Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Project 1972 Olds Vista Cruiser - Part I: Going green with a 455 engine transplant

A 455 engine should fill the needs where the 200k mile original 350 left off.

Junkyard Life goes green! Actually, we really didn’t. What is the opposite of green? Yes, that is probably more like what we are. The conservationists that advocate using fewer natural resources should probably stop reading here (not really). Getting back to the “green” thing, we are actually putting a larger, thus, less fuel-friendly, and way more cubic inch behemoth under the hood of my 1972 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser wagon. Bigger is better!
  My wagon is our adventure mobile. It’s a super fun car that is a testament of functional practicality. The original 350 Olds motor has 197K on the clock, however, it has a wobbly balancer (oxymoron?), among other issues. 

The only thing green about this car, our 72 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser Wagon, is the color itself. Oldsmobile called it “Sequoia Green Metallic.”*

Why remove an engine that runs?
Let me explain. The Olds 350 is running well overall, but it has a few things against it. Such as:

  • A low to mid RPM miss that I cannot seem to correct. 
  • A flywheel that is missing a few teeth and occasionally upon turning the key, you are rewarded with a resounding screech.
  • The front main seal seems to be leaking.
  • It already has had three (3) oil pumps since it has been in my possession.

  • It also has the aforementioned unbalanced balancer, either that or it is a poorly named part. 

  • Nearly 200k miles on the original Olds 350 engine.

The tag will hide the intentions of the sinister 455 engine.
The "World’s Greatest Mom" tag doesn’t reveal the Vista Cruiser’s evil 455 engine plan.

Wanted: Torque. Usable torque
  This is, as you know a station wagon. It will be used to haul things (such as us) and tow things (such as, heaven knows what!). Succumbing to peer pressure from Junkyard Life Nerds, I opted to not build the 350. (Hiss. Boo.) I’m dropping in a larger power plant. Those same nerds tried to talk me into buying parts for the 455 engine that I didn’t even own, yet.
  I found an aluminum Edelbrock intake for a 455 Olds, in Moultrie, Georgia at the huge swap meet. Then, all the advice, of these Junkyard Life Hot Rod junkies that I work with, began to clutter my head.
  “Get out of my head, you galoots! I already have a plan.”

The intake was purchased before the 455 engine. Planning perfection.
Swap meet find! Aluminum intake for an Olds 455.

Evil plan
  With a 455 engine, I could achieve the torque numbers that I want (400 ft-lbs at around 2200 RPM), and then some. A roller cam will cost the same as a flat tappet and I won’t have to go to any weird extremes with compression ratios and vacuum issues.
  Okay, sold. I will buy the 455 intake. Only problem is I don’t have a 455. 

  I bought an intake for a motor I don’t own? Yes, I’m afraid I did.

Divine engine intervention
  So, today I took delivery of my 455 Olds power plant! What do we have? Well, it is a 1973 455 Olds engine with an added H.E.I. distributor and basic yawn-fest heads. That is really okay, because my new Evil Plan is to go 100% through this motor and make it really, really, cook.
  Now I must locate some decent manifolds, or toy with the idea of headers, and just go with quieter mufflers. I will also put on new tires and install some new weather stripping and other goodies that I have picked up for the Vista Cruiser along the way. At the top of that “to do” list are adding parts for a functional air conditioner.

The 1972 Olds Vista Cruiser will be the new home for the Olds 455 engine.
1973 Olds 455 cubic inch engine ready for overhaul and transplant into the big green machine.

Why, why, why?
  I want a dependable car with usable torque for pulling trailers, a camper, a cargo full of luggage, and all my friends – even after a heavy lunch. So, wish me luck, and pity my wallet, because this 455 motor isn’t coming home. It is going right to the machine shop!
  Ouch, and I haven’t even pulled the other one yet!

>>  Follow along as I (Ron) turn this Vista wagon into the ultimate suburban traveling fun vehicle. We can do this. We have the technology.**

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life

Ron Kidd rides in his wagon with the windoews down and radio turned up.
Ron Kidd behind the wheel of his beloved ’72 Vista Cruiser. Tunes up, windows down. On the road to a good time.
Photo credit: Deidra Quick Trammell

Editor’s Notes:
* There has to be an irony - in that the color of this car being named after the natural beauty of the Sequoia National Forest.
** When Ron uses the word “technology,” he really doesn’t mean it.

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