Eighteen-year-old Jeffrey Wirl is a better hot rodder than I was when I was at that age. Back then, I was psyched that I managed to install a set of Accel spark plug wires on my Duster.
Jeffrey, on the other hand, is doing an almost complete rebuild of a 1981 Monte Carlo – making it one sharp hot rod.
A self-proclaimed GM and Chevy fan, Jeffrey chose the Monte Carlo because it was a little different. “Up in Saskatchewan,” he told me, “there’s not a bunch of G-bodies.”
The Chevrolet was in pretty rough shape when he got it. He found it in Foam Lake in 2017, and bought it for $1,000. It looked as if the previous owner was preparing the Monte Carlo for racing. A lot of components had been stripped out, including body and interior trim, and the air conditioning, apparently in an effort to save weight. The previous owner had also installed a B&M ratchet shifter and 4.10 gears in the rear end.
“It was running,” Jeffrey said, “but it wasn’t driving.”
Jeffrey went to work trying to figure out why it wouldn’t move, checking all the usual reasons. But the Monte’s problems were not caused by what would be considered usual reasons. It turns out there were no bolts holding the torque converter to the flywheel.
In addition to – or maybe because of – the missing bolts, Jeffrey found that the transmission didn’t have enough fluid. The transmission had not been run through the gears to allow fluid to be properly dispersed.
“And that,” Jeffrey said,”is where it all started.”
There was a lot of work to do, and Jeffrey started with the motor.
When he got it, the Monte Carlo had a 383. But it started burning oil pretty soon after Jeffrey started driving it. He considered rebuilding the 383, but decided to replace it with a 350 from a 1974 Impala.
Jeffrey and his Dad pulled and completely disassembled the motor. They sent it off to Reliable Cylinder Head Service in Regina, Saskatchewan for some machining and head work.
The block was decked and bored .030 over. The heads got completely reworked, and a set of stiffer valve springs. Jeffrey installed Sealed Power flat top pistons with Hastings rings on the polished crank. The 350 has a Comp High Energy cam and pushrods with Melling lifters and rocker arms. A Cloyes Double roller and chain turns the cam.
The intake is all Edelbrock: a Performer Intake, AVS2 4-barrel, and air cleaner. The SBC has the GM HEI ignition with an MSD Street Fire kit. The AC Delco Rapid Fire plugs get their juice from Taylor Plug wires.
A set of Flow Tech headers route the exhaust into a straight dual exhaust (no X or H pipe) with 2 1/2″ pipes. A set of Black Widow Widowmaker mufflers – also known as Neighborhaters – finish off the exhaust. “It’s street legal,” Jeffrey said, “but obnoxiously loud.”
Jeffrey painted the block red, the heads and intake silver, and put it all together with a Fel-pro gasket kit. He finished it off with Proform slant edge valve covers. The motor looks fantastic. Nick Smith (@one_bad_monte on Instagram) provided a lot of inspiration to Jeffrey for the build.
The Monte is Jeffrey’s first build, but as even experienced hot rodders have experienced, not everything went smoothly.
“This car has fought me in every twist and turn,” Jeffrey said. “We started to put the motor in at 2 pm, and we finally got it in at 10:30 at night. The headers were a pain, we had to lift the motor up to fit them in. Anything that could break – broke.”
There was a transmission fluid leak, and Jeffrey had to build all new lines. When he installed the lines in the radiator, he didn’t put teflon on the threads. When he had to take them out later, the brass fittings on the radiator stripped and could not be repaired. So he had to install a new radiator. And the Monte has already had three alternators.
And despite all the top quality components and the care Jeffrey exercised in building it, if you think the 350 fired right up on the first try… you’d be wrong.
“I probably timed this car 15 times to try and get it running,” Jeffrey said, ”but it would never go.” He turned the engine over so many times that the flywheel got worn. Eventually, with the help of his father and his cousin, the problem was identified – the rocker arms were set too tight.
After that was fixed, the small block started up immediately – and still does.
“This car…” Jeffrey told me, “I get in it, three pumps and I don’t touch the throttle after that, and it fires up after barely turning over once. This motor is amazing.”
The same ‘74 Impala that donated the 350 also donated its Turbo Hydramatic 350 automatic transmission. Jeffrey’s still using the B&M ratchet shifter to choose the gears. The TH350 is driving the stock rear end with those 4.10 gears. One of Jeffrety’s winter projects is to install the 3.73 Positraction rear he has from an ‘86 Monte Carlo SS.
The stock four-wheel coil spring suspension and front disk / rear drum brakes are still in place. Both the steering and brakes are power assisted. And although the body is in pretty good shape – including the quintessential 1980s T-tops – there’s a problem underneath.
Jeffrey pulled out the carpet to clean it, and found that the floors are rusted through. The rust is significant enough that Jeffrey has to factor it into whether or not he’ll even keep the car. But right now he’s planning on working on repairing the floor as another winter project.
When he got the car, the interior was in bad shape. But Jeffrey’s acquired a 1980s Cutlass interior, including bucket seats, door panels, steering column, console, and shifter. He’s already installed the seats and steering wheel into the Monte Carlo. In addition, Jeffrey made his own gauge cluster and filled it with Equus gauges before he mounted it in the dashboard.
Jeffrey’s longer term plans for the Monte Carlo are to resto-mod it. New wheels and tires are definitely on the agenda, along with refreshing the paint, and adding an SS dashboard. He’d like to install a complete UMI suspension kit. And replacing the carb with EFI is also being considered, as is an LS swap.
The Monte Carlo may be Jeffrey’s first hot rod, but he’s got a lot of family history in the sport. He helped his Dad complete a full frame-off restoration of a 1971 Cutlass Supreme. (His father also owns a 1970 Cutlass.) And Jeffrey is a firm believer in his father’s do-it-yourself philosophy.
“I’m happy I have the motivation and drive to do this kind of stuff,” Jeffrey said. “It has taught me a lot along the way with much more to come. There is no better feeling than building something with your own hands, stepping back and saying ‘I did that’. I can’t thank my father enough for teaching me everything I know, and everyone else who helped me along the way.”
That’s a really great return on $1,000.
All photos courtesy of Jeffrey Wirl
Click here for more photos of Jeffrey’s Monte Carlo
You can follow the Monte Carlo on Instagram via @whiteout_mc