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ClemSparks UltimaDork
5/23/18 9:37 p.m.

I picked up this '83 Regal Wagon back in February of 2017 with no title.



The car was originally (evidently) equipped with a diesel engine. 


I was told it had a V6 diesel. I had no idea GM even made a V6 diesel until I heard the story of this car but apparently they did (I only knew about the 5.7 Olds gas engine-based diesel V8). Anyway, I was told this one had a V6 diesel and thought I had confirmed that . But just yesterday I noticed the radio trim says “5.7 Diesel” on it. So...who knows. I really doesn't much matter.

As purchased by me it came with a partially-installed Olds 307 gas engine and a 350 Turbo transmission. The back story by the guy I got it from is that it spent many years as a stalled project inside a shop of some sort.



I brought it home and put it in the project row.



Step 1 was to get a title for it. If I couldn't get a title, there wasn't a whole lot of point to planning out a vision for the project. But I DID get a title for it (thanks Psteav!) and, besides, I really knew what I wanted to do with it anyway!

The concept: This is going to be a family cruiser. I want it to have enough power to be fun, but I don't want it to have cranky hot-rod issues. So...it won't be a hotrod. I want it to ride nice, have working air conditioning, and be reliable. We should be able to hop in and run downtown, drive across the state, or the country. We don't do a lot of driving across the country, but I've already set a goal (that the family hasn't scoffed at...yet) to drive this to Charleston, SC, in July of 2019.

I've settled on the following major things to make the concept happen:

It's going to have a carbureted V8 and an overdrive automatic transmission. I briefly thought about some sort of Buick or Olds 350 or 455 engine or maybe a Cadillac monster...but those aren't easy to find, they're expensive to build, and the REAL decision maker came down to the accessory drive. The readily-available serpentine belt setup for the Small block Chevy sealed the deal. Plus, I have a couple of SBC core engines stashed away already.

For the transmission, I decided on a GM Turbo-Hydramatic 200-4R to be rebuilt by a local transmission specialist. A 700-R4 was considered and would probably work great...but a 200R4 may be marginally-easier to install in place of the TH350/TH200.

The interior and body of the car is already in better shape than almost everything I own (this isn't saying much, admittedly) so I mostly just need to replace the headliner and clean up the interior. The paint is original. It's not perfect, but it'll do.

I think I have a plan on tires and wheels, but that is subject to change and it may get a couple of different sets bolted on while it progresses as a project. We'll just see what happens ;)

Over the next post or two, I'll get you caught up to now.

Here it is the day I brought it home...






ClemSparks UltimaDork
5/23/18 9:41 p.m.

When it came time to pick a powerplant for the car, it really wasn't that hard.

As I mentioned above, I had a couple of Small Block Chevy 350 engines “stashed” (rather, “scattered” like toe-stubbing obstacles) around here. They're notoriously cheap to build, and REALLY easy to bolt into a G-body. One of the major factors in the decision was the very-reliable and sanitary serpentine belt accessory drive. I put a serpentine setup on the small block in my '83 Suburban and I just can't see using anything but from here on out.


GM put them on 4.3 V6s and small block chevies from the 80s until the last of the Gen1 small blocks in lots of stuff (S10s, f bodies, b-bodies, trucks...) so it's pretty easy right now to come up with a serpentine setup without spending a fortune or scrounging too hard. I have managed to collect 3 setups not currently in use. One from an S10 4.3, one from a thirdgen Fbody with TBI, and one from a full size pickup (I think the pickup one won't fit under the hood of a g-body).



I thought for a bit about a fuel injection system...but a carburetor is Just. So. Easy. If I stay with a carburetor I don't have to build a fuel system. I don't have to worry about much wiring. It's a compromise I'm happy to make for now. Who knows...in the future, maybe I'll think about fuel injection. I've had good luck buying, installing, and using Holley aluminum 4160 style vacuum secondary carbs so that's what this one will almost-certainly get.


Having read a lot about SBC builds, I decided that I should go ahead and use Vortec heads on this build. They are universally lauded as “the best of the factory heads” and while not cheap...they're a lot cheaper than almost any aftermarket head and for a non-hotrod build like this, they really seemed to be the right choice. Since I was in no hurry, I decided to keep an eye on the used market but be prepared to buy a set new for around $750 if it came to that. I ended up with a recently-gone-through set for $250. If they work well...it'll be a heck of a deal.



So with those things decided...it was time to start building an engine. I had a non-roller 2 piece rear main seal block and I had a non-roller one piece rear main seal block. I like the 1 piece rear main seal for function but that block didn't have provision for a mechanical fuel pump. So I loaded up the 2 piece RMS block and headed to the machine shop (hopefully hereafter known as “my machine shop.”).


Many hundreds of dollars worth of machine work and parts later, I was ready to start assembling the engine.







I settled on “Cast Coat Gray” from Duplicolor.


Crank, pistons, rods, cam, and so on. I can give more details if anyone is interested.




I have it all buttoned up now and covered up. While I wait on the transmission to be built, it's time to pull out the engine that's in the car and clean up the engine bay a bit in preparation for the new drivetrain!

Vigo UltimaDork
5/23/18 9:46 p.m.

Cool car. I have a strange desire to mess with either of the old v6 or v8 diesels you mentioned, but given what you started with i think you are making the best of this situation. 

pres589 PowerDork
5/23/18 10:09 p.m.

About what compression ratio do you think this will have?  

Curious to see where this goes.

ClemSparks UltimaDork
5/23/18 10:17 p.m.

I used some dished pistons that according to the machine shop should put this somewhere "around 9.2:1-9.4:1."  From my armchair research and my machine shop's hard-earned wisdom...this should run well on 87 octane fuel.  That's a criteria I forgot to mention.  It is of utmost importance to me that this engine will run on cheap gas.   If it doesn't, so be it, but it won't be for lack of trying.  

Evidently the vortec head design makes them very tolerant of a little bit higher compression ratio (if you pay a little bit of attention to "quench" distance) than older heads do.  Seems like folks have been able to run 87 octane with a similar setup.  Time will tell.

The pistons I used (sourced through my machine shop but also available and quite affordable through Summit):

orthoxstice New Reader
5/23/18 10:39 p.m.

I'll be watching this for sure. There's a local older couple that drive around in a clapped out Malibu version of this car. I remember them from when I was a kid because I've always found that rear glass so fascinating. Can't say why really, but I always keep an eye out for one of these for sale. 


BTW I've never seen one of the Olds V6 diesels in real life. There was a guy on our local clist selling a pair of 1982 Celebrities that allegedly had the V6's (that worked!) but even though he only wanted $1k or something like that for them I had to have an honest conversation with myself about what I would do with them and why the hell I was interested in owning them. Oh well.

John Welsh
John Welsh Mod Squad
5/24/18 6:15 a.m.

In reply to ClemSparks :

I like where this is going but given the badge, maybe this should have been a candidate for swapping in a 4cyl diesel from the Isuzu delivery, cab over trucks?

ClemSparks UltimaDork
5/24/18 6:20 a.m.

Good point.  I'll unbuild this SBC, get my money back from the machine shop and tell them what I really wanted was to put a bread van engine in my wagon.  wink

Seriously, though...I want the V8 sounds and I want it to be fun to drive in a muscle car kind of way.

I do think I'll leave the Diesel badge on until I have a reason to remove it just to make people scratch their heads in traffic.

maschinenbau Dork
5/24/18 10:01 a.m.

...Challenge-friendly budget? Or did the engine rebuild blow it

ClemSparks UltimaDork
5/24/18 3:13 p.m.

I thought since it was a wagon this might come up.  No...I never considered holding this to a challenge budget. 

First off...it won't be a challenge car.  And yeah...rebuilding an engine with store-bought machine work isn't conducive to keeping things under $2018.  I have close to $900 in machine work.   I'm afraid to even add up the cost of parts for the shortblock.  Suffice it to say, the purchase of the car and the parts and machine work for the short block ate up a challenge budget.

Then there's the rest of the project:  The transmission is going to be half a challenge budget.  Exhaust is going to add to it.  I haven't bought the carburetor yet.  Used heads and a second hand vortec intake weren't cheap either (I mean...cheaper than new...but not challenge-friendly).  Then there's a/c.  Wheels and tires.  I'm going to stop listing things now...it's getting scary.

I also have no aspirations of having it roadworthy by challenge season.

I'm all for building cheap, fun cars.  But this one's going to get some dollar love.  laugh


orthoxstice New Reader
5/24/18 3:44 p.m.
NickD UberDork
5/24/18 3:51 p.m.

Much like the Chevy 4.3L was a Chevy 5.7L with 2 cylinders lopped off, the Olds 4.3L Diesel was a 350 Diesel with 2 cylinders lopped off. What makes the Olds 4.3L Diesel interesting is that it had the only serpentine setup for a traditional Oldsmobile V engine, which transplants onto any Olds "small block" (307, 330, 350, 403) directly and fits the 400-425-455 "big block" with some modifications. So, if this had still had the original engine, then you would have had a serpentine belt setup to run an Olds engine like you wanted.

dropstep SuperDork
5/25/18 12:54 a.m.

I'm always in for some wagon love. I'm slightly biased towards your Fairmont but I also like g body's.

ClemSparks UltimaDork
5/27/18 1:02 p.m.

I'm also excited to get the Fairmont swapped over to V8 power.  If it didn't still run and move under its own power, it would probably be the one in the barn right now ;).  Funny how that works.

Anyway, this post will get us more or less caught up to right now.

I recruited the help of the sparks family to push the car into the barn where I could empty the engine bay and prepare to put the new drivetrain in.

My hoist doesn't have enough reach to get the engine AND transmission out while still coupled together. So...after some hemming and hawing, I dove in and pulled the header panel and core support.

Once that stuff was out of the way it was time to lift the drivetrain and roll the car out from under it.

And it's empty...

I've been spending some time scrubbing down the frame rails and engine crossmember. I'll plan to put some POR15 on. I figure I (hopefully) won't have another chance soon to get to these parts, so I might as well clean them up now.


ClemSparks UltimaDork
6/12/18 8:18 p.m.

I talked to my transmission guy today.  He says he's going to get to it "pretty quick" which I'm guessing might be in the next week or two.  Cool!

In the mean time, I've scrubbed down the frame rails and crossmember, put some POR-15 and some satin black rustoleum on top of that, bolted in my engine mounts (not a trivial task...the nuts on the inside of the crossmember are hard to get), and ordered a Summit/G-Force transmission crossmember with "frame extension."  

Tonight I did all the fitting to put the frame extension in the car.  You have to mock it up and drill two holes in the frame.  When light conditions are less-unfavorable, I'll see if I can get a few photos to show what I've been up to.  

But I think I'm at the point that when I get my transmission, I should be able to set the drivetrain in the car.

Tick Tock.

Indy-Barely Functional-Guy
Indy-Barely Functional-Guy UltraDork
6/13/18 8:52 a.m.

Have you planned your first family road trip in this beast yet? Sometimes settings an arbitrary deadline helps motivate.

ClemSparks UltimaDork
6/13/18 9:56 p.m.

Well, yeah...kinda.

ClemSparks said:


We don't do a lot of driving across the country, but I've already set a goal (that the family hasn't scoffed at...yet) to drive this to Charleston, SC, in July of 2019.

There's no real lack of motivation though.   I won't be able to spend as fast as I'll be able to work on it (which admittedly isn't all that fast).

As much as I'd like to be driving this ASAP, I'm going to take it slow and get the drivetrain done right rather than my typical MO of "just get it running."

brad131a4 Reader
6/13/18 10:18 p.m.

Needs to have a decent exhaust when done. My 0.2 is debadge the tailgate. 2" lowering spindles with some koni shocks or some detroit speed front end parts if your feeling rich. Some nice 17" rims with 50 or 55 profile tires by 245 would be my choice. Nice cut , buff and polish would do wonders to the paint.

ClemSparks UltimaDork
7/10/18 3:44 p.m.

I'm still waiting on the transmission.  A few days ago I scrubbed down a set of valve covers and put a little paint on them.  

I'll pick up some Felpro gaskets and bolt them on.

noddaz SuperDork
7/10/18 4:36 p.m.

Keep going...


a_florida_man Reader
7/10/18 6:07 p.m.

Lookin good!

malibuguy Reader
7/10/18 6:13 p.m.

hell yeah I love these in-between odd year Regals

The Gforce crossmember is stupidly overbuilt a very nice piece for a street car (it weighs like 3 times the weight of stock lol) plus the humps line up with headers and help support the floor.  I bought one 15~odd years ago and its still in service on my dads Elco.  The Jegs units require doglegs immediately off the headers its friggen stupid and they dont fit often

your smart to go with the 200r4, stock driveshaft can be reused.  just make sure your TV cable geometry is set up right or you can burn it up going around the block (same applies to the 700r4 as well, just they way they are).  most stock governors shift around 4800-5200rpm take that into consideration

I have an extra hole drilled in my engine crane arm to 'just' get to the center of an intake on a sbc gbody...because well taking the front end apart sucks just to yank a driveline

I love the stock hubcaps...but I am weird like that


ClemSparks UltimaDork
7/10/18 7:06 p.m.

 Years ago I made an alternative boom pole (square tube) for my engine hoist to pull engines out of my third gen camaros.  It was a couple feet longer and required at least two sets of SBC iron heads as counter weights at the rear base of the hoist.  That worked for getting just an engine (and IIRC an angine and T5 manual transmission) out But it was WAY too sketchy for the 307/TH350 combo to come out together (I did set it up that way to check).  I could have pulled the trans separately but that’s a “rough” job in my barn (one I’ve done on a Gbody within the past year already) so I went this route.  

I’m learning that when working on gravel, the less you have to do from under the car (especially when needing to roll jacks and such) the better.

malibuguy Reader
7/10/18 8:15 p.m.

yeah pulling the trans can be a bit of a whore on your back and im not sure on the OLDs...but with SBCs the firewall lip seam can really hinder getting to the upper bellhousing bolts.  Usually many wornout extentions can sometimes get the job done.

Do yourself a favor since the bay is empty and hammer that seam down ;)

jfryjfry HalfDork
7/11/18 11:35 a.m.

Have you considered a self-contained tbi efi unit like fitech??

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