The Truth About Cars » Field Expedient Engineering The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 29 Jul 2014 21:42:50 +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 » Field Expedient Engineering Junkyard Find: Volvo 240 With Rare BMWization Package Mon, 07 Oct 2013 13:00:14 +0000 05 - Volvo 240 with BMW Grille in Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinMost of the time, a car’s final owner doesn’t realize that his or her ride’s next stop will be The Crusher, but some are very aware that the Automotive Grim Reaper will be coming for their wheels soon. Sometimes such an owner glues crap all over the car, and sometimes disturbing cut-and-paste body modifications are in order. In this case, the owner of Volvo 240 must have thought something like, “Hey, Sweden, Germany, what’s the diff?” and applied a quick dose of Bavarianitude to the boxy Swede. I prefer it when a car’s last owner turns it into a road racer, but I think this low-budget customization is worthy of a Junkyard Find.
04 - Volvo 240 with BMW Grille in Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOK, so the space between the lip of the hood and the top edge of the grille needs some filler, but otherwise this might look convincing at 200 feet, on a foggy night.
02 - Volvo 240 with BMW Grille in Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinYou’d expect zip-ties and/or plumber’s tape for this installation, but some fairly substantial materials were used instead.
01 - Volvo 240 with BMW Grille in Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThough this car sports the two large round headlights of the 1975-76 US-market 240, it appears that this is a later-model car with some hooptily-installed headlight buckets.

02 - Volvo 240 with BMW Grille in Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - Volvo 240 with BMW Grille in Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - Volvo 240 with BMW Grille in Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - Volvo 240 with BMW Grille in Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]> 23
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
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
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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Down On The Mile High Street: Baffling Honda Accord Pickup Thu, 09 Jun 2011 13:00:33 +0000
Back in the “good ol’ days” at Jalopnik, Davey Johnson, Jonny Lieberman, and I would spend our days searching for examples of homemade El Camino-ized cartrucks. It sort of peaked in early ’07, when we found the Starionmino, but it’s taken until now for me to find a genuine El Accordamino live and in-person, parked just a block from my house.

I caught it out of the corner of my eye while driving by and thought, “Whoa, a Dodge Rampage parked right in my neighborhood. Cool!” I returned to shoot some photos, because street-driven Rampages are about as common as Aston Martin Lagondas these days, and… wait, what the hell is this thing?

The front half is clearly an ’84 or ’85 Honda Accord, and— in spite of the faded paint and general beater-ness— the conversion job appears to have been very nicely done. I don’t see any of the adobe-grade Bondo, corrugated roofing material, and pop rivets that are the hallmark of the two-12-packs-and-a-torch backyard El Camino-ization job.

I thought that perhaps I might be looking at a Rampage rear half mated to an Accord front half, but a glance at some Rampage photos killed that theory.

The rear strut mounts appear to be very Accord-y, so this may be a heavily modified Accord rear body with a RWD minitruck’s tailgate grafted on. You couldn’t get an Accord wagon in the mid-80s, so it’s not a quick-and-dirty wagon-to-truck hack job.

I’m out of theories about this fine vehicle, and I wasn’t able to track down the owner. Can any of you identify this tailgate? That might be a start…

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Field Expedient Engineering: JB Weld Porsche Cylinder Head Repair Thu, 28 Apr 2011 16:57:35 +0000
When your 1980 Porsche 924 craps out minutes after the start of its first race and you’re in rural Texas, parts might be a little hard to find. You won’t get far with a blown head gasket and big ol’ notches burned in the head itself. But, damn, the clock keeps ticking! The Moose Knuckles team called every junkyard within 500 miles, but nobody had any 924 (or Audi 100) cylinder heads. In fact, nobody had ever heard of them furrin thangs.

The Moose Knuckles were able to find a head gasket a few hours’ drive away, but they came up with exactly bupkis on the head. But then one of the guys remembered the fine print on the JB Weld package: Repairs Engine Blocks. Block, head, what’s the difference?

Picking up some JB Weld and JB Kwik, the Moose Knucks got right to work. Sure, combustion-chamber temperatures get higher than the JB Weld-rated 500 degrees F, but we’ve seen such repairs work in the past… on cast-iron heads. What will happen with an aluminum head?

Fill in the holes with that magical gray stuff, sand it down, and slap the head back on the engine. Take the car on the track. Return behind the tow truck. Repeat. Endlessly.

Because the track exit at MSR comes before the transponder loop, and the Moose Knuckles’ Porsche never managed a full lap under its own power, all those laps that ended on the hook didn’t count. Official race results counted the car as a DNS. On the bright side, the Moose Knuckles took home the I Got Screwed award.

Just so you don’t think JB Weld repairs always fail at LeMons races, here’s a JB-patched E30 oil pan from the same race. The car wiped out, bottoming the pan and cracking the hell out of it. Thanks to a generous application of metal-filled epoxy, the car finished the race.

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Fiat X1/9 + Alfa Romeo 164 + Plywood = Launcha Splatos Wed, 27 Apr 2011 20:23:57 +0000
We’ve seen a fair number of outstanding engine swaps in 24 Hours of LeMons racing— the Saab B Turbo-powered 300ZX comes to mind— but most such projects tend to have reliability and/or performance issues in the car-slaughtering arena that is LeMons. At the frozen Campaign To Prevent Gingervitis race a couple weeks back, the much-anticipated radial-engined MR2 ate its drivetrain after a single lap, but there was one outlandishly butchered machine that actually contended for the overall win: the Alfa Romeo quad-cam V6-powered Bertone X1/9 of Team Launcha Splatos.

The team is packed with a bunch of well-known pro Alfa builders and top wheelmen, so the LeMons Supreme Court sweats them mercilessly when they bring their suspiciously quick ’69 Berlina and race-winning GTV6 to a race. “What can we build that will make you happy?” they asked after last fall’s Chicago race. “A replica of a Group B Lancia Stratos, complete with ridiculous engine swap and Alitalia graphics!” we responded. And damn if they didn’t go ahead and do just that, finding an Alfa Romeo 164 as an engine/transmission/front-subframe donor and a Bertone X1/9 for the rest. You see, there’s nothing wrong with an X1/9 that upgrading the horsepower from 75 to 190 can’t fix.

There’s a fairly complete description of the build at Kilometer Magazine, which makes it clear that the Launcha Splatos guys know how to do some serious metal cut-n-pasting. A big gallery of build photos may be found here.

The “headlights” are actually coffee cans with photos of headlight faces glued on the fronts.

The louvers are plywood, and the paint job is all Krylon rattle-can.

Prior to the Splatos, the only cars to have been this heavily modified and still spend a respectable amount of time in the top ten at a LeMons race have been the Honda CBR1000-powered Geo Metro Gnome and the more-or-less-scratchbuilt Model T GT. How good did the Splatos look on the track?

Let’s watch a nail-bitingly close duel between the Rod Blagojevich 500-winning Skid Marks Neon and the Splatos at Gingerman Raceway, from the perspective of the Neon. The Splatos still needs some bugs worked out of the suspension, but it has great power out of the turns. The Neon corners better. Each car has a top-notch driver at the wheel. Nothing passes these two cars during their battle.

Unfortunately, the Splatos still needed some suspension refinement, which meant that it spun out and/or left the track with depressing regularity. After all that time in the Penalty Box, the Launcha finished the race in 29th place, after spending much of the first day’s session in the top three (the Skid Marks Neon, with zero black flags, came in second overall). Next race, we expect to see the Splatos behave itself… and contend all weekend.

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Molvo! Thu, 31 Mar 2011 21:00:06 +0000
When you’ve got a team of LeMons veterans who have been racing a Volvo 245 wagon since the earliest days of the 24 Hours of LeMons and you want to add a second car to the stable, you’re going to face stern disapproval if that second car happens to be a BMW E30 or a Mazda Miata. Those choices lack imagination! There must be some way to make a Miata fit Bernal Dads Racing’s Volvo-wagon ethos… but what could it be?

Here’s the Bernal Dads’ original race car, a much-scarred veteran of countless Altamont and Thunderhill LeMons events and a true elder statesman of LeMons racing.

Here’s Bernal Dads Racing’s second car, a Miata that made its debut at Thunderhill Raceway for last year’s Arse Sweat-a-Palooza. Miatas aren’t really any quicker around a road course than, say, a fifth-gen Civic or Ford Probe, so a Miata isn’t necessarily a threat to run away with a race, but we’d prefer to keep the Spec Miata-ization of LeMons at a minimum. Every Miata or E30 on the track could have been a Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz or Simca 1204— or a Volvo 240 wagon— and so the Bernal Dads weren’t able to ward off the razzing over their car choice, in spite of the Volvo grille slapped on the snout.

All that changed at last weekend’s Sears Pointless race. The Bernal Dads have made some changes to their Miata!

Yes, they’ve cut the body off a Volvo 245 and welded it atop a Miata. It’s a three-door, which makes it a Molvo 243.

At first glance, I thought this thing was just a really wonky-looking Volvo wagon; I was busy with other cars during the BS Inspection, so I didn’t grasp what lay beneath the Volvo skin until the next day.

When the Molvo came into the Penalty Box after an on-track mishap, I was puzzled by the bizarre rollcage setup. Then I noticed that this Volvo wagon had a Miata parked inside it. Molvo!

The Molvo finished 73rd out of 173, with a respectable best lap time of 2:20. LeMons HQ staff agonized over the choice of the Molvo versus the Datsun 250 GTO when it came time to pick the Organizer’s Choice award. Actually, the judges of the LeMons Supreme Court were strongly in favor of the Molvo, but it’s Chief Perp Lamm‘s race and he gave the OC to the nearly-as-amazing “Ferrari.” “Fine,” we said, “We’ll give the Judges’ Choice trophy to the Molvo.” And that’s how it worked out. Congratulations, Bernal Dads Racing!

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Two Engines Equals Twice As Good: Toyota MR2olla! Fri, 11 Mar 2011 00:00:47 +0000
The crazy thing about 24 Hours of LeMons racers is that they actually follow through with their terrible ideas. Maybe it’s the urgency of the deadline, or maybe it’s the peer pressure to keep one-upping the last ridiculous project. Last month we admired the radial aircraft-engine-powered MR2, and now we’ve got another MR2-based team taking on one of the long-discussed LeMons Holy Grails: the twin-engined sub-$500 race car!

The Volatile RAM MR2 has been racing in West Coast LeMons events since the 2007-08 Altamont era, and the team must have decided that all that wrenching in the pits (the MR2 has proven itself to be one of the less reliable LeMons cars) would be more fun if they vaulted to the ranks of the Legends of LeMons and took on the twin-engine challenge.

Conventional wisdom says that a twin-engined race car with four-wheel-drive and two separate transmissions will be a spinning nightmare on the track, will blow up for sure, will overheat, and is morally wrong besides. However, conventional wisdom also suggests that Toyotas should be reliable in low-budget endurance racing, and reality has shown that Saturn SL2s and Alfa Romeo Milanos are much more reliable LeMons cars… so go ahead and throw all your misgivings about the MR2olla right out the window! Yes, MR2olla; the team will be welding the front half of a 1989 Corolla to the rear half of a 1987 MR2. What could possibly go wrong?

“Aha!” you say, “The Corolla and the MR2 both use Toyota A engines and identical transmissions, so all you need to do is rig up some kind of Rube Goldberg transmission-cable linkage and the driver will be able to drive it like a regular car.” Not so! What the Verbose Beater team is doing involves an automatic transmission in the rear and a manual up front. Feel free to enumerate all the ways this will go terribly wrong; I’m reserving judgment until I see it on the race track. Actually, I’m not reserving judgment at all; if this thing makes one lap it will be a stunning, LeMons Legend-worthy succcess! We’ll see how it all sorts out at the Goin’ For Broken race in mid-May at Reno-Fernley.

Meanwhile, I’m gearing up for the biggest 24 Hours of LeMons race of all time, at Sears Point in a couple of weeks. In fact, with 180 cars it’s possible that the Sears Pointless 24 Hours of LeMons race will be the biggest road race in history. See you there!

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You Say Your Civic Has a Cracked Cylinder Liner? Sawzall, Meet Rocker Arms! Wed, 23 Feb 2011 14:00:40 +0000
What does it take to win the Heroic Fix trophy at the heroism-heavy Southern Discomfort 24 Hours of LeMons? Frantic engine swaps are a dime a dozen in LeMons racing, but what happens when the replacement engine goes bad?

The Terminally Confused team got sweated pretty hard at the last race, what with the newness of their ’95 Civic (your car’s alleged sub-$500 price tag isn’t so convincing when the LeMons Supreme Court Judge paid $1200 for his beater ’92 Civic), and so they decided they’d better get with the program and theme up their Honda. Look, it’s a bumblebee now! Things went much better for them at the BS Inspection this time around.

The team was kind enough to rig up a bracket for one of my timelapse BumperCams; you can just see it on the very end of the “bee abdomen” in this photo. StingerCam!

The StingerCam was working great and snapping nice on-track shots like the one above, the car was running well and knocking out some non-shabby lap times, and all looked well for Team Terminally Confused. At first.

You’d think that the Civic, so bulletproof on the street, would be one of the more reliable 24 Hours of LeMons cars, but such is not the case. In fact, Honda B and D engines are among the least reliable in this type of racing, up there with the small-block Chevy and Mitsubishi Astron when it comes to rod-hurling, head-gasket-blowing misery from engines that you’d think should be able to take it. Not long into Saturday’s race session, engine troubles developed for the Terminally Confused Civic.

So it’s overheating! So it’s making a little noise! What could possibly go wrong? Suddenly the noise and smoke got a lot worse, and a connecting rod made a break for freedom.

Let’s take a closer look at the carnage beneath cylinder #1. Ever seen a hole eaten in a crankshaft like that? Ouch! No doubt that this engine is finished… but Terminally Confused didn’t give up.

See, they’d been around LeMons racing— and Hondas— long enough to know that you bring a spare engine to the race, so you don’t have to go dashing around rural South Carolina at 4:15 PM on a Saturday afternoon in an attempt to find a replacement (you could do what a certain Fox Mustang team did, which was throw in the towel after frying part of the wiring harness, even after several teams offered to rewire the car for them, but Terminally Confused wouldn’t hear of such a thing). Unfortunately, their extra engine had been hammered together out of random parts they found lying around the shop, and it sported a set of mismatched and unbalanced pistons. The good news: it’s a VTEC, yo!

So the team thrashed for a couple hours and got the “new” engine in the car.

Upon firing it up for the first time, a slight problem became apparent. What’s that horrible noise? Why all the exhaust smoke? After pulling the valve cover, they discovered that they’d neglected to tighten down one of the valve-adjustment nuts when assembling the engine. Problem solved! Terminally Confused would be back in action when the green flag waved on Sunday morning!

The car ran well at first, but then the power started dropping and alarming clouds of smoke belched from the tailpipe. What gives?

Rats, cracked cylinder liner! Water in the oil, oil in the water, all of it getting into the combustion chambers. The team tried pulling the fuel injector connector from the bad cylinder and running on three, but they kept getting black-flagged for excessive smoking.

While all this was going on, Terminally Confused member Vern decided he’d fire up his extremely sensible pit transportation: a cart with jet turbine and hydrostatic drive system.

Let’s check out this fine vehicle in action!

My ears are still ringing after a single circuit around the paddock. The Turbine Cart made a great pace car after the county-mandated late-morning quiet hour, other than a stall caused by a water-in-fuel problem.

Thing were looking bad for the Civic, with no spare engines left and no way to find one on a Sunday afternoon. LeMons Supreme Court Judge Mike (aka Mechimike of Tunachuckers Volvo Amazon fame, suggested that maybe the oil burning wouldn’t be so bad if the valves on the bad cylinder could be kept closed. What’s the quickest way to keep the valves closed? Cut the rocker arms, of course! On a cylinder with any compression, this would result in a Jake Brake-like effect, but in this case it would just keep liquid from getting forced into the other cylinders.

Blow off as much of the aluminum shavings as possible, put the valve cover back on, and go!

Amazingly, it worked! The car was way down on power and sounded terrible, but it kept making laps. Of course, the oil was still getting mixed with water, so the Terminally Confused crew had to pit every few laps and drain out the emulsified goop, but that’s a small price to pay to stay in the race. Heroic Fix!

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Ratty’s Jamaican Muffler Shop and Bar: Fix It Up, Forget It! Fri, 07 Jan 2011 02:00:58 +0000
When the 24 Hours of LeMons HQ crew left the season-ending Miami race on New Year’s Day, we didn’t go back home. No, we got right on a plane to northern Jamaica for our corporate retreat!

Of course, a LeMons corporate retreat means that we spend most of our time washing down curry goat, mannish water, and festivals with 120-proof “Jancro Batty” (warning: don’t use that term around polite Jamaicans, because it also means something intolerably obscene) which moonshine rum, which involves a lot of driving on some of the wildest not-quite-two-lane, not-quite-blacktop “highways” imaginable. More on that, and what we’ve discovered is the Greatest Vehicle You Can’t Buy In The U.S.A., later.

Driving from Montego Airport to our villa in the hills above Ocho Rios, Chief Perp Lamm ran his rented Yaris (a car not well-suited to the rigors of Jamaican roads, as it turns out) over a huge rock in the pothole-a-second Fern Gully— while dodging a stray dog— and punctured the sidewall. Fortunately, the car came with a full-sized spare.

In the Walkerswood area of St. Ann’s Parish, everyone knows that Ratty’s will take care of your vehicular maladies— whatever they may be. You roll up, chat with the guys hanging around the tubing bender, and let Ratty know what you need.

Ratty specializes in exhaust-system work, but he’s part of a huge network of savvy wrenches who can get you anything from a rebuilt engine for your Toyota Noah to tinted windows for your Suzuki Alto (99% of the vehicles in Jamaica appear to be late-model Japanese products).

Our sidewall puncture was sent out to a Ratty-affiliated tire man’s shop and taken care of, no problem. 300 Jamaican dollars, or about $3.50.

Sure, you’re not supposed to do this, but we need an emergencies-only spare for the rent-a-Yaris and we aren’t driving back to the rental agency in Montego Bay to get one.

Our Jamaican host had a burned-out taillight in his Isuzu diesel pickup, so one of Ratty’s comrades swapped the bulb for him. The price? “Just buy me one drink, mon.”

The shop is just a couple of little buildings to keep the rain off the tools and a few welded-rebar ramps for getting under cars, because that’s all you really need in a mild climate like Jamaica’s; a quick phone call from Ratty to one of his many mechanic buddies is all that’s needed to fetch the necessary parts and/or skills.

Let’s take a moment to admire the bare-bones simplicity of Ratty’s welder.

Here’s an ’81 Isuzu pickup with a replacement bed Ratty built from scratch.

Here’s an innovation that we’d like to see spread to the United States: this automotive repair shop has its own bar! Ratty’s Bar wasn’t open when we dropped by, but we hear the place really jumps when it’s in action. You see, Ratty’s isn’t just a shop– it’s a major local gathering place and socializing destination.

It goes without saying that Ratty’s Bar has become an important watering hole for the 24 Hours of LeMons HQ staff while in Jamaica.

I’ll try to get some more cars-in-Jamaica posts done while I’m here, if this brief window to the internet persists in staying open; otherwise, I’ll be back in full effect on Sunday. For now, it’s time to head back to Ratty’s for a few rum-&-Tings!
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It’s 10:00 PM And Your Van Needs a New Gas Pedal: FrankenPedal! Thu, 25 Nov 2010 19:00:34 +0000 The ’66 A100 Hell Project van came to me in shockingly good shape for a 44-year-old vehicle that sat dead for over a decade, but it still needed endless a few repairs before being really roadworthy. Some get-this-thang-onna-road-now fixes are temporary, while others start out seeming temporary but then win me over.

The Hell Project A100 came to me with a hole-in-the-block-coming-soon rod-knocky 318, so the first order of business was to drop in a replacement 318 (the 273 was the only A100 V8 option in ’66, so the bad engine wasn’t the numbers-matching original unit— sorry, date-code-worshiping Mopar purists!). Then the top priority was the strange soup of former hydrocarbons in the fuel tank, with associated rust/varnish/radioactive electroplating solution clogging the rest of the fuel system (more on that later). After that? The goddamn duct tape hinge on the floor-pivoting gas pedal, which required exact foot positioning and careful movements to avoid binding up the throttle linkage while driving. Unacceptable!

The A100 has a throttle-linkage mechanism that appears to have been designed, on cocktail napkins, over shots of happy-hour well bourbon at some Keego Harbor dive. I’m picturing a trio of junior Dodge Truck Division engineers, all decked out in cheap 1962 suits and chaining unfiltered Pall Malls, looking down the barrel of a tomorrow deadline. “If I don’t have a throttle linkage design to bring to the meeting tomorrow morning,” thundered their boss, a bullneck who ground out his cigars in an ashtray made from the skull of a Japanese Navy cook he offed with his teeth on Tarawa, “You’ll be lucky to find jobs scraping the calcium deposits off the urinals at the Greyhound station!”

So, after the 11th shot of Schenley’s, our heroes came up with a design that placed the moving parts of the linkage just inside the van’s grille, where mud, debris, and the occasional walnut-sized rock pummeled it during every drive. This promotes corrosion and associated character-building frequent repairs. The end of the throttle cable (which runs back and up to the engine) faces forward, ensuring that schmutz will build up inside and lead to frequent snapped cables. Then, to top things off, there’s a finicky, knuckle-shredding arrangement of jam nuts (repeated at the carburetor end) to enhance the collection of 3/8″ wrenches in the splash pan. The upshot of all this— other than a lesson in Chrysler Corporation’s history of cheapo corner-cutting techniques dating back to what some allege were its glory days— is that any irregularity in the arc of the gas pedal’s actuation will lead to… problems.

Right. Fortunately, Chrysler’s hallowed tradition of low-bidder cheapness means that they used variations on the same bottom-hinged gas pedal theme on many of their trucks for decades, and I managed to find a similar pedal in this late-70s camper van at a well-stocked self-service Denver junkyard near my house.

I said similar, because while the overall shape and all-important metal-backed rubber hinge at the pedal’s bottom was identical to the A100′s pedal, the newer van used a Stone Age lever-sliding-on-plastic-backing-plate connection to the throttle linkage, while the A100 used a ball-and-socket/down-through-the-floor connector that must have cost 11 cents more per unit. The whole mess, in both cases, involves a Soviet-grade crude-yet-sturdy rubber-molded-around-steel construction method, no doubt stamped on a press in Indiana that stood five stories tall, shook the earth, and polluted the groundwater for generations to come.

Once I tore the duct tape off the old hinge, I identified the problem: the metal had rusted and the rubber had torn. The screw holes that mounted the pedal to the floor— using unreachable nuts on the back side, of course— had also become hopelessly enlarged. At this point, a new factor came into play: I had promised my wife that, when the first snow fell, she’d be able to park her nice Outback in the garage. Now I’d disassembled the entire throttle mechanism… and the weather report called for snow the next morning. I could just work the carburetor by hand (one of the the benefits of forward-control vans) and park the van outside that way, but I decided— at 10:00 PM, in my freezing-ass garage— to fix this now! Later, I’d find a correct pedal and replace my “temporary” installation (the usual door-hinge-on-scrap-metal method was out, because I’m doing my best to avoid cutting new holes in my relatively unmolested van’s steel).

I thought about hacking off the ball-and-socket portion of the old pedal and somehow attaching it (JB Weld? Small brackets?) to the new pedal, but that would have broken immediately. The problem is that the inherent wonkiness of the throttle linkage requires a certain amount of side-to-side flexibility, which requires a ball-and-socket linkage, so I couldn’t just rig up a new arm that permitted motion in two dimensions. Since I was doing this project tonight, with no access to junkyards or hardware stores, I couldn’t fabricate anything too complicated, anyway.

The all-important bottom hinge and screw holes in the new pedal were in excellent condition. What I needed to do was swap that part onto the old pedal’s top portion. That way I could use the original mounting holes and avoid ruining the sacred originality of the van too irrevocably. Of course, long-term I’ll be painting it in some ghastly two-tone metalflake getup and bolting 1974-vintage Sparkomatic organ-pipe speakers all over the interior, but who says logic should be used when making such decisions?

Anyway, I’ll be installing one of these soon enough, so the appearance of the gas pedal will be less important than its function.

The plan: cut both pedals in half and rig up some kind of bracket to hold the halves together. Mmmm, there’s nothing like the smell of burning rubber and steel when you get to sawin’ with the cutoff tool. No, it’s not easy shooting photographs while you do this sort of thing, but I emerged from the process with all my fingers still attached.

Remember, lawsuit-minded readers, Murilee Martin says: “Always use eye protection when you cut gas pedals in half!”

Once I’ve filled the garage with vile-smelling smoke, its flavor no doubt enhanced by decades of foot-juice buildup on the pedals, the inner steel structure of the Dodge truck accelerator pedal becomes apparent.

Here’s a cross-section view. Very crude, very strong, from the era before Detroit learned how to cut every possible corner.

Next, I’ll need to fabricate some sort of bracket. My new pad’s garage isn’t wired for 220 volts yet, so there will be no welding. Cruder measures will be called for here; break out the sheet of street-sign aluminum I used for the Black Metal V8olvo’s instrument panel!

About seven seconds of crude Sharpie sketching later and I’m ready to hack away with the jigsaw. Hey, this thing needs to be done tonight! At this point I’m channeling the get-this-shit-done attitude of the drunken 1962 Dodge Truck Division engineers.

A few taps with the dead-blow hammer— a a LeMons Supreme Court bribe, courtesy of a Detroit team, by the way— and the bracket assumes its very precise configuration.

Bending the side tabs around the pedal’s bottom half to fix it in place, I drill some holes to attach bracket to pedal. Note that I’m going between the foot-juice-collecting ridges; I don’t want screw heads interfering with my ability to control tip-in with masterly acumen.

On the top half of the pedal, I use a spade bit to eat some screw-head-sized holes in the rubber, so that the screw heads will be quasi-flush with the rubber surface. Again, without a good sense of tip-in a man cannot drive his van at 11/10ths.

Meanwhile, garage tunes are provided by the Junkyard Boogaloo Turbo Boombox; since its car battery went bad, I’ve fueled it with some computer UPS gel-cells, and they require battery-charger help when the temperature drops below 40 degrees.

Two screws on each half, some more pounding of the bracket’s edge flanges to crimp them over the pedal, and the resulting assembly is quite sturdy.

Hmmm… those screws are going to hit the floor when I mash the gas… and I don’t have shorter ones in my junkyard fastener collection. What to do?

Time to go all Red Green on the offending screws! I’m sure glad I have a garage now; in the old days, I’d have done this sort of thing in the driveway. At midnight.

And there we have it: fully functioning gas pedal (though the “fully functioning” part didn’t really happen until I’d finished 45 minutes of futzing with linkage adjustments and lubrication). It looks a little odd, but just wait until the Foot Gas Pedal (with matching dimmer-switch foot) arrives!

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