Monday, June 16, 2014

The Ocean is a Desert with its Life Underground

While becoming an adult generally sucks, from time to time it has it's perks. This weekend that perk was a track day. Though driving on a racetrack has always sounded like a lot of fun, I never had the money or equipment to take part in a track day. This weekend I left Grace at home, and took my Subaru out for some fun.

I think that the idea of a track day, especially on a road course seems intimidating to most people. I know it did to me. I'm fully convinced that fear of feeling like a 7th grader on the first day of middle school keeps us from greatness having fun trying new things. I have a few coworkers who have done the track and autocross thing for a long time, so when they asked if anyone was interested in joining I jumped at the chance to learn about this world I've observed from afar for a long time, but never really stepped into.

I got up at 5 AM to drive to Willow Springs International Raceway, about 100 miles away. In terms of distance to a racetrack, that's not very far at all. Willow springs is a large complex with at least 5 different tracks, the best known being Big Willow and Streets of Willow. We would be on the smaller course, Streets of Willow. After registration we had the driver's meeting and then the beginner group (my group) went out on the track and we followed an instructor at moderate speed around the track to get oriented and learn the preferred line.

During the next session they let us go all out, with the restriction that we could only pass on straightaways. This is footage of my first hot laps.

First ever hot laps on a road course

After my second session, I found an instructor named Bruce and asked if he would take me for a ride. Bruce's track car is a Porsche 911 GT3. Ho-lee-poo. Fast. Just crazy fast. Yet Bruce was so relaxed as he drove and explained the course that even though my face was being separated from my skull by G forces, I felt perfectly at ease.

My third session was not nearly so relaxing. about halfway through the 20 minutes, I got stuck behind a 2003 Mustang Cobra. I'm not sure if the driver was scared of turning corners, or if the car simply wasn't capable if it but as I followed him through the turns, I felt like I was driving at 5/10ths. Then I could have passed him 6 times. Each lap. But we were only allowed to pass on the straights so I would ride him through all the corners and then when it came time to let the faster drivers by, he would open up his throttle and start to pull away. Yet by the time I was halfway through the first corner, I was ready to pass him again. I was so frustrated after this session that I went and spoke with the organizers about being moved to the lower intermediate group. I was in the top 5 of my group so they let me move up.

The fourth session was fun, I passed and was passed. But I felt like I still didn't really know what I was doing, so I went and asked Bruce to ride along with me. He was happy to do so and I learned a lot from him about putting together a racing line.

A few laps with my instructor, Bruce

Another thing I learned about is what happens to your tires when tyou work them that hard. My old tires had bubbles in the sidewall, so I was definitely not going to take them on the track. I got new tires last week, and chose an ultra high performance all season tire. Bad move. The Goodyear Eagle F1 is likely an excellent tire with great treadwear characterisitcs. It is however, not a track tire. The front left tire especially took a horrible beating. It likely lost 25-30% of its useful life.

All things considered I had a blast, and will return to the track. I must say I've learned that being a "racer" is far too rich for my blood. I'm a casual participant at best, but I can't wait to have a date with Grace at a road course.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

She'll tear a hole in you, one you can't repair

Grace and I had a really big weekend. Last Sunday I was talking to my friend Ben when he told me to make sure I kept my Saturday open. This presented me with a major dilemma. Ben works at a collision repair shop and we've been trying to find a time when he's free, I'm free, and the chassis bench is free at his work for about 3 months. I had also been invited to attend the Friends of Steve McQueen Car and Motorcycle Show that same morning. It was a difficult decision, but since I suspected that the chassis was tweaked and I desperately needed to get that resolved to progress in the build, I chose to take Grace to the chiropractor. Sorry Steve McQueen, you are pretty cool but Grace comes first.

Steve McQueen doing cool guy stuff.
Because my roommate Vaughn is a good guy, and he's getting really anxious for a Ford Falcon burnout to take place in front of the house, he borrowed a trailer from a friend of his and helped me haul Grace over to Ben's shop. When we first arrived Grace was feeling a little self-conscious with so many attractive European girls around. I could tell, so I leaned down and whispered to her "you are better looking than any car in this shop. Plus, we beat them in two world wars and could beat them in a third if we needed." She settled down and we rolled her up to the two-post lift.

I think the real reason Vaughn helps me haul things is because he has a trailer backing fetish.
She's pretty, but Grace could break her nose in a fistfight.
It's like a fancy medical spa for cars with muscoskeletal disorders.

We lifted her up in the air, and I stood under her. It made me yearn for the day when I will have a shop of my own with a lift so I don't have to slide around on my back to work on a car. Ben brought over the Car-O-Liner which is a fancy computerized measuring system that will tell you how much your chassis is out of alignment and where. It's kinda like those systems the chiropractor uses to tell you where the bad energy is stored in your spine, except that this system is based off math instead of a random number generator.

The system had a program for MK1 Fiestas, but not for a 62 Falcon.
Ben, checking Grace's spine.

After a few measurements Ben announced that Grace did not, in fact, have scoliosis as I had suspected. The unibody was within the normal +/- 3mm tolerance, and would not need any adjustments. I was surprised to say the least and didn't believe it, but Ben swore upon his beard and the Car-O-liner that it was straight. Pleasantly surprised, we took Grace back home. By this point it was only 10:30 AM, so I packed up my tools and headed to the wrecking yard to find some parts I needed.

Ever since my early teens, I've been fascinated by wrecking yards. The smell of stale gas and antifreeze have a strange allure to me. I used to spend afternoons just wandering wrecking yards, popping hoods like a kid looking under rocks to find an easter egg. I was always thrilled to find a new model that I hadn't seen before or an engine option that I didn't know about.

This trip turned out to be a huge success. As I wandered down the last row of american trucks and cars, I spotted a little white Ranger that judging by the spray paint and skateboarding stickers, had been owned last by a seventeen year old male. I couldn't have been happier when I opened the hood because not only did it have a 2.3 liter motor, it had a good power steering pump and bracket, as well as a new Sanden SD508 AC compressor running R-134A refrigerant. This is not something you find often on a 1985 Ranger and it was exactly what I needed.

Only a gearhead can look at this and get legitimately excited. The entire
accessory setup I need, complete and in one place.
A 3rd generation Falcon friend in the wrecking yard parking lot.
Shopping carts, while extremely useful, make you feel a little like a hobo.
This trip's catch.
In addition to the accessories, I picked up an aluminum driveshaft from an Explorer. As an added bonus, it was just sitting under the car, unbolted. I bolted the accessories onto the engine and everything fit perfectly, though I will need to get a new crankshaft pulley.

Complete accessory setup installed.
The afternoon was still young so I took my subframe connectors from their storage place in the corner of my garage bedroom for installation. Fords from the 60's (and 70s. and 80s. and 90's. and half of the 2000's...) are notorious for having the structural rigidity of linguine. Ford was one of the first to use unibody construction and one of the last to get it right, so installing subframe connectors to improve chassis rigidity is a common performance modification for the disciples of Henry Ford. 

I purchased a set of Global West P/N 916 connectors listed for 60-70 Falcons. Consider this my official review. 2 stars out of 5. These connectors are made of metal (presumably steel), and powdercoated. They look like they could fit a vehicle which is relatively similar to a 1962 Ford Falcon, much like a pair of size 28 jeans might fit a person who looks remotely like Chris Farley. So no, they are not a good fit, unless you consider cutting the mounting flanges on both ends, cutting and bending the floorpan, and beating the subframe with a hammer for clearance to be a good fit. To be fair, they may fit the 64-65 Falcon much better, but if that's the case list them for 64-65 Falcons only. 

Front subframe connector flange is too long, creating gap between the connector and frame.
Rear subframe connector flange is too wide, creating gap between the connector and frame.
Passenger side connector welded in place.
Both connectors welded into place.

By the end of the day I was exhausted and my trip to the wrecking yard had given me a world class farmer's tan, but I couldn't have hoped for a more productive Saturday.


P.S. The blog hit 10,000 views this past week. I know that's not a lot in internet years, but it's kinda exciting to me.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

I've been waiting to smile, Holding it in for a while

Have you ever watched the movie Old Yeller? It's an awful heartwarming story about a boy who had this dog named Old Yeller who is in fact, yeller in color. Honestly I don't remember the story at all, but I do remember that at the very end Old Yeller gets bit by a rabid dog. Or maybe it was a wolf. Or a coyote. Or a honeybadger. It doesn't really matter, what matters is that Old Yeller gets bit by a rabid something while protecting little Timmy. So here we are at the end of the movie and Pa tells Timmy that they have to shoot Old Yeller because he is now an old-school zombie dog. Timmy cries and tells Pa that Old Yeller is his dog and thus he must shoot the dog himself. So Timmy takes Pa's musket and shoots his best friend who sacrificed his life to save little Timmy. At this point in the movie, the VCR (that's what we used to watch movies in those days) releases a packet of ragweed pollen into the room and everyone suddenly has allergies.

Me and the Little Green Monster, and early picture.
The day we brought her home from the dealer
Feast your eyes on this pinup, ladies.
Yesterday I had to put down the old green Ranger. I've had that truck for 11 years. I still remember when we took it out for a test drive and it overheated. For some reason my dad still paid $575 dollars for it, and thus began an era of my life. I had that truck by my side through it all. A 9 year bachelor's degree, countless homes in three states, several girlfriends (though to be fair I've had tanks of gas that lasted longer than some of my girlfriends), it even waited for me while I was on the other side of the world for 2 years as a missionary. I pulled the engine yesterday knowing that chances of ever cruising around my favorite old rattletrap again are slim. The chassis is beat, the body is rusting through and it would be cost prohibitive to restore. Swapping the Ranger engine to the Falcon has always been the plan, but actually doing it made me a little bit sad. I'll get back to that though, I need to take a detour.

My friend Tim is in Los Angeles this summer doing an internship. I've mentioned Tim in a previous post, we used to wrench together in college when we had a rented garage know as Tim's Temple of Testosterone. Tim's wife is finishing up a school year as a teacher in Utah, so this was his last weekend of bachelor life so he wanted to live it to the fullest. For guys like me and Tim, living the bachelor life has nothing to do with drinking, partying, and girls. 1, we are mormon. 2, being a gearhead bachelor means all your money goes to feeding your automotive addiction. It also means there is a Snap On tool chest in my kitchen (in the same place a dirtbike used to sit), a welder, argon tank, and MIG welder in the living room, and  a turbocharger, subframe connectors, and countless tools in my bedroom. But I digress. Tim wanted a gearhead bachelor weekend, so I happily obliged.

On Friday we headed to Bob's Big Boy Burgers in Burbank, California. Bob's is a diner from the 50's which has had Friday night cruise-ins since the 50s. For a casual Friday night meet up, Bob's has some phenomenal attendees.

Hudson with Ben-Hur chariot spikes.
Clean wedge style Falcon.
With a clean 5.0 / T-5 swap
RS200!!!!!!!!!!!! Much like a good joke, if I have to explain this one you just won't get it.
Mid engined Group B goodness!

I have a great love for beat up wagons.
The quintessential car show car.
The next morning we hit up Cars and Coffee in Irvine. This is another loosely organized car show that happens every week during the summer. It starts at 6 AM and I really like it because they don't waste time with stupid things like trophies and the lawn chairs are minimal, thought there are still a few too many Hawaiian shirts. Irvine Cars and Coffee is especially awesome because you get a large contingent of classic European iron, rather than your usual fare of muscle cars.

DeTomaso Slayer. Or was it Pantera?
Shaken, not stirred.
If I were to dress as an Alfa owner for Halloween, this is how I would dress.
Cars and Coffee? Close enough.
Excellent ergo design.

GT40 replica

First time I'd ever seen one of these in the wild.
The Morgan 3-wheeler is incurably cool.

As we were walking up to the show we passed a guy wearing a Deus Motorcyles shirt. I didn't think anything of it, but Tim stopped, peed himself, and said "That was Jeff Zwart! Why didn't I shake his hand?? I've missed my chance!" For those who don't know (I didn't), Jeff Zwart is a very famous automotive photographer, filmmaker, and racer. He has won 7 class championships at Pikes Peak, including an open class win. Kind of a big deal. We got lucky though because Jeff had brought his 1 cylinder diesel Porsche tractor to the show, so we had a chance to chat with him later. I must say I was impressed. Being a world renowned racer you probably get tons of nerdy guys approaching you all the time and he was very friendly and gracious. He even made it a point to thank us for talking to him as we left even though he was talking to someone else at that point.

In the Porsche row, just where it belongs.
Tim talking to Jeff Zwart while I selfisize myself.

This is the part where we get back off the detour. Tim has been reading this blog and had an itching to help out with Grace. After all, he was there when I built the second turbo setup on the Ranger. He was absolutely indispensable during that project. We were putting in 6-8 hours a day on that project beyond our regular jobs for two full weeks, and he took the first ride with me. We both remember the boost hitting 30# and then popping the hose off the boost gauge on that first ride. In the garage I was always the typhoon that would come through and tear the place up but get things done quickly. Tim has a lot more attention to detail, and I tease him about being a wrench polisher. We make a great team so long as he can stand being in a garage with a maniac who has to spend 20 minutes of each hour muttering "where did i put that @#&% wrench?"

I brought the truck around to the carport and had a little moment with it before we got started. It was like that moment a native american hunter has with the deer after he's killed it and tells it that he is very sorry for killing it, but thanks the deer for giving its life so his family can survive.

Precious moments
Heart surgery begins.

Just as I had predicted, we had the motor and transmission out in 3 hours while working at a relaxed pace. I've done this enough times on this truck to predict pretty accurately. Fish tacos are one of the best ways to celebrate a smooth and successful powertrain removal, so we took a break for lunch. When we returned it was time to push the Ranger back into the back yard bereft of it's motive power. I felt it necessary to pay my last respects to this faithful companion which has had more effect on the direction of my life than any other single inanimate object. I stood and saluted as Taps played.

Prior to installing the powertrain, we needed to swap out the 2.3l bellhousing for the 5.0l. This was a straightforward process. We then slid the engine and trans into place without too much trouble, at least in my view. Tim had to remind me that I had used my angle grinder to cut out a section of floor pan so that the transmission would fit. I am starting to worry about myself now that I've realize that I consider such an action to be a normal part of the process.

It seems I got a bit greedy while building the motor mounts. In my pursuit of good weight distibution I didn't think much about the clearance required for my intake manifold. It's a good thing I already wanted to build a custom intake for this car, because now I have to.

Intake clearance issues
The upper manifold had to be removed to clear the brake master cylinder.
This is the type of custom intake I would like.
I haven't been able to stop looking at Grace since we got the engine and trans in. She's still got a lot of work before she'll move down the road under her own power, but she looks like a real car now. That little hunk of iron bolted in place is such a beautiful sight, I caught myself on several occasions staring at Grace like the slack jawed high school freshman whose head is always turned to the left because the prettiest girl in the senior class sat on that side of the classroom today. While we were cleaning up a neighbor of mine, Don, who I had never met, came by to check out what we were doing. Don is probably in his late 50s and repairs big rigs for a living. We got chatting about the car and as is common, he had some stories of his own to tell. Cars like this are so much fun because they create connections. Countless times I've had guys tell me how they used to have Falcon or Nova or any number of old american economy cars. I can't help but wonder if hot rodding will be alive in 30 years and guys will talk to the crazy kid in their neighborhood building a Focus or Cavalier.

Behold, the 1962 Ford Falcon with the  rare 2.3 turbo option

It was an incredible and productive weekend, thanks to Tim. It's good to have friends who understand your sickness. With the shifter in place, I can now sit in the driver's seat and play racecar. Every car builder knows that playing racecar is an essential step that provides much needed motivation to keep going when times get tough.