Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Barry's Car is Hot!

At least I wasn’t the only one having problems. Our friend Barry Broussard from Morgan City seemed to be snake bit.

He had purchased a good looking auto cross car which already sported wide tires mounted on light weight aluminum rims and a1600 CC engine. It seemed to be a killer combination which should have given him an edge in our class. It didn’t work out that way.

He had run the car during the last race of the previous season but had DNF’ed by the simple mistake of running out of gas. Most of us have done that at one time or another. We are not proud of it but it makes us sympathetic. In my very first race I died when I was running second and closing in on the leader. It makes you feel sort of dumb. It’s embarrassing and you don’t often tell people about it.

As great as Barry’s car looked it had built in booby traps. The car had been set up to run Autocross where the cars ran hard for a minute and a half and shut down to cool off. That is different that from the stresses put on a motor by running hard for fifteen or twenty laps without a stop.

When you only run one lap at a time you don’t have the extreme heat buildup you get on longer runs. In Vee racers we compensate for that by ducting large amounts of air over the heads, cooling fins and the oil cooler. These are “air cooled” engines after all. Barry’s car wasn't set up that way.

Barry was out for the first race of the season and ran well. For three laps. Then the engine seized up. DNF. (Did Not Finish)

Since, like most of us, Barry is not a trained mechanic, he took his car to an engine builder in Baton Rouge.

After the builder had torn the engine down he reported that it had a cracked case and a host of other problems. He suggested building a complete new engine and Barry agreed to it.

It took him almost three months to dawdle his way through the over priced job he did. Half the season had passed before Barry could get back on the track again.
This time it lasted two laps before the engine seized up.

Barry called the engine builder who informed him that they did not warranty racing engines and he would require an up front payment to even tear it down to see what the problem was, not to mention what he would charge to correct his own mistakes. I guess there are thieves every where. I have deliberately not mentioned the builders name. But if you are in the Baton Rouge area you might want to check with Barry for references on engine builders. He knows at least one not to recommend.

A saving grace turned out to be a friend of Barry’s named Oren Deupre who is a mechanic and a boat racer. The two of them got together and decide to rebuild the engine themselves. Well, Oren is doing it while Barry learns.

When they tore the engine down they found lots of brass in the strainer and all the indications of spun bearings. The original engine builder had not seated them properly and they failed.

At present they hope to have the car out for the charity race. With luck I’ll join them.

The up side of all of this is that Oren is getting interested and may want to shift his racing from boats to cars.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Still Plowing Forward

I had been working on the brakes when I discovered that the left front was not working properly. The brake cylinder seemed to be OK so the problem had to be in the hydraulic lines.

I had never been too happy with the setup on the brake lines. If they worked fine I was going to leave them, but I didn’t like the way they looked. The fittings seemed strange to me and the appearance of the whole deal looked sloppy. I know, the rule is “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it“. I did it anyway. And regretted it later.

I went to NAPA an purchased a flaring tool, the brass fittings required and enough steel brake line to do the job. While I was at it I got a tubing bender as well.

We already had tubing cutters because we use them when building golf clubs. These are all small tools and not expensive.

With the car on the jack stands, I started striping out the old brake lines. It didn’t take long.

When I began to examine the old fittings I discovered the problem. With this type of fitting you had to have the passages lined up just so or they would not work. Some how one of them had be come twisted out of line and cut off the flow of brake fluid. Why anyone would use that type of fitting on a race car, which is subject to heavy vibration, escapes me.

I got busy and before long had a new set of lines run and all the brand new fittings snugged up tight. The job looked a lot neater I felt like I had accomplished something.

By this point the season was starting and I missed the first race.

Brian Kemp, who is managing the racing program this year, had established a new Formula First Class for us. It would be nice not having to compete against all other cars with much higher horse power knowing that we did not stand a chance of winning. Our problem was to get enough cars out to justify it.

Barry and Hugh were all set up to run the first and did.

Unfortunately about two laps into the race Barry’s engine froze up and he had to retire. Hugh went on to win the class. They gave him a nice plaque for his efforts.

Trying to be ready for the second race I got Hugh to help me bleed the brakes and clutch lines. We topped the all up and got ready to begin.

When The brake pedal went down we were flooded with brake fluid. Every damned one of the new fittings leaked.

I had purchased what was recommended but it was the wrong thing. Eventually I discovered which fittings would work and ordered enough to do the job.

I just couldn’t get my self to do it.

Maybe in any project you reach a point where you are ready to give up. For a while at least I had reached mine. I was temporarily burnt out. Even to the point of getting pissed off with Hugh when he teased me about how long it was taking to get this car on the track. So for a couple of months it just sat there.

I think maybe it was all the little things plus the growing realization that I may never be able to fit myself in this car. Oh sure, I could physically get in it and drive it but it would never be comfortable enough to really compete with. Not for me anyway. For a smaller driver it would be fine.

But Blind Mules are still blind mules. I wasn’t through yet.

Getting Ahead(er)

When we were trying to find someone to mount our new tires, we ran across a fellow who advertised as a “Performance Specialist“. He had done a good job on my tires.

They didn’t leak. Hugh had had his mounted somewhere else and his did. I tried him first.

This guy did exhaust systems and tires. He had told me he could build custom headers. When I took the car to him however, he started to back peddle. This was a whole new ball game and he didn’t want any part of it. He was one of those guys who are great as long as you can take it off the shelf and bolt it on. If you have to invent and fabricate as you go???

He did however; refer me to a someone in Reserve. Remember Reserve? (I was beginning to think we should call this car the Reserve Special. Remember when I had the air scoops fabricated? That shop was in Reserve also)

Not a mile and a half from Brandon’s shop was a converted gas station where Butch Herring works his wonders. I drove over and talked with Butch for a while. Both he and his wife turned out to be real nice people. He also owned the great looking customized 1950 Ford out side that he was slowly working on.

A good set of headers can help increase power by three or four horses. Doesn’t sound like much when you say it that way. When you realize that this is a seven to nine percent increase for us, it becomes significant. On the other hand a poor set of headers can take you the other way.

It is important that the bends in a header system be mandrel bent so that they maintain the same diameter all they way around.. With a normal tube bender, like the ones you usually see in a muffler shop, the pipe gets necked down smaller where the bend occurs. This causes additional back pressure in the system and robs horse power. We don’t have that much to lose.

I had pretty much figured out where I wanted the system to go and what configuration it should take. I even had pictures of systems similar to the one I wanted. Butch and I discussed it and decided we would tackle it that following weekend when he had some slack time coming.

In the mean time I ordered a series of mandrel bent pipes in the shapes I thought we would need and had them delivered to Butches shop. We also got a fresh set of flanges from the same place. (J.C. Whitney rides again) I must have done alright because there were no parts left over when we got through.

I don’t think we had the car off the trailer five minutes before people driving along River Road (which is where Butches shop is) started pulling off and coming in to see just what in blazes we were doing. Several got their goodies by sitting in the car, but most just wanted to look and ask questions. Ever the marketer, I did my best to answer them and make it sound as interesting and fun as possible.
It took us most of the day but in the end Butch had welded together all those pieces of bent tubing and it was looking like and exhaust system. It was different than the original but that was just fine with me. It would now allow me room to add a zero roll rear suspension if I decided to go that way. With the old system it would not have been possible.
Adding up the cost of the mandrel bent tubes, shipping and Butches labor I probably spent about what a set of Roxanne’s headers would have cost but at least I knew they fit.

It's A Start

Just for kicks, and because I had not done it for a while, I decided to fire it up and hear it run. It’s a reward therapy thing.

It’s a good thing I tried. It refused to fire. I could just barely get a little click every so often when the starter button engaged but it was certain that things were not working properly. The starter button and maybe the starter were suspect.

Now this is the kind of nightmare that I would not wish upon someone with bad -breath. Every time I run into something like this, it turns out to be just the tip of a berg big enough to supply ice for Mike’s martinis for several lifetimes. Guess what. This was no exception.

First I used a test light to check the starter button. Sure enough it had gone bad. It would work…..on occasion; but who wants to sit on the starting grid hoping this would be one of them.

OK, task one. Replace the starter button.

I pulled the old button and headed for the parts store to find a replacement. No such luck, they had none which were direct replacements. I tried one that looked like it should fit. It didn’t. The space behind the small dash in the car is very tight. We are not talking watch maker clearances here, but if it was not just right it would not work because the terminals would hit something that could short them out.

I tried four different starter buttons and six different parts houses before I found a replacement. This is the kind of thing that eats up your time.

It still didn’t solve the problem. The other player in this conspiracy was the starter. It wouldn’t work either.

Maybe the high humidity causes them to corrode or something, I don’t know. It had worked just fine before. Now it would not even try.

We had had this same problem with Hugh’s car and it turned out to be a faulty ignition switch. I checked that out with a test light and it seemed to be OK.

At least I knew where to get a new starter. Finding parts for cars, even one as common as a Volkswagen can be tricky. Especially when the parts are for engines which are forty five years old. They just don’t keep them on the shelf anymore.

My friends at NAPA would order one for me but they wanted the case for the old one.

Surprise, surprise. Remember the iceberg?

To take out starter you have to first remove the exhaust system. That normally was not a big problem. What the hell, this was not a normal car.

The exhaust headers came out without too much trouble and that should have been clue enough to worry me. I hadn’t caught on yet, but I was about to. With the exhaust headers off, replacing the starter was a snap. It went in easy as pie. I should have known better.

While I had the exhaust headers off the car I thought it might be nice to clean them up and give them a nice new coat of high temperature paint.

These were the headers that had been on the car since it was new. I could tell that by looking at the pictures taken by Mike Schiffer back in the Grinch’s prime.

I got out the sandpaper and started cleaning up the rust spots on the pipes. As I did I also began to take a good look at the pipes themselves. I shouldn’t have done that. The more I looked the more I found.

The flanges, where the header meets up with the exhaust ports, were cracked, leaking, and warped to hell and back. When I looked at the exhaust ports, I could see burns where the hot exhaust gasses had been leaking. This causes loss of power, can lead to burnt valves and also provides a fire potential.

In addition, the pipes themselves were full of little pinholes where the rust had eaten through. There was also evidence of leaking where the collector met the primary pipes.

In other words the entire exhaust system needed to be replaced. This is the sort of thing that will put fear in your heart. There is no such thing as running down to your local AutoZone and picking up a new one. You have to go to a specialty house like Roxanne’s Headers who specializes in Vee exhaust, or find someone to custom build one for you. In this case, since it was a one of a kind car, the latter seemed about the only option.

This was going to hurt. My wallet already had a dent in it from the roll bar and the starter. Now we were looking at custom work again and that always means money.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Origins Of The Species

Why Blind Mule?

Someone finally asked. It was my aunt Louise.

It was this way……..

When I was a kid growing up in a pre Disney Orlando, I lived in a small neighborhood called Colonial Town.

On the corner diagonally across from us lived Mr. Carpenter, the neighborhood handy man who was always available to help mend kids kites and broken toys. He just did stuff like that. We followed him like the Pied Piper.

In those day most of us ran around in shorts with no shoes or shirts. We were brown as berries and considered it normal. Mr. Carpenter used to pinch an inch of hide and tell us like liked our rubber shirts. No molestation or anything like that, he just thought it was funny. We just thought it hurt.

One day I had broken something of my fathers that I was not supposed to be playing with. I couldn't fix it so I took it to him. He couldn't fix it either. It was too far gone.

Facing the wrath of my old man because I had screwed up his stuff, I was determined that it had to be fixed and kept fussing with it in hopes that a miracle would happen. After too long a time Mr. Carpenter finally drawled " Kid you remind me of an old blind mule I used to have. You can't see it can't be done and you are too damned stubborn to quit".

When I started racing at an age that was way beyond optimum to make it a career but not too late for me to enjoy, it was the same thing. The name seemed right and Blind Mule Racing was born.

Twenty five years later when I decided to go racing again at the age of seventy plus it seemed more right than ever.

Where's the (Roll) Bar?

The next problem was another tricky one and it was critical in several areas.

Before we get into it too far let me make something clear. First, this car is actually a little bit too small for me. Remember I had purchased it sight unseen and had not had a chance to try it on long distance. I had been depending on measurements supplied by the seller and a little bit of wishful thinking.

It is not unusual for this kind of thing to happen in this class. When it does you just have to adjust the car to the driver as well as possible or get another car. (I couldn’t afford to do that) The cars are not large to begin with and as we have already established I am a full sized driver.

What we are talking about here is the roll over protection bar. It is usually just called the “roll bar” but when you give it its full name the importance of its function clarifies. It is there to protect the driver in the case that the car goes upside down. Remember we do all sorts of things to make it as safe as possible to tool one of these things around. The roll bar and its braces are basic to that cause.

In our case the roll bar was high enough but the braces cut across my arms in such a way as to pin my elbows in. I had limited use of my forearms and could steer but only by moving my hands from the wrist down but not my arms. Also it was difficult to move my arm enough to reach the gear shift. The only way I could change gears was to twist my right hand to the side and move the lever with my fingertips. Try that a dozen times a lap.

The ideal solution would be to move the roll bar brace from where it is to another location and free up my arms. But how do you do that and keep the roll bar braced as solidly as possible.
The perfect place for the brace would be for it to start at the upper point where it currently contacted the roll bar and connect at the junction there the dash hoop hit’s the side frame. This would provide good triangulation and at the same time clear my elbows and free up my arms a bit. Unfortunately it would not clear the bodywork.

I didn’t want to rebuild the whole body so I came up with another solution.

I would increase the size of the brace and tie it in behind where my shoulders were. That would give me as much freedom of movement as possible and still protect my noggin.

Since I am not a welder I had to find someone who could handle the job. The person who came to mind was Brandon Jeffers.

He has a small fabrication shop in Reserve, a little town close by, where he builds Hot Rods, Drag Race cars, and most any thing you want constructed out of metal. He does good work. He ain’t cheap, but he does good work.

I had done several sketches of what I had in mind. I do that a lot. I think better with a pencil in my hand. It is also easier to explain what I want with a drawing than it is to try to get a point across by talking and waving my hands in the air. It’s the sort of thing architects do.

I stuck my drawings in a folder, loaded the car on the trailer (stern first), and headed for Brandon’s shop.

We talked, looked at the drawings, waved out hands anyway for the sake of ritual, and agreed on a price. He would order the material, wait for its delivery, do the job and call me in a few weeks. He did. He got it almost right. Close enough that I could live with it rather than make him tear it all out and do it over.

Now I could bend my elbows a little, move my arms a bit more and could reach the shift lever with out being a contortionist. It wasn’t going to be comfortable but it would work. For a smaller driver it would be wonderful.

The only bad part of all this is that every time I have to farm out work on the car it eats up my budget. My budget is not a fat one. I have to find ways around having other people do things.

Well anyway. Another task done and another three weeks shot.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Putting It (Back) Together

It was about three weeks later when we got together again. Gary was back from his trip and the sleeves had arrived.

When we had been taking things apart we noticed scoring on the link pins and Gary had put them in his polisher. Strange device. It is a container with a vibrator built into it. It is filled with crushed walnut shells, which are apparently very hard. When you put a piece of metal in it, turn on the vibrator and leave it for a while, the metal comes out squeaky clean and polished to a fair thee well. The link pins looked great.

The next task was to remove the old Micarta bushings in preparation for replacing them with the new sleeves. Like most old parts, they had other ideas.

The Micarta had grown old and was very set in its ways. It did not want to come out at all. After being in there soaking up grease for years, they had expanded and were wedged in solidly.

We tried using a long metal rod (which had to come all the way through he length of the tube to get to the back side of the bushing) to try to push it out. Instead of pushing the Micarta just began to notch the material and not move it at all. Finally Gray came through again and came up with the solution.

He took a hack saw blade and cut a slice through the bushing. This released enough of the pressure and we were able to knock the bushing out. We went through the same procedure on the other side.

Instead of trying to push out the inner bushings we just knocked them further into the tube where they would be out of the way and not interfere with the sleeves.

Let me say, at this point, that over the years a lot of people must have tried to lube those trialing arms. The tubes we packed almost solid with heavy grease. I mean buckets of it. It was amazing how much we gouged out of there. The car would be several pounds lighter because of it.

The new sleeves went in slick as a whistle and the reinserted trailing arms now moved just like they were supposed to.

We reassembled the front end and took a look at what we had.


The angle on the trailing arms was wrong and gave us too much ride height again. We maxed out the adjusting screw and still had too much.

Finally in desperation we took a cutting wheel and elongated the adjustment slot and spun the thing around to where we wanted it. Then we welded the damned thing in place. The hell with adjustments. The only problem now was that it still did not want to rise and fall like it should. It was free enough but something was still binding.

We were about to throw up our hands when it dawned on me. We had just taken the car down off the jack stands and had not relieved the pressure on the wheels. We rolled the car forward and back and tried again. It worked beautifully.

I had remembered that when you are setting the toe in adjustments you always had to move the car between adjustments or it would bind from the pressure of the tires on the ground surface. Moving the car stabilizes that.

The “one man loading” system worked again and with the car loaded stern first I headed home. The rear end sway was gone, and the car towed perfectly.

I was feeling pretty cocky.

* * *

I had been carefully taking pictures of this whole process and had full documentation of everything we had done. I was feeling very smug about that. It was a knotty problem and I had wanted to be able to show how we solved it.

A couple of weeks later, Hugh borrowed my camera to take pictures at the Ferrari club outing. When I got it back he had deleted all the shots I had taken. I guess he thought I had already downloaded that. I hadn’t.

Hugh, not realizing that the camera was set on the resident memory and not the two gig memory chip which would hold hundreds of shots, had dumped the shots so he could take pictures of the Ferrari event.

We had words.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Nothing Up My Sleeve...

This was going to be the first time I would use the new trailer so it was going to be interesting. I now had a chance to see if the idea was going to pan out like I planned. On the road to Gary’s I would be driving over everything from highway to bumpy country road conditions, so it would be a good test.

The basic thought was to be able to load and unload the car with only one person, rather than having to have help to get it on or off the trailer. Surprise. It worked like a champ.

I loaded the car nose first this time because that is the way it was oriented in the carport. It just happened that way.

At low speeds it was fine, but at highway speeds it seemed a bit tail heavy and tended to wander a bit. I wasn’t too surprised since it had been designed to have the car loaded tail end first. That should get rid of the heavy end wobble. I’d have a chance to check that out on the return trip.

I got to Gary’s shop and found both he and his friend Jerry waiting. The “one man” unloading drew praise from both of them.

We got started by reviewing what the problem was.

The original front end on the car had a ride height problem. When the shocks were removed the floor pan suddenly rose to the point that it was seven and a half inches above the deck instead of the three and a half inches I was looking for. In order to get around that I had purchased another front beam which had a ride height adjuster on it. With the adjuster I could set the ride height I wanted but the front end would not work properly. If I pushed down on it, it stayed down or if I lifted it, it stayed up. In other words it was binding and would not allow the springs to work at all.

Normally, with a Vee front end, the are a number of minor changes made to the stock beam.

Remember. The original car weighed around 2000 pounds. A Vee, including the driver, is about half that. As a result we usually remove the lower set of springs and install a stiff steel bar in the lower tube instead of the springs. This functions as a sway bar and allows for the removal of the exterior sway bar that comes on the stock axle. I had already done that.

One of the problems is that for handling reasons we like to have negative camber on the front wheels. The normal condition for VW is positive camber. The way this is adjusted is by rearranging the shims on the link pins. This is a laborious process and not entered into lightly. The down side is that this sometimes caused the front end to bind up and not move properly.

One solution to this is use aftermarket offset bushings in the front end. I had ordered a set and had been keeping them in the freezer as recommended. (That makes it easier to press the into place. Again not a task entered into lightly). In order to do that we had to remove first, the Link Pins and then King pin carrier. Once the carrier was free then we could knock out the old bushings. Gary took this one over and tapped out the old bushings and wedged the new ones in place.

While we had the kin pin carrier off we took a look at the action of the trailing arms.

When working properly, the trail arms should move very freely and with as little resistance as possible. The only action should be from the springs in the upper tube and the sway bar in the lower. Not so in our case. The trailing arms themselves were binding.

We removed the upper springs and the sway bar and tried again. The trailing arms were still binding. We pulled the trailing arms out to check the needle bearing and got a nasty shock. There were no needle bearings. This beam was so old that it still had the original Micarta bushings and no bearings at all. No wonder it was binding. Those suckers were worn out.

The solution Gary suggested was the use of a set of urethane replacement sleeves. These replace both the inner bushing, the outer bearing and the grease seal. They had to be special ordered for the old Micarta type beam so we were at a stand still.

It is the knowledge of this kind of thing that makes Gary such a wonder. I didn’t even know that was such a thing as a Micarta bushing, much less what to replace it with or where to find it.

It was Miller Time anyway so we knocked off. Gary was going to be out of town for a couple of weeks, and we had to wait for the sleeves to arrive, so we just left the car scattered all over his shop floor and shut it down for the time being.

I didn’t even take the trailer home.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Making Sure My *ss Stays Covered....

With season over it was easy to let things slide a bit. You get out of the habit of going out to the carport every day to do your task on the car. Besides that it was summer and the temperatures were in the high nineties and the humidity was approaching emanate rain fall.

In spite of that you realize that the new season is coming and you need to get in gear. Well, where do you start? What is the biggest problem?

The floor pan. OK, Study the floor pan.

I did, and discovered that maybe; after all, it did not have to be totally replaced in order to protect my delicate posterior. But it would require some surgery.

I put the car up on jack stands and got under it.

With a grinder and a drill I removed all the pop rivets which attached the section of the pan which was improperly lapped and I cut loose the trailing edge of the panel in front of it. Then I reinstalled the offending panel with its front edge tucked under the panel in front of it.

Now if the car hits a rough spot in the track, ( like when one wheel is off the track in the dirt and one is still on the track and you are bouncing along, almost high centered, on the pavement edge) the front edge of the seat panel would not dig in and peel it self away from what it is supposed to support and protect.

ME. We must protect ME at all times. It is important for health reasons. You see, I am allergic to pain. It makes me break out in a nasty rash all over.

So that is one thing fixed (unless the car is going over the same route backwards in which case you have a host of other problems). And it only took three days.

Good start. Next problem.

The binding front suspension.

I had almost given up trying to figure that one out. It was time to go to the mountain. It was time for a pilgrimage to Hammond.

I called Gary and made the arrangements.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Goofing Off

So OK. I have been goofing off.

When I was in Houston last week, my friend Mike Aldag took me to task for not keeping up the blogsite and he was right. Once you start one of these things you have to maintain them and I had not been doing that.

It is so easy to let it slip. It’s like that exercise program you started. You skip just one day and the next thing you know six months have gone by and you have added another five pounds.

Now I haven’t been totally inactive during that time, so I’ll try to bring you up to date .

I guess the way to do that is in pieces the way the work was done.