Monday, August 29, 2011

Don't angle grind your leg, and an Ode to Door Hinges

Angle grinders are not the best choice when exfoliating your shins.  Just saying. . .

I read this write-up about the Lexus SC400.  This is not a car I have ever given a lot of thought about in the past.  I used to think they were boring, pedestrian and slow compared to say a Trans Am of the same era.  But after reading that article, and going out and looking a bit, I have to say that Lexus is truly worth a second or third look.

Reference the door hinges.  That article goes on about them.  And yes, it's pretty silly to be geeked up about a pair of door hinges.  But you really do have to see these things to believe them.  I have no idea what posessed them to do this, but it's cool.

These hinges weigh about 5 or 6 pounds each.  And they were built to withstand the apocalypse.  No kidding.

Your usual door hinge is a simple tab and rod affair, with maybe a spring (maybe).  If you've ever owned a 70's or 80's era GM coupe (like my old Monte Carlo), then you know that door hinges are just not up to the job in these old cars.  I think the doors on that Monte Carlo dropped two inches the minute you pulled the latch.

Now the hinges and doors on my Camaro open and close like brand-new.  They just haven't been used enough to have worn out and sagged.  But they will.  So I'm giving some thought about retro-fitting these Lexus hinges in.  Just a thought.  There's plenty of room behind the fender for them, and I don't think the fabrication needed would be too tough.

If not, then I'll just keep them and use them somewhere else.  I know it's dumb, but it's kinda fun to look at them and think about how someone in this day and age would ever build something indestructible like that.  It flies in the face of everything this society is about.  And if they built the rest of the car like that, I am going to have to get one.

Now, onto the actual restoration stuff I did this weekend.  I received my POR-15 starter kit on Friday, and began prepping one of my A-arms and the transmission crossmember.  Prep was easy.  I took all the old scale and undercoating off the A-arm with a wire wheel (hence the shin).  Then it was just a matter of spraying on the Marine Clean, letting it sit a bit, then rinsing it off.  After that, I let it dry, and then applied the metal prep solution which left the piece looking like this:

After that, I just brushed on the POR-15 and let it cure.  This stuff is supposed to be pretty tough, and it seems like it.  I was careful, and didn't get it all over the place like I usually do with paint.  Solvents and strippers won't do much to this stuff once it's cured.

Once the POR-15 was well-cured, I hit the A-arm with a shot of Rustoleum Professional Enamel.  We'll see how that holds up.  But once it's done, it sure makes those old parts look much, much better.

Just for laughs, the crossmember.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Exchanged by 60cu ft bottle today at Airgas.  Total was just over $50.  I do have most of the frame welded up, so this tank should last a good long time.  Also ordered my POR-15, and some bulk 40 grit flap disks. 

In grinding those welds, I've been going through flap disks at a phenominal rate.  I bought a fancy-pants one at Lowe's, but I don't get the impression that it lasted any longer than the Harbor Freight disks (which are less than half as much).   I've tried everything from 40 to 120 grit.  I prefer the 40's for faster grinding.  One nice thing: The cheap 4 1/2" angle grinder I bought at HF is one tough little booger.  It's been getting flogged for months now, and still going strong (knock on wood).

Next step: Touch-up welding, some grinding and POR-15 (when it comes).

After that:  Repaint/recoat floorpan/firewall and re-attach the subframe.  From there on, it gets expensive for awhile.  I'll need:
  • Body/Radiator Support Bushings/Hardware
  • Ball Joints
  • Coil Springs
  • Shocks
  • Tie-rod Ends
  • Steering Box (3rd Gen IROC Z)
  • Disk Brake Conversion
The question is, do I spring for the disk brake conversion now?  I think the answer is yes, which will mean a $700 to $1200 hit.  But it does have to be done, and there's no sense buying the front and rear separately.

I was pretty surprised at how cheap the steering box will be.  Less than $200 from a number of vendors.  From what I understand, the IROC-Z steering upgrade is one of the simplest but most effective upgrades you can do on these first-gen cars.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Well, the welding continues.  I've used a small roll of .030 wire up, part of a new one, and all my gas!  Welding body work takes almost no wire, or gas, but this sort of thing really eats it up.  I'll have to go exchange my tank one of these next days.  I'll have to go early from work, because the shop closes at 5:00.

My beads are looking much nicer, even though they're still crappy looking.  But this topside has gone much easier than the bottom.  Too bad, because this side will be tucked up against the body of the car, where no one will ever see it.

But I'm confident this will stiffen and strengthen the frame overall.  I am thinking very much along the lines of using a Hotchkis TVS for the suspension rebuild/upgrade.  I did buy that set of multileaf springs awhile back, but maybe they'll have to go on Ebay or KSL.  I'm sure someone out there could use a set of springs for their first-gen project.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I still can't f*cking weld :(

Well, I got the frame washed down and in the garage.  I needed to wash out all the leftover green diamond stuff left from sandblasting.  There wasn't too much.  Then I just set the frame on some blocks on the free side of the garage.

The next step was to mark off the seams in the frame at 6" intervals.  I don't want to weld any more than that at a time, in order to prevent warping the frame.

There still is some undercoating inside the seams, where the sandblaster couldn't get them, and that causes me a little trouble with the welding.  And for some reason, when I hit the factory welds, they react differently than the surrounding steel.  Not sure if that's normal, but it doesn't seem like anything to worry about at this time.

You can see in these pictures that there are some real nasty gaps and crappy welds going on here.  I'm not saying my welds are all that great, but at least they do in fact join the metal together.

I will finish the bottom today, and move onto the top tomorrow.  It goes fairly quickly.  I am certain that at some juncture I will burn a gigantic hole in my ass from switching from hot side to cool side.  But them's the breaks.

Still have to get some POR 15 in.  I guess I'll just order it online.  I prefer to buy from local shops, but that doesn't seem practical sometimes.

My welds still look like unbridled ass, but I'm getting a little better at it.  One other thing to note:  This kind of welding eats up the wire and Argon/CO2 like no one's business.  I will probably have to get my bottle exchanged after the frame is done.

One other thing that's important:  Protecting the kids that wander the neighborhood. The last thing in the world you want is to flash burn some 8 year old's eyeballs.  I have some good little helper kids in the neighborhood, and they're too damn curious for their own good.  So I try to take precautions, so they don't get burned by the welding arc.

Yes, that is in fact a prayer rug.  I got it in Kuwait in '91.  And no, I don't give a damn about using it for whatever boring, dirty but useful blanket-type chore I can find for it.  It's usually draped over something or thrown into a corner.  I haven't really defiled it yet.  Not that I can remember, anyway. . .

Insensitive?  Yep.  But be honest, you don't really give a damn about what I think--and I'm happy to return the favor.  If this pisses you off, I win.

Also, remember to always take time for the little things.  For example, replacing the boring old shifter knob in your Pathfinder for a nice rednecky chrome skull.  Chrome skulls, Camaros and cultural insensitivity are the lifeblood of this once great nation. . .

Friday, August 12, 2011

On the side. . .

One thing I forgot to post on was some of the firewall/floorpan work I did.  I did a quick once-over, looking for trouble spots and didn't really find much of anything.  That's pretty incredible, since the floorpans are one of the big, big problems on these cars.  There is some rot on the bodywork under the passenger door, but I think that will be fairly easily corrected--it's just a matter of a small patch or two at the most.  It may not even be necessary to do anything over there.

A minor irritation are these little areas where two pieces of sheetmetal have been spot-welded together.  Can't say I care for that too much.

So I welded the seams up a little better, and welded the brackets up to the body a little better.  Once again, spot-welding with .025 wire, until things are filled up.  Then a quick hit with a flap disk.

I am stoked about the floorpan.  Now, the two remaining potentially nasty places are the trunk, which was good last time I looked at it.  And the rear wheel wells, which I am sure need to be replaced.  Really, that's going to be the most difficult part of the rebuilding process.  I dread that even more than redoing the roof.

Blasted Frame!!!

OK, the guys over at Utah Soda Blasting got the frame done, and it looks pretty darn good.  For the cost, I don't think you can beat it, because the alternatives are scrubbing by hand (miserable), or buying your own rig (expensive!).  For anyone looking for this sort of work, I'd definitely recommend them.

For a fun comparison, let's do a quick before/after:

What throws you off at first is the texture of the sandblasted steel.  It almost looks coated.  The rough surface should do a great job of holding the new undercoating (POR 15, I'm thinking).

So now, it's time to bust out the welder, and get some of the open seams and junk cleaned up on this puppy.  It's going to take some work, but I'm excited to get going.  In fact, I'm going to have to consciously take my time, so I don't screw it up.  Rewelding the frame is a lot like rewelding the sheet metal on the body.  You have to work in small sections to avoid overheating and thereby warping the frame.  That is no good.

Some other close-ups:

I'm so excited I could pee my pants!!!

Friday, August 5, 2011

More of the Waiting Game

One more weekend without the subframe, but that should be it.

In the meantime, I have not been able to do much with the car anyway.  I'm going to spend some time tonight on the firewall and subframe connectors with a wire wheel.  Look for any major rust trouble-spots.  I may pull the doors, as well.  Just for fun.  The only problem is that my doors will probably have to live in the basement. . .  There's nowhere for them in the garage right now.

My sprinkler system was a huge derail, but the worst of that is over.  I hope. . .

I've also been doing some research over at, looking at some of the Chevy 250 stuff, but mostly looking for information on the various 4200 swaps being done.  Despite at least two first-gen F-body swaps, and at least one Nova swap, I cannot for the life of me find pictures of the engine mounts or modifications to the subframe--if there are any.  I know that that last turbo 4200 the article said that the engine crossmember had been notched, but I cannot find any pictures.

I hate pestering folks, but I gotta get an idea of what that entails.  As far as I can tell, a straight-up 4200 swap, no turbo or other silliness, should be about the same or cheaper than a good stout rebuild on the 250.  And the trade-offs in power and fuel economy are far better with the 4200.  I'm probably going to have to make a nuisance of myself over on some forums.

Anyway, if there's anyone out there in interwebs land who actually reads this blog:  If you have some spare time, I'd seriously kill for some actual progress pictures of a 4200 swap into a first-gen F-body or Nova.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Waiting Game 2

Still waiting for word on the frame.  I should have it back any day now.

In the meantime, I found a link with a picture of that '68 Firebird with the 4200 Vortec: Jeff Weiser's Firebird