Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Winky's Last Ride

Here's a quick video of Winky's last drive before he gets stripped and reassembled. Hopefully, he'll emerge from the cocoon running better than when he came in!

The trip around the block wasn't just to hoon around my neighborhood. I've never actually driven the car, so I wanted to see how (if) it runs under its own power.

The good: The clutch seems very good. The shifter was very very fluid on the upshift, but the synchros seem a little balky downshifting into 1st and 2nd (I only got up to 3rd). That may be because the transmission was cold.

The bad: There seems to be pretty bad HLA knocking. I'll have to have those replaced or cleaned.

The ugly: White smoke coming out of the tailpipe! The 3 mile drive after the collision (with a busted radiator) must have toasted the head gasket. Hopefully it's just a gasket and didn't warp the head. There doesn't seem to be antifreeze in the oil, so maybe it's not that bad.

Now I'll have to decided whether to delay the build and rebuild the engine, or whether to press on ahead and just get the Spartan built and running. I'm leaning toward the latter, but I know having a basket case for a motor is going to drive me a little nuts.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

This is just a tribute...

One of the good things about taking your time with a build is that it gives you plenty of time to consider things before committing to them. In the last few weeks I've made a dramatic shift in my line of thinking concerning how I want the Spartan to turn out.

My line of thinking used to be that I was going to make some kind of F1 inspired rocket. It was going to be super-light, savage and wicked fast. There would only be a token concession to comfort for the occasional long trip. Two things have happened since then.

The first was this post on the LocostUSA forums. It was a discussion on how tough locosts can be on the driver. Shortly afterward, I read of someone who sold his Seven because he just didn't drive it anymore. It really made me think about my priorities. I don't currently autocross, and even though I really want to get into the sport I have to believe that 99% of the Spartan's life is going to be on the street, not the track. Making some kind of cone-killing monster just doesn't translate in to a good street car.

The second event was less rational, but lots more dramatic. I came up to a stoplight near my house and caught a beautiful ivory-colored Bugeye Sprite across the light. The driver was joined by his lovely wife/girlfriend/mistress, and both had huge smiles on their faces.

Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite
The Bugeye is one of my favorite cars of all time. It to me is one of the heights of the British roadster era. Simple, light, good-looking and a hoot to drive. The car a classic Anglo jauntiness to it. Plus, with the Sprite you can have a handlebar mustache and wear a tweed jacket while driving around and feel perfectly normal.

That spotting got me thinking. Would my wife really want to ride in some kidney-punching terror? Would I? Was the car I was building really like the Lotus 7 I've loved since I was a kid?

The answer to all these questions was No. That's when I hatched my current plan, to create a Lotus 7 tribute, an homage to all those awesome Healeys, MGs, Morgans, Triumphs, Sunbeams and other greats from the 60s. Sure, under the sheetmetal it'd still be Miata powered and it would still have lots of current technology in the suspension and running gear. But the feel would be more Italian Job (the good one with Michael Caine) and less Bourne Identity. I want it to look and feel like it came from the 60s. When my wife and I are motoring around in it, I want to feel like I'm in a simpler time.

Lotus Seven Interior
Really this is more of a shift in philosophy than actual design. Fortunately there's plenty of apropriately vintage-y instruments, steering wheels, seats, lights, mirrors, trim, etc. available to the homebuilder.

As a plus, I think the task of researching old British cars for inspiration is going to be a blast! I've already planned a trip to the Lotus Owners Gathering and the Barber Motorsports Museum in Birmingham in May of next year.

I've always loved the Seven because of its purity. I guess I'm learning that purity doesn't just mean leaving everything off in the name of going faster. It's can also be about the single-minded pursuit of the joy of spirited motoring.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Going a little faster than I thought

In all this planning I've been doing in the last few years, I always assumed the tear down and disposal of the donor was going to take six months. Now I'm thinking it'll only take a fraction of the time. I will say that I've probably spent 15 hours plus tearing the car apart in the last week. What can I say? I'm still riding the buzz of having my donor car in my garage.

Speaking of garage, I decided to upgrade the lighting. The new fixtures make a world of difference, and already I'm thinking of getting two more.

I'd mentioned before that I'm taking my time taking the car apart and trying to get organized. I'm especially concerned about the wiring harness. I get the willies thinking of having a giant unlabled box of spaghetti, so I've been pretty militant about labeling connections as I take them apart.

This may seem a bit anal, but I know I'll be thankful that I took the time later when I'm trying to condense the wiring harness into something simpler. Same goes for bagging and tagging hardware for removed components. I've read enough stories about doing a car restoration to know that's a must.

A week into the teardown, and all I have to say is it's shocking how simple of a car the Miata is. There really aren't as many parts as I thought there'd be. I knew there is a reason I love these cars so!