Sunday, June 8, 2008

Getting Closer

Over the last two weeks I have been able to put a few hours in on the car. As you saw in the last posting we received the rebuilt carb, so it was the next logical step to get this car on track to race in October. Last weekend I was able to remove the old carb, get rid of the emission stuff, remove the intake manifold, and loosen the exhaust system parts. I found I needed to replace the intake manifold gasket, carb gasket and order a few block off plates for the emissions stuff I was taking off. In addition the exhaust bolts that hold the muffler section were too corroded and the rest of the exhaust couldn't be removed until the muffler section was taken out. I tried for about 36 seconds to cut the pipes with a hacksaw before giving up and making a trip to my grandpa's garage. Enter Mr. Sawzall today: exhaust cut and removed in two shakes of a lambs tail (apparently that's fast). I love that thing! There must have been 60 pounds of exhaust pipes under there!

After the quick task of removing the exhaust system I spent a while trying to put back together the pieces of motor I tore apart last weekend. You can see the difference in the new carb without all the emissions crap and the old one. It's about half the size and weight of the old carburetor. My challenge now becomes to block all the vacuum lines that aren't needed anymore and reconnect the lines that are still needed to the correct places. You have to remember, this car was built at the height of emissions complexity and being that the rotary isn't know for being the most emissions friendly of motors, Mazda had to add so much in the way of actuators, vacuum lines, valves, and other madness just to get the car to pass the emissions standards of 1980.
It's my job to take all that crap out for two reasons: One, we want the car to be as simple as possible. That way if something goes wrong at the track (which it always does) hopefully we can locate and fix the problem in decent time. Second, we want the car to run as efficiently as possible and make the most power. Over the 28 years that have passed since this beauty rolled off the assembly line all the vacuum lines, rubber diaphragms in the actuators, and various other parts and pieces have been eroding away in the elements. Vacuum lines crack and leak, diaphragms become hardened and don't work as designed. All this leads to poor performance and potential problems during the race. We want to get all this stuff removed and get down to the simplest version of this engine that we can.

While I have been working on the carburetor and related parts I have noticed that we seem to have a new problem. The fuel pump no longer seems to want to do it's job. It used to be really loud and pump the carb full of gas within seconds of turning the key on, now I get nothing. Further diagnosis is needed in this area, but it is safe to say the car won't be running till we get that problem resolved.

As of now the manifold is reinstalled, carb is in the car, the header is installed, and the vacuum lines are still a mess. I need to do some research is week and figure out what goes where and what goes in the dumpster. Then its on to the fuel problem. Just for grins I tired to start the car using some carb cleaner, but to no avail. My guess is there are far too many lines that need to be plugged or reattached before it will even run for a second or two.

On a different note, we are starting to acquire members of our race team for the October 24 Hours of Lemons. So far we have myself, Ian Armstrong, Jeff "the hotfoot", and Mike Morten. It's looking like we will have the 6 drivers we need plus a few crew members coming down to the race with us in October. We will all be contributing to the car in both monetary terms, time spent wrenching or retrieving beers for those who are wrenching.

We are getting closer, but there is still a long ways to go.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Much has changed!

As the title states, much has changed in the past month. We found out the Vegas race got canceled. Then we tried and got accepted to the Altamont race in May. Then we realized that gave us virtually no time to prep the car so we backed out and set our sites on the Houston race in October 18th and 19th.

The car has basically sat since the last installment. I've been waiting on the rebuilt carb so we can hopefully solve the massive flooding problem we have encountered so far. It arrived on Thursday so soon we should have another update with a running/driveable vehicle!!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Spare Parts Anyone?

I was inspired by the progress on the LeMons car. We had a "team" meeting with all the guys who are braindead like me...I mean, who have the gusto and fortitude to race a hunk-o-crap around a track for two days in the June Vegas heat. We kicked around some ideas for our "theme" we are going to have for the car and the team. I think we came up with one, but I'm going to keep it under my hat so the three people who actually read this blog will come back later. We also came up with a list of the parts we know the car is going to need before we go racing and some spare parts we should have if we consider ourselves astute racing aficionados (which we are not, in any was shape or form). Typical things like brakes, rotors, spare alternator, radiator, etc. I then took the task of searching for these things on the Internet, more specifically at

This place is the online Mecca for these rotary powered Mazda's. I had been visiting the site far more than my boss would like in the past few weeks trying to learn more about the car and some of the things to watch out for. I learned some things like "lube up the Apex seals in the motor BEFORE you try and start it if it has been sitting for a long period". Without that advice I probably would have ruined the engine the first time I hit the key. I have learned countless other things from the site and now consider myself fairly well educated in the language of the rotary (it's not nearly as romantic as French, but at least it doesn't smell). Back on topic, I found a whole pile of parts for sale in the classified section and started buying. In addition I posted a "want to buy" thread in the Mountain States forum of the site in hopes someone would have a set of wheels we could buy fairly cheap. I was worried about wheels because the RX7 has a weird bolt pattern of 4X110 which was not used very widely. Even though wheels and tires are not included in the $500 limit for the car, I didn't want to spend a crapload of money on them if we didn't have to (we are in a recession people!).

The first thing I bought was a header. The factory pieces are so restrictive on these Mazda's, and most any car for that matter, that adding just the header adds 20% horsepower. I first looked online at a few major RX7 parts dealers, and saw prices around $225-$275 for the header brand new. I found one in the classified section for $75 shipped. S-O-L-D. I also came across a spare alternator and fuel pump for $60 shipped. Then I started to get replies in the local thread I posted. The first guy contacted me and said he had stock 13" wheels for $25 each. Woo hoo! Then I had a guy contact me that wanted to give me a set of steel wheels for FREE (my favorite word). I also found a guy with a RX7 he was parting out that had some parts left over. So Monday after work I jumped in the car and headed to Centennial and Colorado Springs to pick up parts. I returned to the house a mere 3 1/2 hours later with:

A set of wheels and tires
A pair of front calipers
A whole bag filled with misc front suspension pieces
A spare transmission
A radiator
A spare starter

Total cost for above parts: $50

I'm a big fan of cheap and free race car parts! After that little road trip I think we are headed in the right direction with having enough spares of things that might get damaged or fail during the race. I'm going to keep looking for stuff and see what else I can find, maybe another radiator or two would be good!

At our meeting we also forged a plan of attack on how we are going to try and stay in this race for 12 racing hours over 2 days. The major culprits that would keep us from finishing would be engine failure and part failure from being run into or running into someone. The first one we are going to try and avoid by keeping the engine as cool as possible. Heat is the major foe of these rotary engines. We need to do everything we can to keep it cool. The RX7 has a large stock oil cooler which is a plus. We will be doing our best to control the heat in the motor and crossing our fingers that nothing else gives way. The second probable way for us to go home early is a mechanical failure of a part by way of hitting other cars or solid items. We plan to control this as much as possible by not driving too aggressively. Most of the cars we will be up against will outweigh our car by upwards of 1000 lbs. We need to be smart and if they are going to be aggressive in the corner we will just slow down and let them take it. If we are going to be competitive in this race it will be because of fuel mileage and handling. If we finish the whole race with a running car I feel we will have met our goals. Each driver is going to have a large sum of money tied up in this project by the time it is completed and my goal is to make sure everyone fells like they got their money's worth.

It would be kind of fun to go out in a blaze of glory though...

Application is due in 4 weeks, we find out if we are in soon after that. Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Starting to look more like a race car

I was able to spend a good 1/2 day working on getting the car ready for it's upcoming transformation. First off, I got it started again, which proved to be quite a difficult task. Every time the car is turned on the fuel pump pumps so much into the carb that it floods the engine almost instantly. After about 13 times of pulling the plugs, cleaning them, blowing the excess fuel out of the motor and reinstalling the plugs I finally got her started again. Made a few trips around the property as best I could just to see the condition of things, and everything seems to check out. Clutch works, brakes work (but are grabby), transmission seems to shift smoothly, but no major problems to report.

After the joy ride I decided to get rid of the interior. It was trashed from 4+ years outside with the window down and since this thing is destined to become a race car before it is turned into a paperweight I figured "what the hell!" and tore into it. A few hours later the beast was stripped of all her belongings. Passenger seat...gone, plastic trim pieces and carpet...gone, half the dash...gone with a little help from Mr. Hacksaw. All told I bet I took out 200lbs from this little guy. Heater core, blower motor, all the HVAC stuff is gone. What we have left is a race chassis with a torn up drivers seat installed so we can move it around. I didn't knock the glass out of it cause I figured it's still February here in Colorado and I'd rather not have to shovel the *inside* of the car.

The carb is really starting to hold us up. The car isn't really mobile at this point so we can't get it on a lift and check things like brakes, transmission fluid, and suspension parts. But that will soon change as the carb should be here by the middle of March.

Monday, February 11, 2008


She runs! We got her running this past weekend. A few squirts of Marvel Mystery Oil in the spark plug holes to lube up the apex seals, installed the battery and she fired right up. She started pouring smoke almost instantly out of the tailpipe. I thought it needed to burn off the oil residue and the 4+ years of crap from sitting for so long, so we waited, and waited, and waited some more. The smoke never stopped.

I must have killed 50 penguins and raised the global temperature by at least 1 degree while trying to get this thing to stop smoking. Eventually we found that the fuel pump was just pumping massive amounts of fuel past the floats and into the motor. We took a compression test and the engine seems to be within reasonable compression so I think we are going to run this thing.

First project will be to get the ignition switch rewired, the included key didn't start the car, I had to tear into the column and use a screwdriver. The second project is to rebuild that carb so we can drive this thing around.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Getting started...Again?

So, maybe you read all about my little project Corolla we were going to enter in the nearly-famous 24 hours of lemons race this June. If you did, then you know it did not end well. The car was too far gone with rust for us to attempt to fix it safely. I never really stopped looking on Craigslist for other possible Lemons cars. As soon as I saw the floorpan of the Corolla I had a feeling it wasn't going to work out.

I looked at a few cars in person, actually bought one, a 1989 Saab 900 from a kid in Denver. I offered him his asking price of $350, but I told him I couldn't come to pick it up until Sunday. He said he would consider it sold, and we would complete the transaction on Sunday. After a couple unreturned phone calls I looked on Craigslist again and there it was, listed at $550 now. He fixed a few minor problems that had been pointed out and relisted it. I am all about getting the most money for your car, or anything else for that matter, but don't waste my time telling you will consider it sold just to go and repost it for more money. Dick!

I found a 1980 Mazda RX-7 for $300 the same week. The owner said it had no title, but was a daily driver before being parked. I took a ride to Conifer to take a look at it. The drivers window had been down about 5 inches and the interior was shot. Looks like some sort of animal went to town in there. It had not been started in 4 years, but the body was straight, the motor was complete and the glass was all good. Honestly, I thought it might be in too good of shape for the type of racing we were going to do. Looking at the videos of past races, the cars get absolutely totaled out there. I was also worried about the size of the car, it's small and I'm not sure how much damage this thing could take. Last but not least, I had concerns because I had never worked on a rotary engine before. I knew the basic concept, but I needed to do some research before I jumped in this pool. On the upside the car was easily modifiable, had plenty of aftermarket parts support and has a bolt in rollcage available. The owner said his low dollar for the car was $200, and he needed to get it gone because he sold his house and was closing the following week. I thanked him and left to think it over.

A few days passed, I found the above-mentioned Saab, went through that whole shenanigans ordeal, and decided the RX-7 wasn't the one for this project. We had toyed with the idea of doing a smallblock Chevy V8 swap, but it looked to be too expensive to complete under the $500 limit. A few more days passed and I knew the guy was getting close to closing on the house so I gave him a ring to see if it was still available. The auto market gets very small for a non-running, 27 year old car with no title and a trashed interior. I offered him $100 for it and he accepted.

Tonight, we brought the beast home from Conifer. I'm still not completely sold on the idea of using it for this race. I would feel somewhat bad for destroying a car that is getting fairly rare, and could be used as a legitimate race car. Putting a V8 in there and some suspension bits would make this thing a absolute blast to drive on a track.

It's JDM Yo!!

In my research I found a bone stock 1980 RX-7 with a manual transmission weighs 2,420 lbs. We figure when the interior is gutted, glass removed, the A/C and other unneeded components are removed we should be down around 2000 lbs or 1 Ton, and it's going to be fun!