This is the fourth build in our Car Craft video series, a project that started nearly one year ago. We resurrected a long-running print title, Car Craft, and relaunched it as a video build series that runs on MotorTrend’s YouTube channel and MotorTrend+. Our first build was a 1972 Challenger that we swapped a Gen III Hemi into. From there, we took on another LS swap, this time it was a 6.0L truck engine into a 2008 BMW 3-series wagon. After that, we built a 1967 Mustang coupe that we rescued from the junkyard. We got that running and driving with a fresh 351 Windsor and a T5 transmission. That brings us up to our current build, a GM G-body.
Watch More of the Car Craft Video Series!
After you’re done reading about the Gen III Hemi-swapped GM G-body at HOT ROD Drag Week, head to the MotorTrend YouTube channel and catch up on every episode of previous Car Craft builds!
- Transforming a Worn-Out 1986 Buick Regal and Into a 9-second Drag Week Racer: PART 1
- 1972 Dodge Challenger Hellcat Engine Swap and Refresh: PART 1 / PART 2 / PART 3
- LS Engine Swap in BMW Wagon: PART 1 / PART 2
- Saving a Junkyard 1967 Mustang Coupe From the Crusher: PART 1 / PART 2
Why We Chose a GM G-Body for Drag Week
The concept for this build started over dinner at a restaurant near QA1’s headquarters in Lakeville, Minnesota. We were discussing different cars and accompanying drivetrains that they could be built with. Someone mentioned a Buick GN, a car I’m quite fond of, but I really struggled with the thought of LS-swapping a real Grand National. I suggested instead that we perform that operation on a run-of-the-mill Regal or a Regal T-Type. Another in our group mentioned a Gen III Hemi swap into that car, and I quipped that we could call it the SRT-Type. Eyes lit up around the table.
Fast-forward about five months and behold: Our Hemi-swapped Regal is a running reality, and its project name morphed from SRT-Type to G-Cat, an amalgamation of GM G-body and the supercharged Hellcat-spec engine lurking under the stock hood.
Watch! Episode 1 of the Buick Regal
We had a lofty goal of finishing the car in time to run HOT ROD’s Drag Week, and we did just that, but as with everything, there is an asterisk that accompanies that statement.
Building a car isn’t easy, and building one for Drag Week is something far less than easy. Though we hoped to enter and run the car all week, a few hiccups kept us sidelined for the first two days. Ultimately, we ran the car down the track and drove it for the last three days of competition. Our best pass was a 10.32 at 135 mph, and we’re pretty pleased with that given the short time frame we had to work within.
Here’s how it went down.
The GM Hemi Mashup
After an exhaustive, nationwide search, we decided on this clean and surprisingly rust-free 1986 Regal that only had three paint jobs on it already. QA1 was the title sponsor of this build, so we wasted no time shipping it to their headquarters in Minnesota and getting right to work.
Most G-body Regals came with Buick’s 3.8-liter V-6 engine, so we were surprised to see this 307 Oldsmobile V-8 under the hood. The 307 was optional from 1986 through 1988, the last year of production for the GM G-body cars. It was rated at 140 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque. The transmission was a TH2004R four-speed automatic.
With QA1 as a major sponsor of this project, of course we’re gonna completely change the suspension, starting at the front. In the process, we took the time to also replace the steering gearbox and linkage with new parts from Duralast, giving this car a total front-suspension makeover.
Lending a hand was one of QA1’s engineers, Bill Foley. He was the right guy for the job because he owns a really nice Buick Grand National. That’s Ryan Foss, manning the camera on the right.
After a couple hours’ work, things were already improving. This is QA1’s Level 3 Drag Race Suspension kit, which includes their tubular upper and lower A-arms and their exclusive, triple-adjustable MOD Series shocks.
QA1’s front-suspension parts are bolt-in replacements for the stock components. They include Delrin bushings and low-friction ball joints.
The bolt through the upper control arms is used to adjust the amount of droop in the suspension during wheels-up launches at the dragstrip. The shocks include adjustments for low- and high-speed compression damping and rebound, and the remote-reservoir design helps improve shock performance by offering better oil-control than a non-remote type. The springs included in the kit are slightly taller than those that would be included in a Pro Touring-style kit.
Though QA1’s suspension parts are certainly lighter than the stock stuff, we really shed a massive amount of weight from the front end by installing Wilwood’s Forged Dynalite Drag Race kit. These brakes mount to the OE-style spindle and only increase the track width by about a half an inch. The 10¾-inch rotors fit behind 15-inch wheels, too.
We had to modify the stock spindles a bit to mount the Wilwood four-piston calipers. The stock caliper mounting ears needed to be lopped off, and the brake dust-shield mounting holes enlarged and tapped to accept Wilwood’s caliper mounting bracket. It’s an easy job, and Wilwood provides detailed instructions.
At the back of the car, we ditched the stock axle assembly for this stout 9-inch from Quick Performance. Check out that billet pinion support on the Yukon center section. We ordered 3.70:1 gears and an Eaton Detroit TrueTrac differential.
The only prep work we needed to do to the car was to add reinforcing brackets at the upper shock mounts. With our new coilovers, the weight of the vehicle will be concentrated here instead of at the spring perches of the stock system.
The axle fits in the car at the stock suspension mounting points but does so with QA1’s vastly better upper and lower trailing arms. The lowers are square-tube with greasable polyurethane bushings, and the uppers have spherical bearings on the chassis side and are adjustable so you can set the pinion angle correctly.
The stock drum brakes were out of the question, so we installed Wilwood’s Forged Dynalite drag brake kit to match the front. Like the front, these come with a four-piston caliper and lightweight rotors. The rotor diameter is 11.4 inches and will fit inside most 15-inch wheels.
The combo of the new axle and brakes is still the stock width, so we don’t need wheels with a weird offset. These G-bodies have rather narrow rear wheelwells, but you can fit a 275 section-width tire in there. Any more, and you’ll probably be needing minitubs.
Like the front, we’re using QA1’s MOD Series coil-overs to support our Quick Performance 9-inch. This is the version with a piggyback reservoir that’s part of the shock body. Its compact design fits in tight spaces. The modular valve packs are serviceable by changing out the adjustment knobs, and you can do that with the shocks still mounted in the vehicle. We also installed a rear anti-sway bar for straight, drama-free launches.
It never ceases to amaze us how drastically a set of wheels and tires and a lowering kit can transform the looks of a car. Our Buick looked downright stodgy and boring when we first saw it with its skinny tires, 15-inch wheels, and mile-wide wheelwell openings. Now look at it! That’s a set of Billet Specialties wheels we picked up from Summit Racing, and they’re wearing fresh Mickey Thompson ET Street SS drag radials and a matching set of skinny front-runners. The lowered stance gives the car an aggressive look that we soon backed up after a trip to Cool Hand Customs in Middleton, Wisconsin.
Cool Hand Customs is a small but mighty shop located outside of Madison, Wisconsin. The husband-and-wife team EJ and Amy Fitzgerald does everything from welding and fab work to custom paint.
They wasted no time getting started on the Regal, and in a few hours’ time, they had the interior removed and were prepping to install a six-point roll bar.
The Olds 307 and its accompanying TH2004R transmission finally parted ways with the Regal. We needed something with a lot more power if we were going to run at Drag Week. After a serious bout with the pressure washer and a solid coat of chassis black, our engine compartment was looking good.
The six-point rollbar came from Wild Ride Race Cars. It’s a pre-bent kit that needs to be welded together. It attaches to the frame through holes cut in the floor.
We’ll be installing a set of Stewart Warner gauges in the stock gauge bezel, so Amy got to work disassembling the stock cluster and refreshing the bezel in preparation for the new gauges.
Wiring expert Corey Holmes flew in from San Diego, California, to help us out with this project. Among other things, he wired the gauges into the new gauge panel.
Meanwhile, the rest of us got busy trying to fit a Gen III Hemi into a GM G-body chassis. Using a junk 5.7 block EJ and Amy had in storage, we attached the new TCI 4L80E transmission via TCI’s adapter bellhousing and hoisted the engine into the engine compartment.
Adapter motor-mounts weren’t readily available, so EJ decided to make his own based on mounts designed to fit a Hemi into a Squarebody C10 pickup. This was one of at least a dozen times the mock-up engine was installed in and removed from the car.
With the engine set on blocks in about the spot where it would permanently reside, we were able to start building wiring harnesses, mount our new Odyssey battery, set the radiator and fluid coolers in place, and begin to roughly plumb and wire the chassis.
Amy installed the new Stewart Warner gauges in the panel she made to fit the stock bezel. We’re using their Muscle Series gauge kit, which includes a large speedometer and tachometer, plus 2 1/16-inch gauges for volts, water temperature, oil pressure, and fuel level.
TMI Products helped us out in a big way by providing a pair of their new Pro Series Sport SS Chicane II seats. Not only are they much lighter than the stock, pillow-back seats originally in our Regal, they look much better. More importantly, the deeply bolstered sides offer comfort and safety for competitive driving. These are a universal-fit design and come with mounting brackets that can be adapted to fit nearly any car. They are also fully customizable, with a ton of different color, material, and stitching choices to select from.
It was a great day when the engine was dropped off at Cool Hand Customs. This started life as a 6.4-liter crate engine, but we took the liberty of installing Edelbrock’s RPM cylinder heads for ’09 and up Hemis. They are sold complete and fully assembled, and feature CNC-machined combustion chambers and additional porting beneath the valveseats. If that weren’t enough, we topped it off with Edelbrock’s E-Force supercharger. It’s based on Eaton’s highly efficient R2650 TVS high-helix rotor design and is housed in a low-profile case that fits under our Regal’s stock hood.
TCI’s adapter bellhousing for the 4L80E gave us the option to mount the Duralast starter on either side of the engine, which is very convenient. We chose the passenger side, which seemed to offer the maximum amount of exhaust clearance. We used an SFI-approved flexplate and torque converter from TCI to join the transmission to our boosted Hemi.
With all that material hanging off the engine hoist, it just made sense to remove the car’s front sheet metal. That way, the engine and transmission could basically be slid right between the framerails and bolted down.
After a lot of head-scratching, it looked like a set of headers for a Jeep would be the easiest to adapt to our G-body. EJ sliced and diced the collector to re-angle the outlet. He then sprayed and wrapped the headers to help minimize underhood temperatures.
With the engine and transmission installed, EJ proceeded to build the exhaust system with a stainless tubing kit we picked up from Summit Racing. Note the notch he made in the transmission crossmember to fit the driver-side exhaust tube.
Though it looks close to finished in this picture, there was still a lot of work to do. Among other things, we needed to make a throttle cable, wire in our FAST XFI engine-management system, and finish plumbing the car. We used Duralast exclusively for components like the thermostat, belts, fuel filter, starter motor, and any electrical relays we needed to trigger the fans and energize the pumps. Check out those cool headlights, too—though they look like standard sealed beam lamps, they are actually LED units from Peak. They are a direct replacement for standard halogen headlights but are a lot brighter and emit a pure white light. We also used Peak for all our fluids: engine oil, transmission fluid, and, of course, antifreeze.
With crunch time upon us, we loaded the Regal on the trailer and hauled it to St. Louis for the start of Drag Week.
One final touch Cool hand Customs put on the car was this Demon Elmo logo that EJ and Amy airbrushed and hand-lettered on the decklid. That’s a play on the Dodge Demon-spec engine, and our car’s particular shade of red. It looks awesome and it’s a great conversation-starter.
With that portion of the job complete, we hauled the Regal to St. Louis for the start of Hot Rod Drag Week 2022. As you can imagine with any car built in a tight timeframe, we had our share of issues to sort out. Among them were a funky crank sensor and a torn fuel injector O-ring that could have ruined our day had we not caught it in time. With the FAST XFI system wired-up and communicating happily with the engine and transmission, we set the air/fuel mixture to run on E85, loaded the tank with corn juice, and hit the track for exhibition passes on the second day of competition.
Colleague and avid drag racer KJ Jones was the Regal’s pilot for Drag Week. Once we got the driveability issues sorted out, he reported that the car launched hard and had plenty of power. On the track, it ran a best of 10.32 at 135 mph. Our Project G-Cat was a set of 15-inch wheels and a dedicated pair of slicks away from low 10’s or possibly a high 9-second pass.
Overall, we can chalk this up as a win. We built this car in less than three months. It ran straight down the track and performed well on the street. Huge thanks go to QA1 and Cool Hand Customs for all their hard work. Left to right in this photo are QA1’s Rob McPherson, Producer/Gopher Cody Busch, EJ and Amy Fitzgerald of Cool Hand Customs, and driver extraordinaire KJ Jones.
After Drag Week, we shipped the Project G-Cat back to QA1, where it will continue to be refined. Their plan is to make it an all-around street performer, and their fully adjustable suspension makes that dream a reality. Look for more of our Demon-powered Regal at local autocross events and dragstrips in Minnesota, and possibly on next year’s Power Tour and Drag Week.
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