30 Jan 2011

Installed both front calipers, with the proper hardware this time. Plumbed the system, added rubber-lined hold-down clamps, and filled and bled the system – good to have a firm brake pedal now. Knowing now where the brake pedal gets firm meant that the position of the heel-stop could finally be set. Next was finished up the gas pedal (that broke due to having it tacked-together and because the guy doing the dyno run was pushing on it off-axis – it’s not coming apart now. Don’t worry about the cheezy throttle cable mount, it’s that way only until the center tunnel side panels are fabricated.

24 Jan 2011

Measured out the front brake lines, which should be done by the weekend and with the correct hardware on-hand, should finish up the front brakes. Next will be an inner floor panel in the pedal area. The real reason to have it is in case the car rolls and the floor panel rips off, the inner panel keeps the driver’s feet in-board. The immediate reason to have it is… well, there is no floor yet; something has to be there for first-drive, and since it’s needed anyway it’s not wasted effort.

In other news, my brother’s considering an LS-2 V8 for his Super Stalker, 400 hp and 20 lbs lighter than the supercharged V6.

23 Jan 2011

The brake caliper brackets were iridite coated and the helicoils installed. Had to ask a few buddies about the consequences of using stainless hardware to mount the calipers; I think I suspected they weren’t a good idea due to the chance of galling. Galling is where metal (particularly stainless) gets “smeared” off one fastener and onto the mating part (made worse when that part is stainless, too, like stainless helicoils.) Galling can effectively weld fasteners together before they’re fully tightened, making it impossible to screw them together the rest of the way or get them apart. Anti-seize compound works – sort of – but it’s best to just stay away from the combination altogether. It was good to get that straight before potentially ruining the caliper adaptors that took so long to make. Ordinary steel bolts will be used, and this tip was added to the book.

And yes, the brakes do look small and lost inside those big 17″ wheels, but the Miata Sport brake rotors are a lot heavier and very likely unnecessary – looks aside. If there’s any fade, air will be ducted to them before considering larger rotors.

22 Jan 2011

The suspense was killing me; so working on the front brakes were pushed off and the car was weighed first. Left out of the total are several aluminum panels, which aren’t much, though the missing stainless firewall is probably 20 lbs easy. Then there’s the windscreen but heck, I’m happy. First picture is the setup, second is the weight of the car alone, with oil and coolant but no gas. Third is with me in the car – note how the weight distribution changed very little, due to the seat being near the CG. The rear weight bias is at the upper limit of what I wanted to see and it remains to be seen how steering will be under throttle; will it understeer like crazy or not?

A couple things are affecting the weights: two of the scales are half on the carpet that’s under the car so aren’t evenly loaded, and the garage floor is tipped toward the door by about 2 deg. It’s hard to say how much the final reading will differ, but I’m extremely happy with the weight!  Use a slightly smaller normally-aspirated engine with smaller 15″ tires and racing wheels, and the dry weight could easily be in the 1300s. Don’t worry about the variations in corner weight; the spring seats haven’t be adjusted at all, it’s the weight total and weight distribution that’s important right now.

The power-to-weight ratio, which is always calculated without driver or gas (totally unrealistic, but it’s how it’s always done) and it works out to 3.6 lbs / hp. A real-world ratio is the car with driver and half a tank of gas, adding a bit more for parts left out, it works out to about 4 lbs / hp. That’ll do!

Also shown is the rear with (finally) all four taillights. Still don’t like the screen…

20 Jan 2011

To hard-anodize the aluminum brake caliper brackets carries a batch charge of $110, whether one or 100 pieces are done. So the interim plan is to iridite coat them, wait until the car is  done, then decide what to do with them. Perhaps there’ll be enough other aluminum bits and pieces that the entire batch can be done at once. If not, they can either be left as-is, or more likely, be powdercoated (basically for free) along with all the other parts (though this time, masking the mating surfaces – lesson learned there!).

After that’s done, add the helicoils, bolt them on, then face reality: the car’s true weight. It’s complete enough now that it’s time to learn what it really weighs, not what I want or hope it to be. Some time back I weighed the bare chassis, and it was no accident you didn’t read about it, because it was very humbling to see the scale spin to 275 lbs. Granted it consists of basically a full SCCA roll-cage, but still, it’s a tank, at probably twice the weight of a Locost, but far safer and 3-4 stiffer in torsion.

My brother’s Super Stalker weighed in at 1600 lbs, and Kimini weighed in at about 1580 lbs, basically the same. Leading up to this weighing, my brother asked “So how is Midlana going to way sooo much less like you say it will” – good question. The differences in favor of a lighter car include: lighter drivetrain (-70 lbs), no doors (-60 lbs), no large composite shell (-50lbs), aluminum floor versus stainless, and no side or rear windows (makes up for Midlana not having a windscreen yet), and that’s about it. Differences in favor of a <em>heavier</em> car include: a turbocharger system (+50 lbs), heavier wheels and tires (+50 lbs) – with all weights being off the top of my head so they’re give or take.

So what’s your guess? I’m guessing 1600 lbs if expecting the worse, 1500 lbs if hoping for the best. Stick in a 1600 cc engine and 15″ wheels and tire and it would be probably 150 lbs lighter, but I didn’t want to go that way for mine!

18 Jan 2011

Several people wrote asking about the picture of the brazed tubes. I double-checked and the proper term is “bronze welding.” And yes, the welds shown really were made with a gas torch – by an incredibly talented craftsman. The full explanation is below, though the SCCA reportedly does not recognize a brazed (or likely, bronze) welded chassis as legal.:

The heat source for all high strength brazing must be gas as there is no high strength alloy that survives in the heat of an electric arc.  Tig brazing rod only has about 30,000 psi.  The classic filler rod is Sifbronze No 1 (about 62,000 psi) manufactured by Sif welding products in England and a bit of a bother to get in the USA.  Here, the answer is Eutectic Castolin, a developer and supplier of high performance welding and brazing alloys.  Their filler is Eutectic Castolin Xuper 18 XFC® (about 70,000 psi) a bit stronger but a bit less ductile.  All the normal caveats apply, you must have clean well fitted joints and you must form an adequate bead.  These fillers will not work if you just flow the rod into the joint as though you are soldering.  You must have a bead that looks the same as a weld bead only larger, hence the name “bronze welding”.

16 Jan 2011

Brake caliper adaptor brackets are done. Of course there’s pressure to install helicoils and get the brackets on the uprights so the brakes can be mounted and plumbed, all so that the “first drive” can happen. If that’s done though, the helicoils will have to be removed before they’re hard-anodized because there can’t be any steel on the part when it goes through the process. The second picture shows the bracket setting in the upright loose – don’t be concerned, it’ll square-up after the bolts are tightened.

In the last picture, ever see such wide and oddly-colored TIG welds? Nope, it’s actually brazed! This is what’s possible when a pro does it, and is proof that an expensive TIG welder isn’t needed to make a chassis, just lots and lots of skill.

I was given some good-natured ribbing about the dome light, how a $3 LED flashlight would work just as well, point taken. And then there was, “I can’t wait to see the pictures of the five cup-holders!” You know, we’ll see who’s laughing after a hot double soy latte dumps in someone’s lap – yes there will be cup-holders! Just because it’s a  homebuilt car doesn’t mean it has to be a knuckle-dragger as far as being civilized go.

15 Jan 2011

Gave the vendor (and UPS) until the next morning to post that the package was in their system – nothing. Called the credit card company and learned about how this sort of thing works (though I complain a lot, I’ve never actually canceled an order this way.) Turns out unless my card had already been charged, there’s nothing they can do before it occurs. The only out was to get a new card… ugh. So instead I wrote yet another e-mail to the vendor and surprisingly, he called back this time. After a long civil conversation, the parts (including a substitute lamp for the one still on back-order) was shipped off.

Sure enough the order arrived and was everything was as-ordered. One of the items was a dome light, useful when messing about in the car on a dark night. The vendor had a white-LED unit with a built-in on/off switch, listing its size as 11 X 4.5 X 1.5. I briefly wondered what the units of measure were (none were listed) but it was pretty obvious it was centimeters…

Wrong.

It was inches! Click on the picture to see what must be the world’s biggest dome light! Incredible… gigantic would be more appropriate to the point of laughter. Thankfully the relationship at this point has been straightened out so there’s no hard feelings, which is a good thing. Have to see if we can work an exchange for something more appropriately-sized for Midlana. At this point I think I might just go with a white-LED strip light on an overhead tube.

12 Jan 2011

Surprise, another vendor rant!

12/01/10: Ordered the amber taillights, dome light, and a couple white interior lights, and was told by the owner, “These’ll go out today.” I did not ask when they’d ship, he volunteered the information.
12/20/10: Receiving nothing, and their website showed it hadn’t shipped, wrote polite e-mail requesting status.
12/31/10: No product or e-mail received, wrote another polite e-mail requesting status.
01/05/11: Received nothing, wrote <em>another</em> polite e-mail requesting status.
01/07/11; Received nothing, left voice message.
01/09/11; Received nothing, left another voice message.
01/11/11; Heard nothing, left voice message saying if I heard nothing, I’d cancel order via credit card.
01/12/11; Received nothing, heard nothing, called again, owner picks up phone.
Me: Hi, I’d like to know my order status please. I’ve sent three e-mails and several voice messages.
Him: I don’t have any record of your e-mails or messages, but we just got these in and they’ll go out today.
Me: When I ordered these back on December 1, that’s exactly what you said then, that they’ll “go out today.”
Him: Well, I have them in stock and they’ll go out today. I need your credit card info again because our server deletes it after 30 days.
Me: When were you planning to call and ask for my credit card information?
Him: Well I have your information now so these can go out today.
Me: So when I check your website for order status this evening, I’ll see the UPS tracking number, correct?
Him: Yes.

I’ll give this until 8 pm (two hours from now) before I call my credit card company. Canceling this is going to suck because I really wanted the clear-lens look for all the taillights, but I’m not sure which is worse, being blatantly lied to or never receiving anything. He doesn’t even have the excuse of not knowing status or not knowing what the boss/owner is doing – he <em>is</em> the owner. This reminds me of a car salesman who asks what color car you want and you say “black”, and then he says, “we have an orange one here…” Are you not hearing me? On the other hand, the passive/aggressive part of me would take a bit of pleasure in knowing he’ll be screwed out of profiting off me with that behavior if he ship’s later than when he promised.

Is it really that hard to be a good business owner – real life says yes it is. Why is it so very rare to find a business that’s on the ball, straight forward, honest, and up-front? Do these people go into business with the best of intentions, then have their morals and ethics worn down over time, ending up like this guy? Or do they go into business with this weasel attitude right from the start? I don’t know, but an awful lot of businesses operate just like this bozo, stringing customers along by saying whatever it takes until the parts eventually come in. I didn’t demand that the parts ship now, I simply wanted to know an estimate of when they’ll ship. This is extremely frustrating, and it was hard to not lose my temper with him, but that wouldn’t solve anything. There’s a saying that goes something like, “It’s not what people do to you that’s important, but how you react that matters.”  I’ll just have to find what I’m looking for elsewhere.

9 Jan 2011

Learned a lot about making parts on a CNC mill, where design and setup are necessary regardless whether making one part or 10000, and using it for just one or two of anything doesn’t make economic sense if paying someone, unless it has to be very precise. In my case it may have been faster to use a manual mill, but then I wouldn’t have learned anything, the sexy curves would look like crap, and it’s much easier to goof up and ruin a part. That became apparent part way through making one of them, that as each operation is performed, the component gets more and more expensive in terms of invested labor.

After about 12-hrs of work saw caliper-adaptor brackets transformed from billet to 80% done, though a couple more holes and a machined step is still needed, plus helicoils. Since the brackets are aluminum it’s best to helicoil the holes (though OEMs hardly ever bother for cost reasons.) Hopefully they’ll get finished next weekend and then the front brakes can be plumbed. After that, more brackets and clamps for wires, cables, and hoses, then there’s nothing to prevent driving down the street and back 🙂

In other news, a question that’s been eating at me is whether the SB100 California smog exemption number (that I stood in the cold for hours to get) ever expires – no one seemed to know. To clear it up for sure required another visit to the DMV, and the official answer is yes, the issued number is good forever regardless how long it takes to finish the car – as long as the registration fees are paid in full each year. That’s a big item off The List of Concerns.