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