Thursday, December 29, 2011

Super Porsche Man!

...flies in to tweak his carburetor!

Really though, he's pointing to something in his engine bay for the other guy standing nearby. I was taking a few photos from this angle, and the car's owner leaned in. This is exactly how the photo came out of the camera. No cropping. This particular car—a 1965 Porsche 356C—will be featured in comparison with a Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder (a CMS project car) in the upcoming issue of Classic Motorsports. I shot most of the photos that end up in the story. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

On automotive Luddites

From the April 1968 issue of Road & Track.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Installing cruise control in a throttle-by-wire Toyota

Everyone remembers the uproar over electronic throttles in Toyotas. Everything from floor mats to pedal assemblies to space particles could be causing unintended acceleration. Admittedly, the last bit might just have been the NASA scientists getting bored and trying to find the problem in every last possible place. They did get into the field because they dig space stuff, after all.

At the root of the problem, it turns out, was a lot of fat, stupid feet continuously mashing on the gas pedal instead of the brake. The fact that there's no mechanical cable directly connecting the gas pedal to the throttle body had nothing to do with it, though it did give plenty of automotive Luddites a chance to bitch about technology.

Fact is, drive-by-wire throttles are handy from an engineering standpoint--no need to worry about getting the cable to reach or to work right in a certain orientation, for one. They're also handy in that some cars that don't come with cruise control can be easily retrofitted at minimal cost. Yes, I've finally reached my point.

With Zoe's 2010 Yaris, there's no computer modules to add. No expensive vacuum diaphragms or OEM switches. A trip to Radio Shack, a little time with a screwdriver, soldering iron, drill, and wire splices, and you're good to go. I'll spare you the details of the install; kind enthusiasts figured out how to do this, and posted the information online. That's how I did it. Here's the step-by-step:

More and more cars today are throttle-by-wire, so it stands to reason that methods similar to this are possible on a lot of newer cars. 

I popped off a plastic panel on the dashboard and drilled holes for these switches. After soldering in the appropriate resistor--a 660 ohm one, I think--and extra wiring, it went back into the dash. I didn't photograph it with the stuff soldered up because it's, well, not my finest work. I can solder strong, but it's not necessarily pretty.

There they are. Both are momentary pushbutton switches. Zoe calls them spaceship switches. Sometime soon they'll get labels. The top one will be Warp Drive; the bottom, Shields.

The actual in-car wiring was way easy, with just two wires to splice into.

How can you run cruise control with just two buttons? Well, it's limited in features. The top button toggles the cruise on and off (illuminating the green indicator in the top picture); the bottom one sets the speed and decelerates the car. You can wire in four switches to get full functionality, but two looks nicer and it does the job.

And it works! For less than $10 at Radio Shack, this car has cruise control. Another option for this particular car is just to install the OEM cruise control switch and cut a hole in the steering column cover for it to stick out of, but the switch—a stalk not unlike the turn signal one—is still a little pricey at about eighty bucks.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Why the Fiat 500 will do well (a long ramble)

A hip lady-friend of mine recently blogged about the Fiat 500. She said:
"I have never really been a car person.  My dad picked out both of the cars I’ve driven, and they’ve been good cars in the sense that they get me from point A to point B without any scarring or wreckage. 
But then I saw this little thing.  I want that car.  This is the first time in my life I’ve written that down.  I want that car.  It’s so wee!"

We at the Grassroots Motorsports office have been waiting for one to come through the press fleet. We saw a white one in the parking lot at the office a month or two back, and EVERYONE was talking about it. "Is that our press car?" "It's a stickshift!" "Where did it come from?" "I love the interior." We all fought over who would drive it first. We've been waiting for one to come through the press fleet for some time.

We later found out that it belonged to the meter reader lady from the electric company. It was her personal ride. We all gave her props for driving a stickshift, she enthusiastically proclaimed her love for it, and left.

One showed up at an autocross this summer. It wasn't there to compete; someone just drove it to the event. There were at nearly all times at least four guys gathered around the thing. When the owner was near it, a bigger crowd gathered to ask questions.

All this for a kind of slow, technologically unremarkable, somewhat expensive subcompact car. Why such a fuss? 

It is incredibly cute. Sure, your average Camaro shopper wouldn't be caught dead in one, but I'm sure the reverse is also true. But that's less the point, so much as its whimsy. It's fun just to look at. It makes people smile, stop, and have a closer look. The Mini Cooper and New Beetle did these things, but I hesitate to say that they did it so universally.

I thought at first that it was too expensive. It starts at the same price as the Ford Fiesta ($15,500), a considerably larger car. But, while the Fiesta might be more practical to own and perhaps are more capable as a performance car, its fun really only kicks in once you're whipping it around corners and really making use of its delightful chassis.

With a car like this, the whimsy, the thrill, the joy, comes from the minute you sit in it. You get into it, smile, and ask, "So, what can you do?" The same thing happened with my sister when she bought her (also smaller than a Fiesta but 30% more costly) Mini Cooper several years ago. She wasn't a car person, but she became an enthusiastic driver. She learned to live with its small cargo space. She'd tell stories of playing cat-and-mouse through traffic with other Mini drivers. It also helped that she got a stickshift, I think, but part of it had to be that the car made its existence clear to its owners.

Not many cars do that, or have ever done that terribly often. Even if something is fun to drive, a cheap car will rarely actually say hello. It'll have the same speedometer you see in every other car in the world; the switchgear will look the same; it'll all be in that familiar industrial-plastic black.

Guys are fascinated. Gals think it's adorable. If this car is half as fun to drive as it is to look at (foreign reviews indicate as much), it'll sell as many as Fiat can make. It might even help get more kids interested in cars and driving who previously just thought of it as an expensive mode of transport. I only hope the take rate on stickshifts is high.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Racing Beat knockoff header

I've learned something from my foray into the bottom-of-the-barrel cheap parts: There are two levels of shitty.

Level One: Low price, good build quality, but materials that aren't the most durable perhaps because of lower quality.
Level Zero: Lowest price, terrible build quality, horrendous materials.

My recent reviews of Raceland's header put them squarely into Level One. Their header is well built, looks good out of the box and is well supported. They also have a real company/brand name to uphold, as evidenced by their stickers and catalog included in the order. Their downfall is that their steel isn't pure/robust enough to stand up to the harshest commutes through aggressively salted Chicago interstates. I'm confident that someone living in, say Florida, would be perfectly happy with their product.

This one, on the other hand, is simply not worth a purchase. I don't mean to single out SpeedyRacer--an eBay seller--as there are multiple people peddling this shoddy product. It's the only header that imitates the Racing Beat with a 4-1 design (all the others imitate the 4-2-1 or Tri-Y design of the Jackson Racing); since the Racing Beat is reportedly the best off-the-shelf header out there, it's truly unfortunate that the only imitation is so incredibly awful.

See for yourself in the slideshow. The welds are so awful, I'm surprised I didn't find welding rod sticking out of them. I wonder if they're even airtight. I saw one car with this header at SCCA Solo Nationals (STS class), and wasn't surprised to find it was rusting just like my Raceland unit--though that particular car certainly didn't see the heavy winter commuting duty that mine did.

The final straw--and this really killed me, because I was nearing the end of my engine swap at the time, filled with exhaustion, frustration at already too many broken surprises, and anxious to hit the road--was that it just didn't fit. It hit the flat horizontal part of the body below the brake and clutch master cylinders. I was so goddamn angry when I couldn't get the piece of cockblasting assnugget* to fit that I literally bounced it off the fucking concrete floor and across the garage.

Since I've seen this header fit on other cars and it's gotten some positive eBay responses, I can conclusively say their quality control department and the jig they use to build this header are both not very consistent. And, judging by the fact that a magnet will stick to certain parts of it--most notably the bends, as demonstrated in the slideshow--they clearly use ultra-low quality stainless steel too.

By "they," of course, I mean whoever makes this piece of garbage, not Speedyracer or any other eBay vendor--though they are responsible for selling a shit product. Much to that vendor's credit, they did take a return on the header even though it was past the 30-day return period. So thank you, Speedyracer, for not totally screwing me.

There you have it, friends: real buying advice. Don't buy the absolute cheapest garbage. Pay a little extra instead. I'd buy the Raceland header again. You couldn't pay me to use this one--which is just as well, since it seems to no longer be available on eBay.

*I'm a classy guy.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Chugga chugga Miata speedometer

My Miata's speedometer used to do this. My good friend Eric described the sound as akin to a choo-choo train. My memory is fuzzy, so I'm going to pretend he used those exact words. He's a grown-ass man. I tried replacing the speedometer head before, but that didn't help.

As part of the engine rebuild, I replaced many (many!!) parts. One of them was the speedometer cable, which is easier to replace than I expected. Problem solved! I lived with that annoyance for way too long considering how simple the fix was. With a little dexterity, flexibility and profanity, I was able to replace the cable without removing the instrument cluster.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Wear your safety equipment, kids.

This video is horrifying. Not for weak stomachs.

Killed Myself When I Was Young from The Jalopy Journal on Vimeo.

Via Found on the 24 Hours of LeMons forum.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

GRM Blog: Crank pulleys can indeed fail

I made a new blog post on the Grassroots Motorsports website. I'm not crazy about the interface and workarounds we have to do to make photo embedding work, but those are things that will hopefully be addressed in the forthcoming redesign. Take a visit.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A post-wash return to Artsy Fartsy Sentiment

High-contrast black and white accents the imperfections. I'm proud that it's a beater.

This week I washed my Miata for the first time in many, many (many!!) months. It's still not very clean: I need to buy a better scrub sponge to get most of the bug residue off it before I can give it a good waxing -- which is also severely overdue. I miss Farm & Fleet; car cleaning products seem much pricier at Advance Auto Parts, and in much smaller variety.

Visible Flyin' Miata frame rails. Hot colors and saturation!

This car has been filthy for a very long time. With the crazy long commute I used to have, deep cleanings only made the car look nice for a couple days. I've also been so incredibly busy ever since the engine rebuild and subsequent cross-country move to Florida that I haven't had a chance to do anything but rinse the ocean's salt spray off of it once. The greasy handprints all over it from my pre-move engine rebuild stayed on, and now seem to be a semi-permanent fixture.

These Konig Britelite wheels look so much nicer when they're clean. Toyo R1-Rs are grippy as shit, but getting balder by the day. Anyone want to give me a set of 205/50-15 tires for free?

The wheels actually took longer to clean than the rest of the car, and they're not perfect either. From aggressive brake pads and a lot of neglect, brake dust and rotor shavings accumulated on the wheel lips and rusted, making them look super gross. It took a lot of A2Z wheel cleaner and a couple Scotch-Brite heavy duty sponges to get them to where they are, though there's still some tough residual brake-dust-rust buildup. (I am not paid for these plugs. Those 3M sponges have served me well from cleaning dishes to removing cylinder head gaskets, but I'm not certain the wheel cleaner is any better than others. Does work pretty well though.)

The suspension looks saggy on the right. I'll  have to check for broken springs again. It's only been 2 months since I bought this replacement set from Flyin' Miata. Bummer. I hope this doesn't mean I have a bent frame.

Regardless, its current cleanliness could be considered impeccable compared to its previous state, so I decided to take some pictures. And like any good former-photography-major, I figured it was time to be all artsy again for once. Crouching and bracing myself against myself to take long-exposure hand-held shots brought back memories of my film days. As did tweaking color, saturation and contrast levels in Photardshop.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Shelby GT350 - Classic Motorsports

The publisher's most recent purchase and forthcoming Classic Motorsports project car is a particularly un-pristine Shelby GT350. This thing is amazing. Click on the slideshow to go to the full-size gallery, where you can see all the dirty details in their cell phone-quality glory. I love everything about this car, but I most especially love how it's aged. I'm not sure where he picked it up or what the exact plans are for it, but hot damn is it awesome. And yes, it's real. I think it's a '67.

Keep watch at for details as they arrive. Go there and buy a subscription to pad my paycheck.

Update: It's officially official

Monday, July 4, 2011

Piston (im)Plants

Pistons make cool tiny planters! Details at my GRM staff blog:

Engine rebuild and swap

Used bearings and connecting rods paired to new 0.50mm oversize Mazda pistons and Rock Products rings.

This is an overdue update. Sometime last year I scored a free engine block and transmission for my Miata. The block sat outside for a winter sans cylinder head, so the bores exposed to the elements got super rusty. It needed an overbore to be clean, and new pistons to match. The rotating assembly and bearings were in good shape though; merely broken in with (allegedly) 60,000 miles. I ordered OEM pistons from Mazdaspeed, in half-millimeter oversize (twenty thousandths of an inch to you domestic types). That's also the service limit, which is legal in SCCA autocross, and nets me a whole 25cc of extra displacement. That's about a moped's worth of extra powaaaaaaaaaaaah.

I sat on this project, waiting for an opportune time to finish it. My recent career change made the decision for me however: I needed this car tip-top for a 1200-mile drive to Motorsport Marketing in Florida.

There was a broken-off motor mount bolt in the "new" block, and I didn't want to go to the trouble and time commitment to fix it myself; when I found that one, I had little time to do way too much. So I took it to a local machine shop. Sixty dollars and a few hours later, I had fresh threads on a mountable block. I've never been so glad to pay someone else to do something for me. Even the guys at the shop described that bolt as "a real bear to get out."

This explains why it kept getting tougher and tougher to slip a floor jack under the car.

One of my unpleasant discoveries while I had the car apart: Broken springs. This is a Flyin' Miata set, and I'm its third owner. Though they didn't give me a whole set for free, Flyin' Miata was kind enough to knock $75 off the sticker price on a replacement set of springs. Which covered just a bit more than the expedited shipping for the set. The woman I spoke to on the phone also personally passed the order off to the shipping department to get the order out the door that very day. Though their products are sometimes on the pricey side, I have to admit: Flyin' Miata has excellent customer service. I've always been happy to call them.

Four springs? Pfft. What kind of lame Miata are you driving? This one has twelve!

Some of the other broken parts I discovered included bad U-joints in the driveshaft and a broken pair of motor mounts. After some serious troubles with bad aftermarket motor mounts (new ones were broken or had under-rated bolts which broke upon torquing to spec), I opted to get used OEM mounts from the same guy I got my driveshaft from. Thanks, BTDT Racing, for being reasonably local to me. It was still a 3-hour round trip, but I got the parts I needed to get back on the road. (Note: I did not get discounts for any of these endorsements.)

I never realized just how long the header is in relation to the car until I saw it like this. 

I know that header looks like it's seen better days; the Raceland stainless header just doesn't handle Chicago road salt all that well. But the SpeedyRacer header I bought to replace it just didn't work, and I had no other option. Besides, though it's in ugly shape, it's still holding together and doing the job.

A bare long block is a lot smaller than a fully dressed engine.

I always thought it was funny how race cars have one tiny belt to drive its two accessories, but this shot made me realize that I've got the same thing going on. Air conditioning and power steering deleted, my car has just an alternator and water pump driven by belt.

On the right is the fresh long block with used bearings and new pistons and rings. Not having a usable cylinder head, the head work had to wait until the old engine was out. Here's a surprise: head work takes a goddamned long time. My dad and I spent at least six hours replacing sixteen valve stem seals and lapping sixteen valves from the old engine.

Another noteworthy discovery: you can't compress the valve springs with the head in the car. Don't be tempted by those valve spring compressors on the shelves at NAPA. Unless it's like a giant C-clamp, it won't work -- and yes, you do have to take the cylinder head off to do this job. My dad and mine's solution involved exactly that: a big C-clamp. He cut a window into the side of a big spark plug socket. That socket went against the valve spring, and I'd remove the spring keepers by reaching through that window with a telescoping magnet. Reinstalling the keepers involved tweezers, and grease to keep them in place. It worked very well.

In the same vein as my recent discovery of its underhood cupholders, a properly equipped Miata also has its own desk on which you can keep your workshop manual. Mine is the digital version, so I kept the laptop there. The hood sits perfectly on the luggage rack with the leading edge resting on the seat headrests. With the notches for the pop-up headlights, it even fits between the roll bar supports. Eat that, NB owners!

The used bearings in my free engine block Plasti-gauged within spec, so I was happy to keep them.

I should note: the overbore wasn't quite enough to take care of the pitting on the cylinder walls from the rusted bores. So there's still a little there on one or two cylinders. This might explain why the car still burns a little oil now. Or maybe the 500-mile break-in wasn't long enough. But despite the really cheap Eristic gasket set I bought on eBay, I have no oil leaks whatsoever. All the gaskets in that set appeared of good quality, and the set was complete -- though it did include several extra pieces, presumably for different variants of the Mazda B6 engine.

This was my first shot at an engine rebuild, and though it cost more than a used engine, I'm happy to say the experience was priceless. I had the skills to replace an engine before I took on this project, so I wouldn't have learned much if I just swapped in one that was already done. It was an adventure, a learning opportunity, and a chance to bond with my dad for a week. I wouldn't give all that up no matter how much easier the job could've been. I've always wanted to take an engine completely apart, and am pleasantly surprised at how simple it is. It's still running great a couple thousand miles later. And I got to cross an item off my list. I'm satisfied.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Breakin' the Law

Smashy smashy!

Part of my preparation for the long-ass trip to Florida was to stiffen up my car for the excessive load it would carry. That meant I'd install Flyin' Miata's frame rail reinforcements, to hopefully undo the damage I've done to the stock frame rails, pictured. It turns out they're not intended to be jacking points. I was hoping the FM rails would also cure my notorious Miata shimmy. (It did not.)

The install itself was pretty straightforward and didn't take a whole lot of time. I spent a bit more than half an hour with a hammer pounding the old rails approximately into shape. My dad showed up to help, so he sprayed the holes with undercoating from inside the car while I drilled from underneath.

It's tough to get undercoating off your face. Ask how I know.

Tip: Make sure your face isn't on the other side of an aerosol can.

It does make a difference.

After putting everything back together, the difference is immediately noticeable. Well, it was on crappy Illinois roads. It's not perfect -- it didn't go from a floppy NA to an S2000 -- but I'd call it much improved, not a gimmick product. I don't know how it affects lap times, but I will say that I hope no one at the autocross course notices. This is definitely not an SCCA-legal modification, but I'm going to keep running in the same class as before. That's right, I'm a rebel. Breakin' the (inconsequential) law.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tracking and repairing a coolant leak

Miata nerds will know all about the water plug on the back of the cylinder head, and how difficult it allegedly is to reach. Follow this link and scroll on down to the Troubleshooting section; you'll see what I mean.

I saw that cap when I rebuilt my engine, but decided to leave it alone. Because I was lazy, and because I already had enough to do. Running to the parts store to replace something that wasn't broken when I already had enough problems to deal with, well, that was a low priority.

Once I reached Florida, however, it decided to finally break and leak. I noticed when the coolant temperature started to creep up, and water would leak from somewhere at the back of the engine when I refilled the radiator. When I discovered the source of the problem, I feared what could be a job so distasteful as to warrant spending several hundred dollars at a repair shop. I was, very thankfully, wrong.

I was able to reach the spring clamp with one of the two pliers pictured above. For the replacement, I stacked two caps from the cap assortment pictured (stacked so they were thick enough to make use of the clamp) and reinstalled the OEM spring clamp with the same pliers. A worm clamp would be nearly impossible to install. With the engine cold, it was a pretty easy job. You can see what remains of the old cap at the bottom of the picture.

Conclusion: this job is not nearly as difficult as I previously thought.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

I'm gonna be an oracle for a minute here...

This building used to be a lamp store. Yeah, go figure.

...and pretend like I know the future

This blog has its place. So does the writing I do for Motorsport Marketing's paper publications. And while I have a staff blog there, it is somewhat more limited in scope and style than The Sentimental Mechanic cares to be at times. 

So! The magazines will get, of course, the stories I'm assigned as well as the longer pieces I come up with and research on their time and dime. The GRM staff blog will get a more distilled, shorter version of what you might normally see here. I'm going to venture a guess that I shouldn't be writing, for example, product reviews on the staff blog without any editorial oversight or input from other people on staff, so things like the forthcoming (strongly negative) speedyracerparts header review will remain here at As will road sightings, longer personal blathering about cars and detailed worklogs, and, of course, off-topic ramblings.

Keep in mind that GRM does not in any way support The Sentimental Mechanic, and the views expressed here do not necessarily relate to anything the GRM staff believes. /obligatoryDisclaimer

My current plan is to post a link here whenever I post something on the staff blog and when one of my pieces gets posted to the website. I may reduce that to periodical aggregates if it gets to be too much -- this isn't a Twitter feed, after all.

As of this writing, I've made two posts on the GRM staff blogs. They are as follows:

You can see a list of all my GRM posts at this permanent link:

Keep watch there for the full up-to-the-minute Sentimental Experience. Otherwise, just stay tuned here and buy a subscription to Grassroots Motorsports to help pad my paycheck.

And I thank you once again, loyal readers, for being loyal, and for reading. I sure as shit couldn't do this if you all were illiterate.*

Keep your wounds greased and your wrenches handy,


*and that's one sentence you'll likely never read in a GRM blog.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Milestones don't appear without surprises.

Today, my trusty (?) Miata rolled over 250,000 miles. Regular readers will remember when I hit a fifth of a million miles. Now that I've done a full quarter mil, the miles will be racking up much more slowly. I've moved to Florida and am working about 5 miles from where I live (as opposed to 60 miles back in Illinois). This is all on the heels of an engine overhaul, which uncovered many, many more broken parts. The car made it the 1200 miles to Daytona Beach without incident, but now that I'm here -- almost as though the car knew its odometer was reaching this particular number -- a fuel injector O-ring lost its will to seal and the cooling system sprung a leak somewhere on the back of the cylinder head.

This afternoon I got a new set of O-rings (to be installed when the engine and sun both cool) and added some chemical stop leak to the cooling system. Hopefully these will take care of the problem. For now, I'm going to enjoy one of the perks of living down here: fixing my farmer tan and getting sand in my shorts.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, May 19, 2011

If you know of a better way...

... to pack a Miata, I'd like to hear it.
(Surco luggage rack, Axius cargo bag, passenger seat removed.)

Leaving for Florida

Sunday, May 1, 2011


I believe I have finally found the source of all my electrical problems! This is (was!) a copper connector in the posistive lead of my Miata's trunk-mounted battery. It runs to the main fuse in the fuse box. I'm off to the store to get a new piece of cable and some heavy duty welding-grade connectors to splice in a replacement.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A brief note about the not-too-distant future.

Dear readers, (All seven of you. Hi Mom!*)

I have a bit of a personal note that may affect the future of this blog. I've been hired to write for Motorsport Marketing, publishers most notably of Grassroots Motorsports and Classic Motorsports magazines. This is a dream job for anyone who has wielded both a wrench and a pen, and I'm very fortunate to get it.

Naturally, this disturbs all my previous plans for the year. My brother-in-law recently sold his Supra, so that's one project down. All my LeMons plans are now up in the air. And a few are getting expedited, such as the Miata engine rebuild, so I can have a reliable car for the trip. I have a number of other things to deal with.

But those changes are all small potatoes compared to what I'm getting. I'm moving to Florida, home of sandy beaches and warm weather. That'll be good for the ol' Brasilian blood. I'll work with a bunch of really cool people who are passionate about what they do, put out a couple kickass magazines, bust my ass and have something to be really proud of.

So, rather than continuing to plug away at boring work inside my beige box, I'm living the dream. I never thought I'd be that guy, but here I am. Well, there I'll be. Soon enough. Whether or not I'll have the time, energy, or content to keep the blog alive is another question entirely. If this sentimental mechanic goes quiet sometime after late May, you can look for my writing in the pages of your preferred Motorsports magazine. You'll be seeing my byline there soon enough.

Keep your wounds greased and your wrenches handy.


*My mom doesn't actually read my blog.

Street sighting: Post-war Era Dodge Coupe

It's hard to believe this was a compact car at the time. This is a 1950 Dodge Wayfarer. The wicked sound is a flathead six engine running through a split manifold to two glasspacks. Very cool. That engine is mated to a three-on-the-tree manual via a fluid coupling -- like an early torque converter, without the torque multiplication. This whole thing is hotter than any metaphor I can come up with. I spotted it while exploring a state park near Sandwich, IL.

Pardon the terrible photos. Taken with a cell phone.

What follows is the owner's description, verbatim from his email, of this car's history after he bought it in 2004. I thought I'd parse it out into digestible nuggets, but I decided instead to leave all the geeky details in. Enjoy!

"It was basically all there, but with a good deal of entropy thrown in--carb in pieces (not all there) in a box, the stuck valves I mentioned, ignition scrambled (distributor inserted 180 degrees out of whack), wiring misconnected all over the place, and, of course, a good deal of rust everywhere. The left rear fender was hopeless, but I found an NOS* piece in Wisconsin."

"Gas tank contents had turned into something resembling blackstrap molasses (I eventually gave up and went with another used gas tank). Took until summer of 2008 to get things sorted out to where it would go on the road. The 4.30 rearend I mentioned came from a '55 Plymouth station wagon with overdrive. I also got the engine and transmission from it. The '55 cylinder head had a higher compression ratio (7.6 versus 7.0--some big deal!), so that went onto the Dodge engine.

"Made an adapter for the intake manifold to take a small 2-barrel unit in place of the original 1-barrel. Sent the exhaust manifold to the the guy at Kansas Kustoms, who does a beautiful job of making it into a split unit for duals (running through Smittys Glasspaks). Converted to 12 volts, with the usual GM one-wire alternator."

"The power brake and hydraulic clutch unit came from a Jeep Cherokee, Mopar disks in front installed with an adapter from Scarebird. In the rear, I put in a swaybar originally destined for a '68 Dodge Charger. The front springs were a bit 'relaxed,' so I put lowering blocks on the rear to get things in a (lower) line. Everything runs pretty well, though with the 4.30 rearend the engine is doing about 3000 rpm at 55 mph--the horsepower peak (such as it is) is at 3600, and the old-time racers generally said that the 'red line' was around 4800. I've gotten it to 4000 rpm without anything letting go, but it's probably not the best idea, since the stroke is really loooong and it only has 4 main bearings supporting the crank."


*NOS, in the classic car world, is an abbreviation for "new old stock." This seemingly contradictory term refers to parts that are technically brand-new in that they've never been put on a car, but were originally made a long time ago. This is a distinction from new replacement parts being made today. The fashion industry calls this "dead stock."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Built-in underhood cupholders

A little-known feature designed into early Miatas encouraged drinking tasty beverages while wrenching! Eric and I were working on replacing my steering rack. After a lunch break, we discovered these handy holes just in front of the radiator. They're the perfect size for drinks from Popeye's.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Some great automotive writing

John Phillips is one of the few truly great writers in the industry. C/D lately has been exhuming choice articles from their archives, and this one from 1998 made me smile all the way through.

The passage describing the engine's noise is probably my favorite part, but there are so many nuggets of verbal pleasure throughout. I'll let you get to that one yourself (it's on page 2 of the feature), but here's a taste of his writing:

"We next installed a set of lower-compression pistons that allowed us to double the boost, a combination good for a total of 370 horsepower and, unfortunately, more detonation than Navy SEALs encounter in a whole career — enough, in fact, that on a 95-degree day, as we were noodling out engine-computer calibrations at Ford's test track, a connecting rod tunneled its way through the iron block and, last time we saw it, was touring downtown Dearborn."

I picture a broken connecting rod adorned with a top hat, bouncing happily past the tourist traps. I chuckled.

The tells that this is from a bygone era: Seventeen-inch wheels are "monster meats;" horsepower in the 400s is considered heroic; Csaba Csere is C/D's editor in chief; and the Mercury Marauder is just a rumor.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I'm having hot patches.

Taken in front of a mirror, then flipped back in Photoshop. Did I just blow your mind?

Thanks to recessbilly for the sweet TeamZX2 patch. I ironed on the LeMons Chicago and the TeamZX2 patch to my racing suit this afternoon. It took a couple tries. I'm excited to show it off at the track this year!

Portable soldering iron: Such a wonderful thing does exist!

Whiskey not included.

Have you ever stumbled across a tool that made you wonder how you ever got along without it? How you never so much as considered such a thing might exist or how it would work?

The Weller Portasol is one such tool. A couple Xmases ago, I received this butane-powered soldering iron kit and the standard tabletop electric kit behind it. Both were gifts from Amanda's dad, Jim, and both had been sitting at his place unused for many years. The Portasol is probably the best unexpected gift ever.

I've often needed to solder something inside a car, but it was impractical or impossible to take the part out and bring it indoors to solder. Using a soldering iron in a driveway is also annoying, especially when you don't have a long enough extension cord and it's too cold and/or windy outside for the iron to stay hot. Herein lies the joy of this little tool.

The kit has a sponge, a stand, and a handful of attachments including a hot knife. There's even a striker in there, so to take it anywhere all you need is a wet sponge and some butane. The solder has an on/off control, and a flame (temperature) adjustment.

It was 30-some degrees and windy last night when I went outside to repair Amanda's coil pack connector. I loved being able to just grab the kit and go to work. No need to run an extension cord out the window and down one story. It's easy to use and does everything you can ask of it. A perfect tool. Even for quick indoor jobs I prefer to use it over an electric one.

This particular model is no longer sold, but you can find new Portasols out there.

Mad props to Jim for this gift. The variable temperature electric iron is handy as well. Thanks!

Broken wires!

Bad connections can be impossible to troubleshoot.

Amanda's car (2000 Protege 1.8L) has been having drivability issues, and a P0300 error code (random misfire). Gas mileage was awful, it was seriously down on power half the time, idle was low and shaky, the exhaust smelled like gas.

After a lot of driving around with the computer hooked up and trying a number of things, my dad and I deduced that the coil packs were overheating. They're mounted almost directly above the exhaust manifold. So we ordered the part (~$100 from RockAuto). When the new coil arrived, I went outside and replaced it only to find the problem was still there. When I was putting the original coils back on, I noticed the problem above. One of the three wires for one coil pack had broken off at the connector.

Soldering when you have no room to strip insulation is tough. It's additionally difficult when you do this in a parking lot on a chilly March night with only a flashlight to illuminate your work. But I managed a good enough connection, and the problem is gone. The solder will hold until I can hack a new connector and wires from a junkyard car.

Problem is, Proteges aren't particularly common. And unlike the very common 1.8L BP engine, this 1.8L FP was only in the Protege ES in 1999 and 2000. The later 2.0L FS engine is related, but didn't use these coils. Finding a plug and pigtail might take a while.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Speedometer replacement

This is from last summer. Right around my birthday, I bought a used speedometer head from the guys at BTDT Racing, a local Spec Miata outfit that also sells used Miata parts. Why? My speedometer did weird things in the winter.

It makes this chattering/chugging/scratching noise. It's weird. While it's doing this, the needle will seriously bounce across a range of 15-20 mph until the car warms up, and is exacerbated by bumps even when it is warm. I learned to tell speed by my RPMs.

The noise will get louder, turning into a constant whooshing kind of sound, while the needle shoots WAAAAY up. Seriously, I saw 120 mph indicated when I was going about 65. Thankfully, I clocked this and it did not affect the odometer, just the instant indicated speed. I won't bore you with the details, because this is boring enough.

I tried lubricating the speedometer cable many times with a penetrating graphite-based lubricant -- the proper kind to use on cables and such -- to no avail. So I just got a new head. To test it, I did what you see above: just stuck the head onto the cable and took it for a spin. It's really disconcerting to drive a car without most of an instrument cluster.

Anyway,the needle in the new cluster was still just a little bouncy, but much better than before. The real test was coming this winter.

Which is when I found out that it's considerably better for accuracy and doesn't do the shooting-way-up thing it did before, but it's still really bouncy when cold and makes that scratching noise (actually, Eric likened it to the chugging of a steam engine). So I included a new speedometer cable with my recent order of engine parts from Mazda Motorsports. In the mean time, I did get improved functionality. 

And my trip odometer had stopped resetting the tenths place on the old unit. Don't worry: I was honest and replaced only the trip odometer reels and the speedometer head. I kept my original 229k-mile odometer in the car. Below is the final result. I'm currently reading more than 240k miles, but my trip odometer works and the speedometer works better (though not perfectly). I'll put in the new cable soon; I'm certain now that's the primary culprit.

Update: Fixed!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Shelby made a pickup truck. Who knew?

What was the first rear-wheel drive thing that Carroll Shelby put his name to after the Mustangs in the '60s? It was none other than Dodge's compact truck offering, the 1989 Dakota. For most of the '80s, Shelby had been busy with turbocharging the living shit out of Dodge's little Omni penalty boxes. Those cars were dubbed GLH (its successor, GLH-S), which stood for "Goes Like Hell" ("-Som'more"). They really should've been called TSIATADAHFD (Torque Steer Into A Tree And Die A Horrible Fiery Death). After those crazy monsters, he tried his hand at useless and slow.
Seems like Dodge wanted to drum up sales of its relatively new small truck with a couple limited edition versions, including a convertible, and this here high-po Shelby Dakota with V8 power.
The regular Dakota's3.9L V6 is essentially a 318-cube (5.2L) V8 sans two cylinders; all Shelby's factory had to do was remove the V6 and massage the V8 a bit before bolting it in. The only special provision involved lopping off the crank-driven radiator fan and fitting an electric fan instead... which is apparently missing here. Good luck in traffic with this one.

This swap was so simple, in fact, that Dodge offered its workhorse 318 as the top-spec engine in regular Dakotas starting in 1991.

The truck received no handling upgrades to speak of, though the press release circa 1989 brags about its nitrogen gas shocks and 70-series radial tires. Oooooo, I'm all tingly. It did get the obligatory limited-slip differential and some newfangled fancy transmission, but that trans was an automatic. Boo. I guess a 4-speed overdrive slushbox was a big deal in '89.

What's especially disappointing is the fact that this truck pulls the same 0-60 time as a 1995 Neon, or a 1989 Miata. A blistering 8 seconds.

They only made 1500 of these, each with a numbered plaque affixed to the dashboard to remind you of your econo-with-a-six-foot-box exclusivity. This one's number 1202, and the current body-shop-operating owner has a big trophy in his office that it won at a car show a couple years ago. 
The trophy is in front of the window in this picture. He's selling this example, which has seen 62k miles, for a measly seven grand. I'll admit the graphics look nice, as does that styling thing over the bed. But a slow, unknown, 20-year-old truck with no street cred and a bunch of big-name badges is not worth that much money in my eyes. Maybe to the right guy wearing Mopar-tinted glasses.

The guy who was drooling all over this truck (when I stopped by this body shop for a quote on rust repair) also talked in very excited tones about the Chrysler Sebring parked next to it. Ouch. If you're interested in either one, there is no hope for y-- uh, I mean: They're for sale at Bob Schmidt Body Shop in DeKalb, Illinois.