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Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito PowerDork
9/18/18 12:49 p.m.

In reply to BirgerBuilder :

After the floor is completely in, everything is getting ground down, painted with Rust Bullet, and seam sealed. I don't want to have to do this again. 

Also, my area is getting the remnants of Florence today. Last night. I covered the entire engine bay with plastic to avoid getting more water in the engine.

In the future, I might consider getting a turbo bump hood if I can find a deal on one. Getting real sick of the shaker setup not fitting right, since it has an aftermarket intake and a Holley. Until then, I still need to cobble together a custom shaker base and air cleaner setup out of some spare bits I have. Now that I have a welder, this should be much easier! They make aftermarket shaker bases that accommodate the changes I made, but they are hundreds of dollars that I'd rather save and spend on other things on the car. 

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito PowerDork
9/24/18 10:45 a.m.

After-weekend update: After spending all day Saturday fighting with my 1997 Dodge Dakota (stock alternator violently seized after 177k miles!), I switched my attention to the Trans Am. I'm running into a big problem with getting this thing to start. sad

With a fully charged battery, the car turns over VERY slow. The positive and negative battery cables heat up and start smoking. There have even been some sparks flying on the positive side. First couple cranks are normal speed, and then it slows to a snail's pace and then things heat up. This also drains the battery almost completely, which is probably more the battery than anything else. 

This is nothing new.  

Ever since I swapped the Pontiac 400 in the car (it came with an Olds 403), starting the car has been problematic. The starter in the car is the THIRD one since the swap. Since it has long tube headers that don't fit well, the only starter that fits is the stock one. I even bought a mini-starter at one point, but the solenoid touched the header no matter how I re-clocked it. Yet the giant stock one fits. I don't get it. First one cracked the solenoid. Second one had a broken terminal after a wrenching mishap. Thank the car gods for parts store lifetime warranties. 

I'm not sure what's causing all of the trouble. Last time I replaced the starter, I also replaced both battery cables, added heat shielding to the positive so it wouldn't get fried by the header, and checked out all the wiring and even added a couple extra grounds. It seemed to fix the issue at the time, but it's doing it again. 

I really don't know what the deal is. I know Pontiac V8's are infamous for hot start issues, but this happens when it's cold. When I was driving it after putting the engine in, the car left me stranded a few times because of the same thing. Guess I'll take the starter out and see if the solenoid blew apart again to start. 



Dusterbd13 MegaDork
9/24/18 10:53 a.m.

Have you tried the screwdriver across the solenoid/cable trick? Wondering if it may be on the switched side of the system 

PseudoSport Dork
9/24/18 10:57 a.m.

Your compression ratio of the 400 is now 9.5 instead of 6 or whatever it was originally. I'm sure that's not helping. 

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito PowerDork
9/24/18 1:58 p.m.

Not really much room to jump the terminals under there. Here's a pic from when I installed the last starter: 

That's the best I can get the wiring. There's just no room under there.  That power cable is taped AND heat insulated, too. Stuff like this makes me want to kick this car out of the fleet. 

If I don't get frustrated enough to sell the damn thing at this point, I may have to start scrounging and invest in a set of block hugger headers or stock-style manifolds to make more room under there. These Summit long tubes suck and don't fit right. 

Dusterbd13 MegaDork
9/24/18 2:02 p.m.

Ive never had any headers impress me with fitment. Except for the c5 longtubes i put on once. Out of hundreds of sets of headers. Ive got a challenge car invested in the headers and exhaust in the duster, and its not much better.


Can you tap into the solenoid wire upstream from the starter and apply a direct 12 volts to it, since the starter us inaccessible? 

AngryCorvair MegaDork
9/24/18 2:10 p.m.

i assume you've got the typical 1970's GM battery cables, where the (-) cable goes from battery to alternator bracket or cylinder head?   Or does your (-) go from battery to chassis/unibody?   I'm just thinking about whether or not the electrons have the lowest resistance path possible on their way from B (+) to starter and from starter back to B (-).   Anyway, because the starter motor ground path is through the engine block, you should run a beefy ground cable from engine block to B (-) if you don't already have one.

Dusterbd13 MegaDork
9/24/18 2:15 p.m.

Or better yet, a cable directly from the starter to negative batyer IN ADDITION TO the others already existing. 

9/24/18 10:59 p.m.

So was the "fully charged battery" the 4 year old one?

Do you have the correct (for Pontiac engine) drivers side battery tray mount & cable routing? The original Pontiac V8 equipped cars had a special heat shield tube on the exhaust manifold. If you switch back to manifolds get the shield.

Do you have the - battery cable mounted to a cleaned place on the block?

Do you have a smaller ground wire from the body to the - battery cable/terminal?

Did you remove the spark plugs and put Marvel Mystery oil in all the cylinders and turn the engine over by hand for a while? A year of sitting with water in the cylinders can cause quite a bit of rust.

Sparks flying is an indication that there isn't a good connection at that point. Did you clean wherever that occurred and make a good connection?

If you get rid of the headers consider the Rare Air Restoration exhaust manifolds.

I know you're frustrated but keep at it! If I still lived in Brockton I'd go help ya get that thing running.

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito PowerDork
9/30/18 1:14 p.m.

Another Update:

My nephew, who is a budding gearhead, has been begging me all summer to come down and help me turn wrenches on the Trans Am. With all the health issues going on with the wife, yesterday was the first time I had the chance to go get him for the day. So, we wrenched! 

First, we went to the parts store and got a new battery. The old one wasn't cutting it and would mostly discharge after a few cranks, as I was mentioning earlier in the thread. I also picked up some Marvel Mystery Oil and some starting fluid to help un-stick the rings, just in case. I mean,I did pull about 5 QUARTS OF WATER out of the engine... 

We pulled all the plugs, poured a little Marvel down the holes, and let it sit while I checked the connections for the starter and all of the grounds. I re-did all the connections at the battery, and cleaned everything for fresh contacts. 

With that done, we tossed the battery in and cranked it over with the plugs out. It cranked freely and without issue, which was a good sign. After we put the plugs back in, but they kept oil fouling due to the remnants of the Marvel in the bores. We took the plugs out about 5 times, cleaned them, and tossed them back in. After a while, with the assist of some starting fluid, it showed signs of life, but wouldn't run off of gas. It took a while, but it FINALLY ran on its own!

It sounded good, so we let it run for 10-15 minutes before shutting it down to change out the oil I put in last week. 

It still looks horrible, but there was no water this time. Most of the sludge that was in there plopped out. It was disgusting to watch. laugh

After putting the new oil in, I let it run another 15 minutes and called it a day, because I had to take my nephew home. 


-Well, it runs! That's a good thing. Sounds fine, so the water in the engine thing should be behind me now. That's a relief.

-Starting issues are still there, but slightly better with a fresh battery. I double checked everything, too. Everything is as it should be, but it still doesn't like starting sometimes. Hot starts are still an issue. 

What's next? The floors need to get done, so that will be the big focus. Hoping to finish up the passenger side and getting the driver's side started soon. 


crankwalk SuperDork
9/30/18 1:22 p.m.

Just keep doing short changes on that oil for a while until it starts looking normal again. Like 500 mile runs of supertech from walmart until its not chocolate ice cream.


That's good progress!

AngryCorvair MegaDork
9/30/18 2:03 p.m.

The starter on my V8 944 had a rusty bearing that just wouldn't let it spin very fast.  Local rebuilder replaced bearing, bushing, brushes and springs, for $55.  He asked me if it was from a boat because he had never seen a car starter that berkeleyed.  With fresh starter, I couldn't believe how fast the engine cranked!

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito PowerDork
9/30/18 2:33 p.m.

In reply to AngryCorvair :

This starter isn't that old. It was replaced 2 years ago and has zero road miles. It has a lifetime warranty, so I could always swap it out. It's the 3rd or 4th one the car has had since 2002. 

I think the best solution is to switch to shorty headers or the Pypes/Ram Air Restorations cast manifolds and get a high torque mini-starter. That's a $500-600 solution though. Less heat, more clearance for things, and less frustration overall. The long tubes on the car also interfere with changing the oil filter. There's no way to NOT dump oil all over the header when changing the oil. 

Norma66 Reader
9/30/18 9:22 p.m.

Glad you got her fired up again. Keep it moving and you will be driving again before you know it!

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito PowerDork
11/2/18 10:56 a.m.

With winter on the way very shortly, my plan is to clean out my small one car garage and get the Trans Am in there. With it inside the garage and running under its own power, I can have the flexibility to work on it inside and pull it outside during nice days. 

I've also done more thinking about the stupid hot start issue; this has plagued Pontiac V8's since the 1950's. Even though the car runs now, I can't drive it anywhere because it won't start afterwards. I am thinking that I need to take another swing at getting a mini starter to fit on the car. Not only am I fighting heat soak, I'm also fighting a tighter, high compression engine that needs that extra torque to kick it over. 

Last time, I bought a Summit mini starter that didn't fit: 

As you can see, it's re-clockable, but has preset positions, and none of them worked with the headers in place. The power wire on the bottom of the starter meant that it either hit the block or the header no matter what. So, here are my options:

Powermaster stock-style starter:

It's slightly smaller than the stock one, and has the solenoid above the motor like the stock one, keeping the wires from hitting things. It's also the most expensive, and cannot be re-clocked. 

Powermaster Mini-Starter:

This one is a lot like the Summit brand one, but with two major differences: 1. the terminals are both on the side and not the bottom, and 2. It has an infinitely adjustable clock position. I'd rather the terminals up and out of the way like the stock starter, but this one seems to be the smallest and the adjustability is unmatched. Here's a pic of the stock starter next to one of these:


New headers/manifolds are still in the picture at some point, but the hot start problem would still happen no matter what, so this is more of a priority. 

AngryCorvair MegaDork
11/2/18 11:08 a.m.

In reply to Tony Sestito :

if your ignition timing is late, you're putting a lot of your combustion heat into the exhaust headers, and that could be contributing to the problem.   it's a funny balancing act, because too much base timing will make the engine hard to crank due to the combustion trying to push the piston back down in the bore, but not enough base timing contributes to starter heat-soak.

you'll get there, man.  i have faith!

stuart in mn
stuart in mn UltimaDork
11/2/18 12:47 p.m.

There were heavy duty factory starters available for some Pontiac V8s.  However, I've never had an issue with hot starting on any of the Pontiacs I've owned...if your starter is in good condition, along with a decent battery and good cables I don't think it should be.  My current car is a '61 Bonneville, with the 389ci 425a Trophy 348hp tripower engine with 10.75:1 compression, and it has the factory long branch exhaust manifolds.  The manifold on the starter side just barely clears the starter; it always turns over just fine but for extra insurance I did put on one of those starter heat shield blankets:  http://designengineering.com/versa-shield-starter-shield/

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito PowerDork
11/2/18 1:05 p.m.

The starter currently on this car is the stock, non-heavy duty, rebuilt starter for a 1979 Trans Am with an Olds 403. They use the same starter for both the Olds and Pontiac V8's. The 403 never had any issues with the starter, but I've cooked 3 so far with the Pontiac engine. It's a high compression engine and nowhere near stock with ill-fitting headers. Cables were new the last time I went through this, and the battery is new. Hell, this starter probably has about 10-15 starts on it since I replaced it last time! Doesn't matter; still does it. 

Timing has been set correctly as well. It cranks over fast with a fresh battery when cold, and barely turns over when hot. 

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito PowerDork
7/6/19 6:57 p.m.

July 4th is an important day on the calendar. Not only is it Independence Day for us Americans, I personally uphold a longstanding tradition of wrenching on my Trans Am, which I've been doing since picking it up in 2002. Now, I have not done much of anything to it since picking up my Power Wagon, so the project for the day was finishing the passenger side floor pan that's been sitting unfinished since last year.


This stupid sliver hole had to be "pie cut" to get the pan to sit right. I now have a somewhat functioning MIG and a tank of gas, so I decided to booger it on there.

I cut a small panel out of some scrap with enough coverage to cover the hole. Not exactly rocket science.

The welder was having some trouble; it kept zapping in "pulses" which made things a little difficult. I couldn't tell if it was bad prep or a problem with the welder itself. I got through it though.


After grinding down all the welds and cleaning the area up a few times, I plopped on some seam sealer and called it good. I still need to source a body plug and spot weld the torque box extension, but it came out great! Why did that take me so damn long?

I'm hoping to start repairing the driver's side soon. Already picked up some more seam sealer, and I don't have to deal with the torque box as that side is in great shape.

cdowd Dork
7/6/19 8:03 p.m.

Looks great!  Keep going.

Gearheadotaku UltimaDork
7/7/19 9:55 p.m.

Wa-Hoo progress!

 I guess the 4th is work on a Pontiac day. I got the dual cooling fans mounted (finally) in mine. The wiring was done on the 6th.

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito PowerDork
1/28/20 9:59 a.m.

Now here's a thread I haven't updated in a while...

I have been saying this every year for almost 20 years now, but this might be the year I get my Trans Am back among the living. Most of my winter bench-racing/daydreaming has revolved around this car. Last year, I didn't do a lot to it, thanks to my Power Wagon purchase, but now that the truck is holding its own, I want to re-focus on my long-neglected project car.

The goal is to get it on the road by summer. It needs a lot of work before I can get there. I surprised the hell out of myself by transforming the Power Wagon from a roadside derelict parking lot plow rig to a working truck in less than a year, and the Trans Am is much further along than that thing, so I should be able to turn it around (I hope).

So, what exactly does it need? Here's a list:

-Finish the P/S floor. The torque box brace was repaired, but I still need to tack it into place like the factory did it to brace the floor. This should be easy. I also need to buy a floor plug (see the hole in the pic above in the thread).

-Fix the D/S floor. I bought a full front pan for each side, but since the holes are a lot smaller on this side, I think I'm just going to make small patches instead. It will take less time and I can save that pan for later if I need it.

-Patch the doors and rear D/S quarter panel. This might take some effort, but for now, I plan on just doing a quick, dirty patch job to pass state inspection. I have rust free doors, but they need new skins, so that can happen later.

-Finally fix the stupid starting issues. Been over this a few times in this thread (see above) but I need a high torque mini starter that fits with the stupid headers.

-Install some sort of interior. Right now, it's gutted for repairs, and I had to throw away most of it. Door panels, carpet, headliner, package tray, and seats were all junk. I have some of the plastics, but they are various colors (mostly black). Looking at making it more functional than presentable at this point. Interior parts are expensive, and I need to do this on a budget. This may be the biggest challenge of all.

-Go through the vital systems so it doesn't kill me. Fuel system should be fine (new tank recently installed), as well as the electrical stuff (minus the starter). Brakes need refreshing, and I might replace the shocks.

Once it's back on the road, there are a ton of small projects to tackle, but these will allow me to get an inspection sticker and dependably drive it around. I could care less about going fast in it; I just want to cruise around and listen to Dokken and Ratt. It will be ugly, but it will be alive. I can worry about the rest later. It's a big commitment, and I hope I can stick to it!

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito PowerDork
2/3/20 9:24 a.m.

It begins...

Just scored one of these slightly used for about half off:

Long range weather forecast for February shows that it's going to be a milder than normal month around here, so I might be able to toss it in. Very excited!

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito PowerDork
2/17/20 2:42 p.m.

Since winter has been canceled here in Southern New England, I decided to wrench on my Trans Am this Presidents Day. Today's project was to get the new starter in the car.

Why am I doing this again? Because the stock starter hits the headers and can't handle the engine I built. Stock starters heat soak on stock engines with low compression, and this is a common upgrade. How tight is it in there?

It's that tight.

Here's the new starter: a Powermaster Ultra Torque 9410. I also opted to get a heat shield blanket because I am sick of messing around with heat soaked starters. Every little bit helps.

While the new one is quite a bit smaller, they do make ones even smaller than that. Problem is, the terminals touch the headers on my car. Been there, done that. This one has the solenoid up top, just like the one that came in the car.

I used a floor jack to lower that starter out. Makes it A LOT easier.

And there it is, all wrapped up and in the car. As you can see, it fits much better.

I didn't notice that the larger wire was that close to the block until I was typing this just now, but that's an easy fix. The smaller relay wire is the one that would hit on the old starter AND the other mini starter I had, and as you can see, it's got plenty of clearance now.

The gear is exposed on this one, like most modern starters. I really need to reinstall my flywheel cover at some point.

With that, it was time to fire it up. Yeah, not so fast. The gas gauge read empty, so I tossed about a gallon in the tank. Still nothing. Fuel feed was bone dry. I didn't have more gas, and since that rubber looks like it's seen better days, I just shot some ether down the carb to see if it would fire on that, and it did. I'm thinking that more fuel is needed to prime the system, since everything is still fairly new, so I'll have to get more fuel, new rubber, and a new fuel filter and try again later. The good news is that I cranked on that starter for a good while and it just didn't care. No sparks, no smoke, no slow cranking; it just did its thing. I'd call that a huge win.

I also took a look at the driver's floor. I should be able to patch this fairly easily. I'm going to try and patch the holes before I cut everything out and drop that new pan in. It's not nearly as bad as the passenger side, and the torque box extension is still solid.

Still, progress!


Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito PowerDork
2/20/20 1:31 p.m.

Want to know how long I've had this stupid car?

THIS LONG: http://www.cardomain.com/ride/771324/1979-pontiac-trans-am/

Yes, Car Domain is apparently still a thing. It's been through a number of updates, so my old page is jumbled up, but it's there. Man, I was a baby back then! 2002 Tony had no idea what he was getting into...

How/why did I find that? Because I've owned this heap so long that I've forgotten things I've done to it, so I dug up an ancient build thread on Trans Am Country to try and remember. So many broken Photobucket links...

What was I trying to remember, you ask? Back when I installed the 400 12 years ago, I had to make two major concessions to run long-tube headers in the car, and in hindsight, that was kinda dumb. What were those concessions? One was that I had to ditch the column-to-floor shifter linkage rod, which causes problems with the neutral safety switch and the reverse lights. The other was why I ditched the A/C. Now that I'm older, I actually WANT A/C, and I saved all the parts to re-install it someday. The A/C box and headers don't exactly fit in the engine bay together, so I chose to ditch the A/C and choose speed.

With the headers seriously pissing me off, and the fact that they are getting rusty, they will need replacement soon after the car is back among the living. I have three choices:

Option 1: Another set of long tubes

Pros: POWERRRRRRRRR, VRRRRROOOOMMMMMM VRRRROOOOOOOMMMM, Can probably use most of the existing exhaust system

Cons: Most of them hit everything, bottom out on everything, interfere with everything, heat up everything, and hit the A/C box

Option 2: Ram Air Restorations long branch cast iron manifolds

Pros: Stock-like fit, Still make decent power, can run A/C in the car, better than the log manifolds that came in the smog cars

Cons: Heavy, ceramic coated ones are stupid expensive, have to run stock style exhaust (sorta)

Option 3: Block hugger shorty headers

Pros: Better packaging than long tubes, can run A/C, ceramic coated ones cost about the same as the non-coated cast iron manifolds

Cons: Will have to replace entire exhaust system and make custom down pipes, collectors are 2.5" instead of 3" like long tubes

I have plenty of time to decide, but I'm not sure which route to take. Replacing the exhaust that's on the car now is probably not a bad idea either; it's a true dual system that has no crossover and dual mufflers. I do have a Flowmaster header-back system with a H-pipe and a crossover muffler, but the muffler's seen better days and I want it to be a little quieter. We'll see...

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