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.