Friday, October 2, 2009

Bought a radiator fan

If you're paying attention to my Spartan 7 specification sheet, you'll notice that I had both the radiator and radiator fan on my design-phase purchase list. The reason is that I've seen several builders struggle to package the radiator into the nose of their builds, and I wanted to avoid this entirely by designing the front of the frame in advace around stock components.

Since I have an aftermarket Honda Civic radiator, it makes sense to use the stock fan, motor and shroud assembly. After all, they were designed to fit together, designed to work together and the stock radiator fan assembly provides enough cooling for engines as powerful (or more so) than my Miata donor's.

I purchased this unit off EBay for $35 or so. I was looking for a used unit, but all the local yards had been picked clean and I suspect this is a part that has a limited service life. It was only $20 more to get a new one, so I took the plunge.

The overall unit is a little bulky, but I like how clean and "factory spec" the final result looks. As I get deeper into the design phase we'll see if I can wrap a front end and nose cone around the assembly.

Next time I go to a junkyard I'm going to snip off a stock Honda connector for my wiring harness. That way I can put in a drop in replacement should the part ever fail.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bit of a break, and a couple more wheels.

It's been a busy summer, and I'm starting to think that more work on the locost is going to get done in the cooler months of the year than during the summer for a multitude of reasons.

In other news, I picked up a couple more wheels in excellent shape from RSpeed, a Miata and Mini tuner shop here in Georgia. They're in pristine shape and will provide replacements for the damaged wheels in my set as well as give me an extra wheel for a full-size spare mounted to the rear.

My total wheel investment now comes to approx. $90. At $15 per wheel I'm not complaining!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A new (used) set of shoes

This week I picked up a set of wheels for the project! They don't look like much, but I have big plans!

I had originally planned to use a set of racing-spec wheels for the car, but with my change in philosophical direction they just aren't appropriate. They've also been discontinued. What I needed for my tribute was a wheel tire combo that's vintage-looking (185 width wheels with 14" rims), but that will fit my Miata suspension components.

I don't think there's a more appropriate wheel for my car than Minilites. Unfortunately they're hard to come by and astronomically expensive. Chaparral S15s are made specifically for Miatas and look like the real deal, but they're not 14" wheels and they weigh close to 16 lbs.

Enter the OEM 1990-1993 Miata wheel (AKA "daisy"). In keeping with the Miata's retro styling the wheels were made to look substantially similar to the classic British Minilite. The wheels weigh a paltry 12.3 lbs and are easy to come by in case I hit a curb. They're also super-cheap if you're patient. I scored the entire set including (badly) used tires, center caps and lug nuts for $40.

Speaking of tires, those crappers are more than good enough to roll the chassis around on and perhaps to make a quick jaunt to the tire store. I know that by the time I need them they'll be toast, but they'll do the job until the car is road-worthy.

As for the wheels themselves, I'm going to clean them up and paint the centers a medium grey. I also plan on polishing the rim. I think they're going to look sweet!

Keith Tanner uses a set of painted OEM Miata wheels on his 7. He has a good write-up on the process on his web site starting here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

First Autocross!

This weekend I competed in my first ever autocross!!! A friend invited me to hit the cones with the local Porsche Club of America chapter. Does everyone else know how much fun this autocross thing is?

Seriously, I've never had so much fun driving a car! My hands were shaking after each of my runs, and was pretty winded because I kept forgetting to breathe. Fortunately the course was only 3/4 of a mile or I would have passed out! I have never driven a car so aggressively before.

I'm pretty proud that each of my runs was faster than the previous. That was my goal for the day, to show continuous improvement. I didn't get anything close to FTD, but I was thrilled to get FTJ (Faster than Jeep). I've spent most of the last 24 hours lost in thought of where I left time out on the course. I can see how easily it is to become obsessed with this stuff.

As for my car, she did the job despite having crappy tires and worn-out shocks. I've never been truly at the limit in my car, and I have to say dancing that Miata around the cones was a religious experience. It has always been a major goal for the Spartan to have the same driving qualities as my Miata. I think if I get even close to having the same dynamic qualities it'll be a major victory.

Locosts predominantly race in the D-Modified class in SCCA autcrosses. There are a few details in the regulations regarding construction that I should look into when designing the frame, but otherwise nothing is really different from what I was planning anyway. There are a few tidbits for cars running slicks that I should pay attention to when putting the car together in case I go that direction for competition.

In any case it doesn't look like the Spartan as planned will be competitive in D-mod nationally, and perhaps locally if I'm up against purpose-built hardware. That's not the point of my build, though, and designing to a specific set of rules will probably result in less angst when some stickler techs my car.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Acquiring components for my cockpit mockup

At 5'8" and 225 lbs., I'm not exactly a small guy. With a 44" overall width (42" inside the gunwales of the car), the locost isn't exactly a big car. If at all possible, I hope to avoid the tragedy of building a car I don't fit into.

In the product design world (my day job), we build a prototype to check fit and functionality before committing to manufacturing. I don't see any reason why I shouldn't do the same for this project.

To that end I've been collecting the various components I'll need to construct a plywood mockup of my cockpit (a list of what I need is located in my Specification Sheet). The idea is to simulate the seating position, controls and critical panels so that I can get an idea of how comfortable my finished car will be.

These goodies were delivered yesterday. Those are the brake and clutch pedal assemblies and the clutch master cylinder! These Wilwood parts are quite beefy and light! Perfect. The single master cylinder clutch assembly and the dual cylinder brake assembly are both pretty standard components used in Locost builds.

The dual cylinder brake will allow me to fine-tune the bias between the front and rear brakes. For the record, I matched the Miata clutch master cylinder size by using a 5/8" Wilwood master. I'll figure out the brake master cylinder sizes when I'm farther along in the design.

Friday, February 20, 2009

What I kept from my donor

I've pretty well documented what I sold from Winky, but I haven't really laid out what I kept. Here's what I saved from my donor:

  • Engine (minus intake and exhaust plumbing before and after the manifolds, power steering and AC hardware)
  • Tranny, driveshaft, Torsen differential, propshafts
  • Shifter boot and shift knob
  • PPF (for reference)
  • Steering wheel, column, shaft, rack, tie rods (I have other plans, but I kept these as a backup)
  • Suspension uprights, lower ball joints, associated mounting bolts
  • Brake calipers and mounting brackets
  • E-brake lever, e-brake cables
  • ECU and mounting bracket
  • Complete wiring harness, relays, fuse boxes, horn, turn signal switches, etc.
  • Accelerator pedal assy, throttle cable, speedometer cable
  • Fuel pump/vent/sender assy
  • Fuel filter bracket, charcoal canister bracket, diagnostic plug bracket, fuse box brackets
  • 2 eyeball vents, in-dash HVAC plumbing (for my heater outputs)
  • Spare, jack, spare tools
  • VIN plate from dash and sticker from driver's door jamb
  • All of the rubber grommets, brake line clips and drain plugs
  • A huge box of all the nuts, bolts, screws and clips I could take off
Also noteworthy is what I didn't keep, but could have. Other Miata based builders have used more stock components to lower cost and complexity in their build. I've decided not to use:

  • Stock Miata seats
  • Instrument cluster
  • Brake and clutch pedals and master cylinders
  • Rear suspension and subframe
  • Wheels and tires (my donor came with heavy, ugly wheels, so I sold them; If it had the OEM 7-spoke "daisy" wheels I would have kept them)
It's easy to see why it's much cheaper to use a single donor than collect all of the parts separately. Even after keeping all these parts, I've made $500 off my donor.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A slight detour

Progress may be pretty slow in the next couple of months as I divert my attention to a pressing automotive matter...competing in the prestigious 24 Hours of LeMons!

My days of cooking for the team and wearing the mechanics coveralls are over! I'm driving baby! This will be my first experience driving in anger, so I figure it's best spent going wheel-to-wheel in a crapcan Merkur.

Unfortunately, it's also a pretty big drain on both time and automotive hobby funds, so I'm temporarily slowing progress on the build to compete. I hope I don't have to stop completely, but certainly this will delay the start of frame building a bit.

P.S. - Can you tell I'm stoked about my helmet and firesuit?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ready for storage

After a very satisfying session of wrenching and hoisting, my engine is now affixed to its temporary home. I'm still debating whether to rebuild it now or not. I'm starting to lean pro-rebuild.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Phase 2 begins!

Now that Winky has been laid to rest, I think it's a good time to outline the next phase in the build. Here's what I'm thinking:

  1. Strip and sell donor
  2. Upgrade garage for construction
  3. Clean up parts
  4. Measure parts and model in CAD
  5. Design suspension
  6. Design frame
  7. Build full-size cockpit mockup
  8. Build! Build! Build!
Here's what I'm starting with. I'd always intended to fix the place up, but my donor fell into my hands much faster than I thought it would, so the only improvements I've made so far are the fluorescent lights hanging from the ceiling. I'm going to double the number of fixtures to 6, figuring if a lot of light is good, then too much should be just enough.

Once lighting is complete, construction is going to begin. I've purchased components to seriously upgrade the electrical system. Right now there are only two outlets in the whole garage. Seriously, who thought that would be enough?

I'm going to install 20 amp outlets all over the side wall to run compressors, welders and other tools. I'm also going to install switched 15 amp outlets up high to power the lights and a radio (which is critical).

I'm also going to need a real work space. Being the dork I am, I've already put together a preliminary layout of the garage in CAD. Note the "do not exceed" line marking my wife's side of the garage. Happy wife = finished locost.

There's a pretty good sized workbench in the corner, with shelving above. I'm going to saw the peg board in half and use it behind the bench. I've amassed quite a collection of old crappy bookshelves, which will function quite nicely as parts, material and tool storage.

I'm still working out the details of which tools go where, but I wanted to make sure I have plenty of space to store stuff in. I can't stand working in a messy environment. My layout is still missing a welder, compressor, compound miter saw and a bench grinder. It may get a little tight in there.

I may also go ahead and build the build table. That will certainly help with storage, and provide a nice, flat surface to measure parts on without cluttering up my work bench.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Winky (1993-2009)

After removing Winky's drivetrain, I found myself sizing up the remaining components to be removed. I realized that I was one good weekend away from being finished with the tear-down.

And so it was that I found myself working feverishly to take apart the front and rear suspensions and remove the differential and fuel tank. It took me the better part of a day, but here's the result:

That's a lot more work than it looks!

3 of the 4 lower control arms were stuck to the suspension uprights, their fasteners completely locked up. By the point of that discovery I was making a lot of progress, so I decided to wait until a later date to tackle the rusty bolt removal.

For some bizzare reason, it took me three months to purchase an air-powered impact gun. Up until this point I'd gotten by with just a breaker bar. I wish now that I'd have acquired one much earlier! The gun made removing the suspension a breeze (aside from the completely frozen bolts).

With the car apart and parts scattered all over my wife's side of the garage, I called a repeat parts buyer to pick up the shell. I traded him the body in exchange that he come pick it up. That's a better deal than it sounds, since many builders spend a weekend or two painfully chopping the shell to bits with a sawzall!

Here's the automotive corpse mid-load. I'd removed every conceivable bolt, bracket, and random part from the shell, so three of us managed to lift the shell into the truck without breaking out the hoist.

I remember when I first got the car, I had a panic attack at the huge disassembly task ahead of me. Three months later, I've got a nice dose of confidence and a strong motivation to get started on the build. I'm pretty proud to say that my once pristine pair of mechanic's gloves now looks like this:

It may sound silly, but I'm going to miss that car. I've spent dozens (hundreds?) of hours taking him apart, and now he's off to be cut up to provide new body panels for a smashed Miata. Of course, that's one of my original goals with the project - to resurrect a trashed classic and to help keep many more on the road. So long Winky!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Required picture

Somewhere in the laws governing the automotive world there's a rule that whenever an engine is pulled, a picture of someone sitting in the engine bay is required.

Hey, I don't make the rules...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ripping Winky's guts out

Up to this point, I've been disassembling Winky all by myself. After several months in the garage I had come to the point where the engine had to come out. This time I called in reinforcements in the form of my LeMons teammates.

Here's my buddy Bob working on removing the coil packs so we could mount the lifting chains. I had spent the last two weeks carefully disconnecting every hose and wire attached to the engine. I abhor the "disconnect now, ask questions later" approach, so I took the time to label everything and to try and understand what exactly I was taking apart.

I have to say that the hoist (and load-leveler that came with it) worked like a dream. I think I probably could have removed the whole thing myself without too much trouble. I'm going to add the load-leveler to my list of favorite tools (along with my 1/2" breaker bar and my deep metric sockets). That gizmo made manuvering a 400+ lb. chunk of cast iron, aluminum and steel a piece of cake. Besides, pumping the hydraulics and turning the leveler handle made me feel like a 4 year old with a shiny new Tonka truck. Good stuff.

Speaking of which, here's me angling the assembly down to maneuver it out of the bay. Yep, it came out pretty easy. I was just starting to think I was the engine removal master, until I saw this under the car:

That would be the entire contents of my transmission spilled all over the floor. I had a catch pan ready to go, but in my excitement to use the hoist I neglected to put it under the tranny. Note to self - next time, drain the transmission oil first.

It took 20 lbs. of cheap cat litter to soak that mess up. Now my garage smells like an oil tanker hitting a herd of pooping cats. Not pleasant.

With the engine and transmission removed, it was on to separating my Siamese twins into two separate parts. The engine was destined for a stand that I'd just picked up from CraigsList, but I didn't have the necessary hardware to mount it so it'd have to sit on the floor for now.

This is the "catch of the day" shot. It felt pretty good to see the drivetrain swinging (gently) from the hoist. Craig (in the background) is doing his best to be supportive by drinking a cup of coffee.

After a few minutes of grunting, here's what we had:

I'm happy to say we managed to separate the tranny with only one stripped transmission bolt thread (doh!). Actually, I'm a little upset, but I'll get over it because:
  1. This is the first buggered thread since I started disassembling the car. One out of 3,238 ain't bad.
  2. It's on the oil pan, not the block, so it should be easy to replace (for $65 or so).
  3. It's an aluminum part, so what did I expect?
  4. I've always wondered how well heli-coils work.
  5. If this is the worst thing that happens during the build, I'll be a happy man.

I found a few other issues while I was giving the drivetrain a once over, but nothing that a few random parts won't fix.

At the end of the work day, I found this in the corner of my garage:

I can't say why that sight gives me so much joy, but now every time I see it I smile. Maybe because now it isn't a Miata's a Locost engine.

What lies ahead for my greasy new mill? First, mounting on a stand. Next is absolutely going to be a quick bath. After that, I may tear it apart a bit to see what I've got. I'm also mulling over doing a full tear-down and rebuild. It's a lot of work, but it'll need to be done anyway and it's a lot nicer to start the build with a good engine than know that as soon as I'm ready to drive it I'll have to pull it apart again.