OK, we realize this story is about a Monte Carlo. Nonetheless, we thought you’d enjoy this story, because not only is it a Chevrolet, it’s one heck of a ride.
By FUEL, Issue #3, Chevrolet Performance
Arrival of warm weather means one thing: getting ready for cruise nights and show season. Over at Chevrolet Performance, it’s no different. Program manager Gary Mulder and his team are in the middle of dropping an LS376/525 Connect & Cruise system into an ’88 Monte Carlo SS for the 2014 Hot Rod Power Tour in June. So, just like you, they’ve been hard at work under the hood of their project car.
Mulder is no stranger to digging through used-car ads and negotiating a price like the rest of us, but as it happened, the Monte Carlo in question was only about 6 miles down the road from his own home. His initial intentions for the car were fairly straightforward: “We were looking for a full frame vehicle to build up the chassis and put the powertrain in.” As it turned out, the project would be used as a SEMA display property and ultimately serve as a test bed for the first-ever Chevrolet Performance Crate Powertrain System with a manual transmission.
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
In recent years, LS engines have found their way into more and more classic vehicles. Helping the cause is the Chevrolet Performance parts Crate Powertrain Systems which include a complete package of parts and offer everything builders are looking for. The Monte Carlo featured here will serve as a platform to help showcase our latest: the LS376/525 engine with a T-56 manual transmission. Stock, this Monte Carlo’s 180-hp and 4-speed automatic was, to put it lightly, anemic at best and was down on power from the start. Mulder and his team wanted to give the Monte Carlo the power it deserved and bring the rest of the powertrain and chassis into the modern age. Mulder tells us, “I’m amazed to see the power levels we’re able to achieve with the LS engines while providing even cleaner emissions.” Fuel injection and the modern ECM of the Connect & Cruise LS376/525 and 6-speed manual T56 Super Magnum not only added the desired power but also an economic boost in mpg.
Other than just a pair of custom motor mounts fitted to the Monte Carlo to match the LS3 mounting points, the two paired seamlessly. Fitting a 6-speed T56 Super Magnum manual transmission into the tunnel where a 4-speed automatic used to live required a bit more lovin’. Standard practice for automatic-to-manual conversion is taking a blade to the tunnel to reposition the shifter linkage point. But the Chevrolet Performance team wanted to keep the cutting to a minimum and the interior looking as clean and stock as possible. Instead, a custom shifter was fitted — one that keeps the stock shifter location but connects to the T56’s shifter point further back down the tunnel. The LS376/525 and T56 Connect & Cruise’s clutch system hooked up nicely and all they needed now was a clutch pedal, which was sourced from a 1986 Chevrolet Malibu.
PUTTING REIGNS ON THE HORSES
When putting a 525-horsepower engine into a classic Chevrolet, the Chevrolet Performance team always upgrades the other vehicle systems to ensure a well-rounded, safe car. To help keep any performance car shiny-side up, modern high-performance brakes and suspension are the best bet. To compensate for the increase in power and difference in weight with the new LS376/525 and T56 Connect & Cruise setup, suspension upgrades and disc brakes were fitted at each corner. A custom-built prop shaft and 12-bolt rear axle assembly were also installed to handle the increased power levels. With the addition of these upgrades, the Monte Carlo should have no problem keeping up with today’s sports cars.
KEEPING YOUR COOL
At cruise nights, the lack of constant airflow can choke the engine. So, when increasing your horsepower, increasing the engine cooling capacity should be a priority to keep the engine temperature healthy. It’s important to install a high-performance cooling system, and you might as well do it the first time around rather than having the green pouring from your wallet (and your engine) down the line.
In a bid to match the performance coming from under the hood, the Chevrolet Performance team also went hard to work on the interior. Welded to the original G-Body frame is a black powder-coated roll bar to help cope with the epic amount of torque coming from the LS376/525. To help keep the driver in place and out of the passenger’s lap in hard turns, Recaro® sport seats were fitted up front.
A common hurdle found on pro-touring or resto-mod builds is fitting wider tires under the wheel arches, in this case Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric2 275/30ZR19 front and 295/35ZR19 rear tires. To work around this problem (quite literally) crescents were cut out of the wheel arches and then pulled outwards. A spacer was then TIG-welded in the gap and smoothed out. This relatively simple trick keeps the original contours and, most importantly, keeps the wheel arches looking stock.
Another jewel in this Monte Carlo’s crown is the custom grille. The honeycomb design was milled from a single block of billet aluminum and then painted to match the rest of the car’s one-off shade of blue. The Bowtie was fashioned much the same way and TIG-welded onto the custom grille. The team then poached the Gold Bowtie cover from a Chevrolet Sonic to upgrade it from the bare silver. Other custom pieces include 3-inch stainless-steel exhaust tubing bent as needed to make its way past the upgraded suspension, drivetrain, and out under the rear of the car. The Chevrolet Performance team went so far as to attach a special charcoal filter system to the exhaust so the LS376/525 could be enjoyed inside convention halls without the drawbacks of smelling gasoline fumes from a vented fuel tank.
Fitting this ’88 Monte Carlo SS with the LS376/525 Connect & Cruise is a realistic build for any dedicated hot-rodder. With the right tools and skills, the techs at Chevrolet Performance were able to add a few one-off touches that made for one truly unique Monte Carlo. For the most part though, the Chevrolet Performance team aims to complete builds that average do-it-yourselfers can tackle in their own garages. Although the car was found through an online ad, all the powertrain, ECM, and electrical systems are available directly through the Chevrolet Performance catalog.
Want to get an up-close look at this reborn ’80s icon? Catch the Monte Carlo SS LS3 during the 2014 Hot Rod Power Tour this summer.