Detail Your Engine

Article: 10 Author: Rich Miller Contact Rich

You have your dream Pontiac and now you want to show it off, but the first thing everyone wants to see when you pull up at the park, cruise, show, friend's house, office is...the engine! Now if your dream car just got back from a frame off platinum restoration then you can skip this article and jump to the Events page (why are you reading this anyway). Actually if that's the type of detailing you're interested in then I recommend you seek out a reputable company, it's beyond the scope of this article. But if you have an older restoration, a car that just had the exterior redone but under the hood wasn't touched, or a nice original car that needs the engine detailed this is just the ticket.


Before we get started it's important that you determine how much or how little you want to do. Are you going to need to refinish the firewall? core support? inside of the hood? inner fenders? If you're painting the block it may be the perfect time to clean up those areas. The intention here is not to give you a step by step for every possible aspect of this project but give you a simple guide and perhaps get you motivated. If you feel after reading this that it's overwhelming then shorten the to do list or leave it to a professional.

Step one is possibly the most important: research. Since you're going to go through a fair amount of energy and effort you may as well do the job as correctly as you can. In many cases there's no cost associated with correct versus incorrect, it's just a matter of finishing a part one way instead of another. One thing to keep in mind is that not every piece will be documented, and in many cases there will be conflicting information. In those instances I pick what I think looks best sometimes doing something else entirely (it's your car you know). Start by buying everything you can get your hands on with pictures of cars like yours. For the Judge I've looked at more literature than I could ever remember, but some highlights are the GTO Restoration Guide, GTO Recognition Guide, GTO: A Source Book, a zillion articles in various magazines, and original brochures and ads. Next try to make it to some large Pontiac shows like the POCI Nationals or one of the many regional gatherings. Take a camera and take a ton of photos of cars similar to yours. You may think you can remember everything, but when you're staring at all those parts in your basement you'll be glad you have a reference. You might also want to buy a service manual for moral support.

Next plan the time needed for the project, for me it takes two weekends and the evenings in between. Leave sufficient time before to order parts, and after to get the car running without the pressure of an immediate state inspection or event. Now take out your Ames Performance Engineering (shameless plug for my major sponsor) or other catalog and carefully go through it page by page checking and see what things you want to replace. Here's a list of items you might consider buying, if they're available for your car, that will make a big difference in the finished product:

  • Hoses and clamps
  • Radiator cap
  • Oil filler cap
  • Belts*
  • Plug wires*
  • Spark plugs*
  • Alternator*
  • Wire looms (if missing)
  • Preheater duct*
  • Battery cables
  • Fan shroud
  • Bumper filler
  • Foam for Ram Air pans or underhood insulation
  • Splash shields
  • Washer bottle
  • Battery tray
  • Newly plated brake booster and master cylinder cover
  • Decals

    The items I've marked with an * should also be available at your local auto parts store (if you don't care about date coding etc.) Although many other items can be purchased there (such as hoses and clamps) using post type clamps where original instead of worm clamps and molded hoses makes a difference in how well your car "shows". I use standard replacements from AC Delco for plugs, wires, battery (I just can't bring myself to get away from maintenance free) and such because they look nice even if they aren't always 100% correct.

    In addition to parts you're also going to need supplies:

  • Masking tape (various widths - get the good stuff)
  • Permanent marker
  • Zip loc bags
  • Sand paper
  • Thick plastic drop cloths
  • Degreaser
  • Stainless steel wool
  • Respirator
    Spray paints:
  • Engine paint (I used Dupli Color) and matching primer
  • Cast iron gray
  • Gloss black and matching primer for the radiator
  • Semi gloss black and matching primer for various brackets and engine compartment
  • Aluminum
  • Clear
  • High temperature black for the heat riser
  • High temperature aluminum (exhaust manifold quick-fix)
  • Gold or Eastwoods brake booster kit (if your booster needs help and you didn't get a replated one)


    The big day has arrived, all of your parts have come in, and you're ready to start. Now prepare a large area to receive the parts you're going to take off, newspapers spread on the basement floor is perfect. The goal is to take off accessories until your engine looks similar to the photos. This is where you'll have to use your own judgement. To make it as painless as possible I try to avoid breaking any gaskets or seals if I can. The power steering pump can be unbolted and swung aside without removing the hoses. The fuel pump can be left on and simply masked. Chrome valve covers can be masked. As you remove parts do one of two things with the fasteners: thread them back into the part they came from if they will be painted the same color or label a zip loc bag and store them in it. Here's a rough guide for major disassembly:

  • Cover your fenders and front bumper!
  • Remove battery
  • Remove air cleaner etc.
  • Drain the radiator into milk jugs
  • Remove hoses and cover openings
  • Remove fan
  • Remove fan shroud
  • Remove radiator
  • Remove alternator
  • Remove pulleys and disconnect power steering pump from block
  • Remove distributor cap with plug wires (see below)
  • Remove carb and immediately cover intake and fuel line end with tape
  • Remove everything else that is in the way of painting or will be finished separately

    When you remove the distributor cap with the plug wires make sure you label the wires either driver or passenger side and numbered front to back. I replaced the spark plugs so I left the old ones in for painting. With the accessories removed the wiring harness can be moved without disturbing it further.


    Of course this will depend on the condition of the parts. Everything that will be painted will need to be degreased and sanded. The engine and exhaust manifolds can also be wire brushed. Even a fairly clean looking part that is painted will still need to be degreased and sanded to help the new paint adhere. Bare metal parts such as the metal fuel line can be cleaned with steel wool. Clean everything in the engine compartment first before starting to mask.


    Take your time here! As with any paint job masking is hugely important. Look at the photos to get an idea of what I did. Start by covering the entire body of the car so there's no worry of getting metallic blue overspray on that Carousel Red Judge! Don't forget to wrap something around the underneath of the hood.

    For the engine I wrap plastic drop clothes around it and force them under the block to keep the blue paint off the undercarriage. Mask the valve covers with tape. Wrap aluminum foil around the distributor and place a plastic bag and rubber band around it for good measure. Mask the fuel pump with tape. Wrap the metal fuel line with tape. Cover the rubber line with newspaper. At this point the only thing uncovered should be receiving engine paint. Since I knew I was going to paint the exhaust manifolds I didn't bother covering them.

    I paint the engine first then move onto the other parts. You can cover the engine fairly easily with plastic. The inner fenders can actually be painted in the car as well as I illustrate. Again masking patience is the key.


    First read all of the directions on the paint you will be using. Basically they'll say prime at least those areas that have been sanded to bare metal. Take a clean lint-free cloth and wipe over the area to be sprayed before starting. Primer and paint should be applied in multiple fairly thin coats and allowed to dry as instructed. I usually spray in horizontal strokes to a point where the paint just becomes wet in appearance and then move on. Inspect your work with a trouble light between coats to make sure you're covering all of the angles and hidden areas. If you take the time to spray around the bottom of the motor no one will know it wasn't out unless they crawl underneath.

    After painting the engine cover it with clean plastic and move to the next project. Paint the master cylinder, power steering box, and anti-sway bar cast iron. If you're patient with masking you can do a good job of painting the master cylinder without removing it, the same for the booster. Paint the metal fuel line and steering box cover with clear. My quick-fix for the exhaust manifolds was to mask around them and spray them with the high temperature aluminum. So far it looks fine. I didn't have the time (or the patience I guess) to try Eastwood's manifold coating, but I'll do that some day. Paint the various fasteners as you've researched. One trick for bolts is to poke them through the cardboard allowing you to easily spray the heads.


    To refurbish wire looms buy black "Plasti-dip". Remove the old cracked plastic, clean, paint with aluminum spray, and then dip the end for a like-new appearance. The throttle spring can be painted by tapping two nails into a piece of wood far enough apart so that the spring will be slightly open when stretched onto the nails. Spray it and leave it on there until you're ready to put it back on the car. Unwanted markings on hoses or plug wires can be taken off with a small amount of nail polish remover.


    This is pretty much the reverse of before. Make sure you fill the radiator before starting. The first time you run the motor watch under the hood for anti-freeze and fuel leaks until the engine is warm enough for the thermostat to open. This is when you'll find out if the heater hoses leak. Stop the engine and check the anti-freeze level again.

  • As it appeared in 1986

    The parts collection

    Here's the motor ready to mask

    Now we're ready for paint

    Finished Painting (check carefully with a trouble light)

    After quick-fix exhaust paint

    Masked avenger, oops I mean a fender

    The hard part's over, just reassembly left

    Much better!