Never meet your heroes! '86 Grand National

I have two days left to get this thing drivable again, and I still have no idea why the narrowband is claiming lean.

I went to check and clean the MAF just in case. I thought I was on to something.

All that nasty stuff is the goo that's used to protect the circuit board ozzing out. Post clean test drive revealed a very stable and reactive measurment, but still running lean. I'll note this oozing MAF and plan to upgrade to an LT1 sensor but for now I don't think it's the problem at hand.

At this point I really don't have time to wait for 600 degree turbos to ccol down before removing the down pipe, so I was just as careful as I could be. I did accidentally graze the header though which was an odd sensation. it was cool to the touch. This ethanol may be doing it's job afterall.




I measured the hole at 1/2" with my small drill set. I don't have a full index or anything larger than 1/2" so I had to Amazon Prime a 33/64" and 17/32" drill bits. I'm pretty confident that 33/64" will do but I'm not taking any chances on wasting another day. While I was at it, I ordered an O2 bung. I need to get my spare wideband into this car and figure out if the narrowband is lying to me. I think the header would be very hot if the pistons were trying to go into meltdown mode.
To make a long story short the GN did not make it to Bowling Green. :(

To make a short story long I fought like hell all the way until about 9:00 Monday night. While waiting for Amazon to deliver some things, I started installing a wideband that I yanked from a car I sold last year. I didn't want it visible at all times, so I put it in a nifty little box that I could hide away in the glove box.




Then my drill bits showed up, and I was able to finish the wastegate.


Here goes nothing.


I was scrambling to get this stuff done so I never got a picture of the completed downpipe. When I thought I was in the home stretch, disaster struck. I was completely baffled. I just tried putting the little c-clip back on and the mushroom broke off!

After removing it the rest of the way, I filed the end a little so that you can see better. It looks like it wasn't my fault afterall. There must have been a bubble when Bowling Green Customs had this cast. There's barely anything holding it together!
I didn't quit though. I pulled the welder back out, buzzed a nub onto it, mini-filed a groove until my hands cramped, then filed some more.


Then I thought I was in the clear again. Nope. The turbo needed two more helicoils.

After all this and screwing up the o2 bung twice, I thought I'd never make it to this point.

I was finally able to go for a test drive. I was really hopeful at this point that I had fixed the fueling issue after finding a bad engine ground or the wideband would at least show me something I hadn't noticed before. I only got the latter. The car was for sure running lean, but it was also running very rich. It was doing that thing where the car falls flat on its face if I hold the throttle wide open for too long. When this happens, the wideband shows the car going so rich that it wants to die. (about 8:1) Finally, I captured this on the Powerlogger too.
I had finally hit the end of my luck. There was no way to get a MAF locally, and I was leaving the next day no matter what. I was thinking about risking it because it was possible that I could find a one at the Nats and my car was able to cruise on the interstate without any issue.
Excited to leave, I started packing a tool bag. When determining which wrench would fit the wastegate arm I learned that my weld was really bad!

So that was it. The car just didn't want to go to KY.

Now that I'm back I have a new attitude towards the car. Before the Nationals I was all about keeping the car relatively stock for ease of service and reliability. As you can see, that hasn't really worked out for me! I ordered an LT1 MAF and translator from Full Throttle, and I bought this thing of beauty in the pits.

This TA downpipe was never used. Supposedly the guy decided he wanted a 4" pipe before the engine even got running. Oh well! I'm still not exactly excited about converting to a remote wastegate, but I know they work better and should give me less grief. At $325, how could I say no? I also found a factory uncut but tarnished turbo shield for $25. Another steal! Given the price and condition I don't mind cutting it up. However, it should clean up pretty nicely with some WD-40 and lots of scuffing. More on that later.

Given that I spent several nights in the garage and my wife took care of the baby almost exclusively while we vacationed in KY, I think it's only fair that I take a break from the car for a while. She's a great wife for putting up with all this. Plus, I don't want want to rush anything. Yes, the engine is going to start getting modified again which I am very excited about, but I want to make sure that I continue to do the car justice. I'll have to build a new cold air intake and brackets for this MAF. The downpipe will also needs to be polished up a little and probably clear coated. We will get to all that once I get the swimming pool set-up and my wife gets a fair break from the baby!
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Believe it or not the car felt better and more consistent than it ever had. It wasn't faster, but definitely healthier. Since I was happier with the car, I tried to embrace it a little more. I liked that the air box was sturdy, but I wasn't about the lack of sound and performance.
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Yep, that's a center cap from a Thunderbird. :LOL: It works a lot better than the lower half of the airbox!
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I was losing interest in the smoothies partially because the car was so stock, but also because the offsets never fit my taste. They were stock wheel sized with no staggering. It was just wrong. I sold the wheels with roached tires on them, and drug these out of the basement.
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Once again, I was falling back in love with the car. It looked and ran so much better.
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Even my wife is obsessed!
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Cruise with the buddies.
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This is all the cliff notes of course. As you can tell, this car has been a bit of a wild ride for me and not always the fun kind! Next post will be about the more current situation.
Thant's great man! I love to hear these stories. Cheers!! Thanks for that!
I learned a little trick for tackling the warps in my header. It was pretty banana shaped when I bolted it to the head, but I torqued it down and heated the welds with a map torch for a few minutes. After letting it cool all the way down, I torched them again. Once it cooled again, I pulled the bolts out and the warps were almost gone. 👍 The belt sander will be able to handle the rest.

Since the headers were done until I could bring them to work, I shifted my focus over to my nasty timing cover. On a parts store run, I finally managed to pick up an engine degreaser that I like. At only $3.99/can, this stuff makes oil and loose paint fall right off. Best of all, I can actually use the whole can without losing pressure. CRC is losing my business because of that.
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Anyway, it looks like my oil pump has relatively normal wear.
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I think cleaning, packing with Vaseline, and sending it as-is with a new gasket will work just fine. Speaking of gaskets, I wish I had pictures of the mess I made removing the original timing cover gasket. I've never seen a paper gasket get so gross and tough to remove. I needed a surface prep pad for my die grinder to get it all off because the fresh razor blade was worthless. I'll clean the cover in the parts washer at work and see if I can get it powder coated satin black.

I'm probably going to skip powder coating a lot of parts like the intake and valve covers. I have a feeling that I'm not going to like the results, and having every piece done along with cleaning and masking is going to get incredibly expensive anyway. I'm just going to take care of the essentials. The timing cover needs it, and I don't think I'm going to get paint to stick anyway. The only dilemma now is figuring out how I'm going to get the tensioner to match everything around it because that has been driving me insane!! Does anybody have a used original one for sale or trade? I can't remember where I got this reproduction piece. It's almost brand new. I just hate the color.
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..pack with Vaseline?
I finally got enough of my back ordered parts to make progress on the car and immediately screwed up... Valve spring edition.
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I didn't bother to put the piston at TDC because I figured it would be fine under air pressure.... But I didn't have any. I had a brain fart and forgot to remove the valve core from my compression tester.

So here I am. I should have just pulled the engine at this point. :(
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Fel-Pro 9441PT head gaskets and a set of basic ARP head bolts are on the way. Since the heads are coming off anyway, I need to make a decision about the ports. I have no desire to port match the heads to my intake, but I know it's going to drive me nuts knowing how bad it is.
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I'm torn between just making a nice transition and replacing the intake with a stock one. This one has a failed heli-coil anyway, so I'm leaning toward the second one.

I'm still mad at myself for this stupid mistake though. I get to do a lot of surface cleaning tonight. Yay.
The old rope in the spark hole trick works if you stuff enough in there.
The car might not have made it to the Nats, but I'll be damned if I don't get it tearing up the streets for the summer. I decided to buy an LT1 MAF and translator to fix the fueling spikes and dips.

I was unaware that Delphi changed their design of the LT1 MAF. At first I was pretty upset about it because I wanted to use the housing bolts to mount it to a custom bracket. That's not going to work anymore, but I actually like this better for both short and long term plans. I'll talk more about the long term plans later. For now, the little barb needs to come off the inlet side so that I can hook it up to the air box elbow! That adapter harness looks dumb too.

I needed a bracket for the translator as well. There are some places on ebay that sell them. They're pretty crude, but it's probably better than what I could come up with. I wasn't planning on installing it this way permanently, but found the wire lengths to be comically off. They're too short like this and way too long when I flip the translator.

I lengthened them so that I could hide the connectors behind the headlight and loom the rest along existing harnesses. I think it turned out really nice.

I also hated the look of the Grey connector that was on the MAF so I bought this black one on ebay. It's slightly different but grinding the keys off the sensor side made it fit like a glove.

The MAF harness ended up being a bit short for my taste even after measuring several times, but this will work just fine for the long term. The air box is kind of a temporary placeholder until I get the car running correctly. After that I'll start prettying it up and going faster! For the time being, this will do.

A billet translator lid from Regal CNC will be replacing that wild label as soon as they can get it to me!

I also had to get the wastegate fixed AGAIN, so I drilled the old weld out and sand blasted both pieces this time. I'm not sure why I didn't do that the first time.

Welding went much better with the clean metal.

My translator mode switches were set to on, on, on, off for my turbo tweak chip. The base knob was set to 3 for the standard LT1 3" MAF setting, and the WOT knob was set to 0 for standard mixture. The drive results showed a very small amount of progress. The car is still incredibly slow to spool up to a max of 10 psi. By the time I got back to the house BL was showing 142 which is a bit nuts to me since the idle looked very rich on my wideband when I left the driveway. I suppose that it might do that when the ECM is reset and still trying to learn everything.

As for the boost, I don't know how it could be anything other than a broken actuator. After that drive I decided to try preloading the wastegate. Despite taking a lot of force to get it installed, the actuator still wouldn't get the puck fully seated without a little help from my wrench. I can tell that it's not the puck getting stuck this time either. I can hear a bunch of bound up spring noises when I manually actuate the rod so something in there is having a bad time.

I have that fancy downpipe, but I don't really want to open that can of worms. My garage is a huge mess, and I'm tired of having two undrivable project cars! Plus, having that fancy downpipe and wastegate is going to look ridiculous in the same engine bay as a stock air box and intercooler. Hopefully, I'm going to confirm that this actuator is bad tonight, buy a new one, change it out in 5 minutes, and enjoy the car!
I finally figured out and fixed the boost problem. First I discovered this.
The actuator has some goofy sideways motion. I wondered if the spring broke or something so I cut open an inspection window.
As you can see the spring isn't broken. It just moves the rod over as it gets closer to bind. Now I feel bad for cutting holes in good parts.

Then I threw the actuator back on the car and borrowed a mightyvac that does positive pressure. I wish I had this tool all along. While attempting to find an issue with opening and closing pressures I noticed this.
The unwanted motion on the actuator was pulling the puck arm outward. On this BGC elbow, this will dig the puck into the rough casting and get it stuck. Although the actuator probably shouldn't do that, I think the real problem is that the puck travel isn't limited to just open/close. This was where the real fun began because I'm still not ready to give up on this cheap/crap design.

The inside of the elbow is sloped where the puck arm passes through, so welding a washer to it would not work unless I machined a flat spot perpendicular to it. That was my first choice, but there isn't enough meat on the elbow to machine it that far. Instead of the arm catching the elbow, the elbow would have to catch the arm.

I had a plan. A mini lathe would have been awesome here, but I'm not that fancy.

I lightly modified washer will make a nice catch.

This is where I really wish I had a welding table so that I could practice on my new TIG machine instead! It's just sitting there teasing me, but the MIG pulled through. It's not pretty, but it works!
We are back!

The test drive to follow was a huge relief. The car made 23psi without any drama! However, more boost meant I was exacerbating an older issue that could no longer be ignored. This car still runs lean at WOT. It was stuck at 16psi before, so it was only a little lean. Now my Scanmaster displays 0s and the wideband shows 15s before I get out of it.

I did some more reading on the translator/chip relationship, and it sounds like I already have the translator set-up as well as I can since the WOT knob doesn't do anything on a TT chip. So what the hell? I should have brought my laptop to make more logs, but I wasn't thinking. I just upped the fuel on the chip about 10% and tried again. It still wasn't good, but I noticed a difference. I maxxed the chip out at 20% and tried again.

Holllllyyyyy smokes! THIS is what a GN on E85 is supposed to feel like! I am so going to jail this summer. :LOL: The AFR at full boost still isn't what I want to see (low-mid 13s), but it's not knocking and feels amazing. I'll make sure to get some powerlogger data next time. Something isn't right if I have to max the chip to run respectably. I'm noticing that the idle AFR is all over the place too. It's in the 11s and 12s.
Good news and bad news.

The good news is that I found my lean at WOT problem. I blew off the fuel regulator reference! That'll do it. I threw that back on with a zip tie, and that seemed to fix the problem.

The bad news is that I'll never know if the problem is fixed until the car decides to make the full 23psi of boost again. In addition to the regulator hose, I also blew off the wastegate actuator hose which makes little sense given how well boost was being regulated the day prior. After resetting the ECM and resetting the translator to standard idle, the car ran like poop. It barely wanted to idle on cold start, and boost refused to go over 16 psi. This makes even less sense since blowing off the wastegate hose should equate to MORE boost than desired.

At this point, I don't know what could possibly be wrong. I have heard of people blowing TR head gaskets only to atmosphere and only under boost. Maybe I'm having a similar problem. Time for more inspecting and testing. :confused:
I did a lot of playing around and finally came up with something that mostly works. I went to Gbodyparts and picked up an HD actuator. This didn't fix anything but I didn't really expect it to. I then played around with the manual boost controller again because it should delay the opening of the wastegate like I want.

It turned out that the seat too badly damaged to repair. I tried forming a new one but ended up deforming the ball and that was the end of it. I knew that a new MBC would fix it, but I wanted to drive the following weekend so I had to make something. I acquired an adjustable 3-50psi check valve and some fittings, drilled an extremely tiny hole on the downstream side, and tried it out. This mostly worked. The boost rises really quickly from 0 to 15psi then slows down a bunch before climbing up to 23psi. Its not what I want but it's enough for me to cruise. I haven't confirmed this by any means, but my suspicion is that the worm gear style clamps holding everything together are leaking under this much higher than usual pressure. I'm surprised that the up pipe hasn't blown off yet to be honest.

I also finally got this in the mail from Regal CNC. It's a little too shiny for my taste but looks much better than the original plastic cover and label. I will probably paint or have it powder coat this eventually.


The reason I was so excited to cruise was because the car didn't make it to the Nats and a small redemption opportunity presented itself. The Louisville Turbo Six Club was getting together for a meet and participation was good!




After being around so many great people with built up street driven Grand Nationals I'm more motivated than ever to get this thing up to snuff. It's getting really good, but it's not quite there yet. Once it's all sorted, I can justify more modifications!
By the way, I jinxed the car while I was down there ... I told someone that my AC was the only thing in the car that didn't work. Shame on me! I promptly noticed that I couldn't adjust my seat anymore. Clicks only. Real nice.

I knew that this day would come. I had heard how GM switched to a three motor system and ditched the gear box in '87. I thought for sure I was going to end up needing an fully loaded 87 bucket track, but a little more research showed otherwise.
Looks like I need a pretty cheap and widely repopped part for now. That's good!

Now back to the AC. It's going to be a hot summer so this will be a nice feature to revive. I found and fixed a leaking/loose low side fitting, but I unfortunately couldn't get off that easily. The high side has a huge leak too and for once it's not the flat face seal on the back of the compressor. It's the compressor itself. 😢 When I pressurize the system with air I can feel it escaping out the front of the shell. The tools to fully reseal these cost more than the compressor itself. All that time I spent replacing the clutch and repainting this old unit will be for nothing, but I have to cut my losses at some point.

The car still doesn't run all that amazingly either. I have the translator set to rich idle, but it still randomly wants to sit around 16:1. Meanwhile the Int is just chilling at 128 and Blm is in the 130s but not moving. O2s barely bouncing above 000 and obviously no cross counts. The car runs fine but that doesn't seem healthy even for idle. Since the Int isn't moving I im imagine the only way to fix this would be to enable closed loop idle. I'll probably ask Eric Marshall what he thinks. At cruise and under load, everything looks great, so I'm very happy overall.

Money and time are tight right now though, so I won't be getting to the AC for a little while. I've had too many projects going on in the garage and not enough time to clean between them. It's time for a purge. Lots of stuff will be up for sale on Facebook soon!
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-'86 stuff.


New vs old. The old one has a lot more flex than the new one. Hopefully this new coupler doesn't explode the transmission case.

I kind of wish I replaced the case as preventative maintenance. One of the cables didn't want to move and chipped a little unneeded part of the old yellowed case off. This just proves that it's a ticking time bomb, and the new stiffer coupler is not going to be very forgiving. It's going to be a lot more difficult to get the seat out when this transmission officially calls it quits, and I've heard of some people cutting things to get the job done. I really don't want to be in that situation.

I don't have the time for that right now though. The seat works for now, and I'm usually the only person sitting in it.

In other news, turbotweak Eric gave me a suggestion for my idle issues. I guess he doesn't like the RJC HD PCV. It flows too much. He recommended either going back to a stock PCV or a Duralast Mazda MX6 2.0 part. I have had terrible luck with anything except NOS GM PCV valves so I figured I'd try the Mazda piece. It's cheap and everywhere!

What do you know? Besides being surrounded by a valley full of mouse pee, it even LOOKS better than a stock valve!

The test drive revealed that Eric is a genius. I turned the MAF translator back to the base setting, reset the ECU, and had no more issues. I'm actually kind of disappointed in myself for not checking the IAC counts knowing that the car stays in open loop for idle, but I guess that's just part of the learning process. The important thing is that the car is running healthier now.

The stars aligned where the car was finally running its best, the weather was great, and the buddy from work who's been listening to me bitch about this car every day was home. I decided to pay him a visit and show him what this thing was supposed to feel like. I couldn't leave without giving him a little show.
In other news, turbotweak Eric gave me a suggestion for my idle issues. I guess he doesn't like the RJC HD PCV. It flows too much. He recommended either going back to a stock PCV or a Duralast Mazda MX6 2.0 part. I have had terrible luck with anything except NOS GM PCV valves so I figured I'd try the Mazda piece. It's cheap and everywhere!
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What do you know? Besides being surrounded by a valley full of mouse pee, it even LOOKS better than a stock valve!
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The test drive revealed that Eric is a genius.

Just a thought on the RJC PCV valve, could a set screw be installed in the top with a small hole drilled in it to limit airflow.
I have no idea what size hole would work.
If a metal PCV valve is desired maybe this is a possibility?
Just a thought on the RJC PCV valve, could a set screw be installed in the top with a small hole drilled in it to limit airflow.
I have no idea what size hole would work.
If a metal PCV valve is desired maybe this is a possibility?
One end is pipe thread & will accept a plug. Think it is the lower section.
I'm not sure how you would be able to incorporate a stop. The valve is already really tiny so you would need some small parts and tools. I may be wrong, but I always thought it was the orifice that limited flow as opposed to the travel of the valve. The RJC vlave appears to have a hole about the same size as the Mazda part.

I'm saving the HD valve for later. I'm sure it can be tuned around and work fine when you ditch the basic chips, but this Mazda piece will work for now. The part that Eric suggested is Duralast PCV1138DL
I'm not sure how you would be able to incorporate a stop. The valve is already really tiny so you would need some small parts and tools. I may be wrong, but I always thought it was the orifice that limited flow as opposed to the travel of the valve. The RJC vlave appears to have a hole about the same size as the Mazda part.

I'm saving the HD valve for later. I'm sure it can be tuned around and work fine when you ditch the basic chips, but this Mazda piece will work for now. The part that Eric suggested is Duralast PCV1138DL