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 --