Wednesday, December 31, 2008

race weekend

Race weekend dawns bright and early, and we... well, I wouldn't know. I was stuck on a plane in Canada. Laz, Andy and Weaver rolled in to Thunderhill on Friday morning, follwed by the rest of us slackers around sunset.

The good

Ling Ling passed tech & bullshit inspection on Friday without major problems. Despite high levels of e30 fatigue on the part of the judges, our stack of receipts backing up the budget was so high that it had to be weighted down with a bottle of Macallan 12yr single-malt.

Also, the whole crew made it: Laz, Andy, Rob, Weaver, JDH, and me - plus families, spouses, friends, and kids. Grassroots motorsport is good for the whole family! It's a good thing the kids were too young to figure out what the Slow Santas CRX inflatable santa hand gesture was all about.

Here's the panda car, all ready to race:
From lemons thill dec08

Saturday morning, we applied some last-minute pandas:
From lemons thill dec08

(In that shot, the panda epoxy is being dried by Mr Heater.)

The bad

Laz's sprained ankle got worse after walking on it for all of Saturday. We begged ice from Frankenmiata's beer keg on Sunday. We're pretty sure he'll walk again.

The ugly

Despite a solid shakedown on Friday, Ling Ling developed electrical problems on race day that we were never able to shake. Shortly after the start of the race, Laz radioed in to report that the car was stalling randomly. She'd die in the middle of a turn. For a while, no problem - he'd restart her and be on his way. But eventually she couldn't be started, and Laz returned under tow.

This became a theme.

In fact, if they gave a prize for "most frequently towed from the track," we probably would have won it.

We tried:
- replacing the coil with one borrowed from the always-classy Porcubimmer team.
- swapping the fuel pressure regulator
- checking for proper fuel pressure
- plugging and unplugging random things
- playing with and taping random wires under the dash

Each time, we'd have her in the pits for a little while, do a driver change, and send her back out. Meanwhile, the rest of the field was pulling their own jerk maneuvers, spinning, flipping, shoving and stalling their way through many hours of yellow-flag parade racing. At one point we watched our friends in Team Unsafe At Any Speed stall on the hill going into 5 and actually roll backwards into several cars behind them.

We got a pretty solid Day 1 of racing - a couple of hours of full Laz speed coming into our first date with the tow truck, then a couple of hours of Rob, mostly under yellow flag. During one of the brief yellow-green-yellow changes, he passed a couple of cars and got flagged for passing under a yellow. (The circumstances were doubtful enough that we were released without penalty, requiring only a driver change.) Andy finished out most of the day, but Ling Ling was getting increasingly temperamental - he came back to the pits once under his own power, and twice under tow.

By evening we'd unplugged the idle controller entirely, swapped out the fuel pressure regulator, and comfortably decided that the gremlins were beaten back. She didn't run too well in the paddock, but well, we'd pulled the idle control, so that was to be expected.

Next morning, Matt went out. Running cold, Ling Ling is a pliable and temperate lady, and for Matt she ran a little roughly, but was not unmanageable. By now the track had heated up, and Matt got a front-seat view of a series of full-contact incidents. Eventually, though, he too got hit with the electrical gremlin, and brought Ling Ling back in to the pits. The problems seemed heat-related, so we removed the hood.

From lemons thill dec08

From lemons thill dec08

But that wasn't enough, either. After the next tow we ran a full set of fuel system electronic diagnostics. Everything checked out. We hopefully disconnected the kill switch, in case that was the problem. (Shh...) We checked the fuses and swapped out some of the relays. While fiddling in an auxiliary relay panel, we discovered that replacing several relays didn't help, but the act of plugging and unplugging them did. Suspicious.

(Meanwhile, a few of us went to watch the People's Curse "winner", Blues Brothers Racing, get crushed. Jay liked them, so they got off with only a cosmetic dismemberment - but any crushing is a spectacular crushing. 4-yr-old mini-JDH was a big fan, happily yelling "More crush!" until the backhoe operator further munched a door to oblige her.)

From lemons thill dec08

From lemons thill dec08

The next trip back in to the pits was Rob, under his own power, but clearly mad as hell. The corvair team had lost it on turn 2 and spun in front of him, snapping back around from an oversteer correction to slam into the front of our panda car at about eighty miles an hour.

Happily, both cars straightened up and drove away. But the panda car was now overheating, and Rob was black-flagged. (He was subsequently released without penalty, since he'd done nothing to cause the incident.) Back in the pits, we surveyed the damage... more dents in the front corner which had already been dented, and a pinched radiator hose. Really? That's it?

Team Unsafe at Any Speed earns their name from Adam Lazur on Vimeo.

Angry Rob took a sledgehammer to the damage, straightening the front corner with so much force that it... ended up straighter than it was before. Huh.

No real radiator or wheel damage, either. Lucky us.

Next up was Andy. Andy once again ended a pretty smoking run with a ride behind a friendly tow truck as our electrical gremlins once more took hold.

This time we narrowed it down to a spark problem - as in, there frequently wasn't any. We checked cap, rotor and plugs. Cap and rotor were tarnished, but not *that* badly. ("It's supposed to be shiny," Laz instructs, from his luxury handicapped accomodations inside one of the RVs. "Define 'shiny'," JDH responds.) Cleaning them up doesn't help. Electronic diagnostics don't help. We go back to that mystery relay, trying to figure out what it does. It's not in the Bentley book pictures. Eventually, we find a description, right around the time one of the Porcubimmer guys wanders by. "Oh, the white one is the main relay," he offers, helpfully.


(Meanwhile, we send Rob out one more time: he kicks ass! Hooray! But then he stalls. And is towed. We should have tipped the tow truck operators.)

Hardwiring the relay doesn't help. Plugging and unplugging it does. JDH suspects heat saturation in the wiring harness, which travels across the exhaust manifold. Competing theories are possible grounding or shorting issues, or maybe cpu problems. But by now, we're running out of time - there's only about an hour of racing left. Ling Ling fires up, so we bind up Laz's sprained ankle with duct tape, and send him out on the track.

All of us filed out to the track to watch the last few triumphant laps. Laz put down one hell of a hot lap, with all of us cheering as he came down the front straight. Around 1 and over the back of the hill into 2, and we waited to see him come out into 3... and waited, and waited. He eventually showed up behind a tow truck. And for us, at least, that was the race.


From lemons thill dec08

So, what are we doing tomorrow night? Same thing we do every night, Pinky: TRY TO WIN LEMONS.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Xmas

Ho ho ho. The race weekend begins tomorrow morning.

Packed the car up today. I plan for an early morning departure tomorrow to get tech out of the way, and put a few more shakedown laps on the car with the rest of the team.

Some quick pics:

Jumping the spec e30's dead battery with the LeMons car's not dead battery

on the trailer, ready to go

and for a little contrast, a pic of the car when I first towed it home

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ling Ling accessorises

The rules:
3.17: Car Numbers: Car numbers must be at least 12 inches tall and clearly readable. Numbers must be white on black background or black on white background. Any other combination must be approved in advance by the organizers.
Luckily, we have nothing but black and white to work with. Due to unforeseen procrastination (that's always the way it works), we were down to the wire on getting numbers and other vinyl done. We got a ridiculous quote from a vinyl sign place in San Jose. I won't lie, part of the ridiculousness was our order, but still, who can spend $1k on vinyl for a $500 car?

So, I emailed John from Wolf Vinyl. I had seen his work on some of the prettier spec E30's, so if his vinyl is good enough for the guys who detail their car in the paddock before a race, then it's good enough for Ling Ling. John got back to me quickly, offered a little advice on sizing, and a this morning I met John halfway between my location and his. He gets bonus points for delivering on time and within budget (okay, okay, I paired down the vinyl order to the bare essentials, which helped).

So without further ado, here's some vinyl panda porn:

More (of the same) pics can be found in this gallery.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ling Ling gets a new pair of shoes

I've been waiting til I got some pics to post to plug

The owner of is a racer. Knowing this, it wasn't too hard to guilt him into sponsoring us for the race.

In true big wheels style, we ordered a set of 24" chrome wheels for Ling Ling. No, not spinners. Those are cheezy. Our bling must be done tastefully. Back to the 24's. Sure, they weigh 50lbs each. Yes, mounting will require substantial amounts of fabrication. Yeah, each tire will cost more than our entire car. But it'll all be worth it when you see these rims.

Then we heard about the Alamo City Rollers from LeMons Texas. They had big wheels too:

It's been done.

Order cancelled. Back to the drawing board.

Boring as it is, for the race we opted to just get tires and run the cheap wheels we have. 1 set of bottlecaps and some less boring (and almost as cheap, thanks Ramon!) basketweaves as our 2nd set. We picked Falken Azenis RT-615s in 195/60/14 due to their relatively high grip and relative low cost.

So we ordered our tires from BigWheels and used that set for the shakedown days. Prior to the first shakedown, I showed up at BigWheels with an assortment of 7 bottlecap wheels with tires. Of the 7 wheels, 4 were straight (2 of which came with Ling Ling). Of the 7 tires, 3 were keepers. Of course, they were all mixed up. I rattled off some complicated instructions about what to keep, and was pleased when I returned and everything was done right.

And today I picked up the 2nd set of tires for the race. They go on the bottlecaps:

The wheels weren't black originally, but that was easily fixed with some of our favorite appliance enamel in a can. I'm thinking about buying stock in Rust Oleum. In today's tough economic times, appliance enamel can make a difference.

Ah, and while I'm posting, here's another shot of the car with the nose and grills in, plus a nice garden edging front spoiler:

I wish I could roll the clock forward 3 days, the race can't come soon enough.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

we call her Ling Ling

We're at six days to the race and counting. All the major mechanical work is done, we've shaken her down a couple of times (and we emphasize the "shake" - all the relevant parts have been duly zip-tied back on), leaving us with one final mission: pandafication paint job.

There was plenty to be done, so we planned to start bright and early at 9am Saturday morning. Around 10:30 we arrived to find the soon-to-be-panda car swathed in temporary plastic spraybooth, with taping fully in progress. (Taping? Why yes, we're very nearly professionals! We masked stuff and everything!) Laz and Matt covered the back, leaving me with the awesome responsbility of outlining the hood graphics. (I made matt do the cutting. Who wants to face that kind of pressure alone?)

From pandamonium

From pandamonium

We used only the best spray can paint from Sears (black appliance enamel), and chose Laz as the designated inhaler, because his head is the easiest to wipe clean. (He even wore eye protection this time, which is a measure of how seriously we take this.)

Laz did a pretty slick freehand spray can job, despite being encased in a solid bubble full of paint vapor. About forty minutes later, here we go:

From pandamonium

From pandamonium

From pandamonium

Matt and Laz admire their handiwork:

From pandamonium

Tiny panda mascot:

From pandamonium

After an action-packed morning of car painting, we moved on to foam-pouring. We have a diversity of driver sizes, from 6-something Laz, to 5-something Rob and Matt. With careful seat positioning and a large stack of Style magazines tucked into the base of the seat (stolen from Laz's wife) we reached a fairly workable compromise, in which Laz drives with his knees tucked into his armpits, and Rob can almost depress the clutch. To smooth out the differences, we planned to pack Rob in a custom-fitted cradle of spray foam.

Rather than spray cans, we used a 2-part chemical mix. (You can order anything on the internet.)

From the supplier website:
Everything must be disposable except for the car, the driver, and helpers.

So we covered Rob in a stylish garbage bag wrap, and got pouring.

The foam sets up much quicker than you expect, and once it bulks up, it pours like cottage cheese. The first batch came out too small, and lumpy as hell. The second time around, we decided we needed more. How much more?

"I think all of it," Rob suggested. So we figured, go big or go home, and went all in.

Just a note, if you should ever find yourself tempted to try this: it expands more than you think. We found ourselves battling a rising tide of violently sticky spray foam, filling the garbage bag casing, bulging out the sides, and threatening to rise up and swallow Rob.

After about thirty seconds of quality panic, in which we struggled to prevent the surging foam from pouring down the back of Rob's neck, the foam started to set (it's an exothermic reaction, getting very warm as it hardens). Unfortunately, in all the excitement, it set in exactly the form we molded into it - a pretty solid "driver hunched forward to escape giant invasive sticky blob".

Anyway, it was a good theory. We'll see if it makes it into practice on race day. We might just pack Rob in with some more Style magazines.

After the excitement of the spray foam incident, we called it a day (and a pretty solid three months), and retired to celebrate by deep-frying some turkeys. Nothing says "job well done" like a vat of boiling oil. (In actuality, it was the traditional christmas turkey deep-frying at Casa Laz, which just happened to have been scheduled for car-painting day. But as we gathered around the fryer, drinking beer and experimenting with deep-frying various food items, the warm glow was only partly from the boiling oil, and mostly from a vast sense of satisfaction in a job fairly well done.)

If the car should happen to get crushed in any sort of race-day incident, we are all going to cry like little girls. Just so you know.

Sunday night, we finished up the last few things: fire extinguisher, important sticker positioning design choices, welded a few loose nuts on nice and tight, and wired in the kill switch. (It worked well right away: stopped the car dead cold, and required a fair amount of poking before she could be restarted.) Laz points out that as the kill switch causes current to backfeed into the alternator, that it is strictly NOT to be used as a toy. (Disappointing, I know.)

And there you have her.

From pandamonium

From pandamonium

Yes, the back is a little lop-sided.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

developing the aero package

We raised enough scratch to buy the ugliest, cheapest, universal wing on ebay (Did you mean: bomb wing?). Here's a shot of the wing after install:

Yes, that's 2 layers of awesome wing that you see. $50 of china's finest heaviest aluminum. It must be the latest high tech aluminum and lead alloy, because the wing really does weigh at least 10lbs.

So with the new wing installed I towed the LeMon up to ThunderHill for a Friday with TEAM Racing. I was instructing, so I got a white wristband: my ticket to drive like an ass exemplary instructor in any session. The plan was to drive as much as possible and break anything on the car that was going to break.

And break it did.

First session of the day, lap #2 as we're entering the front straight (just after pit exit), I felt some moisture on my cheek. Then I looked at the temp gauge and saw it in the middle of a seizure. I pulled the car into the paddock, popped the hood using the BMW special hood opening tool, and spotted the belt that drives the alternator and water pump dangling from the engine compartment. It was a bit mangled, and clearly was not where it was supposed to be. Luckily I had the belt we took off the car when we replaced it with a brand new one. Yeah, that belt should be just right here back at home in a box. Luckily, another Spec E30 racer was there, and he supplied me with his spare alternator belt. I put a new belt on the car, and fired up the motor. Mike S, another Spec E30 racer, noticed the crank pulley wobbling like mad. I took it all apart again, couldn't figure it out, so I put it back together and drove it, wobbles and all.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Next up I noticed horrible understeer into turn 1 and turn 8 at Thunderhill. Both turns are taken at 80mph+ To my surprise, the wing was actually being effective and creating downforce on the rear of the car!

That's great, but without any aero on the front of the car all it did was produce understeer. Ridiculous "slide the car into high speed turns" understeer. I managed to trail brake to get the car to turn in a little better, but it got hairier and hairier as I pushed harder. After one session, a driver who followed me through turn 8 found me in the paddock and remarked "wow, your car was all balled up and twisted with a front wheel up in the air"

That convinced me that it was time to stop driving around the problem and to try to remedy it. So I pulled off the top wing. Less surface area has to have less downforce, right?

It worked, and the car went back to a more normal level of understeer. Hopefully in the actual 24Hrs of LeMons race, due to the track configuration, we'll be going a little slower and the wing won't need further tuning. If not, at that point, we'll be tuning using another special tool.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful.

There are some pics from the day up at Check out that suspension compression! Used KYB shocks and Vogtland springs are about the lamest E30 suspension kit on the market, but it's the cheapest ... so here we are.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The first ever lemons junkyard scavenger hunt

Over the weekend, we participated in the First ever lemons junkyard scavenger hunt (jalopnik link) -- in which we competed against other crews of losers to raid the Hayward Pick Your Part junkyard for a number of specified items, which were worth points. Winners were up for a "get out of jail free" card, which gets a team immediately released from a driver penalty on Lemons race day.

Needless to say, we took this challenge very seriously. No matter how much Laz claims that he plans to drive like a gentleman, we all also know that he's not above giving his fellow racers the occasional love tap when they fail to get out of his way, and while we're busily engaged in a psychological warfare re-education campaign to create a nicer, gentler Laz in time for the race (a panda is nothing if not a good citizen, after all!), we figured the extra insurance couldn't hurt.

Amongst the targets of the scavenger hunt:
- cutlery (5pts)
- hose clamps (2pts)
- badges from makes of cars no longer sold in the US (40pts) or anywhere (80pts)
- porn (30pts)
- heavy metal mix tapes
- disco 8-tracks
- valid insurance cards
- working analog dash clocks (30pts)
- 12-cylinder intake manifold (100pts)
- 5-cylinder carburetor
- 100 points to the team with the most christmas tree air fresheners
...and so on.

Some observations from this experience:
- porn is more common than heavy metal mix tapes (we found 2 dvds - one demonstrably porn, the other a home-burned affair marked "hooker bitches", which we decided was either porn, or possibly a heavy metal mix cd - 30-40 points either way!)
- working analog dash clocks are quite *un*common, much to our sadness.
- hose clamps are orders of magnitude more common, not to mention easier to collect, than v12 intake manifolds. (One team got most of the way through pulling said manifold from a 5-series BMW, but the last few bolts escaped them.)

Our haul:
From pandamonium

There was special consideration for unusual finds. We had a pretty good one - a certified birth certificate, for a dude born on December 7, 1957 - making him exactly 51 years old on the day we found it. (Since I found it along with a bunch of other papers in a totalled convertible, I really hope he lived...)

From pandamonium

Unfortunately for us, this was clearly the second-best thing found during the course of the hunt - the clear winner being a citation for a DUI, including resisting arrest, on Christmas eve of last year. Ouch. This went to Team Huey Newis and the Lose, who were the day's winners, due also to having collected about a million hose clamps (we were a close second in the hose clamp total, with 95 to their 155). For their troubles they got both their Gerald Ford Presidential Pardon (get out of penalty free) certificate, and also the I Love Pole award, which grants them the dubious benefit of starting from pole position on the day of the race. Lucky bastards.

(We came in 4th overall, with 302 points, plus a nebulous special credit award for our awesome birth certificate. Jay liked it, so we're under instructions to bring it along on the day of the race, on the off-chance it turns out to have special get-out-of-jail-free-type powers.)

This was a great opportunity to meet the enemy our fellow competitors, and we got t-shirts and stuff for our trouble. Other winning teams were Can't Am racing and our fellow BMW entrants, the awesome Porcubimmer.

For best results, spray directly towards eyes

1. The most important thing of all: we have t-shirts! And other junk.

Pandamonium cafepress store.

2. Our car has a shiny new rollcage, courtesy of the awesome guys at TC Design.

TC's cages are this good:

The driver was unhurt. The cage was certified intact following the crash, and this car went on to qualify, compete in, and finish a 25Hr endurance race.

Sunday afternoon we painted the cage (and Laz) appliance-enamel white. A few painting tips:
  • for best results, always paint in the dark.
  • for good coverage on the backs of the bars, spray paint directly towards face.
  • acetone removes appliance enamel buildup from the eyelids, at least enough to allow you to reopen your eyes
  • eye protection is for losers.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sponsorship: BimmerWorld steps up

Apparently it's a numbers game, but if I spam enough people someone is eventually going to give in.

According to the 24Hrs of LeMons rules, sponsorship in the form of parts still counts towards the $500 total. But there's a loophole, the budget for safety equipment is unlimited. So I went on a quest looking for sponsorship in the "safety equipment" area.

Enter James Clay, owner of BimmerWorld and really nice guy. About 2 months ago I received an email from James offering some BimmerWorld/BMWCCA Club Racing gear as a perk from going to the BMWCCA Club Racing School. I must admit that I was initially a little starstruck: James drives a car in the Speed World Challenge Touring Car series. I intentionally don't look at the results of those races until I've recorded them on my Tivo. Then I watch James and crew on TV and hope that he does well. And he just emailed me, a mild mannered middle pack racer.

Once my excitement wore off, I got my schwag, and more importantly: now I had James' email address.

2 months later, when brainstorming about who could sponsor us in exchange for our plush sponsor package, James came to mind so I fired off an email. To my surprise, James emailed back that they'd be happy to help out with brake pads.

Performance Friction PF06's seemed to be the hot ticket, from the Bimmerworld site:

06 Compound - NEW!
This new compound represents the cutting edge of brake pad technology. Extremely long life, but with torque similar to 01, this pad will be the leading choice for endurance racing and a trackday pad. In our 2008 win at the 13 Hour at VIR, we used approximately 40% of the front pad and 25% of the rear - that
is incredible wear for a capable, full-race pad.

So we ordered 2 sets, subsidized by our new sponsor. Here's what arrived in the mail a few days later:

That's right, stickers! Well, and some brake pads. We put the pads on the car for the ThunderHill shakedown weekend and were very pleased with the performance. They feel like the PF01's, and hopefully the wear characteristics will be better.

So for the race the car will feature Bimmerworld stickers, Performance Friction PF06 pads, and we'll be diving deeper into the braking zones than all of our competition. Thanks James and Bimmerworld!

Friday, December 5, 2008

fire retardant faux fur

The Google can't find me an online store where I can click my way to a few yards of black flame retardant faux fur. It did tell me that it might exist. Modacrylic is flame retardant, and they make faux fur out of it. But finding "modacrylic faux fur" amidst a sea of coats, vests, rugs, and PETA web pages is surprisingly hard. To further muddy the waters, there are acrylic/modacrylic blends too, and acrylic is the opposite of flame retardant.

So at 1am last night I clicked through a few web contact forms, and sent a coupla ebay sellers some messages.

Wait a minute, why am I here? What the hell am I talking about? Isn't this blog about a race car? faux fur?! Really?!

Here at Pandamonium Racing, we're foolish enough to think that we've made it through most of the mechanical challenges. Now we've got to deliver on making the car's theme tangible. The goal is that the car should say "panda" when someone sees it. Sure, we could spray paint "P A N D A" on the side, zip tie a stuffed panda to the grill, and that would probably achieve the objective. But we've got 3 weeks. If we count that in panda years, that's still only 3 weeks but it sounds way cooler. 3 weeks means there's no call for half assed solutions. No hurry. All the time in the world. May as well spend all day drinking beer and drawing our car with crayons.

So back to fur. Pandas have fur. Maybe our car should too? Good idea! But this is a race car, humble beginnings aside. As a rule, when a race car is on fire anything added to the car should not make the situation appreciably worse. Acrylic fur flying off the car in liquid fireballs of death does not meet this qualification. Modacrylic fur that just smolders a little almost certainly does.

So that's how I got here: sending inquiries on the internet about faux fur to anyone who would listen.

Back to the story.

This morning I woke up to a few responses, ranging from "no, go away" to "I didn't know if my fur was fire retardant, so I took a swatch and lit it in on fire. It doesn't get gooey, and it mats down kind of like burning real hair. Is that flame retardant?" The latter was from an ebay seller. She offered to send me a swatch to do my own independent testing, and she even signed the email "Warmest". I don't know if the pun was intentional, but that's the kind of thing that is hilarious to me when I'm half asleep.

So, now I know more about faux fur than I ever wanted to. Did you know you can buy a wall mount faux fur faux panda head? and even a wall mount faux panda ass? If you don't already know Andrew Davidson, you wouldn't be surprised to find out that he likes faux fur so much that he has put up a web page devoted to it, which is conveniently the only useful collection of faux fur links on the entire internet. Did you know that barbie rocks faux fur while she watches seals get clubbed?

I'm straying off topic.

I came up with 2 options:
  1. ebay lady who burnt the fur and it's not that bad sounding. She offered to send me a swatch to do my own testing. $10/yard, black fur.
  2. Big 4 Fabrics has "a few" black faux furs that are flame retardant, the guy asked if I wanted short of long hair, I responded "cheap". The cheapest comes in at $7/yard, I know nothing else about it.
This vital information has been forwarded to the Pandamonium Racing Council of Elders. No decision yet, but we'll almost certainly make one soon.

That's all for now.

What faux fur will we pick? Will the genetic experiment to infuse Matt with panda DNA succeed? Will the car make it to ThunderHill in 3 weeks, or will the ambulance refuse to start? Are we going to sell enough crap spare parts to put a gigantic wing on the car? So many unknowns! Tune in to this blog for more exciting panda episodes.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

T-Hill shakedown

Saturday morning dawned bright and early (REALLY early) at Thunderhill, and, bleary-eyed and full of optimism, we unloaded the e30 from its trailer, ready for its track debut. It sat in the paddock, idling uncertainly, slowly chewing its way through twelve gallons of what we were convinced was bad gas while we said hi to our neighbors and taped numbers on our cars.

Once on the track, with Laz in the driver's seat and me riding shotgun, it went roughly like this:
Laz: Oh yeah! Go baby go!
Car: coughVROOOOOcoughcoughcoughOOOOM!
Laz: Come on, baby, you can do it. 5000rpm, you know you want to.
Car: coughcoughcoughvroom? cough.

Laz made a few more attempts at running it around the track in the hope of burning off the theoretically bad gas, but it was running so badly that he was basically a mobile chicane, so he retired it back to the paddock to troubleshoot.

The panda car in its natural habitat:
From pandamonium

By the end of the day, we were no closer, and Laz and Rob were quietly muttering about taking it somewhere to drain the tank. But when they did -- surprise, Laz discovered that the fuel pump wasn't running right, and the fuel pressure regulator was not flowing fuel back to the tank on idle like it's supposed to.

(Meanwhile, en route to Chico in an extended search for brake parts for my own car, I got a call requesting that while I was at it, if I could please also return with a fuel pump for a 1990 e30, that would be much appreciated. In the background I could hear 80s music and the sound of beer pouring copiously in Willows' one Mexican restaurant. "You better hurry," Rob informed me. "Laz is drowning his sorrows, and he's already on his third giant beer.")

But the closest fuel pump I could find was in Anderson, CA, another hour away, and I was really hungry, so I called it a night and drove back to collect my share of the beer. We discussed replacing the fuel pump with an aquarium pump ("The fuel would melt the plastic," Rob pointed out, so I pointed out that it would clearly need to be a METAL aquarium pump.) Meanwhile, drunken Laz did the sensible thing and turned to the internets.

We tracked down an e30 fuel pump (right model and everything), for sale by a salvage parts dealer in Sacramento named SuperEuroBeat. The phone conversation went something like this:

Laz: Uh... no, I didn't really consider picking it up this evening. Let me confer with my associates... fifty dollars, you say? Yeah, uh, as a matter of fact, we DO need a fuel pressure regulator... and a set of injectors? Um. Wouldn't say no?

So we made plans to meet up with SuperEuroBeat guy at Euro Sunday (it's apparently a big deal?) in Sacramento at 8am Sunday morning. By Sunday lunchtime, Rob and Laz were back with the goods. (The goods, in this case, being effectively an entire fuel system replacement.)

"Sixty bucks," Laz explained happily.

Euro Sunday:
From pandamonium

And yeah, that was pretty much it. After a quick trackside fuel pump swap, the panda car was back in the game:

From pandamonium

From pandamonium

So it's still not as fast as Laz would like (he's contemplating further tuning plans) but it pulls well and handles better than expected. We drove it through the entire afternoon, and nothing fell off. An avalanche of bolts and other debris pours over your feet every time you go around a corner, and there's nothing for the passenger to hang on to except for razor-sharp bare metal, but if it wasn't kind of ghetto, it would hardly be Lemons.

It's going to be really cute with a panda face painted on.

Monday, November 24, 2008

peddling to the masses

In an effort to get the most bang for our 500 bucks, we're exploiting this rule to its fullest:
4.7: Scavenger Sales: If you sell pieces off of your car, the money that comes back in can be used to offset the initial purchase price. Just be prepared to convince some exceedingly skeptical judges of the validity of all those transactions.
I've been scavenging the good stuff off the car as we strip it out, then posting it for sale on the internets. No, I'm not trying to sell every nut and bolt like some other teams. And NO, we cannot sell the sheepskin seat covers. The liability of selling the toxic fungus growing in them is too high. Everything else that we've removed and haven't thrown away is for sale.

In true LeMons blog style, we've dressed up homeless people and staged this whole thing snapped photos of these transactions to lend an air of legitimacy to our budget sheet. Thus far we've:

Traded our undented passenger door for a dented one, plus $75
(See the dented door on our car on the left, the transaction and post swap undented door on the buyer's car on the right)

Sold the pristine uncracked padded dash plus hood liner for $80

Sold the washer pump for $10

The money from these sales will allow us to buy the electric supercharger we've always wanted, or maybe even finally afford this ricedkrauted out spoiler.

Want to help out? Do you need door panels, a rear seat, the entire air conditioning system (it was still good!), or a scrap catalytic converter? Make me an offer, I doubt I'll refuse!

Monday, November 17, 2008

I'm going to name my next cat Guibo

This coming weekend, we're headed to Thunderhill for a shakedown trackday (with the nice people at TEAM racing) . The question on everyone's mind coming into last weekend was:

Uh, it's really just running that badly because it's full of 4-year-old gas, right?

Coming in to last weekend, we had:
- no hood, fender, seats, steering wheel, or headlights, and a nest of loose wires where the dash used to be.
- far too much sunroof
- ancient tires full of what might kindly be termed "character" (or alternatively, "cracks")
- a tank full of nothing but 4-year-old-gas and ancient despair
- suspension so bad that when you pushed down on one corner, the whole car rocked gently like a boat on a calm ocean.
- several intact sway bar bolts
- fancy plans, and pants to match.

As of 8pm sunday evening, we had:
- one bad-ass race car, with no hood, fender, sunroof, headlights or roll cage, with the remains of the dash lovingly tie-wrapped into place
- one stock driver's seat and a steering wheel mounted suspiciously sideways
- even less sunroof than before
- suspension so GOOD that when you push down on one corner, the car performs a polite dip and returns to original position (as if to say "Hey there! I will probably not kill you if you drive me!")
- nearly-new tires, brake pads and rotors
- one less transmission leak
- two snapped front-right sway bar bolts
- a replacement salvage guibo (a term which I am convinced that Laz invented to trick people into being like, "Oh yeah, the guibo, I totally have one of those!" while other racers laugh behind their backs. He, however, claims that this is the name of the rubber donut piece that connects the back of the transmission to the drive shaft.)
- lots of exciting new sharp edges!

One of the major plans for the weekend was the ongoing project to replace the seals in those locations scientifically determined to be the hardest possible spots to access. In this case it was the transmission shaft seal, where the shifter goes into the transmission. You have to pry out the old seal with a screwdriver (without scoring the aluminium inside the shaft), but during extraction the rubber of the seal dissolved, and the metal ring was corroded into place. After two hours, several screwdrivers machined into ad-hoc seal removal tools, one dry run on an old transmission Laz keeps out back, and several chunks of Laz's fingers - victory!

(Which is good, because the spare transmission is missing third gear, and also now missing the same seal.)

We also swapped out the motor mounts, which are a known point of failure for E30s. Yeah, no kidding:
From pandamonium

The other major plan was suspension replacement. On Saturday I drove up to Richmond to meet with a guy who had kyb springs and vogtland shocks as takeoffs from a wrecked spec-e30 ($225 for both). Contrary to all expectation, I was NOT mugged, raped or murdered in the dangerous outlands of Richmond while meeting random dudes from internet forums (I think the only person in any danger was the seller, who had driven down from sacramento with an unhappy-looking carful of wife and children), and returned victorious with springs, struts, and In-n-Out.

It was all in the original boxes, and even came with instructions. For example, never do this:
From pandamonium

From pandamonium

If one thing has been a constant with the Panda car, it would be incontinence in the matter of fluids. Sure enough, when we pulled the old shocks out, oil poured out of the housings. Lovely.

After the replacements were in? Oh yeah... rock it. Uh, stop rocking. Laz hates the shocks; he thinks they're too squishy, and plans to address this in typically German fashion by swapping in ridiculously stiff springs. It'll all come to justice this weekend, when we see how it handles.

Also, jdh rocked the grinder to strip the remains of the sunroof, generating picturesque sparks:
From pandamonium

Sunday evening, in an attempt to actually get the thing pieced back together, we forwent swapping the open diff for a salvage welded diff, reassembled the drive train, zip-tied the interior back together, and bolted in a driver's seat.

From pandamonium

In celebration of this tremendous leap in race car preparedness, Laz and Rob took it for a celebratory shakedown cruise to Rotten Robbie, where they added 8 more gallons of 91 octane, a lot of injector cleaner, and a whole tankful of hope.

This produced an immediate improvement in the panda car's performance, bringing it to the point where it could:
a) Idle on its own
b) Rev above 2000 rpm


(We are neither prepared to confirm nor deny rumors that the panda car, while parked at the gas station missing various body pieces, with a hosepipe "tail" inserted to stop the trunk from rattling, no headlights or passenger seat to speak of, and Rob leaning out the sunroof, successfully evaded the attentions of a passing local law enforcement vehicle.)

And one last thing: clipping the blade-like edges of bare metal bracket in the vicinity of the former dash which were, as belatedly noted during the shakedown cruise, pointed directly at the passenger's throat. And then we covered the remaining sharp edges with red racer's tape.

Safety first.

Next week on Pandamonium: the shakedown track day, in which we discover (probably quite quickly) whether the car runs like a champ or dies like a dog.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It's on

I've always been blabbing to anyone who will listen about the 24Hrs of LeMons.

A few months ago a coworker told me about meeting a YouTube guy who was also doing LeMons. He said he mentioned that I was thinking about running the race to the YouTuber, who then began the smack talk about how his team would beat my unborn team.

A panda never forgets.

Fastforward a few months:
From: laz
To: Mike
Subject: LeMons wager?

Hey Mike,

I've never met you, and don't know what heap of junk you're going to
be driving, but my team will handily finish above yours at the 24Hrs
of LeMons.

I will back this assertion with a wager: 1 bottle of 18yr whiskey or
equivalent spirits. The "loser" buys the "winner" 1 bottle, to be
presented at Whiskey Thursday (regular thursday festivities in MtView)
in January sometime.


Mike responded:
very well, sir, i accept. to the victor go the spoils!
I sussed out some other details. They're driving a '65 Corvair. Their blog is at Go check it out, I bet you'll fall over laughing.

I look forward to drinking some victory booze.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

cast list

Since we're taking a break this weekend, it seems like a good time to go human interest and introduce the team.

Driving, we have:
Laz, the team's evil mastermind. Some say that he was raised by pandas in the industrial bamboo forests of southern China, and that he sold his soul in exchange for the special tool that you use to adjust the valves on late-eighties BMWs. All we know is, he's spending this weekend at a spec E-30 track day in his OTHER race car, so I get to make stuff up about him while he's gone. Laz brings racing expertise, a love of close contact with his fellow man and vehicle, an intimate knowledge of e-30 engines, and his tow vehicle, a 1991 converted e350 ford ambulance fondly known to the rest of us as the Ambulaz (or the Lazbulance, which everyone agrees is funnier.)

Andy, secret technologist. He's Laz's brother, which technically makes him another Laz, providing us with a hot spare in case of primary Laz failure. Andy will be joining us from Huntington Beach, where he spends his days working for the man and his nights upgrading kitchens and dreaming of vertical wings or positive downforce machines.

Rob, on lead guitar. Legend has it he was born with a steering wheel clenched in his tiny fists, and that he had already slammed the gas pedal so firmly to the floor that the doctors had to extract it from his mother with the jaws of life. Last weekend he decided to take up welding, saying that assembling a roll cage with a mig welder "looks like it might be fun". He brings a vast expertise with tie-wraps and baling wire, and a fierce love of trailing throttle oversteer.

Weaver, master thought criminal. Hails from the exotic climes of Detroit (just outside), where he cut his teeth on the rusting parts of abandoned american industry, last seen driving a blacked-out Lotus Elise into a spray booth on the dark streets of San Francisco, pursued by four badges' worth of angry police. He'll be bringing one of our support vehicles, the world famous 24-ft rv known as the USS Janky Weave. (Interestingly, he wears the same size racing suit that I do. It's very hard to positively identify a driver with his helmet visor down.)

Pit crew and miscellaneous moral support, we have:
Jdh, interdimensional machinist. Fondly known as John Bigboote, Jdh used to be a an evil alien overlord, part of an extraterrestrial invasion force hailing out of New York City. But seduced by the quiet allure of International Scouts, he traded his ray gun for an air compressor and a set of standard wrenches to (hopefully) join us in the pits at LeMons.

Astrid, deus ex machina. Raised by dingoes in the wilds of australia, on coming to san francisco she was amazed and relieved to discover internal combustion engines and indoor plumbing. Her specialties are holding lights and fetching tools, blogging, photography, blogging, art direction, blogging, and skinning stuffed panda toys.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Installation is reverse of removal

(We really need icons or something to distinguish different posters. This is astrid again.)

This weekend was reassembly of engine and disassembly of interior.

Our car came packed full of useless heavy items, such as:
- seats, front and back
- trim panels
- that piece of fabric that lines the roofs of cars
- dashboard and center console pieces
- carpet
- 60lb of sticky tar (underneath the carpet, in the body and in the trunk)
- spare tire
- airbag

We didn't need any of those things.

I spent most of Saturday stripping the interior, while Rob and Laz did stuff to the motor. By evening we had the seats, center console and carpets out, leaving only the thick layer of tar which apparently lurks under the carpets of BMWs. We were also minus one longstanding oil leak, in an oil pressure valve near the oil filter (also replaced).

Useful tech notes:
Six-cylinder e30s prior to late 1990 have a known oil leak in the oil pressure valve (the internets call it the "oil control valve"; the shop manual is silent on correct name of this component, and in general on its existence). The seal in earlier models is made of substandard... seal stuff. And in newer models is made of something higher-tech which starts with V. Rob and Laz replaced it in a marathon effort which requires, in case you are curious, a 4-inch C-clamp, a lot of leverage, and about two hours of muffled cursing.

(Mostly) before we started:
From pandamonium

Our car was suprisingly full of guitar picks, bits of broken window glass, and old pay stubs. $9 an hour. Ouch.

I spent a peaceful sunday morning stripping tar with a heat gun:
From pandamonium

And now it looks like a race car:
From pandamonium

Jdh spent most of sunday afternoon attempting to remove the sunroof with an angle grinder - unfortunately, it's really hard to remove. Also unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of all the sparks, which were very cinematic. We got out the headliner and one or two bits of the roof, but the sunroof assembly remained stubbornly attached. It's glued in place, and there are spot-welds in the front - this was a factory option which is remarkably hard to get rid of.

Meanwhile I went back to art direction, drawing pictures of pandas, with the help of four-year-old mini-Jdh, prepping for future decorative efforts. We are currently taking inspiration from laz's favorite panda graffiti:

By Sunday evening, all that was preventing us from firing it up was a missing spark plug (Laz ordered six, but one of the boxes went missing in the debris) and the electric radiator fan, for which the motor was busted. Rob and Laz did a literal last-minute run through pick-n-pull in the last five minutes before it closed, and came back with a new fan, which then required some creative re-mounting. They fabricated one bracket, and then, after extensive consideration and a fair amount of aluminium hammering, tie-wrapped the remaining two mount points.

From pandamonium

It's really solid. We promise.

After reinstalling the cooling system, all that was left was starting the engine. I cleaned up most of the tools and the rest of them vibrated down into the engine compartment, along with the cardboard scraps and empty coolant jugs.

Let's just say that four-year-old gas makes cars run badly. Also, the engine blew a lot less smoke once Laz tightened the coolant drainage plug, which had been steadily dripping on the exhaust manifold.

Still, it started, and it ran - eventually it even idled without external intervention - and it no longer overheats. In fact, it runs about half as hot as it ought to, at 1/4 on the gauge instead of 1/2, and it mostly stopped smoking and steaming.

Let's call that victory!