25 March 2020

It’s surprising to see an uptick in book sales. Maybe it’s due to people stuck at home looking for something to read, but I’m also hoping that it might be that people have the attitude that “this, too, shall pass”, and are considering building a fun car. Glad that I can help!

24 March 2020

Attempted to contact another hot rod company through their web page and heard nothing. Found an email address and tried again; it came back as a bad address—sigh, here we go again. Called their number and got an answering machine, no reply yet. Maybe they’re on vacation,  maybe they’re busy, but the more time that elapses puts doubt into the minds of  potential customers as to whether they’re a good place to be sending money to. Good to find this out upfront. Before I’d started contacting hot rod companies, for some reason I expected them to be more reliable and responsive than kit car companies. Now I wonder why I thought there’d be any difference. Regardless, there’s no timeline for this project, so there’s time to mull over sources, project goals, and the budget.

In other news, I can tell that people are staying home, not just due to how many people are out walking, more cars in driveways, but the rust on brake discs from disuse. It also seems like air quality has improved and visibility is better, which says something about us mucking with things.

23 March 2020

Project thoughts continue. One contender is the Chevy 3100 pickup truck, for no other reason that it looks okay and is available. Authentic steel ones are still around, but they, like most old trucks, are utilitarian vehicles with very upright seating and short cabs. Hot rodders demanded more leg room so it’s common that aftermarket fiberglass shells are about 6″ longer than stock. Also, the cab is typically chopped (the roof lowered) about 4-6″ for looks. Price wise, a very used steel 3100 is a fair bit cheaper than a fiberglass shell, and you get “everything” (much of which is useless to me), but they also have all the expected issues that go with a 70-year old vehicle. The question is, is starting with that better or worse than starting with a fiberglass shell?

That said, I haven’t really made a final decision on the overall envelope, so letting the issue sit for a while usually helps focus in on a solution.

20 March 2020

Contacted a couple more hot rod shops and they’ve been more responsive. While doing so is a bit premature, it’s necessary to see whose out there and still in business. Some are a little sketchy, with websites looking like they were made 25 years ago (you know the ones: varying text sizes and fonts, flashing text, a total pallet of only eight colors, dead product links, etc). I suppose that could be spun to mean that they’ve been around a long time and haven’t updated their site, but when there’s no contact info other than a phone number, it makes one wonder.

Typing out loud, some time is needed to let this stew. The concern is whether I’d be okay with a cookie-cutter hot rod, regardless of performance. I’m not sure. On the one hand, I like to pretend that I don’t care. On the other hand, I’m not sure that I’ll be happy doing anything other than going my own way. What’s testing that creativity is having a weather-tight cab as a top requirement, which for me means starting with something preexisting (don’t get me started on dealing with doors and weatherstripping, see the Kimini blog for that). Technically I could start with a metal truck cab and go from there—modifying composite is undesirable for many reasons listed elsewhere. I have a couple design ideas about how I want it to look, but am I prepared for the years of work to do a full custom project again?

There are other factors too, such as whether the windshield is flat or curved. If the car is used on-track, the windshield is going to get pitted and cracked fairly quickly. If the glass is flat, it’s easy to have another made up. If it’s some old oddball OEM curved glass, there’s always the possibility of hearing “sorry, those aren’t available anymore” (and then what do you do?). One negative regarding flat windshields is that, depending upon angle, it can reflect whatever the driver’s wearing. This may not seem like a big deal until you’re driving into the sun and wearing a white shirt! (Midlana’s flat windscreen doesn’t have this problem because it’s angled back at a steep 45°.)

Speaking of oddball, I learned of a car I’d never heard of before, a Henry J, which was an economy car sold in the US in the early 1950s. It’s quirky and unusual enough to get my attention, but with a 100″ wheelbase (Corvette is 106″), it means shortening the torque tube, something I want to avoid if possible. Overall length is 178″, oddly close to the 15-ft length that keeps popping up.

My garage has a vertical clearance of 8-ft. If final ground clearance of the car is 4″, and the shell is (total guess) 48″ tall, then that leaves 96 – 48 – 4 – 2 (chassis tubing), for a working space between the two of 42″. Not great, but probably workable. There could be an issue as the roll cage is fabricated because it’ll extend up into the shell even with it up against the rafters. Whether that becomes a problem at some point needs some thought. The point of bringing this up is that a multi-piece shell is both a help and a hindrance, as in, where are they stored? Starting with just the passenger compartment (like a truck… again) keeps the clutter down. It does mean potentially paying a shipping fee twice if the nose is decided on later, though as discussed earlier, it’s highly likely that where I’d place the cab wouldn’t be where the manufacturer intended.

Anyway, around and around the process goes!

18 March 2020

A hot rod manufacturer that I requested information from called, pushing to know if I was ready to make a decision. I asked if they’d read my email, which they hadn’t, so I read it and things kinda went downhill from there. He (and I understand why) seemed to think that I didn’t know what I was doing, it wouldn’t work, and that I shouldn’t buy their shell. I tried to explain that I’m familiar with making things work, which only made him flip to the opposite extreme, which, paraphrasing, was, “okay, fine, I’ll sell you whatever you want, you’ll find out.” Neither sales strategy worked.

I suspect that he doesn’t know what a late model Corvette “rollerskate” is. I tried explaining, but he had already decided that it wouldn’t work. He said, “the cab’s not nearly wide enough.” Not true. The Corvette envelope is 6 feet wide, and their cab is 4 feet wide. That leaves 12″ on each side for the wide tires.

He said that the hood assembly wouldn’t possibly fit, and I said there’s no way to know because they don’t supply dimensions (I left out the part about probably not using the front anyway).

I can understand where he’s coming from. If I sold hot rod shells to the general public, I’d probably be pretty cynical myself based upon what people say they can accomplish, versus what actually gets done.

I tried explaining how all I need are the cab and doors but, being a salesman, he kept pushing to sell the whole set (with nose and bed), saying it would cost more to ship them separately, and seemed puzzled that anyone would want just part of it (how do they not know about rat rods?). The conversation ended with him never saying what the cab and doors would cost, but he did say that he would talk to the experts. Okay, though I’m not sure what’s to discuss.

There are other manufacturers out there so I’ll try them. If that fails, there’s always starting with a mid-60s OEM steel cab. Heavier, but more easily available, cheaper, and with no unhappy sales people. I have time on my side (assuming viruses stay away!).

17 March 2020

Moving pieces of the mental puzzle around, I realized that, without a full-size workshop/garage , this build will be difficult. It would require one car bay for the ‘Vette “rollerskate”, a second bay for the car that’s getting converted to sit over it, a third bay for all the parts as they come off, and a fourth bay for the “machine shop.” That’s basically twice the garage that I have now, but even if somehow this home’s garage was doubled in size, it cannot be one large area due to the exiting floor plan and plot. It’s just not going to happen. Because of this, unless we move (unlikely, especially now), the Corvair/van/Volvo/etc imaginings have to get shelved. So what does this leave?

It suggests using the construction technique used with Kimini, where composite subassemblies were used, carefully measured, the tube frame chassis build, and the composite placed over it frequently for test fitting. During the build, the cab assembly can hang up out of the way from the ceiling on pulleys such that it could be lowered and raised at will during the build.

This narrows down the ideas to something already under consideration: a pickup truck. The advantage of starting with a hot rod truck is that it’s already in three pieces: the front hood assembly; the cab; and the truck bed. I only need the cab initially because that’s where all the work happens. The cab gets placed such that it’s not interfering with the engine. I don’t want the engine intruding through the firewall because it gets crowded and hot, and it’s hard to work on the engine if it’s buried under the windshield. So that locates the cab. The front and rear suspension ends up wherever it has to be, and the engine and front suspension can either be left open, hot rod/rat rod style, or integrated into an existing hood/fender assembly, and maybe it’ll fit. Leaving it open though, means not having to worry about where the tires end up relative to the wheel wells.

This leaves the truck bed, which handles two issues rather conveniently. Since the cab was likely set back further than stock, the rear tires almost certainly won’t line up with the factory fender cutouts. No problem, the bed and wheel arches are cut to align it. Also, since I keep complaining that most cars are too long for the garage, the rear of the bed can be cut such that it just supports the rear wheel arches, while keeping enough internal volume underneath for the gas tank and mufflers. If the truck bed ends up being short, like 4.5 feet long, so what. The truck bed is very straightforward to fabricate, and also avoids the expense and shipping of a fiberglass bed assembly I’d have to chop up anyway.

There are several vendors advertising composite cabs for hot rod trucks (a stretched version is nice because the actual size cabs are cramped). Also, most have doors available, along with glass and electric lifts.

This is much more pleasant to think about, rather than certain other things going on right now!

15 March 2020

Whether you enjoy sci-fi movies or not, we’re all playing a part in one now…

Assuming I survive (mostly kidding) I’m thinking about the next project (does that mean that I’m an optimist? On that note, is this a really good time to do the remodel, or a really bad time? I really don’t know).

Anyway, I asked for suggestions on Grass Roots Motorsports and there are some pretty cool ones, with a few shown below. As you can see, I’m still all over the place. My rules include it being older than 1975 (or appearing to be, for the California SB100 exemption), 15 feet or shorter, a wheel base of around 106″, doors, roof, and provisions for a heater and A/C. Right now I really like the look of the Corvair in black, and the black rat rod pickup truck, two very different approaches. The Volvo does offer some quirkiness as well, and I doubt that early 1970’s ones are worth much. So many decisions…

Regarding the rat rod approach, a search for fiberglass hot rod truck cabs shows that to get one in-hand, with doors, would be on the order of $8K, which is pretty high for what it is. Starting with an old car shell could be a lot less, but then there’s the inevitable rust and rot to deal with, and maybe impossible-to-find body parts.

This certainly isn’t Midlana related, but as long as nothing’s been purchased, and the path forward remains nebulous, I don’t see it as direct competition yet. I have decided that if this happens though, that it’s time to move into this century and do YouTube installments instead of a blog or book. Whether that’ll be better or worse depends upon one’s definition I guess.

10 March 2020

Thoughts on home repairs continue, with future car projects orbiting in the background. The good thing about this stage of such car projects is that they cost nothing, mistakes don’t matter, and all sorts of different approaches can be tried in one’s imagination without concern.

I asked for input on another car forum about what to put on the Corvette drivetrain, and they’re as out there as I am, ranging from Corvairs, El Caminos, vans, early mini vans, trucks, rat rods, used NASCAR chassis, Teslas, and even a Pontiac Aztek (lime green of course to match the one in Breaking Bad). Anything more recent though from 1975 is an automatic disqualification.

I keep going around between a rat rod truck to a van-ish sort of thing, because I want storage for stuff ( track tires, jack, cooler, chair, etc) during trips so I don’t have to trailer the car. So there’s that, and wanting working doors, rain seals, air, and heat. There are a fair number of fiberglass hot rod shells available, but by the time doors and glass are added, they’re up around $8K shipped just for the truck cab. Moneywise, it seems to make more sense to start with a mid-1960’s truck, and then I’m right back to something like what that guy bought to the Del Mar hot rod show, a “farm truck” on a corvette chassis.

I guess it’s pretty obvious that I’m not trying to be unique, but instead want something usable, something that makes me smile to look at (I appreciate sleepers) and is fun to drive. The only downside with the truck approach is that after a lot of work, it could end up weighing as much as a complete Corvette, but with twice the aero drag. Can’t have that. There are complete fiberglass truck bodies, but they’re set up for drag racing and have non-working doors. They certainly are not trivial to add, what with weather stripping, rain channels, glass guides, etc, but who knows.

Oh, regarding using a Corvair donor, a number of people have put V8s in them mid-engine, ahead of a transaxle. That’s fine for them because they can apparently afford the $12-18K for a proper transaxle that won’t break. Also, these builders claim that their cars have a 50/50 weight distribution. I can’t see how that is because a Corvette, with its front engine and rear transmission, is also 50/50, so someone’s incorrect. I still want to stick with pretty much a dead-stock Corvette driveline (engine, tranny, suspension, and brakes.

BTW, I read that late model Corvettes use the latest generation of LT1 engine, which is direct injection. You know what DI engines work really well with, right? Turbochargers, but there I go again 🙂