Finally getting into the Sunbird! - First Generation Forum

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Finally getting into the Sunbird!
Sunday, March 26, 2017 8:27 AM
Well it has been long enough and I finally decided to finally dive into the old Sunbird and start turning those wrenches!

Made a great deal of progress yesterday - more than I had anticipated. There are certainly more parts to deal with on the Brazil Engine, but everything came off smoothly and there is SO much luxurious room to working in under there - I not once lost my religion and hey......that isn't bad at all!! Now I am certain at least one of you out there can relate when- working on a vehicle and everything goes too well, you kinda get that feeling that the darn thing actually wants to get fixed? Yeah, I was having one of those moments yesterday.

Not all was a bed of roses though, as you'll see further on down. The cam and head is a hopeless pile of junk. How on earth this little car could chug down the highway in the condition it was in will always be a mystery to me. Basically the engine only had one good cylinder. Numbers 1 and 4 had head gasket leaks, Number 3 had a cracked head, 3 intake cams were ground to bits on those same cylinders and also the same 3 lifters were missing the check balls in them. I've babied this car for years and I am sure that is why it stayed faithful all the way.

I can't help but feel disappointed regarding to the quality of the engine. Yes I have read and re-read so many articles of woe about the poor Brazil Engine. I guess it is nothing like a good dose of reality and that true experience that teaches you the truth. GM just didn't put the quality into these engines that they should have. The head cracked at the spark plug. That is just plum crazy. In all my experiences I have never seen such. These heads are famous for cracking between the valves, now they can be known to crack at the plugs as well. Simply put - these heads should have been stronger. I can testify that during my ownership this engine never ran hot, so I know that didn't contribute to the problems. Also I was quite surprised just how light the head and intake are when removing them from the engine bay - this again seems to lead me to think GM could have beefed up the head structure more than they did - they just isn't as much metal there that could have been.

Now the missing pieces of those lifters is another mystery - like where did it go? The cam followers sit right on top of them so it isn't likely pieces just let go and flew off somewhere. Obviously they contributed to the wear on the cams as all the rest of the good lifters did not exhibit this type of damage, but how the did this problem start, I'll never know.

So on to some photos...

1st problem I had in my head was just how was I going to get the bolts off that front pulley - there is a timing belt I am going to replace so might as well get the pulley off in the beginning and move on the the rest of the job. After pondering I remembered that the automatics have a cover that comes off to remove the Converter bolts, well that is just what I needed to lock the crankshaft to break loose those pulley bolts!

An 18mm wrench was all it took to lock the crankshaft in place. A thousand pardons for the filth - it has been a long time since I had been under this part of the old girl!

...and off came all 5 bolts as easy as a piece of cake!! The Damper/Pulley all but falls right off - no need for a puller for this one!! Big ole difference for the Ranger I have.

Look at all that working space in here!! Never knew a front wheel drive could be so comfortable to work on!!

Now for the bad and ugly - this lobe is just like the other 2. A lot of metal is all gone. Wasn't surprise to see it, as I know it was there, was surprised to see 3 bad one though.....

Here is the crack - kinda hard to see though I tried hard to get a good shot of it. I will take more photos in the future when I get back into the car . If you will strain you can make out the crack at about the 11 Oclock position around the outside of the spark plug. It is visible to a blind man in the daylight.....

Same cylinder as above - it also has the ....oh so classic Brazil head crack between the valves too. Now you can see how puzzled I was how this car could do 65 down the highway!

Now here are the bad lifters see the 3 on the bottom are missing the tiny piece in the center of the top? The top 3 are intact. At first glance one would think they were made this way but the last lifter at the bottom on the left outside the photo had the piece in it too. all 3 of the cams on these cylinders were affected. Considering all 3 of these lobes were affected in consecutive order, actually all 4 cylinders in this engine were not in any running shape at all. Numbers 1 and 4 were gasket leaks which is a strong clue this head is warped.

....Clean head though...LoL

A shot of entire head. Head gasket was leaking on the block side. I actually had some carbon buildup in the block deck which I 1st thought was water damage and wrongly assumed the block was toast. It cleaned off on 2nd inspection, so I didn't get a good photo of it before hand.

So overall an enjoyable engine to work on. Shame it isn't as durable as it should have been. Darn engine can still get you home when almost everything wrong is going on on the top end. I am planning on replacing that incredibly impossible to get to starter while I am here. Thinking about replacing the steering rack and engine mounts too since the parts are so cheap and easy to get to right now. I don't need this car to get around so I have the time, the good weather, and the money to put into it.

Will post future parts of the journey as I travel along! :-)

Re: Finally getting into the Sunbird!
Sunday, March 26, 2017 8:44 AM
Nice pictures and descriptions. Keep us posted on the progress.

GM's engine quality was surely lacking on new designs back then. The weak cams in the 4.1L Caddy engine is another example.

Re: Finally getting into the Sunbird!
Monday, March 27, 2017 4:37 AM
Great pics Orlen, I'm following too.
Re: Finally getting into the Sunbird!
Monday, March 27, 2017 4:40 AM
It is too bad about the quality at times (really I think it's just the head issue) because these have the potential to be such nice engines, and no they aren't bad to work on. Once you have a decent head, they last. I've run one that had cracks between the valves in ALL four chambers and the only symptom was it chugged a little for a second at startup - other than that you couldn't tell anything was wrong, it ran just fine. The cam issue is common too. I always thought it was from them being run out of oil, but it may do it over time if it sits a lot? I do know it does compound very quickly once it starts to grind. Also I noticed you're running a regular oil filter. Check out the ACDelco PF52 or PF52E for more volume.
And if you don't want your cracked head, let me know.

86 Skyhawk wagon 1.8SOHC 93 Sunbird two door 2.0SOHC 93 Sunbird four door 2.0SOHC
Re: Finally getting into the Sunbird!
Tuesday, March 28, 2017 12:40 PM
Read somewhere that you are suspossed to run synethic oil on these OHC's.I always run a syn blend in mine.

Doug in P.R.

92 Pontiac Sunbird LE, 2.0, AT, Red / Black with Grey 147K miles. Hurricane Maria Surviver! ( It takes a licking and keeps on ticking ! ) Salinas, Puerto Rico!

Re: Finally getting into the Sunbird!
Tuesday, April 04, 2017 2:05 PM
It seems anytime I get under the hood of this car the work just flows. I don't have any deadline on this project and am just going where the project seems to take me.

I decided to get as much out of my way as possible and paint the engine bay with the enamel I have mixed up for the exterior while I am down deep. Also decided to replace the rack and pinion and the heater core while I am in the neighborhood as well. I am sure many of you can relate to the regret we all have had that we'd wished we had the time and money to replace a few things while they were so accessible - well by golly this is once I am going to indulge myself! All new hoses, belts and motor mounts. Prices for all these goodies are very reasonable. I think the total investment is about $400 not including the gaskets and head bolts I acquired last year nor the heater core. I am not sure exactly the deal on the core till I remove it and see just what it looks like. I am also having a hard time matching up the heater core hoses for this car right now. Everything else seems to be smooth sailing.

I got the starter off!!!! That is a major accomplishment on the Brazil engine! Man...... Whatta PIA!! Even with the head off you have to struggle to see this thing. The wiring harness and the coolant crossover tube running from the water pump to the lower radiator hose completely obscures this thing!! The top 18mm bolt comes out from the transaxle side but the bottom 13mm Bolt is completely buried under the starter and comes out the from the engine side - and I never did see the darn thing till I got it off. I think the manual trans boys have a better time of this deal but the auto trans access major sux!! Trust me - removing the rack and pinion is a walk in the park compared to changing that starter! OHV Guys have got it MADE!!!

Ok show and tell time......

This is just the solenoid poking out for around all the wires. Even with the head off it is hard to see....

This Sunbird is so original it almost hurts..... Even if you are fortunate enough to get those starter bolts off it has a support bracket mounted to the block and of course you can't see this at all with the head and intake manifold blocking everything! I tried to get a starter off a Firenza many years ago and just gave up - this was exactly why.

This has to be the original coolant crossover pipe and hose. Stuck on super tight too......

Top tip - soak hoses with penetrating oil and genly rock them side to side with pliers till the oil works in between the hose and metal - they come off slide off easy as pie!

Crossover pipe is in great shape! Never know it is 33 years old would ya!!

There she is.......There SHE IS!! - as Khan once said on Star Trek - The Wrath of Khan. Trekkie......Trekker ......Something like that I think.

Ok, enough starter euphoria ...LoL Like I said pulling the rack is a piece of cake at this point. I still pulled the steering column and brake booster. Now those heater core hoses are plain as day in here!! Just too tempting to replace them and that core while I am in here!

And here is a couple of rare photos indeed!! I truly believe these are the original heater core hoses.

And this is the Passenger's side hose

Well that's all I got for now. More to come as the journey continues.......


Re: Finally getting into the Sunbird!
Wednesday, April 05, 2017 6:22 PM
Nice pics Orlen! Made me feel as if I was right there, also scared the hell out of me knowing the task ahead if/when I have to tear into mine....may the rest go smooth for you! Roger.
Re: Finally getting into the Sunbird!
Thursday, April 06, 2017 8:46 PM
I did my heater hoses years ago and a snap to do!I will say on the ohv starter only 1 down fall design wise.The terminals are too dang close to the exhaust.But I fixed that with the copper elbow I made to shift the wiring further out from the heat.I would dig out a picture,however I am just to tired to bother with that.My heater hoses from the firewall to the connections were very simple thank goodness.I will suggest when reinstalling your coolant hoses and yes even the heater core hoses use some Permatex High tack gasket sealant (80062) sold at advance auto,auto zone etc.It comes in a a 4 oz can with a small brush on the cap.Just coat the inside of your coolant hoses and install your clamp.In short this product just keeps the fluids from seeping past the hose/clamps to prevent leaks and and IS totally harmless to the coolant system.I have used this for years and every time I replace coolant hoses and or heater core hoses I apply this every time!I will say this stuff is red in color and really sticky but brake clean will cut thru the mess if you have any overlay.

Re: Finally getting into the Sunbird!
Friday, April 14, 2017 8:15 PM
Any updates on your progress on the engine rebuild yet orlen.Plus I would like you to PM me as I have those to front bucket seats I would like to get out of attic and get to You! Even if we meet half way like in Martinsville would be fine with me or close to Roanoke.It has been a year and I can def use the space upstairs and you would have two spare bucket seats.R It has been pretty quiet on here so I am stirring up the dust so speak.

Re: Finally getting into the Sunbird!
Monday, April 17, 2017 3:33 PM

I tried to respond to this a couple of times but the updates did not take for some reason. These pics look familiar to what I did a couple of years ago. All the best on this. It is fun, that is for sure. BTW - my head was cracked between the valves on one cylinder and pressure tested fine. The machine shop guy said all of them were cracked back in the day.

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