Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Gentleman Jim: 1975 GMC Sierra Classic rarity

Gentleman Jim gets the girl. Have you ever noticed that if a vehicle is odd and a little audacious that we here at Junkyard Life probably want it? Trans Ams, funky vans, boats to pull behind Trans Ams and funky vans, side pipes and the love of fads from way back are always cool with us. So now, we find a perfect pickup truck that seems to fall right in place with us. When a regular old truck just won’t do... Gentleman Jim is your answer!

Striking black and gold paint are the first clue that you may have found a 1975 Gentleman Jim GMC Sierra.

Gentleman, Start your Engines!
  We are not referring to the 1942 film, Gentleman Jim, starring Errol Flynn who portrayed a fighter with something to prove. Or are we? The Gentleman Jim we love is this 1975 limited edition GMC pickup. This truck didn’t have to fight too hard to prove it was special like Mr. Flynn did. What was a James Bond type to do when he needed a truck? GMC had the answer. This gentleman was upscale. Any parts associated with truck stigma need not apply. Nothing weak either. Here is the fighter part – we need performance, the kind of zoom a 350 with a 4-barrel carburetor can produce. Maybe even a 454? (See fun facts.) 
  Give us a yacht club kind of a truck. Affluent with a classic kind of flair. Notice the sparkly metal flake callouts Gentleman Jim had on his quarter panels. This luxury truck was going to be packed with options. Some literature indicates an AM/FM with a tape player was included in the Gentleman Jim package. To insure you could hear the symphony over the roar of your V8, GMC also included a lot of sound deadening they call “acoustic insulation”. This also precluded any other rattle and pop sounds synonymous with pickup trucks. Stirred, not shaken. 

Gentleman Jims were loaded, including bucket seats, full gauges with tach, and AM/FM/8 Track stereo.

Bright gold lettering announces the "Gentleman Jim" package on the flanks of these special edition 1975 GMC trucks. 

Black & Gold before "Bandits" were cool
  Special editions would not be complete if they were just any old color. Gentleman Jim wore a very fitting gold and black two-tone paint. They also used gold colored-keyed wheels with fat, muscular 60-series tires that gave it an aggressive stance. Perhaps even a fighter stance, Mr. Flynn? 

Look closely and you can spot the tachometer in the dash.

Luxury truck before there was such a thing
  Being above all of that “truck” nonsense of utility oriented vehicles of the time, let us be distinguished. They didn’t want you to see the bed unless necessary. So Gentleman Jim covered his rear (so to speak) with a factory black bed cover. He also used bucket seats and a nifty center console that provided space and if need be, seating for a third person. Cruise control, air conditioning, cloth interior accents, tilt wheel and a full compliment of gauges almost completed the package. Gentleman Jim wasn’t happy with just analog gauges. He needed a tachometer. He got one! We love factory tachometers here at Junkyard Life. Why, oh why didn’t they put tachometers in every truck? (Editor’s note: I sense a Ron’s Tachometer Rant coming on here. Let us hope he saves it for Fun Facts) Gentleman Jims were all long wheel based, so they rode wonderfully. With a color-keyed grill and special floor mats, now we are complete! 

Seen many sets of pristine Gentleman Jim floor mats? Not us.

Low mile original
  The extra nice feature truck we present to you is extra nice. This example is 100% correct down to every detail. Museum quality you ask? Why, yes. Yes, it is. It was indeed purchased from a museum with all documentation and a nice collection of literature. Bill Owens of Cleveland, Tennessee is the lucky owner. Bill has a history with Gentleman Jim trucks, which is noteworthy due to how precious few there are in existence. Fewer than 1,000 were produced according to LMC’s website.

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life

A 1975 Gentleman Jim advertisement.
Bill Owens, owner of our featured 1975 Gentleman Jim GMC Sierra Classic, gave us a tour of his rare truck.

Junkyard Life’s Gentleman Jim Fun Facts:
  • These trucks were only built during half of the 1975 model run.
  • Black and gold would become big color combination sales success in 1976, especially for Pontiac. The bold color duo would enjoy an even bigger success in 1977.
  • GMC also offered another special edition pickup truck in blue and silver called the “Beau James.”
  • The Gentleman Jim was based on the upscale appointed Sierra Classic.
  • Perfect for 1975 and the bold graphic era, Gentleman Jim wore metal flake “Gentleman Jim” script on the quarter panels.
  • Although offered with optional 454 cubic inch power, we have never seen one. If you know why, or even better, know of one, please let us know. This fact was almost presented as a question.
  • Even though it would have been cool, Gentleman Jim was never offered as a step side or as a short wheelbase truck. We think GM mandated the smoother ride that only the long wheelbase can provide. That’s another “fact” that is really a guess. (Sorry, we must not know what “fact” means)
  • Gentleman Jim was equipped with a tachometer! (Editor’s Note: Let the rant begin) Chevrolet and GMC both had dash boards with nice circular gauges that would have lent themselves very well for a nice useful tach. In a truck even! People pulling heavy loads could  certainly use this, especially in a truck, but they forced buyers to jump through hoops of fire to get one.
  • GMC tried to break the truck stigma of the time. Cars were used for daily transportation because there was a different mindset and trucks were not as widely accepted as they are today. In 1975, my Grandmother would not have ridden in a truck, much less have been picked up for a date in one. GMC advertising tried to break new ground and advocated that it was acceptable to ride in a Gentleman Jim.
  • Wear items for Gentleman Jim Editions are highly prized and priced today. A set of Gentleman Jim floor mats went for $500 recently on Ebay.

Do you have a great classic or muscle car barn find story? Send us details and we’re on the way!  Send emails to Ron Kidd at & Jody Potter at

This 1975 Gentleman Jim advertisement provides not so subtle clues that the ladies will love a man who drives a Gentleman Jim GMC.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Proud owner of a Pontiac Trans Am with a 403 Olds Engine

The engine that gets no respect because of its cross-breed origins.

Who made who? I dig the 403 engine. I even love it when others openly loath the underdog right to my face when I am standing by the open hood of my 1979 Trans Am. So it was big and slow and needed unavailable (at the time) and costly (even now) performance upgrades. That is fine, those upgrades can be done with the help of Edelbrock and Mondello. That is correct. Mondello. The Oldsmobile specialist. Pontiac did not make the drivetrain in my Trans Am. It is not a true Pontiac engine despite being installed in the car when it was built in Norwood, Ohio. Pontiac borrowed my motor from Oldsmobile. Is that such a bad thing?

The Olds 403 engine gets no respect because of its cross-breed origins.

Who made you?
  We have all heard the story about the Cadillac purist who bought a brand
new Sedan Deville with a capable 425-V8. He was waiting for the car to be
serviced and inquired what was taking so long for something easy, like an oil
change. The service writer told him they were waiting on parts from the
Oldsmobile dealership. A little baffled, the Cadillac owner asked what his car had to do with parts from the Olds dealer. He was only then informed, “Because it has an Oldsmobile engine in it.”

6.6 litre decal denotes the Olds 403 engine on Pontiac Trans Ams.

What On Earth Are You Talking About, Willis?
  “It most certainly does not!” Okay, now you have done it. You have gone and slapped a loyal Cadillac buyer with his own driving gloves. This was a Cadillac guy and not an Oldsmobile guy. Now you tell him. Now, after the sale. After he has paid a considerable amount more for the Cadillac, only now do you tell him he has an Oldsmobile. If he wanted an Oldsmobile, he would have bought an Oldsmobile.
  The litigious battle ensued and the higher courts saw it his way. He was misled by some degree and a higher end automobile was misrepresented to the buying public. As it turns out, not everyone loved Oldsmobile the way we do here a Junkyard Life.

Olds On Tight!
  Recently, I ran across a back issue of Hemmings Classic Car and I found another spin on the story. The wonderful article by Bob Palma, who is one of my favorite columnist, told us in facts and used names! 
  The victim and hero of this story is a gentleman named Joseph Siwek. Like us, he was an Oldsmobile guy. So he buys a new 1977 Delta 88. To reiterate, we keep talking of Pontiacs and Cadillacs that had Oldsmobile engines in them. So, this was an Oldsmobile and probably has an Olds engine between the fenders, right?

Oil fill tube located on front of engine and makes identifying a 403 engine in a Pontiac easy.

Wrong O’ Rocket Man
  The mechanic at the Oldsmobile dealership reaches for an oil filter
synonymous with Oldsmobile engines and it doesn’t fit. He lowers the car to get a better look at the VIN code, and it even says “Rocket” on the air cleaner like a proper Olds should. For those not in the know, “Rocket” had been a marketing success for Oldsmobile and could mean many things to a car guy. Mainly, it always had been safe up until now to assume your blue GM motor was an Olds. The filter for the true Olds would not work. Try the one for the Chevrolet! Mr. Siwek indeed had a very traditional, dependable, garden variety small block Chevrolet. It wasn’t even wearing little bowties. Junkyard Life surmises that this engine was even further disguised as it was probably painted the corporate blue that GM had mandated all its power makers to be painted. Unless you bought a new car within the last year, you probably had seldom seen a Chevrolet painted blue. Those were supposed to be orange. Oldsmobile made a blue, so it made sense. 
  It made sense until the customer was called out and things didn’t go so well. Mr. Siwek refused to be a part of this engine identity crisis. General Motors had been caught swapping. These once exclusive engines now went to anyone. What once had been sacred had now become a cross breeding love fest blending various GM divisions for power. (Editor’s note: The words “cross breeding love fest” have never been mentioned in a Junkyard Life article ever before. Those are Ron’s words and definitely not the words of one of our favorite columnist Bob Palma) Mr. Siwek called the Illinois Attorney General and prompted the largest class action lawsuit GM had ever seen. Extended warranties and $200 rebates squeezed around $40 million from the large automaker. It was also mandated that information of this practice was to be disclosed in sales literature, ads and brochures.

The T/A 6.6 decals was applied to the 400 Pontiac Trans Ams.
T/A 6.6 decals were applied on the shaker hood scoops of Pontiac 400 equipped Trans Ams.

But Why? Why O’ Why?
  That is not actually a rhetorical question. Really, why would Oldsmobile
themselves, the maker of the larger engines not put it in their own large car? I looked it up and a 1977 Delta 88 was offered with a 403 Olds engine. That is a little comforting. Still, you have to give someone credit for leaving the 425
exclusive to the Cadillac. Even though it was Oldsmobile based, they left it for
Cadillac. Had that motor been mass produced and divvied out, would that have been a game changer? We have seen a few Olds motors that made their way into trucks after the fact. That makes sense, for they had loads of usable torque at low RPMs. Fear not, Oldsmobile, for we love the 403. Or at least I do.

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life

403 Fun Facts 

(Just a few- not actually four hundred and three)

  • The 403 was introduced in 1977 for larger cars to actually move themselves during an era of strict emission laws and fuel consumption standards.

  • The 403 should have won the hearts of many since most of the 1977 Trans Ams from Smokey and the Bandit employed them. The top dog 400 Pontiac motor received most of the notoriety. Look closely at The Bandit’s car and you will see “6.6 Litres” on the shaker scoop. The 400 would have said “T/A 6.6”.

  • The 403 despite having a piston wider than a 454 Chevy, it is still based on the small block Olds. For you specs fans-Chevy 454 had a 4.250” bore. The 403 had a 4.350”. That is a lot of piston for a small block.

  • The 403 was advertised as being lighter than previous motors. In the 1977 Cutlass 442, it was called “The lighter weight Rocket”.

  • The 403 was also popular with the Buick division and used in their Electra 225 even through 1979.

  • Lynn Welfringer at Mondello Performance Products recently told us he does a piston change, raising the low compressiom to a healthy 9:5 to 1, a camshaft and lifter change to their own JM2022 or even the 2225 cam, 60 cc aluminum heads with an aluminum Cometic head gasket made especially for the 403 and don’t be surprised to see 400+ horsepower. Their knowledgeable and experienced Oldsmobile talent can be reached at (805)-237-8808.

  • Joe Mondello once noted the 403 Olds as being an overlooked performance engine and somewhat of the “unsung hero”.

  • When really thinking about it, how many Olds 403’s have you seen torn up or prematurely worn out? They really were hard working , long lasting and truly deserve more credit than they get.

  • The Oldsmobile 350 was actually gold and the 455 Olds was blue. Pontiacs were also blue albeit a different shade. When GM declared their “corporate motors” to be blue, this included Chevrolet’s 305 and 350, as well as the Olds 403. That really doesn’t bother me on the 403, but I feel a Chevy block must be orange.

  • Do you have a great classic or muscle car barn find story? Send us details and we’re on the way!  Send emails to Ron Kidd at & Jody Potter at

    Saturday, September 30, 2017

    The Greatest 1955 Chevy Story Ever Told

    45 years later the agent owns that runaway moonshiner’s family car.

    Tell me more. Junkyard Life is fortunate enough to have many awesome barn find stories and fate-filled “meant to be” tales told to us. This very story is my favorite. Recently Junkyard Life did some filming and I (Ron) was asked what was my favorite story. Well, this one we didn’t cover, it just unfolded for me one night when an older gentleman in a new Mercedes was waiting beside my 1972 Vista Cruiser. After he asked permission to take a photo of the vintage wagon, we continued to talk. He told me he had a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air that he had owned since he was a young man. When I told him I too, had a 55 Bel Air and I wrote articles about finding such things, I had to ask. ”What was the story?” The man gazed away as if in a deeper quandary about if the story could be told. 
      He said, “You know, I have never really told anyone exactly how I got that car. Not many people ever knew.” 
      Okay, now I had to know...  

    This story has it all! Firearms, Alcohol, Espionage, Chase Scenes, Child Birth, Moral dilemmas, Death, Bribery, Statutes of Limitations, and a Low-mile ’55 Bel Air in Green! 

      The year was 1955 and the city was Atlanta, Georgia. A Chevrolet enthusiast was finally in his place in life to buy a new car. Recently retired and also a new grandfather, life was good and he knew just the car he wanted. A brand new 1955 Bel Air 2-door hardtop in a lovely and a bit unusual color. Green and cream two-tone paint and powered by the new 265-cubic-inch V8.

      The car was purchased and he loved it. He took very extraordinary care of his new Chevy. He knew he had something special. Here the story gets a little sad. He died. His widow knew he loved the car, but she couldn’t stand to see it, so she had her children move the car to a back field and cover it up. No one other than family knew the car was there. Life happens and she became the primary caregiver for her now slightly older grandchildren. If you don’t watch them, they can easily get in trouble. One of her grandchildren found trouble.

      Now the year is 1972 and the city is Birmingham, Alabama. This gentleman was an ATF agent (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms). As a governmental agency they were often called to help other ATFs in other places. The ATF sent a few Birmingham agents to Atlanta to assist in shutting down some illegal whiskey manufacturing. Some were big time and others were just local moonshiners. Our hero was stuck watching a smalltime copper still with a few other agents. They watched for days out in the woods. Finally, all the culprits were present and they moved in for a bust!

    A runner!
      As this gentleman told me of this moment, I could picture it like a movie. He said they each picked a guy to arrest and the one he picked was a runner. Could he run? You bet he could! Like a young moonshiner running from an ATF agent. Yes, exactly like that.
      They ran and ran. He chased this young man through trails, over fallen trees and down into deep ditches. The young whiskey maker thought he may be able to outrun this guy and make it back to his house. Actually, it was his grandmother’s house. 

    First sight of the ’55 Chevy
      He almost made it. He made it as far as a covered car at the rear of the property. The pursuer and the persuee both collapsed over the car from sheer exhaustion. As the ATF agent , our hero and my future story teller, fell on the car, he realized it was a ’55 Chevy under the tarp. His dream car. 
      As the young and exhausted moonshiner was babbling his pleas of innocence, the huffing and puffing ATF agent asked him, “Whose car is this?” 
      The young man paused his desperate ramblings to answer the question. 
      “It was my grandfather’s, but my grandmother put it out here.” 

    Owner’s identity protected – photo of car in story not used.

    Angry grandmother
      As in life, timing is everything. For this young man, fate took mercy on him when his grandmother heard the commotion and came out to find an ATF agent with her grandson. She asked a very direct and very damning question. 
      “Boy, have you been down messing with that still again? I told you about that!” 

      So, now you have an angry grandmother, a very busted and scared young man and an ATF agent who just found his fantasy car. Perhaps taking slight advantage of the situation, the agent asked the culprit’s grandmother a very important question.
      “What do you intend to do with this car?” 
      She responded very confidently, playing her very obvious card. 
      “That depends. What do you intend to do with my grandson?”  

    The price of freedom
      After a few awkward seconds of sorting out the moral dilemmas of the situation. The ATF agent replied, “I think he is very tired and could use a good night’s sleep.” 
      The unspoken deal was made and the ATF agent returned a couple of days later with the money, tools, a battery and some fresh fuel. This was 1972 and the car had been sitting since about 1958, so it was dormant for about fourteen years. After a quick tune-up and a trip to the tire shop, it was driven back to Birmingham, Alabama and the long retired ATF agent still has it to this day.

      Finally, enough time had passed and the exciting story was told. All of us here at Junkyard Life have been told some awesome car finding stories, but this story has been saving itself since 1972 for just the right listener. Fortunately for me, I drove my wagon that night and ending up hearing the greatest 1955 Chevy story. Thank you, sir.

    Ron Kidd
    — Junkyard Life

    Do you have a great classic or muscle car barn find story? Send us details and we’re on the way!  Send emails to Ron Kidd at & Jody Potter at

    Thursday, September 14, 2017

    Flood cars: What to do after your vehicle suffers water damage

    I photographed the event to have proof of what I was seeing. I couldn’t believe we were being flooded with a muddy mess from a nearby creek.

    All wet. We have been asked a few questions lately about the conundrum of whether your flood-damaged car should be written-off as a total loss or should you fight to keep it. We always vote to keep it. Here are a few tips that may help you pull your favorite car from a watery grave:

    Water does not compute
      A lot of people, most people actually, have a computer-controlled vehicle that manages a lot of electronics. The ECM (electronic control modules) are the very brain of your beloved car and are essential to virtually everything in your vehicle. When dealing with a flood vehicle, it is recommended to replace it with a new one. Buy a new ECM and try it. Allow the rest of the wiring to dry completely by disconnecting all electrical connection. When you think it is dry, hit it with compressed air wherever you can. Spray electrical connections with moisture-reducing chemicals, like WD-40 or others on the market. Then, let it dry some more. On a sunny day, park the car in the sun with the windows down and doors open. You may have more issues that will show themselves, but read on because the non-ECM cars have a lot of the same issues as you. Fluids!

    The seat covers were removed and cleaned while the foam padding was dried.
    This 1978 Pontiac Trans Am got a muddy bath in 4 feet of water. The interior was a muddy mess and required a complete overhaul.

    Inside out
      Time to rip off the bandage. Carpet, insulation and seats need to be yanked from the saturated interior. Soap and water can do wonders for cleaning vinyl or leather seats and door panels. You may be able to clean the carpet and the seat’s foam padding once the seat covers are removed. Rent a carpet cleaner for use on cloth seats and the carpet. Replacing wear items, such as carpet, insulation, and foam padding/buns, would be a good investment if worn. While your scrubbing and cleaning every nook and cranny, pull the door panels. Lay them flat to dry in the sun. Also, clean and remove water and debris that may be inside the doors.
      You will have better access to clean under the dash with the seats removed. A tedious undertaking, but well worth the effort to get a deep clean and to access all the electrical components for inspection, cleaning.  

    What about us non-ECM carb guys?
      At this point, we noncomputer-controlled guys have some of the same battles. Take those distributors apart and replace control modules, if so equipped. Be sure to lube with new dielectric grease under the module and dry that baby out!

    Fuel and water do not mix
      At this step, even water and water do not mix. Flush those fluids. All that you can. Remove and replace oil and transmission fluids and add new filters. Use a small nozzle pump to remove power steering fluid as well. Yes, even the radiator must be drained and the coolant replaced. 
      Do it, you know you wanted to anyway. Take all the safety steps to drain the fuel if it was compromised. Maybe the high pressure systems come in handy here. We recommend removing the spark plugs and turning the motor to make sure there is not a big drink of water on top of the pistons. Hydro compression strokes and really not fun. We found out the hard way that water does not compress. 

    This is the aftermath once the water receded. A car parked against the chimney.
    Once flood water receded, it was evident that the ’78 Trans Am floated into the side of the house and chimney. No body damage, but amazing to learn that the 3,600-lb Pontiac will float.

    Rear end issues
      Don’t call the proctologist for this one. Call the guys at your local auto parts store and get the proper gear oil and a new differential seal. You see, there is a vent tube that did nothing but drink as much water as it could during it’s brief stint as a submarine. So, pull the cover, drain the water-mixed gear oil and re-install with fresh lube.

    Give it a try
      Woo-hoo! It lives! If possible, pull the car to a slight angle. This will allow any water that can drain out from the exhaust. If this isn’t possible prior to start up, move the car facing up an incline after the initial start-up to drain the water out of the exhaust. Let the car run to operating temperature and get everything nice and warm. But don’t get too froggy before you see if you have a functioning brake system. You probably will. If you do not, take measures to correct those issues before a test drive you will regret. We here at Junkyard Life have been in situations like that. Not fun.

    Still owned 58 payments on the nearly new Jeep.
    Jeeps are made for mud but this was how our new, never been off-road Wrangler got its first taste of dirt.

    Waste not, want not 
      Said someone other than us. We hope you had fun with the oil and trans flushing. Why? Because now you get to go back, Jack, and do it again. It seems wasteful, but it is the right thing to do. Another oil and filter change. Another trans fluid and filter change. Check the power steering and radiator. Those may be okay. You’re probably a “Do It Yourself” kind of Junkyard Life reader, but for this second time please consider taking it to one of those fast lube joints. 
      Why? Well, the mess alone is a factor, I mean you just did that, it was indeed a mess. Plus, they can do it while the fluids are still hot. Removing more lingering moisture before it separates. Why a lube place? Because this time we are requesting their skills on the lost art of a chassis lube. No one ask for those anymore, but if there is a fitting on your U-joints, front end components and wheel bearings — grease them good! Plus, the employees there may love the opportunity to share your success story with other flood victims.

      Salvaging your classic car from a freshwater flood is easier than a salt water flood. If your car has been in salt water, you may need to replace all electrical components. No easy or cheap task, but worth the effort when rescuing your dream car. The sooner you get the wet stuff out, the better. Hop to it!   

    Ron Kidd
    — Junkyard Life 

    We pushed the car away from the house and debated out first order of business de-flooding the car.
    We pushed the Trans Am away from the house and debated out first order of business to de-flood the car. Always keep your classic cars insured.

    1998 Jeep Wrangler Sahara in rising flood waters. Got some flooded car pics? Send them to us!
    Got some tips for flood damage cars? Send us details and we’ll spread the knowledge to other readers.  Send emails to Ron Kidd at & Jody Potter at

    Tuesday, August 22, 2017

    1972 Olds Vista Cruiser project - Part II: New plan on 455 engine transplant

    We have torque! The plan to make Ron Kidd’s 1972 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser a 455-powered rocket ship took a different route than planned. Ron delivered his 1973 Olds 455 power plant to the machine shop with every intention of having a full rebuild. After three months in the on hold bin, Ron retrieved it because he bought a ready-to-install 1969 Olds 455. This was the fast track ticket to big torque in GM’s glassy A-body wagon.

    "World’s Greatest Mom" tag makes a 455-powered wagon a genuine sleeper.

    Olds 350 gets the boot
      The Olds 350 that served the ’72 Vista was running well overall but it had almost 200k miles on the clock. Lots of quirks were making themselves known, like lunching on three oil pumps. A screechy flywheel. Leaky main seal. Unbalanced balancer. Yes, the old girl was tired.

    1972 Olds 350 sits on engine stand after being yanked from its birth home in the Vista Cruiser.
    Dr. Olds operates  
      The Olds 350 has been yanked. I am going to tag it and keep it on a stand. This is actually the numbers matching number for this very car. The numbers are located on the left front side of the block just under the cylinder head. The Edelbrock valve covers (shown above) were added to the 350-V8 after the swap so I could use the cool Oldsmobile scripted ones on the 455.
    The incorrect Chevrolet Quadrajet carb was also perched up there after the fact to keep the intake from being open to disaster. The correct front feed B.O.P (Buick-Olds-Pontiac) carb is the one installed on the 455. 

    A beauty in blue. The 1969 Olds 455 engine, assembled and ready to supply torque in spades.
    Evil plan strikes back
     Take a 1969 issue 455 Oldsmobile from a Delta 88 (yay!) with 1973 “J” heads (boo!) and combine the two in the hopes the compression will land at a pump fuel friendly 9:1 or so ratio. I shall add a heavy duty radiator and an extra hard working water pump. I shall install an aluminum intake and a pair of aftermarket Thornton exhaust manifolds to free up a breathing a bit. For insurance, a new  Melling regular volume oil pump. A guy can get thirsty, so I acquired a new fuel pump as well. So all the pumps are covered. To lite the fires within, an H.E.I electronic ignition is in order. New gaskets and correct 1972 Oldsmobile blue paint to cover it all up will finish up the power plant in our beach buggy. 

    Drop and swap
      This was a straightforward engine swap with few unwanted surprises. We knew that a 1972 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser was offered with a fat 455. However, mine was not born that way, so I had a shoehorn and a big hammer ready.
 Luckily they were not needed because many of the parts were interchangeable, except for the motor mounts and frame perches. 
      The odometer has been reset and the wagon is hitting the road. I’ll keep you posted on performance increases after the engine break-in period.

    Ron Kidd
    — Junkyard Life

    Installed! Bigger is better if we’re talking muscle car era engines. A 1969 model 455 Olds engine now powers the ’72 Vista Cruiser.

    Things We Learned About a Big Block Olds Swap
    • The cast iron intake was so heavy, it felt much like carrying a person. I dropped it in favor of the aforementioned aluminum Edelbrock intake. Speaking of dropping — if you are going to drop one of these intakes, do not let it be that stock one. Ow!

    • There is a difference in stock water pumps and heavier duty units (photo below). The differences are surprising.

    Comparing stock water pump versus the heavy duty one used on the 455 engine swap.
    • A 350 Olds and a 455 Olds require different motor mounts. We knew that. However what we didn’t know and found out the hard way that the swap requires significantly different 455 frame perch mounts. Luckily, they do bolt to the frame’s existing holes. Taking no further chances, I scavenged them from a 1970 Vista Cruiser that sported a 455 in it’s younger days. Thank you Top Secret Undisclosed Storage Facility.

    • The new and old exhaust manifolds dump into the SAME place! Thus, saving us average guys from a trip to the exhaust shop.  

    • There are manifolds to have and ones not to have. We had the worse ones we could have. Single exhaust crossovers and heat risers are not your friend. Thornton provided a correct appearing set of manifolds for 1972 that flow a little better than rock stock with no evil performance prohibitors. 

    Carburetor sits high atop the intake on the Olds 455.
    • The carburetor base on the new 455 Performer intake sits about 4 inches higher than the 350 Performer intake (see photo above). The carb sits higher than the valve covers and gave me daymares about the hood not closing. I called Edelbrock and they seemed to think it would fit. They have notes on that kind of thing. To relieve your suspense, it did close. Barely.

    The Olds 350-V8 will get tagged and bagged. Okay, not bagged because it’s not officially dead, just shoved into the corner next to that other 1973 455-V8.
    • A lot of things fit the big motor from the small motor. The most surprising to me was the valve covers. A pleasant surprise was the electronic ignition parts. Cool! Note: The control module/rotor/cap/coil-the H.E.I distributor itself was different. 

    Ron reset the odometer in the 1972 Vista Cruiser when the new 455 engine was installed. Now he’s gently breaking in the engine. Right, Ron?

    Do you have a classic or muscle car barn find? Got a cool car story about buying a car you didn’t want? Send us details and we’re on the way!  Send emails to Ron Kidd at & Jody Potter at