Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Escort Service, Pt. 2

Before I get too deep into this post, please note that Alan has already written about this and will probably include photos in greater detail.

Last Saturday, Alan and I again met at our LeMons headquarters for Round 2 of suspension work. Having more or less completed the front suspension, we moved on to swapping the rear suspension from the ZX2 with that of our super-sweet race car1.

According to Alan, this would be an easy switch - just 8 bolts and it would be all done. Of course, he meant 10 bolts when he saidthat, because it's the same thing. But then he meant 10 bolts, plus the rusted-out brake lines. But then he meant 10 bolts, the rusted-out brake lines and the emergency brakes. But then I complained, so Alan asked me the capital of Bangkok and punched me in the groin while I wondered what the hell he was talking about2.

Anyway, while dismantling the rear suspension on the LX, we noticed that both rear strut hats had some serious rust problems3. While a half-assed weld job had been peformed on the passenger-side strut, they were both in pretty rough shape. Team technical advisor Alan's dad suggested sliding 3/8"-1/2" shaped-metal discs under the hat as an alternative to fixing half-ass weld with another half-ass weld. So we may do that eventually, because the strut hats won't last long the way they are, especially at Ford Escort LX racing speeds4.

We also ran into a giant rust block that was apparently the rear brake distribution point. With a little luck, we only had to cut one brake line to pull the suspension apart. And Alan forcibly removed one of the e-brake lines, leaving the emergency brake inoperative.

After that, we undid the bolts and the suspension fell out. Well, actually it didn't. The driver's side rear strut didn't want to leave its comfy home, poking out of the strut hat.

So we broke it to make it fit through. It wasn't difficult, as the spring had already broken in multiple spots and the top of the strut had rusted into memory. Then the entire rear suspension dropped with a thud.

While I had been loosening the bolts on the LX suspension, Alan had done a significant amount of work on the newer ZX2. This came apart much easier, though Alan broke some bolts pulling it apart. No biggie, though, they are on parts of the car destined for salvage anyway. The ZX2 suspension fell right out. For realsies.

We took a break for a run to get a better brake line wrench and a new brake line. The brake line was easy enough to get at the best place ever, but we had to try three places before we found the right wrench.

Putting the suspension back into the LX was a big challenge, but with some time, effort, and a lot of cursing, we did it. We even swapped the sway bars, as the LX sway bar was thicker and therefore stiffer. Thicker and stiffer is better5. Unfortunately, we had to break the sway bar bushings to get it off the LX suspension, so the sway bar was attached to the suspension but completely inoperative.

We then had to attach the brake lines. After Alan miraculously unscrewed the old broken brake line from the aforementioned rusted mess, he put in the new brake line, which was about 34 feet too long. So he bent it a few dozen times to make it work. The other side didn't fit real well, but we bent some more stuff to make it work6 .

With brake lines attached, we moved on to bleeding the brakes of any air in the brake lines. This went fine. It was really easy and everything went perfectly. The end7.

1 Did you know that race car spelled backwards is irrelevant to this post? Or is it?
2 This joke trademark Todd Stura, LLC or something.
3 At this point in writing the blog, I became distracted by this. Yeah, there are a whole bunch of them.
4 Reaching mind-blowing speeds of 38 mph!
5 While this seems like an innuendo, it isn't5A. A stronger, stiffer sway bar reduces body roll in the car.
5A It is.
6 The emergency brakes remained unattached, though. I don't know that a stationary car runs into many emergencies.
7 Actually, the bleed screws on the calipers were completely rusted and broke off when Alan attempted to loosen them. We bled the brakes a little, but there is still a ton of air in the lines. Alan had two spare calipers, but the passenger side rear caliper has a stubborn bolt that refuses to come off. Having been defeated by the car a few times over the course of 9 hours, we called it quits. As it sits, the car has no real braking power (brakes don't maintain pressure well due to air in the lines and e-brake is disconnected) and no real sway bar. Minor details.

But Alan picked up a pair of Miata calipers, which will work on an Escort, for $50 yesterday. So we'll slap those on sometime in the coming weeks. What could possibly go wrong?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Escort Service, pt. 1

This is my race car1.

Well, I should clarify: I own half of this race car. My racing partner, Alan, and I will enter this 1991 Ford Escort LX in the grueling Rod Blagojevich Never-Say-Die 500 in late October.

Some may call this car "used," "a rolling junkyard," or possibly "a skid mark on the tighty-whiteys of my overweight, single neighbor who drives a BMW 740i but still lives in an apartment." Those same naysayers may question this skid mark's place in a contest of speed.

But the Blago 500 is no ordinary race. Nay, naysayers. It is part of the "24 Hours of LeMons" series1. Without going into too much detail over the rules, the basic premise of the race is this:

You have $500. Spend this money on buying a crapcan capable of competing. If your car costs less than $500, spend the difference on making it less of an underwear crusty. Additional money is allowed for necessary safety measures (brakes, tires, a rollcage, racing seat, a brain, etc.) and no money is deducted for decorating your car in a theme. Bring your car to the track on race day, run it around until a bunch of stuff breaks, then fix it and drive until more stuff breaks. Maybe it will last the whole time (something like 13 hours over two days), and maybe it will crap out on lap 11.

With that in mind, Alan blackmailed me into starting a racing team2 to compete in the LeMons race and to build, perhaps someday, a demolition derby disaster.

After much debating and discussing, Alan headed to Milwaukee one Saturday for a lovely Escort. He described its awesomeness, but it was a week until I saw it with my own eyes.

When I showed up to work on it last Saturday, I was greeted by a glorious car in tetracolor!

It's a bit difficult to spot here, but this Escort has four distinct colors, which was interesting when we had it titled at the DMV3. When asked the car's color by the charming DMV employee, Alan answered, "Uh...mostly white?" Seems fitting. The front quarter panel is charcoal-colored, while the hood sports a dark green and the front grill is a lighter green. That finish is so spectacular, we may leave it as is.

Alan pulled the car into the garage, where we got started on it. Item number one on the checklist was to replace the suspension. It just so happens that Alan's brother totaled a ZX2, which has mostly interchangeable parts4. The plan involves replacing all four struts from the LX with those of the ZX2 (with big disc brakes on all wheels and stiffer shocks I think). Why did the LX need new struts, you ask? Well:

(That's the rear strut poking up through the rear shelf.)

After a brief foray to the DMV and a quick, greasy lunch, we set to work on plucking the first strut from the ZX2:

Well, that's a picture of Alan removing the wheel from the ZX2. But still, we did it. It took a little while, but we swapped it with the LX strut with no major issues. Here's a comparison of the struts and rotors (ZX2 strut is on the left, but to the right of the shoe):

After we thought we'd figured out how to make an easy swap, we discovered that the driveshaft and steering knuckle in the passenger-front strut had permanently mated. Try as we might, the shaft wouldn't budge. We banged that shaft good for at least an hour and half, too5. After a bunch of failed attempts, we ran to Autozone to rent a shaft puller6, though the Autozone employee warned us that we'd likely break one or two pullers before we got one to work. Maybe it was good luck or maybe it was just that Alan and I are pretty awesome people, but the shaft popped right out on our first try and we were in business again.

We put the passenger-strut back together pretty quickly, and things ran smoothly until Alan accidentally broke the bleed screw off the caliper. While Alan was unable to pull the screw out of the caliper, I figured why not just swap the caliper from the LX onto the rotor of the ZX2. When we checked, the measurements all lined up perfectly, so we figured it would fit on the rotor perfectly.Except it didn't. Apparently, the dimensions differed in depth, so we couldn't line up the screws properly. Exhausted after nine hours of car repairs and a couple more at the DMV, we called it a night7.

This Saturday, we will replace the rear struts and hopefully have an easier time of it.

1 For those not in the know, this is a rather clever parody of the famous 24 Hours of LeMans race in France.
2 As yet unnamed and unthemed. Want to drive and/or contribute time/money to the car? We want you(r money).
3 LeMons doesn't require the car be titled. They don't even recommend it. But we both plan to do some daily driving with it to get the feel of it. It's not that much worse than my everyday car, actually.
4 But not all, dammit.
5 What do you expect? We ARE servicing an Escort.
6 Insert dirty joke here.
7 Alan replaced the caliper Sunday morning without incident. I was sleeping, I'm pretty sure.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Perfect Gift

Yesterday, in one of our more juvenile moments1, Jenny and I searched eBay for bizarre stuff using a series of words that were funny to most people when they were 12 . While searching for "boobs" proved boring and predictable, one search turned up amazing results2. The product desriptions are really top-notch:

Roo Scrotes

The Keychain

The Bottle Opener

I would comment further, but I'm pretty sure the descriptions adequately sum it up.

1 I wish I could describe this as a "rare" or "uncharacteristc" juvenile moment. Wait, no I don't.
2 The search term should be pretty evident.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

One Giant Check for Mankind


Well, reader1, the Illinois Lottery doesn't just randomly hand out oversized novelty checks to any old chump2. This sucker was earned through grit, determination, and hours upon hours of competitive air hockey play over the last year.

What does this have to do with a wicked-sweet huge check? you ask.

Well, read on. I'll wait.

Finished? Great.

I won the "air hockey" tournament at 2nd Cousins in Rockford Friday, Feb. 5. For people who play air hockey competitively, this lottery promotion would loosely be called "air hockey." You see, a real air hockey competition consists of games to seven points, with the winner taking three of five games or four of seven games. This takes place on an eight-foot table with metal rails, real mallets, and a hard puck.

This little promotion is designed mow through 32 players to give out the $500 and authentic Blackhawks jersey3 in about an hour. As such, the rules are modified: winners need only score two points or be leading after the alotted two minutes. [This is modified for the final match, which is to five points or five minutes.] Also, the table is a short, rickety home model with a tiny puck and crappy pusher mallets with felt bottoms.

But I digress...

Thanks to a little scheme, some fellow air hockeyists and I pooled our chances to win all the tournaments we attend4. And this tournament happened to be the one where I mopped up.

A brief recap:

Round 1: I played a woman who was at the bar with a huge party. I possessed the puck for about 97% of the game. Playing slow and controlled proved unpopular, as the woman's friends booed me for the game's final 20 seconds or so. Final score: 1-0

Round 2: I drew a super-pumped fellow. With a 1-0 lead and the referee counting down the last 15 seconds, I ran out the clock by hitting the puck into the corner a few times so it came right back to me. My opponent responded by flinging his mallet at me after the game. Final score: 1-0.

Round 3: I played a tall, stringy fellow who scored a quick goal on me. I nabbed a coupleaquickones to beat him before time ran out. Final score: 2-1.

Round 4 (Semifinal): My opponent started with the puck and immediately scored on himself. On my first possession, I nailed the puck past him. Final score: 2-0.

At this point, it's worth mentioning that my brother-in-law was supposed to win his semifinal match. But he got beat on a couple of lucky goals. Sorry, Charlie5.

Round 5 (Final): In the tournaments we've competed in, people start to figure out that playing a slow, controlled game is the key to winning at air hockey. In this case, my opponent figured out that straight shots were his best chance to win. Though I had possession of the puck 3/4 of the time, I hit everywhere but the goal for most of the match. In contrast, my opponent hit some accurate straight shots. We traded points to 4-4 before I beat him with the one shot (the aptly named "Newbie Cut") that beats 95% of new players. Final score: 5-4

The Lottery representative handed me a huge check with my name on it and made me take a picture in a Blackhawks jersey. I then filled out some tax forms and was told to expect my check from the Lottery in 7-10 business days. We packed up my huge posterboard check and headed home.

Basically, the Lottery is in this to sell some crappy scratch-off tickets to suckers watching a hockey game at a bar. So the best part of the whole deal is that I'm winning money from the Lotto in a game of skill while they rip off everyone else in the bar on a game of [no] chance6.

And it feels damn good.

It also turns out that the radio station sponsoring the event was giving the winner two tickets to Tuesday's Blackhawks game. As I was unable to attend, I was told I might be able to score tickets to a later promotion, perhaps including REO Speedwagon/Styx tickets. So I guess that's cool?

Yeah, I didn't think so either.

1I'll speak in the singular, since I assume that I have one reader at most.
2 Yes, this is a joke.
3 Want to buy mine? It's a large.
4 We are 4-for-4.
5 His name isn't really Charlie.
6 See what I did there? I put the "no" in brackets, because scratchoffs games are a sure win for the Lotto. Get it?