Wagon Work 2.

May 7th, 2018

The latest and greatest wagon updates, which I’m going to try and keep relatively brief…

What’s been going on? (since the last update)
It’s not a SOHC without a cracked cylinder head and blown head gasket! Just like all the others, coolant started disappearing and I had to rebuild the top end with a new head and gasket. I think the cracked head was contributing to some of the running problems from the last update as well. Was down for almost a month but have been daily driving since.

Chipped away some more at the Megasquirt project. Did some preliminary tuning, needed an idle valve, exploded a capacitor. Had to call in an electronics expert friend and his oscilloscope to help get my idle valve working. So this is a step because it’s actually run on the MS, but just start and idle work so far. Hey it’s something.

Gas tank sprang a leak after the new fuel pump so had to put in another one.

Made a gauge panel for wideband, water temp, rear defrost, fan switch, usb power and cig outlets. Mounted a 7″ monitor to display my Raspberry Pi 3 which is running Tunerstudio.

Foreshadowing: Rebuilt a turbo. Did some work on setting up a port injected intake, bought a throttle body for it 🙂 more on that below.

What are the current projects?
Working on replumbing my Ford idle air because the first setup wasn’t working. It would suck in air when running the factory ecu and throw a code and not run right. After this I hope to finally make some real strides toward my goal of running on Megasquirt full time.

What can I expect to see here in the future? (however distant it may be)
TBI to EFI. After getting MS up and running I plan to do a cam swap and port injected EFI swap using a 1.8 turbo intake, throttle body, and 92+ 2.0 injectors. I just need some wiring and will have to figure and fab some brackets, everything else is pretty much ready to go in. Hoping to achieve a mind-numbing 100 crank horsepower from this.

Turbo. If that wasn’t enough for you, wait for it: Remote mount turbo. I intend to attempt and mount my very tiny Audi K03 turbocharger where my muffler currently lives and run a lot of lines and tubing and a small amount of boost. Because this whole project isn’t weird enough already.  So far turbo is rebuilt and stainless flanges are machined, one’s out for welding.

Transmission. Hoping to start rebuilding one of my spare TH125s soon, would like to upgrade it to handle a little more power and shift better.

Ok so …
I failed in keeping it brief. Anyway, that’s where usually-functional Project Wagon stands.

Another lump update.

September 28th, 2017

Since I haven’t done an update for … over a year, I figured it was time. Again, not because I haven’t been doing anything. Well, nothing too exciting anyway, but here goes.


The day before moving into a new house, I decided it was a good idea to paint the wagon while I still had a garage. Which of course actually made life more difficult for moving and wasn’t the greatest idea, but it came out pretty good and is now flat baby blue. It gives that nice daily-econo-rat look I’m going for.

I have also spliced in an adapter pigtail to hook up the megasquirt, but still haven’t gotten so far as to try it out … it’s hard when you’re daily driving it mostly (except when it is being a nuisance, more on that below.)

A bunch of random items; I put in an Optima battery which was well worth it. Also after installing a new radio in a Hyundai Tucson, I got to keep the old CD player which worked fine, so I machined an adapter and soldered up a wiring harness and put that in, which is much nicer than the factory radio which didn’t work very often. I replaced my loud resonator with a quieter one. Did a new heater core. Machined up a pair of minimal aluminum roof racks with small slots for strapping things to the roof, which I haven’t done yet.

Then it proceeded to have all sorts of irritating driveability issues that I spent all summer chasing around. So it now has all new sensors, all hoses are silicone, put in a high flow (Camaro) E3210 fuel pump, new fuel injector, adjustable fuel pressure regulator and gauge, distributor, and probably more than I’m forgetting. The bottom line is I think it was a combination of a lot of things, but seems to be doing better now.

Last week the junk 400 series stainless flex pipe finally cracked and broke after being crusty and ugly for several years, so I geared up to be able to do stainless welding and ordered some 304 stainless parts. It should be up and running for the weekend…



I had replaced a cracked head once in Feb. ’15, but back in July ’16, that head cracked too. Not sure why it only lasted a year, but it did. My theory is warming up the car by idling for a minute helps keep the thin webs between the valve seats from expanding and contracting too quickly and stressing. But who knows really.

Driving home on a cool day last spring, the windshield suddenly fogged up and it started to smell like coolant in the car, which of course means the heater core let go. Luckily this is one of the few cars that a heater core is really easy to replace, so naturally I bypassed it and put off doing it. I still haven’t finished it actually, but will be soon.

When the front brakes became glazed and started vibrating, I picked up the upgraded drilled and slotted rotors with carbon ceramic pad PowerStops from Rockauto, which I highly recommend – it stops amazing now.

In the works:
1. All new suspension including lowering springs. Assembled and ready to install.
2. All stainless exhaust, this time diy and using the factory manifold, no header like the other car. Parts on the way.


I am hoping to finish all this stuff up before winter and then I have plans for winter projects. But more on that another time.

June 29th, 2016

It has once again been a long time since an update, but not due to lack of goings-on. The wagon has returned to daily driver status after a lot of work over the winter and spring, which I will detail below, while adding in current projects!

2016-05-15 19.09.44Past:
What’s been done since the last update? A ton, since it’s been so long.

A lot of small things such as a modified Grand National gauge pod with water temp and oil pressure gauges on the console below the radio, tachometer mounted to windshield with a GPS suction mount, some tuneup items, bumped the timing from the original 6 degrees up to 12 which made a big difference, replaced a lot of rubber vacuum and coolant lines with silicone ones, spraying antirust wax stuff everywhere I can to preserve the body, and that’s about it in the minor department.

I’ll put the transmission mount project here in the middle of smaller and larger projects. A cheap replacement mount had already sagged and bottomed out after 1000 miles, so I decided to pull my solid mount from the Sunbird, modify it to take some polyurethane bushings (I used old but unused GN upper control arm bushings I had laying around,) and see what happened. It certainly won’t be drooping anymore, but it does also add a fair amount of vibration and some noise to the cabin, especially at lower RPM. I will keep it for now and then decide if I want to live with it or come up with something quieter. Edit: After driving it this way for a while, I think it will be fine & have gotten used to it, it’s not noiseless, but not bad at all.

2016-06-29 12.19.35

On to the bigger projects…
I installed a Viper 4115V remote starter over the winter to fire it up when it’s cold, but I actually still use it even now. The car has a high idle on startup, so it’s nice to give it a minute or two to settle in before taking off, so it works great for that. I soldered in all the connections and took my time with it and it works really well. The unit is tucked up by the steering column, but I need to find a way to mount it in there at some point. I have all the wiring info if it would be useful to anyone doing a first gen. J.

Next up, swapped out the small stock radiator for a second gen. larger one. Mostly just because I had it and the original was starting to leak, not because I was too concerned with cooling power, but it can only help. The plastic blockoff piece had to be removed, and 2nd gen. hoses used, but it was pretty straight forward and has been working well.

I had replaced a lot of the front suspension parts after buying the car, but not everything was new, a lot was from the old 91 Sunbird, and there are some changes between the generations that I did not know about. That being said, what I ended up with for a while was a cut spring on one side to level it off, and a “memory steer” issue that I had a hard time figuring out. To make a long story short, it ended up being bad upper strut mounts. While in there, I replaced the control arms and furnished the new ones with poly bushings (you have to buy two sets for a 2nd generation J and then use the smaller ones from each set,) and new ball joints, along with some new tie rod ends and sway bar end links. The cut spring was a temporary solution and I eventually installed some lowering springs, which make the car sit just right and look a thousand times better, especially with the larger wheels. They make a nice difference in the handling also, and with the upgrades and wider tires it hugs corners pretty well for what it is.

Once the suspension was all sorted out, I knew the exhaust was on the edge for inspection. It was getting pretty crusty in spots although the only hole I could find was in the exit pipe after the muffler. So of course, since the 2 door Sunbird had essentially become a parts car, the logical thing to do was to swap over the big fancy stainless exhaust I had built for it into the wagon. Easy! Well, there were several setbacks of course. First off, the merge of the header would not fit between the oil pan and the frame rail because the 1.8 uses a different oil pan than the 2.0. Back to the parts car, I grabbed the 2.0 oil pan and windage tray and swapped them on for clearance. This worked just fine and on a side note, using some Great Stuff gasket sealer all around the gasket has kept the oil pan from leaking all over like usual! I did end up having to clearance the rail a little bit so the header wouldn’t hit when the engine moves, but with the sturdier trans mount it has now, it may no longer be necessary, I’m not sure. After that, I had to figure out how to get the pipe to exit because the back bumpers are different and the existing straight-back would have ended up in the middle of the bumper. I briefly considered just cutting a hole in the bumper, but that rarely looks good. In the end, I cut an angle in the straight and welded it back on so that it points down and comes out right below the rear bumper in the back (see picture below.) The original curved around and came out the side behind the rear wheel, but that was too complicated to bother with. It’s louder, but nowhere near as loud as it was in the gutted Sunbird (earplugs.) I may see if I can quiet it a little, but it’s very tolerable. The original post about the exhaust system from shortly after it was built can be found here.

2016-05-15 15.03.23

Finally, the other big project was fixing up the rocker panels which were crusty and one had a decent sized hole right ahead of the rear driver side wheel. This one I decided to send to a shop, so it happily was not another big project on my plate.

What’s going on right now? Right now there is a dead mouse somewhere in my driver side B pillar that does not smell very good. Other than that, working on wiring diagrams and getting things organized to start soldering in the pigtail for the Megasquirt. I am excited to finally use it to run something and pull it out of mothballs. This will be its third application; the first two got far enough to start and idle, but never really went into duty. Also just was inspected, so good for another year.

Where’s it going? I will detail this more in upcoming posts, but in short I’d like to convert it from TBI to EFI using Megasquirt, some old 2.0L parts, and a 1.8 turbo intake manifold. First will be getting Megasquirt working with the TBI, then the intake swap, retuning, then a cam swap. I’m hoping to go from 85 to around 120hp. Nothing crazy, but enough to make it a little more fun. That’s oversimplifying a lot; I’m sure there will be a lot of problems to overcome in between each step, but that’s part of the fun!

2016-05-15 19.08.30

Wagon wheels.

June 30th, 2015

As previously mentioned, I picked up a set of used wheels for the wagon recently. It had 13″ steel wheels with 175/70/13s originally, and the new 16″ wheels have 195/55/16s … The tires (Sumitomo) are some inexpensive ones from Tire Rack and the wheels were found on craigslist. They were off a VW and advertised as Miglia 1000s (that’s what the center caps say) but found after a little research they are in fact discontinued Sport Edition F6s. They’re 7″ wide and the offsets are a little different, but they seem like they’ll work just fine! I sanded them up a little and sprayed them satin black. Got the tires mounted up and the same day hit a local cruise/car show. Anyway, here are some pictures, much improved over the 13s.



WIP: wagon in progress

June 25th, 2015

It’s been a while since the last wagon update, mostly because it did a lot of sitting over the winter. Things are moving forward quickly though, and it is now registered, inspected, and driving! It’s the polar opposite of my regular daily driver 2 door Sunbird: quiet, smooth, comfortable, and yes a little slow. However, the 85hp is nowhere near as bad as the old Fairmont was … it feels pretty torquey down low and will get up and go ok.

It failed inspection the first go around because of a glued together tail light (the previous owner broke it, and glued it back together, saying, “It was like a jigsaw puzzle!”) So all I could find on short notice was a tail light from a Sunbird wagon, which I had to modify the connectors to fit the bulbs, switch the location of the backup lamp, and the mounting holes are surprisingly a small amount off. I didn’t want to ruin the tail light so I just used one of the mounting holes. It passed fine, but looks kinda goofy with two mismatched tail lights. The originals seem to be impossible to find. On the way are a set of 80s Cavalier lights from eBay, hoping that they will be close and won’t need much or any modifications to fit, and then it’ll be matched up again, or at least much better.

I’ve been chipping away at some of its needs over the winter including hatch and tailgate struts, front suspension and brakes, some cleaning, air filter, new battery, rear shocks, coating some rusty areas, and more. It really runs great and doesn’t seem to need anything in the engine department. I also drew and cut out some black vinyl Skyhawk decals which I think came out pretty good. I put one inside at the back of each of the rear side windows and Skyhawk letters-only in front of the 3rd brake light. I’ve already done the obligatory fan switch, but no TCC or temp gauge yet (very soon.) I just flip the fan on once I’ve been driving a while and am stopped or at low speeds. The big thing it needs still are the rocker panels replaced, which I keep not getting around to, and am debating farming it out. Finally did find a pair of rockers, but they are a little short and I think I’ll need a third to patch together and get to where the big hole is/was. I believe I have someone lined up to do it, but they are not ready yet and I decided to throw a quick and very ugly fiberglass patch over the one big hole to get inspected and then it will be fixed for real soon (or sometime before next inspection anyway.) I also picked up some new wheels for it, which I’ll post once I find some tires and everything is all done, and make sure they fit ok and all that.

There’s still lots more to do to get it all really fixed up, but I’m definitely enjoying driving it; even as is, it’s a great cruiser. It needs some more body work, to get painted, intermittent speaker cutout fixed and/or new radio, wheels and tires, has no headliner (may leave that for quite a while,) weld up roof rack holes, rust preventative everywhere, and who knows what else.


Research and Development Mishap.

May 20th, 2015

Several years ago I machined an adjustable cam gear for the 2.0. It was a single piece of aluminum and adjusted by having offset holes for the cam dowel in the center to alter the cam timing. To make a long story short, you will notice that there is very little material left in the center. I intended to make a support washer for this to make it more solid, but … I never quite got around to it. I had actually been running the gear for quite a while, and you can probably imagine what happened from there. While exiting the highway on the way to work: Clang! clang! clang! as it went bouncing down the road. After a quick tow to work, I saw what was left. I replaced the factory steel gear a few days later and headed home. I actually have three (new 2 piece design, and stronger of course) adjustable cam gears already in progress, so once I get one finished up I’ll see if it fares better!

pre-shear gear

pre-shear gear

remains of gear

remains of gear

Cracked head …

April 21st, 2015

Mini update about the red car … it turns out it was both a blown head gasket AND a cracked head, happy day! I didn’t look at the head too close in the middle of putting on the new gasket in the below-freezing temps because I haven’t had a bad one before, and I was hoping I could expedite things and not be as thorough as I should, and … well it didn’t pay off this time.

After it started acting up again and I ran a leakdown test, it shot coolant out the thermostat housing showing that number three was in bad shape. Luckily I found a place that offers remanufactured heads at a reasonable price that didn’t require a core in return to get things underway quicker. Once the old head was off, I could see cracks between the valves in all four combustion chambers. (Pics to follow.)

So after the new head all is finally well, which is good because now I need to replace the leaking rusted out fuel lines on the 2 door… it’s always something.

Hood pins.

March 13th, 2015

My second set of Quik Latch mini “hood pins” began to fail: on the way home one day, half of the hood started floating up on the highway which was a little scary.  It was time to do something about it. Although that’s exactly what I said after the first ones failed, it was easier to put on a second set just to get by for a while.  The problem is the Quik Latch pins only have three very small tangent contact points, so they wear easily and once they do, they don’t hold on any more. To be fair, I don’t think they are designed to be hood pins (the company makes much larger ones for that.) Still, it seems like they are supposed to hold on body panels and other similar things, which would undergo some of the same stresses, so I’m not sure I would trust them for anything more than very light duty.

I made a temporary hood pin that was basically a threaded rod to replace the Quik Latch ball stud and then turned up a stepped washer on the lathe to bolt the hood closed. Then I set to work on designing my own hood pins. I wanted them to function similar to the Quik Latches and not need any tools to open the hood, be quick and easy to operate, be small and unobtrusive, have a flush look unlike regular hood pins, use the same holes that were already in the hood, and most importantly be solid! Which of course is asking a lot. That being said, I think I succeeded and really like the look of the new ones with the black anodized aluminum top piece. The new pins work with ball lock pins that latch into stainless receivers mounted to the radiator support.  They were a bit of a challenge to install due to getting the compound angles to line up, but once that was taken care of they worked fine. They seem very rugged, so we’ll see how they hold up in the long term.

pin assemblies pre-anodize

pin assemblies pre-anodize


anodized and installed

anodized and installed


anodized close up

anodized close up


Yet another head gasket.

March 13th, 2015

No surprise here: yet another 100,000 mile head gasket failure! Well, it was a little early this time at around 90k. It was stumbling pretty bad on startup with some white smoke and was continually getting worse. It was a relatively minor one, not an all-out explosion like some have been, but still needed to be taken care of.

The worst part was trying to get it done outside in the driveway between New England snowstorms. I spread it out over the course of a month, usually just working on it for one day out of the weekend. So in the end it only took maybe 4 days (not full ones either) and went pretty well. I bundled up, warmed my hands on a halogen light and it wasn’t too terrible. All good now…

scene in the driveway

scene in the driveway

head, intake, exhaust manifold removed as assembly

head, intake, exhaust manifold removed as assembly

ready for the new gasket

ready for the new gasket


Exhausted 2.0

December 4th, 2014

Not only referring to myself at the end of the day, but the latest upgrade to the two door Sunbird: a custom, fully stainless exhaust system… I mentioned this was in the works in a previous post somewhere, but it’s finally finished. It was somewhat expensive, but it came out looking, sounding, and feeling awesome, and I’m really happy with it and the shop that did the work and find it was well worth the expense. Plus, it won’t be rusting out every couple years like the cheap replacement exhaust parts, which also don’t fit so well and I’m sure flow horribly. So here’s the details, and then I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves: .5″ stainless exhaust flange machined by myself (nobody makes them of course,) 1.5″ primary (approx 24″) long tubes  merging under the oil pan to a 2.25″ collector with bung for narrow o2, vband to intermediate pipe with flex pipe and bung for wideband o2, vband, resonator, vband, cat back, vband right after the rear axle to a Borla ProXS and a straight slash cut tip. Everything is stainless, mandrel bent, and straight through. It has a mellower and slightly quieter tone (mostly noticed from the outside, since the inside is always loud,) that sounds really nice, and has picked up some power too – I surprised myself by punching it when leaving a friends house the other day and it actually broke the tires loose – it didn’t used to be very easy to do that. I had to extend my narrow o2 wire and reroute the wideband harness since everything moved, but that’s it. On to the pictures.