Posts in Category: Miata

Back on the Horse

September. Damn that seems like a long time ago, because well it was. And a lot has happened since then. For one I’m married now. There is not much to blog about atucrossing over the winter b/c there really isn’t much autocrossing over the winter. Philly region does have a winter series but I didn’t attend it b/c my Miata got rear-ended and subseqently totaled out by the insurance co. That was obviously a big bummer b/c I was looking forward to really tuning the car this year and bridging the gap to the CRXs.

And Irene and I decided to get rid of the Prelude. It was just getting two high in mileage. So that is two cars gone over the winter. We did get something cool to replace the Prelude though, a Mazdaspeed3. We both like th car a lot. S-plan pricing really made it a good deal.

Initially I was going to find another Miata shell this spring and swap everything over. But I decided to put that on hold till next year so we can focus on finding a house. The government is holding this $8,000 tax credit carrot in front of our noses and we’d be stupid to not try and take advantage of it. So there hasn’t been much to report on the car front. I have done a few autocrosses in the Mazdaspeed3. But I’ve also missed a bunch.

So because of all that stuff, and there was some crappy medical stuff going one over the winter, that I haven’t been posting. I’ve realized of late that there is a lot of other stuff I could be posting about other than cars and autocrossing. I don’t like putting to much personal life stuff up on a public blog. But I have been getting more interested in what is happening in politics, or more like what the current President and congress are doing to “fix the economy”. For the record I don’t like it, which is why I feel I should be writing about it. In addition there is the real possibility of “carbon cap & trade” coming to this country now. I have some strong opinions on that since I work in the utility industry. Specifically I don’t like it.

I have also been messing around with computers more lately. I got really fed up with Vista and tried Linux again. There is at least one future blog post in that story. I have also been messing around with trying to write a small CMS for websites. It is going very slowly since I can only dedicate an hour or two each day to it. IT is very rewarding though and I could see myself doing that for a living if I was to find a way to change careers w/o a drop in pay (yeah right!). And I have been doing more unique stuff with the 3D design software we use in work, Autodesk Inventor. There are some potential blog posts waiting to come out of that experience.

So now that I’ve made the excuse post and gotten back on the horse let’s hope I can me more active on this thing again.

2008 Philly Events #9&10

Not much has been happening on the autocross front for me lately with the wedding only days away now. I missed Philly Event #8 at Warminster because Irene and I had too much on our todo list for that weekend. Doug borrowed the car and won STS2 with it again. His time was impressively close to perenial front runners Scott in an STS Civic and Cy in an STX Civic. Doug also confirmed that turning down the front shocks helped the car at Warminster.

Event #9 was at Boeing on September 7th. Really no need for a race report there. The Boeing courses are always a compromise and this event was no different. There was a very tight hairpin built in that I was downshifting to first for on most of my runs. Most of us STS2’ers tried it both ways and there really wasn’t an advantage to either. I drove well enough to not be crappy but not up to my expectations. I ended the day 4th out of 7 in class, 0.5 seconds out of 1st. My PAX ranking was 16 out of 67.

Event #10 was a Warminster event that I wasn’t sure I was going to make. I could use the fun and relaxation of thrashing the car about but our wedding todo list was still high. Irene and I kicked butt on Friday and Saturday so I woke up early on Sunday and headed over to Warminster as a walk-up entrant. Normally Warminster events are pretty busy and hectic for the chiefs because it draws large numbers of entrants. My plan was to show up, work a normal shift, run, then split. This event turned out to be pretty low key due to the fact that it rained all weekend. Doug texted me as I was leaving to say that he was sick and wouldn’t be making it. I thought about bagging it since I hadn’t pre-registered but I wasn’t going to let the rain spoil my fun.

The course was FAST and the Miata handled great in the rain as it had before. I had the front shocks turned down 5/8 of a turn from full stiff. Each bump on the Koni Sport adjust is 1/8 of a turn. Although steady state cornering and braking grip was lower from the rain the transitional grip was unbelievable. And you needed it. There were 2 very fast slalom sections were I just below the limiter in 2nd. My times didn’t bear out how I thought I was driving though. I ended up dead last out of 4 in class. The course ended up being kind of cone intensive due to the reduced grip and a couple of right angle boxes and I was no exception to that. But even if you discount the cones I still wouldn’t have moved up. Boo. :-( I was 27th out of 80 in PAX.

There won’t be a whole lot of activity in the coming months. I’ll be off on my Honeymoon for 2 weeks. After that there are just two Boeing events, and maybe some NNJR ones to attend. Then the long break for the winter holidays. No word on a possible winter series yet. I am looking forward to getting some much needed work done on the car over the off season. Details to come when I actually get around to doing it. For now I leave you with an action shot snapped by Bob McMillan.
Rainy Warminster Action Shot

2008 Al Holbert Memorial (Philly Event #6&7)

Why don’t I try to get some blogging in while waiting for some software updates to install on my computer. This is a big and special “must do” event for the Philadelphia Region each year and this year no different. In fact we upped our game as far as I am concerned. However due to a scheduling conflict with the Northeast Divisional (we announced the date first) and being late with the final details and opening registration we had less then stellar turnout. The team rallied and came up with an alternative format that would fill in the day and keep everyone happy. Instead of 7 runs for the weekend we were looking at 9, with potential for a few more. It didn’t work out all that rosy for me though.

Saturday morning I showed up, checked in, got teched, and walked the course just like any other autocross. But three quarters of the way through my first heat work assignment Irene called me and told me that her wrist was in great pain and she needed to go to the hospital. She had injured it a few weeks ago. It appeared to be a mild sprain. We still don’t know why it got aggravated like it did. But that was the end to my autocrossing that day. Shame cause the course looked very technical and challenging.

Sunday my bad luck continued. The safety strap for my video camera goes into the trunk and around the truck lid torsion spring. While setting that up I placed my keys in the truck and then shut it! 😮 Insert picture here. I didn’t discover this fact until They were telling us to get ready to run. My poor co-driver had to find a last minute ride, for the second day in a row. I couldn’t believe what I had done, I was devastated. One of my competitors George, realized that his friend and region volunteer Pat was on his way in and lives near me. He was able to stop by my apartment and pick up the spare key from Irene, who couldn’t drive b/c of the splint on her wrist. Thanks Pat!

Pat showed up with my keys with just enough time in the heat for me to hot lap my four runs. That was one lucky thing about the day as it started raining 10 minutes after the heat ended. The region had some more bad luck with our timing & scoring software, AXWare, when someone ran a command that had some unintended consequences for our two day event. Despite three of us working on the problem through most of the lunch break the error was unrecoverable and we had to go back to the old days of writing down times directly from the timer box on paper. I have to say that everything went better then I thought it would with the manual timekeeping. Competitively I ended up loosing to both Doug and George in a lesser prepared car by a few tenths. That really bummed me out too as I thought I had beat Doug (again).

Instead of pictures I offer you a video of my run!

Found the Source of that Tire Vibration

Ever since the first or second event of the season I’ve had a vibration at high speeds. I checked various things on the car and nothing seemed out of place. I took a look at the tires while they were on the car looking for flat spots and didn’t see any. I figured a weight fell off or a tire shifted enough to throw it out of balance and just lived with it since I don’t drive the car that far on my competition tires. I was changing back to my stock tires for the drive up to the Finger Lakes ProSolo and what do I see? A big old flat spot.
Flatspoted Tire
That explains that. The front brakes tend to lock up early on these cars and it looks like it finally caught up with us. After my experiences with mismatched tires on the Prelude I realize that I have to replace them in pairs. I hate the idea of throwing out a perfectly good tire so I’m gonna just run on this and keep a close eye on it to make sure it doesn’t cord. Hopefully I can get through August on it. We have the Al Holbert Memorial and possibly PA States that month. Both two day events.

Hitch giving me issues

It’s always a struggle with this car and attempting to put a hitch in so I can carry a tire trailer was no different. First of all the hitch I chose is from Hard Dog Fabrication. There are at least two others who make hitches for the Miata, but I chose them because Irene has a roll bar from the same company and it is of very good quality. Plus they are a small company in North Carolina, not a big cooperation. As usual the big problem is rust. The hitch installs were the rear tie downs go. A previous owner took all the tie downs out of the car but but the fasteners back. There is two screws, and two nuts on what appear to the studs per side to remove. One of the nut/studs snapped. One came off. On two others the nut and stud are just spinning. I got three of the four screws out. One of those snapped too. The “studs” are not really studs but bolts that are supposed to be held from spinning by a piece of sheet metal with a hex shaped hole cut in it. They also help hold the bumper on. I was able to barely get a socket up between the steel of the frame and bumper and on the bolt head. But the steel that is supposed to be holding the bolt is place is so mangled I can’t get the socket on the head. And the other bolt is so far up that there is no way to get anything on it.

So I figured that I could take off the bumper and gain access to the bolts. All the screws came out of the bumper w/o breaking to my surprise, but there was something holding the bumper on the car at the top underneath the rear panel. I dreaded taking the rear panel off as I was sure I was going to break a bunch of the plastic clips that hold it on. Surprisingly I didn’t. So I get the bumper skin all off and see that I don’t have any better access to the bolts then I did before. If I can take the plastic frame of the bumper off I can get to them. It appears to be held to the two brackets that are attached to the frame of the car by four bolts on top and two bolts on the bottom. Because you can’t put metal screws in plastic threads on the other side of the bolts are nuts that have clips that again keep them from spinning. All of these fasteners are badly corroded as well.

I tried taking them out but two of the nuts clips broke. Several other bolts started to unscrew but then felt like they were going to snap. At this point I really needed a sawzall to cut through the bolts. And I don;t have one. And I’m sure the apartment complex wouldn’t approve of me using one in the parking lot. So I had to bag trying to put it in. I wanted to carry my tires up to the Finger Lakes ProSolo on the trailer but it looks like I’m going to have to bum a ride for them or just drive up on them. I’ve held up from buying the actual trailer until I got the hitch in. I doing know when that is going to happen. I still have the manual steering rack sitting waiting to go in. And along with that the front alignment bolts need to get replaced. One of them keeps coming loose and banging around. So much yet to do to this car and not enough time.

Almost had it, 2008 Philly Event 5

The win that is. It slipped right through my fingers. Doug has been beating me by a second or two every event. I guess my lessons learned from the Tour about aggressive turn-in paid off. We were at Warminster and the course was a mixture of fast brave elements and painfully slow ones. The “Way out” was mostly fast. A slalom, a “wallom” (a slalom with some wall elements) with a shorter third element, and a semi tight chicane type maneuver that reminded me of last year’s Holbert a bit. But if you got the first part of the chicane right you were flat to the turnaround. After that was a nice slalom and then began the painfully tight offsets. The course designer stated he was trying something and it just didn’t work out. There were 5 offsets I think and they opened up progressively. The last one was very open and led into a fast three cone slalom. The finish had us on the rev limiter on almost every run. This was also the first real event with my MaxQ and I can say that the rev limiter is only at 55 mph. Im gonna have to do something about that next year if I’m going to keep up with the CRXes.

My first run as usual wasn’t anything special at a 66.x but on my second run I was able to improve to a 64.x. My main goal was to be aggressive with turn-in in the fast stuff and try to sting together fast segments. And then not kill myself on the slow stuff. Doug was making up some time by doing a not entrance to the three cone slalom on the way out and doing that netted me some more time. I got a little too aggressive with the slow stuff on the third run and didn’t improve. Doug was dirty on most or all of his previous runs but he laid down a 63.0. Eek. He still wasn’t happy with how he was doing the slow stuff and said that I was doing that part better than him. I tried to put it all together my fourth run as well and was surprised with a 63.3, which even more surprising was good enough for a second place! I don’t know what happened to Dan the Man but I had heard that he was battling with Justin Stone, who was on some new Toyos, so I thought we were behind those guys. But we were in the lead.

The bigger surprise is after packing up and doing back to the truck George was joking around about me sabotaging my co-driver. On the results Doug had a cone on his last run so I was in 1st!! I don’t remember the cone but wasn’t going to question it too much and I took home my mug. Two days later when the results came out that cone disappeared. It wasn’t on the cone confirmer’s sheets so Doug took the 1st back from me.

I played with the MaxQ data some when I got home. Some of Doug’s runs have bad GPS drift so it’s tough to compare exactly. But I was able to watch Doug’s and my runs together in real time and see who was faster in which section. I also got to make some cool color-coded course maps using and Google Earth. I was worried about the 20 mph auto-logging speed being too high because of my experience at Boeing. At Boeing manual recording might be needed but at most autocrosses the default settings worked just fine. I manually recorded my first run and then tried it with the defaults after talking to some others who have the same unit. Setting it up for two co-drivers was a breeze one I figured out that you had to hit the down arrow on the PocketPC to switch drivers. I was frantically flipping through the manual in grid. I’m very happy with that purchase. I haven’t had time to look at other people’s runs due to being busy with the wedding. But I think that will be a big help to my driving too.

2008 Devens National Tour

Boy was it hot. That was the talk of the weekend. It was sweltering up and down the east coast the weekend of the SCCA National Tour in Devens Massachusetts. Devens is kind of a weird “town”. The town is really just a big corporate park on what used to be an army base. There is still a few buildings occupied by the army and the roads near these buildings are blocked off to the public. Would have been nice if the maps reflected that. The event itself is on an old airfield on the other side of the real town of Ayer. Ayer is a sleepy little town that reminds me of small PA towns a bit.

So on to the important stuff. The course was fast. And fun. But I wouldn’t call it technical. There wasn’t to much wondering how you were going to drive certain parts of the course. Only wondering if you could flat foot it through certain parts. Some we could and others we couldn’t. What’s interesting is that the Miata could flat foot it through parts that more powerful AWD cars couldn’t. The airfield is three runways crossing each other in a triangle. The courses were 59-62 seconds long. A lot of slalom elements. A lot of offset slaloms.

Doug traveled up with me in his car and also brought my tires up since I haven’t committed to get a tire trailer yet. We met our roommates Scott and Sal at the hotel, through our stuff in the room and headed over to the site with a quick stop for something to eat. There was some trouble finding the entrance but we managed to find the correct road. I swapped to our race rubber while Doug got the contingency stickers. Then I spent what seems like forever putting all the stickers on the car. But now it looks really good. Then it was time to get the car through tech. We covered up the hole in my fender with some borrowed blue masking tape b/c SPS screwed up and sent me orange racer’s tape instead of red. THEN it was time to walk the course.

After all that we went out to get some real dinner. Scott and I wanted a good burger and we found a bar & grill next to the hotel. It was then that Doug got a call from his wife and there was apparently some family drama going and he eventually decided that he would have to drive back home on Saturday. Earlier in the day Scott’s Civic, which he just put repaired after spinning a bearing, spun the bearing again. He was considering running the car anyway but had an offer to drive in an RSX-S that the owner is trying to come to grips with the setup of. Sal didn’t have a ride, but with Doug leaving I let Sal co-drive my car.

As I mentioned the course was pretty straight forward. My first run it was so fast I was unsure if I had stayed on course. The elements were just flying past you. A check of the course audit sheets revealed I was on course so it was time to just put my head down and drive harder. Sal didn’t have much trouble getting used to the car. He has done some go carting and said it was very go-cart like. It is also somewhat like the Civic in that you can unsettle it in turn-in and then use the gas to straighten it back out. He was about two seconds in front of me and the only advise I got all weekend was to just to push harder and to throw the car into the corners more aggressively. I guess that is my lesson from this weekend. On day two I got within a second of Sal, but was still 4 seconds off the top runner Ian Baker.

Another thing that was solidified this weekend is that I am going to buy a MaxQData GPS based data acquisition system. It’s what most autocrossers are using and has some real promise to make me faster. We stayed just long enough for Scott to get his third place trophy and then began the long trip home, but not before stopping for some pizza and gas. I managed about 28 mpg in the Miata as near as I can tell. Haven’t filled her up again yet. I need to get her inspected. Overall the event was great fun. The heat made working on course and working on the car hell. But the course and competition and comradere was worth it. I’m bummed that I won’t make the DC Pro and can’t wait for my next national event.

I’ll end this post with a picture of me hustling the car through the very fast finish section on Saturday. Doesn’t she look good with the paint (mostly) fixed and all stickered up? The picture is courtesy Keith Casey of the New England Region SCCA and has lead to my new banner. Click to see two more pics from that run. First Run on Saturday

Devens Tour to-dos

The Devens National Tour is coming up in less then a week and there is lots to do to get ready and not enough time. I hoped to have the manual steering done by now but that was not to be. I did get the chance to try and polish the paint on the badly faded hood and front bumper. It came out better then I expected. It was not without a lot of work however. Irene had purchased some professional grade Mequires stuff at the suggestion of the Mequired rep who comes out for the LVMOC detail days. It is meant to be used with a rotary buffer. She thought the rotaries were too expensive but bought a nice orbital buffer and we tried to buff the hood with that last summer. It barely did anything. So I finally got around to picking up a rotary buffer at Harbor Freight. Regularly $39.99 and on sale for $29.99. Love that place. And boy did it make a difference.

The paint on the hod came back better then I thought I would. Especially since I didn’t really know what I was doing. It still has some dull area, along the edges, around the hump in the middle of the hood. And there seems to be something funky on the drivers rear fender b/c it’s pealing off in spots. The door and the other fenders brightened up real nice too. I was not able to do the back or the lower valances due to the fact that they were dirty and I was loosing daylight. The next day was an event at Warminster. Race report coming up for that soon. So in the next three days I need to finish buffing the car, put a coat of wax on it, get it inspected (yes I realized yesterday the inspection is up in May!), put the baby teeth and rear tow hooks back in, and steal the front undertray from Irene’s car and put on my car. Makes me tired just talking about it.

As a teaser here is an action shot from yesterday’s very fast course, courtesy sc2pete:

2008 Philly Event 2

This will be short and sweet. I didn’t really touch the car in between this and the last event. Except that I had to fix a flat tire I got the day after the last event when I took the car to work. I also had a bad vibration on the way home from the event. It has subsided some now but didn’t go away or get different when I rotated tires front to back. Feels like it’s coming from the rear. At the last event we also started getting a when loading the suspension up hard. We suspected it was the front sway bar rod-ends but after Eric rode along with me he said it sounds like loose alignment bolts. The front ones are old and could very well be slipping. I didn’t get to do much poking around with the car as it reained a lot in the two weeks between events.

The car was a handful on the first run, very loose. We softened up the rear shocks as much as we could and ran the fronts at nearly full stiff. It was manageable for me but you had to keep in the back of your mind that it was a little loose. The event wasn’t that memorable other than that stuff. I managed third in class out of 8, half a second behind Doug, and 32nd out of 127 in PAX.

2008 Philly Event 1

I gots some catching up to do. Event 1 was back on April 20th. That was a month ago. We kicked the season off at Warminster, and abandoned airstrip. Long fast transition heavy courses are the norm there. I have picked up a co-driver for this season. Doug, a fellow member of the Timing & Scoring team, and the same guy that let me drive his STU RX-8 at the Divisional last year is in between cars this year and need a ride. I figure he can push me as a driver, help with development, and maybe help wrench. The first event was a learning experience on several levels. Doug wanted to play with settings since I have just been running the tire pressures suggested by Andy Hollis and shock settings suggested by Geoff Chambers.

STS2 ran in the morning so we bought some non-comp runs in the afternoon. We kept the tires at 36 psi, what I remember Andy saying was best when he did his testing of the Bridgestones and tried a couple different shock settings. First Doug thought the front needed more rebound damping. The shocks were only 1/4 turn off full stiff. I adjusted to 1/8 turn from full stiff and he felt it was better. I couldn’t tell the difference honestly. Then we lowered the rear shocks just a tad, from 3/8 to 1/4 turn from full soft. Doug thinks going to stiffer front springs, like 600 lb/in, will take some stress of the shocks and allow then to run at lower rebound levels. At first I thought that was BS but now I can see how that might be true. I am worried about upsetting the balance of the car. And I wasn’t planning on buying new springs. I figured I’d wait until I could really drive the car before I went stiffer.

During the afternoon non-comp runs we played with tire presssure. We tried higher which I thought felt good but Doug didn’t like. Lower just plain sucked. Then Doug was using his tire pressure gauge to adjust the pressures and we found something out. MY GAUGE WAS OFF. It was reading 4 psi too high! Needless to say I wasn’t happy about that. Doug suggested we try a lower rear pressure. I had never heard anyone suggest that on an STS2 Miata but figured I’d try it just to keep him happy. So I went out on 32 front (where the tires had been b/c I thought they were 36) and 30 in the rear. Every Warminster course has a big 180 turn at the end of the runway and I immediately spun in it. Nope, don’t like lower rear tire pressures! We settled on 34 psi.

The other thing I learned from riding with Doug is that I was slowing for parts of the course I didn’t need to be. I knew I was doing that from last year but I need someone to tell me I’m doing it. I think I’m still just used to driving a FWD car, especially the front heavy Prelude. But I have to work on intentionally telling myself I don’t have to break in certain situations, especially offsets. Most of the time just a lift will do, and sometimes you don’t even have to lift. I finished 4th out of 9 in STS2, 2.036 out of 1st, and 42nd out of 144 in overall PAX.

On lightweight pulleys

I’ve hinted about this in my previous two posts. Andy Hollis has raved about the results of installing one of these. Things like lightweight pulleys may give you back a horsepower or two. But when you only have 110 or so to the ground an extra one or two must make a big difference. Unlike the Prelude where the norm is to replace the P/S pump and alternator pulleys with lightweight aluminum versions that also spin the components slower the norm for the early Miatas is to replace the crank pulley with a lightened one. Unorthodox Racing is a leader in this area and is the brand that Andy used. Unfortunately right after he wrote his blog post Unorthodox decided to cancel production of this unit for 1.6L Miatas due to (presumably) slow sales. Doh!

After Unorthodox canceled the item I attempted to track one down via their distributors but no one had any in stock and most had taken the item out of there online catalogs a while ago. It was time to turn to eBay and the OBX brand. Several people had used the OBX and it worked fine but there were reports of having to alter the bolt hole pattern. Apparently some of them were drilled incorrectly. Oddly a few weeks after Unorthodox pulled the 1.6L pulley OBX pulleys for the 1.6L disappeared from eBay. OBX doesn’t sell direct, only through eBay so I couldn’t find a contact for them. I gave up on the idea except for keeping my eye out for a used one to pop up for sale.

Eric Simmons, a local competitor picked up a Miata to race in STS2 (he quickly changed his mind and is now in CSP 😆 ). He managed to find an outfit called ISC Racing which had a 1.6L Miata crank pulley on their website. A few posts on and I found out ISC Racing was a reputable place and it was actually the OBX one that was modified to remove the P/S & A/C belt portion of the pulley for lower weight. Good and bad. Andy Hollis had done this to his. But I was planning on keeping my P/S. See my previous post on that. This issue weighed in on my decision to ditch the P/S. After that it was a no brainer to pick one of these up. I am excited to see how much it “wakes up the engine” after ll I’ve hard about it. Best of all since Eric is converting his car to CSP and will be installing a more powerful motor from a 99+ he offered to sell me his. Now all I have to do is find a manual rack.

To manual steer or to not manual steer

A popular thing to do for STS2 Miatas is convert them to “Base Models” that did not have power steering or radios or power windows. This is done to make the car lighter. And the absence of a power steering pump frees up a horsepower or two. I have been debating whether or not to do this “conversion” on my car. The only downside to converting to a manual steering gear is that they have a higher ratio. That means you have to turn the steering wheel more to make the wheels turn a given amount. Not good when you are trying to hustle the car through a tight slalom. But auto racing is all about compromises.

I had been hearing from the top runners in other parts of the country that the steering ratio wasn’t that bad. But I heard over the winter from another competitor local who had driven a CSP Miata with manual steering that the steering “was a lot to deal with.” He had bought a Miata and was going to move into the STS2 class as well and suggested not doing the conversion. Since I really didn’t want to spend the money I thought that was reason enough to change my mind. He ended up changing his mind and and doing the swap. He did it a few days before our annual banquet and I ran into him there and he starts telling me how the steering is easy to move and the ratio really isn’t that bad. After ribbing him because he had me convinced not to do it it comes out that the CSP car had a power steering rack with the power steering pump removed. And the “lot to deal with” was the amount of effort it took to turn the wheels because you were fighting the friction of the seals and still pumping air & fluid from one side of the rack to the other. Grrrrr.

Now I was back to my original question, to spend the money or not. I decided it was worth it because while I don’t have the resources right now for an all out effort I shouldn’t leave something such as this on the table. Getting this done, with the other stuff should bring me up to about 90% of “full prep.” Most of the rest of what I can do involves trial & error testing of different spring/swaybars and shock/alignment/tire pressure settings. That is when it starts to get real involved time & money wise. That’s just not possible right now and I’m OK with that. I can still win locally and may still be able to grab a low trophy spot at the national events if somebody has an off day & I’m on.

My car started life as an “A package.” That means it came with power steering and leather wrapped steering wheel & shift knob. Technically I have to remove my leather wrapped steering wheel & swap it for a base one. Uuummm, NO. I’m usually all for following the rules but there is no advantage to the leather steering wheel so go ahead and protest me. Now the challenge is to find a manual rack. I was hoping my dad could hook me up since he works at an autoparts wholesaler. Having worked in that industry when I was younger I knew that you could by re-manufactured steering racks, even manual ones. It’s just a matter of if someone made them for this particular application. Apparently one company does, but they have none in stock and no idea of when they may make some more. Booo. So my choices are to find one at a scrap yard or recycler, find one used through a private party, or buy from Mazda which ain’t cheap even with my motorsports discount. So on the hunt I go. Kinda related to the manual steering conversion is the front crank pulley which will be the subject of my next post.

Offseason Planning

I should have written this post back in January when it really was the off season since there has been a few test & tunes already. None that I’ve been able to go to though. Typically the winter is spent planning what you are going to do to the car, or I should say planning what you are going to spend on the car. Since I sunk a lot of money into getting the Miata to it’s current level of prep last year and I’m saving for a wedding and honeymoon I’m on a limited budget for this year. Fortunately there is not a whole lot of stuff left to do to the car. Since the season is right around the corner I started ordering parts last week.

Some small stuff I had to take car of is replacing stuff that is broken on the car. That meant ordering a new gauge hood from Mazda Motorsports. While there I picked up some new spark plug wires to hopefully address the occasional rough idle I get. I also ordered some NB style upper shocks mounts from Fat Cat Motorsports. There is a lot of conjecture about if these mounts are better or needed. But I purchased them to solve a very specific problem. I wrote before about how the perches on my coilovers are dangerously close to the axles, especially on the left side where the axle has rubbed against the perch. These FCM mounts are 1/2″ shorter than the stock mounts. Normally they lower the car by 1/2″. But since I have coilovers I can raise the car back up to where it should be, and this will move the perches away from the axles. 😀

The only other thing I’m going to do is convert the car to manual steering. The manual rack could turn out to be hard to find and not exactly cheap. I’m still looking around for this item and something that goes with it, a lightened crank pulley. More about that stuff in my next post.

Season is over :(

Well the racing season is over. 11/11 was our last event of the year. Also our last event at Ripken Stadium, EVER. We lost the log b/c the city of Aberdeen feels we are damaging the lot. They are effectively throwing out three clubs. Washington DC Region and a non-SCCA club Autocrosser’s Inc also use the lot. Speaking of Autocrossers Inc. (AI) we had second or maybe third Philly-AI Challenge at this event. Each club picks ten drivers. The fastest run for each driver is combined (after applying the PAX handicap) and the club with the lowest total wins. It’s a great competition to watch. Each club has some great drivers with several National Champions in the mix. The challenge is supposed to go over two days. One day at an AI event, the other at our event. Unfortunately something happened with the stadium and the AI event was canceled. That means the Challenge was held on just one day. And we lost. Better luck next time.

Also since we are losing Ripken we have no lot suitable for a winter series. Boeing is too small and Warminster too dangerous with the prospect of sliding off into the grass too great. Plus we only get so many events there a year so we’d rather not waste them on winter events. So unless we find suitable lot and they actually let us run there is no winter series.

Well about the Ripken event. I didn’t drive as well as I woul have liked. But I did feel like I learned something. I learned the car has a not more grip and is more capable then I am willing to push it. So I have to figure out how to get comfortable with the limits of the car. Eric Simmons, a local hotsoe, went on a ride with me and like Jon before him just said I wasn’t pushing it enough. He offered to drive the car and show me what it could do. He beat my previous run by 1 or 2 seconds, with a cone. There was a decreasing radius, but wide 180 turn that he was holding a lot of speed through. Then there was a slalom that tightened up before you made a left down a hill. I was lifting through the slalom and slowing down before the left. We thought I could keep it flat through the slalom and just lift before the left. I was telling myself what I had to do and to not to chicken out as I approached the elements, but ended up lifting to get around the last slalom cone and tapped the break before the left.

The car has a lot in it but it’s out of my comfort zone. I’m not quite sure how to raise my comfort zone to meet the capabilities of the car. Maybe it just comes with time. Some guys can just get in a car, throw abandon the the wind and go fast right away. I’m not one of those guys. I instinctively slow down when I sense trouble. Gotta fix that. The results were 2nd out of 4 in class, 0.847 (1.7%) behind first and 59th out of 172 in PAX.

Thanks to Philly region photographer Christine Warren, who always takes some good pics I have some action shots to share with you. Click for bigger version. There’s more in the picture gallery.

Action shot from Ripken, 11/11/07

Bouncy Bouncy

I received the rod ends from McMaster Carr on Thursday and installed them on Friday night b/c my next autocross was Saturday down at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, MD. The mods worked. The understeer was gone and the brake vibrations were gone too. The emergency brake needed to be adjusted. I could pull it all the way up and it still wouldn’t hold the car. The event at Ripken went well. I ended up 3rd, just 0.5 seconds behind Eric & Dan in their well prepped CRX. I was speaking to Dan about his experience at the Solo National Championships and he told me that the car developed a front end or alignment problem that caused the car to jerk right under power and that they were still dealing with it. So realistically I was more than 0.5 back on them.

Jon Rush, an experienced driver, asked me if I’d like a ride-along to help find some speed out on course. His main input was that I wasn’t cornering at the maximum the car had and it seemed like I was driving the car like it had bitten me. It hadn’t but I still don’t know exactly what I can and can’t do in it and what it will do under different conditions. As mentioned I ended up 3rd out of 6 in class and 37th out of 127 in PAX. The new freedom of movement of the front suspension uncovered a new problem which was magnified on the sometimes bumpy Ripken lot. The front suspension was bottom out. It wasn’t the control arms or shocks that were bottoming. The shocks are shortened. But the tire was striking the fender if I hit a bump or transition mid corner. As it turns out my ride height was not even. The right front was a lot lower than the left front and the rest of the car for that matter.

The next day was an event at South Jersey. It’s great when you get to autocross both days of the weekend. the SJR event, the last of the season, was more of the same. The car handled pretty good, but was bottom a bit. And the lot was still very sandy meaning if you got off course you were sliding a ways. And the course was a bit of a sea of cones causing a lot of off courses, even for veterans. And the design of the course required you to slow down and take it tidy or you were instantly off course in sections. This did not lend itself to bonzi hamfisted “let me slide all over finding the limits of the car” driving. It rewarded neat and tidy driving. I took 1st out of 4 in class and 18th out of 76 in PAX. Gotta love South Jersey for those high finishing positions.

My plan was to adjust the ride height during the next two weeks. That didn’t happen. Besides the situation with my apartment parking lot being on a huge incline meaning I had to do it at work, it rained most of the two weeks prior to the next autocross at Warminster. So I ended up showing up a little early at the Warminster event and adjusting it right there in paddock. By the way. When measuring the ride height always use the center of wheel hub to fender measurement. When setting the ride height prior to getting the car aligned (I was a little rushed already) the guy doing my alignment said the ground to frame point was more accurate. And one of shops I had used previously used this method so I went with it. Well my car was very off so that isn’t a good way to go. Variations in the tires and twist in the frame can throw you off. And after I got the car aligned I did find out that some of the tires were only at 20 psi. And I never made the connection. The car is now 12.25 inches (a little higher in the rear, maybe .125) from center of the wheel to fender. I’d like to get a little lower but have to deal with the front wheel to fender contact and also the problem of the left rear spring adjuster almost rubbing on the axle shaft. That will be my project for over the winter.

Front Sway Bar Adjustments & Brakes

I really am trying to get you caught up with the developments of the car because I would like to blog about other things besides the Miata. But I don’t feel right about doing it when I’m three weeks behind with the updates. And so with this post we should be up to date. After the 9/23 SJR autocross where I found the front sway bar was hitting the upper control arm I got to work on a solution. The CSP driver I talked to suggested that I purchase some female rod ends from McMaster-Carr to make shortened end links. I wanted to salvage as much of the Mazdaspeed links as I could. They were not as expensive as some other end links I saw while looking around for solutions, but that is no reason to throw them away. I paid for them, I wanted to more than three events out of them.

So I came up with a plan to cut the middle part of the ends link. This is a piece of aluminum hex bar stock with a threaded hole down the middle. I took one end link apart to measure. It looked like shortening the middle part by 3/4 inch would do the trick. I found out that one of the rod ends was a left hand thread, opposite of normal. This meant I would have to cut the peace on both ends. And I also figured out that I would have to shorten the threaded shank of the rod ends themselves. I already had them threaded in about as far as they would go and much more and they would hit each other inside the middle piece. I took one of the left hand ones and test cut about 3/8 inch from it with my Dremel. It drained the Dremel battery down in the process but it worked.

I was skeptical about cutting the middle pieces on my own. A jam nut locks against the end of the middle piece, where I would be cutting. So if I cut badly (I probably would on a part this wide) There wouldn’t be a good seat to tighten the jam nut against. I talked to someone in work about using a band saw in our R&D lab to cut them. Apparently the band saw blade is quite dull and he suggested cutting them on our pipe cutting bench. I would have to wait almost two weeks till my next Friday off or borrow the key and go in on a Saturday. As I thought about it I got worried that the middle piece would not fit into the pipe cutting bench being smaller than most pipe and not very long. So I fell back to plan B and ordered the female rod ends from McMaster Carr. They were only a few dollars each.

In the mean time, the next weekend I had to fix the other issue with the sway bar which was binding in the bushings. I just used the washers under the bracket method. They were pretty easy to install. I worked one side at a time so I did not have to take the bar all the way down. Each bracket has to bolts holding it up. I loosened them both but only removed one at a time. I found that I needed not one, but TWO washers to space the brackets away from the frame enough to prevent binding. The bolts holding the bracket in are M8 but 5/16″ washers will work fine. The ones I bought from Autozone were marked for both. Once all the washers were in and everything tightened back down I could rotate the bar by hand. Sweet.

I also attacked the brakes. The car had developed an annoying squeak that sounded like brakes. If you recall when doing the suspension I discovered that one side of the rear pads were almost down to the backing plates. I suspected the noise was that side. I also had a vibration in the front from that snafu that happened with the rust under the rotor. The Miata, has a known issue in that they tend to lock up the front brakes. The balance is biased too much towards the front. The common remedy is to put an aggressive compound in the rear and a lower end pad in the front. Even though I don’t know what brake pads are on the front I don’t think they are anything special. So I left them alone.

For the rear the most aggressive street pad you can buy is the Hawk HP+. I had them on the front of my Prelude and hated them. They are very noisy. Now most of us “racers” are used to trading off noise for increased performance and bite. But the HP+ was just too much of a trade-off. They made noise all the time, especially when warm, like when you are in traffic! On the Prelude they were so aggressive I was constantly activating the ABS. The Miata doesn’t have ABS. And they dusted like crazy. So I chose the next step down, the Hawk HPS. They are a reasonable compromise. They have good bite, but good modulation. And not not squeal, grind or dust like the HP+.

I shopped around for the font rotors online. Autozone rotors are good enough for even the abuses of road racing so they are good enough for autocrossing. And they are normally pretty cheap. Not so for the Miata. They were somewhere around $50 each. The best price was $25 each for Brembo “blanks” through the Tire Rack. Brembo is a high end brand so that was a no-brainer. The brake stuff went without any problems (FOR ONCE!). I had to wait till Thursday for the female rod ends from McMaster. I put them in that night int he dark so I could take the car for a test drive Friday. The next autocross was on Saturday. I had to screw one of the rod end pairs together a lot. The other was at the minimum number of turns I felt comfortable with. Something seemed off but I had to just get them on and drive. Next post I’ll tell you how I did and I make some more adjustments to the car.

Now with VLSD!

A little after the sloshing wet rain event I managed to find a diff for sale online. My plan was to just call up Planet Miata and buy a Viscous Limited Slip Differential from them. I did call them and they first told me the diffs did not come with a rear housing. That is the part I really need! They are an additional $150. Second they told me they didn’t have any viscous diffs. They are too hard to come by. So it would have cost me $350 for a complete open diff. Screw that. I decided to see what I could find for sale elsewhere. I had tried’s classified section before and I did not get any email response from any of the diffs for sale. But I tried again and I saw 5 different 1.6L diffs for sale. Some open and some viscous. I actually got a response this time from someone selling a viscous. It cost me less than $200 shipped! Great deal. And it was from the south so it wasn’t all rusty!

The diff showed up within a week but right before an event on 9/2 at Boeing. Again not a lot to say about this event. The course was basically an oval loop with a slalom and some offsets in the middle. During the 180 turns I felt the car understeered a bit. But they were fairly tight as Boeing is a small lot. 4th out of 7 in class (.095 out of 3rd) and 26th out of 93 in PAX. I could have been distracted as this was the day I proposed to Irene! What a sweet day. I got to go autocrossing in the morning and proposed and had a great evening.

The next weekend I was up at Irene’s Dad’s to put the diff in. All went well except one of the bolts holding the cat to the exhaust didn’t want to come free and we broke the stud. So that had to be drilled out. We had some trouble drilling it out. It ate a few drill bits before we could put a 3/8″ slot in the cat flange. The drills were walking to the side. I went to Autozone and got some 5/16″ fasteners to stick in there. Well when trying to put the other bolt on that stud broke. The 5/16″ hardware on the other side wasn’t really working out anyway. So I ended up buying a cat from my Dad for $110. Sigh.

The new cat went in pretty easy. I had to grind two spots because the pipes stuck out past the flanges because of the angle the flanges were welded on. I used this opportunity to try and make the exhaust fit better. the center pipe hangs a little low and misses the hanger past the cat because of the snafu with the downpipe bracket when we first put the exhaust in.

I got to try out the diff the next weekend at South Jersey SCCA event. This event went very well on a couple of fronts. The lot SJR uses is at Camden County College in Blackwood, NJ. The lot is small. Not as small as Boeing, but small enough where you end up with a lot of tight elements. They usually set up the course so you run along the outside of the lot and get some higher speed elements and then the course kind of loops inside itself where you get the slow speed stuff. Unbeknown to me b/c I hadn’t run there all year they are doing construction right next to the lot and there was tons of sand that blew onto the course. And b/c the lot is old the asphalt binder has worn down allowing the sand to get caught in the valleys formed by the aggregate (those small rocks in the asphalt). If you got off line you just slid in the sand.

I didn’t really notice the diff working. The car felt pretty much like it did before. But the general consensus is that viscous diffs do not do much locking and when the get to high mileage they pretty much function like open diffs. But these are the same people who say it’s a must have item to be competitive. Who knows. Anyway I noticed that on a medium-to-slow increasing radius 180 turn the car would understeer on corner exit and I started noticing a clunk going into and out of the turn. I checked underneath the car between runs by turning the wheels to lock and saw that the sway bar was hitting the upper control arms! I thought there was enough clearance when I put it on but that was with the ar in the air. That would certainly cause understeer. I also suspected that the swaybar was binding in bushings as it is a common problem with the Racing Beat bar and I didn’t have a chance to remedy it when installing it a month or so ago.

Despite this the handling wasn’t bad and I got a win in STS2! Granted there was only one other competitor in class, Barry. We often talk and his car is less prepared than mine so I should beat him. But it is still nice to know that I didn’t allow him to out drive me. The bigger surprise was that I ended up 5th in PAX! I really wasn’t expecting that. The prevailing theory is that the lot is so sandy that street tires are a help and not a hindrance compared to R-comps. There were 2 very fast drivers on R-comps ahead of me so it wasn’t just the tires. I got a nice little “PAX” magnet and a boost of confidence. And now I knew I that little bit of understeer I felt sometimes was really something and shouldn’t be there. I had some more work to do on the car. But it is just the “working the bugs” out type stuff that I knew I would have to do some of no matter how much I tired to plan ahead. In my next installment we fix the swaybar issue and go autocrossing all weekend!

Rain Rain Go Away

The first event I got to run on my pimpy new suspension was a Philly SCCA event at Boeing in Ridley Park, PA. The Boeing lot is small and the courses tight so not the best test for a new setup. It rained off-and-on the whole morning, including 30 min where it poured and an hour lightning break. Buy the time I ran in the fourth heat the ground was dry. The car handled well, but I thought on the tight turn the car understeered. With the short Boeing courses there isn’t a lot you can tell about the handling. I finished last in class (out of 6) and 36 out of 102 in PAX. Not the performance I was hoping for but this was the first outing. I still have to learn the limits of the car.

The next event was three weeks later at Warminster Community Park. Warminster is an old airstrip so the courses have a lot of transitional stuff and only one real sweeper, the turn around. But because of the length you always get some high speed elements. I figured it would be a good test. The weather had other ideas. It rained on and off the entire event.

Since I had no idea how the car would handle in the dry, much less the wet, my natural inclination is to take it easy if I feel unsafe. But I told myself I had to push it till I spin so I could learn the limits of the car. Thats part of what autocross is about right? Once on course though instinct took over and although I wasn’t babying it I didn’t push it hard enough to spin or loose control. The car was very good in the rain. Surprisingly good. Lots of grip. Well controlled. It didn’t oversteer. I ended up 5th out of 6 and 94th out of 176 in PAX. That’s all I can say about the first two events. I got wet. And I didn’t get to learn the limits of the car.

The Suspension Situation, Part 4

It’s finally back on the road!! After a whole month on jack stands. The only part missing was the one outer tie rod end. I bought it from Mazda Motorsports with my newly opened account. I also picked up some rod end sway bar end links from Mazdaspeed since my old ones were all rusty, especially the bolts. So I put them on as well. Then I put the wheels on and took it for a test drive. Well the test drive didn’t last for long. At first I thought it was just rust knocking off of the brake rotors. But the vibration quickly became severe. I nursed the car around the block and back in the driveway. the vibration was coming from the right front, like the brake bad was sticking in spots. Upon taking the wheel off everything looked OK, except that it was clear that the brake rotor was rubbing on the caliper bracket. It took me a little bit of looking around to realize the rotor was not seated square on the hub. I took the rotor off and the only thing out of place was a small knob of metal on the underside of the rotor. It turned out to be rust that was built up. It self destructed with some contact from a sanding disk on my drill. With the brakes all back together and on another test drive everything was OK now. In fact the car felt good. It was not as harsh over bumps as I had imagined. Of course I had the shocks set to almost the lowest settings. I didn’t want to push the handling. It was just a shakedown run to make sure everything was OK. The next day Irene brought me up and we drove the car home.

There was still a lot to do. I noticed that the rear end was leaking and could not get the fill plug out. It almost looked as is someone had put some sealant on the threads. IT was a matter of time before the rear end drains itself and blows up. It was already making a noise on coasting. Needless to say I didn’t drive it much. And we discovered that one of the rear brake pads was down to nothing while one was at full. Plus now one of the front rotors has a “flatspot” to it, which caused a vibration. The next step was to take it for an alignment. No problems there, though I was worried that the front alignment bolts, which we didn’t get to replace would brake. They didn’t. I was prepared, having new ones on hand. But that would have made the alignment go longer and cost more. I got a fairly aggressive alignment, but is fairly stock for an STS2 Miata. All the specs were gleaned from various message boards and from Andy Hollis’ GRM blog (check my blogroll). The specs are -2.2° camber in the front, which is about as much as you can get when you max out the caster, -2.5° camber in the rear. 1/8″ toe out in the front and 1/8″ toe in in the rear. The first autocross with all of these changes would be the next day. The report on that later.

The Suspension Situation, Part 3

Over the next week my task was to find those elusive castle nuts. Luckily for me, that week my Mazda Motorsports account was opened. Mazda offers racers a special motorsports account where they can get OEM parts at a discount. You have to prove that you have raced twice a year. It’s a great thing and other manufactures should take note of it. They had the castle nuts! I was thrilled. I decided to pick up some new boots for the upper ball joints and tie rod ends since they were badly torn. They were not that expensive either. I wanted to replace the lower ball joints since they take a lot of the suspension load and those boots were ripped also. I figured I would have to do it later do to money constraints. But new lower ball joints were only $36 from Mazda. So I picked them up too! The parts arrived promptly via 2nd day express which was only a few dollars more than ground! Thing were going all too good. So the next Saturday once again I trekked up to Allentown to work on the car.

First thing to do was to separate the tie rod ends. This was not so easy. I used a pitman arm puller to pop the tie rod out of the front upright as I have done many times before. The right one went easily but on the left one the puller slipped off and messed up some of the threads on the stud. Ugggghhhh. Then I could not release the lock nuts and spin the tie rods off the inner tie rods. We had to use heat here again and eventually both broke free. The lower ball joints came off and went on with out too much trouble. Thanks gosh. So then we moved on to replacing the boots. We started with the tie rod that had the damaged threads. You can’t remove the upper ball joints, they are pressed into the upper a-arms. Good thing we did that b/c once we ripped what we could of the boot off we could not get the bottom most of the boot free. We tried prying with small screw drivers and little dentist pick looking things. Steve got the idea that maybe we could burn the rest of the rubber off. We did, after cooking some (probably most) of the grease out of the joint. Once all the rubber was gone we found a steel ring that was embedded in the boot. It was this ring that held the boot on the joint!

Hopefully someone will learn from this. You can pry the boot right off by getting a very small, thin screwdriver under this metal ring and prying it off. Then you just need a big socket to press the the new boot on! Once you know how it works it is pretty easy. Since I messed up the threads on the tie rod and cooked a bunch of the grease out I figured I should replace it. I really thought I was going to get the car together this week. The front suspension got put together with the exception of the one tie rod end. I also replaced the stock front sway bar with a hollow Racing Beat bar I picked up. With the Racing Beat bar it is recommended that you also install the reinforcing kit they sell. The bar being as stiff as it is can bend the stock mounts. The the reinforcing bars are a little tough to get in b/c of the space constraints. And one straddles a power steering line making that one tougher. I had to grind a corner off that one to make it fit right. After that was done the bar went in slowly but surely. The long bolts take a while to thread in. Once everything was tight I noticed the brackets around the sway bar were not flush against the subframe and the bar was tough to turn by hand. This is typical of this bar. This means it is binding some. The easiest fix is to put some washers under the brackets. Or you can shave the bushings. I’d rather go the washer route but don’t feel like taking the thing all back apart so I leave it like that for now. Next week all I need to do it put the tie rod on and the tires back on and she can drive!

The Suspension Situation, Part 2

So during the next week my task was to find replacements for everything that broke. The castle nuts for the front upper ball joints, some new nuts and bolts for the rear shocks, and the alignment bolts for the rear. Sounds easy enough right? I started to realize the castle nuts would be a problem. I used my tap and die set to size the threads. It was M12x1.25. That is a very fine thread for an M12. Last weekend while at Sears Hardware near Irene’s Dad’s I looked for the castle nut. They didn’t have any. But the hardware selection wasn’t as nice as the one near my apartment. The Sears Hardware near me is awesome. They have had just about everything I needed when I needed something. Bailed me out plenty of times. They did have an M12x1.25 castle nut but it was too tall. The slots for the cotter pin would end up below the send of the stud and the hole for the pin would be covered up. I actually needed a slotted nut as opposed to a castle nut as I found out (yes there is a difference!). I was able to find the bolts for the rear shocks there however. I had to use a flanged cap screw b/c the hex on a regular hex cap screw would be too big for the slot in the control arm where the socket goes in. They has some some flanged nuts with a 17mm hex as well. Perfect! I tried PepBoys and Autozone for the castle nuts with no result. It was a long shot but I tried. Doing a search on the internet I found out that Motormite sells castle nuts in their HELP! line. But not the size I needed.

Irene happened to be ordering a new clutch for her Miata from Young Mazda. Young gives LVMOC members a discount. Great! I can piggyback my parts on her order. I double checked real quick the price on the alignment bolts b/c I new I could get them for a good price from Trussville Mazda, who has a big online business. They were the same price. I asked her to order the upper ball joint castle nuts as well. OK so everything looks good so far. We get up to the dealer Saturday morning with not too much time to spare before they close. We get all the parts and head back to Irene’s Dad’s place. When I get there, to my horror, the castle nuts are the wrong size! They are obviously for the lower ball joints. All we can do is work on the rear.

Irene’s Dad was keen to help again and while we were driving up and stopping at the dealership he power washed the rear suspension assemblies and painted the control arms and uprights with a flat black paint! Awesome. The rear shocks & coilovers went together and along with the new shock bolts and alignment bolts both sides of the rear suspension went in without anymore drama. I got everything torqued down to spec. Since I couldn’t work on the front I used the extra time to remove the rear sway bar as I did not anticipate needing it for most surfaces & courses. No fasteners broke, but the ones holding the end links on were trashed after taking them apart. Luckily the studs that hold the sway bar bracket against the frame were in better shape. Not great, but re-usable. I cleaned them up by running a tap over them and then called it a day. Another weekend and the car was not finished. But at least I got to enjoy my Sunday not under the car.

The Suspension Situation, Part 1

It’s been a while since I posted about the Miata. It’s been a while since I posted at all. I have been driving the car. And have autocrossed it a few times. But for one full month, the last week in June through the first three weeks of July, the car sat on jackstands while I tried to replace the shocks, springs, and sway bars with autocross ready high performance bits. Once again rust and old fasteners were my enemies.

I started with the front of the car. To replace the shocks in the front you have to disconnect the upper ball joint. Rust had made the cotter pins in the upper ball joints virtually unremovable. I sat for a half hour picking at the right side and then gave up. Irene then tried and after 10 minutes or so got it out. The left side was not so lucky. We had to drill out the cotter pin. The castle nut on this side got all chewed up and had to removed with an easy-off. This meant that we could not re-use it and had to find a replacement. Not an easy thing. In fact I had to replace the nuts and bolts that attached the shock to the control arm, and all the sway bar fasteners. AND all the boot were ripped. Upper ball joint, lower ball joint, tie rod ends. Both sides. We took a trip to the nearest Sears Hardware to get the new fasteners and put the front shocks and coilover springs in. Time for the rears.
The rear of the car was even more of a nightmare. Where the bottom of the shock connects to the lower control arm there is a bolt. On the end of that bolt is a square nut that is kind of hidden inside the control arm and thus is held in place from spinning by some sheet metal. It’s a common problem for these square nuts to spin loose and that is exactly what mine did on the right side. On the left side it was just frozen solid. Wouldn’t even spin with an impact on it. That was about all I could take for one day. We would pick it up tomorrow.

So the next day (Sunday) I brought up my Dremel to try and widen out the hole to access the “captive nut” as they are known. It was VERY slow going. My battery powered Dremel wasn’t making much of a dent in the metal and was running out of it’s charge pretty quickly. Irene’s Dad has a plugin Dremel so I switched to that. It still wasn’t doing a whole lot to open the hole up and I couldn’t get a good hold on the wrench. Part of the problem was that the sheet metal that is supposed to hold the nut in place was in the way of me getting a good grip on it with a wrench. So we decided to take the whole rear suspension out as a unit to get better access at it. I went to remove the bolts that hold the rear lower control arms the chassis. These bolts are special offset bolts that also function as the alignment adjustment. I try the first one and it breaks loose without to much fanfare, just a good snap as it was untorqued. As I pull the ratchet away I see it wasn’t a snap from the nut being untorqued, it was a snap because the bolt sheared off! This happened to all four! Yikes. But it got worse. While two of these broken bolts came out with just a little persuasion from a hammer and punch the other two required heat and a lot more persuasion. A lot more. We beat on them and beat on them before borrowing an air chisel. That was a big delay to get. And after pounding away with the air chisel they STILL didn’t move. That’s when we got out the propane torch. We had to torch the one bolt a couple of times before it came out. But we finally got both rear suspension assemblies out. Irene’s Dad got kinda swept up in “beating the car”. I didn’t expect him to help out as much as he did. But I was grateful, and lucky, that he did. I needed more tools and experience than I had available myself.

Then we went on with the task of separating the rear shock from the lower control arms. With the control arms out of the car we could get a better look at what was going on. We needed to move the thin piece of steel that kept the “captive nut” captive. A small screwdriver and chisel took car of that and we were able to jam a wrench in there and use the air gun to loosen the bolt! On the other side, the one what was totally frozen, we tried using heat to loosen that one up too. We ended up melting the whole shock bushing out b/c the thing still would not budge. Luckily Irene’s Dad also had a sawzall! We had to cut the bolt on either side of the shock to get it out. A few sawzall blades died in the process. By this time Irene’s Dad and I were beat tired so we called it quits. Another day down the drain. The whole weekend gone and I was only 1/3 of the way done.

Update time!

The weekend after this thread was posted I went back down my dad’s and we put the exhaust on the car. Let it run and then changed the oil. Let it run more and burped the coolant. Then I attempted to drive it home. By now it was getting dark. First we (Irene was following me) stopped to get some dry-gas. Then we stopped so I could put some air in the tires. The whole time the temp gauge was off-the-scale cold. I figured it was broken.

Leaving the gas station I noticed some condensation on the windshield. We were going to get some food before driving home. Well a few miles later there is steam pouring out from behind the dash! So we end up at a BK. Got food and waited for the car to cool off. Went back out and filled up the radiator with water from BK and then high-tailed it back to dad’s.

The next day there was coolant all over the driver’s floor! So we start looking for issues and the obvious one is that one of the cooper heater core lines id bent up a little where the hose slips on, which is also where it goes through the firewall and is over the driver’s footwell. So my dad attempts to fix it by banging a socket in it to re-round it out. I took off the t-stat housing b/c I suspected there was no t-stat in it (race motor remember) and I was right. So I get a t-stat and some new hose clamps and we get it all filled up and run it and just when I think everything is OK Irene feels a drip on her leg under the dash!!! 😡 So we start taking the dash apart. All this work was after running an autocross in the morning so we were tired and cranky and decided to quit.

Another week went by before I could get back down to work on the car again. We (my dad & I) took out the dash to get to the heater core. Not a small task in the Miata. What we found when we got everything out was that the leaking still appeared to be coming from the copper tube to rubber hose joint. One of the pipes going to the heater core on the Miata is actually attached with a short hose instead of being an integral part. This is that part that was really messed up. My Dad attempted to further round out the hole but ended up flattening one of the bends. Then I discovered two cracks in the tube where the deforamtions happened and the hose fits over. So I had to find another one of these tubes but at least I didn’t have to get a new heater core.

It runs!!!!

Actually it ran a few weeks ago but I was too busy working on it to post on the blog. As mentioned in the last installment we had a few problems with the rear diff. Well that turned out to be a saga, dragging what should have been a 2 hour job into two weekends. More rusted bolts were the culprit. After it was out there was a lot of work to do to repair the bolts we broke. One of the holdups was getting a new nut for the top of the power plant frame. It is a special nut with no hex on it. It has a splined area that is designed to grab on to a thick steel plate that prevents it from turning. The “nut” was fused to the bolt that we cut and we could not separate them. To make matters worse Mazda does not sell this part individually. They only sell it as part of the whole power plant frame!! Luckily the internet came to the rescue again. On a racing message board,, someone told me of a race shop that specializes in Miatas and sells a version of this nut that they make themselves. It wasn’t cheap, but it was a quality piece machined out of stainless steel with a big hex on the top to keep it from spinning. It didn’t have the spines, but a finely machined area that was a “tap fit” into the steel plate. It worked just fine. Edit: the shop is Advanced Autosports.

So while waiting we took everything off the old engine and transfered it to the new one. I broke a bolt on the alternator and when my dad tried drilling it out the drill it walked sideways into the softer aluminum of the alternator housing and ruined it. We split the cost of a new one. The rest of the engine accessories switchover went pretty smoothly save for a missing bolt or two, which we found later. I had noticed a difference in the flywheels. One was missing some material from the backside. After consulting the great internet again ( I found out one flywheel had been lightened. There is a ring of material on the backside about 3/8″ thick, that is easy to machine off and can shave 3 pounds from the otherwise stock flywheel. If you are doing a clutch job on your Miata and want to lighten up your flywheel for increased performance this is a good “cheap” option for you. Since SCCA ST rules require a stock flywheel I had to swap over the un-lightened one.

The diff wasn’t to hard to install. But the engine was. It was just a case of getting it lined up so the motor mount bolts would go into the holes. We had to swing the engine back like a pendulum on the hoist and we would always get stuck about 1/4″ from everything lining up before we ran out of slack. We played and played with the engine leveler, the chain slack, moving the trans around under the car. It took about two hours. This whole time my Dad and I are getting frustrated and barking orders at each other and arguing about how to make it work. Not fun. I think we finally took one of the motor mount brackets off the engine to wiggle it in there. Once we got the engine bolted down, got the powerplant frame hooked up, and the drive shaft in we called it a day and pushed the car back up the driveway to finish it the next weekend. Yes, another weekend spent working on the car. There would be more to come as you shall see.

It’s out…

The engine in the Miata. It’s finally out. It didn’t come without a fight though. There is a lot of rust on the underside of this car. The body/frame itself looks OK. But subframes, control arms, exhaust pipes are all pretty rust. So was the front 1/2 of the differential. It seems the front half is cast iron and the rear aluminum. The aluminum part wasn’t rusted, the cast iron part was rusted to hell. That is where our troubles began.

Most of the stuff on the car wasn’t that hard to remove, save for a couple stubborn (read rusted) exhuast bolts and the power plant frame (PPF). Exhaust stuff is always rusted and hard to break the bolts loose so that was to be expected. And it wasn’t that bad. I’ve dealt with much worse. The PPF gave us a real fight. It connects the transmission to the differential. It takes the place of the traditional trans mount and adds additional stiffness to the chassis. There are 4 pretty big bolts that go through it, 2 in the trans and 2 in the diff. They were in tight. But the ones in the trans busted loose with some persuasion from a breaker bar and a pipe. Once loose an impact wrench finished the job. One of the bolts on the diff was similar, the front one. The rear one was a different animal all together.

We sprayed all the bolts with PB Blaster. Standard operating procedure. We tried my electric impact on it. Nothing. So we got out the 1/2″ drive breaker bar and a peice of pipe and managed to break it loose. It was tough. It turned about 1/2 turn before it let out the signature noise that tells you a tight and rusted bolt has been untorqued. We figured we could back it out the rest of the way with the impact. NOPE. Wouldn’t turn. So we just kept turning it by hand w/ the breaker bar and pipe. Shouldn’t the power tools have more grunt than your arms? Anyway my Dad and I had to take turn unscrewing this thing b/c it was so tough and our shoulders would get sore. What a thing! At some point I heard another sound like a bolt was loosening again. Which was weird b/c we had backed it out 4 or 5 turns.

After a little while longer of turning (which had got harder since the sound) my Dad says “Stop I want to see something”. There was a hump of metal at the top of the PPF where the bolt was presumably threaded into. We couldn’t see it, just feel it. It felt like it was a bushing that was maybe welded to the PPF. Well it wasn’t welded. It was just pressed in. I later found out the bushing has small splines on it like a wheel stud. It is pressed in b/c the PPF is aluminum! Looking at the thing I just figured it was steel. Well anyways this bushing was just spinning. It had broken loose of the PPF!! Just great. What are we going to do now? After a few minutes of head scratching we decided to cut the head of the bolt off. Dad thought we had enough room to pop it out after doing this and neither of us had any vice grips to try on it. Well that turned out to be a mistake. We didn’t have enough room. After more head scratching and some cursing we realized we could just push the transmission and PPF apart with a crow bar ang get the motor out. At thing point we had the car up on jackstands and the hoist all hooked up so we cranked away at it and got it out. We only hit a few more minor snags. I missed a spot where the wire harness was hooked to the trans way down by the firewall. I missed either the backup or neutral switch on the trans. And the left motor mount bracket was getting hung up on the P/S line. All of those were solved pretty quickly. And the motor was finally out.

This being ther first time I have taken an entire engine out of a car it was pretty nerving, exciting, stressful all at the same time. One of our mistakes was not putting something on the front bumper cover. The engine hoist ended up jacking itself against the car and since it’s not too big or expensive it just cleared the rad support and bumper cover. Leasons learned. Another thing of note. My Dad wanted to jack up the car on all four jack stands in the driveway which is on good slope. I said no as I was worried the car would want to go down hill and the jacks would tip over. I made him push it out into the street where we got relativly level ground. As it was the car was really just teetering on just two jack stands. Either the ground was still a little uneven, or the frame it bent. 😮

The Search Continued…

A few weeks after I had given up for a while on looking for a car an autocrossing buddy of mine, Cy Lee, PM’d me about possibly buying his Miata. He knew I was looking for such and car and wanted to sell his. He bought the car from another local autocrosser last year. The previous owner bought it and fixed it up some, doing a lot of routine engine maintenance on it, tune-up, timing belt, clutch, etc… The car is a 1990, the first year of the Miata.

Unfortunately these early Miatas had a weak crankshaft in the area where the timing belt and accessory pulleys mount. If removing these pulleys, like you do on a timing belt job, you must be careful not to mis-install the key and to torque the bolt in the end of the crank to a very specific value. My hunch is the previous owner did not take these precautions b/c the keyway stripped a few thousand miles after Cy got the car. So it sat in his driveway with the intention of putting in a rebuilt motor and using it for a “beater” car. He even went so far as to buy a motor, from a Spec Miata racer who wrecked his car and decided to get out. The Spec Miata driver put his car in the wall backwards so there was no damage to the front of the car. But there is no telling what running condition the motor is in. That is the chance you take with rebuilt motors bought via eBay or a forum. It was rebuilt in 2005 according to the seller and has just a few race distances on it.

Anyway, back to the story. So Cy decided he would never get around to doing the motor swap and just wanted to sell the car. This was first or second week in December and I didn’t want to buy the car and then be short of money come Christmas time. So I asked him if we could wait until after Christmas. And he did. Just after new years Cy messaged me again about the car. A quick check of the bank and savings account to make sure I had the money and I accepted. I paid him the same amount he had sunk into the car with one caveat, he had to deliver the car to my Dad’s place in South Jersey. Remember, that was how the last car deal went south. Cy has a truck and trailer to tow his STS Civic. He gladly accepted.

Miata on Trailer So here she is, on the trailer come to her new home. Along with the car I got the rebuilt engine, new motor mounts, and a new soft top. I may get another top and sell this one though. I understand that eBay tops do not have zip-up rear windows. And I am going to want to unzip the rear window in the summer considering the car has no AC. So we are going to have to replace the motor and the soft top. And the paint is faded, most notably on the hood. And the bottom is rusty, especially the control arms. But she would be very competitive in STS2. She is about as light as you can get for a Miata. One airbag, no AC, crank windows, no cruise. I am debating to remove the power steering or not. For now it is staying in. The only disappointment about the car was it is an open diff. I was hoping (a long shot) that it had VLSD. That may not be that big of a deal though. So a lot of the upcoming installments to this blog will be concerning the engine replacement and buildup. Stay tuned. Now if it would just get warm.

Search for a new car

So I’ve been complaining about the Prelude being uncompetitive in STS, especially with me behind the wheel, for a while now. It’s kinda heavy, or has small tires for it’s size/weight. Or is not geared high enough for larger tires or does not have enough low end torque to really use larger tires. Anyway you look at it, as amazing of a car as it is, and it is, it just doesn’t fit well into any autocrossing class.

So I’ve been pining for a proven competitive car. Becoming a lemming as they say in the sport. An EF Civic Si for STS. Yes Please. I was looking for a while. Unmolested ones in running condition are tough to come by. Lost out on two via eBay. Found a few that didn’t run. No way to tow them home. Saw a few more with ZC or B18 swaps. More with 20 pounds of fiberglass molded on the body. Um… no. I gave up on that. Next choice was STS2. A CRX or Miata is the car to have in this class. Same problem finding a running un-molested CRX that was also not too far. I might have found one if I had continued looking hard. But another idea took hold.

The dark horse in STS2 is the 2nd gen RX7. I’ve always had a soft spot for rotary engines. It’s the engineer in me. The “FC” RX7 is a good car. Well handling, 50/50 balance. Relatively powerful. The seed was set. After doing some research I found out some of these cars were a little porky. We are talking 2700-2800 curb weight. Still could be do-able but not ideal. The 1986-1988 models had 146 HP. But some of them had a torsen limited slip differential which is illegal for this class. The 1989-1991 cars had 160 HP… via higher compression and an 8000 RPM redline. That made the later “S5” cars as they are known much more desirable.

The creme-ala-creme is the 1989-1990 GTUs model. Yes, that is capital G, capital T, capital U, lowercase s, not GTU plural. This model was stripped of all the fluff for light weight, and given all the good go-fast stuff… save the turbo. Crank windows, no back seat, no sunroof, bigger brakes from the turbo, 4.300 final drive (highest in the FC) and a viscous limited slip diff, which is STS2 legal. It’s clear that this model is killer. A little looking around and it turns out I wasn’t the first one with this epiphany. James Wilson, a San Diego area autocrosser built one of these cars early in STS2’s history. The car was doing well, when he sold it b/c it gets bad gas mileage. Gas mileage, the kryptonite of the rotary engine. It’s a damn shame.

I did manage to find one of these gems for sale on an RX7 discussion forum. It was in my low price range too. Problem was it didn’t run. Second problem was it was in Rhode Island. Shipping a car when it doesn’t run can be real expensive. I was shy about calling up the few “autocross friends” whose phone numbers I have and who have trailers asking if they could help me out. I made a couple posts on our region discussion forum but no one responded. Then my Dad went into the hospital with more heart problems and I figured it would be a bad idea park a non-running car out front of his house. The car eventually went on eBay and was sold. Little did I know, a few weeks later I would get an opportunity to buy a car on this list. To be continued…