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.


  1. This is fantastic. You make me laugh, Rood. Quite a lot. I think you need to be our primary blogger once we have our site set up.

    Your lead photo is perfect.

    I like that, as craptacular as the LX is, its struts, springs and brakes are less rusty than the ZX2 pieces we're using.

    I banged that shaft so hard, I mushroomed the end of it. I had to use the grinder to make that sucker go down so the nut would fit over it. Ooooooh yeeeeeah.

    One final note: I haven't traced it all the way up front, but I did spot a 4-wire trailer harness hanging underneath the spare tire well out back. Just like the one we ran when we rewired our car dolly. This must be for those classy trailer lights bolted to the back. I have not yet found the connector up front.

  2. I'd like to volunteer my services in doing some artwork for this fine automobile... Stickers (bumper or otherwise) or maybe some cool paint or magnetic graphics. I can do some painting when we're up in Oct. if it's before your race.

  3. I'm not very good with 'mechanical' things but maybe I could cover any holes in the seats with some kind of 'classy' racing seat covers?

  4. WOW! What a craptastic automobile!!!!!

  5. I need to get in on this! It might be hard from Texas, but I will find a way damit!

  6. This is incredible. I can't emphasize enough how much I support you in this endeavor.