The Truth About Cars » Don’t Try This At Home The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:25:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Don’t Try This At Home Junkyard Find: 1990 Geo Metro-amino Pickup Fri, 14 Jun 2013 13:00:19 +0000 14 - 1990 Geo Metro Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIt takes a really special Geo Metro to achieve Junkyard Find status; the last one that managed the feat was this bright green electric-powered ’95, which turned out to be a Ree-V conversion made in Colorado during the EV optimism of the late 2000s. During a trip to my old San Francisco Bay stomping grounds a few weeks ago, I spotted today’s Junkyard Find parked just a few yards away from this will-make-you-haz-a-sad 1960 Nash Metropolitan.
07 - 1990 Geo Metro Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThese conversions (if based on a GM car, the correct term is “El-Caminoization”; Fords are “Rancheroized” and Chryslers get “Rampagized”) usually result when a hooptie car owner who owns a Sawzall but no cash really wants a pickup truck, right now. This one looks like it was built pretty well, by the standards of the genre.
12 - 1990 Geo Metro Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNo big-block Suzuki four-banger here; this is the genuine 50-plus-MPG three-cylinder engine.
06 - 1990 Geo Metro Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinCargo capacity is quite small, which is a good thing considering the front-drivedness and tiny size of this machine.
04 - 1990 Geo Metro Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Metro wasn’t quite as miserably slow as you’d expect, but that’s more due to low expectations than actual performance.
09 - 1990 Geo Metro Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Apple sticker is a weird touch; the kind of person who would build such a hacked-up piece of backyard engineering most likely doesn’t feel comfortable with the don’t-resist-the-Cupertino-way philosophy behind Apple products. I’d guess that the builder of this car runs non-Cupertino/non-Redmond operating systems on surplus hardware. Of course, it’s possible that the builder sold his or her Metroamino to someone who bought it for a single Burning Man trip and then scrapped it.
02 - 1990 Geo Metro Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWhat’s next, a Geo Stormamino? A Cateramino? Achievamino?

01 - 1990 Geo Metro Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1990 Geo Metro Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1990 Geo Metro Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1990 Geo Metro Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1990 Geo Metro Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1990 Geo Metro Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1990 Geo Metro Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1990 Geo Metro Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1990 Geo Metro Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1990 Geo Metro Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1990 Geo Metro Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1990 Geo Metro Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1990 Geo Metro Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1990 Geo Metro Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1990 Geo Metro Pickup Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]> 22
Question: What Engine/Transmission Swap Belongs In the ’41 Plymouth? Thu, 29 Nov 2012 19:00:43 +0000 Since my brain threw a code and made me buy the 1941 Plymouth Special Deluxe Junkyard Find yesterday, I need to choose a suitable modern engine and transmission combo for the thing. I’ve hired a rocket scientist and weirdo hot-rodder (the lunatic who built the Rocket Surgery Racing mid-engined Renault 4CV) to execute a chassis modernization program on the old Mopar, and I need to make my drivetrain choice ASAP. Suggestions?
Much as I’d like to go with a 2,500-horse Chrysler IV-2220 engine for this project, I need to stay on a fairly strict budget, say $2500 for engine and transmission. Most likely I’ll buy a complete donor car and truck, grab the engine, transmission, driveshaft, computers, and any other goodies needed for the swap, then sell everything I can on eBay and feed the rest to The Crusher at $250/ton. It would be (slightly) nice to stay within marque and go with a Chrysler engine, but I also like the idea of enraging the purists— you know, the guys who have those creepy Time Out Kid dolls leaning on their numbers-matching Road Runners at car shows. So, before everyone starts yelling about how I should get a 440 and Torqueflite 727, problem solved, let’s go over some of my requirements and preferences for this swap:

1. This car must have a manual transmission. Sure, I’m going to drive it on the street and take it to the drag strip, but this car is going to be set up for road racing and taken to track days at my local track. You don’t need a manual transmission for that, and I’m not a sufficiently fast driver to get the extra couple of seconds per lap a manual transmission might give you, but you’ll have a lot more fun with a stick. Long-term, I plan to enter it at Pikes Peak and, if I get really crazy, the Carrera Panamericana. I’m willing to contemplate the idea of swap bellhousings, weird adapters, and the like, but the easiest solution is to get an engine/transmission combination that came together from the factory.

2. The engine must fit a narrow prewar engine compartment. There’s not enough room under the ’41 Plymouth’s hood for a typical 90-degree overhead-cam V6 or V8 engine to fit without fabrication hassles beyond what I am willing to contemplate. That means the excellent Ford Modular V8 is out, which eliminates the tempting Lincoln Mark VIII DOHC engine/Tremec 3550 transmission idea. The fairly narrow Toyota UZ engine might fit (barely), but bolting a manual transmission to one— as done by many drifters already— requires the application of cubic dollars. The BMW S62 V8 is also fairly compact, and manual transmissions are readily available in crashed E39s, but the computer nightmares with these engines are legendary to put it mildly. The most likely candidates at this point are Detroit pushrod V8s and screaming Japanese or German L6s, though the idea of a hopped-up GMC 292 L6 lurks at the edges of this discussion.

3. The engine must have potential for non-insanely-expensive bolt-on power upgrades later on. This could mean that the engine has a vast aftermarket of quasi-affordable performance add-ons (e.g., turbocharger/supercharger kits, better heads, stronger rods, and so on), or it could mean that related engines can be swapped in without cutting anything. I don’t plan to go above 400 horsepower or pound-feet (the point at which the differential I’ll be using— that’s a secret to be revealed later— becomes the weak link), and 250 horses will be fine to start with.

4. The engine must have electronic fuel injection. Even though I’ve been on this planet as long as my ’41 Plymouth has been sitting in a Colorado field, I don’t subscribe to the curmudgeonly view that carburetors are good. That means the best engine candidates come from vehicles built in the early 1990s or later. If absolutely necessary, I’m willing to apply Megasquirt to an engine, but my very strong preference is to use all the factory computers, sensors, wiring, everything. Buying a complete donor vehicle makes the most sense for this approach, which means that I need to take into account the resale value of the donor vehicle’s leftover parts.

5. No Hemis. No LS engines. The going rate for an LS with T-56 or TR-6060 transmission, yanked from a GTO, CTS-V, or Corvette, is $5000-$8000 and up. Way up. You can get early 5.7 Hemi engines out of Dodge Rams for much cheaper, but they came with slushboxes exclusively and you’ll spend your louie in a hurry getting a sufficiently beefy manual transmission attached to one.

6. I really want an overdrive transmission. I’m going to be running a fairly wild (4:1 or shorter) differential gear and I plan to take this car on highway road trips, which means screaming along at four grand at 60 MPH isn’t going to cut it. Thus, no 833, Muncie, or Toploader 4-speeds. No, I don’t want an overdrive 833 4-speed.

At this point, my top choice is the Chrysler Magnum 5.9 (aka 360) engine, descendent of the venerable LA family of small-block V8s and available in Dodge Ram 1500s and 2500s with the NV3500 5-speed manual transmission. The 360 is a great engine, it’s within marque for the Plymouth, and performance parts are cheap. The problem here is that it is virtually impossible to find a two-wheel-drive Dodge truck with a manual transmission (I’ve been beating my face against an online-search brick wall for weeks, and that’s with a willingness to bring a donor vehicle back to Denver from two-wheel-drive places like Omaha or Lubbock). NV3500s are commonplace in junked V6 Dakotas, so I could do the wrecked Ram Van + junkyard transmission + 360 flywheel + ECM from a manual-equipped 5.9 truck equation, but that’s a lot of hassle for a truck transmission that starts to get explode-y at 350 ft-lbs.

My second choice, but gaining ground in a hurry, is a GM LT V8 engine with Borg-Warner T-56 transmission. In other words, buy some hooptied-out-but-strong-running fourth-gen Camaro Z28 or Firebird Formula for $2500. This gets me a 275-horsepower motor with near-limitless hop-up capacity plus a very nice road-race transmission that can handle big power… but it also means I’ll be the 900,000,000th person to drop a small-block Chevy into this kind of project car, plus there’s the whole Optispark ignition headache. In terms of bang-per-buck, you just can’t beat this setup, and the logic of using it is the same one used by hot-rodders in 1948 who put flathead Ford V8s in everything, but I’d prefer to be a little oddball here.

I’m just beginning to research the idea of a Vortec 5300, 5700, or 6000 V8 with manual transmission, a combination theoretically— though probably not in practice— available in 2WD Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra trucks. The Vortec makes great power, but the manual-transmission options appear to be the pure-truck, granny-gear-equipped NV4500 and ZF-S6-650 and some 5-speed that I’m guessing is either the NV3500 or the even more fragile T-5. Anybody who knows more on this subject, or even anyone who has seen a two-wheel-drive/manual-trans/V8 Silverado on the street, please share your info with us in the comments.

The real wild card here is the idea of buying a bashed BMW 540i with factory 6-speed and facing the horror of turn-of-the-century BMW computers. You can find these cars in ugly-but-running condition for two or three grand, the engine is much lighter than Detroit iron-block V8s, the Getrag 6-speed is a joy, and I know the 282-horse M62 V8 engine will fit in a BMW E30 (there are two of them racing in the 24 Hours of LeMons and, yes, I hammer them with penalty laps despite being butt slow due to handling problems) and thus is quite narrow. On the downside, there is no cheap way to add power to this engine, and the hassles involved with making BMW computers behave are so severe that anecdotes about them are not mingled with ordinary stories of problems with automotive electronics.

What else? Turbo Buick V6 with absurd boost and hope-it-lives T-5 transmission? Big L6 out of a Detroit truck, equipped with centrifugal supercharger? Mercedes-Benz M104 six? Something I haven’t thought of? Rack your brains!

So, here we go! I will be reading your comments and advice closely as I prepare for a new round of donor-vehicle shopping. Mujahideen of the Mopar Jihad (I picture you driving your Oerlikon-equipped Ramchargers through the Khyber Pass while sneering at those fools in their weak-ass Toyota Hiluxes), feel free to inform me of the hair-raisingness of the fatwas to be issued on me by your warlords, should I choose to run a GM engine in a Plymouth.

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Because You Grab This Stuff While You Can: Junkyard Integra Donates Brakes For My Civic Wed, 28 Nov 2012 15:30:25 +0000 So I’ve still got an Integra GS-R engine sitting in my garage, waiting to be swapped into my hooptie ’92 Civic DX— because the fifth-gen Civic, with its ease of parts-swapping and galaxy of aftermarket stuff, is to the present day what the ’55 Chevy was to the 1970s— and when that happens I’ll need better brakes, right? Problem is, whenever a third-gen Acura Integra (which was a fifth-gen Civic with luxury and performance upgrades) shows up at a cheap self-service junkyard, it gets picked clean faster than just about anything this side of a Toyota Land Cruiser. It’s much like a ’55 Chevy owner in 1974, discovering an intact 396/4-speed Caprice 20 minutes after the car hit the yard at the U-Yank-It. When I found an intact ’94 Integra while on a Junkyard Find photo expedition at the Denver yard near my place, I knew I had to work fast.
So, I went back the next day with tools and Rich, team captain of the Rocket Surgery Racing mid-engined Renault 4CV LeMons team.
The junkyard had only been open for about three total hours between the last time I’d seen the Integra and our return to grab parts, but some Civic “tuners” had already torn the crap out of the front suspension and brakes in order to pull… well, I’m not sure what. Somehow, they missed this fart-can custom Magnaflow exhaust, though.
We had to remove the exhaust to get to the rear brake parts I needed. Here’s Rich huffing some well-aged hydrocarbon residue.
The reason the crew who destroyed the stuff on the front of the car hadn’t done the same to the rear was that the rear wheels were held on with those maddening security lug nuts.
Experienced junkyard crawlers know lots of ways to defeat those wheel locks. First, we tried Vise-Grips, which didn’t work.
Then Rich scrounged up a tire iron and pounded it into the lock. That worked, but it was a lot of work to turn the things.
Another approach is to clamp the Vise-Grips inside the hollow part of the lock…
…and then jam the tire iron through the pliers and twist. This worked well.
Swapping an Integra rear disc setup onto a drum-equipped Civic is a pure bolt-on, but you need the complete trailing arm assemblies from the Integra.
You also need the disc-specific parking-brake cable assemblies, so I volunteered to brave the biohazardous interior to begin that process.
Hondas of this era are very easy to dismantle; almost every component is made to be accessible and Honda used high-quality fasteners throughout their cars. A cordless impact made removal of the trailing arms, control arms, and everything else take a total of maybe 20 minutes.
I left the control arms attached to the trailing arms, even though they’re identical to the Civic units, because sometimes junkyards will just throw in all the attached stuff when you buy major suspension components. Such was not the case at this yard, so I saved a few bucks by removing the parts I didn’t need while at the counter.
Even though aftermarket sway bars are cheap and plentiful, I figured the factory stuff is worth having. My Civic doesn’t have a rear swaybar, so even this pencil-thin one should bring it up to Integra standards.
For $150 or so, I now have everything I need to Integra-ize (Integrate?) my Civic’s rear brakes. I still need to find Integra front brakes (the Civic has smaller rotors), which means I’ll need to pounce immediately when I see a suitable donor car. For now, more bulky Honda parts will be cluttering up my garage, right next to the Chrysler 318 TBI intake I keep stubbing my toes on. Ah, project backlogs!

16 - Pulling 1994 Acura Integra Rear Trailing Arms - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 01 - Pulling 1994 Acura Integra Rear Trailing Arms - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - Pulling 1994 Acura Integra Rear Trailing Arms - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - Pulling 1994 Acura Integra Rear Trailing Arms - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - Pulling 1994 Acura Integra Rear Trailing Arms - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - Pulling 1994 Acura Integra Rear Trailing Arms - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - Pulling 1994 Acura Integra Rear Trailing Arms - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - Pulling 1994 Acura Integra Rear Trailing Arms - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - Pulling 1994 Acura Integra Rear Trailing Arms - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - Pulling 1994 Acura Integra Rear Trailing Arms - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - Pulling 1994 Acura Integra Rear Trailing Arms - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - Pulling 1994 Acura Integra Rear Trailing Arms - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - Pulling 1994 Acura Integra Rear Trailing Arms - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - Pulling 1994 Acura Integra Rear Trailing Arms - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - Pulling 1994 Acura Integra Rear Trailing Arms - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - Pulling 1994 Acura Integra Rear Trailing Arms - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 16
Don’t Try This At Home: How Could Anyone Resist a Subaru XT Turbo Digital Dash? Thu, 15 Nov 2012 15:30:55 +0000 After I photographed today’s Junkyard Find in a Colorado self-service wrecking yard, I agonized over that digital instrument cluster. I have this crazy idea that I can hack old digital instrument clusters and operate them with an Arduino microcontroller, so that I can have a display on my office wall to go with my collection of weird diecast toy cars. It started out innocently enough, with this 1983 Mitsubishi Cordia cluster, and then I got the digital cluster out of a 50th Anniversary Nissan 300ZX. Once you have two 1980s Japanese digital dashes, you have a problem collection, right? That was my logic when I bought the digital dash out of this 1984 Toyota Cressida. Even though I’m getting too ambitious with this Arduino-ized-digital-dash project, I felt I had no choice but to go back the next day and grab the XT Turbo’s cluster. So I did.
Someone had already torn up the driver’s-side door-latch mechanism, so I had to climb in through the passenger side and dismantle the latches enough to open the driver’s door.
That’s when I noticed this odd “Speed Alarm” feature, which used a key switch to lock the speed alarm in and out. Oh, Subaru, when did you lose your weirdness?
The instrument cluster in the XT moves up and down with the tilt wheel, which adds immense complexity but is totally worth it for the coolness. It took me quite a while to figure out how to detach the cluster from this Rube Goldberg rig.
Toyotas and Hondas of this era are ridiculously easy when it comes to this kind of job; you can yank an 80s Civic or Corolla cluster in about 25 seconds with just a screwdriver. Subaru had a different philosophy, and so I started removing every 10mm and 12mm fastener I could find.
There’s a hinged bezel above the cluster that resisted all attempts to release the cluster (I could have just smashed the hell out of everything in the way, but I do my best to leave all the parts I don’t want in usable condition for the next parts shopper), and the connectors on the dash harness were fiendishly inaccessible and frozen solid (Subaru went with a much cheaper electrical-parts supplier than did Honda, Toyota, or even Mitsubishi). In the 35-degree weather of a November morning in Denver, my hands took a real beating during the cluster-removal process.
Leaking a little of the red stuff is no big deal, however, when your struggles end with a beautiful 1980s Japanese digital cluster for your collection.
While I was shopping, I also picked up a nice Weber DGV 32/36 carburetor from a car with a strange-yet-familiar engine swap. More on that in a future Junkyard Find!

08 - 1985 Subaru XT Turbo Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 01 - 1985 Subaru XT Turbo Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1985 Subaru XT Turbo Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1985 Subaru XT Turbo Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1985 Subaru XT Turbo Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1985 Subaru XT Turbo Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1985 Subaru XT Turbo Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1985 Subaru XT Turbo Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 26
Don’t Try This At Home: Another 80s Japanese Digital Dash Added To My Collection Fri, 31 Aug 2012 12:55:16 +0000 There’s no way I’m going to spot a junked 80s Japanese car with the optional super-futuristic digital dash and not go back and buy that instrument cluster. So, now I’ve got a genuine digital dash collection going on, adding the Cressida cluster to my ’84 Nissan 300ZX Turbo cluster and my ’83 Mitsubishi Cordia Turbo cluster.
One great thing about Japanese cars of the 1980s and 1990s is that the instrument clusters are almost always easy to remove and install. There’s a fascia that comes off with a few screws, then another half-dozen screws hold the cluster in the dash.
On a Detroit car from this period, you’ll find all sorts of one-way plastic retainers that made it easy for the line workers to smack the cluster into place with a sharp blow from a rubber mallet, Mickey’s Big Mouth bottle, or whatever tool was handy. You’ll break all sorts of stuff while removing the thing, because the low-bidder plastic used for the retainers has a service life of maybe five years. Meanwhile, German clusters are even worse, with all manner of crazy hidden fasteners, in super-overkill quantities. I’ll stick with the Japanese stuff… for now.

Which reminds me: here’s how you remove the clock from a mid-70s Cadillac. No tools needed!
Unlike the 300ZX, the Cressida cluster’s harness doesn’t plug into sockets inside the dash. I cut the wires as far from the cluster as far as I could get away with. I’ll get a copy of the factory shop manual, which will give me the wiring diagram I need to control this cluster with an Arduino microcontroller. My collection still requires a Subaru XT digital dash. Did Honda do any digital dashes in the 1980s?

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Don’t Try This At Home: Yes, I Bought the 300ZX Digital Instrument Cluster Wed, 08 Aug 2012 14:30:48 +0000 When I saw today’s Junkyard Find at my local self-serve junkyard, I knew that I had to own that incredible digital dash. You see, I’ve already got a Mitsubishi Cordia Turbo digital instrument cluster, which means I’m collecting this stuff now.
Someone had already started tearing up the dash before I got there, but the cluster appeared to be in good shape. I had only a Phillips screwdriver and a needlenose pliers with me (which I brought in order to grab the headlight switch from a ’68 Dodge D-100, in order to replace the flaky ’78 Dodge camper switch in my ’66 Dodge A-100), but that was all I needed to yank the 300ZX’s cluster. Just $20.99 at U-Pull-&-Pay! The 50 or so connectors on the wiring harness look intimidating, but I’ll grab a factory shop manual and puzzle it all out.
With the help of brainy geek and LeMons racer Quinn Dunki, I’m working on getting the Cordia cluster to function as a wall-mounted display in my office, operated by an Arduino microcontroller. Now, of course, I’ll need to do the same with this 300ZX cluster. After that, I’ll need a Subaru XT digital dash and maybe a touchscreen Electronic Control Center out of a late-80s Buick.

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Kill Switch Thwarts Denver Civic Thieves Once Again, Junkyard Parts To the Rescue Thu, 19 Jul 2012 14:30:21 +0000 I love my beater 1992 Honda Civic, and living near downtown Denver is great, but the combination of fifth-gen Civic and urban living means that thieves are going to try to steal my street-parked car on a depressingly regular basis. Would-be thieves tore up my steering column less than a year ago, and they did it again a couple of weeks back. Both times, my homebrewed kill-switch system kept the bad guys from starting the car. Both times, I got the car back on the road with cheap junkyard parts.
The first indication I got that something was wrong was the sight of the open glovebox— itself the victim of many break-ins when the previous owner lived in San Francisco and Chicago and repaired with non-color-matching junkyard parts just recently— and the busted steering-column cover on the passenger-side floor. Not again!
After I had an ’87 Civic hatch ripped off in Oakland back in the 1990s, I’ve installed kill switches on every Honda I’ve owned since; this is the fourth time (that I know of) that such a switch has saved one of my cars from theft. The problem with Civics of the 1980s and 1990s is that any random Honda key has a pretty good chance of starting any Honda; most thieves just carry a bunch of keys with them and keep trying keys until one works. This thief went for the old-fashioned break-the-column-lock/pry-the-ignition-switch-off approach, which tears the hell out of everything on the steering column.
I’m not sure exactly what tools are used to do this, but some major leverage must have been used to crack the tough steel of the column-lock collar.
I’d like to share my kill-switch secrets with the world, but I don’t want to make things any easier for the Honda thieves prowling my neighborhood. What I’ve got is a device that doesn’t look like a switch and requires a certain amount of contortion to reach from the driver’s seat, and it’s a double-pole/single-throw switch that cuts power to both the starter solenoid and the fuel pump. Actually, that’s the setup I had, before this incident; now I’ve got the two circuits on separate camouflaged switches. It would take a very patient thief indeed to find both switches, and meth use doesn’t encourage such patience.
One of these days I’m going to master the art of Field Expedient Ignition Key Making, as seen at towed-car auctions: you jam a key blank in the lock, abuse it cruelly with a pliers, and then file away the areas where the lock pins made marks on the blank. For now, I buy a lock cylinder and ignition switch at the junkyard and get a locksmith to make a key; in this case, I found a great deal on eBay for a 5G Civic cylinder/switch assembly with keys already there, so I went that route.
Since the steering-column covers had been torn to bits by the amphetamine-crazed Civic thief, I headed to my favorite self-serve wrecking yard to do some plastic shopping. Someone had already pulled the ignition switch from this ’95 Civic sedan (nearly every 5th-gen Civic in self-service yards has had the ignition switch assembly removed, which tells you something about the prevalence of theft with these cars), and he or she had been kind enough to not destroy the steering column cover pieces. It’s nice to find that the parts you need are removed and conveniently located.
Success! I’m pretty sure my car had been stolen and recovered several times before I bought it, because every lock and latch in the car was already pretty well thrashed; the steering column cover was already beat to hell before the latest thief finished it off. I’ll have to give the car’s previous owner a call and ask him about the car’s theft history.
Removing the old switch is a medium-grade pain in the ass, mostly because the car is so small and it’s hard to get to anything. To get to the shear bolts that hold the switch assembly on the steering column, you need to drop the column down to seat level.
This is the sort of job for which the factory shop manual is a must-have, and Honda has always done a beautiful job with their manuals. I’m a technical writer by trade, and I’ll use Honda factory shop manuals as course materials if I ever teach a tech-writing class (if I ever teach a fiction-writing class it’s going to be Flannery O’Connor all the way).
Right. So, you center-punch and drill out the two shear bolts that hold the lock cylinder assembly on the steering column, and then you unplug the two connectors from the ignition switch harness to the fuse panel.
Here’s the old ignition switch and harness assembly.
You can install the ignition switch/cylinder assembly with regular bolts and it probably wouldn’t matter; any thief who is willing to remove the half-dozen fasteners required to get access to the switch mounting bracket is going to apply his talents to more valuable targets. My switch came with new shear bolts, courtesy of the eBay seller, so I used them.
It doesn’t take much torque to snap off the heads of the shear bolts; one hand on a short 1/4″-drive ratchet was sufficient.
At this point, punching and drilling of the bolt will be needed to remove the assembly.
In a job like this, there’s always some nickel/dime headache that slows things down. In this case, the replacement switch’s wiring harness didn’t have one of the two one-way hold-downs that keep the wires out of the way of nearby moving parts.
I could have drilled a second hole in the bracket and used a zip-tie, but instead I opted to free up one of the hold-downs on the old harness and install it on the new one.
A quick test showed that the new switch worked fine, so I buttoned everything up.
Ready to go!
I’m glad my kill switches have saved my Civic, which has been the best daily-driver/parts-hauling beater I’ve ever owned, but these constant theft attempts are getting old. To prevent such occurrences— which seem inevitable, given that I park a known-to-be-easy-to-steal car with high parts demand in a nice neighborhood adjacent to a sketchy/tweeker-centric ‘hood— in the future, I’m going to take additional steps:
1. I’ve been parking the Civic (which I don’t drive much since I bought a much more VIP daily driver) in a dark parking space where it can’t be seen from my house, mostly so my ’66 Dodge A100 van can be seen from the house. Since I remove the battery from my hot-wireable-in-10-seconds van when it’s parked, and demand for A100 parts isn’t particularly high, it’s probably safe to let the Civic live in the A100′s spot.
2. Car alarms are pointless and annoying, but the cost of a flashing LED and resistor is about 99 cents. There’s a small-but-real chance that the appearance of an alarm will deter potential thieves, so I’ve installed a blinky LED on the dash. I’ve also added a club-style steering wheel lock, because a thief might decide that the added 30 seconds to hacksaw through the steering wheel isn’t worth the risk of getting shot full of holes and/or bludgeoned with a lag-screw-studded 2×4 by an enraged car owner.
3. I’ve added a second kill switch, so now the fuel pump and starter are interrupted by separate switches. Good luck finding both switches, thieves!
4. Long-term (i.e., before I swap my Integra GS-R B18C1 engine in), I plan to install a racing-style quick-release steering wheel in the car and stash the wheel inside the house. Most thieves don’t carry a collection of steering wheels with all the popular quick-release hubs, and using a Vise-Grip as a steering wheel works poorly on a non-power-steering-equipped car.
26 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 01 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 02 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 03 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 04 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 05 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 06 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 07 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 08 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 09 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 10 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 11 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 12 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 13 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 14 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 15 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 16 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 17 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 18 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 19 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 20 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 21 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 22 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 23 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 24 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 25 - 1992 Honda Civic Theft Damage Repair 0730091508 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Because Not Every Old VW Deserves To Live: Fetching Crusher Food! Fri, 13 Jul 2012 14:00:01 +0000 You don’t need a good reason to visit the Mecca of Colorado wrecking yards on the Fourth of July, but we had one: I was tagging along on a mission to grab a couple of dead Rabbits that could be turned into cash at Denver’s ever-ravenous Crusher/shredder. Here’s how the scrap-metal food chain that (mostly) ends in a Chinese foundry gets its roughage.
Andy, LeMons racer, automotive entrepreneur, and owner of a righteous yard-o-cars himself, had bought a couple of Malaise Era Volkswagen Rabbits at the Junkyard of Melted Brains a decade or so back, and he decided to celebrate our nation’s 236th birthday by driving 100 miles each way to pick them up. The key to this journey was his recent obtainment of a 1975 Chevrolet Scottsdale flatbed truck with a vintage flame job and a sufficiently low bed to allow Rabbit stacking.
It was 100 degrees out and the air conditioning was broken, but the bigger worry was the 454′s problem with fuel starvation due to bad-gas-induced clogging. Andy had flushed the tank and cleaned out the lines, but bad gas is sort of like nuclear waste; it tends to keep on contaminating for years.
The truck had problems climbing grades in hot weather, and you get plenty of grades and heat on I-25 on the Fourth of July. A stop to replace the fuel filter seemed to help.
Finally, we reached the dirt road that led to the JOMB.
Located way in the back of the yard were the VWs: a light blue Rabbit C Diesel and a gray Rabbit LS.
I was so mesmerized by the acres of vintage machinery that I didn’t offer much help loading the Rabbits. Just as well, because Andy mashed a middle finger right off the bat, and I probably would have found a way to smash the other one.
Rich has a GTI project that could use a radiator, and the Diesel Rabbit had a good one. Out it came!
These guys have a lot of experience hauling cars to The Crusher, so they knew they had to shorten the bottom car of the stack. Rabbits aren’t exactly substantial, particularly when built in Pennsylvania, so the Sawzall didn’t meet with much resistance.
After cutting the pillars and bending the roof back, the second car was ready for its parking space.
The LS got tipped up on its side, so that Andy could harvest the catalytic converter. It turns out that this was a very rare LS with factory air conditioning but not power steering. Is it worth anything? Yes, about $200/ton.
Next, the LS is eased into its position atop the Diesel.
Plenty of space for low bridges!
After the attachment of endless hooks, tie-downs, and cables, we were ready to go.
The truck ran much better in the cool evening air. Here’s my view out the rear cab window.
We stopped for a nice meal during our journey north to Denver.
Meanwhile, property values for the entire neighborhood plummeted. Multiply this trip to The Crusher by several thousand, every day, and you’ll get an idea of how the global steel industry gets much of its raw material.

20 - Junkyard Volkswagen Rabbit Crushing Journey 01 - Junkyard Volkswagen Rabbit Crushing Journey 02 - Junkyard Volkswagen Rabbit Crushing Journey 03 - Junkyard Volkswagen Rabbit Crushing Journey 04 - Junkyard Volkswagen Rabbit Crushing Journey 05 - Junkyard Volkswagen Rabbit Crushing Journey 06 - Junkyard Volkswagen Rabbit Crushing Journey 07 - Junkyard Volkswagen Rabbit Crushing Journey 08 - Junkyard Volkswagen Rabbit Crushing Journey 09 - Junkyard Volkswagen Rabbit Crushing Journey 10 - Junkyard Volkswagen Rabbit Crushing Journey 11 - Junkyard Volkswagen Rabbit Crushing Journey 12 - Junkyard Volkswagen Rabbit Crushing Journey 13 - Junkyard Volkswagen Rabbit Crushing Journey 14 - Junkyard Volkswagen Rabbit Crushing Journey 15 - Junkyard Volkswagen Rabbit Crushing Journey 16 - Junkyard Volkswagen Rabbit Crushing Journey 17 - Junkyard Volkswagen Rabbit Crushing Journey 18 - Junkyard Volkswagen Rabbit Crushing Journey 19 - Junkyard Volkswagen Rabbit Crushing Journey 2012-07-04_21-48-59_420 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 12
Working On a Harlequin Interior For My Civic, One Junkyard Piece At a Time Wed, 30 May 2012 18:03:27 +0000 There’s a liberating feeling when you have to fix some interior component on a beater transportation car (e.g., my destined-to-become-a-track-car 1992 Civic DX) and you don’t care about color matching. Item #3,491 on the list of Parts Whose Failure Doesn’t Stop You From Driving, But Still Drives You Crazy: the glovebox door latch.
My Civic led a rough life before I bought it five years ago; its previous owner was a blues bass player who lived in Chicago and then San Francisco, parking the car on sketchy side streets near sleazeball blues clubs in both cities. Street-parked cars in San Francisco get broken into about once every two weeks on average, which meant that every lock on the car has been punched or pried out at least a dozen times, and every storage compartment in the interior has been pawed open by many desperate thieves in the throes of amphetamine psychosis and/or the DTs and/or the hippie hippie shakes (in Denver, they just try to cold steal the car itself). The glovebox in my car was always flaky, with a balky latch mechanism damaged by the scrabbling fingers of so many urban entrepreneurs, and last week it finally gave up completely.
Yes, the plastic handle finally snapped off when I opened the glovebox to grab my cassette of I, Fish Driver. I called my local Honda dealer and was quoted a price of just $17.95 for this piece, but it wasn’t in stock. I planned to do a junkyard run that day and shoot Junkyard Find photos, anyway, so I thought I’d do some glovebox-latch shopping at the same time. If I couldn’t find one, I’d just wait a few days for a new replacement part.
The first yard I visited didn’t have any fifth-gen Civics that hadn’t been completely gutted (I’m still waiting for 1992-95 Civics to show up in large quantities in self-service junkyards, but this hasn’t happened yet), so I looked at Integras, Accords, and Preludes from the same decade. Honda has been known to share components across different models, so maybe the Accord’s glovebox latch will fit the Civic.
This one has a lock, but the overall shape is identical to the 92-95 Civic unit. What the heck, it’s held in with just two screws and the junkyard wanted only $2.99 for the entire latch mechanism. As an added bonus, it’s even the correct gray color!
Unfortunately, the location of the striker is about 1/4″ different in the Accord latch, so it wouldn’t work without a bunch of pain-in-ass modifications. The good news was that I planned to do another photo expedition at a second junkyard that afternoon… where I found this fifth-gen Civic coupe.
The interior of this Civic was a very mid-90s beige, which was sort of horrible, but the latch was mechanically correct. This junkyard charged just $1.49 for it.
30 seconds of work and the swap is done.
In a non-beater, this would be a major fashion don’t, but I’m this car’s final owner!
Anyway, the latch goes well with the only-one-I-could-find replacement for the window crank I snapped off while loading 8-foot 2x6s in the car at the lumberyard. Now I’m tempted to get a green steering wheel.

18 - 1992 Honda Civic Glovebox Latch Repair 01 - 1992 Honda Civic Glovebox Latch Repair 02 - 1992 Honda Civic Glovebox Latch Repair 04 - 1992 Honda Civic Glovebox Latch Repair 05 - 1992 Honda Civic Glovebox Latch Repair 06 - 1992 Honda Civic Glovebox Latch Repair 08 - 1992 Honda Civic Glovebox Latch Repair 12 - 1992 Honda Civic Glovebox Latch Repair 16 - 1992 Honda Civic Glovebox Latch Repair 17 - 1992 Honda Civic Glovebox Latch Repair Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 24
When You Need Garage Tunes Right Now: Field Expedient Surround-Sound Audio System Sun, 19 Feb 2012 20:20:23 +0000 When I moved into a Victorian near downtown Denver summer before last, I finally had something I’ve been longing for since I started messing around with cars: a garage! Since that time, I’ve been (very) gradually upgrading the place, with better wiring, insulation, beer signs, and so on. My long-term plan for the place involves an elaborate garage audio system, with a serious amp, good speakers all over the place, and a CAT5 line to the house that will provide access to the music collection on my file server. However, my long-term garage-upgrade plan also includes certain items that have higher priority— like, say, a source of heat— and I have been working on those items first. In the meantime, I needed to be able to listen to The Atomic Bitchwax at top volume, and I didn’t want to spend any money on temporary measures. One afternoon, I scavenged up the gear to make an extremely loud four-speaker setup. Here’s how.
I had a pretty serious boombox already, in the form of the 92-pound Turbo II Junkyard Boogaloo Boombox that I built out of plywood and car parts a few years back (go to the Murilee’s Greatest Hits page for the whole Junkyard Boogaloo Boombox saga). It had been just the thing for tailgate parties at Oakland A’s games, but the battery I’d scavenged out of a junkyard-bound Tercel in 2006 had lost the ability to take a charge by the time I hauled it to Denver, and it would be an all-weekend thrash to dismantle the thing and replace the battery. Hmmm… how to solve that problem today?
Easy— just add a battery charger to the crap sitting atop my pinball machine restoration project.
The Junkyard Boogaloo Boombox charges via this PVC-pipe-based adapter that plugs into one of the cigarette lighters. The charging adapter was never meant to be used in a permanent setup, but it works.
OK, so the battery charger leads clamp onto the charging adapter and the boombox now has Wanky the Safety Cat™ approval (provided I remember to unplug the battery charger when not in use).
At that point, I had music… but the junkyard-correct Chevy Beretta cassette deck and ’93 Mercury Grand Marquis 6x9s didn’t deliver enough thump for my favorite Ice-T tracks. How can I improve the situation without leaving the garage?
The cassette and 8-track players were hardwired in and it would be a supreme pain in the ass to add more amps and speakers to them, but the Junkyard Boogaloo Boombox features a wired FM modulator to allow the use of external sound sources through the cassette deck. That means I can use the same iPod I use for the LeMons Macho Man penalty… and it also means that the signal from the iPod can be split and fed into another means of amplification.
From my days in the industro-noise band Murilee Arraiac, hooking up shortwave radios through chains of OD-1 overdrive pedals and so forth, I have every imaginable audio-cable adapter. Putting a one-into-two 1/8″ jack adapter on the iPod was easy, and led to…
…this 900 MHz audio transmitter, which sends its signal to…
…this pair of RCA wireless stereo speakers, which I got at a yard sale and had been storing with a lot of other random crap in a box for quite a while. Every bit of this gear was available right there in the garage. It’s what the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™ refers to as Ghetto Surround Sound 4.0™.
I had to do a little rearranging of power outlets to feed everything, but it all sorted out in typical garage-octopus fashion.
So now I can crank up the Gotan Project loud enough to share with the whole neighborhood, and I didn’t have to buy anything. Wanky approves!

9 - Field Expedient Garage Sound System - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Wanky the Safety Cat' Greden 1 - Field Expedient Garage Sound System - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Wanky the Safety Cat' Greden 2 - Field Expedient Garage Sound System - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Wanky the Safety Cat' Greden 3 - Field Expedient Garage Sound System - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Wanky the Safety Cat' Greden 4 - Field Expedient Garage Sound System - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Wanky the Safety Cat' Greden 5 - Field Expedient Garage Sound System - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Wanky the Safety Cat' Greden 6 - Field Expedient Garage Sound System - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Wanky the Safety Cat' Greden 7 - Field Expedient Garage Sound System - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Wanky the Safety Cat' Greden 8 - Field Expedient Garage Sound System - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Wanky the Safety Cat' Greden 11 - Field Expedient Garage Sound System - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Wanky the Safety Cat' Greden 10 - Field Expedient Garage Sound System - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Wanky the Safety Cat' Greden 12 - Field Expedient Garage Sound System - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Wanky the Safety Cat' Greden 13 - Field Expedient Garage Sound System - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Wanky the Safety Cat' Greden Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 21
When You See a Clean Corinthian Leather Bench Seat In the Junkyard, You Buy It! Thu, 26 Jan 2012 18:00:52 +0000 When I saw the interior of today’s Junkyard Find, I knew: I must have that Corinthian Leather bench seat! Maybe I’ll put it in the back of my ’66 Dodge A100 van, or maybe I’ll just convert it into a comfy, Ricardo Montalban-grade garage couch. Either way, I returned to the junkyard yesterday with a sense of grim determination: that seat will be mine!
It’s very rare that you find a 34-year-old car in a wrecking yard with a front seat in this condition. No rips, no cracking, hardly any staining. I’m guessing that the car’s owner kept it garaged and safe from the upholstery-frying Colorado sun, and perhaps he or she even kept a seat cover over the front bench.
Those of you who know old Chrysler products are familiar with this seat-mounting system: studs going through the car’s floor, held in place by nuts on the underside of the car. Yes, where they’re exposed to salt, dirt, roadkill, and big rocks.
I knew what to expect, so I’d brought some deep sockets and my grungiest coveralls. The weather in Denver had been chilly for a week or so, but yesterday got into the low 60s. Hooray, icy mud under the car!
I threw some old floor mats under the car and crawled beneath. The bench seat in a Cordoba is held in with four nuts and big washers, just like all the Mopars of its era. While I removed the first three nuts, I recalled a prank pulled on me while driving a ’73 Fury in high school: some clever friend removed all four seat nuts in my car, so that when I stepped on the gas the seat (with me in it) flew all the way into the back seat. I must say that got my attention; fortunately, I was able to crawl forward and jam my hand on the brake pedal before the car hit anything expensive.
When I got to the nut holding the front of the driver’s side of the seat in place, my heart sank. Yes, that’s a junkyard jack-stand (i.e., two steel wheels welded together) blocking access to the last seat mounting nut. Damn.
By this time, I was pretty well chilled by the semi-frozen mud beneath the car (having spent most of my life in California, this snow-and-ice-at-the-junkyard business is still a new phenomenon to me) and started considering my options. The most attractive option involved finding a jack, preferably of the old-school bumper-ratchet variety, in the trunk of a nearby car and just lifting the car enough to move the jack-stand. No dice: this yard clears all the jacks out of the cars when they show up. I considered asking the yard employees to use the forklift to reposition the car, but I’ve had bad experiences with this sort of thing; lots of times, resentful junkyard workers will not only refuse to help, they’ll come back later and vandalize the part you wanted to get.
However, there was a third option. If I cut the parking-brake cables and bent the brake line out of the way, I might be able to sneak a wrench over the top of the jack-stand and get it onto the nut. Here goes the brake cable.
At this point, I should apologize for the crappy quality of these cell-phone photos; I was in such a rush to get out the door and grab my Corinthian Leather prize that I forgot to bring a proper camera. But even with a phone camera, you can see that it is just barely possible to get a 1/2″ wrench onto the offending nut. It turned out that it was also possible to get about 1/16th of a turn with the wrench before it fell off and clattered into the mud. Repeat. Endlessly.
After about 45 minutes of profanity-enhanced wrench-dropping fun, I was able to get the nut far enough down the threads to get a quarter-drive socket onto it. Success!
My junkyard toolbox doesn’t have the 7/8″ socket I’d need to remove the seat belts (which couldn’t be pulled out of the seats), the driver’s-side lap belt had been cut already, and so I sliced them with a knife. I hate doing this, but 70s Chrysler seat belts are easy to find.
I’d brought a hand truck, an old sheet, and some rope, and I hoped to get the seat out to my car without getting it too muddy. This thing probably weighs 80 pounds.
I couldn’t resist removing and buying the opera lights on the C pillars. These will look good in the interior of my A100.
I should have tied the seat to the roof of my cargo-hauling Civic, but instead I got lazy and brought the Outback. Hey, got to keep that white Corinthian Leather in good shape!

21 - Chrysler Cordoba Corinthian Leather Bench Seat - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Personal Luxury' Greden 01 - Chrysler Cordoba Corinthian Leather Bench Seat - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Personal Luxury' Greden 02 - Chrysler Cordoba Corinthian Leather Bench Seat - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Personal Luxury' Greden 03 - Chrysler Cordoba Corinthian Leather Bench Seat - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Personal Luxury' Greden 04 - Chrysler Cordoba Corinthian Leather Bench Seat - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Personal Luxury' Greden 05 - Chrysler Cordoba Corinthian Leather Bench Seat - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Personal Luxury' Greden 06 - Chrysler Cordoba Corinthian Leather Bench Seat - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Personal Luxury' Greden 08 - Chrysler Cordoba Corinthian Leather Bench Seat - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Personal Luxury' Greden 10 - Chrysler Cordoba Corinthian Leather Bench Seat - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Personal Luxury' Greden 11 - Chrysler Cordoba Corinthian Leather Bench Seat - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Personal Luxury' Greden 13 - Chrysler Cordoba Corinthian Leather Bench Seat - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Personal Luxury' Greden 15 - Chrysler Cordoba Corinthian Leather Bench Seat - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Personal Luxury' Greden 16 - Chrysler Cordoba Corinthian Leather Bench Seat - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Personal Luxury' Greden 17 - Chrysler Cordoba Corinthian Leather Bench Seat - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Personal Luxury' Greden 19 - Chrysler Cordoba Corinthian Leather Bench Seat - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Personal Luxury' Greden 20 - Chrysler Cordoba Corinthian Leather Bench Seat - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Personal Luxury' Greden 13 - 1978 Chrysler Cordoba Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phillip 'Corinthian Leather' Greden Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 47
When I Build My Spaceship, It Will Be Equipped With This Mitsubishi Cordia Instrument Cluster Tue, 03 Jan 2012 18:00:55 +0000 After seeing the intensely early-1980s-Japan instrument cluster in this ’83 Cordia in a Northern California wrecking yard a few weeks back, it gnawed at me that I hadn’t brought the tools to pull the thing on the spot. I kept thinking about the amazing big-nosed climate-control humanoid diagram, and the even-better-than-the-280ZX-Turbo “bar graph” tachometer.
Finally, I broke down and called a member of the LeMons Mafia who lives near the junkyard in question: “Please go and grab that Cordia cluster for me!”
Shawn, who races the fast-but-fragile Bunny With a Pancake On Its Head VW Rabbit in West Coast LeMons events, did the parts pulling for my Junkyard Nightmare Build Quality Challenge: Speedometers piece last year, so I knew he was the right guy to yank and ship my much-dreamed-about Cordia cluster.
A couple days back, a big box shows up on my front porch. I’m really impressed by the component quality and workmanship on this unit; it’s obvious that Mitsubishi’s consumer-electronics experience helped them a lot here. The only clusters of this vintage I’ve seen that look more solidly built come out of W126 Benzes.
Yes, the rest of the Cordia fell apart in a hurry, but I’m sure Honda and Toyota engineers were a bit envious of the car’s instrument cluster.
Even though it has a digital speedometer, the Cordia still used an old-fashioned speedometer cable to provide the speed signal to the cluster’s brain, rather than a solid-state sender at the transmission. This allowed Mitsubishi to use a mechanical odometer and trip counter, in addition to avoidance of designing too many new electronic components.
With all the analog processing and whatever else goes on inside the Cordia cluster’s black box, Mitsubishi decided to punch these snazzy louvers in the cover over the nerve center.
Did the JDM version of this climate-control diagram feature such a big nose, or is that just for us gaijin?
From a user-interface standpoint, only the locations of the “door open” indicators on the car-shaped diagram make any sense; the designers apparently thought “let’s pack the little car picture with all the idiot lights, so they don’t clutter up the Big Nose Climate Control Man’s area.”
I try my best to avoid being a crazy car-parts hoarder, especially with pointless stuff like instrument clusters. I’ve already got this 1961 Citroën ID19 cluster, pulled from this car a few years back. I’ve got several silly junkyard-parts-based projects in the works, inspired by the happiness my Junkyard Boogaloo Boombox brings me in the garage. There’s the big box with 50 car clocks, and another box with several hundred “Fasten Seat Belt” warning lights, and yet another full of car horns. Someday, these ambitious projects will join the Junkyard Boogaloo…
As for the Cordia and ID19 clusters, my plan is to frame them and hang them on the wall of my office, wired up so that the lights and gauges function. The Citroën cluster will be pretty simple, with just a clock and some lights to wire up (I’ll leave the speedo at zero, since a motor to move the needle would make irritating noise), but the Cordia unit is going to be a greater challenge.
I’ve bought the Cordia factory shop manual on eBay, which will give me the wiring diagram for the dash harness. Armed with that information, I should be able to get all the idiot lights and— probably— the Big Nose Climate Control icons to work. What I’d really like to do is get the tach and speedo cycling through their paces, and for that I’d need to spoof their inputs using simple digital electronics. I’ve always wanted to mess around with the Arduino microcontroller, and now I have an excuse!

CordiaCluster-10 CordiaCluster-01 CordiaCluster-02 CordiaCluster-03 CordiaCluster-04 CordiaCluster-05 CordiaCluster-06 CordiaCluster-07 CordiaCluster-08 CordiaCluster-09 CordiaCluster-12 CordiaCluster-11 BuildQualitySpeedo-1280px-140 ]]> 73
Just Another Day In the Life of an MGB Owner Wed, 02 Nov 2011 20:00:18 +0000 While scanning endless negatives and slides for the 1965 Impala Hell Project, I’ve run across a few images of other heaps from my past. I’m kicking myself now for letting dozens of now-interesting hoopties pass through my hands without getting any photographic record, but that’s how the pre-digital-photography era worked. My British Racing Green, chrome-bumper MGB-GT, however, served three years as my daily driver, and so it did get caught by a few photographs. Here’s a shot showing one of the many, many repairs this fine British Leyland product needed while serving as my primary means of transportation.
During a drive from Southern California to the San Francisco Bay Area, the MG’s rear end started to make ominous whining noises. As all British car owners do, I pretended it wasn’t happening at first, but by about Kettleman City I couldn’t turn the radio up loud enough to drown out the increasingly loud howl. Maybe it’s just a cheap wheel bearing and not the diff, I thought, but no. Fortunately, I was able to limp the thing all the way to British Only Auto Wrecking in Oakland (where they had rear ends stacked ten deep, thanks to a vast oversupply of abandoned MGBs in the late 1980s) and then patched the car up until its next major failure (which almost certainly involved the electrical system). Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed the Austin-Healey 3000 in the background; this car belonged to my Jaguar-mechanic uncle, Dirty Duck, who was the person responsible for convincing me that British cars are superior machines.

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Because 454 Cubic Inches Just Isn’t Enough: AMC Marlin Racer Gets Twin Superchargers Tue, 28 Jun 2011 15:00:06 +0000
The Speed Holes Racing AMC Marlin took home the Organizer’s Choice award at last year’s Colorado 24 Hours of LeMons race, because A) it has a 454 yanked from a wrecked GMC truck set back about three feet from the Marlin’s normal engine location, B) it has a Jaguar XJ6 rear suspension and differential, C) it has hundreds of speed holes punched into the body and, most of all, D) it’s an AMC Marlin. The Marlin wasn’t exactly fast (the tall Jaguar gears and very tired 300,000-mile EFI small-valve engine didn’t make for great acceleration out of the turns), but the handling was surprisingly good for such a big car. For the 2011 B.F.E. GP, Speed Holes Racing decided that more power would be needed.

The LeMons Supreme Court gave Speed Holes a generous residual value after last year’s race, allowing them to dump another few hundred bucks into the car. Changing the differential gearing from 2.75:1 to 3.73:1 will help de-dog-ify the acceleration at hilly, oxygen-poor High Plains Raceway. Adding forced induction should cause the engine to spray connecting rods in all directions alleviate the oxygen-shortage problem.

In charge of this upgrade is Speed Holes Racing team captain Cadillac Bob. Cheap junkyard superchargers are easily obtained, as long as you go for a Toyota Previa centrifugal blower or a GM 3800 V6 Roots blower. Bob went for the latter option, figuring a pair of superchargers meant for an engine of 231 cubic inches displacement apiece should be just about right for a single engine displacing 454 cubes.

The plan is to push about 5 PSI of boost down the factory throttle body, using this industrial pressure gauge to keep the driver in the know.

Bob fabricated a plenum and mounted the blowers backwards on its sides. The compressed air will come out the top, once he cuts a hole and mounts a flange for ducting.

Because the supercharger input shafts will now rotate backwards, Bob had to do some surgery to flip the internal drive gears around and keep the vanes rotating in the correct direction.

The nice part about this setup is that removal of the entire supercharger assembly should be pretty quick, when if something goes wrong with one or both of the blowers at the track.

Meanwhile, Bob’s shop has filled up with projects. In the foreground is a LeMons-bound Jetta that needed its janky cage fixed. In the background is my ’66 A100 van, which is getting new axle kingpins.

In the rafters of the shop, an early-60s-vintage rail dragster.

Beneath the dragster, a seriously chopped Coupe DeVille.

Nearby sits an old-timey hot-rodded Model A four-cylinder engine, awaiting installation into Bob’s super-slammed Ford coupe.

What sort of car should receive this WW2 military-issue Cadillac flathead V8?

The B.F.E. GP takes place weekend after next, so there’s plenty to do between now and the green flag. Still, compared to last years’ panic-stricken thrash, this time around should be a walk in the park. I look forward to hearing those blowers screaming on the race track!

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Malaise Heavyweights Do Battle: 1979 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 versus 1975 Ford LTD Landau Wed, 01 Jun 2011 23:30:31 +0000
Of all the cars at the ‘Shine Country Classic, none inspired more speculation than the ’75 LTD of the Tunachuckers and ’79 W116 of NSF Racing. So many questions! Would either car be ready for the green flag on Saturday morning? Which one would be quicker around a road course? Could an ungodly complicated Teutonic flagship even make one lap on a race track after 32 years and a 99.97% value depreciation? Could Grandma’s long-abandoned big Ford roar into life and survive on the race track with little more than a cage installation and a hasty tune-up? Each team had joined the elite of LeMons veterans, with one Index of Effluency win apiece, so expectations of horrible failure were high.

The Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 is, of course, one of the most legendary Mercedes-Benz luxo-bombs ever built. In 1979, you’d have handed over a staggering $50,190 for one. That’s $155,482 in 2011 dollars, according to the CPI Inflation Calculator. With the money a 450SEL 6.9 cost, you could have bought a brand-new Ferrari 308GTB and had enough left over to buy a pair of 1979 Z/28 Camaros. Put another way, the ’79 450SEL 6.9 cost roughly the same, in inflation-adjusted dollars, as seven 1975 Ford LTD Landau sedans.

The Tunachuckers’ 1966 Volvo Amazon got pretty well destroyed in a brutal wreck at last year’s LeMons South Fall race, so the team scoured the woods of South Carolina for a replacement car suitable to their status as Legends of LeMons. Finally, they got this ’75 LTD Landau for free, from the original owner’s son. It ran, sort of, and came with a 153-horsepower 400M engine.

NSF Racing, having had such a helluva time keeping their 340-powered 1962 Plymouth Fury running at the previous race, decided their mechanical skills would be better applied to a two-ton-plus Mercedes-Benz flagship with Citroën-licensed hydropneumatic suspension, 417-cubic-inch overhead-cam engine with 32-year-old Bosch fuel injection, and brakes better suited for autobahn cruising than a tight, brake-eating road course. As we often say in LeMons racing, what could possibly go wrong?

Hmmm… that hacked-up wiring harness doesn’t look promising. You say the battery isn’t charging and the engine won’t start? Plenty of time, my friends. Plenty of time!

Actually, the clock was ticking Friday night, with no sign that the big Benz would be ready to go in time for the green flag the next morning. The bar coming out of the rear window opening was intended for the mounting of a huge disco ball, as befitted a coke-dealer-grade Malaise Mercedes. Quick, to the parts store for a new alternator!

Meanwhile, things were looking better for the Tunachuckers. Their 400M engine fired up on request… but why does the exhaust smell like 20-year-old bad gas? “Don’t worry,” said team captain Mike, “We drained the bad gas and flushed the fuel lines when we got the car.” Wait, the tank hasn’t been cleaned? Uh-oh…

When the race started, the LTD roared right out onto the track and began racking up some stately laps. The old Ford wasn’t exactly fast, but it kept up with the likes of the S10 with a couch in the bed, B23-powered Volvo 244s, and the like. The 6.9 wasn’t quite ready, but the NSF guys assured us that it would hit the track “real soon.”

After a few hours, the NSF 450SEL cruised onto the track, its electrical woes apparently solved. It had respectable power down the straights, but the Citroën suspension didn’t respond very well to the turns. The brakes quickly became hotter than the sun-facing side of Mercury. Still, NSF was in the race.

The Tunachuckers’ troubles were just beginning, however. After an hour or so on the track, the engine started losing power and misfiring. The driver would pit, the crew would swarm around the LTD for a while, and then the car would return to the track for a few laps. Repeat. Endlessly. Repeat. Endlessly.

Maybe it’s the distributor! No, wait— maybe it’s the coil! No, wait— we’ll try swapping on the spare carburetor, while we rebuild the old one! All the while, the smell of ancient, varnish-and-rust-enhanced gasoline permeated the Tunachuckers’ pit space like a murderous miasma of misery. Everyone knew: the decades of weird petroleum compounds in the fuel tank were flowing right through the fuel filter, contaminating the gas and fouling the carburetor.

I had my timelapse TrunkLidCam™ mounted on the LTD, in hopes of getting good on-track shots of cars stacked up behind the Ford’s vast bulk in the turns (which I did get, the next day). Most of Saturday’s photos turned out to have been taken while the LTD was pitted during its many hours of fuel-misery-related repairs. Here’s a video of the still photos captured by the TrunkLidCam, to give you the idea.

The Tunachuckers finally gave in and removed the car’s gas tank. The stuff they poured out was a chunky semi-opaque brown liquid that didn’t much resemble gasoline. Clearly, the crap in the tank would be contaminating any fuel that went into the filler.

Let’s try rinsing it out with water!

Dumping in a few pounds of nuts and bolts and shaking the tank vigorously helped some, but the team was getting increasingly skeptical about the tank’s utility.

After all that work, the inside of the tank still looked pretty ooky. At that point, the Tunachuckers put out the word: we need a fuel cell.

The NSF Racing 6.9 had to pit due to electrical-system ailments, engine overheating, transmission leakage, and burning brakes, but the car was spending a lot more time on the track than the LTD. Fortunately, they had the help of 2010 Unununium Medal Legend of LeMons Speedycop and his Galaxie-buildin’ teammate DC Doug.

Back at Tunachuckers HQ (right next door to NSF Racing HQ), the team had decided to give up on the hopelessly contaminated factory fuel tank and focus on finding a fuel cell. Fortunately, South Carolina is one of the racin’-est states in the country, particularly the part of the state in such proximity to race-obsessed Charlotte, and the concentration of used race gear in local garages is quite high.

Another local racer knew a guy who knew a guy who had a defunct roundy-round dirt-track car in his yard, not far from the track. 150 bucks for the allegedly good fuel cell. Done!

Of course, installing a fuel cell in a car isn’t just a matter of plumber’s tape and zip-ties. Well, actually, it is, but LeMons requires more substantial mounts. Here’s Mike welding up some brackets to hold the cell down in the trunk.

Measure once, cut fifty times. Repeat. Something like that. Eventually, the cell was mounted and hooked up, but the Tunachuckers weren’t done yet. According to the LeMons Safety Guide, fuel cell-equipped vehicles must have a metal bulkhead separating the driver from the cell.

The Tunachuckers canvassed the paddock in an attempt to find a piece of sheet metal big enough to cover the rear-seat opening into the trunk, with no success. Then, inspiration: just slice a big chunk out of the LTD’s roof!

A couple of guys wielding Sawzall and cutoff saw took about 45 seconds to produce the required bulkhead.

Self-tapping screws and metal tape finish the installation.

Ready! Sadly, the checkered flag had already waved over Saturday’s race session, so the LTD would have to wait for the following morning to get back onto the track.

Sunday morning: Both the LTD and the 6.9 were on the track for the green flag, and both ran well. The Benz was running laps a few seconds quicker than the Ford, but the LTD’s pushrod V8 had a throatier roar than the 450SEL’s OHC powerplant. Both cars plowed through turns in highly dramatic, tire-squealing fashion.

It was at that point that Judge Speedycop, sidelined from racing his team’s Lincoln Mark VIII by an injured left ankle, suited up and took the wheel of the NSF Racing car. Just like that, the 4,400-pound Mercedes started howling around the track with times just a few seconds off the pace set by the E30s and RX-7s. We figured it was only a matter of time before Speedycop cooked the brakes and deposited the car in CMP’s notorious Swamp Full Of Poisonous Snakes, but he kept the big German on the track. Best lap: 1:07.871, versus an overall best lap of 1:01.594 (set by the suspiciously NASCAR-pro-looking Grumpy Old Men & A Nurse team in an extremely cheaty 4th-gen Firebird; when was the last time you found a WS6 engine and transmission at U-Pull-It for 50 bucks?).

Both Ford and Mercedes-Benz stayed on the track for most of Sunday’s race session. In the end, the 6.9 beat the LTD, 307 laps to 267 (the overall winner had 768 laps). Best lap time for the LTD: 1:13.524.

When it came time for the awards ceremony, it went without saying that each of these teams would be taking home some trophy hardware. Not the big one, which went to the Greene County Moving Company S10 and its 526 laps, but something. For the Tunachuckers and their incredible LTD Landau, the Most Terrible Yank Tank award (usually this is the Least Horrible Yank Tank award, but we modified it to suit the car). This may make the Tunachuckers the team with the most LeMons trophies in their collection; they must be over a half-dozen by now.

For bringing the coke-dealer-est car ever built, NSF Racing got the coveted Judges’ Choice trophy. Congratulations, NSF Racing and Team Tunachuckers!

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