Destination SSM One Miata's Journey through Hell

2Nov/14Off

The Miata is Dead, Long Live the Elise

Posted by David de Regt

10450276_628275863068_9111196888486650278_o[1]My last post was full of optimism for a serious attempt at a season of autocross with the car. Unfortunately, the reliability gods decided against that. Over the course of the season, pretty much everything in the engine bay caused some sort of problem. The season started with the supercharger breaking at the Crow's Landing Prosolo before I could even take any runs, then taking way too long to get fixed because, as always, vendors suck at keeping to their promises. That caused me to get it back on a Thursday night, throw it frantically into the car (the night before the Packwood Pro), where, during practice runs, the car showered its engine bay down with oil when something else failed. Later that event, the upper ball joints broke out of their press fits, requiring frantic tearing apart of the car between run groups to get them welded back in. It's just been a year of a series of unfortunate events everywhere I tried to take the car. In the end, after considering the option of towing my car out to nationals, I instead just went to nationals in Ron Bauer's DP car after almost bailing on the event altogether for the first time since I started.

10172764_623243607748_4414811543945212468_n[1]This April, despite the Miata seeming to be in okay shape, I enacted phase 1 of my SSM contingency plan and picked up an Elise from New York and drove it back across the country to Seattle. The plan was to daily drive the car (I had been dailying our Forester for a while and was getting bored of that for some reason) and slowly just mod it into a fun and fast street car. I also knew that, in the end, it was probably a better platform for SSM than the Miata, and that it would likely someday take over, but I was thinking it'd be a couple years before that plan started unfolding. I was wrong.

10583987_636369762828_5461914175468102933_n[1]Shortly after the SC blew up at Crow's Landing, I tentatively made the decision to move up the timetable for the Elise. The first step was that I wanted to make sure that I could actually kill two birds with one stone with the car. I wanted the true unicorn -- the daily driveable SSM car, and not just "could" daily drive, actually "want to" daily drive. So, I decided that the first thing to do would be suspension/wheels/tires for the car, so that it was in basically full SSM stiffness trim and I could try that out before committing to the full build.

10592827_636689142788_6586557377148567369_n[1]While researching how I wanted to do that, an opening came up in a local performance driving school (high speed exercises + instructed lapping of Pacific Raceway) that I'd wanted my wife to take for a while. I had the perfect excuse to throw some money at the car and test it out at the same time. After talking with Fred Zust at Blackwatch Racing, we hatched a plan to quickly ship me a bunch of parts and get the car together in time for the track day. Much to my surprise, everything showed up on time and I had time to actually get the car aligned and do some shakedown on the street before the event. Needless to say, the car was a blast on the track and worked great, despite being somewhat down on power (which I later verified on the dyno as ~15% down). I daily drove the car for a couple weeks and quickly decided that I was completely fine driving the car this stiff on the street.

IMG_2880When the Miata had the several issues at the Packwood Pro, it was really the death knell, after I had already gone that deep into the Elise. In a local event right after nationals, I took the car out officially as the "last hurrah", and, of course, to spite me, it immediately catastrophically broke again. It made it nice and easy to take the car home, roll it into the garage, throw it on jackstands, and immediately strip every sellable part from the carcass without remorse. Since then, I have been selling off the parts at a reasonable pace on all the major Miata boards.

With money coming in from the Miata parts, at this point, I've paid for a good portion of the first phase of the build of the Elise. I hope to have everything together by the end of 2014 to have a winter/spring to work on the tune and really dial in the car to be ready for the season next year. I'll be posting more detailing the build of the car as the more interesting parts start showing up and the motor comes out. The site will soon transform to only have history of the Miata on it and instead be focused on the Elise, so keep in touch.

19Mar/120

Finishing the Drivetrain

Posted by David de Regt

Since the day that I got the Manifold (March 9th, over a week later than it was supposed to be), I've been working pretty solid on the car every spare waking moment.  As it turns out, after taking 4 months to work on the project, Corky ignored all of my measurements and schematics that I sent to him, measured a random supercharger he had on the shelf, and designed the supercharger mount and collector based on that.  So, essentially every measurement on the manifold was wrong, not to mention that the collector output ended up being directly into the alternator bracket, as well as contacting the live post of the alternator.  So, after opening the package and a few minutes later realizing these lovely things, I've been constantly fixing the stream of problems resulting from this.

I first fabricated a new alternator bracket out of crap I had lying around to get the bracket out of the way, and tried several different slightly shorter accessory belts to try to move the alternator ever so slightly further over so that it would clear the collector output.  I then had to modify the alternator live stud to point further down so that it would clear the collector as well.  After all that, the manifold would actually bolt onto the engine.  At this point, it was time to put the stock manifold onto the car and get the car back to Doug's so that he could make the final exhaust and we could work on the rest of this fab.

Corky was also supposed to create a radiator and intercooler from cores, which, for the last 2 months straight he said he was going to ship out at the end of each week I emailed.  When I finally pressed him "now or never" last week, he said he had no idea when he was going to be able to do it.  So, that night I spent a bunch of time measuring the radiator opening and browsing the net for substitutes and ordered a 3-row (2.5" thick) 92-00 Civic radiator and RX-7 sidemount intercooler from CXRacing, which seemed to get me the best combination of what I needed at the measurements I needed to make them fit in.  I ordered them up, and they arrived just in the nick of time.  Doug had made the exhaust all afternoon Wednesday (March 14), and the parts arrived midday Thursday, aiming to make a Dyno session friday, and then autocross all weekend.  So, the race was on.  I came over at noon Thursday to Doug's and we started working.

The next step was getting the supercharger to mount to the manifold.  I had to grind away a bunch of material from around the supercharger mount so that there'd be enough room to get a wrench around some bolts, grind away a ton of material from the collector inlet and intermediate plate, so that some air could actually get from the supercharger all the way into the collector, and replace the studs with bolts, since studs wouldn't clear the SC at all.  After several hours on the floor of Chase Race with wrenches, a sharpie, and a die grinder, I finally was able to attach the supercharger to the manifold.  Not exactly a light pile of metal, all assembled.

There's a very careful order of operations to install everything.  Off the car, the supercharger and intermediate plate must be attached to the manifold.  From there, the manifold must be attached to the car, and only after that can the fuel rail squeeze around the supercharger and nestle its way into its home.  Bill Freiheit did a great job making me a quick supercharger to throttle body (I went with a 75mm Mustang 5.0 BBK throttle body, the BBK-1503) adapter, which nicely dealt with that portion of the setup.  I'll deal with the intake later on, but I'm hoping we can make something that curls down by the passenger side wheel well to pull fresh air out from under the car.

While I finished getting the manifold together, Doug had been working on making custom mounts for the intercooler and radiator and finishing up some other stuff (exhaust tweaks, etc.)  As it turns out, they work fantastically and fit great in there.  I was originally planning on getting custom ones made down the line, but it's possible I'll be happy sticking with these for quite a while now -- 100$ intercooler and 70$ radiator, can't beat that.  We finished those at about the same time, so I turned my attention to the intake piping.  Doug was new to welding aluminum, so this was a new game for him, and I'd never designed intake piping before, so I had a fun challenge of trying to fabricate legos that played nice with each other.  In the end, the assortment of stuff I got from SiliconIntakes worked great for really cheap, and we ended up with some functional piping.  Neither of us are particularly proud of our work, but it did get the job done.

The last major thing was the SC belt.  I'd managed to find the shortest belt that would go onto the setup (required forcing it over the crank pulley while turning it with a wrench), and then found a 6-rib Gates auto-tensioning pulley (usually used in mid 90s GM cars) and come up with a harebrained scheme that I figured just might work.  I did some hackneyed "measuring" with a sharpie, staring at the engine bay, and formed a plan.  We cut out a chunk of aluminum, drilled a bunch of complicated holes in it, welded on a bracket, attached it to the manifold, and, much to both of our surprises, it just worked.

Finally, there was a ton of other cleanup/finishing work -- doing some rewiring, fabricating a throttle cable bracket, running vacuum lines, etc.  Around 4 AM, we finally got the car fired up.  Remarkably, it basically fired right up without any fuss.  I spent some time futzing with the fuel map so that it'd be drivable, we identified 2 coolant leaks (one was easy, one was a total pain) and after celebrating with a quick beer I managed to finally get the car home a little after 5 AM.  It drove perfectly, and it was really hard to keep my right foot from squeezing out some more whine, even though I'd zeroed out the on-boost timing map and made the on boost fuel map super rich, just in case.  Even pushing just a couple pounds of boost on the drive home (really really light squeeze),  I could tell it was going to be fast.