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  • '78 El Camino

    Soooo... I've got this thing.

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    Back Story:
    For a long time I've wanted an A/G El Camino...having the pickup bed but otherwise being an easy-driving Malibu, and nearly being some-type classic car, has appeal. 'Way back in the mid-1990s I was semi-seriously watching for a likely candidate for a mild build and noticed this '78 car sitting engine-less in a repair shop parking lot and asked about it, the owner was friendly but his orig. 350 SS car was not for sale. Later I found a nice dark-gray/black interior '79 305/automatic and got started on it but about three different events came along and wiped out that deal, just how it goes sometimes. A couple years later with the above car still sitting in a lot I asked about it again and got another "no", this time from an employee of the shop it was at...some months later I got to wondering if perhaps persistence would do the trick and was met with yet another "no", this time very firm. OK I figured, I'm not gonna get this one.

    My daughter's boyfriend at the time was driving a '79 El Camino with the Buick V6 which was giving him a lot of trouble, he was interested in another car I owned at the time and with me still wanting an El Camino we did a swap. So, that then was my project, light blue w/ a light blue interior:

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    (The orange '64 in the background was actually meant for a different, wilder project but that's a different story.)
    ​​
    Out came the V6 and in went an '86 TPI 305 motor I got out of a Trans Am. I thought an NV3500 light truck-type five speed trans would make for a nice driver with it's low first gear for hauling a light trailer and also having overdrive. The downside with the trans; the shifter came out where it jammed into the dash. Still I started working on that, along with all the wiring stuff for the fuel injection small block.

    Being as there wasn't much time and even less money available for this, it dragged on quite a while. I did a little work on it here and there, and remember we're talking a while back here.

    Ten years ago: Along comes an old buddy of mine who also likes El Caminos. He asks me, "WTH are you doing fixing up that nothing-special piece of crap? I know of a SS V8 car in town you should be building. What, I wondered, there's another one besides the one I had asked about three times? No, it's the same car, magically for sale now. Figures. I told him that I wasn't going to go over asking about that thing again, if he wanted to buy it for himself go ahead and maybe somewhere down the road if he didn't want to build it then we'd talk.

    A few weeks later part of the car is in my yard and part of it in his. He had just moved and I was being hit very hard by the '08 recession and there were no resources from either of us available to do anything. Now it was the black car's turn to sit. After a year or so I did make it mine by trading off a decent Blazer I had at the time, anyhow, and he went on to other projects.

    Now for the next plot twist: At some point I ran into a guy at a neighborhood party who started telling me about this El Camino he knew of being sold and how the owner had either changed his mind or never wanted to sell it in the first place or maybe his ex-wife just sold it out of under him, and he wanted it back. I don't know if the person realized I was the one who had it. I pondered what to do since I hadn't done anything with it, but then along with this guy's story and about a half-a-dozen beers came this threat; whoever had the car now was in deep trouble with the local biker gang who the previous owner of the car was a member of. Hmm. I don't really "do" threats, and anyhow if the person really wanted his car back he'd have an easy enough time finding me. I waited, half-expecting him to then show in the yard one day but he never did. As for Mr. Third-Party-Threat guy, I haven't seen him since. Certainly he was part of an old-in-this-town group that I, a "newbie" from dirty Los Angeles, never got along with much.

    ----------------

    Funny...my last El Camino, the '70 SS I've had for many years, had a somewhat similar story at the outset. A guy had it, then I had it and paid for it, then the other guy comes back angry. Is it an El Camino thing where most people don't really care for them but then some people are nuts about them to the point where they're, well, nuts? Like these other previous car-owners, I've been approached time-after-time to sell my car to somebody. The critical difference has been, however, that I never agreed I would.

    Meanwhile, as I say, neither time nor money was available to do anything on the car and the years dragged by.
    -----------------

    Now cut to a few months ago.

    This thing's been sitting here for a decade, after it sat in the previous owner's yard for longer than that, and I'm trying to clear this place out a bit just in case my plan of living long enough to actually finish all the projects around here (est. 900 years) doesn't quite pan out. It's time to either build it or get rid of it. The title...where is the friggin' title. I didn't have it, and my buddy across town who originally picked up the car didn't have it. So the next job is to find the previous owner and I-guess see if he still wants his car back, or would instead be willing to sign some DMV forms (essentially application for lost title and transfer of ownership) and clear this up. I go to the local private DMV service to find out status, then to the nearby Sheriff's to make sure after all that it's not stolen or something (!), and from there back to the shop where the car had sat for so long. The next plot twist: That owner had passed away a couple of years ago, heart attack. His ex-wife who now owns the shop says that all paperwork they had on anything burned along with their home in the last local wildfires a few years ago. Still she is friendly and helpful, and fills out any new paperwork asked for along with providing whatever documentation. Whatever beef there'd have been with the previous owner, if there was one, will now have to get solved some other way.

    So it seems anyhow that whether we are building this car or something comes up making it impossible and we go back to the blue one which I still have, I need a transportation car besides my full-size truck and the Cherokee, so we are on our way.

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    Last edited by Loren; April 18th, 2019, 10:41 AM.
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  • #2

    Re: '78 El Camino



    I don't know for sure what motor I want to use now. Whatever goes in there has to be California smog certifiable, meaning I'm stuck with essentially the original-type 170 hp 350 or some newer motor smoggable to it's year of manufacture. TPI 305s made 215 hp but are some out-of-style stuff now with questionable GM parts support. My neighbor up the street says LS! But I see issues there with expenses and again emissions compliance...if I could just find a nice 5.3 with a light-truck manual trans that would slip in as a unit, maybe I would. In the meanwhile I've got this, which came from a damaged '95 Trans Am which I bought for the transmission. A 275hp 350 LT1 might be the red-headed stepchild of Chevy motors but it would be an easy fit and is basically free:

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    This seemed to be in good running condition w/ 125K miles, it had a miss but then I found a severed injector wire which would explain that. I'll have to pull it apart to see how it looks inside, but I think it's a "go".

    Wiring from the Trans Am; I must have spent three days pulling all this stuff out of there before scrapping the car. There's more you don't see here, it's amazing how complex the wiring systems got in '95 as opposed to ten years earlier. I had pulled the loom out of an '86 Corvette a year or two ago and there was only about half as much.

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    Wiring separated in to what could make a stand-alone for the motor, and the rest to store/discard later.

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    With a little help from the main place found when searching for info on these motors, LT1swap.com;, the basic scheme of what I need to install the motor and maintain emissions compliance:

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    The T56 six-speed that came behind the LT1 is for another project. For this, wishing as-mentioned for a light-truck-type manual trans for it's wide ratio spread, I had decided that an NV3500 wasn't the best fit due to shifter location(s), hydraulic clutch (although I did work out how to convert to the manual style which I want to keep), and finally a reputation for difficulty in rebuilding. Jeep guys (and even some that say they don't care for Jeeps) like their Aisan AX-15s which are noted for toughness and can fit a Chevy bellhousing with an adapter. Watching Craigslist first got me a very cheap trans which after the daughter picked up and paid for it in Arizona turned out to be cheap for a reason (missing parts but still useful for extras), and then this 90K-mile 2WD unit up near Redlands an hour east of L.A. for $325.00. Two hours and-some away, but the wife and I had a nice day trip driving through the mountains SW of Palm Springs going up to fetch it.

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    In continuing to look around for parts I first procured a nice set of 15 x 8 stock-car-type wheels to fit my vision for the eventual appearance of the car, but I notice there's not a lot available for real performance-type tires in the 265- or 275-50-15 appropriate size. I also like the eighties 16x8 IROC wheels which with their angular style are a common swap on the A/G El Caminos, there may exist more of those now on El Caminos than Camaros. While travelling in Northern CA I picked these up with old tires for a couple-hundred bucks. (Green?)

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    IROC wheels come in two offsets, these are all "rears". At this point, I'm mounting wheels onto the car to see how they fit in the fenders, so when I tear everything apart I'll know how to set things up in the chassis such as how much to narrow a rear end and if I need to shorten/lengthen a-arms. I can't say I won't still wind up going with the stock car wheels if I have a change of heart again but we'll see.
    Last edited by Loren; April 18th, 2019, 10:46 AM.
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    • #3

      Re: '78 El Camino

      for some reason the pictures aren't coming through.... my dad has an El Camino of that vintage for sale(ish)... I think he has 2 of them currently. I gave him the wheels of my Corvette, once he changed tire size, I think it looks okay (okay for a mullet car? )
      Doing it all wrong since 1966

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      • #4

        Re: '78 El Camino

        Uh-oh. If pics aren't coming through it will take me a while to re-do them. Sometimes it's a pain trying to post here.

        ------------

        There, how's that?

        -----------

        Does your Dad have a mullet?

        What type El Camino, how much ?
        Last edited by Loren; April 18th, 2019, 10:48 AM.
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        • #5

          Re: '78 El Camino

          Same here.. No pics. Dreaded blue squares..

          As for stuff going to the dump after stripping, a early 0X Crown Vic is a pickup box full.. A mid 70's Caddy? Half box..

          Love Elcams!

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          • #6

            Re: '78 El Camino

            Uh-oh. If pics aren't coming through it will take me a while to re-do them. Sometimes it's a pain trying to post here.
            you need to link your upload, basically you probably have them on Bangshift's server, but now you need to tell the forum post where to look for those pictures.
            Doing it all wrong since 1966

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            • #7

              Re: '78 El Camino

              Sounds interesting. I'm not seeing any pictures either.
              Last edited by 74NovaMan; April 18th, 2019, 10:51 AM.
              Chris - HRPT Long Haul 03, 04, 05, 13, 14, 15,16 & 18
              74 Nova Project
              66 Mustang GT Project

              92 Camaro RS Convertible Project
              79 Chevy Truck Project

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              • #8

                Re: '78 El Camino

                Hmm... have re-loaded everything, works for me un-logged in, normally I don't have a problem but the site kept logging me out while posting this time and I-don't-know what else is up. Will have to figure out how to do what SBG says.
                ...

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                • #9

                  Re: '78 El Camino

                  and now there are pictures... coolio
                  Doing it all wrong since 1966

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                  • #10

                    Re: '78 El Camino

                    Had a 86 350 TH350 I had 70 Z wheels with 255 50 15s man I miss that car . I see your pics as well .
                    Edit - and a little jealous .
                    Last edited by Dan Barlow; April 18th, 2019, 01:28 PM.
                    Previously HoosierL98GTA

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                    • #11

                      Re: '78 El Camino

                      Seeing most pics now..
                      Black one looks interesting..

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                      • #12

                        Re: '78 El Camino

                        I got the title to the black car...whoo hoo! It took a couple months but all is in order on that end now, so the black-car build it is, and the blue one is for parts. Out of all the whatever-million A-G bodies built in the era, very few were 350/4-speed cars...in '78 it was El Caminos only as far as I know, quantity in the mid-700s. This car was one of those, built in Fremont CA where Teslas are assembled now, and sold in TX as a 49-state only combo.

                        So...first problem. Unfortunately the original motor/trans was long gone, for me anyhow. It's probably sitting in someone's garage somewhere with it's somewhat-rare aluminum bellhousing that has the clutch fork pivot in a slightly different position than what's common. Searching around found me a correct -697 piece, $400 but whoops, already sold. However it turns out that casting is made to accommodate the pivot hole to be machined in either place, the normal one or the dropped A/G and the normal one is lots more common and I was able to locate one of those with a phone call to a buddy. We should be able to move the pivot a little...right?

                        Photo below shows re-located pivot:



                        How that was done was to first determine how much the pivot should move as I was not able to get a dimension from anywhere. Fortunately re-pop clutch forks (also unusual in style along with the bellhousing) are available, about $60. I mounted up the bellhousing in the mill and laid the fork on top in what seemed like the position it should fit, aligned a pointer to the pivot location, then pulled away the fork and ran the point down to the casting to get the new location..



                        The first plan was to just weld up the hole and cut a new one but the amount of welding would have been excessive. I chose to machine a plug in the style and thread type of the pivot hardware to go in the original hole instead.



                        That then gets screwed in, cranked down tight and machined off flat.



                        Then a new hole is cut and threaded in. No welding, no warpage.


                        View from the backside showing how the unique -697 casting handles both standard and A/G pivot hole positions.

                        ...

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                        • #13

                          Re: '78 El Camino

                          Next problem, the new clutch fork seems like an OK stamping but the spring clip is nowhere near centered over the pivot depression. Sloppy work and it ain't gonna fly. So the rivet holding the clip gets drilled out.

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                          We can see the problem, the hole was punched before the part was formed and besides not being in the right place the deformation is considerable. It would have cost the maker about $2 more to do the hole properly, instead it cost me what would be about $40 shop time to disassemble, weld, re-drill and fasten in the clip in an acceptable place.


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                          All fixed, with the pivot now held properly. We will have to cross our fingers and hope that the steel used for the fork and spring clip are appropriate and hold up under use.

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                          Last edited by Loren; June 11th, 2019, 06:40 AM.
                          ...

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                          • #14

                            Re: '78 El Camino

                            I've mentioned I wish to use an Aisan AX-15 5-speed manual trans for this, which is a Jeep Cherokee (2WD) part that needs an adaptor to fit a Chevy. Adaptors are available either as a machined plate or a special bellhousing, either cost less than making one yourself but for me I gotta make one myself. So since no one in their right mind will copy me on this I'll be brief. The plate adaptor you can buy (see SBG's FJ40 thread) serves as a trans front bearing cover, replacing the stock iron one, and includes a separate sleeve for the throwout bearing to ride on which is a fine deal. However if you want to do some machining, the original cover can be reworked to be useful. These transmissions do not use the bearing cover plate as a register to locate the trans into the bellhousing such as a Muncie etc. does, depending on precise positioning of pins instead. Thus while the inner surfaces of the stock cover are machined round for input bearing and seal retention, the outside is left raw-cast. That, I need to be round and concentric and also the sleeve for the throwout bearing to ride on needs to be cut down just a little for a stock Chevy throwout, as it happens. I can't get the odd-shape cover to set in the lathe chuck as precisely as needed by just sticking it in there, I need a fixture instead. So a heavy tab is welded onto a tube that's just a little bigger than the inside diameter of the bearing cover/throwout sleeve, then that is cut to size and results in a dead-straight "pin" to slide the part over and it can be bolted to the tab. Why such a heavy tab, is to help balance the off-center weight of the bearing cover a little while spinning away at speed on the machine.

                            Step one, the fixture and stock cover backside:

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                            Step two, the cover plate mounted on and machined in two areas. The larger diameter will be the new register surface to ensure the trans locates properly at center, and the throwout sleeve is cut down to where a Chev part shown will just slide nicely without being loose or binding.

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                            After a bit of measuring and making a template, an adaptor plate gets machined from 1 1/2" T6 aluminum plate. This is the back side that will fit over the front of the trans along with it's modified front plate. The largest diameter hole, just to the right and down from the mill cutter, will be a precise fit to the section we machined off the trans bearing retainer plate.

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                            After a bunch of cutting;, the front of the adaptor, bolted on. The round protrusion is a snug fit into the stock Chevy bellhousing large hole and will ensure centering.

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                            The assembled set.

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                            Because of how things either fit or don't, the trans cannot be bolted on externally as w/ stock Chevy now and has to fasten from the inside. The trans and bellhousing will have to fasten to the block as a unit. Still to do will be to shorten the throwout sleeve just a little but I will wait until I've got the clutch I'm going to use in hand so I can be sure I cut to the right place. For later.
                            ...

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                            • #15

                              Re: '78 El Camino

                              cool beans
                              Doing it all wrong since 1966

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