Friday, December 16, 2005

Stupid car tricks

Every now and then I will have an entry in regards to stupid car tricks. Today we will discuss one from back in the mid 90's in which a fellow high school friend was riding co-pilot.

As we approached the intersection of M-52 and Gorman I dropped the car into second gear while pushing the clutch in. I was traveling at about 55 mph. About 10 yards or so prior to the intersection I cranked the wheel sideways, gave it full throttle, and dumped the clutch. My Firebird entered a power slide onto the cross road, across the oncoming line, and half way into the ditch. At that point both my friend and I thought the car was going over for sure. I stayed on the throttle, came out of the ditch, leaving a rut and a single black mark on the road from the one wheel peel that lasted for months. My friend looks over at me and says "Dude, that was fuckin' awesome!" All the while I was still pretty white knuckled over the incident, but it did give me a good idea of just how far the limits of my car were. There isn't much out there in the terms of performance driving more enjoyable than a drift through a corner, especially with rear wheel drive where you can use the throttle to steer the car.

Continued power slides and donuts eventually lead to the bearings in the rear end going out. It was an opportune time to swap out the 3.08 gears and install a set of 3.73's. The acceleration difference felt as if the car just picked up 50 hp.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The rest of the drivetrain and other details

We'll move on to the rest of the car now, starting with the torque convertor. I have a 10 inch Coan convertor with a 4,200 stall, its the anti-ballooning model. This means that when you hit the NOS your torque convertor doesn't expand like a balloon and destroy itself. I will likely send this convertor back to Coan, have them cut it open, flush it out, then weld it back up. All precautionary, but when you spend $700 on a convertor I'd rather spend a small chunk of change to ensure its up to snuff before shredding it like my last convertor. From there we move on to the transmission. I have a TH400 which I had a guy up near Mount Pleasant build up. I'm fairly abusive to parts and this seemed to be holding up just fine. Just in case, I have the TH350 that it replaced I could use as a back up. At first I thought I burned up that transmission, the first I had ever rebuilt. However, after removing it along with the torque convertor I realized that it was actually the torque convertor that came apart. There were all sorts of parts rattling around inside it when I limped the car home from the dragstrip. When I flushed out the tranny the fluid appeared fine, no metallic look to the fluid at all nor did it smell burnt. So for now I'll keep it as is just in case.

From there I have the driveshaft that came with the car when I bought it. I had it cut, rebalanced, and bigger u-joints installed. I will be buying a new drive shaft before getting it back on the road, possibly aluminum, if it can handle that much power. For a rear end I have a 12 bolt chevy, which I'm still undecided what I'm going to do with. I keep debating whether or not I want to switch over to a more durable but less efficient Ford 9 inch, or stick with my tried and true 12 bolt. If the 12 bolt remains, I will be upgrading to C-clip eliminators as well as either a Detroit Locker Tru-Trac or a full spool. New beefier axles will also be in store with more splines.

As for the suspension, I think I will pretty much be leaving the rear alone. I have stock leaf springs with poly bushings, KYB performance shocks, and Southside Machine lift bars. This setup was good for 1.700 60 foot times. Just to give you an idea of how fast that is, I'll put it in terms more people can relate to. I figured it up a few years ago, this setup I had went 0-60 mph in the 3 second range. Looking at my timeslips just now, in 7.5 seconds I was going 94 mph. In 11.76 I was crossing the finish line at 116 mph. 1.700 is fairly good for the tire I was running. If I were to have screwed the tires to the rim to prevent them from spinning, as well as swapped out the front shocks and springs, I probably could have cut a good .1 off that 60 ft. As a rule of thumb, for every .1 you can cut off your 60 ft time you gain about .5 seconds in your 1/4 mile time. As proof, when I had my old convertor my best 60 ft time was 1.8 seconds and 1/4 mile time was 12.3 seconds. The convertor was not loose enough to allow the engine to get up to its 3,800 rpm's for its powerband. The convertor was around a 3,000 stall and made this 500 hp engine fall on its face coming off the line. I could actually watch the rpm's spike, then drop off before rising. So the rear suspension will stay put aside from some stickier tires.

I will likely get some adjustable drag shocks for up front, though am reluctant to get different springs as I really love the current stance of the car. The sway bar will likely be dropped out, if it handles too poorly I'll just yank it when going to the track. The heavy cast iron steering box will be replaced with a light weight rack and pinion unit. After that, I'm really running out of areas to drop weight off this car. I had recorded the weight of my car in my Bracket Racing book at 3,420 lbs, so with the addition of the roll cage, then subtracting weight for aluminum heads, rack and pinion, and other stuff I should be able to get it in the 3,250-3,300 range.

As for the interior, I had purple plush house carpet in before that matched the exterior color, I will be replacing it with the same. I have Autometer Phantom gages for the Speedometer, Tach, gas, volt, oil, and water. I will likely be adding fuel and nitrous pressure as well. I removed the console replaced it with a B&M Megashifter. The door panels and dash I will likely custom make, though I haven't started thinking about that yet.

The electrical harness is all new and just a matter of reinstalling it. I already have a light weight high torque mini starter and my battery is located in the trunk to drop weight off the nose and add it where its needed for traction. I have an aluminum radiator which is the biggest I can physically fit in the car, a 4 electric fan setup keeps things cool, as does a mini cooler mounted in the grill which serves as my transmission cooler. I will also be losing the brake booster and likely going with a manual brake set up. The front will be an upgraded disc brake setup from the disc brakes it has. For the rear I will keep the drums, as they are a lighter setup and serve the purpose just fine.

From there I'm seriously running out of areas to drop weight. I have pondered a glass deck lid as well as a plexiglass rear window, though losing weight in the rear of the car is an area that many racers actually add ballist weight for better traction. For this reason I may leave my rear seat in as well, which probably comes in at around 60 lbs or so. Aside from that, thats about it. See, now that doesn't sound like so much to get done by summer does it? Until you go adding up the cost of all the parts that is. Thats what puts the damper on the whole thing.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Engine game plan for the Camaro

Figured I'd stop in and fill you all in on the details of my Camaro engine build up. The basis for the build up will revolve around the 454 that came out of the car. To fill you in on what setup it was, it was a 030 over 454 with a forged steel crank, rectangle port heads, Victor intake, Demon 750 carb, and a solid flat tappet cam with .629/.605 lift and 260/266 duration at .050. This set up was good for 513 hp and 496 ft/lbs of torque.

I will be reusing this block, which is a 1974 2 bolt that will be bored 040 over. I will be reusing the crankshaft as well, which is a GM forged steel nitrated crank that has not been turned and should be ok. This is the same crank used in the legendary LS6 big blocks from the early 1970's. I will replace the 3/8 rods with an aftermarket set, likely Oliver rods. I will get new forged pistons and keep compression around 11-1, which regardless of what people say, did just fine on the street with pump gas and iron heads. Since I will be switching to aluminum heads, it should be even less concern now.

I purchased the custom grind camshaft around this time last winter. I am moving up to a solid roller cam so that I can get that extra horsepower and remain just as streetable. The specs on the new came are .677/.687 lift and the duration is something like 272/266 at .050 lift. This should give the car one hell of a nice thumpity thump....not as if it lacked it before by any means. The cylinder heads I will be going with are AFR's, probably one of the best cylinder heads out there. They flow some insane numbers, 410 cfm on the intake and 325 cfm on the exhaust. To compare that to my current heads, they flowed around 360 cfm on the intakes and I think the exhaust was 260 cfm or so. I haven't decided upon what intake I will switch to, or whether I will reuse the Victor intake I have. I will upgrade the carb to something up around 900 cfm or so, definately another Demon carb.

Along with the engine mods I will be upgrading the fuel system as well. I believe I am going to go with an Aeromotive system, something capable of supporting up to 1,200 horsepower. I will also be either replacing my tank with a stock style with a sump or going with a fuel cell, that is yet undecided. I also have a nitrous kit I bought a few years ago complete with purge system and bottle heater. The kit as is is good for 175 hp, but I planned on buying new silonoids and getting the 250 hp silonoids when doing so. As killer as the engine alone should be, I will likely hold off on putting nitrous on for a bit. I plan on reusing the exhaust system I have, as it should be more than sufficient I think. I have hedders that are 2 inch primaries going into 3 inch collectors, then full 3 inch back to 2 chamber flowmasters. It was plenty loud before, so I will likely run full tail pipes this time to quiet it down a tad, as right now I just have turn downs in front of the axle.

This engine combo should be good for close to 700 hp according to the camshaft company, so if I were to throw on the max nitrous I'd be up close to 1,000 hp. 500 hp was a handful, even at the drag strip where the car hooded great. So its going to be quite the learning curve tacking on an extra 200 hp with the engine. Some of you may think "Whats the big deal? Just point it in a straight line and hit the gas." You'd be surprised how much you have to drive a car even heading in a straight line. By top end I was going 116 mph, the hood was shaking like a mutha, and the engine is screaming away at about 6,800 rpm's, so its hardly a sunday drive.

I hope to be able to get my block down to my machine shop sometime over Christmas. I'll be using a place I've used in the past and even worked at for a short time. The place is Tico Race Engines, they are located just up the road from Michigan Speedway. Tim Arnold is the owner and has been around cars his whole life, his parents owning an automotive/machine shop when he was growing up. He also attended Ferris State going through their automotive program, and even spent some years on a top fuel drag race team. While I worked there several 1,000+ hp engines went out of there, some costing up around $40,000. So needless to say, they know their stuff.

Well thats it for now, I'll map out the rest of the drive train, suspension mods, brake upgrades, and other stuff as time permits.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Motor City Muscle: The Beginning

Having recently started a Detroit blog it only seemed natural that I develop a seperate blog that would focus directly upon my love for cars. So here I will document the reassembling of my 1969 Camaro, projects on my 1989 daily driven Pontiac Formula, and eventually an in depth total restoration of my 1970 Challenger. In addition, as spring and summer approach I will start attending the local car cruises which are plentiful in this region. I will also make sure to attend all of the large cruises, such as Downriver, Gratiot, Woodward, and a few others that have popped up in recent years. I hope to make it to the drag strip next year with my 1989 Formula to at least see what it can run in mostly stock form. For today, I will simply get you up to speed on what my stable is filled with.

Lets start with how it all began. As one of the last gifts my grandmpa bought me I got a 1989 Maui Blue Pontiac Firebird when I was 15 years old. My grandpa unexpectedly passed away just a few months later, I hadn't even taken drivers ed yet. So this car meant the world to me, a last gift in which I planned to never part with. It was powered by a 305 small block, had the tbi fuel injection (which was basically a carburator with two fuel injectors on a pod above the throttle body), and a 5 speed transmission. So my first crack at driving was a V8 powered, manual, rear wheel drive car. It pretty much layed the groundwork for where I am today.

I learned to wrench on cars with my first ride. The longer I had it, the more in depth the modifications became. During the 4 years I owned it I learned to change oil, tune it up, modified the injection system with aftermarket spacers, an adjustable fuel pressure regulator, MSD 6AL box, battery relocated to the rear where the spare tire used to reside, an open element air filter, omitted the air pump/emissions lines, added 3.73 gears, changed the valve seals out twice, added a 3 inch cat back system complete with 3 inch cat, 245/50 tires all around, a Hayes racing clutch, a kick ass 650 watt 8 speaker stereo system, and a few other mods I'm probably forgetting. It was just my stepping stone into the hobby.

I decided to leave the car at home when I went away to college. While home visiting over spring break my first year I had insurance put on it and got it out of storage. About 1 hour later I collided with a woman who ran a stop sign, T-boning her ass at 55 mph. I didn't need an expert opinion, I knew right away the thing was total loss, as the whole drivetrain was pushed back a few inches from the impact and the frame rails were a mangled mess. You'd never guess from the picture that I walked away without a scratch.

I didn't waste any time, I started looking for a replacement the very next day. I knew enough about cars now to get me in trouble, so I wanted something old, something vintage, something from the muscle car era. I wasn't sure what, so I asked my friend Mr Brown for some advice. Mr Brown was a big time gearhead as well. In fact, him and his 1969 Dodge pickup with a stroked 383 big block with tunnel ram was the first time I was bit by the horsepower bug. If not for him I would have likely just got a car for transportation and thought nothing of it. Instead, thanks to him, I have 3 cars, two of which don't even run. Thanks Mr Brown. LOL Well, he happened to mention that he always thought 1969 Camaros were one of the more badass cars of the 1960's. So I looked around at various 1967-1969 Camaros before stumbling upon the one I bought. Looking back, I probably over paid for the car, but it was a fairly solid first muscle car.

I ordered up parts almost immediately, nothing really that was really necessary, all just a bunch of go-fast goodies that I just had to have at the time. As years passed, I learned more and more about cars. The fact that I was an Industrial Technology major with an Automotive/Design concentration was a huge help. CMU had some performance equipment that most schools would only dream about. We had a crank balancer, vavle grinder, flowbench, and even and engine dyno cell. I was also fortunate enough to have a drag strip about 30 minutes away where I frequented all through college. I tried various setups through out school, even did an independent study I got college credit for that entailed testing and tuning at the track. During my college years I also took on a total restoration of the car from the ground up. Nearly every nut and bolt has been replaced, every suspension component new, in fact, there isn't much left aside from the body itself from 1969, and I even replaced some of that.

What started out as a small block car that ran a best of 13.1 @ 109 mph after a few rebuilds and different setups turned into a big block 454 that ran a best of 11.77 @ 116 mph in the 1/4 mile. I dyno'd the engine my last semester up there and it sang along to the tune of 513 hp and 496 ft/lbs of torque. The setup was nearly perfect, if I had got a set of slicks, drag shocks and springs for the front I'm confident I would have had a low 11 second car. I will admit though, I hate to mess up the current menacing stance. As it is the front end is so low that I only have 1 3/4 inch clearance from the ground to the oil pan. I've scraped it more than a few times, almost out of flat edges on the drain plug! I wasn't aware when I bought the pan that it would hang below my cross member. As beat up as it got, it never sprang a leak. Needless to say, it will be replaced with a kickout style pan during this rebuild.

Up there at CMU was the last time I made it to the track. I almost went a few times while living in Indy for a year, but was afraid if I broke something I didn't have the means to fix it living at an apartment with a 1 car garage. A couple years later I'd pull it off the road, gut it down to a rolling car, then have a 12 point roll cage installed. To this day, that is how it sits. If you look closely you can see the cage installed.

Here is one of that last smokey burnouts I ever did before parking her. This took place down in Dearborn at a Roush facility. The parking lot looked more like the starting line at a drag strip. Shortly before my burnout the company sent out a memo warning workers not to do burnouts in the parking lot or face the consequences, that memo was even published in Hot Rod magazine a few years back, circa 2001 or so. I didn't work for them, so I really didn't care. :)

That last summer my Camaro was on the road I had moved up to Dearborn for a job at Ford in their engine design division. I lived in an apartment complex at the time. I couldn't believe what I saw when I looked at the apartment. There at the far end of the parking lot sat a 1970 Challenger R/T. It was the dead of winter with snow on the ground, made me sick to see it just sitting there. While making my job transfer I was somewhat financially strapped at the time, as I was paying on two apartments due to a lease agreement I still had in Indy. I began eyeing that Challenger and noticed it never moved. As months went by I became more and more curious. As spring rolled around, I was crawling under the car checking it out top to bottom, I bought a Cuda/Challenger restoration book and began to decode the VIN and trim tag. This was a legit Challenger R/T that orginally came with a 383 big block and 4 speed pistol grip. It still had both, though neither was orginal. The engine came back as a high performance 1967 383. Didn't matter to me, I just had to rescue this baby. I started asking around in the leasing office and they gave me they guy's apartment number that owned the car.

I had told my parents with every visit "See that car down there? It's gonna be mine." While they responded with "Don't even think about it!" Later even putting an ultimatum that if I got it, I wasn't storing my Camaro nor the Challenger at their garage. Now this put me in a bit of a situation, as I only had a one car garage at my complex and didn't really have the cash to pony up for a second, so I figured I'd simply play my hand and hope for the best. I knew they'd back down, as after I got it I took it down that last month or two before the winter and let them drive it around. Thats all it took, I had my space.

The original plan was that once I took my Camaro off the road, I'd have my Challenger to drive around for a few years while I built my Camaro into an insane speed machine capable of 9 second 150 mph blasts through the 1/4. Well, as you have probably guessed by now, I dig into shit way too deep. After the Camaro was off at the shop having its cage installed, I figured I'd do some much needed maintenance on the Challenger to get it up to snuff by the next summer. I had already replaced all the rubber lines before getting it on the road after I bought it and gave it a tune up. I spent probably $100 to get this car up and running, even though it had sat unmoved for 2 straight years! Never even fired up once during that time. I can say this though, just prior to pulling my Camaro apart, I had a Woodward Dream Cruise to remember. I went up there 8 straight days and had two cars to choose from. I'd take the Challenger one night, then head up with the Camaro the next. The actual date of the event, I had my parents come up so I could take both. I tell you what, there isn't a greater feeling in the world than having two driving muscle cars. It sure beats the hell outta two that don't even run now!

So anyways, I spent that winter digging in deeper and deeper with the Challenger. Once I tore the electrical all out I figured I might as well restore the interior. Once the interior was all removed I found a couple small spots of rust that I welded up with small patches. While stripping the underside....yeah, as I said I dig in way too deep. I stripped the inside and underside of this car to bare metal with an angle grinder and wire wheel. The whole back half is now fully restored and Por-15 undercoated. Anyways, while stripping the underside it become aparent that this car has had some major work done to it. It looked like it was in a bad wreck once had been backhalved with a new rear section. They seemed to have done a fairly good job, though they didn't finish off the welding. The frame rail on one side was spot welded in just a few spots. Thats the way it would have been from factory anyways, but lets just say that I'm a rookie welder and yet could see that many of the welds didn't even mesh the rail to the body. So I ran a solid bead down the rail, repaired a crack in the frame rail, and fabricated a portion of the shock mount brace that was missing all together.

The year following my Challenger purchase I had moved from Dearborn to downtown Detroit. I got a 9th floor condo on the river over looking Windsor, the river, and Detroit skyline. I loved it, this was the first time I had lived in a true big city and was smack dab in the middle of it all. I only had a parking garage, so the cars got somewhat pushed aside for the time being. I continued to make my 1.5 hour trips down to my parents to work on the Challenger during the winter though. I burned all my vacation for two years, taking a day here and there, heading down thursday evenings, but it still wasn't enough.

Summers have came and went and it still sits. I have actually managed to accomplish a great deal on it though. Currently, I have the interior mostly all in it. The back half of the car has been fully restored. The new wiring harness is in place and most everything wired up. The rear suspension has been replaced with 2 inch drop leaf springs and Koni shocks front and rear. I stripped the rearend bare, repainted it, and installed all new gaskets. I replaced the fuel system including tank, pickup, lines, and pump. I forked out the $700-$800 for the new dash pad (I gotta say, that is the most painful purchase I have ever made). I bought some Mopar valve covers and matching air cleaner as well as an aluminum intake and my Demon carb from my Camaro. New wires, cap, rotor, voltage regulator, and ignition box. I've probably dropped about $4,000 into it thus far.

My parents told me it was a waste of money, though I got it for $6,800. For those that follow muscle car values, this car fully restored is fetching $35,000+. I was damn close to getting the Challenger back on the road a year or so ago. Got the engine fired up only to find it had developed a rod knock about 30 minutes later. Who knows what caused it, could have been numerous things. Some claim "Oh, its because you didn't prime it first." I say bullshit, the thing sat for two full years before I bought it and had never been fired up, when it did, it ran fine for probably 2,000 miles before I parked it. Never primed it then, never even pumped the stale gas out or rebuilt the carb, I just drove it. I did have to pull the tank in the parking lot and replace the sock, as it kept sucking all that 2 years of shit up the fuel line and stalling it out. I flushed the tank at the car wash, then found myself soldering up all the pin holes I blew through the paper thin tank. Fixed it and it held until I parked it, when it didn't start leaking till a good year later. So who knows what caused the knock. I was looking forward to digging into a Mopar engine anyways, so its no biggie.

So, now we are full circle. If I had to rebuild an engine, I might as well do it on a car that was fully restored already. Though you can't tell from the picture, and the bright orange has something to do with it, the Challenger has a Maaco paint job at best. A Maaco paint job with one dusty ass paint booth I might add. Back to the Camaro, which is now my main focus. In the past year I have purchased a house, still living in Detroit close enough to walk to downtown. I have also built a 24x24 garage, as big as my parents detached garage and capable of squeezing three cars into, through I keep the Challenger at their place for now so I have room to work.

Now lets go full circle once again, all the way back to the beginning. While my daily driver had been plenty dependable, a hand-me-down 1990 Buick Regal with the tried and true 3800 from my parents, it was beginning to look rough around the edges and they were giving me shit 24/7 about needed to get a newer car, newer actually ended up being 1 year older. :) When it came time to replace it, I knew what I had to do. I had to rekindle that love I had when I was 15 years old. It was time to do a nationwide search for another Maui Blue Firebird. I had to take it a step further though, with GM you either had to have a 305 to get a 5 speed, or get stuck with an auto to get a 350. I wanted nothing to do with the underpowered weak ass 305, so a 350 it was. I wanted the Formula model as well, it had the beefed up suspension, bigger rims/tires, and offered up the lightest fastest Firebird built. The Trans Ams never did it for me with their gaudy plastic ground effects, much like I'd take a late 80's early 90's Mustang LX over a boxy Mustang GT any day.

My search came back with two finds, would you believe that one was just a few hours away in the thumb of Michigan? This baby was mint, never had seen snow or rain. The guy was so anal I couldn't drive it the first time I went because the roads were wet. I informed him of my other rides and made him think I was buying it as a collector car. It only had 71,000 miles on it, my first Firebird had 63,000 when it was smashed up. It was almost like it had been reincarnated into the Formula...yeah, ok, so that sounds a bit crazy. But seriously, this was perfect, exactly what I was looking for.

I have had the car 1.5 years now and wouldn't trade it for the world. The t-tops offer up fun in the sun and it has decent power and amazing handling. I have replaced all the rubber in the suspension, including two stabilizer links I snapped taking corners too hard. I also upgraded the front to Koni's, best $425 one could invest in their suspension. I plan on following suit with the rear shocks next summer along with lowering springs. I installed an MSD cap/rotor, 8mm Taylor wires, MSD coil, K&N filter, and just replaced the fuel pump a few weeks ago.

I've had a few problems, though nothing that was catastrophic. I noticed the oil pressure would drop to 0 psi during hard braking, the pickup had fell off the pump. I changed it out myself over at a friend's place who has a hoist. The second problem was a blown head gasket. This I had neither the time or patience to deal with at the time, as I didn't have a garage yet and had just got my house. So the same friend with the hoist pulled the heads, had them milled, and reinstalled them. He told me what a bitch it was, I knew damn well that these cars are a pain in the ass to work on, as I had one before. So even with the speed bumps I've had, I still have no regrets. For the $5,800 I paid there isn't a car out there that would give you more bang for the buck in terms of performance.

I will continue to do minor modifications to this car in addition to my Camaro. I plan on getting a spare engine block for it this winter and hopefully start on a rebuild by next winter so that I'll be able to just drop it in when the time comes. I'm still pondering what I want to build, though I have a parts list in my head that would be good for 425-450 hp naturally aspirated, create my own version of the "Blue Devil" to take on those pesky Mustangs. Just about the right amount of power for a daily driver. :)

Hope you enjoyed, and look for more updates through out the winter.