Life has thrown some crap at Orlando. Instead of complaining about that, he uses it as motivation to become a better person and to build strong ties with his family and friends.

Hot rodding his 1972 Pontiac LeMans plays a role too – specifically by how he goes about hot rodding it.

Build it? Yep. But he relies on friends to help him with the build, and in return he is always trying to help out his friends. Sometimes that’s with car stuff and sometimes that’s with life stuff.

Drive it? Absolutely. With his family along for the ride as often as possible. (His son Dyllan is an expert at filling the tank.) Family is incredibly important to Orlando. “Without them, there’d be no me,” he said.

The LeMans* is an escape, an enjoyment, and a source of pride for him, but it’s also a tool, one of many, Orlando’s using to build the life he wants.

Ok, let’s get this out of the way early on. LeMans or Le Mans? I try to research these things for GHR articles. Not even Pontiac knows apparently. I found that in different ads from the 70s, Pontiac spelled it differently. Sometimes LeMans. Sometimes Le Mans. Orlando prefers LeMans and that’s good enough for me.

Orlando acquired the LeMans six years ago. He’d gotten into Fox body Mustangs and the last one he purchased was a convertible. He’d never owned a convertible before, and when he got it home, he realized the rear seat was too small for his kids to sit in comfortably. As much as he enjoys cruising with his family, that just would not do, so he sold the Mustang. Right after he sold it, he saw the LeMans for sale on Craig’s List.

“I’ve always loved classic cars,” he said, “but I’ve never had the opportunity to own one. I sold the convertible – and I happened to see this.”

Unfortunately, Orlando was the second person to get in touch with the LeMans’ owner. Someone else was on the way to look at it. A few weeks later, the owner called back.

Orlando recounted what happened: “He called me and said the guy who came to look at the car left a deposit of $3,000, but he hadn’t heard from him since. He told me ‘I can’t get in touch with him. If you want the car, give me the difference between what I was asking and the $3,000 and you can have it.’ I told him I’d be there in a couple of hours.”

And with that, Orlando and his wife hightailed it up to Connecticut and drove the Pontiac home.

The all original, numbers matching car was in good shape even after a couple of previous owners. None of them drove it much and it had spent a lot of time in their garages. The only modifications that had been done were a set of Weld wheels and a pair of Flowmasters mufflers. The LeMans had only had 40,000 miles on it when Orlando purchased it. (It has 58k now – he likes to drive it.)

At the factory, Pontiac installed a 350 small block engine mated to a Turbo Hydramatic 350 automatic. The small block was breathing through the factory two-barrel carburetor and Orlando wanted to improve on that. He planned to just upgrade the carburetor.

But one of his buddies had an intake manifold he could use, so the carb swap turned into a carb and manifold swap.

Another friend offered to help with the installation – “I’m not a mechanic,” Orland told me – but because both of Orlando’s children have health conditions that make him very cautious about the coronavirus, it had to be done virtually. Sort of like a Zoom garage.

Orlando started to swap the intake manifold and carb, sending his virtual garage friend some pictures as he went.

“He sends a picture back with a big red circle on one the lifters,” Orlando said. “It doesn’t mean anything to me, but he says ‘You have a problem.’ He said the cam was damaged and the lifter was shot, and it was going to explode all over the motor if I put it back in. I didn’t have the money to do a cam swap, plus the fact that I don’t even know what I’m doing.”

Orlando was stressing out, and since he deals with anxiety and depression, it was not a good situation. But his friend was there to help him through it. “He said, ‘Just take it easy. We’ll get it done. We’ll get through it.’ Little by little I got the parts together. Some friends donated parts. I bought some new parts, and we got some parts used.”

And with the help of several friends, Orlando now has a CompCams cam and lifters, and Edelbrock intake manifold and carburetor on the LeMans.

The 350 exhales through 2½” exhaust pipes with an H pipe and the Flowmaster mufflers. Even though the new cam is pretty mild, Orlando reports “it sounds great.” His videos on Instagram confirm that.

The original TH350 automatic is gone, replaced by a 700R4 four speed overdrive transmission. Orlando says the swap was pretty straightforward. It required an adapter plate designed to connect the transmission to Buick/Oldsmobile/Pontiac engines, and for the driveshaft to be shortened about three inches.

The stock rear end is still in the car. Orlando thinks it has the 3.08 gears, and with the new trans the LeMans seems to be dragging a bit. He’s looking to swap the rear out for a posi unit with 3.55 or higher gears.

The Pontiac has a set of QA1 coil overs up front (Orlando’s wife got them for him as a Christmas present). The stock rear coil spring rear suspension is still in place, but will soon have a sway bar and firmer QA1 shocks.

He’s really impressed with the customer service QA1 provides, and they now sponsor the LeMans. “They really are good with people like me,” Orlando said about QA1, “people on budgets and building their own car.” And QA1’s motto of ‘Go Drive It’ perfectly matches Orlando’s hot rodding philosophy.

Cruising is easy with the power steering and power brakes. That cam swap, however, resulted in a lot less vacuum from the engine. Orlando had to add an electric pump to make up for that and give the brake booster what it needed.

My favorite change that Orlando’s made to the LeMans is the swap from the Weld wheels to the Pontiac Rally wheels. He first ordered a set of steelies, but that turned out to be a disaster. After tracking the order for more than 7 months, Orlando cancelled it and got a refund. Then he saw a pair of 15 x 10 Rally wheels on Criag’s List and he worked out a deal to acquire them.

The wheels only have 5” of offset, which is a bit less than the LeMans really needs. But Orlando was able to fit 275/60 tires under the wheel wells after trimming the lip of the inner well. WIth a set of standard Rallys up front, the Pontiac has a great look and stance.

As you might expect with such low mileage and so much garage time in its previous life, the LeMans’ body is in good condition. Unfortunately, garages are hard to come by in Queens, New York, so the LeMans out on the street now. “It looked better when I bought it,” Orlando said, “but it’s a better performing car now.”

The body was repainted in the early 1980s, from the original light silver color to the current green. Orlando’s got most of the original molding for the car, and is in the process of tracking down the final pieces he needs. And although the vinyl top looks good now, he’s started researching what it will take to refurbish it.

The interior is also in good shape – Orlando gives it an 8 out of 10. It has only a few cracks on the dash and one pulled seam on the front split bench seat. It’s all original, including the carpet, steering wheel, AM radio, and column mounted shifter.

That shifter was designed for the three speed TH350, so at the moment Orlando can’t access the low gear on his 700R4. “I don’t do burnouts,” he said, “so it doesn’t matter.” Eventually he plans to switch it out.

The next major project on Orlando’s list is to repair the valve seals. But as he pointed out, “The list never gets shorter. You knock one thing off and five things go on it.”

But the main thing he does with the LeMans is drive it. The transmission swap was made to facilitate a trip to Ohio he made earlier this year. “I want to get into more distance driving,” he said. “Everyone I run with drives their cars.”

Orlando’s got two Instagram accounts. His ‘@badazzclassicsnmore‘ account focuses on cars. His ‘@fugitive_1badazz72‘ account is a bit more personal. On the ‘fugitive’ account you’ll see lots of pictures of his family. He’s frequently posting about friends as well, many times to offer support for them when they’re going through hard times. I was impressed by those posts.

“I wasn’t always the person you see today,” Orlando told me. “My kids changed a lot of my outlook on life. Once you start seeing things a little clearer, things change. I feel like I have a lot of making up to do. You just make a decision to not be an asshole, that’s really what it is. A lot of things that people do are so unnecessary, you don’t realize the impact you have on other people. It’s so much easier to be positive and supportive.”

We didn’t get into the details of all the crap life has thrown at him, but Orlando did tell me he had no father growing up.

“Never met him. Never knew him,” he said. “That has a lot to do with my bond with my family. I never had that and I see the difference. It’s an ugly fuel that you have in your system when you feel you’re not worthy. A lot of young kids are growing up feeling like that. People don’t understand them. They think they’re bad kids. We’ve got to break that chain.”

Make no mistake, Orlando enjoys his LeMans but it’s a part of a bigger picture for him.

“I love my car,” he told me, “but it’s definitely not my life. It’s a big part of it, in a good way, but there’s a lot of things I’m not going to sacrifice for a vehicle at this point in my life.”

The cool thing is, hot rodding his LeMans has been an enhancement, not a sacrifice, to what Orlando’s striving for.

Photos courtesy of Orlando
Click here to see more pictures of his LeMans
Orlando’s on Instagram at @badazzclassicsnmore and @fugitive_1badazz72

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