Project Sleeper Status Makes its Return

Photography by: the author and Jerrid Wood

We bring our W-body Regal GS back from the grave with a built bottom-end from ZZ Performance

Welcome to Ground Zero V2.0 for Project Sleeper Status, our 2000 Buick Regal GS project that has been anything but easy. Astute readers will remember our goal from day-one was to build a sleeper W-body that could run in the 11s and effortlessly commute to work, all while flying under the radar.

While an 11.99 or faster in a gutted car would have been much easier, instead, as you might recall, we wanted to build a velvet hammer; a car that is civilized yet lethal…so unsuspecting Mustang owners can get their feelings hurt. To achieve this, we were prepared to walk a fine line between track results and daily civility, which meant some weight reduction was inevitable, but not so much as to take away from the street manners. In keeping with the realistic goals, we were also prepared to spend money wherever needed, but our budget was far from endless.

In the absence of a blank check, we had to carefully select our parts-list since pieces like a massive race cam and aftermarket aluminum heads might occupy our daydreams, in reality they were either too expensive or too track-focused for our goals. The further we dug into how best to achieve our goal, the harder we realized it might be…but never one to back down from a challenge, we pressed on.

How did we get here?

The project started out smoothly enough with traction-limited baseline times in the mid 14s on crappy 91-octane California fuel, before Mickey Thompson Drag Radials and basic ZZPerformance (ZZP) bolt-ons chopped our ET by over one-second and boosted our trap speed by 7.5 mph at Sacramento Raceway to a best of 13.67 at 100.04 mph on a 2.06 short-time. The simple yet effective ZZP combo consisted of CAI, long-tube headers and 3-inch downpipe with an equally sized cat-back, along with reflashed ECU, a 3.4-inch pulley and other small bits.

Next up we added a ZZP X-P Hot Cam Package to really bolster our L67 in the hopes of dropping into the bottom 12s before really throwing the book at it…until the book was thrown at us.

That’s right, on the maiden voyage after the new cam package install, what started as a faint whirling noise quickly led to an engine failure. After immediately turning the motor off and coasting back to the shop shortly after hearing the faint sound, we grabbed our stethoscopes and attempted to restart the motor.

Instead of falling into a lopey idle so we could ID the sound, the starter would no longer turn the motor over…only a massive breaker-bar and lots of effort. There weren’t any metal shavings in the oil and all of the valvetrain moved normally…disgusted with the setback, the car was parked for a few weeks, and then, life got in the way as the Regal withered away outside the shop for far too long.

Ground Zero 2.0

Down but not out, after staring at the Regal for far too long we put our heads together and decided we had no choice but to give it another go. Before pressing the launch button on the Project Sleeper Status once again, we reviewed our original parts list, and although we’re sticking to the same principals of an 11-second, daily-driven sleeper, we’ve decided to tweak a few things for even more power.

What is it that we’re adding? Well, we’d love to let the cat out of the bag, buuuuuut instead, you’re just going to have to stick with us as we slowly reveal the details over the coming months—welcome back to Project Sleeper Status: V2.0.

A Bulletproof Shortblock

As you already know, we’ve got big plans for our Regal GS, all of which require a solid foundation. That foundation starts with a hardy bottom-end that can take anything we expect to throw at it.

A call to the 3800 experts at ZZP helped us sort out the best method of achieving our goals without breaking the bank. We were prepared to spend money it’s needed, but if we could save some funds without hurting reliability or significantly hindering performance, we would.

With an eye for expediency, rather than tear down the old motor (in truth, we’re still irritated about the failure and maybe part of us still didn’t want to know what happened), we found a used motor on Craigslist for a couple-hundred bucks and promptly tore it down.

We then paid a visit to Rankin Performance Machine where John and Jack Rankin completely cleaned the block, honed it to perfection and added cam bearings from ZZP. They also made the proper oiling modifications for our balance-shaft delete and checked the stock crank before we took everything back to our shop for final assembly.

Most of you already now, but the stock GM block and crank are beyond hardy, easily handling far more power than we intend on making. In fact, ZZP has been 9s at nearly 160 mph on both, and people have made north of 700 whp without issue.

With the motor back in our grubby little hands, we again turned to ZZP for recommendations.

“Our 4340 H-beam rods are 1.5-pounds lighter than stock (the whole set) while being considerably stronger as well—they’re also sold in balanced sets to ensure a precision build,” Steve Hickman, ZZPerformance

This is one of the areas we were willing to spring for the best; the ZZP H-beams that can support over 1000hp, are considerably lighter than the stock stuff, and are well matched to the equally awesome pistons we ordered (more on that in a second). ZZP claims these 4340 rods are the lightest 3800 rods on the market, and also come with ARP 2000 rods.

We also followed ZZP’s lead and ordered a set of their Clevite 77 bearings. The bearings feature a copper-lead alloy layer on a steel backing that’s overlaid with a precision electro-plated white metal babbit material. According to ZZP, the steel backing provides durability and strength, while the white metal Babbitt overlay provides the critical surface characteristics of embeddability, slipperiness and conformability. In other words, they work!

“Our JE pistons are ceramic coated, which helps prevent detonation. Also, being forged, instead of cast, they are going to hold up to a lot more abuse in the unfortunate event that ‘something’ goes wrong, and you find yourself with a bunch of detonation,” Steve Hickman, ZZPerformance

When it came to the slugs for our 3800, again we bought the best knowing what’s in store.

We turned to the GM 3800 gurus at ZZ Performance (ZZP) for help with our stout bottom-end components that can take the abuse without fear of broken components.

The JE Pistons’ 3800 slugs are made from 2618 alloy with 52 series pins, and according to ZZP, that makes them superior to a competitor’s 4032 alloy pistons commonly used in the 3800 scene. The ceramic coating is also said to be better for heat rejection, and the slugs include wrist pins and rings, and work in all Series 2 & 3 engines using L67 or L32 rods.

While ZZP offers the pistons in the stock 8.5:1 and a higher 9.9:1 compression ratio, we decided to stick with the stock compression since it’s tried and true.

So What’s Next?

Now that the big portions of the bottom-end are covered, we’ll continue on with the rest of the oiling and timing components along with the cam, heads and valvetrain. After that, we’ll be ready for some big boost and solid ETs…and no, we’re still not going to tell you what exactly we’re doing, so hang tight, it’s about to go down!

We stuck with the stock 8.5:1 compression for our ZZP ceramic-coated JE pistons that are hardy enough to survive the abuse we intend to throw at them.


According to ZZP, the ceramic coating on their pistons helps combat detonation and their 2618 aluminum construction and 52 series pins make them superior to other alternatives on the market.


The ZZP 4340 H-beam rods are said to be the lightest 3800 rods on the market, measuring a feathery 1.5-pounds lighter than stock (as a set) while also being able to handled 1000hp—how’s that for light and strong?


The ZZP JE pistons come with wrist pins and the associated components. Be sure to take your time when mating the wrist pins to the pistons and the rods.


It’s so pretty you almost don’t want to install it in the block, but our smirks will become smiles the first time we hit WOT. Some might say that’s, priceless.


With all six of the pistons and rods mated together, next up was the rings.


ZZP even includes all the applicable rings for the pistons—before getting started, take inventory to make sure you have everything needed to throw the slugs in the block.


Next, a ring compressor joins the party to compress the rings around the piston you can gently tape the piston and rod down into the cylinder bore of the block.


Next, a ring compressor joins the party to compress the rings around the piston you can gently tape the piston and rod down into the cylinder bore of the block.


The ZZP Clevite main bearings feature a copper-lead alloy layer on a steel backing that’s overlaid with a precision electro-plated white metal babbit material. According to ZZP, the steel backing provides durability and strength, while the white metal Babbitt overlay provides the critical surface characteristics of embeddability, slipperiness and conformability.


Don’t forget to put the rod bearings in before installing the rod and piston into the block.


We used AC Delco engine assembly lube throughout the process of assembling the shortblock.


Now with everything ready, we can gently tap the rods and pistons into the block.


Don’t forget your end caps, which you just oiled; next the rod bolts bolts must be installed and then torqued.


Take a gander at the H-beam rods and the ARP2000 rod bolts hiding in the stout factory block—ah, we can just see that 11-second slip now!


According to ZZP, the 3/8-inch ARP2000 rod bolts need to be torqued to 55 ft-lbs and the included ARP lube should also be used.


Behold, the killer bottom-end that will serve us well as we slay Mustangs, run 11s, and cruise under the radar to work. Next up, a killer top-end.

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    • Rick Seitz 19 November, 2020 at 07:00 Reply

      You’re telling us! This project has seen more twists and turns, and ups and downs behind the camera than you’ll ever know! Thanks to COVID and certain lockdown measures in California, the car has been collecting dust in a repair shop but will see the light of day again, very soon!

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