Owning a couple of classic 80s cars is a lot like having children, with one exception (I'll get to that in a bit). We spend an extraordinary amount of time with them. We can't imagine life without them. We post about every little thing they do on social media. They tend to consume all of our attention. We enjoy spending time playing with them and watching them slowly develop into everything we have always wanted for them. When they misbehave we're upset, but we still love them. We spend a lot of long nights up with (working on) them. When they get sick we do whatever it takes to fix them up. We remember fondly what it was like when it was just the two of us before they came into our life. Did I mention we spend an insane amount of money on them?
Now for that exception...
The one thing that really sets them apart from children is that other people are a lot less understanding and forgiving about the amount of time and money that you put into your car. In fact they are more likely to criticize you for it...but you know what? I wouldn't give them up for anything!
So...you're probably wondering where is this all coming from and where the hell have I been the last 7 months? Suffice to say KARR was misbehaving, hurt himself, was taken to the mechanic, and ended up needing the equivalent of open heart surgery. There were complications which required parts that were not made anymore and KARR was on life support awaiting parts for the last 7 months.
This all started right after the Sizzlin' Summer Nights car show in late August of last year. Just as we were pulling into the show KARR decided to overheat...spewing coolant everywhere! This was just plain odd as it wasn't hot out and KARR had never exhibited any behavior like that before. After the show we checked the coolant level to make sure there was enough to drive home and there was, but the trip home was even more disturbing.
KARR was running like absolute crap. I mean it was horrible...stuttering, shuddering, surging. I was in total disbelief and shock. Sara was worried we wouldn't make it home. I knew I had to get him into to the mechanic, and sooner rather than later. This was beyond devastating! We had poured so much of ourselves into KARR that year, and had just taken him on a long trip to Devil's Tower, WY that summer. How could this happen all at once, and when he was fine just the day before?
Once at Hub Auto, Troy was able to diagnose that the timing chain had started jumping. It would need to be replaced which meant that the engine would have to be pulled. I am glad we caught it right way as this could have spelled certain disaster for the engine. Not the best news we could have received, but not the worst either. With the engine coming out, now was the perfect time to have the transmission rebuilt, engine inspected and the seals and gaskets replaced to fix the small oil leak. You know how I love to blow money!
I was not planning on rebuilding the transmission, but it had worn syncros that needed to be replaced, so I was at least going to do that. Turns out it wasn't that simple. Troy was unable to find the kit he needed so he asked me if I just want to have it rebuilt. Like anyone with money to burn I said sure, go ahead! The process would actually take the guts from a newer albeit similar Getrag F23 and mate them with my Getrag 282 case. End result is a lower 1st gear and a higher 5th gear (2 through 4 remained the same) with a final gear ratio of 3.94:1. A new clutch and bearings would complete the package.
With the cradle dropped and the engine and transmission out we started to investigate other problem areas. All of the motor mounts needed to be replaced along with the motor dampener shock. It also needed new rear struts. The rear exhaust manifold was cracked and the previous owner's attempted repair hadn't held. I would have to see if I could find new exhaust manifolds.
I was able to order the motor mounts and damper shock online along with the complete gasket set for the engine from The Fiero Store. Troy would take care of the struts and transmission mounts when the time came for reinstall. I searched all over for new exhaust manifolds, but they no longer made them. I started searching for used ones, but didn't have any luck there either. The rear manifold was easy to find used and in good shape, but the front was another story as they all faced the same issue with cracks. Troy had a few good leads and said he would follow-up on them and as a backup he was going to have a local welding shop see about a possible repair on the manifold. That was the end of September, one month without KARR.
Once everything was stripped from the cradle we took it home with us so we could treat it with POR-15. I gave it a good week's worth of cure time and then we took it back to the shop. We were just in time to see the newly rebuilt transmission. It looked brand new! Time to pay for that...see the above cartoon for visuals on me throwing money in the air. :)
Myron at Hub Auto had been doing all of the teardown on the engine, and once he had it completely torn down it was sent out to a machine shop to be gone over. It was discovered that the block was actually a 3.1L and not the original 2.8L. The previous owner had installed a performance cam, but didn't do any other work to the engine. The main and cam bearings were totally ovaled out.
Here's the list Troy gave me of everything that was done to the engine:
- Boiled the block
- Pressure tested block and heads
- Block and cam was line bored
- Degreed the cam
- Decked the block and heads
- Resurfaced the intake
- Machined the flywheel
- Replaced all bearings
- Honed the cylinders
- Balanced everything
- New lifters and pushrods
- New oil pump
- Gaped piston rings
- Bored .30 over
- 10-10 rod and main bearings
- New timing chain and gears (3 piece)
- New head bolts
- New soft plugs
- Fel-Pro tri-metal head gaskets
- Fel-Pro PermaDry gaskets
With the engine back in the shop, reassembly started, and I was getting ready to throw more money in the air!
Troy had the valve covers and intake manifold powdercoated like the original red. My valve covers were starting to look rather dull and my intake had a few chips in the finish. Now they look like new!
Time to get them installed! You can see the transmission has been bolted on as well. It was about this time that I really started getting anxious to have KARR back. Troy was insistent that he could either find a used manifold or that the welding shop could fix the originals. He was still waiting to hear back from his sources.
I waited another week or so and then asked if he had heard anything yet. With an answer of not yet, I asked if headers were a possibility. I really did not want to have to go that route, but if it was the only option then so be it. Troy said he had not looked into that, but someone may have made them for the Fieros. I told him I would start researching that and see what I could find.
It ended up taking me a few days worth of searching and a lot of patience. In the end I came across West Coast Fiero. Not only did they sell headers, but listed under headers were new and improved stock manifolds. I couldn't believe it! I promptly threw several more large bills at them and got them ordered. That was on the 28th of November, three months without KARR.
There wasn't anything in the way of an expected ship date when I ordered them, so I called on December 2nd to check the status. I was told the manifolds were fabricated when ordered, and that they would ship out next week. This stretched on and on, week after week. Meanwhile, Troy continued to get the engine and transmission mounted back on the cradle.
We reached the end of December, four months without KARR.
I continued to call West Coast Fiero at least twice a week to check on the status. I was always reassured that they were working on them, but that they were only a two person shop and it just took time. I was beyond frustrated not having a car by this point! I realize that being without my car for four months was not their fault, but it still seemed like things were just cursed. They just needed to say something on their website to indicate that these are fabricated from scratch and that it would be weeks or even months.
The manifolds finally arrived on Sara's birthday, January 23rd. They looked awesome and I couldn't wait to get them to Troy for install. We took them to the shop the next day.
Troy ended up having a full schedule through the end of January, which now made it five months without KARR.
What happened during February was a mixture of me being super busy at work and also not wanting to nag Troy to finish the car. I figured it was sitting there using up one of his bays, so he had to want it out of there just as bad as I wanted it back. I checked in a couple of times that month, but for the most part just let him be. He had told me during one conversation that I was missing some bolts for the pulley (they had broken when they tried to remove them). They were an odd size but he had sourced and ordered them. I was so far beyond frustrated at how long I had gone without a car at this point that I had become detached and even a little desensitized to it all. When friends would ask about it I just didn't even know what to say anymore. End of February, six months without KARR.
I had planned on putting on the pressure with the beginning of March, but I was hit with kidney stones. :( Horrible pain! I would not wish that on my worst enemy. Needless to say my mind was focused on getting through the pain and not so much on my car. I did find out during this time that Troy's hydraulic lift line had burst one day when he went to work on KARR. This sprayed hydraulic fluid all over the place. KARR was not hurt, but it did mean he had to get a replacement line for the lift.
On March 15th I asked for an update and Troy sent me the following pictures and said it would be done Saturday the 18th.
Saturday came and went, and still no car. I tried to contact Troy but found out that he had gotten sick over the weekend and had closed up the shop that next Monday. That Wednesday I had to have been asked by at least 30 people if I had my car back yet...I just lost it! It was coming up on seven months without a car! I told Troy that I would be at the shop on Saturday and Sunday to help him finish it. I wanted my car back!
I spent 15.5 hours working on it between Saturday and Sunday, but we got it finished. It wasn't until I was there helping Troy that I actually understood why it was taking so long. Myron, who used to work for Troy and has done tons of work on KITT's engine and tranny, had done the full disassembly on KARR by himself. That was six and a half months ago, and he is no longer at Hub Auto. Myron is an awesome mechanic and is meticulous about everything. He had a method of organization that worked for him, but did not necessarily translate to anyone else being able to make sense of it.
Troy was basically having to search for all the parts that were needed to finish assembly. I did not truly appreciate how time consuming this was until I spent that weekend helping him. It was like trying to put a puzzle together while not being able to look at the picture. On top of that someone had sorted the puzzle pieces into piles that were everywhere.
Here are some pictures I took while we were working that weekend. It's hard to get good pictures while you are also wrenching on the car, so I will try to summarize what the pictures were taken of. Starting out these first few are just showing the state of things when I got there.
New rear exhaust manifold.
Routing and connecting the vacuum lines.
Installing the brackets and attaching the gear selector and clutch cables.
Installing the vacuum canister and cooling pipes for the ignition coil and alternator. If you are not familiar with V6 Fieros they have a rear blower that pushes air through the silver pipes seen below. They direct the air at the ignition coil and alternator to help keep them cool.
Reattaching the chassis ground wire to the engine block.
Routing throttle cable and cruise control cables.
Time to install the rear axle.
Parking brake needs to be hooked up as well.
Disconnecting the brake line brackets so we can replace the struts.
I took these pictures just to show how filthy KARR had gotten sitting in the shop for six months.
You can see the hydraulic fluid that sprayed on the passenger side window.
Unfortunately the front hood sat open the entire time the car was in the shop. Everything in the front trunk was as filthy as the car. :(
The driver side window was also half way open. You can see my fingerprint on the gullwing.
We had to compress the springs to remove and install the new struts.
Once the struts were installed I was able to put the rear wheels back on.
I filled the engine and transmission with oil while Troy put in the coolant.
The coolant immediately started pouring out from underneath the engine. All I could hear was Geordi from Star Trek yelling, "Coolant leak! We have a coolant leak everybody! Let's go! Let's get out of here. Everybody out!" I had to chuckle to myself even though there really was nothing funny about it. It turned out that one of the bolts securing the water pump was bottoming out on the engine block. Apparently one of the stock bolts needed to be an 1/8th of an inch shorter to work with the 3100 engine block. We added a washer and solved the issue.
Time to get the spark plug wires on and fire it up. It started right up! With no exhaust it was loud as hell, but it was so awesome just to have it running again!
I backed it out of the side bay and pulled it around to the front bay, so we could get it up in the air and install the exhaust.
Just some random pictures of the underside before we mounted the exhaust.
You can see the end of the Y pipe on the top right corner of this picture.
With the exhaust mounted, all that was left was to adjust the timing.
We sprayed it off to get as much of the dirt and grime off as we could.
KARR is finally home!
This was an insane ordeal that I don't ever want to have to go through again! Like I said at the beginning of this post, people have a hard time understanding why anyone would put the amount of time and money that I have into an old car. The answer is simple: I love my car!
I want to throw out a special thank you to my friends Janean and Jill! They were kind enough to let me carpool with them during the last six months. I'd have been lost without you both! :)
The engine and transmission still need to get through the initial break in period, and there are various odd behaviors and noises to track down. I will have an update on that in the near future. For now just remember, Life is a Highway!