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!