Oct 18 2020

There is another!

Builder Chris of Worcestershire UK has completed the first Midlana besides my own, with just IVA testing being the last hurdle before having it fully road-legal. I asked Chris to provide some information about himself, his previous car knowledge, and his Alfa Romeo V6-powered Midlana build:

“I intended Midlana to be a retirement project, although I did do a few small jobs before retiring like sourcing a couple of donor vehicles and preparing the donor parts.”

Chris was a broadcast engineer for most of his working life, and has always been interested in cars as a lad, “doing a bit of backstreet apprenticeship with a neighbor.”

Chris’s previous car experience: “Started messing with production cars, mostly Fiats and Lancias, first kit car was a very poor quality Cobra copy and almost at the same time, a Westfield for my partner Vickie, who  wanted something nippy and easy to park. The Cobra was pretty enough but the chassis and suspension was fundamentally flawed and I got rid of it as soon as I could. Next non-production car was a Marcos Mantula Spyder, which was bought used. It was a bit tired, so I did a few mods/improvements to it then decided it needed a bit more work so stripped it down completely, removed the live rear axle and replaced it with a cut-down Jaguar IRS setup and re-designed the front suspension to cure criminally bad bump steer.

Next was the Lancia Stratos replica. This was a basket case of very much-abused 4th-hand bits. Most of the chassis (previous owner had cut the roof structure off for some reason), no suspension parts, some of the body moldings plus a huge pile of assorted junk – almost a garage clearance. Took me a while, but I got there in the end and some people whose opinion I value (and who know of what they speak) said it was a nice car.”

Build time for Midlana: About 40 months. “During the build, I’d say I spent about 20 hours a week during the milder months. Very little time over the winter and until I fitted air conditioning to the shed, not in summer either! I’ve no clue as to how many hours I have spent actually building – lots.”

“I really enjoyed most of the build process. I was introduced to being independent with my last project, it being in such a poor state when I got it, and the company that made the kit was just in the process of folding up so I was very lucky to grab a few vital parts before they went for good. I’d have been really stuck if I’d not been able to get the missing body parts I think. The rest, not so bad. The modifications I did to the Marcos were also good practice for Midlana.”

“The part I found least enjoyable was the panel work – not something I’ve really had to do before and due to lack of space, at times it was pretty tedious but it’s generally come out OK and I’ve begun to learn some new skills, or at least the basics of them.”

Overall comments: “Without the Midlana book, I never would have contemplated a build like this. Of course I’ve been aware of the ‘Locost’/DIY build field but it was never something I’d have ventured into. A complete scratch build of my own design never appealed for a range of reasons, not least being it looked like far too much work!  Given your previous build and that Midlana just appealed to me visually at first, then ‘mechanically’ as I learned more about it, I found myself entertaining the idea. I’m honestly not sure how I’d feel about building a kit now. I might find it a bit dull!”

Congratulations Chris! You can find his complete build diary here.

27 Sept 2020

Our parent’s house sold, so the weekends have opened back up somewhat. I say “somewhat” because there are always honey-dos, but that still leaves some me-time, so Midlana was taken out for the first time in about six months(!) Everything was fine, until the engine was found to rev limit right at 4,000 rpm, so it was very likely happening by design… (always be suspicious of round numbers). Glancing at the sensor values showed that lambda (air-fuel ratio) was reading “1.oo” (another suspicious round number), which is fine, except that it wasn’t changing. I expected to find that I’d forgotten to reinstall the sensor. I panicked for a second when the sensor was found installed, but then discovered that I’d committed a cardinal sin: installing the sensor but failed to latch the connector. No harm done, but it’s a reminder to not make that a habit!

In other news, Tesla just came out with their  Plaid Model S (no kidding). What’s notable about this $140,000 sedan that can carry 4-5 adults is that it has around 1,100 hp. But what’s probably a historic milestone is that you can expect to be barred from many drag strips because it doesn’t have a cage or parachute, items required for 8-second cars, which is what Tesla claims it can achieve.

Drivetrain technology aside, I’m not sure that people spending $140K want something that looks the same as the 10-yr old $60K version. And even more importantly, as impressive as its 1:30 Laguna Seca lap time is, it weighs 4,500 lbs! That’s seriously heavy for a “sports car” of any sort, and all that weight/energy has to be dealt with via the brakes and tires. The brake solution is straightforward: go huge. For the tires though, they’re going to be a very high wear item if anyone takes it to a track day event. That said, tire expense seems to be ignored these days, and I guess if you can afford a $140,000 car, tire cost isn’t a thing. In any case, it seems like we’re very near the point where electric sports cars take over as far as performance goes; all it takes now are lighter batteries to seal the deal. Notice that battery range wasn’t mentioned. The above car has a 500 mile range, so limited range is no longer a reason not to buy one (cost aside of course).

14 Sept 2020

I was looking through the archives and was surprised to see that 10 years ago, Midlana was already complete enough that it was first tuned at the dyno shop. In other news, my brother was set to do the Virginia City Hillclimb again this year but it got cancelled, so he decided instead to get married, hah.

We finally finished cleaning out our parent’s house and it’s now up for sale, so maybe I get back some of my weekend, which has me thinking about what project to do next, but I’m sort of going in circles. As was written earlier, the idea was putting a fiberglass 1930’s coupe body on a late model Corvette. That thinking is confronted with several issues: it’s not anything new or unusual (but, do I care?); I don’t have enough space due to the sheer volume of the parts; I currently want to keep Midlana, which is occupying the build space; because Midlana is being kept, its value isn’t available to fund the next project.

Then there’s wondering whether I should consider going electric, but that means sinking $$$$ (or even $$$$$) into just the drivetrain. There’s a ton of old Priuses (“Pre-eye”?) out there, potentially cheap donors for a play car. The thing is that I don’t want to deal with hybrids due to them having two systems instead of just one—I’d either stay gas or go all-electric. Once it’s finished, it’s essentially a rebodied Prius/Volt/Bolt/Tesla, which, okay, I guess. And then there’s not knowing how much weight can be stripped out of such a thing,  A Tesla Model 3 is around 4,000 lbs, so giving it the light shell and tube frame treatment might bring it down to what, 2,500-3,000 lbs? But then it’s essentially an electric Midlana. Since I already have Midlana, I don’t feel very motivated to convert it over because the driveline (motor and battery pack) needs to be designed around from the start. It would be a lot easier for a new Midlana builder to put such a driveline on his build table and go from there. Anyway, for me, I’d like something with more creature comforts, hence me going round in circles, hah.