1959 Oldsmobile Rocket 88

Old June 20th, 2017, 12:04 AM
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1959 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 Engine Swap

So I figured its about time to start logging my engine swap progress and work on the car its self! Here's the back story...
I 've always loved 59 GM cars. The fins, wrap around windshields, and the 20 foot minimum on vehical length. When I saw the Rocket on craigslist back in April I knew this was going to be my car. For $900, my buddy and I went and picked up the car with a trailer (which was too small so I called a flat bed) and took the car with me back to Tacoma. There, I jumped right in and started to pull parts off the engine to see why it wasn't cranking over. Pulling the valve covers made me start to realize that maybe this engine wasn't salvageable. Sure enough when I pulled the driver side head off and saw the crusty rusty mess of the cylinders I knew Id have to pull the motor. So I started looking at options. I joined this community to get some great advice and in the meantime I looked for other 371's or 394's for 59. I had absolutely no luck trying to find a good running motor here in the PNW. However I did come across a motor in Tuscon Arizona for $600 running. It was definitely a later 394, but it was running! So I bought the motor, had it shipped up here and the first weekend I worked to pull the existing 371 and Jetaway. Well, I ran into some clearance issues and waited till the next weekend when I finally got the motor out by breaking one of the rear motor mounts (which wouldn't unbolt). So now we come to the current part of the swap. In order to get the transmission and torque converter seperated from the engine i need to pull the crank out of the motor to access the bolts that cant be reached (since the seized motor wont turn over. I need to figure out how I can get the crank pulley bolt out, then I can pull the crank out of the engine. Also I will share some photos as well.

Last edited by AdamBombBaby; July 5th, 2017 at 10:53 PM.
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Old June 20th, 2017, 03:27 AM
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Look forward to pics.
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Old June 20th, 2017, 10:23 PM
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Here are the photos!
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Last edited by AdamBombBaby; June 20th, 2017 at 10:26 PM.
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Old June 21st, 2017, 03:12 PM
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AdamBombBaby, I live in Puyallup and work in Tacoma. During recent years, I have helped organize a number of 1959 General Motors events here in the area. We now have an active group, centered in Tacoma, called Pacific Northwest Cars of the Jet Age. Looks like you also have a Comet! I have a '59 Buick Electra, but a good friend locally has a '59 Olds Super 88 Fiesta wagon. We need to connect! Please drop me an e-mail at: [email protected]

Driving tour two years ago from Tacoma to Port Townsend:


Last edited by Centurion; June 21st, 2017 at 03:17 PM.
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Old July 5th, 2017, 10:31 PM
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Engine swap update:

So I was finally able to seperate the bad engine from the Jetaway. I popped all the caps off and most of the connecting rods (I had to cut 2 connecting rods with a sawzaw because of the amount of rust on the crank and pistons) and broke the crank free. I unbolted the flex plate and it all came apart. I got the transmission bolted up to the new engine and now the engine and transmission are in the car. However, I did accidently drop the engine and pushed the oil pan far enough up that the crank hits it. I did pull it off and hammer it back out so it should be fine. That brings us to where Im at now. Im waiting for the oil pan gasket to arrive, a thermostat housing (thank you John), and I need to order headers. I recently found a company that does make headers for the 394 on ebay. Now Im hoping these will do the trick because there is a clearance issue with the exhaust manifolds and the frame of the car where the upper control arms bolt on. Hopefully I will have the car running and driving in the next 2 weeks!
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Old February 19th, 2018, 10:10 PM
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So it has been a quite a few months since the last time I logged in, but I guess that's what happens when you start a project and stop. Since the last update, I was able to install the new oil pan gasket and get the motor into the car. I also did decide to go with the custom headers I mentioned before, and they fit! So about late July I was able to finally attempt to get the car started and moving. My buddy and I spent a good 2 hours setting the engine to tdc a few times with no luck of getting the engine to start all the way. I called my father and he suggested I make sure the distributor was spinning in the direction of the firing order I had set, and sure enough the rotor was spinning counter clockwise.. But, once the spark plug wires were reconfigured, it started right up! So far I have driven the car around the block just a couple times but I still have to address a few issues. The brakes are no good and it doesn't look very fun to deal with the brake booster and master cylinder, and It needs exhaust pipes! So right now I'm in the process of order brake parts for all 4 wheels, a rebuild kit for the brake booster/master cylinder, getting wheels sandblasted and powder coated, and getting a fresh set of 800-14 Bias Ply 2-1/4 White Walls. I anticipate I will be driving the car this summer!
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Last edited by AdamBombBaby; February 19th, 2018 at 10:48 PM.
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Old February 19th, 2018, 10:36 PM
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Great project! I guess you lucked out with the transmission. Those 59's have a ton of character, it should run great with the 394. Can I ask about the headers? Who makes them, do you have any pictures?
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Old February 19th, 2018, 10:49 PM
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Custom headers for a 394 on Ebay ? Were they "shorties" ? Do you have a name or a link to share ? What was the cost ? Do you have a pic ?
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Old February 19th, 2018, 10:58 PM
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Thanks! It has been a fun build so far and I agree I got super lucky on that transmission. As far as the headers go, they fit and sound great on the car! I ask the guy to make a couple tweaks to his original design to accommodate for fitting in the 59 and he was nice enough to do so! Also, you will have to eliminate the block drain nozzles on the block for just plugs other wise the headers will not fit. Here is the Ebay listing! https://www.ebay.com/itm/394-and-lat...-/253096158929
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