Tag: Road to Improvement

How Many Parts-Store Trips Does a Project Take? Road to Improvement Tries to Find Out – Mike Austin @Hemmings


We’re nearing the finale of Road to Improvement season one, and the Big Green 1981 Suburban is currently live on Hemmings Auctions in a no-reserve charity sale to benefit SEMA Cares. If there’s a theme to this arc of our road-trip/build story, it’s pushing limits—in this case, both for the Suburban’s powertrain upgrades and our hosts’ sanity. Check it out in the video above or on our YouTube page (and don’t forget to subscribe, please).

Which brings us to the headline question and upgrading Big Green with new heads, a camshaft, and associated parts. It’s the most involved change to the Road to Improvement Suburban yet. Swapping cylinder heads is far less plug and play than upgrading something like the vehicle’s electronic fuel injection, which we did in an earlier episode. Heads need to be matched to the camshaft timing, the intake and exhaust, and even the desired character of the engine. With that in mind, Mike Musto consulted Tim Torrecarion from Air Flow Research and settled on a setup with plenty of low- and midrange grunt, with the appropriate valve timing courtesy of a Comp Cams camshaft.

It turns out that was the easy step. Installing new heads was an entirely different story. Even in the best scenario, this kind of upgrade involves removing a significant number of engine parts. With a 40-year-old vehicle like Big Green, you’re bound to deal with some stubborn, rust-encrusted pieces that have been in place since Day One, several of which you might as well replace while you’re in there

Thus, you’re left to make multiple trips to the auto-parts store for engine accessories, bolts, clamps, and all the other things that come up in a project of this scope. As co-host Elana Scherr puts it, you’ll want to know where the closest store is, plus your backup store, and a third, and probably a fourth pick as well, just in case. Mike visits all of them and, well, we’ve all been in his shoes, so it’s okay to have laugh at his expense

Read on

The Big Green Chevy Suburban project starts a five-speed upgrade in Road to Improvement Episode 2 – @Hemming


We have a new episode of Road to Improvement ready to watch, just click on the video player above or jump over to our YouTube channel. With the trip officially under way, Mike Musto and Elana Scherr head down to Silver Sport Transmissions in Rockford, Tennessee, for the first upgrade to Big Green, our 1981 Chevrolet Suburban.

With a first gear that’s crawling ratio, the stock Muncie SM465 four-speed essentially has three practical gears. Not exactly ideal for our goal of making Big Green suitable for daily driving. Plus, the old shifter is, to put it kindly, a little tired. So, out goes the Muncie, and in goes a new Tremec TR-4050. It still has a crawler gear (a 6.16:1 ratio, to be precise) but adds a 0.76:1 overdrive fifth that will make highway cruising all the more pleasant for both the engine and the Suburban’s occupant

Episode 2 of “Road to Improvement” takes Mike, Elana, and crew 600 miles south of Lansing, Michigan to Rockford, Tennessee for a much-needed transmission upgrade on our 1981 Chevrolet Suburban. Equipped with a Muncie SM465 4-speed manual transmission from the factory, the Suburban proved to be capable off-road and around town. For modern highway duty, however, the worn synchros, lack of overdrive, and long throws became tiresome.

Enter the experts at Silver Sport Transmissions and the new Tremec TR-4050 5-speed manual. With a die-cast aluminum alloy housing, beautifully crisp shifting, and a ratio spread from 6.16 in low gear for the trails to 0.76 for the highway, our hope was that the TR-4050 would not only enhance our overall performance and fun factor, but drivability as well.

On this, Part 1 of our transmission swap, the crew at Silver Sport Transmissions take us beneath Big Green and walk us through what it’s going to take to replace our old SM465 4-speed with a brand new Tremec TR-4050 5-speed manual.

Read on

Meet Big Green, our 1981 Chevy Suburban project, inRoad to Improvement Episode 1 – @Hemmings


Earlier this year, Mike Musto and Elana Scherr set out on a road trip in a 1981 Chevrolet Suburban. The goal: Drive across the country, upgrading the truck along the way to take it from no-frills factory spec to modern daily-driver convenience and reliability. And now we’re ready to share that trip with the first episode of Road to Improvement

Check out the video above, where Mike and Elana meet the large Chevy, affectionately nicknamed Big Green, and take it for a shakedown run and initial inspection before an overnight drive that takes them into episode two. Things don’t go quite as planned, as a small problem arises just before arrival at Wesley Motorsports. It turned out to be a minor snag, and the first stop at Kevin Wesley’s shop to put the Suburban on a lift and give it the once-over proved to be a wise decision.

We won’t go into too many details, so as not to spoil the episode, but once you’re done watching we have some bonus material in the form of the Road to Improvement Extra. In it, your author chats with Mike Musto to get some behind-the-scenes info and revisit just exactly what everyone was thinking when they saw the truck in person for the first time.

When it comes to the unknowns of setting off down the highway in a unproven vehicle, Musto was not worried, despite showing up to pick up Big Green with no tools. On the first trip to the parts store, he assembles his standard emergency kit: Several spare parts, oil, coolant, hoses, and belts. Not that the Suburban needed it. Musto says everything felt good on the initial run. The only problem was that, with little more than a speedometer on the instrument panel, they had no idea how fast the engine was turning – and remember, in 1981, steady cruising at 70 mph was not the norm for a big wagon like this.

Read on