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Old 08-30-2014, 12:50 AM   #1
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THOR #531
2002 Pontiac Grand Am baseplate installation.

Although I went against my wife's wishes, I am installing a baseplate myself on a 2002 Pontiac Grand Am (she wanted a dealer to do it). I ordered a Blue Ox BX1648 baseplate kit, which "fits" a 199-03 Oldsmobile Alero, 1999-2002 Pontiac Grand Am, 1997-05 Chevy Malibu, and a 1998-03 Oldsmobile Cutlass.

Well, "fits" is a relative word.

The baseplate installation is supposed to take 3 hours...

I am 7 hours into it, and about half done.

The installation instructions - at least the photos are for the Chevy Malibu, and while the cars are similar - and probably on the same chassis, they are not identical.

So, after step 1, the instructions did not agree with the dis assembly. I ended up having to poke around and see what comes apart in order to remove the front fascia, and that took a lot longer than 3 hours.

Also, there was a few rusty bolts, some which broke off. And the front fascia had been removed once already in the car's life to fix a collision with a deer, so some of the bolts were metric and some were SAE. My guess is the body shop replaced rusted bolts which broke off during the first fix with SAE hardware.

And I found some bolts were stripped. For example, the horn (which has to be temporarily removed) is attached to the frame with one bolt, which was stripped - so that took some time to remove.

And on the other side, there was an air dam and windshield washer bottle that just took forever to figure out how to remove.

After I got all of the superfluous stuff off the car, I found the baseplate more or less fit, but the frame was too close for comfort to the lower transmission cooler hose going into the radiator. There was only about 1/16" clearance, and since it is a solid tube, I think eventually it would rub against the baseplate and fail.

So I had to move the entire baseplate forward 1/4", which meant removing the baseplate, grinding into both sides of the vehicle's frame to remove a dimply, and grinding a clearance slot for the other part of the transmission tube, as sliding the frame forward 1/4" would make a different part of the tube contact the baseplate.

After all of that, I got one hole drilled into the vehicle's frame and bolted the baseplate on.

After replacing the fascia, I found out the baseplate was not really built for this vehicle specifically as there is not enough clearance for the safety chain tab nor the electrical connector tabs. As well, they are too short.

I think this is because the baseplate is used on 4 different GM models, so it is more or less a generic baseplate for the model lines.

The dealer I bought the baseplate from assures me it was specifically designed for my car, but I say that is BS. And yes, I confirmed this is the correct baseplate from Blue Ox.

So I think I can bend the tubes up a bit for the connector, but for the safety chain, I am not sure what I am going to do. I am sort of waiting for Blue Ox to return my call to see what they suggest. They will probably tell me to just cut off part of the grill - but that would make the installation very ugly.

If I could bend the safety chain tabs up a bit that would work, but they are pretty hefty, so I am not sure if I can bend them without damaging something else.

Options are to cut the ends of the tabs off a bit shorter and drill a new hole for the chain, cut the backside of the grill off so the safety chain link goes through both the tabs and the grill, or some other idea I have not yet thought of.



The silver tabs for the tow bar are exactly correct, and exit the grill perfectly. I could not ask for a better fit.









Unfortunately, the connector tabs (left) and the safety chain tabs (right) are far from perfect. Given there is a 2" gap in the grill, there was sufficient room for both of the tabs - so my conjecture is that this baseplate is a generic one for several sister model vehicles and not specifically for my vehicle.

Tomorrow I will finish the job. Probably another 4~5 hours. I have to drill the rest of the holes to mount the baseplate, then basically button it up.

I keep telling my wife that had we had it done by a dealer, they would not have taken the time to do the job correctly, and we would have ended up with the center grill part cut off... which would destroy the look of the car.

More to come.
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Old 08-30-2014, 10:38 PM   #2
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THOR #531
Day two of the baseplate installation and I put in another 7 hours, but still not done. To be fair, part of the time was taken up for 4 trips to the auto/hardware store for nuts/bolts/chisels, etc. so it was not all install time.

I am now at the point of installing the safety cables. I decided I was too tired to continue any further so will finish up tomorrow. Should only take an our or two.

One issue though is when I have the front fascia/grill on, there appears to be a 1/8 difference in the left to the right brackets... the brackets that connect to the tow bar. The left side sticks out just a bit more.

However, there is basically nothing straight on the car to make a measurement. I measured the front of the baseplate to the mounting bolt on the frame, and from left/right, it is exact. But one side of the frame is about 1/8" longer than the other in front of the mounting bolt, so that might be what is making the grill stick out one side more than the other, I don't know.

But hopefully the mounting bolts are true to the chassis alignment, not the front grill.

At worst case, I am not sure if there are any straight tracking issues or not if I am 1/8" off. We shall see...

This project has been much more of a challenge than I first thought. Not so much on the difficulty side, but the fact that the instructions for the baseplate is for a Chevy Malibu (a sister car to the Grand Am), so much of my time was taken up in figuring out how to disassemble the front end.

Next, the frame itself is not perfectly flat top-to-bottom, so I ended up shimming a bit with a few Grade 5 washers.

And I had to modify both the horn bracket - it's mounting location, and the windshield water mount. For example, I drilled a hole and tapped for a 1/4-20 thread for bolting the horn bracket in a new location. If I took it to a dealer to install, they might have just cable-tied the horn in place - who knows.

And I took some time to paint the frame members wherever necessary with Rustoleum which also would not have been done by a dealer.

And I think I have figured out a couple of solutions on the tabs being too low. The connector tabs are small enough that I was able to bend them up an inch for the electrical connector to be centered in the grill opening, so that problem is solved.

And for the safety chain tabs, I think I can use those "S" hooks with the rubber band thingie on the bottom to secure them, and I can simply attach them to both the tabs and grill cross member. Not the best solution, but it will suffice.

Will post more photos later - I am too tired to do it now.
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Old 08-31-2014, 07:40 PM   #3
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THOR #531
Finally... the baseplate is done.




On the one hand, the $400 for the installation for a shop to do it started looking pretty good, but many of the issues had to deal with broken hardware (rusted on), parts not fitting right, and needing additional links and so on.

And I was pretty meticulous in doing the job, including some corrosion control as I found areas in the car with some rust underneath. That all took some time.

But the job is now done.
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Old 09-17-2014, 11:36 AM   #4
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THOR #531
This week, I completed the tail-light wiring... except for the front connector which I have yet to do.

Due to my natural tendency to over-engineer things, I am a little concerned about voltage drop to the bulbs due to such long wire runs. It really all depends on what AWG wire that Thor used when extending the Ford wiring harness for the trailer light circuit.

After I connect the toad to the moho, I may find I need to re-wire the moho with heavier gauge wire.

I am now waiting for the towbar and RVIBrake2 to arrive, along with the other accessories... that should happen by week's end. With any luck, I will have an operational tow vehicle by the first of next week.

The only other issue is for my vehicle, GM recommends removing three fuses when towing. Not sure yet if I want to put in a switch or not. Wife recommends just removing the fuses, but I want to install a "tow switch".
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Old 09-17-2014, 02:03 PM   #5
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THOR #981
After doing quite a few tow bars with my buddy, none went according to plan. We always ending up modifying or cutting something to fit. Each and every time, I sent changes to the manufacturer (Demco). One time, they actually sent me a gift.
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Old 09-17-2014, 10:53 PM   #6
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THOR #531
I have conceded that while not perfect, it is a lot better than some of the installs that require significantly cutting away parts of the front grille.

I ended up bending the connector mounting pins up then level again with a piece of pipe so that they are now about 1" higher. I then had to add a couple of 1" spacers as the tabs were too short (did not protrude through the front of the grille far enough).



Still not happy with it, but at least I can remove the connector without damage to the grille if I come up with anything better.

If I wanted to over-engineer it, I suppose I could remove the panel with the "Pontiac" emblem on it (it attaches with just two tabs). This panel covers up the front license plate mounting location for states that do not require a front license.

Then I suppose I could place the connector behind that panel. Then, I could remove the panel when I needed to tow, and replace it when done.
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