Significant Project – Getting Started


When I first started out on my engine swap project, I wasn’t entirely sure of what I wanted to get out of it at the end.  I knew that I was looking for a toy to play with and I placed performance and handling above luxury and even comfort to try and recapture some of driving experience of my old Ford Escort Mk II that had RS2000 running gear and was half rally prepped with a roll cage, bucket seats and no interior, man, it was a blast to drive!

Ideally, I would have liked another Mk II Escort or a similar front engine, rear wheel drive car but over here in Canada, options are limited.  If you’re determined to go with a FR (Front Engine Rear Wheel Drive) car here on a tight budget, your best bet would probably be a Mazda Miata.  I had never driven a mid-engine rear wheel drive car before but had read lots of good things about them regarding balance and handling, etc. so when I saw a Fiero in the car listings for under $1000, it caught my attention.

Pontiac only produced Fieros from 1984 to 1988, with the GT model of the last year being considered the optimum due to the fully upgraded suspension.  They all came with disc brakes on all four wheels and had plastic bodywork over a space frame (that basically means that the body panels don’t take any load).

This Fiero was a 1985 2M4 model indicating it had 2 seats, Mid engine, 4 cylinders, so it had the old Iron Duke engine in it.  The reason it was being sold cheap was because it had thrown the timing chain, so that engine would have to come out no matter what; making this car a prime candidate for an engine swap.  I quickly looked over it in a rush before going on vacation (not recommended!), paid the money and towed it home,  I lucked out and it was in very good condition underneath.  The most powerful (production) Fieros came with a 2.8L V6 engine that put out about 140 hp and 170 ft lb torque, that’s not really enough for a ‘performance’ sports car so rather than get one and upgrade it, I decided I would install a 3800 supercharged V6 engine out of a Pontiac Grand Prix GTP for example.  The series II version of this engine reportedly puts out 240hp and 280 ft lb torque and there are plenty of upgrade options around to quickly get it into the 300 hp range if desired.  With a Fiero weighing around 2700lbs, a stock version of this engine would give a power to weight ratio similar to a Porsche Boxster – that sounds alright even if it is about the only similar feature.  Despite the Fiero being marketed as a commuter car, I hoped that the mid engine configuration would handle alright without any major modifications, at least for a while.

Find The Base Car

If you haven’t already, you probably want to start trawling through the local classified ads on Kijiji, Craigslist, Autotrader, etc and see what’s available.  I would suggest being extra careful with part finished projects especially if there are modifications to major structural components like a stretched chassis for example  In this case it would be best to have the welds checked over by someone with enough experience to instill confidence in you.

Don’t do what I did and rush the inspection, these days when I go to check out used cars, I go in daylight, take my time and bring my checklist with me to help remember all the things I want to look at.  My generic checklist is here to give you a starting point, obviously you can add or remove items from the list to suit.

The Powertrain

When finding an engine and transmission, if you have the space, it would be preferable to pick up an entire car so that you can at least hear the engine running and perhaps even have a drive.  That way you have all the accessories and any other parts you might need readily available.

The engine I found was out of a 1997 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP and was listed for $700 obo.  It’s the Series II engine that I wanted and had the transmission and computer with it.  It also comes with the transmission shift mechanism with the ‘Sport” mode selector but a tensioner pulley and supercharger belt were missing.  It had about 250,000 km on it and didn’t have the wiring loom but it was in the right price range.

If you buy a loose powertrain, you might want to consider doing some refreshing on it before you install it, especially if you don’t have any reliable history to go on.  Looking back, if I had done some research and found that the intake gaskets on my chosen engine were prone to failing, I might have decided to replace the gaskets before installing the engine.  Now the engine is in and I have found that the gasket is leaking, I either have to work around the limited access of replacing them with the engine in place in the car or remove the engine again – not a huge deal but a lot more work involved.

When I started doing a little bit of cleaning and general fettling, I found that one of the front engine mounts and worse, the mount hole in the head was damaged …


Apparently the car that the engine came out of was involved in a collision so I’m guessing that it took a blow to the front that pushed the mount back – hopefully that will be the full extent of the damage.  I think that I can come up with some sort of work-around rather than having to change the head.

I also noticed what looked like emulsified oil in the area below, you might be able to make it out better in the close up …

It was a bit concerning at first but I got the rest of the wiring harness off, the other exhaust manifold and swapped over the valve covers (although new gaskets will be needed) so I had a look at the valves and there was no sign of emulsified oil in there. In fact it looked alright.

I later found out that the emulsified oil was coming from the intake and was a sign that the intake gasket needed replacing.


I thought I might be able to put the engine and transmission in the back of my Ford Explorer but Rick at work pointed out that they are really heavy, like in the region of 600lbs, I was really pleased that I decided to take my trailer.  Then I realised that I would need a hoist to get it off the trailer at home!!  Plus I might need another engine dolly, one for the 3800 engine and one for the old 4 cylinder.

Had to spend a lot of time and effort cleaning out the garage but when it was hot and humid, I didn’t get a lot done before the neighbour distracted me with beer!

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