Monday, May 29, 2017

The Polish Eagle Racing Team & the Fiat 128ski will be at Lime Rock, but, I'm waiting for parts...

I received an official acceptance letter from the Lime Rock Historics and my entry is confirmed. So baring any unforeseen circumstances, the Fiat 128ski will make it's debut at Lime Rock in September.

Left front
However, progress has been slow the last few weeks. I did manage to check off a number of things, like machining the new swing arm pins and rebuilding the Girling brakes.
The company who was plating the suspension, made everything bright chrome, not satin chrome as they had said they would. When asked how this could be rectified, he said he could nickle plate it, brush it  then lacquer it so it wouldn't tarnish. I told him no, this is for corrosion protection and I need satin or matte chrome, I don't want lacquer chipping off and the nickle tarnishing. A few days later, he showed me a sample of a brushed finish in his dimly lit office and I said OK. Once I got the pieces home, and next to the original parts that have been waiting for shocks, in order to get plated, I realized he did what I asked him not to do. He nickle plated them and added a lacquer. By the time I discovered this, pieces had already been assembled. In order to correct this, all the pieces would need to be stripped and replated and I can't wait another 3 weeks for this to get done.
Right rear
When I got the dampeners back I had asked the shop not to assemble them into the strut housings, as I had to plate them. But they did anyway, so I needed to take them apart. I wanted to bring the struts right to the plating shop, however my custom spanner wrench was at home. "Well, I guess tomorrow will be OK."  Turns out, the home made spanner is inadequate to remove the glam nuts. So I ordered a proper spanner wrench and now I'm delayed two days in getting the last of my suppression parts to the plater.
Once I did get them apart,  I picked up the strut tubes to put them in a box, and a spacer fell out of the strut. Did these guys cut the shocks down? I thought I told them to nix that idea and leave them the original length? Turns out, the new dampener seals are 1.125" shorter than the originals.  I had wanted to shorten the housings in the beginning by 1.250" and decided against it. So, instead of calling me, and letting me know they shortened my shocks, by nearly the amount I had originally asked for, they just made spacers and screwed them together.
Since I really don't need, or want spacers below the dampeners, I need to shorten the strut tubes. Using my cold saw, I cut out most of the spacers my dad had welded in when the dampeners originally came from Koni, too long, and TIG welded the strut tubes back together. This will give me more space for shock travel and I may at some point change the top mountings and return them to my dad's original design. But I really need to get it together and test things before I run out of time.
After I cut and re-welded the housings I ran them over to the plater Thursday last.
The plater says, next week, so I gave him the whole week. Friday afternoon I go in, he says they will be done by 3:30-4. OK. I come back at 4:30 and...."Oh, my machine guys left early..." BULL SHIT! Not only has this guy not done the work he promised, but he has been late every time I go to pick up. I had planned on using this 3 day weekend to do final assembly on the suspension.

Most race organizing bodies require, or Strongly recommend, some type of HANS device for restraining your head in case of an impact. My mother has been friends with one of the co-inventors of this life saving device, and I got a surprise phone call from Jim Downing, asking how big my neck was.  I figured out pretty quickly my mom was behind this and Jim assured me "It is a gift from your mother". I have to thank Jim as well, since I'm pretty sure he sent this to me at no charge to my mom.
I did ask him to sign it, normally I don't ask for autographs at least not since I was a kid. Especially in my work, it's considered bad form to ask movie professionals for their autograph, but, how often to you get such a device, right from the inventor.  I tested it in the car and I think I'll need to loose the original head pad my dad had made for the car. I will consider a new one of the same design, but much thinner.

New fuel cell arrived from ATL. I had planned to keep the cell exactly as it was originally, since this was a very early ATL fuel cell, from 1973, only 3 years from when the company was founded. But, the stock modern cell was about $480 and they quoted me $1600 for a custom one to match the original.
So, the 128ski get s a modern "Saver-Cell". The cell is 3/4" taller, but a tube spacer was all that was needed and it dropped into the original metal box.

Hopefully I can get the last of my suspension parts this coming week and finally get the wheels on. I ordered tires from Tirerack, because they offer a heat cycling service. Racing tires need to be heat cycled in order to get the most life out of them. This would normally require the tires to be mounted on the car, the car driven a few, slow warm up laps, then a quick lap to get the tire up to full temp. Then the wheels should be taken off to let the tires "cure" for 24 hours before you use them. Well this would totally wreck my first test day, so the heat cycling means I can use the tires right away. These should be here next week so if all goes well, I may have the car on it wheels by next weekend.

I did source a spare, stock 128 transmission, as the racing gears won't be done for some time. This will allow me to test the car and I should be able to run it in this configuration if the racing gears are delayed beyond my Lime Rock event. For this temporary solution, I need a stock pressure plate, since the racing flywheel is getting plasma sprayed and also won't be back for a couple of weeks. If I'm lucky, I can assemble the gearbox and engine and put that in as well this weekend. Then all that is left is the intake manifold repair.
I was going to leave it till the car was fired up, but since I am running out of things I can work on till other parts arrive, I installed the original Fiat Emblem in the hood. It's supposed to be chrome, but so was the suspensions, plus, the car and I are both heading for our golden years.....

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 not 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!