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GM G-Body Performance Upgrades 1978-1987: Chevy Malibu & Monte Carlo, Pontiac Grand Prix, Olds Cutlass Supreme & Buick Regal

GM G-Body Performance Upgrades 1978-1987: Chevy Malibu & Monte Carlo, Pontiac Grand Prix, Olds Cutlass Supreme & Buick Regal

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GM G-Body Performance Upgrades 1978-1987: Chevy Malibu & Monte Carlo, Pontiac Grand Prix, Olds Cutlass Supreme & Buick Regal

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Lançado em:
Jul 15, 2013


The GM G-Body is one of the manufacturer's most popular chassis. It includes cars such as Chevrolet Malibu, Monte Carlo, and El Camino; the Buick Regal, Grand National, and GNX; the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme; the Pontiac Grand Prix, and more. This traditional and affordable front engine/rear-wheel-drive design lends itself to upgrades and modifications for a wide range of high-performance applications.
Lançado em:
Jul 15, 2013

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GM G-Body Performance Upgrades 1978-1987 - Joe Hinds





To understand how the G-Body came about, you need to look at its predecessor, the A-Body. In the form of the Pontiac GTO, Olds 4-4-2, Buick Grand Sport, and Chevelle SS, the A-Body formed GM’s front line in the muscle car wars of the 1960s. These cars and their less performance oriented versions were some of the most popular, best handling, and best performing cars that General Motors had built up to that time. They built a following of loyal enthusiasts that is strong to this day.

In 1973, the chassis received a much-needed redesign, and it benefitted from the excellent suspension geometry of the second-generation F-Body (Camaro/Firebird), introduced in 1970. The cars themselves, however, never garnered the attention from enthusiasts as their predecessors did. A combination of increased weight, hideous government-mandated 5-mph bumpers, controversial styling, and lackluster powertrains have resulted in their being ignored by the mainstream as a choice for a project car, though they are increasing in popularity.

A-Body Becomes G-Body

In 1978, the A-Body was downsized for increased mileage and performance. Styling improved as well, and it was a significant step ahead of the land barges of 1973–1977. General Motors used lighter-gauge stampings, plastic, and aluminum to substantially reduce weight. In 1981, the A-Body designation was taken from the midsize rear-wheel-drive models, and reassigned to a new, front-wheel-drive chassis. From that point forward, the A-Body was called the G-Body.

This Monte was originally blue, but the current hue is much darker and deeper than the original paint. Note the Baer brakes visible between the wheel spokes. (Photo Courtesy Rick and Kristi Bejarano)

Although the power choices (mostly V-6s and small V-8s) were uninspiring, the A/G-Body (I use the term G-Body, for simplicity’s sake) was an immediate hit with the performance market, even though it was much later in the car’s timeline when it received respectable power from the factory. The platform was similar enough to previous offerings in regard to the suspension, and unlike with today’s cars, an engine swap was an easy weekend project.

Early G-Bodies, including the El Camino, had vinyl rather than plastic or cloth door panels. The vinyl and plastic interior parts can easily be refinished for a new appearance at very little cost.

The G-Body (and the A-Body before it) was offered as a two-door coupe or sedan, four-door sedan, four-door wagon, and a utility version (the Chevrolet El Camino and GMC Caballero). Although each manufacturer had its own styling and little interchange among external body panels and trim, under the skin they are all very similar. Because of this, the suspension, brake, drivetrain, and even interior items can often be swapped from one division’s car to another. This makes the job of rebuilding one of these cars relatively simple, especially if you aren’t concerned with originality.

This nice Malibu has a very sinister look, and lots of power thanks to the LS engine swap.

This El Camino owned by Nick Freiser doesn’t have the typical SS-style front fascia. Instead, the factory fascia and Lauren Engineering bumpers were painted in a monochromatic scheme that is as popular today as it was in the 1980s and 1990s. The El Camino, like other G-Body cars, is an ideal platform for a variety of powertrain and suspension chassis upgrades.

In addition to the interchangeability within the G-Body line, there is plenty of interchangeability with other GM cars, made both prior to and since the G-Body. You can put a 455 Oldsmobile in your 307-powered Regal, and mostly do it with the parts you already have, including the transmission. Or you can upgrade to something completely modern, such as an LS7 from a late-model Corvette. The boundaries for these cars are nearly limitless, hampered only by imagination and budget.


Chevrolet offered two distinct models on the G-Body chassis, the Malibu and the Monte Carlo. The Malibu was the more utilitarian of the two. Some early models were even equipped with the Saginaw 3- or 4-speed manual transmissions (mechanical clutch linkage), rubber floor mats, and roll-up windows. Since its release, the Malibu has been a drag racer’s favorite, and it is common at drag strips across the country. The El Camino and GMC Caballero (the only GMC G-Body; an El Camino clone) were based on the Malibu, as were the Malibu wagon and all other G-Body wagons. The front sheet metal and interior trim on every other division’s wagon were different, but all were basically Malibus from the firewall back.

The Monte Carlo was a slightly larger, more upscale model than the Malibu, and it had a much broader appeal. It was one of the most popular cars in Chevrolet history. While not embraced by the street machine crowd at first, it was always popular with the low-rider crowd. In 1983, the Monte Carlo became the basis for the only Chevrolet G-Body marketed as a performance car, the Monte Carlo SS. More of an appearance package than anything else, it played upon the popularity of NASCAR and drivers, such as the late Dale Earnhardt.

This car retains the factory gauge cluster. However, many owners upgrade to an aftermarket or Monte Carlos SS gauge cluster. When installing a new powertrain, keep tabs on the health and performance of the engine. Autometer, Sunpro, and others offer analog and digital gauges that provide this essential information.

A refinished and capped dash with a plastic overlay hides the cracks in the original pad. This is a good, inexpensive way to make the dash look new. Like the door panel treatment, it is an effective aesthetic treatment.

Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS

Chevrolet’s Monte Carlo SS was a styling success, but a performance failure. In my opinion, the Monte Carlo SS was one of the best-looking cars on the road during its 1983–1988 production span. It had an aggressive, body-colored front fascia and bumper, high-tech-looking (for the time) graphics, a rear spoiler, and the same 15×7 styled aluminum wheels used on late second-generation Z/28 Camaros. The interiors featured real gauges, instead of the idiot lights common at the time, and a tachometer.

A Chevy 502-ci big-block is installed in Kristi Bejarano’s Monte Carlo SS; a Tremec TKO-600 handles the shifting duties behind the Buick 3.8 turbo engine. The car carries original paint, which means there is less chance that substantial body work has been performed. A repainted car may carry a lot of body filler, which means you may be faced with body work in the future. This has a nice cowl-induction hood, and a set of 16×8 GTA mesh wheels. (Photo Courtesy Rick and Kristi Bejarano)

This is the same Monte Carlo SS as above but it has been repainted white. This tone of white is much brighter than the original. (Photo Courtesy Rick and Kristi Bejarano)

The L-69 High Output 305 sounded good through its low-restriction dual exhaust, but power was underwhelming due to its meager 180 hp, even with the 3.73:1 gears that came in many SS models. It was still a carbureted small-block Chevrolet, though, and a lack of factory performance didn’t stop many SS owners. Many received 350 swaps early on, some with Tuned Port Injection from the F- or Y-Body line, but the ultimate solution was as close as the nearest dealership parts department. The legendary LS6 and LS7 454 was still available (for about $2,500), and with few changes could be installed in the SS. Anyone attending Super Chevy shows in the 1980s may have mistakenly thought this was a factory option, as they were very common at the time.

Rick Bejarano’s Monte Carlo SS has had an engine swap, but it carries a Chevrolet Performance 502 big-block with Sanderson stainless-steel mid-length headers. While the Monte Carlo SS came with a TH-2004R overdrive automatic behind its L-69 305 HO engine, he replaced it with a 454 and a Muncie 4–speed manual transmission long ago. It now has a Tremec 5-speed to handle the 502’s extra torque. It even has mechanical clutch linkage. (Photo Courtesy Rick and Kristi Bejarano)

The Monte Carlo SS has one of the best-looking factory gauge packages of the era, and the OEM gauges accurately display vital information. However, the factory gauges do not monitor all systems. On the A-pillar, an air/fuel ratio gauge monitors the mixture levels, and the boost gauge conveys how much air pressure is running through the engine. The Scanmaster 2.1 is a common accessory for 3.8-liter turbo Buicks. This scan tool keeps tabs on knock retard, oxygen sensors, and other aspects of the airflow and exhaust system. (Photo Courtesy Rick and Kristi Bejarano)

This beautiful Monte Carlo SS has been a drag car for most of its existence. It runs LS1 power.

Few G-Body cars carried a manual transmission, so a clutch pedal is a welcome, yet rare, sight. This pedal box in Bejarano’s Monte Carlo SS is connected to a Tremec TKO-600 5-speed transmission. (Photo Courtesy Rick and Kristi Bejarano)

This Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupe was a rare model made for NASCAR homologation. Pontiac used a similar rear window treatment on the Grand Prix 2+2. The styling of the Aerocoupe didn’t find much of an audience. Only 200 were made in 1986 and a similar small number was made in 1987.

Wheels-up is not an unusual state for a drag-oriented G-Body. This Monte Carlo LS has an LS1/T-56 combo swapped from a 2000 Camaro SS, and it’s backed up by an early-style 10-bolt rear axle with 4.10:1 gears.

The Monte Carlo SS was very successful from a sales standpoint. NASCAR Cup Cars posted many victories around the country, and this on-track success spurred sales. The late Dale Earnhardt was largely responsible for the popularity, as he exemplified the Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday slogan that was common in the 1960s and 1970s, and had a brief resurgence in the 1980s.

The SS was successful, but the Ford Thunderbird driven by Dawsonville, Georgia, native Bill Elliott was more aerodynamic, and this made a big difference on high-banked tracks such as Talledega. General Motors’ solution was to develop a fastback-style rear window, which was not only incorporated into the race cars, but sold as the Aerocoupe option, and as a retrofit kit through parts department. These are the most sought after of Monte Carlo SS models today.

This beautiful El Camino SS is a Holley Performance Products’ development car. It features a 430-hp E-Rod LS3 engine from Chevrolet Performance with a T-56 6-speed manual transmission. The E-Rod engine delivers impressive performance, and it’s emissions compliant in all 50 states, so you don’t have to worry about licensing and making emissions limits.

Drawing on the success of the Monte Carlo SS, Choo Choo Customs (now a part of Honest Charley’s/Coker Tire) developed an SS package for the El Camino that was sold through dealers. The standard El Camino looked really dated due to the presence of chrome, which wasn’t in style at the time. A styling package that looked similar to the Monte Carlo SS fixed that. This wasn’t as simple as bolting on a Monte Carlo SS nose because the Monte SS is slightly wider than the Malibu. So, Choo Choo Customs built a new fiberglass nosepiece with similar styling, and a graphics package similar to the Monte SS graphics.

The El Camino SS appearance package is still available, so you can repair a real El Camino SS or build your own. It fits any standard Malibu, El Camino, Caballero, or wagon. Bulldawg Musclecars’ project car, the Grocery Getter 1983 Malibu Wagon, was equipped with a Choo Choo Customs nosepiece.


Pontiac offered two G-Bodies in the early years of the body style. The LeMans was based on the Malibu, but with distinct Pontiac styling cues. These are rarely seen today, but are becoming highly sought after. There were two-door versions, but the four-door sedan and wagon are more prevalent today.

The Grand Prix was the slightly larger, more luxurious G-Body in the Pontiac line, and is not as popular as other models, such as the rare NASCAR-inspired 2+2 version. They are good-looking cars, but the grille is a love-it or hate-it item for most people.

This Cutlass is in excellent original condition and is an ideal candidate for a project car. Even the vinyl top is in good shape, with no visible signs of rust underneath. Building a high-performance street, street/strip, or pro-touring car is often a challenging endeavor. If the car has substantial rust damage, you are taking on a massive project. A car restoration on top of a performance build is time consuming and expensive. Spending more for a car with a clean body and little rust is a wiser investment than starting with a rusty car requiring a lot of body replacement.

This Malibu coupe has a subtle performance look, sort of like a COPO car from the late 1960s. Equipped with a big-block and a 4-speed manual, this car is formidable competition for many street-going cars. G-Body cars are lighter than many F-Bodies, so big-block power with 4-speed transmissions makes them incredibly fast and fun to drive.

Like the Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupe, the Grand Prix 2+2 was inspired by NASCAR competition, and has the same fastback-style rear window. Pontiac’s existing Grand Prix nose was not very aerodynamic, and most agree it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, either. So, Pontiac designed a new nose for the 2+2 that was more aerodynamically efficient in the wind tunnel, but had styling that was and still is fairly controversial. You either love it or hate it. I fell into the latter crowd when they were new, but it has grown on me over the years.

The interiors were sportier than the typical Grand Prix, but the powerplant was the same lackluster 5.0 found in the Monte SS. Rare even when new, these cars are very collectible.


Oldsmobile offered its Cutlass models as the sole G-Body choice, but there were many choices within the Cutlass line. Two- and four-door sedans, as well as wagons, were available with plenty of options. Arguably one of the best looking of the G-Body line, the Cutlass Supreme two-door coupe was a very big seller for Oldsmobile. Most notable are the 4-4-2 and the even more rare Hurst/Olds 4-4-2 with its distinctive two-tone paint scheme and Hurst Lightning Rod multiple-handled floor shifter.

Oldsmobile 4-4-2

Oldsmobile’s 4-4-2 had its own distinctive look and made the already beautiful Cutlass design even more attractive. The Olds Rallye wheels bring back the essence of the early-1970s 4-4-2, and the striping adds just the right flavor; aggressive, but refined. Comfortable high-back bucket seats, full instrumentation, and a console with a floor shift harken back to the days when the first 4 was for 4-speed.

Scott Walkowiak’s Buick Regal T-Type, known as the GNXray, carries the Turbo V-6, which was also used in the Grand National. This is one of the most prominent G-Body pro-touring machines in the country. Detroit Speed used this car as a test bed for its G-Body suspension parts. The front suspension features Detroit Speed shocks, sway bars, tubular control arms, front frame braces, lowering springs, and Track Kit camber shims. In the back it carries Detroit Speed tubular control arms, sway bar, and springs.

Unfortunately, it is a TH-2004R automatic. However, when combined with the typical 3.73:1-geared, 8.5-inch, 10-bolt rear, the cars always felt quick despite the lackluster Olds 307 under the hood. Hurst/Olds models came with the valet-proof Hurst Lightning Rod multiple shifters, which are a bit awkward, but cool looking.


Buick’s G-Body offerings were limited to two-door coupes, four-door sedans, and four-door wagons, under the Regal nameplate. Known as more of a luxury brand, the Buick offerings were typically very well equipped with comfort options such as power seats, windows, door locks, air conditioning, and power steering. Surprisingly (or not, if you are a Buick GS fan), Buick was the first division to offer a performance-oriented model (the first Regal Grand National was released as a 1982 model), and most agree that the later 1986/1987 version was the pinnacle of not only G-Body performance, but of 1980s automotive performance as a whole.

From the start, hot rodders embraced the G-Body and started modifying them for increased performance. However, it took General Motors a while to recognize the performance market for the G-Body and offer any real performance models. The industry as a whole was concentrating on front-wheel-drive platforms with smaller four- and six-cylinder engines. Few realized the potential success for the G-Body. Other than a few notable examples, performance in the early to middle 1980s meant spoilers, tape stripes, and nicer wheels.

The Buick Regal Grand National burst onto the scene in 1986 and became the fastest American production car. It was faster than the Corvette, Mustang, and all others on these shores. This immaculate example has a completely stock appearance, but has a built Stage 1 engine under the hood.

Buick Grand National

In 1982, Buick launched the Grand National, the first legitimate G-Body performance model. But the 1982 model was not very popular. It had a carbureted, naturally aspirated, 4.1-liter V-6 engine, and it didn’t produce any more horsepower than many of the V-8s of the era. High-performance enthusiasts didn’t accept the idea of a V-6–powered performance car. For 1984–1985, Buick offered a 3.8-liter engine with a turbocharger and throttle-body fuel injection, which improved performance slightly. It also had a more sinister appearance, but these non-intercooled engines did not produce stellar performance. Known as the hot air turbo cars, they don’t have near the potential of later versions.

A complete Buick Grand National drivetrain with 3.8-liter V-6 turbo and 200R4 automatic transmission is installed in this Monte Carlo SS, so this car turns heads when the hood is opened. Powertrains are often swapped across the G-Body platform, so don’t assume a particular G-Body is all stock. (Photo Courtesy Rick and Kristi Bejarano)

Scott Walkowiak’s T-Type, known as the GNXray, was featured in GM High-Tech Performance magazine. The car features Detroit Speed & Engineering suspension, front and rear Baer brakes, and CCW Classic wheels. The car is a rolling showcase for many parts offered by Walkowiak’s company, GNS Performance. (Photo Courtesy Tony Wayman)

In 1986, the Grand National took a huge leap forward in performance. The 3.8-liter engine featured an improved sequential electronic fuel injection (EFI) system, a coil-pack ignition, and an air-to-air intercooler that allowed increased boost levels. The Grand National was severely underrated at 235 hp, and 300 hp was more accurate. Off the showroom floor, these cars ran in the low 14s at around 100 mph in the quarter mile. Quarter-mile times of 12s were possible if you installed a performance chip, a less restrictive air intake, and a decent set of tires.

In 1986 and 1987, Grand Nationals came with chrome-and-black 15×7 steel wheels.

This T-Type has custom GNXray emblems.

Soon, a cottage industry of Buick parts suppliers helped make the turbo Buicks the most feared cars on the road. Buick engineers had officially built the car as a competitor to the Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, but the Corvette was the real target. Buick

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  • (5/5)
    Great guide for car enthusiasts. I would highly recommend to anyone who is into classic cars!*I won this in a LT giveaway
  • (5/5)
    Today the pre-1987 G-Body is the Classic American front engine-rear wheel drive platform., It is affordable, can be found everywhere and thus can be upgraded into amuscle car that was not possible earlier, in the 80's when you could only dream about such an upgrade. Needing a G-Body that will work for you is the first thing that must happen, and author Joe Hinds is your mentor for obtaining such a body. He has been obsessed ith cars since 1985 and now specializes in building pre-touring G-body cars. What better mentor?Hinds has left out no details in upgrading and with this book in hand, the reader can upgrade the car of his dreams. some chapter included are: front suspension performance, steering system upgrades, engine swipes and 9 more chapters. I highly recommend this book as a great gift for G-Body enthusiast in your family.This book covers the Chevy Malibu, Monte Carlo, El Camino, GMC Caballero, Buick Regal, Pontiac Grand Prix, Bonneville, Grand Lemans and Olds Cutlass.
  • (5/5)
    This book is the quintessential book on GM G-Body performance how-to, covering Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac and Olds. Including chapters on the history of the G-Body, Stock and Performance brake set-up, front suspension and steering. There are also sections about GM’s four-link rear suspension and boxing your frame. Manual transmission swaps and big block or LS swaps have their own chapters. This book doesn’t leave anything out as it even has a chapter on performance interiors and upgrades. As with all Car Tech books, the best part is the source guide which lists all of the companies referenced in the book and their current phone numbers and addresses which is helpful to anyone just starting or about to finish their project. Although the commentary and the pictures are both superb these books are still printed in China.
  • (5/5)
    This is another great project book from CarTech. A must have for the Monte Carlo enthusiast, it also covers the Chevy Malibu, El Camino, GMC Caballero, Buick Regal, Pontiac Grand Prix, Bonneville, Grand Lemans and Olds Cutlass. Engine and transmission swaps, brake and suspension upgrades – these are all explored with plenty of great color photos. It’s fun to thumb through while daydreaming on what you want to do to your ride, and then offers practical advice when you’ve decided what to do.