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Guest BJM

61 Starfire Questions

19 posts in this topic

Anybody on here own a 61 Starfire? What are the restoration concerns? Special side trim?

How different are they from an 88/98 convertible? Are they not built on the 88 chassis but are they not totally loaded models. Please advise as I am looking at a total project car.

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Body and chassis wise, a '61 Starfire is an 88 convertible. Powertrain wise, the Starfire has the same 394, but with increased compression, bigger valves and a different cam, and standard dual exhaust resulting in higher horsepower than other '61 Oldses. They also have a beefed up trans. You obviously already know the interiors are special and they have those anodized aluminum side panels. Side panels are now being reproduced by a guy in Canada to the tune of $1500. Seats were originally full leather, which can be expensive to redo. Convertible tops originally had a wide contrasting band around the edge at the side windows.

 

Paul

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The '61 Starfire debuted as a mid-year model & was one of GM's first efforts at a "personal luxury car" in the vein of the Ford T-Bird. 7600 were built- all convertibles. With a base price of around $4700 it was the most expensive Olds in the '61 lineup, slightly more even than the Ninety Eight convertible.

The cars were built on the 123" wheelbase 88 platform, & the frame, sheet metal & glass is fully interchangable between the Starfires & both 88 models. The Ninety Eight had a 126" wheelbase & a 6" greater overall length. Ninety Eights had longer rear quarters, a longer rear overhang, & more leg room in the back seat. Doors, decklid, & front clip interchange between 88s & 98s.

The engine in the Starfire was a specially-tuned 394 with high-compression pistons, a hotter cam, & possibly unique heads (I'd have to check on that one...) The engine had 10.25:1 compression & was rated at 330hp & 440 ft.-lbs. of torque (vs. 10:1 compression in the Skyrocket engine standard in the Super 88 & 98.) The engine had dual-exhausts & was fully-dressed with chrome valve covers, oil filler, & air cleaner.

The Starfire rearend differed from the rest of the line in that it had a 3.42:1 ratio. A posi unit was available, which is rather rare today.

On the inside, the Starfire had leather bucket seats & a console. Power windows & driver's seat were standard. AC, power vent windows, Safety Sentinel Speedo, Wonderbar, & Guidematic are some of the more desirable options. The dash is the same among all full-sized '61 Olds, but the remainder of the interior trim was mostly unique to the Starfire.

So you're looking to restore one of these? My first bit of advice is to find somebody who's dead or getting divorced & buy their already-restored car.

Still want to restore one??? OK then- everybody gets their shorts in a knot about the trim on these cars, but the understated Achilles heel on them is the frame. The convertible frame differs from the rest of the line in that it is fully-boxed in. They have a terrible tendency to rust out in front of the rear axles where the wheel arches connect to the torque boxes. Because of the box configuration, crud & moisture builds up in there & rusts it out from the inside. This can also happen in the frame rails under the doors, but by the time you see it there you'll already have a severe problem at the rear axle. If you see frame rot, don't walk- run away. (Unless you have a complete car with a decent drivetrain- you may want to think about parting it out.) Finding, buying, & transporting a decent '61 Olds convertible frame is not something to embark upon with great zeal. Don't ask me how I know....

Before paying for a Starfire, make sure the car has a Starfire engine. I've seen cars sold as Starfires that turn out to have Skyrocket, or even low-compression 88 engines in them. I don't have the '61 engine codes handy, but I can get them for you if you like.

The 394 is a tough engine & mechanical parts are expensive, but available. These motors tend to develop lifter ticks & top end noise, & every one I've owned has had a fair share of blowby. If you have a chance to do a leakdown test on the motor don't be at all surprised if you're disappointed in the results.

The Roto-Hydramatic, or Slim-Jim trans is not one of GM's milestones. It debuted in '61 & was supposed to be smaller, lighter, & better than the 4-speed Jetaway that it replaced. While it admirably met the first two criteria, it was erratic, trouble-prone, & leaky to the point that GM dumped it after only 4 years. These transmissions are expensive to work on, & a lot of trans guys won't touch them.

It's possible to retrofit a TH-400 or 700-R4 to the 394, but the bolt patterns & bellhousings differ, the driveshaft & crossmember need to be altered, & the new shift pattern won't match the console (Olds used PNDSLR.) An older Jetaway Hydramatic will bolt right up to the 394, but you'd likely have to modify the trans hump in the floor as there wouldn't be enough clearance for the larger trans.

Still interested?

Bodies tend to rust in the typical places. There's always more rust in the car than what you see. If it's really rusted out, it's likely not worth fixing unless you're in love with that particular car, or you're a body guy who's looking for a challenge.

Used trim pieces are out there, though it may be hard to find a set of aluminum side panels with a matching patina. Finding NOS, especially a full set, would be like discovering plutonium (& probably cost more). You can have the aluminum buffed & reanodized- you wind up losing the fine-milled pattern in the panels, but it looks better than dings & scratches. There's a guy reproducing aluminum for 1962. I hear it's nice, but haven't personally seen it. I've heard a rumor that he may reproduce the '61 panels, too, but haven't confirmed this.

Starfire badges have also been reproduced, but that's about it. The dual hood spears are Starfire-only & very hard to find.

I've seen a few otherwise restored cars sold without rocker moldings. Though the part was shared with the Super 88, it seems that there aren't a whole lot of those floating around either.

On the interior, much of the door panel trim was unique to the '61 Starfire. The bucket seats have metal backs & were not used by Olds beyond 1961 (in '62 the buckets had upholstered seatbacks.) I've seen these seats used on a '60 Eldo & a '59 Bonneville- no doubt there were other applications for them. I knew somebody who had a '61 Starfire with missing seats- he wound up buying a whole other car just to replace them!

I could go on & on. These are gorgeous cars when they're done right, with remarkable performance for a vehicle of their size. They are not cheap or easy to work on.

Feel free to PM me, & please post a few pics of the car you're considering!

Chuck

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Chuck,

I agree, that's awesome. I'm pretty scared off though. This car that I am considering can be seen here:

www.dansoldcars.net (Dan's Old Cars)

It's in Minnesota so it has be really rusty. But this seller has several full size convertibles I like including a GM 3 some of a Cadillac Eldorado, the Starfire and a Pontiac Bonneville. I was considering getting all three.

No, I'm not rich but I have time and can do a lot myself. Plus I'm a fan of beautiful full size cars. Specially 61 GM models.

The insights on here are worthwhile as I will know what to look for. I think the seller is way way overpriced on his rusty projects. If they were $750 to $1000 I would consider them more closely. As it is I am looking occasionally to see that he still has them, which he always does, and he never reduces prices so I don't know how serious he is about selling them.

Thanks again. I wonder how many 61 Starfires are left?

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Looking at that MN car, I'd say it's likely a parts car & definitely overpriced. I wouldn't buy it without laying my own eyes on it & spending a lot of time going over & under the car. Somebody with a lot of resources or ability could possibly restore it, but speaking from my own experience it's not an easy undertaking & certainly not one that would make any financial sense.

My car looked quite similar to this when I bought it back in 1995, but it ran (sort of) & had an intact top & interior. Off & on it took about 10 years & two parts cars to restore. The only major parts that remain from the original car are the doors, trunk lid, & drivetrain. Floors, frame, quarters, cowl, front clip, & bumpers all came from parts cars.

You start on one of these & get so far into it that you don't have much choice other than to press on & finish it. I'd have been much better off in the long run with a better car out of the gate. I easily could have bought several very nice '61 Starfires with what I sank into this one. Since then I've acquired a few more cars & have become very selective about which cars to plunge into.

'61 Starfires aren't falling out of trees like Impalas, but they're out there. In the current market of rods & muscle cars, a car like this tends to get overlooked by all but a discerning few. Your average cruise night fan doesn't even know what it is. I've seen several decent driver-quality cars on Ebay or in Hemmings over the last few years. For between $20-30K you could likely pick up a nice driver that you could enjoy as-is & fix up along the way without breaking the bank & tying up years of your life with a big restoration.

Be patient, save your cash, & wait for the right car to come along- you'll be glad you did.

Good Luck!

Chuck

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Hey BJM-

Case & point illustrating that these cars are indeed available, yet you need to be careful & well-informed about what you're buying.

Here's a '61 Starfire that's just appeared on Ebay:

http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=160161992000&ssPageName=ADME:B:EF:US:11

I borrowed a few pics off the listing & posted them here.

Looks pretty decent & has AC, which is very unusual, even on a Starfire. The color, if correct, is either Aqua or Glacier Blue- both '61 Olds colors- but without a pic of the cowl tag & paint code it's hard to tell for sure.

Now let's look at what's wrong with it. Most obvious (& most easily corrected) are the incorrect wheelcovers.

The top boot should be blue to match the interior, & the correct boot should have the same tuck & rolled treatment as the seats.

The aluminum floor inserts appear to be missing (though they may be under the mats.) These inserts were fixed to the floor & were unique to '61 only. They are exceedingly difficult to replace.

Also missing is the correct rear seat speaker grille. The correct grille was a Starfire-only piece that had the same stylized globe logo that was used on the radiator grille & the steering wheel center. The speaker grille currently on the car is correct for a Ninety Eight, though I'm unsure if it was also used on the Super & Dynamic 88s.

Looking at the interior, the seats appear pretty good, though I'm not certain if they're done in leather. Those big tacks or screws on the rear quarter panels above the armrests shouldn't be there.

The broad, framed-in areas of the door panels surrounding the armrests are currently upholstered in blue, but they should be covered with a ribbed, aluminized mylar material instead.

Under the hood lies the most subtle problem of all. The front cover on the engine is not right for a '61-2 Olds 394. The correct cover has a small, round water pump face with the outlet for the lower radiator hose pointing straight down. Note in the photo that the water pump is large & rectangular with the lower radiator outlet pointing off at a 45-degree angle- this is from a '63-4 394.

I'm not enough of an Olds engine guru to know if a '63-4 front cover will fit a '61-2 394 block. Perhaps someone else can chime in on that. Nonetheless, until proven otherwise, I'd suspect that this car doesn't have a '61 Starfire engine.

I've read a lot of comments on these boards about folks being elitists & snobs, etc. about what's "correct" for certain cars, so I hope nobody else reading this post takes offense & feels I'm trashing some guy's car. That's certainly not my intention at all. However, I do wish to illustrate the point that there are a lot of details on these cars that need to be looked at when considering a purchase.

This particular Starfire looks good & would no doubt make a fine cruiser. An informed buyer would recognize its problems upfront & pay accordingly. I have no idea what the seller's looking to get out of the car- he may well have a very realistic reserve on it. Regardless, these are becoming high-dollar cars, & I always cringe when I see guys looking for showcar money for vehicles that have obvious flaws..... it makes me wonder about some of the nice-looking cars I see that I'm less familiar with.

Educate yourself & ask a lot of questions, BJM. You can't have too much information!

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Do you have a pic of your engine to illustrate the water pump? I saw the link for the parts car. I would have to guess it will be there for a very long time unless the price drops substantially.

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Here's is a correct '61/'62 water pump/front cover photo. This car is a non-a/c '61, but is identical to my a/c equipped '62. Now that I'm looking at the photo of the light blue '61 on eBay, I don't know what those parts are off of. Not only is the front cover different, so is the water pump - and it is very different.

I was always told that '63 and '64 394s had the lower hose coming out on the passenger side. I'll have to research that.

Paul

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Hey there Paul-

I checked my 1963 service manual & it showed the large, square pump with the lower hose connection coming off on an angle on the driver's side.

I tried looking around on Ebay, but couldn't find a photo of a '63-4 engine taken at the correct angle. I did find a pic of a '63-4 water pump, which I've attached. It looks like what's shown on that blue '61 Starfire to me.

Does anybody know if a '63-4 front cover will fit an older 394? I know the balancers aren't interchangeable as the '63-4 front covers have a larger-diameter front seal, but I'd be curious to know if the two different covers will interchange.

Chuck

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I looked around on eBay and found a '64 Starfire with the same style water pump and front cover that the blue '61 sports. It has been many years since I owned a '64 Luxury Sedan and to be truthful, I never noticed a difference.

I guess the guy who told me you couldn't swap '61/'62 and '63/'64 engines, without changing the front cover because of the lower hose, was wrong.

Learned something new today.

Thanks, Chuck. Good catch.

Paul

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As I look at this picture it appears that the brake booster and master cylinder are not 1961. Right?

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In '61 and '62 they used Bendix or Moraine brake systems. These just both happen to have the same systems. The one on my '62 is different from these, and probably like yours. I've got a much smaller lid that looks more like a wing nut. Boosters are different, too.

Paul

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My 61's have Bendix brakes. These appear to be Moraine. The Bendix boosters are painted black & held together with screws, while the Moraine boosters should be anodized & fit together with a series of interlocking tabs.

The master cylinder on the Bendix system is more square & has a small fill cap like the one Paul describes. It attaches to the booster with four nuts rather than the two that are illustrated here.

I'm not familiar with the Moraine system on a '61. However, the illustrations in the '61 manual show the Moraine master cylinder attaching with four nuts, too. Now that I think about it, I have a '61 project car that's in storage that may have Moraine brakes, so next time I have a chance, I'll take a look at it & report back.

I have Moraine brakes on my '62 Starfire, which look about identical to what's shown in these illustrations. Bottom line is I don't know if these cars both have '62 Moraine brake sytems, or if there was just some production line variability & perhaps some discrepancies with what's illustrated in the '61 service manual.

Chuck

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I took a look at that other '61 that's in storage & it does have Moraine brakes on it. I've attached a pic of the booster & master. This is identical to what's illustrated in the '61 service manual, down to the metal hex-head cap on the master.

I still don't know if the brake units shown in those other posted photos are definitely '62 & thus incorrect for a '61 car, or if there was a transition period between the two styles midway thru the '61 production year.

Chuck

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This is an old thread but hoping chuck is still available to answer some 61 Starfire questions. Would like to confirm the correct casting numbers and dates for the 61 Strafire 394 and if they are specific to the Starfire or the same as other models that year.

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Chuck hasn't visited the forums for quite some time. Engine block casting numbers are not Starfire specific. Olds used the same block in all full size cars. Performance differences involved compression ratio (heads/pistons), valve size, camshaft usage and exhaust. 

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Are there marks that would indicate date of casting?  Any other marks to decipher?  I have the 577476 - 4 1/8 which I believe to be correct with the 4 1/8 being the bore.  Would like to know what the other letters and numbers indicate.

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