Saturday, May 25, 2013

He's got an Interstate running through his front yard

A few years ago, Big O Tires ran a campaign talking about how nobody gets excited about tires. They haven't met me or my little brother Miles (yup, his name is Miles Davis). We get excited about tires.

I bought wheels and tires this week. When I saw that my wheels and tires would both be on my doorstep by Friday afternoon, I may have let out an audible yelp of joy in the office. Luckily the only person who would have heard it was Vern, and he gets excited about tires too. 

On Thursday I had a little detour from car stuff. We decided to go to a German restaurant for lunch but when I got there, there was a swap meet in the parking lot. I'd never been to a swap meet that was not a car parts swap meet so I thought I would check it out. Mostly it was 7 pairs of socks for $3 and obsolete electronics and yard sale type stuff. I saw a truck on the back of the lot that was surrounded by old bicycles. In addition to cars, I love bikes, primarily mountain bikes. Here in the LA area however, there are more opportunities to ride road bikes so I've been keeping an eye out for a vintage road bike. Well it turns out they had what I was looking for, so instead of eating German food I bought a French bike. Don't worry though, 'Merica is still the greatest nation on he face of the planet.

Oui baguette du mon Eiffel Tower, monseiur chili con carne!
When I got home, there was something waiting on the front porch.
Much to the the chagrin of Big O Tires, a single tear of joy welled up in my eye.
On Friday my wheels arrived. They had a nice black powdercoat finish, but that's not what I had in mind for this car. I pulled out my hand held media blaster which I'd never used and filled it with blasting soda from Harbor Freight and it was off the the backyard to use Steve's (Steve also gets excited about tires) massive air compressor. I roughed up the powdercoat surface without blasting down to the bare metal and then laid down a few coats of Duplicolor Bronze wheel paint.

In the morning I loaded up the car with the wheels and tires to pay a visit to Emilio at Guadalajara Tires in Gardena. Emilio was a nice Swedish Hispanic man who mounted and balanced my tires for $20, and was quick too.

At this point, I'm pretty excited about the look. I think the bronze wheel fits the patina well, and the sidewall height is about perfect. The tire should not contact the frame at any point in it's suspension travelI do have a few minor concerns though.

  • First the wheels are really heavy but I guess that's to be expected from steel wheels intended for Jeeps. 
  • Second, the fenders will DEFINITELY need to be rolled. The tires lightly contact the fenders at full compression, even when the wheels are straight. If the wheels are turned, this becomes a major issue.
  • Third, the car is sitting cockeyed. The distance from the ground to the top of the wheel well is 24 5/8 on the driver side and 23 7/8 on the passenger side. I'm not sure what is causing this, but I can't help but wonder if I was given two different springrates for the front springs. Both coilover adjustment collars appear to be in the same position.
Full compression of the suspension
Tire rub
More tire rub
Cockeyed stance

So it appears I have some investigation to perform in the near future. It seems odd to me that one side of the car would sit 3/4" lower than the other when both coilovers are adjusted the same. Since it's a long weekend, maybe on Monday I'll get around to some car proctology and give this car a new rear end.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

In a CD Karaoke Bar on the banks of the mighty Bosphorus...

First item of business: My steering wheel adapter.
I got my steering wheel from Forever Sharp Steering Wheels a few months ago. I realized that I would need an adapter so I ordered an adapter from Forever Sharp. A few days after placing my order, I got an email telling me that they didn't have any in stock but that the Grant Steering Wheels p/n 4266 was the same. So I ordered said adapter. If you can figure out how a 3-bolt adapter bolts up to a 5-bolt steering wheel, then mister, you're a better man than I. So now I have to build an adapter for the adapter. Someone needs a swift kick in the pants.

Five bolt holes
On the left, three bolt holes. Also included in the adapter kit were two pills. I kid you not. 
This week I also figured out what size tire and wheel offset I will be able to fit At first I borrowed some wheels. My first resource was Backyard Steve. He had some old drag racing front wheels which were definitely not what I was looking for (26" tall and 5" wide) but I thought I'd throw them on just to seek how it looked. I preferred the 1 inch drop look.

Steve's wheels at stock ride height
Steve's wheels at -2" ride height
Steve's wheels at -1" ride height
 Next, I borrowed a set of wheels from my co-worker, Vern. Vern and I share an affinity for properly rusted things. He has to hear all of my thoughts and schemes for 8 hours a day because he sits across the desk from me. One of the nice things about working for an automaker is that most of my co-workers share my disease. Unfortunately, Verns wheels did not quite fit on my car because the center bore of his wheels was about 1/8" too small, but I shoved them on the best I could, just to see how it would look. I was surprised by how good it looked.
Vern's wheel at -2" ride height.
After trying two different wheels and not really learning anything about what wheel and tire combo I could run, I had a moment of shame. I'm an engineer. Engineers don't have to do things by trial and error. They calculate and measure and come up with clever solutions so that they don't have to do things over and over again. With a new plan (which I ran by Vern on Friday afternoon when actual work was on approximately nobody's mind), I headed to Home Depot for some pieces of wood.

I built a wheel clearance checker as seen below. I attached the main radius arm to the wheel lugs to simulate the wheel mounting plane. I was then able to attach another cross piece to the radius arm. The cross piece would simulate the wheel width, and I could also check for wheel backspacing. I cycled the suspension up and down and turned the steering lock to lock in order to check for any potential clearance issues.

Radius Arm
Radius Arm with Cross Piece attached
4.5" from wheel mounting plane to inner fender lip
 My plan was solid, but the more I checked, the angrier I got. I had been told that I would be able to fit a 24" tall / 8"wide tire in the front, and now it was looking like I would have to run some sort of LA Ghettofab Special 13" wheel on 2 inch spacers just to keep from hitting the frame. After spending most of Friday evening and Saturday morning completely lost as to why wheel fitment was turning out to be as enjoyable as welding class at the nudist colony, I realized that I had never properly aligned this car after suspension assembly. I grabbed Vaughn and we spent about 10 minutes adjusting the toe angle and I checked clearances again. Just like magic, I now had room for a 24" tall / 8" wide tire. Isn't it funny how things work when you do it right?

Now that I finally know what size wheel and tire I can fit, I'll be firing up the ol' debit card again and visiting to spend my real american dollars.

Monday, May 13, 2013

NO! Harry no! Don't look at the light!

Saturday was a good day for working on cars except that it is starting to get hot and I didn't want to wear pants. I'm sure if I actually took them off, a few seconds of grinding or welding would have convinced me otherwise. I really shouldn't even complain, the weather here is so temperate I could work outside in the middle of January and my hands would never even go numb.

The first order of business was to tie some loose ends together on the generator and make an adapter cord for the welder, so I headed down to Home Depot for heavy gauge wire and 220V plugs. I've wired a couple engines, but when it comes to residential or industrial welding I have no clue what is going on, so that step took way longer than it should have, but we got it all buttoned up and ready to go. Once again, I turned the welder over to Vaughn's more experienced hands since I consider the suspension to be a rather critical part of a car. We fired up the generator in a small cloud of uncatalyzed, unfiltered diesel smoke (I dedicate that smoke cloud to C.A.R.B) and got to work.
The ancient behemoth that powered my welder. Thanks, Vaughn's friend!

First we had to finish the reinforcement plates that went on the frame rails. With the new welder hooked to the generator, there was a lot more power. Almost too much in fact. We had to put the welder on it's lowest setting to avoid blowing through the 16 gauge frame rail steel. The reinforcements took some time, but soon enough we were ready to install the crossmember.

 It took only a small amount of grinding to fit the crossmember after which we pushed it up into place with a floor jack. Locating holes and alignment plates are designed into the kit, so installation requires minimal measuring.
Crossmember pushed up against the alignment plate. 
Lifting the crossmember into place.
Pretty good work for a crosseyed redneck who lives on Mt Dew and cereal.
After the crossmember was welded in, it was time for the spring mounts. This was some thicker metal which actually made for easier welding now that we had all the power we needed and a little extra to spare.

With all the welding done, it was smooth sailing from that point on. It was now just a matter of turning some wrenches. First up was the lower control arm and coilover shock assembly.

Then came the upper control arm. In the picture below you can see the alignment system. Adding more washers between the A-arm and the mount will decrease negative camber angle, and loosening the bolts to slide the A-arm rearward will increase caster angle.

A simple yet elegant alignment system.

After I started to cycle the suspension, I noticed that the spring mounts were contacting the upper ball joint cup when the suspension was at full extension, or the unloaded position.

I had to do a little grinding to create clearance between the two surfaces. With that out of the way, I bolted up the spindles which already had the brake rotors and calipers attached.

She's starting to look like a real car again!
Ooooooh shiny...
Once I had both sides together, I installed the steering rack. I chose a power steering rack on this project because it will be a touring car so I want it to be comfortable with a quick steering ratio. I also wanted to be able to run a large caster angle for high speed stability without requiring unreasonable steering effort.

Enough wide open spaces to house at least 3 Dixie Chicks.
With the front suspension completely assembled, I can now test fit wheels and tires to determine what size tire I can fit under the front of this car. Additionally, I need to connect the steering shaft so that I once again have a rolling chassis as soon as I get wheels on this car.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Craigslist > Santa's List

In my last post, I mentioned that in order to finish welding the front suspension we were going to need a bit more firepower. The little 110V welder was making a valiant effort, but it just wasn't cutting the mustard. (Did I just say that? I can't imagine cutting mustard to be very hard. Or useful) Because of this non-mustard cutting welder, I set out on a search for a solution.

Because I live in a house that is older than your grandfather, it has a 60 amp service. A 60 amp alternator is considered small, and this is supposed to power my house? Well it does, marginally. But powering a 220V welder is out of the question. If we were to wire up a 220V plug I'm pretty certain the house would burn down. I'm pretty sure it would be successful this time. Yes, it's tried to burn down before. With me in it. While I was sleeping. But I digress. I needed a welder and a generator to power it.

When it became apparent that rental welders were either anemic 110V models, or massive overkill structural ARC welding units, I started to ask around. My first thought was Cousin Nate. Cousin Nate might be the most redneck person you'll ever meet. He stuffed a 7.3 liter diesel in an '89 Ford Ranger. It's that project that eternally needs just that one more part and it'll be driveable. You know the type. In case you were wondering, Cousin Nate really is my 4th cousin on my moms side. Anyway, Cousin Nate is a welder by profession, and does good work but tends to take charge and overcharge so I wasn't too keen on just hiring him.  I realized just after starting our conversation that asking Nate if I could rent his welder was about like asking a Puritan Minister if I might perhaps rent his wife. The awkward was so thick, I had to cut my way to the car with a machete. Not wanting to commit that faux pas again I thought I ought to come up with a new plan.

I'm convinced that the car guy gene comes in a package deal with the craigslist gene. Almost every car guy I've ever met is also a craigslist junkie. I'm always cruising craiglslist, and over the past week welders have been a main topic of search. On Wednesday I struck gold. The listing was for a Millermatic 211 which is the exact welder I've wanted for about a year. It was also in Torrance and that meant that I could go check it out on my lunchbreak since I work in Torrance. I borrowed a truck from work, stopped by the bank and went to a storage unit to meet Dale.

Dale was a slightly crazy guy in his mid fifties with a band-aid on his nose. He said he was a contractor and had used this welder in conjunction with a generator on a job last year. Now he was offloading it along with an attachment for aluminum welding, a few spools of welding wire, a tank for 100% argon, a tank for argon CO2 mix, two welding helmets, one of which was an auto-darkening shade, a set of gloves and pelican case. Dale also threw in a 25 ft 220V extension cord and a plug adapter. I couldn't pass this deal up. I got all of this gear for what the welder alone cost when new. I also didn't have to pay sales tax. Take that, Commies!

It's hard to describe how excited I am to finally own a welder. It's like I've grown my first chest hair all over again. I'm walking on clouds of inert gas. 

Vaughn managed to borrow a generator from a friend of his. It is powered by an air cooled 4-cylinder diesel engine. There is no kill like overkill. Before we do any welding it looks like I'll have to repair a fuel leak to avoid starting on fire. With a little luck next week my mind may be occupied with plotting a plan of attack on the four-link rear end.

edit: Whoops. That was a lot of words.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Blue wrench is the best wrench

Weekends like this make me wonder if I should quit my job and start a hotrod shop. I love my job as an engineer, but besides a Two Jack's Chicken Bacon and Tomato pizza, few things are as satisfying as tearing into some vintage iron to make upgrades. 
Friday after work I went out back and talked to Backyard Steve. He's my go to guy when I need some sort of specialty equipment. If he doesn't have it, (and he does have it) he knows someone who does. I knew I'd need an Oxy-Acetylene torch so I told him I'd pay him for the gas I used if he'd let me borrow it. Steve's Oxy-Acetylene bottles are huge, so I felt like a third world donkey pushing that cart over to my carport.
Don't worry man, I got this.
With all my tools in place I got to work.

The engine bay before I started


It looks like a spider, but its not.

Friday night social life when my girlfriend is away.
As I was working, I tried something new. I had my laptop sitting on the roof of my car and had a Google+ hangout while working. I talked to my sister on a hangout, and then later joined a hangout that a group of car friends from across the country were having. I was able to show them the process of removing my old front suspension. Before I started to cut the springs with a torch Dan (one of the guys on the hangout) made me send him my address so that he knew where to send the ambulance when the springs shot out and hit me in the head... Fortunately that didn't actually happen.

On Saturday morning I dragged myself out of bed, excited because I knew I would get to use the best wrench, the blue wrench. Blue wrenches make work go so much faster. In order to install my aftermarket suspension system, the shock towers on each side of the engine bay needed to come out. Not only does this new suspension give the Ford Falcon much better ride and handling, it makes the engine bay massive. A Big Block V8 or even a Modular V8 (think 4.6 or DOHC 5.4, even the new Coyote 5.0) would theoretically fit without much issue. Because I'm installing a 4 banger, I'll have plenty of room for smuggling.. errr, room to work. Yup. Room to work.

Empty engine bay, ready for cutting.


One shock tower cut out.
Two shock towers cut out.


From the other side.

I took the opportunity to measure the width from fender to fender.
With the shock towers out, I could now start installing new components. With this kit, there are frame rail reinforcements. The frame rails are made of sheet steel about .060" thick, the reinforcement plates are closer to .125 thick. It should add some much needed strength and stiffness to the frame.The 1964 Mustang, which is based on the Falcon platform, has a reputation for being as rigid as a bowl of of Top Ramen though the Mustang is known to be tastier.

This is the inner frame boxing plate.



And done.
Although I can weld, I don't make any claims about being an expert. In fact, calling myself a competent welder may be a stretch. As such, I enlisted my redneck roommate Vaughn. We were using his 110V welder and that can present a challenge when trying to achieve weld penetration. I was able to tack the pieces in place, but I wasn't able to maintain enough heat in the weld so I turned the welding gun over to more experienced hands.

This weekend took a big bite out of the front suspension job, but I am seriously considering renting a 220V welder/generator combo. It's doable with a 110 and some preheating, but it takes far too long to lay a bead. Up next are the driver side frame boxing plates and the crossmember and those might take an entire day without a bit more welding power.

If all goes well, I'm going to have to get serious very soon about deciding which wheels to get.