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Thread: 89 Cutlass Ciera Race Car Build

  1. #391
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    Hi all!

    I couldn't decide whether to just keep this thread going, or start a new one, but, there has been an update in the A-body crapcan racing world! I'm working out a deal with the current owners of the 1996 Buick Century shown a few posts back to be the NEW current owner of it! They've actually been racing the car quite a bit over the past few years, but have decided to move on.

    Now, it's coming to me, and I need some 'expert' level advice. In addition to just moving on, part of the reason that they're getting rid of the car is that the engine and transmission are dead - namely, the engine has a rod knock, and the transmission is stuck in 3rd gear. (They actually raced it like this at Road Atlanta, and did alright, but I think running out of RPM is probably what brought on the engine woes.) So, anyway, I'm left with the decision of what to replace the drivetrain with. Since we've got to yank the whole thing out and replace it anyway, I figure we may as well go for something a little more powerful. Ideally, I'd like to get a whole donor car, but that does limit choices somewhat, so we could potentially just source parts. We don't want to spend a ton of money (who does?), and we do have some pretty good mechanical ability involved, as well as a shop with the requisite tools, lift, etc. From the research I've done, and from what little knowledge I've gathered, it appears we have three main options:

    1. 3400 swap. This seems to be the 'easy button' swap. More power, a lot better parts availability from junkyards, and should mostly just bolt-in where the 3100 comes out.

    2. 3500 LX9 swap. This has been done, and luckily in the exact same model year car, and documented wonderfully. It did seem to be a lot more work than we'd want to tackle, but, I wonder how much of that could be avoided by taking the whole drivetrain, and not needing things like A/C, gauges, etc. And it wouldn't matter about the appearance - it would be beneficial to keep it marked as a 3.1, but, probably not enough to justify a lot of extra work and giving up a little power.

    3. 3900 (or later 3500). I'm curious what makes these so much more difficult, because aren't they still supposed to be 60 degree V6s? There is, of course, the extra power, but they also have a lot better junkyard availability - the LX9 didn't come in that many cars, and even fewer with a 4T6xE transmission.

    So, what do you think? Is there a huge delta of extra work between a 3400 and an LX9, and then another heap of work to get to a 3900? Work input wise, what's probably going to be our best 'bang' for the 'buck'? Also, there's the issue of transmissions - most swaps focus on keeping the existing transmission in the car, but we most certainly need a new transmission. There's a very cheap, running Pontiac G6 V6 (LX9) near me, but, the G6/Malibu use the 4T45E - is that going to be a bad idea here? Is it 'probably' a serviceable transmission, or almost certain to blow up? I'm planning to run a hell of a lot of transmission cooling capacity, and change the fluid frequently, but, and inadequate transmission is just inadequate. Not using a 40/45 trans also severely limits our potential donor vehicles (but, there are vans and Rendezvous out there to be found). I invite any write-ups, guides, or informative threads you may have - I'm looking for them myself, but keep coming up a little short (especially on why no one does #3). I should pick up the car at the end of this week, so I'll try to update a little then. Looking forward to getting to know it! (My first car was a very tired 1990 Century with an Iron Duke, so, this is going to be a strange race car for me.)

    (I'll post pictures when I can figure out how...)



  2. #392
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    I think your best for the year is the 3400 here is why the 3.5 u need a few extra parts just to get it running u have a crank position sensor but it?s a different newer style not meant for the old obd1 .you need a adapter to the harmonic balancer and has mount on block type near the harmonic balancer / transmission . I believe is 52tooth reluctor wheel I?m not 100% . You basic main issue with newer engines to a older car is the electronics and the body control module . Such as the 3.9 no one that I have hear of have cracked the pcm to run a older system .so in a nut shell the 3.9 needs the modules to run and the 96 can?t use them in order to keep the pcm happy if any are screwed up it goes in limp mode and it?s A squash . You could go older and find a l67 3800 motor tranny but most will have torn up transmission and burnt clutches from abuse so rebuild is needed to get going . Transmissions as well u can grab any gm from 96 and under and swap it into the 1996 Buick . But you could get creative and look up the 3400 lA1 v6 and people have swapped lx9 top swapped heads/ lower intake manifold then ran the upper 3400 manifold for higher rpm and throw some heavy valve train springs to compete it . Daniel has done a complete swap lx9 in his 96 wagon but more a daily then race car . Transmissions are hard man they aren?t meant for heavy race use high rpms the 4t60-e is not one of them . Money time is the biggest thing to all this I hope I can shed some light . I have been thinking about doing a low rpm high torque motor in my 95 century but more a daily cruiser and finding parts are a pia . Cadillac 4.9 V8 puts out 200 up 280 lbs torque under 5k rpm . Could be easy to swap in your car being it uses a 4t60-e already . But that motor is no race motor either . Hope I kinda shedding some light between engines . Thanks Keith

  3. #393

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    I would do the 3.5 LX9 in a heartbeat. Its what I am going to do when my 3400 in my Aztek blows. Its a very straight forward swap, and you can get a kit that includes all the parts from Milzy Motorsports.
    https://www.milzymotorsports.com/350...8sZrAU_ED_EEPE

    The reason the 3.9 is such a pain in the ass is VVT (variable Valve Timing), and no computer controls to control it on your 96.

    So once you have the swap potential for the LX9, just find a 4t60 NON-E, and have it run vacuum modulated. Or to let your computer in your 96 run the trans, find a 4T60E and upgrade the internals to the 4T65EHD (think Grand Prix GTP). Or even cooler, find a manual! A fiero might work? Of course an A-Body would work. Or for a little more robust manual, find a 284 from a W-Body. But thats like finding hens teeth. They only came on the 3.4 DOHC cars.

    If you are gung ho on keeping it an automatic, I think you might get more life out of a 3T40, less moving parts, and a more reliable transmission overall.

    I have the LY6 3.6 DOHC in my Rendezvous, and althou I like the engine, there is definitely a lot more engine in that bay, and its really complicated to work on.
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  4. #394
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    Quote Originally Posted by Keiths1976 View Post
    I think your best for the year is the 3400 here is why the 3.5 u need a few extra parts just to get it running
    - crank position sensor but it's a different newer style not meant for the old obd1
    - you need a adapter to the harmonic balancer and has mount on block type near the harmonic balancer / transmission
    - I believe is 52tooth reluctor wheel I'm not 100% .

    You basic main issue with newer engines to a older car is the electronics and the body control module . Such as the 3.9 no one that I have hear of have cracked the pcm to run a older system .so in a nut shell the 3.9 needs the modules to run and the 96 can't use them in order to keep the pcm happy if any are screwed up it goes in limp mode and it?s A squash .

    You could go older and find a l67 3800 motor tranny but most will have torn up transmission and burnt clutches from abuse so rebuild is needed to get going . Transmissions as well u can grab any gm from 96 and under and swap it into the 1996 Buick .

    But you could get creative and look up the 3400 lA1 v6 and people have swapped lx9 top swapped heads/ lower intake manifold then ran the upper 3400 manifold for higher rpm and throw some heavy valve train springs to compete it .

    Daniel has done a complete swap lx9 in his 96 wagon but more a daily then race car .

    Transmissions are hard man they aren?t meant for heavy race use high rpms the 4t60-e is not one of them . Money time is the biggest thing to all this I hope I can shed some light . I have been thinking about doing a low rpm high torque motor in my 95 century but more a daily cruiser and finding parts are a pia . Cadillac 4.9 V8 puts out 200 up 280 lbs torque under 5k rpm . Could be easy to swap in your car being it uses a 4t60-e already . But that motor is no race motor either . Hope I kinda shedding some light between engines . Thanks Keith
    Okay, lots going on here, but let me give it a crack.

    So, probably one of the big mis-conceptions about endurance racing is that it's all about high-revs and horsepower. If I can, I'm actually going to try to get the transmission to shift just past the torque peak (hopefully about 1k short of redline), because that helps your engine last a whole heck of a lot longer.

    That being said, it sounds like GMs might not be quite the lego-cars they're always made out to be. It's a real bummer about the electronic hurdles - it seems like it's all figured out for throwing a truck/LS V8 into just about whatever you want, but I guess the demand for the V6 just isn't there. I was hoping there was some sort of stand-alone option using the cars PCM with some careful re-wiring, but, it doesn't seem like that's the case.

    SO, in a 1996 OBD2 car, how much work is it to do an LA1/4T65E swap? Will the transmission bolt in, or does it not work like that? I assumed that, as long as we stay in the 60degree family actually physically bolting things in would be relatively straightforward, it would just be a little bit of a challenge getting a newer engine to work in the old car. I think it'd be simpler to stay with 60degree engine than swap over to the Buick side - not to mention a lot less weight, which is important - so I don't think a Buick engine is the best option for us here. Could always switch things up later and look to some outside swaps, but just trying to get something reliable and working in there as simple as possible. Willing to put a little bit of work/$ into a newer engine with a little more power - especially since that will benefit us by, hopefully, being less old and worn - but nothing crazy.

  5. #395
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    The mechanical is easy enough will bolt in the transmission is a hurtle pending what Year it comes out of cause there is no rear transmission mount or mounting ears on the transmission itself They switched to the drivers mounted on the cradle style where the axle sits . So welding to 96 century cradle needs to be done gm went wonky lol. Find a 96-9 u van with the 3400 4t65 in it . Problem is the body module runs the security ignition all to power the car . So u need to program it out with software But you can do a few things keep the 4t60-e but find a yard one with different gearing 35/35 gearing should giver her some spunk off the line and then swap the 3400 in the century and run the car that way . Gm as of 98 and up came with the body control modules my personal opinion is find the same tranny in a just yard see how good it is and put a 3400 behind it still run the same computer . Since obd2 you can upgrade to a better computer via miltzymotorsport to open it up better . A stand alone system is good but the 4t65 or 4t65-hd needs a computer to run it it?s fully electronic . The Buick century had the first basic obd2 system without the wires for the body control module so computer will fit in theory what ever you put in it as 60degree but doesn?t have the wires for the 4t65 it was still running the 4t60-e old school vacuum modular and basic wires for the lock torque converter . Just throwing ideas at you and give you the basic gist . Not saying it can?t be done but as a basic easy drop in and go Type for your needs that will be a challenge if you don?t want to use the stock tranny in the car . It can handle the 3.5lx9 but should be rebuilt the gearing matched right will get her up and go . That?s in a nut shell man I?m Keith btw .

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pontiac6ksteawd View Post
    I would do the 3.5 LX9 in a heartbeat. Its what I am going to do when my 3400 in my Aztek blows. Its a very straight forward swap, and you can get a kit that includes all the parts from Milzy Motorsports.
    https://www.milzymotorsports.com/350...8sZrAU_ED_EEPE

    The reason the 3.9 is such a pain in the ass is VVT (variable Valve Timing), and no computer controls to control it on your 96.

    So once you have the swap potential for the LX9, just find a 4t60 NON-E, and have it run vacuum modulated. Or to let your computer in your 96 run the trans, find a 4T60E and upgrade the internals to the 4T65EHD (think Grand Prix GTP). Or even cooler, find a manual! A fiero might work? Of course an A-Body would work. Or for a little more robust manual, find a 284 from a W-Body. But thats like finding hens teeth. They only came on the 3.4 DOHC cars.

    If you are gung ho on keeping it an automatic, I think you might get more life out of a 3T40, less moving parts, and a more reliable transmission overall.

    I have the LY6 3.6 DOHC in my Rendezvous, and althou I like the engine, there is definitely a lot more engine in that bay, and its really complicated to work on.
    Hmm, so you vote 'nay' on the 3400. What's wrong with it? We'd replace all the requisite gaskets and things before we drop it in the car, and it doesn't seem to make that much less power than the LX9 - a less than 10% difference, unless the torque difference at lower rpms is greater than the peak number would suggest. It's nice that someone is Finally doing something for the High Value engines, but that kit from Milzy isn't exactly cheap - definitely outside of the $500 budget. Weird that they want to sell you a used engine too - I'd think the hassle and liability wouldn't be worth it. We could potentially sneak it in and get away with it, but, with all the other money we're going to have to spend (I want to do some suspension and brake upgrades, we have to buy a seat, belts, fire-suppression system, plus the costs of going racing), I don't want to push the budget too far, especially for 15hp.

    For the transmission, of course a manual would be most desirable, but just for simplicity reasons, we're going to stick with an automatic. Why would we want to go for a mechanical transmission over an electronic? I'm wondering if the transmission has a simple problem - they've done 3 races (possibly even more) with it locked in 3rd, which is apparently what 4T60Es do when their solenoids aren't registering (or something along those lines). For the 4T45E, will it physically bolt in just like a 4T60E/65E would? I know it isn't ideal, but we're going to keep it very cool, and it won't have to deal with terribly high rpm, so I think it might last a few races, but it's a moot point if it's going to be extra work to bolt it up (a lot of 3400s and LX9s come with one right at their side). I'd prefer to find a van or Impala with a 4T65E, but, again, just trying to keep my options on the table. Not sure about a 3T40 (I didn't even know that was a thing), but, if the gearing was right, it could be good - typically you only use 2-3 gears on track, but, the gearing in it would have to be *perfect*, and I'm going to guess it probably isn't. Might be a good fallback option if we run into issues with the 4-speeds.

  7. #397

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    Let me preamble this by saying the 3400 is a good engine, if its kept where it was designed. Highway/city driving, with not a lot of revs, and being kept cool. I have a 3400 in my Aztek, and its had all the gaskets replaced at least once. I think I have a failure in the making right now (If I am being honest). The engines are great for high miles, when super maintained, and not beat on. But once you leave the safe zone of the 3400, its a fast slide to nightmares.

    For me, on the 3400, it doesn't matter if you put gaskets kits that the manufacture guarantees arent going to fail, they will eventually fail. And when you add in the stresses of racing, high RPM's, high engine temps, higher compression temps, longer duration's at WOT, etc., Its going to fail. You may get lucky, and find the perfect gasket set, and it never blows, and your golden, but the chances of that are slim. But with racing... Failure is always an option LOL.

    And on the transmission, theres a reason a lot of the hot rods run a 2 speed powerglide, they are bullet proof, less things to go wrong. You arent going fast enough for the powerglide to be reasonable, but a 3 speed, with the TCC on a switch on your dash, would likely keep your transmission running cooler, and keep the engine in its power band longer. A 3T40 (AKA the T-125C) had a smaller side transmission pan, that does NOT have the axle going thru it, so if simpler repairs are needed, you dont have to take apart the whole left front side of the car to do it. There are at least 3 ratios available. And I seem to remember a forth of a 3.33, but was harder to find (Like nearly impossible). I have been out of the racing circuit for so long, I cant remember the bolt patterns, but I seen to remember that the 3T40 was designed to bolt up to every possible FWD combo, as it was offered to every combo out there, from the 2.0, 2.0T, 2.2, 2.5, 2.8, 3.0, 3.1, 3.3, 3.8, 3.8SC, 4.1, 4.3 Diesel, 4.5, 4.9, and likely more. Once you start moving, hit that switch for the TCC, forget about it until you come into the pits, and go.

    I had a 3.33 in a Buick Skylark I had many years ago with a 3.0 engine. The tranny was always ready for more. The engine was a POS!

    F75-3.18 used on 88-89 2.8, ALL 2.0/2.2
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    Okay, heard about the 3400. I have seen quite a few of them for sale suffering from overheating, but wondering how much of that is issues with the W & U-body platforms themselves. I mean, we are going to do our absolute best to keep it cool - need to figure out what radiator is going to give us the best capacity (assuming there are different options across the platform that could be made to fit pretty easily), and of course make sure we have adequate oil cooling to keep temps in line. And, based on what I've seen, at least for the 3400 the torque peak comes on about 4000rpm, so I think trying to get the transmission to upshift around 4500rpm would be best.

    What about the later 3100s (LG8?), like in a base Grand Prix or a newer Century? I know the heads from those are what Daniel used in his swap, so there's some precedent on the swap. Do they tend to have a little better longevity than the 3400s? That would give us a little bit more power, but, more importantly, they're pretty easy to find in good shape.

    Interesting about the transmission, so I guess I probably had a 3-speed before and didn't even know it, lol. I think I'll still probably look to a 4-speed, but good to know there are options (especially if we have bad luck with them). I'm secretly hoping that the 4T60E in the car just has a minor electrical problem that's locking it into 3rd, but, who knows. I'm supposed to go get the car tomorrow, so I'll find out a lot more about it then. For posting pictures, am I just going to have to set up an account somehwere to host them, no way to upload pictures from my computer onto here?

    And yes, failure is ALWAYS an option, lol. But, I'm only taking on this project because, I should be able to get a good, working race car out of it without too much money. And, if we do get an engine that fails, hopefully having swapped one out before will make it a whole heck of a lot easier the second time. But I'm crossing my fingers (and reading myself cross-eyed) that it goes well.

  9. #399

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    Well the 3400's were a problem GM wide, didnt matter what car it was in, what platform it was in, it was just a problem at some point.

    I cant speak to the 3100's being any better or not. My understandings is that its just as bad as the 3400. Its essentially the same engine, just with a bigger bore and stroke.

    If you are really wanting to keep it simple, I would suggest a NA 3800 with a early OBD2 (no BCM), or even a OBD1. Barring those options, as much as I love the 60* engine, the 3100/3400 are just not where its at. And coming up to a 3500 or backstepping to the 3.1 is the best option for reliability or longevity.
    Brian - Carpe Diem

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    More people have died in the name of "God" than in all wars combined thruout history
    01 Pontiac Aztek GT AWD 125k - 04 GMC Envoy SLT XUV 192k - 05 Buick Rendezvous CXL Sport Plus 61k

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    Here is one more opinion grab a 96-99 l82 3100 block then top swap it cause To 3100 . To the 2000 style in 2000 there was tons of reports of piston slap and issues with the motors for the 60 degree series In till the 3500 lx9 fixed all of it . That?s my opinion build the stock block put better heads on it . Sound like a lot of work but in my opinion the l82 is a great over all motor build it right should be good just fiver her more air flow and call it the day . U can put better springs in the heads all can be junk yard material and freshen up the gaskets and be done . You can get quite a bit of power out of them N/a I agree the 3400 took a nose dive on reliability I can?t remember which one broke a lot of cam shafts was the newer 3100/3400 . I can put money down the cars in the junk yards more are the 3400 by me due to engine failure when you pull the front cover off and see the milkshake I did 7 cars/vans and pulled the front valve cover off Trust me they were 3400 motors . That?s in Florida tho . For my build will be a 3400 bottom end they swap a lx9 top end and tune it that way . Miltzy stuff is awesome but I rather keep it as stock looking and keep my girl going .

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    Alright! So, went to get the car Saturday, and we made it safely back to my house. It's - Interesting! The car does run and drive, but you can tell the transmission is definitely not engaging first, so I definitely believe it has locked itself in 3rd. The engine does run, smoothly, and revs right up, but if you hold the revs up for a second, you can definitely hear it knocking. As to the racecar part - well, of course, that's the interesting part. The wiring is, umm, interesting. At some point, someone decided to rip out the OBD2 port, and the wiring between the battery, alternator, kill switch, and what I assume to be the BCM in the passenger footwell is just - well, hopefully it will be better when I spend some time on it. The roll cage seems to have been done well, but, again, interesting. The door that's semi-easy to get into is - the passenger door. The drivers door has a simple x-brace that makes it extremely difficult to get in, and that most cars put on the passenger side. It seems to be pretty much straight-piped, and dumps out of passenger side right in front of the wheel. It sounds really, really good! Haven't driven it around, I need to take it out and just drive it around the neighborhood (slowly - it's weird driving a car with no seat).

    Just got back tonight from looking at a somewhat clean 1996 Century we found on Craigslist/Facebook Marketplace. Won't start, but cranks freely and only has 88k miles. It 'just needs a crank position sensor'. I think we're going to pull the cps off of the racecar and see if we can get the other car to run on Saturday. We figured, for our first go, it might be smart just to put a good, running engine into it that should be a simple swap, because we'll probably find other bugaboos that need fixing. And, it'll be good to have spare parts for the racecar (off the bat, it could use a new windshield, and having windows for it would be a plus).

    Let me know if y'all can't see the pictures.


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    With No exhaust, I would see about buying, or getting a salvage yard muffler, and just slipping it over the dump pipe. Just so you can better hear exactly what the engine is doing. Not bolted on, just sitting there. Your neighbors might also thank you LOL.

    Other than that, I would probably pull all that foam of the roll cage, sand off the rust, paint it, and put it back on. Some safety tech inspections guys are real finicky about that.

    On the transmission, Im betting the valve body is just messed up from the racing. It might be just as simple as pulling the pan, swapping in a Transgo Kit, and it starts working. If the solenoids get stuck, stuck in gear is what happens.
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    More people have died in the name of "God" than in all wars combined thruout history
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    I believe I read something about you found a parts car. That's the easy answer, replace like for like.

    Next, I take it you are new to the 24 Hours of Lemons. An A body isn't expected to be a contender, except maybe for Class C. So as long as you don't LS swap it, you will have just about no issue getting it past the BS judges, and even then they'd probably just class you higher. Lemons is about the camaraderie and the party anyways, winning is nearly meaningless. Have fun with it, whatever you decide to power it with.

    Speaking of fun, I think you'd have a ton of fun with an L67 (supercharged 3.8) in there. The L67 we run in our Chevette (also in Lemons) was $300. We got a standalone harness from a company called "Swap Specialities" and they also re-flashed the PCM from our donor Grand Prix. One word about them though... expect them to take way too long in turnaround and jerk your chain before hopefully sending you something workable. Our one issue is the computer controls for the alternator didn't work, so we had to have someone modify it to an old school one wire. In short, buyer beware. Perhaps, swap like for like first, and plan for an upgrade later. Racing (even Lemons) is taking a small fortune and light it on fire for a little bit of fun. Knowing that right off the bat is a good thing, IMO, and going through some engines and transmissions is normal to an extent.

    It's a good thing the Chevette is on Lemons' budget exemption list, I'll leave it at that. Even so, all the parts on it are junkyard sourced and explainable.

    Also, another word on parts. As crazy as it sounds, having a street legal same year donor car to drive to the track may be a fantastic idea. A good way to get heroic fix is to yank an engine or trans from your "street car" to get your race car through the weekend. Centuries and Cieras practically grow on trees, so shouldn't be hard to pull off.
    Last edited by bluetrane2028; 11-22-2019 at 10:00 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pontiac6ksteawd View Post
    I would probably pull all that foam of the roll cage, sand off the rust, paint it, and put it back on. Some safety tech inspections guys are real finicky about that.
    The stuff that's right by the driver's seat is practically a pool noodle. We have that stuff in our car. Last time it ran, the inspectors said "we're going to ignore that, but you must replace with high density before we let it run again."

    Our cage is painted pretty nicely, I'm always in favor of that. Definitely replace that foam, especially along the door bars.
    Daily: '93 Century, '96 Ciera Wagon, '96 Tahoe
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    Mar 2012
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    Bala Cynwyd, PA USA
    Vehicle
    '96 Ciera wagon
    Posts
    27

    Default

    Also, noticing your lack of seat. How far are you from the general area of Philadelphia? We are swapping our seat, because the one we have is a circle track containment style and it's inconvenient to row gears in, would work nicely in an automatic though.
    Daily: '93 Century, '96 Ciera Wagon, '96 Tahoe
    Project: '85 Monte Carlo SS, '91 Camaro
    Race: '81 "Frankenvette" Chevette (L67 swap 24 Hours of Lemons)

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