Archive for the 'Automotive Frustrations' Category

Rally Colorado

25 July 2022 at 12:49 pm
by Berck

The prep for Rally Colorado was complicated by the fact that the Race Against Kids’ Cancer in the Vee is the very next weekend. That meant I had to prepare two race cars before the event. Rally Colorado was a 5.5 hour tow away.  There are some pretty intense mountain passes between here and there with some first-gear switchbacks.

Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon

The service park for Rally Colorado was in a very green park in the middle of town. It takes a lot of watering to get grass like this on the western slope.

We checked in Thursday afternoon and spent 4 hours doing first pass recce for the first 3 stages. Rally Colorado is nice and simple with a single service park, 3 stages run twice on Saturday and another 3 stages twice on Sunday. We headed to our AirBNB in Utah and got some pizza and beer for dinner in Vernal.

Our scrutineering time block was 9:45 – 11:00am on Friday morning. We hoped it wouldn’t take much time, but boy were we wrong. It took about a half an hour wait for them to get to us, and it took us another 2 hours to get through. We needed to fix 3 things: a hole in my seat cover exposed some foam. They were happy with us patching it with gaffer’s tape. They couldn’t see the date on my fire bottle, so I needed to remove one of the metal straps that was covering it. In retrospect, I don’t understand why they wanted to see the date on the fire bottle–nothing in the rules says anything about the date on the SFI-certified onboard fire suppression systems. There is a note that says dry powder systems must be serviced annually (and my two handheld systems were), but nothing about the gas-filled on-board system. Finally, they complained about gaps in the rear firewall where the cage tubes penetrate. We “fixed” the latter with a bunch of speed tape. It took at least 3 attempts with more speed tape before they were finally happy with it.

Recce on Friday was long, hot and dusty. Probably extra frustrating for Jack since I basically had no idea what I was doing.

We managed a second pass through all of Saturday’s stages, but only a first pass through Sunday’s before we needed to be at Parc Expose. Which was also long, hot and dusty.

After that, we were instructed to parade up and down the main street of Rangely. A bunch of kids were there to watch, and some of the better-prepared crews even had candy to throw.

Sunday morning, all ready to go. We managed an off-by-one error where our start position of #27 meant that we were out at 10:26, not 10:27. Fortunately, I also simultaneously made the error of pulling up to the time control a couple of seconds early, and even though Jack handed them the card at 10:27:00, they gave it to us.

The first stage went fine despite my having absolutely no idea what to do. I started to get the hang of the notes by the end rather than just driving what I could see. It’s incredibly satisfying to be able to trust “right 6 over crest” when all I can see is the crest. We got close enough to the novice crew in front of us that the last 30 seconds were pretty scary with completely unpredictable moments of zero visibility.

At some point the voltage meter pegged at 17 volts, which seemed bad, but not bad enough that I was going to do anything about it. When we got the ATC for the second stage, I killed the car, but left the master switch on to run the cooling fan. Only, everything died with exactly no electrical power. I frantically examined the fuse for the signal wire to the solenoid, but it was good. The problem was more obvious: the negative battery terminal had become disconnected. Easy enough to put it back on to get the car running, but I didn’t have a wrench to tighten it down more.

The only other minor gripe about the car in the first couple of stages was the shift knob kept coming off. I have no idea why BMW makes everything so complicated, but I couldn’t figure out how the shift knob was supposed to work. What’s wrong with a threaded-on knob?

The second stage went even better. Where the first stage was fairly tight and slow, the second one had some long stretches of fast, open bits. I’m sure that with some confidence it could be taken close to flat out in this car, but as it was, our maximum speed of 82mph was plenty terrifying.

The third stage included a truly scary section with a crest, which if taken straight-on, would lead to a jump off a mountain. It was marked with caution signs, and we’d decided early on that we’d just slow to a crawl for that section. No problems there. A HAM-licensed (but still suspenderless) friend was working the radio checkpoint at a T-intersection where we turn right through a cattle guard. A perfect opportunity for a handbrake turn, but also a perfect opportunity slight right into the uprights on the cattle guard. I attempted the handbrake turn while Jack hit the horn, but didn’t commit hard enough. The car only rotated about 45 degrees then started pushing. Lame. Fortunately, I was also going slow enough that I didn’t hit anything.

After that the road opened up a bit, and I sped up and shifted into third. The HLA noise the car makes when the oil gets hot seemed to be getting even louder, and the car seemed low on power. I downshifted, but the car wouldn’t accelerate at all, even at 5,500rpm on mostly flat ground. The oil pressure was the same crappy 25psi it always is when it gets hot. I shifted back into 3rd and the power loss continued over the next 30 seconds until there was just nothing. I put the clutch in and the engine died immediately. So, I pulled off the side of the road and our rally was over.

It would crank fine, but something sounded off. Oil level was still at the top of the dip stick. I figured we spun a bearing, given the low oil pressure.

There had been some weird reshuffling of order after ATC but before start that no one explained or consulted us about. We were moved to last place, even though our times were faster than a couple of the other novices. Fortunately they also switched to 2-minute starts, so we were no longer in any danger of catching anyone. And it meant that we only had to wait for sweep to come pick us up. There was also another competitor who’d been stopped on stage that managed to get going again.

Amazingly, we actually had mobile phone service and I was able to get Jonah and Dan to come pick us up with the trailer at the end of the stage. Sweep also towed us at a terrifying 40mph, which was problematic given that there was enough dust that we couldn’t even see the tow vehicle at times. Fortunately we survived.

We got back to service after the other cars headed back out on stage. The other service crews were all anxious to discover what had happened.

Dan pulled the spark plugs, and one of them really didn’t want to come out. Once it did, it became obvious that the problem wasn’t a bearing.

The cylinder was just full of mangled/melted metal. I’m guessing there was some kind of detonation event. Not really sure what would cause it in one cylinder–maybe a clogged injector that caused that cylinder to go lean?

I’ve now done what seems like an insane amount of work to get to drive about 40 minutes on stage, and I’m faced with a lot more. I do, at least, have a vague idea of what it’s actually like to drive in a rally now, and the taste was enough that I want more.

Someone had kittens, suggesting that kittens make everything better. It didn’t hurt:

Beer helped too:

I’m not really sure what to do next. I’ll pull the M42 and see if it’s rebuildable. I wouldn’t be surprised if both the head and the block are beyond repair. People keep saying that M42s are easy to come by, but I’m not exactly seeing a bunch of them available for good prices. M20s seem much easier to come by, but if I’m going to go through the trouble of a 6 cylinder swap, should I pick something more modern like an M52?

Biggest factors are: I don’t want to spend the rest of my life getting this thing running again. I don’t know anything about BMW’s, which makes me wonder if diving right into a engine swap is the best plan. Dropping another M42 in there seems like the easiest thing, but will I regret not having taken the time to do the swap once I actually figure out how to drive it? There’s absolutely no chance of my ever placing in L2WD, so it’s not like switching to O2WD would be a big deal.

It’s Legal!

15 March 2022 at 3:54 pm
by Berck

I think this weekend I’ve managed to accomplish everything necessary to call the car legal for ARA. Still plenty to do, but the major welding hurdles have been accomplished thanks to my codriver and fellow Vee people.




Top of the brace bars done:



Overall, great success! I didn’t get a photo of the finished bars yet, but they came out reasonably well considering the retrofit. The must-do list is shrinking. I need to paint the new bars, install a modern rally computer and intercom and sort out the shifter and I should be good to rally.

Rally Fire Suppression Complete

5 March 2022 at 6:57 pm
by Berck

Fire suppression finally installed. Stroud did, in fact, send the right bracket/clamps. It’s just the bracket looks short and the clamps didn’t reach because the car is bent. Some massaging with a sledge hammer and it fits fine now. I hope to be done bending and flaring tubing for awhile. The steel stuff is rough.

Driver side nozzle is under the steering column:

Codriver nozzle is under the soon-to-be-removed terratrip.

Next up: I need to do something about the driver position. Actually, the driver position is mostly fine. Maybe a little higher than I’d like, but that gives me enough pedal clearance. I can barely reach the steering wheel, which is easily fixed with the steering wheel spacer the car came with. I think the original builder was taller than the previous owner. Unfortunately, that does nothing for the shifter. It’s pretty hard to reach in 1,3,5. I’m thinking I should buy some cheap ebay shifter and bend it. Open to advice from Josh or any other E30 people reading. (I don’t really care whether it’s a “short” shifter or not, except that short will probably also make it easier to reach).

Rally Fire Suppression

27 February 2022 at 7:32 pm
by Berck

My fire suppression system finally arrived! I went with a Stroud 10lb F-36 (halogen replacement) system. Pricey at $800 shipped. I could have gone cheaper with one of the foam systems, but I didn’t want to for several reasons.

(1) The foam systems have a minimum temperature limit. They can freeze, and I live in Colorado at 9,200ft. The car lives outside when I’m not working on it, and for instance, it was -12F a few nights ago. I don’t want to have to deal with taking the bottle in and out of the car.

(2) Foam makes a mess. I accidentally discharged the fire system in my Vee once. It was an unfortunate $500 accident, but at least I didn’t have a giant mess to clean up. I’m not actually sure what happened–I’m not sure it was correctly installed. I noticed that the fire handle looked like it was about 1/8 an inch out from where it should be. With the pin in the bottle, I pushed the handle back in. To make sure it was fine, I pulled the pin on the bottle. It wasn’t fine.

(3) Gas systems require fewer nozzles. My 10lb system only has 3 nozzles. Easier install.

I also could have legally gotten away with a 5lb system. But I think that something the size of a rally car is probably more properly equipped with a 10lb system.

Thankfully, the fire bottle (barely!) fits behind a seat. Unfortunately, Stroud sent the wrong bracket/clamps. I’m pretty sure they sent me the bracket/clamps for a 5lb bottle, which means that they won’t secure my 10lb bottle. I assume this is an easy thing for them to make right, so I sent them an email.

So, I got the system about halfway installed. This system requires bending and flaring 1/4″ steel tubing, which does take a little time. It also has 2 outputs from the bottle. This works great for, say, my Formula Vee where you want one tube to go to the engine bay and another to go to the cockpit, but less good for a rally car where I’m just running both of them forward.

ARA rules say to install according to the instructions. The instructions are vague. Dragsters should install one nozzle on the driver, and one each over each exhaust header. Circle track racers should “blanket the driver”. I’m going to to install one nozzle from the driver, one for the codriver, and one for the engine compartment.

Thus far I’ve managed the co-driver and engine compartment nozzles.

The fuel comes in on the intake side and that seemed the more likely place for a fire, so I put the nozzle on that side. Presumably with a gas system the location isn’t super critical. A little annoyed that while they supplied steel lines, they went with aluminum fittings. But I guess if the aluminum fittings have melted, I’m dead anyway.

On the wheel hunt. Facebook marketplace only has 3 15″ MINI wheels in the Denver area. They are phone dials, but they’re painted black, which isn’t the right color for a rally car and look pretty rough. $75/each is a more reasonable price than ebay, at least. Of course, getting them requires driving 1.5 hours each way. I’ll see if they’re available next time I drive to Denver.

I went ahead and bought a Stilo Trophy DES. The yellow one, because it’s cheaper. I was initially just going to buy coms for my full face helmet, but I realized that even with the visor up, I’m never going to be able to keep my glasses from fogging with that thing in a closed car, and I’d just be much happier with an open faced helmet if I could wear one. Annoyed that there are no FIA/SA2020 Stilo rally helmets, but whatever.

The Audi Chronicles, Part I

2 September 2018 at 5:54 pm
by Berck

For years, I’ve wanted an Audi Quattro, but decent ones are now going for insane amounts of money. And buying one is probably the cheapest part of owning it. Still, I watch Craigslist, just curious what might show up. Because Audi originally called a car “quattro”, then later called their all-wheel-drive system the same thing, it’s pretty much impossible to search for one. Fans refer to it as the “Ur Quattro”, but searching for one by that name isn’t really going to help.

So when you search for Audi Quattro on Craigslist, you get hits for things like “Audi A4 Quattro” which isn’t very interesting, and not what I’m looking for. But a couple months ago an “Audi 5000S Quattro” appeared. I was fascinated.

Given that we had a non-Quattro 5000 Turbo growing up, I knew that this was easily the least reliable car in existence. I very occasionally see one on the road and amazed that it’s still moving. And here was one that someone was actually trying to sell. For $1,200.

I decided to go check it out. Astoundingly it started right up and drove just fine, if slowly. Some minor surface rust, destroyed paint, but quite the survivor. All 4 electric windows and the electric sunroof worked, which was quite the shock. Audis in general are quite unreliable, and the electrical bits are always the first to go. I wonder how many motors, relays and switches had been replaced for this feat. Additionally, both differential locks worked!

The guy selling it had purchased it from an old Audi tech who had kept it running, but decided to thin out his collection of Audis.

While it had brand new tires, the windshield was cracked and it was much slower than it should have been. So slow that pulling out in traffic was a bit of an adventure. The power steering rack was leaking. I asked if they guy would budge on his price, and he said no, since he’d just lowered it to $1,200 from $1,400. I told him I’d pass, but later sent him an email that if he didn’t sell it at $1,200 that I’d buy it for $1,000. He caved immediately with, “Fine. Take it.”

Jonah wanted to know why I thought we needed it. “We don’t. No one needs this car. If you thought you needed it, it would just leave you on the side of the road and broke once you paid someone to fix it. I want it, and it’s only $1,000…” “Why don’t you buy something cool you really want, like an MGB or an RX-7?” “There are no $1,000 MGBs or RX7s in running condition.”

Jonah took me to pick it up on a cool Monday morning and it barely started. It died immediately if I tried to give it any gas at all, so I had to sit in the lot where I’d just handed over $1,000 for a few minutes until it was warm enough to move. But it got me to work just fine.

It came with 8 keys, given that apparently every lock had been replaced at least once, but no one had tried to rekey them. There were a collection of spare parts in the trunk, and a liter or so pentosin for topping off the hydraulic fluid from the leaking steering rack.

When it came time to drive home that evening, Highway 24 was closed because of mud and debris from a particularly fierce rainstorm. Rather than waiting for it to reopen, I decided to head up the 20 miles of dirt and mud that is Mt. Herman road in my Audi. Jonah refused to join me, deciding instead to spend the night with her parents, convinced there was no way the Audi would make it home.

I immediately discovered that I got a terrible beeping and flashing warning light because some system believed the engine was overheating even though it wasn’t. Additionally, I got very low on hydraulic fluid, so by the end of the journey I had two simultaneous warning lights–not at all unexpected from an ’87 Audi. I was a bit perturbed by the speed of the power steering leak, but otherwise had an enjoyable drive home on a road that I wouldn’t have dared drive in the Miata.

I bought a copy of the (english) factory repair manuals for $30 on ebay and set out to figure out the cold start problem. I determined that the previous owner had wired the cold start injector to a button on the dashboard. Pressing it was just as likely to flood the engine as it was to get a successful cold start. The idle didn’t appear to be regulated at all, so I set about trying to diagnose the idle computer. Hours of reading and prodding with my multimeter and I determined that there was no power through the idle switch or the air sensor. I established continuity for the power lines from the fuel injection computer to the ignition computer, so I decided that one of the computers or the other was bad.

Fortunately, both were on ebay for less than $20. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice they were shipping from Lithuania. In the meantime, I charged up the A/C, and was pleasantly surprised that it worked. I removed what seemed like 50 pounds of 1990s carphone wiring. I tracked down a replacement for the faulty coolant sensor, which extinguished that warning light.

When I got both computers in the mail, installed them, and there was no difference at all. Before I could determine that, however, I had to charge the battery because it was completely bad. I couldn’t figure out why, but wondered if the aftermarket radio drained too much power. Before giving up for the day, to determine if that was the battery draw problem, I pulled the fuse for that circuit and stuck the fuse in an empty slot. When I did so, the car started idling perfectly. The slot was, according to the factory manual, unused. But according to the label on the fuse box, it was labeled “Engine Timing” which sure sounded important. Now cold starts worked great!

I excitedly drove it to work the next morning. It started immediately and even let me set off while it was still cold. I drove the whole way without a single warning light. The climate control system did go rogue and decide at some point that I wanted full heat blasting in my face, but I was eventually able to coax it back to air conditioning.

On the drive home, the odometer stopped working at 185,999 miles. I worried that this was a bad omen, but was determined to see if I could drive it to work two days in a row.

The next morning, I hopped in, it started right up. As I started going down the road, I tried to shift into second gear but my foot couldn’t find the clutch pedal. In disbelief, I looked under the dash and found the pedal–stuck to the floor. No amount of pumping or pulling it would disengage the clutch, so I limped back into the driveway and drove the Miata to work.

I ordered clutch master and slave cylinders for less than $100 total. I wanted to install them last Sunday, but discovered that I had a case of the shingles that morning and had to visit an urgent care center instead.

So this weekend, I used the Audi as a distraction from the shingles pain. The slave cylinder was not particularly fun to change, given that it’s behind the engine on top of the transmission and under a pile of goo from the leaking power steering rack. I managed to get it replaced in an hour or so. The master cylinder is stupidly attached to the clutch pedal, and I broke the old fitting trying to remove it, which resulted in quite the spill of brake fluid in the driver’s side foot well. After getting it replaced, I solicited Jonah’s help in bleeding the clutch.

We bled forever, and I couldn’t get any real pressure built up. But on a whim, I started pumping the clutch with the bottom couple inches of travel where there was some resistance. After a few minutes of this, the clutch started operating normally. Worried that there was still air in the system, I bled again, but the pedal immediately got stuck on the floor again. There wasn’t any air this time, so I repeated the pumping process and when the pedal felt good, pronounced it done. I have absolutely no idea how pumping the clutch pedal with the bleed valve closed achieved the desired result.

I pulled apart the instrument cluster, removed the speedometer and determined that it was bound up in a strange way. I managed to fiddle with the gears and make it happy again and reinstalled it. I did not focus on the fact that the previous owner had used purple duct tape to hold the speedometer cable in place. It appears that this guy viewed duct tape as his signature, and he left some in basically every system he touched.

Then I went for a test drive. Everything seemed great, until I tested the differential locks. I try to test them regularly on our dirt road to make sure the mechanisms are free and still work. They completely stopped working. So, back in the garage…

I pulled apart the center console and discovered the differential lock switch is nothing but a giant vacuum mux. One input, and 4 outputs. The input is teed to another line. The lines kept popping out, so I added zip ties to try to keep them in place. Realizing that there was nothing but vacuum needed to activate the locks, I decided to plug the vacuum source up to my vacuum pump. When I did, the system worked great. But it wouldn’t work with the engine source. About then I went to bed.

The vacuum diagram in the factory manual is woefully vague. It shows the source for the differential locks as coming out of the intake manifold, and being teed into the climate control. I was super excited when I found a disconnected vacuum line at the intake manifold. I reconnected it, but the locks still didn’t work. But with some more persistence I found another disconnected line, this one in a position that I was likely to have interfered with while replacing the slave cylinder. Sure enough, this one did the trick.

I replaced the radio head unit with a cheap unit from Amazon. The one in there worked for about 30 seconds at a time, and had no aux input. My $65 Amazon special has bluetooth! That took hours, and then it took another hour to get the differential switch happily routed back to where it goes with all the vacuum lines attached. I changed the oil and air filter. I thought about changing the differential and transmission oil, but I couldn’t find fill plugs for the diffs and the drain plugs appeared to be something like an 17mm allen key, and I didn’t have a tool for that. While tracing vacuum lines, I noticed that the vacuum dump switch on top of the clutch for the cruise control had popped out. It had plastic threads that were stripped, so I put some epoxy on it and threaded back in. I filled up the spare tire. I cleaned out the trunk, and tossed some spare parts that didn’t even appear to be for this Audi.

And then I went for a drive. Everything mostly works! The diff locks work, the radio works, and astoundingly: the cruise control works! We’ll see how some future attempts to drive it to work go.