87 Monte SS & LS Before
What I'm Doing & Why I'm doing it:
I was headed home from work one night on a winding country road, when a deer suddenly materialized out of nowhere. Acting on pure reflexes, I did the worst possible thing, I hit the brakes and cut the wheel hard to the left, throwing my Monte into a sideways skid across the opposing lane which was thankfully empty. Now out of control, momentum took me downhill sideways across the road at the apex of where the road curved right! The car went over the embankment of a culvert and up the opposite bank straight into a tree. As luck would have it, I managed hit the tree dead center too. Since the car couldn't pivot around the tree, it tried to wrap itself around it instead. They say any landing you can walk away from is a good one, but I had only owned the Monte 6 months and now there was nothing left that you could properly call a car.
The deer was most effective in killing my SS. (Click to enlarge)
Here's a full-on shot of the damage. The body shop said it was pushed in a little over 12 inches. The total cost of the damage was estimated to be $10,000. I'd only paid 12k and change for it in the first place. The body shop told GMAC "this car's hurt bad...the best thing to do is to total it."
GMAC's response was "either you fix it, or we'll find a shop that will." You know, there's nothing quite like the unparalleled fun of being at the mercy of both a finance company and an insurance company at the same time. Oh, did I forget to mention that I also had the privilege of keeping up with the monthly payments while the work progressed? Or that the work was hampered as much by the insurance company's pay-a-little we'll-inspect-it method of paying the body shop for the work they'd done before authorizing more work?
In retrospect, that's probably a contributing factor as to why the body shop produced the level of "quality" my car received. The insurance company pissed them off, so they probably said to themselves F-it, shove it out into the snow and get a paying customer's car in here. I know I would have. Still doesn't make me any fonder of their work, but it does help to explain things. Now I know why they say "hindsight's 20/20."
- The red arrow shows all I ended up with (deer-meat-wise), for my trouble. It figures!
- The yellow arrows show how far in the door, roof and hood were pushed.
- The green arrow is how far in the roof corner post was bent from its original position.
- The blue arrow shows the fender position as a reference point to where the corner post used to be.
Here's a shot of the cockpit. This is the first thing I saw when I sat up after the initial impact. Closest I ever want to come to what Roy Scheider's character went through in the motion picture "The 7-Ups." I spent hours later that night picking all the tiny safety glass shards out of my hair, from when the passenger window imploded. But...no cuts or lacerations...no broken bones either, so it could have been worse. However, this was Deja' Vu for me...a nightmarish replay of an accident I'd had 7 years earlier. Back then it had been a telephone pole instead of a tree. Check out "Boot Hill" for my '70 GTO rebuild odyssey.
I can only find one picture taken after the car was "repaired." Says more about my state of mind than mere words can. What I should have done was sell her right after I got her back, but in the final analysis, I was stubborn, I didn't really want to sell her and start all over again. All because I was unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? No way... I'd worked too hard to procure a car that embodied the GTO spirit, and since it was financed, I really didn't know how to go about selling it...paying off the finance company... and then going out and starting the whole cycle over again. Not only that, but by the time all this came to pass, (around '89-'90), the SS was no longer being made...at least not in the V-8/RWD configuration that was important to me.
The Monte SS Today - Winter 2007
Fast-forward 20 years. I'd moved from NJ to SC, gotten married, bought a house, and (naturally) grown older. However, the Monte is still around. But as the pictures show, the passage of time has not been kind to my once proud street warrior. By this time I'd begun toying with the idea of a total restoration, which the car so desperately needs. As the years went by, I kept up with her mechanical needs, a transmission rebuild here, a rear axle rebuild there, but the body and frame had never been right (in my humble opinion) since the accident. Yet, I waffled periodically, knowing full well what I was letting myself in for. But whenever I began to talk about selling my SS, my better half stopped me.
More than once I'd regaled her with tales of my amazing GTO rebuild (when I'd totaled it back in the early 1980's) including the lament that I never should have sold it. Plus, she watched me replace the worn out engine in my '80 Chevy Caprice Wagon around 1995 or so, and considers me to be some sort of mechanical "magician." So the big question is, can I once again tap into the "I can rebuild her, I have the tools..." spirit that I had 26 years ago when I was only 19 years old? I plan on finding out.
Exhibit A: In this first shot you can see where the fender, hood and door are rusting through. Perfect example of why (if you live in "Jersey" you might want to steer clear of the Giancola Auto Body shop. Yes, that's the real name of the body shop that committed this travesty, Google it if you want a similar quality paint job. What really burns me up to this day is that this was a body shop that (supposedly) specialized in Corvettes! I mean I know my car is no 'Vette, but let's look at the evidence...every panel which was replaced (or repaired), is rusting through from both sides let alone those places you can't see. I do not consider this acceptable work. As you can probably tell, my photography skills (and equipment) have improved considerably over the years. Like everybody else, I've now gone digital.
Exhibit B: In this shot you can see the exquisite (Corvette?) quality of the paint used for the repair. The last time I saw a surface like this, it was on a hard-boiled egg after I rolled it across the table. Not only was the paint quality poor, but due to the practices of the insurance company, when the body shop ran out of money and were waiting for the insurance company rep to review the work and issue another check, I'll bet you cold, hard cash that they rolled it outside!
This was during a typical New Jersey winter, so you figure out how many temperature cycles my car went through during the painting process. By the way, check out the lower quarter of the door, just below the rub strip. This area was totally covered in surface rust after the paint flaked off in huge flakes.
Just for kicks, I sanded it with some 60 grit one day, hit it with Rustoleum Red-Lead primer and then shot some Duplicolor touch up paint over the area. When the average Joe, (using rattle-cans), can achieve a better finish than a "professional" body shop, something's definitely wrong. As of this writing, my rattle-can job has held up for 2 years!
Exhibit C: In this shot, you can see the deterioration of the paint used on the hood. To this day, I truly believe that they painted the car without using any primer, let alone in a heated garage bay. Keep in mind now, this critique is from a guy who actually painted his own car (twice!) and still had it turn out much better than this. Feel free to check out my '70 GTO as well as my '73 Satellite I painted up as a Road Runner in my "Boot Hill" section before passing judgment.
I sprayed the Goat with lacquer (later buffing it out to a nice gloss) and later, my Satellite with Centari acrylic enamel. Maybe I'm picking nits, but when you pay for a professional job shouldn't you expect professional results? Remember now, this was a body shop that specialized in Corvettes, whose owners are probably far more picky than I am when it comes to their "baby." Maybe it was too much of a "come down" to paint an ordinary Chevy, who knows.
Here's an overhead shot of the roof. You can clearly see the area that was repaired as well as where the surrounding sheet metal was wrinkled, bent and stretched. At the time the body shop said it took them 3 "pulls" to straighten out the frame. Of course the floor pan, seat, and transmission cross member were all bent as well.
By the way, doesn't all that bending weaken the steel? Really makes you wonder why GMAC demanded that the car be fixed in the first place, doesn't it?
Then again, these were the same jabronies who "lost" my file when I went to pay off my car loan 6 months early. What a travesty!
There I stood, cashier's check in hand only to be informed that the woman I had scheduled an appointment with (a week earlier), was on vacation. How nice. Next, they couldn't find my paperwork...couldn't I just come back next week? Uh no, my boss gave me the morning off to take care of this. If the balance changes, my check is incorrect and I will accrue more interest. My cashier's check, (which cost a fee to obtain), would no longer be valid. I offered to give them the check if they would give me a signed document saying the loan was paid in full. No, that wasn't their "policy."
It was at this point the little men in the brain-room started throwing the little red switches. This was supposed to have been a simple, straightforward procedure, submit the cashier's check, get the title to the car, return to work without eating into my vacation time. Nope, not for Brian.
"So let me get this straight," I said feeling the hairs on the back of my neck stiffen, "you can't find my paperwork right?" "Unfortunately that seems to be the case sir." "So technically the car doesn't exist, right?" "Of course it exists sir." "Really? Where's your proof?" "Sir, I'm quite certain if we come to your house we'll find it sitting in your yard." "I can assure you," I said my voice getting louder, "If you come to my house, you will not find it. How can you? You don't have any paperwork to even show what it is you're looking for!"
I'd gotten loud enough by this point that everyone was staring at me (and keeping a respectful distance as well), just as a manager appeared to escort me into a nice little glass booth. Remember though, this was pre-9/11. I'd probably get dragged off in shackles if I pulled that today, but back then it was a definitive WTF moment.
Here's a closer shot of the "crackled" paint on the roof. Clearly you can see that they painted the car without using any primer, the grey in this photo is actually the metal of the roof where the white paint has flaked off. No other material is in evidence. I went so far as to scrape the surface with a utility knife, to be sure that the grey area is metal not primer.
One thing I noticed after the accident was that in cold weather, the windshield would creak each time I hit a bump. I'm not sure if it's the replacement windshield trying to pop out or the "straightened" windshield post finally parting company from the cowl/firewall. Irrelevant now that my rebuild is imminent, but it did little to inspire confidence in a driver who'd been through a major wreck.
Two last shots to close with. The inside of the roof panel on the driver's side looks pretty much like the day it rolled out of the factory.
Since the south doesn't dump the gross tonnages of salt on the roads that they do up north each winter, it stands to reason that my quest to find a relatively rust-free unmolested example should be child's play. Ah, but I now live in "Good Ol' Boy" land, where NASCAR is king and most of what I was looking for had already been driven into the ground or (even worse), slammed into a lowrider years before. Most of what I found were people wanting collector car prices for some beater they pulled out of a field, or what was left of a car that had been clearly seen better days. My dream of finding one at an estate sale, (driven by the proverbial little old lady), was a real pipe dream. Even the Internet yielded butkus.
Then, as luck would have it, one day on my way to work, I spotted just what I'd been looking for. The only problem was, it was sitting in just about the worst place I could imagine... an independent used car lot. Crap! I passed it each day for about a week before finally deciding "oh, what the hell" and stopped in to check it out. It turned out to be an '87 LS with a 305 and a reasonably straight body. Someone had tried to turn it into a "Boompha" car by filling the trunk up with the biggest sub-woofer possible. After crawling all over it from top to bottom, the salesman tossed me the keys, so I hopped in and started her up... VAROOM! "Oh yeah!" I thought, (goosing the throttle a couple of times), it had standard-issue "good ol' boy approved" glass packs baby! The stock muffler had long since been ash-canned (as had all the pollution equipment), hence the nickname I later bestowed upon the car. The price was 2,995, (pretty much all I had at the time), so I thanked the guy and went home to think things over.
So, another week goes by with me passing this thing each day on my way in to work. Finally, Friday (the one day I get off early from work) rolled around and this time I decided to take the car for a spin. I'd declined the proffered test-drive on my previous visit, not knowing how much was in my project-car stash. Having been given the green light by my better half, we took the car out and although worn it was basically in sound shape. Now came the part I dreaded most, the haggling over the price. To make matters worse, the salesman was also the owner, (obviously a veteran in the field) who opened the show with the old "another guy looked at it and wants it, but..." routine. This guy's nod to originality was the summation of ..."he needs a co-signer for his loan." "You gotta be kidding me," I thought...
The last time a "Slick Willy" car salesman gave me that (almost verbatim), line I shrugged and said, "well, give him a call and tell him it's his," and walked away. I mean come on, guys...come up with some fresh material will you? And they wonder why people hate the process of buying a car?
Anyway, he went on to answer my next question (un-asked), by immediately pointing out that until he had a deposit, the car was still for sale. This guy was the consummate showman, pulling out all the stops by (drumroll please) calling this "other person" on the phone as we sat there! "I know you want the car, but I've got a serious buyer here.... uh huh.... were you able to get your uncle to co-sign the loan? I see..." "Oh brother," I thought (giving my wife the old eye roll) talk about over-playing your hand. He could've been spouting off to his home answering machine or college buddy for all I knew, hell I didn't fall off the turnip truck yesterday.
Unimpressed with the first act, I let my wife (my first-string haggler), open the negotiations by asking for his "friendliest price." The dealer knew what he had though and wouldn't budge on the price, telling me it had only been on the lot for 2 weeks [NOOOO...REALLY?] and that he was into it for 2,500. Then he played the "that car wasn't even supposed to be part of the sale we're having this month, since it's only been here a short time" card. "Sale?" I thought to myself, "that's funny, I didn't see any banners or signs, not even a string of the traditional cheesy, triangular, multi-colored plastic flags."
Knowing I only had $3,000 to play with, I stepped up to the negotiation plate. Unlike when I was younger (pulse pounding, wad of cash in my pocket getting sweaty) I wanted the car, but I wasn't in love with it and fully prepared to walk if necessary. I knew he'd start padding the price from there, so I countered with "okay, but that includes tax, tags and everything." I had my limits, and wasn't about to exceed them. If I had to, I'd just keep searching for something I could afford...bottom line. He must've sensed this, so he said, "3 grand out the door... you got yourself a deal." Not expecting him to accept my offer, I was momentarily stunned. "Damn," I thought to myself "I actually pulled it off."
1987 Monte Carlo LS (as purchased)
So, here she is, the basis for my rebuild of my '87 Monte Carlo SS. Doesn't look too bad in this shot does she? Well this is what I would call a 50/50 paint job. It looks good from 50 feet away when the car's going 50 miles per hour!
All joking aside, the car has some issues that will need to be addressed during the rebuild. As near as I can figure, this was a "quicky" paint job (the kind made famous by a certain chain that shall remain nameless), and they didn't let the car dry off between prep steps so up close there are thousands of little "pin holes" jutting up from the surface. If you look closely at the hood, you can also see where the clear coat is peeling off like onionskin.
Add to that the fact that the paint was laid on so thick that it's all too easy to catch an edge with your fingernail and chip off a sizable flake of paint. Kind of makes you wonder about all those super-high-end paint jobs featuring 30 coats of paint, doesn't it?
The rear quarter windows on this model have a rubber surround. Quite obviously, this car was painted by masking off the rubber, which is shall we say, the budget way of doing things. However, this meant that as the rubber shrank, the paint no longer came up to the edge of the rubber and began to flake off there as well. My game plan is to remove all the glass and spray the car the way the factory did.
Really looks too good to mess with, doesn't it? Let's just say looks can be deceiving. For one thing, all the rubber gaskets and seals are prime candidates for immediate replacement. This will include the rubber that seals the perimeter of the door opening (sealing the door glass to the body), as well as the rubber gasket that goes around the actual door itself and the "fuzzies" that go on either side of the door window glass at the top edge of the door.
Obviously there are lots of other rubber items to replace. The motor mounts and transmission mount quickly come to mind. It is my intention to be as thorough as possible, so my car will be a virtual "time-machine" back to 1987.
Here's a shot to illustrate some of the rubber in need of immediate replacement. The window "fuzzies" are so brittle they snap instead of flexing if you try to bend them. Right now I've got it in our carport so when it rains the doors won't fill up with water.
I was going to try to repair them with some black silicone as a band-aid, but after the first piece snapped off in my hand, I decided to wait. Rubber really degrades over time, this car is now over 20 years old and in need of all the attention I plan on lavish upon it. In fact, I may have to replace the windshield gasket as well, since it appears to be cracking and crumbling on the inside where the dashboard meets the windshield.
Here's another angle. In the following shots, you can see where I've slapped on the stock Monte SS wheel and tire combo. When I bought the car it had custom wheels that stuck out way too far (positive offset?) and this resulted in the front tires rubbing through the plastic inner fender liner exposing the speedo cable on the driver's side.
Naturally, when I mentioned this to the dealer, he pooh-poohed it, saying all the car needed were some wheel adapters. Yeah... right... maybe you've got some "uni-lug" wheels you'll let me have for a song too.
Anyway, my interim solution was to swap over properly sized wheels and tires from my SS, until the rebuild is complete. It does make me wonder what would've happened if someone less observant or knowledgeable had bought this. The clearance problem had the potential to tear up the tire if it had been let go for too long, at least in my humble opinion.
The previous owner obviously had a blue theme going, judging from the matching blue window tint on all of the windows except the windshield. I gotta give him credit though, the guy obviously cared about the car, the window tint isn't your typical slap-dash bubble impregnated nightmare, it actually looks like it was professionally applied. This seems to be de riguer here in the south, but it would never pass inspection back in Jersey!
Interestingly, I had added Goodyear "Hi-Miler" radiator hoses to my white SS which are blue, as are the Split-Fire spark plug wires I added later on. Almost makes me think it was fate that I found this car at this place in time. Weird huh?
The interior was in really good shape too... for a 21 year old car that is. My white SS was at the point where the headliner had long-since parted company with the foam rubber/fiber board sub-strata and was drooping down like most cars of this vintage. Once I got tired of having to wear a ball cap every time I drove it (to keep the headliner off my head), I removed it completely.
The Monte LS however, is still in pretty good shape, the headliner is up where it belongs with no sagging and only the driver's seat is really in need of reupholstering. Then again, the back seat is in superb condition. The dealer did say the previous owner was married and needed a minivan for his expanding family. Oh well, his loss was my gain.
Ah, here we go, the most important part of the equation to any gearhead... the power plant! Of course this model has the standard 305 C.I.D. (cubic inch displacement for you younger/metric folks) 4-barrel version. If I had been considering fuel injection, this might not have been all that great. In fact, at one point I was considering fuel injection and had expanded my search for the elusive V-6 FI Monte Carlo. Ever seen one? Neither have I, but when I stumbled across this car, the whole FI issue became irrelevant. I plan on building this car up "old-school" and that means cubes and a four-barrel. My plans call for the immediate replacement of the 305 wheezer for a more appropriate 350 small-block. The way the factory should have built it in the first place.
Some of you may be thinking I'm off my noodle. After all, gas is over $3.00 per gallon in South Carolina (as of this writing) why would he want a bigger, thirstier engine? Simple... I, refuse to let the world situation dictate what I drive. My best buddy from high school (the same one with the Plymouth Satellite 440) is always complaining about the terrible mileage his new Japanese truck gets. This, from the guy who once joked to me that Nissan was Japanese for a**hole. He now raves about his 4 cylinder KIA and what great mileage he gets. As far as I'm concerned, KIA means Killed in Action. He must've suffered a concussion sometime in the intervening years I guess.
Nope, as Popeye once said "I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam." There's only one V-6 powered car in my driveway. It belongs to my wife. I'd considered a 383 stroker engine, but for what I have planned (your basic street warrior/grocery getter), a 350 seems more than adequate.
Shortly after buying the LS, I had to press the car into service while my truck was in the shop. Once I got my truck back I figured the LS needed a thorough going over. I changed the oil, replaced the heater hoses (as well as a hose in the fuel line where an in-line fuel filter obviously once resided), and the air filter. I also replaced the valve cover gaskets, which were leaking. Then I noticed what appeared to be yellow tubes coming out of the distributor! I decided to explore this mystery a bit deeper and pulled the distributor cap and rotor. The following photos detail the results of my investigation. I don't know what caused the problem, but it needed correcting ASAP.
The yellow tubing was being used to cover wires whose insulation had dissolved into a thin sticky covering. Another section of wiring had been "repaired" with black electrical tape, while the rest was left as is. A quick trip to the local Chevy dealership's parts department and I had a factory replacement in my hot little hands. I really don't know what was keeping this car running. At any rate, replacing this mess with a new factory harness helped put my mind at ease the next time I took the car for a spin.
While I was under the hood, I noticed that at some point in the car's history, the original computer controlled carburetor was replaced with an older model Quadrajet. Now if it were me, I'd have simply tucked the unused connectors to the side. Whoever swapped the carbs took a quicker "chop and hack" approach to the wiring harness. Some of the cut wires looked like somebody used a pair of dull scissors to do the job. To my way of thinking this was just begging for a short circuit... perhaps even a fire.
My solution (for the time being so I can drive the darned thing) was cut a clean edge (where needed) and insulate the wire tips with dabs of black silicone. Once I replace the engine, I'll upgrade and rewire the under hood harness properly. If needed, I can always take whatever I might need off my white SS donor car.
Now on computer controlled cars, many different sensors and senders are coordinated by the "brain." Naturally the hacked up wiring harness under the hood would result in the "check engine" light staying on indefinitely. When I was confronted with a similar situation (years ago on another project), I simply removed the offending light bulb.
Whoever modified the harness decided to use black paint to cover up the light! They did a pretty neat job too, but I think a thin strip of black electrical tape probably would have sufficed. Of course at night you can still see the light (black paint and all), but I'll fix that problem too... eventually.
This is what the Monte LS had in it when I bought it. I know what you may be thinking, "why get rid of a modern unit in favor of an outdated original unit?" Well, the answer is quite simple actually. I couldn't get it to play properly no matter which buttons I pressed.
Besides, I don't measure performance by how many windows I can rattle on the houses I drive by. I measure performance by how fast I can get from point A to point B. Not only that, but when I actually tried the radio you see here, the right-rear speaker was the only one that would emit any sound whatsoever. It sounded so tinny and distorted I figured it was on its last legs. Both front speakers were blown... I already have new Infinity replacements on order.
Over the years, I've found lots of interesting stuff in the trunks of cars I've purchased. What I usually keep in my trunk is a toolbox, spare tire and a varied assortment of automotive detritus one might expect in such a place. Never once did I fill up the trunk of any car with stereo equipment... unless of course I was hauling it someplace. But to actually install this level of audio equipment on a permanent basis... that's just not my thing.
When I go down the street I prefer to make a different kind of "music" other than a thumping bass beat. Oh well, more stuff to auction off on eBay is how I look at it. By the way, the spare in the picture is a 14-incher, while the car actually wears 15-inch rubber. Since I'll be upgrading the car to 17 inchers (to clear the bigger brakes I'm planning) I really don't care too much.
Here's something you don't see every day. I thought everyone knew that the sound from speakers has no trouble passing through material like grilles or fabric coverings. I guess this guy never got that memo. We gotta be able to hear the beat!
Oh brother... well needless to say, I'll be replacing the rear package shelf at some point, probably when I tackle the interior as a whole. My goal at this point is just to make the car drivable, should I need it in the event my daily driver craps out. Besides, I have to have a little fun with it before I tear it apart, don't I?
This means I need some tunes to travel with. I've got no beef with Kenwood, if the thing actually played. It doesn't, so... adios Mr. Kenwood, hello "stock" head unit.
Not so fast, Kemo Sabe. It seems there's this small wiring issue you'll have to straighten out first. Oh boy. Instead of wiring the Kenwood plug to an adapter and plugging the stock connectors into that, the guy chopped off the stock connectors completely and wired in the Kenwood connector directly. Drat!
Additionally, the plug going into the back of the Kenwood unit was also screwed up, with some wires literally just "jammed" into place instead of properly crimped or soldered. So, I have no remorse whatsoever in retrofitting the car with an original (albeit upgraded) head unit.
Here's the main reason I dubbed my new ride "Blue Thunder." Of course I'm not really complaining too loudly... pun intended. After all, this is the kind of stuff I'd have done to my Chevy Impala back in high school if I'd had the means. Of course I can hear my Dad now, "why the hell do you want to ruin your car by making it make all that noise." Uh, gee Dad, that's the whole point. But then my Dad once tried to put a single exhaust system on the 1957 Hemi-Powered Desoto he once drove. Why? He didn't want to spend the extra cash for duals! If only I had that baby today!
But now of course, I only have to answer to myself. At any rate, these will do just fine for now. My future plans include a stainless steel dual system by a company called Pypes. I've always felt that if I was going to re-do the exhaust, I was going to "do it once and do it right." I don't want to rattle the windows of my neighbors (there's a kid up the street with a Camaro who does just that... I think he's running open headers), but instead want an understated authoritative rumble that tells the world "this ain't no stock 305 baby!"
Okay, now here's a shot I just had to include in this narrative. The stock Monte Carlos SS came with duals only after the catalytic converter. As a result of this design, the transmission cross member had no provision for true dual exhaust, which would have had the traditional "dual-hump" design. Check out the red arrows in the accompanying picture.
This guy's solution? Grab the nearest BFH (big f***ing hammer), and proceed to beat the living snot out of the exhaust pipe until enough clearance was gained. Here's a news flash... an engine is (in essence), a big air pump. The reason us "gear heads" install duals in the first place is to flow more air out of the engine. Of course the intake side is important too, but you get the gist.
What this ham-fisted approach has done, is undo a lot of the good that trashing the stock exhaust might have accomplished. At least as far as the left bank of cylinders is concerned. I'll have to admit though, my wife came out to see what all the hilarity was for, I was laughing so hard. I'd always heard about the "get a bigger hammer" school of mechanics, but to actually see it in practice... priceless. One more thing to add to my rapidly growing "to do" list.
So there you have it. The basis for "restoring" (and I use the term loosely), my Monte SS to her former glory. Was it worth 3 grand? Well, we'll have to see. My game plan (at this point anyway), is to sell off everything I don't need or want to help finance the completion of the project.