Thursday, September 28, 2006

Paint By Numbers

Two Steps back again. I got a call from my graphics guy saying that they did not want to take on either the Grinch or the Blind Mule logo. Too time consuming for them. Frustrating.

The only other options seem to be for me to try a local source and offer to do the time consuming part myself or just to hire a good sign man to paint the pieces on. Either way it looks like it is going to get expensive. Maybe even more than it might be worth.

On the other hand, they did promise to get the rest of the order out that day. This included the numbers for the sides and nose and the drivers name.

We had just put Hugh’s new numbers on his car and they look really good. He went with red letters this time to go over his all white body. I like the new paint scheme. It shows up the shape of the car very well. The graphics really set it off nicely. Makes it look like a serious racing car.

* * *
We got the silver on the top part of the car done and have just sprayed the black on the side panels.

Once again the shade tree spray booth has come in handy. We found an added benefit in a low reaching limb. It makes a great place to hang small parts that need to be painted on all sides.

I had decided to stay with the existing side air scoops for the moment. I don’t like them, but with the deadline rapidly approaching I need to spend the time dong other things rather than that. It ain’t broke, so don’t mess with it……yet.
* * *
The graphics package arrived and looks good. The silver numbers for the sides are nice and the black numbers for the nose look fine. There was one small problem in that the drivers name letters came in silver. That will not show up well on a silver background.

I sent an e-mail to Jim explaining the problem. He got right back to me and promised to ship the name panels in black that day.

Quick commercial here:
Every dealing I have had with SR Racing has been a good one. They are quick to respond, easy to work with and generous with advice and knowledge. Give them a try when you need something. If they can’t do it, they will tell you so rather than wasting your time.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Getting The Grinch Ready

For the last week I have been waiting for parts to arrive. Parts for 1964 Volkswagen Bugs are not on your average AutoZone shelf anymore.

It has also rained every afternoon and that puts a damper on things. Rain makes for nice afternoon naps, but it also sends the humidity through the roof.

Since there was not much I could do with out the parts I wanted, I started working on the body. The body was the least of my concerns. All things considered the body was in fairly decent shape. For a twenty-year-old racer it was in great shape.

There were a few fiberglass repairs that needed to done, but relatively few.
Some past owner had cut the side body panels right at the line where the leading part of the trailing arm pivots from the frame. I suspect this was so the rear section, which covers the lower part of the engine, could be removed without having to undo the trailing arm.

Later, for some equally obscure reason, they had made an attempt to glass the pieces back together and had really botched the job. That all had to be broken away and redone properly. Not a difficult job, but time consuming and just the thing for a couple of rainy afternoons.

After I got these back together I put body filler on the outside face and smoothed over the area where it had been cut. I also cleaned up a lot of little nicks and gouges and sanded them smooth. Not perfect but better. Perfect bodies on race cars are only for Vintage show cars. They are meant to be seen more than driven.

There was a section on the right rear end of the body that had received some damage. This was glassed on the inside for strength, and body filler applied to the out side to cover up the cracks, sanded and made ready.

Hugh, having graduated from spray cans to a spray gun, pitched in and shot the three pieces with primer. For this we use our shade tree spray booth. The compressor for the spray gun scares the dogs and they stay inside. With our dogs that is an advantage. They think the perfect place to be is right where you are about to put your foot.

With the primer on and dry you could really see the ripples and defects in the bodywork. The biggest problem was the air scoops that force air over the oil cooler. These were badly damaged and in great need of repair. I aligned the broken pieces as well as I could and reinforced the backside with new fiberglass to give them some heft. When I was satisfied that they would not fly off, I started on the visible side.

Some people are just naturals at doing little things like this. I’m not one of them. I have to foul it up a few times before I get it right.

I had been having a problem with the body filler hardening before I could get it all in place. High temperatures and high humidity probably had something to do with that. So, smart rabbit that I am, I figured I would ease up on the amount of hardening stuff I mixed with the filler. This time I got all in place before it began to set. It was late in the afternoon so I planned to let it harden over night and attack it in the morning.

It didn’t work that way. The next morning it was still soft and gummy. It was not setting up at all. I left it for another twenty-four hours and checked it again.

Now I was faced with the prospect of scraping all that crap off the body and doing it all over again with enough hardener to make it set up. Sometimes it seems like two steps back for every step forward.

That was the bad news.

The good news was that I got my numbers ordered. I was going with the number sixty-nine on the car and that would hold with tradition. My first Vee had been number forty-five because I was forty-five years old when I started racing it. I was sixty-nine when I started on this car. Sixty-nine seemed right. Besides, there was just something about that number I liked.

As part of the number package, I was getting the eight inch high numbers for the sides and four inch class designators to go with them. There were also six inch numbers for the nose, and a two inch high drivers name tag for each side, To that I added a couple of other little goodies.

I sent them the camera-ready artwork for the Blind Mule Logo that appears on the banner at the top of this page and the Grinch logo.
I was planning to place the blind mule logo one each side just under the drivers name and the four inch high Grinch on the nose, just under the front numbers.

The side panels of the car would be a glossy black. The top section however was going to be a silver gray. The side numbers would be silver to match the top. The front number, the driver’s name and the logos would all be black to show up against the silver. This combo would be set off with bright red pen stripping. I hoped it would look as good in three dimensions and it did in my mind.

It wouldn’t make it any faster, but it would make me feel better.

Monday, September 11, 2006


We had already established that the engine ran but that it needed a good tune up.

I’m no engine builder.

Normally I would take the engine out and ship it to my engine builder to be refreshed, which I’m sure it needs, and tuned. In this case I was already planning to switch engines when I rebuild the rest of the car. For that reason I intended to limp through the rest of the season with this one.

I have all the settings I need for the retuning and I am sure I can find someone whose expertise is far greater than mine. I might even learn something in the process. So no worries on that part of the project. Not yet anyway.

The next big problem was the steering. I had two problems there. First the steering box was shot. We had a spare to replace it with but I wasn’t planning to do that because of the second problem. The braces that mounted the steering gear hurt my knees when I was just sitting in the car. I didn’t want to think about what it would be like to have them slammed against the brace when hitting a bump or during a race. That kind of pain I can do without.

My plan was to use rack and pinion steering rather than the stock Volkswagon steering box mounted up side down as in the existing car. That would mean I would have to remove the steering box, the pitman arm, and the steering mechanism that the Dassingers’s had devised. It also meant that I no longer need the braces that cut across my knees. Score two for one.

I unbolted the steering box and discovered that the pitman arm had been welded to the box. Good thing I wasn’t planning to just swap it out. That would have been a bear to break loose and replace.

About this time I discovered that I had to remove the side body panels in order to remove the remainder of the steering apparatus. In an earlier conversation, Gary Dassinger had told me that one of the innovations they had been working toward in building the car was to have a single removable piece that allowed you to get to everything. That meant that the side panels would never be taken off unless you had to get into the frame for repairs, so they are semi permanently screwed on rather than using the more common Dzus fasteners. In order to remove them you also had to detach the steering arms and the rear axle locating arms.

After removing the body panels, steering assembly came out easily.

I got out the saw and a grinding wheel and went to work. It took some doing but eventually I had the braces and the tabs for the steering cross member out of the way.

I discovered I was also going to reduce the weight of the car a bit on this trade out because the steering bar, steering box and pitman arm hit the scales at just over twenty two pounds. At six pounds the rack and pinion and the mounting bar was a lot lighter. I wish it were that easy to take sixteen pounds off of the driver. (Now there is an area we could work on)

With the front tires back in place, I tied a string between the steering arm connection points at the wheels to use for alignment. At this point I realised what a nice thing the Dassingers had done for me. They had notched the top rail to receive their steering assembly. This provided me with all sorts of clearance for my steering arms.

I had found an Empi Rack and pinion rig in the JC Whitney catalogue. It was designed to be used in the center of a dune buggy so it fit my needs nicely. The next part of the problem was to devise a mount of it.

The box needed to be mounted fairly high in order for me to slide my feet under it. That would give the greatest length I could manage and make it easier to slide my six foot plus body down in the car. If I put the new assembly where the old one had been I should have good clearance all the way around.

The only problem that presented was that the mounts for the new steering box were on the lower part of the housing. There was also a one quarter inch plate on the back of the rack housing that kept it from sitting flush on the mounting plate.

I made up a quick sketch and Hugh got a machinist friend of his to fabricate it for us. Then I had a piece of two inch by two-inch angle fabricated to act as a crossbar. Hugh did some of his famous go-rilla welding to attach the mounting bracket to the cross bar. I test fitted the R&P rig to the plate.
Then we placed the cross bar in the car and welded it from top rail to top rail right where the original Steering rig had been.

After that it was just a matter of bolting the steering assembly in place and fabricating the steering arms. Bolting it in was easy. Getting the length right on the steering arms took several tries.

The steering arms that were part of the original Empi kit allowed for adjustment on one end only. I went ahead with it since I had paid for it. Unfortunately I measured wrong and they didn’t fir properly. It wasn’t a big problem but it was annoying. Architects should be able to measure better than that. I never said I was smart.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Small Changes

One of life’s conundrums is that when you are at your peak earning power, and have disposable income, you don’t have time to spend. The corollary is also true. After you retire you have the time to spare, but funds must be carefully marshaled. It then becomes a matter of using imagination, ingenuity and labor, rather than cubic dollars, to achieve a goal.

We were trying to get to Formula First. On the other hand we, as a group, still had a learning curve to go through. Vee’s are simple, but not easy.

After discussion, we, Hugh, Mike and I, decided that we could take it in steps rather than blowing a lot of bucks in one big swoop to make the transition. We knew what the overall rules were but that did not mean we had to make the transition all in one step.

Our goal was not balls out racing toward a national championship but to have a little fun competition amongst our selves and any one else who cared to join us. Sure, eventually the rules would be needed as a restraint, but not this season or probably the even the next.

What we were doing was finding older cars, generally in the less than five thousand-dollar range, and beginning an education in open wheel racing. To keep it simple we were buying formula Vees or maybe a former vee that had been converted for Autocross or Solo F modified competition.

We could use wider tires, either engine size and begin to learn how to race. The rules specified the maximum but we didn’t have to be there tomorrow.

We knew that disc brakes were allowed but on this course the brakes were used in only three spots and even then not hard. Converting to disc meant changes in both the front and rear wheel assemblies from spindles out. It was expensive and maybe not required. We could save dollars by not making the jump from drums to disc immediately. Especially if we were still running 1200 cc engines. The car and driver weight was around a thousand pounds. The drum brakes were designed to stop cars twice that weight.

With racing cars, brakes are used more to slow down than to stop, and drum brakes work as well as disc provided that you are not using them to the point of over heating or running in the rain. Since after market wheels were allowed we could go to wider tires (within the set limits) that would fit the existing brake drums. There are many dune buggy and Bug kits available to accomplish that.

This still left us open to convert to disc later, if we wished, and could convert to the Formula first specified wheel and tire then. For now we would use our own rules.
So where would I go with my car?

For the rest of this season, I planned to run it just like it was with one a couple of minor exceptions. The steering box was shot and the steering box mounting braces were a problem to my fitting the car. I would switch to rack and pinion steering which would allow me to get rid of the braces without interfering with foot room. This would make it a much more comfortable car for me to drive. It would also mean changing out the inventive system the Dassinger's had devised.

I would switch to wider tires. That just required a little research into wheel rims and tires. No big deal there, the Internet would be a big help.

What other changes? For now, none. I wanted to switch to a zero roll rear suspension but there was a time constraint. The car needed to be taken back down to a bare frame and brought back. I wanted to do that, but for now I needed to get the car running and safe to drive. There were only a couple of outings left in the season. Over the winter I would do the frame up rebuild. That would also be the time to make the rear suspension modifications.

In the mean time I would get to find out what it was like to be the Grinch.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Grinch: A Car With A Past

I sat down with the package that Sal Iannelo had sent. It contained not only the logbooks but also the original homologation certificate and a series of nine photographs of the car taken by one of its original owners.

It was really neat to see it in that form. All of the paint was glossy black and neatly pen stripped in red. The frame and the aluminum parts looked clean and bright. That is the way a race car should look.
In it’s current form it looks a little like I felt, surface chipped and a little rough around the edges. The trick would be to get it back like it was, and maybe heal myself a bit in the process. Consider it therapy.

On the back of one of the photos was a note that said "The Grinch MX1 Was built by Gary and Wayne Dassinger of Sebring Florida, in 1986 & ’87 and raced by Mike Schiffer from ’87 to ’92 at Sebring and Daytona."

This took into my home country. I had grown up down there. On top of that, the name "Mike Schiffer" sounded familiar to me. It was like something on the tip of my tongue that I couldn’t quite enunciate.
There were also pictures of another car, a Mysterian M2 of slightly later design that indicated a lot less frontal wind drag, shown next to the Grinch. I figured this was the driver’s next ride. Another Vee. Maybe he was still racing.

I looked through the logbooks and found that Mike had raced the car the car almost eighty times and had finished in the top ten in 67 of them. Seventy seven percent top tens is not shabby.

Succeeding drivers were not as successful. John McFarland raced it twice, Bill Hornack eight times, Brian Goodchild eleven times. None had outstanding records. It seemed to have become a "drivers school / first season" sort of car.

I had one like that once. It taught me a lot of lessons. I kept puttering with it, trying to imitate the latest trick until I discovered that the biggest trick of all was proper set up. When done right, my car was as fast as the latest stuff on the track. As old and as out dated as it was it could stay in there with the best of them. I would have to remember that. It was a lesson hard and expensively learned.

Sal Iannello bought the car as a project in ’99 and held it on to it, hoping to get around to working on it, until he sold it to me in ‘06.

That’s a long life for any other kind of racecar. Not so with Vees.
* * *
Since they were racing in the same area, I thought Carl Watral might just know Mike Schiffer, I called. He did and gave me a phone number.

I called Mike and missed him. He later returned the call and we had a nice chat. He clued me into the location for the original builders and even came up with a phone number for Gary in Sebring.

I called Gary Dassinger and got a brief history on the car, It had been built by Gary’s father, he and his brother Wayne. He talked fondly of the time. His father had since passed on and he and his brother had occasionally spoken of getting the car back and restoring it. Just for kicks. Sort of a tribute to their Dad.

Having lost my own father a few years ago I understood the feeling and was in sympathy with the idea. I thought about that for a few days.

AT this point there were several ways to go with the car:
- ONE: I could update it to formula first (remember therapy), run it our little track and have a hell of a good time. That would entail some drastic changes to the car that would alter it significantly from the standard Vee class.
- TWO: I could restore it as a vintage Vee and run it in it's original configuration. I had all the documentation, and photographs of the original car. It was vintage eligible. Vintage racing is a laid back form of the sport and one that I had seriously considered before becoming infected by the Formula First virus. It was just a matter of restoring what was there. I even had the original builder to use as reference. This would be, by far, the simplest and least expensive racing option
- THREE: I could give it back to the Dassingers and let them restore it as they wished and find another candidate. There were plenty around.

Any one of the three was attractive in its own way. I thought about it a lot for a few days. Whichever decision was made it would have to happen soon as I needed to get to work on the car in order to make the October deadline or find another one that needed less effort.

Finally, I called Gary and offered the car to them. I could not afford to just give it to them but I did offer to sell it to them for what I had in it at that point. I just could not get away from what a neat thing it would be for them to redo the car for themselves and their father.

Unfortunately, Gary was just about to go in for surgery and his brother now lived in Portland. They tried every way they could think of to pull it off but finally had to give up the idea. I was kind of sad for them.

One the other hand I could now get to work and get the car ready and I had some ideas about stuff that I wanted to mess with.