Saturday, February 28, 2015

Stripping the Engine Room.

Now that the rear axle was mostly in the car (panhard rod bracket notwithstanding) and the front crossmember and suspension was mostly dealt with (as much as it could be without road testing the stuff), attention moved to the engine compartment.

... kind of. To be honest, the overall approach to this car hasn't been as orderly as it might seem (if it does seem orderly, which is probably not the case). I want to convey the steps within the process in a way that makes more sense than the how things actually unfolded, so this isn't all in chronological order. And though I'm touching on most of the steps along the way, you've probably noticed that this doesn't pass for instructions (you were warned) and that there's a lot of detail that's absent.

That said:

Everything in and around and under and related to the engine compartment that isn't the engine itself had to come out of the car. The heater went away, the brake reservoir, the coil, fusebox, all the wiring, radiator and hoses, the battery (actually this was removed a while ago), the fancy heim joint clutch linkage and the brake master cylinder. Outta there.

The steering box had already been removed and replaced with a 140 box that I picked up from Marc Williams (local Volvo guy who has a few 140s, a couple of which are race prepared). The PV box and steering shaft are all one piece that I wanted to be rid of, as it really just equates to a spear that's anchored at the front of the car and is pointing at your sternum (unless you aren't driving, in which case it's pointing at someone else's sternum, which is also not cool). So a large part of the rationale for the 140 steering box was to gain a collapsible steering shaft. This is important.

The reasoning behind changing the clutch mechanism is simple: that heim joint linkage that worked perfectly for more than a decade was the lowest point under the car, and LCP travels over a lot of bumps. Race organizers claim that cars need a minimum of 7 inches of ground clearance, and seasoned veterans of the event are pretty assertive about needing a minimum of 5. Many cars have skid plates installed so that once the front tires crest a speed bump, the belly of the car scrapes across the thing until the rear tires cross over. Mexican speed bumps are pretty serious. I'm not putting skid plates on this car. Extra weight = slower. Slower = bad.

Because we had to rework the clutch mechanism and we wanted a dual circuit master cylinder for the brakes, it made sense to set the car up with hanging pedals rather than the old tractor style pedals that pass through the floor (charming as they are). Adapting a dual brake master into the original location isn't such a tough thing, but the original location in a 444 is directly under the starter (if the car has a B18 or B20, which this one does). This means you have to remove the starter if you need to peek inside the brake master cylinder. A remote reservoir helps a lot as far as ensuring that you aren't low on fluid, but the brakelines and the master would still be lower than we wanted. Also, having hanging pedals in a PV adds to the Wow Factor.

I read up on Wilwood and Tilton pedal assemblies, found the Dover Brothers blog on their preparation of an LCP 444, and spoke some more with Christopher Georger, who put 122 pedals into a 544 and later put an aftermarket Tilton setup into a 444. Again with the firsthand experience and comparative data between my two options. Between the two approaches, Christopher was totally clear that he preferred the Tilton approach over the stock 122 parts.

Even still, I didn't decide exactly how I was going to do it right away. I have pretty good access to used parts (this is Portland, which is pretty awesome in that regard) and I wasn't sure about making aftermarket pedal assemblies, which are designed to mount to a vertical surface, fit onto a firewall that's close to 70 degrees without more cutting and welding. Cutting and welding is fine, but if I'm going to do that, I like the idea of using Volvo parts instead of the more generic stuff.

So with that bunch of thoughts rolling around in the back of my head, I started stripping the engine room.

Last pic with the old stuff in the engine compartment:

The original hood hinges had to come out to make room for the DCOEs and long intake manifolds [NOS Volvo Competition Service goodies!] and the larger radiator, so those went away. The pile of extra parts was growing.

The lack of hinges dictate that the hood either be removable and held in place with pins, or that it hinge at the rear and that the front be secured with pins. I went with hinges at the rear, as I don't want to be required to carry the hood around and set it down gently in gravel by the side of the road in high wind. Or at the gas station. Or at my house. Or ever, really. Much nicer to have a hood that opens and closes without having to take it off the car and deal with a big piece of sheetmetal.
Of course, finding a pair of hinges that would allow a bit of swiveling while they pivot to accommodate the curve of the hood and cowl that mounted to the outside of the car wasn't as simple as a trip to the local hardware store. In the end, we made up some simple hinges using PV door limiting strap bolts (these went through holes in the cowl) and some 90 degree angle aluminum, bolted through the reinforced part on the aft end of the hood. Big fender washers on the backside fore and aft, and it's done. We'll still add pins at the rear - these aren't terribly robust hinges, after all - but at least we don't have to deal with removing the hood just to check the oil.
Hinge on the far side is in place. Drilling through what used to be a pretty decent hood for the hinge on the close side:
... and now it opens from the front. Rear axle and new wheels are in place in this photo; original front crossmember with 122 disks and calipers is still under the front end:

Hinges in place:

Now that the hood can flip back out of the way, everything in the engine compartment can come out. First removed is the heater. See? Here it isn't:

 ... then the fusebox and wiring. Note: if you label wires with masking tape because it's late at night and you aren't thinking clearly and then you pull the wires through the holes in the firewall into the cabin, all of the masking tape instantly comes off the wires and you end up with a big mess of unlabeled spaghetti.
Clearly labeled wires immediately prior to their demise:

Aside from sloppily taking things apart, the process of putting things into the car continued. The larger-than-original (and sealed!) radiator - from the same '74 142 that had surrendered its rear axle, found its place. To get that done, the first thing to do was buy another mess of cutting wheels for the angle grinder.
I don't really like angle grinders, having used one to open one of my hands a few years ago. I was under a Volvo, the thing attacked me, I jolted and hit my forehead on the underside of the car, then recoiled and banged the back of my head on the concrete floor. The grinder, its "stays on like it or not" switch still in the active position, had bound itself up in my shirtsleeve and was humming something that sounded like "just release me, and your face is next." On the upside, though, if you do grind away some tissue, the quarter inch wide wound will be instantly cauterized and you won't actually lose any blood and you can just keep working. Very handy.
First, we closed the hood and drew a line around it with a Sharpie so we'd know how much material could be removed without ending up with a weird hole emerging out into the fender from below the hood; then we measured the new radiator and traced out where to make more irreversible cuts. FYI: Sharpies make nice clear lines which are not so easily removed from lightly oxidized paint later on.
Roundish outer line = hood footprint. Square cornered other line = radiator swaddling:

... and then started cutting:

Dead weight goes away. I have a big pile of stuff like this now:

... and the new radiator slips into place:

The bottom of the radiator sits in a bracket a lot like the original 140 piece - basically a piece of flat metal with a hole in it. The upper brackets (shown) are made of aluminum.
The rest of the stuff that came out doesn't really merit photos (good thing as I don't have any). Removing the SUs and intake manifold, for example, is something everyone who likes this kind of thing has already seen.
The end point for this section leaves us with a naked engine sitting in a similarly naked engine compartment. Not quite a blank slate, but pretty close. This was about the time I started feeling like the project had transitioned from 'mostly taking crap apart' to 'mostly putting crap together.' That's a crucial step if you want to retain any level of optimism.
Of course, the most significant and irreversible cutting is yet to come.
'til next time, then. Cheers -

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Front Crossmember.

Being that this is the land of litigation, I should probably have a disclaimer of some kind. Here ya go:
Don't try any of this at home. These are not instructions. There's an enormous amount of thought and care behind this that isn't mentioned in the text, and my flippant tone should not be construed as a haphazard approach. If you try any of these things yourself, you alone are accountable for the results.
Crap. That means I'm accountable for this. Oopsie. 
The original plan had been to fit a rear axle out of an 1800E or ES. One benefit that this would offer is that - though the bolt pattern for the wheels wouldn't match - the track width would remain at 51 inches. Had we found such an axle, we could have switched out the front rotors for a pair with the later bolt pattern and left the original front crossmember and suspension and steering stuff in place. But the 142 has a track width of 53 inches, so the track width (and thus the wheel offset as mentioned previously) wouldn't match.
The way to make the front track width match the rear was to put the complete crossmember and suspension and steering stuff from the 142 into the 444. Simple, right?
Well used front end, post removal:

... and a similarly nasty 140 piece, pre-installation:

This was the Really Intimidating Thing. Though the crossmember is overall wider than the one that came out, the shock towers are closer together... just enough that the piece doesn't fit without cutting away some of the material that, to be blunt, supports the weight of the forward half of the car. Not only that, but the upper A-arm pivot bolts want to share some of the same space as the "horns," or "longerons," which protrude forward from the firewall; which means that after cutting away some of the flange on the bottom, you also have to cut out some of the structural material that your life will depend on when you're driving a hundred miles an hour over speed bumps in Mexico. (Don't worry - the roll cage design includes reinforcement for this area.)
Viewing from the right front, looking toward the middle of the car. On the bottom, you can see that there's about a half inch of the flange cut away (this accommodates the shock tower) and the large sort of rectangular hole in the box section allows the upper A-arm to clear:
[Note: swapping crossmembers with the engine still attached to the transmission and hanging from a hoist is not recommended. Do as I say, not as I do.]
I'd searched online to see how others had dealt with this and found that some people had squeezed the box sections to make them narrow enough to accommodate the crossmember (this didn't seem ideal to me, and I don't have anything that can squeeze something of this scale) and that most of the other cars I could find had what I now have: cuts.
Christopher Georger (you might know him from the Brickboard or other online forums) has done this very swap to two PVs (and has done a much prettier job of it than I) so I contacted him with a long list of questions. There's nothing like primary source reference material. I'd like to take credit for being smart and innovative, but the fact is that he gave me answers and insights I'd never have come up with on my own.
The one thing he did that I didn't mimic (aside from nice clean cutting and welding) is that he notched the frame so that the crossmember would tuck higher up into the car. If you just bolt it in, like I did, the ride height with the stock springs will be absurdly high. Christopher notched his car so he'd have a sensible (and close to stock) ride height, then he welded in a bunch of reinforcement so that the car would remain safe and roadworthy.
For this car, we want a ride height that's close to stock, which is on the tall side for a race car. But we're also running some pretty firm springs, and the goal is to have close to 6 inches of suspension travel at the wheel (more would be ok, less would not). After lots of screwing around and measuring, it was determined that we could run much shorter springs and maintain the travel we want; and that this could all happen without notching. So no notch.
Being paranoid, I welded a bunch of reinforcement into the inside of frame members before then welding them closed. Can't be too careful. Hope they don't break.
Crossmember dry fit. Note that the idler arm isn't yet bolted to the frame. Also, everything is really dirty and not really worthy for your inspection:

Once the member was in place, it was easy to notice that the engine mount brackets aren't where they need to be. Cut drill weld presto. And geometry being what it is, the engine now sits about an inch and a half lower than it did with the original crossmember. Rather than elevate the engine mount brackets, I adapted other things to fit this lower installation, as it will help maintain a low center of gravity (that's a good thing) and the oil pan is still well above the low point on the crossmember, so we should be alright with getting over speed bumps and such.
Stock springs, I'm told, are right around 270lbs per inch. That means it takes 270lbs to compress one of the spring by one inch... but you have to be math smart to take into account the length of the lower A-arm and the fulcrum point and other magic leverage stuff in order to know what that really means in terms of ride quality and handling once the spring is in the car; and what the resulting effective wheel rate will be. I talked to lots of people who know more about this than I do, and finally settled on 450lb springs. They are very different than the originals. Not only are they a LOT firmer than the originals, they're a lot shorter. 8 inches versus 11.5.
Old versus new:

The front suspension bushings, tie rods, center rod ends and balljoints were all replaced with new pieces from ipd. Most of those parts are stock issue, though the bushings are urethane. I'm sorry I didn't get photos of the shock arrangement. Stock 140 spec shocks, of course, don't fit because the suspension is much lower than original. After more measuring and puttering, the solution was found: PV spec front shocks can be adapted fairly easily - using the lower mount bracket from the original 142 shock allows the PV shock to interface with the lower A-arm. For the top, a "pin to eye shock adapter" makes the perfect connection between the 'pin' side (142 crossmember) and the 'eye shock' side (PV shock). The rear Bilsteins had come from VP Autoparts; the fronts were sourced through ipd.
The PV front swaybar, of course, doesn't fit anymore. Now the car has an ipd 140 series front bar. The saddle brackets for the 140 bar are too tall - they interfere with the steering arms - so we're still using the shorter saddle brackets and bushings from the PV kit.
Another thing I don't have pictures of is the steering box and idler arm fitment - I'll get some of these when we get to the 'Steering' blog post. This was another source of way too much thought and worry. Moving the box and idler fore or aft affect the steering response (somewhat) and has a direct influence on what's called the Ackerman angle. Without going into a lot of explanation, the Ackerman has to do with the fact that your outboard wheel has to turn a different amount than your inboard wheel in order that they track essentially parallel as you go around a corner. The outboard wheel travels a larger arc, and it's not a constant difference, and it has to be replicated from one side to the other. Fancy. Moving the stuff that influences steering around affects how all that works.
Anyway, the box and idler are as close to the same distance forward of the wheel centerline as physically possible given the other limitations of the installation as a whole, and after math that's way outside my comfort zone it was determined that the Ackerman would be only slightly affected (and that the effect on steering input and response would be mitigated somewhat by camber... sort of). Of course, when you change one thing, everything else is affected... so after it was all in the car and together, it became apparent that the drag link was a little bit short. Cut it in half, welded the two halves onto a rod that fit inside and then also to another tube in between. I did my level best to bend the thing after it was all welded up but it's way stronger than I am.
The final step related to the crossmember was to fit the brakelines. We're going to run a front/rear split, which means that we have to disable the 'dual circuit' feature of the front calipers. After finding a couple of pretty good writeups online from the BMW and the Datsun guys, I basically mimicked what they'd done: Use a T fitting to split the single flexible line such that it feeds both circuits in the dual circuit calipers. The BMW guys are doing this with dedicated track cars, so I'm thinking we'll be ok. If you want to read up on their approach, it's here:
The Datsun guys' version is here:
Initial dry fit. Note: this is not the T that we stuck with, nor the lines. One of these lines has 7/16" fittings and these absolutely must be replaced with 3/8" fittings so they'll match the rest of the car. Illustration purposes only.

The original flex lines approach the caliper from the front. These approach from the rear, and I didn't want any of the brake plumbing any lower than absolutely necessary. A few minutes with a hacksaw and a drill (and my favorite raw material, 90 degree angle aluminum) and we have brackets to secure the flex line at the chassis end.
Rough start:

Less rough. Not pretty, but nobody's going to see it (present company excepted). This is the one for the right hand side:

Installed. Viewing the left; bracket is secured to the upper shock mount. Suspension travel doesn't stress either end of the flexible brakeline, which is probably a good thing.

And that's about it for the crossmember. This got a whole lot of thought and a whole lot of questions came up along the way. I'm enormously grateful to Christopher for sharing his insight and understanding in this arena.

Thanks to Christopher Georger. ; and the sites mentioned above.

Suppliers for items listed in this post: VP Autoparts, Oil Filter Service, Portland OR (hydraulic parts), Chris Horn Apocalypse Cider and Volvo Parts [], ipd, True Value Hardware.

'til next time, then. Cheers -

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Rear Axle.

Once the decision to irreversibly modify an otherwise marginally sensible car had been made, we tried to think of the desired outcome and how to get from where we were to where we wanted to be. Of course, the big picture just needed to be distilled down into small(ish) tasks that, once complete, would (not doubt) produce a cohesive Whole. Right.

The first thing to address was the rear axle. As you probably know, old Volvos used tapered halfshafts that were (and still are) known to break off at unfortunate moments. When this happens, the wheel, brake drum and the little stub on the axle end depart the car.

Our first choice was to find the rear axle from a '70-73 1800E or ES, as this would have stronger axles as well as the benefit of disk brakes (which are strongly encouraged for LCP). We were unable to find one in the time we'd allowed ourselves but we did find a '74 142 that was being dismantled. And this donor showed a scant 86K on the odometer, which had us thinking that the parts we were taking probably had lots of remaining life.

Apologies to fans of the 140 series. In my defense, though, the car was heavily scavenged before I arrived to harvest the last bits.

Fitting the rear axle was really pretty simple. The old one came out without any fuss, and because the axle itself is held in place with really  primitive bushings and brackets, all we had to do with the new axle was remove all the suspension brackets with a grinder. The panhard bracket had to come off the axle so that it could be relocated to the opposite side... we'll get that welded later on...

On the left of the photo, no brackets. On the right, brackets.

Because the 140 axle tubes are larger in diameter than the 444, the bushings won't fit. Unless you have a hole saw and a rasp. It's messy. Keep  in mind: if you do something like this, you want the bushings to be so snug you can barely get them into place. Also, if you do something like this don't hold me accountable for your results.
The ID of the bushing on the left has been enlarged. It makes a powdery mess, which is a bit of a nuisance -- but much less of a nuisance than metal shavings. More on that later.

Once we were done cutting things and hogging out bushings, we put the axle into the car. The PV torque rod arrangement simply will not interface with the 140 rear axle, so we made up a bracket that secures to the diff cover bolts and holds the original (PV) torque rod bracket in place. We had to make a few of these before getting everything to line up the way we wanted - the one in this pic is one of the early (and crude) attempts.
The recommendation on wheels for LCP is to use big heavy steel wheels. Not because they're good for racing, but because this event is really about endurance, and big heavy steel wheels are apparently more robust than pretty alloy wheels. Because the 140 has a 2 inch wider track (and a different bolt pattern) than the 444, we also had to consider offset differences in wheel selection. After a lot of thinking and looking online for something that might work, I finally went to the nearest tire store and picked up a 15x6 steel wheel that's typically used for snow tires on the front wheel drive Volvos. It fit nicely, so I bought a set. Readily available and surprisingly affordable.
There really isn't much to mention about fitting rear disks to the car, as they bolt right onto the axle like they belong there. Because they do belong there. The only other adaptation that had to happen was to have the driveshaft fitted with a larger flange that would match up to the new rear axle... which is a really simple thing for a driveline shop to handle. Of course, we got a new bearing and ujoints at the same time, then this piece just fell into place under the car.
Things were going so well that I started thinking the car was going to just put itself together. The axle went into the car in less than a day working by myself, and I spent another day futzing around welding up brackets and making 3D templates for the torque rods.
I'd realize later (and repeatedly) that the axle swap was just about the easiest part of the whole process.
Next: it gets more complicated.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Volvo 444.

Forgive me - this first installment will be pretty brief and perhaps terse. A number of people have been asking about this project, so I'm going to document things here on the ol' blogosphere where it's easily accessible.
We begin. Sort of.
Actually, this all began some time ago - more than 20 years, in fact. The notion of preparing an old Volvo to participate in La Carrera Panamericana. If you're not familiar with this event, google it and see what it's about... the short verion is this: it's a race from one end of Mexico to the other with really old cars that have to run pump gas and deal with all kinds of breakdowns and hazards along the way. I'd love to tell you a lot more about it, but there's already a lot of great information available right here on the internets. Please do check it out. The nature of the event is pretty different than the typical vintage racing kinds of events, and cars prepared for LCP often end up not appropriate for use in other events - not for points, anyway - so preparing a car for this event is a commitment of sorts. Once finished, it won't be good for much of anything else. (Note: cars must remain street legal, so it's conceivable that you could use such a car as your regular commuter in the off season. But that would be silly.)
A lot has happened with the car over the last 20 years and I don't want to bore you with too much about it. So for now, I'm just going to give a little bit of background, and (hopefully soon) we'll move on to more current developments.
In 1996, I bought a 1957 Volvo PV444-L with the intention of preparing it for exactly this event. Pretty humble beginnings:


... and the view from the other side was even less awesome:

To be fair, this was a (kind of) complete and (kind of) drivable car when I started, and these pics were taken after I had the bright idea of dousing the car with paint stripper and taking off a bunch of parts. But still, this is about where we started.

Unfortunately, over the course of the next several years, the car sat neglected for quite some time before getting painted. And by the time it was painted, the racing ideas had kind of faded and the old Volvo became a daily driver. You can use a 50 year old car as a daily driver in Portland. We don't salt the roads, there's no safety inspection, and they don't have to comply with DEQ. I have mixed feelings about this last detail but I don't complain.

Final paint prep:

... replacement panels for the rusty trunk floor:

... and after paint, reassembly begins:

I put the car together with parts I had on hand: a pretty well used up 2130cc B20, a 4 speed and disk front brakes from a 122. Just about everything else was what had come with the car - original shocks and springs, old rotted bushings... I replaced the tie rods and eventually the bushings, but otherwise, this was really a marginal car to be in frequent use for a while.
The engine room, nearly complete, first version:
The original clutch linkage didn't quite line up with the later engine and trans configuration, and was horribly worn out anyway. So we used some heim joints and came up with something that did line up and didn't wear:

Fast forward several years, and pretty much everything had  been refreshed except for the kingpins, which were dangerously worn. And this is how the car remained up until last summer:
... and that's where the project really begins. I started off with what I thought would be a race prepared car, made it into a very presentable - but not show worthy - daily driver. After a couple of really great conversations last summer (one with someone who wants to go racing, the other with my wife in which she gave her blessing), realized that the time had come. I took the 444 almost completely apart and am now in the process of putting it back together. In race trim. For La Carrera.
That's the background. From here forward, we'll get into how this transition from street car to LCP contender is coming together (and how it sometimes isn't).
I do hope it's as fun to drive as it's been to work on. I really do like this.
Cheers --