COAL: 1988 Chevrolet S10 – Donor Turned Flipper

It is becoming a bit obvious that I am not great at actually following through on making a donor vehicle an actual donor. I always seem to find some redeeming feature that justifies the donor living again. I bought this Chevrolet S10 minitruck as a mechanical donor for the poorly chosen Austin A40 project. Instead I did an unintentional fix and flip.

I was looking for something narrow with body on frame construction to swap underneath my Austin A40 which would give it reasonably modern brakes and suspension. The engine needed to be compact as well. Mini trucks from the Eighties and Nineties were an obvious choice as smaller cars had long ago abandoned body on frame construction. I found this S10 advertised for cheap due to a faulty first gear. The body was pretty decent with exception of a poor aftermarket paint job and the passenger door filled with Bondo. I think the fact that I like cheap (and often flawed) vehicles is pretty obvious from my COAL history.

The Iron Duke! Ok, not really since the engine is fitted with throttle body fuel injection and is officially called the Tech IV. A significant number of folks have kept calling these Iron Dukes and who can blame them since that is a fantastic name although it was bestowed on a pretty mediocre engine. Amusingly back in the day Car & Driver dubbed it the low-Tech IV. The statistics for it are a 2.5L four cylinder engine making 92 hp @ 4400 RPM / 130 lb·ft @ 3200 RPM with some sources claiming 98hp. While this engine is not known for smoothness this one was not too bad as it benefited from the balance shaft added for 1988.

The interior is definitely no frills which is to be expected in a mini truck of this era. Some of the interior was taken apart including the driver’s side door panel (not pictured). The carpets were tossed by the previous owner as apparently the person he bought the truck off was not diligent at cleaning. The stock seats were deemed too gross to be salvageable and the seller had placed inside some loosely placed bucket seats of unknown origin. The previous owner had planned a LS V8 swap into this truck until he found a better recipient of that engine. To add a bit of mystery there was a green aftermarket switch added to the dashboard. I do not mind mystery but generally prefer it not be electrical in nature.

The Winter Olympics in 1988 meant this was a big year for Canada but also GM in Canada. The Games were held in nearby Calgary, Alberta with GM as the official vehicle sponsor which meant they supplied all sorts of vehicles to the effort. As I recall all GM vehicles sold in 1988, at least around Alberta, had a window sticker commemorating the event. These are not often seen anymore so it was neat to see one had survived on this truck.

While it was feasible to drive the S10 without first gear simply by starting in second it made sense to fix this issue before placing the Austin body on the frame. I was able to track down a T5 gearbox out of a Pontiac Firebird that had supposedly been rebuilt but the customer never took delivery of. The shop selling it was tired of looking at it.

In theory the speedometer drive and shifter from the S10 gearbox would swap over and I would have a fully functioning gearbox. The Firebird shifter is mounted more rearward than the S10 one which made it less than ideal for the Austin. The Firebird gearbox is also mounted at a bit of angle in that application which makes the mounts a little odd for anything else. The S10 transmission is on top, the Firebird on the bottom for comparison.

Once the S10 gearbox was removed and cracked open the problem was evident. The shift fork bushing had broken off which is a common T5 issue. The near one should look like the far away one. This again proves I should do some investigative work before buying replacement parts. The Firebird gearbox was cracked open and the forks were fine but the rest of it looked a little rusty from sitting without fluid. Good thing I got it cheap I guess. The forks were swapped from the Firebird to the S10 and I now had a working gearbox but just not in the way I had planned.

The next step would have been to strip the S10 body off the frame, sell the spare bits and continue with the A40 project. The Austin unfortunately proved to be more rusty than first thought and its body sadly did not survive being separated from its frame. With the A40 gone my reason for owning the S10 was no longer relevant. While it was not a bad vehicle I did not have any burning desire to own as is. It still required a bit of minor work like mounting the seats, new tires, dealing with the passenger door, and general cosmetic improvements which I was not motivated to do so I advertised it for sale as is. One of the first to answer the ad was a young man who arrived with his father. They were eyeing it as his first vehicle and a father/son bonding project. They must have had success as I did see it driving around a few months later so not a bad outcome in the end as these earlier, sealed beam highlight equipped S10s are getting less common. I never did find out what the mystery green switch did though.

My whole COAL series so far