Ever since we did the engine swap last winter the car has been leaking like the Exxon Valdez. In the end, it was two issues. The first we found and fixed quite some time ago. It was just something we missed in the swap – a small part we should have replaced but didn’t. But that wasn’t the only issue.
So we took the clam off, cleaned the engine, and fired it up. With the clam off, the problem was obvious: we had a major leak in the timing chain cover gasket. To make this repair, you really replace three or four gaskets. And we may as well change the water pump at the same time, because it’ll never be easier.
But “easier” is relative. Easier than what?
The first big issue was getting a bolt out. With stock motor mounts, you can take out two mounts and clock the motor to remove the bolt. With my hard solid mounts, you have to take out three and employ an engine hoist.
I called Stevenson Toyota and ordered the parts. I’d pick them up on the way to the club meeting. But the meeting got pushed to Sunday, so it ended up being out of my way. Mountain States Toyota is closer. At the parts counter, I tell the guy I’m here to get my order. He goes into the back. He’s gone for a long time. He finally returns, has a pow-wow with the other parts guy. They can’t find the timing cover gasket. They know it’s in the building, it came in from Kansas City, but they can’t find it. “Do you need that part?” Yes, I need it, it’s the object of the game. They order another one from Kansas City. It’ll be here by Wednesday.
There was also a discussion of the sealer I’d ordered. The guy says it’s really expensive, like $80 a tube. On the phone, he’d said $8 or $10. Now he tells me their techs get several applications in a tube, and the price he quoted was for an application. He suggests I use a different one, the one commonly used. “Here, I’ll just give it to you.” Cool.
He’s the guy I talked to when I originally ordered the parts. When they couldn’t find the gasket, he said, “You’re the Lotus, right?” And on my second visit, he called me “Lotus”. This time he gives me the gasket, no charge.
Once we had all the parts, Michael could work his magic.
And then the unfortunate happened. The bolts that secure the cover each has a torque spec, but there’s no sequence specified. When Michael was torquing a bolt, he heard a distinct “ping!”
The cover was cracked.
I went down to the garage and found him sitting on the floor, studying his phone. He told me what happened, and a quick search indicated we could get a replacement for $450.
I know how I’d feel if it was me that had done this. I’d have burned with shame. I can feel the heat just thinking about it.
He’s a good mechanic, and he’s proud of his work. So when I tell him it’s no big deal, it doesn’t make him feel any better.
I do a quick internet search and find a replacement on eBay for $150. I’m just about to buy it when I realize we already have one: it’s on the bad motor in the shed. Now all we need is another set of gaskets.
I call the guy at Stevenson to place the order. “Have you ever used our website?” I say “No.” He tells me I should, as it’ll save me a bunch of money. It didn’t occur to me that it’d be cheaper, but so it goes. Even with ten or eleven bucks postage, it saved me money. This gasket, by the way, came from Los Angeles. Makes me wonder how many of these gaskets are available.
There is more than one size of bolt for this cover, and Michael says it’s possible he had gotten one wrong (but, it’d be two, right?). When he pulled the cover off of the old engine, he transferred the bolts to the cracked cover so there’d be no such error the second time.
Early on in this endeavor, I figured we’d be done with this before the end of April, so I bought a track day for April 25. All this drama: parts going missing; an upsetting “ping”; the bolt that won’t come out short of (damn near) removing the engine. All this just added a bunch of stress and put the schedule in jeopardy. Even the schedule was a self-imposed stress: I could get a refund if I cancel at least a day in advance.
But we Michael got it done, on budget and on time.
On Friday we filled it with fluids, hooked up the battery, and fired it up. We ran it up to temperature and were happy to see no leaks anywhere. Saturday was a LoCo meeting, so that would make a nice shake-down cruise.
Saturday morning I washed the car. I still had the undertray and diffuser off. Both were well coated with oil and grunge. I washed the car first, with car wash soap. I used Dawn dishwashing liquid (“3X the grease cleaning!”) on the undertray and diffuser. When I was done, they were cleaner, but not quite clean.
Michael came outside to help me button up the underside of the car. “What time are you leaving for your meeting?” he asks. “I’d like to leave by 11:15.” “It’s 10:54 right now!” We got them put on, but not totally fastened down. We had trouble locating a few fasteners. This would be okay for a short drive, but we’d have to have it buttoned down properly for the track.
It was nice to drive it, finally, after three months.
Lotus Colorado and the Peak to Peak Miata club got together today to take a drive in the mountains to get a good look at the aspens. At least that was the excuse. It was a nearly perfect day for a drive in the mountains. Being a Wednesday, I wasn’t expecting very many cars to show up, but we started off with 22.
Traffic generally wasn’t bad, but all the overviews and pulloffs and roadside parking spaces were pretty full. I guess lots of people had the same idea as us.
Today’s route was notable for me because it’s my first time over Guanella Pass. It doesn’t cross the Divide, but it’s a high one: 11,669′. It’s narrow, has neither center stripe nor edge lines. It’s a nice road with a smooth surface.
We ended our group tour in Georgetown and were on our own for the return home. I-70 was stop and go starting in Idaho Springs. I followed Greg off I-70, through Central City, and up the Peak to Peak highway. I think the best aspens were around Central City. I parted ways with Greg at Coal Creek Canyon. I had almost no traffic, which surprised me.
I was also surprised when I exited the canyon onto Rocky Flats. The smoke over Boulder looked like a big haboob. I thought it must be from Cameron Peak, but evidently it’s from a different fire, up in Wyoming. I found the stark demarcation between smoke and clear (or relatively clear, anyway) interesting. I wouldn’t expect a smoke cloud that’s gone a hundred miles to have such a distinct edge.
Due to 2020 being generally shitty, this looks to be my only track day of the year. It could be argued that, if I had any sense, I wouldn’t even do this one day. A paranoid person might think that it is tempting fate: why give 2020 additional opportunities for mayhem?
The original plan was that I’d have a guest. For a while it looked like one of my track buddies would attend as well. None of that came to pass: my guest messed up his back last weekend and my track buddy decided to be a responsible parent and attend a parent-teacher conference. So it goes.
I arrived early because I wanted to be relaxed in my preparations. It seems whenever I have any time pressure, I mess something up. Never anything serious, but I prefer to have things go smoothly. So I had a bit of time to kill. If the food truck had been open, I’d have spent some of the time eating. I brought a snack with me, but not a meal.
We are typically split into fast and slow groups. I picked the slow group. When I signed in, I asked if we had enough cars to do this. It seems we did. However, during the drivers’ meeting, we were told that the number of entrants was marginal. We’d do fast/slow groups the first hour and after that, we could run as we pleased. Judging by wristbands at the meeting, I guessed there were more slow cars than fast ones.
I was the only Lotus.
The track’s website listed rules for COVID: only people in your own household could be passengers; social distancing should be maintained; masks are required when not wearing a helmet. It didn’t appear that these rules were being enforced. Few of my paddock neighbors wore masks, and some even attempted to shake my hand when introducing themselves.
The weather was ideal, unless you count the smoke from the forest fires, be they here in Colorado or on the west coast. There was no obvious smoke smell, but the haze was significant. The temperature was pleasant and there was no breeze to speak of.
The slow group was up first; we’d have a half hour, but by the time the meeting was over and I made it out on track it was more like 25 minutes.
This is the first time on track since the engine replacement, lighter flywheel, rear brake pads, and new diffuser. I didn’t notice any particular difference, but it has been nearly a year so it’s not a good side-by-side comparison.
I had some considerable traction issues that I’m blaming on tire pressures. (That said, I didn’t change pressure in any sort of attempt to correct the problem.) The real issue of the evening was my brakes. Midway through that first session, my brake pedal started getting long. Brake fluid level was okay. The problem is most likely old fluid. The brakes cooled down between sessions, so things were okay at the start of each session and I’d have increasing fade lap after lap. None of my sessions was very long, so this was an annoyance and something to be closely monitored rather than a significant problem. I can only think it would have been much worse on a regular summer track day when the ambient temperature is twenty or thirty degrees higher.
When I went out for my second session, the check engine light illuminated. I came back into the pits immediately and checked the codes. I had two: P0463 and P1302. P0463 is “Fuel Level Sensor Circuit High Input” which indicates a fuel level that exceeds the fuel tank’s capacity. I filled up in Byers but didn’t fill more than usual. Certainly, after 17 highway miles and 8 laps, I wouldn’t expect this code. I’ve had the P1302 (misfire) once or twice before. I cleared the codes and went back out. If they returned, I’d call it quits. They never did.
I ran a short third session. I would have liked to have gone longer, but was limited by my brake problem. I called it quits after that, as the sun had dropped below the horizon and I figured that by the time my brakes were sufficiently cooled, it would be too dark to put in any good times.
My best time was in the first session, 2:13.40, which I think is a decent time for the street tires. Not spectacular, and I won’t bother putting that lap up on YouTube. Today’s video is mercifully short. This time of year, the sun sets directly over the highway straight. This would normally be quite bothersome, but with the smoke it’s not an issue at all. The camera doesn’t do the scene justice.
And there are my two errors, both exiting the corkscrew. First, I’m too abrupt when pulling out to pass the M3 and I get quite a wobble. The second time, I hit the curb, unsettling the car and causing me to put two wheels off. (The guy behind me on that last one caught it on his camera, but hasn’t sent me a copy yet.)
At least my brake pads are quiet now. (These pads handle high heat, work when cold, are relatively dust-free, and quiet. Except when brand new, when they sound like a locomotive horn when coming to a stop. They need a track day to get quiet.)
Considering how few laps I ran, I was surprised at the physical toll. When I got home, I was quite fatigued and the next morning I had a few more aches and pains than I was expecting.
It’s easy to think that work on the car is done, now that it’s running. But we still have a couple of things to look at.
We have a little oil leak somewhere. There’s a bleeder valve near the oil filter; we had a bit of a drip there when the engine was running, but we think we have it tightened down now.
Even so, we still had a (very small) puddle of oil underneath the car the next morning. (We have the car all put together except for the undertray. That way, any leaks won’t be hidden from us.) We mopped up the puddle and let her sit for another day and no more oil appeared.
So it was time for more than a run around the block. Last Sunday I thought I’d head up Boulder Canyon to the Peak-to-peak highway and come back down Coal Creek Canyon.
When I pulled into Boulder, I’m guessing I saw the local Nissan NSX club out for a drive. I saw three of them, along with a Ferrari and one or two others that looked to be in the group. Just before the start of Boulder canyon they have a big sign up: Critical Traffic Only. It’s not critical that I go that way, so I decided to head up Left Hand Canyon instead.
I’ve never been up that road before. I’m always up for a bit of adventure. It’s a very nice road through a pleasantly verdant valley. There were lots of bicyclists out, but the shoulders are quite wide, at least for a few miles on the eastern end. Things get a bit narrower around Johnstown, though. But my big surprise was seeing the “Pavement Ends” sign a bit past Johnstown. I figured it would only be a couple of miles, so I continued.
The road was nice and wide but it hadn’t been graded in a while. It was quite the washboard road. I’ve taken the car on dirt roads many times before, and don’t have a problem as long as I take it nice and slow. But on the washboard I lost traction when I went slow. Even on the dirt road there were bicyclists, many of whom gave me somewhat quizzical looks: What kind of maniac drives his low-slung sports car on this kind of road? I happily arrived at the highway after ten or fifteen minutes.
The rest of the trip was uneventful. The weather was gorgeous. I applied my sunscreen a bit poorly and got a little burned, but not that big of a deal.
I’ll note that passing through Nederland, it seemed like everybody and his brother was out. The sidewalks and shops were packed, and not that many people were wearing facemasks. The number of COVID cases we’ve seen in the state has gotten pretty small, so I’m thinking most folks feel free to be out and about. I don’t think we’re in the clear yet, so I’ll continue to be more cautious.
Today I went hiking. Another fine opportunity to get the car out for a little run. It’s about 70 miles each way to the Bear Lake parking lot, so I’d do about double last week’s canyon run. On the way up, traffic wasn’t too bad and when I got to the three-lane portion between Lyons and Pinewood Springs I was able to open her up a bit and get on the high cam. It felt good; gave me a big smile.
When I pulled in to my parking place at Bear Lake, the check engine light was illuminated. I have an app on the phone that lets me check the code and reset it. It told me I have a P1301: cylinder 1 misfire. She sounded good, no misfire that I could notice. Michael suggested perhaps it was due to old gas, but I filled it up the other day. There were still a few gallons of gas from October, but most of it is new. I cleared the code.
On the way back home there was quite a bit more traffic and the whole way from Estes to Lyons I basically coasted. a Camaro in front of the car in front of us rode his brakes all the way down the hill from Pinewood Springs. We could smell his brakes before we got to the bottom of the hill.
I didn’t get a chance to put my foot into it until after Lyons. I ran the RPMs up in third but instead of the high cam, I got the rev limiter. This was most unexpected and very disappointing. I tried two more times, but could not find joy. She was well warmed up, having been nearly an hour on the road. Temperature gauge read 191. The check engine light never came back on. I don’t know what is wrong.
The good news is, it appears we have no more oil leak. The car has been parked for five hours, no fluids on the floor under the car and dipstick oil level looks good.
I have a box full of stuff that didn’t get put back on the car. I need to weigh it and post a picture here.
That’s a bit dramatic, I guess. That my car has been in pieces in the garage since October isn’t really a nightmare, even “sort-of”. It has been a source of nervous tension, though. Now, nervous tension has finally come to an end, replaced by a bit of excitement.
Sunday we filled her with fluids. Our big concern was bleeding the coolant system. Michael brought home some equipment but we lacked the proper fittings to connect it to the car. He’s used to working on somewhat larger gear.
In the end, it wasn’t a big deal. We jacked the back of the car up and started filling. We worked some air out of the hoses and let gravity do the work, topping off the reservoir as needed. After a while it wasn’t taking any more fluid so we attempted to start it.
It turned over almost immediately. We ran it only for a few seconds at first, then gave it a good visual inspection for anything unexpected. A few minutes later we let her idle for a while to warm up. When we shut her down, we topped off the coolant again.
Yesterday we took her out for a quick trip around the block. We strapped the battery down and mounted up the cameras. Once she was warmed up, we let her roll. I was joking that I’d probably stall it, not knowing what to expect with the new light-weight flywheel. Frankly, I couldn’t tell any difference at all. Granted, all I did was go around the block, so it wasn’t much of a test, but I’m happy I won’t have to make any adjustments and it doesn’t seem to have hurt the streetability.
I was a bit of a bad boy, but I felt it necessary to get on the high cam. This is the first test of the motor, after all. It was a bit cheeky, on my residential street, but it wasn’t too bad. She feels good and sounds good.
I’ll be curious to get her back on the scales. Along with the lighter flywheel, we did (most of) the air-conditioning delete. We removed the compressor and fitted a picked up a shorter belt that fit perfectly. I intend to remove the condenser when we ever get around to removing the front clam. I’ve also started a radio delete: just the rear speakers so far. I never use the radio, and if I take out the radio I can get a “radio replacement pocket” that I can use as a mini-glove box.
We’ll run it up to temp a few more times this week and next weekend put her back together again. We’ll need to take the exhaust back off to fit the heat shield, and I think the only part we haven’t put back on yet is the windshield washer reservoir.
It has been a bit more than a month since my last post, so I’m a bit overdue. Last time, we’d put a fair amount of effort in and didn’t even complete the install of the rear clam kit. And I made some sort of promise as to how far we’d get by the next (this) post. Given that everything we do seems to take three or four times as long as the instructions say, it’s a no-brainer that I over-promised. So it goes.
I wanted to (more or less) finish with the clam kit. The first step was to make that minor repair to the rear clam where the boot lid hinge attaches. I waited until we had a fairly warm day so that I wouldn’t have any issues with the epoxy. Given our stretch of weekends where it was cold, this simple step took a surprisingly long time. Sure, it was just a few minutes of actual work and an hour or three of drying time, but this elapsed over three weekends.
After that, Michael spent a few evenings after work tearing the car down. I’m pretty much useless for this portion of the work so I left him to it, venturing out to the garage after he was done each night to snap some photos.
Before long, he notified me that he’d gotten as far as he could and it was finally time to take the engine out of the car. Which meant it was time to go to Harbor Freight and pick up an engine hoist (some assembly required).
Silly me, I didn’t realize until we assembled it that it doesn’t include the load leveler bit. So, naturally, it was more than one trip to the store before we could get around to extracting the lump from the back of the car.
This is a major milestone.
With the motor out and the area around the back of the car more or less accessible, we figured it was a good time to test fit the clam back on the car. The word on the street is that sometimes things don’t line up exactly as expected and we might need to come up with a way to shim things so it all matches. From our quick look at things, we look to be in good shape. We didn’t tighten everything down, but everything lines up okay. That means, next time we need to get some room to work, we’re not looking at four hours to get the clam off. It should be more like fifteen minutes (famous last words).
Now let’s take a look at some (perhaps) interesting details.
I noticed what could be a date alongside some Japanese writing. I have no idea what it says. I shouldn’t be surprised to see Japanese writing inside my Toyota engine, but I got a kick out of it. Take a good look at the left side of the photo. This is why the engine has to go. That bit should be a nice machined surface and the snout needs to fit rather snugly inside the flywheel. Other than this bit of damage, the engine is still good. But replacing the crank is a bit more than we’re willing to deal with on our own. So the engine has to go.
Here’s one of the flywheel bolts. Note the damaged threads.
Here’s a closeup of the center of the flywheel. This bit mates up with the bit to the left of the Japanese writing. Not exactly a precision fit.
Finally, with the rear clam back on the car, it looks like a car again. Except for the giant hole in the center where the engine is supposed to be.
Next step is to order a gently used 2ZZ-GE long block, a flywheel, and flywheel bolts. The vendor is closed until the start of the year so I’ll need to be patient.
After a great deal of back and forth between “yes I will” and “no I won’t”, I’ve settled on “yes I will”. Yes, I will go with a lightweight flywheel. Several times now I’ve had the choice of whether to stick to the original equipment or to make a performance upgrade. So far, I’ve stuck with original equipment. Although I track the car a handful of times a year, I think of it as predominantly a street car. I don’t really want to make changes that result in it being hard to drive in traffic. But I’m going to go ahead with the light flywheel. Most everybody I’ve talked with regarding a light flywheel says it’s not a big adjustment.
One more piece of foreshadowing: There are some “creature comfort” features the car has that I never use.
One is the air conditioning. I’ve turned it on three our four times in the near-decade I’ve owned the car. It fails to cool the tiny cabin. We’ll leave the plumbing in but take out the heavy bits, the compressor and condenser. Since I never use the A/C, I don’t see the point of keeping it in the car given that with it all taken apart it’s a simple job of removing it. So we’ll need to figure out how long of a belt we’ll need as the original will now be too long.
The second is the radio. Even before I did the motor mounts, the radio was only of use when sitting at stoplights. I thought maybe I’d leave it in as it shows the time. But due to one thing or another, the time displayed was almost always wrong. I’ve already removed the two rear speakers. We’re not digging into the dashboard as part of this work, so I’ll have to take it to a car stereo place for the work. After some searching on the internet, I see I can replace it with a small storage area with a door. So it’ll be a mini glove box.
I probably need to make this video a bit shorter, but here’s us using the hoist to extract the engine.
Today we take our first steps down the tortured path of replacing my engine. Hopefully, we can get it all done in a reasonable amount of time. I have no particular target date in mind, but I’m hoping we’ll be done by March.
My goal for today was to get the rear clam off and install the “modular rear clamshell kit” from Radium Engineering. I’m not sure why they call it “modular”. There’s not a lot to it: a billet aluminum decklid hinge brace, 4 black anodized laser cut aluminum body shim pads (73% lighter than stock), 4 green anodized aluminum body shim spacers, 2 sets of precut super adhesive velcro, and stainless steel hardware. The hinge brace is available in black (“Bright Dip Black”), silver (“Titanium Silver”), or green (“Radium Green”). I went for the green. I’m not sure how much of it will be visible when it’s all done, but I felt it necessary to go with the green.
The idea is that with this kit it’ll be easy to remove the clam. I’m not sure how often, after this engine ordeal, I’ll want or need to remove the clam, but if there’s ever a time to do it, it’s now. Okay, maybe the time to do it would have been last winter when we did the clutch job. So it goes.
The instructions said, “Allow 1-2 hours for initial disassembly.” We managed it in four. From now on, when the instructions give us an expected duration, we should guess how long it’ll actually take. I’m sure it’s faster if you’ve done this before, but this is our first time. The instructions were pretty good. The only surprise we had was that, because I have the Track Pack, I have a harness bar. The instructions don’t cover that possibility. There was much head-scratching and wondering what sort of parlor trick would be involved in getting it out so we could remove the rear speaker panel. We managed, and it probably only added 15 or 20 minutes.
When we finally gave up, we had the clam off but didn’t complete the install of the clam kit. The flange where the kit mounts is broken. I need to get some epoxy and make a repair. It won’t be visible, so it doesn’t need to be pretty.
In any event, as I say, the clam is off and now we have unrestricted access to the engine. Next time, we’ll complete the installation of the kit and get the car back on the ground. We have lots of parts scattered everywhere, including the seats. When the clam kit installation is complete, we can put the interior back together.
Then we can start the disassembly/removal of the engine.
I very nearly titled this entry “Money Shift Forensics”. I was thinking “forensics” was a suitable synonym for what I really want to say. But forensics is defined as “scientific tests or techniques used in connection with the detection of crime”. I’d say my missed shift lies more in the neighborhood of negligence than criminality. Although the car isn’t dead (and never was alive, for that matter), parts of the car certainly are dead so I think “postmortem” is a better word in this case.
Monday, October 14
In spite of Ryan having a few other Lotus to work on, he was able to start digging into my issue on Monday. He started it up for a few seconds to hear the noise. Then he got to work pulling things apart and assessing the damage.
Initial reports looked good. In an email at the end of the day he said, “I actually think we may have dodged a bullet here!” At that point the extent of the damage looked to be limited to the flywheel. But the investigation had just begun. He wanted to remove the transmission, continue the inspection and record some measurements of the crank to verify no damage has occurred. Ryan suggested that, all said and done, I might get out with a bill for parts and labor “near the 3k mark. This is assuming that there are no engine issues found or any other hidden gremlins.”
He asked me for authorization to remove the transmission to continue the inspection. So far, I’d be billed for 2 hours of labor. To continue, it starts to get expensive: “11.5 hrs for transmission removal and inspection, clutch and flywheel replacement.”
I consented and waited patiently.
Later in the week I was telling a coworker my tale of woe. I made the rather flippant remark that “I’d taken the car to the most expensive place I could think of” to get the work done.
Monday, October 21
That bullet that we dodged? Not so much.
Here is the email Ryan sent me late on the 21st:
I was able to get the transmission off this afternoon and have a look. I first removed the clutch and found all 8 of the flywheel bolts to be EXTREMELY loose and had backed out. This allowed the flywheel to vibrate at such a rate where it almost welded itself to the nose of the crankshaft. After about 5 minutes of prying with 2 pry bars (side to side) I was able to release the flywheel from the crank. This should normally pretty much fall off once the bolts have been removed.
The galling was so bad between the flywheel and the crank that the remnants left on the mounting flange of the crank as well as the nose is very severe. I noticed a couple things during the removal as well. There was an oil leak from the back of the engine. This was because the bolts were loose without any type of thread seal/lock applied. These holes are open to the crankcase through the crankshaft.
So, here we go. Because the galling and build up on the flange mounting face and the nose is so bad we pretty much have 2 options.
OPTION 1) I attempt to remove as much of the galling as possible, replace the rear main seal, flywheel, and bolts and hope for the best. Having this professionally machined would be just about impossible with the crankshaft installed in the engine and/or the engine installed in the vehicle.
*** THIS I DO NOT RECOMMEND. The crank is a perfectly machined piece where the flywheel and clutch assembly are designed to fit flush with almost zero runout. A small variance here will be very large at the outer circumference. Apply this to an 8500 max rpm limit and track use, the repercussions down the road may be worse than what we have seen here.
OPTION 2) We replace the engine. New, used, rebuilt, whatever you’d like. This will provide the safest option for the future, the best outcome, and guarantee the most trouble free in the long run.
Option 1 doesn’t sound too good to me, so that means I’ll be replacing the engine. The first decision to make, then, is who will do the work. As I said above, this is pretty much the most expensive place I could have it done. It may very well be that no one would do a better job than Ryan. Even with the club discount rate for labor, I’m already near twelve hundred for the diagnostics.
We initially thought we dodged the bullet because the timing chain is okay and there is no damage to the pistons and valves. So perhaps there’s some salvage value to be had out of this engine. Compression is good, and the top half was rebuilt less than two years ago.
Ferrari of Denver doesn’t get as much work over the winter as summer, so it would be better for them to utilize Ryan at a lower rate than for him to be idle. And as I’m in no hurry to get it done, they would have scheduling flexibility. So Ryan put together a quote for the work with a deep discount.
It was not an unreasonable quote, but it’s not a small number. I don’t want to go into debt to get the car running again. With the luxury of having four or five months to get it running again, I think Michael and I can get the job done. It doesn’t look like it will be difficult to get a good replacement engine. Michael has done an engine replacement before and he graduated with high marks from the same school as Ryan, so I have every confidence in him.
Now I just need to get the car home.
Friday, October 25
The other Ryan came to the rescue again.
We met at 10:00 at Ferrari of Denver. They got a few guys to help us push it out, thinking perhaps that we’d need to push it into the trailer. They seemed impressed by the winch in the trailer, and that my little tow ring was robust enough to pull the car. They asked Ryan if he had the same tow ring. “No, but it threads into the same hole.”
My big concern was getting it into the garage. We could winch it in, but not winch it out. The driveway is sloped enough that the car is almost level when the back tires are on the ramps. With the tongue of the trailer as high as it would go, we’d still have to push it uphill. And at tipping point, it would start to roll down the ramp and into the garage, so somebody had to be in the car to hit the brakes. Which meant only one of us could push.
But Ryan backed the trailer up, inch perfect, and we easily got the car into the garage. With it backed into the garage it’ll be a lot easier to deal with than when we did the clutch; we should have backed it in then, but I didn’t give it a second’s thought.
This one hurts
I’ve spent quite a bit on repairs, but this one is different. Brakes and tires and the clutch are all wear items. The ordeal of the camshaft was engineering failure: first the excessive wear on the cam, a widespread problem, and then compounded by defective parts from Toyota. The suspension failures were both due to failures of bolts. Those bolts aren’t generally considered wear items, but I now have their replacement on my calendar. The wheel studs will also be replaced on a schedule.
None of those repairs was due to any fault of mine, other than putting miles on the car.
I’ve run laps at La Junta one time before, two years ago with CECA. I really had a good time. I describe the track as “rinky dink” yet outstanding: it’s short and flat with six right turns and only one left turn. And yet it’s the only track I’ve been on with a turn that I can take at 100mph. On street tires.
I’ve been wanting to get back there. Last year I made a half-hearted attempt to get the LoCo track rats to do a day. Nothing came of it. This year I put in a bit more effort. After a series of emails with Ryan and Dave to come up with a few possible dates I reached out to Allan at La Junta Raceway to see what we could do. And so we had our first LoCo Track day at La Junta Raceway.
Saturday, October 12
Google Maps tells me La Junta Raceway is 192 miles from my house. The sensible thing to do would be to get a room, as I did last time. But I often get up before 5:00am when I’m hiking, so why should I treat this any different? So I packed the car last night and set my alarm for 4:40. I was out of the house at 5, at the gas station in La Junta a few minutes after 8, and at the track in plenty of time for the 8:30 drivers meeting.
Entry was $100, which is about what HPR charges for half a day. We were hoping we could get 5 Lotus out there. We did get 5 signed up, but Dave’s Elise is up for sale at FoD and his Porsche is leaking fluids, so he scratched. When I looked at the roster Thursday evening there were 9 cars. We had six show up and one of those wasn’t one of those 9.
We ran in two groups: LoCo at the top of the hour, the “mixed group” at half past. It wasn’t so much a mixed group as a German duo: a Porsche and an M series BMW. Allan provided pizza for lunch and coffee and donuts for the drivers meeting.
The meeting had all the usual stuff: talk about the flags, passing, entering and leaving the track. The unusual stuff took up most of the agenda.
My first visit here we ran the whole day counter-clockwise. This is the orientation the track was built for. Today we’d do the morning sessions clockwise and do the normal way in the afternoon. So that was a big topic in the meeting. There are non-trivial concerns when running the track the wrong way. One of the (concrete) corner bunkers is on the outside of the exit of a turn and there are no tires on this side of it. There’s a giant cottonwood tree on the outside of the end of the fastest turn on the track. And the end of the pit wall would be a bad thing to hit.
Oregon Raceway Park was designed to be run in both directions, and that’s what we did on my visit there. I found it disorienting and never had enough laps to get comfortable on it in either direction. La Junta is much smaller and simpler, and I was certainly comfortable running it the normal way. Our first session was only about fifteen minutes as we got a late start. But that’s okay. It was still fairly chilly. Nobody would be going very fast with cold tires on a cold track.
I ran with the top off, as usual. Under my driving suit I had my sweater and hoodie. I was bulky but warm. By the second session I shedded those layers as the weather turned ideal. Sunny, calm, mid-60’s or even low-70’s.
The track is adjacent to the airport. Back in WWII it was La Junta Army Airfield, a training base that accommodated a large number of twin engine aircraft on its three runways. Deactivated in 1946, it’s much calmer these days, and only two runways have been used since then. The track uses the southern end of the disused runway and taxiway. I may have missed one or two, but I saw four or five planes and a helicopter all day. The helicopter is that of the local medical transport outfit.
One of the pilots stopped by and visited with us. Interesting guy. Flew for the Marines for 26 years, recently started doing medical transport. Works seven days on, seven days off; twelve hours on, twelve hours off. He had lots of questions about the cars. I loved his language. The cars are ships, horsepower is thrust, speeds are in knots. Upgraded brakes and tires are “varsity” brakes and tires. I’m surprised he didn’t call us drivers “pilots”. I told him if he could borrow a helmet I’d give him a ride.
Got him strapped in, told him I wouldn’t be able to hear him once we were going, and headed out. He was very enthusiastic, giving me a big thumbs-up after each turn. Then I made a mistake. Exiting the fastest turn and onto the long straight, I miss the shift from fourth to fifth and instead did fourth to third. I caught it in an instant and got into a correct gear. Damn. But nothing happened. Well, it seemed nothing happened. Half a lap later when I entered a braking zone and lifted off the throttle the car made a bad rattling noise. I went back to the paddock.
It sounded and felt good on the throttle, only making the rattle off throttle. After a short trip around the paddock I didn’t drive it again. I did start it twice more for a few seconds each time. The consensus was a rattling exhaust or a broken motor mount. I didn’t say anything about my missed shift. We took the diffuser and access panel off and poked around. No problems with exhaust or motor mounts. Listening to the last few seconds I ran it, it was clear to me it was inside the motor. I’m screwed.
Finally somebody asked if I’d missed a shift.
I lied. I said “no.”
Why did I do that? Obviously, I should have led the investigation with the admission that I missed a shift. Would have saved everybody the trouble of looking for rattling exhaust or broken motor mounts. Why did I lie?
I’ve driven stick shift cars for thirty years, more than four hundred thousand miles, and about fifty track days. Only missed shifts I’ve ever made have been second to fifth instead of second to third. Never the money shift.
For a long time, I’ve taken pride in the notion that I’m kind to the equipment, getting more miles out of brakes and clutches and tires than most of my peers. But this notion is under assault: twice I’ve had suspension bolts fail on the track, had wheel lugs fail, broke a motor mount, and replaced the clutch at 80,000 miles. Now the money shift.
I also take some measure of pride in thinking of myself as an honest guy. I claim to value honesty, openness, and transparency. If I was open and transparent I’d have said I missed the shift first thing. If I was honest, I wouldn’t have denied it when asked.
We gave up looking at my car when the pizza arrived, and I tried to relax for the next few hours. When I could think of things other than the events of the morning the time seemed to pass faster. So when Kevin asked if I’d like to ride with him and maybe drive his car for a couple laps of instruction I agreed. I’m not an instructor. I often have to reflect on events after the fact to realize exactly what’s going on. My videos help a lot on this. Maybe I rely too much on the videos, and if I didn’t have them I’d be better at being in the moment.
In any event, I did my best to see what tips I could share with Kevin. This is only his second track day, so he’s a bit of a clean slate. I didn’t try to communicate anything to him until after we did a full lap, then I tried to correct his line in a few places. In general, he wasn’t getting the car close enough to the apexes, he tended to apex early, and often didn’t let the car run out to the edge of the track exiting the corners.
After five laps we swapped places and I drove. I drove three laps; an out lap, a hot lap, and an in lap and we switched back. He then drove another five laps. His times after seeing what I did improved by four or five seconds a lap, and were more consistent from lap to lap. He’s so new at this, I’d expect his times to steadily improve with practice without my input, but I think I helped him out quite a bit.
The guy in the BMW was there giving a ride to his grandfather who used to race cars back in the fifties. The grandfather, whom I’d never met before and who, to this point, I’ve exchanged maybe a dozen words with, said if he still had his trailer he’d get me and the car home. You meet some pretty nice folks at the race track. (Addendum: I wasn’t the only mechanical victim of the day. The BMW driver had a broken strut and when we left, his car was still out on the track.)
The obvious next issue was how to get the car home. The obvious answer was to ask Ryan what it would take to get him to drive his Exige home and put my car in his trailer. All it took was to ask. Ryan is a lifesaver.
Ryan drove his car and I drove the truck with trailer. I got out of the gas station before he did, so we were separated from the start. He’d programmed the GPS in the truck to navigate to his house so I didn’t bother with using my phone. This turned out to be a problem. The truck’s satnav didn’t know there’s a bridge out. I stopped and consulted my phone. It said I could go a few hundred yards ahead to take a county road east. I should have turned around right there, but instead I followed my phone’s directions.
I got to this first county road and it looked like somebody’s driveway. Phone says there’s another one up ahead. So I went to the next one. It was a nice gravel road, but it looked like it dead-ended. On I went. The next county road was a just a double track, like a single lane jeep road. No way I was going to pull this trailer down any of these roads.
So I had to turn around and go back. I got to sort of a wide spot and managed to flip a u-turn without sinking into the shoulder, having to back up, or jack-knifing the rig. The detour took me six miles east to cross the river, then six miles back to the road I was on. But I think it was still a better route than dealing with the construction on I-25.
Ryan was using his phone for nav, so he got routed across the river without incident and was now almost ten miles ahead of me.
Our first waypoint was Limon, where we could stop and grab a bite. But this is quite a bit up the road, so I had plenty of time to reflect on the day. I was pretty down about my driving error and tried not to think about how much it might cost to repair. I was also quite ashamed about lying about it.
I phoned Michael and confessed about the money shift. I was originally thinking we’d take the car home, but given our limited resources it was obvious the best plan was just to drop it off at FoD. The LoCo meeting was scheduled for the next day, so I’d be able to explain it all to Ryan and discuss the way forward. (Oh dear. I generally don’t use last names here, but we now have two Ryans in the story. I was going to use last initials, but they’re both Ryan C.)
We dropped the car at FoD at about 8:00pm. Ryan offered to give me a lift home, but that’s not an optimal choice. I took a Lyft instead.
Sunday, October 13
The meeting was scheduled for noon, so I got there about 11:30. Ryan was right there when I pulled up, and I gave him my tale of woe. It would be the first of many tellings, as we had a nice turnout. Before long, I realized I was a topic of conversation. Everybody knew the story pretty quickly. So it goes. I was a little surprised that so many people weren’t familiar with the term “money shift”.
I told Ryan to take his time getting to it. I’m sure he has a few cars in front of me. He’ll take a good look at it and let me know the diagnosis and we’ll discuss a treatment plan.
Here’s the video. A couple of laps to get a feel for the track when going the wrong way. Note the unprotected bunker (0:34), the tree (1:00), and the end of the pit wall (1:07). I had a couple of faster laps later in the session, but the forward facing camera died half way through. Evidently, I need to plug that camera into the charger after every session.