Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Mystery Machine LIVES

At the end of the last race, the Mystery Machine came off the track at Reno Fernley in a huge cloud of white smoke. We guessed it was the rear main seal that blew, but honestly, there was oil everywhere so it was really hard to tell. And it sounded terrible.

How terrible, you ask? THIS terrible:

So in August we picked up a potential replacement from the Milpitas Pull Your Part (since closed, alas), and then we... kind of sat around for a while. We didn't really have anywhere to work.

By october it occurred to us that we should really put the engine in if we were planning to race. In this process we have learned valuable lessons:

1. If you're going to pull a junkyard engine, it's a really good idea to do a few simple tests first - a compression check (even a basic one, hand crank it and stick a finger over the spark plug hole and see if it pushes). You should also probably pull off the valve cover and make sure the head is full of nice shiny oil, and not foamy oil-and-coolant milkshake, and rust. Otherwise you get to go back to Pick N Pull and do the whole thing over again, which is exactly what we did.

Empty engine bay:
From Mystery machine rebuild

Work in progress:
From Mystery machine rebuild

2. While a 2-ton folding shop crane sounds excessive - even if it was really cheap from Harbor Freight - it is not. It is AWESOME, especially if you need to winch multiple junkyard engines in and out of trucks and vans.

From Mystery machine rebuild

From Mystery machine rebuild

3. There's no better time to rebuild an engine than when it's out of the vehicle, on a stand or on a crane. We thought about that. But it really seemed like a lot of work. So we just installed it.

The new engine came with a shattered flywheel, which was an encouraging piece of evidence in trying to determine why the donor van (a 1990 dodge caravan) was junked in the first place. On the flywheel there were pick-n-pull part numbers, and hand-written lettering that said "89 Le Baron".

From Mystery machine rebuild

Despite having done a solid preflight check on our second replacement, after a day of pulling and a day of installation, we still didn't know if it would run. But we finally drew some good automotive fortune, because the new engine purrs like a kitten. (Persistence helps. If you don't have time to do it right, you can always do it over.)

Meanwhile, JDH also fulfilled his dream of converting our 14" rims to a 15" setup. This is way harder than it needs to be, due to the really-similar-but-not-the-same universality of K-car parts. The basic unit to replace is the steering knuckle, the whole bracket with hub plate, lower suspension mount, and caliper bracket. We already had calipers, rotors and pads from having tried this before, but this time, after pulling four different sets of steering knuckles and three attempts at replacement calipers, we were successful -- mostly. The front wheels have some disquieting positive camber.

The back was just new drums with the different lug pattern, and that was all. Our new 15" pick n pull steel rims are super pimp.

Between the pick n pull engine, the frequently-wrecked chassis, and the full selection of drivetrain parts (we also swapped halfshafts, which was easier than replacing our ripped cv boot), the entire vehicle is pretty much a junkyard special.

Now, I'm looking forward to spending some quality time at pick-n-pull this week, sorting receipts to reclaim a truckload of core charges.

- 2 busted engines
- 1 transmission (actually, we're keeping that, along with one of the spare turbos)
- 2 halfshafts, 4 steering knuckles, 2 calipers, and 2 rear drums
- 1 battery
- 6 steel wheels

Now here's a picture from the last race:
From reno fernley lemons

Thunderhill is going to be AWESOME.

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