28 Sept 2019

 What a difference a week makes. Had the hill climb been this weekend, it would likely have been cut short on Saturday, and be a lot less enjoyable for us open-top cars. Anyway, here’s a video (taken by someone else) at the start of the parade lap up the hill and through town, showing the wide variety of cars that showed up.

Not car related, but more puzzlement  about human nature, it was something we saw on Virginia City’s main street. It was a guy sitting at a folding table next to the sidewalk. A sign on the table said “Book Signing”, and in front of that was the title of his book, “Navigating Life’s Challenges Through Poetry.” I didn’t know what to think and still don’t. On the one hand, he may well have poured his heart into his work, so he deserves credit for that. To not only expect customers, however, but also ones wanting a signature, in Virginia City, in the off season, just left me wondering what he expected. During the hour lunch when we were nearby, not one person approached his table, and I kind of felt sorry for him, because he apparently expected some business. On the other hand, it seems like a terrible place to expect a line of eager customers (though I admit that I don’t know what venue would be better… a renaissance fair maybe, a book fair?)

I hope he does well, but at some point, hope isn’t enough to make things happen, you have to be aware of how your product fits with its audience. Given where he was, I think maybe mining or train books might sell, and I certainly wouldn’t expect to sell any Kimini or Midlana books that way. It’s all about picking your battles. People make a day trip of Virginia City to learn about its history, maybe buy a T-shirt and grab lunch, but that’s about it. Of course, maybe the joke’s on me. Maybe someday I’ll see signed first edition copies of his book going for $500,000. You just never know.

27 Sept 2019

Alright, here’s the promised video: Midlana at the 2019 Virginia City Hill Climb.

To be honest, after learning my time and watching the raw video, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to post it. That’s because the video looks, well, slow. If you could have been there in the car, you might have thought different—I did. Learning that I was a good 20 seconds behind my brother was instructive because of how similar our cars are, in terms of weight, power, and even top speed. We were within a couple miles per hour of each other in the fastest section (130s), yet his time was much faster overall. The evidence was on the tires, where his showed the characteristic “beach marks” that indicate that they’re up to temperature and being worked. Mine have some of that, but not as much (ignore the spotted appearance, I had to drive through some oil soak-up granules right before parking).

Another aspect of the tire wear is that it appears that camber should be backed off at both ends, about half at the front, and 25% at the rear. (It’s good to see that camber can be adjusted to too much. The reason is that while it’s easy to dial it out, it’s downright impossible to add more if it’s already at the limit!)

The bottom line is that I’m not comfortable running the car near its limit because I still don’t know how it’ll react (partly the consequence of always changing things). The best place to sort this is on a skid pad, and about the only one around here is at Willow Springs. The thing is, they either don’t use it as such (it’s part of the course, so they just run straight through it), or when they do, they put a really small diameter circle on it, like around 30-40 mph. No, no, no… I want something that I can pitch the car sideways at 60-80 and see what happens. If the back comes out, see if I can hold it there (think Top Gear’s grandiose power slides). It’s also a safe place to try things like lifting off the gas mid-corner to see what happens. That way, when such things do happen outside that environment, they’ll be dealt with the right way.

Anyway, after watching the video a number of times, I see many places where a second or so could be saved, and that adds up. We’ll see.

One note on YouTube: If you use Microsoft Internet Explorer, you’re giving up resolution choices. Using IE, the highest available is 720P, but 1080P is available when using Google Chrome.

25 Sept 2019


My brother, having attended twice before, suggested getting to the bottom of the hill early so that we could park under nearly the only tree near the road; this proved to be a good idea. At 6000 feet, the sun is intense even in September, yet move two feet into the shade, and you might be cold. When wearing a racing suit, however, being cool is better than warm. Coincidently, Midlana’s intercooler intake tract served well to keep rain, hail, and the sun off my head. Anyway, we scored the shady tree, then got in line.

Below is a mix of just a few of the cars; only after the event did I realize I only took phone videos of the line of cars rather than stills. Given that there were roughly 60 cars, I missed showing quite a few. Being new to the event, I got a ride in an old Ford Falcon with a warmed over engine, and the ride was pretty entertaining, though its intent was to show the line and where the corner workers were located. The last two picture show the condition of Midlana’s tires after the day was done. It shows that they were both only starting to work, and both have a bit too much camber. That’s easy to fix and will enhance braking as well.

Next I’ll get to work on the video that I’m sure you want to see instead of my blathering…

24 Sept 2019

The Virginia City Hill Climb: we came, we saw, we experienced:

  • Horses, dirtbikers, and people crossing the course
  • Cars dumping oil or coolant
  • A car spun and and sideswiped the rocky wall
  • Cars breaking down
  • A car trying to avoid a rabbit, hits it anyway, sideswiping a rock.
  • A resident shooting at squirrels
  • Combinations of the above causing delays
  • Running out of food at the banquet dinner

—And we still had a great time—but I’m getting ahead of myself.

On the drive up, we fulfilled a childhood dream of mine. One of my favorite movies is “The Great Race”, starring Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis, filmed in 1965. In one scene, their characters meet at a rock formation in the middle of the desert. I always wondered where that was, and tried on and off over the years to figure out where it had been filmed. Only recently did the Interweb provide the location, so on the way up. we made a detour several miles west of Lone Pine, and there it was. It was really cool to find, and the irony isn’t lost on me that in the scene, the main character’s car is being towed by his trusty steed, as was mine. In some ways, getting this shot was just as big a deal for me as the hill climb itself.

We arrived Wednesday before the weekend’s events. On Thursday, we drove our cars from Virginia City up to Lake Tahoe. Rain threatened, but was supposed to happen later in the day. Driving up was uneventful, though driving through South Lake Tahoe wasn’t much fun due to typical city traffic and construction delays. The thought of “I could experience this back home without towing the car 525 miles” crossed my mind. Once clear of the town, we continued clockwise around the lake. Along the west side of the lake is State Route 89, and there’s a section between Cascade Lake and Emerald Bay unlike any road we had experienced. Consider a narrow-topped mountain ridge that road engineers wanted to run a road along. Well, “along” doesn’t do it justice, because they ran it right along the top edge. Rather than describing further, paste the following lat/long coordinates into Google Earth: 38 56 56.06 N 120 05 30.97 W, then go to Street View. The drop-offs on both sides are pretty dramatic. I managed only one shot of Midlana at Tahoe with the lake in the distance.

Our intended path to the north became blocked by weather (which changes minute to minute in the mountains) as the scheduled rain showed up early, so we turned back. Since the weather prevails from West to East, as we drove back around through South Lake Tahoe, the rain was moving across the north shore toward our escape route out of the mountains. As we drove up toward the ridge, the temperature dropped into the single digits (deg C) but never to zero. That’s good because the roads didn’t become icy, though we did catch some of the rain. Midlana, with no fenders, kicked up huge rooster tails of spray, which was great entertainment for me, not so much for other cars, which fortunately were few and far between. Also fortunate was that I didn’t pass any cops (who may have noticed my lack of wipers and fenders). Then, hail! As it hit, it broke up, with little bits flying everywhere (I thought it was snow at first) but fortunately it was small diameter. [No pictures because the driving was a little dicey, never mind the risk of using a cellphone while moving.] As we dropped down the East side of the mountains, the rain cleared up and by the time we got back to Virginia City, it had completely evaporated.

That evening, we explored Virginia city, a place that at one time, had more than four times the population of Los Angeles (35,000 versus 8000). All the mines have since closed down and the city now survives on tourism, with events such as ostrich races, long distance horse competitions, outhouse races(!), and of course the hill climb. Other events go on as well, as attested by these characters seen on the sidewalk one evening in the first picture. The second picture is from a bar where bras seemingly become detached and misplaced. I can’t help but wonder how many women wake up the next morning wondering, “now where’d I leave that?”

Wild horses and deer wander freely wander around town, with droppings appearing overnight even on main street. This horse was wandering around our cars when we came out of the motel one morning. This didn’t help my concern about them wandering across the course around blind turns, or there being blind areas where corner workers might not see them.

Virginia City is at an altitude of 6200 feet. This cuts the horsepower of normally aspirated engines by about 15-20%, depending upon air temperature. Turbocharged cars compensate for the thinner air in two or three ways: because there is less air to slow down the compressor wheel, it spins faster, pulling in more air; the exhaust, with less air pressure outside the car resisting it, allows the turbine to spin faster. Both factors naturally compensate to some degree, and the third is that most ECUs use closed-loop boost control, meaning that it closes the wastegate until boost is at the programmed set point. All three factors combine to give turbos an advantage at altitude; whether that makes the car win is up to the driver…

Friday was tech inspection, with the inspector finding what I already knew: two slightly loose rod ends on the upper front A-arms. It wasn’t a big deal because there was only slight play, but it bugs me because they’re not the cheap units. Apparently these two have more force on them, so they’ll be upgraded with the best parts.

Saturday practice:

Saturday started with the “Sermon on the Mount”, where the organizers sternly reminded everyone that this isn’t a competition, or even the clock; it’s simply a way to drive fast up a windy road without having to worry about police or traffic. Additionally, no times are provided to entrants until the entire event is over, which keeps people from overreaching their own abilities. I was still fixated on finding a horse standing in the roadway around a blind turn, and wondered how everyone else seemed unconcerned.

Finally we lined up and got started. The first thing that became apparent is that the sportcams that everyone uses to make YouTube videos have wide angle lenses that makes everything look further away (as well as making it look like they’re going faster). In reality, the turns aren’t as far away as they appear. The second thing that became apparent is that once I was driving, concerns about horses or anything else faded away, and only The Next Turn mattered. At the end of the day I felt more comfortable with the course, and purposely didn’t run a stopwatch for the same reasons as above; I didn’t want to overreach based upon a time.

That’s enough for now; there is a lot more to talk about and many more pictures and video, so keep an eye on this blog over the next week or so. I will say that this year, the all-time record finally fell, to a car on street-legal tires no less (unlike the former record time that was accomplished on illegal race slicks).

16 Sept 2019

This weekend is the Virginia City Hill Climb and me and my brother are about set. My brother’s car had a bit of a hiccup, with a new noise coming from the differential. Turned out that some of the ring gear teeth were cracked, and he was told that’s because this model diff is good to ~350hp, and he’s running 450whp through it. That’s a bit surprising given that the straight axle assembly weighs 150 lbs. Anyway, it’s fixed now, though he’s a bit concerned though about how long it’ll last. I urged him to take it easy, not stressing the gears, and to baby it up the hill, hah.

At the same time, he also had his old torque-sensing gear differential swapped back in, replacing the clutch type. I asked why, given that the general consensus is that clutch differentials consistently yield faster lap times. He said that at a track day event, he lifted a tire under braking—once—and smoked the differential clutches on that side and ruining it, so he’s done with that type.

Speaking of differentials, it reminds me of the many changes that have been made to Midlana since her last track outing: higher compression, better cam, larger turbo, overhead intercooler and ducting, retuned, different transmission gear ratios, different type differential, stickier tires, diffuser, different shock settings and spring rates! A good reason to do a lot of practice runs and take it easy learning what’s effectively a different car.

The weather this weekend looks promising, with temperatures expected to be in the low to mid-70s. Cool enough that we won’t overheat, and warm enough that the tires will probably get up to temperature.

The cars will be towed up Wednesday (a 9-hr tow, ugh), then driven up to Lake Tahoe on Thursday for some sightseeing and picture taking. Friday is more local sightseeing, which is a kind of a big deal around Virginia City, because this is where the Comstock Lode was discovered, the largest silver mining area in the world, at one time at least. Mark Twain ran a newspaper in Virginia City for a few years (with Wikipedia saying that he was challenged to no less than four duals during that time). Friday evening is tech inspection; Saturday is practice, and all of Sunday’s runs are times, with your best being “the one.”

I’m taking both the Sony and GoPro action cams and hope (with a glare toward the GoPro) to get some good video to work with. Editing it down will take a while, but I’ll be posting pictures as they’re taken through my Instagram feed (Midlana1). Don’t expect any updates here until next Monday or Tuesday night.

In other news, the wife said that there’s a big branch from one of our pine trees hanging over (and on) the neighbor’s fence, and she wanted to spend ~$1000 paying someone to trim it. Since she sleeps in, I went out early “unmolested” and cut up the offending branch (and yes, the voice in the head did point out that I may be getting too old to be climbing trees—I paid no attention). Granted, I didn’t trim the entire tree, but I choose to look at it as having just “paid” for a good portion of my upcoming trip. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

4 Sept 2019

Finishing up in the appearance department, the intercooler was painted and now the car looks a lot more finished. While still motivated, the right side panel was also opened up; it remains to be seen what its effect on cooling is.

In other news, the replacement cross feed screw for the lathe arrived. Disassembly of the existing cross slide screw showed the expected signs of a hard life; the middle portion is much more worn than the ends. The current thinking is to machine down the replacement screw and press/pin it to the front portion of the existing assembly. That seems easier than trying to machine the entire thing, though I might change my mind later. The bronze split nuts are also heavily worn and can be rocked back and forth on even the new shaft. I’ve never purchased bronze before and was surprised that a 1.5 x 1.5 x 6″ piece is $60 (from McMaster).

The good news is that I have a buddy who has this same model lathe will be making the same repairs. He already has the oddball 7/8-8 LH tap, necessary for making new nuts, and I can probably sell him half the section of bronze. Anyway, that, the electronic lead screw, and wooden gear clock will get more attention after the hillclimb.

2 September 2019

Actual Midlana content!

With the hillclimb coming up, there’s a few chores to take care of, with finally fabricating a replacement engine cover being the first. Longtime readers will recall that repositioning the intercooler to the top of the engine compartment meant that the previous nice clean engine cover no longer fit; believe me, I tried. The new cover is two-piece to surround the intercooler core, and to be removable. As mentioned before, the engine cover buys time by keeping flames out of the passenger compartment in the event of an engine bay fire.

I forgot that months (years?) ago, I’d starting taping paper templates to the back of the old engine cover to figure out sizing and where to separate the two, so starting with them saved some time. Anyway, it took me back me back in time to making the various aluminum panels on Midlana, which included relearning various fabrication tips, like “make sure to apply pressure to the riveter away from the panel so that when the rivet stem snaps, the tool doesn’t leave a scratch.” Oops. The pictures pretty much step through the details.

I again want to mention how great yellow iridite (also known as “Bonderite” or “Alodine”) is on aluminum, as it’s an excellent way to prep for paint. The two part solution degreases, etches, and protects the metal (with no treatment, aluminum feels oily). Paint sticks way better with it, and best of all, it’s all done at room temperature and applied via either dipping or brushing the parts, then rinsed off with ordinary water.

The riveted-on green vent panel was removed from the old engine cover and reused. There is some concern that engine compartment cooling may be limited by now having both upper and lower covers. Also unclear is whether the right-hand side vent should be opened up. The left side was always open, originally for the side-mounted intercooler. The right vent was to feed air to an oil cooler, but was never implemented (the engine uses an oil-to-coolant heat exchanger instead). Anyway, easy enough to try it.

I chose to go with ordinary flat black paint instead of the metallic green, mostly because I’m lazy, and also because the dark green is so close to black that the two colors won’t jump out as an obvious mismatch. Still on the to-do list is painting the intercooler end tanks and side plates.

The weather this year is been surprisingly mild; we’ve only run the A/C a few times, so with it being September, there was some talk that SoCal might avoid the usual heat. Hah. The wise old farmer’s advice about, “the first week of September is always the hottest” has proven astonishingly accurate again. Right to the day, hot humid weather moved in and chased me out of the garage a bit early. Sweating is okay up to a point, but when I keep drinking liquids with no need to run to the house, that’s enough for the day.

In other news, parts for the electronic lead screw are showing up, but nothing much to show until more parts are here. Oh, and in other news, 7/8-8 left-hand Acme thread (a very odd thread!) was ordered to replace the worn cross feed screw in the lathe. Though the old lead screw hasn’t be removed yet, it’s clear that it’s worn because when backlash is set to “reasonable” in the middle of its travel, it binds up towards both ends. Backlash is a very subjective thing; some people are fine with a fair bit, and some are not. I’m somewhere in the middle.