12.99/$1,299 Update – Just when you think you’re in the clear


A 12.99 Challenge update by Dennis Pittsenbarger


Just when you think you’re in the clear … here comes the storm.


Before I jump forward let’s take today step-by-step. If you have been keeping up with the Cars Illustrated 12.99/$1,299 Challenge, then you already know that I’ve been battling fuel delivery problems from the get-go.


It started with the open knowledge that some tweaker hacked the fuel system up in our 1991 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 before I bought it, and that was what I thought would be the only problem.


As per the normal, when you build junk, some times you don’t know just how much of a piece of junk you have.


Fast forward past the immediate needs of this car: putting the sending unit in, fixing the suspension, and all the other items we thought we had it narrowed down to. The injectors were what we thought we needed to get this turd to run on its own power. Four were bad and, thanks to both Napa auto parts and Sergey at Automotive Products Inc., we only spent $107.64 on a full set of rebuilt units for the Camaro. Problem solved right? Wrong.


Well, yes and no.


The “yes” would be the fact that we got the TPI unit reassembled, the new injectors installed, locked down the wiring to the pump for power, and even closed up the gargantuan hole in the trunk. We then focused on setting the Z28 back on the path we needed it to be … to just one 12.99-second quarter mile pass. That’s all we are asking of this thing before the $1,299 budget runs out.


The “no” would be where the day started to go down hill … fast.


We thought we were there. It was time to get the Z28 outside, which it did under it’s own power. Turn it around and point it towards the far end of the parking lot – that we did. Then lay out two nicely spaced stripes of melted rubber in Mike’s parking lot. We didn’t.


Now what?


This one is on me. I forgot to check all the fuel lines on the return fuel unit underneath, and that got me a nice little clean up session. Hey, at least this time we did not set it on fire.


So, with that checked off, we figure we would just go over the whole car a bit and in the same time space we even mounted the used tires Mike found.   It was starting to look like things would turn around, right? What else could go wrong, right?


It’s normal mechanic practice to check the basics of what a internal combustion engine needs to fire and run. You also need to check on the systems that the engine requires to continue to run without eating itself or its other systems. These include fuel, spark, air… check. Engine oil and transmission fluid as well as brakes and power steering fluid … check.


Wait, water? Yeah, water. At about the point where Mike is putting what would be the fifth gallon of water into the radiator, it’s starting to get scary again. What the hell is going on? Why is this thing taking so much water and not topping off?


And this is where we start to get flustered, because there is water in the oil.


So here is the breakdown of what Mike and I are thinking. Sort of a FML checklist of what will either be our saving grace or our demise.


The water is low and mixing in with the oil inside the pan. So, what we have determined is that since it is running fine without water and there is no billows of white smoke otherwise, it would make sense that there is no problem at the bottom end. If there were, we would hear problematic noises inside the pan. Since, the water is coming to the level of the cooling crossovers, and staying parallel with the radiator, the two could be scenarios are as follows:


FML Level One: The lower part of the TPI manifold is deteriorated or corroded to the point of either it being bad or that and the gaskets being faulty. Not something we want to be true, however it would not be the worse thing that could happen. Even though it would be work added to get to 12.99, a used bottom intake plate off of a TPI unit and/or the gaskets are not going to kill the remaining budget.


FML Level Two: We pull the intake and then find that we need to pull the heads and have either bad head gaskets, bad heads, or even worse a cracked water jacket in the block. Yes, at this time you can all put your hands together and pray that it’s “level one”. Or, you might be laughing and cueing up your Monday morning quarterback jersey to tell us what we’re surely doing wrong in your professional opinion.


This brings me to one last thought before I take a step back and figure out when to make the time to get the intake removed. Yes, we are doing this in a shop. Yes, we are doing this with the luxury of a few tools that not everyone has, but I do know that we have not done anything that could not have been done in my garage at home. It would have only taken longer to complete. But, if you want to try to explain to either of our wives why we have another project car sitting in the yard that is on you.


And with that, this will end our time with the Cars Illustrated 12.99/$1,299 Challenge Camaro for today. Up next is the complete other end of the spectrum and my road trip in a 2016 Camaro SS form Detroit to Nashville.


So sit back and spend some time in the Cars Illustrated forum or follow along on our Intagram or Facebook pages and watch me do to a 2016 Camaro what I would honestly do to my ’91.



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