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!

Dash + Sunroof removal DIY links

Squirreling some links away here so I don't lose 'em:
The sunroof is yet to be removed (I think that'll be mentioned in another post somewhere around here). The dash is out and I'm actively peddling it to the highest bidder. Dash on the left, crazy messy cockpit on the right. Excuse the crappy camera phone pics: