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OSULemon
OSULemon
4/30/13 2:07 p.m.

Hey all,

I just moved to rural Missouri after graduating college with my engineering degree. While I used to have access to a garage full of tools and toys, now I've struck out on my own and have to start from scratch. I was mostly a motorcycle/ATV guy back in my teens, but I'd like to sample the car scene to see how it suits me.

GRM seems like the perfect source of info for a tightwad like me who loves to switch projects every 3 months. Money pits are not an option with that kind of ADD. It's with that mindset that I started my search for a Miata a few months ago. Turns out building a garage workshop from scratch takes time and patience, so Miata hunting has taken a backseat.

Until...

A '96 Trans Am pops up on Craigslist with a T56 and heads/cams. Turns out the seller took it from his son (who is thousands in debt), and wants it gone, gone, gone. It's not the prettiest, but with no major dents and no rust, I thought what the hell...

http://joplin.craigslist.org/cto/3763675512.html

It pulls and pulls hard. I'd driven an LT1 auto before, and it was MUCH slower than this. I have no idea what to compare the car to, but nothing feels too out of place, except for a loose steering wheel bearing. Seller says it's mechanically sound (not that I trust anyone).

Little finangling, he settles on 2600. I'm set to put a deposit down tomorrow. I figure if I get tired of the car, it will make a good donor for a Locost build that I was already planning.

Although a built Miata would be optimal, I have never owned a RWD sports car of any kind, much less a V8. Am I in way over my head, or will this be a good beater/messaround car until I can get my shop set up?

Sound advice is welcome!

SEADave
SEADave New Reader
4/30/13 2:43 p.m.

At $2600, the tranmission is worth at least half that much. The flipside is that replacing/rebuilding the T56 is expensive so make sure it shifts fine and doesn't make any weird noises.

LT1's aren't favored becuase they were followed up with the much better LS1, but that doesn't make them bad engines per se. People say the Opti (distributor unique to LTx) is troublesome, and mine did actually need to be replaced when I had my 93. But supposedly the Opti was improved in later years and 96 definitely is a later year LT1.

I am a big Trans Am fan, so I say for $2,600 you can't really lose. 4th gens are getting common in the u-pick yards (at least the V6 versions), so finding body, glass, trim & interior parts should be no problem.

06HHR
06HHR Reader
4/30/13 2:46 p.m.

Cheap thrills! Most you will spend on a single engine part is maybe 150-250 to replace the optispark when it eventually dies (the originals all die, if it hasn't already). The LT1 is basically a gen 1.5 SBC. Slight differences from the older 1st gen and nothing interchanges with the later LS engines, but nothing expensive to speak of and parts are a salvage yard away. LT1 autos have a taller rear gear (i had a 97) and they are faster than anyting in their price range you are likely to encounter, definitely for $2600. Interior is plastic not-so fantastic, and the dash pad is probably already cracking. Worst case scenario is you crash it, even then the parts alone are worth what you paid. A good T56 is worth $$$. I would go for it.

SEADave
SEADave New Reader
4/30/13 3:00 p.m.

I hate to be "that guy" but the LTx engines were Gen II SBC's.

Gen 1.5 is generally used to describe the L31 truck/SUV engines that gave us the vastly improved "Vortec" heads. These were never put into cars.

OSULemon
OSULemon New Reader
4/30/13 3:01 p.m.
06HHR wrote: Cheap thrills! Most you will spend on a single engine part is maybe 150-250 to replace the optispark when it eventually dies (the originals all die, if it hasn't already). The LT1 is basically a gen 1.5 SBC. Slight differences from the older 1st gen and nothing interchanges with the later LS engines, but nothing expensive to speak of and parts are a salvage yard away. LT1 autos have a taller rear gear (i had a 97) and they are faster than anyting in their price range you are likely to encounter, definitely for $2600. Interior is plastic not-so fantastic, and the dash pad is probably already cracking. Worst case scenario is you crash it, even then the parts alone are worth what you paid. A good T56 is worth $$$. I would go for it.

Thanks, that was the confidence boost I needed. From doing some internet research, it looks like some people are not shy about paying close to this price for just the engine/tranny. I had no problems shifting into any of the gears. Never popped out of gear, no loud grinding noises, etc. Worst case scenario...what if the transmission fails catastrophically? What's the exit plan? Sell the engine and part what I can? Or try to pick up another tranny (auto OR manual) from a pick n pull and sell that way?

Also, it's got 170,000 on the odomoter, so there's a good chance the Optispark is already replaced. Car feels mechanically sound. Steering/suspension...I have no idea what to compare it to.

Interior is a little sad, but not as ratty as I thought. Dash is cracked in a few places, some plastic pieces missing, etc. But, not disgusting/torn up, so that's good. I would not be embarrassed to have someone ride with me.

What's the most common route to go with these cars? Strictly drag? Autocross seems more abnormal.

It'll likely stay the way it is for a while, but daydreaming makes the time go by...

06HHR
06HHR Reader
4/30/13 3:27 p.m.

In reply to SEADave:

I stand corrected, i get them mixed up since the L31 came out after the LT1.

Far as worrying about grenading a T-56, unless you plan on adding large amounts of turbo/nitrous and dragstrip duty you should be just fine.

OSULemon
OSULemon New Reader
4/30/13 3:34 p.m.
06HHR wrote: In reply to SEADave: I stand corrected, i get them mixed up since the L31 came out after the LT1. Far as worrying about grenading a T-56, unless you plan on adding large amounts of turbo/nitrous and dragstrip duty you should be just fine.

Good. I really don't want to break something without having the capability to fix it yet. I'll try to find out what kind of motor work has been done to it, but if the heads have been replaced, is that pretty significant weight reduction in the engine bay?

I ask because it might be a donor engine down the road. Yes, LS1's are better, but so spending less cash, I figger.

06HHR
06HHR Reader
4/30/13 3:44 p.m.

Stock LT1 heads in F-bodies (Camaro and Firebird) are aluminum so not much weight reduction with replacement heads. One more thing to consider, the headlight motors for these have plastic gears, and replacements were $250 last I checked years ago. This guy makes replacement gears out of metal if you can't find replacement motors in the pick-n-pull yards Headlight gear fix

OSULemon
OSULemon New Reader
4/30/13 3:49 p.m.
06HHR wrote: Stock LT1 heads in F-bodies (Camaro and Firebird) are aluminum so not much weight reduction with replacement heads. One more thing to consider, the headlight motors for these have plastic gears, and replacements were $250 last I checked years ago. This guy makes replacement gears out of metal if you can't find replacement motors in the pick-n-pull yards Headlight gear fix

Thanks! The headlights seem to work at the moment. crosses fingers

psteav
psteav Dork
4/30/13 3:54 p.m.

Welcome to Misery. Whereabouts in the state are you?

BTW, if you want to switch projects, I have a Miata I'll trade you.

OSULemon
OSULemon New Reader
4/30/13 4:13 p.m.
psteav wrote: Welcome to Misery. Whereabouts in the state are you? BTW, if you want to switch projects, I have a Miata I'll trade you.

Nevada. And I'll keep that in mind. I'm normally a handling > power kind of guy, but I couldn't resist. It was local and cheap and available.

Also, I'm 6'5". and the steering wheel tilts.

psteav
psteav Dork
4/30/13 4:23 p.m.

Ahh, one of the many borrowed place names that we can't pronounce right. (My family lives near Versailles, pronounced Ver-SAY-uhls).

Welcome aboard. If you're ever in the middle of the state, stop by.

Will
Will Dork
4/30/13 7:51 p.m.

4th-gens can be made to handle very well. Check out Stranoparts.com and FRRAX.com. I autocross a 99 Z28 and love it.

gunner
gunner Reader
4/30/13 8:12 p.m.

The OMRSCCA has most of their autocrosses in Neosho MO which isnt too far a drive from Nevada if youre interested. Great bunch of people. Usually get six runs per day which can make the drive worth it. Oh BTW I live in Nixa MO. further south from you. Welcome aboard! Edit: There are some very fast T/A's and camaros that attend, so dont worry about yours being out of its element.

stan
stan SuperDork
4/30/13 9:58 p.m.

Welcome!

Have fun with the V8. You might become addicted...

Mitchell
Mitchell SuperDork
4/30/13 10:32 p.m.
pres589
pres589 SuperDork
4/30/13 10:44 p.m.

Looks like a good find and in parts, the car is easily worth the $2600.

I hope you enjoy that part of the world, I went to Pittsburg State for an extended period of time and miss some aspects of life around there.

DoctorBlade
DoctorBlade UltraDork
4/30/13 10:51 p.m.

Enjoy it!

shelbyz
shelbyz New Reader
5/1/13 12:38 p.m.
OSULemon wrote: Also, it's got 170,000 on the odomoter, so there's a good chance the Optispark is already replaced. Car feels mechanically sound. Steering/suspension...I have no idea what to compare it to.

Mileage usually doesn't have anything to with replacement of the Opti-fail. They fail because they are extremely sensitive to moisture. They have failed from driving in the rain, powerwashing the engine or going through car washes for some people. Another big killer for the Opti, is it's location directly under the water pump. If the water pump starts leaking for any reason, it will most likely take the Opti with it.

I had a friend that really wanted to sell me a '94 Anniversary T/A that needed some TLC. The Opti-spark is one of the reasons I passed on it. That, and the fact that you need to set aside a whole weekend to change spark plugs or install aftermarket headers... The design of the opti-spark was changed for '95 and up cars, and is much more reliable. However, they are still pretty failure prone. When I was doing research for my buddies car, a couple of guys on some forums that dailied 4th gen. LT1 cars said that they were changing their Opti's once a year...

Delteq (delteq.com) sells a kit that converts the car to run on Northstar coils, but the full kit costs 1/3 what you are paying for this car.

They're still great cars though. The LT1 sounds great with a full exhaust, and the performance aftermarket for the LT1 is getting pretty cheap.

81cpcamaro
81cpcamaro HalfDork
5/1/13 1:21 p.m.

I do like the LTs, good running engines that got overshadowed by the LS engines. Hard to beat the prices of the LTs right now.

Not all Opti-sparks fail quickly, so don't let that scare you too much. The water pump tends to be the biggest culprit when it fails, dropping water right on the Opti-spark. I've had two LT1 cars (95 TA and 67 El Camino with 94 LT1 conversion) and neither had issues. The 95 did have a water pump failure but the Opti survived just fine, lasting a couple years after that. Used to be the Delco replacement Opti was the one to get, but it seems now even it is being made in China. I used an Ebay one on the El Camino with no problems, but your results may vary.

curtis73
curtis73 UltraDork
5/1/13 11:45 p.m.

My 96 LT1 (Impala SS) has been bulletproof. The water pumps will leak long before they're toast. The weep hole in the bottom of the casting is directly above the optispark and can contribute to its failure. Mine started leaking at around 70k. When I replaced the pump, I took a little piece of brake line tubing and jammed it in the weep hole with some JBweld to make a nipple. From there I ran some vacuum line down to the radiator support. Its easy to monitor leaks and it doesn't drip on the Optispark.

My optispark finally died at 130k. The rotor failed and fell off the shaft. The Optispark is often labeled as a terrible piece, but I would like to see any other distributor/rotor last as long. The optical pickup is bulletproof. The spark part (rotor and "cap") are what fails, but with the aftermarket picking up on this, upgraded MSD rotors and caps are cheap. Your 96 has the later, vented Optispark which is much more reliable.

The T56 is a fantastic transmission. The LT1 is a great engine. Its basically a roller-cam SBC with different heads and intake. The heads and block have different water passages which means you can't mix old SBC heads with LT1, but the LT1 rotating assembly interchanges with any 1-piece rear SBC. That means parts are dirt cheap. Computers are easy to hack, aftermarket upgrades are plentiful, and they are very reliable.

Don't over-think. Just buy. Its a good deal. Make sure it has a title. Worst case scenario is that you sell the T56 for $800, the LT1 for $700, part out the good stuff and scrap the rest for a profit. But... I think you'll just drive it and grin from ear to ear.

curtis73
curtis73 UltraDork
5/1/13 11:49 p.m.

BTW... the only "weak" point of those cars is the rear axle. They have the 7.5/7.625" rear which isn't the strongest. In stock F-bodies, they are limited by traction. Adding more power doesn't really hurt them too much since you will just have more tire smoke, but be aware of adding really sticky tires. If you actually hook up and make good traction, it can blow the differential straight out the axle cover.

Think shock loads. You can lay on the throttle with no problem, but clutch drops at 5000 rpm are not recommended.

dculberson
dculberson UltraDork
5/2/13 9:22 a.m.
curtis73 wrote: My optispark finally died at 130k. The rotor failed and fell off the shaft. The Optispark is often labeled as a terrible piece, but I would like to see any other distributor/rotor last as long. The optical pickup is bulletproof. The spark part (rotor and "cap") are what fails, but with the aftermarket picking up on this, upgraded MSD rotors and caps are cheap. Your 96 has the later, vented Optispark which is much more reliable.

It is amazing how frequently a minor problem (or even not a problem but a maintenance issue) gets blown out of proportion by the Internet echo chamber. I had a Roadmaster with the LT1 and loved it. Never had a problem with the Optispark nor did the next owner.

06HHR
06HHR Reader
5/2/13 10:11 a.m.
dculberson wrote:
curtis73 wrote: My optispark finally died at 130k. The rotor failed and fell off the shaft. The Optispark is often labeled as a terrible piece, but I would like to see any other distributor/rotor last as long. The optical pickup is bulletproof. The spark part (rotor and "cap") are what fails, but with the aftermarket picking up on this, upgraded MSD rotors and caps are cheap. Your 96 has the later, vented Optispark which is much more reliable.

It is amazing how frequently a minor problem (or even not a problem but a maintenance issue) gets blown out of proportion by the Internet echo chamber. I had a Roadmaster with the LT1 and loved it. Never had a problem with the Optispark nor did the next owner.

Come to think of it, i had more water pump failures (2) than Optispark failures. I had mine for 7 years and it was more reliable than my old Toyota 4x4. Only left me stranded once when the Optispark died in town, and that was brought on by the water pump seal failure, which never stranded the thing, just leaked coolant all over the optispark and the serpentine belt. That Toyota died a couple of times on me, once because of failing cylinder head bolts that let the HG blow.

pinchvalve
pinchvalve UltimaDork
5/2/13 10:29 a.m.

Everyone should own a Camaro/Firebird/Mustang at some point in their lives....me included.

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