Wagon work 1.

November 12th, 2014

It’s still in progress, but here’s kind of a halfway update on the work on the wagon. I sanded a bunch of bubbled rust areas all over, sprayed them with some rust converter, and then primered them so far. This is a temporary fix for now mostly so it isn’t as ugly and to slow down any rusting. I may have to wait for some warmer weather to really get it all fixed up. As I mentioned, most areas are still pretty solid, with some exceptions on the rocker panels, so I ordered entire new panels and am waiting for them, which may be a while. One of the brake pads is banging around, so I have to fix that and I think one of the struts is weak also. I happen to have some spring/strut/mount assemblies laying around from the original 91 Sunbird that have the earlier mounting bolt pattern that I’m going to put in. I also tossed the ugly roof rack and pulled all the trim off to be able to get at rusty areas, and I’ll probably leave it all off because I like it that way. I also removed the timing belt cover because I like the look of the cam gear being exposed and it makes it easier to see the status of the belt, and also makes it easier to change it. However, it wasn’t really necessary on the 1.8 because of the different cover design which is really easy to get off. Here are a few updated pics of the car looking a bit less rusty and ugly.

rackless, trimless, primered

rackless, trimless, primered

and another view

and another view

Welcome, wagon.

November 7th, 2014

I’ve been wanting a wagon for quite a while, and even though it’s not the ideal time for me to pick up another [old/project] vehicle, I threw caution to the wind as usual and got one anyway! Introducing the 1986 Buick Skyhawk wagon! I really wanted something that was ready to go and needed little to no work initially. Apparently all that went out the window, but let me try to justify myself anyway. I saw the car posted for sale online and decided that despite the 1.5 hour trip, I’d check it out. The second I saw rust patches all over the doors, I knew the price was way high. Had I not just driven an hour and a half to see it, I probably would have written it off at first sight and went home, but then I figured I’d look it over since I was there. Underside: actually really clean, engine: pretty clean and runs great, strut towers: no rust to be found, behind back bumper: solid, rust spots on door: crusty, but actually still solid, wheel wells: rust free, lights: functional, heat: functional, well ok you get the picture. Everything actually worked, and it was more solid that it looked at first. The worst parts are some ugly spots on the doors, passenger rear door is a bit caved in on the bottom, and the rockers need some patching (but are actually in better shape than the two door’s which I fixed up not long ago.) So I stood around and thought about it for a while … to my detriment I was standing in front of it and I think what really happened is the four eye front end started to wear me down … it’s just hard to say no to a good looking four eye. I decided that if he’d take half of what he was asking I wouldn’t mind busting out the welder and getting it back into at least inspectable shape for now, then maybe a little more cosmetic work when it warms up; or maybe I’ll even get ambitious and do it sooner, who knows. Needless to say, he did and here we are.

The other thing I like about it of course is that it’s (yet another) J body, so the parts interchangeability factor will make it a lot more economical to keep up. The SOHC 1.8L is the predecessor to the 2.0L, so it’s extremely similar. In other countries they refer to them both as the big block, which I always find funny. The 2.0 is just a bored and stroked version of the 1.8, and you could actually bore the 1.8 block to 86mm like the 2.0 and convert it if you really wanted to. Anyway, the idea is for it to be a comfortable family and whatever-else hauler and probably mostly a backup vehicle if one of the other two birds need some work or whatever. I’m planning on spending the day tomorrow conquering some rust and doing some welding on it, and I’m already loving the room of the wagon, as I have the hatch filled up with 4 toolboxes, a big box full of parts and junk, and a fresh welding tank with room to spare.

skyhawk front

I really love the front end. A lot.

skyhawk ok side

This is the more-ok looking side at the moment.

1.8 cam

The 1.8 cam cover isn't baffled below the filler like it is on the 2.0s which is actually kinda nice. It shows that it's nice and clean in there and the cam is in good shape!

Side marker upgrade.

October 30th, 2014

So today’s mini Sunbird resto project was to put some new front side marker lamp assemblies in. The originals were all cracked, beat up, and coming apart at the seams. The stamped-sheet-metal-self-threading-nuts that attach them (via plastic studs) are a huge pain to work with because they rust, are rounded and hard to get a tool on, and also a little difficult to get at;  so I decided to go a different route. I used a 1/4-20 die to thread the studs on the new parts, and then used washers and wing nuts to attach them. The front one has to be put on either first or before everything gets tightened because it’s hard to access, but knowing that, it works sweet.

Now for one they look better, and for two pop on and off easy with no tools. I used some standard steel hardware because it was available, but plan to replace it with nylon wing nuts and washers – they won’t rust and should hold them on just fine. I took a picture of the threaded studs, but it came out terrible so I’m not going to bother…

Bird update 9/14

September 10th, 2014

Since it’s been a long time, I’m going to roll all my Sunbird goings-on into one big update. It has of course been daily driven and not had any major problems other than yet some more rust repair and has just been reliably racking up the miles and carrying on. I’m also continuing to develop parts for the 2.0L and cementing my plans for the future, since this is likely soon to be my only car for a while. So I’d like to make it a little more fun, to improve its performance and handling, and also make it a little quieter.

On to what’s been going on…

Stage 1 performance upgrade attempt 1:
The plan was to grab a UAFC from 14point7 to do some quick and dirty tuning, put in new followers and a factory 20SEH cam, magically add 15-20hp and wind up with somewhere around 125-130hp quick, cheap, and easy! Of course reality struck soon after and the UAFC wouldn’t read the RPM and suddenly the project was dead in the water. To their credit, they were very helpful in trying to get it working, but in the end it wasn’t happening. I was not about to toss a wildly different cam into my daily driver and see what happened, so back to square one. One of the reasons I wanted to try this route is the ease of setup. I still plan to go to the Megasquirt, and now it seems to really be the only option anyway, but I need downtime to get it all set up which can be tricky on a daily. So one step at a time I’ll see if I can get the MS ready to go and then maybe I’ll need some experienced help to iron out the tuning quickly. Then toss in the new cam and see how it does. It will just take a while I’m sure, which is what I was hoping would not be the case.

In preparation for the piggyback tuner, I swapped from a DIY wideband kit which seemed to work ok, but was pretty jumpy to an AEM wideband controller & gauge mostly because it is simpler and would help with datalogging. It was an easy switch and the gauge looks and works very nice.

Painting project:
I was going to call this the beautification project, but that was kind of laughable. My friend convinced me that a rattle can paint job was the way to go, especially for how I use the car, and I think he was right. Scrapes, repairs, changes, just grab the extra can off the shelf and touch it right up … no messing around. On a whim, I changed my mind about the color – previously I’d wanted to keep it gray and really like the “cement gray” color found on some newer Scions. I still may have to use that on something down the road. Anyway, the new color of choice is Krylon italian olive satin. Love it or hate it, that’s what it is. I spent all weekend grinding some rusty spots, and acetoning off the old flaky clearcoat, and then masking and painting of course. A few things I learned along the way are:

  1. It is extremely difficult to get the paint to look even when using cans (a real spray gun is much easier in this respect actually.)
  2. Those paint-can-trigger things are very well worth it
  3. The roof is easily the hardest part to do and to get even (mine isn’t even, but it’s done.)
  4. It takes about a dozen cans (I used 10 actually, but better to be safe, and I had a nicely primed base.)
  5. To get it to look even kinda smooth and even takes some serious practice, if it’s possible at all … the best I can advise from my limited experience is to try broad, quick strokes, and do sections while keeping them “wet”
  6. Start with the roof (this tip was passed down to me.)
  7. There’s a fine line between sparse paint, enough paint, and a run.

 

Below are some pics. It’s certainly not the prettiest thing on the road, but it does look a lot better than flaking clearcoat, and I like how it turned out. I ran out of time for the additional masking needed to do the hood black so I just shot it in green, but it will be getting painted black. Also, I left the spoiler off for the same reason and moved the third brake light inside the car. I kinda like the wingless look, but nobody else I ask seems to, so I’m not sure on that one yet. I’m going to keep the brake light inside because the old metal housing was heavy and all the bolts were seized in it.

Stage 2 upgrade/the future:
The next big thing scheduled is getting a full stainless 2.25″ mandrel bent exhaust fabbed up with v bands at the resonator and muffler, which will be a Borla ProXS. Same one that’s on the four door and has a really nice sound without being super loud. The shop where I intend on getting it done is pretty busy, so it might be a month or so before it happens, then will try and get some pics up of it.

Another project that has been under wraps for quite a while is a custom individual throttle body intake setup that I’d like to use with the Megasquirt, a ported head, stainless header, Newman cam, and rebuilt engine. This is the Stage 2 plan. It took a ton of time to model and machine the intake, but it is basically finished now. Internally, the runners taper from the size of the tb outlets to the intake runner port size, while bending between the spacing of the tbs and the runners. The throttle bodies are from a GSXR600. I still need to do some work to attach the throttle shafts back together, the fuel rail, updated clamps to hold the bodies to the intake, and some other minor stuff. I also designed some intake trumpets and retainers and had them 3d printed. I’m not sure if I’m going to use them yet – mostly because there are no provisions for filters, but it was a fun process regardless. The throttle bodies originally have 2 injector ports per runner and secondary butterflies, so I had to make some plugs for the extra holes after removing everything. Also, had the injectors tested and kept the 24# set, which should be perfect. I began some port work to the head by opening up the intake runners at the valve seats, but have stalled on head work for now because of time. Here are a few mockup pictures of the intake in progress, and that’s it for now.

trumpets on itb on intake on head

trumpets on itb on intake on head

intake mockup

intake mockup

from block of aluminum to pair of runners

from block of aluminum to pair of runners

Mustang for sale.

September 10th, 2014

Unfortunately, due to many factors including lack of time, funding, housing issues, lack of use, storage, the fact that it is not a practical daily driver, and so on … the Mustang is now up for sale. This is the car that got me into cars, and the first car I ever bought, so it’s hard to let it go, but I have had lots of fun and learned a lot with it over the years. If interested … leave a comment!

Shed.

January 1st, 2014

There can be only Shed.

An exercise in maximizing space usage and making the most of a small area, Shed began life as an 8×8 kit. Its floors and walls were reinforced and some shelves were added in the rafters.  The core components that make Shed a successful workspace in which to carry out all my projects despite the limited space are the solid wood-topped bench and pegboard compliments of my employer, my toolbox, and a heavy duty wire shelf for parts storage. Organization is key or it will quickly fill with junk and become unusable. Some more Shed features of interest are its 12v lighting system which was created from a spare tail light bulb, some wire, and an old battery … and its modified electric space heater (where I took apart and threw away the fake fireplace part.)

Gutility.

January 1st, 2014

GUV: gutted utility vehicle©

My Sunbird is part daily driven commuter, the occasional drag racer, and also part pickup truck! Below it’s loaded up with a set of 55 gallon plastic drums, and later a 2.0L shortblock which are just a few of the many things I have carried in the GUV. Others include many sets of wheels and tires, wheels and tires plus a complete F body front suspension, 8 foot 2x4s for a wall building project, lumber and building supplies for Shed, filled to the roof with boxes when moving, and piled high with garbage bags headed for the dump.

GUV 2.0L

C20LZ (2.0L OHC TBI) shortblock project riding shotgun.

GUV

Transporting a pair of 55 gallon drums.

Solid motor and trans mounts.

June 8th, 2013

In yet another move that makes very little sense for a daily driven street car, I decided to go ahead and replace my completely shot factory motor mounts with solid ones. Every mount was beyond destroyed; they had all dropped down and were bottomed out on their housings with the formerly supporting rubber hanging useless. This made for random large vibrations and also lost power since the engine and transmission assembly could pretty much move around freely. I figured the car was already rather loud with no interior so how much worse could the solid mounts make it? Quite a bit, it turns out. The large vibrations were replaced with consistent smoother vibrations, and more rattling of the few items remaining in the cabin. It’s not really all that bad, but in combination with the loud exhaust and no interior, it does get a little tiresome on long drives … which is every day. It did feel a lot better and much more solid though, so I decided to stick with them. My quick cheap solution for now is to just toss in some earplugs for the long drives :). I also appropriately painted “NVH” on my back window since it’s kinda become the theme of the car. Of course, there is no aftermarket for the 2.0L bird, so I designed and machined my own solid motor and transmission mounts out of aluminum and in addition modified and made some delrin bushings for the torque strut “dog bone.”

I installed the mounts one at a time, starting with the transmission mount, then did the rear motor mount, and then put in the front motor mount (this I actually have not made a solid mount for yet, I used a reinforced/filled stock mount.) Anyway, something interesting happened when I put in the trans and rear motor mounts: when I looked at the front mount, I could see that it had raised back into the position it should have been before it collapsed. I figured that meant I did something right in making the other two solid mounts.

rear solid motor mount

rear solid motor mount

solid trans mount

solid trans mount

delrin bushed dogbone

delrin bushed dogbone

Tensioner breakdown.

May 10th, 2013

The latest bit of automotive excitement that’s happened lately was the complete failure of my timing belt tensioner. When my first one froze up and was no longer tensioning, it caused the belt to shred teeth off from vibration. So I threw on a working tensioner that had 230k miles on it and carried on. Cruising along at 75mph, I heard a big bang, and found myself dead on the side of the highway. I figured it was the belt again and it took me a minute to notice that the tensioner was totally gone except for two small metal tabs still bolted to the block. I grabbed the tools and started tearing off parts while I called for reinforcements to be delivered from my stockpile of Sunbird parts from home. Once all back together, I realized I didn’t have my timing pointer installed, so I had to do some guesswork to find the right spot and get it to fire up. Anyway, it finally did and I pushed on and made it to work only 2 hours late.

tensioner shrapnel

tensioner shrapnel

Post-winter woes.

April 15th, 2013

Adding another winter of not washing and daily driving my bird (on top of probably every other winter it has ever seen) has resulted in, you guessed it, rust and rot holes! Vacuuming out some dirt from my floorpan a few weeks ago, I noticed a rusty area in front of the rocker panel by the front edge of the driver’s door. Some gentle tapping revealed a small hole … a little more tapping led to a large hole … and so on until arriving at the ugly mess as seen in the picture below. I let it go for a week or so and then figured I may as well take care of the problem.

After removing the front fender and then door, then cutting off the front section of the rocker panel to survey the rest of the damage, I noticed something a little strange: the vertical supports inside the panels were really rotted, but the panels themselves were not in too bad of shape, save the missing portions I had already knocked out. I’m not sure if they used different material for those parts or what, but they were long gone. That’s when I decided to make some “subframe connectors” to stiffen it up in case the rotted supports were actually doing anything. The connectors are basically just 1×1.5x.080 wall steel tubing welded inside the car to the rocker panels (I will do the passenger side later.)  I think this should add a fair amount of support, and should be protected from future damage being inside the car; if the outer panels get bad, it should hold things together until they can be patched up again.

Pretty much all I do for repairs like this, especially if they are mostly not seen, is hack out the rotten sections back to good sheetmetal, then use some cardboard templates to get an idea of the shape I want, then MIG weld in the new panels, piece by piece. It’s  not necessarily the prettiest, but it gets the job done and I’m only going for function. Lots of times, I don’t even try to follow whatever used to be there, I will just pick a shape and go with it that isn’t too difficult to fab using just a vice and a hammer. I didn’t even bother to grind down the visible weld on the rocker panel … I just think of it as a scar. Anyway, I spread this out over about a week and borrowed the 4 door bird to get to work. Here are some before, during, and after pictures of the patch up.