[“Nut Driver” is a new series that will feature updates on Dave Nutting’s attempts to daily drive his 1987 Chevrolet Monte Carlo in Massachusetts 365 days a year]
We last left off with an introduction of the car from when it was purchased in September. In this installment, we’re going to fast forward to the week before Thanksgiving, also known as “The weekend that I completely screwed up a suspension install and left my car on jackstands for days”. This is going to be fun.
It’s been said that you cannot truly understand an event until you also understand the people and events that led up to it, so let me fill in a little backstory:
Cruising around in an “older” car (I say “older” as I know that there are more than a few BangShift readers that are daily driving vehicles manufactured decades before 1987; let me just say that you rock) has been a blast. The car has dead-nuts reliable and it’s been great to finally feel like I’m getting my money’s worth when using a parking spot:
However, there’s definitely been a few readjustments in my driving style going from a 2003 Subaru WRX to the LS, mainly due to the drastic difference in acceleration, braking, and handling.
With 2.41 gears in the rear, I am convinced that the person who ordered this car realized the gearing needed for a competitive run at Bonneville but failed to grasp the importance that horsepower played as well. 160 horsepower and those gears translates to a driving style that is less “shoot the gap” (AKA “typical Boston driving”) and more “put on your blinker and hope that you have enough running room to slowly slide over into the next lane” when slogging through the typical highway commute.
The gearing and lack of horsepower also makes for interesting stop light encounters: Ever had an elderly woman in a late 90’s Crown Vic give you a knowing smile and then try to holeshot you? That’s my Wednesday.
That said, once up to speed the LS absolutely loves cruising at highway speed; I really need to hook up a tach to see what I’m running for RPMs, but with the 2004r and a lockup converter I’d bet that the engine isn’t even sweating at 70-75 MPH.
So, the acceleration is on par with a cruise liner, and the handling and braking aren’t much better: While the SS and other F41-equipped G-bodies at least had the semblance of a handling package, my non-F41 optioned Monte came sans rear sway bar and with a set of softer springs designed to float over bumps (Difficult to find the actual spring rates, but they look to be in the 350 pound range for the front springs and 105 range for the rear). Along with the “Grandma” spring and shock package, the LS came with the standard 10.5 inch front discs and terrible front suspension geometry, which is a whole ‘nother blog post in of itself, so forgive me for glossing over it at this time. Let’s just say that I wouldn’t be taking off-ramps at speed as-is.
As I haven’t had much luck in tracking down a 7.5 inch 3.42 posi rear from an early Monte Carlo SS or an affordable 8.5 inch from a Grand National or 442 locally, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to positively affect the acceleration of the car anytime soon. But, with a little bit of work I knew that I could change my suspension and braking woes and decided to rummage through my assortment of G-body parts that I had leftover from my Monte Carlo SS. That car has been through multiple suspensions throughout the years, and I knew that I had a B-body brake setup and a set of Eibach springs collecting dust on a shelf in the garage. I also found an inexpensive set of 16×8 Iroc wheels on Craigslist and purchased a set of Bilstein shocks locally.
For those that don’t know, the B-body brake “swap” consists of a set of B-body spindles from a car equipped with twelve inch rotors, combined with the twelve inch 1LE rotor from a thirdgen F-body to keep the bolt pattern 5×4.75 (The bolt pattern of the B-body twelve inch rotor is 5×5) and a “tall spindle” control arm designed for use with the roughly one inch taller B-body spindle. There are several manufacturers of this style control arm, but I happened to have a used set of Hotchkis upper control arms, which are no longer made, that I would be using.
(On a side note: I’m never a fan of the installation stories in magazines where the author just “happens” to find parts on a shelf somewhere and calls them “freebies”. For full disclosure, I bought the complete brake swap used for $400 about six years back and paid retail for the Eibach springs around the same time. The arms are no longer made, but Hotchkis does make other great G-body suspension components, just not the “tall spindle” arms that I am using. The springs can still be purchased from your favorite speedshop. The shocks, steering components, and ball joints were purchased online.).
So, with the car being in perfect working order but lacking a little in the fun department, of course I got the itch to start replacing parts. After all, isn’t this why I bought an old car in the first place? Sure, the days were getting shorter and temperatures dropping, but what could possibly go wrong with a quick weekend thrash? Of course, in my case “weekend thrash” meant “starting on Sunday morning at 10 AM” and there was heavy rain in the forecast for that afternoon…
Getting to the good stuff, we’ll continue in typical Bangshift-style with photos and captions.
Breaking away from the photo montage for a minute: The rear suspension install went without a hitch, but it was now 11 AM. Keep in mind that sunset was around 5 PM and the rain was forecasted to start around 3 PM. I had yet to even break loose a single nut on the front suspension…
This is where the photos stopped for the time being, as the process of “remove a part, clean all of the undercoating off of my hands, take photo, repeat” was really slowing me down. Plus, at this point I knew that I was in serious trouble as it was around 1 PM and I had only removed the shocks, upper control arms, and one spring. I still had half of the disassembly to take care of, plus all of the reassembly, with only a few hours of daylight left and rain on the way. Fudge.
Still, I was determined at this point to get everything together, so I called up a good friend of mine who brought over some air tools and we went to town. No photos as we were in full-on thrash mode, and the rain started to come down shortly after. A few hours in, it became apparent that A) Working in the rain sucks and B) I wasn’t going to get the car finished that night, which meant that I needed to figure out a way to get to work, which completely destroyed my plan of keeping this car reliable for every day use.
This is the point where I confess (Ok, ok Chad and Brian twisted my arm and made me fess up) that I needed to borrow a car to get to work on Monday as my SS was also on jack stands due to another project. While I wish that I was adding this in for comedic effect, the only vehicle available was my mother’s Toyota Highlander, complete with scented air freshener and all ten radio presets set to easy listening (I didn’t even know that there were ten easy listening stations in the Boston area. You learn something new every day). A perfect 100 on the Lame-O scale, I know, and I deserve all of the grief that you can dish out in the comments for it.
So, there we have it! After one botched install, an embarrassing stint as a Toyota Highlander driver (That won’t be happening again), and several days worth of thrashing to finish the job, my car is back in business as a daily driver. Nothing new planned for the coming weeks other than swapping over to the snow wheels and tires, but I’d love to hear all of your thoughts on where you’d like to see this car go. I’ve got a few other budget suspension plans for the Spring, but my main theme with this car is to keep it relatively low buck and with the LG4 and 2004R in place for a while longer as it is slow but reliable.
‘Til next time!