Archive for the ‘1993 Pontiac Sunbird sedan’ Category

Another lump update.

Thursday, 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.

Cracked head …

Tuesday, 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.

Yet another head gasket.

Friday, 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


Sunbird 2.0L OHC camshaft tool v2

Saturday, November 10th, 2012


I decided to design this 2.0L valvetrain and cam tool as a lightweight, easy-to-build but slower-to-function alternative to my first version (link below) or for when you just want to swap rockers or lifters and aren’t worried about compressing everything at once.

For reference, an earlier post here shows some details of my first 2.0L camshaft removal tool. It’s rather elaborate, but is quick if you’re just looking to swap the cam.

Instructions and function:

Start by rotating the engine so that the lobe of the cam at the rocker you want to remove is facing straight up and the valve is fully seated. The tool works by setting it on top of the valvespring you want to compress, then bolting it into the corresponding cam housing bolt hole (after the cover is removed) and turning the bolt until the spring is compressed enough so that you can remove the rocker/follower (magnet from the back works well.) Once the rocker is out of the way, you can also remove the lifter. To remove the cam, repeat until you’ve removed all rockers.

There are a few things to note about using the tool.
* First off, just compress enough to get the rocker out and be careful of cranking down too hard into the cam cover. It’s not a very large bolt, and you wouldn’t want to end up stripping out a cover hole.
* The hole through the tool and bolt help keep it straight along with the round shape at the valve end, which seats on the rocker tip guide inserts. These have to be in place or the tool will probably want to bend and break something or slip off the valve.
* There are two holes in the cover at either end which are spaced differently from the valve than the rest. These are where you need to switch the bolt from the central hole of the tool, to the offset one.
* On these offset valves, I had some clearance problems where I had to rotate the rocker off the valve and remove the lifter before the rocker would come out completely.
* There is an eccentric toward the front of the cam that seemingly serves no purpose but to get in the way. When this happens, you may find that you have to point the lobes a little differently than straight up to avoid the eccentric from hitting the removal tool. As long as the valve isn’t open, it will work fine.
* Another thing to be aware of is that the tool may slip without the lash caps on the valves, so use them when reinstalling the rockers.


2.0L OHC : all versions including TBI, PFI, turbo (LT3, C20GET)
– found in Pontiac 82-94 Sunbird, 88-91 LeMans, 87-89 Grand Am SE, 87-88 Olds Firenza, 87-89 Buick Skyhawk
1.8L OHC : probably, since it is very similar to the 2.0
– found in same as above
20NE, 20SE, 20SEH, C20NE, C20GET : European same basic engine as 2.0
– found in various Vauxhalls and Opels
18NE etc : probably, Euro equivalent to 1.8L above, not sure what all their engine codes are
– found in various Vauxhalls and Opels
Others? – If you know more engines that share this layout like maybe the sub-1.8L European engines, let me know.


Anyone with basic machining skills should be able to build this tool from the print below, and if not, any machine shop should be able to for you easily. You may be able to get away with using a drill press if you have a decent setup. I used some scrap 6061 aluminum, which works just fine, but you can also use steel or whatever else is available. Also, this is a guide for one way to do it. There is extra material on the top of the part behind the two holes that could be removed if you want. As you’ll be able to see when I put up a picture of mine, I cut down that side some and chamfered the edges. The important parts are the height used for compressing the spring, that there’s enough material in the holes to guide the bolt somewhat and keep it straight, and the relationship of the holes to the compressing shape. Anyway, if you stick to the print it will work fine. Another thing you can do alternately to using the bolt is an M6 stud or threaded rod, and then use a nut to compress the spring instead of turning the bolt. This may be a little easier on the holes.
Disclaimer: Build and use at your own risk, and enjoy.

cam tool 2

cam tool 2

2.0L valvetrain tool.

2.0L valvetrain tool.

J Body Control Arm Refresh.

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

Since I’ve done this a few times now, I thought I’d share my experiences with freshening up the Sunbird’s control arms this time around.

Ball joint removal:
If they’ve never been replaced, you unfortunately are going to have to get the factory ball joint rivets out first. You can either attempt to drill them out, or grind the heads and press or pound them out. Each method has its difficulties.

For drilling, one side of the rivets has a center indentation to start the drill. At this age, they may no longer provide a good center to drill anymore due to rust etc. The other tricky part will be setting the control arm up to get a straight hole, since they are not exactly flat on the opposite side. One more thing about this method is, I wouldn’t advise using a .500(1/2)” drill as others do – the hole is actually closer to .453(29/64)” and you want to minimize material loss which may weaken the mounting points. If your hole is not dead center, you’ll want to go smaller still. Only drill out enough just to get it out, and make sure your hole is as centered and as straight as possible and you will be ok. The bolts that replace the rivets are 12mm in the kit I got, so you may have to drill out the hole a bit to fit them, but that is better than blowing the hole out too large and probably also changing its location when trying to get out the rivets.

To be able to press out the rivets, you’re going to have to use a cutoff or grinding wheel to get the head off at least one side of the rivets. The heads on the lower side are shallower than the top side, so to make it a little easier, grind them off. You may want to try to grind the head a little below the surface of the arm if you can, while trying to avoid grinding the arm. Any lip remaining will make it hard to press out, especially if you are going to try to hammer it out. With a hydraulic press, it is not quite as big a deal, it will just fold the small amount of lip over as it goes.  Pressing them out can mushroom the mounting holes in the control arm a bit on the far side. I would suggest you put in some ball joints (new, old, or .281(9/32)” thick material) and vice, C clamp, or hammer them carefully back to flat before putting things back together.

Bushing removal:
You can burn bushings out with a torch, but I don’t find it necessary due to their design in this case. They are somewhat hourglass shaped, so they don’t contact the entire inside of the arm, making them a little easier to get out because they fuse to the arm in fewer places. If you do want to torch them though, I’d keep the heat toward the center of the bushing or the steel bolt tube; these aren’t the most rugged of control arms, and you could probably distort or melt the stamped metal pretty easily. Another word of caution when doing this, and I have a feeling this is pretty rare, but somehow I had one of them build up pressure once and shoot the center tube right out of the bushing. (It wasn’t a J control arm.)

I found on my factory 128k mile control arms that all that had to be done for 3 out of 4 was hacksaw one side of the rubber bushing flange around the outside edge to weaken it enough so it would fold up when I pounded them out the other side of the housing. You also can hack the whole “rubber flange” part off if you like. On the fourth, I had to resort to drilling some holes in the rubber to weaken it and loosen the rubber’s hold.  Just be careful of chewing up the inside of the control arm housing when doing this, the drill wants to walk. Also, when this happens, it may leave some rubber behind in the bore which you will have to find a way to scrape out before installing the new bushings.

Installing the new bushings and ball joints is pretty straight forward. The ball joints simply bolt in with three new bolts (usually supplied with the ball joints,) and the bushings you should be able to push or tap in easily after you’ve greased them, assuming you’re upgrading to polyurethane while you’re in there – which you should, and you won’t have to do this again for a long time, and will also improve handling while you’re at it.

The only other thing of note when going to install the control arm and spindle, is just as you may have already found if you’ve taken them out, it may be easier to install them as a unit. Once the driveshaft enters the picture, there is no room to install the castellated nut on the ball joint, or any way to torque it either.

Bird droppings.

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

What else can you expect on the day of purchasing another Sunbird but that it would break down?  A bad crank position sensor wire was the culprit.

A couple pictures of the maroon four door’s first days – May 2011.

Heading up the ramp!

Ready for transport.