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Old 08-10-2022, 04:54 PM   #1
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Default 01 SL1 head gasket and upgrades

Hello all! New here. I got this ***** box a few years ago and overall it's been pretty good although I've had to replace a multitude of parts, but I guess I can't complain for $800 and putting over 40k on it. I put a new clutch in finally a couple weeks ago and as luck would have it, a couple days ago the head gasket blew out and started puking down the front of the block.

I started taking it down and, I have to say, these are the smallest exhaust ports I have ever seen! I can barely fit one finger in them LOL! I'm a gear head, and this isn't my only rig, but I love to tinker, so I'm thinking of opening up the ports a little bit while it's off. It's free, so why not? I can at least port match to the gasket and manifold. It seems there is a lot of material to remove just to make that happen. I haven't gotten to the intake side yet, but apart from the small ports, I have to think that just opening up the ports to the gasket size on the head and manifold would help immensely on the top end. It looks like a straight shot to the valve, just really, really, small.

I know it's a crappy economy car, but I like to make improvements when I can. When the muffler rusted out, I realized that a Harley has 3/4 pipe also, so I grabbed an old Sportster muffler I had laying around, which is straight thru with glass packing and welded that on. It sounds really good actually! I also punched some holes in the front of the air box, but after looking at the head, it's no wonder this thing can't breathe above like 4k rpm.

I have two questions: Am I completed wasting my time doing any work on the head? And two, does anyone know what the camshaft specs are for the SOHC? If they are at all decent, I have to think that this would be a pretty good runner for an N/A with a little port work and basic intake/exhaust stuff.
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Old 08-10-2022, 08:00 PM   #2
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Default Re: 01 SL1 head gasket and upgrades

I'd say you are wasting your time. Best mod would be to put a dual cam engine in it - if you want the project. Over at there is a bunch more Saturn mod stuff going on.
Bryan Cotton
'99 SL2, 5SP bought new
Rebuilt at 204,067 September 2017
Engine, subframe, diff pin mod, brake lines, headliner, alternator, and so on!
'98 SC2, 5SP bought 2018
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Old 08-12-2022, 09:57 PM   #3
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Default Re: 01 SL1 head gasket and upgrades

Maybe a cam and some porting would give you 10-15 horsepower, but then again, a DOHC swap would give you 24 horsepower with room for much more.

My advice is have fun with it, port it (since it's free), throw a mild cam in (regrinds are 250-300), and enjoy it. Sure it will not be a rocket, and it may not run the best due to the inability to properly tune it, but it will have some more zip than factory.

Check out as there is a lot of information on S-Series performance, though most of it is for the DOHC variant. I only know of one member that has modded a SOHC, he goes by "Zombiesatty" on sixthsphere.

Anyhow, good luck with whatever you decide to do, and post some updates if you decide to modify it.
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Old 08-17-2022, 03:57 PM   #4
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Default Re: 01 SL1 head gasket and upgrades

The issue with opening up the exhaust ports is the exhaust manifold and the air injection. You would have to swap the manifold and do without the air injection which as we all know if you live in an area with emission inspection is a no-no.

I too like to tinker and hot rod so when I rebuild a saturn head (other than with the air injection) I always clean up the ports. Same for lawn mowers etc.

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