ICEngineering Subjects

Friday, May 27, 2011

Domain Name

Ok, last post for today. For our tiny subscriber-ship, you might have noticed that when you came to our blog today, you were redirected to That's because we have a domain now, which looks better for vehicle decals than a blogspot address. You can change your bookmarks or whatever you use to keep track of our blog to point to the new address. Or you can not, because it'll always automatically redirect.

More Rally Strut Progress

A few interesting things have happened to Dmitriy's struts since the last update:

First, I finished plating all of them, and got them sent off to Bobby Whiteley for powdercoat. Within a day, he was sending me completed pics!

Bobby is awesome

Then, I had a big robot finish up the lower spring perches and locking nuts for me.

Lastly, the strut inserts finally arrived from Bilstein!

Custom parts are neat

My office has ugly carpet

Note that the inserts have unmachined ends, so I need to cut them to fit the Subaru top mounts. The end is in sight!

Project Starlet: Introduction

Toward the beginning of 2010, after graduating from grad school, getting a job and moving to a house with a proper garage, I got hungry for a project car of my own. Turns out, I already have a project car; it's a 1983 RX-7 with a Ford 302 swap.

I started on this project waaaay back in 2004 with my good friend, Chris Szutu. It was the summer after our freshman year in college, and for some reason we thought it would be a good idea to get a project car even though we spend most of our lives about 2300 miles apart. We found a non-running RX-7 GSL (that's with 4-wheel disc brakes and LSD) for $300, which included two blown motors. The original not-very-fleshed-out plan was to rebuild one of the motors and get it running. Then maybe we'd sell it I said, not much of a plan. We eventually found both engines to be completely useless as one had been ravaged by a broken apex seal and the other had warped housings due to an overheat.

We went back to school, leaving the car in Chris's parents' driveway, and somehow it remotely escalated into a V8 swap. We ended up as the proud owners of a hideous '88 Mustang GT convertible and proceeded to drop that engine into the RX-7 the next summer.

Wow, that thing is ugly.

This was basically the pinnacle of our automotive achievement

That was pretty cool, but just because it's in the car, doesn't mean the car runs. We were too daunted by wiring (and the spiders that live in the car's mirrors) to really tackle it seriously, and so it's really just been sitting. In Chris's parents' driveway. For...5 years now?

This post is titled something about my Starlet, so all this must seem pretty unrelated. Well, just over a year ago, Chris was trying to get the RX-7 out of his parents' driveway like any good son would, but he had no place to put it, so the plan was to ship it out to me. Due to some really shady shippers (partially a result of our own cheap-ass-ness), that fell through. So I had gotten all excited to have a cool project and then it just didn't happen, so I started looking for one.

My introduction to the Toyota Starlet was seeing a couple of really cool looking ones autocrossing in the Bay Area way back in 2002. Apparently, one of the better ones belonged to Tito Solis of Red Star Racing.

My Inspiration!

Little did I know, Starlets don't look or act anything like that when they're stock. Not. Even. Close. But now that I was starting from scratch, I was determined to get one because they're unique, rear wheel drive and weigh about 1800 lbs. I started searching in earnest, finding that Starlets are ridiculously rare in the Midwest and clean examples are VERY expensive. I finally found a 1981 in Chicago that claimed to be rust-free, had new paint and a 2TC swap with dual Weber DCOE's. I don't know anything about old school Toyota motors or carburetors, so none of that mattered to me. I also made a really strong point to the seller that I was driving a long distance to get the car so I wanted to be reassured that the car wasn't a rustbucket. The lesson that I learned is that people are jerks, because the car is actually pretty rusty. It also ran like crap, so I drove it about 250 miles across Michigan at about 55 mph, with the exhaust backfiring violently if I ever broke that barrier.

The Starlet is the brown one on the right

This thing has pushrods?!

Since getting it into my garage almost exactly a year ago now, the car has run a few times just to get it positioned in various directions in the garage so I can cut out the MASSIVE amounts of rust on the car and repair them. So far, I've replaced large chunks of both rockers, both front frame rails where they come under the front floor, and most of the floor.

The floor looks suspiciously like my garage floor...Much better

Once I get the passenger's side floorpan buttoned up, I should be done with most of the rust repair, with only minor stuff up front that is neither structural nor visible. Then, following Dmitriy's lead, I'll probably get the thing up on a tiptisserie to strip and paint the bottom.

What, you don't know what a tiptisserie is?

I'm moving soon though, so I have to wait until I have my new garage setup before I can pull the motor and suspension to allow it to be supported sideways by plywood.

SO, the long-term plan is something like this:

1. Make car not rusty: Getting there...
2. Engine swap: Current plan is 2.3L Duratec/MZR with turbo + NC MX-5 6-speed. Maybe 240 whp?
3. Full custom front suspension: Decouple sway bar from suspension location, Koni 8611's, really really low
4. Full custom rear suspension: RX-7 rear axle and custom 3-link + panhard or watts link, more Koni dampers
5. Big wheels and tires: It came with 155/80/13's (!), but I have it sitting on 225/45/15's right now. It seems appropriate, but maybe a 275 Hoosier is in its future
6. Race it wherever it fits: One thing that sucks about this car is that it will not fit nicely in any ruleset that I know of. That's ok with me for now though, I'm just having fun building it!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Zinc Plating Dmitriy's Struts

After what seems like way too much time, I finally got all of Dmitriy's strut housings welded together, so as mentioned in my first post about them, they're now ready for plating. Since the threads cannot be painted or powdercoated because not only would either of those processes add too much material to allow the threads to work, but as soon as it got chipped or scratched (as it would because they're threads), the underlying metal would begin to rust immediately. Zinc plating is different because it's actually a sacrificial layer and will corrode before the base metal around it does, even if it isn't completely covering it. That's why you find this kind of plating on fasteners as well as steel brackets that might be exposed to harsh environments.

I ended up ordering a zinc plating kit from Caswell Plating after reading a lot of positive reviews of their product. The kit comes with all of the chemicals required, some heaters, some buckets and you pretty much just add tons and tons of distilled water.

This isn't all of it

I did actually have to take a trip to Home Depot to get some other things like muriatic acid and a bucket to keep the acid in and a spray bottle...but it was all pretty inexpensive and readily available stuff. For lack of any better place to do it, I set up all of my buckets and electrical stuff along the wall of my garage on the side of my Starlet that I'm not currently working on. I really need a bigger garage.

Um...don't worry, I'm a professional

After dipping things here and applying electricity there and spraying stuff, I managed to get the part cleaned and plated with a delicious layer of zinc. Then, it went into a quick blue chromate dip to seal the zinc and improve its corrosion resistance (I don't pretend to understand how chemistry works) and bam! we have this super sweet plated part!

It's actually a crazy iridescent blue, but the photo doesn't really capture it. I guess that's still my fault.

You can see in the picture that it has a little bit of plating all the way to the end of the tube, but I rearranged it slightly in the bucket so it only has significant plating maybe an inch into the mounting tab area. Then, there's the less obvious chromate layer which ends just about 1/4" below the end of the threads. It's not terribly important to plate the whole thing because everything but the threads will end up powdercoated.

That was pretty exciting stuff. Now I just need to do it 5 more times and off it will go to the powdercoater while I finish up all the spring perches. It looks like Dmitriy's making some serious progress on the shell, so I hope I'll have these all ready for him when he needs something to bolt knuckles to.