Saturday, May 26, 2007

MORE Great News

Not about the 911, but about my Civic. My Dad and I worked on the Civic yesterday. My Civic, for those who are not aware, was stolen out of my driveway about 3 - 4 years ago. They took the wheels, the stereo, ripped the heck out of the interior, stole the distributor, wires and computer. The insurance company totaled the car out. I bought it from them for $250. The car has sat in the garage, and the driveway, since then. I bought parts for it, but never got off my rear end and fixed it. Yesterday, the distributor and computer were installed. We connected a charged battery via jumper cables, added the wires and gave it a shot. Nothing. We messed around a lot, trying to reduce the electrical load. This was actually a bad idea. The problem was actually the jumper cables. When we directly connected the battery, replacing the battery in the car, the car started to turn over. But we were not getting a spark or any fuel delivery. We spent a lot of time trying to test the distributor and the fuel lines. Did you know that the computer doesn't allow the car to start if the SRS (airbag) fuse is not in place? Neither did I. Nor did the book mention this. Once we put this fuse back in and got the firing order set up correctly the car started. On 3 year old gas - after sitting for 3 years - after having been stolen, raped of all it's parts and basically abandoned by me, the car started. Weird thing is it ran like a top. I would have been happy if it had just run, but it actually runs well.

I need to replace the hood, get a gauge cluster for it, fix the ignition then decide what to do with it. Duff suggests keeping it as a winter car. My brother would like to buy it from me. Or I could sell it to a complete stranger. Tough call...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

AutoCross School article for NORPCA

NOR PCA has published the article so I think it is okay to post this now . . .

NORPCA AutoCross School

The night before the AutoCross school there was a late snow fall. When I looked out at the roads before going to bed, I was concerned the event would not be held. When the alarm clock rang at god awful in the morning, I was SURE the event was cancelled. When I said as much to my wife, she replied “you just want to sleep longer”. This changed my mind. My sloth was not going to keep me from some fun with my “new” 911. Even if all I did was drive 45 minutes out and 45 minutes back, I was going.

On the way to the event I spotted a white 944. I was glad to have confirmation that others were making the trek. When I arrived at the event site / parking lot, there were a number of other cars there. All of the drivers and instructors were out in the cold, doing the tech inspection on the cars. For my car, there was some concern about my battery – it was not tied down and the terminals were close to sheet metal. Luckily Gino lent me a tie down and some racer’s tape to correct the issues.

After the tech inspection was a drivers meeting. The morning was very cold. All of the drivers and instructors huddled inside the bus stop / shelter during the drivers meeting. The instructors reviewed the rules of the event, gave a basic walkthrough of how the day would progress and what we would learn. There were enough instructors available to provide one for each car. The class concentrated on demonstrating some of the common features of an autocross course. We had amble opportunity to run the course, with feedback from the instructors on how to improve.

I had mixed feelings as we lined up for the walk through of the course. I was a bit anxious about the day. I had little chance to drive the car. Having heard about “tail happy” 911’s all my life; I expected the car have a wicked and unexpected over steer. Previously I had driven front wheel drive cars prone to under steer. I had concern about showing poor car control. Also, I was excited to begin learning more about how the car would handle and I was looking forward to having some fun with the car. Walking through the course reduced my fears. As we walked through the course, each feature was explained. Details on how to approach that feature, the best way to keep speed up through the feature and common mistakes were explained in detail. This instruction reduced my fear and I quickly realized that the walk through was a valuable way to improve your time.

We then drove through the course at a slow pace. I was able to take the car through the course without incident. Each time through the course I picked up the pace, trying to listen and apply the instructions and critique I was hearing. Soon, I was able to get the car up into second gear. It is amazing the amount of fun I had driving, for the most part, less than 30 mph. I did discover that my fears of over steer were … overstated. At no point did I lose control of the car due to over steer. Under steer, on the other hand, was the bane of my existence. I just could not let up on the steering wheel enough to get the tires to bite. Especially not when there were cones in front of me. Of course all I was accomplishing by turning the wheel harder was skidding into those same cones. It was great fun!

Because of the high instructor to student ratio, we were able to do a run, hear the feedback, and then do another run right after it. This seemed to be the best learning experience for me. I never really had a chance to over think the course. Not having too much sideline time kept my nerves down.

After lunch, the course was reversed. This made for a really interesting experience. Seeing the same curves, slalom and “garage” from the other direction changed the whole experience. By the end of the day I was much more confident with my car. I knew how it would react in different situations and had lost some of my concern about car control. I think the event taught me a great deal. I would recommend the autocross training to anyone who is interested in knowing more about their car and how it handles. I had to have the grin surgically removed from my face. I cannot wait to do this again.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Great News

I took the car in for a second opinion. No offense meant to Chris, just if I was going to spend $13,000 on the car I wanted to have someone else take a look. Everyone in the PCA to whom I mentioned the issue said "you are going to take it to Steinel's right?". So for my second opinion I took it over to Steinel's. Eric was very nice, he took me for a test drive in the car - asking me about various issues. His initial impression was that I did not have a broken headstud. I was a bit leery of this, but asked him to go ahead and complete the testing.

As a side note, it seems like every time something goes on with the car I am out of town. For the purchase I was in San Diego, for this round of testing I was in Washington DC.

I called Eric on Thursday to get the verdict. He had opened / removed the valve covers and tested all of the head studs. They all seemed to be in good shape, all taking torque and so on. The oil leak was coming from a bit higher in the engine. He was able to correct that issue, along with the high idle and a broken rocker. The transmission was out of adjustment, so he (they) were able to correct the second shifting issue. He also adjusted the clutch and the throttle. The clutch was very grabby - it seemed it was not releasing completely. Correcting the problem was an adjustment. The throttle was only giving me ~60% of the full travel. Adjusting it should give more gas and quicker acceleration. He also noted that the car has a LSD - which is a nice surprise. He recommended new brake pads and rotors, so I had him do that. I thought for a minute about doing it myself - I like doing brakes and need to get a wrench on the car at some point - but this was quicker. There are some DE's in early June I'd like to attend. He also thought that refilling the AC might correct the problems with that. We'll try it and see.

I'm looking forward to getting the car back on Wednesday. I wish I had allowed Chris to do the testing in early May - he would have found similar results I am sure and the car would have been back sooner. Oh well - I was so freaked out about the possible $13K in expenses that I lost sight of that as a worst case scenario.

Total cost is not yet determined, but while expensive it should not be anywhere near $13K. The purchase was not as bad as I thought.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007


I took my car out to an Autocross class back in early April. It was very cold, but I had a serious blast. Once the engine issue is corrected, I'd like to do it some more. I actually wrote about it for the local PCA newsletter. I'll post the text of the article here after the newsletter comes out.

Autocross is a low speed competition of you against the clock. You are in a parking lot, moving through gates of cones. There are a number of different set ups for the gates, including corners, garages, slaloms and so on. The goal is to get through the gates, hitting no cones, in the shortest amount of time. I babied the car through the training sessions, trying to get a better feel for the car while still doing everything as quickly as I could. I LOVED every MINUTE of the event.

I'm trying to talk Tim Harnett into doing the SCCA autocross events - Solo II - here in Cleveland. They seem reasonable price for the great fun the event actually is. Tim has a serious Mini fetish. He and his wife own new ones, and then he has a classic one as well. One possible issue is his modified intake on the new Mini. It looks like that places him into Stock Modified class, where many more modifications are allowed. He is not likely to be competitive in that class. We'll see. I think he should bring both the new one and the classic one. Talk about a big contrast! With the classic one the gates would look like barn doors.

I'm in Washington learning about the Autonomy Search Engine. It is an interesting class. One of the things I set up was a HTTPFetch against this blog. I want to see how quickly this post appears in my data set.

I took the car to another mechanic - Eric Steinel. My thought was that if I am going to spend $12K, I'd better get a second opinion. Eric is doing some more tests, over and above what Chris did.

I'll find out more tomorrow morning. Keep your fingers crossed!