Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"Bob's your Uncle" & The new white 128ski.

Well, I have officially passed the Bob Bondurant's Forza Motorsport Grand Prix Road Racing Class.

Over the 4 days; I didn't wreck any of the cars. Got the tail out a little in both the Viper and the Formula Mazda and the "skid cars" are more fun then any mere mortal deserves!
I was a bit worried about fitting in the cars. The first day, we didn't need helmets in the Vipers and although they were going to reserve the "lowered seat" Viper for me, there was another fellow who was using it. I had the regular seat version and it's a good thing I didn't need my helmet, because I would have had to drive with my head tilted. The next day, I did get the lowered seat car, and with my helmet, I just fit. The problem was, the seat didn't move and my instructor could drive the car. So Mike McGovern, the chief instructor drove and coached me (as I sat in the passenger seat, with my head tilted)
On Day four, we where introduced to the Formula Mazda. This was a big worry for me. Could I fit in this small formula car. It was a little snug, but I did managed to shoe horn myself in by tucking my shoulders behind the side roll bar supports. I wish my Mom's significant other, Damon Barnett was still with us, as he was Mazda's first competition director. He would have gotten a kick out of me driving the Mazda race car. (Damon died in 2011)
In the formula Mazda, I did a 108.3 lap. Now a 1 minute flat is a winning lap, and 8 seconds is a huge difference, but it was my first day in the car and I have at least 100 lbs on the driver who turned that lap. (At a race on the same track, not in our class) So, although I could see where I needed to go faster and how I have to improve my sight, I feel I did OK.  I highly recommend the course for anyone interested in better driving skills.

I put my "diploma" on the wall of the shop, next to some old drivers I knew.

When I got back from Phoenix, the Fiat 128ski had been color sanded and could ride home in it's new enclosed trailer. (eBay find in Phoenix). My wife (a graphic designer for Walt Disney Imagineering) is restoring the "Polish Eagle Racing" logo my oldest brother designed and silk screened for the car back in the day. In addition to using it on the car, the plan is to apply it to the new trailer.
Once home, I couldn't wait to start putting pieces back on the car. So Saturday and Sunday was about 12 hours each, of boltin it back together! Lots still to do, but it is so nice to see it clean and new looking. It's been nearly 40 years since I saw it like this. I modified the peddles to better suit my size 12 feet and went to put in the safety belts, when I realized they where not correct. I called Summit Racing and they where more than helpful in finding what I needed, processing the new order and making the return super easy.

Put in the brake lines, fuel lines and the fire suppression system. Also started reassembling the Girling calipers. Installed the new Plexi side and rear windows as well as the retaining straps. The windshield should be arriving soon, the gearbox replacement gear and lower final drive will be here in a couple of months, so I'm sourcing a stock 128 box as a stand-in for testing. I was told the suspension was ready, but they bright chromed it, instead of matte chrome, so maybe later this week that will be remedied. So far, I have only had to replace a small number of parts, so the car is going to be very original. I even managed to save the original rubber trunk hold downs.
Now I have to figure out which oil line goes where. My brother took the car apart and put tags on the parts, but it's been so many years, most of the writing has disappeared. The dry sump has 5 ports and I'm not clear on what does what. Time to find out, since poor oil pressure is NOT what you want in a race car, specially when it revs to 10,000 RPM!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Fiat 128ski - Really, even that I can't find?!

So, as I worked on the "refreshing the engine, things where going pretty well.
 The body is being painted and Enrique, the painter, is invested in the project, and seems like a true "Craftsman" who wants to do his best. So even though I worked on the body, to a level I thought was acceptable, he worked over it some more. Now, all that is needed is to color sand it, and it comes home to be assembled! So back to prepping parts for assembly.

The original MiniLite wheels got stripped, and we found a Burgundy that matches the original wheel color. So they where powder coated in this, then I set them in my lathe and cleaned off the rim, then they would get cleared, giving them a shiny aluminum rim against the burgundy center.
Turns out my powder coat guy had not a clue. He didn't preheat the rim to off-gas them, so they bubbled. Then tried to BS me about not being able to clear coat them because there where finger prints on the burgundy centers. Had no clue of chemistry or how to clean the surface, then the clear came out blistered. I finally said, just give them to me, and I'll fix them.

Girling AR 1 Brake Calipers: These little buggers are expensive now. At least all 4 of mine seem in serviceable shape, and after some cleaning and disassembly, they seem fine. Master cylinders were not so lucky. I had purchased new rebuild kits for them, but upon disassembly, they where very corroded. I think they where in a bucket that got filled with water....oops.
Well, that was easy, Pegasus Motorsports has brand new, original Girling master cylinders.  Well, you can always use the rebuild kits at some point,...right?

Thought it wise to buy new fuel pumps. The old Bendix ones could be OK, but while at the track, I'd hate find out I was wrong. Bendix must have sold the design to Facet, because it's nearly the identical pump. But, I figured, they should at least look like the Bendix ones. So, a little time on Corel- Draw, and I made new Bendix labels. Strip off the Fact label, add a little blue paint t the top of the pump, and Bam, Bendix fuel pumps.

I needed to clean the transmission, and thought, maybe I should pull off the end cover and look at the end of the gear shafts..... Well everything seemed fine, but then I saw a small chip of metal, hmmm? Turns out, it was magnetic, that's not as good as it could be. I then took off the back half of the case. Things looked clean, well, no, there are some "chunks" out of the inside of the casing!
Oh!, here is the problem, second gear is missing a tooth, well crap. After a bit of looking around, I found the missing tooth on one of the internal magnets and it seems it only damaged the case and the ring gear bolts. Well, now I have to find out if Colotti has a new gear. (After 40 years, Not likely, right)
Marco Colotti got back to me, "Not our work". Well dam, That was not the answer I expected, who made this set of gears? After hours of searching over the next few days, and many emails, nothing.
I talked with Midwest / Bayless and Matt chuckles a little at some of my questions or things I suggest I may be able to do. This is not encouraging. But Hey, I'm a lucky guy.

Finally, I figure, the only way is to have the broken gear copied. I get a tip from Grassroots Motorsports forum, about a gear maker in Canada and he quickly sends me a quote. Quite reasonable, but I still need a final drive and the one I have does not look like a stock Fiat drive. Based on the cost of one simple gear, I'm hesitant to ask what making a new Pinion shaft and crown gear is going to be.
Then, One morning, I'm sending emails in a last attempt to find who made my dog box (straight cut gears) and, Marco Colotti sends me an email; "Sorry, after searching our records, this is our work, it is our T.127, 4 speed."
Fantastic news. After a couple more emails, He confirms, they can make a new gear, and can make a new lower final drive.

OK, I need to do some simple less stressful work on the car. I know, I'll clean the stainless trim pieces for the exterior. When my brother was originally going to have the car media blasted, he chose to tape over the trim, instead of removing it. Well, now, I have 12 year old masking tape "welded" to the trim pieces. Turns out, if you soak old, crusty, fossilized, paper masking tape in "Purple Power" cleaner for 2 days, it falls right off. ("Goo off" didn't do either, goo or off)

Hmm, what else can I prep? I know the wink mirror needs to be checked. There is a new one in the box, lets see if it needs anything. "Oh, no, this won't work." The old mirror is 31" long and the new one is 36". The mounting brackets are welded into the car. The freshly painted car..... Well, no problem, I'll search the internet and find the correct one.

Turns out, there are none like this. I couldn't even find a picture of one like this! First, they all are different lengths and have square ends, so each of the five mirrors are the same. Mine is 31" long, and the two end mirrors are tapered. But, after looking at the way it was made, the original mirror was 2 nested thermo-formed pieces of ABS plastic. I can do that.
So a few hours at my shop, I made an MDF wood pattern, put it on my thermo-form machine (Vacuum former) and made a new mirror. A few pieces of glass mirror later (Quite a few and some swearing) I had a new, exact copy of the original "Wink Mirror".

Now, next week, I travel to Phoenix and learn how to drive cars faster!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Fiat 128ski, getting to the heart of the matter.

Control arm pin.
With the body/ chassis at the paint shop, I have turned my attentions to the 1300 cc motor and Colotti gearbox. Again, the old man did lots of special things and every time I start to rebuild or if I need to replace something, I become aware of how custom everything on this car is. I first notice this on the suspension control arm. The tapered pin/ ball joint, isn't. It's a spherical aircraft bearing with a custom machined insert, with a tapered end. Well one of them is bent and needs to be replaced, so some time on my lathe, and I think I can fix that. (My brother told me he slid the car off track and we think this is how it became bent.)

The engine however is a different matter, my father had all of these advanced techniques used on the parts, techniques that I have no way of doing, and finding companies willing to take on this "tiny" passion project can sometimes be challenging. Like, the Titanium flywheel; It has the clutch contact surface flame sprayed with either Tungsten Carbide, or Titanium Carbide.
Carbide coating on titanium flywheel
 (Weight with ring gear, 7 lbs 5 oz.)
The people I talk to about redoing this, think I'm some enthusiast trying to make his street car "cool" and they act like I really don't know what I'm asking for. Or the suspension; it was hard chrome plated by an aerospace coatings shop in Connecticut. The hard chrome place here looked at me like I was crazy to ask them to do this to "car parts".
In my Google search for companies here in California who do tungsten carbide flame spray (also known as plasma spray), I came across a patent application to patent this idea of hard coating the flywheels wear area. It's from 1995, 20 years after this car was built. Like many of the things on this car, no one was doing these things in the 1970's.
In addition to getting the flywheel resurfaced, I'm hoping for some insight on why it cracked and chipped.

This was a clutch.
The clutch or whats left of it is a little more straight forward. I think it was a Tilton Formula Ford clutch and the fellow who did the original engine work, thinks he has one. If not, they are pretty standard fare.

The Colotti gear box seems OK. The only thing I know I need is a different final drive ratio. I saw a complete Colotti transmission for sale on eBay a few months ago and they wanted $4500 for it. I really didn't want to spend that much on something I wasn't sure I needed or was correct for the car. But then I looked up what a new one costs from Colotti, I think it was,$14,500. I probably should have found the money to buy it.

I have pulled all of the support bits off the motor, like the water pump, belt tensioners, oil pump, coolant system, and they all seem in great shape, other than some cleaning. There was a little electrolysis on the thermostat housing, and the aluminum was fairly pitted, but again, Midwest / Bayless comes to the rescue with a new unit at a reasonable price. The Fiat water pump was good to go, so I cleaned it and put it back on.

In 1976, Dad used a new product from Loctite, called "Gasket Eliminator". He had a Loctite salesman at his Aerospace shop, who dropped of a sample box, a small red plastic tackle box with samples of all the Loctite line of products. I think I still have some of the original sample bottles at my effects shop. To try and keep this "as built" I ordered some Loctite 515 and used that on the water pump & Cosworth oil pump.
The Cosworth sump pump looked like new inside and after taking it apart and cleaning it, I was putting it back on when I noticed a small crack in the "outlet" port. So, off it comes and I'll clean it and weld it up. These Cosworth pumps where used on many cars including Lotus and Formula Fords, which is where I think this one came from. It's a 5 port pump and I have been looking for a plumbing diagram of what all these ports where used for! Oh and "new" ones are $700 -$900, so I will be extra careful with my welding.

The distributor was made by Accel or MSD ignition products. Started in 1970 by some engineers working on projects at the White sands missile range, MSD, was the first to sell Multiple Spark Discharge systems. This unit, they custom made in 1976 for the Fiat, from an 8 cylinder dragster distributor, It's one of a kind. They are now owned by Holly, and the "Support tech" I talked to seemed completely disinterested in the history of this unit, in fact as I was explaining the history and uniqueness of the unit, I wondered if I had been disconnected, since he didn't comment. I asked if they had any way of testing the unit, and said they have no and they really only have a few things for their current line. Given that it was working fine when the car was last driven, I'm hoping, that like old telephones, the electronics are robust and it will work fine. But until I fire up the motor, I won't know for sure.
Original-foreground, Copy-background
Copies & Silicone mold

One other item I had to make, and it is something I am very familiar with, is making plasic parts. In this case, a replacement air vent for the "C" post. There are three vents on each side of the car that allow air to flow out of the cabin. These are not really needed on the race car, but where left in for there look. Well two of them where cracked due to age. So I made a RTV silicone mold and cast up replacements.
Oh, and my drivers suit and helmet came it. "Clothes make the man", so it will be nice the wear these in addition to my mechanics overalls.
Less Beer, more exerciser.