Volume III, Issue 3, Page 20

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Max Chevy covers all automotive things Chevy. A new issue of MaxChevy.com is published on the 15th of each month and is updated throughout the month.

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SMELLS LIKE GAS

There has been a long-standing tacit agreement between aftermarket parts makers (AKA advertisers) and the staff of enthusiast automotive magazines. Hard parts, soft parts, sheet metal, and anything in between can be commissioned for use in magazine articles, and the parts, whatever they happen to be, are sent without charge in exchange for the editorial coverage. By and large, that convention still stands and is still honored by most of the aftermarket.

Inevitably, this largesse is also traded for services as well, e.g., free chassis dyno time, engine building, suspension swaps, brake change-outs, labor in exchange for the all-important editorial mention. I realize that anything computer-driven commands a surcharge. You’re going to pay for knowledge unobtainable at common sources, pay for someone else’s experience. The guy with the laptop taps out the future of your engine and charges whatever the market will bear (read $$$).

Where I live, this type of input, combined with the chassis dynamometer, begins at $300-350, and is probably in line with what tuners in most metro areas would expect. Though the 453ci LS engine in my Biscayne ran, it was in dire need of an experienced tuning hand. It took two to three tries at the key before it would start and run. Farting and backfiring commenced, but once the engine caught, it ran well enough. And once it was at operating temperature, it started on the first try and tried to make all the right noises. But it couldn’t because it needed to be blessed by someone savvy.

I’ve chronicled a little bit of the Biscayne’s bad behavior before. I’ve investigated the possible causes. I have come to this conclusion: it’s a project car so its business is to give me grief, but I knew that when all the glitches had been snipped off, it would run like a champ.  So far, young gun Justin Brayman and I discovered that the fuel pump had sucked in a bunch of grit and wore itself out and was capable of producing no more than 20psi. We found a crumpled piece of rubber that looked like it was once an O-ring in one of the fuel rails. The check-ball in the heat sink (meant for a carbureted engine) would not maintain the required 45psi fuel pressure, so the engine got no fuel and would not start (after leaving me on the side of the road at several very inopportune times.

At this point, the engine wears CNC LS6 cylinder heads. Remember that these castings were developed for a 347ci engine. Since mine is more than 100 cubic inches larger, I got the impression that the motor was running out of air above 5,500rpm. Built as a torquey streeter, it makes power down low (577 lb-ft of torque at 4,400rpm and 554hp at 5,600rpm), so naturally I wondered what better-flowing cylinder heads might do for the combination. I wondered what a little bit more cam would do for it, too.

I began to gather the pieces, but before they could go on, I had to establish a baseline. Where would I go to do that? To one of the acknowledged tuners who had rollers. This particular emporium is central to the Orlando area, and is about 100 miles from the end of my driveway. Justin arrived; we loaded up the Biscayne on the trailer, and hit the pike. On the way east, we pondered the tuner’s strategy. He’d quoted a minimum of $700 for the day, with no definition of what a “day” actually meant.

In Altamonte Springs, the story was the same. No hint of break in price just because the stuff would eventually be published in MC and elsewhere. The proprietor quoted me the price--and from then on his eyes would not meet mine. Cal Hartline, a celebrated, established tuner whose specialty is FAST electronics, was also at this shop, the hired gun that would actually do the tapping. We chatted for few minutes and the owner came up and announced that the car would have to remain overnight, even though we’d arrived in plenty of time. We said that we’d rather hang out and wait, but he was adamant.

The next day and three hundred miles later, I was back in Altamonte facing $963.77 in charges. I gulped a few times, possibly perturbed by the bill: dyno time was described as uploading the latest FAST program software (from Cal’s stash), discovering that the motor had 38 degrees of total timing (about 10 too many) and that WOT air/fuel hovered at 13.6:1. Somebody also compared left-bank a/f to right-bank a/f ratio and visually checked all ignition and fuel wiring. They tested exhaust tube temperature (with a laser gun) and found number 6 cylinder colder than the rest of them, tariff: $700.
They determined that the number 6 fuel injector was delivering it but no where near enough. They also did a compression test but found all cylinders even at 180 pounds, tariff: $133.50 (1.5 hours labor at $89/hour). The new FAST 36lb-hr fuel injector was $56. Then the owner had the cheek to charge me shipping and handling for the injector. Yes, the trip from the parts shelf to the work bench cost me an additional $12! I gasped silently but still said nothing. Yea, a new turnip had just fallen off the truck. As a bonus, the gas tank had somehow gotten dented hard enough to shuck the paint and a new scratch appeared at the bottom of the driver’s side door, but I didn’t notice these things until I got the car home.

On the plus side, the motor revs pure and clean; it has marvelous behavior at low engine speed, easily picking up the pace in 5th and High gear at 1,500rpm. Throttle tip-in is smooth and jerk-free. Wide open throttle going through the gears really gets me excited now. There are some glitches that aren’t supposed to be fixable, such as the hard cold starting and the farting and backfiring that accompanies it. Theory is that the voltage drops too far down (battery in truck) as soon as the key is turned. On the other hand, once the engine is warm, it starts right away.

I’m happy with the way the motor runs now, but I’ll never forget about getting skewered. Maybe times are tough in Altamonte Springs. Maybe mine was the only job this shop had that week. It was karmic. Many, many moons of free stuff have got to be offset by a little cash drain once every ten years or so—and right, shipping and handling are not included.