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Those thing's your calling wedges , how thick are they ? I know GM use's shims in some vehicle's , could these be what there are ? Do they look like these ? Without them you could ruin the flex plate or the starter gear .
if you have disconnected all the wires & removed the bolts from the starter flange (usually two) there should'nt be anything holding it,try to lever it between the starter & the engine if possible or give it a tap with a hammer,that may break the seal.....hope this helps.....cheers
Your best bet is to remove the old starter, and take it in to the parts store with you, as well as the make, model, year and engine information from your vehicle. When they give you the new starter, take it out of the box and compare it to the old one. Make sure it looks exactly alike.
Visit the autozone.com website and register your car. It doesn't cost anything and will give you access to an online repair manual for the car. The procedures for changing the starter can be found there. Hope this helped and best wishes.
I think you are right about the starter being the problem; the whining you hear is the starter free-wheeling after disengaging too early.
Getting clearance is another matter; I have, on occason, used floor jacks to move the engine temporarily without unbolting the motor mounts but that may be necessary in some cases.
Sometimes, I have just had a helper use a 2X4 to shift an engine enough to gain a needed 1/2" of clearance.