Thursday, December 18, 2014

She was built with a brain and some swagger

If you follow this blog (and I know that there are at least four of you that do) I'd forgive you for thinking that I'd become a deadbeat and given up on the project. But before you drag me to court to pay alimony for shirking my building/blogging responsibilities, let me present photographic evidence in my defense.

Truth be told, I've been dedicating a ton of time to a piece that I feel will set this build apart from everything else out there. Of course being set apart from the crowd can be a very bad thing (think Pontiac Aztek or asparagus ice cream) so I was going for an improvement over the current situation as well as something a little different.

Lets go back in time a few months to the day that Tim helped me install the engine. So now I'm doing the math in my head and that was way longer ago than I thought it was, in fact that was six months ago. I guess time flies when you're getting old. Back on topic, I had built the motor mounts with just a bare engine block for mock up so when I installed the engine, I came to find that the intake manifold would interfere with the brake master cylinder. This left me with two options: either make new engine mounts and move the engine forward an inch, or build a new intake manifold that would clear the master cylinder. Of course since my life's mantra seems to be if it's worth doing, it's worth doing the hard way, I couldn't not take on an intake manifold fabrication project.

This was the problem area, the upper manifold would interfere with  one of my master cylinders
Once I decided that I had to make a manifold I got right to work with my ever helpful cardboard. I wanted to see what size plenum I could fit in the engine bay without purchasing the material. For those not familiar with the term Plenum, it's kinda like the dentist's waiting room where the intake air hangs out until the door (valve) opens up and it can go down the hall (runner) to the room (cylinder) where it will be picked at with pointy metal things and violently flossed and scolded by a dental hygenist (ummm... mixed with fuel and ignited?). I found that the Falcon had room for a 5" OD plenum, or so I thought. Plans changed as the project progressed, but I'll get to that in a bit. 

Most intakes have a throttle body at the end, or in the center of the manifold, but as you can see in the picture below, having it at the end was not possible and as much as I hate to admit it, the only reason I didn't go center mounted was that I couldn't stand the aesthetics of a center mounted throttle body on this type of manifold. In the picture below you can see my plan for an angled throttle body entry (minus a few vital parts).

See, just like a dentist's office!
Once I'd made some plans (in my head) I started ordering all the pieces I thought I might need. I also began researching how to MIG weld aluminum as I'd only done this once or twice before and the outcome looked like an aluminum version of Gettysburg. While watching a YouTube video comparing aluminim MIG vs aluminum TIG (trust me, I'd use TIG if I had access) I was introduced to Rockmount Nassau's Neptune wire. The author of the video seemed to think it was magical wire, particularly good for non-ideal welds. By non-ideal I mean dissimilar alloys, possibly dirty or oxidized materials, and low operator skill. Since I could check all of those boxes I decided to check it out. 

I called Rockmount Nassau and this nice lady named Peggy or Betty (or one of those names you would expect a receptionist at a welding company to have) connected me with their engineer. The engineer whose name I have no recollection of was very friendly and was willing to discuss the unique challenges of my project. He told me that since I was welding a cast flange to a 6061 tube, Neptune wire would be my best choice. He could have just said that to make a sale, but I chose to believe him. This was a roll of the dice because normal welding wire is about $10 per 1lb roll, and this magical wire has a magical price. My minimum order was $100 so I ended up spending $150 for two 1lb rolls. Magical wire indeed...

manifold ingredients
Ford 2.3 Turbo inline intake found on 83-86? TurboFords 
Surgery begins, the indent on cyl #1 can't be helping things...
I've mentioned before that I have a bit of a third world fabrication shop setup, but I'd like to take a moment to remind you that this entire manifold was fabricated on a kitchen chair. My tools were a drill with various bits and hole saws, a hacksaw, a die grinder with carbide burrs, and a MIG welder. Moral of the story: being stubborn is probably the best tool you can have in your box.

Cutting precise holes with my 3rd World Bridgeport.


Remember the part about the Civil War War of Aluminum Aggression? Well my first few beads looked about the same, and you can see them in the photo directly below. When my roommate Vaughn saw this he burst out laughing. In a desperate attempt to salvage some diginty, I challenged him to break these welds. He leaned one end on the concrete and the other end on a Big Block Chevy cylinder head which was sitting on the ground. He hit the middle of the ugly welded tube with at 4lb sledge three times before it broke. I felt vindicated, and more importantly, convinced that the magical wire really was magical.

Something you'll learn about welding is that sharing pictures of your welds is a lot like being a preteen girl who uploads a YouTube video of herself singing. Unless everything about it is absolutely flawless, people (most of which have never laid a bead of aluminium in their life, or sang a cover of Never Getting Back Together, as the case may be) will tell you how bad it sucks, that you are a failure, that your eyeshadow makes you look like a zombie, etcetera, etcetera. Well I got something to say to you, haters. I AM BEAUTIFUL! AND SPECIAL! MY MOM SAYS SO! AND YOU CAN'T MAKE ME AFRAID TO SING AND SHARE IT WITH THE WORLD! 

Now that I've got that out of the way, as I mocked up the runners and plenum I found that if the runners curved up, there would not be room for a fuel rail. I'd never seen the intake on a Ford 2.3 turbo curve down toward the block, but it seemed like a good idea. As the manifold progressed, I began to like this idea more and more. It will create a very unique look on this engine and should also improve airflow since the intake runners will have at least 44% more cross sectional area vs stock.

In the following two pictures, you are looking down the #2 intake runner. The faint D-shaped outline around the runner indicates the actual intake port size. The stock intake manifold is significantly smaller than the port. I opened the runner with a die grinder and carbide bit to better match the intake port size.

Shortly after beginning to grind
Finished runner

If you were previously confused by my rambling about the throttle body entry, perhaps this will clear things up for you a bit. I welded a 3" tube off the side of the plenum at an angle so that it will go around the power steering pump. Intercooler piping will hug the driver's side of the engine compartment.

Inlet tube transition
Runner transitions smoothed, but this revealed several large gaps
So I welded them shut
So smooooove

Almost completed Ford 2.3 Turbo custom intake manifold 
At this point the intake manifold is about 90% completed. I plan to trim the inlet tube about 3" and attach a throttle body flange, as well as a few brackets and bosses, and smooth the welds. Additionally, I will have to fabricate a custom fuel rail. Once this is all finished and I've actually run the manifold on the engine, I will remove it and give it a nice thick coat of wrinkle black paint to cover my transgressions.

And that, your honor, is why I believe I should not be paying alimony.

Author's note:
I had intially intended to wait until the manifold was completed before writing this post, but it had been almost three months since my last update. Also, seeing that I'm sitting in a hotel in Snorewich Connecticutty and by the time I get back to California I will have been on the road almost a month, I decided I needed to write. It's been far too long. YOU DESERVE THIS, DEAR READERS! ALL FOUR OF YOU! (It would also be rad if you subscribed)

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I wouldn't touch him with a thirty-nine and a half foot pole

There may be those of you who I'm not friends with on social media, so I thought I'd share here as well.

My family never did Christmas cards or letters, probably because we realized that it's a pretty stupid tradition and nobody likes to hear you brag about your perfect family and how little Billy scored six goal point units this year on his junior pee-wee preparatory lacrosse team and was vice lieutenant treasurer of the sweater-vest club. Beyond that, I'm not sure I ever wore clean clothes as a child. Well this year I thought it might be a good chance to celebrate my perfect singleness and send out a stupid Christmas card to all of you. As you can see, not much has changed since my childhood because I'm still wearing dirty clothes. I do know how to weld now, so that's cool.

Anyway, Merry Christmas and Party Hard.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

You told them 'bout nowhere, well it sounds like some place I'd like to go

The following is a posthumous review, kinda like Tupac Shakur's seven posthumous records. 
Except I'm not dead, or something... maybe that wasn't a good comparison. I dunno. Just read the words and stuff.

On Friday night I went for a drive that I'd been anticipating for quite some time. I won't say how or why I got my hands on this car but it suffices to say that no laws were broken and no animals were harmed in the acquisition of this luxury sports coupe. When the time finally came and I had the time to put the Batwing* through the paces, I had formed a few goals in my mind. 

First, I wanted to get to know the Batwing intimately. Understand what I could expect when I apply the throttle, know how hard I can corner before the tires yell UNCLE, when the tires are yelling UNCLE are the front tires yelling first or are the rear tires yelling first? Does the transmission understand English, or will I have to swear at it in Japanese? 

Second, don't puke. I am one of those people who will never be a sailor, no matter how long and white my beard or how yellow my overalls. I suffer from motion sickness to the extent that I can make myself sick even when I am at the helm of a motorcar. Several months ago I went for a spirited drive up Glendora Mountain Road with my buddy Esteve* in a Porsche Cayenne. We both got sick, but I felt so fabulous that I actually stopped the car in an attempt to regurgitate my lunch. I was unsuccessful, though I my nausea did lead to me meeting a thoroughly intoxicated young man named Blake in an almost empty mountain tavern. I'll never forget what he told me that night. With a faraway look in his glazed over eyes Blake said "I DON'T GIVE A S*** ABOUT BILL SHAKESPEARE! I GOT A D IN ENGLISH AND I SPEAK ENGLISH!"
Third, don't get a ticket. This is a fast car. It produces 467 HP and 389 lb-ft. It was tested and developed on a number of race circuits, including the Nürburgring and as such can carry a great deal of speed through the corners without feeling the least bit unsafe. The important thing to remember however, is that what I feel is safe doesn't necessarily have any relation to what Beauford T. Justice feels is safe. That lack of consensus has cost me a significant amount of money in the past.
Fourth, don't crash.  Driving these cars is a privilege that can be taken away. A prototype Batwing probably costs more than I'm worth, and losing one would cost the company a great deal more than that in time and delays. I dread the thought of explaining to the Bossman that I slid off a canyon road and down a crevasse and now I'm dead and can't come into work so could you please bury me and tell my family PS sorry about the car!
I'll just start off my review by saying that the night was mostly successful and I achieved most of my goals. I went to pick up my buddy Esteve after work and headed for the Angeles Crest Highway AKA the 2. Angeles Crest is one of those world famous roads that any gearhead who visits Los Angeles must drive. Forget Mulholland Highway and Pacific Crest Highway, the real fun is to be had in the roads of the Angeles National Forest and San Bernardino National Forest, but I digress. As we headed up toward the 2, we could see that this car put heads on a swivel. Everywhere we went, dudes were eyeing the Batwing. Most just raised an eyebrow, some gave a knowing smile. As is the norm with sports cars, when most women saw the car they continued texting.

1 hr 5 min... heh.
I'm not sure what constitutes a witch doctor, but I'm pretty sure Esteve is one. Before we got to the twisties he busted out these little bottles of potions. He told me to put a drop of one potion behind ear and to ingest a few drops of the other. The one that I ingested burned my lips, but it was a different burn than that time I got a mouthful of brake fluid, and then had an aftertaste of licorice. When I burped it had the flavor of rye bread. Say what you will about this Voodoo magic, never once did I feel a bit of motion sickness, even when my muscles were saturated with adrenaline and lactic acid from my attempts to strangle the steering wheel.

The first thing you notice about the Batwing when you start it is that it has a very deep tone. When cruising grandpa style through the city, its voice is barely audible, making sounds that elephants and blue whales can hear but people like me can only feel. It truly is on the southern border of audible frequencies for my ears. My second greatest grievance against this car is that it is too quiet. I feel like it errs too far on the side of luxury in this regard. Don't misunderstand, the engine note is sonorous and intoxicationg (particularly the 3-4 upshift while at WOT), but the driver has to work far too hard to gain this aural satisfaction. Much of the engine development was performed by the wizards at Yamaha. Yamaha automotive engines are siren song that I just can't turn away from (especially if it's a 60 degree V8, a la Volvo and Taurus SHO). In this case there is a tube that runs from the intake to the cabin but it only opens above 4000 RPM. Were I the owner of a Batwing, I'd likely disable the valve on this tube and leave it stuck open. I'd also be highly inclined to find new mufflers that would share this sweetly rolling burble with all my neighbors. As we climbed into the mountains of the Angeles Forest, the bellowing thrum of 5 expertly tuned liters rang through the canyon causing my eyes to roll back in my head just a little every time a split second upshift was executed.

This brings me to my biggest grievance against the Batwing, namely the transmission. Obviously it's not a manual transmission and that's a bad thing, but lets talk about what's wrong with this as an automatic transmission. First, the overall gearing is too high for fun on the streets. It's set up to be a big track bruiser, hitting 170 on the back straight, but with 8 gears to choose from, you ought to be able to have the right ratios for fun at high and low speeds. Somehow this car lacks the stoplight to stoplight brutality you would expect from a modern five liter V8. Second, the time to execute a shift is inconsistent. Sometimes it is lightning fast, and other times I get that "sitting at the DMV" feeling while waiting for the next gear. Third, and this complaint encompasses more than just the transmission, sport mode is too tame, and normal mode is downright geriatric. If you want to know how to tune a sport mode, take lessons from Porsche. It changes the entire character of the car in a Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde kind of way. In the Batwing, it's like grandpa had a RedBull, minus the imminent cardiac arrest. 

As previously stated, The Batwing is a big track bruiser. It feels perfectly at home on the twisty-but-not-hairpin curves of the Angeles Crest Highway. While driving at 7/10 intensity, it decimated the suggested speeds posted for cuves and asked for more. The wide rubber on all four corners (275 front, 315 rear) kept it planted with only ever a hint of slip the whole night. Not having a death wish, I left traction control on through the canyon. This car is heavy and feels it, though not in a bad way. The steering is communicative and actually requires some muscle when in sport mode. The suspension is a conventional spring and hydraulic damper setup that feels firm and due to the heavy nature of this car, never the least bit jittery. With the stability of the suspension and buckets of horsepower available, I'd be surprised if this car was not capable of 200 mph or very close to it. 

By the time I reached the end of my evening drive, I felt like the Batwing and I understood one another but I hadn't quite reached my goal of knowing this car intimately. So in the space of 7 days, I put 880 miles it, burned 52 gallons of sweet dino juice, and drove four of the best canyons in Southern California. Thanks to  the witchdoctor Esteve and his magic potions, I didn't puke or even come close to it. Best of all, I didn't crash. Reaching three out of four goals ain't bad.

So you are probably now thinking "wait, what was the other goal?" Bear with me for a minute and you'll remember shortly. After driving about 200 miles in one evening, I dropped Esteve off at his place and then pulled on to the Pacific Coast Highway and headed north out of Huntington Beach. While stopped at one of the last traffic lights I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to test the standing start acceleration of the Batwing. I switched into sport mode and turned the traction control off. Using both feet, I stood on the brake and squeezed the throttle. When the light went green I lifted my left foot and buried my right foot into the floorboards. To my surprise, immediately the tires cried out おっさん!! and began to spin. Earlier in the evening I had attempted to induce tire spin but was held back by the traction control even though I had switched it off. In this case the tires spun freely and the rear end wagged like the tail of a happy dog. I thought that was a pretty neat feature until I saw the red and blue lights in my rearview. It just so happened that the motorcycle next to me which I had entirely ignored while executing the launch sequence was an officer of the law...  On the bright side, I just might be the first person in America to be ticketed in the Batwing. I had to explain to the officer that this car didn't really have a model year, but we could call it a 2015.

I had a fantastic week driving the Batwing, but to be entirely honest, I was relieved when I finally handed over the car. I was constantly worried that I would lose my license because of my weak self control when it comes to accelerator pedals. In summary I think this car is phenomenal but falls just barely short of it's potential, and that hurts. It could and should be a Porsche fighter, but it isn't. The transmission isn't aggressive enough even in sport mode. The ratios should be higher, sport mode should be normal mode, and the exhaust should announce the presence of this visually stunning sports car. But in the end the chassis is superbly sorted, the brakes are top notch in both power and modulation, the interior is very well laid out with great materials, the engine has power for days and the enthusiasm of a kindergartner and most importantly, when you drive it you feel like Gotham's favorite billionaire playboy, Bruce Friggin' Wayne.

*names have been changed to protect the innocent and otherwise

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