gumby Reader
5/20/19 9:47 p.m.

I. Love. This. Car.

But first, I need to share some history. This is my second '87 Tbird. I have owned this car for nearly six years. It has been tucked away with nothing more than an occasional start-up the whole time, up until last fall when I finally moved it into the shop to make things right and put it back on the road. My Dad owned this car before I got it, but it was not his first '87 Tbird either.

We were replacing a Chevette which got t-boned. I was 11, maybe 12. I had been riding in the hatch of that Chevette when it met its demise. I remember overhearing weeks of frustrated phone conversations, in which my Dad haggled with the offender's insurance company to get fair compensation for the little, dead car. Finally a reasonable offer was made, a check arrived in the mail, and I got to go car shopping with Dad. We looked at an Escort, a 4cly notchback Mustang, a couple Aerostar vans, and then something caught my Dad's eye out behind the service bays. Sales guy was reluctant to show the car because it was a leftover that didn't sell under the tent the previous week and was likely headed to auction. We test drove this red '87 Tbird and Dad made an offer as soon as we got back.

The red car was our family transportation all thru my teens and beyond the point where I moved out of the house. It was Dad's car. It was always nicer than any E36 M3boxes I drove, and I spent many Friday afternoons cleaning and waxing it to earn the privilege of using it on the weekend. Many memories in that car, many teenage firsts. At some point after I had moved out on my own, a Jeep pulled out in front of my Dad and totaled the red car. I think my Mom cried when the wrecker hauled it off.

With a young family of my own, my project focus moved away from minitrucks and I was looking for something that I could build up using a pile of fox chassis parts I had already collected, and a warm 2.3T motor from my Ranger. I looked at a couple Fairmonts, one 4cly notch, and suddenly recalled the car shopping day over a decade prior. In an instant, the only option on my list was a Tbird. I found a couple in my price range, my wife thought they looked better than the Fairmonts I showed her, and the hunt was on! I brought home an '87 TurboCoupe, and spent two years putting it all together before the white car looked like this:

It was around this time that my Dad decided he needed another one! I helped him find a couple to look at and he bought a very nice blue car which he immediately brought to me for some deferred maintenance and a few tasteful upgrades.

We located a set of blue TC seats. I put in my old TC steering wheel, and sway bars. Four fresh coil springs and new struts/shocks. Once again Dad's Tbird was nicer than my E36 M3box!

I autoX'd my white car, stripped weight, improved suspension(Cobra this, tubular that. Coilovers and a sprinkle of IRS), and created a lean visceral experience.

My Dad kept his car clean, well maintained, and daily driven for several years until his doc told him part of the reason his hips and back hurt was climbing down into the blue car. "Get an SUV," doc said. Dad did as he was instructed, and I wrote an ad for him to put the blue car up on Craigslist. I could not buy it, I didn't want to buy it. I already had my white car, and had bought the Ranger back to turn into a racecar, no place to put it, no room to work on it....No, No, just No. Then, a week later, someone turned into the left front corner of the blue car while my Mom was driving.

The insurance company paid out on the car, they didn't want to fix it. I think my Mom cried again.

I, on the other hand, seized the opportunity and bought the car back!

gumby Reader
5/20/19 10:34 p.m.

The Ranger build took on a life of its own(5yrs of mine). The blue car sat patiently waiting. The white car was used for summers and autoX until it was called upon to donate its heart back to the Ranger from whence it came. So many of my car stories are circular...
With the white car out of commission, and the Ranger doing autoX duty, I was briefly distracted by an x1/9 but eventually made the leap to pull the blue car out of hibernation.

This past winter I ran down a list of basic mods:

  • sn95 rear axle
  • sn95 spindles
  • '00 CobraR front coils and cut TC rears
  • Koni shocks/struts
  • sn95 brakes
  • bumpsteer kit
  • T5 swap
  • e-fan

I made a few trips back and forth to work with the car over the last month, and this past weekend we made our first road trip to a friend's dyno day down in Owensboro, KY. The trip was pleasantly uneventful. The car rides and drives amazingly well. Everywhere the white car was rough, this car is refined. Insulation under the carpet, and a stereo are surprisingly wonderful things on a road trip!

Being as the ride down had gone so well, I did decide to put it on the dyno to get some baseline numbers. I still need to chase a driveline vibration, but after having installed new tailshaft bushing and some tweaking to drive shaft angles I got the vibration up above normal cruising speeds. We made one pull and used third gear to keep wheel speed down, so as not sling the d/s out on the floor. I really just wanted to watch it make a pull, not break, and see what sort of plot a CFI 3.8 would make.

Almost hit that century mark! If I had paid for a couple more pulls, I probably could have flipped the air cleaner lid, or bumped the timing for another 1.1hp  cheeky
All said, Ford rated these at 120/205 and if you figure 18% loss thru the driveline, this car is pretty close even with 140K miles on it.

The ride home was just as awesome. The more miles I put on the car the more things are gelling. We fixed the blower motor before I left for home, and charged the A/C. The interval wipers even healed themselves. The overall result of this road trip has really helped sort details on the car and solidified some of my plans moving forward. The current suspension which I imagined would be mostly temporary, actually works very well. There are a few geometry fixes that need addressing to continue running these parts at such a low ride height, and I think I will move on those vs waiting and ripping it all out later.

  • Adjustable RUCAs to correct pinion angle
  • Lower axle brackets to fix RLCA angles
  • Adjustable perch RLCAs to maintain ride height with axle brackets
  • Taller lower balljoints for FLCAs
  • Dial in bumsteer

These things will happen ASAP to make the current combination work better and kick my other suspension plans way down the list, if ever.

Floating Doc
Floating Doc Dork
5/20/19 10:36 p.m.

Waiting for the next installment to the saga.

gumby Reader
5/20/19 10:59 p.m.

What is moving up the list is an engine swap. Overall this car is pretty awesome, but 100hp ain't cutting mustard. I thought I could hack it for a while and concentrate on other ideas, but this is just not going to work for me.
I have been squirreling away parts and pieces, making a few large directional changes, but not really spending much cash out of pocket to pull a plan together.

My Dad really appreciated this car and I think he may have been a bit concerned that under my watch, it might go the same way as my white car. I sorta promised I would take care of it in the same manner as he would, and not take things too far. With that in mind, this car will stay a 6cly.

I am however, going to build a short stroke motor, drop displacement, and use this to scramble things up

A long while back, I had a local guy contact me because "I build weird E36 M3" and should know someone to buy this engine he was selling. He had a list of details, but no receipts, and refused to open the motor up to verify any components. I tried to sell it to the only guy I knew who might be interested, but without being able to prove what exactly was or wasn't done, no deal was struck. Nearly a year goes by, and I get another call to come get it for whatever I think it is worth before it goes to scrap. So I picked up a forged piston 3.3L with no real plan about what to do with it.

Another loop in this tale is that the mystery guy who I thought might be interested, had in his possession a cylinder head which could fix the ugly that sits on top of all the beauty tucked inside this block. I recently presented him with a deal to acquire an Australian crossflow head.

I am going to mix all these parts together with a large helping of atmosphere and see what sticks. Here we have a couple dirty bits getting to know one another

And here is the head disassembled and somewhat clean

There are some gotchas to getting this Australian head onto a US block. After I had the head tanked, I welded up a few coolant ports that hang off the edge of the US deck surface, and dropped it off to the cylinder head guy for some valve and port work.
I will be breaking down the forged 200" engine to inspect the quality of machine work, prior assembly tolerances, and doing a lot of measuring. It was built by someone, and never fired. I will be slowly working my way toward fitting all the good parts into a later block with the crossflow head on top.

RacetruckRon HalfDork
5/21/19 2:01 p.m.

I really didn't want to part with that turbo but it's going on a way cooler project than I ever intended to use it for.  This is going to be an awesome thread.

T.J. MegaDork
5/21/19 2:06 p.m.

LOL, this thread has both way less Datsun and way less schoolbus than I imagined.

Looks like this will be an interesting thread.

Owensboro, KY - the only thing I know about that place is that when someone from there says BBQ, they are referring to mutton. I really want to try it.

Patrick MegaDork
5/21/19 2:26 p.m.

Now the blue thunderbird nose you had in the shop makes sense.

gumby Reader
5/22/19 10:33 a.m.
Patrick said:

Now the blue thunderbird nose you had in the shop makes sense.

Yeah, I had to move the car out of the shop over Thanksgiving and decided to leave it out for PRI so we would have space to mill about. I don't remember anyone mentioning the blue parts hanging around, wasn't sure anyone noticed laugh

gumby Reader
5/28/19 5:05 p.m.

Knocked the red engine apart yesterday and found some nice flat top pistons, but some weeny put an 0.085" thick copper head gasket on it while leaving the pistons 0.020" in the hole, for a calculated 7.8:1 static compression ratio  no

They did however o-ring the block for all the cylinder pressures!


I am glad to have found flat tops. I was worried this engine might have had dished pistons installed which would make it much more difficult for me to achieve a reasonable compression ratio. The rods are early C3 forged units, the pistons have coated skirts, and the assemblies appear to have been balanced. This rotating assembly will be re-homed into a later block with the big bell housing pattern(2/3 SBF).


If I zero deck the block with these flat top pistons, run a normal thickness head gasket, and figure in the original chamber size on the crossflow head, the calculator spits out a 9.57:1 number that I like much better. Seems that I need to be making calls about camshaft profiles pretty soon. wink

Daylan C
Daylan C UltraDork
5/28/19 5:23 p.m.
T.J. said:

LOL, this thread has both way less Datsun and way less schoolbus than I imagined.

Looks like this will be an interesting thread.

Owensboro, KY - the only thing I know about that place is that when someone from there says BBQ, they are referring to mutton. I really want to try it.

I lived very close to Owensboro for several years and this is the first time I've heard that. Interesting.

And yes that engine definitely qualifies as weird E36 M3. You now have my attention.

T.J. MegaDork
5/28/19 6:35 p.m.

In reply to Daylan C :

I’ve never tried it nor been to Owensboro, but I may try to track down some mutton and put it on the smoker someday to try it.



noddaz SuperDork
5/28/19 7:06 p.m.

Vigo MegaDork
5/29/19 12:46 a.m.

This build appeals to me on so many levels. This is berkeleying rad. 

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito PowerDork
5/29/19 11:20 a.m.

As a fan of 1983-88 T-Birds and Cougars, while also being a fan of weird engine swaps, I am loving what I see so far. Very cool!

RossD MegaDork
5/29/19 11:43 a.m.

Aussie crossflow head! FTW! This is awesome.

maschinenbau Dork
5/29/19 12:45 p.m.

This is so awesome! Like a baby Barra engine, but with pushrods.

gumby Reader
7/30/19 7:18 p.m.

Baby Barra indeed. The Crossflow is two generations of AUS straight six behind the Barra.
Being itself one step evolved from the log head sixes, the Crossflow head sat on a recast block. Then there was a SOHC version, and finally the DOHC Barra.

I had hoped that by now I would be building and updating, but no. My Crossflow head is still in machine shop jail, and I just spent a good chunk of my engine build money on an ADHD fueled detour. We will get back here at some point post-Challenge.

slowbird Reader
7/30/19 7:33 p.m.

Aw man this is so cool. Too bad about the delays, but I love a good weird engine build/swap.

Gingerbeardman Reader
7/30/19 9:05 p.m.
T.J. said:

In reply to Daylan C :

I’ve never tried it nor been to Owensboro, but I may try to track down some mutton and put it on the smoker someday to try it.



For the love of food, DO NOT buy mutton to eat. Lamb is fine, mutton is like chewing gum made out of grey meat and fat. Not good fat either.

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