Saturday, February 27, 2010

Brake bleeder screws are my nightmare

This was supposed to be an easy, therapeutic round of car repairs. Little to no rust to contend with; I'm working on my once-a-Texas-car Miata.

I finished an oil change, installed the front subframe brace from 949Racing, and went on to the brakes. Bled the front right caliper properly, with the help of my sister Cindy. Figured I'd do the front left, as long as I had the car up in the air already. 

So I grab my 8mm wrench, start to turn the bleed screw, and I get an all-too-familiar feeling. It's not moving. I push it a little harder. I can feel it starting to give, but in that way you know isn't the threads breaking loose -- it's either the bleeder itself twisting, or the hex flats giving way. I put down the 12-point box-end wrench and look for a 6-point socket. After some hunting, I find a shallow well 6-pointer that'll give me the clearance I need, and I go at it again. It feels no better. "Fuck it. If it breaks, I bleed nothing. At least it won't leak, and I'll get another caliper."

Sure enough, the bleed screw snaps off. So I'm leaving it, and moving on to the rears.

The count is now up to four calipers with busted bleeders (across two cars) in two weekends. Goddamn it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Another 9-hour round of cussin' and knuckle-bustin'

(Amanda tells me we're both stubby nerds. It might be true.)

Ah, the fruits of our labor! At least, the first 3-hour stint. These Saturday projects seem to be forming a pattern. The pattern is: We start taking things apart. A few things break, but in general progress is good. We move on to the donor car, and maybe run into a few more snags, but again, we're not deterred. We take a break, then continue, everything goes to shit, and what we thought would take maybe another two hours ends up taking six. At the end of the night the car is back together, but perhaps barely drivable. Usually the final problem has to do with brakes.

I have a problem, as Eric points out, of misunderestimating the scope, difficulty, and time involved in car-related projects (click the link to Eric's blog; you will not be disappointed). The goal last weekend was to drop the rear subframe from both cars, and bolt the donor (ZX2) subframe onto the racer (LX, subframe pictured above). Not only was my grasp of the simplicity of this project on two cars that combined are about 31 years old vastly incorrect, we made some excellent discoveries on the way.

This is how awesome one of our rear strut towers is. You don't have to be a trained anything to know that if your car looks like it has syphilitic diarrhea leprosy, that's probably a bad thing. Notice the burns on the seat! Of course, the problem is not isolated to the passenger side.

There's your driver-side strut tower. My dad's repair idea involves not welding, but having someone cut a thick steel plate (with proper holes in it) to place between the strut hat and the tower, to spread the load to outside the rusted area. It would increase ride height by however thick it is, but that's probably not a very big deal -- assuming the tech/safety inspectors don't give us a hard time over it. I worry, often needlessly.

These old Escorts had a propensity for breaking rear springs. This example is no exception.

Into three pieces. Notice also the strut hat for that side (which fell on the floor).

Practically disintegrated, and virtually useless at this point. Where's the rest of it? Here:

(Note the emergency brake cable, which has lost a battle with Captain Hacksaw.)

Good thing we're swapping the entire rear subframe from the ZX2, for its springs, struts and disk brakes. I'd like to say the donor is less rusty. And it is. In parts. Notably the strut hat.

Unfortunately, the brakes again became a problem. Not only are the lines horrifically rusted from the master cylinder all the way back to the wheels, but the bleeder screws on those rear calipers snapped clean off instead of loosening properly. We replaced one caliper with a spare I had sitting around (don't ask), but the other side wouldn't come off. 

We rounded off the mounting bolt, which means we have four options:
Option 1: Get a whole new spindle to mount the caliper on. I don't want to get into how much of a pain in the ass (and expensive) this is.

Options 2, 3, and 4 condensed into one: Take either (2) a Sawzall, (3) a sledgehammer, or (4) a torch and cut/smash/melt the thing into two pieces and slide the caliper off. Then we can forcibly remove the mounting bolt with a drill, and use one of my many spare mounting bolts to attach the replacement caliper.

Obviously, we're going with one of the three latter options. Right now we've got one rear caliper that's been bled (poorly) and one that has nothing but air in it. The pedal goes to the floor every time, and requires several pumps before any kind of slowing down happens. And even then, it happens poorly.

I got a pair of used Miata calipers, which will bolt on but also feature a 32mm piston diameter (versus the Escort GT-sourced rears' 30mm). This should give us a bit more rearward brake bias, which will likely help get better, more even braking on race day. Evener braking means evener betterer lap times. I'm sure the brake proportioning is originally set up very conservative, so it's unlikely we're treading dangerous territory here.

Those calipers will go on in a few weeks. This weekend, rent is due, and I'm also spending time with my baby. I mean the Miata. Don't kill me, Amanda. I still love you too.

More details and photos to come, eventually. Stay tuned here and at for all your hot Escort-on-Escort action.

(Want a few more detail photos from that day? Click here.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

GoMiata Stubby Antenna

One of my Xmas gifts was this, a universal short chrome antenna from GoMiata. It's VERY short. I'm talking less than 6 inches. It's pretty classy looking, I suppose, but I have a few beefs with it.

Number one is radio reception. It's garbage. Complete garbage. It loses radio stations that are 15 miles away.  Compare this to the almost 40-mile range of the bent wire hanger I had in its place for the better part of a year. That's right, it's worse than a wire hanger.

I'm lucky that there's a machine shop where I work, and the guy who runs it is friendly and helpful. He drilled and tapped a hole in the center of the antenna, and screwed in a nut with a thin chrome-plated rod sticking out of it. It's about 3 times as long now, and reception is back to wire hanger levels. I'm happy now, but someone who doesn't have these resources will be very disappointed at the reception unless they live in the middle of a big city.

Another issue is how it looks when it mounts. Click the photo above and you'll see what I mean. There's all that black plastic and metal all hanging out and exposed, it's part of the original antenna mount. It doesn't cover any of this up, it doesn't exactly sit flush, and as a result it looks half-assed. Or, more aptly, it looks universal. Which it is.

And finally, for a poorly fitting universal antenna that gets shitty reception, it's expensive. It's just a small hunk of chrome and some threaded adapters for different antenna posts. I'm keeping it because it's better than a wire hanger, and it passes the 30-foot test. But as a good looking and functional detail piece, it fails miserably.

Update: This thing just keeps getting worse.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Weekend racecar prep Number 1

These are my 10-year-old Caterpillar boots. They've seen a lot of abuse, including a weekend photographing an NIU ROTC trip for the Northern Star (which, since its redesign, is one "Under Construction" GIF away from 1997), among other less taxing camping trips, junkyard treks and work excursions. This pair finally bit the dust on Saturday the 13th, and I promptly replaced them with another pair. Hopefully these will last another 10 years.

The job that did it was swapping suspensions on the new Ford Escort diarrhea bucket of an automobile. That's right, I officially have an unofficial LeMons/ChumpCar racer! It'll be a 2nd-gen Escort LX/3rd gen ZX2 Franken'Scort. (Theme and actual car/team name TBD.)

Eric, my only willing co-conspirator and co-money pit feeder at this time wrote up a good bit of detail on it. It's worth every second of your time to read, because he is a hilarious and insane man. This most recent Saturday, we (almost) completed that job by doing the rear suspension. Details on that are coming, as soon as I get my photos back from my dad's camera.