Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mopar Front Suspension Upgrade

TRACK STATSTemperature 72 -76F; barometer 30.05; 0-2 mph crosswind; 45 percent humidtyRUNLaunch RPMShift RPM60’1/4 ET1/4 MPH11500 - Shakedown run58001.9611.94101.07022500 - Stock front end - 18 PSI - 36 total timing58001.72no data no data32500 - Hot Lap58001.71no datano data 42500 - New front end - same tune - 18 PSI58001.64no data no data52500 - Hot Lap58001.66no datano data DIFFERENCE .08

Technical Info

Owner: Moe Keys, Blue Bell, Pennsylvania

Car: 1968 Dodge Coronet 500 Convertible

Engine: .060 over 413

Cam: Comp 504 lift

Intake: M1

Carb: Holley 750 HP

Trans: 727 / 3500 TCI converter

Rear: 4.10 8 ¾

If you spend any amount of time at the track, you generally see engines tweaked to peak performance. Properly tuned and tweaked from carb to timing curve, there are definitely rewards gained in focusing on these areas, but that doesn’t mean you should get “tunnel vision” and forget the rest of the car. Traction is king on the track, so attention is naturally focused on the rear suspension, but how often do you think about the front suspension in relation to elapsed time down the quarter mile?

If you do consider this aspect of the total package, there are several schools of thought, old school, new school and everything in between. The simple fact is that the front suspension has a lot to do with getting your car to clock optimum 60-foot times. For instance, unhooking the sway bar for more suspension travel is one change people make; let’s take a little closer look at theory behind doing that. Why? The bushings that do a good job locating the bar, and hold it in place during cornering, also means that it doesn’t fall down easily when the front end rises during a hit on slicks.

Those bushings create friction; removing that friction by unhooking the bar will aid faster suspension travel. Now imagine that same principle being used for the upper control arms, ball joints, and strut rods. While doing a rebuild, you can clearly see the bind in the strut rods and friction in the bushings of the control arms before your torsion bar is installed – it takes some serious effort to move the front end – it is far from friction free!

There are some tricks that guys have used for years, such as applying a lubricant on the control arm bushings to get them to move easy, or putting a double nut on the lower shock mount (to back off the shock mount to avoid the bind at the lower control arm); some racers prefer selecting junkyard shocks that are shot to help in the transfer. The list goes on and on.

Our test was a simple one. Modern technology has eliminated a lot of the friction points we used to have to work around. While putting one of these front ends together, you can immediately feel the difference. We are talking about the adjustable upper control arms and adjustable strut rods ; coupled with QA1 shocks, we wanted to determine what benefits result with this recipe of parts.

We have to thank Moe Keys for beating up his beautiful ’68 Coronet 500. Moe had just replaced the motor in his convertible and had no idea what it would run. Well, for a mild build, he sure knocked it out of the park! Moe ran mid 11’s right off the bat and for the safety of himself and others, since the droptop had no cage, Moe did a series of 60-foot runs for our timing tests. Since the testing was to see the effect of these parts on the first 60-foot times anyway, the situation worked out very well. Thanks again from Mopar Enthusiast to Moe for thrashing his ride and wrenching this effort; lets get this car out on the track and burn some rubber!

Distributorless Ignition In A Classic Muscle Car

Distributorless Ignition

Multiply your V-8’s firepower

by Frank Bohanan / photography by Frank Bohanan

Most gearheads will agree that, when it comes to musclecars, “more is better.” That’s often true, at least in some cases.

One very good example of this is in terms of engine performance (can you ever really have enough?) or, in the case of this article, the extra spark energy that gets it for you. This extra juice comes by being freed of the inherent limitations of an ignition distributor and a single coil. The Compu-Tronix Distributorless Ignition System (DIS) completely eliminates the distributor and, in the case of a V-8 engine, allows you to use four coils instead of just one. This greatly increases the available spark energy, especially at higher rpm, plus it also allows more of the energy generated to actually make it to the spark plugs.

In the standard ignition system of most V-8 musclecars the distributor performs the function of directing the spark to the appropriate spark plug as determined by the firing order of the engine. The problem is there is only one ignition coil so the spark energy has to go from the coil to the center of the distributor cap, down to the “button” that is in contact with the rotor, across the rotor, and then jump from the spinning rotor tip across an air gap to the outer terminals on the distributor cap before it is then sent down the spark plug wire where it will ultimately then jump the spark plug gap and, hopefully, ignite the fuel/air mixture. Whew! There’s a lot more involved than most people realize.

The article featured on this page is from the May 2010 issue of Musclecar Enthusiast Magazine.

There are also plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong. Since only one coil is used there is only so much time available for it to generate a spark for each cylinder. Less time equals less total spark energy available for each firing event. Throw in the difficulty the spark has in going across the sliding contact at the distributor cap button, the air gap at the spinning rotor tip, and the spark plug gap itself and you can see why misfires occur. It’s even worse when parts get worn; spark plug wire resistance increases with age (especially in the case of OEM carbon core wires) and you get ozone and/or carbon deposits that can cause arcing inside the distributor cap.


If you’re on top of things in terms of maintenance you can eliminate some of these potential problems from getting too serious but you’ll never be able to overcome the inherent limitations in the design in terms of coil charging or “dwell” time and having more than one air gap to jump for each cylinder. There’s got to be a better way and, clearly, we know there are virtually no new cars that use ignition distributors anymore. There’s no way they could pass emission laws if they did.

Compu-Tronix has taken this new car technology and found a way to adapt it to your old V-8 musclecar. They offer a number of kits that fit older V-8s from various manufacturers. These kits come with a module that drops right in to replace the OEM distributor, two coil packs which have two coils each (four coils total) and the necessary wiring to hook it all up. They also include a set of high quality spiral-core spark plug wires that you cut to length yourself based on where you mount the coils. The latter are necessary because this setup produces such high spark energy that they wanted to avoid arcing or other such problems which would occur if inferior wires were used with this higher energy system.

The advantages of this system come in many forms. First of all, there is no distributor cap so there is no sliding carbon button contact and no spinning rotor air gaps to deal with. The spark only has to jump the air gaps at the spark plugs themselves, nowhere else. Again, this is also made easier by the lower resistance, high quality spiral-wound wires that come with the kit.

Most importantly, however, is the use of four coils instead of just one. This gives each coil much more time or “dwell” to generate as much spark energy as possible for each firing event. Since this system uses the “waste spark” firing method there are actually twice as many firing events per cylinder as usual: One during the normal power stroke and the other “waste” spark which occurs during the exhaust stroke. The latter really isn’t wasted in the true sense since the cylinders are wired in pairs such that when one cylinder is on its exhaust stroke the other cylinder on the coil pack is having its power stroke. The spent exhaust gas is a surprisingly good conductor so about 99 percent of the total firing energy actually makes it to the plug that needs to fire the mixture.

In practice

The system certainly worked well for us. We noticed a very significant improvement in idle quality, especially when the engine was cold. The owner of the car (a ’69 Mustang with a moderately modified, carbureted 351W) even said it now idled better cold than it used to warm and we hadn’t even fully dialed the timing in yet. He later reported the throttle response and overall performance were better as well. While we can’t vouch for the claimed improvements at really high rpm, it only makes sense they should be realized due to the greater coil charging time and the elimination of the spinning rotor and extra air gaps.

The system was also very easy to install although there are a few things you need to watch out for. In the following photos we’ve shown how easy it is to install plus we’ve also provided a few suggestions we used in our installation to help save a little time. For a cost of about $600 for the whole system it would be hard to beat the improvements in performance, drivability and reliability this system provided us. There may even be a small fuel economy benefit if you don’t keep using the extra performance all of the time. The bottom line is this is a fine example of where “more is better” in terms of the number of ignition coils you can use but it’s also a case of “less is more” since you have fewer air gaps for the sparks to jump plus the distributor, cap, rotor, and so forth are eliminated.

For a cost of about $600 for the whole system it would be hard to beat the improvements in performance, drivability and reliability this system provided us.

1 Ready for an upgrade: The engine we installed the DIS kit on is a typical carbureted small-block V-8, in this case a Ford 351W. The engine was moderately modified with a cam, aluminum heads and headers, etc., so it clearly was in need of a better ignition system.

2 Parts report: The Compu-Tronix kit includes not only the DIS module which replaces the distributor, but the coil packs, some split-loom to cover the wires, some terminals and a full set of low resistance, spiral-wound spark plug wires needed to handle the hotter sparks the DIS system produces. The system is completely bolt-on.

3 We’re No. 1: After you’ve removed the distributor cap and wires you need to rotate the engine so that the rotor points roughly where the distributor cap terminal for cylinder No. 1 was. Just hold the cap over the distributor with the spring clips and cap indexing peg lined up and then mark where No. 1 is. Bump the starter or use a breaker bar and socket on the crank pulley nut to rotate the engine until the rotor points at it.

4 Disassembly: Remove the coil and its bracket but make note of which wire is the hot (+12v) lead for the ignition. Also make note of any tachometer wire you may have been using. The distributor can then be removed after the retaining bolt and clamp are loosened. Be careful not to let any loose dirt or debris get into the engine.

5 Ring thing: The o-ring must be removed from the distributor and transferred onto the new DIS module. Be careful not to damage it; lube it with oil or silicone spray (WD-40, or similar) before you put it back into the engine. If the o-ring is hard or breaks as it comes out just get a new one. Note our use of a bronze gear for our roller cam.

6 Nice fit: The DIS module drops right in where the distributor was. There’s no real need to worry about which way it faces, as you’ll soon see. Just make sure the wires have some slack and are able to reach where they need to go. The lower profile of the DIS module is actually an advantage since it easily clears shock tower braces, etc.

7 Wiring: The shorter red wire gets connected to the ignition on/”hot” (+12v) lead while the purple wire connects to the tach. We soldered the wires instead of using wire connectors, plus we zip-tied them to keep them out of the way. Make sure you leave enough slack so the DIS module can be rotated as far as will be needed.

8 Power source: The longer red wire is supposed to go to the positive terminal of the battery but we decided to just jump over to the alternator instead. It’s connected directly to the battery positive by a very thick cable so the relatively minimal current draw from the DIS module won’t matter. It also had a convenient stud to which we could attach our ring terminal. Remember to splice in the supplied 20A fuse to protect the DIS.

9 Test light: The instructions tell you how to set the position of the DIS module so the engine will start. This is just temporary to get the engine running so you can then set the final timing with a timing light. It basically involves turning the module and watching the LED go on and off. Make sure the coil packs are not connected.

10 Coil packs: The coil packs can be mounted just about anywhere including the valve covers, the firewall, shock towers, wherever. A template is provided to help drill the holes for sheet metal screws. We wanted to keep the wires as short and even as possible so we mounted the coils to the factory “export brace” with strong wire ties. Note that mounting the coils upside down requires you reposition the spark plug wires since the diagram in the instructions assumes the coils will be upright.

11 Graph it: This diagram shows how much more total spark energy the DIS system provides versus a standard single coil system with a distributor. The spark also doesn’t drop off at higher rpm and is much more stable.

12 High wire act: Once the coil packs have been mounted you can then run the appropriate wire connectors to them. We shorted and re-soldered the wires to make things look a bit neater and to ensure the wire bundles would still fit into the split-loom. Keep the wires away from any high heat or moving parts like the throttle linkage, etc.

13 Plug wires: Determine the routing of the spark plug wires from the coil packs to the spark plugs based on the firing order of the engine and the diagram provided in the instructions. Then cut the wires and crimp on the terminals as also shown in the instructions. After each terminal is on, spray a little WD-40/silicone into each plug boot and push the terminal/wire in, making sure they line up properly with the boot.

14 Spark and go: The finished installation looks similar to this: Each coil pack will have two wires that go to the near bank and two going to the far bank. Be sure to leave enough slack for engine movement. Clearly, we were more concerned about function than looks or else we could have mounted the coils to the firewall and run all the wires more discreetly from behind. Start the engine and adjust the timing to the desired total advance with the engine above 3,200 rpm. If you use a timing light with a dial-back feature, you must set it to 0 degrees or it will provide incorrect readings.

The article featured on this page is from the May 2010 issue of Musclecar Enthusiast Magazine.
Click here to read the free digital edition of Musclecar Enthusiast

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pontiac’s 389ci Engine

Pontiac Overhaul Time

Updating Pontiac’s venerable 389

Story and photography by Jim McGowan

Every time I get involved with an engine project I swear it will be the last one – ever! It’s hard work, both mentally and physically, particularly if you choose to do it yourself. Regardless of what engine you’re building, lots of research and financial decisions need to be made before you start, or trouble will be knocking on your toolbox lid.

Once it’s established that you need/want to rebuild that chunk of iron, you must then decide how you want to build it, how much you can spend, what parts will you use, what shop will do the machine work, etc. The list goes on and on.

The article featured on this page is from the May 2010 issue of Pontiac Enthusiast Magazine.

This ’65 GTO engine was an untouched original until the decision was made to freshen it up. It ran relatively well, had an average compression of around 175 (with a low of 165), but was suffering from blow by, front and rear main seal leaks, a few valley pan and other miscellaneous drippers, plus over four decades of use. Environmental issues were also at play here. It needed a complete going through (there was also a lot more wrong, as you will see). The time had come to clean it up and bring it into the 21st century. I wanted to use a combination of original and contemporary internal parts, but keep the external appearance stock. I did my research (for several weeks) as to what parts vendors I wanted to use, found a highly-recommended local machine shop and the rest is documented here.

I am going to include as much info as possible, but since space is a consideration, and pounding in piston after piston is boring, I must abbreviate the step-by-step assembly project. However, I will include part numbers (when available) and suppliers for your reference. We are starting with a stock-bore 389 cid block, but the basic machining and rebuild process will hold true for any Pontiac (or other V-8).

While gas prices have continually fluctuated, the octane rating here in California has dropped. We are down to 91-octane premium, and it looks like another point drop is eminent. This Pontiac will be street driven about a 1,000 miles a year, so I am lowering the compression from 10.75:1 to 10.25:1 and bumping the cam and valve train up to Ram Air IV specs. The 10.25:1 compression is still a bit high; 9.5 would be better, but for casual pleasure driving it has proven to be OK and the engine sounds healthy. Hardened exhaust valve seats and stainless steel valves will also help with the octane drop. Cast pistons and rings are fine for my driving purposes, as is the bulletproof original Pontiac Arma Steel crank. After careful measuring, it was determined that the cylinders would clean up at .030 over and the crank would be turned .010 under. The block would also be align-honed and the original connecting rods resized and ARP rod bolts installed.

During the tear down we had a few surprises. Two of the pistons had broken rings (the blow by), most of the connecting rod and main bearings were showing lots of copper and the block was clogged with sludge. Probably the reason it was running hot! It’s what you don’t know that grenades your engine. Luckily, the broken rings hadn’t scored the cylinder walls and we had no spun bearings. Timing of the rebuild was accidentally perfect.

Be sure to use a good ZDDP additive in your oil before initial fire up, as most of today’s over-the-counter oils have had this critical lubricant removed by the EPA. Two bottles for safety and then the ZDDP content in the oil should be sufficient, but it’s all chancy now. I used two bottles of Justice Brothers Engine Treatment, which worked well and the cam survived the run in without any problems. We didn’t dyno the engine, but estimate the horsepower to be slightly over 400, with the torque slightly more than exciting!

The photo captions will tell the rest of the tale. My strongest advice on rebuilding your engine is spend the cash on the best parts and machining. You only want to do it once, so do it right!


• Block: cleaned, Magnafluxed, align-honed; bored .030-inch over

• Heads: cleaned; Magnafluxed; bronze guides and hardened exhaust valve seats installed; three-angle valve job; stainless valves

• Crank: turned .010-inch; polished

• Rods: rebuilt; ARP bolts installed, pistons fitted

• Reciprocating assembly:balanced

1 After much agonizing, I made the decision to rebuild my original ’65 GTO engine. Except for machining, etc. that can’t be done personally, the R&R, strip down and re-assembly will be done at home with the help of a few friends. This is the first time the engine block has been removed from the car.

2 The original Arma Steel crank (#9773383), rods and pistons were intact. The bearings were showing lots of copper and a few were ready to take a spin. The timing on this project was perfect, even thought I didn’t realize it at the time. Two of the pistons had broken rings, but luckily there was no cylinder wall damage.

3 The factory cast 10.75:1 pistons were in good shape, as were the cylinder bores. The bore diameter was checked and we determined that a 30-thousands (.030-inch) cut was all that was needed. Next step: remove the pistons.

4 Before removing the crank, we mic’d all the journals and found that turning them 10-thousands (.010-in.) would bring them back to perfection. The term 10-under refers to removing material from the journal surface, making it 10-thousands under size from stock.

5 Early Pontiac engines came with an almost bulletproof Arma Steel crank, which are popular with Pontiac engine builders. The ID is plainly visible on this part.

6 The factory rods were cleaned and resized to perfectly round and new Clevite 77 bearings and ARP rod bolts installed. Unless you’ve had a catastrophic engine failure or are building a race engine, there is normally no need to buy new rods.

7 After careful measuring, the block is installed on the boring machine and the cylinders machined. Boring makes the holes slightly larger, hence the term 30-over(size). The block was completely stripped and cleaned prior to starting the machining process.

8 After the cylinders are bored, the top of each cylinder is given a slight chamfer to facilitate piston ring installation and to take the sharp edge off the cylinder left by the boring and honing.

9 We began assembly by installing the oil galley plugs. They were removed for the block cleaning, and if not replaced it will dump lots of oil on the garage floor at fire up. It would also mean pulling the engine again to install them. Next, the brass freeze plugs will be installed.

10 The rear galley holes are now plugged and the brass freeze plugs installed. It is important to follow a procedure when installing internal sealing parts and double-check each step. Oil or water leakage can mean having to remove the engine to access the problem areas.

11 Federal Mogul high-babbit cam bearings are now inserted using a special tool. This is something that you should leave to the machine shop if you don’t have the specialized tool necessary. They will install the bearing for a few more bucks. The installation starts at the back of the block and moves forward.

12 The main bearings are now installed. Here we see the thrust bearing being put into place. The oiling holes in the bearings match up to oil holes in the block. These holes keep the crank lubricated and spinning happily.

13 The Viton rear main seal from BOP Engineering is now installed following the supplied instructions. A little filing is required at the top edges to make the fit perfect. Here, we are determining the seal is level with the block surface. Viton has better wear and thermal characteristics than neoprene or the old style rope seal. The BOP rear seal is available in 3- and 3¼-inch diameters. They recommend using a silicone sealer with this seal.

14 The complete reciprocating assembly was balanced at the machine shop. Here we blow out all the crank oil passages before final installation. Notice the beautiful polish job on the rod and main journals.

15 With the crank in position, we used Plastigauge on each journal and torqued the main caps to 120 ft-lbs. The Plastigauge crushed to between .002 and .003-inch, which is perfect for the mains. We did the same for the rods to check their clearances. This is a little extra work, but worth every second for the life of your engine.

16 The two-bolt main caps were installed and permanently torqued down in stages, finally reaching the required 120 ft-lbs. The crank endplay was then measured and found to be a perfect .006-inch.

17 Prior to installing the pistons, the rings were installed in the cylinder bores and the ring gaps measured. They were ideal at between .016/.018-inch all around. We then installed the ring sets on the pistons.

18 There is a small notch in the side edge of each piston, which MUST face the front of the engine. Each bore was washed with transmission fluid and then wiped with a good coating of engine oil before the pistons were installed. Rubber hose was used on the rod bolts to prevent damage to the rod journals.

19 Crane Cams anti-pump up lifters (#99282-16), chromoly push rods (#28620-16), and 1.5 ratio-stamped steel rocker arms (#28800-16, now discontinued) were installed. We soaked the lifters in engine oil for several days to pre-lube them.

20 Liberal amounts of assembly lube were used when installing the cam and lifters. The Ram Air IV Blueprint Series Crane Cam (#969681) was installed followed by the lifters. This cam has a gross lift of .469-inch and provides 16 inches of vacuum at idle for the power brakes. Despite various rumors I’ve heard, the RA IV cam idles nicely at around 800/900 rpm and is very streetable.

21 Here’s the Crane Ram IV valve springs and retainer kit (#28308-1) and a valve spring installed height measuring tool from the PROFORM/Specialty Auto Parts line of engine building tools. Checking valve spring height will help prevent coil bind as the spring compresses when the engine is running.

22 Hardened exhaust valve seats and stainless steel valves are now almost required today, and will protect the combustion areas using today’s 91-octane (or less) premium fuel.

23 We’re using a Fel-Pro engine gasket kit from Ames Performance (Ames #N575). These are self-sealing head gaskets and are top quality.

24 The assembled heads are now installed. Small dowel pins on the block hold the head in place as you install the bolts, but it’s a good idea to screw one bolt down tightly to ensure the head doesn’t slip off. The head bolts will be progressively torqued to 95 ft-lbs.

25 With the heads secured, the valley pan can be installed. A cork gasket is used as a seal and the edges peened around the circumference for a tight fit to prevent oil leaks. Two bolts in the center of the pan pull it down tightly.

26 With any open holes covered with tape to prevent stuff from falling into the block, the engine was installed into the car. Now all the other parts needed to fire this beauty can be reinstalled.

27 With the engine secured and ready to fire, we can now set the valves. We’re using a Proform valve lashing tool (#66778) on the Crane Cams adjustable 3/8-inch Poly Locks (#99788-16). This early Pontiac engine has pressed-in 3/8-inch rocker studs, later models have 7/16-inch studs and can use roller tip rockers.

28 Before buttoning up the valve train we poured some oil into the rockers for pre-lubrication. Just a little will do the job until the high-volume oil pump from Ames Performance starts pumping. The oil filter was also filled with oil before we installed it. We added two bottles of Justice Brothers Engine Treatment that will assist during initial cam break in, and then filled the crankcase.

29 I added two bottles of Justice Brothers Engine Treatment to the initial fire up oil for the cam run in. This was added insurance due to the lack of ZDDP in today’s engine oils. Once the engine has a few hundred miles on it, I’ll change the break-in oil and filter.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Darrell Gwynn Foundation Letter

Below is a letter to the Darrell Gwynn Foundation asking for the donation of a power chair. This deserving young man will receive a power chair at the up coming event hosted by the Hot Rodder's Children's Charity. Please click HERE to read more.

"Dear Mr. Gwynn:

My name is Diana Kuen. I am the unofficial guardian of Blake Hunt, the young man you have so graciously allowed to be the beneficiary of a new power wheelchair which will be given to him during the poker tournament charity event on June 23rd.

First of all, I just want to assure you that Blake's therapist has spoken to Angel and all of the measurement details are just about complete!!

I will definitely get into more detail for you later, but in a nutshell, there is no one more deserving than Blake. He is a nineteen year old paralyzed inner city kid forced to live in a nursing home because he has no family or means of support. Insurance refuses to pay for a new wheelchair. While I am happy he has a roof over his head and people to care for him, it still pains me to see him living in such awful conditions. The chair he has been using for the past 3 years was too small and lacked any sort of support so it actually made his condition worse. His already crippled hands have become even more rigid trying to push the heavy chair. (one of the many reasons he needs a power chair!)

He is a fighter and doesn't take anything for granted. I have been through a lot with him. I met Blake about 3 years ago and it's been a tough long road. The first 8-10 months he was angry, confused and mad at the world. Who could blame him! We needed to ween him off the overdose of painkillers he'd been given and that was no easy task either. -- I'll jump ahead... he is now, and has been for the past year and a half a warm, happy outgoing young man. He is determined to make something of his life. I am getting him ready to attend college in the Fall. He has his heart set on graphic / web / video game design! I know he can do it. He desperately needs a power chair to get himself around the campus as he'll be commuting via city bus. If he is forced to expel all of his energy on traveling, he'll have nothing left to give to his school work.

A little background. Blake was paralyzed playing football his junior year of high school. His father gave Blake and his sister up to foster care years ago. His mother is dead and his grandmother moved to Atlanta shortly after the accident. He has no one. I am the only one that visits him and brings him presents on Christmas. I take him to Mets games; buy him clothes; dinners; movies passes; etc... whatever I can to help. He's become like a little brother to me."