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Tuesday, October 24, 2006


A disappointment

For all of Marx's talk about a "dictatorship of the proletariat," very few Communist dictators have actually come from a working class background. Ho Chi Minh is about the closest I can think of to an actual proletariat dictator; he put in his share of time baking pastries and washing dishes for a living. But Lenin and Castro were lawyers, Mao was a librarian, and Stalin dropped out of seminary to become, well, a Communist party thug and bank robber. Marx himself held a job as a newspaper editor. There aren't too many famous Communist dictators who put in long hours on the factory floor, and I don't know of any Communist ruler who held an industrial engineering degree.

It seems one of the hallmarks of Communism has been a centrally planned economy run by people who were rather clueless as to how to actually run a factory or other forms of production. Russian lumberjacks sometimes left their trees to rot because the leaders had demanded they must cut down a certain number of trees and hadn't bothered to figure out what they would actually do with them. Mao demanded steel production be doubled, a goal his lackeys pretended to meet by building jury-rigged furnaces that could barely make pig iron. Sometimes I have to wonder if Marx though that quality control was some instrument of capitalist manipulation.

That's a bit of background to one of my rules about buying tools: I do my best to avoid any tools made in a Communist country. It's been very rare that I have actually had a tool from a Communist country live up to my expectations. Sometimes, though, the high cost of a good quality tool makes me opt for the cheap way out, and I buy a tool from Communist China. Usually when I do that I get reminded of why I don't like to buy products made in the People's Republic of anywhere. I'm not a Buy American fanatic - I'm the Germans and Japanese make good tools, for example. Bosch and Makita come to mind. But I am against buying cheap, shoddy tools, and it's rare that I have found Communist Chinese goods to be anything otherwise.

In many cases, the tools wear out in an incredibly short amount of time, or are made with such low precision as to cause trouble. It wouldn't surprise me if some of the Chinese socket wrenches were made from the steel created in those wooden fired open hearth furnaces from the Great Leap Forward.

The latest disappointing tool I've bought that was made in China was a Cobalt electric impact wrench. Cobalt is the house brand from Lowe's Home Improvement, and they get their tools from all kinds of manufacturers, so I'm not out to tar all of Cobalt's tooks with my brush, just this particular one. To Cobalt's credit, this wrench has not actually broken. The problem is that it seems to have about as much torque as a cordless drill. I thought I'd get it to break some of the bolts on the Nissan's axle loose. Wrong. It does a decent job of spinning a bolt that's on rusty threads after I break it loose. But it doesn't actually do much to free stuck nuts. I can actually apply more torque to a nut using my trusty 18" breaker bar without a cheater than I can with this electric impact wrench.

So, if you're looking for an impact wrench, I think you're likely to be disappointed with this one. It can save a little bit of time, but it can't actually break bolts loose, at least not the sort of bolts that you really want to get with an impact wrench. You might want to save up a bit and get a higher-end electric impact wrench like those made by Milwaukee.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


"If I had all the money I'd ever spent on cars, I'd spend it all on cars."

I can't take credit for that line; it belongs to Evildky from the Grassroots Motorsports message board. In the comments section of this blog, Matt Dinniman had wondered just how much money went into the Dart. The short answer is too much; in many cases I could have put it together for less had I known at the time I spent the money what I know now. But, of course, the way I learned that has been by working on, and spending money on, the car.

So, how much did I spend? Well, admittedly, in the early days some of it wasn't actually my spending, as I got it as a Christmas present from my parents, and they paid for the transmission work and upholstery. But I'll include all the money in my rough estimate of how much it cost.

When I got it, the purchase price was $500. The previous owner said it just needed a new radiator (besides a major cosmetic restoration). I first tried to have the radiator fixed and then replaced it, so that's about $150 worth of repairs.

Only they were wrong about what it needed - the transmission was also shot. Cost about $1,200 to fix. The moral of the story is that you shouldn't ever buy a car you can't test drive - unless you only want the body shell anyway.

I upholstered it with seat covers and carpeting from J.C. Whitney. That came to $300.

The exterior repairs took longer, but after a lot of homemade bodywork, I had it resprayed the original Chrysler W1 White for around $400. It's showing signs of just how bad bodywork done by a clueless teenager can be, but I think I'll keep the color. Not much else goes with a red interior except black - and black makes bad bodywork even more obvious.

Then I spent somewhere around $150 on its first real performance mod - a two barrel carburetor. I used a junkyard Super Six manifold and a rebuilt carburetor I bought cheap off eBay. The rebuilt carb, in retrospect, was a mistake - I'd probably have gotten a carb that worked better if I had taken a junkyard carb and rebuilt it myself. That's a subject for another post. Much of the money went into things like the throttle linkage.

Next, I took a stab at the suspension. I added an Addco front anti-roll bar, KYB shocks, polyurethane bushings, and the famous disc brake conversion devised by the guys at Mopar Action Magazine. I spent around $500 on the suspension mods - and around $1,000 on new wheels and tires. This wasn't entirely an appearance mod; the brake rotors I have up front are only an inch smaller than the original wheels. So I needed larger wheels to clear the brakes.

Then I found the turbo manifold and turbo from this article were up for sale, along with a four barrel carb and Offenhauser manifold. I snapped them up for around $400... and spent another $600 or so on parts to get a complete turbo setup, such as gauges, an electric fuel pump, a very crude exhaust, and a lot of parts I used in a failed attempt to get the carburetor to work. Never could get that carb to behave, and I think it had as much to do with some rather strange mods the carb had.

I was in over my head. So I knew I had two choices: Either put it back to stock, or get in even further over my head and try converting it to fuel injection. So, naturally, I picked the latter. I'd estimate I spent around $1,800 on the EFI parts, including around $650 for the modified manifold and close to $200 on AN-type fuel lines and fittings.

While it was sitting, the tires became dry-rotted. And I decided to add a professionally built exhaust. Those two things have just added another $1,100 to the total.

And I figure there's probably another $600 or so of other things I've left out, mostly repairs and minor things.

So, that comes out to having spent $8,700 on this car, or pouring $8,200 into a $500 car. It's probably worth less than half of what I put into it. And I may very well spend a couple more grand before I get the Dart where I want it, as I'd like to give it some more suspension work, add an intercooler, maybe a little internal engine work too. And give the interior a real makeover. This probably sounds a bit crazy to spend money like that.

Well, I guess hobbies don't make economic sense when you get down to it. Everybody does things with their time and money that someone else would think is crazy. Even Clark Howard, Atlanta's guru of cheap, has a couple expensive hobbies.

Money may not buy happiness, but the way I see it, spending money only on things that make complete sense also doesn't make you happy.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


The Dart's back home.

I went to Mighty Muffler today to pick up the Dart. They put the Dart up on a lift so I could check it out, and sure enough, they'd done a good job of keeping the exhaust away from the fuel lines. They reused the old turbo flange, but I can't fault them for that - those are next to impossible to find these days. All in all, it looks like they did a pretty good job building the exhaust system. They even threw in a long, polished 3" tip - a bit noticable but not obnoxious. (In fact, a 3" square tip was standard with the high output version of the 273 inch V8, back in 1966.)

Unfortunately, I had a really tough time getting it started. Wound up flooding the motor and draining the battery a bit. After putting it on a jump start, though, I was able to get it to crank up and run a bit badly. But once it warmed up, the engine smoothed out and ran fairly well. Looks like I'll need to do a bit of work getting the warmup enrichment settings straightened out.

I also noticed that the belts were making a bit of noise. May have been that the belts are suffering the same problems as the tires after sitting so long. Of course, the belts on it are nine years old. Probably time to replace them.



And the bride drove a...

It's been a busy week. This week opened for me in the small town of Sexton's River, Vermont, at my brother's wedding in a small church. It was a very lovely wedding, with all sorts of personal touches. The sermon brought almost everyone to tears, and just about everything at the ceremony and reception, from the minister to the locations to the wine, had personal significance to either Philip or Amanda. But I suspect most regular readers of this blog are not going to be especially interested the details of the bride's handmade shawl that her mother knitted (although I'm sure you all will agree that this was the sort of touch it's hard not to say, "Awweee..." about...).

Luckily, there was one detail that I'm sure all you car guys reading this will love. After the ceremony, the bride and groom left in a breathtaking 1931 Packard sedan - with the bride driving. The Packard belongs to her father, who has treated it to a meticulous restoration.

1931 Packard

All in all, it was a very lovely wedding. And we got to see a very pretty town, New England's famous fall foliage, and, of course, a very impressive car.

Philip and Amanda, I wish you the best of luck in your marriage.


Friday, October 13, 2006


Some attention for the Nissan

While I've been putting a lot of work into the Dart and it's now actually capable of rolling about under its own power, the Nissan needs a bit of work too. Its rear axle is so worn that I can hit the gas and have the axle clunk hard enough to make the CD player skip. Yesterday I stopped by Newton Auto Salvage and picked up a rear axle in much better shape. This one has almost no backlash in the gears, but I really should go through its brakes before putting it in.

Newton Auto Salvage isn't a pull it yourself yard. While I asked for a complete axle assembly, I didn't expect just how complete it would be. I was a bit surprised when one of the workers came over with a forklift holding up an entire Pathfinder rear suspension except the coil springs. I'm not exaggerating - they brought out not only the axle, but all four control arms, the Panhard rod, and the shocks. I may try to recoupe some of this by selling the unneeded parts on eBay.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006


More outsourced tasks

Today I picked up the Dart at the tire shop and took it over to Mighty Muffler. The fabricators there looked a little bit worried about how they'd make the exhaust fit, but in the end concluded they could rig up a 2 1/4" exhaust with a Flowmaster muffler for a little under $500. That will make it the second most expensive thing in my turbo setup after the machine work on the intake manifold. But given how much trouble I had making a jury-rigged downpipe on my cheap exhaust, it's worth it to me. I know they aren't going to have an easy time in the engine compartment.

One thing I did notice was that it looked like they wanted to route the exhaust fairly close to the spin-on fuel filter. In retrospect, maybe taking up much of the area in front of the rear axle with fuel system components wasn't quite the best idea. I may want to put some heat insulation on the exhaust or the filter, but I'll have to take a look once they get the final exhaust into place. (And if it looks like a fire hazard more than a performance threat, I'm definitely not driving it out of the shop until they fix it!)

It'll be nice not to worry about dragging the exhaust on the pavement.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006


New tires for the Dart

So driving the Dart before I could fully get it tuned in rush hour traffic might not have been the best idea. But I also didn't want to face the chance of blowing a tire driving it around tuning it, as I've dealt with dry-rotted tires and I know firsthand just how dangerous they are.

When I first got my Dart, the previous owner had parked it for years and used it for a storage shed. The tires looked all right, at least to me as a teenager. But the first time I took it on an long Interstate trip, I had a front tire self-destruct, with the sidewall ripping itself apart in several places. I could get several fingers into a couple of the gashes. The guy at the tire shop said it was one of the worst blowouts he'd ever seen. Not an experience I'd care to repeat.

The Dart made it to the local tire shop without blowing any of the tires, at least. The temporary intake piping blew out (well, actually, it just needed re-clamping), so I'm putting an intercooler in there as soon as I can get all the parts I need together and plumbing it up with quality parts.

The tires I'm getting are Dunlop Direzzas; not quite the equivalent of Hoosier autocross tires, but they still ought to have some reasonable grip. The mechanic at the tire shop was a bit surprised when I ordered 225/50R16 tires for a Dart. He'll probably be even more surprised if he opens the hood. Which he may not be able to pass up after finding it's got a boost gauge in there.


Friday, October 06, 2006


The Dart hits the road!

While it only went two miles or so for tuning, this is the first time my Dart has been on public roads under its own power in over two years. I've just begun tuning it, and it's already driving better than it ever did with the Holley four barrel.

There are a few downsides - that crude air intake keeps having one of its parts come loose, the exhaust scrapes on the pavement, and I really need new tires. So I suspect there's a trip to the muffler and tire shop in its very near future.

The intake was somethin I just threw together to get it running; I'd planned to put in something entirely new once I got an intercooler on there. I've been having a tough time figuring out how I will route the hoses - I suspect there's a battery relocation kit in the cards.


Thursday, October 05, 2006


Next stop, tuning.

Well, I didn't take the Dart on the road today, but I did do a bunch of cleaning up the interior - tidying up the wiring rat's nest that I had let down out of the dash for troubleshooting and that sort of thing. It's now ready to hit the road - no fuel leaks, no electrical gitches, all the mechanical things ready.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006


No wonder it was running lean...

I'd been running a slant three.

After calibrating the Dart's lambda sensor and setting the timing, it was still ridiculously lean. Finally I started to wonder if it was running on all six. I found it was getting spark on them all, but then I found that disconnecting any of the back three injector connectors had no effect on the engine running. Sure enough, there was a bad crimp connector in the wiring for them. Now the AFR is much closer to what it should be, although the fuel map is still pretty far off. It was one from an automatic fuel map generator.

I should be able to have it on the road and do some tuning tomorrow!


Tuesday, October 03, 2006


I can't believe that was the problem...

Remember when I thought the LC-1 was dead? It seemed reasonable, as the LC-1 wouldn't connect to the computer, the calibration LED would not come on, and the outputs would read wrong. Well, instead, it turns out that I had an unknown computer communications glitch, a burned out calibration LED, and one careless wiring mistake - all at once. The LC-1 is fine. Got those all squared away tonight.

Now I have to figure out why it's missing badly enough at idle to be reading at the absolute bottom of the range. I do get the readings to go richer if I rev the motor, but it isn't anything much I can use. I'll try calibrating the sensor in free air and adjusting the timing tomorrow and see if that gets me some more useable results.


Monday, October 02, 2006


Got the Dart's HEI working!

John VonSickle's Grand List of Overused Science Fiction Cliches mentions that you're really writing bad science fiction if "'Reversing the polarity' is the solution to virtually every engineering problem." Well, in that case, my effort at troubleshooting the Dart's HEI ignition setup must read somewhat like a bad Star Trek episode, because that was exactly what was wrong with it. After a couple times of fruitlessly trying to crank it over, I decided to see if maybe I'd gotten the connector that attaches the distributor's VR sensor to the HEI module upside down. Sure enough, when I flipped the connector over, the Dart cranked right up on the first try!

Unfortunately, I am still having troubles with the LC-1 wideband controller. Both outputs are reading fully rich, the calibration LED won't come on, and the computer won't connect to it. Stay tuned and we'll see if I can solve this mystery.


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