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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hello fellow NECOA Members! I've decided to create this thread to act as a sort of table of contents for other 5th Gen El Camino owners looking to get a better understanding of what are some relatively cheap and effective modifications they can do to their cars using second-hand parts. This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the possibilities, but rather a summary of the easiest "bolt-in" swaps that can be done with second-hand parts to achieve appreciable performance gains.

But Why?
When I first got my 1984 El Camino SS nearly 5 years ago, I had no idea about anything really. But since then I've done a lot of reading on this forum as well as other G-Body and Hot Roding forums to learn more and collect information. The knowledge is definitely out there, but it can be a pain to find at times. So I want to make this post for newcomers so that they can have an easier, more organized time than I did when it comes to learning about the possibilities for their 5th Gen El Caminos. So without further ado, let's begin!

1. Jeep Steering Shaft and Steering Box Upgrade
Parts you'll need:
1. A steering box from a 1993-1998 First Generation ZJ Jeep Grand Cherokee.
2. A steering shaft from a 1983-2001 First Generation XJ Jeep Cherokee.
What it does:
The benefits of this swap are two-fold.
Firstly, the ZJ Jeep Grand Cherokee steering box is quicker ratio 12.7:1 Saginaw 800 which a massive improvement over the 17.5:1 ratio found in our stock G bodies. Secondly. The XJ Jeep Cherokee steering shaft upgrade replaces the factory rag joints with universal joints (U-Joints) which can help eliminate a lot of the slop in your steering, and provide better feedback through the wheel
Exceptions:
- 1978 & 1979 El Camino owners, I'm sorry but this swap unfortunately will not be so direct for you guys, as your steering shaft is splined, rather than the D shape needed to connect to the top joint.
How to information:
Car Craft Magazine: "How To Upgrade Your G-Body Steering on the Cheap" - Published June 13th, 2017
http://www.hotrod.com/articles/upgrade-g-body-steering-cheap/

2. Chevrolet Blazer/GMC Jimmy Font Disc Brake Upgrade
Parts you'll need:
1. The front right and left hub assembly, including brake rotors and calipers from a second generation 1998-2005 two-wheel drive 4-door Chevrolet Blazer/GMC Jimmy
What it does:
There are three major benefits here
1. The front right and left brake calipers are 2-piston, which is one more than stock.
2. The brake rotor diameter increases from 10.50" to 10.75."
3. The brake rotor thickness increases from 1.00" to 1.20"
The net result of all of these improvements is greater stopping power, while still being able to fit under your existing 14" or 15" wheels.
How-to information:
"98~05 Blazer brake upgrade! DONE!" by mkube396 on February 26th, 2012
https://gbodyforum.com/threads/98-05-blazer-brake-upgrade-done.35747/

3. F41 Suspension Package
Parts you'll need:
F41 Front Sway Bar
F41 Rear Sway Bar
F41 Quick Ratio Steering Gear Box
F41 Jounce Bars
F41 Fender to Radiator core support
F41 Grand prix bar
F41 Radiator cross braces
What it does:
This F41 suspension package was actually an optional handling package offered by GM dealers for G-body cars. In fact, if you're lucky, your 5th Gen El Camino may already have some, if not all of these already installed on it. For those of you less fortunate, lucky for you everything bolts right in. The F41 suspension package basically just improves the handling characteristics of your El Camino by adding in a bunch of chassis bracing, and a quicker 12.7:1 steering box ratio
How-to information:
"Incomplete F41 option from the factory" by partsbox on July 18th, 2016
http://www.elcaminocentral.com/showthread.php?t=47293
"F41 Suspension?" by theelcaminoman on January 15th, 2012
http://www.elcaminocentral.com/showthread.php?t=196898

4. GM 8.5" 10-Bolt Rear End Upgrade
Parts you'll need:
The rear axle housing from any of the following:
1984-1987 Buick Turbo Regal/Grand National
1984-1987 Oldsmobile 442
1984 Oldsmobile Hurst/Olds
What it does:
The GM 8.5" increases the ring gear size of your 5th gen El Camino from 7.5" to 8.5". This increase allows for an increase in ring and pinion gear surface to stand up to more abuse and power without snapping the ring gear. Furthermore, the GM 8.5" housing can accommodate axles up to a 30-spline count, whereas the GM 7.5" can only accommodate up to a 28-spline count. The GM 8.5" also runs marginally cooler compared to the stock 7.5" because of the increased size of its components.
How-to information:
"Rear Axle Identification" by Blake442 on April 25th, 2010
https://gbodyforum.com/threads/rear-axle-identification.18896/

4. 350-400 Small Block Chevy Engine Swap
Parts you'll need:
- Any 1st Generation Small Block Chevy
What it does:
Replacing the factory 305 V8 or 229 V6 with a first generation small block chevy gives you an affordable foundation with which to build horsepower into your El Camino. While yes, the 305 is technically a small block chevy, it is by no means a performance oriented variant. A lot of people ask if putting money into the factory 305 is worth it, and a majority of users will tell you "no" because you could get a better HP per dollar return if you used an older, more performance oriented small block chevy. This only works out this way because, as of writing, small block chevy's are still readily available, and there's an abundance of aftermarket and second-hand parts to be had. This bountiful supply makes building a relatively reliable 300 hp small block on a shoe string budget possible with some mechanical skill and elbow grease. Furthermore, because a Gen I small block has the same dimensions as the factory 305, it'll bolt right up to everything with little to no modifications required.
Exceptions:
- If going from the 229 V6 to a V8, there are a few more parts that you will need to upgrade to a small block chevy. Namely, you will need new left and right front springs for a V8 G-Body, a V8 G-Body fan shroud, hoses, and a V8 G-Body radiator.
How-to information:
"How To Swap Buick V6 3.8 to SBC 350" by dougfather on September 11th, 2007
https://gbodyforum.com/threads/how-to-swap-buick-v6-3-8-to-sbc-350.2485/
"To convert a Gbody v6-v8" by VintageNewSkoo on October 8th, 2008
http://www.hotrodders.com/forum/convert-gbody-v6-v8-146317.html

4. Upgrade Gauge Lights and Reflectivity
Parts you'll need:
- Sylvania Type 2825 lights
- White modeling paint
What it does:
Something people complain about regularly about 5th Gen El Caminos, is the gauge lights. Over the past 30+ years, they've gotten dim and the lighting is so poor that many El Camino owners have trouble reading their entire gauges at night, even with the dimmer switch up as high as it will go. The the 8 factory Type 168 lamps are rated at just 3 candlepower, where as the Sylvania 2825 lamps are rated at 5 candlepower. Multiply those figures by 8, and the Sylvania lamps can provide a 60% increase in available illumination over the stock Type 168 laps. The improvement can be further increased by painting the faded light blue surface on the back of the gauge faceplate white to increase it's reflection coefficient. These two simple modifications combined will make your gauges clear as day again, helping driver confidence in night time situations.
How-to information:
"Instructions to Improve SS Dash Gauge Cluster Lighting " by Paul Carreiro on June 2nd, 2004
http://www.montecarloss.com/Dash_Lights.html

And with that, I turn it over to the wonderful, knowledgable members of this community to add additional information and possibilities for other 5th Gen owners to enjoy. Please do add a post to this thread if you know of a second-hand bolt-in performance modification that I forgot or failed to clarify on. Again, this is by no means an exhaustive list, so I'm reliant on other members to continue to fill in information in places I may have missed. If you've made it this far, thank you so much for reading all of this. Have a nice day.
 

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regarding item #2, Disc Brake upgrade, I believe that a 4door model is required so you may want to change that line to "1998-2005 two-wheel drive 4 DOOR Chevrolet Blazer/GMC Jimmy"

also, you can pull the rear disc brakes off the same vehicle and convert your rear brakes from drum to disc.

btw, these are just the performance modifications. this doesn't even begin to touch the body mods that can be done with front ends and door panels with little to no modification required.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thank you for the correction cyberray, I made the edits you suggested to item #2.

As for the rear disc brake conversion, can you link me to a thread that details this conversion for 5th gens?

And yeah, I deliberately focused primarily on performance modifications, since they get asked about so frequently on this forum.
 

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I am in the middle of the 305- 350 engine swap (#4)
I have done the steering box upgrade to my 65, so it makes sense to go with #1 on my 83SS
I like #4 as well. Upgrading dash lighting.
I will be going with a Serpentine Belt swap also. ( Car Craft November 2009) the only caveat is my Camino has Left side AC compressor. The swap moves the Compressor to the right side. (If you do not have or do not want AC, you can just run a "Dummy" pulley on the right). But..then again.. there are some G bodies out ther with right side AC compressors. I will let you know how that works out I am going to grab the hoses and condenser from a different G body and see how well I can make them all fit. (I also have not looked into using the serpentine setup from a newer (say '97 and up) Blazer with a left side compressor). One way or another! I will have serpentine belt and AC on my 83SS
 
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Also in the suspension department:
- Tubular upper front control arms (e.g. Global West) and tall upper ball joints (Speedway is one source) to tweak the front suspension geometry.
- Set front alignment caster to the positive limit and camber to the negative limit of specs rather than anywhere in the spec box.
- Lower springs front and rear (I got a set from PST) Car sits so the front lower A-arm is nearly horizontal. Rear uses Air Lift bags to keep the fenders off wide tires when hauling a load.
- Boxed rear control arms.

Thanks for the project list. I'm saving this link. :thumbs up:
 

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Discussion Starter #6
I will be going with a Serpentine Belt swap also. ( Car Craft November 2009) the only caveat is my Camino has Left side AC compressor. The swap moves the Compressor to the right side. (If you do not have or do not want AC, you can just run a "Dummy" pulley on the right). But..then again.. there are some G bodies out ther with right side AC compressors. I will let you know how that works out I am going to grab the hoses and condenser from a different G body and see how well I can make them all fit.
Hey thanks for the addition here, Jeff. Please do keep this thread updated on how your installation goes as you work out the details so we can all learn! For anyone reading this curious about what he's talking about with the serpentine belt swap, you can read more about it in the Car Craft article he referenced here:
http://www.hotrod.com/articles/ccrp-0911-serpentine-belt-drive/

Also in the suspension department:
- Tubular upper front control arms (e.g. Global West) and tall upper ball joints (Speedway is one source) to tweak the front suspension geometry.
- Set front alignment caster to the positive limit and camber to the negative limit of specs rather than anywhere in the spec box.
- Lower springs front and rear (I got a set from PST) Car sits so the front lower A-arm is nearly horizontal. Rear uses Air Lift bags to keep the fenders off wide tires when hauling a load.
- Boxed rear control arms.
These are some really great budget modifications, but I really tried to focus on mods that can be made using second hand parts pulled from a junkyard or scored at a swap meet. Although, boxed rear control arms can be done on the cheap if you know how to weld well. I'm glad you liked the write up Greywolf! Thanks for the additions!
 

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I understand that you are discussing upgrading G-Body's with used parts available. However, I have done all the improvements listed herein and the best safety and performance improvement I have done to my 84 was to purchase the large bore front caliper upgrade (CPP) kit from The El Camino Store. For the $150.00 spent, the truck will lock up the brakes from highway speeds. I know this from personal experience! It is far and away the best improvement I have done.
RTT Todd
 

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Discussion Starter #8

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The G model brakes have always been a weak spot in the car design. The car is rather heavy and it seems to just plow during hard braking... THose big bore calipers sounds like just the ticket.
 

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Here's one must upgrade as far as I'm concerned:

Modify the fuel fill door to open sideways from the rear side instead of from the bottom.


Who doesn't absolutely hate what Chevy did there?
I've owned my Choo Choo for almost 25 years and it's always driven me crazy. Since I'm going to start prepping for a new paint job later this year, this modification is going to happen. I will post what exactly how I'm going to tackle this in my project thread when I get there. I'll photo document everything. Going to use donor parts from an '89 S10 pickup. It has a door the right contour and almost the same size. I've already acquired the door and a cut square about 2" larger than the opening from the quarter panel. I will size it up and graft it into my car with my mig welder.
 

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Here's one must upgrade as far as I'm concerned:

Modify the fuel fill door to open sideways from the rear side instead of from the bottom.


Who doesn't absolutely hate what Chevy did there?
I've owned my Choo Choo for almost 25 years and it's always driven me crazy. Since I'm going to start prepping for a new paint job later this year, this modification is going to happen. I will post what exactly how I'm going to tackle this in my project thread when I get there. I'll photo document everything. Going to use donor parts from an '89 S10 pickup. It has a door the right contour and almost the same size. I've already acquired the door and a cut square about 2" larger than the opening from the quarter panel. I will size it up and graft it into my car with my mig welder.
I am right there with 'ya brother!
I have owned my '78 for 35 years and hated putting gas in it the whole time.
This is what I did to solve the problem with no hot welding;

http://www.elcaminocentral.com/showthread.php?t=151249
Fuel Door Mod3 001.jpg
 

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Nice job.

I had actually read through your thread a while back and was very impressed. I thought about doing the same but my neighbor is scrapping his old S10 bed and when I saw the gas door on it and he said to take what you want, I decided to opt to go that route.
Since welding stuff like this is easy for me and the car will be stripped, it made sense. It will look OEM inside and out when I'm done.
 

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First, excellent write up. This post should possibly be stickied for all newcomers.


I have done #4 & #5 of the original post. The benefits of #4 are self explanatory. #5 is possibly the easiest upgrade on the list to do, and is a must for safe night driving. The difference is, quite literally, night and day.
 

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the only caveat is my Camino has Left side AC compressor. The swap moves the Compressor to the right side. (If you do not have or do not want AC, you can just run a "Dummy" pulley on the right). But..then again.. there are some G bodies out ther with right side AC compressors. I will let you know how that works out I am going to grab the hoses and condenser from a different G body and see how well I can make them all fit. (I also have not looked into using the serpentine setup from a newer (say '97 and up) Blazer with a left side compressor). One way or another! I will have serpentine belt and AC on my 83SS
Both the mid-ninties Camaro and Firebird as well as mid-ninties pickups and blazers have serpentine systems with right side compressors - I have that set-up on my 83. Some of the Camaro AC hoses will also fit the right side configuration. Parts are readily available and reasonable from junk yards as well as e.g Rock Auto. If you look to go that way, get the Camaro/Firebird set-up. The truck stuff will work but, it's taller and uglier. If you go the Camaro route, you will need to get the Camaro PS pump. The pumps are almost identical but, the angle of the reservoir/filler is different.
 

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A dirt-cheap rear braking upgrade is to install wheel cylinders from '82-'86 S10 trucks with manual (non-power) brakes. They're 7/8" bore rather than the standard 3/4", and give a noticeable increase, especially if you're running larger than stock tires out back. Cost from Rock Auto is less than $10 each and they're a direct bolt-in.

Bill
 

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Discussion Starter #16
First, excellent write up. This post should possibly be stickied for all newcomers.

I have done #4 & #5 of the original post. The benefits of #4 are self explanatory. #5 is possibly the easiest upgrade on the list to do, and is a must for safe night driving. The difference is, quite literally, night and day.
First off, thank you very much for the kind words on my post. I tried to be as thorough as possible while still being as concise as possible. Although, I seemed to have gotten so caught up in the details that I somehow managed to overlook that I listed #4 twice, instead of using #5.

I know #5 isn't really a performance medication like all the others, but it is just such a simple thing to do that provides a significant improvement to the legibility of the gauges at night. It's something that's so easily overlooked, and many owners just take it as one of those inevitable trade-offs for owning a classic car, rather than something that is cheaply, and easily fixable.

A dirt-cheap rear braking upgrade is to install wheel cylinders from '82-'86 S10 trucks with manual (non-power) brakes. They're 7/8" bore rather than the standard 3/4", and give a noticeable increase, especially if you're running larger than stock tires out back. Cost from Rock Auto is less than $10 each and they're a direct bolt-in.
I had somehow never heard of this before, but that definitely seems like something I should have included! Thanks so much for the contribution!
 

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I do agree this is going to be a super helpful thread.

Regarding #5.
I just recently installed a Dakota Digital VHX gauge package in my '83. I must say this is one heck of an upgrade over the original setup.

I know their VHX or the even more expensive HDX are not going to fit everyones budget. However, I think it is so good it should be high on the priority list.

I photo documented my install in my project thread and on the gbody site. Easier to go to the gbody site since it's specific to my install:

https://gbodyforum.com/threads/my-dakota-digital-vhx-install-w-dash-remodel.63388/

Here's my project thread here on this site:
http://www.elcaminocentral.com/showthread.php?t=200250
 

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Discussion Starter #19
I do agree this is going to be a super helpful thread.

Regarding #5.
I just recently installed a Dakota Digital VHX gauge package in my '83. I must say this is one heck of an upgrade over the original setup.

I know their VHX or the even more expensive HDX are not going to fit everyones budget. However, I think it is so good it should be high on the priority list.

I photo documented my install in my project thread and on the gbody site. Easier to go to the gbody site since it's specific to my install:

https://gbodyforum.com/threads/my-dakota-digital-vhx-install-w-dash-remodel.63388/

Here's my project thread here on this site:
http://www.elcaminocentral.com/showthread.php?t=200250
Glad you found this thread helpful! Also, that install thread is extremely detailed and useful for those installing a Dakota Digital dash. Thanks for the link!
 

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Thank you for the correction cyberray, I made the edits you suggested to item #2.

As for the rear disc brake conversion, can you link me to a thread that details this conversion for 5th gens?
Here's a few that were mentioned after I searched:

http://www.elcaminocentral.com/gtsearch.php?q=rear disc brake darbysan

http://www.elcaminocentral.com/showthread.php?t=56701
http://www.elcaminocentral.com/showthread.php?t=57338

and more:
http://www.elcaminocentral.com/showthread.php?t=42493
http://www.hotrod.com/articles/ccrp-1204-budget-gm-rear-disc-brakes-swap-junkyard-builder/
http://www.hotrod.com/articles/ccrp-0805-gm-drum-brake-to-disc-brake-swap/


A dirt-cheap rear braking upgrade is to install wheel cylinders from '82-'86 S10 trucks with manual (non-power) brakes. They're 7/8" bore rather than the standard 3/4", and give a noticeable increase, especially if you're running larger than stock tires out back. Cost from Rock Auto is less than $10 each and they're a direct bolt-in.

Bill
The advantage to this upgrade (vs a rear disc conversion) is that you don't have to worry about fixing the parking brake cable. For those of us who live in states requiring a parking brake for annual inspection, this is a non-negotiable item. There is a way to jimmy it up but it can be a pain for newbies.
 
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