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Friday, June 30, 2006


Searching for answers?

It's the end of the month again, which means it's time for me to see if I can read my readers' minds and answer questions they may have. Well, actually I don't read minds, but I can sometimes find what they were looking for on a search engine. And if I know the answer but it's not on my blog, I'll post the answer. This month, we have two interesting ones:

I have a Nissan with a 2-bbl carburetor. Is there any adapter I can get to put a 4-bbl carb on it?

Specter makes an adapter that will let you put a four barrel Holley in place of many two barrel carburetors. It's likely to fit your engine if you have a downdraft carb, but I can't promise it will clear your hood. There are a couple other issues, too. The biggest one is that this adapter is something of a bottleneck - you're still trying to pack four holes's worth of air and gasoline through two holes on the manifold. I would only use this adapter as a last resort.

The best approach, if you can afford it and the aftermarket has one, is to get a manifold designed specifically for putting a four barrel carb on your engine. I'm pretty sure Offenhauser builds one for the NAPS-Z. Wouldn't surprise me if there are a few interesting manifolds out for L-series motors, too. Ebay is often a good source for these.

Another approach is to modify your manifold. Although it's not about Nissans, there is a spectacular illustrated thread on SlantSix.Org about modifying a manifold to accept a different carb. This would be easier if you had a milling machine, but the guy who posted that just used a Sawzall, drill, and Dremel.

How do I install a Pertronix Ignitor?

This part really is an easy bolt-on. I've got one on my Dodge Dart. The short version is that you remove the distributor cap, unscrew the points, and remove the rotor. You replace the rotor with a new one from Pertronix that has a ring of magnets around it. The Ignitor attaches using the same screw that holds the points in place. Wire it up (one wire to the negative coil terminal, one to the positive), adjust it so the rotor doesn't rub on the module, adjust the timing, and you're done. The hardest thing on my slant six was clipping the distributor cap back on - if you've worked on a slant six, you'll know how little room there is to work on the distributor. I find it easier to get the cap back on if you remove the oil filter.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


First mod, first drop

They say you're almost certain to drop your first bike. Well, I got that first drop over and done with. Made a mistake trying to hoist the CX onto its centerstand in the garage, and it fell over. Luckily nothing broke except for a huge crack in the windshield on the Windjammer, and that windshield was in pretty bad shape to start with. I've tried to put the crack back together with Krazy Glue and hope it'll last long enough for me to find the parts I need to put a new stock front end on there.

The reason I was putting it onto the centerstand was that I was getting ready to do its first mod. Yep, I've only been riding it a month and I want to mod it. Well, actually I wanted to fix a horribly sagging and bouncy suspension, but I figured instead of going with stock components, I would go with 15-weight fork oil and Progressive springs. I first heard about this combo from Chopper Charles when asking about the best suspension setup for a Honda CX500. When I walked into the local used bike shop and asked about front suspension parts for a CX500, the clerk (who has owned a couple of them himself) immediately recommended the same thing before I could ask for specific parts.

So, after a few false starts, I had the bike supported on the centerstand and my Craftsman aluminum jack. I removed the front wheel and drained the fork oil - there's a drain screw at the bottom of each fork, accessable when the wheel is off. The Clymer manual neglects to mention this. It appears that someone had filled the forks with gear oil, judging by its bluish tint and the odor.

I got a real shock when I took the springs out. I took the cap off the fork and pulled out a spring about 6" long. Checked the Progressive springs - they're more than twice as long. Puzzled, I reached into the fork with a hook and fished out a second spring, significantly longer than the first. These two springs reached a little past the top of the fork. Apparently at some point a previous owner had tried to rebuild this bike from a stockpile of parts, and finding no springs the right length, he settled on a combination of springs that seemed about the right length. Unfortunately, the stiffness was way off.

The bike now sits a good bit higher, and it rides much, much better. Now, I just need to do something about that Windjammer, now more than ever.

Monday, June 26, 2006


Minor Dart progress

I went on a road trip to Savannah this weekend. Unfortunately, I came back with a bad enough sunburn that I really don't want to crawl under the Dart. I did try to get a bit of work done, though - I put ends on a few more AN fuel lines, and did a little bit of work to organize my socket wrench collection. Hopefully I'll have a bigger update on that soon - after my shoulders heal!


Thursday, June 22, 2006


Just got home from work.

Normally, there wouldn't be anything noteworthy about a commute where I did not crash into anything, see anything out of the ordinary, or even have a close call with an accident. Today, however, was the first time I have made my commute on a motorcycle. Definitely a big milestone in motorcycle ownership. I plan to ride it to work a lot more often.

While I was there, one co-worker noticed that the front suspension appears to be sagging. I had suspected it would be worn out, and already bought some new fork oil and an aftermarket spring. Now I just need to get the time to install them.

Monday, June 19, 2006


The Ford SAR Car

This post is part of the AW Chain Round 2.

In the previous link of the Great Chain of Blogging, Peggy blogged about an interesting package of noodles she found at the dollar store. Dollar stores can be great places to find interesting and offbeat bargains. Well, about five years ago I heard an interesting story about an idea that the engineers at the Ford Motor Company came up with for car shoppers who want offbeat bargains. The idea itself was so offbeat, though, that it never saw the light of day.

The name of the project was the SAR Car. SAR stood for Some Assembly Required. The car would arrive at a dealership before they finished assembly, and it would be up to the car owner to finish putting it together or pay the dealer to do the job. I'm not too sure how much assembly would have been left up to the owner; my guess is that it would either have snapped together like a giant G.I. Joe toy or you could have finished the job with a couple screwdrivers and maybe a set of wrenches. I doubt that they would have left installing the engine or brakes up to the customer. The items left off would probably be things like bumper covers, mirrors, and interior items. Maybe lights.

Besides saving the owner a bit of money, this approach might have made it easier to pick and chose which parts go on the car. You might be able to do things like go for a top of the line stereo and all the luxury items but omit the leather interior, for example, or otherwise get around the annoying option packages that require you to buy items you don't want to get ones you do. Had they carried this over to items like the suspension, this might have also allowed for selling items like extreme performance suspensions that very few normal owners would want but would be just the ticket for autocrossing (although it's debatable if the SCCA would let you run any SAR Cars in the Stock class as the rules are written!). Sort of like a cross between Toyota's new Scion line and GM's COPO options from the '60s.

But the program had its obvious faults. One of the more obvious is that many people who want to save money and don't mind getting their hands dirty buy used cars. Also, an owner-assembled car might be a bit harder to warranty. But it was definitely an interesting concept, even if it never made it off the drawing board.

If a auto manufacturer offered their cars partially assembled so that you could save money and maybe personalize it a bit, would you go for it?

Next blog in the chain: Jennifer Sando.

Sunday, June 18, 2006


Even more ways not to improve your gas mileage

This article I found on Bankrate included a very interesting link. I'd often heard that the EPA had tested dozens of devices that were supposed to improve gas mileage, but had never heard much detail about this. Well, as it turns out, the EPA has posted the results of all these tests online. The reports are quite lengthy, but there are a few interesting things that stand out.

Of the items that the EPA found useful at all, only four of them actually improved fuel economy while the cars were in motion without screwing up emissions (a fifth device they tested was designed to let you use the heater with the engine off, which can be useful but doesn't help in normal driving). Here's the list of what did work:
  1. Two devices that cut off the air conditioning at full throttle.
  2. A continuously variable transmission that drove the water pump.
  3. Aerodynamic mods to reduce drag.

None of the devices that worked without increasing emissions interfered with the operation of the engine itself. The methods that did result in unacceptably high emissions were a cylinder deactivator (similar to what several OEMs have made work without emissions problems now) and advancing the spark timing.

One interesting thing about the results was that during the '70s and early '80s, many companies submitted their devices to the EPA for testing voluntarily. In more recent times, the EPA has forced companies to have their gadgets tested, with very few people voluntarily having their gas mileage devices tested. Does that mean that fewer companies nowadays believe their devices actually work, and more are just out to scam the public? I don't know, but some of the things they've tested recently seems to be things that only a madman would expect to work.

Another trend is the number of people who kept trying the same unworkable ideas. The most common include magnets on the fuel line and "vapor injection" systems that resemble water/alchohol injection but inject far too little fluid to have any effect. I have to wonder just how the fuel magnet idea got started - it's not like gasoline is magnetic or even contains metal in significant quantities. There were also a number of fuel-heating devices that didn't work, plus one inventor who decided to take the opposite approach and try cooling the fuel.

Pretty useful if you want to see approaches that others have tried and found to be unworkable. If you want more gas mileage, don't try reinventing the square wheel.


Friday, June 16, 2006


Well, that's out of the way.

Like I said, it was kind of a desperate idea to ask my wife to nag me if I didn't get the Dart's interior cleaned. And it didn't quite work out. She came home in too nice a mood to do any serious nagging. So I did not completely finish cleaning out the Dart's interior last night. But I did manage to get it completed this evening. I can't believe how much garbage had built up in there - I threw out a full-sized garbage bag of junk.

It's really kind of a relief to have that out of the way. Now I'll be able to get the rest of the wiring and fuel system complete, without as many worries about where my tools have gotten to or where I left a fitting. I may even save a bit of money as well as time. A disorganized garage can make for a lot of unnecessary trips to the parts store to buy duplicates of things that are just burried somewhere on the floorboard.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Bad work habbits

I've decided to go entirely with -6 AN braided lines for the rear plumbing between the fuel pumps and the surge tank. Made a start at working on this tonight. Unfortunately, a bad work habbit I had picked up while working on the car in the carport has caught up to me.

There aren't many weather-resistant storage areas in a carport, only the car itself. So I'd taken to letting tools and parts simply pile up on the floor of the car. The result is that it has now become almost impossible to find many key tools and supplies, especially now that things got jumbled around when I towed it. Tomorrow's project will be getting all of those loose items out and either thrown away or organized neatly into the cabinets, pegboards, and tool boxes occupying the garage. As it is, there could be a stray racoon hiding in the car and I'd never notice. I had several items that I just couldn't find.

This disorganization has really been holding me back and creating unnecessary delays. I've decided that I need drastic, possibly even foolhardy, action to combat this menace: I have requested to my wife that she nag me if I do not get this done tomorrow.

Desperate problems call for desperate measures, after all.

Sunday, June 11, 2006


Off the Cheap End: 800 miles in a $900 car

This is a post in the AWChain.

The previous post in the chain was Peggy's account of a music - themed cross country trip. It sounded pretty enjoyable. Well, I thought I'd share one of my road trip stories. Here's one that was not exactly fun.

It was my senior year in college. The only car I owned was my 1966 Dodge Dart. It could certainly have made the trip from Atlanta to Cleveland; this was before I had started throwing so many mods at it that the poor car couldn't make it out of the garage. The trouble was that I didn't want to expose a car that was over 30 years old to road salt.

I didn't have very much money available. So I needed to get a car that was cheap and expendable, but practical enough to drive the 800 miles to Cleveland and somewhat fun to drive. Realistically, well, I wound up with three out of four. You can probably guess which one I missed.

A check of the Atlanta Journal turned up lots of cheap cars. I found a '89 Chrysler Lebaron, a red coupe with a 2.5 Turbo and manual transmission, advertised for $1,000. The car had no air conditioning and very bad salt corrosion - two things that would not go over well in Atlanta, but I wouldn't care so much about in Cleveland. Also, it was a Canadian car with metric gauges. I picked it up for $900 in cash.

The first problem occurred when I tried to title it. Seems the previous owner had not been paying his taxes on it, and they tried to hold up giving me a title because of that. Eventually they said they'd issue me the title and go after the previous owner later.

I'd noticed the low oil pressure light come on at the end of the drive home, but thought nothing of it. It seemed to run hot, so I flushed out the radiator and hoped that would fix it.

So, two weeks later, my father and I set out for Cleveland in my $900 K-car, with most of my posessions in the trunk and back seat, and a bicycle strapped on the trunk lid. It was about an hour and a half into the drive that I realized that I hadn't fixed the cooling problem at all. The temperature gauge headed for the red zone and stayed pegged. We were starting to smell the breadlike scent of antifreeze. And we were heading for the mountains - not exactly a good place to let the engine relax.

We nursed it along by running it at 45 on the hightway, often with the heater on to dump some of the engine heat into the passenger compartment. Not a fun way to travel in August. During one steep stretch of mountain, I had to pull over at a rest station and fill the radiator with water from a fountain using a McDonald's cup.

We decided to stop somewhere in Kentucky for the night, as I'd allowed two days for the journey. Did I mention we had no real plans for what to do if it broke, other than my father's motor club with free towing?

The stop in Kentucky was still somewhat interesting. We ate at a restaurant that had a sort of shrine to the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys, which had happened in the areas nearby. We checked in to a local motel and called it a day.

The next day, as I was leaving the motel, I had to get the car over a sort of speed bump at the motel exit and discovered another problem with the car: The clutch was starting to go. I had to get the revs up a bit to get it moving, and when I let out the clutch, the engine just kept spinning and I started smelling clutch smoke.

Eventually, we limped it into Cleveland. My father caught a plane home, and I brought it over to the campus. There, I found that there was yet another problem: I couldn't get a permanent parking spot. It seems they have an official policy of trying to discourage students from having a car on campus, but their prime strategy for that was to create a shortage of parking spaces rather than making it easier to get around without a car. I did rent a space for a month, but when that pass expired, I just left it on the side of any road that didn't have a No Parking sign. I only collected one parking ticket for the whole year, but sometimes I had to walk a half-mile after finding a parking spot.

A few days after that, I swapped out the radiator in a parking lot. Cured that overheating problem - the old radiator had been turned into something crumbly and green by years of Canadian road salt. Wish I'd had the sense to do that before the trip; it took less than half an hour and maybe $150 or so. The overheating did some damage that eventually blew the head gasket, but that didn't happen until years later.

The only bright spot of the trip was that somehow, limping along at 45 mph in fifth with the engine running hot, I managed to coax a sustained 36 mpg out of it. Not bad for a car of that size.

I guess I learned a bit from this. The next time I bought a car for a three-figure price and drove it on a road trip of hundreds of miles... well, that's a story for later.

Next blogger in the chain is Jennifer Sando. If you are following the blog chain forward, this link will take you to the next post.

Friday, June 09, 2006


How can we make bus riding less pleasant?

As a car guy, I'm in favor of good public transportation. A good public transportation network can be useful if you want to own a collector car that isn't the most reliable or practical vehicle. And if it works, it could mean less street congestion, which makes it more fun when you do drive.

Unfortunately, public transportation has several problems. With buses, you have to deal with route maps and transfers. Not to mention cramped seating. But the worst thing about riding a bus can be if some obnoxious stranger who hasn't bathed in a week and has manners to match his hygene boards the bus. Not fun.

Well, a group in the Twin Cities has been sponsoring something almost as bad: paying poets to come aboard the bus and read unpublished poetry. Bookslut reports that one of the poets calls herself "Karma the Oddest Goddess," and if that name suggests anything of their poetic ability or grasp on reality, I'm not sure these poets are at all preferable to unbathed drunkards.

I found this one at Fireflies in the Clouds, where Matt D. (who may have one of the funniest takes on it) had found it on Making Light, where Patrick had found it on Bookslut.


First ride didn't go anywhere

I tried to crank up the CX500 for my first ride on it yesterday. Unfortunately, the battery was dead from sitting too long. So I took out the battery and put it on the charger. It's a lot smaller than a car battery, so I charged it at the 2 amp "trickle" rate and it still took less than three hours to charge up. Hopefully I'll be able to ride it today.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Gas mileage tips for older Mopars

Found this link posted by Jeffery Diamond on the Slant Six forum. He's gone and compiled a list of tips that may improve your gas mileage on classic Chrysler products. Many of these tips will apply to other cars from the '70s and earlier, too, although some entries use Chrysler-specific terms or reference tricks that may not apply to other makes. Unfortunately, many of these tips are not very helpful for modern cars - they often have the equivalent work done at the factory.

Panic's Gas Mileage Comments

Monday, June 05, 2006



Flashes of lightning split the sky. The rain poured down so hard that visibilty often dropped to a few hundred feet. All this is bad enough in a car, but I was on my way to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Basic Rider Course. This wouldn't be a good day to be out on a motorcycle.

Much to my relief, we spent the first day in a classroom. Well, actually we spent the first hour of the first day in a hallway because the school staff had failed to unlock the doors to the classroom. When the school staff finally did get us a room, it was in a section of the building slated for demolition. Since the room was getting the wrecking ball anyway, the teachers had given the students some markers and spray paint on the last day of school and let them cover the room with graffiti. Combine the spray paint on the walls and the weather outside, and if felt like some sort of movie. An ominous one.

The people there looked the part for a movie, too. The instructors - there were two of them - both managed to look like stereotypical Harley riders - goatees, graying hair worn in a ponytail, that sort of look. One of them did ride a Harley to the class; the other one rode one of BWM's flat twin bikes. There was a third quasi-instructor who didn't fit the pattern and was mostly there as an observer - he was an avid motorcyclist but also researching safety instruction so as to write a book on hang gliding safety. The class itself was made up of twelve students. Most of the students were men in their 20's, but a few were older, one looked like a teenager, and there was one woman there. Their experience levels differed, too. One had been riding for ten years. I had only ridden on a motorcycle once, as a passenger.

On the first day, we covered some lessons from a textbook and watched a few videos. The instructors sometimes made games out of the lessons - for example, when we discussed motorcycle controls, they had us do charades to illustrate each control or indicator. I had to act out a tachometer.

It wasn't until the next day that we actually got on the bikes and rode them. Half the bikes were Honda CB125T's, small two cylinder motorcycles built specifically for training classes. The remainder consisted of three CB250 Nighthawks and three Suzuki GN125's. Since there were several people there who were taller than I am, I had to ride one of the CB125T's, which are pretty cramped for a tall rider.

The exercises were designed so that even someone who had never ridden a motorcycle could do them. They started with simple exercises like letting out the clutch and finding where it starts to pull the bike forward, then had us "power walk" the bikes in a straight line. After that, we got to let the clutch out all the way and ride them, again in a straight line. By time we went in for more written lessons and videos, we had covered the basics of stopping, shifting, and turning as well.

Sunday had more complicated lessons. They introduced the infamous Box - a painted box where we had to do figure 8's. The lesson that I was most surprised I could do was the obstacle avoidance. This one had two parts: Riding the bike over 2 x 4's while standing up, and swerving to avoid a set of cones. The turns were a bit faster than any of the previous exercises had required.

After a total of 16 riding lessons, they gave us the final exam. It included a repeat of the Box combined with the swerving exercise, a stopping test, and riding around a curve at a particular speed. I was actually dreading the stopping test more than the Box, as I'd been having trouble with locking the rear brake in the exercises. We then finished up with a lecture on alchohol and a written exam.

In the end, 11 of the students passed. The twelth, a psychiatrist, had a nervous breakdown during the riding test and did not even stay around for the written exam.

Well, I'm relieved that I passed. I still don't feel like I am anything like ready to ride on I-20 though, just ready to take my CX500 out on lightly traveled roads and practice.

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