*photos by: the author
For the last few months, a particular Impala SS build caught my eye over on a blog called, Hoagies Garage. Essentially a one-man band operated by JT Kuzior, an Ohio native like your author, I immediately became enamored by the project as the blacked-out B-body has been a car I have lusted after since high school.
We’ve been anxious to get our hands on an unmolested example for a little while now, but with JT doing such an excellent job with his, I figured why not just give a local guy a chance to shed some light on his project for the sake of the GM EFI readership? Below is his story, and as the project evolves, we’ll be sure to continue the build coverage right here at GM EFI!
-Rick Seitz, Editor
The project at hand for the upcoming Summer is somewhat daunting. Our plan? Take a 1996 Impala SS with 180k on the clock and make it better in every way. Sounds pretty simple, but removing, disassembling, reassembling and installing an LT1 is all new to me.
Let me back up for a second, because before you decide to throw stones at me I should probably tell you I’m much more familiar with the later, LS-series engines over just about anything. My daily-driven Camaro, which the Impala will be replacing, is LS-based and I have just a bit more knowledge in that area.
The reason for letting go of the LS1 F-body for an older, slower, heavier and larger B-body Impala? Family. Yup, with a growing family comes the need for larger vehicles. This is one of those times, but I’ve decided to not go quietly into Minivan Land, but to stick with my musclecar roots. I also have chosen not to drop $50k-plus on a CTS-V or new Chevy SS, because with a growing family comes the need for practicality.
Have you priced a ’94-96 Impala SS lately? They’re probably one of the best bang for the buck performance sedans on the market right now! The great thing about this one, is that has been in my family since day one and it will stay in the family for at least the next few years.
So with that being said, I’ll give you a heads up on the plans for this car; we’ll be pulling the well broken-in LT1 for something with a bit more punch. Namely, a Golen 383 LT1 stroker with almost every aftermarket goodie you can find – or could find. The parts shelf for this car has been piling up for years, and now it is time to put it all together!
Rick had me do something a little bit different for this story. Since the beginning of this project dates back to April, I’ve provided you guys with the updates per the dates they’ve happened up to the time this story was published. We’ll continue to keep you update as things progress from here on out!
Eager to get started, all of the parts have been brought over from their long-terms storage to the garage, including the 383 LT1. We purchased a rotating engine stand from Summit Racing to make engine assembly as easy as possible. Right now the short block is still sealed to protect it from moisture and debris, but I’m going to start piecing it together and adding parts as time permits.
I’ve been slowly assembly the long-block, while researching what parts I am missing. With the Impala still running and not being torn apart yet, some reusable items that are needed will remain on the vehicle. Right now though, I started with the MSD Performance OptiSpark. The OEM OptiSpark in general is widely-known as being unreliable and troublesome. However, MSD came out with a solid billet piece that aims to improve on the widespread reliability issues.
Something I’ve already noticed with the ’90s-era LT1 losing overall popularity, many of the parts are becoming more difficult to find. Now I won’t say impossible or out of production, as I’ve been able to find what has been needed so far, but you can already tell that some things won’t be around forever. It really is a totally different experience as opposed to searching for LS1 parts. For example, I needed a factory OptiSpark vent tube assembly, since the original had some wear to it. I had to resort to eBay, purchasing a new OEM Opti, which arrived and looks great. As it turned out, I also needed the oil pump drive.
This is basically a cam driven metal piece that bolts to the block and connects with the oil pump driveshaft. Finding one of these new and unused was difficult as well, but eBay was my source once again. However, I believe this is still available at the dealership once I looked up the part number. This is a part I did not want to reuse from the factory engine due to wear and also the well-known broken plastic mount. Finally one little piece I needed (ASAP) was the oil pan level sensor.
A quick look on Amazon found a new ACDelco piece that fit perfectly and wasn’t too expensive. Now the oil pan is totally sealed up. After this, I added a little oil so when I’m turning the crankshaft and messing with the engine it won’t be “dry” inside. Golen calls for Driven/Joe Gibbs Racing Break in Oil 15w50. Three quarts for now, which was dumped onto the lifters and down into the pan.
I was under the assumption the LT1 needed to be at top dead center (TDC) for piston 1. The problem was, I had nothing to turn the crank with. Right now I’m trying to prolong driving the Impala for as long as possible. In just another few weeks I’ll be tearing that down for the engine install. So the hub, bolt, crank pulley, etc. are all still on the drivable car.
Anyways, TDC. I ended up getting a strap wrench on the front of the crank to rotate it a little bit. This turned the engine enough to put piston number 1 right where it needed to be. After all this effort though, I come to find out that the LT1 doesn’t need to be at TDC and the OptiSpark basically takes care of everything. So… lesson learned. (Research, research, research! – Ed.) Now that I am done with that, I moved to the cylinder head install.
The head of choice here is the Trick Flow Specialties GenX 195 62cc aluminum units. One thing I did before was chase all the threads with a thread chaser from Summit. I learned this is different than a tap as it wasn’t cutting, just cleaning, or chasing, the threads. I ended up using ARP head bolts, ARP Moly/Assembly Lube and Loctite thread sealer as well. Right now, the passenger side head is installed and looking nice.
I followed the advice of Trick Flow and also my LT1 rebuilding guide. For the other cylinder head, I’m going to film that for everyone, just in case you were curious on how these install. Filming should take place in a day or two, just been super busy with everything else in life. I will say though that the first head went on nicely with a Fel-Pro gasket in between. Just following the guides and taking my time it took me about 45 minutes. Here are a few photos below and the next post should be of the other cylinder head install. I also replaced the awful carpet underneath that has seen more than enough oil drips from various projects. Thanks for reading and the next update will be soon.
This weekend was hectic, but I found a little time to install the other cylinder head. Normally this would have been a quick and simple job, but I wanted to film the process this time around which takes a little more time. So as you can see in the video below, the passenger side head was already installed. The process of doing this is kind of interesting and not as difficult as I thought it would be. Coming up next is the rocker installation and that will be a little more technical.
I also put the cap on the MSD Opti, installed the spark plugs and dropped the lubed push rods into the heads after the installation was done. A few items I have been using are listed below, if you’d like a direct link to find them easily. I’m searching for a cap right now to fit the headers, since I won’t be using the EGR system. Hope you enjoy the head install, comment or like the video if you get a chance. Next update coming soon….
Just a quick update on the project. I took some time on Sunday to film a bit with the Impala. The plan is to release a little video discussing the project, my thoughts, and also some visuals of the vehicle in question here. That should be live soon…
LT1 Progress: I am having some issues that sort of put me on hold. Installing the off-brand headers, which are brand new, coated and look amazing, I have an issue. The passenger side EGR hookup will not clear the tall valve covers. My options are to either have these cut off and modified, or possible switch to a different header. Rockers and all that other cylinder head stuff will be done soon too.
Miscellaneous: The 1Factory Radio with Bluetooth arrived! That should be installed this week along with the classic Impala odometer fix. Next week, the Impala is going into the body shop to get the new rear spoiler fitted and painted. We are super excited for this. Finally, I received my box of new wiring for the electric water pump and also the upgraded battery cables. All of this came from Gary at Innovative Wiring – judging by the quality, it is going to be such a nice upgrade for the Impala.
The latest on the Impala has moved to the interior. Right now the dash is totally torn apart, looking to have multiple things fixed and upgrades.
Lighting: I am adding LED bulbs to a few key areas, not everywhere. Included in this mini project is the floor lamps, door safety/pocket lights, floor shift indicator, trunk, and the famous headlight switch bulb. This particular bulb always goes out, and I went to the Honda dealership (of all places) for a new bulb. This was surprising, but it did work. After reading online though, I ordered an LED for this spot as well, hoping it won’t burn out as quickly.
Odometer: In the middle of the odometer fix right now. Need to solder in the new resistor to cure the fading odometer.
Radio: The 1Factory Radio with Bluetooth has been installed. I also did an antenna cutoff switch, hidden in the hole near the headlight switch. I’m going to have a full story on the clever radio, so stay tuned for that.
Finally, my old headers issues are still here. I’m thinking a set of Tri-Ys are going to be the best option for this particular application.
Decided to kick the project into gear this weekend, starting with the electric water pump modifications. For this, you are required to press out the “guts” of an OEM water pump, press a brass plug into the back hole, then bolt on the new electric assembly.
Right now it is sitting at a friend’s machine shop, where it was pressed out. He is going to clean it up a little bit then I’ll hit it with some paint or clear coat, depending on how it turns out. If you notice the first image, he had to fab up a little tool to fit in their press so everything could be pressed out.
Next up, the radio install. Very simple and self explanatory, but what I did do was modify the antenna wire. The factory radio always pops up the power antenna, even when listening to a CD and now Bluetooth. I ran a switch over to the small hole near the headlights so now I can control when the antenna goes up. Full radio review coming soon, once the dash is all buttoned up.
Gauges: You can see below the old resistors that were browned and what they looked like after removal. When I tested it out, I decided to pop it into the dash real quick, making sure my solders worked right. I did not put the screws and plastic cover on the back of the cluster, just for the quick test- horrible mistake.
When I pulled the gauges out, the circuit board and gauge face/housing separated. Not a huge issue, but four small wires came loose inside and I have no idea what they go… So Ill be breaking out the GM wiring manual for this car and will be tracing them back tot heir intended location. More on this soon, just a poor mistake that happened in about 10 seconds. I’ll post some pics of this next time, just was so sick over it I didn’t even think to snap some.
Engine Build: I went ahead and started on the rockers this weekend too. I cleaned them as Comp Cams said with denatured alcohol, then soaked them in the Joe Gibbs racing break-in oil. Once the pushrods were installed with some assembly lube, the rocker studs were installed with thread sealant and guide plates. From there, you check to see if your rockers are lined up with the valvesprings, which I didn’t have any major issues.
The rockers are then lowered onto the studs, along with the Comp Cams rocker nuts that have polylocks backed out. Next move is to adjust all of these, following the Comp Cams & Trick Flow instructions. One thing to note on this, the Joe Gibbs Racing break in oil is insanely sticky stuff. Felt like cooking oil on my hands or something similar. Lava and regular soap was not taking it off, I’ve never experienced oil like this. A full review is coming soon on this, but the Jack Manufacturing Magic Hand Cleaner took it right off. This hand cleaner is legit and something you should try out. Links to purchase almost everything I’ve discussed are below.
Last update, I was in the middle of wrapping up the work on the dashboard. This end of the project has been interesting, mostly due to parts issues. The list of things to do, include: 1Factory Radio Bluetooth Head Unit, LED Light Installs, odometer fix and new cigarette lighter/power outlet install. The head unit install went flawlessly and a video demonstrating how it works will be coming once the dash is buttoned up again. I had no issues putting the new 12v outlet/cigarette lighter in as well, just a little bit of messing/fiddling with the plastic housing.
The odometer fix went great, but a stupid mistake by me, required the gauges to be fixed. At least that is now behind me and they are back where they belong with a super bright odometer readout. I used the kit from NAISSO, which required soldering. The LED Lighting: I wanted LEDs for various areas, nothing too crazy. The door courtesy lights, footwell, shifter indicator, headlight switch (the Honda bulb worked, just felt an LED would last a lot longer), and I also put one in the trunk. Super Bright LEDs has a nice website and good customer service, but their shifter indicator bulb was wrong on the site and to top all this off, the post office lost the most recent box coming to finish this. So right now I’m stuck, waiting on three small LEDs…
Once all this is wrapped up, the Impala is going to the body shop for spoiler painting and fitment. A full story is coming on that as well. Following the spoiler upgrade, the major engine transplant will begin…
A good piece of information, I ordered the new headers from Clear Image. These are the classic Tri-Y’s that everyone has known to love over the years. Dan, the owner of Clear Image knows his stuff. Being constructed are some Gen-II Tri-Y’s, coated with a black satin ceramic. I also specified I needed high-flow cats, removal of the rear O2 sensors, AIR/EGR ports, and these will have 1 5/8″ primary tubes. I’m super excited to get these on the engine, as this is coming up on one of the last items to be installed before we remove the stocker form the Impala.
Before any of that happens though, once the dash is back together, the Impala is hitting the body shop for the spoiler install. It’s amazing all of this is hinging on two little LED light bulbs. Finally, I have a number of great products to review on the Impala from Meguiar’s which will save some time and make the car look great I think.
Hope everyone had a nice Father’s Day weekend! I’ve managed to do a few things on the Impala since I last posted. The interior is all buttoned up and good to go. Made sure everything was working correctly a few times. The only remaining items for the interior are a seat upgrade which will get started during the engine pull and I also have a new seat belt that will be installed on the drivers side. On the list for later this week is the spoiler install, which will be going into the paint shop. Lot of pictures of that whole process, before/after images, and my takes on the entire look of the thing.
Right now though, I wanted to share my video on the 1FactoryRadio Bluetooth unit that was installed. This thing is so cool and works so good, just doing what it is supposed to; nothing more or less. Check these guys out if you want the factory look, factory fit, but some modern conveniences in your vehicle. Very nice company that has lots to offer by way of modified and refurbished factory stereo head units.
Until next time!
JT Kuzior is a life-long car fanatic who grew up around musclecars. He’s quite passionate about late-model GM vehicles, reviewing brand new cars for his blog, Hoagies Garage, when he’s not wrenching on his Trailblazer SS, LS1 Camaro and Impala SS!