Not every hero gets a statue, and not every brilliant accomplishment gets a plaque. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, and many a spectacular occurrence is forgotten the moment after it happens.
This is the story of a sheetmetal worker who built a car to nearly unimaginable standards of precision and perfection … then decided to walk away from it for reasons that only he can understand.
A friend recently acquired the carcass (very deliberate choice of words) of a Bugeye Sprite. We were discussing what engine might go into it, and I was thinking that the turbo three-cylinder Ecotec would be a light but sufficiently powerful choice. However, I know very little about what is involved in turning an engine 90 degrees to run the rear wheels.
I’m a big fan of goofy engine swaps, but I must admit that I get tired of seeing small-block Chevy engines in everything. Still, engine swapping is an American tradition that goes way back, and the rise of online discourse has led to a huge increase in the level of heretic-seeking, brand-loyal, anti-engine-swap sentiment in the last decade or so. Why, our very own Crabspirits may have to go into a witness-protection program after stuffing a Nissan VG30 V6 into his Toyota Cressida, and I’ve received some disapproval for putting a GM engine in a 1941 Plymouth (not a huge amount, because prewar Plymouth fanatics tend to be 115 years old and not so online-savvy). AMC guys wig out when they see an LS in a Javelin, BMW fanatics get all red-faced when they see an E30 with a Detroit V8, and so on with just about any cross-marque swap you can name.
How do you feel?
In my role as Chief Justice of the 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court, prospective racers often ask me questions that go something like: “I have a (car type known to be fast and/or expensive) that I got for (credulity-strainingly cheap price) and I would like to race it in LeMons without getting hit with penalty laps. How can I do this?” In most cases, the car will turn out to be a BMW M3, Acura Integra GS-R, or C4 Corvette, and I tell the questioner to seek another type of car. Still, you can get genuinely horrible C4 Corvettes for LeMons-grade money, provided you sell off some trim parts and so on, and that’s just what happened with this bunch. No problem, I said, just drop in an engine that will anger the Corvette Jihad and all will be well (it helps that the Chief Perpetrator of LeMons racing was the owner and editor-in-chief of Corvette Magazine for years, and he can’t stand the Corvette Jihad). I suggested the Toyota 1UZ V8, as found in Lexus LS400s and SC400s, but perhaps there’s an engine that would raise the blood pressure of Corvette fanatics even higher. What engine would that be?
Of all the racing venues I visit during my travels as Chief Justice of the 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court, the ritzy clubs tend to be the weirdest. We went to the Monticello Motor Club in New York a few weeks back, and twice a year the LeMons Traveling Circus rolls into the Autobahn Country Club in Illinois. The reaction of the members, who must navigate the madness of the LeMons pit scene as they drive their GT3s and Facel-Vegas to the clubhouse, runs the gamut from loathing to delight. Most of the time I ignore these guys— I always feel like we’re caddies in the pool in that setting— but as the owner of an A100 I just had to talk to the owner of this truck that showed up at the 2012 Showroom-Schlock Shootout.
Rich, the mastermind behind the Rocket Surgery Racing mid-VW-engined Renault 4CV, just got hired to install a daily-driver-suitable modern drivetrain in a ’53 Ford coupe. The owner wanted to keep it all Ford, EFI makes for much better real-world drivability, and so a late 1980s or newer Ford 5.0 or 5.8 (aka 302 or 351W) V8 engine looked to be the best choice. Running donor cars and trucks that fit those requirements tend to go for four figures, so it was time to hit a Denver-area police-impound auction. Here’s what happened yesterday.
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?
As someone who spent a few years using an MGB-GT as a daily driver, my junkyard radar is pretty well attuned to detect Crusher-bound examples of the iconic British sports car. Incredible quantities of Bs were built over a run that lasted close to 20 years, and of course you’ll want to read Ate Up With Motor‘s excellent history of the breed after you’re done here. The biggest problem with this sturdy little car (other than the Prince of Darkness) was the lack of power from its antiquated pushrod engine, so a previous owner of this car solved that problem by adding a Taliban-grade Toyota truck engine.
We’ve seen a couple of “poor man’s TR8” race cars in the 24 Hours of LeMons: you take a TR7 and drop a junkyard V8 out of a junked Land Rover into it. This works better than both the “really poor man’s TR8″ (a TR7 with Buick V6 swap), in the sense that it sounds a lot cooler, and is (slightly) more reliable than a Triumph Slant Four-powered TR7. Plenty of folks did this swap to their street TR7s as well, and I’ve found an example in a Denver self-service wrecking yard.
It’s always good to have friends with way [s]crazier[/s] more ambitious vehicular projects than one’s own not-making-much-forward-progress Hell Projects. Rich, captain of the Rocket Surgery Racing mid-VW-engined Renault 4CV, has a [s]snake pit[/s] cornucopia of such projects at his place, not far from Chez Murilee in Denver. Rich, last seen by TTAC readers helping me Nader-ize the brakes on my van, has big racing plans for 2012… and for that he needs a flatbed truck that can haul a race car and tow a camping trailer. Oh, and it also has to be a beautiful vintage machine, yet capable of prodigious load capacity. The original plan was to use the ’47 Ford pickup he bought at the amazing Seven Sons Auto Wrecking auction last winter, but then this fine vehicle danced into his field of vision.
On paper, a super-lightweight Lotus with a genuine ’68 Corvette 350 and Muncie 4-speed ought to eat up a road course; just go onto any online forum full of self-proclaimed car experts and they’ll tell you exactly that. Reality, on the other hand… well, reality doesn’t always live up to the expectations of internet car experts.
Here’s a car that, were it to roll onto the grounds of any Billetproof show, would cause a vast wave of inked-up Lemmy Kilmister and Tura Satana lookalikes to drop to their knees in captive-bolt-to-the-dome-grade stunned worship. But that almost certainly won’t happen, because this fine example of how-they-done-it-way-back-then backyard customization is Crusher bound!
After dropping the hopped-up 406 small-block I’d built from scratch in place of the worn-out 350 I’d swapped in 1990, I was geared up to take the car to the dragstrip and see if I could better the high-16-second ETs I’d managed in Atlanta; an important part of this process involved stripping a lot of unnecessary weight out of the car. At the same time (early 1999) I was reevaluating the Impala Hell Project’s role in my life, and thinking about how I might best realize my original vision for the car which had gone from art project to daily driver.