Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Shortest Post, Biggest News!

A few months ago, we opened a shop. A Volvo fixin' shop. And last week, we got a website!


Check it out!

'til next time --


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Terra Trip Fermanente

It's funny how everything [like a certain blog I know] ebbs and flows.

Actually, it's really not funny, and not everything does that. But that's the best opener I could come up with just now.

In our previous action lacked episode (and least half of the ones before that), we did the thing we're best at at which we are best: We undid something that wasn't done completely or correctly the first time, and we put stuff back together better than before. It's not lost on me that if I were to go about altering another 444, that the next one would be a lot more polished than this one. Fortunately, that's completely irrelevant, because this isn't a show car and it's not destined for an easy old age that includes being put out to pasture (or whatever the automotive equivalent of that might be).

Instead, we're going to slather weld beads all over the underside and inside of this one that look like they were performed underwater by someone wearing a blindfold who is also being attacked by an underfed school of barracuda. As soon as that's done, we're going to spend a few months trying to break stuff. Sort of. Mostly. Besides, this car was already out to pasture and all but abandoned before I retrieved it out from under a maple tree where it had been sitting - in a flood plain - without tires for some number of years. I wouldn't do this kind of thing to a car that warranted a proper restoration.

You'll recall the Terra Trip Rally computer that went into the car a few months ago. It's the device that keeps track of ground speed, date, time of day, elapsed time, ETA, and has something like 4 internal stopwatches, each of which can be started and stopped independently and can count up or down. If we can figure out how to use this thing, it's going to be really helpful.

Initially, it was attached to the dash with the included suction cups. That's fine, except that those suction cups aren't as suction-ey as I might like, and the thing came undone a few times just while driving around. Pushing any of its buttons guaranteed that it would come loose, and the last thing we need at 80mph while we're looking for some landmark and watching out for livestock is to have expensive things shaped like bricks pulling loose from their wires flying around inside the car. So I decided it was time to ditch the afterthought-looking suction cups and permanently affix it to the dash. Securely mounted = harder to steal. Win.

The codriver is the one who has to see it, so it made sense to mount it onto the glove box door. I have a LOT of extra glove box doors, so I don't feel bad about drilling holes in this one. And I have a LOT of extra glove box door chrome trim pieces, so I don't feel terribly bad about cutting one in half. A little bad, for sure. But not horribly bad. Marginally horribly.

First, the TerraTrip gets unplugged:

This plastic thing that holds the teeny little wire terminals is, I'm told, a "Molex" connector.

Try to not laugh: here's an example of what to not do with wiring: run it through a small hole that makes it impossible to remove once the terminal block is in place. Because if you do that, you have to remove teeny wire terminals from the Big Plastic Chunky Thing That Was Invented By Demons.

After learning that "Molex" means "pain in your ass," we won the battle with wire snippers.

Next, the super pretty chromed brass fascia comes off the glove box door.

I didn't really use a screwdriver. But it's fun to use photos that make the process look scarily hamfisted.

I'd considered just going without the fascia. Until it was removed and I remembered how boring a flat piece of flat black metal really is.

Unsexily nekkid.

We took the yuckiest piece of replacement chrome out of the 'glove box parts' box, scrubbed it with Four-Ought steel wool, and sliced:

Rant: Knowing that these little wiring terminals aren't proprietary and are just some product that the TerraTrip people buy from a store somewhere, I headed over to the local Radio Shack to pick up replacements. And I learned that though Radio Shack has all the nicely labeled drawers with words like "electrical connectors" and "terminals" and "diodes" and a whole bunch of other things, the bins inside those drawers are empty. EMP. TEE. They sell speaker wire and cell phones, and you can pay your utility bills there.
Not only that, but the good people who work there aren't smart about what used to be inside the bins. Nor can they call the other nearby Radio Shack to see if the bins in the other nearby location might be stocked. Remember when Radio Shack was staffed by geezers who made their own HAM radios and X Ray machines and knew everything about stuff? Extinct, yo.
Fortunately, everything Radio Shack gave up on is now located at Surplus Gizmos. This might be the coolest find in the last decade (Parkrose Hardware and Wink's being the others). They've got robot parts, chemicals, computer parts, etc. Check 'em out, if you're an uber geek:
Most importantly, they have the terminals I needed. They don't keep them in little bags or anything - they're on a big spool that's a yard in diameter. The spool probably holds a quarter million of these things. 2 1/2 cents each means I spent a dollar for a lifetime supply.
Also bought the "Molex Release Tool" but it wasn't the right one.

Because I had the wrong tool to remove the terminals, I grabbed a bunch of other pointy things. Tweezers, dental picks, a child-safe pumpkin carving knife...

The fun part that gets me hate mail: drilling holes in old cars:

Brackets mounted:

... TerraTrip mounted and fascia back in place:

And the glove box still works like a glove box. Race cars don't usually need those, but I like having it, and we'll certainly make use of it. Wires come up from below the dash and are secured to the glove box door so that they won't strain when we open and close the thing, and it easily tips up or down to suit the codriver's preference/height/slouch factor.

The only other thing that's happened with the car this week is that we're now revisiting the exhaust, which has to be larger than the current 2.25" ID setup. And the front swaybar is back where it belongs.

Next, we remove the interior. All of it. I've been putting that off, as it will definitively mark the actual point after which there is no turning back. That'll be the end of this being a marginally suitable street car. Enthused as I am for the project as a whole, this step is a tough one.

'til then -

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Suspension Of Disbelief.

Hey Friends --
[Largely irrelevant and long winded intro begins here. If you don't care about that, skip ahead to the next red section and start there.]

Welcome back to our sporadic and disorganized blog. Or maybe it's you who should welcome me back to interaction with the outside world. This is about where I'd start off with some bogus rationale a sensible explanation about being away for a while and not attending to the ol' blog and stuff -- but given that I've used that tired refrain a few too many times already, I'll have to come up with some other excuse for leaving you hanging. In anticipation. With bated breath. Because my narcissistic self and its inflated ego just knows you've nothing better to do that while away your time here with me.

... or maybe you just need a laugh, and my continual false starts provide exactly the comic relief your life is missing. Or maybe this fails to be either informative OR entertaining and I'm just chasing my tail and pretending this is interesting for people other than myself. Either way here we are. Thanks for that.

Since our last update, I've continued to drive the car all the time. Naturally, I neglected to make a note of the odometer when I got the thing back on the road, so I don't know how many miles we've logged. Whoops.

Last May, I was invited to display the car at the annual ipd Garage Sale and Show, and to my complete amazement, we came home with the 'Best in Show' award. About the same time, Part 1 of a series about the car that's to be published in the VSA (Volvo Sports America) quarterly magazine showed up in the mailbox. [For some reason unbeknownst to me, Part 2 didn't make it into the following issue. Maybe this Volvo isn't sporty enough.]

The other thing that's kept me away from here is that, for several months, I've been looking for a shop to lease so that I can take on more customer cars and have a place to continue to maintain our own old Volvos. I finally found a place, and am happy to announce that Swedish Relics is now a legitimate, insured, taxed and licensed 1800 square foot enterprise here in the Portland area. We even have the domain name - swedishrelics.com - although there's nothing on the website. I don't know how to do that website stuff.

We also have a telephone number, so if you need anything for your old European car, please do call. 503-703-4366. Thanks.

Things got super messy and crowded after this.
... anyway, it took almost a month to get through all the paperwork, get a business license and a Federal Tax ID thing and insurance and utilities and stuff, and then I had to put up cabinets, build a workbench, set up the stereo (duh!), move all my tools and parts into the place, which meant unloading a very full garage at home as well as a very crammed 10x20 storage unit plus two cars before I could do anything. About the time that the dust settled, we left town to visit my wife's family and we were gone for three weeks.
As soon as we returned, I got back to work. One good thing is that there are people in Portland who have old European cars in need of attention, so we've had a Jensen-Healey come through, a couple Volvo 1800s, an ES and a '58 Fiat Multipla.
The 444, though, is why I'm typing and you're reading and now I've gone completely off topic. Let's get back to it.
[Largely irrelevant and long winded intro ends here.]
One of the things (there are a few, but I'll only admit to them as they're addressed) that we did in a bit of a rush when putting the car together initially has to do with the front sway bar. We can't use the ipd PV series front bar, because the moment arms (those are the ends where the holes are) aren't the right distance apart to align with the endlink mounts (that's what those holes are for) in the lower A-arms on the 140 front suspension. So, as mentioned in an earlier post, we'd mounted up an ipd 140 series front swaybar. That's all well and good, but the bends in the new bar are closer together than in the old bar, which means that we can't use the original factory mounting holes for the saddle brackets that secure the center section of the swaybar to the chassis of the car. This is that scope creep thing that Phil told me about.
Did that make sense? Here's the short version: we had to change the sway bar mount locations.
The simple way to do this was to drill through the box section of the chassis and use really long bolts to hold the sway bar in place. But with the new steering box, these bolts had to come in at something other than a nice right angle, which looked sloppy while also making removal and replacement of the bar itself a complicated process involving someone with a wrench leaning over the engine compartment and holding the bolt head while someone else with a wrench was under the car loosening the nut. We need this to be serviceable by one person, we need it to be simple, and we need it to be solid. We also need to not have bolt heads on the top of the frame member next to the radiator, because there will be some structural reinforcement anchored there later on.
Here goes:
A piece of flat steel, cut to length. Drilling pilot holes.
Enlarging holes...

Comparing new 'base plate' to saddle bracket.
The idea here is to have threaded studs (well, bolts) welded to the chassis such that we can slide the saddle brackets into place and then secure them with nuts. This is simpler to perform than threading bolts into captive nuts that are welded inside the frame (which is what the original design included) because we won't have to probe around in the dark. As much. Plus welding nuts into the inside of a steel box is magic well beyond our scope.

Flat steel gets bolts.
Bolt heads welded to steel, and we've added a 3rd hole in the middle.
Crap on the floor. We do this exercise a lot.
This next photo (I hope) makes the idea more clear: the two threaded holes toward the side of the chassis member (toward the right in the pic) are the original swaybar saddle bracket mounting holes. The larger holes below and to the left of those are for the new swaybar. The welded bolt heads fit up into these holes, which allows the steel plate to sit flush against the chassis. That hole on the left of the pic was already there and doesn't play a role.

You're looking up from below here. As am I.
Test fit.
Second plate for the other side.
Lousy blurry photo. Lousy blurry welding.
I really enjoy welding, though I'm no expert. I can weld things together such that they're really strong, but they're never pretty. And every time I weld, I learn something new. With this project, I learned that lying on your back under a shower of welding sparks probably looks sexy and macho at first but those elements are likely offset by the horizontal thrash dance performed when the shower of sparks melts your polar fleece shirt into your delicate skin all over your torso. A thousand points of light have become a thousand little scorch marks. Which is probably pretty macho but I could really do without it.

And there we are. Now the swaybar is held in place with hardware larger and more robust than original and it's easily removed and installed by one person working alone.

[Largely irrelevant and long winded extensive deliberation related to the future of this build begins here. If you're not interested in my overthinking, ignore the following and just tune in next time.]

One of the absurdly frustrating recurrent themes with this whole endeavor has been "overthinking everything and worrying a lot about every last detail." A good example of this was the process of selecting front springs. It took a couple weeks of asking questions, screwing around Googling, using math [shudder] and finally making a best guess on what to put in the car. And as far as I can tell, that worked out well. Many other aspects of the project are dictated by the rules, which makes those decisions much simpler. Wheel size. Which transmission to use. Cage design. Stuff like that.

The thing that we (Jim Perry and I) are now struggling with is the engine. There are as many variables in an engine as there are in the whole rest of the car, and an engine for LCP isn't really suitable for typical racing, so we aren't really looking at something that can later be used in his race car. For example: we'll run on pump gas, so we can't run a high compression ratio nor a crazy cam profile. Of course, the engine has to be as reliable as we can make it and it has to be fast enough that we're competitive. And then there's cost. We're now thinking about how much custom rods and forged pistons cost and trying to balance that with how reliable we think an engine with stock rods and cast pistons would be.

A big consideration here is, of course, cost. We're not wealthy, so we're not able to simply toss several thousand dollars into something that's only useful for two weeks in the next year. And though it sounds fun to consider LCP as an annual event, that's not part of the plan either.

We know people who have spared no expense and didn't finish the race, and we know people who have run engines that are built with standard 'off the shelf' parts and run the event several times without a failure and without a rebuild. We've been told it's the most demanding race on Earth, and we've been told that it isn't really a race but more of a high speed tour.

The only thing everyone seems to agree on is that we need something that can run at redline for extended periods of time. I guess what we're trying to sort out is whether we can justify the cost of a full blown race engine that's tuned for this event and won't be of much use after that, or if it makes more sense to build something less exotic and to bring a spare or two. Three simple engines cost less than one super duper engine. And we have three simple engines on hand. Tough call.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Engaging Gauges and Instrumental Instrumentation.

Just when you were breathing a sigh of relief about how I'd probably wandered off into the ethers and would no longer be pestering you with this LCP 444 'Pretending To Build a Race Car' blog thing, here we are again. Your gluttony for punishment nicely meshes with my narcissism. Symbiosis.

I haven't written anything for longer than usual, because I've been 1) really busy with other things that have to do with making an income; and 2) driving the 444 every time I can think of a reason to drive anyplace. Yep: it's a running, driving, noisy, smelly heap of awesome good fun. And though it handles much better than I'd expected, there are limits to the tires' adhesion. I found that sweet spot earlier today.

One real benefit to using pretty average tires among the so called 'performance radial' selection (the 444 currently rocks a set of Falken Ziex 205 60 15s) is that there's a fair bit of area between "total traction" and "no traction." So you can take a corner with some panache, and you can feel the adhesion decrease, and you can adjust the car's attitude. With more throttle, you can push the car further away from "total traction" and drift the corner; with less, you can bring the rear end back in line. When you upgrade to really sticky performance tires, that range becomes much narrower. So instead of easing on and off the throttle to swing the rear end of the car further out or bring it back in line, it becomes really easy to suddenly transition from being in control of the car to not being in control at all.

I'm perfectly happy to have the tires be my limiting factor. For now.

And now that the 444 is getting use, I can start finding out what needs further attention. For example: the bracket I'd welded together to mount the torque rods atop the differential wasn't robust enough, and it started to bend, which allowed the rear axle to rotate such that the pinion (that's the forward pointy thing that connects to the driveline) nosed  upward a bit. This isn't such a big deal (as long as you notice before whatever bad thing that might happen actually does happen), so that whole bracket thing came out of the car and has now been substantially reinforced. After the most severe and percussive testing my tired old B18 can muster, it's no longer bending. I think this one will work for now, and I'm thinking on ways to make a stronger version.

Note: if you take a car all apart and then put it back together, it's probably a good idea to crawl all over the thing and around and under it every time you come home after a drive. Even if you just go down the street and back. You're looking for things that are leaking, things that are loose, things that are missing, and things that are damaged. This is really important. This is, precisely, why we aren't planning on racing the car until next year.

And use Loctite. The blue stuff. Lots of it.

To my delight, the torque rod bracket had started to bend before Chris welded the panhard bracket onto the axle (see previous issue). The bracket bent, the axle rotated about ten degrees, and while I wasn't thinking about that detail, I had Chris work his magic. Being a sensible 'measure twice cut once' kind of guy, he'd asked several times along the way if everything was the way I wanted it, and I kept saying 'yes' (while thinking 'quit talking and weld the damned thing already'). And now that the pinion angle has been corrected, the panhard bracket is - you guessed it - about 10 degrees off. The panhard bracket will never again depart the axle, so the panhard rod itself is now slated for modification. Thankfully, it's just a matter of cutting and welding the thing, and this is the perfect time to make it into an adjustable panhard. I don't think I'll ever need to adjust it, but adjustable panhard rods are exotic and add street cred.

Pretty soon, it'll be time to set caster and camber. I kept all the shims when I took the crossmember out of the donor car - and I kept them separate left to right but not front to back - so I'm not certain that they all went back where they'd come from. Actually, it'd be silly to presume that any of them are where they used to be. And after lowering the front suspension more than 3 inches it's probably kind of a non issue. Really, camber and caster should be dialed in before you go driving around a bunch, but I did check them and they're within acceptable parameters. 'Acceptable' is a pretty broad term in my garage right now. Left side camber is 2.5 degrees, right side is 2 degrees. I don't remember what the caster numbers are. They didn't bother me enough to stay in my thoughts.

The 444 had been sequestered inside the garage since last August. I finally had a chance to park it outside, stand back and have a look at it.

Neil, owner of Sidedraught City, offered to loan his fender roller.
Now that the car is good enough to drive around, I'll be displaying it in the 52nd annual ipd Garage Sale and Show this coming Saturday - May 16th. If you're a Volvo dork enthusiast like I am (and you're anywhere reasonably close to Portland, Oregon), this event is not to be missed.

I stopped by my friend Marc's house (he provided the steering box for the car) to have a look at one of his Volvos that wasn't behaving. While I was there, I mentioned having passed up a couple sets of 142GT gauges and that I'd wished I'd bought them... the first set was priced at around $200, and that seemed steep enough that I kept looking. The next set was even less affordable (unless $650 sounds like a bargain to you). I didn't need the whole set, but I really want to have a 130mph speedometer and an 8000rpm tach; and if you're going to have those, there really isn't anything cooler than period VDO instruments that have the word VOLVO printed on their faces.

[I'm not asserting that the car will attain 130mph. But I want the speedometer to accommodate more than what the car will likely produce. We certainly will need an 8000rpm tach, though.]

Marc dug around in the back of his shop and produced a box that had these tasty treats:

I took them home and got out my own box, which contained a bunch of things like this:

The speedometer worked, but the odometer didn't (nor did the tripmeter). So apart it came. The bezel that holds the lens is crimped onto the housing, so there's really no choice but to remove the delicate chromed bezel if you want to dump out the pieces that are inside, which is - of course - exactly what I wanted to do. A really small dental pick thing is preferable to hammer and chisel things.

About 100 laps with this, and the crimp opens enough to slide off the housing.
... once the bezel is off, two screws on the opposite end of the housing release the guts from the case. And after you remove a few more screws, everything comes all apart all over the place. It's nerve wrackingly cool. All you really have to do is pay close attention, not lose any of the teeny little bits, think about how things work, and figure out what isn't working. Then figure out how to make the broken thing be not broken while keeping in mind that you have no access to replacement parts. I love this stuff.
Altering the mileage reading on a motor vehicle is a felony. FELONY.
After getting the odometers to work again, lubing the moving parts and cleaning the lens, everything went back together. Here's a lovely picture of the speedometer after a slow and careful reassembly. In the lower right corner of the photo is the needle which I forgot about and that should be placed inside the gauge before the lens and bezel are, as shown, in place.
It came apart and went together again after this.
 Next: figure out how to mount the 'new' speedometer in place of the old. Tinsnips allow us to enlarge the hole in the middle of the 444 instrument panel. I experimented on the one that someone had already completely ruined painted black:

... then we fit the new gauge to the old panel:
This is a test. I really dislike that black panel.
Having the new speedometer smaller than the original has a genuine benefit: my brain works in mph, which is what the gauge displays. But the LCP is run in kilometers. The circular area surrounding the new gauge will nicely accommodate a second set of numbers, which will allow the driver to check his or her speed in the archaic American mph style OR the Metric System, which everyone else in the whole world has been using for decades. Except Europe, where it's been in place for over a century... not including France, where it's been in use for more like two centuries.

... but the odometer won't read in kilometers. That's part of why we have the Terratrip I mentioned in an earlier episode. Last time, I talked about mounting the probes behind the brake rotors up front. Since then , I've wondered if they were close enough to the studs, or aligned properly, or even still in there at all. Today I found out.

I'd tried fitting the Terratrip to the dash, then thought about losing the glove box (that'd give me a nice big flat panel for lots of neat things!) and putting it there, but finally decided that I like the glove box too much and that I should just get the mounting bracket:
Way better than what I can do with angle aluminum.
They fit together like they were made for each other. Because they are. Wiring the thing up is really simple. Much simpler than installing a stereo.
There are 18 available slots. We're using 5 of them.
The bracket can be mounted with hardware if you like; or you can use the included suction cups to stick it onto the windshield. For those of us lucky smart enough to have cars with metal dashboards, it's even more versatile. This is helpful, as I can point it toward the driver for now, and the codriver later on. I don't think the suction cups will be suitable for a permanent install but for testing and calibration, they're pretty sweet.

Once it's wired, you press the power button, select "Calibration" from the menu, then follow the instructions displayed on the screen. All you really have to do is drive a precisely measured distance, then push "enter," and then tell the thing how far - in miles or kilometers, whichever you're using - you just drove. Pretty slick.

To calibrate the thing, I drove around in our newer boring car (with its digital instruments, which ought to be pretty accurate) until I'd gone a precisely indicated 2 miles. Then I drove the same route with the Terratrip. It calibrates based on inputs from both wheel sensors (I'd wondered about this) and in regular use, the human can tell it which sensor to use. I'm not sure why the human cares, unless one of the sensors should fail.

Racing (which this car hasn't even done yet) is an effective way of turning money into noise, and so far this project has been funded entirely by selling off my spare parts and wrenching on other people's old Volvos in my spare time. As far as the parts go, I've been hoarding stuff for a long time because "it'll be worth money someday." And someday has arrived. I've still got a lot of rusty crap highly collectible spare parts to sell, but probably not enough to cover all of the costs.

Getting sponsorships is not often easy. You're basically asking for money in exchange for promoting someone's business; and they have to believe that your effort(s) will be worthy, that you have a chance of winning, and that the exposure you can provide will actually be of value to them. Not everyone thinks that their logo on a car speeding through Mexico fits the bill. To gain a sponsor is to gain a vote of confidence. It's flattering and inspiring all at once. It also kind of means that you really better do it and you'd better make a good show of it.

That said: I'd like to take a moment to thank ipd and Sidedraught City for sponsoring this effort. Each of these companies is well known and well respected and I'm very grateful to receive their generous support.

Check 'em out and tell them I sent you. Racing gear and accessories; and the very best car care products:


The Volvo experts:


Next big ticket item: gonna strip the interior and get a cage in the thing.

'til then. Rubber side down.

Cheers --

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Never Time To Do It Right, Always Time To Do It Over.

In the past, when a project that should have been something like A then B then C eventually came to include D then E then F, I'd sort of file that away in my brain somewhere under "that irritating jackass of a thing really got out of hand," or in the "things that are mostly a bunch of hooey" files. The trouble with this, if your brain is as rigidly organized and neatly laid out as my own is that the vagaries of labeling events thusly leads, counterintuitively, to a lack of organization, which in turn makes it harder to remember what went badly and what you might wish to avoid next time around.

For years, I considered these scenarios as 'times that things got out of hand because one small problem unearthed another, larger problem that simply had to be addressed.' Like you need new tires because your old ones are worn, and at the tire store you learn that your control arm bushings are shot and that's not only worn out your tires but has also led to other issues that make the car less than safe.

Another kind of problem for the homeschooled wrencher is making a simple mistake that leads to a much larger problem than you were trying to solve in the first place. (HINT.)

A really simple example of this would be forgetting the drain plug in the middle of an oil change. The first time you do it, you think 'whoa. I'll never do that again,' and the lesson sticks for a while. The second time, you think 'whoa dammit crap! I'll never EVER do that again,' and the lesson sticks a whole lot longer. If you're lucky, you remembered to add oil and you made a mess and you noticed this before you tried to start the car. If you're not, you didn't, and then you learned about replacing main and rod bearings and stuff.

For the record, I've never forgotten the oil drain plug. That's just an example.

My problem (one of them - there's lots) is that for a long time, I collapsed both kinds of issues into one vague description or another and failed to identify them by using accurate and tidy and neat labels that would allow my brain to fetch the appropriate file when a similar threatening opportunity presented itself in the future. Overall, one kind of problem is self caused and generally the result of making a mistake. Stupid mistake or smart mistake, it doesn't matter. Mistake.

The other kind of issue has nothing to do with the perpetrator user but is the result of How Stuff Is. That's the 'fixing one thing uncovers other, important things that must be addressed.' I lamented this phenomenon and it wasn't until I'd been its frequent victim for more than a decade that my good friend Phil shared with me its correct label: Scope Creep.

Having a name for the thing made the thing less scary. But not less aggravating. I don't yet know the proper name for the other kind of problem - the one that arises as a result of my own ignorance or oversight or mistake, so things that happen in this realm are still relegated to either the "irritating jackass" or "bunch of hooey" files.

Few things offer as many rich opportunities to revisit my mental acuity or sanity [or lack of same] as effectively as an old car. My current quandary is twofold: (1) the car is (2) driving me crazy. So I have to address the car thing and then I can address the crazy thing. But the crazy thing calls for identifying which of the car factors are the result of Scope Creep (which I cannot control and ought not be bothered by) and which are caused by My Own Shortcomings.

The most likely approach to these irritants will be the same it's always been. Make the car work right, tell myself I'll remember the lessons this time around (both those related to factors I can and cannot influence), and end up with little more than a vague recollection of how I got there. And really, that's for the best. All this philosphicalness overthinking really does is take up a bunch of what little RAM might still exist in the grey matter. All that really matters can be boiled down into a simple question: Is it fixed, or isn't it?

So let's get on with it already.

The weird thing about this whole project is that all the stuff that I'd never done before is working nicely. And all the stuff that's been done from scratch is working nicely. Converting the cooling system is a cool project on its own, and it's nice that nothing went badly. Ditto adding the oil cooler. And the Crane Ignition. And all the new wiring and the new fusebox and the new warning lights and the new rear facing aux lights. All those things went perfectly. And the brakes, which are exactly like the brakes on the 40 or 50 different cars I've dealt with in the past, continue to give me achy brains.

After the last installment, I took the car out to run a bunch of errands around town only to find that once I was as far away from home as I was going to get, that they were sticking again. Sticking. Again. Very sticking. Very frustrating.

I did the sensible thing. I bought a pair of new, not rebuilt but brand new, front calipers. And thinking that 'new is better than old,' I got some new braided stainless flex lines to go with them:

... the really cool thing about these is that they're available off the shelf and were instantly available. Calipers came via iRoll Motors, and the lines were in stock at Oil Filter Service here in Portland. Both lines, plus some cool adapters that connect to the hardlines on the car, plus some 45 degree fittings (which I didn't end up needing) set me back about $60. That seemed like a great deal.
Especially cool are the adapters. They secure to the hardlines as normal, but to fully seal them up with the flex line requires 'hand tight plus 1/8th of a turn.' The flex lines will be really easy to remove if I ever the next time I have to.
And because it was apart, this was the obvious time to mount the Terratrip Wheel Probes. A Terratrip is a rally computer that has a really accurate speedometer, a couple stopwatches that can count up or down and are resettable on the fly, tracks average speed, current speed, top speed and distance in either miles or kilometers. Super trick gizmo:
Crappy glare photo courtesy of the author.

The probes are supposed to fit behind the wheel studs, so that as you drive along, they can smell or see each stud as it passes by. The acceptable range is 1-1.75mm (that's small, for those of you not keen on the metric system). The backing plate is too far away to just drill a hole and screw the probe into place, so we needed some kind of bracket. And what could be more fun than putting errant bits of hardware behind your brake rotors?
This is the target distance, roughly:

... and this is how far the probe has to be from the backing plate:

I found some brackets in the Culch Heap and played with a hammer and vise and drill:

Culch Heap: spare parts collection made up partly of actual spare parts and other things that might become spare parts. I learned this from George Downs, who was one of the very best among us.

Odd bracket as found on right, as modified on left.
 The bracket goes onto the backing plate, courtesy of an existing allen head bolt. Then it gets more bent and twisted so the probe will line up with the wheel studs:

Without probe.
A little hole in the backing plate allows the wire to pass through:

Probe in place. For now, anyway.
 ... and then all the brake stuff goes back on. There is no need to discuss this because we've already spent way too much time on it. Presto:

Last time I made the dumb mistake took the honorable path and said something about full disclosure. Now that there's a precedent for that, I probably have to continue though the truth is that I'd like to avoid it, because this next part is embarrassing and has likely cost a lot of money.

There's a circlip in the end of the master cylinder. They all have them. Yours does too. And there's a little groove into which that circlip fits. And I'd removed my circlip when I received my new Wilwood master cylinder so that I could futz with the thing, and when I put it back into the cylinder, up under the dash with bad lighting, I placed the circlip further inside the master cylinder than the groove dictates.

This means that, though the pushrod wasn't preloading the master cylinder (I'd checked this more than once), that the circlip was doing exactly that. I'd think that the pressure that seemed to be building up in the system would have popped it outward (either into the groove, which would be sweet; or onto the floor of the car, which would be horrible) but it didn't.

Bottom line: I think I rebuilt the rear calipers and replaced the front calipers and lines all because I'd incorrectly installed the circlip, which I didn't need to remove in the first place. The very good news (and I really do mean this) is that other than the rotors, the brake system in this car is as new as it can be. That's absolutely the smart thing to do.

I drove the car around a little, and the brakes aren't sticking even a tiny bit. I'm cautious about it, though, because that happened once before and it didn't get really apparent until I'd taken a longer drive. I'll be doing that next. And assuming this attempt is successful, I'm going to drive the car every chance I get.

Next time, we'll see what kind of things I can screw up as I try to install the Terratrip. Sheesh.

Cheers -

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Them's the Brakes. And the Breaks.

Okay, full disclosure. Cars like this old Volvo use a panhard rod, or panhard bar, to ensure that the body remains above the rear axle while driving around corners. But as I mentioned a while ago, the new axle for this old Volvo came with a panhard rod bracket that was located on the passenger side of the axle. The original axle had its bracket on the driver's side.
Of course, this means that we had to move the bracket from where it was over to where it would actually do something other than look funny. And my welder is a cute little 110 mig which, though terrific for all the light duty stuff I've had to do so far, just isn't burly enough to secure the bracket to the axle. Well - it could secure the bracket, but it likely wouldn't hold up to the forces of the .9G corners we'll be navigating every three tenths of a second from now 'til eternity.
Anyway, we got to the point that the car was completely ready to be driven except that it didn't have a panhard rod  and I was just too excited about everything, so (full disclosure is now)I drove it up and down the street a number of times to see what it's like to drive with all that new stuff fitted between the bottom of the car and the surface of the road. Everything I've done thus far has been geared toward making the car do better in corners than it used to, and here I was driving in straight lines, making U turns at .05 mph at either end of the street.
It's not for me to say what others should or shouldn't do. I will say, though, that it isn't likely safe nor smart to drive a car that's absent a critical suspension component. Nor one that's lacking the seatbelt anchor typically found atop the transmission tunnel.
At the first opportunity, I made an appointment with a local fellow who likes Volvos, owns a big macho welder, and happens to also have a truck and trailer suitable for moving things like cars around. When the day finally came, the old Volvo rolled out of the garage, and then my young son saw it sitting there. Something that's the same color as his Radio Flyer ('Drop Your Shorts Red,' I believe it's called). With shiny stuff and handles. He opened the door himself and climbed into the driver seat. Himself. Where there were more shiny things and handles.
Certainly, this interest will turn out well in years to come.
Getting the bambino out of the car was unpleasant for everyone but we managed that, and then drove the car up onto the trailer. I've mentioned the need for ground clearance in this car, and while loading it onto the trailer, I demonstrated that it needs more of that before we go to Mexico. I did this by banging the muffler - HARD - against the edge of the trailer and tearing not one, but two holes in the thing. The muffler, not the trailer. This did not, alas, result in a more race car sounding exhaust.
Apocalypse Cider Secret Volvo Lair, with right hand drive 123GT, a 122 and a 242T in attendance.
I figured it'd take about an hour to weld the bracket onto the axle and that I'd be home in time for lunch. My beloved bride had already told me that she knew I'd be gone most of the day, which I enthusiastically denied, mostly because I like spending my Sundays with her and our son. More of that "if I wish hard enough, maybe reality will surrender to my whim" thing I do.

She was exactly right [again].

Once we had the car on stands and everything lined up the way we wanted, it was obvious that we needed  a spacer between the panhard bracket and the axle. The brackets have to be the right distance apart, and they also have to be aligned so that when the panhard bar itself is in place that nothing is torqued against a bushing or wedged or compressed against anything and you can get things apart and back together again without a lot of fuss. What you want need, basically, is to have Zero Load (in any direction) on the panhard rod while the car is sitting prone on its suspension. Or maybe I should call it Zero Preload. Whatever.

For those of you interested in tuning archaic suspensions, you can change the roll center of the car by moving the ends of the panhard rod up or down (this, in turn, moves the center of the bar up or down, which is what really makes it all happen. Sort of. I'm paraphrasing.) I considered this, and then chose to not modify the panhard arrangement beyond the design limitations of the car as it was and the axle as it was. The original PV panhard bracket locates the axle end of the bar a couple inches higher than the one we're using, so the bar is lower than it used to be - but that's just how it worked out and not a calculated placement. The car, the panhard rod and the roll center are all somewhat lower now than before, and that will be just fine. And if it isn't fine, we can change it later. But for now, the task was 'getting the thing on the car.' And really, I don't tune suspensions to that degree. So far.

We had to move the axle bracket 1/2" aft. That's too much to build up with a gobby bunch of welding slag, and whatever we were to use for a spacer needed (and still needs) to be extremely stout.

Chris brought over his welding cart, and I immediately understood why he'd mentioned that it would be simpler to bring my car to his place than his welder to mine.  The monstrosity berthed in his shop makes my welder look like a toaster. And the cart also carries a plasma cutter, which might be the coolest thing ever. He found a piece of steel pipe that had an ID that matched the axle's OD and was - most excellently - 1/2" thick. After running that through a horizontal band saw and then a chop saw and then some plasma cutting, he'd made exactly the spacer that the car needed. And then with the welder they once used to build the Death Star, he welded the bracket onto that.

Plasma cutting.

You might think this is not pretty. I might vehemently disagree.
 ... and once those pieces became one, the axle received its new panhard rod bracket:

The gas tank isn't in the car, if that's what you're wondering.
Because I frequently come up short in the sensibility arena had no reason to think the car was anything other than ready for the road, we put the gas tank back in, added some fuel, and I drove away. The roads between Chris' house and my own are deliciously full of twists and turns, and I was beyond eager to see how the car felt. Unfortunately, I immediately found myself behind the Slowest Guy On Earth, who was sleeping behind the wheel while  towing his boat and trailer from somewhere lousy to somewhere even lousier. Cornelius Pass Road is perfect at 40 or 50 mph, and the speed limit is a reasonable 45. We kept our speed between 10 and 25 mph. I'm not kidding. I was downshifting into first for some of the corners, and never got into third until we emerged out of the forest and into the farmland where the road straightens out and becomes less interesting. But the car felt great. Steering and ride quality are, so far, the best they've ever been in this old PV since I've owned it. I ran over all the potholes on purpose just to feel the bumps; and I wiggled the steering wheel back and forth a whole lot just to enjoy the instant changes in trajectory without the slightest hint of body roll. Not that there's a lot of body roll at 13mph. But still.

I'd been using the brakes a lot while not running into this silly boat, and right about the time the road opened up, I could feel something (like brakes) slowing the car down. I'd wanted to give the rears another round of bleeding but hadn't yet done so, and though the pedal felt just a little bit spongy, the brakes - overbuilt for a car 1000lbs heavier - had no trouble putting a stop to things. They were safe, just not perfect.

Eventually, the sticking brakes were stronger than the B18 engine in 4th gear. Then 3rd got laborious. Then we stopped at the side of the road. Stopping was easy - I just took my foot off the gas pedal and watched smoke roiling out of the wheelwells as the car came to a halt. I thought about the fire extinguisher that was back at the house. After a 20 minute cool down, everything freed up again and I drove home like normal, cruising highway 26 at a smooth 4500rpms.

Given that the brakes had been fine until they got some heat (from braking, presumably), I figured that there must still be air in the lines or - more likely - in the calipers. When air gets hot, it expands, which then pressurizes the brake system (which is what makes brakes act like brakes), and the pads push against the rotors, which causes drag, and the drag causes more heat, and the additional heat leads to the air further expanding. This isn't what always happens with ineffectively bled brakes, but it happens often enough that even I know about it.

What didn't match with my brilliant theory was that both the rear AND the front brakes were dragging. The rears were the ones that needed another round of bleeding, while the fronts, I was certain, were fully and effectively and properly bled. But the front brakes were also sticking. Poop.

I called the tech support line at Wilwood. I like to pretend I'm super smart about old Volvos and brakes and stuff, which means none of their PhD engineer braniacs could possibly know more than a slouch grey haired ex punk kid whose automotive professional history includes breaking a lot of things and taking a lot of cars apart.

Justin answered Wilwood's phone, and as soon as I shared my 'not bled right' theory with him, he cut right to the chase. The master cylinder I'd bought contains what are called "Residual Pressure Valves" in both braking circuits, and the ones I have are rated for 10psi. These are very good things for drum brakes - so good that even in the Bone Age when the car was built the first time, the original PV master cylinders all came with valves such as these. If this blog was about converting front drums to disks, I'd have already talked about taking the valve out of the original equipment PV master cylinder. Because if you don't, your front brakes will drag. Disk brakes (like those in this 444) don't need 10psi residual pressure valves. They need no residual pressure valves whatsoever. If you feel the need, you can use a 2psi valve in each circuit. I feel no such need.

It had not occurred to me - nor the person who wrote the instructions - that this fancy new master cylinder might happen to have such things installed. I'd assumed that anyone cool enough to use a master such as this was already cool enough to be using disk brakes all around. Whups.

Those little black things and the springs above them have to come out.
About the time I'd finished putting things back together, Peter showed up to help bleed the brakes for the hundredth time. We did that, then went for a quick drive and I was happy to find that the brakes feel like brakes, and that (at least so far) they aren't sticking.

But the horrible "chuff chuff flutter chuff" leaky exhaust sound coming from directly under the floor was getting worse the more I drove, and I realized it would drive me completely crazy within a few days minutes. Besides which, it was making a car that's supposed to be all kinds of badass sound like a clapped out piece of neglected crap car instead of the requisite all kinds of badass we're after. It also filled the cabin with stinky fumes and made my eyes burn, which probably isn't good.

Because I didn't want to spend a lot for an exhaust that's essentially a temporary piece, I went to the local Baxter's (FLAPS - Friendly Local Auto Parts Store) and picked out a 45 degree bend and a cheap copy of the old school Cherry Bomb Glasspack muffler. The exhaust now exits in front of the right rear tire, and does exactly what it's supposed to: barely quiets the engine. I won't recommend this for a daily driver passenger car kind of thing but it suits this old Volvo's purposes nicely. And if I break it like I did the last one, I'll only be out $30 instead of the $225 I paid for the custom fab piece that's now destined for the recycle bin.

Now that the car is, other than these frequent teething pains, roadworthy, I'll be driving it whenever I have somewhere to go (unless the kiddo is coming along). I know that there'll be more adjusting and tuning and tweaking along the way - that's how it always is with something like this - but mostly, I'm really looking forward to Phase Two. That'll be the part where the interior (which is perfect and oem and for sale) gets removed and we go about installing things like a roll cage, proper seats and belts, a fire system and fuel cell. Unless something goes really sideways, I think this is just going to keep getting more fun.

'til then.

Thanks --

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Belay My Last.

... or maybe not. The last thing I was crowing about was that the old Volvo now runs and drives; and yesterday I dared to find out if it would run and drive further than 100 yards from the relative safety of the garage. Which it most certainly did do, and I had a fine time zipping down to the post office, then stopping on the way home for a tasty celebratory hop soda.
The part that wasn't awesome was that I could feel the brakes dragging a bit. Not a whole lot, but a bit. Our driveway has a mild incline to it, and the car would roll down that, so I convinced myself that the brakes were just bedding in and that once the new pads became familiar with the old rotors and calipers that all would be well.
Trouble is that I usually know better than that. This was the kind of hoping one does when one does not wish to undo a fair amount of already accomplished labor. Like maybe if I'm nice to strangers and I really really hope that this one time I have a car with dragging brakes things will turn out completely different than the several other times I've had cars with dragging brakes. I was in denial.
To support my denial, I thought about what else might cause both rear brakes to stick while the front brakes were working exactly the way I wanted. I thought about the dual master cylinder and what might make one circuit not work properly; I thought about the proportioning valve and whether it might have some internal flaw, and I thought about some errant piece of debris that may have found its way into the brakeline - somewhere upstream of the T fitting - and was now acting as something of a valve and was preventing the release of brake fluid away from the calipers.
Then I did the thing you should never do when you have a symptom of any kind. I looked at google.
First thing was to remove the brake pedal actuating rod from the master cylinder to ensure that nothing was possibly activating the master. Wheels were still stuck. Next, I removed the flex line that connects the hardline on the belly of the car to the T on the rear axle. No change. Then off came the T fitting itself:
These look better on the car than on the floor.
Of course, because I've got racecar on the brain, I'd used the fancy (that is, not particularly affordable) ATE Blue Racing Brake Fluid Suitable For Rockets in the brake system. It's a very nice color and if it didn't feel like watching money burn I might not have minded seeing it drain into a pan under the car. I don't believe it's wise to reuse brake fluid. Even if it came out of a new container and went into a new system and then drained into a clean glass pan. Phooey.
I still couldn't turn the rear wheels by hand. Just to be absolutely certain that there wasn't a clog in the line, I applied pressure to the brake pedal. A LOT of fancy expensive even-stops-the-space-shuttle brake fluid squirted out. It isn't blocked. The good news is that I don't have to replace a brakeline nor the proportioning valve.
The crappy news is that I get to rebuild the rear calipers. I really don't like doing this. Mostly because it means dealing with gross old brake fluid and rusty crap that's hard to take apart. I'd be happy to bolt on some freshly rebuilt calipers, though, so I called Mike Dudek at iRoll Motors to see what he had on hand. The supply seems to be flush with right hand calipers, yet void of lefts. Or maybe I've got it backward. But the point is that one side is easy to find and the other is not. iRoll will rebuild your calipers for you if you like, or they can sell you rebuild kits and you can deal with the mess yourself.
I chose the latter, as that way I have to wait only for the kits to be delivered before I can get busy putting the stuff back together instead of waiting while parts are shipped from here to there and back. I made this decision before I relearned how yucky old calipers are. If you have to get this done, send 'em in.
These came off:

... after removing one of the dust covers, I found it to be full of little rust crumblies. Hard to tell on a wood bench, but that dusty stuff in the middle of the pic is a sample of the offensive material:

Recurrent theme: there's a smart way to remove the pistons, and there's the way I went about it. The smart way is to leave the calipers on the car and use the force of the brakes to push the pistons partway out of their bores within the caliper. But I was so busy wishing reality would bend to my whim (I do that a lot. It never works.) that I'd disabled the brake system and it didn't seem worth the trouble to put it all back together just so I could take it apart again.
Three of the four pistons came out pretty easily. The last one, though, did not. A self tapping screw into the center of the piston provided something to pry against, and a torch helped loosen things up. Good news: neither the old brake fluid nor the penetrating oil appears to be particularly flammable [Do NOT attempt to verify my findings! No no no!]. This one took twice as long as the other three combined:

There's that self tapping screw. DON'T try this at home. Do not.

After the pistons come out, the O-rings can come out. That part's easy. The thing that annoyed me is that they all look pretty good. And the pistons, which I expected to be covered in rust, also really look pretty good (not counting the ends that I abused with vise grips and similar horrible stuff).
Those are the 0-rings on the left. Inside the silver cylinder, there's a little groove into which one fits.

 ... and they're apart:

... and though they don't look much different, the bores are now nice and clean and the passages are clear and the grooves are without rust or debris:

For posterity, I guess, I'm including a pic of one of the hardlines from the rear axle. It's just a dang brakeline. But to see it lying on the floor, unloved, and draining $16 a quart fluid onto the ground makes a statement about where we are in the overall process of Pretending To Build A Racecar.

The rebuild kits are en route, and most of the rest of the car is where it needs to be for initial road testing; so once I can get the calipers back together and on the car, we should be back in business.

Parts sourced for this installment were ordered from iRoll Motors. An excellent resource for the vintage Volvo owner: http://www.irollmotors.com/

Next week: calipers go together so beautifully that we all weep a little and the car assembles itself like that super badass liquid metal dude in Terminator 2.

'til then --