If you’re considering undertaking a significant project like an engine swap on any vehicle at all, you should spend some time considering the level of involvement you want and, perhaps more importantly what your budget will allow. Let’s face it, if your wallet is big enough, you can have an engine installed in your Fiero without even getting your hands dirty. On the other hand, this site is geared towards those with a limited budget who might be looking for a fun project to work on. At many points during the build, you might have the option to purchase a part, kit or service to simplify the process, like a wiring loom or engine mounts for example, time constraints may play a part here as well.
I don’t think there’s much value to be had in going over the ‘standard’ tools that you might need like a socket set, wrenches, screw drivers, pliers, vise grips, hammer, etc other than to recommend that you get decent quality tools. I personally, always try to buy tools with a lifetime warranty, like Mastercraft or better still Craftsman – on the two occasions that I have returned a Craftsman tool, I got a straight exchange immediately, no receipt required and no paperwork to fill out.
One thing that almost caught me out near the completion of my project was insurance. It hadn’t really occurred to me that ‘regular’ insurance companies might not be overly enthusiastic about insuring a heavily modified vehicle. Fortunately, I found a company called Zehr’s that offers a special classic car insurance. This allows me to drive the car but with some limitations, for example, I have to have another main vehicle insured and I don’t use the Fiero as a daily driver. It also requires the car to be of a certain vintage, so bear that in mind if you’re starting with a more modern vehicle. One of the requirements for getting the insurance was that I had to get the car appraised. Kijiji provided contact details for quite a few local appraisers, I paid $130 for a nice, well presented report and valuation. Right now I’m happy to use my Fiero as a toy so I haven’t found a way to insure a 3800 SC Fiero as a daily driver, if you have, please use the contact us page to let me know how.
As well as the insurance, you should also check out the local laws concerning how to register your modifications and get your project legally road-worthy. Here in Ontario, Canada, I was able to get a safety inspection done, change the number of cylinders on the registration document and then get ‘fit for road use’ plates on the vehicle. When I registered the car in my name, the book of values used to calculate the tax reported zero value, probably just based on age. So instead, I had to get another appraisal (that basically consisted of a form that needs to be completed by a approved appraiser) to get a value that they then used to calculate how much tax I had to pay. Just make sure that you understand what’s needed to get road legal before you invest too much of your time and/or money.
You don’t actually need a great deal of space for your project, mine was all done in a single car garage and a friend of mine built two Shelby Cobra replica kit cars (not at the same time!), both in a single car garage. If you’re limited on available space, it pays to spend some time planning things out before you get started. Get out the tape measure and measure your space and then measure what you already have in there and also what you know you will need. For any stuff you don’t have around to measure, do a bit of Googling or take your best guess. Then get some graph paper and mark it out, cut out shapes and move them around, open up a paint or CAD program, whatever you need to do to think through each stage of the project and come up with a plan, Here’s my sketch of the layout in my garage …
Oh man, I tore the pockets on quite a few sets of pants and overalls getting to the workbench in those days!
Obviously, you will need a good selection of tools to complete your project, perhaps the first thing you will need (and needs to be thought of in the section above) is a good workbench. I was fotunate enough to pick up an old hand made carpenters bench for free, I repaired the top with an old wooden mantel piece and now it is brilliant! On the workbench I fitted a large vise that my brother-in-law kindly fixed me up with, it has been invaluable throughout the build … and still is.
Certainly a welder should get some careful consideration. Even though mine has been gathering dust lately, I don’t know how I ever managed without one in the past. I went with a Lincoln Flux-Cored Arc Welder (FCAW) after hitting some reliability issues with the feed mechanism on a cheaper brand – as my brother will tell you, buy cheap, buy twice! I taught myself to weld through a great deal of practise when fixing up an Eagle Talon. If you’re new to welding though, it would be well worth seeing if there are any courses at the local college or something so that you can get an appreciation of things like weld penetration and proper welding techniques. One of the most difficult things I find with welding is working with thin and/or corroded metal, even on low power settings, you end up blowing holes all over. The only thing I have found to help, is to try to put a bit of extra time and effort into cleaning and preparing the area to ensure good electrical contact. If you’re going to be doing some welding then you will almost certainly need some metal working tools like a saw, angle grinder, hand files, etc and make sure that you have a fire extinguisher readily available, BEFORE you start!
If you’re starting with a full car and have to remove the existing power plant, it won’t be long before you need a hoist. I didn’t think about needing a hoist until I had the engine on the trailer ready to take home and it dawned on me that I had no way to lift it off! I was lucky that the guy that sold me the engine also agreed to sell me his hoist and didn’t rip me off! Of course, now I have this thing stood in my garage and only really need it if I want to take the engine out again (maybe this winter?).
This is a good time to bring up lifting safety, it pays to be very careful when lifting heavy objects. Ensure that all the lifting equipment, including the chain/straps are rated for the mass of the object being lifted and always check the condition of your equipment. I was using some heavy duty tie-downs wrapped around the engine to lift it at first, until I noticed that a small bolt on the bottom of the engine had ripped a hole in one of the straps. After that I got some chain and used that instead but I also used a temporary link for hooking and un-hooking the chain, even though the link was rated well above the weight of the engine, it failed and scared the life out of me!!
Fortunately it didn’t totally fail and still managed to hold the engine long enough for me to lower it back onto the bench. Less than a minute before this, I had my arm underneath the engine lining up some parts! A reminder to always be mindful of safety.
Another thing to watch for is damage to the object being lifted. When I switched to using chain, I found that a couple of tubes and plastic components got damaged when the weight of the engine pulled the chain tight against them. Thinking about it now, it would have been worth the time to make some kind of beam to hold the chain off the top of the engine – next time.
Before I got to making the exhaust, I managed to get jobs done using a recipricating saw and a hack saw but for the exhaust there were so many cuts that wanted to be straight and ‘accurate’ that I needed something better. Ideally I would have bought a band saw, but my limited budget pushed me to get a chop saw instead. It did save a bit of space but if I did it again, I’d hold out for a band saw.
I kept a fairly comprehensive record of everything I bought for the Fiero project, I’m sure that if I did another swap now, it would be very different. This list includes things like specialist tools, parts, services and everything I could think of that I spent money on for the project. It’s definitely not 100% accurate and I think I was quite lucky with the condition of my Fiero but it does give an idea of how it is possible to build a sports car on a very low budget. Prices are in $CDN and were incurred around 2006 – 2010.