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Friday, March 31, 2006


Random thoughts about the vapor carburetor

One of my co-workers yesterday was talking about a show that ran on the Discovery Channel where they claimed that the oil industry and the Big Three automakers had conspired to cover up a 100 mpg carburetor in the '70s. I couldn't find any information on the show, but I presume this alleged miracle was a vapor carburetor - I've never heard of these claims being attached to any other version of a carb. While there are several debunkings of the vapor carburetor principle online, I thought I'd add a few other thoughts about what's so weird about this persistant claim.

1. The '70s saw huge gas lines and government fuel economy standards. Detroit tried to deal with this using all sorts of infamous measures like the Cadillac 8-6-4 system and feedback carburetors. If one of the companies broke with a conspiracy to conceal an ultra-high-mileage carb and suddenly rolled out a Dodge Aspen sized car that got 100 mpg without the drivability problems of other cars of the era, they'd be considered technical geniuses and would make money hand-over-fist. I don't think even the whole lot of the Arab sheiks could have afforded a large enough bribe compared to how much they'd make selling 100 mpg cars to a gas-starved nation.

2. These myths always seem to be attached to carburetors. Fuel injected cars get much better mileage and drivability, but I have never heard any claims that the oil industry is covering up a 100 mpg injector design.

3. There are already automotive fuels that are mixed as a vapor instead of a gas. If you've seen an indoor forklift, you've probably seen one example, a propane-powered engine. It's also possible to convert a gasoline engine to run on methane. None of these engines have shown huge improvements in fuel efficiency compared to gasoline.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Motorcycle classes

I've been seriously thinking about getting a motorcycle. It looks like fun, and if I rode one to work I wouldn't use so much gas. Sure, the Focus is no slouch at mileage, but bikes can get 60 or 70 mpg. Maybe, though, I have simply inherited a biker gene from my mother's side of the family. She had a motorcycle license at one point, and all her brothers were into bikes. My uncle Glen is even a motorcycle instructor and racer.

Anyway, in Georgia there are three ways to get a motorcycle license. One is to take a written test, get a temporary learner's permit, buy a bike, ride it for a while, then bring the bike to the Department of Driver Services and take a road test. The second option is to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Basic Rider Course (often called simply "the MSF" for short) at a state-run facility, and if you pass, they will give you a certificate that allows you to get a full license. The third option is to take an equivalent class from a private instructor.

I opted for the second choice. I didn't much like the thought of learning to ride without any instruction, and the local Harley dealer's class hours did not fit my schedule as well as the state class's. So last Monday I mailed in my application and the $250 fee to the DDS, looking to schedule a class in May. They left a message the very next day on my answering machine. I called them today and found that all the local May classes were taken. So I'm scheduled to take the MSF class on June 2-4.

After taking the class, I'm sure I will have a better idea if I want to follow through and get a bike. If so, I'll probably want to start off with something small and cheap, maybe a Ninja 250 or a vintage Honda CL360 Scrambler if I can find one in good shape. I've talked options for first bikes over with my uncle and the friendly folks at BeginnerBikers.org. Better to start on something less likely to misbehave. As one member of the now-defunct BeginnerBikes.com website said, "The trouble with supersport bikes is that they do exactly what you accidentally tell them to do."


The Focus's new tires

The Focus had a set of cheapo tires on it when I bought it. I can't even distinctly remember the brand name; I think it was Mastercraft. It certainly wasn't something that had any reputation in the performance world. I did a little searching and it seems Mastercraft is a division of Cooper Tire. Not only did the tires have a hard time getting any grip in an autocross, they were starting to lose their tread by now and make a lot of noise at around 60 mph. So it was clearly time for new tires.

I decided to replace them with a set of Kumho Ecsta ASX tires in the stock size. I built a Ford Probe for the Grassroots Motorsports $2004 Challenge, and it used Kumho Victoracer V700 tires. Still have the tires sitting around, even though the Probe is long gone. (Actually, it belongs to a neighbor down the street now.) Those tires had an unreal amount of grip, but I'm not sure I would want them on a daily driver. They had a lot of tire noise, and I suspect I'd have to replace them every other oil change. So I decided to try a slightly less extreme Kumho tire this time, and ordered a set of the ASX's from Tire Rack.

These tires do transmit a bit more feel and road noise than the old tires. The whine at 60 is gone, though, and they're not quite as harsh as the Victoracers. I haven't tried pushing them anywhere near their cornering limits, but I plan on autocrossing on them and will let you know how they perform when driven hard.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Give me a (hand) brake

They say that gearheads swear by their factory service manuals and at their Chilton's manuals. Unfortunately, I only had the latter when I was replacing the handbrake lever on my Focus.

This started a while ago when the button on the lever, for no apparent reason, sank into the handle and wouldn't pop out. A little searching around found that a leather-wrapped SVT brake lever from Ford Racing was less than what the dealer wanted for a standard plastic-handled lever. Curiously, while they said the SVT lever fits all models, the Ford dealer offered two different styles, one of which cost twice as much. It depended on whether the length of cable connected to it, whether it had a ball end or a T end. Here's a hint: If the cable that attaches to the lever isn't broken, don't buy the more expensive one. The cable is just bolted onto the lever and swaps between the two levers with absolutely no hassle whatsoever. As it turns out, my parking brake cable had the more expensive T-end and the SVT brake had the bal end. I just put the original cable onto the SVT handle.

At any rate, the Chilton's manual offers a considerable amount of questionable advice when swapping the parking brake handle out. Much of this relates to how they try to make one manual fit several years; the description of how to remove the trim at the rear of the center console was dead wrong. Luckily that wasn't too hard to figure out; the back cover just kind of pops up if you pull its divider towards the front of the car.

It also neglected to mention that the cable can easily come out entirely if you don't hold a little tension on it when you remove the lever. The directions claimed you could remove and replace the parking brake handle entirely from the inside, without ever needing to crawl under the car. If the cable remains attached to the rest of the system, yes, you can do it. However, if you let the cable get shoved backwards, it can easily pop off the bracket that it attaches to. Reattaching it requires supporting the car on jackstands, crawling under it, and removing a heat shield in the center tunnel. If at all possbile, keep the cable from going slack and you will be able to avoid crawling under the car. Note that I can't be sure if cars that use a ball end on the cable have the same problem.

Unfortunately, while a factory manual for the Focus would be nice to have, Ford has several books out on the Focus and the price of them adds up to around $300. Unless I get the urge to rebuild the engine, I may just settle for a slightly inaccurate manual that costs less than a tenth as much.

And even with a somewhat inadequate book and several extra steps to reattach the cable, I had the parking brake swapped out in less than an hour.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Dart backstory

The Dart project has slowed to a near-standstill while my wife and I prepare the garage. We've been painting things and getting it organized so I'll have a proper spot for all my tools instead of tossing them in the back seat of the Dart like I did when I was working on it in my carport.

But in the meantime, I realized that there is a lot of stuff about the Dart that didn't make it onto the blog. I started the blog in the middle of a project. I had started mods on this with some small touches - a Pertronix Ignitor and a front sway bar, for instance. Then I worked my way up to Mopar Action's famous monster disc brake swap and rebuilding my front suspension. With a somewhat better handling chassis, I thought I'd see if I could give it some serious power.

A stock slant six is not the easiest engine to make gobs of horsepower. I had been pondering whether I would try an all-out slant six buildup or swap in a smallblock V8 when I heard a member of the Mopar Mailing List was selling a turbo setup. The seller was a man named Wayne who had written an article for slantsix.org on a low buck turbo installation. Since the time he wrote the article, he had added a four barrel carburetor that someone had professionally prepped for boost. He sold me the cut and welded stock manifold and the K-car turbo seen in the article, along with an Offenhauser aluminum manifold and a modified Holley 4160 carb.

Well, after getting all that put on the Dart, I couldn't get it to run right. The problem seemed to lie with the carburetor. Even after rebuilding it and installing a Holley Adjust-A-Jet kit, I couldn't get it to run right.

Finally I decided to chuck the carb and convert it to EFI. However, I didn't have enough of a budget for new injectors or a top of the line aftermarket ECU. I considered using a chipped GM ECU, but finally went with a Megasquirt. I bought a set of six Toyota Supra Turbo injectors off eBay, and there things sat for a while. I wasn't sure how to attach the injectors with just the basic hand tools I had at home.

Finally, I decided to shell out the money to have a machine shop take care of that. I bought a Clifford aluminum intake manifold off of eBay and snagged a throttle body (along with a portion of the intake manifold) off a Ford Crown Victoria with the 4.6 V8. I took the manifold, throttle body, and injectors to Nunley Machine Shop in Covington, Georgia. For $600, they modified all the parts to work together, and the end result was a complete slant six EFI intake.

And shortly thereafter, this blog was born.


Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Collector Car Trader Online - the final resolution

Past readers of this blog may remember my troubles with Collector Car Trader Online charging me for several months of advertising that they failed to provide. When we last talked about this, I had contacted them and a representative said that they were refunding the money. Today I called my credit card company and they confirmed that I had a credit of around $160 in my account. The refund check is finally on its way back to me. Looks like this saga is finally over.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Not good...

Last night we had a bit of a storm. This morning there was a puddle of water on the Focus's passenger side floor. Looks like it came from the heater vents. I asked on the Team FocalJet Forum if anyone knew if this was a common problem. One of their members named FocusSalvage said he had a kit to fix this. Stay tuned. I hope I can get this fixed soon, as I definitely do not want to deal with mildew in my interior.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Dart post index

This 1966 Dodge Dart was my first car, and one that I can't seem to stop trying to modify. I started this blog in the middle of a fuel injection installation. Here are the posts relating to the Dart.

Introducing the Dart
Junkyard parts from unusual sources
Manifold issues
EFI wiring harness
Injector cleaning (with a few distractions)
Oops, I grabbed the wrong connectors
More about tricky Toyota connectors - as used on the Dart
Wideband O2 sensor, and introducing the surge tank
World's ugliest air intake plumbing
Fuel pressure regulator, installed
Ford fuel pump adapter
Fuel line issues
Even more fuel line issues
Fuel lines in the engine compartment
Surge tank
Bracket for the fuel pump
The fuel pump on the car
To-Do List
Throttle linkage ideas
Throttle linkage bracket fabrication
Where to put a surge tank?
Removing the gas tank
Vacuum line routing
Alternator wire upgrade
A new fuel pressure regulator (See pictures here)
Dealing with Megasquirt resets
August 31,2006 - got the injected slant six running
The Dart emerges from the garage - with pictures
A HEI ignition and a Lean Burn distributor (And a short postscript)
A trip to the tire store
The Dart's new exhaust
How much did it cost?
The radiator springs a leak



Focus post index

This 2000 Ford Focus is my daily driver and occasionally sees H/Stock autocross competition.

The Focus's first race
Windshield wiper mod
Spark plug story


Spitfire post index

I occasionally have people remark that they can't find information about particular cars here. Since Blogged does not have categories for posts, I'll make some posts myself that will list the cars that appear on this blog and all my previous posts about them. First is an ill-fated project car that recently left my collection, a 1979 Triumph Spitfire. Prior to starting the blog, the car suffered an electrical fire. They don't call Joseph Lucas the Prince of Darkness for nothing.

Clutch troubles
The decision to sell it
The new owner has it running

Friday, March 17, 2006


What not to do about high gas prices

Understandably, there's a lot of anger at the price of gas right now. However, it's best not to take out your anger at gas prices this directly:
That's a gas station sign near where I live. Seriously, I can't be sure if this was due to a storm or what. But with gas prices heading for $2.50 a gallon, it's easy to picture someone trying to attack the price itself by throwing a rock at it.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


So much for "Supercharge any car"

You've seen those "Supercharge any car" ads on just about any automotive website that takes Google Ads. If you click on the ads, you'll see they are advertising a product that looks sort of like a fan - but no actual supercharger. A supercharger is basically an air pump, and while there are many possible ways to build an air pump, a pinwheel with no moving parts is not one of them.

Not surprisingly, these things don't fare very well when you try to test one on a dyno. Popular Mechanics tested one and had it fail miserably, but they didn't post very many details. Now "NirVTECn20" on the Honda-Tech.com forum has dyno tested one and posted his results online. The result is a loss of power throughout pretty much the entire RPM range. At one point, he's lost 3 hp. And interestingly enough, that's a better result than Popular Mechanics got with the Tornado Fuel Saver, which cost them 10% of their horsepower.


Spitfire flashback

My wife Kelly spotted the Spitfire's new owner taking it for a drive. While I'm glad to hear it didn't wind up scrapped or a parts car, I'll admit that I did think that maybe I sold it a little too cheaply. Then she told me that Mike had spent around $700 getting it running. So I had to take that thought back - it was probably a fair deal all around. And I'll have to stop by Mike's place sometime to pay it a visit.


Collector Car Trader - resolved?

I spoke on the phone with Collector Car Trader's customer service the day after I found that dubious charge on my statement. They agreed to refund the money I'd paid since November. Glad to have that patched up.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Collector Car Trader Online problems

Today, I am extremely displeased with Collector Car Trader Online. I had put up an ad there for my '79 Triumph Spitfire a few months ago. They asked if I wanted automatic renewal. I agreed, figuring they would keep it up until it sells. I thought the renewal would be for one month only, but it kept showing up on my credit card statement. When I sold my Spitfire, I was going to take the ad down. But when I checked, the ad wasn't there. Ok, I guess they'd canceled it.

Then my credit card statement arrived today. And there it was, $40.50 from Collector Car Trader Online! I checked, and sure enough, there is not any ad on their site for a 1979 Triumph Spitfire for sale in the state of Georgia. They are still charging me even though my ad appears nowhere on their website! I tried to give them a call tonight, but their office was already closed. I will have to give them a call tomorrow during work hours. You can bet I'll be demanding a refund, and I'm going to start by demanding they refund not just the last month, but every cent I've paid them.

To say I am displeased with TraderOnline is an understatement.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


The project car checklist

It's a pretty common question that I see on message boards: "I've got such-and-such a car, and I want to make it faster. I'm on a budget. What mods should I get?" Well, the first thing to do is a bit of planning. While it's good to see they are doing a bit of research, it helps to do a little planning. Even if you are an absolute beginner and know nothing about cars, there is some pre-planning you can do before trying to decide what mods you are getting.

They say Yogi Bera once said, "If you don't know where you're going, you'll end up somewhere else." And when project cars end up "somewhere else," the result can be pretty ugly. So, here are some questions you should ask yourself before beginning a project, so you will know where you are going.

1. "How much do I have to spend?"

Some people may be thinking spending only $200 in mods. Others may consider a $5,000 project "low-buck." Be specific, or you may see people recommend stuff that is way outside your price range.

2. "What sort of performance do I want?"

Most people think of horsepower, but there's also handling and style to consider. In some cases, mods in one area can hurt another. An all-out handling suspension will not put as much power to the pavement as a drag racing suspension, for instance. Usually, though, the question is just how to divide up your money, not whether spending it on one thing will hurt others.

3. "What trade-offs am I willing to make?"

Performance mods sometimes trade comfort, fuel economy, or reliability for speed. This is especially true if you cut corners. If you have a Lexus, for example, you may not want to ruin its famously silent interior by giving it an obnoxiously loud exhaust and scraping out all its sound deadener to save weight. On the other hand, there are some times where you can improve reliability, and sometimes even gas mileage, with performance mods. Usually this applies to older cars. For example, if you put a modern, fuel injected LS1 engine in place of your Nova's stock 307 V8...

4. "Are there any particular mods I really want this car to have?"

Some mods just don't mix. On some occasions, the parts simply do not work well together, while in other cases, they won't physically bolt up to each other. To continue the above example, if your ultimate goal is to swap an LS1 out of a '99 Corvette into your Nova, don't waste time trying to put a cam in the 307. You won't be able to reuse that when you do the engine swap. Likewise, if you're eventually going to put a turbo on your Civic, don't buy headers and a cold air intake for it. The turbo kit will replace so much of the intake and exhaust system that you almost certainly won't be able to keep those.

5. "Do I plan on racing this car?"

Racing isn't just expensive runs around road courses where you run a very real risk of crashing. Events like drag racing and autocross cost under $50 a weekend to compete in. If you plan to do any official racing, you'll want to keep the rules in mind when you select mods. For taking it to the dragstrip, you may just need to pass a basic safety inspection. If you want to be competative in autocross, you will need to prepare your car keeping class rules carefully in mind, but again, they'll let you in if you can just pass a basic safety check. This usually doesn't even mean needing a roll bar, just things like a secure battery and working seat belts.

6. "How long can I have this car off the road?"

Big projects can mean big delays, so if the answer is "Just for Saturday," you'll want to stick to simple, bolt-on changes. If you've got a week or so that it can be off the road, you might be able to pull off some more complicated mods. And if you have another car, the sky can be the limit.

7. "How much mechanical ability do I have?"

We all have to start somewhere. If you don't have much practice wrenching, you'll either want to stick to easier bolt-ons until you develop more skill and confidence, or get a mechanically inclined friend to help out. Even gurus are seldom equally good at all areas of performance.

8. "What emissions laws do I have to meet?"

Some areas will let you get away with virtually anything. On the other hand, if you have a late model car in California, you will have a huge list of restrictions. Many areas are somewhere in between, letting any car pass that meets a tailpipe test and looks as though it has a catalytic converter.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


The High School Hybrid

CBS's tale of the students at West Philadelphia High School building a
hybrid sports car has been making the Internet rounds today. Their project is pretty impressive - a car that gets over 50 mpg, goes from 0 to 60 in around 4 seconds, and can run on soybean oil. Not bad for a concept car, and very impressive that high school students put it together. And it's probably a blast to drive.

Unfortunately, in a bit of sloppy reporting, CBS ends it by asking why the major automotive companies don't have anything like this in production, and then quotes a student who blames big oil companies. They just leave it there, without pointing out some other reasons why this car isn't likely to see production. Mostly, I don't think there is enough demand for it - a production model would be so expensive that buying it to reduce gas mileage compared to existing cars in the 30 to 40 mpg range makes almost no economic sense.

The reason that isn't clear from the CBS article is that they do not give any feel for what the car cost to build. Luckily, that's available from other sources. One article that gives a figure for the budget (and is very well worth reading in its own right) comes from the Philadelphia Inquirer, where they first quote the physics teacher involved as saying, "We're super low-budget," and that automakers "We're super low-budget," he said, so automakers "should be cranking them out." "Who wouldn't want a cool sports car hybrid?"

But reading on indicates that they estimate that there are "between $80,000 and $100,000 worth of parts in the car," and some of these may be secondhand. They were able to pull this off on a high school budget because some of the parts were donated, while a local oil company (yes, you read that right) provided some of the funding. The car it is based on is a K-1 Attack kit car, which retails for around $70,000 for a turnkey package. And there are no labor charges included, either. If this roadster were in volume production, it might very well come with a $120,000 price tag.

Another source of information on this project is the team's own web page, which includes a photo gallery and some movies. They also note that the hybrid system is mostly to provide maximum acceleration via a 200 hp electric motor. So a non-hybrid version might actually get better gas mileage and handle better. They also detail where they got the engine and electric motor; both are conventional, off the shelf parts.

It's a pretty cool car. However, it seems the CBS version of the story over-hypes it considerably.

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