LeMans – Working Out the Details

When I bought the LeMans, my intent was to have a car that required little attention. This would be the car that was ready to go at a moment’s notice. There would be no LeMans projects. I could devote my time in the garage to perfecting the Corvette’s mechanicals, cleaning the Porsche and starting the huge Firebird project.

A few weeks after owning the Pontiac, I realized this would not be the case. Its Edelbrock carburetor responded poorly to throttle inputs, the cabin became an oven when outside temperatures reached 60° F and the brakes performed only slightly better than opening the door and dragging the sole of my Adidas on the ground. The wallowy suspension was typical of 1960s muscle car design and provided little confidence when the roads got twisty.

Since its purchase, I’ve addressed many of these issues. I replaced the carburetor with a Quadrajet built by Cliff’s. J-Rod & Custom installed VIntage Air air conditioning. The front disc brakes were upgraded to Kore3 C6 Corvette brakes. RideTech coilovers on the front and rear with upgraded sway bars brought the handling into the 21st century. There remained, however, some little details that still bugged me, some of which I’ve recently addressed.

For as long as I’ve had the car, the throttle has felt heavy. There is so much resistance from the pedal, it feels as if the car is saying “No, I don’t want to go faster.” The throttle return springs were the obvious suspect, and yes, some investigation revealed the springs to require an astonishingly high effort to get them to expand. My idea for a solution was to just start ordering throttle return springs until I found a set that had the right amount of tension. This approach worked, as the first set I ordered was perfect. Dorman part number 59209 is perfect. It has just the right amount of tension and no longer feels as though one is trying to crush a tennis ball when applying throttle.

The new lighter return springs.

I have never felt comfortable in the LeMans’ stock seats. They seat the driver up so high that one must hunch over in order to see out of the windshield. The seatback doesn’t adjust, which leaves me sitting too upright. The seats aren’t supportive and cause back fatigue on long drives. I happen to have a pair of brand new Corbeau seats that I was going to use in the Firebird. This past summer, I decided to install them in the LeMans before a family trip to Walla Walla, Washington (a six hour drive). I only had to purchase adapters for the seats to work in the LeMans, and they bolted right in. The new seats are black, while the rest of the interior is green, but for what they lack in color matchiness, they make up for in comfort. These seats are staying. I will figure out how to make them green.

More comfortable and lower Corbeau seats replace the factory pair.

The aforementioned trip to Walla Walla took place in July, during which outside temperatures reached above 100° F. The air conditioning effectively combatted the summer weather and kept us nice and cool inside the car, but the radiator had less luck containing its coolant. The radiator in the LeMans has no overflow tank, so the radiator is filled to a few inches below its top. If there is excess coolant in the radiator, the excess pressure is relieved by the radiator cap and the coolant leaves a green puddle under the car. Whenever we stopped for fuel or food, we left behind a little eco-disaster. When finally enough coolant had escaped the radiator that it was at its proper level, we stopped leaving coolant behind. Fortunately, the water temperature gauge never read more than 200° F.

I don’t really like leaving behind puddles of coolant wherever I go. It’s bad for animals and people think your car is going to melt. To remedy this, I purchased a coolant recovery tank, Dorman part number 54002. In order for it to work properly, I purchased a vented radiator cap as well, Stant part number 10231. This cap allows coolant to flow via a hose into the overflow tank when pressure builds, and allows the coolant to return to the radiator when pressure has lowered. The new recovery tank not only prevents coolant from leaking onto the road, it also adds extra capacity, since the radiator can be filled to the top, with a bit of extra coolant in the overflow tank.

The recovery tank keeps the toxic coolant where it belongs.

One last little detail that I tackled on the LeMans was the gearshift stick. As described in this post, the shift lever is difficult to reach from the driver’s seat. This Hurst shifter was designed for some car intended to be driven by gorillas. Perhaps they were going to use that car in the original Planet of the Apes. Inspection of the shifter revealed that it is a bayonet-type shifter, which means that it is pressed into place and is held in with clips, unlike most shift sticks that bolt to the shifter. An eBay search for used A-Body Hurst 4-speed shifters came up with some good candidates, but all were fairly pricey ($200-$250). Since all I needed was the shift lever, I decided to look for 3-speed shifters for 1968-1972 A-Bodies. $115 later, I had the right shifter stick. I unclipped the old stick, inserted the new one and found that shifting was much more enjoyable now that I didn’t have to reach to the other side of the car on that 2-3 shift.

Removing the shift lever from the 3-speed shifter
Hurst stick in its new home.

None of these tasks were time consuming or terribly expensive, but they all add greatly to the enjoyment of driving the LeMans. What I considered a finished car when acquired is getting better with each project completed. Even little tasks described here were worthwhile improvements between big projects. Speaking of big  projects, stay tuned…