Going fast doesn’t come cheap. That doesn’t, however, remotely suggest you can’t maximize your Pontiac’s performance and appearance without spending a lot of money.
Over the past few years we’ve covered in HPP many of the more involved ways to achieve budget-minded performance. That includes exploring low-buck stroker kits, modifying small-valve cylinder heads to accept larger diameter valves, and various dyno tuning sessions where maximum power is extracted by simply adjusting the carburetor and distributor.
In this article, we share 15 no-buck or low-buck ways aimed at keeping your vintage Pontiac running and looking its best. Some you may recognize, while others may provide you with new approaches. Best of all, anytime you can save money while improving your Pontiac, it’s a winning combination, no matter how you view it!
Brighten Up Your Night
Is your Pontiac’s instrument cluster hard to read at night? Try replacing the original No. 194 bulbs with No. 168 units from your local auto parts store. The replacements fit and function just like the originals, but they are noticeably brighter. The total number of bulbs required for a particular Pontiac will vary with the model line and optional equipment, but at around $1 per bulb, it should cost less than $20 to complete the swap.
The PCV system relieves an engine of lightly pressurized air that’s trapped within the crankcase, and that air typically contains a slight amount of oil mist, which is created as the engine rotates. Two different rubber grommets were used to seal the Pontiac system and oil seepage and overall system effectiveness can be compromised as the rubber ages. Dorman offers new PCV valve grommets for Pontiac V-8 in its HELP! line, which can restore proper PCV system function. Nos. 42054 (valley pan) and 42055 (valve cover) can be purchased quite reasonably from your nearest local auto parts store for $5.
If you’re questioning your Pontiac’s speedometer accuracy or already know it’s incorrect, the tachometer can also be used to accurately gauge vehicle speed when cruising in high gear (1:1 ratio). A quick internet search provides several online speed calculators that use your rear-axle gear ratio and tire size to calculate cruising rpm at a particular speed, or you can use the following formula to calculate speed at a given rpm: MPH=(rpm x tire height in inches x 0.00297)/axle ratio. At 2,500 rpm, a Pontiac fitted with 3.08 gears and 27-inch tall tires, for instance, cruises at a speed of 65 mph. While it applies to any manual or automatic transmission, a loose torque converter and/or high stall speed can skew the result.
Photo Courtesy of Pacific Performance Racing
The most common Pontiac connecting rod was constructed of cast Arma Steel, and age and countless heating and cooling cycles over the years makes them less than ideal for modern high-performance rebuilds. Pacific Performance Racing (PPR) has recently released a low-buck forging rated to as much as 700 hp for anyone on a budget. The new Tomahawk I-beam is constructed of 4130-steel and features stock Pontiac dimensions and one-piece ARP cap screws. The svelte design produces a durable rod that weighs no more than 820 grams, about 50 less than the 5140-steel counterpart. Available only from PPR and retailing for $280, the new Tomahawk rod is sure an excellent performance value for myriad applications.
When Pontiac engineers designed the oil-filter housing, it included an internal bypass that allows oil to flow throughout the engine if the filter ever failed. Many racers block this bypass, which forces all oil through the filter. While that’s acceptable for a race engine where the filter is regularly changed, the bypass should remain functional in street engines where oil changes occur less frequently. Dirt and grime have likely built up behind the bypass valve, however, and it can enter the oiling system if the operational fail-safe is called to action. Disassembling the valve and thoroughly cleaning it during a rebuild can prevent that debris from entering your engine and damaging its bearings for $0.