Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Radiator, ho!

So now that I've even Stevens on my donor, I've taken the liberty of purchasing a few required components for the build.

I've been putting together a list of important components I think I'll need to properly design the frame. This is based on common sense (like needing suspension uprights and the engine), as well as some things I've learned from reading endlessly about locost construction.

The radiator is a perfect example of the latter. I've seen several builders struggle to fit the radiator in the nose after the frame has been built. I want to get this part into CAD to make sure I'm not wrestling with modifying the radiator after the fact.

This particular unit is rather ubiquitous in the locost world. It's an aftermarket unit for a 5th gen Honda Civic. For some reason, the geniuses at Honda decided to equip their cars with a teensy little radiator.

The good news is that it fits handily in a locost nose cone, is rather inexpensive, and is available all over the internet. I guess there's some factory in China cranking out oversized units, because nearly every one on eBay is a "racing" radiator. That's eBay for cheap, but with aluminum end tanks and a 2" thick core instead of the bone stock 5/8" thick core. The welds look beautiful until you look closer and realize that they spray painted the radiator to make it look like a master fabricated it.

I intend to use the factory mounting studs for installation. Even if it ends up being a lemon, I'll still be able to use a high quality OEM unit or an aftermarket race-quality (no quotation marks) unit as a drop-in replacement.

The inlets are just over 1.25" in diameter and the outlets on my 1.8L engine are just under 1.25". I'm hoping that that means I'll be able to use regular radiator hoses for the connection. It's not a big deal, just a nice coincidence.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Santa came early this year

I bought myself an early Christmas present in the form of a brand spankin' new 2 ton engine hoist. This is by far the manliest tool I own. It weighs about 200 pounds and goes together with bolts larger than anything I've got tools for. Thank goodness for adjustable wrenches, or else I'd have had to run to Sears to get something to assemble it with!

I got a screaming deal on it. Northern Tool had it on sale the day after Thanksgiving for $160 or so, which is what they're going for on CraigsList used. I've reached the point in the teardown where the engine is about to come out so the timing is perfect.

I also ponied up for the folding version to save garage space, and I got the larger 2-ton unit because several Locosters said the extra reach is worth the money. The engine in the Seven sits pretty far behind the front axle (technically making it a mid-engine car), and the smaller 1-ton hoist requires some hairy manuvering to get the engine in and out.

Besides, when I asked the sales guy his opinion, he said "you should always buy more tool than you think you'll need." It's hard to argue with that logic!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Shedding excess baggage

This makes me want to never buy a car with AC and power steering ever again.

Just look at this pile! The components I've removed from the engine probably weigh 40 lbs. This stuff is completely unnecessary for the Spartan, and I'm thrilled to be tossing them into the "sell" pile. The bracket for the AC compressor (foreground) is a huge block of iron that must weigh 10 lbs on its own!

In any case, it makes me happy to be able to see the engine without all that excess baggage. It's starting to look more like a lean, killer sports car mill. Meanwhile, the engine compartment is getting more and more bare. Good stuff!

The interior is much better. I've completely gutted it with the exception of the pedals and all of the wiring. Speaking of excess baggage, I think I'll really enjoy removing the estimated 40 lbs. of excess wiring from the harness before it goes into the Spartan.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

This is what a free Miata looks like

It's not very pretty, but it sure is easy on the wallet. I've put quite a bit of time into stripping the car and selling off parts in the last two months. In the process, I've learned quite a bit of how Mazda builds cars. I had some friends offer to help strip the whole car in an afternoon, but I wanted to go slow and learn as much as I could. I'm glad I did.

Aside from the advantage of labeling everything, stripping the car by myself has given me the opportunity to ponder how I'm going to address each of the hundreds of things a car needs to go down the road. This is especially true for the little things, like keeping the OBD-II and Mazda diagnostic connectors or ditching the switch for dimming the dash lights.

I've updated my project cost excel spreadsheet (see the "Donor Vehicle" tab) to reflect the parts sell off, in case you want more information.

So for all those that are tackling the same task, a few thoughts about my experience:
  • Screw Ebay/PayPal - Their fees have gotten so high and their feedback system so crummy that it's not worth selling anything but the most desirable components online. For a $15 item, Ebay/PayPal took over $3. That's more than 20%, kids. And now that sellers can't post negative feedback on buyers I'm sure scammers will run the place into the ground. I guess I'm not the only one who thinks so.
  • Tough it out and sell on CraigsList - Sure you'll have the occasional doofus, money-order scammer or time-sucking tire-kicker, but you won't pay any fees and you'll always get (mostly) scam-free cash. It's not all bad, as I've found that most Miata folks are pretty nice people. And I had a cool conversation with the guy who was going to use the roll hoops from my donor to trick out his vintage-racer MGA.
  • Flat rate shipping is your friend - The USPS offers three sizes of flat rate boxes that allow you to ship stuff up to 70 lbs. to anywhere in the US. You can make a little more by boxing and shipping Ebay parts the traditional way, but it makes things so much simpler that I just couldn't justify the extra time. The postal service will also allow you to order the boxes online and will ship them to your door for free. Easy-peasy, Japanesey.
  • Take good pictures - People will pay more for items when they're sure what they're getting. Pictures that are well-lit, clear and that focus on important details are worth the effort. Which would you rather buy?
  • Be honest - It's easier to let it all out and just wait for a buyer than to go into used-car-salesman mode. Besides, I sold a lot of parts to "repeat" buyers who bought multiple items after inquiring about a single item for sale.
  • Sell low - There's enough value in even a wrecked Miata to get back your investment in all but the most overpriced donor. It's taken me quite a while to get past the "I must get every last cent for every part" mentality. In the end, I decided this project was about building a car and not selling parts.
Even though I'm at the break-even point, I plan on selling off as much as I can. I'm really curious to see how much of the project Winky will fund. Still, I'm anxious to get the stripped hulk out of my garage so I can park my daily driver in a warmer spot for the winter. My goal is to start my build table project sometime in the Spring. I plan on spending the winter measuring parts, modeling in CAD and designing the suspension.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My project is trying to kill me

Ok, so not really. I've been parting out my car for weeks, but last weekend's activities have me really thinking about shop safety.

The task was simple - to siphon out the precious gasoline from the donor to fill my thirsty daily driver. I bought the siphon, got a clean bucket and went to work.

Things quickly got a little out of hand. As the garage filled with fumes from an open 5 gallon bucket of gasoline and I got repeately splashed with little (but worrisome) bits of petrol, I started to think that I needed to grab the extinguisher, just in case.

Suddenly everything seemed like an ignition source. Heck, I was even scared to ground myself to the car for fear of a static spark. To make matters worse, my infant daughter was asleep upstairs and no one else was home. My imagination went into overdrive, and I started to think about me roasting in the front yard with no one to get her out of the burning house. I called my wife and told her to come home.

Fortunately the fireball raging in my imagination didn't become a reality. Still, I'm taking a hard look about the safety of this project.

I've been involved in relatively risky pastimes before. I've almost broken my leg backpacking in the wilderness in South America. I lived with the bears for days in Alaska. Heck, I've been involved in shooting sports for years. But with shooting, for example, practicing gun safety can be very simple. You just have to remember some basic rules, and you can prevent any tragedies.

Cars seem to be a different animal. There's about 1000 ways you can get hurt or killed. Airbags can go off. Fingers can get caught in moving bits. And let's not forget about the ever-present danger of a 2000 lb. hulk crushing you like a grape. When an amateur racer dies, it's common for those casual observers to note that at least they "went doing something that they love." Screw that. I want to grow old doing something I love. Heck, I want to be Paul Newman.

If I sound a little irate with myself, I am. This is my hobby, and I get ill thinking of hurting my family because of it.

So the moral of this story is that I really need to think about what I'm doing before I dive in. In this case, I should have waited until later to siphon the gas. Better yet, I should have done it when I still had wheels on the car and rolled it out to the end of the driveway.

In any case, I just want to get through this project without any trips to the ER. I've been lucky so far, but I want to take luck out of the equation.