Sunday, March 12, 2017

Charlie's Ramshackle Race Team... In Theory

I have an idea.  I want to go racing.  There are some nearby events that would be a lot of fun to attend, but they involve a crew and more money than I currently have to invest in this.  There are the two annual Chump Car events at Road America along with other days where for $300 and tech inspection you can do practice laps.  Down in Joliet, IL, they have a 24 Hours of Lemons race.  I forget if it's once or twice a year, but it'd be fun to join in and experience it.  There's Grid Life over at Gingerman Raceway in South Haven, MI, which although it's not a cheap car ideology, I think my concept of a race car would fit in fine over there.  They're a kind of racing and music festival with a good deal of camping going on, and it sounds like fun.  I'm pretty sure Chump Car and Lemons also race there.  I'm currently unaware of any other road racing within a doable driving distance from home, but I try to keep my ears open just in case.  There is, however, plenty of places to autocross, and this intrigues me very much.  While this is more of a solo race, I would still be able to let other guys in the team take turns driving it.

Could be a lot of fun.
We know where I want to race, so why not get on with the what and the how already?!  I mentioned in a previous blog how is like to build a Fiero Kart along the same concept of Roadkill's Vette Kart, but I was thinking about it the other day, and realized that if you find a good looking one and strip it carefully, you could make it Lemons legal which automatically makes it Chump Car legal.  If I can find one that's solid underneath and has good looking body panels and interior, I should be able to sell the body plastic and interior to refund the purchase price of the car and probably even pay for the steel for the roll cage.  The only other thing I'd need to be careful on when selecting the car would be to make sure it has the good Getrag 5-speed.  The trans and subframe would likely need to be bolstered a bit to compensate for what I want to do to it, but that shouldn't be too bad.

Look at how light that would be and how quickly that could move.
The rules impose a fairly strict budget.  Chump Car simply says a vehicle with a market value of $500, but Lemons says only actually spending $500 with the ability to sell parts to recoup costs and stay on budget.  I would like to upgrade the brakes, seats, wheels, and tires because they don't count in the budget for the rules, but there is one thing that I'd change that would be a possible penalty worth taking.  This thing would be a rocket with a small block Chevy swapped in, and you can get those motors for dirt cheap.  The beauty of this is that it's so light and nimble, I could install the junkiest barely running 350 or even 305 and it'd still have enough power to really move on the track and be a contender.  In fact, it would be better to have a junk motor because then there's less likelihood of crashing do to spinouts or over driving it.  Don't get me wrong, I'd love to eventually rebuild it and make some better power, but the point is learning the car and you don't need that much power because of the weight.  Eventually, when I'm done with Lemons and Chump Car and want to stick to autocross, I'll put a suspension in it, and then it'll really handle well.  That's further down the road though.

Something like this would only be a starting point.
That's all well and good, but the rules state a 4-6 person driving team.  Here's where the plan gets good.  I know some guys who would be more than likely interested in being able to race cars on the weekend if only they could afford to, but between families and other monetary obligations, they simply can't afford the money or the time that you would feel you need to put in to make the investment worth the money.  On the other hand, you can get a Fiero on Craigslist pretty often for under $1000.  My goal is to find a solid, good looking Fiero that doesn't run for as close to $500 as possible with the possibility to go lower always appreciated.  Then I want to convince these guys that this is a good idea and we should all pitch in $100.  I'm also looking to find a good 305 or 350 for under $200.  Once the guys are onboard and the car is purchased, we'll go about stripping the interior and body and selling it on Craigslist or eBay to refund our purchase to reinvest into roll cage, brakes, tires, and whatever else we'll need.

See?  They let anything in
If we can keep it at that $100/team member, that'll be awesome.  The only other thing would be splitting the entrance fees and fuel costs of each event and getting them to all commit for at least a season, which is really just three events.  It should be a doable investment of both time and money, and if they decide it was fun, but I'm done, we can always buy them back out at the end of the season.  I'm not sure how many seasons I'd want to do Chump Car and Lemons, but when we're done, I really want to go autocross racing with it.  That'd be fun.  Now I just need to find my team.

We want to go racing!
He said, "take my picture."  How could I say no?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Fiero Kart

It's no surprise to anyone that I miss my Fiero.  That thing didn't last very long, and for how many decades I'd been wanting one, it is definitely not out of my system.  Those things are really fun to drive and can be made to handle really well.  I also have this bad idea about using a Fiero to one-up Roadkill's Vette Kart.  I also like Mad Max cars and autocross... Separately.  Then I saw something that put it all together for me.

I need another project car.
This is a Fiero that has shed its body in the pursuit of being a kit car.  But look at it!  That thing with a cage and some different tread and a better motor would be a killer autocross car.  Not only that, but it would fit perfectly into my motorsport fantasy where I would buy a cheap car, prep the chassis, enter it in Lemons and Chump Car, and modify it until it gets disqualified.  Then I can do road course or autocross and have a sweet race car that I could probably drive to work sometimes.  I only live an hour from Road America, there are groups that run autocrosses in Milwaukee, it'd be hilarious to take on Power Tour, and it'd be a riot on twisty backroads.  I just need to find a clean car for cheap.

Doesn't this look like the Fiero of the apocalypse?!
This one too.
If I was going to do this, I'd want to do it right.  While the removal and sale of body panels would pay for the car and increase our Lemons budget, the addition of the roll cage would literally outweigh any kind of weight reduction you would've been hoping for.  The 4-cylinder is really only good for gas mileage, and the stock 6 is a dog.  If I was building a modified Fiero GT (with a body), I'd go with a 3.8 GTP motor because they're great in every aspect, but this car is crazy, so why not keep it that way?  They always say a 350 bolts right up to the bellhousing on the Getrag 5-speed; why not just use that?!  Even the most used up junkyard 350 will be too much power for this car.  It would be hilarious to autocross this with a turd of a used V8 just to see how well it'd do and how mad people would be if you won.  The fact that you can use huge sticky tires will help keep it going the right way too.  This could be a rocket.

This was an interesting cage concept I found.
So the plan is all figured out, I just need an extra grand and a couple good Craigslist scores.  This needs to happen, and I need to take it to Summer Nationals and Roadkill Nights and pit it against the Vette Kart to see if it's a better choice of platform than theirs.  Gotta have goals, and it pays to have fun ones!

Roadkill's Vette Kart.
What could be the Fiero Kart

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Autocross: The Great Equalizer

There are many different ways you can build a car.  Shiny or rusty, SEMA or Symco, stage rally or road course, they all are trying to achieve a goal.  Often people want more power when they build, and while power is fun, they don't always add it in a usable way.  I've seen plenty of cars with added power and either too poor of tire or too lame of suspension to get that power to the ground and do something with it.  It seems to me that of you spent thousands of dollars on a fancy engine, you would want to be able to enjoy the power it can make in more ways than a burnout (not to discount the juvenile joy of burnouts; I love those too).  If only there was a stage on which you could drive your car enthusiastically and enjoy it without fear of hitting other competitors or going off into a ditch or wall and ruining your museum piece of a car.

Because that would really suck.
But wait!  There is!  Autocross is a wonderful type of racing that puts you at odds with the clock and yourself with nothing to hit but cones.  Normally autocross races are held in large, unused parking lots.  These big flat areas have nothing to drive or off of and seem to be the safest way to enjoy an expensive build quickly.  The cars basically do individual time trials and try to speed up every time they go.  It's supposed to be a race against yourself, but I always find a couple of cars I feel I should be able to do better than.  I mean, it's never worked, but you gotta have goals, right?

This guy was really getting after it, and that was surprising to see with a car that expensive.
This thing you could tell was built for this.
My absolute favorite part about autocross is that it doesn't matter what you bring just as long as you're there.  This is the kind of racing where a $600 beater with the right modifications can hang with expensively built cars, especially the ones that are a little too much form over function.  It doesn't matter how good it looks so long as it's fast and corners well.

No.  This guy was not fast, but he had fun.
This shows a good cross section.  My friend is finishing his run with his stripped out V6 5-speed Camaro while a first gen Monte Carlo and a fast third gen Camaro are waiting to run.
Of the few times I've participated, my favorite "underdog" story I've seen was the kid in the late '90s 4-cylinder 5-speed Ranger that was slammed on sticky tires.  I said, "I'm sure I can beat him. I've got twice the engine!"  Unknown to me was the fact that those Rangers have plastic fenders and hood and a fiberglass bed and his suspension seemed pretty dialed in.  My best was a 39-second pass, his was 34, and the quickest car there was 29.  It's all about the right modifications and knowing how to best use your vehicle.  Then the next year he V8 swapped it, but if I'm honest, I think he needs to change his front spring rates because it leans more now.  It's still really quick.

This was after the V8 swap.
I wish I lived closer to where these events happen because they always start so dang early, and I'd be leaving the house at around 6am to get there in time for the driver's meeting and walk through.  Maybe when my car becomes more competitive I'll be more enthusiastic about the early mornings.

I don't have the right car, but it sure is fun!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Project Update: Night Prowler - On The Road Again

It took a month of sitting half in my garage, but the car is together and ready to roll!  This "make it run" project spiralled out of control pretty quickly.  What started as fix the charging system and find the cause of the engine code (assuming wiring issues) turned into most of the accessory drive, half the top end, tune up, charging system, and some hop-ups.  But it looks pretty now!

If only it was that easy!
I started out changing the alternator and getting a cheap battery.  The old alternator had a bearing that sounded like it was made of gravel, and it was noted when we were unloading it that it was sparking internally.  While I was removing it, I also noticed that it wasn't even plugged in, so the thing was only running off a $35 junkyard battery.  I suddenly understood why we had to jump start it so many times.  It ran really decent in park after I swapped these, but it was still unhappy when I tried driving it around.  I decided I'd try a tune up, to see if that helped, but when I started pulling spark plugs (some with a breaker bar), I noticed that the coils were all green and some filled with corrosion.  That pretty much pointed straight at the classic cracked plastic intake.  That's when things got interesting.

Gooey Green
My one mechanic friend said to me that this is the easiest intake I'd ever change, which I don't find any comfort in because it took way, way, way, way longer than it was supposed to.  I'm blaming it being my first time doing an intake and also lack of time as my cop-out for why my car has been sitting for a month to do an afternoon's project.  It was also really rusty and stick together.  I took everything off the intake, but I didn't want to mess with unhooking all the junk off the throttle body (like the EGR pipe) because of the rust, so I instead devised this clever way of suspending it from the hood with zip ties while I snaked the intake out from under it.  Once the intake was off, I went at the spark plugs because it's way easier to get at them then.  Three of them I needed to wash, vacuum, and blow corrosion out of the holes enough to get the socket to just barely grab a corner of the plug to know it was lined up.  A few taps with the dead blow, and we were ready to break them loose... with the breaker bar.  Worst plug job so far, but just wait til I get back to dragging cars out of groves!

Corroded down in the hole
All the corrosion in the socket keeping it from going onto the plug
The throttle body hanging from the hood, but the intake is hanging from the throttle body because I missed a bolt.
At this point, I held the manifolds up to each other, and realized they didn't match.  After about three days and a few e-mails back and forth and around the office at Dorman, I finally got a guy more knowledgeable who basically said you're not looking at it right; it'll be fine.  It was, but it killed some vacation days I was taking in the hopes of fixing my cars.  Once I got the "ok," I began putting on the intake, and found my torque wrench was not working correctly.  Pretty sure I over-torqued the intake, but so far it hasn't been an issue, and I'm kind of afraid to back it back down.  There were a few less than cheap sensors under the intake that I decided to change while I was there, and I also figured I should replace the coils because the old ones were bathed in coolant.  Luckily, my friend took his '04 Mustang GT to the dyno, while my car was down, because he added a Procharger kit.  He donated cast off injectors, coils, and mass air flow sensor which was awesome right up to the point where I installed them all and found that the wiring connectors were different for the injectors.  One of my injectors had an end that kind of crumbled apart when I pulled it out, so I went online to find a set of injectors that had the upgraded flow rate of the ones I got off the Mustang but would plug into the Vic harness, and way at the bottom of the page, I found adapters to make them work for $28!.  I was so excited.  They were a struggle to install because they were stiff, but they worked great.

You'd think that would make a difference, right?
That did make a difference, though.
When I replaced the alternator, I noticed that the belt was meh and the tensioner was dead.  I honestly reapplied tension with my giant prybar and a dead blow.  Then I figured that the coolant system was half replaced, I might as well do a water pump while I was at it because I'm right there.  A water pump, belt, tensioner, idler pulley, and alternator later, the accessory drive is almost completely replaced.  Now I just need underdrive pulleys.

Yeah, this is the only way it returned to applying tension.
It's been two weeks since I wrote the previous section of this blog, and I finally found funding (or stopped buying parts long enough) to license it!  I don't have everything done from the intake swap, but a couple sensors and an exhaust leak aren't keeping this thing off the road.  I took it to work and did a few things to it, most notably swapping the tires and wheels for 17" steelies with oversized Blizzaks.  I'm excited to see how the Blizzaks work because I've heard so much about them, all praise and rave reviews.  She's on the road, but jot out of the shop yet.  The initial drive found the power steering barely works, some lights don't work, the brakes are sketchy at best, a caliper hangs up, the torque converter shudders, there's a howl coming from the rear end, and it's still an open dif.  I've got a 3.73 ring and pinion and a limited slip differential for it that I scored off Craigslist, and I'm going to see if we can flush a few systems into submission.  I plan on attending the Detroit Gambler 500 with this car at the end of April, so we'll see if I can get it all together by then.  I'm pretty optimistic.  Either way, I'm excited for my new wheels, having actual coil springs in the rear suspension, and having heat in winter.  If this keeps up, the black Vic may not be long for my driveway.

Old wheels and tires
New wheels and tires
Beauty shot

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Project Night Prowler

In the two and a half months I've owned my Bronco, I've bought almost all the parts to make it drivable (sans floor).  Also, I have spent exactly two days working on it, and both were cut short.  It's currently residing too far away from my home and tools, but I'm bringing it home today.  With this in mind, what's the logical thing to do next?!  That's right!  Buy another project!

Craigslist photo.  Haven't gotten a chance to do a preliminary photo shoot with this one yet.
I've been looking for a '03 Crown Vic since I started looking for my second one back in 2012.  Eventually, I had the money to get a Vic, but I found a sweet deal on an '02 LX Sport that was really clean.  It was supposed to be an interior donor with a drivable shell for cheap, but then I thought it was too nice, I put more money into it, and now I'm fairly upside down on it.  I'll never get my money back out of it, so I guess it'll be here for a while.  I will say, it is a blast to drive, and it's exactly what I wanted it to be in its second rendition (once I started putting tons of money into it), a badass daily driver that is fun to beat on.

Picking it up at the guy's house.
The time has come to go back to my original plan, however spread out the timeline may be.  I want an '03-'04 P71 with cruise control, hopefully not too much rust, and as few police wiring holes as possible.  If I'm lucky, I'll maybe even find one without that puke cleaner smell inside.  (As of writing this, I'm going this afternoon to move my Bronco and buy a Vic, so that's why the writing changes later.)  You may ask why a '03-'04.  Because I hate computers and like big motors.  What?  The "whale" version of the late model Panther platform, in this case Crown Victoria, has three notable variations in the under pinnings.  '98-'02 had coil springs and shocks at all four corners and an old school, recirculating ball steering gear box.  In '03, they updated the front suspension to have a rack and pinion and coilover style struts.  In '05, they changed the material of the control arms and added drive by wire.  I don't like drive by wire on a fundamental basis, but the early Ford stuff seemed especially laggy in my mom's '05 Five Hundred.  The added benefit of an '03-'04 is that the lack of a steering box makes more room for a 5.4 swap.  Now I've completely killed any kind of suspense that could've been building for the next paragraph.

The sweet tow rig pulling her home.
While the 4.6 is adequate and happily accepts boost if I so choose, and the 4R70W can really be livened up with a good shift kit, what I really want to do is pitch it all in favor of some more displacement and a shifter I can really wrap my hand around.  I want a 5.4L Vic with a stick.  I'm not talking the normal swap you see with a SOHC truck motor and a T-4650 out of an SN95 Mustang.  No, I'm a firm believer in the "go big or go home" mentality.  I want a GT-Five-Hund-Vic with a 6-speed, a DOHC 5.4, and a twin screw supercharger on top making belt noises ("Wreeedom!").  But alas, I'm super cheap, and big mod-motors cost big money.  So what am I gonna do?  I'm gonna properly build suspense for the next paragraph this time!

It was fun following my Vic in my Vic
See? It worked; you're still here.  I'm going to save money for the 6-speed kit from and find either a junkyard Navigator motor or a cheap, junky Navigator that I can harvest the motor out of and possibly make most of my money back on by parting the rest of it out.  In the mean time, I'll keep working on the body to make it happy to receive the transplant... while probably also having to daily drive it.  Speaking of which, how is this newly found project car of mine?  (Please hold...)

It was a good view on the way home
We actually snapped a spring on the F-350, but he thinks the previous owner was eager to overload it.
Ok, so this isn't the best car I've ever bought, but in the world of project cars, it's not totally junk.  The body is fair.  There are some rust spots that I could do without, but again, I'm looking for a 13-year old car in Wisconsin, so it's not gonna be perfect.  The motor idles well, but we think (based on the cobbled wiring repairs) that there's something messed up in the engine wiring harness causing a P0355 code (Ignition coil E, primary/secondary -circuit malfunction).  When you finally get it to rev there's a bad bearing noise from either the alternator or maybe the water pump.  The pump in the trans is a little slow to engage, but as far as I can see, it works.  The power steering is heavy like it has poor flow too.  Not sure what that is.  Also the driver's seat is power, and it's stuck in a less than comfortable position.  All things considered, I don't feel too bad about the price or what I got.  It's a decent beater with a heater, and in Spring, it'll start to be a really ok starting point for my newest project car.

Family picture!
I've even already started having other bad ideas based on the stock of junk in my garage!  I found a pair of Mustang wheels in my tire pile, and then I found another one for $40 on Craigslist.  One more, and I'm in business!

The magical tire pile
I bought these last year with some snow tires.
They're rough, but a little powder coat goes a long way.  Probably dip them first.
They're just lined up, but they look good.