Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Operation It Probably Needs a New Head Gasket Anyway

Hello, Astrid here.

Over the weekend we started taking the car apart. By "we" I mean "people who are not me", because my role in this endeavor is mostly covered under the heading of "can perform simple tasks under close supervision". Like taking pictures. However, since I started reading the service manual on Sunday night, I expect that I will shortly know everything there is to know about cars.

Due to the fact that it steadily begins to overheat from the moment the engine starts, and that it clearly does not respect a civilized separation of fluids, the first overhaul phase for the Panda car was invasive. Among the important and oil-soaked parts removed were: air conditioning (gone forever), power steering (gone forever), mechanical fan (gone forever), electric fan & motor, radiator, water pump, belt spaghetti, distributor, temperature sensor, intake manifold, valve cover, head, head gasket.

The first thing you notice about this engine is the sheer quantity of oily black crud all over the place. This was not, unfortunately, limited to the outside of the block - once we got in there, the inside turned out to be just as bad. Even I know that there's not supposed to be that much carbonized black stuff inside the cylinders.

From pandamonium

I spent some quality time polishing the head with mumble scotchbrite mumble, because polishing stuff is my idea of a great saturday night. Before I started it looked like this:

From pandamonium

Oh look, head gaskets. Note that the old one (bottom) is troublingly intact compared to laz's spec e30 take off (top):

From pandamonium

The head and block were also quite undamaged under the grime. In fact, we found nothing that might have caused the horrible oily mess, other than the pervasive presence of Horrible Oily Mess itself. Ominously, this included the interior of the intake manifold, which should be shiny and clean, but instead was filled with oily sand.

As a result of initial investigations, we have decided that this car is probably a retired dune buggy.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

the car purchase

I found the car on craigslist one particularly stressful Saturday morning. The ad read like this:
For sale: 2-door 5 speed [stickshift] BMW runs strong and is operable. This car has 2004 tags and has 169,000 miles.

The fine print: It has been hit in front and has one broken right side window rear. To make it look right, it needs a new fender, hood, bumper, 1 grill half. You may want to replace the cracked windshield. Underneath the dash it’s a little tore up—someone stole the radio--otherwise interior is nice [black in color].

$500.00 great for parts or for project lover.

Please call John 408-xxx-xxxx

I called John, and after some back and forth I agreed to meet him at a self storage facility to look at the car that afternoon. I was running a little late, so I called John to say I was on my way. "No problem" he said "I'll pull the car around front for you." It didn't click at the time, but I was dumb not to stop him from starting the car til I got there. Rookie mistake.

I showed up to find John and his father with the car idling in the front lot. The car was idling smoothly, almost too good to be true. There were many things that quickly drew my attention. The frontend hit didn't look too bad. The tires were crap. 2 were almost flat, and 1 of those was dry rotting AND bald. The brakes were caked with dust, it had been sitting a long time. The bottom of the car was covered in grime. Looks like the oil leaks. Oh, and the hood doesn't open and John broke the handle trying.

When I asked about the car John immediately shared with me that he bought it for $1. That's right, just $1. The story goes that the storage facility was holding an auction for stuff they took possession of when tenants don't pay their bills. Apparently nobody wanted this fine automobile, so John bought it for $1 and was going to either dump it on craigslist or sell it for scrap. He got the car to run, so he decided craigslist was the way to go. He said the car had sat for 4 years, which is believable. He also said it was running fine on 4yr old gas. Insanity.

I went to take the car for a "test drive" and was informed that the seat back doesn't sit up. So it was like sitting on a stool leaning backwards to drive the car. Gotta hold the wheel tight or you fall backwards. I took the car for a spin in the little corridors between storage buildings. The tire rubbed the body on the side that was hit. 2 tires were borderline flat so it rode pretty poorly. The good news was the motor pulled pretty strong, and the car didn't blow up when I bounced it off the rev limiter.

On the way to park the car in the front lot, I noticed the temp guage was climbing rapidly upward. I pushed the AC on, turned the heater on, and I parked the car in the front lot as quickly as I could.

I negotiated with John, cited all the busted characteristics of the car, and got him down to $200. This was in spite of his father standing there spouting off half truths "it's overheating? just put water in it!" and telling John not to take the deal. I think the phrase "cash right now" worked, but later John told me that selling a car for scrap requires that you drain the gas and oil out of it, and that was too much of a pain in the ass for him to consider. We went to a shady warehouse full of junk dealer stuff and put together the paperwork. The paperwork consists of a couple of pages from the self storage place about selling the car to cover a debt, the $1 receipt from John, and then a handwritten bill of sale. We don't have a pink slip.

Posession is 9/10ths of the law, right?

this is just the beginning

This blog is a collection of the incoherent ramblings of an endurance racing team with aspirations to compete in the 24 Hours of LeMons Arse-Freeze-Apalooza in December 2008. What this blog lacks in content will be made up for in sheer entertainment as we stumble our way through building and campaigning a race car.

Let's start with the essentials: drivers, crew, and a car.

Drivers: we've assembled a few mentally unstable individuals with varied backgrounds and levels of experience. We're united by an affinity for driving and tinkering.

Crew: we found the most qualified crew we could, then realized that those guys are way too serious. So we traded up for a guy who can tailgate like no other. As a bonus, he's good with the hammer and bailing wire. We think we've got all the bases covered.

Car: ah yes, car. Here she is, in all her glamour:
This fine example of German engineering and style has a mere 170,000 miles on the odometer. Soon it will be transformed into a panda racing machine. We'll detail the car acquisition story and race car build in future posts.

Stick around or subscribe to the RSS feed for more entertainment as the car is transformed and eventually campaigned.