With him helping me now, it is great to be able to clean up and have him get the right tool as I need it

    16. #16
      Join Date
      Nov 2004
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      Orlando, FL
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      Progress update:

      All suspension & braking components have been removed from the subframe. Lots of grime remains. Looks like someone has welded on this thing before - there is lots of weld splatter around the UCA brackets - unless that was common from the factory...

      Here's my 9 year old posing after we finished the disassembly



      I stopped on the subframe until I could read more about supporting the body while removing the frame, and turned my attention to the firewall. I started locating and removing paint around each hole...this took a loooong time.



      I had some blue painters tape on the inside (bottom of the dash?) showing through one of the holes, and I thought it would make them more visible for photos...so I went back out and made them much more obvious...






      In the shot below, you can see the blue tape covering part of my wiper hole. I learned that the 67 & 68 had different wiper holes (by putting my DSW wiper on and realizing the gasket was a VERY different shape than the hole...), looks like mine is the 68 hole opened up to fit a 67 wiper at some point. This explains all the extra holes around the wiper assembly - the 67 wiper motor had different bolt holes too... I really need to track down the idiots that thought this stuff was acceptable






      While putting on the blue tape, I found FIVE more holes, that looked like grease smudges but were black RTV or other hardened goop covering a hole. Something tells me I'm not done finding them.

      I also found this opening on the passenger side of the inner cowl. It had a crappy piece of nibbled sheet metal screwed & RTV'd over it, so I assumed it was another hack job. While cruising the forums looking at other firewalls, I realized that it was on certain cars, but not others...a mystery...but not for long... NOT_A_TA, and RonC were in the chat last night and they helped me figure out that it was for a fresh air vent on A/C cars. I'll likely weld it up since I'll be closing up so much other stuff.



      Next up, I need to map out all these holes, make sure I'm not filling up anything important, and start seriously improving my sheet metal skills. Since the big hacked A/C opening will likely be covered by the DSE plate or a larger plate, I'll start practicing by filling in some of those holes, if I screw them up, it doesn't matter since I'll likely be cutting out that area anyway.

    17. #17
      Join Date
      Nov 2004
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      Back to work this week, so no real progress other than the usual daily learning on car forums.

      I'm slowly collecting supplies this week...

      I ordered an 11 pound spool of ESAB easy grind .23 MIG wire this week, from what I've read, that should help my firewall work.

      I also ordered some braided wire wheels and a braided wire cup brush for paint and grime removal. Thanks to NOT_A_TA for the tip.

      Last night I was driving home and one of my new neighbors had these VERY larger flattened cardboard boxes out for the trash - I grabbed a few to set the subframe on when I pull it, should help keep the driveway / garage a little cleaner as I need to clean & spray them.

      Hopefully I'll get some volunteer arms & legs and the subframe will come off this weekend - but its not a huge rush, I can work on the firewall with it there...

    18. #18
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      Nov 2004
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      Orlando, FL
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      Weekend update:

      Subframe is out! Huge thanks to my friends Lou & Jeff for helping...

      After reviewing a ton of pics of other car projects, this is how I decided to support the car. (Ignore the milk crate and the gray jack, they were supporting the subframe on the way down, and just haven't been pulled out of the way...



      Here's a good pic of the subframe removed from the car (the giant cardboard from the neighbor was VERY handy)


      In this pic, I'm cleaning it using the twisted wire cup brush on the angle grinder. That thing is amazing - just cuts right through the grime & old paint.


      Great example of the caked on grime...


      I found a way to keep from covering myself with the flying particulates...


      Before and after...


      I'd estimate I still have another 3 or 4 hours of cleaning to have it completely de-grimed. Then I'll start grinding the weld splatter, etc. I also see a few spots that are concerning (the front bushing mounts look thin), once it is clean I'll post pics...

    19. #19
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      Sep 2005
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      Ian,


      Car looks great already so I cant wait to see it in person once you and the guys get it done! What are your plans for subframe connectors? We have two different styles: weld-in & bolt on....




      Are you planning to sandblast the subframe or grind it down? There is a shop about 3 miles from us that blasts all of our big stuff that we cant fit in our booth. What are your plans for the front suspension? We have a coil-over conversion that would be a great addition to your subframe:






    20. #20
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      Nov 2004
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      Orlando, FL
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      Rich, I'm doing as much cleaning as I can here - I want to ensure that I'm going to stick with the stock subframe, then I can have it blasted to get the rest off as needed.

      I'd pretty much decided to go with the ridetech front suspension as it wouldn't require welding - but if I need to weld on the subframe anyway, then I have some other options. I sent you a PM about visiting your shop sometime - I'd like to learn more about your products since you are so close.

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