T Nation

Getting into Muscle Cars...


im hoping there are enough gearheads on here to start me in the right direction...

ive been into motorcycles for a while, but my interest is really moving towards cars at this point. Problem is, i dont know where to start. i have no problems picking up a wrench and doing some work, but id have no idea where to begin.

do i figure out what car i really want, and then learn about it?

i may not have any money to get started in this for even a couple more years, but when the money is there i want to know whats going on.

eventually i would love to have the knowledge to build an engine. tonight i was driving a friend's Supercharged Cadillac XLR. i think it has something like 400hp. That thing realllly fucking jumped when the pedal hit the floor. i would definitely be happy with something that had that kind of power, or in other words, i really cant see myself ever really needing more than that kind of power. ideally, the car id end up with wouldnt be my daily driver, but it should be reliable enough that it could be. perhaps i would take it to a drag night here and there, but it would mainly be a ballsy street car, but not so ridiculous that it would be a pain on the street.

from some reading ive done this weekend, it seems as though a small block would be where id want to be.

i like mustangs. i love the 67 fastbacks, although i could do 64-66 as well, even coupes. and no, i dont like the fastbacks because of "eleanor"- they just look good. it seems like a nice 351 power plant would move that pretty good. i also like some chevy's- nova, chevelle, etc. Theres a Dodge Dart around me that seems to move pretty good too. other than this, im lost. i dont know where to get started in terms of what i should be reading, what cars i should be looking for, what is a realistic budget for such a car, etc.



You can't go wrong with Mustangs, Chevelles or Novas. I've had lots of each and plenty of good cars are still around. Small blocks in the Mustangs are the way to go, the 390 Mustangs were specially reinforced to handle the weight and power, so the big block in a non-big block car are trouble.

Chevelles and Novas are good projects. For a budget, it all depends on your skills, garage space, time to spend, time line of when you want it done and what you expect as the end result. Also a high-end car once completed has to be garaged and watched out for.

Look around on eBay or other sites for cars you're interested in. See what parts are available for it as well. Your best bet might be to buy a project that is well done and the person lost interest, ran out of money, etc. Avoid basket cases unless you have restored a car before. Cars with extensive rust should be avoided as well. A floor pan is one thing, a unibody (no seperate frame)that is rotted out is a big expense.

Chevelles are full frame. Novas have a 1/2 frame in the front, unibody in the back. Mustangs are unibody all the way around.



Last night I had that thought that maybe I would build an engine. I liked getting involved with my chopper and taking it apart, modifying, etc, and I would like to have an old muscle car that I knew how to work on, so why not start by building the engine myself?

This would keep me satisfied with some kind of car project, and enable me to build by buying parts here and there as money allows, without plunking down a big chunk of money at a time in my life that might not be appropriate.

351 windsor


muscle cars are so badass dude

youll get way more poon than if u drove a civic


i'll chime in here as i have alot more experience with cars than i ever will with diet and exercise.

getting a car that you can work on really depends on what you want out of that car...

the friends caddy that you drove is a LSx based motor. those can also be found in all the 98+ camaros/transams/ 97+ corvettes and the 2004-2006 GTO's.... there are a few others that have it too but those are the newer muscle cars that have the basically same motor in them.

the problem with the new cars is all the electronics. yes you can work on the motor and change anything you want but then you will also need have the right laptop software to also change tables and parameters in the cars engine management system. Tuning an electronic fuel injected car is a pain in the ass to learn from scratch unless you have some very intelligent friends that have done it before.

my advise is to get some sort of older classic car thats preferable a chevy as parts are cheaper and easier to find... working on a small block or big block chevy can be done with a limited amount of tools and a little bit of knowledge


Well just as a suggestion you could start with a cheap newer vehicle to get rid of some of the hassles of an older vehicle (rust, expensive or hard to find parts) I would recommend a 1994-1995 Ford Thunderbird, cheap with a SOHC 4.6L v8 you can rebuild or you can go higher on the ladder and pick up a 1993+ Lincoln Mark VIII for about 3k or so you get a DOHC 4.6L v8 same as the cobra, rebuild or whatever you would like to do. Either way you get a nice starting platform for your projects with either of those cars.




Sure about that?


Anyway, horsepower is a funny thing, its sort of like weightlifting. You say you only want a 315 bench, but once you hit it, you want more.

Anyway, as far as cars go, theres tons of websites, if you want to look into mustangs, check out corral.net and svtperformance.com, any newish camaro or f-body look into camaross.com and ls1tech.com Otherwise just google a cars name + forums and look around.

edit: ooo if you like nova's certainly look into them. Look on craigslist for cheaper cars like this, buy one for 1-2 grand, then drop a couple thousand in the motor. If the pig of a xlr's 439ish horsepower was enough for you, then you'd really only need something like 350-375in the featherweight nova to get you at the same acceleration in lower speeds, though in a race the excess horsepower would probably pull away from you over 100. Anyway, look at summitracing if your intrested in building a motor.


I'd go with the 351 Cleveland myself. There's a lot more performance equipment for them than the Windsors. I did have a Windsor in a Mustang and it ran fine, it was a stock motor with lots of power in the light car.

Engine building is involved but you can go step by step. Get a good manual to go by which will help out. You can save a load of $$ by taking the engine apart yourself, doing the disassembly (take lots of pictures, notes and label everything). Have a good machine shop freshen up the block, heads and crankshaft and you have a good base to go by.



why did you ask " sure about that?"

and then "nope" under my other paragraph...

what do you want to contradict?

think what you will but all those motors are pretty much the same with a little advancement in intake, heads or valvetrain each year and a change with the reluctor wheel.... from a 346ci up to a 427ci in the new z06... alot of the parts will interchange and ofcourse some will not there are lots of similarities between all the motors.


Well if you actually think the xlr has a LSx in it then you obviously don't know a whole lot about cars. In which case if you know a lot more about cars then diet, your probably a fatty, because you don't seem to know a lot about cars... shrug


wow... your right... i never looked under the hood of the xlr but thought since it was another performance vehichle from government motors that it would have the lsx in it... it doesnt ... its a dual over head cam motor with 4 valves....

hhmmm.... all i can say is i assumed completely wrong....


yup, the XLR uses Cadillac's Northstar engine. the one i drove was the XLR-V, i didnt specifically mention the "V" but you guys obviously gathered that from the supercharged part.


in regards to your last comment about 351 windsor vs. cleveland, everything i have read online and in the books ive picked up suggests otherwise, that the 351W is a much easier engine to work with in terms of part availability. From what i understand, the Cleveland aftermarket is just starting to pick up with AFR offering aluminum heads and such. It's also my understanding that the 351C's only real advantage is its heads, and therefore if aftermarket heads are part of the plan for a 351W, that fact becomes irrelevant.

From what i'm seeing, the 351C is a lot easier to come by- local guy has two complete engines for sale for $400/obo. ive asked him to take pics of whichever is in better shape and send them to me. I will most likely go take a look at it this weekend and bring it home for ~$150. i was going to just try to find a block to start with, but im sure theres some lessons to be learned in disassembly that i dont want to miss.


The Windsor is really not any easier to work on, they're both Fords and there's no mystery there. I'd call them equal for that. I did a lot of work with 429 and 460 Ford strokers for stock cars, that's an animal in comparison.

Do you have a target car in mind yet? If you buy an engine with no peripherals (no distributor, alternator, all those funky brackets, etc), try to make sure that the car you get has all that with it. Tracking down missing parts can be a chore especially if you install the 351C into a car that never was offered with one. I had similar problems with a 351W from a Fairlane that wound up in a Mustang. The FMX transmission that came with the 351W interfered with the floor pan and I had to put a C4 behind it.



ideally, a 67-68 mustang coupe...351 Windsor.


Classiccars.com is also a good website that list muscle cars for sale. On youtube go to carsbyjeff. He does a good job of narrating and you can hear the sound of these cars at start-up and idle...pure music to the ears.

I believe it's a good idea to look for a popular muscle car such as mustangs, camaros, chevelles rather than the less popular ones such as Galxies, Farilanes and Gran Torinos, as there are more parts for the more popular cars and the parts are usually less expensive.


Best post.


Here's a spec for Ford engines, etc. I did the 351W in my '68 fastback. Nothing fit for exhaust and I wanted to avoid headers. I had a muffler shop bend me up a system for it.




Pretty good deal, 400 for a motor. Two things that you don't want to do yourself: Any bore/honing, or resurfacing of the crankshaft if its scratched. A rule of thumb is that if your fingernail catches in the scratch, it needs to be resurfaced. Take it to a shop to do this for you, every time.

Secondly, piston rings...yes, you can buy the tools and do it yourself, they arn't really expensive, just a clamp and soft hammer. Or, you can take it to a shop and have it done for probably the same price, then have someones neck to choke when they were intalled just slightly wrong and they take a cheesecube chunk out of your piston, and make half of it go down the piston wall, and the other half out of the engine. Which then requires a full new rebuild.

Also, flywheel are very precise, if its a 14mm, and you put a 14mm socket on it, your going to strip the fuck out of it because your socket and wrenches are tapered to allow retards to get them on the bolt easier. Call a shop and ask what socket/brand they use, or just have them do it.

Just a few things I learned when I yanked the motor out of my old starion for a rebuild...


I'll hone cylinders at home if I have to, you have to get the right cross hatch angle to help the rings seat which takes a little practice. The angle varies for chrome rings, moly faced rings. Many shops finish the bore undersize and do the final .005 with the hone. I'll polish out minor nicks (from handling) on the crank myself with crocus cloth and kerosene.

Rings have to be "fit" to the cylinders after the final honing is done. I have a wooden plug that puts them 1" down into the bore. The rule of thumb is like .004-.005 end gap per inch of cylinder diameter, so a 4.0" bore will have an end gap of .016-.020". And the ring ends have to be in the right place and not lined up. 3 rings should be spaced 120 degrees apart and no end should be over the piston pin, which promotes blowby. Most ring manufacturers give a set of cliffs on how to install their product.

I used this one machine shop for years until the owner died and they folded up. He did regular work but was also great at high performance work. Most shops have set prices for final assembly work and if you have never done it, the money is well spent.