Sunday, November 1, 2009

how the west was won and where it got us

Where to start....perhaps where I left off.

Erroll and Kendra took care of the cage installation in Dallas, while I flew to Toronto for a business trip.  I had a 6AM flight from Toronto back to Austin on the Thursday before the race, which I had planned such that I would arrive in Austin about 10:30 and have lots of time to work on the car.  As it happened, the flight was delayed, and Continental managed (even with the delay) to get my luggage on another flight.  This was also the one time I had my car keys in my luggage instead of my carryon backpack.  Let it suffice to say that after four hours of sleep and leaving for the airport at 3:45 Eastern, I still didn't make it home until nearly 1 PM (Central). 

I had some errands to run - I went to Home Depot and various parts stores and got some 4GA wire for the kill switch, brake fluid, spring compressors, electrical connectors, and some other stuff.  Erroll and Kendra weren't due until nearly 8PM, since they were also delayed, so I napped for a couple of hours.  When they arrived around 8:30, we pulled the car into the garage and got to work.

Erroll started replacing the struts, and I tackled the leaky cam box.  I got everything apart, and then to my horror realized Vick Autosports had sent me the wrong gasket - they'd sent the upper valve cover gasket instead of the lower.  Fortunately, at some point in the past I'd ordered a complete Fiat 2L engine gasket kit which I had cannibalized for various parts over the years, but in it was the correct gasket.  I replaced the gasket, and, with some trouble with the shim buckets sliding out of the cam box, I put everything back together, replaced the timing belt, and Erroll started it.

To my horror, the car, which had been running OK before, ran like utter crap. It missed randomly on two cylinders, belched smoke, and there was a horrible valvetrain noise that had not been there before. I shut it off, checked the valve and spark timing which was correct, and stood puzzling over it for a while with extreme concern.  It suddenly occurred to me that, although I had been careful, I might have accidentally swapped shim buckets as they kept sliding out of the cam box.  I got the feeler gauges and Erroll turned the engine over while I checked clearances.  No. 1 was extremely loose (thus the noise), and No.3 was extremely tight.  How it happened I could not imagine, but it was obvious I'd swapped the shim buckets for cylinder nos. 1 and 3.  I took everything back apart again, swapped the stupid buckets, put it all back together, and the car started right up and ran well (although smoking like the very devil because of the oil spilled on the exhaust manifold).  I literally collapsed with relief.

Another setback we had discovered was that the new accelerator cable was for a carbureted 131, not our fuel-injected Brava, and it was too short. I had cut the old cable (which was on the verge of breaking anyway) and so the car would just idle.

Erroll had finished one strut, and with the other small things we had done, it was 2:15 AM and we went to bed.  I figured it would pass tech with one new strut if necessary, but we were woefully behind on everything else. Kendra had painted and put stickers on while we were working.

We got up at 6 AM the next morning. The race tech inspections started at noon and ran until 6 PM, and it was about a 3.5 hour drive to Angleton.  We hurriedly packed, hooked up the car, chucked all kinds of extra tools and supplies into it (overpacking like the n00bs we were), and took off. I snoozed a little in the truck and then drove from Hempstead to Angleton. We arrived just at noon. On the way, I realized I'd left the front bumper to the car in the storage unit - we would just have to run the race without it.

Collin, with great foresight, had reserved us the last large canopy in the paddocks, and we pulled the car in there and got frantically back to work. Erroll set up the rest of the safety gear, including harness and extinguisher, and we started rebuilding the accelerator cable using the old tube and a new wire cable we'd picked up at an O'Reilly's in Giddings, for a GM V6.  It worked, and I turned my attention to the kill switch.  I had a lot of trouble with my ring terminals until Collin and Glenn brought me a pre-crimped battery cable.  This took far longer than it should have done.

In the meantime, Jay Lamm, the race organizer, saw us and came over to admire the car.  He was quite excited about it, but then he said "I have bad news - how are your welding skills?"  I admitted that while we had a welder, I was limited in my skills, and he pointed out the flaw in our cage.  The harness bar (which was really just the rear crossmember) was too low, and we'd have to have another welded on.  There was a shop onsite that could do it. Collin called them and they said bring it by in a couple of hours, and it being now almost 2 PM, Jay said if we didn't make the 6 PM deadline for tech, we could bring it by Saturday morning before the race started.  This was a big relief, and I continued working on the switch.

With the switch and other problems still unrepaired, Longhorn took the car and then let it sit while they worked on the cars ahead of us (a lot of people had cage trouble).  I took some tools over and kept working on the switch, and to my complete irritation managed to break off the flimsy aluminum leads to the heavy resistor that is supposed to bleed power from the alternator to avoid blowing diodes when the switch is thrown.  I remembered something I had read somewhere and called Kendra, who happened to be at the parts store for another reason, to get a light bulb socket with leads, and some light bulbs for it.   I wired this in and got the car running again, although the coil wasn't wired into the switch yet. Longhorn finally started welding on the car, and I consulted my Spider wiring diagrams to figure out which coil wire to cut.  They finished the cage (by now it was dark) and also welded up the broken muffler brackets, and then we took it back over to work some more.  I found the wire I wanted, cut it, wired in the switch, and then started it and threw the switch. The engine died, the bulb glowed, and everyone cheered!

Erroll got to work on the remaining strut while I fixed some loose wiring, and tried to tie down the stupid leaking brake fluid reservoir.  After a long while it became apparent that some trouble was developing on the other side, and I found that Erroll had accidentally gotten the spring compressors stuck in the spring as he lowered the car.  Everyone tried to figure out how to get them out, and finally after some judicious wiggling and tying a rope to the end to pull hard (which I think was Jonathan's idea), they popped out and we cheered again. 

Everyone else left to go to the Tiesto concert, and I went back to the RV (which the team next door had kindly plugged into their huge generator), put my sound-cancelling headphones on, and crashed. 

I woke up Saturday morning at 6, took a shower, and kept working on the car. Erroll joined me after a bit, and after fixing a few minor things, we suddenly realized that there was really nothing else to be done to it.  The rest of the team showed up, we piled our gear in the trunk, and Collin drove over to the tech tent where it passed first try, all the while leaving a huge puddle of brake fluid which I passed off as from a loose cap.  We went to the BS inspection next, and Phil, one of the judges, said "The Fiat! Here's my zero pen!" and wrote "0" penalty laps on the inspection sheet. Everyone crowded around alternately admiring and condemning the car, and then we trundled everything back to our tent.

The driver's meeting was soon afterwards, and then I ran back to the tent to get dressed, since I was driving first.  I was starting to get a bit nervous, and then as the dressing progressed, and they belted me in, I was very nearly terrified.  I got belted in, got the car started, and putted off in the direction (at least, after I figured out which direction) of the track entrance.  I joined the line of crappy cars getting on, the man at the gate checked my driver's wristman,and I slowly drove down pit lane to the exit - and then I was on the track.  Funny thing, when I was on the track my nerves went away, since it was really a lot better than, say, Dallas traffic.

We started under a full-course yellow, for practice laps to check transponders, and I passed first thing the broken-down Pinto wagon that had been in the paddock next to us.  I was only going 20 mph or so, and then sped up on the shallow curve to the hummock, where the track goes over a small hill and suddenly turns right. 

Up to this point I had only ever had the car up to about 20-30 mpg, just around the block a couple of times. But as I sped up, it was driving just fine - that is, until I hit the brakes and realized they ain't none, or at least were very bad.  I followed the car in front of me, testing the brakes, and realizing they were slowly getting worse. The car was otherwise doing fine, and I hit 60 or so, and did a lap or two when the green flag dropped and chaos erupted.  Cars flew past me on every side - I dropped a gear and sped up but realized a couple of inconvenient truths almost instantly: one, that nearly everyone had a much faster car than I did, and, two, the brakes were really getting bad.  I pitted on the next pass, drove to our tent, and had to wait until everyone realized I wasn't on the track and ran back to the tent.  Collin added some brake fluid and I went back out, but pitted again and this time Erroll discovered a leaky brake hose that he tightened.

This fixed the leak, but the brakes, to make a pun, turned in at best a halting performance.  The fade was terrible, but they did reach a certain point of degeneracy and stayed there, so we ran the rest of our time with awful brakes and no front bumper. Fortunately, our lack of speed helped in this respect.

I got back out on the track, and really started racing now - short hard right turn, straight, gentle left curve, hummock, casual right, twisties, thenthe glorious long back straight ending in a hairpin right, another left, a straight, then a nice long sweeping left to a hard right and the front straight and the stands.

Let me say here that I like the car.  It tends to understeer, which is no surprise given the motheaten bushings and gooey rear shocks, but it was predictable. The torquey 2-liter was a lot of fun on the curves - I could hold it in third and make the long curves right at the limit of the car's grip, actually even staying with some of the faster cars,  and the throttle was very responsive.  My driving sucked, since it was my first time, and I lost a lot of time plowing through corners that I should have approached with a little more finesse.  But the car really surprised me with its latent ability.

The virtues of the car weren't the only thing that surprised me.  I was flying (a relative term) around the track, all the faster cars passing me in every available inch of room on each side, when the engine began to sputter.  It got pretty bad pretty fast, and I pitted, but in the paddock everything was fine, and I went out again. I didn't make it out of pit row before the sputtering began again, and I started to think it was a lot like fuel starvation. I was towed back this time, and we examined my glass prefilter to find it full of gunk. We cleaned it out, and Collin went out this time but only had a top speed of about 10mph, and was towed back.

The gas tank had started giving up the junk living in its crevices, with all the fuel sloshing around. While we had cleaned out the tank (in fact it was the first thing we did), we obviously hadn't done a good enough job.  We drained the tank, added new gas, tried again, but there was just too many particulates coming out.  We ran 5-10 gallons of gas through, agitating the car, and Kendra ran and got us a couple of really big filters. We noticed that the particulates were getting finer and finer, so we slapped on the new big filter in place of the little one, and sent Collin back out after nearly two hours.  Surprisingly, it worked. Collin turned in some good lap times (in fact, the best of all of us), and turned it over to Erroll, then Jordan, then Glenn.  I took the last stint and really had fun.  I came around the last turn and saw the checkered flag to end the first day. That excitement, to shoot past under the flag - it was a triumphant feeling, even though we were in 103rd place of 123.

The whole mood of the team had changed - we had all gotten to drive, all the problems thus far had been surmounted, and all we had to do was park the car while a lot of other people (including Saturday's leader) were frantically working on theirs.  We had had no penalties, although Collin had nearly wiped out on the last turn in front of the stands.

The next day, we sent Jonathan out.  He was not skilled driving a manual - in fact, he'd only driven the car up and down the street.  He got out on the practice laps, and when the flag dropped off he went, only to have his passenger door fly open on a turn, and then have the car die.  They towed him back,and I was relieved to find the coil wire had fallen off. I ziptied it down, Jordan ziptied the door (by this time the car was a porcupine of zipties) and sent Jonathan back out. He did quite well, except now we had developed a water leak somewhere, and the car was nearly overheating.  I added water, and things went quite well until Collin (after yelling "I don't need gas, let's go!" in the paddock) ran out of gas, rolling gently to a stop in front of the stands.  Towed back, we committed a huge faux pas by fueling in the wrong place, and that was our last tow.  Everyone got to drive, and then at about 2 PM I took the last stint and drove. This was really the best stretch - the team had figured out what to do, and we even did an awesome tire-rotation pit stop that drew a few people to watch  the racing team at work.  My driving had improved somewhat as well.

The race itself was pretty clean. There were only a few contact events I saw (and someone lightly tapped us on the driver's side). Once, as I was coming around the long last turn before the front straight, a bright orange Mustang II came flying past me. I thought, "There's no way he's going to make that turn", and indeed he slid off the track and did a magnificent four-wheel drift through the infield, grass and dirt flying, for which he was summarily black-flagged and penalized. 

Collin called me on the radio: "The checkered flag just dropped!" I made the last turn down the front straight and indeed, there it was - I shot beneath it and blew my horn down the straight, for, beyond my wilder hopes, we had finished the race.  I came round on the cooldown lap (passing the broken Mini) and joined the line of cars getting off. As we came through there was a lot of cheering and congratulations, and the judges pounded on the car. 

I parked in the tent, and climbed out and high-fived everyone, then we trooped over after a while for the awards ceremony.  I was faintly hoping for the LeMons Index of Effluency award, but it went to a deserving Triumph who had finished ahead of us.  However, we won the "What is this? Do I need one?" award, which is a rear-view mirror mounted on a post, for being in everyone's way and also for being awesome enough to bring a Fiat Brava. 

We succeeded past nearly everything I had hoped for - finished the race, which I didn't expect, did a lot better than a lot of other people, got no penalties, and even won an award which made Ian happy.  The car survived with only a scratch or two and a few extra oil and vacuum leaks, and we'll do it again, without a doubt.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Successful almost beyond my wildest dream

I'll post the full story later, but we finished!  I drove the last stretch, and saw the checkered flag at about 3:15.  We placed 81th of 123, due to some fuel problems on Saturday.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

We've been mentioned on Jalopnik

Yeehaw It's Texas! Preview

We've been sponsored by Vick Racing, please visit their web site!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

home stretch

Erroll dropped the car off last night for the cage and seat, and some random welding work. It started right up after sitting for a couple of days, so that's a good sign.

Remaining things to do when the car gets home -
I am pretty sure we can get it all done in time:

1. try to fix the cam box oil leak, it's pretty bad. It might just need to
be re-torqued but probably not - may need a new gasket/sealant. (hard)
2. replace accelerator cable (looks fairly easy)
3. change oil, transmission and diff fluid (oil easy, other two medium)
4 replace air filter (5 min job)
5. flush and refill cooling system (easy)
6. install extinguisher (easy)
7. install kill switch (medium)
8. install harness (medium)
9. adjust clutch cable (easy)
10.replace shocks and struts (hard)
11. Grease the stupid emergency brake cable so at least it will unjam faster. (5 min job)
12. Install the camera and radio mounts
13. weld the broken muffler bracket (easy)
14. put some padding round the glass fuel prefilter (easy)
15. tape up external lights and mirrors (easy)

16. Flush brake system and refill with racing fluid
17. Fasten down the stupid brake reservoir

Monday, October 12, 2009

From desperate hope to plausible deniability

Yesterday, we got back to work and installed the hitch on the Tahoe for future towing purposes. Since the Brava was running (it took me a while to get used to the concept that I could easily move the car as necessary) I pulled it out in the street to make room for the Tahoe. After that job was finished, I went to pull it back in, and in the lightness of my heart, decided to take a spin around the block.

I started off and turned left at the first street, and just then my temporary fuel line patch let go with a rush and sprayed gasoline all over my feet. I killed the car instantly, and ran back to the house in the rain to tell Erroll. We went back to the car and tried to push, but the sticky emergency brake locked the wheels again, so we went back and got the truck and a chain and hooked it up to the new hitch. I hopped in the Brava and Erroll pulled me down the street to circle back to the house. As we made the first left turn, to my utter horror the steering wheel locked. I reached to turn the key but realized it was still in my pocket, and the car was now swinging wide to the left. Erroll, unaware of my predicament, was still driving slowly ahead. I shouted and honked the horn (in a tiny, logical part of my brain I was quite surprised that the horn worked) as the car careened toward the curb and someone's back-yard fence. Finally as I came abreast of the rear of the truck, the taut chain yanked the front end of the car away from the curb, and Erroll, feeling the jerk, stopped and peered out of the window in astonishment. I found the key in my pocket, unlocked the wheel, and we got it back in the garage with no further incident.

The first thing we did was to completely remove the stupid fuel line and reroute the whole thing with new tubing under the car, where it couldn't do any more harm. I clamped it down and then we rerouted the vapor lines under the rear deck, and fixed a few other small things. Erroll began ripping out the rest of the interior and I cleaned out the horrible trunk. I installed our fancy racing pins in the hood (required because the latch had stuck shut a few days before and I had to rip it out with a crowbar). We also found that the accelerator cable was fraying, so that will have to be replaced. I tried to adjust the idle but there are still a few vacuum leaks that need to be capped. However, it runs pretty well, just idling high and missing occasionally, probably due to the old plug wires.

At the end of the day, it was just about done. The interior was down to the metal except for the dash, all the huge problems had been fixed, and we can race it as it is (although it drives like a truck with the bad shocks), after the safety stuff has been installed. We hooked it up to the hitch and Erroll and Kendra took it back to Dallas for the cage and seat, so I won't see it again until the Thursday before the race.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Erroll came down yesterday, and in a marathon session (including me solo for a couple of hours Friday night) we converted the Brava from a rusted heap with cracked tires, no brakes, no cooling system, a destroyed driveshaft, and two inoperative cylinders into a fairly smooth-running machine that I was actually able to drive around the block last night (with one working taillight).

Friday night I changed the timing belt and tensioner, and put the clean radiator back in. Earlier in the week I had a look under the car and found that the driveshaft flex disc was badly cracked, the rear transmission mount was so old that the rubber had gone to goo, and the center bearing cushion had disintegrated. I had parts ready and Erroll took the driveshaft out while I put the missing bolt in the water pump and put the alternator and its belts back on, and started rebuilding the complicated tangle of hoses that is the cooling system. Neither of us had ever worked on a driveshaft before, but I had some good theories which proved sound (and the shop manual) and we managed to get it apart, replace the center bearing and cushion, and get it back together without breaking anything. I had to modify a aged pair of needlenose pliers for the snap rings, since my snap ring pliers were useless (once again, cheap tools).

Once that was done, we turned our attention to the transmission mount, which was a weird problem. The mount is basically a piece of metal bolted to the transmission, which is sandwiched between layers of heavy rubber contained in the bracket which bolts to the car. Over the years, the rubber had gone very gooey and the transmission's weight had pushed the metal bracket down through the rubber, peeling it off and leaving a loose transmission (which could be easily shaken by hand). We took the bracket off, moved the transmission plate back to a semblance of its former position, and drilled a hole through all three plates and put a long Mercedes engine bolt through. It seems to work perfectly, we'll see how it holds up.

Highly satisfied with the driveshaft, we turned our attention to the brakes, which were not holding pressure. The front brakes were fine, fluid came out and all was well, but no fluid was at the rear brakes. I suspected the rubber hose at the rear had swelled, and just happened to have a new spare I had bought for the Spider years ago, which fit perfectly. However - still no fluid at the bleed screw. I loosened the "T" connection, and fluid dripped out there when Erroll pumped the pedal. I took a bleed screw all the way out and asked him to pump again, and fluid sprayed out all over my (astonished) face. I think corrosion had blocked the bleed hole, so we'll probably replace the cylinders today.

While all this was going on, Kendra had taken all the wheels to be re-tired, and found a really good deal for $70 to mount and balance six tires. We are running Sumitomo HTR-200 tires. 205/60 R13.

Our spirits improved considerably when the brakes held pressure and the new tires were on, and I tackled the cooling system, which required some fitting together since the hose set for a Brava is no longer available. I got a Spider set and with a good deal of pulling and pushing and cursing and judicious stretching and cutting, I got them all on and clamped (and don't I hope they all stay that way). A new thermostat made it all look cheery. Erroll finished bolting in the driveshaft while I replaced the raggedy magnetic pickup, and suddenly we were just about done for the day!

I filled the cooling system and found the missing screw for the pickup while Erroll installed the battery, and we cranked it up. There was an awful whacking sound, and after some investigation Erroll discovered I hadn't bolted down the distributor cap and had trashed the rotor. We stole the set from the Spider and tried again. It started but ran TERRIBLY - belching smoke, running on two cylinders, and, while the death-rattle from the water pump was gone, a howling arose that I sagely diagnosed as alternator bearings, while hoping desperately it wasn't something like auxiliary shaft bearings, or, God forbid, camshaft bearings. Erroll detected burning rubber, however, and we realized the alternator belt had somehow hopped off its pulley and was running on the power steering pump pulley, where of course the power steering pump lived and was valiantly fighting to retain its claim.

That fixed, we restarted the car and everything was much improved - it was still missing and smoking but we warmed it up and after a while it started to run much better. I plugged the fan back in and it worked, and we let it run for a while. The longer it ran, the better it got, and after a while I dared to drive it down the street. The rear brakes were dragging, but other than that it did just fine - clutch worked, transmission worked, no crazy noises from the differential, and no overheating. We were happy as Italian clams, and put it and ourselves to bed.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Phase I complete

Not really, here's a list of tasks remaining:

- Reroute fuel supply line under the floor.
- Reroute vent and overflow lines under the rear deck
- Cover holes in rear deck with sheet metal
- Reinstall radiator, hoses, thermostat, and tee fitting to head and associated wiring
- Finish bleeding brakes
- Replace timing belt
- Replace the single bolt on the water pump :(
- Reinstall alternator and belts
- Replace the cracked flex disk, center bearing cushion, and bearing
- Replace pickup, clean plugs, and tune
- Fix remaining vacuum leaks
- Finish removing interior pieces and get cage, seat, switch, and extinguisher installed
- Get tires installed
- Check muffler
- Check rear transmission mount (there's something rattling under there
- Paint a big "09" and related decorations on the sides, and put Vick Racing stickers on (that's our sponsor! please visit!) and let Ian paint a quarter panel.

I'm going to stop messing around now and go work some more on some of this stuff. I'm glad to have all my brothers, brothers-in-law, and Glen on the team, but I do wish some of them lived down here.

all's well that ends if not well, then short of disaster

I woke up this morning and the first conscious thought I had was, "I have to get that broken stub out." I removed the new water pump (the broken bolt had, of course, been the last one in), and got my little Craftsman extractor kit and my drill. (I would like to mention my Makita cordless drill here - i've had it for 12+ years, abused it heavily, and it's been great.) I started drilling with the reverse bit and to my astonishment the stub spun right out - it wasn't even tight. It makes sense now, of course, because the bolt doesn't tighten into the threaded socket, it tightens the pump against the block. Anyway, I was pretty happy, although I have to find a new bolt now.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

cooling and stopping, or maybe not

I replaced the dead water pump today, and finished rebuilding the calipers and got the brakes reinstalled. I had Ian help me bleed them (he actually did a very good job pushing and pulling the wrench) and now at least there is fluid in the lines, although no brake pressure yet until I do the rear ones. The water pump was as far gone as it was possible to be.
Then, I broke a bolt installing the new one. I might try to get the stub out tomorrow, but maybe I can get by with three bolts (famous last words, I know, but I don't have much faith in my extracting abilities). I also finally got the AC compressor out; there had been a mystery bolt holding it in which I finally found by removing the alternator. There's much more room under the intake now. Fiat never did handle AC very well, since the installation of the compressor and hoses makes getting to anything else around it nearly impossible.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Started taking apart the front brakes last night - very simple, but also very tiny. Unvented rotors, too. The pads had rusted so badly the metal backing plate had separated and the pads themselves just fell out, leaving the plate behind. I have the caliper soaking in penetrating oil at the moment so I can get the rusty bleed screws out without breaking them, then I'll rebuild them and we'll have brakes!

Sunday, September 27, 2009


I replaced the rusted fuel line and the leaking fuel rail hose, and attempted to make a flare fitting for the new metal line, but the stupid $25 flaring tool won't do it. (Every time I buy cheap tools I suffer, oh how I suffer.) I'm going to have to get someone with a real tool to do it. In the meantime I just used a hose with clamps, pressurized the system, and cranked away for a while. Nothing happened, which is about what I have come to expect. At least gas wasn't spraying out of every orifice, or any orifice actually, which is a legitimate achievement. I poked around a bit under the hood, finding and fixing vacuum leaks, and cleaned a couple of spark plugs, and then tried again. The engine turned over and over, and suddenly one cylinder gave the tiniest little cough. I got excited and cranked away, then another cylinder coughed, and I teased it into life, choking and missing but finally settling down to a bumpy idle. It clattered horribly and I traced that in about two seconds to the water pump, which is banging around and wobbling on its shaft like Britney Spears after midnight. I was somewhat surprised to find that the power steering still works. I can't run it long since the cooling system is in bits so I killed it, finished installing the master cylinder and started it again, and then actually backed it out of the garage under its own power, coughing and spitting and leaving a trail of dirt. I had to borrow Ian's little chair to sit on. The clutch doesn't feel too good, but at the moment I can live with it. I pulled it back in (so we know first and reverse work) and now it's time to start actually putting things back together, and getting the brakes to work. I have exactly four weeks to go.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Its last days must have been horrible

Some lovely pictures - the interior (which looks like pictures I've seen of salvaged submarines), the .45 shell holding the tar in, and the radiator. I can't believe this car ever ran before it stopped running.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I repaired the entire fuel system except the injector rail - clean tank, new filter and a nice clear prefilter to check fuel flow, a spare pump I had from the Spider, new rubber hoses, the works. (I found a .45 shell plugging the outflow line from the tank.)

I reconnected the disconnected lines under the hood to the fuel rail, and tried to start it. Nothing happened which is about what I had expected, but after some fiddling I realized the fuel pump wasn't running. I poked and prodded and tested and found (eventually) that the spare fuel pump is in fact dead. I removed the fuel pump from the Spider and installed it in the Brava, and triggered the switch on the air flow meter that starts the pump. Bubbles went through my prefilter, I became excited, and then a geyser of gasoline shot from beside the manifold - apparently the crimped rubber hose is old and shrunken, so I'll have to replace that. Then I noticed a spreading puddle of gas on the garage floor, dripping from the driver's rear floor pan, and discovered that in addition to the leaky rubber hose, the metal high-pressure fuel line has rusted through.

I won't deny it, this is a bit of a setback. I'm going to have to run new lines, and that kind of stuff takes a lot of time that I am rapidly running out of. I've got to have this ready for the cage and seat installation in the next three weeks at most, and that's cutting it pretty thin, and the brakes still need to be fixed, and the clutch replaced, if I can manage it.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Looks like someone wasn't using Fiat-approved coolant.

turbo boost on

We've been offically accepted for the race, and I've started working on the car in earnest. I got it out of storage this morning and pulled it into my garage (displacing the poor Mercedes), and filled up half the big trashcan with junk I've pulled out of it. I need to remove the AC system, and re-install the gas tank, install new fuel lines and filter, and the new pump, and then get a battery for it and oil the cylinders and try to start it. It looks like the previous owner was having a little trouble with it - there's a bag of nearly new spark plugs in the trunk, the plug wires are new, and there's a few loose relays rattling around in the back with notes taped on such as "Might work", "Works but intermitantly [sic]", and other encouraging phrases.

It's still blazing hot outside so I've knocked off work for the afternoon.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Erroll came down for the 4th of July weekend, and we started ripping things out of the car. After we got the back seat and carpet out, we realized the original color had been quite a nice shade of Italian red - it's a shame how that disappeared under a few coats of Maaco. We got most of the rear trim out (choking on dust likely infected with bubonic plague), found the floor pans to be in excellent shape, and turned our attention to the gas tank. The tank is mounted in the trunk, against the front firewall, but for some reason the fill tube passes through the rear compartment above the rear deck on its way out. So we're going to have to reroute that, and weld over the holes on the parcel shelf to isolate the tank from the passenger compartment. I disconnected the fuel lines, and as I pulled the bottom one away from the tank, a long thread of tar stretched out between it and the tank fitting. We got the tank out, drained the stinking tea-water that was left instead of gas, and started spraying the inside with dish soap and the pressure washer. Great gobs of tar started coming out - we piled them in the street next to the curb where the sun melted them into little shiny tar puddles. We sprayed, and soaped, and sprayed, until the great raggedy pieces of tar became small gravel-sized pieces, then ceased altogether, and water flowed from all the orifices. A look inside showed the tank to be in pretty good shape, with some bits of tar stuck here and there (looked like it had been parked with about half a tank of gas). We sprayed a bit more, and then left it in the sun to dry and cleaned up all the tar puddles with an old dustpan. The fuel line is clogged, so we'll have to clean those out somehow - paint thinner and compressed air possibly. I found the extra fuel pump from the Spider, and I'll install a cheap clear fuel strainer in the line just out of the tank so if any chunks come through, we can easily clear the line. The fuel sender was a rusted mass, so either we'll have to get a new one or just guess at the amount of fuel remaining.

Monday, May 25, 2009


One of the major problems with the Brava is that the brakes are physically present, but completely comatose. The pedal goes directly to the floor, not passing GO and not collecting $200. The return spring exhibits a weak influence, but that's it. Fortunately for me, brakes are exempt from the $500 cap for LeMons (and are one of the reasons I did the chicken dance of joy when buying this car), however, we are still of course under our bare-boned racing budget of about $50 for parts and walking street corners for the cost of the roll cage.

Under these circumstances I was pretty happy to find a set of NOS (although not Fiat OEM, but hey) rear brake cylinders on Ebay for $17. I find Ebay has gone way downhill after my selling heyday on it in 1998, and haven't really looked at it in quite a long time, but just on a whim I had a look for Brava pieces with this result. The front calipers can be rebuilt pretty easily and cheaply (I have experience with this from the Spider, lucky me), and we'll likely need a master cylinder, new hoses, and possibly the rear compensator. Fiat brakes have a really awful reputation, but from my experience they are pretty good if done properly.

My timeline calls for the Spider to be running in a couple of weeks, and the long long July 4 weekend should see us cleaning the fuel system on the Brava and getting it started.

Monday, May 11, 2009

not a dry heat

Nothing to report except that the Lemons folks have the Lemons forum up now, which makes interesting reading. I haven't touched any of the cars for a week. I need to check on the Brava before a thunderstorm hits - the stick holding up the driver's window (which has a loose regulator) isn't doing a very good job. However I have decided on a solution for the in-car camera system if we ever make it to the track. (I know where my priorities are.)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Interlude II

Some encouragement occurred today from Jalopnik - one of the contributors, Murilee Martin, who I hear also helps judge the LeMons, started this thread, where I semi-announced our Brava entry. Murilee replied:

"If you show up with a Brava- or, better yet, a Strada- in Texas, you'll be an instant legend."

So that makes me want to hurry up and finish hooking up wires on the Spider, so I can move it around, and get the Brava out of storage and running. In spite of (so far) the lack of a firm team, there's no reason not to start work!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

De Fiati

Getting a team together is proving to be rather more difficult than I had at first conceived. I had thought everyone who heard about this project would be beating my door down to participate, but the level of ambivalence (likely due to cost) has been surprisingly high and at the moment I have only one more or less confirmed team member besides me. To complicate the problem, I've decided to try for the October race instead of next March, in spite of the chance that I'll fry in the broiling heat on the track. I have several people left to ask, so more on this later.

I've gone over the car in a little more detail, and all I can say is I am going to get what I deserve. It is in terrible shape, and I'm not dressing this up for the benefit of any future judges who might read. It sat in a field for several months after having been pulled out of another field. The registration I believe was last valid in 1995. The fuel system is as nearly completely ruined as possible: gas tank full of tar, fuel pump seized, fuel lines rotted. Luckily I have a spare fuel pump from the Spider, and I've cleaned out a few of these Fiat tanks before with a pressure washer and much patience. The engine looks OK, albeit with all the standard Fiat twin-cam oil leaks, and the transmission and differential at least rotate. The AC is all there and will be removed and sold (no freon). The interior is completely trashed (and full of maps from all kinds of state parks), but that's OK since it will be coming out. The dash and its funny little sliding glovebox is badly cracked, and the gauges are cloudy. The driver's window was down when I first saw it, and from appearances it had been that way for a while.

The brakes are present but completely nonfunctional (but that's OK too since brake costs are exempt). The power steering (the first I've seen on a Fiat) is present and full of fluid. The rust is not too bad - I haven't had a look at the floorpans yet but given the climate in California (where I think it originated) and here I don't expect anything terrible. It started off gold, and was painted red and then green over the previous color, so where the paint has peeled or pieces of the car have fallen off all three colors show through. Soon the ripping out will begin!

Next Chapter: The Fellowship of the Ring-Brava

Monday, March 30, 2009

Interlude I

Fiat Brava dealer commercial. Boxy but good.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

In the beginning.

In the beginning, it was all Dirk's fault. Dirk casually mentioned at a party one evening (not your typical party, of course - since we all have kids there are no more real parties) that he had been working on a race car. My ears perked up, and I quizzed him for details. A small group of his friends had purchased a mongrel BMW 325e and entered it in the 24 Hours of LeMons race. I was quite interested, and while it was not my affair I decided to go down to Angleton to watch the race when it finally happened. According to Dirk, his Prison Break Racing team was a bit pressed for time at the end and took some shortcuts which came back to haunt them later.

The race was hilariously fun, although mechanical problems dogged Dirk's team, and I came away burning with desire to get in on the action (or, it may have been windburn, not sure). The next day was Monday, and I went to work, and about the 5th email waiting for me in my crowded inbox was from my friend Shaun in Pennsylvania who is, shall we say, a casual collector of interesting old cars. With the Lemons race still occupying my mind, I read his email which contained a link to a Craigslist ad for a 1981 Fiat Brava sitting in someone's field. It was an epiphany - I had the desire, and, without even trying, the means of effluent accomplishment had crashed into my life. It was, in short, the most perfect car for LeMons I could have chosen. Like 24 hour jalapeno burn, the idea of racing consumed me. Two days later I had the car, but I knew I couldn't do it alone. I needed a team. A team schooled in hard knocks, piratical in their methods, and lacking all fear of ferric oxide.

Next Chapter: The Gathering Storm