Tuesday, December 20, 2011

And so it goes

It was a crazy weekend.

I left Austin about 7:15 Friday morning, and after some trouble with a slippy alternator belt on the Mercedes, made it to Decatur about 11:30.  We had intended to test the car on the test and tune day, but various little things delayed us and we got to tech about 3 PM.  Jay himself gave us the inspection (with a lot of raucous laughter in the background about how terrible the car was), and just then the car decided not to run. This generated even more laughter, and we pushed it away with a couple of tasks remaining on the tech sheet.

Unkinking a fuel line and installing a front exhaust mount got us through tech, and there was just less than an hour remaining in the day for testing. Collin took it out, made some laps, and came back saying the brakes were working, but that the car lurched pretty heavily to the left upon braking. This spoke to me of a seized right rear caliper, but not having any spare calipers handy we decided to run it as it was until Csaba could bring us a set.

Spank himself showed up in our space Friday evening and gave us a quick hand in fixing our kinked fuel line, for which we were grateful. Saturday morning dawned bright and cold, and we coaxed the car to start and then went off to the drivers' meeting. Then we came back, bundled Erroll into the car, and sent him off. I had literally barely walked from the paddock to the stands when word came over the radio that Erroll was coming back in. I ran across to pit lane in time to see Erroll drive into the penalty shed. I ran in and asked what happened  - he'd gone two wheels off through the mud, surprised by the lurch the car gave upon braking. Hay told us to take the car back to our space, wash it, and figure out what was wrong. We did this (the clay was like glue, all over the left side), then I got dressed and took it back out.

The brakes were pretty bad, but I got used to the lurch and just automatically corrected for it. The engine was running far better than it ever had, and had plenty of power. The car still rolled heavily in the corners, but once I got used to it I was able to hold a line fairly well.

I had been out about an hour when the brake pedal started feeling soft. Having experienced this in 2009 at MSR, I was a little tentative with it for a lap, and it didn't get worse. I did another lap or two, and again started feeling some variation in pedal travel, but found that after a quick pump they worked great. In retrospect, this was a glaring sign that something was about to go wrong, and I was in fact considering pitting to check things, but they were working and I decided to hold off and see what developed.

What developed was a short three-way battle between the Macaroni Mustang II, the white #91 Celica, and me.  I saw the Celica coming from behind, and on the back straight I managed to pass the Mustang (with a good deal of glee on my part, as passing is not something the Fiat does often). Then the Celica came flying past into the turn, and braked hard in front of me. I hit the brakes with plenty of room to spare, and the pedal went right to the floor without the least hint of resistance. I instinctively turned left into the turn to avoid the Celica, and the rear of the Fiat came out and smacked the Celica hard in the rear sending him into a 270 degree spin in front of me. He stopped facing right and I plowed into him with my remaining momentum.

We sat a few moments in shock, then he restarted his car and got back onto the track. I couldn't find the PTT button for the radio to answer Collin yelling in my ear, but I finally got the car started and trundled slowly off the track to the penalty box. I just let the car stall in gear, and Jay came out and yanked a piece of the broken grill off and offered it to me as a prize from the LeMons judges.

I drove back to the pits in first, at idle speed, and (thinking the problem was with our sketchy rear calipers) we disassembled everything and found them worn and grabby, but otherwise functional. Then we took off the front tires, and found to our horror that the left front inside pad had ground away to nothing, then melted itself to the piston which had finally popped out of the cylinder. The melted circle of pad is still stuck to the cylinder, as there was no way to remove it.

We replaced everything, and Glen took it back out after nearly two hours. The tire was rubbing a little on the smashed fender, but other than that things were better than we deserved.  Jonathan went out next, and got flagged for contact (which according to him was just a close pass but no touching), and they yelled at him and let him go after I promised to have the judges saran-wrap him to the car if he screwed up again (bear in mind this was our 3rd incident of the day, but really the first due to crappy driving). We had just pulled off when Judge Scott came loping back up and said that the Timing and Scoring people weren't happy with us, and perhaps we had better find a traffic cone and bolt it to the car (the so-called Cone of Shame). Collin swiped a cone, and after frantic searching for nuts and bolts, and borrowing a drill, we bolted it on and Jonathan went back out.

Not much time had passed when he got a little excited and went two wheels off again. He came in and before he confessed I loudly said,"Whatever he did, he's done!!!" He confessed, and Jay leaned on the car and said he was sick of seeing us, and to just change drivers and go. Judge John suggested it would behoove Jonathan to sweep the absorbent up off the floor of the penalty box, so he did, all the while being heckled.

Collin took the car out and no incidents occurred for the rest of the day. When he took the checkered for the first day, we brought it back to the paddock and checked the brakes, to find they had worn right down to the metal again, after only four or five hours of driving.

We didn't have much to do on the car Saturday night, so just had fun, and Sunday morning we got Jordan in the car. He drove without incident, and turned it over to Erroll. It was driving considerably better, and at noon Judge John took it out for a spin, which excited us as we thought maybe he was looking at it for the Index of Effluency award. There was also a pretty tight race developing between us, the NSF Barracuda, and the Macaroni Mustang II for the Class C lead. After noon we passed the Mustang to take second place, and were about 30 laps behind the Barracuda. However, the Barracuda kept dropping out for various reasons (brakes, chiefly), and we narrowed the gap to 19 laps on one of their big outages. We swapped pads after the judge drove, and were good to go for the rest of the day, but the Barracuda came back out and maintained their lead. I got back in the car about 3, and finished under the checkered.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Erroll took the car off to Destroyer last night for the cage work. They apparently got a little lost and made the poor guy wait for them. The car wouldn't start to get it off the trailer, which I think may be due to a bad cold start valve. Small hurdles though, and there's just a few critical things left to do!

Monday, December 5, 2011

round all four corners

Back up to Dallas again.  In spite of incipient bronchitis, we tackled the car again Saturday morning. While I took apart the leaky cam tower, the rest of the crew disassembled the Spider rear axle I had brought up and got out the axle shafts.  They swapped perfectly with the shafts from the Brava, and now we had the mounts for the rear disc brakes, instead of the drums there before.

I found a broken bolt in the coolant tee, which is likely where our coolant leak has been. I managed to get the stub out with Vice-grips, and fortunately the first bolt I found in my pile of spare bolts fit perfectly.

Glen got a nice wiring harness and power points set up for our radios and camera.

Our friend Csaba showed up at this point, and brought a nice new gasket for the cam tower. I installed that, and he adjusted the valves for me. The crew in the back installed a couple of rear calipers from my stash that seemed to work (they are really hard to rebuild), and by that time the engine was back together and I went to install the new timing belt, only to find it was for an 1800 engine, not the 2-liter in this car.  Fortunately, Csaba  produced a spare and we installed that. I got the engine started, but it ran really badly and knocked, so we shut it off and inspected everything. I found that the auxiliary shaft had turned a bit during the belt installation, so I took off the belt again and set everything correctly, then installed it. Csaba found a loose exhaust manifold bolt which he tightened, and I took the plugs out and cleaned them. As I did that, I found that a rat had chewed our plug wires pretty severely, thus the missing. We routed them around to avoid grounding, then started the car again and it ran much more smoothly. It's still running rich and occasionally missing, but it's not bad at all.

The next morning Erroll and I bled the rear brakes, and the pedal feels really good now. While we don't have a parking brake, hopefully this will give us a little better braking than we have had in the past.  We fixed the other broken bolt for the driveshaft mount, filled the gearbox with oil, and then I left - my work is done and the others will have to finish it up. Race is in two weeks!

Monday, November 28, 2011


Over the Thanksgiving weekend I fixed all the vacuum leaks, then drove it a few miles down the road for a car wash (total miles so far, five!), really an engine wash as there were decades of encrusted oil and dirt on the motor. It came out looking really good, and it drove well too. 

Jonathan and I then got the transmission out, replaced the friction disc (which was right at its wear limit, lucky us), and got it all back together again. Getting to the top starter bolt and top transmission bolt is sort of a Fiat rite of passage, although it's easier in a Brava than in a Spider. Our Mercedes bolt is doing a good job holding the rear mount together.

I then disassembled the rear suspension and replaced the shocks with the KYB GR-2 shocks I had mysteriously appear in my trunk. I am pretty sure I bought them right after the last race, but have completely forgotten from whom. Anyway, they're in. I noticed the driver's side trailing arms were pretty bent up.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rolling in my 2.0

I went back to Dallas Saturday, and Erroll and Kendra brought the trailer over with the car. The trailer is a little bent up from the wreck. I found a good-sized dent in the front crossmember under the radiator of the Fiat but that was it, other than the rear bumper which had both torn partially loose from the bumper mount, and yanked out the rear bumper shocks. 

We unchained everything and Collin climbed in, and it started instantly. He backed it off the trailer and we put it in Mom's garage and had a look. The AFM was gummy from aphids, of all things, but I cleaned it as best I could then squirted some DeOxit into it and that seemed to fix it.  I found the cover in the trunk, which helped. Erroll vacuumed up all the broken glass that is everywhere from the other car. We started the car and let it idle, and it did ok, just running a little hot, and the muffler joints seem to be broken again so it's fairly noisy.

Next day we went to Pep Boys to get a few small parts, RTV sealant and such, and to my utter astonishment they had a new upper radiator hose for a Brava.  This fixed the rigged hose with a kink that had been causing us some trouble with cooling.  We fixed a few other little things then I took it for a spin down the street and back. The clutch is in pretty bad shape, so that's going to have to be fixed. The brakes are still really bad but work OK if stomped.  I, however, know what they're like when hot, so something has to be done there.

Thanksgiving weekend is a big push, then after that we'll take it for cage work and to have the exhaust fixed.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Tow Rig Crash

Collin left for Dallas yesterday towing the Brava, and I snapped this pic of him leaving my house.

He encountered a sudden traffic stoppage on I-35 just north of Waco and some guy swerved into the shoulder ahead of him as he was trying to stop.  Collin is ok, and the other driver unhurt, but the Jeep is probably totaled as the front is smashed in rather badly.

The Fiat ripped off the rear bumper and crashed into the front of the trailer - damage is unknown but hopefully not fatal.

 Kendra rescued him and the car and took them on to Dallas, and my Jeep returned home on the back of a truck, very much the worse for wear. So at least the car is in Dallas, but we're short a tow vehicle now so things have become somewhat more complicated.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


So I drained the gas the other day, and got about 8-9 gallons out of it. Since the tank was full, and I think it's a 12 gallon tank, we had lost a fair amount to evaporation, but the gas was still usable and I put it in various cars. I got new gas, put some in the tank, hooked the lines back up and tried to start the car, but nothing happen. I ran the fuel pump manually to pressurize the fuel rail, and tried to start it again. One cylinder fired once, and that was it. This was the pattern - after waiting for a bit, I would try to start, and one cylinder would fire once and nothing else would happen.

I finally pulled off the air intake hose to the manifold and poured a little gas in from the spout of the can. I tried to start it again, and the engine caught and ran for a second or two. So now I knew everything was working, and there was a problem with fuel delivery. Somehow either the airflow meter was sending a bad signal, the computer was bad, the injectors weren't getting a signal, or - maybe they were just stuck closed, which is what I was hoping although it seemed unlikely they would all stick closed at once.  At any rate, it wasn't starting.

I left it alone for about a week, busy at work, and last night just randomly tried to start it again. Nothing happened, and I realized the emergency cutoff switch was being flaky. I wiggled it, the ignition came on, and I cranked the engine again. Two cylinders fired, and this time the engine stumbled and miraculously kept running, belching smoke and coughing on two cylinders while I did a delicate dance on the accelerator pedal. Then another one caught, and it smoothed out a little. It gained some revs as it warmed up, and then suddenly the last cylinder fired and it was running smoothly!

My excitement knew no bounds, in spite of the smoke beginning to pour from under the hood from a bad oil leak which had been caking on the manifold for two years.  The injectors had apparently been stuck closed, and the cold start injector probably as well.  The fresh gas sitting in the fuel rail must have dissolved some of the deposits - perhaps we'll run some injector cleaner through in our first tank of gas. The car sounded really good, missing occasionally, but it idled quite smoothly. We'll have to fix the various fluid and vacuum leaks, but we've taken a long step towards rectifying two years of neglect!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


So it turns out that all our helmets are expired. The safety standard is now SA2010, and our (newish) helmets are all SA2000, including my nice HJC that I really like. So we're going to have to get new helmets.  In addition, there's been a couple of rules updates and our safety cage is going to need a little work to be compliant.

I got both cars out of storage and over to my house, so at least that is done. I plan to drain the gas from the Brava this weekend and put fresh in, and try to get it started.  We ned to start scheduling work weekends for it, not a whole lot of time left before the race!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Now's the day, and now's the hour

Just had a look at the team pages, and we've been accepted for the "Heaps in the Heart of Texas" race in December. I checked on the Brava in storage last weekend, and it was in pretty good shape, except the battery was dead, of course, and the cutoff switch appeared to be glitchy.  But to my astonishment I found I had stashed a lot of useful parts in the trunk, including a brand-new set of rear struts. I have absolutely no memory of purchasing these and have no idea where they came from, but was very pleased to see them. Anyway, we'll get to work on it soon!

Thursday, September 15, 2011